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In This Issue

September 23, 2011

NEWS

Global
• The Benefits of Biotech to Agriculture 
• Benefits of Good Nutrition Take Center Stage at UN High-Level Event 
• Science Communication to Step Up in Muslim Countries 

Africa
• US Embassy in Gambia Conducts Biotech Seminar for Policy Makers 

Americas
• Scientists Develop New Potato Lines to Wage War on Wireworms 
• Breeding Soybeans for Improved Feed 
• Scab Resistance in Durum Wheat 
• Crop Genetics to Battle Harsh Conditions 
• Texas Center Aims for Drought Tolerant Melons 
• Hidden Link in DNA of Plant 

Asia and the Pacific
• Variety Market Development: A Bt Cotton Cropping Factor and Constraint in China 
• Notice of License Application for Limited and Controlled Release of GM Wheat and Barley 
• Indonesian Farmers Learn Biotech Crop Adoption in the Philippines 

Europe
• York Scientist to Produce Biofuel from Orange Peel 
• Adoption of GM Crops in Spain Reaches Record High 
• Butterflies on Bt Corn Not at Risk in Nature 
• DEFRA Approves Wheat Trial 
• Swiss Consumers: Freedom of Choice and GM 

Research
• Scientists Develop Blight-resistant Potato using Ensifer-mediated Transformation 
• Researchers Investigate Molecular Mechanisms of Duplicated Genes in Tobacco 
• Improved Phosphate Uptake in Alfalfa Seeds by Overexpression of Genes from Medicago truncatula 

Beyond Crop Biotech
• Blind Circadian Clock of Cavefish Enlightens Scientists 
• Online Gamers Help UW Researchers Solve AIDS Mystery 
• 'Gloomy' Gene May Make People More Positive 

Document Reminders
• Feeds: Genetically Modified 
• Philippine Agribiotechnology Annual Report 

Latest Communication Products

Brief 47: The Status of Commercialized Bt Brinjal in Bangladesh
ISAAA Brief 47 is a comprehensive report on the status of commercialized Bt brinjal in Bangladesh. Brief 47 presents a thorough review and analysis of the deregulation of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh – from the scientific and biosafety assessment and commercial release to the planting of Bt brinjal by farmers in Bangladesh.
Agricultural Biotechnology (A Lot More Than Just GM)
The booklet explains and compares tools of agri-biotech including conventional breeding, tissue culture and micropropagation, molecular breeding and marker-assisted selection, and genetic engineering
Infomercial: What Do People Say About Biotech?
This informercial features photos of students, teachers, farmers, media practitioners, and consumers who were asked to write one-liners about their perception on biotechnology. These photos were taken during the science fairs held in the Philippines in 2013.
Infographic on Biotech Crops Benefits
This infographic summarizes the important contributions of biotech crops in increasing crop productivity, conserving biodiversity, reducing agriculture's environmental footprint, mitigating the effects of climate change, and alleviation of poverty and hunger

News

Global

The biotech industry boosted farming globally by almost $65 billion from 1996 to 2009, according to the latest analysis conducted by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot of PG Economics Ltd. in United Kingdom. Brookes and Barfoot investigated the economic impact at the farm level of agricultural biotechnology, looking at yields, key costs of production, direct farm income, indirect farm level income effects and impacts on the production base of the four major crops of soybeans, corn, cotton and canola. Based on the results of their analyses, there was about $65 billion increase in the net farm income, which is the farm level benefit after paying for the seed and its biotech traits. They estimated that almost half of the global net income comes are from the farmers in the developing countries.

"Biotech, and specifically genetically modified (GM) crops has had a significant positive impact on farm income derived from a combination of enhanced productivity and efficiency gains," the team estimated. It has added 5.8% to the value of global production for the four main crops investigated, with cost savings being greatest for soy. In terms of the division between different parts of the world, the team reports that in 2009, 53.1% of the farm income benefits went to developing country farmers and the vast majority of those income gains were from GM insect-resistant cotton and GM herbicide-tolerant soybeans.

