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December 11, 2001


Invaluable Tool for Humanity; TNT Detox; Crop Alcatraz;


Today's topics in AgBioView:

* Agricultural Biotechnology - An Invaluable Tool for Humanity
* Transgenic Tobacco Detoxifies TNT
* Alcatraz Offers Future for GM Crops
* Food Industry Opts Out of GM Labelling Costs
* Sanity In The Debate, At Last
* There's A Place For All Kinds
* GMOs and Development
* Wheat Biotechnology: A Minireview
* Maize Diversity in Oaxaca, Mexico: Simple Questions but No Easy Answers
* Leading DNA Researcher Found Slain
* Dr. Arnel R. Hallauer Wins Verdant Partners 2001 Crop Genetics Award
* PR Has Lost Its Vision: From Brand Manager To Publicist

Agricultural Biotechnology Offers an Invaluable Tool for Humanity

- ASPB News, September/October 2001; American Society of Plant Biologists http://aspb.org

'The following perspective on agricultural biotechnology is offered by ASPB Committee on Public Affairs member Dawn Luthe of Mississippi State University. Her commentary was first published in the Spring 2001 issue of the Research Highlights publication of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Colleagues in other science disciplines are among the important audiences plant scientists can address in education outreach efforts. (As with other perspectives printed in the ASPB News, the opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of ASPB or the ASPB News.)'
'Agricultural Biotechnology- An Invaluable Tool for All Humanity'

- Dawn Luthe, Mississippi State University , dsluthe@ra.msstate.edu (Reprinted with permission from MAFES
Research Highlights)

Over the past century, science has made amazing advances-many beyond what we may have believed possible. Technology has affected almost every aspect of daily life, and its impact is particularly evident in the field of agriculture. Today, biotechnology and genetic engineering are revolutionizing the way we farm and feed a growing world population.

Research and other indicators show that biotechnology is an invaluable tool for the benefit of all humanity. U.S. consumers benefit from improved product quality and food costs that are 53 percent lower today than they were in 1961. Likewise, farmers will prosper through the use of more economical and efficient production practices, millions of malnourished people could benefit from genetically enriched food supplies, and the world's natural resources could be sustained despite its ever-growing population.

Farmers benefit from biotechnology because it improves yields, eases their workload, reduces the need for pesticides, and conserves soil quality by reducing tillage. Many of these benefits are as good for the environment as they are for the farmer. For example, Bt cotton and corn with built-in pest control have significantly reduced insecticide use. Roundup Ready soybeans allow more efficient weed control. Crops that are more tolerant of environmental stress and that can more efficiently use fertilizers will further reduce production costs. Research is being conducted that will lead to the development of plants resistant to fungal and viral diseases. Biotechnology and genetic modification of foods seem the best hope to feed the world's growing population and sustain environmental resources. Malnutrition affects more than 800 million people, 40,000 of whom die each day. Biotechnology has helped produce such promising developments as golden rice, a vitamin A-enriched crop that may help prevent blindness

The world's population is escalating more and more rapidly, but the amount of arable land will not increase. The use of biotechnology to develop crops that grow where poor soil and climate conditions limit production will be essential for those who rely on this marginal land for food production. There are other health and economic benefits of agricultural biotechnology. For example, the vaccine for hepatitis B, a leading cause of cancer, is being produced in bananas so that it can be given orally at low cost to children in developing countries. In the future, other vaccines and pharmaceuticals may be produced in tobacco and other crops. Biotechnology could make possible the production of completely new products, such as plants that make biodegradable plastics or novel fibers.

Genetic modification is certainly not a new phenomenon. All organisms are genetically modified through the natural act of breeding. Intentional genetic modification through classical selective breeding techniques is as old as civilization. Conventional breeding brings a multitude of additional genes along with a single beneficial gene; these often include undesirable traits that require years to eliminate. Biotechnology, on the other hand, enables us to precisely insert a single gene to provide advantageous characteristics to a crop variety and is a much faster process than conventional breeding. For example, it has taken more than 20 years to develop high-lysine corn, an accomplishment that could have been achieved much quicker using genetic engineering.

Despite the benefits, no new technology is free of risk. We must weigh all the benefits of genetic modification against any possible drawbacks. To me, the risks are far outnumbered by the positive health, environmental, and economic implications of biotechnology. Some concerns that have been raised include food safety, cross-pollination with nearby wild species, and development of pesticide-resistant insects. Sound, science-based testing is essential to evaluate the levels of these risks and to address any significant problems identified. While science cannot rule out all possible disadvantages, it can be used to regulate and help prevent biotechnology-related problems. Years of rigorous testing by the USDA, EPA, and FDA indicates that genetically modified foods are as safe as conventional foods. In fact, one advantage of biotechnology is the ability to eliminate some food allergens and to more easily monitor food safety.

