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In This Issue

February 3, 2016

Latest Communication Products

The report features the efforts and accomplishments of ISAAA for 2015 as its contribution for the global populace. ISAAA continues to feed the world with knowledge, strengthen skills, and unify voices with the hope that crop biotechnology will provide solutions to the most pressing needs of farmers, consumers, and the whole community.
19 Years of Biotech Crops in the World
A map infographic showing the countries that are planting and importing biotech crops. In the last 19 years, more than 60 developed and developing countries have either planted or imported biotech crops. Twenty-eight countries planted, and 39 more imported biotech crops in 2014.
Coexistence of Biotech and Non-biotech Crops
This Pocket K includes case studies showing that simultaneous planting of biotech and non-biotech crops in contiguous location is possible, following proper guidelines such as scheduling of flowering time and setting buffer distance between farms. The U.S. and E.U. experiences in developing coexistence guidelines were also discussed.
Infographic: Do You Know Where Biotech Crops are Grown?
The infographic shows the commercialized biotech crops grown in the 28 planting countries in 2014 based on ISAAA Brief 49 Global Status of Commercialized Biotech /GM Crops: 2014
50 Biotech Bites
The book entitled 50 Biotech Bites contains 50 topics relevant to the science, applications, and issues behind agricultural biotechnology. It is based on pocket-sized publications called Pockets K or Pockets of Knowledge which have been developed by ISAAA for the last 15 years.



In a statement released on January 28, 2016, the American Soybean Association (ASA) is urging the European Commission to address delays in the approvals timeline for crops grown with new biotechnology traits, saying the delays create a barrier to entry into the market for American soybeans and risk the supply of high quality feed for Europe's livestock industry. The ASA noted the improvements that the current Commission has made, and urged the Commission to give final authorization to new biotech events after they have passed through the EU's long review process.

The statement followed a report released earlier in January from European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly highlighting delays in the previous Commission's decisions on approving the import of new biotech crops that she said amounted to "maladministration."

ASA President Richard Wilkins noted that while the current Commission is making progress, it must continue to do so. "While Ombudsman O'Reilly's report is a reaffirmation of what we have known to be true for some time, it is still a good acknowledgement of the work that is ahead with regard to Europe. The process for approving new traits for export must be a transparent, efficient and science-based one," he said.

Read the statement at the American Soybean Association website.

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Researchers from Purdue University found that engineering plants to produce high levels of the protein PYL9 dramatically boosted drought tolerance in rice and the model plant Arabidopsis. The new study offers insights into the drought survival mechanisms of plants and presents a possible means of protecting crops from severe drought stress.

Under severe drought conditions, the transgenic plants triggered the death of their old leaves - a process called senescence - to conserve resources for seeds and buds, a survival strategy referred to as "die and let live." During drought, plant responses are controlled by abscisic acid (ABA), a hormone which regulates plant growth, development, and reaction to stress. The researchers found that altering plants to overexpress PYL9 made them highly sensitive to ABA, and a stress-responsive promoter protein controlled the level of PYL9 expression in the plants. The alterations helped Arabidopsis and rice to better withstand severe drought stress. PYL9 transgenic rice had a 50 percent survival rate after a two-week drought compared with 10 percent survival in wild type rice.

The study did not test for yield, though, and first author Yang Zhao cautioned that the spike in survival rate does not mean that the yield of the transgenic plants under drought conditions would equal that of conventional rice varieties under good growing conditions. "We still can't really solve the problem of drought," he said. "But we can make it better. In extreme drought conditions, even a bad yield would be better than nothing in terms of preserving human life."

For more details, read the news article at the Purdue University Newsroom.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has announced that it will issue a notice that it is developing a draft programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS), required under the National Environmental Policy Act, that will evaluate a range of alternatives that the Agency can take as it works to update its biotechnology regulations. The notice also invites the public to comment on the range of alternatives that APHIS will study in the draft EIS, along with definitions that APHIS plans to use in the draft EIS.

APHIS is considering amending its biotechnology regulations pertaining to introductions of the products of biotechnology that may pose plant pest or noxious weed risks to reflect lessons learned from regulating biotechnology products since 1987, reflect advances in biotechnology and address comments and suggestions raised by stakeholders. 

The notice is expected to be on display at the Federal Register on February 4, 2016, and will officially publish in the Register on February 5, 2016.

For more, read the APHIS bulletin.