The full report is published by International Journal of Biotechnology.

Read the news release at http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-09-benefits-biotech-gm-crops-benefit.html.

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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hosted a high-level event with focus on nutrition last September 20, 2011. The two day summit was attended by representatives of United Nations agencies, governments, civil society and the private sector to emphasize the importance of good nutrition in human health as well as for national economic and social development. The event coincided with the one year anniversary of the Scale Up Nutrition (SUN) movement which is a global initiative to improve maternal and child nutrition.

Project activities are focused in Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Laos, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Peru, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

"It is particularly gratifying to see this emphasis in countries that have been experiencing protracted crises with support for resilient food systems and special attention to the needs of pregnant women and children," said David Nabarro, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Food Security and Nutrition.

Original news can be viewed at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=39623&Cr=nutrition&Cr1=

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Participants from ten countries with significant Muslim populations recognized the urgency for increased science communication activities in order to streamline the acceptance of modern agricultural biotechnology in their respective countries. The workshop was held from 20 to 21 September 2011 at the Mutiara Burau Bay Beach Resort in Langkawi Island, Malaysia and focused on the subject of ‘Addressing the Challenges of Communicating Agribiotechnology in Muslim Countries'.

As one fifth of the world's population is Muslim, this workshop developed a strategic communication paradigm that will provide a benchmark in communicating the potential, issues and concerns to do with agribiotechnology to be carried out by relevant stakeholders in their respective countries. Delegates from Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, and Uganda attended the workshop, providing a mix of experiences from countries with various levels of support for biotech crops with significant populations of Muslim devotees.

In a declaration, the participants avered that  "Modern agricultural biotechnology is an important tool in addressing food security, poverty alleviation, and social economic transformation in developing countries...Islam supports scientific innovation and human endeavor, and modern biotechnology is not an exception. However, it is apparent (to the delegates) that the advancement of this technology is affected by insufficient communication that support its understanding and acceptance."

Delegates emphasized the dangers of misinformation and inadequate information that has hampered the adoption of modern biotechnology in their respective country presentations. They pointed out the need for media to be better equipped to handle scientific news and for scientists to be better trained to engage the media. Farmers have also been identified as key stakeholders who need to be informed of advances in agricultural biotechnology as they have high potential to be champions for biotechnology. Therefore, targeted science communication to various stakeholders has been recommended as an effective strategy to debunk the myths of biotechnology and convey accurate information based on the experiences of leading countries in biotechnology.

"Science communication is a crucial component for social acceptance and adoption. It brings together stakeholders to learn and acquire technology and stimulates knowledge creation, aggregation and exchange," the declaration emphasized.

The workshop was jointly organized by the Malaysia Biotech Information Center and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

For more information about the workshop, send an e-mail to Mahaletchumy Arujanan of the Malaysia Biotechnology Information Center at  maha@bic.org.my.

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Africa

The United States Embassy in Banjul, Gambia, conducted an outreach seminar for policy makers on September 15, 2011 bearing the theme "Using Biotechnology to Fight Hunger and Poverty in Africa." The U.S. Department of State invited Dr. Hortense Dodo, a biotechnology and molecular biology professor at Alabama A&M University in the U.S. Aside from Gambia, the expert will also visit other East African countries to talk with policy makers, farmers, and members of the scientific community about biotechnology applications in agriculture and in attaining food self sufficiency.

Cynthia Gregg of the U.S. Embassy delivered the opening remarks during the seminar and expressed her fervor for the various impacts of biotechnology. Biotech crops, she said, "can play an important role through increasing productivity while decreasing costs of production by a reduced need for inputs and ploughing." She also said that the adoption of biotech crops has significantly reduced insecticide use and has allowed many farmers to adopt farming practices that reduce soil erosion and consumption of energy and water.

Read the complete story at http://allafrica.com/stories/201109191478.html.

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Americas

Wireworms, the slender brownish-orange larva of click beetles are destructive pests of potatoes. Previous studies by United States Department of Agriculture scientists have discovered that two wild potatoes from Chile and Bolivia, Solanum berthaultii and S. etuberosum have broad spectrum resistance to the beetles and green peach aphids.