Despite the efforts of biotechnology advocates, the decision to use genetic modification is ultimately up to consumers. The demands of everyday people will determine how biotechnology is incorporated into agricultural practices. The key to earning and maintaining consumer confidence is careful testing and open communication. The role of scientists in this exchange is to provide accurate information that allows the public to make good, informed decisions. Through this public exchange, the world will better understand that agricultural biotechnology has many significant positive implications. As more people learn about the science of biotechnology and weigh the benefits for themselves, I believe most will accept this technology and value its positive impact on their lives

Transgenic Tobacco Detoxifies TNT

- Kate Wong, Scientific American, Dec 3, 2001 http://www.sciam.com/news/120301/2.html

For more than 150 years, people around the world have made ample use of the explosive trinitrotoluene, otherwise known as TNT. Its use has had unintended consequences, however: the manufacture, storage and disposal of TNT-which ranks among the most toxic explosives employed by the military-have left large areas of land contaminated and polluted. So far, effective and affordable cleanup technologies have remained out of reach. But new research suggests that help may come from what might seem an unlikely source: the tobacco plant.

Though tobacco derivatives are known for their toxic effects, the plant itself can apparently serve as a potent detoxifier when equipped with a bacterial enzyme known as nitroreductase (NR). According to a report in the December issue of Nature Biotechnology, tobacco plants genetically modified to express NR can tolerate and degrade TNT at levels comparable with those that characterize contaminated sites.

Building on earlier investigations into phytoremediation, the use of plants for contaminant cleanup, Neil C. Bruce of the University of Cambridge and colleagues created the transgenic tobacco and conducted a series of toxicity experiments. The results were striking. Plants grown on a medium containing high concentrations of TNT removed all of the compound within 72 hours. Moreover, "no TNT was extracted from the transgenic seedlings, indicating that it was either completely transformed or sequestered within the plant in a form that may be unextractable," the authors report.

The researchers are currently examining how these plants perform in TNT-laden soil. If that works, the next step may be to introduce NR into fast-growing, deep-rooted trees like poplars, which, they note, could significantly boost TNT removal in the field. "Such technology," the authors conclude, "may provide the affordable, effective remediation systems that are urgently required."

Alcatraz Offers Future for GM Crops

- Bea Perks, BioMedNet News, Dec 11, 2001 (via Katie Thrasher )

Discovery of a plant gene mutation that keeps fruit "imprisoned" and could minimize the dispersal of genetically modified (GM) seeds as well as greatly improving crop yields is being hailed as an "exciting" advance by independent experts.

"It could certainly have very important practical implications," said Robin Child, research leader at the Institute of Arable Crops Research (IACR) in Long Ashton, UK. The gene was discovered in Arabidopsis by Venkatesan Sundaresan, professor of plant biology and agronomy at the University of California, Davis, and his student, Sarojam Rajani at the National University of Singapore. The pair battled over the gene's name. Rajani finally emerged victorious with ALCATRAZ (ALC). "My name preference was for 'close sesame' from Ali Baba and the 40 thieves," Sundaresan told BioMedNet News.

In many plant species, including Arabidopsis, seeds are released by fruit "dehiscence," with the fruit opening to release its seeds. Sundaresan found that Arabidopsis carrying the ALC mutation cannot release its seeds. He spent over a year trying to figure out why the mutation prevented seed release. The plants were so normal in every other respect that trying to find what was going wrong was tricky.

Finally, ALC was found expressed around the edge of the fruit, at the site where tissue separation, between fruit and seed, occurs. Detailed studies revealed that ALC enables separation by causing changes in a strip of non-lignified cells that is "sandwiched" between layers of lignified cells. Exactly what changes are going on in the cells is unclear, but Sundaresan concludes they are probably apoptosing. "We haven't shown any of these things biochemically," he said, "[but] that's the best way of understanding what's going on."

The ALC mutation apparently causes a lignified bridge to form in place of the non-lignified cell layer, preventing the tissue layers from separating and the seeds from being released. But the seeds aren't trapped indefinitely; they can be easily released with "simple manual pressure," notes Sundaresan. The findings are published tomorrow in Current Biology. Sundaresan's collaborators at the National University of Singapore have now found an ALC homolog in an important economic crop closely related to Arabidopsis - Brassica napus, better known as oilseed rape or canola. The findings are unpublished.

The potential applications are twofold, says Sundaresan. Premature seed loss can lose up to 30% of the crop; so keeping the seeds on until they're ready to harvest could significantly improve productivity. Also, he says, this genetic modification could minimize the risks perceived for other genetic modifications. "Control of fruit dehiscence could be useful in alleviating concerns of unintentional dispersal of GM seeds," he said. Such ideas are "jumping a long way ahead," said Child, who is working on similar research at the IACR. The potential applications are "very exciting ... [but] the value of the paper is deeper than that," he told BioMedNet News.

