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In This Issue

May 11, 2012

NEWS

Global
• FAO Director-General Warns of Horn of Africa, Sahel Funding Gap 

Africa
• Biotechnology, Key to Realizing Africa's Full Agricultural Potential, says Ghana Minister 
• FAO: Use Your Oil Resources to Improve Agriculture in Africa 
• CGIAR Program to Improve Maize Opens Call for Proposals 

Americas
• Cornell Researcher Works to Reduce Aluminum Toxicity in Rice 
• NSF Grant Supports Study on Hidden Soybean Genes 
• IFIC Survey on Consumers' Perception of Food Tech 
• New Source of Biofuel from Ceres Sweet Sorghum Hybrids 

Asia and the Pacific
• Consumer Attitude toward GM Foods in South Korea 
• New Nematode-Resistant Wheat 
• PAU Experts Urge Use of Biotechnology in Pest Management 
• ADB Report: Comprehensive Approach Must Be Implemented for Food Security and Poverty Reduction in Asia 
• Philippine Agri Experts Underscore Need for Alternative Bt Eggplant Technology 
• UWA Crop Root Study to Boost Grain Production 
• China's Ten Measures to Promote Transformation of Traditional Agriculture 
• QUAAFI-Pioneer Hi-Bred Partners on Predicting Crop Yield Technology 

Europe
• JHI Receives £1.25M Grant for Barley Research 
• Moss Detects Air Pollution 
• Undue Delays in the EU Approval of Safe GM Products 

Research
• Pollen Allergic Risk Assessment of GM Pepper and GM Chinese Cabbage 
• Effects of Bt Maize Feeds on Immune Response and Digestive Fate of Bt Gene and Protein 
• Scientists Compare Nutritional and Phytochemical Properties of GE Pepper and Its Parent Cultivar 

Beyond Crop Biotech
• microRNAs: Key to Treating Neurodegenerative Diseases 
• Scripps Research Institute Finds Protein that Can Silence Genes 
• ABSOLUTE: A New View of the Cancer Genome 
• Pfizer and Protalix BioTherapeutics Derive GE Carrot Cells for Gaucher Disease Treatment 
• CSIRO Student Develops "Spell Checker" for Gene Sequences 
• Study Probes How Organisms Evolved Diverse Mechanisms 

Announcements
• Conference on Czech Contribution to Sustainable Bioeconomy 

Document Reminders
• Analysis of U.S. Genetically Engineered Crop Regulation and Litigation 
• Biotechnology the Invisible Revolution 

Latest Communication Products

ISAAA Brief 48-2014
This brief shows how modern biotechnology has transformed farming into a profession that harvests agronomic and socio-cultural benefits beyond promise.
Straight from the Scientists: Biotech Experts' Perspectives and Experiences in Informing the Public
This monograph highlights the study on how academics and scientists play their role in biotech communication.
Pocket K no 48: Bt Eggplant
Pocket K on Bt Eggplant features the technology behind the biotech crop and status of Bt eggplant adoption and experimentation including potential benefits in Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines.
Biotechnology in Ornamental Plants
This new Pocket K, Biotechnology in Ornamental Plants, includes the different types of ornamental plants, the different uses of biotechnology in ornamental horticulture, and the major genetically modified ornamentals.

News

Global

During the recently concluded international economic forum held in Madrid, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva revealed that funding seems to be the significant problem in the international effort to boost food security and development in Africa. "In the Horn of Africa we are losing the window of opportunity to build on our recent achievements - which helped to overcome the famine declared last year in Somalia - increasing the resilience of families facing drought," he said.

In Spain, where Da Silva participated in the first FAO-Spain Awards achievement in the fight against hunger, he strongly added "Spain will remain a strategic ally in the fight against hunger. The foundation of this alliance is based not only on the financial contribution, but on the shared certainty that a world without hunger is possible, that development can and needs to be sustainable, that countries can learn from each other, that multilateralism is the road we must travel to reach our goals, and that the progress of vulnerable countries also benefits the developed ones."

