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In This Issue

April 16, 2014

Latest Communication Products

The Story of Bt Brinjal in India
The Story of Bt Brinjal in India documents the process of development, deregulation, demand and debate on Bt brinjal (eggplant/aubergine) in India.
An Alert Farmer is an Affluent Farmer
An infographic on Bt cotton manifesting the "7 wonders of the Bt cotton" and drawing the key trends in cotton sectoral transformation in India
ISAAA's Norman Borlaug Centenary Emblem

ISAAA releases the Norman Borlaug Centenary emblem as part of the world-wide centenary (25 March 1914 to 25 March 2014) celebrations of the birth of the Nobel Peace Laureate, Norman Borlaug.
Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2013
ISAAA Brief 46-2013 is now available! Get your copy now!

News

Global

The Asian Biotechnology and Development Review has published an article, "Ten Lessons from Biotechnology Experiences in Crops, Livestock, and Fish for Smallholders in Developing Countries." Written by James D. Dargie, John Ruane, and Andrea Sonnino, the article is a project by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 

The FAO commissioned a unique series of 19 case studies where agricultural biotechnologies were used to serve the needs of smallholders in developing countries. Most involved a single crop, livestock or fish species and a single biotechnology. From the case studies, ten general and interrelated lessons were drawn that could be used to inform and assist policymakers when deciding on potential interventions involving biotechnologies for smallholders.

Some of the lessons are:

  • the need for government commitment and backing from donors and international agencies;
  • the need for partnerships, both nationally and internationally, but also with the farmers themselves; and,
  • the recognition that long-term investments in science and technology are critical, as is the appropriate integration of biotechnologies with science-based and traditional knowledge.

The study also found that planning, monitoring, and evaluation of biotechnology applications was weak and should be strengthened.

The article is available for download at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/019/as351e/as351e.pdf.

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Peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.) is one of the economically important oil and food crops. Peanut is generally grown across a wide range of environments including rain-fed conditions. Because of this, drought is a main limiting factor to peanut production in the semi-arid areas. The development of salinity and drought stress-tolerant peanut to exploit the drought-prone and salinity-affected areas of the world has been imperative these past years. Now, mannitol may just be the thing that would make it a reality.

Mannitol accumulation in most plants works for the alleviation of salinity and osmotic-induced stresses. However, it is not naturally synthesized in peanut. The mtlD gene (from Escherichia coli) codes for an enzyme that converts fructose 2 with 6-phosphate to mannitol1-phosphate. Peanuts transformed with mtlD were evaluated for salinity and drought stress tolerance. The overexpression of the mtlD gene translated to the transgenic peanuts' improved tolerance to salinity and drought. This was revealed by better growth and physiological parameters like mannitol content, total chlorophyll content, and relative water content in transgenic peanuts.

The better performance of the transgenic plants was attributed to the stress-shielding role of mannitol. However, the mtlD expression causing the activation of other protective reactions in transgenic peanut may also be possible.

Read more at: http://www.cropj.com/thankappan_8_3_2014_413_421.pdf.

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Americas

The dedication of Dr. Norman Borlaug's statue in the U.S. Capitol on March 25, 2014 not only highlighted his accomplishments in feeding the world, it also prompted the President of the United States to give his clearest endorsement to date on the important role of biotechnology in agriculture.

In a letter dated April 11, 2014 to Julie Borlaug, President Obama wrote about how pleased he was to join in celebrating her grandfather's life and his passion for feeding the hungry through biotechnology. He wrote, ""I share his belief that investment in enhanced biotechnology is an essential component of the solution to some of our planet's most pressing agricultural problems." The President added, "I will continue to work with the Department of Agriculture and others to explore innovative solutions to address food security challenges and mitigate the effects of climate change."

Julie Borlaug, Assistant Director for External Relations at the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture said "This is a huge endorsement of the importance of agriculture research and biotechnology. My grandfather would have been grateful and appreciative of the president's focus on agriculture and climate change in an effort to feed the 9 billion people expected to live on this planet by 2050."