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An international research team from Europe and the United States have sequenced the genome of the seagrass Zostera marina, an eelgrass taken from the Archipelago Sea off Finland. It is the first marine flowering plant to be fully sequenced, and its genome provides insight to extreme genetic plant adaptations. Eelgrass was once a flowering land plant that evolved over millions of years to become an ocean-dwelling seagrass, and researchers are interested in understanding how the plant adapts to climate change.

The research team compared the eelgrass genome with the freshwater plant duckweed and noted differences in genes related to cell wall structure due to adaptations to freshwater or terrestrial conditions. For example, the duckweed lost genes that help plants retain water in the cell wall, while eelgrass regained these genes to better deal with osmotic stress at low tide.

Study lead author Jeanine Olsen of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands said that the eelgrass re-engineered itself, noting the changes affecting the plant's cell walls. She added that crop breeders may benefit from lessons on how salt tolerance has evolved in these plants.

For more details, read the news release at the US Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute website.

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Asia and the Pacific

Stem rust is one of the most devastating barley diseases in Kazakhstan. Despite efforts for developing resistant lines, a molecular approach towards SR resistance gene identification had never been used in Kazakhstan.

Researchers led by Yerlan Turuspekov of the Institute of Plant Biology and Biotechnology used GWAS (genome-wide association study) mapping to identify reliable SNP markers and quantitative trait loci (QTL) associated with resistance to stem rust.

Barley commercial cultivars were characterized for resistance to stem rust. Analysis identified 2 reliable SNP markers located at chromosome 6H that were associated with resistance to stem rust at heading time (HA). However, no significant resistance QTLs were found for the maturity phase of development.

Genotyping of barley accessions from Kazakhstan identified highly significant QTL for the SR resistance at the HA phase of growth on chromosome 6H. The results provide additional information towards better understanding of SR resistance in barley.

For more information, read the full article in BMC Plant Biology.

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The union of a sperm and an egg is the beginning of a new life. This is the case in humans and animals, and in principle, it also happens in plants. A German-Israeli team led by Professors Ralf Reski from Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg and Nir Ohad from Tel-Aviv University has discovered a gene trigger in the moss Physcomitrella patens which leads to offsprings without fertilization.

The team describes the gene BELL1 as a master regulator for the formation of embryos and their development in Physcomitrella. After the researchers activated this gene in the plants by genetic engineering, embryos developed spontaneously in a specific cell type. These embryos grew to fully functional moss sporophytes. These spore capsules could even form spores, which grew into new moss plants. The team identified BELL1 as a master regulator for embryo development in mosses. Professor Reski said, "Our results may help to modernize agriculture through the creation of genetically identical offspring from high-yielding crop plants."

For more information, read the news releases from the Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg and Tel Aviv University.

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A new study conducted by scientists at Rothamsted Research and colleagues at the University of Manchester using high-resolution imaging during wheat sperm cell development reveals the way that chloroplasts are passed from one generation to another via only the maternal parent.

Chloroplasts are structures in plant cells that perform photosynthesis and mature from small precursors called plastids. Wheat, like many other plants, inherit their chloroplasts only from their mother. However, the mechanism that leads to this was not known. The research team labeled plastids in wheat with a green fluorescent protein (GFP) and observed them in developing pollen grains. They show for the first time that plastids are degraded in mature sperm cells just prior to fertilization.

Dr. Anil Day from the University of Manchester said, "We have shown that plastids are actually degraded in mature sperm cells just prior to fertilization rather than simply being stripped away with the rest of the cytoplasm."

Read the news release at Rothamsted Research for more information.

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Feeding studies of GM food/feed have been studied in detail by an EU-funded project called GMO Risk Assessment and Communication of Evidence (GRACE). The project team used GM maize event MON 810 in a 90-day and one-year feeding study. The team did not find any indication that a routine performance of 90-day feeding studies with whole food/feed would provide additional information on the safety on MON810 when compared to the compositional comparison of the GM variety.

Results also indicate that feeding the rats with MON810 did not lead to any adverse effects. Additional findings support the scientific reasoning that feeding trials with whole food / feed may provide an added scientific value for the risk assessment of GM crops, but only in case a trigger is available from the initial molecular, compositional, phenotypic and / or agronomic analyses.

For details, see the news at CORDIS.  

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Manipulation of brassinosteroid (BR) biosynthesis or signaling is a promising strategy for improving crop yield. However, the mechanisms of BR-regulated photosynthetic capacity are not clear. Xiao-Jing Li, together with researchers from Zheijang University, generated transgenic tomato plants by overexpressing Dwarf, a BR biosynthetic gene that encodes the CYP85A1, and compared the photosynthetic capacity with the BR deficient mutant (d im) and wild types (WT).