See the story at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/142504/icode/

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Africa

Agricultural biotechnology has received firm backing from Ghana's Minister for Environment, Science and Technology Hon. Ms. Sherry Ayittey. The Minister's sentiments came during the second Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) all chapters annual planning meeting in Accra, Ghana on May 1, 2012.

Hon. Ayittey noted that while African leaders knew the potential benefits of adopting biotechnology, most were still dragging their feet hence prolonging the continent's food insecurity problem. "With biotechnology, there will be hope for numerous farmers on the continent. We can no longer stretch our hands to Europe for food aid. All leaders have to come on board and support biotechnology to make Africa food secure," said the Minister.

The Minister also noted that Africa's food security is largely threatened by loss of soil fertility and long periods of drought because of climate change. Agricultural biotechnology therefore becomes a very viable option among others if Africa is to survive these twin challenges facing the continent.

For more on this news, contact Jonathan Odhong of ISAAA AfriCenter at j.odhong@cgiar.org

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The FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva has made a clarion call to oil rich African nations to utilize revenues generated from oil to make their countries food secure. Graziano da Silva was speaking during FAO's Regional Conference for Africa on 30 April, 2012 in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo.

"I would like to appeal to African nations, especially oil-producing countries to invest some of these resources in agriculture in a sustainable manner without damaging the environment," said Graziano da Silva in his address. The FAO Director also made a call for more stakeholders within the continent to be engaged in efforts to make the continent food secure.

"The private sector also has a role to play. It will be responsible for the bulk of investment that agriculture needs. Overcoming famine was by no means the result of FAO's effort alone: we were, and are, working closely with other UN partners, including UNDP, UNICEF and WFP, with regional bodies such as the IGAD and the African Union, with NGOs and civil society organizations and with the farmers, pastoralists and cooperatives," he added.

Find the DG's statement at  http://www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/025/md760e.pdf.

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The CGIAR research program on maize is now receiving proposals and concept notes by scientists for initiatives to improve maize. The Maize Competitive Grants Initiative allows scientists worldwide to apply for funds to support research and capacity building activities that will make a significant contribution to the improvement of the crop.

Concept Notes are sought for one or more of the priority research areas including:

  • Socioeconomics and policies for maize futures
  • Sustainable intensification and income opportunities for the poor
  • Smallholder precision agriculture
  • Stress tolerant maize for the poorest
  • Towards doubling maize productivity
  • Integrated post-harvest management
  • Nutritious maize
  • Seeds of discovery
  • New tools and methods for NARS and SMEs

For more details: http://www.weeatmaize.org/index.php/our-strategy/competitive-grants-initiative.

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Americas

Cornell University plant breeder Susan McCouch has identified several promising rice varieties that are tolerant to aluminum, the third most abundant element in soil and toxic to plants in acidic conditions. Together with Leon Kochian of the US Department of Agriculture's Robert Holley Center for Agriculture and Health, they found that japonica varieties are twice more tolerant to aluminum than indica varieties. They also discovered plant mechanisms in different varieties that influence their tolerance to aluminum. Some plants can keep aluminum from entering their roots, while others detoxify the metal inside their root cells. McCouch and her team are also trying to find out if crossing different strains could result in new super-tolerant varieties.

McCouch said that insight into aluminum tolerance in rice will also provide a good model to investigate the effects of aluminum toxicity in other cereal crops such as maize and wheat. Aluminum toxicity is a major limitation to crop production and affects about 50 percent of global arable land, including 20 percent of land in North America.

For more information about this research, read the news release from Cornell University's Press Relations Office at http://www.pressoffice.cornell.edu/releases/release.cfm?r=65749&y=2012&m=5.

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With the help of the $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), University of Georgia (UGA) professor and plant geneticist Wayne Parrott will try to uncover more uses of soybean.