To see the effects of the resistance genes to the wireworms, scientists crossed germplasm derived from the wild potatoes with a cultivated variety. The 15 top-performing plants from three generations of progeny were selected and were planted in wireworm-infested field plots.

Results published in the Journal of Economic Entomology showed that the resistant clones performed well and in some cases performed better than the insecticide-treated Russet Burbank potatoes. The researchers have also discovered that the natural compounds called glycoalkaloids may be protecting the breeding clones at concentrations not harmful to the consumers.

To see the original news, check http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2011/110919.htm

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Modified soybean seed with reduced phytate content was found to have better seedling field emergence than the control with a normal phosphorus value. This is contrary to the vigor of low phytate corn seedling in the field. The research published in the current issue of Crop Science thus shows that the modified soybean line developed by Dr. Joe Burton at the USDA-ARS proves that seed germination and field emergence with low phytate content such as the modified soybeans are possible.

"Based on our experience with the North Carolina line, soybean breeders working with the low-phytate trait now know that good seed germination and emergence is an attainable objective," said Dr. Katy Martin Rainy, one of the study's authors. "Our study provides breeders with critical insights on how to do this."

See details of the news at https://www.crops.org/news-media/releases/2011/0916/512/. The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at https://www.crops.org/publications/cs/articles/51/5/1946.

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Fusarium head blight is considered as one of the most serious diseases of Durum wheat, a cereal crop widely used for human consumption in the United States, Canada and several European countries. Unfortunately, the durum wheat cultivars do not have resistance to this disease. At the USDA-ARS Northern Crop Research Laboratory at Fargo, North Dakota, scientists Dr. Prem Jauhar and his staff discovered an FHB resistance gene from wheat grass.

Under the Durum Germplasm Enhancement Project (DGE), the scientists were able to produce a new wheat line called DGE-1 that posses the 1E gene from the wheat grass, making it FHB resistant. Subsequent crossing of DGE-1 line with durum wheat cultivars and the use of molecular marker technique, hybrid strains of durum wheat with 1E grass chromosome were developed.

"These studies on chromosome engineering will help bring about genomic reconstruction that will have far-reaching implications in both basic and applied research on wheat, and new genomic resources could result," said Jauhar.

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at https://www.crops.org/publications/tpg/articles/4/2/102. See the original news at https://www.crops.org/news-media/releases/2011/0916/514/

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Researchers from New Mexico State University (NMSU) and the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) developed a system that reviews the collections of genetic information on peanuts that are stored in gene banks around the world.

"Gene banks around the world have large collection of peanut germplasm and it is unmanageable for any organization to accurately screen such large collections for useful traits," said NMSU researcher and professor Naveen Pupalla. In an article in Crop Science, the study reported that a core collection to the Valencia peanut was developed representing genetics from 15 countries.

Through further collaborative research with scientists from U.S. universities, the USDA-ARS Cropping System Research Lab and the National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute, scientists placed the genetic information they gathered into five distinct location-based groups. This allowed them to determine which areas contain the most genetic diversity for the Valencia peanut. They found Brazil to be the primary center of origin for the Valencia peanut, a cultivar that is able to thrive in harsh environments.

The findings in this study may help develop crop cultivars that are able to thrive in harsh and changing environments.

Check out https://www.crops.org/story/2011/jul/wed/using-crop-genetics-to-battle-harsh-conditions for the full article.

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Researchers at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Uvalde are developing improved varieties fo drought-tolerant crops. In particular, they are looking at melons that also meet consumer preference in terms of size, shape, color, texture, firmness and sugar content.

"We're looking into improved varieties of melons, such as cantaloupe and honeydew, and are growing and assessing some Spanish and Italian specialty melons that are relatively new to this area," said Dr. Daniel Leskovar, Texas AgriLife Research vegetable physiologist and interim center director.

