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August 27, 2001


Monarch Butteflies, French Eco-terrorists, Weed Power, GM Elm Trees


Today's Topics:

* Biotech Corn Pollen Unlikely To Harm Monarch Butterfly Larvae
* French Research Minister Attacks 'Biased' Anti-GM Activists
* French Socialists Condemn Destruction of Genetically Modified Corn Fields
* Editorial: The Keys Are In The DNA: Behold The Power Of Weeds
* GM trees 'beat Dutch elm'

Research Shows Biotech Corn Pollen Unlikely To Harm Monarch Butterfly Larvae

Associated Press
August 27, 2001

CHICAGO (AP) - A new study found that pollen from genetically altered corn
poses little risk to monarch butterfly larvae, contradicting previous findings
that led to calls to curb the spread of bio-engineered crops.

The larvae digest the pollen when they eat milkweed. A 1999 lab study at
Cornell University showing that pollen from the corn could poison larvae caused
a public outcry in Europe and rallied environmentalists to demand limits on the
crops. But the latest study, which will be discussed Wednesday at a meeting
of the American Chemical Society, found that the larvae usually do not eat
enough pollen for it to harm them.

"It's a negligible risk at best. They must consume considerable amounts of
pollen to show an effect, and that amount of pollen rarely exists in nature,"
said Mark K. Sears, chairman of the Department of Environmental Biology at the
University of Guelph in Canada.

Sears and a team of scientists looked at how far pollen traveled in a
cornfield, if monarch larvae were exposed to it and how much of it the larvae
typically ate. The research, funded mostly by the Canadian government, took
place on corn fields in Canada, Iowa, Maryland and Minnesota between 1999 and

The scientists saw no adverse effects except when larvae ate about 4,000 pollen
grains. At that point, they began to eat and gain weight more slowly than
larvae that ate corn pollen that was not genetically altered.

The symptoms suggested that their stomach linings were breaking down, Sears

However, because there is an average of only 120 pollen grains per square
centimeter of a milkweed leaf, "it's highly unlikely that larvae are going to
be exposed to that much pollen to cause a measurable effect," Sears said.

Kevin Steffey, an entomologist at the University of Illinois who was not
involved with the study, said Sears' work presents a more accurate study of
larvae diets than past research has.

"The questions are, 'Will they eat it in nature?' and 'Are they even going to
be exposed to it?' Those questions were not asked in the previous studies,"
Steffey said.

Gary Rolfe, an ecology professor at the University of Illinois who was not
involved with the research, called for more study. The biotech corn was
approved for use before enough research was done to show its effects, he said.

"We've rushed to get these varieties out without the ecological work being
done," he said. "We just don't have all the answers we need."

Discovery of the biotech corn in taco shells last fall led to nationwide
recalls of corn products. The crop's developer was Aventis CropScience, a
Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based firm.

French Research Minister Attacks 'Biased' Anti-GM Activists

World News Connection
August 26, 2001

Paris, 26 August: Research Minister Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg criticized, in
a communique released today, Sunday, anti-GM militants for hiding "the
prospects offered by transgenic crops", particularly for Third World countries.

"The discourse of anti-GM militants is biased and inadequate as it fails to
mention the prospects offered by transgenic crops", he declared shortly after
two trial maize crops were destroyed in the Drome [department], following an
action led by Farmers' Confederation. Mr Schwartzenberg gave two examples:
"allowing, on one hand, more drought-resistant and more nutritious plants which
may contribute to defeat malnutrition in Third World countries, as the UN
Development Programme stressed last July".

"On the other, producing certain healthy foodstuffs, such as vitamin A-rich
golden rice, which may help reduce blindness incidence in children, and some
drugs, such as insulin", he added.

But the minister also stressed that "the potential risks of GM for health and
environment must be precisely assessed. This is exactly what public-funded
research, independent of commercial interests, is doing".

"Experiments are precisely aimed at ending uncertainty ... allowing sensible
decisions to be taken later", he stated.

"Instead of dramatic actions, we want a public debate regarding GM products
allowing each side to make its views known", he concluded.

French Socialists Condemn Destruction of Genetically Modified Corn Fields

August 27, 2001

PARIS, August 27 (Xinhua) - The French Socialist Party (PS) condemned on Monday
the destruction of genetically modified (GM) corn fields taking place on Sunday
in southeastern France, urging radical farmers and anti-globalization activists
to take to dialogue instead of violent actions.

The GM corns grown for tests, "which might have as a goal to strengthen
productivity without sufficiently taking into consideration the necessities of
health and environment," should be more subjected to control, said Vincent
Peillon, spokesman of the socialists. Those who are against GM corns should not
refuse dialogue that pursues the same objective of theirs, he said.

About 150 militants, led by radical farmer Jose Bove's anti-globalization
organization of the Peasants Confederation, on Sunday destroyed two
1,000-square-meter fields of GM corns in the southeastern province of Dromes.

They erected signs reading "GM Corn Is Dangerous" and " Contaminated Zone" in
the fields. Owners of the crops, which were grown for American company Monsanto
for test purposes, were called by militants as "collaborators," a term for
those who worked for the Nazi regime during World War II, reported the French
daily Le Figaro in its Monday edition.

The militants announced that they would continue to take actions against GM
corn fields across the country till mid-September.