According to him, soybean is a key crop essential for satisfying the nutritional needs of the increasing global population. He added that extensive study and understanding of the crop's genes is important in the development of new soybean varieties. He will be working with scientists at the University of Missouri; Gary Stacey, Carroll Vance and Robert Stupar at University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus; and Tom Clemente at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Over the next three years, the research team will work on the collection of soybean insertional and gene activation mutants. They will be using a jumping gene that UGA plant biology professor Sue Wesser found in rice. This will be inserted into soybean plants in Parrott's laboratory.

Read more about their research project at http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/nsf-grant-hidden-soybean-genes-050912/.

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The International Food Information Council (IFIC) revealed the results of their survey on consumers' perception of food technology conducted in March 2012. This year's survey, which is a part of a series conducted since 1997, focused on public awareness and perceptions of various aspects of plant and animal biotechnology, measured confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply, and attitudes toward food labeling.

Results showed that perceptions of food technology have remained steady, despite the food issues released through the media in 2011. Most consumers (77%) said that they would be likely to purchase food produced through biotechnology, especially those that have positive impact on their health and on the environment. Majority of American consumers (76%) were satisfied with the existing federal rules on food labeling. Moreover, 66% of the respondents also claimed that they were satisfied with the current policy of Food and Drug Administration for labeling of food produced using biotechnology.

View the results of the survey at http://www.foodinsight.org/Content/5438/FINAL%20Executive%20Summary%205-8-12.pdf.

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Amyris, under a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant, successfully processed the improved sweet sorghum hybrids from energy crop company Ceres, Inc. The sweet sorghum hybrids from Ceres undergo a process of extraction of juice from the stem. Then this juice is concentrated into sugar syrup, after which it is brought to Amyris' pilot facility in California and converted into its trademarked product, Biofene.

Ceres Director of Business Development Spencer Swayze says that they believe sweet sorghum could be an essential source of sugars that could be fermented as the U.S. strives to expand its production of renewable biofuels and biochemical with the help of non-food crops. He also mentioned that sweet sorghum is a producer of cheap, fermentable sugars that would be able to aid in providing low-cost products.

Amyris Director of Product Management Todd Pray said, "The results from these evaluations confirmed that the Amyris No Compromise renewable diesel production process performs well across different sugar sources. Ceres' sweet sorghum hybrids produced sugars that yielded comparable levels of farnesene as sugarcane and other sugar sources Amyris has utilized." He also added that sweet sorghum can offer updated feedstock flexibility with environmental benefits.

Another benefit of using these sweet sorghum hybrids is that it is fast-growing, efficient in producing large quantity of fermentable sugars and biomass, and these plants requires a significantly less amount of fertilizer than sugarcane. Sweet sorghum can also grow in dry areas.

Read more about this new technology at http://www.ceres.net/News/NewsReleases/2012/05-03-12-News-Rel.html.

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Asia and the Pacific

Renee Kim from Hanyang University in South Korea published a paper about a survey on the attitude of South Korean consumers towards GM foods. Kim used a quantitative model that identifies the major determinants of consumers' choice behavior for GM foods.

Survey results showed that the consumers' socio-economic status and their perception on the benefits of GM foods were strong indicators of consumers' GM food purchase intention. Favorable attributes to GM food like nutritional enhancement were found to have significant influence on consumers' attitude toward GM food positively. On the other hand, perceived risk of GM food, uncertainty/ lack of understanding on GM food and potential environmental hazard of GM food were found to affect consumers' attitude toward GM food negatively. Thus, it is recommended in the paper that educating consumers about GM food could be an effective way to eliminate their concerns about GM foods.

Read more about the results of the survey at http://www.chemtech.ktu.lt/index.php/EE/article/viewFile/1548/1392.

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Agri-Science Queensland has released five new wheat breeding lines that are tolerant and resistant to the root-lesion nematode Pratylenchus thornei, a plant parasite affecting two-thirds of Australia's grain crops and reduce yield by up to 65 percent. Nematodes invade wheat roots making it difficult for plants to absorb water and nutrients from the soil.

