Conventional farming practices today is "dramatically different" from that in 1960, according to American political scientist Robert Paarlberg. In a discussion at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, Paarlberg mentioned that the one big factor affecting today's high crop yields is the commercial production of disease- and insect resistant crops through biotechnology. Biotech crops such as maize and soybean resist insects and weeds without using herbicides and pesticides.
In the discussion "The Culture War Over Food and Farming", Paarlberg noted that modern farming, including the use of GM seeds, has increased yields using less fertilizer and water, and fewer pesticides.
Uganda is anticipating the commercial adoption of the first biotech crop in 2014 after a regulatory framework for production has been set, said senior research officer Yona Baguna from the National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO). Baguna reported that there are ongoing trials on GM banana, cassava, maize, cotton, and potato. These promising crops have the potential to give Ugandans food security and at the same time improve their livelihood.
"If things go as planned, we expect commercial GM cotton in 2014, cassava in 2016 and drought resistant maize by 2017," said Dr. Baguna during the launch of ISAAA's report on the Global Status of Commercialized GM/Biotech Crops in 2011 in Kampala last month. The potential GM crops have traits such as drought tolerance and insect resistance.
Read more at http://www.genet-info.org/information-services.html. Download the highlights of the ISAAA report at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/43/highlights/default.asp.
HarvestPlus partnered with Agfax Radio to inform more farmers in rural Africa about the benefits of biofortified crops. Agfax Radio station is produced by African journalists with a focus on rural livelihoods and farming. The journalists analyzed the possible nutritional and economic impact of nutrient-rich crops in the local communities in African countries namely Zambia, Nigeria, Uganda, and Rwanda with perspectives from scientists, farmers, and women's groups.
The story about benefits of iron-rich beans reached local farmers in Rwanda. It included interviews with farmers who are currently planting iron-rich beans. One farmer, Celestine Nzabarirwa, shared her experience, "Last season I grew biofortified beans and my production from my field was a lot compared to the local varieties that I had been using…I will also encourage my neighbors to grow biofortified beans, which will help improve their health when they consume them."
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki has affirmed the Kenyan government's commitment to utilize technological innovations for the development of agriculture which contributes to about 30 percent of the nation's gross development product.
"Here in Kenya, we are fully committed to utilizing science, technology and innovation for the benefit of our people," said the President as he officially opened the First African Science, Technology and Innovation Forum in Nairobi on April 3, 2012. The President also noted that the country had taken deliberate steps to promote science in Kenya by formulating a new National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy. The new policy explicitly declares the country's endeavor to promote agricultural research and specifically biotechnology to address biotic and abiotic stresses that lead to losses due to pests and diseases.
The First African Science, Technology and Innovation Forum was attended by 57 African government ministers with the responsibility for science, technology and innovation, finance, planning and education. The forum showcased technological innovations in agriculture, technology and mobile telecommunications from various developers in the continent. Notable agricultural innovations showcased included the high yielding drought tolerant chicken pea variety developed at Egerton University and the high yielding maize variety developed at Maseno University.
To see the full story, check the state house website at http://www.statehousekenya.go.ke/ (archive news: 4 April 2012).
Scientists at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have discovered an answer that will resolve the debate on how to predict which plant species are most vulnerable to drought, a threat posed by climate change. "Droughts are worsening around the world, posing a great challenge to plants in all ecosystems," said Lawren Sack, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA and also the senior author of the research.
Sack and his UCLA team focused on a trait called "turgor loss point," which has never been proven to predict drought tolerance in plants. Turgor is pressure exerted outward on plant cell walls by the cell's contents. The research showed that drought tolerant plants have lower turgor loss points and could maintain turgor despite dry soils. The results of this research is available in the online edition of Ecology Letters, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1461-0248.2012.01751.x/full.
Read the news release from the UCLA's Newsroom at http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/which-plants-will-survive-droughts-231567.aspx
A plant genetics research facility was launched by DuPont in Johnson, Iowa as part of its goal to increase agricultural productivity and improve food security. The 200 thousand -square foot facility houses experts in various fields such as plant physiology, molecular biology, and bioinformatics who will develop plant varieties through plant breeding and modern biotechnology.