Leskovar also explained that they were interested in the possibility of "specialty melons such as Tuscan-type melons with orange flesh, Galia-type melons with green flesh and canary types with near-white flesh, from the perspective of how they might fare as a high-value, high-income crop for Texas producers. We've also been examining the effects of factors such as deficit irrigation on their growth and productivity."

The full article is at http://agrilife.org/today/2011/09/19/agrilife-research-melons/

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There is first evidence that an organism's "epigenetic" code - an extra layer of biochemical instructions in DNA - can evolve more quickly than the genetic code. Thus, it can strongly influence biological traits. This breakthrough was reported in the September 2011 issue of the journal Science.

"Our study shows that it's not all in the genes," said Joseph Ecker, a professor in Salk's Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory, who led the research team. "We found that these plants have an epigenetic code that's more flexible and influential than we imagined. There is clearly a component of heritability that we don't fully understand. It's possible that we humans have a similarly active epigenetic mechanism that controls our biological characteristics and gets passed down to our children. "

Ecker and colleagues traced these patterns to chemical markers that serve as a layer of genetic control on top of the DNA sequence. "Perception of the extent of epigenetic variation in plants from generation to generation varies widely within our scientific community," said Robert Schmitz, a post-doctoral research in Eckers' laboratory and the lead author on the paper. "We actually did the experiment, and found that overall there is very little change between each generation, but spontaneous epimutations do exist in populations and arise at a rate much higher than the DNA mutation rate, and at times they had a powerful influence over how certain genes were expressed."

See Salk's press release at http://www.salk.edu/news/pressrelease_details.php?press_id=516

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Asia and the Pacific

Bt cotton varieties have been planted in China starting 1997 to eliminate some pests that affect the growth and yield of cotton. At present, it is estimated that about 70% of the total cotton-producing areas are devoted to Bt cotton.

In a study conducted by Michel Fok of Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) in France and Naiyin Xu of Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences in China, it was shown that Bt cotton use in China is influenced by the development of the cotton variety market. Bt cotton adoption has benefited from the development of the variety market facilitated by a favorable legal framework since the mid-1990s. However, quality uncertainties and high seed prices may affect the profitability and continued use of Bt cotton as well as development of the variety market. In 2007, a quality seed subsidy policy was launched to solve the problems in the variety and seed market, however many are still questioning the efficacy of this new regulation.

The research article is available at http://agbioforum.org/v14n2/v14n2a02-fok.htm.

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The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) is seeking approval from the Australian Office of the Gene Technology Regulator  to conduct a field trial of wheat and barley genetically modified for altered grain composition or enhanced nutrient utilization efficiency.

The GM wheat lines proposed for testing contain either one gene for altered grain composition or one gene for enhanced nutrient utilisation efficiency, while the barley lines contain one gene for enhanced nutrient utilization efficiency. The experimental field test will be conducted to assess agronomic traits of the genetically modified plants under field conditions on a maximum area of 1 hectare per year, between May 2012 and June 2015 in one site in Western Australia. The GM wheat and barley will not be used in human food or animal feed

For any inquiries and to receive a hard copy of the application summary, please contact the OGTR  at: The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, MDP 54, GPO Box 9848, Canberra, ACT, 2601 Tel. 1800 181 030 Facsimile: 02 6271 4202 and  E-mail: ogtr@health.gov.au. See the announcement at http://www.ogtr.gov.au/.

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Indonesian farmers learned the basic science, regulation, and issues and concerns related to biotechnology during the five day Farmer to Farmer Workshop: Agricultural Biotechnology Outreach and Capacity Building at the New World Hotel, Makati City, Philippines on September 19-23, 2011. Knowledge on biotechnology were shared by various scientists and experts from the Philippines including the proponents of the fruit and shoot borer resistant Bt eggplant, the delayed ripening virus resistant papaya, and the vitamin A-enriched Golden Rice in the Philippines.

