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In This Issue

September 2, 2015

Latest Communication Products

Biotech Country Facts and Trends (Updated) Batch 2

ISAAA releases the second batch in the revised series Biotech Country Facts and Trends. This set features the five developing biotech countries of Pakistan, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia, and the Philippines. Biotech Country Facts and Trends are concise summaries highlighting the commercialization of biotech crops in specific countries.

Biotech Country Facts and Trends (Updated)
ISAAA releases the revised series Biotech Country Facts and Trends. The first set in the series features the top five developing biotech countries of Brazil, Argentina, India, China, and Paraguay. Biotech Country Facts and Trends are concise summaries highlighting the commercialization of biotech crops in specific countries.
Myths & Facts about Agricultural Biotechnology
The booklet answers 10 myths on agricultural biotech, providing facts and data relevant to each topic.
Beyond Promises: Top 10 Facts about Biotech/GM Crops in 2014
A visual presentation of the 10 important highlights about biotech crops in 2014, taken from the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014
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.

News

Global

A set of scientific criteria has been proposed to determine whether a genetically engineered (GE) crop will have little negative impact on the environment under low-level presence (LLP) conditions. At present, importers of crops with LLP undergo an environmental risk assessment (ERA), which fails to acknowledge the GE crop's low environmental exposure and prior regulatory history. In addition, this assessment may not be suitable to the timeframe for decision-making in LLP in imported seeds. The proposed criteria address these issues and may improve the system of regulating LLP in seed for importers.
 
Three general criteria are proposed:
  • Experience and knowledge with the crop plant indicated that the crop will not survive, persist, and multiply in the receiving environment without human intervention;
  • Experience and knowledge with the incorporated trait indicates that it does not pose a risk to the environment under conditions of LLP in seed; and
  • A previously conducted ERA concludes that the GE crop plant does not have altered characteristics with respect to growth and reproduction that would affect survival and resistance in the receiving environment.
The full paper is available in the journal Transgenic Research.

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Africa

The Federation of Arab Scientific Research Councils with the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology organized the 6th International Arab Workshop on Biotechnology which was held at the National Research Center on August 24-25, 2015 under the auspices of the Minister of Scientific Research and the President of Academy of Scientific Research and Technology. More than 200 participants attended the workshop, including scientists from Sudan, Tunisia, and Jordan. Prof. Andreas Börner from Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant gave a presentation on their gene bank management and seed materials reproduction. Dr. Hanaiya El-Itraby talked about the activities in the National Gene Bank in Egypt and how they play a crucial role in preserving the biodiversity.

Dr. Naglaa Abdallah, Director of EBIC gave a presentation on the challenges and opportunities of genome editing for crops improvement. She compared this newly developed technique with mutagenesis, and genetic modification. According to Dr. Abdallah, although genome-editing technologies promise to be more efficient and precise to edit genes, it is in its early stage and could not replace GM crops completely. GM crops may have some disadvantages such as regulatory delays, cost and time to launch, but until now it is the technique of choice.

Concerning the regulatory system she added, "Many of these techniques could cause variation in the genotype that is indistinguishable from the natural means or conventional mutagenesis; and therefore, they do not fit current definitions of GMO used within most regulatory regimes. Regulation will focus on the process used, rather than the nature of the novel phenotype developed."

For more information, visit the EBIC website or contact Prof. Naglaa Abdallah through email (nabdallah.ebic@gmail.com or naglaa.abdallah@agr.cu.edu.eg).

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Americas

Researchers at Monsanto are developing RNA sprays for plants to temporarily turn off the activity of certain genes. For instance, an RNA spray can be tailored to address insect infestation or a new type of virus. The gene silencing ability of the spray will only take effect for a few days or weeks, enough to kill the pests or pathogens. Another RNA spray can also be developed to address drought resistance, which will be applied only during times of water shortage. The development of RNA sprays takes shorter time than developing GM crops.

World Food Prize Laureate, Dr. Robert Fraley, also Monsanto's Chief Technology Officer, designed the RNA spray three years ago. Fraley believes that within a few years they will "open up a whole new way to use biotechnology" that "doesn't have the same stigma, the same intensive regulatory studies and cost that we would normally associate with GMOs." He thinks that RNA sprays are incredible and breathtaking and that of all the platforms we are working on, this is the one that reminds me the most of the early days of biotech.

Aside from Monsanto, other agri-biotech companies such as Bayer and Syngenta are also studying RNA sprays. It is perceived that this technology will be more acceptable for the public because no GMO is developed in the process.

For more details, read the original article from MIT Technology Review.

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Arcadia Biosciences Inc. and Bioceres S.A. have announced that Verdeca, their soybean technology joint venture, received notification that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has completed the Early Food Safety Evaluation (EFSE) process for HAHB4, the plant protein responsible for Verdeca's HB4 stress tolerance trait.

In the EFSE process, the FDA reviewed safety data provided by Verdeca and supported the conclusion that the inadvertent presence of low levels of the HAHB4 protein would not raise food safety concerns. The data provided to the FDA is consistent with international regulatory requirements for genetically modified crops and will be used by Verdeca and its global partners for future regulatory submissions.