"Beaver Creek (facility) will take DuPont's research and development efforts in seed and plant genetics to the next level and ensure we are consistently providing new solutions and products to farmers and communities around the world," said Paul E. Schickler, president of Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business. "Pioneer is dedicated to providing the right product for the right acre, and this new facility in Johnston will advance that mission."
View the press release at http://onlinepressroom.net/DuPont/NewsReleases/.
Asia and the Pacific
Fudan University scientist Yang Jinshui and colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences have developed genetically engineered (GE) cotton which has longer fibers than the usual Chinese cotton varieties. The fiber length of the GE cotton averages 33.5 mm, which is 3 mm longer than the ordinary varieties. The GE cotton has the potential to reduce China's imports of high-end cotton.
Read the original article at http://www.shanghaidaily.com/nsp/Metro/2012/04/05/Fudan%2Bscientists%2Bbreed%2Blongfiber%2Bcotton/.
Scientists from New Zealand's Plant and Food Research are looking into how plants make ascorbate or vitamin C and have identified the gene that controls its levels in fruits and vegetables. The team added a plant gene controlling GDP-galactose phosphorylase, a vital enzyme to vitamin C production, to strawberry, potato, and tomato. Results showed that ascorbate levels in the mentioned crops could be increased up to 500 percent.
Humans get most of their vitamin C needs from plant sources, many of which have low ascorbate levels. "They add to their vitamin C intake using synthetic supplements," said Dr. William Laing, the study's lead scientist. He added that breeding new plant varieties with naturally occurring vitamin C will reduce deficiencies in populations with less access to fruits and vegetables by giving them the recommended levels through staple foods such as potatoes.
Results of this study is in the May 2012 issue of the Plant Biotechnology Journal. Other details, including the abstract, are available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-7652.2011.00668.x/abstract.
GM crop planting in Hokkaido, Japan, where the major industry is agro-industry, was banned since 2005. To review the ordinance in 2011, a survey of 306 respondents was conducted to gauge the perception and opinion of the general public on biotech crops. Various responses came up and opinions obtained largely oppose the ordinance because it is not based on science; the potential losses on farming benefits which Hokkaido farmers and consumers could enjoy is huge; and the fact that farmers are prevented from utilizing an agricultural technology that is safe to humans and environment, and can produce higher yield to feed the population.
However, the Hokkaido government overruled the opinion of the public and decided to keep the original ordinance. This is because the committee on food safety declared GM crops as not "ansin" in Japanese, meaning there is some degree of uncertainty on its safety which they believe cannot be explained through science.
The original report (in Japanese) is seen at http://www.pref.hokkaido.lg.jp/ns/shs/anzenansinsaito.htm. For news on biotechnology in Japan, contact Prof. Fusao Tomita at firstname.lastname@example.org
On March 20, 2012, Hokkaido Bio-Industry Association (HOBIA) held a mini-symposium on Agriculture: Current Status and Future Direction at Hokkaido University. Dr. Fusao Tomita, Professor Emeritus of the University and ISAAA Nippon Biotechnology Information Center director reported the current status of GM crops in the world. He stated that GM crops are now commercially planted in160 Mha and half of them in Asia, where there is an expected rapid increase in population. GM crops are good for environmental protection in terms of agricultural productivity and reduction of carbon dioxide emission.
Yoshimasa Miyai, Kuniaki Ohdate, and Hiroyuki Baba, Japanese farmers who visited the Philippines at the end of January 2012 recounted their briefings with the Philippine regulators, visits to the biotech laboratories and greenhouses of the International Rice Research Institute, and discussions with biotech corn farmers in Pampanga. They also reported rapid increase in GM crop adoption in the Philippines and observed that biotech crop farmers are very happy with their increase in productivity and incomes, as well as having a safe and effective pest management technology.