To read President Obama's letter, click here: http://www.agri-pulse.com/uploaded/Borlaug_Letter.pdf. For more information, read http://www.agri-pulse.com/President-Obama-provides-clear-endorsement-of-agricultural-biotechnology-04152014.asp.

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Cornell University Professor of Entomology Tony Shelton visited Haidul Islam's Bt brinjal farm in Gazipur District, Bangladesh on 9 April 2014. The said farm was alleged to be attacked by insects, and lost 25-30 percent of the plants, with the remaining crops struggling for survival, and the owner Haidul Islam spraying more insecticides.

Shelton found that the allegations were not true. Haidul Islam is very pleased with the crop, and happily showed him the Bt brinjal farm free of pest damage. The farm owner who would have already sprayed insecticides on the plants to control the brinjal fruit and shoot borer, but did not have to since the plants resisted their attacks. The farmer was pleased to see no borer injury — and Shelton also saw this, when he inspected the crop.

For more details about this, read Tony Shelton's article:
http://btbrinjal.tumblr.com/post/82304996926/in-bangladesh-with-bt-brinjal-farmers.

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Scientists from US Department of Agriculture (USDA) studied the genes of ancient grasses and found a gene that could save wheat from Ug99 (Puccina graminis), a notorious type of stem rust that keeps on evolving.

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Matt Rouse and colleagues studied a variety of ancient grasses such as einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, and goatgrass. Rouse and team found the gene Sr35 which confers resistance to the stem rust. To search for the position of Sr35 in the wheat genome, the research team conducted various knock-out experiments. In one set of mutant plants, they knocked out the cloned sequences and found it made those plants susceptible to Ug99. In another set of mutant plants, they inserted the same sequences into previously susceptible plants and found it made them resistant.

This marked the first time that scientists managed to isolate and clone a Ug99 resistance gene. The results would help scientists to easily insert useful genes into wheat varieties.

Read the original article at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2014/140407.htm.

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Phytoparasitic nematodes are one of the major pests of sugarcane. One of these destructive nematodes is the Criconemoides sp. They can only be controlled with the application of highly toxic chemicals which are mostly discouraged due to their undesirable secondary effects such as high costs as well as environmental and health hazards. Because of this, the use of biological control against these nematodes is being considered, specifically the nematophagous fungi.

Nematophagous fungi are natural enemies and an effective control agent against phytoparasitic nematodes. However, their population in the soil has greatly decreased due to repeated application of fertilizers and pesticides. A recent study isolated a fungus, Purpureocillium lilacinum from the sugarcane nematode Criconemoides sp. and tested its pathogenicity on the nematode population in Veracruz, Mexico. They monitored the in vitro infection process of Criconemoides sp. as well as the effect of the fungus on nematodes in greenhouse using naturally infested soil and plants.

Blastospores and mycelia from the fungi were observed within the body of the nematode within only 48 hours of infection. The population of these nematodes was significantly lower in the biocontrol than in the control treatment after only ten days from the application of the fungus. The fungus used in the experiment efficiently reduced the population of nematodes. However, field testing of this fungus should be conducted in order to determine its potential effectiveness under field crop conditions.

Read more at http://www.cropj.com/carrion_3_8_2014_389_396.pdf.

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Asia and the Pacific

The Philippine Genome Center (PGC) of the University of the Philippines (UP) officially opened its Core Facility for Bioinformatics (CFB) last 14 April 2014. The event was highlighted with the ground-breaking ceremony for the new PGC building at UP Diliman and a scientific symposium. PGC is a multidisciplinary institution that combines basic and applied research for the development of health diagnostics, therapeutics, DNA forensics and preventive products, and improved crop, aquaculture, and animal varieties. The Center was established to facilitate the translation of knowledge in genomics into applications beneficial to society. The CFB aims to provide local scientists and researchers with quality services for genome-scale data generation and analysis.