Child, with his colleague Alison Huttly, is interested in the mechanisms of dehiscence. They have seen plants with similar modifications to the ALC mutants, but these are associated with characteristics that are less useful, he says. Sundaresan's findings get "to the hub of the problem," noted Child. Nevertheless, the useful characteristics of ALC mutants in the lab might not reflect those in the field, he cautions. Being able to open a seed pod with your fingers "doesn't necessarily mean it will go through the combine harvester," Child warned. His concerns are echoed by Jeremy Roberts, professor of plant science at the University of Nottingham. "If you actually prevent cell separation from taking place," he told BioMedNet News, "you may require a lot of energy to break [the fruit] open." But Roberts agrees that the discovery is important. It is surprising to find a single gene mutation that controls a fundamental process like dehiscence, he says. "Plants normally have lots of fail-safe mechanisms ... a sin

Food Industry Opts Out of GM Labelling Costs

- Canberra Times, Dec 12, 2001 (Source: Katie Thrasher )

Laws requiring most products which contain GM ingredients to be labelled accordingly came into effect on Friday, but products with the new labels have yet to hit supermarket shelves. The law does not apply to products packaged prior to December 7. However, the Australia New Zealand Food Authority has reported that many manufacturers have indicated an intention to use ingredients made from conventional rather than genetically modified crops. A spokeswoman for the authority said yesterday that products labelled to contain GM ingredients were expected to begin appearing in shops in coming months. "It will probably have soy in it, and it will probably not be a well-known brand," she said.

Smaller manufacturers who lacked the market power to change their suppliers and had smaller production runs were expected to be the first to comply with the new labelling laws. The food industry's wary approach comes despite recent polls which showed increasing consumer acceptance of GM foods.

The latest survey, based on a sample of 1000 people aged over 18 from throughout Australia, rated GM as the least of several concerns. While 75 per cent of those polled said they were concerned or very concerned about GM foods and biotechnology, higher levels of concern were recorded for bacterial contamination (89 per cent), use of chemical pesticides (87 per cent), animal diseases that may be transmitted to humans (85 per cent), poor nutritional qualities (84 per cent), pollution in soil or water where the food is produced (83 per cent), and use of antibiotics in animal feeds (83 per cent). The survey was conducted by a Sydney market intelligence company for Biotechnology Australia. Earlier this year, BA reported that 49 per cent of Australians surveyed said they were willing to eat GM food, up from only 25 per cent in 1999. Friends of the Earth has called the regulations deceitful.

Sanity In The Debate, At Last

- The Grocer, December 8, 2001 (Via Agnet: Douglas A Powell )

According to several stories in The Grocer, cynics who insist that it is impossible to discuss genetic modification without the dialogue being laced with emotional rhetoric, personal abuse and Frankenstein-masked protestors in white suits hurling cans of red paint, were confounded in London on Tuesday as an intelligent discussion occurred between Monsanto agricultural chief Hugh Grant and Soil Association director Patrick Holden without crackpot fringes and inarticulate legislators.

As the Monsanto man said at the start of the meeting, three years ago the event would not have been possible. The often arrogant GM promoters had failed to sway a British public battered by BSE, salmonella and E.coli and the term Frankenfood' was on many lips. Having said that, it will take more than an evening in Westminster to put the issue into perspective for British shoppers. The misinformation machines and muddled messages from authority are still in operation, despite continued pleas for a more informed, scientific debate.

The Grocer organised Tuesday's event because we believe the most important issue ever to face food science merits a more balanced hearing than has so far been delivered on this side of the Atlantic. Hopefully, the evening will be seen as a significant step in separating myths from real facts. The stories say that Hugh Grant may have won the vote at the end of the debate for the GM camp. But the feeling among the sell-out audience was that the real winner of the evening was relations within the food chain. For the first time, passionate advocates from opposing camps had been able to come together to put their cases in public without any of the rancour and anger that has often marred the issue of GM food. Dialogue had replaced discord.

The stories say that the evening also demonstrated that there is still a massive gulf between the two sides. Hugh Grant argued that consumers should be offered the choice of whether to buy GM foods. But Patrick Holden warned that introducing GM food would eventually destroy choice because genetically modified organisms would progressively contaminate non GM crops until there was no GM-free produce left. The audience played their part in generating an intelligent discussion with probing questions for both speakers. The stories say that Lord Melchet, an advisor to the Soil Association, challenged Grant about the popularity of GM foods in North America, claiming there was pressure for labelling of GM foods in Canada and Mexico, and said recent research in the US found the majority of consumers were concerned about the safety of GM food.

But Grant was cited as saying the figures did not bear this out, with massive increases in the global acreage of GM crops and pressure from farmers in countries such as the Philippines and China for more GM seeds. Holden was cited as describing the roll-out of GM crops as "environmental vandalism" and a "horror story" adding, "The crops are being rolled out, but we don't know what's going to happen. It scares me."

