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In This Issue

July 1, 2015

Latest Communication Products

Quotable Quotes: Why Biotech?
The quotes are taken from ISAAA Brief 50 Voices and Views: Why Biotech? which highlight the perspectives of various key stakeholders from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America who have followed the advancement of biotechnology and are convinced that the technology is vital in improving the quality of life.
Biotech/GM Trees
This Pocket K discusses the various uses of biotech/GM trees for the industry, combating invasive threats, adverse temperature, and consumer preference.
Biotech Cotton in India 2002 to 2014 – Adoption, Impact, Progress and Future
The document measures the success of biotech cotton by featuring a comprehensive overview of the adoption, impact, progress and future of biotech cotton in the country.
Voices and Views: Why Biotech?
ISAAA Brief 50 is a collection of personal essays about 32 individuals from all over the world who have followed the development of biotechnology and are convinced that it has a significant role in improving the quality of life.
Pocket K No. 49
Adoption and Uptake Pathways of Biotech Crops by Small-scale Farmers in China, India and the Philippines is now available!

News

Africa

Tanzania's Assistant Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr. Godfrey Zambi, said that Tanzania cannot afford to ignore the benefits of biotechnology in developing various sectors of the economy, especially in agriculture. He said this during the launch of the ISAAA Brief 49: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops 2014 in Dar es Salaam, on Wednesday June 16, 2015.

Hon. Zambi informed participants that the responsibility of the government is to partner with other stakeholders to ensure that the country has capacity for safe and progressive use of agri-biotech. The Deputy Minister said that this would help diffuse doubts of the people about the technology. He outlined the benefits of agricultural biotechnology such as improved nutrition, better animal health, competitive industries, and environmental conservation.

The Minister discussed various measures put in place by the government that ensure regulation of agri-biotech initiated in the year 2010 with an aim of strengthening capacity for the country in its quest to adopt GM crops. Hon. Zambi further stressed that the national government policy on agriculture 2013 identifies low public understanding of biotechnology as a key hindrance to adoption, adding that the policy aims at increasing awareness given that the agriculture sector is important to Tanzanians.

Speaking at the meeting, Dr. Emmarold Mneney, chief agricultural researcher of Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) said the main problem that researchers are experiencing in Tanzania is lack of adequate finances to conduct research, giving Uganda and Kenya as examples where considerable support has been channeled towards successful research on GM maize, cotton, and cassava.

For more information on the event, contact Dr. Nicholas Nyange, Deputy Director of Knowledge Management at the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) at nyange@costech.or.tz.

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Americas

Bacteria have a variety of tricks to avoid detection when plundering a plant cell. According to researchers from Boyce Thompson Institute and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, a protein from Pseudomonas syringae – AvrPtoB – suppresses the immune response of plants. AvrPtoB prevents the plant from detecting another bacterial protein, HopAD1, which helps the bacterium to reproduce unnoticed.

P. syringae infects a wide variety of plants. It launches an infection by sticking a needle-like tube into the plant cell and injecting proteins called effectors that disable plant defense. Over time, bacteria evolve new effector proteins, while the plant acquires new defense proteins to uncover and respond to the attack.

Plants have two lines of defense for fighting off bacteria. The first defense is called pattern-triggered immunity (PTI), while the second is called effector-triggered immunity (ETI). ETI ultimately results in the plant killing off its own affected cells. Previous studies have shown that AvrPtoB blocks two plant defense proteins, Pto and Fen, which helps the bacterium to evade ETI. The researchers found that HopAD1 could trigger ETI. They also discovered a previously hidden phenomenon: AvrPtoB can mask the detection of HopAD1 by disabling the MKK2 protein, which the cell needs to trigger ETI.

For more details, read the news release at the BTI website.

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Canada Agriculture Minster Gerry Ritz announced the ratification of UPOV '91 treaty to enhance plant variety protection system in the country. This action marks as completion of key measures for the recently-passed Agricultural Growth Act, which have modernized legislation around breeders' rights, allowing Canada to finally ratify UPOV '91.