Complementing the next generation sequencing services offered by its DNA Sequencing Core Facility (DSCF), the CFB showcases high-performance computing resources, hardware and software required in the efficient analysis, management/curation, and archiving of massive amounts of data derived from next generation sequencing. CFB also boasts of custom-made/client-focused services such as the provision of software, specialized databases or technical support for varied bioinformatics analyses, and also the use and access to high-performance computing resources.

The PGC currently has five research programs on health; agriculture, livestock & fisheries; biodiversity; forensics & ethnicity; and ethics, legal and social issues, as well as three core facilities: DNA sequencing, and bioinformatics and biobanking. PGC will soon offer educational workshops, trainings, and seminars in genomics and biotechnology. Collaborations with the academe, government and private institutions with similar thrusts in genomics-based applications such as health and medicine, agriculture, biodiversity and forensics are welcome.

For updates on R&D developments in genomics and biotechnology in the Philippines, visit SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center's website at http://www.bic.searca.org/ or send an e-mail to bic@agri.searca.org.

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Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is an important food and industrial crop throughout the world. It is an alternative source of raw materials for biofuel production. China is the biggest sweet potato producer in the world. Thus, several researches were conducted to improved sweet potato through biotechnology.

China has been using an efficient system of embryogenic suspension cultures for sweet potato genotypes since the 1980s in which plant regeneration in different tissues via organogenesis or somatic embryogenesis have been successful. Somatic hybridization has also been utilized to overcome incompatibility between sweet potato and its relatives. The first interspecific somatic hybrid was produced between sweet potato and Ipomoea triloba by fusing petiole protoplasts of two species using the polyethylene glycol (PEG) method. It has generated useful interspecific somatic hybrids.

Cell induced mutation by gamma ray irradiation and in vitro selection have also been used to produce novel mutants. Agrobacterium-mediated transformation has been standardized for important cultivars, and has been used to produce transgenic plants resistant to diseases, stresses and herbicides. Molecular markers linked to a stem nematode resistance gene have been developed.

The paper summarizes China's advances in sweet potato biotechnology and suggests future directions for research in biotechnology of sweet potato.

Read more at http://www.pomics.com/liu_4_6_2011_295_301.pdf.

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Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research (NFS&R), Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan said during the meeting of the Board of Governors (BoG) of  Pakistan Agricultural Council (PARC), that the Government is devoted to bring out the nation from the current food-related challenges. The Federal minister also praised the council for playing a leading role for the advancement of agriculture sector in the April 9 meeting. Bosan also expressed the hope that the BoG meeting will provide opportunity for its members to know in-depth all the current research being conducted. He lauded PARC for initializing and scaling up activities, and contributing in Indigenous hybrid seed development to meet farmers requirements; development of certified nurseries for fruit plants; and promotion of under-utilized crops. He also appreciated the initiatives for development and commercialization of environmentally safe chemicals and biocontrol agents.

For details, see http://www.pabic.com.pk/news_detail.php?nid=38

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India seems to have another commercialized biotech crop soon, and it would not be Bt brinjal but genetically modified jute developed by scientists in University of Calcutta. According to Swapan K. Datta, Deputy Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the documentation of GM jute is ready to be sent for commercial approval to Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) next month. He mentioned this on the sidelines of the roundtable discussion on Addressing Challenges of Food Security organized by Confederation of Indian Industry on 7 April 2014.

Once approved, GM jute would be the second commercialized non-food crop in India, next to Bt cotton, which covers 95 percent of land in India devoted to cotton.

Read more at http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/04/08/india-set-to-approve-gm-jute-second-biotech-crop-after-cotton/#.U0ykJ_mSy-0.

