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In This Issue

November 20, 2019

Latest Communication Products

Beyond Promises: Facts about Biotech/GM Crops in 2016
A visual presentation of the 10 important highlights about biotech crops from 1996 to 2016, taken from ISAAA Brief 52: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016.
From Fear to Facts: 17 Years of Agri-biotech Reporting in the Philippines (2000-2016)
The publication is based on a study conducted by ISAAA and SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center published in the April 2017 issue of Philippine Journal of Crop Science.
Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016
ISAAA Brief 52-2016 is now available! Get your copy now!
Executive Summary: ISAAA Brief 52-2016
Download PDF: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Swahili

News

Americas

A new technology borrowed from the pharmaceutical industry can make staple foods and seasonings like flour and salt packed with nutrients, according to a research released in Science Translational Medicine.

Hidden hunger is a concern of about two billion people who are fed with the right amount of required calories but lack micronutrients like iron, calcium, and vitamins in their diet. To address this nutritional challenge, researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and partners devised a new strategy – put the nutrients together in tiny packages that can withstand cooking temperatures but dissolve easily in the digestive system. These microparticles are coated with consumable plastic similar to pills' but are smaller than a grain of sand. One packet may contain up to four different types of nutrients such as iron, zinc, iodine, vitamins A, B12, C, and D.

Read more findings in Science Translational Medicine and Genetic Literacy Project.

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The Paraguayan Minister of Agriculture, through the National Commission for Agricultural and Forestry Biosafety has given their approval to Verdeca's HB4® drought and herbicide tolerant soybeans. The HB4 stack is Verdeca's newest product release from its pipeline of traits developed to benefit soybean producers through quality improvement, stress mitigation, and management practices.

ISAAA's Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2018 reports that Paraguay planted 3.35 million hectares of biotech soybeans in 2018. With this new approval, the HB4 trait now has regulatory approval in more than 80 percent of the global soybean market. The HB4 trait has already been approved in the U.S., Argentina, and Brazil, with regulatory submissions currently under consideration by China. Import approval from China is needed for commercial launch in Argentina and is now expected in late 2020.

For more details, read the news release from Verdeca.

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Asia and the Pacific

"As a country (the Philippines) that is among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, it is crucial that we as a nation would have a paradigm shift…we must make use of the expertise of our researchers who are involved in biotechnology," said Senator Nancy Binay, chairperson of the Senate Committees on Tourism, Cultural Communities, and Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, during the opening ceremonies of the Technology Exhibit of the 15th National Biotechnology Week (NBW) on November 18, 2019 at the Senate of the Philippines, Pasay City.

The exhibit featured the importance of biotechnology in attaining and sustaining food security, equitable access to health services, sustainable and safe environment, and industry development. Among the exhibitors are the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture – Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA-BIC), Department of Agriculture, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The exhibit runs for one week as a build-up activity for the NBW which will take place at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) on November 25-29, 2019.

"I am hoping that this exhibit will not only increase the appreciation for the contribution of biotech to providing solutions to our most pressing problems but also make us aware of the challenges we still have to work on," Sen. Binay stressed. ISAAA SEAsiaCenter Director, Dr. Rhodora Aldemita, enlightened the participants on the current status of biotech crop adoption worldwide as well as the benefits of the technology, particularly to the Filipino farmers.

For more information, contact knowledgecenter@isaaa.org.

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Thirty-three students and teachers from seven provinces in the Philippines took part in the 4th Agri-biotech Boot Camp held on November 13-15, 2019 in Los Baños, Laguna. The three-day activity aims to spark renewed interest of the youth in agricultural sciences, most especially in the field of biotechnology.

The participants were exposed to hands-on learning experiences and had the opportunity to interact with the country's leading scientists and researchers. National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines (NAST) Academician, Dr. Ruben Villareal, presented the challenges faced by agriculture and how the youth can be part of the solution. He dispelled notions that agriculture is just farming and encouraged the group to explore the broad range of agriculture-related courses. SEARCA Director and also a NAST Academician, Dr. Glenn Gregorio, shared how he got involved in agriculture early on in his career and inspired the students to carry on with their studies with his three Ps -- perseverance, passion, and prayer.

This year's program also offered an expanded view on agriculture by focusing on new components such as agricultural entrepreneurship and science communication. Mr. Dax Olfindo, Founder of Dream Agri-tech Consultancy Services, discussed how they can be engaged in agriculture while earning from farming activities. Meanwhile, Asst. Prof. Elaine Llarena form the University of the Philippines Los Baños - College of Development Communication spoke about the importance of communication in the field of agriculture especially for the next generation of scientists and discussed different techniques on popularizing science for the public.