The instrument of ratification was submitted to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland on June 19, 2015.

UPOV '91 or Act of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants aims to provide and promote an effective system of plant variety protection to encourage the development of new varieties of plants, for the benefit of society. Plant breeders usually take 10-12 years in developing a new plant variety. With the ratification of the UPOV '91, plant breeders now have more protection and farmers would have more access to a wider range of plant varieties. This also allows Canada to be more competitive in the global marketplace.

Read the news release from the Government of Canada.

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Asia and the Pacific

The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), with the support of the Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology Program, is developing a better and faster method of virus detection in rice and insect vectors. The method, called loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) assay has already been successful in diagnosing pathogens in animals and humans. The project is now testing it on plants with the aim of helping farmers detect the viral diseases even before the symptoms appear.

Preliminary results show that the rice tungro bacilliform virus (RTBV) can be detected one day after inoculation (DAI). This is in contrast to ELISA's three DAIs requirement for symptoms to appear. Further research reveals that LAMP was also able to detect the rice ragged stunt virus (RRSV) in the brown planthopper (BPH). This means that the method is likewise capable of detecting the virus even before the disease actually happens and even without a standing rice crop. Other focuses of the study include the rice tungro spherical virus (RTSV), rice grassy stunt virus (RGSV) and the rice dwarf virus (RDV) and its green leafhopper vector. It is hoped that through this fast and accurate diagnosis of rice diseases, timely pest management systems will be delivered and costs from misuse and expenditure of pesticides will be reduced.

For more information about this research, please contact project leader Dr. Emmanuel R. Tiongco (ertiongco@yahoo.com) or Dr. Antonio A. Alfonso of DA Biotech (biotechpiu@yahoo.com). DA- Biotech's info brief about this research, and other biotech updates in the Philippines may be found at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture Biotechnology Information Center's (SEARCA BIC) website.

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Farmers in Australia are increasingly turning to GM technology to improve yields and on-farm weed management, according to Nick Goddard, the executive director of the Australian Oilseeds Federation. Speaking at the Future Farming Forum in Adelaide on June 22, 2015, where GM technologies were discussed, Mr. Goddard said that since Western Australia started growing GM canola in 2010, the uptake has been phenomenal. "It fits so well into their farming systems and their weed management programs," Mr. Goddard added.

GM crops are grown in Victoria, New South Wales, and Western Australia. According to Monsanto Australia, about 13 percent of canola grown in Victoria this year will be Roundup Ready, 11 percent in New South Wales, and 30 percent in Western Australia.

For more details, read the news article in Stock Journal.

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Researchers from University of York and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Australia conducted a study which led to the discovery of the gene in poppy plants that is necessary in morphine production. Morphine is a natural compound found in poppy plant and used in painkillers.

The researchers discovered that the gene, STORR is the one producing morphinans and evolved with two other genes that result in morphine production. This was identified when the researchers examine the poppy plant varieties that were unable to produce morphine or codeine. These plants carry mutations in STORR gene that serve as a barrier in morphine production pathway in poppy plants.

STORR gene discovery in poppy plant will help in developing breeding of poppy plant varieties targeting the production of anti-cancer compound such as noscapine and aid in genetic engineering of morphine production in microbes.

Read the whole story of their study at the University of York's website.

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Europe

Results of the GM wheat field trial conducted by Rothamsted Research in 2012-2013 show that GM wheat producing aphid alarm pheromone did not repel aphids in the field. Their findings are published in Scientific Reports journal.

Aphids are known to be a destructive pest of wheat, transmitting viruses and decreasing yield. Farmers turn to insecticides to address aphid infestations. Thus, scientists at Rothamsted Research developed GM wheat that produces aphid alarm pheromone (E)-β-farnesene (Eβf). Laboratory studies showed that aphids were successfully repelled by the pheromone. Then the scientists tested the GM wheat expressing the pheromone in open field conditions. However, no significant differences in aphid infestation were found between GM wheat and conventional wheat.