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Australian High Commissioner Peter Heyward in a meeting with Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) President Engineer Sohail Lashari said on April 11 that Pakistan and Australia are authentic partners in agriculture sector since Pakistan has a prosperous agriculture tradition while Australia is world leader in agriculture research and innovation.

The High Commissioner beseeched the Pakistani farming community to utilize knowledge from the Australian expertise in the agriculture and livestock sectors in order to enhance their yield in these two areas. He was also leading a six-member delegation of Australian companies working in agriculture sector of Pakistan. Commissioner Heyward believed that Australia's experience and expertise combined with Pakistan's abundant natural endowments make a strong partnership. He further added that by joining hands, both the countries will enjoy a long standing friendship built on sharing knowledge and technology among each other and it will give vast opportunities for both the countries to cooperate and learn from each other in agri research and economics. LCCI President Engineer Sohail Lashari said that Pakistan is in dire need of bringing and initiating modern technology in the agriculture sector, and further affirms that knowledge as well as technology from developed countries like Australia can bring good results.

See the original news at http://www.lcci.com.pk/press.php?id=60 and/or at http://www.pabic.com.pk/news_detail.php?nid=39.

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A University of Queensland (UQ) study has overturned the long-held belief that plant hormones control plant growth, and shown instead that this process starts with sugar. Led by Prof. Christine Beveridge of UQ's School of Biological Sciences, the research team found that shoot growth occurs when a high concentration of simple sugar (table sugar) - produced by the plant through photosynthesis - is available.

Their findings overturn the previous belief that plant hormone auxin regulates shoot branching. Beveridge and her team showed that shoot branching can begin up to 24 hours before auxin levels change, so it cannot be responsible for initiating this process. According to Beveridge, plants have a ‘goliath' main shoot, which hoards the sugars to promote its growth. When the main shoot is damaged or removed, sugars are quickly redistributed to start the growth of new shoots.

For more information about this research, read the UQ news article at http://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2014/04/sugar-responsible-shooting.

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Europe

Plant biotechnology has made possible the groundbreaking discoveries of scientists working in the European Smartcell project to improve the efficiency of phamaceuticals production. Biotechnological production offers a cost-effective and environment-friendly alternative to chemical synthesis of rare and complex pharmaceutical compounds currently isolated from plants.

Expensive anticancer alkaloid blockbusters used in chemotherapy, such as terpenoid indole alkaloids, are currently extracted from the plant Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) at high costs, as very low levels accumulate in plant tissues. The SmartCell Consortium succeeded in elucidating the complete upstream segment of the terpenoid indole alkaloid biosynthesis pathway. The complete pathway of twelve enzymes was reconstructed in tobacco plants, paving the way for cost-effective production of diverse therapeutic compounds.

"The use of plant cells as real green chemical factories is now becoming feasible for the first time. The technology developed and the experience gained on terpenoid indole alkaloids in this project can be utilized and applied to other compounds and plants as well", says project coordinator Dr. Kirsi-Marja Oksman-Caldentey from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

For more information about this research, read the VTT news release at http://www.vtt.fi/news/2014/07042014_SmartCell.jsp.

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University of Warwick scientists reported in the journal Science the first evidence that plants have evolved ways to control embryo growth and development by emitting information from surrounding cells. Dr. Jose Gutierrez-Marcos from Warwick's School of Life Sciences discovered that female sex cells and the placenta-like endosperm in plant seeds transmit specific signals to developing embryos to help direct their growth

Plant embryos are located in seeds and when these germinate, they give rise to the adult plant. It was previously believed that embryo development was determined by the genetic content of the embryo alone. However, the new study showed that specific cell-types present in the embryo environment can send out protein signals to also influence this process. This is similar with the scenario occurring in mammals whereby embryo development is controlled by signals sent out by neighbouring placental cells.

Understanding how these cells of non-embryonic origin can influence developing plant embryos, the researchers argue, is key to creating new, improved plant species including advantageous hybrid crops, where at present embryos often fail to develop properly when distantly-related parents are used.