Editorial: The Keys Are In The DNA: Behold The Power Of Weeds

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 27, 2001

If enough food is to be available to feed the inhabitants of the Earth,
breakthrough agricultural technology is needed. The search for that technology
has sent researchers looking at weeds. World population is expected to increase
from today's 6.1 billion to over 7.5 billion people by 2020. But since land
under cultivation is projected to increase only slightly -- 5.7 percent for
grain -- enormous growth in yield will be needed. Weeds can help. While crop
plants are not very hardy, weeds are generally able to thrive through drought
or floods, through cold or excessive heat. Most modern crop plants were
developed by prehistoric farmers who cultivated wild plants that had large
edible seeds. Each season, these ancient farmers would select seeds from
individual plants that were visibly desirable. Corn, for example, was derived
over thousands of years from the wild Central American grass teosinte. During
the lengthy domestication process, many genes that promoted survival in the
wild were not selected. Without these hardy genes, modern crops depend on large
amounts of water, nutrients and cultivation to produce high yields. But the
ancient hardy genes still exist in weed relatives of crops.

Modern studies reveal that the genomes of modern crops and their wild relatives
are remarkably similar. A key to dramatically increasing yield may well be to
reintroduce the hardy traits lost during domestication. The "green" revolution
in plant breeding that transformed modern agriculture focused on such traits as
dwarfism in wheat and rice. Shorter plants are less susceptible to damage from
high winds, rain and hail, and they put energy into seed and not into wasted
leaves and stalks.

Recently, scientists have used genes from bacteria to confer herbicide and
insect tolerance to plants. These advances have greatly reduced the farmers'
use of chemical pesticides worldwide, decreasing the presence of farm chemicals
in streams, rivers and ground water. Additionally, our food supply has, in many
ways, become safer through the use of biotech crops that can prevent insect
wounds on plants. These wounds serve as entry points for toxic fungi that can
infiltrate the food supply where insect infestation is high. However,
technology outpaced efforts of researchers to educate the public regarding the
safety of these methods; and, along with lagging government oversight and
public policy, public concern has increased in Europe and in the United States.

Scientists at my company, Orion Genomics, have recently invented a technique
that filters out repetitive junk DNA in plants, leaving behind only the genes.
This GeneThresher technology enables us to harvest the hardy gene sets from
wild species that are close relatives of major crops. Using computers, DNA
microchips and other measures, we can reconstruct gene networks for desired
characteristics, such as drought resistance, and tolerance to heat, cold, salty
soils and flooding. The tricks that weeds retain to survive environmental
stress can be unveiled, paving the way for reintroducing hardy genes into crop
plants, such as corn, wheat and soybeans.

This strategy represents a significant departure from the first applications of
agricultural biotechnology over the past decade, which focused on modifying
crops with single bacterial genes. The diversity of plant life on Earth has
many genetic treasures to offer researchers. The challenge of the 21st century
will be to accelerate plant breeding through genomics to develop high-yielding
varieties capable of supplying food, fuel and fiber to our burgeoning world

GM trees 'beat Dutch elm'

The Belfast Telegraph
August 28, 2001

UNIVERSITY scientists have grown the first genetically modified elm trees in a ground-breaking new initiative.

The project has created a new batch of trees resistant to Dutch elm disease.

Researchers from the University of Abertay in Dundee say their work could lead to elm trees being re-introduced into their native habitat.

Professor Kevan Gartland, head of molecular and life sciences at the university, said the work could help tackle damaged landscapes and ecosystems blighted by tree fungal diseases.

"This is an example of environmentally friendly biotechnology," he said.

"Our work in elm trees could be used to help damaged landscapes, caused by diseases such as Dutch elm disease and chestnut blight, throughout the world."

Dutch elm disease has hit more than 20m elm trees in the UK since 1970. In the United States, 70% of mature elms have been destroyed since 1930.

As part of the project, the researchers transferred anti-fungal genes into the elm genome and produced genetically modified trees which can fight off the deadly fungus.

Prof Gartland, who headed the study, said researchers used minute DNA-coated ball-bearings to transfer genes into the elm trees.

There are 40 different species of elms, some of which have a lifespan of up to 300 years.

GM saplings may enable return of the English elm

The Daily Telegraph
By Auslan Cramb
August 28, 2001

THE world's first genetically modified elm trees could be used within five years to restore the species to the British countryside.

Scientists said yesterday that they had produced 5ft GM saplings that should prove resistant to the Dutch elm disease which has destroyed more than 20 million trees since 1970.

Tests on their resistance will begin next year and, if the new product is approved for release into the environment, the English elm will once again be available to gardeners, foresters and furniture makers.

Prof Kevan Gartland, of Abertay University, Dundee, said the research was an example of environmentally friendly biotechnology that could be used to restore damaged landscapes.

He said that his team's creation of a GM English elm (Ulmus procera) should be less contentious than other bio-engineering products as the species did not regenerate through seeds in the wild, but by putting out suckers.

The trees are not in the environment at the moment but we are able to test them in the laboratory, and we can produce any number we want, he said. It will take three to five years before there is any potential large scale application, and we will not release them until the climate is appropriate.

The Forestry Commission, which co-funded the Scottish research, gave a cautiously open-minded welcome.

A spokesman said: This may be one way to re-establish the elm, but no genetically modified organisms should be used unless they have significant advantages for forestry and have approval based on careful assessment of the risk to the environment and human health.

The research team in Dundee produced GM elms by transferring anti-fungal genes into the elm genome.

The breakthrough, described in The Biochemist, came after 11 years and follows the failure of any solution to the disease through traditional plant breeding approaches.

It's all down to hard work, perseverance and a bit of ingenuity, said Prof Gartland.

We used two methods to transfer genes into the elm genome: through the use of Agrobacterium - nature's own genetic engineer - and by firing minute DNA-coated ball-bearings at elm-leaf pieces.