Overexpression of Dwarf promoted net photosynthetic rate, while BR deficient d im had and inhibited net photosynthetic rate compared with WT. Dwarf-overexpression enhanced the activity of dehydroascorbate reductase and glutathione reductase, leading to a reduced redox status. This reduced redox status maintained the activity of Calvin cycle enzymes, leading to an enhanced photosynthetic rate.

For more on the study, read the full article on BMC Plant Biology.

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Vitreoscilla hemoglobin (VHb), found in the bacterium Vitreoscilla, has been shown to contribute anaerobic stress tolerance in multiple plant species. Researchers, led by Hewei Du of Yangtze University and Xiaomeng Shen of Huazhong Agricultural University, aimed to improve maize's (Zea mays L.) susceptibility to waterlogging with the introduction of an exogenous VHb gene.

The team overexpressed the VHb gene in Arabidopsis. After 14 days of waterlogging treatment, the transgenic VHb Arabidopsis plants remained green, while the control plants died. Under waterlogging, important growth traits of overexpressing plants were significantly improved compared to the controls.

The VHb gene was then introduced into a maize line. The introduction of VHb significantly enhanced plant growth under waterlogging stress. The VHb-containing lines exhibited higher tolerance to waterlogging than their control lines.

These results show that the exogenous VHb gene confers waterlogging tolerance to the transgenic maize line and could be a useful molecular tool for the improvement of waterlogging and submergence-tolerance.

For more information on the study, read the full article in BMC Plant Biology.

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Beyond Crop Biotech

Purdue University researchers participated in a multi-institutional project that sequenced the genome of the common bedbug, a blood-sucking insect and a hardy pest capable of withstanding most insecticides.

Bedbugs have plagued humans for at least three thousand years, emerging at night to feed on blood, their sole source of nutrition and water. Widespread use of insecticides in homes decreased their numbers dramatically, but the bedbug has rebounded from near eradication.

The genome of Cimex lectularius uncovers the bedbugs' unique biology. Bedbugs were found to have developed multiple ways of resisting insecticides such as the armor-like outer cuticle that acts as a barrier and sports detoxification genes that help prevent insecticide penetration. The bugs might also detoxify ingested pesticides using the same robust antioxidant enzyme system they use to detoxify blood.

To learn more, read the article on the Purdue University website.

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Biologists from China, France, Spain, and the United States have discovered how specialized enzymes remodel the extremely condensed genetic material in the nucleus of cells in order to control which genes can be used.

According to B. Franklin Pugh of Penn State University, one of the corresponding authors, they knew that the compaction into chromatin makes genes inaccessible to the cellular machinery for gene expression, and that enzymes opened up the chromatin to specify which genes were accessible and could be expressed in a cell, but they did not know the mechanism by which the enzymes functioned.

The research team first mapped the location of several "chromatin-remodeller enzymes" across the entire genome of the embryonic stem cells of the mouse. It showed that remodeller enzymes bind to particular nucleosome "beads" at the sites along the wrapped-up DNA that are located just before the gene sequence begins. They then tested how the chromatin-remodeller enzymes impact gene expression by reducing the amount of each of these enzymes in embryonic stem cells. The scientists found that some chromatin-remodeller enzymes promote gene expression, some repress gene expression, and some can do both.

For more details, read the news article at Penn State News.

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What: 17th European Congress on Biotechnology (ECB2016)

Where: Krakow, Poland

When: July 3-6, 2016

ECB2016 is organized by the European Federation of Biotechnology. The Congress will include plenary lectures, symposia, trade exhibition, and publications workshop. Satellite events and short talks will also be held during ECB2016. For more details, visit the Congress website.

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Document Reminders

The U.S. Forest Service released a new report on Effects of Drought on Forests and Rangelands in the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis. The Report provides a national assessment of peer-reviewed scientific research on the impacts of drought on US forests and rangelands. The full text of the report is available at the U.S. Forest Service website.

ISAAA releases the Issues and Challenges in Crop Biotech video, a collection of views and personal experiences of eminent scientists, regulators and communicators from 11 countries, in dealing with various issues and challenges in the adoption and acceptance of biotechnology and biotech crops. These include the lack of understanding by policy makers, problems with public acceptance, and the critics that undermine the benefits of the technology. Some recommendations to overcome the challenges were also suggested.

See the video at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/issuesandchallenges/default.asp

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