Holden was asked whether there were any proven health risks to GM foods and admitted none had been conclusively proved. However he said: "If something did go wrong the consequences would be catastrophic," and warned it could even take several generations before ill effects manifested themselves. Martin Paterson, communications director of the Food and Drink Federation, was cited as asking Grant what products he would launch in the UK market if he had the chance.

Grant said there was already approval for soya beans, and there were opportunities for products containing soya, but it would depend on the wishes of retailers and producers. Professor Ralph Blanchfield of the Institute of Food Science and Technology was cited as asking Holden whether he could envisage accepting a GM product because of its benefits.

Holden was quoted as responding, "We can see no place for GMOs in agriculture. In medicines, where people elect to use non viable GM treatment, it is not for us to deny them. But the risk of any GMO in the environment is great enough in scale that we should take the same precautions as in medicine and allow none to released into the environment." The stories say that delegates were able to vote before and after the debate using an electronic handset. This showed 52% had been in favour of putting GM back on the shelves before the debate with 48% against, but after the debate the winning margin had risen to 64% in favour with 36% of delegates against.

There's A Place For All Kinds

- The Grocer, Dec 8 2001

Monsanto's executive vice president and chief operating officer Hugh Grant called for UK consumers to be given the chance to eat GM foods.

He said the ultimate decision should be given to the public. "This would provide real consumer choice between organic food, conventional food and food produced through GM technology. There's a place for all kinds of agriculture in response to consumer demand." He added that allowing biotech agriculture would also give farmers more choice and let them compete better with their counterparts in the US and Latin America. Although the UK was the birthplace of biotechnology 20 years ago, the British hadn't taken advantage of it, while the rest of the world was passing them by. "UK farming is falling behind other parts of the world. Biotech products are one more tool that could allow them to weather the storm."

The technology would allow farmers to grow crops in a more sustainable way. He said a consensus had emerged among European scientists that GM products were safer than conventional crops because they used less pesticides and micro-toxins. He cited examples of GM cotton fields in the US to which birds were returning because of the reduction in pesticide use. "It obviously has an impact on the abundance of wildlife, and we have the potential to see the same results in East Anglia."

He went on: "The myths are man made. Latest research has shown that 50% of consumers are prepared to try products that contain GM crops. Retailers are the gatekeepers of advice for the public." Monsanto argues that another 30-40% more food will soon be needed to feed the world's growing population. It is already making big strides in other countries, and worldwide, biotech crops now cover a 110 million acre area - 25 times bigger than in 1996. Grant predicted that there would be an emergence of crops including biofuels (low emission fuels made from plants), golden rice and more nutritious plants in the next two to three years. To allow the UK to capitalise on this, he urged the audience to return to a more rational outlook. "The UK faces a very difficult situation in the future which is almost untenable if this moratorium approach continues."

GMOs and Development

- Edgar J. DaSilva, EJB - Electronic Journal of Biotechnology http://www.ejb.org/content/vol4/issue2/issues/01/index.html (via: www.bio-scope.org)
Director, Section of Life Sciences, UNESCO, Paris, France; e.dasilva@unesco.org

Important issues such as the conservation of the environment, the energy crisis, expansion and migration of populations, use of agro-residual resources, ocean agriculture, global warming, water security, biowarfare, and emerging diseases have somehow made it to the top of the agenda of international co-operation. The perennial problems of widespread starvation linked to poverty are now back again in the limelight as a result of globalization, biotechnology and summit meetings. Novel agriculture, genetic modified organisms (GMOs), GM crops and products, and bio-based economies have been spotlighted by governmental attention and public action in recent international forums.

The UN Human Development Report 2001 (HDR) "Making New Technologies Work for Development" identified biotechnology as a key avenue for the socio-economic advancement of the developing countries. Considered as the latest frontier of the corporate world, biotechnology enriching the way we do and teach science is full of entrepreneurial opportunities for networking the technological transformation of the developing world. Such opportunities result from simple yet spectacular research in microbiology and molecular biology that closely intertwine with information technology and nanotechnology---i.e. bionanomatics.

The enzymatic machinery of the invisible microbe and genetic tailoring are being harnessed to design solutions to enhance soil fertility, increase crop yield, and engage in molecular farming for the production of new bio-products and novel crops. Use of GMOs will increase in the future to obtain a variety of bioproducts ranging from biofuels, bioplastics, biodiesel, biodetergents, biolubricants, and biopharmaceuticals to bio-ornamentals reflecting new plant and floral architecture (Box 1).

Growth of the gene-based pharmaceutical market, assessed at US$2.2 billion in 1999, for treatment of diseases not possible in the past, is now projected at $8.2 billion in 2004. Edible vaccines administered through GM-foods, and possibly in the future through breakfast cereals, will conserve more human resources at a fraction of current costs. Simply eating a banana or a potato chip with tomato paste could result in a patient receiving a hepatitis B needle-free vaccine for two cents instead of the usual US$15 for an injectable dose. In fact, GMO technology has spurred economic progress in the technically-advance societies.