Agri-Science Queensland plant pathologist Jason Sheedy said that putting the technology into the seed through genetic resistance and tolerance makes crop management easier with no additional cost to the growers. He added that the nematode tolerant characteristic allows wheat plants to maximize yield under nematode-infested conditions, while the nematode resistant characteristic prevent soil population build up and affect the following wheat crop.

The new wheat breeding lines are now available to Australian wheat breeding companies in time with the start of the 2012 planting season.

More information about this breakthrough is available at http://qcl.farmonline.com.au/news/state/grains-and-cropping/wheat/new-nematoderesistant-wheat-available/2539159.aspx

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India's key scientists and entomologists who met during the national seminar on "Biotechnological Approaches in Pest Management" at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) recommend using biotech for optimum pest management. The national seminar was hosted by PAU's Department of Entomology and School of Agricultural Biotechnology. Guests included Darshan S. Brar, PAU adjunct professor and former head of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology Division of the International Rice Research Institute. Dr. Brar said that biotechnological interventions should be used to broaden the host range of natural enemies to enable their production on artificial diet or non-host insect species that can be easily multiplied in the laboratory.

Other scientists who participated in the forum include Hari C. Sharma (ICRISAT), J.S. Bentur (Directorate of Rice Research), Abraham Verghese (Indian Institute of Horticultural Research), S.S. Gosal and Kuldip Singh (PAU). They deliberated on possible new biotechnological approaches that can be used in pest management. A "Center for Excellence" was suggested by the group, where work can be done on transgenics, induced resistance, genetically engineered entomopathogens, molecular diagnostics for biotypes, DNA barcoding of important insects, and production of insect species.

Singh, who is the director of PAU's School of Agricultural Biotechnology said that the group stressed the need for close interaction among entomologists, molecular biologists and biotechnologists, and plant breeders to optimize the use of biotechnological approaches in pest development.

More information is available at http://www.punjabnewsline.com/content/optimize-use-biotech-pest-management-pau-experts/44188

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The Asian Development Bank released a report titled Food Security and Poverty in Asia and the Pacific: Key Challenges and Policy Issues during the 45th Annual Meeting of Board of Governors held at the Philippine International Convention Center in April 2012.

The study estimated that the world's population will increase by more than two billion by 2050, wherein half will be from Asia. According to the report, Asian economies must understand that food security and poverty reduction are interconnected and that adoption of a comprehensive approach to address both concerns is necessary. 

It was also indicated in the report that advances in biotechnology could significantly increase farm production by developing crops that can thrive under climate change conditions and with less water. "More research and better technologies are also needed in livestock production and fisheries, as people shift dietary preferences from cereal grains to meat and vegetables," the report said, adding that other fields of research and development include efficient, sustainable use of dwindling arable land and water resources.

Download a copy of the report at http://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/pub/2012/food-security-poverty.pdf.

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Several esteemed scientists in the Philippines emphasized the need for an alternative to excessive pesticide spraying in eggplant. Dr. Emiliana Bernardo, entomologist and member of Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) of the Department of Agriculture, said that the current practice of spraying in eggplant farms calls for a healthier and more environment-friendly option.

"The very basic question is ‘which is safer?' The present practice or the alternative, the Bt eggplant which is rigorously evaluated by experts? Is bathing the unharvested eggplant fruits in chemicals, which would end up in dinner tables of people, safe?" said Dr. Bernardo, who is also a member of the Institutional Biosafety Committee of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) for the multi-location field trial in the university. "UPLB is conducting research on Bt eggplant because we know that this has promising potentials and is considered safer than the current practice," she said.

National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) Academician Dr. Ruben L. Villareal said that Bt crops that can resist infestation of specific insect pests are among those prioritized, especially when insect control using conventional means are ineffective and costly. "Based on my experience as a vegetable breeder, there is no existing source of eggplant germplasm that is highly resistant to the fruit and shoot borer. Biotechnology is a tool that could develop varieties that would be advantageous to farmers, consumers and the environment. We are actually very fortunate that the technology is available," said Dr. Villareal.