View the original article (in Japanese) in (March issue, p.188) of "Zaikai Sapporo" and online at "Zaikai Sapporo Noguchi" email@example.com. For news on biotechnology in Japan, contact Prof. Fusao Tomita at firstname.lastname@example.org
In a two day meeting held at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), results of the GM corn trails conducted in the provinces of Vinh Phuc, Dak Lak, Son La and Vung Tau City were presented. Dr. Le Huy Ham, director of MARD's Agricultural Genetics Institute stated that the four trials showed increased productivity by as much as 30 to 40 percent higher than conventional corn grown in the same condition. It was also observed that corn quality is much better, and farmers and other personnel involved in the trial did not show any adverse health symptoms.
However, other experts, scientists, and Vietnam's seed association believe that further field trials should be conducted to assess the environmental and ecosystem effects, and to obtain comprehensive and careful assessment of potential risks in comparison with benefits.
Deputy Minister Bui Ba Bong said the ministry would continue to take advice to ensure safety before making any decision related to growing GM corn crops commercially. GM corn is expected to play an important role in the country's food supply because 1.6 million tonnes of corn are imported for animal feed each year which increase animal feed cost by 10 to 15 percent.
The University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in the Philippines are hopeful for the new round of field trial for hybrid and open pollinated variety of the fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant. USM President Jesus Antonio Derije reiterated during a collaborator's meeting with the University of the Philippines Los Baños Foundation Inc. (UPLBFI), and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) last March 26, 2012 that USM will support biotechnology research and the conduct of multi-location field trial of Bt eggplant in the university campus in North Cotabato following the government's regulatory guidelines. The project is part of the university's mandate to conduct education, research, extension, and resource generation.
Dr. Emma Sales, Chair of the Institutional Biosafety Committee of USM, said that the trial should be conducted to obtain scientific facts on the efficacy and benefits of Bt eggplant. Mr. Edwin Paraluman, a biotech corn farmer from General Santos City, estimated that profit from a hectare of eggplant farm is equivalent to two hectares of corn. "If profit increased with Bt corn, what more with Bt eggplant?" he said.
Bt eggplant technology, which was projected by studies to considerably reduce chemical insecticide inputs, will be a significant help and benefit to farmers, consumers, and the environment.
China's Regulation (EC) No. 1830/2003 requires that food and feed produced from genetically modified organisms (GMO) should be labeled when its GM contents exceed a set level or threshold. The fluorescence quantitative PCR is used as the standard method to detect the contents of the transgenic component.
Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine estimated the uncertainty in the quantification of GMO by the fluorescence real-time PCR method. Procedures were devised to estimate the uncertainty that originates in the analytical processes.
The article is published in the latest issue of the journal China Biotechnology at http://126.96.36.199:8082/biotech/CN/volumn/current.shtml.
Researchers from Cotton Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) announced in a news conference on March 18 that they have successfully developed GM cotton which has high quality fiber and develops big bolls. Dr. Li Jiayang, Vice Minister of Agriculture, People's Republic of China and President of CAAS lauded the research achievement. Li pointed out that insect pests and low quality fiber have been blocking the development of Chinese cotton industry for a long time. These new germplasm materials mark a breakthrough in the second generation GM cotton research in China.
In the 1990s, Chinese scientists developed insect-resistant Bt transgenic cotton, the first generation GM cotton. Market share increased from 5 to more than 95 percent. However, high quality raw cotton depends on imports due to the low fiber quality of domestic cotton. Research on the second generation GM cotton is being done by the Breeding and Cultivation of New GM Varieties Project, and will help to improve the fiber quality of Chinese cotton.
See the news at http://www.caas.net.cn/caasnew/ysxw/kyjz/61380.shtml
A seminar on the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops was conducted on April 1, 2012 at the conference room of Agriculture Faculty, Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU). BAU Vice Chancellor Professor Dr. Md Rafigul Hoque, chief guest, emphasized that the use of GM crops in Bangladesh would bring benefits to the country as it is a land saving technology that allows increased food production to meet the ever increasing demand of a burgeoning population in the country. The Global Status Report was presented by the Bangladesh Biotechnology Information Center (BdBIC)director Prof. Khondoker Nasiruddin
The seminar was attended by around 50 participants from various stakeholders including the academe, policy makers and media. The event was jointly organized by the Bangladesh Association for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (BABGE) and ISAAA.