Read more details at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/plants_evolve_ways/.

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Research

Tomato productivity has always been constrained because of abiotic stresses. Transgenic tomatoes are presently being developed to minimize these losses due to abiotic stresses. Agrobacterium-mediated transformation is the most common approach to producing transgenic tomato. However, the effectiveness of the present methods were limited to only a few tomato cultivars. Hence, we still need an appropriate, simple and general procedure effective across all cultivars. Wounding methods, such as puncturing with a syringe needle, may just be the answer.

Using Indian tomato hypocotyl explants, the efficiencies of the punctured-hypocotyl method as well as normal immersion method of Agrobacterium-mediated transformation were compared. All factors influencing transformation efficiency, such as Agrobacterium density and co-cultivation time, were optimized. The transgene integration of the tomato genome was confirmed by PCR and Southern hybridization. Transformation efficiency was found to be greater with the punctured-hypocotyl method compared to the normal immersion method.

This newly developed method is simple, efficient and could be used to transfer important agronomic genes into the tomato genome for the potential improvement in terms of quality and quantity.

Read more at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304423813006237

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AtCBF4 gene, derived from Arabidopsis thaliana, is a homolog of the DREB1 transcription factors. It has an important role in the plant's drought stress response. There are four members of the CBF family, which are
responsible for the plants' response to abiotic stresses. The first three genes, CBF1, CBF2 and CBF3, are essential for low temperature responses while CBF4 is vital for drought responses. Previous studies have proved that transgenic Arabidopsis over-expressing this CBF4 were more tolerant to water deficit, suggesting its role in the plant response to drought. Researchers believe that this effect of the overexpression in Arabidopsis is also applicable to maize.

The study reports the characterization of transgenic maize (inbred line Mo17) expressing AtCBF4 from Arabidopsis. Morphological and physiological traits related to drought tolerance, such as relative water content (RWC), were measured. Results showed that the expression of AtCBF4 in maize significantly enhanced its drought tolerance. Under dehydration stress, AtCBF4 transgenic plants showed lower cell membrane damage and higher RWC. The transgenic lines also had better growth and development, greater biomass and a significant increase in grain yield compared to wild types.

The transgenic lines kept significantly higher germination index and drought tolerance index under PEG condition. These results strongly indicate that expression of AtCBF4 could increase drought tolerances in maize.

Read more http://www.pomics.com/wu_7_2_2014_94_101.pdf.

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Beyond Crop Biotech

Recombinant production of therapeutic proteins plays an important role in advanced medical care and most of these proteins are produced from Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. Several successful genetic engineering approaches have been done to enhance CHO cell performance in terms of protein secretion and production. Aside from engineering the expression of protein-coding genes, microRNAs have recently emerged as a tool to modify the phenotype of CHO cells.

Micro-RNAs (miRNAs) are small, non-coding, RNA molecules that negatively regulate gene expression after transcription. In the study, researchers describe the effect of transient and stable miRNA over-expression on CHO cell phenotype. The growth and protein productivity of CHO cells engineered with three different miRNAs were studied. This was followed by analysis of cell pools with stable over-expression of these miRNAs. CHO cells with miR-17 exhibited both enhanced growth performance and a 2-fold increase in specific productivity.

While further studies on the interactions between microRNAs and messenger RNAs (mRNA) will be necessary to understand the molecular basis of this effect, these data provide valuable evidence for miR-17 as a cell engineering target to enhance CHO cell productivity.

Read more at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016816561400056X.

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Announcements

The Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) Foundation is accepting applications for a travel bursary for the forthcoming ABIC 2014 Conference to be held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada from October 5 – 8, 2014. ABIC is the premier global meeting which promotes innovation in bioscience to ensure sustainable food, feed, fibre, and fuel security as the climate changes. The deadline for submission of applications has been extended to May 15, 2014 with award announcement set for June 2014. The bursary will cover the cost of return travel, accommodation and meals while attending the conference, as well as registration fees to attend ABIC 2014. Visit the website to download the guidelines at http://www.abic.ca/bursaries Muriel Adams, Managing Director ABIC Foundation Inc. Agricultural Biotechnology International Center 101 - 111 Research Drive Saskatoon SK S7N 3R2 Canada Tel: 306-955-5059 muriel.adams@abic.ca.