The full article about the experts' views may be found at http://www.bic.searca.org/press_releases/2012/may11.html. For more information about the development of Bt eggplant in the Philippines, visit http://www.bic.searca.org or e-mail bic@agri.searca.org.

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According to researchers from The University of Western Australia (UWA), understanding the root system and function of crop plants is the "next frontier" to increase Australia's grain production, keep farms viable, and help continue to feed the world despite the onset of increasing drought and climate change.

The research team was led by UWA-based Chief Investigators Winthrop Professor Zed Rengel and Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique. One of their projects involves experimenting with lupin roots to improve the water use and nutrient uptake of narrow-leaf lupin varieties. To address the Australian grain producers' problems on poor local soils, harsh growing conditions, and declining rainfall, the group used new screening techniques and advanced computer modeling in studying the variability of lupin root systems.

"Our findings may be used in breeding new varieties of lupins with modified root system and function that may produce higher yields in soils with relatively limited water and nutrient resources," said Professor Zed Rengel.

More details about this study are available at http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201205084599/research/crop-root-study-boost-australian-grain-production.

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Mr. Zhang Laiwu, Vice Minister of Science and Technology of People Republic of China, announced at a news conference held by the State Council Information Office that China will take ten measures to promote the transformation from traditional agriculture to modern agriculture.

The 10 measures are: 

  •  Implement agricultural science and technology key special programs; 
  •  Start the action for seed industry science and technology innovation; 
  •  Extensively promote the sci-tech commissioners' rural technology entrepreneurial process; 
  •  Actively promote the construction of the new rural S&T service system; 
  • Accelerate the construction of national agricultural S&T park;
  • Speed up the rural information service; 
  • Deepen the reform of rural science and technology plan management;
  • Continue to increase investment in agricultural S&T;
  • Strengthen agricultural S&T innovation platform; 
  • Vigorously cultivate agricultural S&T personnel.

See the news at: http://www.zgppny.com/qwfb_2012/04/036068.html

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A new crop technology was co-developed by University of Queensland's (UQ) Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) and DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred. The team, led by Prof. Graeme Hammer, director of QAAFI's Centre for Plant Science, is composed of UQ scientists. Their goal is to develop a world-class model which will assist farmers and scientists in predicting crop yield.

The technology uses the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM). It is a software platform that was developed in Australia through the collaboration between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the Queensland Government, and the University of Queensland. It enables the researchers to input many specific characteristics of experimental plant's behavior under test conditions, and it also facilitates prediction of which crops will respond best under drought conditions.

According to Prof. Hammer, they will be working together to improve the modeling platform so that it can accept even more traits, thereby increasing its utility. This will give the members of the consortium an access to the resulting advanced modeling platform, thereby facilitating further research in a number of crops.

Read more about the APSIM technology at http://uc.searca.org/news_events/2012/may/05_2.html.

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Europe

The James Hutton Institute (JHI) has been awarded  a £1.25 million research grant to be utilized in projects that will help improve the quality and reliability of malting barley, increase knowledge of root development, and  identify disease resistance in barley. The institute was able to secure four projects among the other nine crop research projects which the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Scottish government, and 14 plant breeders, food processors, and farming companies will be funding.

Dr. Bill Thomas, an expert in barley genetics at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, said that the funding will help them in working towards improved crop varieties that could result to better yield that require lesser inputs.

One of the projects is to improve the processability of barley through the identification of DNA markers that can be used to eliminate potential varieties that have processing problems in barley breeding programs. Another project involves the identification and selection of new sources of resistance to Rhynchosporium, or leaf scald, which can be useful to barley breeding.

