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In This Issue

August 29, 2008

Latest Communication Products

Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015
The updated version of ISAAA Pocket K No. 16 based on 20th Anniversary (1996 to 2015) of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015 authored by Dr. Clive James is now available.
20th Anniversary (1996 to 2015) of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015
ISAAA released its annual report detailing the adoption of biotech crops, "20th Anniversary of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops (1996-2015) and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015," showcasing the global increase in biotech hectarage from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015.

News

Global

The Irish Government, through its Irish Aid program, is providing some €4.4 million (US $6.47 million) in research funding to eight Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centers working to achieve sustainable food security and reduce poverty in developing countries.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) will receive €640,000 (US $940,800) to help advance its efforts in fighting hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa. Other research centers selected include Bioversity International, the World Potato Center (CIP) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

According to Peter Power, Minister of State for Overseas Development, the aid was being granted in response to spiraling food prices. Power said that top quality agricultural research plays a crucial role in improving the performance and sustainability of agriculture. He also sees research helping the poorest and most vulnerable farmers cope with the effects of climate change.

For more information, read http://www.iita.org/cms/details/news_details.aspx?articleid=1766&zoneid=81

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DNA barcoding is a technique for characterizing species of an organism using short genetic tags. These tags are from a standard and agreed-upon position in the genome, usually from the mitochondria. It is possible to catalog all life on earth using these genetic markers, similar to products in stores labeled with unique barcodes. Scientists foresee a future hand-held device, akin to a supermarket scanner, that would sequence the DNA tag of an organism, compare it with a library of barcode sequences and spit-out the species’ name.

But are DNA barcodes always accurate? Scientists from the Brigham Young University don’t think so. In a study published by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the scientists found out that current barcoding approaches churn out results as erroneously as a “supermarket checker scanning an apple and ringing it up as an orange”. Current techniques can mistakenly record the non-functional copy of the tag present in the nucleus instead of the standard barcode gene in the mitochondria. The non-functional copy can be similar enough for the barcoding technique to capture, but different enough to call it a unique species, which would be a mistake.

For more information, read http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=112113&org=NSF&from=news

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DuPont has introduced the Laser-Assisted Seed Selection, an advanced technology to speed up the development of higher yielding corn and soybean varieties. Laser-Assisted Seed Selection uses a 120-watt carbon dioxide laser to capture a seed’s genetic information while maintaining the seed’s viability for planting. Desirable genetic combinations within the seed are identified by molecular breeding techniques. Seeds with superior genetics are selected for planting and advancement. The technology enables the rapid selection of the best genetics for advancement before they ever leave the lab says William S. Nieburvice president, DuPont Crop Genetics Research and Development.

For more information, view http://onlinepressroom.net/DuPont/NewsReleases/

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Africa

Scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Kenya have successfully identified and transferred genes that confer resistance to the parasitic weed Striga using marker-assisted selection. Also known as witchweed, Striga infests some 50 million hectares of cereal crops, specifically maize, sorghum and millet and costs Africa some US $7 billion crop loss annually.

“Scientists have searched for the solution to Striga damage using a variety of methods, but without much success,” says Dionysious Kiambi, ICRISAT scientist. “Through marker assisted selection, we have determined the precise segments of the sorghum genome known to confer Striga-resistance and have transferred them to farmer-preferred varieties through conventional breeding with very promising results”. The use of genetic markers enabled scientists to precisely transfer only the weed resistance genes from the N13 sorghum variety to farmer-preferred sorghum cultivars without jeopardising important agronomic qualities such as drought-tolerance and high yields.

For more information, contact Catherine Mgendi (c.mgendi@cgiar.org) or visit http://www.icrisat.org/media/med2008.htm

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The executive secretary of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, Dr. Peter Ndebere, voiced the call of Ugandan scientists for the East African Community to adopt a single policy for genetically modified (GM) products.

“Our countries have similar challenges. Having the same policy for GMs will help improve our farming as well as fight household famine and poverty,” Ndebere said. A single biotechnology policy will likewise help the Government decide whether or not to approve commercialization of GM products.

