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In This Issue

March 25, 2015

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ISAAA in 2014
The report features the major activities, projects, and accomplishments of ISAAA in 2014, which were aimed to advance the society towards agricultural sustainability and development.
Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014
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The biotechnology seed market is the fastest-growing area in the commercial seed sector, according to the Global Seeds Market Report: 2015 Edition released by Market Reports. The growing population and reduction in arable land is expected to raise the demand for GM seeds which have improved traits than conventional seeds.

"The key factors which are anticipated to drive market growth include increasing global population, growing insect resistance and stacked area and rapid adoption of biotech crops. Some of the noteworthy industry trends include merger and acquisition among seed companies and preference of GM crops over others. However, the industry remains threatened by certain challenges which include asynchronous GM approval timelines, seed quality certification system and decline in international fruit and vegetable seed trade among others," says the report.

Read more about the report from Market Reports.

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The government of Tanzania has finalized preparations of environment regulations for allowing biotechnology research in the country, according to Prof. Makame Mbarawa, Minister for Science and Technology. He mentioned this during a tour by the Parliamentary Committee at the Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) last week.

Earlier this year, President Jakaya Kikwete called the attention of the scientists in the country to conduct biotech research to enable the government to act accordingly. However, Tanzanian researchers are hindered in doing so due to a prohibitive clause in the 2009 Biosafety Regulations, which holds everyone involved liable to disciplinary sanction in case something goes wrong in the development and application of agri-biotechnology.

The Minister also emphasized that Tanzania is going to focus more on research, with the help of the public and private sectors.

More details are available at All Africa. Contact Margaret Karembu at mkarembu@isaaa.org to know more about biotechnology in Africa.

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Nigerian stakeholders are calling for the passing of the biosafety bill into law by the country's President, Goodluck Jonathan.

Speaking during the launch of the 2014 ISAAA report on commercialized biotech crops on March 12, 2015, the Nigerian Minister for Science and Technology, Dr. Abdu Bulama, expressed the country's need for biotechnology to address myriad of agricultural related challenges including hunger, increasing population, and declining food production. He stressed the need for a Biosafety bill currently awaiting Presidential assent into law. Expressing his optimism that the President would pass the bill into law, Dr. Bulama said that the Head of State would pass the bill since he is passionate about the well-being of the country's farming population, as well as the need for Nigeria to harness the benefits of agricultural biotechnology.

Numerous farmers attended the event and called on the President to sign the Biosafety bill into law. The President of Cotton Ginners Association (CGA), Alhaji Salmanu Abudullahi who spoke on behalf of a coalition of Nigerian farmers argued that the biosafety law would boost the Federal Government's ongoing Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA). "The Biosafety law will empower our agricultural research institutes to continue with their work on biotech crops and ultimately commercialize the positive outcome of their research findings for the benefit of farmers." said Mr. Abudullahi.

This comes at a time where the Nigerian House of Representatives and the Senate, who have recently approved the bill and produced a common version of the same, are preparing to transmit it to the Head of State for assent.

The event was organized by Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB)-Nigeria.

For more information on the event and OFAB Nigeria, contact Dr Rose S.M. Gidado, Head OFAB & Biotechnology Awareness Unit at the National Biotechnology Development Agency at roxydado@yahoo.com.

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Ghanaian scientists and farmers have agreed on the country's need to harness the benefits of biotechnology for the country, despite opposition by a section of stakeholders.

Speaking at a recent event of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology held at the Water Research Institute (WRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr. A.B Salifu, Director General, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) affirmed that biotechnology will boost food production and called on concerted efforts by experts to allay fears on genetically modified organisms (GMO). Prof. Alhassan, the Director of Biotechnology and Stewardship for Sustainable Agriculture in West Africa (BSSA) urged farmers to ignore claims against GMOs, saying that there was no tangible evidence to prove its threat to humans. He added that the usage of the GM seeds in the country was a matter of choice and advised that biotechnology should be given a chance to revolutionize agriculture and move with modern trends.