The Crop Improvement Research Club, a £7.06 million, five-year partnership, was established between the BBSRC, the Scottish Government and a consortium of leading companies last April 24. Its main goal is to support different research projects that are geared towards the development of improved crop varieties.

Read the news at http://www.hutton.ac.uk/news/%C2%A3125-million-cereals-research. Know more about the Crop Improvement Research Club at http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/food-security/2012/120424-pr-circ-deliver-better-crops.aspx.

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Biologist Professor Ralf Reski, Chair of Plant Biotechnology of University of Freiburg, Germany and a group of scientists from Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Ireland formed the consortium MOSSCLONE. The consortium consisting of five academic partners and five small and medium enterprises (SMEs) aims to develop a novel, precise and inexpensive method to monitor air contamination by heavy metals.

The project is based on the fact that mosses are excellent bio-indicators for airborne pollution as they take up and accumulate pollutants. Huge amounts of peat moss will be cultivated under controlled laboratory conditions, inactivated and the surface structures transferred to air-permeable bags under fabrication conditions. These moss-bags will be placed in monitoring stations across Europe and analyzed according to their ability to accumulate pollutants from the air.

"We will combine methods from molecular biology and material sciences with those from ecology and bionics," says Ralf Reski. It is hoped that this technology will be used in the whole of Europe to monitor environmental pollution.

See the news at http://www.pr.uni-freiburg.de/pm/2012/pm.2012-04-03.72-en

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EuropaBio has published a document listing the status of GM applications in the decision making phase of the EU approval process. The approval process in the EU is considered one of the strictest. After an extensive scientific risk assessment, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will endorse a particular decision to the European Commission for final authorization. This decision making phase should take three months in the hands of the EU Commission and the Member States to reach the Standing Committee for a decision. After which, if there is a need to appeal, the commission has to submit the approval dossier to the Appeal Committee within two months.

EuropaBio disclosed the status of European Approval Process which indicate that there has been enormous delays and does not conform with the approval timeline.

See the article at http://www.europabio.org/sites/default/files/position/120502_gm_approvals_status_may_2012_0.pdf#overlay-context=agricultural/positions/undue-delays-eu-approval-safe-gm-products.

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Research

Scientist Dae-Yul Son of Daegu Haany University and colleagues assessed the allergic risk of pollens coming from genetically modified (GM) pepper with resistance to cucumber mosaic virus and GM Chinese cabbage with high phenylethylisothiocyanate (PEITC) content. They compared the amino acid (AA) sequences of the inserted gene products of GM pepper and GM Chinese cabbage with those of known allergens.

Results showed that there were no gene products that had similar sequence with the known allergens Analysis of protein gels showed that that the protein patterns of the GM pepper and GM Chinese cabbage is similar with those of the non-GM counterparts. Pollen allergic patients showed the same reactivity to GM and non-GM pepper and Chinese cabbage.

Based on the findings, the researchers concluded that pollens from the GM pepper and Chinese cabbage have no difference with the non-GM counterparts in terms of protein composition and allergenicity.

Read the research article at http://www.springerlink.com/content/t14262021m557104/.

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A study was conducted to evaluate the long-term and age-specific effects of feeding Bt maize on the immune response of pigs and to know the fate of cry1Ab gene and protein. This study was conducted by Peadar Lawlor of Teagasc, Ireland, and other scientists and was published in PLos One open-access journal.

Forty day old pigs were fed with different treatments: non-Bt maize  (isogenic) diet for 110 days; Bt maize-based diet for 110 days (Bt); non-Bt maize diet for 30 days and Bt maize-based diet for 80 days (isogenic/Bt); and Bt maize-based diet for 30 days and non-Bt maize diet for 80 days (Bt/isogenic). Blood samples of the pigs were taken at different times during the study for haematological analysis, measurement of cytokine and Cry1Ab-specific antibody production, immune cell phenotyping, and detection of cry1Ab gene and protein. After 110 days, the pigs were sacrificed for analysis of stomach contents and organ samples.