The activity provided an avenue for the farmers to network with key stakeholders in the region. In addition, Filipino biotech corn farmers shared their first-hand experiences to the Indonesians. The workshop also included study visits to a seed processing plant and biotech corn farms in Pangasinan and Pampanga, as well as to laboratories and screen house trials in the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Laguna; the farmers were able to see drought tolerant rice as well as the Golden Rice.

Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit, Director of the SEAMEO Southeast Asian Regional Center on Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), in his opening message, highlighted the importance of educating the farmers about agri-biotechnology as they are the end users. Dr. Randy Hautea, Director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) said that he hoped the farmer participants would be teachers of biotech to other farmers in Indonesia.

The Indonesian farmers were delighted of the new learnings they acquired as they expressed their support of biotechnology. They unanimously agreed to endorse the technology to the government.

The Workshop was co-organized by ISAAA, SEARCA – Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC), and the United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA FAS).

For more details about the workshop, visit SEARCA BIC's website http://www.bic.searca.org or e-mail bic@agri.searca.org.

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Europe

Orange peels could be a potential source of biofuel, according to a team of scientists from the University of York, headed by Professor James Clark. Using high-powered microwaves, Clark has figured out how to capture gas from fruit peels that can be converted into a variety of useful materials, from plastics to ethanol.  With the cooperation of scientists from the University of Sao Paolo, Brazil and the University of Cordoba, Spain, Clark started a project called Orange Peel Exploitation Company (OPEC) which aims to search for ways to extract value from orange peel using safe and sustainable chemistry. One of the main products that they target to develop is bio-ethanol.

"The by-product of the juicing industry therefore has the potential to provide a range of compounds, offering a more profitable and environmentally valuable alternative to current waste use practices. We are seeking to do this by harnessing the chemical potential of food supply chain waste using green chemical technologies and use nature's own functionalities to obtain sought-after properties in everyday products," said Clark.

"Waste is a problem worldwide. Food residues and by-products are being generated in very significant quantities by the food industry and the agricultural sector...The increasing demand for renewable feedstocks is encouraging the re-use of organic waste from the food supply chain for the production of novel added-value materials, chemicals and fuels,"  he added.

Read the news release at http://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2011/research/waste-orange/.

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As of September 2011, Bt corn cultivation in Spain has reached a record high of 97,326 hectares, representing 26.5% of total grain maize planted in the country for 2011. Aragon, an autonomous community has the largest area planted with Bt corn at 41,368 hectares, 12,716 more than in 2010. Catalonia and Extremadura followed with 29,632 and 10,567 hectares respectively. Thus again in 2011, farmers have relied on genetically modified varieties, seeds that allow them to increase the production of more sustainable and decreased resource consumption per unit of production: less land, less water and less energy.

See the original news in Spanish at http://fundacion-antama.org/

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An investigation on the possible effects of Bt maize pollen on two butterfly species "Little Fox" and "Peacock" was conducted by Mechtchild Schuppener of the RWTH Aachen, Germany. Bt corn produces Bt toxins that are specifically effective against the corn borer pest, a moth. It was then assumed that other species of butterflies are also sensitive to the Bt protein.

A feeding experiment was conducted in the laboratory for laboratory-bred butterflies. At 200 to 300 pollen grains per square centimeter, the first effects of Bt pollen diet was observed and manifested by a decrease in pollen consumption. Increasing pollen grains to 1,000 pollen grains per square centimeter resulted to high mortality compared with the conventional maize pollen.

Another study was conducted in the field to determine the amount of corn pollen that land on the food plants of butterflies under natural conditions. Pollen traps in the form of stinging nettle, Urtica dioica – plants with stinging hairs on stems and leaves were placed at different distances from the corn field. As might be expected, the highest amount of pollen at 150 pollen grains per square centimeters - one fifth of the lethal amount of protein, were found in the pollen traps directly at the field edge. The amounts of pollen, which resulted in the laboratory to an increased mortality of larvae, could therefore not be detected in the wild.

See the news in German at http://www.biosicherheit.de/presse/1353.schmetterlinge-bt-mais.html

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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the United Kingdom has granted approval to Rothamsted Research to conduct a research trial on wheat genetically modified to resist aphids in 2012 and 2013. It was evaluated by the Advisory Committee of Releases to the Environment (ACRE).