Dr. Roshan Abdullah, a scientist from the East African Community-Arusha, said that while East African countries were in the process of drafting policies on biotech only Kenya and Tanzania are at an advance stage. 

View http://www.newvision.co.ug/ for news on Uganda.

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Americas

According to US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Mallikarjuna Aradhya, ARS is expecting the completion of its grapevine sequencing project next year. Nearly all of the 2,800 wild, rare and domesticated grape varieties in a genebank in northern California will have their genetic profile taken. These genetic profiles will help grape breeders pinpoint unusual characteristics, such as increased anthocyanin and resveratrol levels, which might appeal to shoppers in tomorrow's supermarkets.

Aradhya and his team have already fingerprinted 1,100 better-known grapes and 300 wild specimens. They are using pieces of DNA called microsatellites as genetic markers. Eight markers are all that are needed for a genetic fingerprint of more familiar grapes, like close relatives of those already used for making wine or raisins or for eating out-of-hand. Lesser-known grapes, on the other hand, require twice as many markers for reliable identification. Aradhya said that this is due in part, to the fact that the taxonomy, or relatedness of one kind of grape to another, is quite jumbled.

The complete article is available at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2008/080826.htm

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Scientists from the Purdue University are zeroing in on genes involved with plant cell wall generation, as they believe that these genes will help develop new, more productive sources of transportation biofuel. A team headed by Nick Carpita and Maureen McCann will study genes involved in the formation of cell walls in monocot plants, which include corn and switchgrass. Researchers already know that most plants use about 10 percent of their entire genome for cell wall construction, but very little is known about the specific functions of those genes. The goal will be to learn the specific function of several cell wall genes and how can they be used to produce more biomass containing more sugars that can be efficiently processed into biofuel. A U.S. Department of Energy/U.S. Department of Agriculture research program to accelerate development of biofuels from plants will fund the genomic plant cell wall construction study with a US $1.2 million grant.

Read more at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2008b/080827CarpitaBioenergy.html

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Monsanto Company and Israel based Evogene Ltd. announced that they have entered into a five research and development collaboration focused on identifying key plant genes related to yield, environmental stress and fertilizer utilization. Evogene will use computer-based tools to identify candidate genes involved in fertilizer utilization and environmental stress adaptation. These genes in turn, will be validated and tested in model plants by Monsanto. Under the terms of agreement, Evogene is expected to receive about US $35 million over the five-year collaboration through a combination of upfront payments and annual research payments. Monsanto will receive exclusive licensing rights to the genes identified in a number of crops, including corn, soybean, canola and cotton.

Read the press release at http://monsanto.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=632

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Asia and the Pacific

International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) Director General William Dar warned that policy bias against dryland agriculture may contribute to the global food crisis and worsen the situation of poor farmers. In a policy paper, Dr. Dar pointed out that less than 1 percent of public spending goes to agricultural research, “which is vital to the innovation that is the engine for new livelihood opportunities”. Of that, only a small proportion is invested in dryland agriculture. Dryland agriculture is also struggling against a headwind of policies that are biased in favor of lands with plenty of water. In addition, policies tend to favor urban populations and the familiar cereal grains that they consume: rice, wheat and maize.

“We suspect that the world may come to regret its under-investment in dryland grain crops as climate change kicks in, increasing the need for more robust, drought-hardy crops and crop traits for plant breeding”, Dar said. He also stressed that over-dependence on a few crops creates agro-ecological risks, such as vulnerability to climate change and crop disease epidemics, such as the new Ug99 strain of stem rust currently threatening wheat.

Read the complete article at http://www.icrisat.org/Media/2008/media17.htm

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In an attempt to bridge the communication divide between scientists and the members of the media, the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) organized a one-day colloquium in collaboration with University Malaya’s Centre for Civilization and Dialogue. Malaysia has a strong biotechnology agenda and to realize this, coherent efforts in communicating biotechnology to the public is of paramount importance.