The findings revealed differences in the counts of white blood cells and red blood cells of pigs under different treatments. However, these immune responses were not age-specific and were not indicative of allergic or inflammatory responses due to Bt maize. No evidence was found for translocation of Bt gene or protein to organs or blood.

Read the open-access article at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0036141.

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One of the considerations in the development of biotech crops is the preservation of nutritional property of the crop. The biotech crop must contain at least equal nutritional value as that of the parent line. Thus, Young-Sang Lee of Soonchunhyang University in Korea and team conducted a study to compare the nutritional and phytochemical composition of genetically engineered (GE) red pepper resistant to cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) to its parent cultivar.

The research team analyzed the nutrient content (moisture, protein, lipid, ash, carbohydrate, and energy), minerals, fatty acid composition, casaicinoids, sugars (glucose, sucrose, and fructose), vitamin E, vitamin C, phytosterols, squalene contents, and ASTA color values of GE pepper and its parent line. Results of the analyses showed that there were no significant differences in the levels of the compounds in GE pepper and the parent line except for stigmasterol, a type of phytosterol. However, the difference was below the 15% natural-fluctuation threshold. Therefore, the results imply that CMV-GE pepper is equivalent to its parent line in terms of nutritional and phytochemical composition.

Read the abstract at http://www.springerlink.com/content/q32556j32q4v3212/.

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Beyond Crop Biotech

A research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust shows a new group of molecules which control some of the fundamental processes behind memory function. This discovery may be the key to the development of new therapies as treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.

The research was led by academics from the University of Bristol's Schools of Clinical Sciences, Biochemistry and Physiology and Pharmacology. It reveals a new group of molecules known as mirror-microRNAs.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs), often residing within the ‘junk DNA', are non-coding genes that regulate the levels and functions of multiple target proteins which are responsible for controlling brain cellular processes. According to the study's findings, it is possible to produce two miRNA genes with different functions from the same piece or sequence of DNA. One of the miRNA genes is produced from the top strand while the other one is from the bottom complementary ‘mirror' strand.

Moreover, the study has shown that two fully processed miRNA genes expressed in the brain, with different and previously unknown functions, can be extracted from a single sequence of human DNA.

According to Professor of Molecular Neuroscience in the University of Bristol's Schools of Clinical Sciences James Uney, the findings are important because they show how small changes in the miRNA genes can have a dramatic effect on brain function. He added that it may influence our memory function, or the likelihood of acquiring neurodegenerative diseases.

Read more about this study on mirror-microRNAs at http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/health/2012/120427-pr-doubling-information-from-double-helix.aspx. Access the paper at the Journal of Biological Chemistry on their website: http://www.jbc.org/content/early/2012/03/05/jbc.M111.326041.abstract.

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Three-dimensional atomic structure of a human protein which is mainly involved in regulating the activities of cells has been identified by the Scripps Research Institute. This new finding can be helpful in understanding a process called RNA-silencing and use it to treat diseases.

The update on RNA-silencing focused on Argonaute2, which is a protein that can switch-off a gene by intercepting and slicing the gene's RNA transcripts before they are translated as proteins. RNA-silencing requires an Argonaute protein and guide RNA called microRNA. The guide RNA inserts into a space on Argonaute and serves as a target recognition device. The mRNA, thus, carries the Argonaute to its target.

Though Argonaute2 is not the only type of Argonaute protein, it appears to be the only Argonaute protein capable of terminating target RNA directly. Further studies of this new finding aims to use it to find "therapeutic weapons" against disease-causing genes or a cell's overactive guide RNA.

Read more about the gene-silencing protein at http://www.scripps.edu/news/press/2012/20120426mcrae.html.

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Scientists who want to unlock cancer's secrets are faced with the challenge of quantifying DNA alterations that may underlie malignancy in cancer cells. To help solve the complications of the search for genetic alterations in cancer, researchers at the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University developed a new computational method called ABSOLUTE.