At the close of the seminar, the vice chancellor said, "This GM crop seminar removed my fear and strengthened my belief for its adoption to ensure food security. As the GM crops are released and cultivated under a transparent and stringent regulatory mechanism, testing the human, animal health and the environmental safety following the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, no adverse situation can be foreseen."
For details of the seminar, contact Prof. Dr. K M Nasiruddin of Bangladesh BIC at email@example.com.
Biofuel company, Algae.Tec Limited, announced the opening of its production facilities in Australia and Sri Lanka. The Shoalhaven One showcase facility to be opened in Australia by the end of April 2012 is now ready for the bioreactor technology.
Project planning for the facility in Sri Lanka is also complete. According to the report by Algae.Tec, the bioreactors are being fitted out at the Algae Development & Manufacturing Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. The center has been expanded and upgraded to accommodate these commercial production programs. The despatch of the bioreactors to Sri Lanka will begin by late May this year.
BASF revealed that it will continue its GM potato trials this year on less than one hectare on sites in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. The announcement was published despite a decision made in January to transfer BASF's GM research from Germany to the United States. BASF said that it would carry on trials of crops undergoing the European Union approvals process.
Peter Eckes, president of BASF Plant Science, said that they will continue the approval processes which are already underway and the production of seed material for such purposes. "BASF is convinced that plant biotechnology is a technology of the future," he added.
This year's trials will include the starch potato Modena and blight-resistant Fortuna. The trials will be conducted in Saxony-Anhalt in Germany, in the provinces of Skane and Halland in Sweden, and the provinces of Gelderland, Drenthe and Noord-Brabant in the Netherlands.
Read the press release at http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/05/us-germany-gmo-basf-idUSBRE8340Y120120405.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has found that Monsanto's MON810 maize has no adverse effects on human health or the environment, based on data from the 2010 growing season.
The top European regulators scientific opinion on Post-Market Environmental Monitoring (PMEM) report for 2010 concluded that MON810 has no adverse effects on human and animal health, or the environment. EFSA's Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO Panel) also said that the outcomes of the PMEM report corroborate EFSA's previous findings in its assessment of MON810 maize for the 2009 growing season.
The report said that "from the data submitted by the applicant in its 2010 monitoring report, the EFSA GMO Panel does not identify adverse effects on the environment, human and animal health due to maize MON810 cultivation during the 2010 growing season."
The full EFSA Scientific Opinion can be found here: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/2610.htm
The United Kingdom, through its Department of International Development Fund (DFID) donated £16M ($25M) to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to support a global initiative to improve agricultural statistics. The program "Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics" will help developing countries produce and use statistics in more effective and sustainable food production.
The donation will be used in the first phase of the program (2012 to 2016) to support African and Asian governments in managing their statistical systems using digital devices such as smartphones, GPS and satellites. The FAO said that developing countries collect data using costly, labor-intensive, and time-consuming systems that sometimes produce unreliable statistic.
FAO Director-General José Graciano da Silva said that "the program provides an example of how the FAO works with farmers to translate global information into concrete results at household, community and country levels."
Read more about this initiative at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/132897/icode/.
Scientists at the University of Texas discovered that seed size is controlled by small RNA molecules inherited from a plant's mother. This discovery has implications for agriculture and in understanding evolution of plants.
In their paper published in the April 3 issue of PNAS, scientist Jeffrey Chen and colleagues provided the first genetic evidence that small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) affect the development of endosperm, which is the source of nutrition of developing plant embryo. Their findings showed that when a female plant with a duplicate genome is crossed with a male plant with a normal genome, the maternal genome increased in the offspring's seed endosperm and the maternal siRNAs also increased. The increase in maternal siRNAs causes the reduction in gene expression that lead to larger endosperm growth, meaning that the siRNAs leads to production of smaller seeds.
These findings will guide the scientists in developing biotech tools to enhance seed production and crop yield.
Read the media release at http://www.utexas.edu/news/2012/04/11/seed_size_chen/ and the research article at http://www.pnas.org/content/109/14/5529.full?sid=5d9545e9-4719-453b-8722-916690b39872.