View points from the scientists and journalists were presented before a dialogue between these groups were pursued. Throughout the discussion, it was clear that both parties have the interest to communicate science, but they are bound by many hurdles and challenges. The challenges faced by scientists are lack of time, inability to communicate in laymen language, getting the newspaper space for science news, and engaging journalists in a constructive discussion that leads to science news. Journalists face a different set of challenges namely, lack of understanding on the issue, lack of interest among the public to read science news, the requirements set by the editors, and difficulties in engaging scientists to speak about their research.

A suggestion was made to form a society for science journalists which the scientific community can refer to when there is a need to publish news on science. It was also pointed out that there is a need to identify champions in universities and research institutes who can serve as spokespersons when there is a need to respond to inaccurate science news published in the media.

For details about the colloquium and about biotechnology in Malaysia, contact Mahaletchumy Arujanan at: maha@bic.org.my

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The Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutes (APAARI) expert consultation meeting on agricultural biotechnology this year was hosted by the Malaysian Agricultural Research & Development Institute (MARDI) with the support of Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation and the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center (MABIC). The meeting was officiated by the Minister for Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Dato’ Mustapa Mohamed who acknowledged modern biotechnology, particularly GM technology, as one of the tools that will help countries to transform their agriculture sector.

This expert meeting saw the convergence of prominent experts in the area of agribiotech from around the world to discuss how agribiotech could play a key role in addressing the global food crisis and security issues. The meeting discussed the recent research advances in agribiotech, status of agribiotech research and applications in the Asia Pacific region as well as the African regions, the adoption of GM crops to ensure food security, and global status on the adoption of GM crops among other topics. Special lectures focused on the use marker aided selection and genomics for crop improvement, and producing disease free planting material and germplasm conservation using biotechnology. The meeting also deliberated on global and regional partnership programmes such as Golden Rice, ABSP II, APCoAB, and AARINENA.

For details of  the meeting and for information on biotechnology in Malaysia, contact Mahaletchumy Arujanan at maha@bic.org.my of the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Center.

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Europe

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) report, Poland’s Environment Ministry has published for public comment a draft law on the cultivation of agricultural biotechnology crops. The law attempts to comply with European Union regulatory authorities that have told Poland it must update its GM law. The law also updates the provisions for conducting experimental research with plants and transgenic modification. The major provisions include:

  • Farmers’ plantings would be dependent on approval of local authorities who would be allowed to create “GMO free zones”. In such zones planting GM crops, even an approved variety would be prohibited, with penalty of US$9,000 plus US$1400 per hectare.
  • A deposit to cover any potential legal suits in cases of dealing with a list of products classified as, “the most dangerous organisms” must be paid before planting. GM products should be labeled. Products which are meant to be processed and have modified organisms in amount not over 0.9% should not be marked.
  • Research institutes should arrange a proposal before planting GM crops, with all information and documents needed at every stage. Any scientific research unit wanting to conduct research planting will be obligated to make the results of their research available to the public.
  • Research institutes and farms should inform employees about the content of safety regulations; workers must sign a statement that they have been informed that they are working with GMOs.
The report can be downloaded at http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200808/146295592.pdf.

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Research

Transgenic approaches were successful in enhancing the levels of pro-vitamin A in maize kernels. A group of researchers at Iowa State University reports that the transgenic maize they have developed using the Hi-II germplasm  can produce high levels of provitamin A comparable to 50% of the US Institute of Medicine Estimated Average Requirement.

The maize lines were transformed by overexpressing the bacterial crtB and crtI genes in an endosperm-specific manner, using a modified and highly active {gamma}-zein promoter. The researchers attribute the increase in the total carotenoids from the overexpression of the crtB (for phytoene synthase) and crtI (for the four desaturation steps of the carotenoid pathway catalysed by phytoene desaturase and {zeta}-carotene desaturase in plants).  The levels of carotenoid attained (up to 34-fold) were found to be reproducible over at least four generations. Nutritionists have estimated a goal of 15 µg provitamin A g–1 dry weight of kernel, the Iowa State GM maize came very close with 13.6 µg g–1 of provitamin A g–1 dry weight kernel. 