Precautionary conditions were attached to the statutory consent for the trial to ensure that no GM material from the trial will enter the food and feed chain.

Read the news release at http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/09/16/gm-wheat-trial/. More information on the Rothamsted Research application and the statutory consent is at http://bit.ly/nn793T.

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How would Swiss consumers decide if they had freedom of choice? Consumers were given the option to choose among organic, conventional and GM corn bread in a supermarket. It was observed that Swiss consumers treat GM foods just like any other type of novel food. Results of the discrete choice analysis according to researchers Philip Aeerni and colleagues of the Institute for Environmental Decisions at ETH Zurich proved that consumers tend to appreciate transparency and freedom of choice even if one of the offered product types is labeled as containing a GM ingredient.

The researchers recommended that retailers should allow consumers to make their own choice and accept the fact that not all people appear to be afraid of GM food.

View the article at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919211001102.

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Research

Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transformation (ATMT) has been the most widely used technique in genetically engineering important traits in crops. However, the complexity of the Agrobacterium patent landscape limits non-patent holders who aim to develop new varieties for commercial purpose. In a previous study, TransbacterTM strains were used to facilitate horizontal gene transfer. However, the strains were 10-fold less efficient than the standard ATMT. Thus, Toni Wendt of the Crops Research Centre, Ireland, and colleagues searched for alternative bacteria that could use vir genes for genetic transformation and could be a substitute for ATMT with similar transformation protocols.

They investigated 751 plant-associated bacteria collected from the rhizosphere of commercially available crops. A strain of Ensifer adhaerens (OV14) was identified which could transform both Arabidopsis and potato. Furthermore, they used the strain to develop blight-resistant potato. Molecular analysis and resistant phenotype confirmed the transformation. Therefore, Ensifer-mediated transformation could be used in developing transgenic potato crops.

Read the abstract at http://www.springerlink.com/content/80h627w7646j4n83/.

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Gene duplication is a powerful source of phenotypic diversity in plants, however, only few studies have investigated the underlying molecular mechanisms that generate new functions in duplicated genes. This led Nara Institute of Science and Technology scientists Tsubasa Shoji and Takashi Hashimoto to analyze how duplicated genes encoding quinolinate phosphoribosyltransferase (QPT), an enzyme involved in the production of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), are regulated by the jasmonate-responsive transcriptional factor ERF189 that functions critically for nicotine biosynthesis in tobacco.

Tobacco has two QPT genes: QPT1 is expressed at a constitutive basal level, and QPT1 is regulated coordinately with other structural genes involved in nicotine production. Assays revealed that the QPT2 promoter contains three functional ERF189-binding sites, and all of which confer incremental ERF189-mediated activation to the promoter. The QPT1 promoter is not bound and regulated by ERF189. Based on this findings, one copy of the duplicated QPT genes was recruited to a tobacco alkaloid regulon (a group of genes regulated by one protein) by evolving several target cis-regulatory elements of ERF189 in its promoter, to cope with an increased metabolic demand for pyridine precursors during active alkaloid production.

Subscribers of the Plant Journal may download the complete article at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-313X.2011.04647.x/abstract.

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Alfalfa is one of the widely grown crops in the USA. Since the essential element phosphate is deficient in areas where forage crops like alfalfa are grown, Xue Feng Ma of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, USA, and a team of scientists conducted a study on improving the use of organic phosphate by alfalfa. They overexpressed two genes (MtPHY1 and MtPAP1) involved in phosphate production in legume Medicago truncatula.

Based on the root enzyme activity analyses, overexpression of any of the two genes could lead to increase in acid phosphatase activities. However, overexpression of MtPHY1 resulted to higher phytase activity than the other gene. The researchers also measured the growth performance of the transgenic lines and proved that MtPHY1 driven by the MtPT1 promoter is the best gene-promoted combination. All transgenic lines with higher levels of gene expression showed improved growth. A number of transgenic lines also exhibited significantly higher biomass. The total phosphate concentration of leaf tissues of the high-expressing transgenic lines was also significantly higher than the control plants.