Rice University scientists revealed that plant use sense of touch to combat biotic stresses like pathogens and pests. In an earlier study conducted by E. Wassim Chehab and colleagues, they developed a genetically modified plant that glowed whenever it is touched. They also found that regularly touched Arabidopsis plants grew shorter and slower than the controls.
In their new study, they showed that the plant hormone jasmonate mediates the growth response in Arabidopsis. The plants that were repeatedly touched maintained high levels of jasmonate and thus exhibited better insect and fungal tolerance. When they removed the genes responsible for jasmonate production, the plants were unable to grow shorter and slower when frequently touched.
Subscribers of Current Biology journal may access the article at http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822%2812%2900248-5.
Rhodococcus fascians is a bacterial pathogen of plants that affects plant growth and development. It infects plants through its virulence factors which are composed of hormones called cytokinins. Ghent University researcher Elisabeth Stes and colleagues conducted a study to elucidate the role of auxins in symptom development upon R. fascians infection in Arabidopsis.
The researchers conducted expression profiling of marker genes for auxin production and observed that cytokinins induce auxin production of plants by targeting the indole-3-pyruvic acid (IPA) pathway which leads to improved auxin signaling in infected tissues. Mutated Arabidopsis plants with defective IPA pathways showed less reaction to infection even if the bacterial colonization and virulence gene expression were not impaired.
These findings imply that plant-derived auxin was employed to stimulate symptom formation. The increased auxin production and cytokinin in infected plants changed the transport of auxins so that a new higher limit for auxin is set and distributed. This process is necessary for symptom onset and maintenance. The results provide scientists a model of action of bacterial and plant signals in Arabidopsis during infection of R. fascians.
Read the abstract at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-313X.2011.04890.x/abstract.
Beyond Crop Biotech
Scientists at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute reported that they have isolated mutations at two gene locations that confer development of obesity in children.
"We see a clear genetic signature to childhood obesity, showing that there is more than just an environmental component to this disease," Struan Grant, senior author of the research, said at a press conference.
The research team identified the genes using 14 genome-wide association studies conducted in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe, which involved more than 5,000 obese children and 8,000 non-obese children. Two genes (OLFM4 and HOXB5) stood out and showed signals in extremely obese children. Once the scientists understand how these genes work, they may lead to finding treatments to childhood obesity.
Read the full article at http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=663530.
Prof. Bert Vogelstein from Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and other researchers reported that sequencing the genomes of patients is not the best way to predict their tendencies to get certain diseases.
Their study revealed that most people would get negative results from having their genome sequenced for all but one of the 24 identified conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and Alzeimer's. According to the authors, genome sequencing may help trace a number of genetic disorders, but the process may not be a good predictor of who will suffer from the majority of illnesses. Thus, prevention is still the key in avoiding ailments.
Results of the study is published in Science Translational Medicine journal: http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/early/2012/04/02/scitranslmed.3003380.abstract?sid=f7ff7501-2f56-45f8-b16a-7391e6a78352.
The BIO International Convention is scheduled on June 18-21, 2012, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) expects more than 15,000 biotech leaders from 65 countries to participate in the event. The program includes lectures on important trends ans perspectives on timely issues on biotechnology, and exhibition on the latest technologies, products, and services. To register, visit http://www.bio.org/events/industry-calendar/2012-bio-international-convention.
Asia BioBusiness Pte. Ltd., the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) will conduct a workshop on the Commercialization of Biotech Crops; Learning from Asia in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines from 3-7 September 2012.
This five-day workshop will include thematic discussions, workshop sessions, and visits to biotech facilities, field trials and commercial biotech corn farms in the Philippines. Biotech regulators, government legislators, public/private sector scientists,industry managers and researchers, and other key players in biotech R&D across the Asian region are expected to participate.
The March issue of OECD Environment Working Papers is now available at the OECD iLibrary. "Adaptation and Innovation An Analysis of Crop Biotechnology Patent Data" is the 40th working paper and is also available in French.
Download the March issue at http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/environment/adaptation-and-innovation_5k9csvvntt8p-en.