Traditional chemical, metallurgy, and pharmaceutical industries already are undergoing rapid assessment and adaptation to accommodate the green component into daily production processes. Starch-based polymers have been used for water-retention in calcareous loamy soils for cultivation of mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) in Saudi Arabia; sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) in India, tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) in Egypt, and ornamental plants - Rosa cavina, Lotonis bainesii, Indigoferata schimperi, and Hibiscus rosa var. chinensis in Singapore, South Africa and Thailand.

Generally-speaking genetic engineering techniques have been applied to crops of the industrialized world rather than to those on which the world's hungry depend on. Corporate research activities in agricultural biotechnology, seemingly profit-oriented, should involve resource-poor farmers from least developed countries without adding costs to their meagre household incomes, to better use new knowledge in producing higher yields of pest resistant crops, and in improving local gender and socio-economic conditions. Hunger in these countries, results from a complex situation of interconnected factors --lack of adequate purchasing power, poverty, non-availability of back-up financial facilities, low crop yields, and a deteriorating environment. Some 80 developing countries possess neither the ability to produce sufficient food to feed their own populations nor the foreign-exchange reserves to import food supplies to cover the deficits. President Jimmy Carter said: "Responsible biotechnology is not the enemy; sta

The face of agriculture is expected to change in the next two decades. GMOs are widely used in the European Union (EU). At least 27 distinct plant species have been tested in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK with about 70 field tests per country. Other EU countries conducting field trials were Austria, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Two years ago, a global review by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications of commercialized transgenic crops showed an increase of 21,1 million hectares between 1998 and 1999. Today, almost 45 million hectares of GMO crops are grown worldwide involving especially Argentina, Canada, China and the USA. In China, 13 gene-altered crops (i.e. rice, wheat, beet, potato, tomato, corn, peanut, rapeseed, sweet pepper and cotton) have been released in the agricultural sector, over a 10-year period, since 1986. Currently, some 50 per cent of all crops are engineered genetically.

Introduction of high-yielding, drought tolerant, and early ripening varieties have led to impressive gains in maize production in Central and West Africa. In turn there is development of supplementary and increased food markets in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Zaire. Such gains result from local collaboration in the semi-arid food grain research and development project sponsored by the scientific commission of the Organization of African Unity and the US Agency for International Development. Genetically-modified trees, have several important uses, inclusive of landscape development, and are of value in forest ecosystems and plantation use. A potential new tree crop for cultivation in saline soils, naturally occurring in Morocco, is the argan tree-Argania spinosa.

In developing countries there is widespread use of GMOs. Approximately 150 releases of GMOs have been conducted in these countries. Ten countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Chile, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru) were engaged in field trials with 7 transgenic crops (cotton, maize, potato, soyabean, tomato, banana and sugarcane); and countries expected to follow with such trials are Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. Three countries in Africa and the Arab States (Egypt, South Africa and Zimbabwe), and five countries in Asia (China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand) are engaged with 5 transgenic crops (cotton, corn, potato, soyabean and tomato). And, in Africa, field trials are expected to get underway in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.

The beneficial aspects of GMO crops and foods for developing countries are: improved nutritional quality and health benefits; an improvement in the quantity and quality of meat, milk and livestock production; enhanced market possibilities and agronomic traits; clean and safe methods for production of edible vaccines and drugs; wider environmental impact through development of clean technologies; reduction in dependence on costly fertilizers and herbicides resulting in valuable savings for poor-resource farmers; and no evidence that commercial transgenic crops contain new allergens other than those in normal foods nor have a negative impact on human health.

Allied to such advancement are the issues of biosafety and biosecurity. GMOs have actually been one of the first beneficiaries of biosafety assessment. Guidelines and directives issued by several international and UN agencies, inclusive of the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission the universally accepted authority that sets the necessary standards, have been of great help. Nevertheless, the negative rather than the positive aspects have been retained, as is typical of human wont, in the public mind. Loss, of plant biodiversity resulting from economic reliance on a GM species for production of fruit juice; and of landscape diversity arising from demands for more land for public housing and transportation, have little to do with GMO ill effects on human health. As President Carter said: "By increasing crop yields, genetically modified organisms reduce the constant need to clear more land for growing food".

A World Bank report on Bioengineering of Crops, in 1998, indicated the value of bioengineering in an improvement of 25% in food crop yields in developing countries. A year later the Bank, through a report on Agricultural Biotechnology and the Poor, drew attention to biosafety and ethical issues. In July 2000, a report on Transgenic Plants and Agriculture prepared by the Royal Society of London, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy, the Mexican Academy of Sciences, and the Third World Academy of Sciences also emphasized the importance of GMO technology enhancing agricultural benefits in developing countries.

