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January 6, 2002


ABIC conference, GM corn in Mexico, GM crops valuable,


Today in AgBioView:

* The 4th Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) returns to Saskatoon, Canada
* Gene-altered crops costly, but farmers deem them valuable
* Seeds of Discord: The battle over golden rice
* A covert killer stares down kids
* Opponents fear consequences of genetically engineered rice hybrid
* Misleading math about the Earth
* Speeding Up Breeding of Superior Plants
* Shortcuts to Disease-Resistant Wheats


Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference

Join agbiotech leaders from around the world as they converge on Canada's "Science City" for ABIC 2002. World-class speakers (http://www.abic.net/index2.html), internationally recognized experts, exhibit showcase, networking opportunities, and more.

The 4th Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) returns to Saskatoon, Canada, September 15 to 18, 2002.

ABIC 2002 is your opportunity to...

• Update your knowledge on the latest developments in health, bioeconomy, scientific tools, technology transfer, investment opportunities, and more
• Showcase new bioproducts
• Network with leading researchers and scientists
• Develop strategic contacts with international business leaders, investors, researchers, and funding agencies
• Learn about technologies coming down the pipeline

ABIC 2002 will feature more than 48 national and international speakers and over 50 informative sessions. Topics will focus on the convergence of agricultural biotechnology with life sciences, bioinformatics, health care, nutrition, commercialization, and business creation.




Crop Biotech Update
January 2002


Research being conducted at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico has cast some doubt over earlier reports that DNA from genetically modified corn has been transferred to local varieties in Mexico. The CIMMYT study could not detect the 35S promoter either in historical accessions from its own seed bank or in samples collected recently from the field in Mexico. Results of the study were published in the January 2002 issue of Nature Biotechnology.

CIMMYT maintains an extensive maize seedbank and supplies seeds on demand to research institutions and extension services around the developing world. "We needed to be able to reassure our users that transgenes were not running rampant through the seed bank and we have shown that," says David Hoisington, director of CIMMYT's Applied Biotechnology Center. Their initial results could not find the 35S promoter in any of the 28 maize populations in its seedbank. More importantly, they have started to examine materials that have been collected from farmers' fields in Oaxaca, the state where Chapela collected their materials.

One way to resolve the conflict would be for the various groups to share samples. It is important that several different and independent laboratories perform a parallel analysis of the same samples. "If they all see the same thing," says Hoisington, "then you can be more sure that there is really something there."

CIMMYT's results are in contrast to those earlier reported by Mexican government researchers and a study by Ignacio Chapela published in Nature Magazine in November 2001.


Countries in Asia are giving high priority to biotechnology. On the lead is Singapore which is channeling billions of dollars in development fund to become the hub of biotechnology in the region.

China is not far behind. A recent study conducted by researchers in the US and China reveals that research and development on plant biotechnology is doing well in the country. Scott Rozelle, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California (UC) Davis and colleagues surveyed 29 of China's plant biotechnology research institutes and interviewed research directors of the major plant biotechnology programs.

Rozelle notes that China has been accelerating its investments in agricultural biotechnology research and is making breakthroughs on commodities that have been mostly ignored in the laboratories of industrialized countries. "If China's success with GM cotton is any predictor of future achievements, we can expect that plant biotechnology in China will have a significant impact on world production, consumption, nutrition, and trade."

Joining Singapore and China are Malaysia, India and South Korea. The Malaysian Government strongly believes that biotechnology will propel the country into the new frontier of economic growth. It is set to invest US$3.7 billion to establish the Multi-Media Super Corridor (MSC) in which a Bio-valley will be located. Malaysian officials expect that the three biotechnology institutes will help to accelerate this new industry and attract foreign investment amounting to US$10 billion over the next 10 years.

India is also planning to increase investments in biotechnology over the next few years. The southern states of India have identified biotechnology as a thrust sector. By 2010, the Indian industry could grow to US$4.5 billion from the US$2.5 billion now.

Finally, South Korea expects to see a rise in investment in biotechnology over the next 5 years. By 2007, US$ 10 billion will be invested in biotechnology of which US$ 1.5 billion will be invested in the agriculture and food industries.


Several agencies in India particularly the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Union Environment Ministry, and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) generally aver that data on the Bt cotton trials in the country look favorable. The firm conducting the authorized trials is the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mayco). Reports coming from ICAR and Mayco are up for evaluation by the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM), which will forward for further comments to the Ministry's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the lone sanctioning authority for GM crops or food.