Also at the meeting, the President of the Ghana National Association of Farmers and Fishermen, John Awuku said that farmers, especially small holder farmers, have recognized the important role that improved seeds and fertilizers play in increasing yield and income. He noted that Ghana needs a vigorous education campaign on GMO, plant breeding and biosafety issues to clear misconceptions in the minds of Ghanaians and also enable the general public to understand issues.

For more information on the forum, contact Dr. Margaret Ottah Atikpo, coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Ghana at magatik@yahoo.co.uk

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A group of researchers from Texas A&M AgriLife Research identified the genes necessary to attain desirable traits for maize and examined the genes involved in the growth and performance of maize under Midwest-temperate regions. A corn association mapping technique was used to identify the genomic regions involved in improving desirable traits such as yield increase, aflatoxin resistance, and drought tolerance.

They have identified three genes that helped improve maize yield by 15 bushels per acre for both irrigated and dryland conditions. More studies are conducted to explore the functions of the genes.

Full details of the study can be read at Texas A&M AgriLife website.

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University of California, Davis' Pamela Ronald was one of the speakers in the TED2015 conference held on March 16-20, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada. Ronald is working on genes that make plants resistant to disease and tolerant of stress.

Aside from doing research, she is also a wife to Raoul Adamchack, an organic farmer. In her talk, she stressed that she and her husband have a common goal: to grow good food. "After 20 years of careful study and rigorous peer review by thousands of independent scientists, every major scientific organization in the world has concluded that the process of genetic engineering is as safe or safer as older methods of genetic modification," said Ronald.

She ended her TED talk with these lines: "What scares me most about the loud arguments and misinformation about plant genetics is that the poorest people, the people who most need the technology, may be denied access because of the fears and prejudices of those who have enough to eat."

Read more about her talk at TED Blog.  Watch the TED2015 talks for a fee at TED Live.

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US Food and Drug Administration completed the evaluation for Arctic apples and Innate potatoes. The FDA concluded that the biotech foods are as safe and nutritious as conventional varieties.

Arctic apples are genetically engineered to resist browning caused by cuts and bruises through reducing the amount of enzymes that cause browning.

Innate potato, developed by J.R. Simplot Company, has more benefits than the conventional potato varieties such as less black spot bruising, less post-harvest food waste and more convenience. The biotech potatoes were also engineered to reduce production of acrylamide, which has been found to be carcinogenic to rodents.

According to the news release, FDA has no additional food safety questions concerning the biotech food products.

Read FDA's news release for more details.

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Arctic apples developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF) have been approved for commercial sale in Canada, after the evaluation of Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada (HC). According to a letter sent by CFIA to OSF, the Agency has concluded that Arctic apples "are as safe and nutritious as traditional apple varieties." On the other hand, HC stated that Arctic apple is " safe for consumption, still has all its nutritional value and therefore does not differ from other apples available on the market."

Health Canada's statement is available in their website. OSF also issued a press release in Arctic Apple's website.

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Fusarium head blight (FHB) and Fusarium seedling blight (FSB) are devastating wheat diseases. The research team of Yu-Cai Liao from the Huazong Agricultural University in China studied the expression of RNA interference (RNAi) sequences from a Fusarium graminearum virulence gene, chitin synthase (Chs) 3b, to enhance wheat resistance.

Three RNAi constructs were found to silence Chs3b in transgenic F. graminearum strains. These were then expressed in two transgenic wheat lines. The transgenics exhibited high levels of resistance to FHB and FSB. The three RNAi present in the transgenic wheat efficiently down-regulated the Chs3b expression in the pathogen.

Results show that host-induced gene silencing of an essential fungal chitin synthase gene is an effective strategy for enhancing resistance in crop plants.

For more information on the study, read the full article on Wiley Online Library site.

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Physiological and morphological traits of flag leaf play are crucial in determining crop grain yield and biomass. To understand genetic basis controlling physiological and morphological traits of flag leaf, Dongfa Sun of the Huazong Agricultural University developed a double haploid (DH) population from the cross of Huaai 11 and Huadamai 6 and used these to detect quantitative trait locus (QTL) underlying physiological and morphological traits at the pre-filling stage.