"The research project overall provided us with fascinating results. We now know that in order to repel natural aphid populations in the field, we may need to alter the timing of release of the alarm signal from the plant to mimic more closely that by the aphid, which is a burst of release in response to a threat rather than continuous…This may require altering release rates of alarm pheromone from the plants, but also engineering the wheat plant to release the pheromone only when the aphid arrives, " said Professor John Pickett, one of the authors of the study.

Read the news release from Rothamsted Research and the journal article from Scientific Reports.

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Research

Specific genes of the Mildew Locus O (MLO) gene family are linked to susceptibility towards powdery mildew fungal disease, which causes economic losses in agricultural settings. To search for source of powdery mildew resistance, Michela Appiano from Wageningen University and colleagues developed a breeding strategy based on the selective inactivation of MLO susceptibility genes in different plants.

PCR-based methodologies were used to isolate MLO genes from eggplant, potato, and tobacco, which are common hosts for powdery mildew fungi. The researchers were able to isolate the genes, namely SmMLO1, StMLO1 and NtMLO1 from eggplant, potato, and tobacco, respectively. Genetic analyses showed that these genes came from a common ancestor with tomato SlMLO1 and pepper CaMLO2, previously shown to be important for powdery mildew pathogenesis.

Furthermore, tobacco NtMLO1 was characterized as powdery mildew susceptibility gene. Single nucleotide mutation of NtMLO1 also led to complete loss-of-function of the gene.

The results of the study are vital in understanding MLO gene evolution in Solanaceae and for molecular breeding approaches to develop powdery mildew resistance using reverse genetics.

Read the research article published at Transgenic Research.

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Infestation of crops by aflatoxin-producing fungi results in economic losses as well as negative health effects. Currently, control strategies against aflatoxin accumulation are not effective for small farms in Africa causing widespread aflatoxin exposure. A strategy called host-induced gene silencing holds great potential for developing aflatoxin-resistant plant germplasm.

The team led by Amos Emitati Alakonya, a researcher from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya, transformed maize with a hairpin construct targeting the aflatoxin biosynthesis transcription factor aflR. The transgenics were then challenged with an Aspergillus flavus strain.

Results reveal that aflR was downregulated in A. flavus-colonizing the transgenic maize. Furthermore, maize kernels from transgenic plants accumulated significantly lower levels of aflatoxins than wild type plants. However, transgenic maize exhibited stunting and reduced kernel placement. Results indicate that host-induced gene silencing has potential in developing aflatoxin-resistant germplasm.

For more information on the study, read the full article on Plant Cell Reports.

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Arabidopsis thaliana as the model plant and bred double mutant variant of A. thaliana expressing defective genes of At3g03940 and At5g18190. These varieties were subject under drought treatment conditions.

The results of their study reveal that mutant A. thaliana shows dwarfism and hypersensitivity to osmotic stress. In addition, the double mutant A. thaliana shows reduced levels of phosphorylated histone H3 threonine 3 (H3T3ph) while wild type mutant A. thaliana responded differently to osmotic stress. The wild type A. thaliana exhibits enhanced levels of H3T3ph and trimethylated histone H3 lysine 4 (H3K4me3) and a decrease in histone H3. A protein kinase was also present in the wild type A. thaliana which leads to the accumulation of H3K4me3, however, this kinase is not found in the double mutant A. thaliana.

The findings indicate that the lack of  At3g03940 and At5g18190 reduces phosphorylation of histone and loss of kinase making double mutant A. thaliana more susceptible to drought. This further suggests that these defective genes restrain the defensive mechanism of A. thaliana against drought conditions.

Details of the study can be read at Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences in the United States of America.