Read the research article published by Molecular Breeding at http://www.springerlink.com/content/n26v6655x1326261/.

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Beyond Crop Biotech

Circadian clock serves as a physiological timer of organisms to anticipate and adapt to the day-night cycle. However, the molecular mechanisms supporting that the circadian clock is driven by the presence of absence of light is still incomplete. Thus, Nicola Cavallari of the University of Ferrera in Italy, together with other scientists studied a cavefish that has evolved for millions of years inhabiting in dark subterranean caves of Somalia. The cavefish exhibit striking adaptations to their extreme environment, such as complete eye degeneration. However, it still retain a circadian clock that ticks for a longer period of about 47 hours. The cavefish showed no responses to light.

The researchers found out that the blindness is not linked for its adaptation in the circadian clock. The reason for the "blind" clock is the mutations of the two widely expressed non-visual opsin photoreceptors namely melanopsin and TMT opsin. Results of the study could be used to further understand the evolution and the regulation of the circadian clock.

Read the free-access article at http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001142.

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Scientists from the University of Washington (UW) sought the help of gamers to configure the structure of a retrovirus enzyme linked to AIDS. The game involved in this breakthrough is Foldit, an online game that allows players to collaborate and compete in predicting the structure of protein molecules. According to the UW researchers, this is the first time that researchers have teamed up with game experts to solve a long-standing scientific puzzle. The scientists have been working to solve the puzzle for more than a decade but the gamers solved it for only a few days. This implies that humans and computer models can learn from each other in real-time.

"People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at," said Seth Cooper of the UW Department of Computing Science and Engineering, who is a co-creator of Foldit. "Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week's paper show that gaming, science, and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before."

Now that the scientists know the structure of the enzyme, they are hoping that the information will help speed up the development of anti-AIDS drugs that can inhibit the enzymes.

Read more information at http://games.cs.washington.edu/drupal6/index.php?q=node/9.

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A gene variant that has been known to make people more gloomy might also help see the positive, according to a study conducted by Elaine Fox at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom. In previous studies, it has been found that the short version of the 5-HTTLPR serotonin-transporter gene is linked with vulnerability and depression, in contrast to the "happier" carriers of the longer version. Fox investigated further by asking 62 volunteers with the short variant and 54 with the long version to answer computer exercises that tested how quickly they could identify a target, superimposed either on a positive or negative image, shown side by side. Without the knowledge of the volunteers, there were exercises that target either on the positive or the negative image.

Results showed that volunteers with the short variant adapted to this unconscious bias, identifying the target 40 to 60 milliseconds faster than when the target was randomly assigned. The reactions of long-variant volunteers barely changed.

"The short version is not just a vulnerability variant," says Fox. It could also be an "opportunity" gene, she says, suggesting that these people are more responsive to emotion, both positive and negative.

Read research article at http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(11)00681-0/abstract. The original news story is available at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128305.000-gloomy-gene-may-make-you-more-positive.html.

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Document Reminders

Fred Owens and Matthias Liebergesell of Pioneer Hi-Bred International discussed the benefits of GM technology to the feed industry, especially with the release of next generation of GM crops. Extensive collection of safety data and review by regulatory agencies will assure that the commercial transgenic crops and feedstuff derived from such crops will produce animal products and human foods that are as safe or safer than from crops developed by other selection procedures.

Download a copy at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1081/E-EBAF-120042304.


The Philippine Biotechnology Annual Report has been recently published by the USDA-FAS GAIN Report. The Report describes the country's regulatory system, the status of publicly developed biotech crops such as Bt eggplant and Golden Rice. Updates on the Philippine regulatory system is also discussed.

Download the document at http://gain.fas.usda.gov/Recent%20GAIN%20Publications/Agricultural%20Biotechnology%20Annual_Manila_Philippines_8-16-2011.pdf