The participants likewise visited the Lloyd T. Evans Plant Growth Facility at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) where various climate scenarios were simulated under controlled environmental conditions to better understand the effects of climate change on plant growth. They also got to try their hands on DNA extraction using household materials, which was another highlight of the Boot Camp as it was the first time for most of the participants.

The boot camp is SEARCA BIC's build-up activity for the annual National Biotechnology Week. For more updates about biotech development in the Philippines, visit the SEARCA BIC website.

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Europe

Scientists led by The University of Sheffield have solved the structure of one of the key components of photosynthesis, a discovery that could lead to photosynthesis being ‘redesigned' to achieve higher yields and meet urgent food security needs. The study reveals the structure of cytochrome b6f - the protein complex that significantly influences plant growth via photosynthesis.

Using a high-resolution structural model, the team found that the protein complex provides the electrical connection between the two light-powered chlorophyll-proteins (Photosystems I and II) found in the plant cell chloroplast that convert sunlight into chemical energy. The high-resolution structural model, determined using single-particle cryo-electron microscopy, reveals new details of the additional role of cytochrome b6f as a sensor to tune photosynthetic efficiency in response to ever-changing environmental conditions. This mechanism is protecting the plant from damage during exposure to stressful conditions such as drought or excess light.

For more details, read the news article in The University of Sheffield website.

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Researchers at the Queen Mary University of London and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew have identified the genetic basis of resistance to ash dieback in UK trees. The researchers sequenced the DNA from over 1,250 ash trees to find inherited genes associated with ash dieback resistance.

The samples were collected from ash trees in a Forest Research mass screening trial, which comprises 150,000 trees planted across 14 sites in South East England. Many of the genes found to be associated with ash dieback resistance were similar to those previously shown to be involved in disease or pathogen responses in other species.

For more details, read the news article in Queen Mary University of London website.

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Research

University of Georgia scientists discovered a way to identify gene regulatory elements that help develop "designer" plants and lead to enhancements in food crops at a critical time. The results are published in two separate papers in Nature Plants.

With the rapidly increasing world population that is projected to reach 9.1 billion by 2020, food production must be increased by 70%, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Improvements in crop plants would play a vital role to boost food production. Bob Schmitz and team demonstrated an ability to find cis-regulatory elements (CREs) in 13 crops including maize, rice, green beans, and barley. CREs are regions of noncoding DNA that regulate neighboring genes. If a gene and its CRE can be identified, they can work as a modular unit called biobrick. According to Schmitz, targeting CREs for editing offers a more precise technique than gene editing.

"Gene editing can be like a hammer. If you target the gene, you pretty much break it," he said. "Targeting CREs, which are involved in controlling gene expression -- how a particular characteristic appears -- allows you to turn gene expression up or down, similar to a dial. It gives us a tool to create a whole range of variation in expression of a gene."

When biobricks are developed, they can be used to make "designer" plants that possess desirable characteristics such as salt-tolerant plants. This ability to make designer plants is vital in producing more food amidst environmental challenges such as drought and flooding.

Read more in Science Daily.

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A group of scientists led by the Cambridge University have recently published the results of their study that investigated how a plant's nodule and lateral root development are related and that both share overlapping development programs despite differential induction. These new findings could contribute to the research and development of self-fertilizing crops.

The research team wanted to prove that the long-standing theory that the developmental steps of a plant's lateral roots and nodules are shared. Their work also looked into deciphering the symbiotic communications that occur between plants and rhizobial bacteria when converting nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonium to be used for the plant's growth.

Microscopic and gene expression analysis were used to track cell development and how hormones played a part in the early stages of lateral root and nodule formation. The team's findings included how a plant's nitrogen-fixing nodules and lateral roots grow the same way using the same program, which would support the fact that a significant part of the machinery needed to form nodules is also present in non-nodulating plants. Another finding was that the accumulation of the plant hormone auxin is present in both lateral root and nodule development. However, its activation differs in the two plant parts, as auxin activation in nodules involves a second plant hormone, cytokinin. Further investigation found that cytokinin along with a key protein that acts as a master regulator, called NIN, were found to control the initiation of nodules. NIN is a key player in legume plants, as it allows the formation of nodules by activating the lateral root organogenesis.

With these results, researchers believe that further studies should focus on the plant process of how nodules are produced, instead of having to engineer an entire nodule development program. Their findings support that many processes involved in nodulation are more common than first thought of, which encourages them that engineering nitrogen fixation into other crops is possible without having to undergo extensive plant alterations. Such development can one day lead to crops that do not rely on chemical fertilizers to compensate for nitrogen deficiencies in the soil.

Read the full article in Current Biology.

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