The open access article published by the Journal of Experimental Botany can be found at http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/ern212v1?ct=ct

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Gibberellins (GA) are phytohormones that play important roles in key physiological processes including stem elongation, cell division, seed germination and flowering. Using sugarbeet as a model, a group of scientists from the United Kingdom have shown that modification of the GA signaling pathway can be used to improve crops by manipulation of the transition to reproductive growth. Sugarbeets, as spring crops in temperate European climate, are vulnerable to vernalization-induced premature bolting (stem elongation) and flowering resulting in reduced crop yield and quality. The scientists introduced the gai and GA2ox1 genes from Arabidopsis and bean, respectively, to repress GA signaling. The transformation resulted in agronomically significant bolting time delays of 2-3 weeks.

The article published by the journal Transgenic Research is available to subscribers at http://www.springerlink.com/content/w748l12523r46758/fulltext.pdf

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Seeds are ideal platform for the cost-efficient recombinant protein production, as they are designed for maximum protein synthesis and accumulation. The difficulty in engineering seeds as biofactory is that they are developmentally determinant and evolved in such a manner that the maturation of each seed is essentially identical. Seeds have evolved to accumulate fats, oils and carbohydrates in addition to proteins, leaving little cellular space to add additional products resulting from transgene expression.

Monica Schimdt and Eliot Herman of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in the United States, in a study published by the Plant Biotech Journal, presented results that indicate the possibility to increase the yield of foreign protein accumulation from 1.6 percent to approximately 7 percent by trading the capacity for intrinsic protein synthesis for the capacity to produce foreign proteins. The scientists demonstrated increased accumulation of a green fluorescent protein under the control of a glycinin (major storage protein in soybeans) promoter. In applications that include production of enzymes and biocatalysts, the scale, low-cost production, and ease of shipping and processing conferred using soybean seeds can be employed to an advantage.

Subscribers can download the paper at http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/121372099/PDFSTART The abstract is available at http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/121372099/abstract

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Announcements

The CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP), in coordination and collaboration with the Global Crop Diversity Trust (the Trust) and the the Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (GIPB), announces its second call for proposals for the Genotyping Support Service (GSS). Focus is on phenotyping, genotyping, and capacity building. Deadline for proposals is September 30, 2008.

Visit http://www.generationcp.org/latestnews.php?i=1279 for more information.

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The Association of Agricultural Research Institutions in the Near East and North Africa (AARINENA) will organize, in collaboration with the Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI) and the support of the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR), will offer an introductory course in bioinformatics on November 23-December 2008 in Giza, Egypt. Topics will include information databases, sequence alignment, sequence similarity search, structural bioinformatics, and functional genomics.

Course and sponsorship information can be obtained from Dr. Dina El-Khishin at khishin@ageri.sci.eg  

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A newly released book, Integration of Insect-Resistant Genetically Modified Crops within IPM Programs, provides the first comprehensive synthesis of the role of insect-resistant GM crops in crop protection. The book was edited by Jörg Romeis (Agroscope ART, Switzerland), Anthony Shelton (Cornell University, USA) and George Kennedy (North Carolina State University, USA) with the goal of providing an overview of the role insect-resistant GM plants play in different crop systems worldwide. A total of 42 authors from around the globe have reviewed the latest available information on insect-resistant GM crops, ranging from their biological and ecological activity to their economic and social impact. The editors hope the book will contribute to a more rational debate about the role GM crops can play in IPM for food and fiber production. 

 The book content and ordering information is available at http://www.springerlink.com/content/978-1-4020-8372-3?sa_campaign=email/NBA

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Document Reminders

A compilation on “Biosafety Regulations of Asia-Pacific Countries” has been published by the Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCoAB), a program of Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), with support of the Food and Agriculture Organization. The publication includes chapters on: Status of Agricultural Biotechnology in Asia-Pacific; Biosafety Issues in Agricultural Biotechnology; International Agreements Related to Biosafety; Biosafety Regulations of Asia-Pacific Countries; Overview of Biosafety Regulatory Systems in Asia-Pacific; and Regulatory Management - the Way Ahead. Brief descriptions of biosafety regulatory instruments comprising laws/acts/decrees/regulations/rules existing in 39 countries of the Asia-Pacific region are given. PDF version of the publication is available for downloading at http://www.apcoab.org..