Eric Rey, Arcadia Biosciences President and CEO said "The completion of the EFSE process is a very strong and positive signal about safety. The core safety data used in the EFSE process will facilitate international regulatory approvals for HB4 stress-tolerant soybeans, and for the use of the HB4 trait in other crops as well."

The FDA's evaluation follows the April regulatory approval from Argentina's National Advisory Commission on Agricultural Biotechnology (CONABIA) and the Biotechnology Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Argentina. The Argentinean approval was the first regulatory approval for the HB4 trait, and the world's first regulatory approval of an abiotic stress tolerance trait in soybeans.

For more information, read the news release at the Arcadia Biosciences website.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved InnateTM potato (designated as Russet Burbank event W8), which has been genetically engineered for late blight resistance, low acrylamide potential, reduced black spot bruising, and lowered reducing sugars. Late blight is the disease that caused the Irish potato famine in the mid-19th century and still threatens crops around the globe.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) announced the "determination of nonregulated status" for the potato in a brief statement. The USDA APHIS said that the determination is based on their evaluation of data submitted by J.R. Simplot Company, analysis of available scientific data, and comments received from the public in response to previous notices announcing the availability of the petition for nonregulated status and its associated environmental assessment and plant pest risk assessment.

The notice is available at the USDA APHIS website. The final documents, including Stakeholder Announcement, Federal Notice of Determination of Nonregulated Status, Final Environmental Assessment, and Final Plant Risk Assessment are all available at the USDA APHIS website.

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Asia and the Pacific

Mr. Sharad Pawar, India's former Union Minister of Agriculture pitches for field trials of GM crops and has called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene in clearing the policy paralysis and regulatory uncertainty for GM crops. Mr. Pawar said that in India, GM crops, including Bt brinjal and corn are ready for release, while field trials of other GM crops have been stopped. "How can you stop research or trials? If a particular GM crop is creating problems for other crops or for humans, animals, soil, water and environment, one can think of not giving clearance. But that does mean not allowing field trials," he stated.

Mr. Pawar wrote to Prime Minster Modi, saying that the NOC requirement was unnecessary and was choking the growth of the agricultural biotechnology sector. "May I seek your immediate intervention in expediting the process of enabling innovative research in the area of agriculture by either reversing the regulatory system to pre-NOC era, or facilitating the process for granting of NOCs to enable the planting of field trials to ascertain their safety, efficacy and performance — critical parameters to arrive at a decision for their large-scale plantings for the benefits of farming community," Mr. Pawar said in the letter sent last month. While conceding that the NOC requirement was "not a regressive step", he said that it has become a subject of "socio-political process rather than an objective science-based process of rigorous evaluation at the state level". He also voiced his concern and called to do away with the rule to obtain a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the concerned state government before going ahead with field trials. Some of the new GM technologies to be tested are on pulses and oilseeds that are essential for national food security. The benefits and applicability of such technologies can only be ascertained by trials and hence they need to be taken up expeditiously and encouraged," he said.

For more details, read the news articles in the Indian Express.

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Agri-biotech companies are required to invest in GM corn production plants in Vietnam in the next 4 to 5 years to get a license to sell the product in the country. This requirement was mentioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in a circular as they are drafting guidelines to control GM crops in the country and avoid dependence on GM seed imports from other countries.

In March 2015, the Ministry allowed the commercial release of GM corn varieties NK66 BT, NK66 GT, and NK66 BT/GT developed by Syngenta. According to Syngenta, it would follow the requirement issued by the Ministry as part of its long-term investment in Vietnam.

Fore more information, read the article from Genetic Literacy Project.

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The Ministry of Agriculture of China through its website has issued a statement saying that all certified genetically modified foods that are sold on the Chinese market are safe. China has established a safety supervision system that covers the complete chain of GM products, including research, production and trading, according to the ministry.

The ministry will work with other departments to improve legislation of GM products and their testing technologies to ensure their safety, the ministry said in a reply to a March proposal by 10 members of China's top political advisory body on the improved safety management of GM foods. The reply, posted on the ministry's website, said that China and other countries have done much research on the safety of GM foods that proved certified GM foods are as safe as traditional foods.

"Internationally, there is a conclusion on the safety of GM foods, that is, that all GM foods that have passed safety evaluation and been certified are safe," the ministry said. The reply added, "The conclusion by the World Health Organization is that no health damage has been seen in any people worldwide who have consumed GM foods that have been approved by authorities."

For more details, read the news release posted on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture of the People's Republic of China.

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Europe

University of Liverpool scientists reported in Global Change Biology that the genetic diversity of wild plant species can be altered hastily by climate change. They discovered this after studying the genetic responses of various wild plants in the grassland ecosystem near Buxton in England during simulated climate change conditions including drought, enhanced rainfall, and increased temperature, over a period of 15 years.