On the other hand, genetically-produced cocoa and vanilla flavours developed elsewhere are eroding export markets in Côte d'Ivoire and Madagascar, and adding to unemployment levels. Sugar biosubstitutes are affecting the export earnings of Mauritius, Cuba, Grenada, and the Windward Islands. Also, the indiscriminate appropriation of the indigenous peoples' knowledge, and the exploitation of native intellectual property resources without adequate compensation are other negative aspects of the globalizing use of GMOs which are obtained from parent animals, plants and microorganisms. Focus of attention has been primarily with the latter two groups of organisms. In summary, the negative features of use of GMOs are: loss of crop genetic diversity; economic loss of evaluated biodiversity and crop genetic diversity; threat to use of generic medicinal products, inadequate compensation costs, alteration in nutritional quality of foods; prevalence of religious, cultural, ethical issues (i.e. with vaccines and single-c

The case of fermented foods in relation to GMOs is of interest. A wide category and range of fermented foods which may contain whole or parts of natural organisms, are prepared and conserved in near-to-safe hygienic conditions. Yet, they are widely ingested world-wide without fear or reluctance in contrast to the doubts and prejudices experienced with release of GM foods into public markets.

Significant promotional, permissive, precautionary and preventive choices; and, policy stances in the areas of biosafety, food safety, consumer choice, public research and trade have been featured for developing countries in the HDR. Public concern and debate in industrialized societies on environmental uncertainties and health risks of use of GMO technology should not discourage the developing world from reaping benefits from using GM crops and GMOs to solve their pressing problems of hunger and malnutrition. Much needed public education and understanding of GM food science through appropriate popularization programmes could help do away with vocabulary like "Frankenstein foods", monster bugs and genetic pollution which only fuel fear and adverse reaction to GMOs. After all, humankind, unwittingly, has been eating genetically-modified foods since the dawn of agriculture as exemplified in wheat, which from the early days of wild wheat, then through einkorn and emmer wheat, and then through spaghetti wheat a

Wheat Biotechnology: A Minireview

Debasis Patnaik & Paramjit Khurana, EJB Electronic Journal of Biotechnology, Vol.4 No. 2, August 15, 2001 (Via www.bio-scope.org)

Abstract: Due to the inherent difficulties associated with gene delivery into regenerable explants and recovery of plantlets with the introduced transgene, wheat was the last among cereals to be genetically transformed. This review attempts to summarize different efforts in the direction of achieving genetic transformation of wheat by various methods. Particle bombardment is the most widely employed procedure for the introduction of marker genes and also for the generation of transformed wheat with introduction of agronomically important genes for quality improvement, engineering of nuclear male sterility, transposon tagging, resistance to drought stress, resistance against fungal pathogens and insect resistance. The other methods of choice of gene delivery into wheat tissues include electroporation and co-cultivation with Agrobacterium. Several alternative approaches including microinjection, direct imbibition, permeabilization, silicon carbide fiber-mediated and pollen tube pathway have also been attempt

Maize Diversity in Oaxaca, Mexico: Simple Questions but No Easy Answers


The basic question underlying the Oaxaca Project (see: "Empowering Farmers to Save Seed and Diversity") is simple, says Julien Berthaud, a CIMMYT population geneticist: "Can the genetic diversity of maize be maintained or increased in smallholders' fields while enhancing the welfare of the farmers?"

As scientists searched for answers to this question, from farmers' silos to ultra high-powered statistical computer packages, it became clear that they would not find a single, straightforward answer. In fact, says Berthaud, "Our inquiry has led to more questions whose answers turn out to be enormously complex."

What Are We Conserving?

For starters: What is a landrace? Although a landrace is generally assumed to be a local "variety" produced over time through selection by farmers, Berthaud contends that in the Oaxaca study area, the landraces do not meet the basic criteria of a variety: that they be distinct, uniform, and stable.

So what are we trying to conserve, if not landraces? "The active flow of genes," answers Berthaud, "which carries traits that are of value now or may be found to have value in the future." Sustaining gene flow in farmers' fields may not require maintaining landraces. By trying to retain landraces in their current form, we may doom conservation to failure.

"A decade ago," says Berthaud, "most people's vision of in situ conservation was to put up a fence, keep the farmers and the variety in a state of suspended animation, and figure that everything would stay as it was. But this will not work. People have needs that may change with the market-say, an emerging preference for floury rather than flinty kernels-or with the environment. For example, a series of dry years will affect the supply of maize seed and what is preferred for planting. The study area is a dynamic environment, with new genes and traits flowing in and out of it, even under the most traditional systems."