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Beyond Crop Biotech

All creatures wrestle with proper timing, including humans and plants. University of Washington (UW) researchers recently discovered that this struggle even extends to the release of fragrant scent of garden flowers.

The UW research team has identified a key mechanism that plants use to decide when to release their floral scents to attract pollinators. Led by Takato Imaizumi, they studied the common garden petunia and discovered LHY, a major gene that controls the time when petunia releases its fragrance. The gene is found in many plant species and is a key component of the plant circadian clock.

Imaizumi's team also discovered how LHY represses floral scent production. They are now testing if pollinators prefer between normal garden petunias or petunias with altered LHY activity. In time, these experiments may pave the way for scientists to improve the pollination efficiency of other plants, including important crop species.

For more, read the news release at the UW website.

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A study was conducted by University of Leicester researchers which explored the influence of environment in the biological clock of the fruitfly (Drosophila melongaster).

Based on their study, fruitfly in the wild under natural summer temperatures has a large afternoon locomotor response. This hyperactivity of the fruitfly is controlled by the thermosensory gene, TrpA1. Elimination of this gene in fruitfly causes the afternoon hyperactivity remained intact.

The finding indicates that the changes in behavior of fruitfly during warmer temperatures are controlled by a thermosensory gene, TrpA1.

The full story of the study can be read at the University of Leicester website.

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Document Reminders

Science Policy Communication Group at the University of California, Davis released a video answering how and why farmers choose seeds for their farm. Watch the video at GMO Answers.

From The BICs

Journalists who attended a media sensitization workshop on biotechnology organized by Uganda Biosciences Information Center, urged the agriculture communication and information hub to increase deliberate efforts to link them to scientists so as to promote better science reporting.

During the workshop which was held on June 23,  2015 at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), the journalists appreciated the efforts of scientists to help them understand modern agricultural processes such as genetic engineering. The journalists expressed need for more engagements to enhance objective reporting and dissemination of information on improved varieties to farmers. They also commended the National Agricultural Research Organisation- which established UBIC, for championing the linkage between scientists and the media. This is done through organizing such workshops to help the latter appreciate the relevance of interpreting scientific research that influences policy and farming choices in Uganda.

The journalists also visited the biotechnology and biosafety facilities at two of NARO's research stations, which became an eye opener regarding the safe development, application, and regulation of GM technology in Uganda. They also recognized the need for the media to understand biotechnology so as to help demystify some of the publicly-held myths about this modern science. They pointed out the need for NARO to interface with civil society organizations to increase their understanding of GM technology as they conduct agricultural outreach activities.

Mr. Simon Muyanga Lutaaya, a participant and Head of Current Affairs at NBS TV, further called on his fellow journalists to better appreciate the relevance of adopting modern agricultural technologies.

For more information, write to the Coordinator via ubic.nacrri@gmail.com


In a bid to promote agriculture and increase awareness on modern agricultural technologies, Uganda Biosciences Information Center (UBIC) in collaboration with Miss Uganda Foundation organized a boot-camp from June 22-26, 2015 at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI). Agriculture is an important source of livelihood to more than 75 percent of Uganda's population and the boot camp aimed to orient the beauty queens to the sector, which they are expected to promote among the youth and women.

During the boot camp, the beauty queens were introduced to the field management of key crop including cereals, legumes, root crops, and fruits. The contestants were also introduced to crop improvement techniques including biotechnology and value-addition. The head of the root crops program at NaCRRI -Dr. Titus Alichai urged the beauty queens to be positive ambassadors to their communities, on what they learned about modern agricultural biotechnology.

A total of 21 girls are taking part in the contest with the final winners to be announced on July 10, 2015. The outgoing Miss Uganda 2014/15 Leah Kalanguka has spent most of her reign urging the young people to embrace modern agricultural technologies. UBIC intends to engage the next crowned beauty queens as outreach ambassadors for on-going agricultural research in Uganda.

For more information about biotechnology in Uganda, send an e-mail to ubic.nacrri@gmail.com.

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