DNA markers analysis in the wild plants showed that the climate change conditions caused a modification in the genetic composition of the plant populations. It also revealed a process of evolutionary change in one of the species studied, implying that genetic diversity may protect plants from the drastic effects of climate change, causing an "evolutionary rescue."

Read the news article from the University of Liverpool.

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Scientists from Ghent University, VIB, Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO) and partners released the results of their GM potato field study in the journal Crop Protection. The field trials of GM potatoes were conducted in Belgium and Netherlands to investigate the efficacy of adding one to three resistance genes in potatoes against last blight caused by Phytophthora infestans. Results showed that the tested genes have different contributions to resistance. They have identified a certain stack of genes from Solanum venturii, Solanum stoloniferum and Solanum bulbocastanum that provides the best resistance to late blight.

Based on the findings, the researchers concluded that breeding has to focus on putting together a wide combination of natural resistance genes in new varieties, at least three, but four or five is even better. Also, the resistance genes have to be sufficiently different. For sustainable resistance management, it is necessary to change the combination of genes in the new varieties strategically.

Read more information from VIB.

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Research

Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascades mediate various responses in plants with one of its top components being MAP3K. However, little is known about the role of MAP3Ks, especially in cotton. Researchers from the Shandong Agricultural University in China isolated an MAPK gene from cotton, GhMAP3K40, expressed it in Nicotiana benthaminana and tested its function.

Plants overexpressing GhMAP3K40 had enhanced tolerance to drought and salt stress at the germination stage. However, at the seedling stage, the transgenics suffered severe damage after various stresses. Defense-related genes were activated in transgenic plants, suggesting that GhMAP3K40 regulates defense responses. However, the transgenics were less able to prevent pathogen invasion due to defects in the cell structure of the leaves. The root systems of the control plants also were stronger compared with the transgenic plants.

These results suggest that GhMAP3K40 positively regulate defense response, but causes reduced tolerance to biotic and abiotic stress due to its negative role in growth and development by down-regulating the lignin biosynthesis.

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

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Plant proteinase inhibitors (PIs) are attractive tools for crop improvement and their heterologous expression can enhance insect resistance in transgenic plants. PI oryzacystatin II (OCII), isolated from rice, showed potential in controlling pests.

To evaluate the efficacy of the OCII gene in enhancing plant defense, Aleksandar Cingel of the University of Belgrade in Serbia developed OCII-transformed potatoes and evaluated them for resistance to Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata Say).

Feeding on the leaves of the transgenic potato significantly affected larval growth and development. However, it did not affect mortality rates. The larvae also consumed the transgenic foliage faster as compared to the control. The larvae reached the pre-pupal stage earlier than those fed on control leaves.

With the earlier maturation of the larvae, the amount of OCII-transformed leaves consumed was significantly lower than that of control. The weights of pre-pupal larvae were also reduced by 18% as compared to larvae that fed on the control. This reduction in insect fitness, in combination with other control measures, may lead to improved CPB resistance management in potato.

For more on the featured study, read the full article on Transgenic Research.

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Systemin is a signal peptide that promotes the response to wounding and herbivore attack in tomato. This peptide is released from a larger precursor, prosystemin. To study the role of systemin, Mariangela Coppola from Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II and a team of scientists generated transgenic tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) plants that overexpress the prosystemin cDNA.

The transgenic lines were found to be more resistant against various biotic stresses such as aphids, phytopathogenic fungi, and phytophagous larvae. Analysis found that systemin promotes an array of defense genes that are dependent on different signalling pathways. It also downregulates genes connected with carbon fixation and carbohydrate metabolism.

Their results demonstrate that in tomato, the modulation of a single gene is sufficient to provide a wide range of resistance against stress by boosting endogenous defense pathways.

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

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Beyond Crop Biotech

A study conducted by Canadian researchers is providing a clearer picture of the evolutionary history and genetic organization of cannabis, a step that could have agricultural, medical, and legal implications for this valuable crop.

Led by Jonathan Page, University of British Columbia botanist, and Sean Myles, population geneticist at Dalhousie University, the researchers looked at the genotypes of 81 marijuana and 43 hemp samples. They were able to search for relationships between different plants, and found that cannabis plants, which consist of three species (C. sativa, C. indica, and C. ruderalis), are often incorrectly labeled.

"Cannabis breeders and growers often indicate the percentage of Sativa or Indica in a cannabis strain, but they are not very accurate," Page explains. While hemp plants also go by the Latin name C. sativa, researchers discovered that hemp showed a high amount of genetic separation from marijuana, likely due to the breeding of the plants for radically different uses.

For more details, read the news release at the University of British Columbia website.

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Document Reminders

Updated versions of the following Pocket Ks are now available for download:

Q and A about Genetically Modified Crops
Plant Products of Biotechnology
GM Crops and the Environment
Documented Benefits of GM Crops
Bt Insect Resistant Technology

Pocket Ks are Pockets of Knowledge, packaged information on crop biotechnology products and related issues produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology. These publications are written in easy to understand style and downloadable as PDF for easy sharing and distribution. Other topics are also available at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/.

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