Another reason that gene flow may be required to maintain diversity, Berthaud explains, is the accumulation of deleterious mutations. Small-scale farmers select their own seed. Often they choose the best ears at harvest and save seed from only a few cobs-a logical approach but one that increases deleterious mutations. As defects accumulate, the variety loses its genetic value.

"We know farmers are putting new diversity into the system and in the process losing some of the old alleles and traits," Berthaud observes, "which raises several other questions. Is this dynamic process in balance? And will the current flow maintain the valued genetic diversity?"

Tracking Gene Flows and Diversity

Berthaud and graduate students Gael Pressoir and Fabiola Ramírez Corona (all supported by France's Institut de Recherche pour le Développement) are using two strategies to track gene flows and determine genetic diversity in the study area. In the first strategy, they collected "seed lots"-a "lot" is a set of seeds that a farmer regards as belonging to the same variety-from randomly selected farmers in six communities. The lots have undergone molecular analysis to measure their diversity.

Berthaud: A static maize seed system leads to a dead system.

"One possibility is that if everybody keeps seed only from his or her own fields, the seed lots will be quite different from farm to farm. The other possibility is that there are many seed exchanges, so everything is basically about the same. We're trying to figure out, at the genetic level, where we are in this broad range of possibilities."

Another strategy for tracking gene flows takes the team back to the farmers who purchased local improved varieties at project demonstrations in 2000 and 2001. What happened to that seed? Did farmers store some for future use? Mix it with their own varieties? Lose it? Exchange it with other farmers? "As we trace the history of the seed lots," Berthaud says, "we hope to develop an image of the evolution of diversity."

Knowledge of what is coming into and going out of Oaxacan farmers' maize fields will allow Berthaud to develop a model to determine whether the genetic diversity in the system is shrinking or expanding, and whether it is stable and sustainable. It would also help guide future efforts to enhance in situ conservation. "If you want to maintain some traits or diversity in general," says Berthaud, "you need to understand the big picture. If you play with only a part of the system, you are almost certain not to achieve the results you are seeking."

"Julien Berthaud's work has established that a static maize seed system leads to a dead system and that, in a dynamic system, new materials need to be brought in," says project leader Maurcio Bellon. "Perhaps farmers know this, too, as some of them will bring in seed from other regions when they observe that their 'plants are getting tired.' We had some appreciation of these dynamics, but we didn't understand all the implications. Julien's work brings us an added scientific perspective."

Leading DNA Sequencing Researcher Found Slain


LEESBURG, Virginia (AP) -- A leading researcher on DNA sequencing analysis was found dead in the secluded northern Virginia farmhouse where he lived alone, police said. Robert M. Schwartz, 57, was found by neighbors Monday after co-workers called them to say Schwartz had uncharacteristically skipped work and missed a meeting. An autopsy will determine Schwartz's cause of death, police said Tuesday.

"We're all stunned," said Anne Armstrong, president of the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology, a nonprofit agency where Schwartz worked. "We don't know anything. What we're assuming is maybe he walked in on something." Loudoun County Sheriff Stephen Simpson said detectives had some leads.

Schwartz, a founding member of the Virginia Biotechnology Association, worked at the center for almost 15 years and had served as executive director of research and development and university relations, Armstrong said. He also worked on the first national online database of DNA sequence information.

Dr. Arnel R. Hallauer Wins Verdant Partners 2001 Crop Genetics Award

- Business Wire, Dec 11, 2001

MILWAUKEE--For his international contributions to the advancement of corn breeding and quantitative genetics for the past 43 years, Dr. Arnel R. Hallauer has been named winner of the Verdant Partners Crop Genetics Award for the year 2001. The announcement was made at the American Seed Trade Association mid-winter meeting in Chicago. A $10,000 agricultural scholarship in Dr. Hallauer's name has been donated to the Corn Breeding Project at Iowa State University.

Dr. Hallauer has influenced the research of numerous plant breeders through his teachings, extensive publications, and corn breeding accomplishments. His book "Quantitative Genetics in Maize Breeding" is considered the standard textbook for maize breeders all over the world. Dr. Hallauer was also elected to the U.S. National Academy of Science in 1989 and to the USDA-ARS Science Hall of Fame in 1992. He is known as an exemplary ambassador for agriculture and a role model for all plant breeders.

The Verdant Partners judges who selected Dr. Haullauer as this year's winner include Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the Nobel Laureate of the Green Revolution; Dr. Ray A. Goldberg, Moffett Professor of Agriculture and Business, Emeritus, Harvard Business School; and Dr. Owen J. Newlin, retired Senior Vice President and Director, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. Verdant Partners is an international crop genetics investment banking and consulting group with offices in California, Illinois and Wisconsin.