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ISAAA releases latest videos – 24 minutes video The Story of Bt Brinjal in India and shorter 7 minutes video Bt Brinjal: Safer, Better & Affordable. The Story of Bt Brinjal in India documents the process of development, deregulation, demand and debate on Bt brinjal (eggplant/aubergine) in India. The experts objectively answer key societal concerns including Why India needs Bt brinjal? How rigorous is safety assessment process? Why Bt brinjal is Safe? Who would benefit from Bt Brinjal? And Why Bt brinjal is indispensible for farmers and consumers? Whereas, the Short Video Bt Brinjal – Safer, Better & Affordable captures the diverse views of experts, farmers and consumers on Bt brinjal in India. The key stakeholders navigate the viewers through the confusing myths of science, safety, regulation and economics of Bt brinjal for the Indian society to make informed choice on this technological breakthrough based on evidence rather than rhetoric.

The educational videos attempt to bridge science and society about the science of recombinant DNA technology, approval process and status of Bt brinjal, which has undergone rigorous safety assessments by the regulatory authorities from 2001 to 2009. The apex regulator GEAC declared Bt brinjal safe for environmental release in Oct 2009 before the MOEF imposed the moratorium on Bt brinjal on 9 Feb 2010. Over the last four years, farmers and consumers have been denied the choice of adopting and accepting Bt brinjal and missed the enormous opportunity of benefits including significantly reducing insecticide sprays by farmers and pesticide-residue-free brinjal fruits for consumers.

On the contrary, Bangladesh in a historic decision approved the official release of four biotech varieties of insect-resistant Bt brinjal for seed production and initial commercialization of Bt brinjal technology on 30 Oct 2013. Bt brinjal technology was originally developed by Mahyco in India. Small farmers in Bangladesh started cultivation of Bt brinjal on 22 Jan 2014. A large scale adoption of Bt brinjal is expected to positively impact the income of thousands of smallholder farmers in Bangladesh who will profitably use these technologies for the benefit of consumers. The big question is how long India would afford to deny the enormous benefits of Bt brinjal to millions of farmers and consumers in the country.

Download the high resolution short and long version Bt brinjal videos The Story of Bt Brinjal in India and Bt Brinjal: Safer, Better and Affordable from www.isaaa.org/india and http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/btbrinjalindia/default.asp. ISAAA Brief 38 on Bt Brinjal The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India and is made available, free of charge on the ISAAA website at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/38/download/isaaa-brief-38-2009.pdf. A short version of this brief in the form of a Pocket K on Bt brinjal in India has been published, updated and translated in 8 Indian languages which are available at: http://www.isaaa.org/kc/inforesources/publications/pocketk/default.html#Pocket_K_No._35.htm For original DVDs of Bt brinjal videos, place your order to b.choudhary@cgiar.org or k.gaur@cgiar.org

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Document Reminders

ISAAA Brief 46: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops for 2013 is summarized and presented in four videos. Dr. Clive James, author of the 2013 Report gives the whole overview of the Report in a 10 minute video Highlights of the 2013 Report available at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/globalstatusreport2013/default.asp; a 4.5 minuter on highlights in Africa at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/globalstatusreport2013/africa/default.asp; a 6.14 video on highlights in the Americas at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/globalstatusreport2013/theamericas/default.asp: as well as a 3.09 summary on highlights in Asia by  Dr. Randy A. Hautea, ISAAA Global Coordinator and Southeast Asia Director, available at http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/globalstatusreport2013/asia/default.asp.

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