From relative measures of DNA mass to calculate genetic changes on an absolute (per cell) basis, ABSOLUTE infers each sample's purity and "ploidy", or the number of genomes in each cancer cell. Currently, the method is being used in several large cancer genome projects. It also helps scientists in discovering more about the evolution and population structure of cells within tumors. According to Gad Getz, senior author of the study and director general of cancer genome computational analysis at the Broad Institute, this method provides a new window into exploring genetic changes underlying cancer at the cellular level. "This invaluable tool also gives an unprecedented look at the cellular makeup of tumors in large-scale studies," he added.

Read more about how ABSOLUTE method works at http://www.broadinstitute.org/news/4139.

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A new announcement from Pfizer, Inc. and ProtalixBioTherapeutics said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the ELELYSO™ for injection. This new drug is for the enzyme replacement therapy (ERT) of adults with type 1 Gaucher disease.

ELELYSO™ is the first plant cell-based ERT that FDA has approved. This new drug is derived from ProCellEx® using genetically engineered carrot cells. ProCellEx® is Protalix's proprietary manufacturing system.

Read more about ELELYSO™ and the plant cell manufacturing system at http://www.pfizer.com/news/press_releases/pfizer_press_release.jsp?guid=20120501007295en&source=RSS_2011&page=1.

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A new software that "spellchecks" gene sequences was developed by Lauren Bragg, a PhD student from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the University of Queensland.

The new software Acacia analyzes the output of next-generation gene sequencing instruments which read the bases that code for DNA and spell out the genes of various living organisms. Acacia works just like a computer spell checker, finding errors in the DNA code of amplicon sequences produced during gene sequencing. This new software shows improvements over the two error-correction tool used by biologists, plus it is easier to use.

The development of Acacia is another breakthrough in the field of bioinformatics.

Read more details at http://www.csiro.au/en/Portals/Media/New-approach-to-spell-checking-gene-sequences.aspx.

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Lasius neglectus ants were studied by two scientists from the Immunity and Infection Research at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom and from Stanford University in the United States to determine how organisms transfer immunity between related individuals and to discriminate between pathogens. The study published in the journal PloS Biology described that ants covered with lethal doses of the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae were allowed to interact with nest mates who then become exposed to low doses of the pathogen to induce specific anti-fungal immune function.

Various approaches were used by the scientists to identify the mechanisms underlying social immunization in ant colonies: mathematical modeling; and behavioral, microbiological, immunological, and molecular techniques to come up with a concrete proof of concept that group-level immunity may be experimentally manipulated and modeled.

Through this study and further scrutiny of social immunity at a system level in insects, emergent properties that have been missing in the humans can be elucidated.

See the original article at http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=EN_NEWS&ACTION=D&SESSION=&RCN=34604.

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Announcements

A conference on "Czech Contribution to Sustainable Bioeconomy" is going to be held in Brussels, Belgium on May 31, 2012. It is organized under the auspices of the Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the EU and in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic and with the Technology Centre AS CR. The conference will be a forum for bringing together policymakers, researchers, industry representatives and end users to discuss bioeconomy-based ecologically sensitive products and services produced by the use of biotechnology and renewable energy resources.

See the announcement at  http://cordis.europa.eu/fetch?CALLER=EN_NEWS_FP7&ACTION=D&DOC=14&CAT=NEWS
&QUERY=013739b508de:4300:2358c81c&RCN=34579
To register and know more about the conference, check the website at http://www.czelo.cz/dokums_raw/invitation_bioeconomy.pdf

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Document Reminders

The Crop Science Society of America released an article that discusses the different challenges in the regulation of genetically engineered crops in the U.S. The paper highlights the results of a research study conducted by Esther McGinnis and colleagues at the University of Minnesota. Download a copy of the article at https://www.crops.org/news-media/releases/2012/0507/538/


A short video describing how biotechnology can be applied to our everyday lives is available at the Europabio website at http://www.europabio.org/biotechnology-invisible-revolution-0