Thirty-eight QTLs distributed on chromosome 1H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 6H and 7H were detected. The QTLs on chromosome 2H were associated with net photosynthetic rate, stomatal conductance, flag leaf area, flag leaf length, flag leaf width, relative chlorophyll content and leaf nitrogen concentration. The two markers that researchers used, Bmag829 and GBM1218, may be useful for marker assisted selection (MAS) in barley breeding.

To learn more on the study, read the full article on the BioMed Central Website.

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Beyond Crop Biotech

Scientists from the University of Illinois (UI) have engineered a jailbreaking yeast that could greatly increase the health benefits of wine. The group, led by Yong-Su Jin, UI associate professor of microbial genomics, used the enzyme, RNA-guided Cas9 nuclease, a recently developed 'genome knife' to do precise metabolic engineering of polyploid Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains that have been widely used in the wine, beer, and fermentation industries.

Jin said that with engineered yeast, the healthful component of wine resveratrol could be increased by more than 10 times. Metabolic pathways to introduce bioactive compounds from other foods, such as ginseng, could be added into wine yeast. Resveratrol-producing pathways could also be put into strains used for any food that uses yeast fermentation in its production. Another benefit is enhanced malolactic fermentation, a secondary fermentation process that makes wine smooth. Improper malolactic fermentation generates the toxic byproducts that cause hangover symptoms.

The new technology also makes genetically modified organisms less objectionable, Jin said. "In the past, scientists have had to use antibiotic markers to indicate the spot of genetic alteration in an organism, and many persons objected to their use in foods because of the danger of developing antibiotic resistance. With the genome knife, we can cut the genome very precisely and efficiently so we don't have to use antibiotic markers to confirm a genetic event."

For more details, read the news release in the UI website.

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Researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) have discovered that manipulating a specific gene in a hardwood tree species significantly increases growth and makes it easier to break down the wood into fuel. The team described how decreasing the expression of the gene GAUT12.1 leads to a reduction in xylan and pectin, two major components of plant cell walls that make them resistant to the enzymes and chemicals used to extract the fermentable sugars used to create biofuels.

They used the eastern cottonwood species (Populus deltoides) to create transgenic trees in which GAUT12.1 was reduced by approximately 50 percent. The trees they tested showed 12-52 percent increased plant height and 12-44 percent larger stem diameter when compared to controls.

Faster growing plants would yield more biomass over a shorter period of time, making them more attractive to both growers and the biofuel industry, said Debra Mohnen, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and co-author of the study.

For more information, read the news release at the UGA website.

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Researchers from Marine Biological Laboratory affiliated with University of Chicago were able to assess the usage of prolific RNA editing in squid, Doryteuthis pealeii. This was done by comparing the DNA and RNA sequences of the squid's brain.

Their findings reveal that 60 percent of the RNA transcripts are edited. In addition, a total of 57,000 recoding sites have been identified. These recoding sites contribute to the development of protein diversity, indicating its importance in RNA editing. This gives the ability to the squid to modify its physiological-responses at different environmental conditions. This result suggests the potential contribution of recoding in functional diversity.

Full story can be read at MBL's website.

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Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News listed the top biotechnology clusters in Asia based on research and development spending, patents, initial public offerings, number of pharmaceutical companies, and jobs. China was hailed as Asia's leader in biopharma, followed by Japan, India, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Read more at GEN News.

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Document Reminders

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has just released the 2014-2015 Global Food Policy Report. The report calls on governments of middle income countries to reshape their food systems to focus on nutrition and health, close the gender gap in agriculture, and improve rural infrastructure to ensure food security for all.

"It may seem counterintuitive, but these growing economies play a key role in our ability to adequately and nutritiously feed the world," said Shenggen Fan, Director General of IFPRI.

The full report and other media materials are available for download at the IFPRI website.

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