PR Has Lost Its Vision: From Brand Manager To Publicist

- Ross Irvine, rsirvine@epublicrelations.org, http://www.ePublicRelations.org

What's happened to public relations? When I started in the field in the early 1970s it was an exciting, dynamic industry. It was filled with people who challenged conventional thinking and looked at the big issues and their impacts on clients, employers, and even society. Public relations folks talked about how PR encompassed all aspects of an organisation from its logo, employee newsletter and media relations to how receptionists answered the phone and how customers interacted with and experienced the organisation. PR was seen as all encompassing. PR folks had dreams and a vision. They were the first brand managers, even though the title was unknown at the time. Today, that omnipotent role has been taken over by the marketing team.

So, what's the role and future of PR today? In the Dec. 7, 2001, edition of O'Dywer's PR Daily, Jerry Schwartz, veteran PR counsellor and president of Schwartz and Company, offers the following: "Publicity - articles in the media - will again become the raison d'etre of public relations."

What a change from the 70s! From corporate visionary to publicist, the role and scope of PR has shrunk greatly. But this shrinkage should not be happening now. The world is changing rapidly and in unimagined and unimaginable ways. The need for corporate visionaries who see the long-term, big picture has never been greater. (Brand managers are too focused on getting through the next quarter or meeting year-end goals.)

Looking at the broader issues. At the November meeting of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), David R. Drobis, senior partner and chairman of Ketchum, addressed one of the big-picture issues facing business: non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and their influence and power. Unfortunately, Drobis only looked at NGOs from one perspective. Drobis encouraged businesses to work with and engage NGOs. He said: "The NGO community has also become an important seal of approval for companies and brands. As the Financial Times notes in a just-published special report on responsible business: 'A new type of relationship is emerging between companies and NGOs, one where NGOs act as certification bodies Š'"

Working this closely with NGOs raises an important question: What happens to the needs and wishes of the hamburger cook, rancher, logger, convenience store cashier, part-time employee, bus driver, and production line worker who don't have the time, resources or interest to participate in an NGO? Who represents them? Gary Johns, senior fellow with Australia's Institute of Public Affairs, writes in Protocols with NGOs: The Need to Know: "Democracy as an institutional concept needs to balance the interests of the organised and the unorganised. An organized and active citizenry on some issues may be good for the activists; but it may be bad of everyone else."

Drobis broached the topic of NGOs but didn't look at the broader picture of ceding power and influence to them. It's this wider thinking and research that makes PR exciting and can have an impact on corporate strategy. It's also fun! Explore concepts. Similarly, there are many other concepts such as the precautionary principle (take your choice of some 19 definitions), smart growth, zero discharge, and civil society which require more public and corporate discussion to appreciate their full impact and implications. These ideas need to be discussed and explored by PR folks and their clients and employers.

In addition, ingrained and firmly held beliefs must be also be re-examined. For example, the media, politicians, and countless NGOs would have us believe that the environment is in bad shape and getting worse. There is, however, a small but growing chorus that says this idea is false. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the Environment by Bjorn Lomborg, associate professor of statistics in the department of the political science, University of Aarhus, Denmark, is the latest, well-documented salvo.

Lomborg writes: "We know the Litany (of our ever deteriorating environment) and have heard it so often that yet another repetition is, well, almost reassuring. There is just one problem: it does not seem to be backed up by the available evidence." He continues: "We are not running out of energy or natural resources. There will be more and more food per head of the world's population. Fewer and fewer people are starving. In 1900 we lived for an average of 30 years; today we live for 67. According to the UN we have reduced poverty more in the last 50 years than we did in the preceding 500, and it has been reduced in practically every country.

"Global warming, though its size and future projections are rather unrealistically pessimistic, is almost certainly taking place, but the typical cure of early and radical fossil fuel cutbacks is way worse than the original affliction, and moreover its total impact will not pose a devastating problem for our future. Nor will we lose 25-50 percentof all species in our lifetime - in fact we are losing probably 0.7 per cent. Acid rain does not kill the forests, and the air and the water around us are becoming less and less polluted. "Mankind's lot has actually improved in terms of practically every measurable indicator.Š "Š our problems are often getting smaller not bigger (emphasis in original), and that frequently the offered solutions are grossly inefficient. What this information should tell us is not to abandon action entirely, but to focus our attention on the most important problems and only to the extent warranted by the facts."

Environmentalist changes his opinion. In setting about to conduct research for the book, Lomborg, who describes himself as an "old left-wing Greenpeace member," had expected to discredit the type of statements he came to write. The facts changed his mind. If an old left-wing Greenpeacer can have a change of heart based on the facts, it's time for corporations, politicians, and media to at least reassess their positions on environmental matters. After all, there are only so many resources (i.e. tax dollars and profits) to deal with environmental concerns. So, let's deal with real - not perceived - ones.

Part of the fun and excitement of doing PR in the 1970s was 'thinking out of the box." Today, with so many issues facing businesses, government and society in general, the need to do so again has never been greater. And, with so many resources available, the tools and information to do so have never been more accessible. Only one thing is needed: the vision.