In case the commercialization of Bt cotton pushes through, this would be India's first commercialized transgenic crop.

In other developments, Pesticides Association of India Vice Chairman Pradip K. Mazumdar opined that his group is in favor of introducing genetically modified (GM) crops as long as it undergo the required tests.

Compared to countries like Japan and Taiwan, which uses an equivalent of US$633 and US$392 per hectare of pesticides respectively, India is one of the lowest pesticide users in the world at three dollars per hectare. There is opportunity to use pesticides in proper doses in regions plagued by pests even if GM seeds are given clearance for commercial release.


Gene-altered crops costly, but farmers deem them valuable

The Chicago Tribune
Published January 7, 2002

Genetically modified crops, which have caused considerable consumer opposition in Europe, have been gaining popularity among U.S. farmers, but not for economic reasons.

An analysis among more than 300 Iowa farmers showed that those who used genetically modified seeds didn't gain any economic advantage over those who used conventional seeds.

The analysis was conducted by Michael Duffy, associate director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. Duffy's analysis, published in the center's newsletter, was drawn from information gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It was the second time Duffy concluded the economics of genetically modified crops don't add up for farmers.

He found that, on average, farmers who grew soybeans designed to tolerate weed killer treatment did spend less on herbicides than their counterparts who planted regular soybeans. However, he found, any herbicide-related savings were counterbalanced by somewhat lower yields from the genetically altered crops and the higher cost of seeds.

Duffy also looked at farms that used corn seeds that were genetically altered to make the corn more resistant to European corn borers. While the modified corn seeds had somewhat higher yields, they also had higher fertilizer costs and higher seed costs, negating any economic advantage.

If there's no clear economic benefit, why have genetically modified seeds gained popularity among farmers?

"For herbicide-tolerant soybeans, farmers answer by saying they can cover more acres more quickly and they don't have to worry about weed management as they did in the past," Duffy reports.

Farmers who used the modified corn seed said they viewed it as insurance against a possible insect infestation, he said.

Sound waves: Ultrasound is a well-established technology used in medicine and other fields to get information about internal structures and make images through the use of sound waves....


Seeds of Discord: The battle over golden rice

January, 2002


Golden rice is the world's first example of food genetically engineered to convey a benefit directly to the consumer.

Known as "golden rice" for its buttery hue, this revolutionary strain has been genetically engineered to contain vitamin A. If successfully bred with common kinds of rice already grown around the world, the new hybrid could save millions of children from hunger and blindness.

Development of the golden grain is now threatened by detractors who fear it may harm the natural environment and destroy agricultural practices that have sustained the world for centuries.

» Part One: A grain of hope for the starving A covert killer stares down kids:

» Part 2: Monday
» Part 3: Tuesday
» Part 4: Wednesday

» See the Star-Ledger photos: http://www.nj.com/photos/rice/


A covert killer stares down kids

Vitamin A deficiency leaves many children blind and causes death in 100 different ways


QUEZON CITY, Philippines - Lying in his hospital crib, John Paul Reyes looks imploringly at physician Epifania M. Sagum-Simbul, his large brown eyes dull with exhaustion.

Named after the Pope by his impoverished parents, the emaciated boy with stick arms and bird legs can't seem to breathe quickly or deeply enough. Too weak to move, he's slowly suffocating.

This is what vitamin A deficiency looks like: a 19-month-old, 10-pound boy with pneumonia, struggling to survive.

John Paul lives on rice gruel, a bowl a day. For growing bodies, it's simply not enough. "You can always tell when they're sick from this," said Sagum-Simbul, the hospital's chief of medical services. "They lose the sparkle in their eyes."

The child is just one of dozens treated every week in the "mal" ward of the National Children's Hospital in this large city on the outskirts of Manila.

Vitamin A deficiency is a worldwide health problem. In its worst form, it blinds children. It is a sneaky killer, however, in a hundred different ways, weakening children so they can't fend off the ravages of measles, diarrhea and even run-of-the-mill infections.

In the Philippines, vitamin A deficiency hits children as hard as it does in the rest of the developing world, from those living in jungles to those surviving in the vast slums of cities.

Children such as John Paul are especially prone, because they eat mostly rice gruel. He is one of about 757,000 Filipino preschoolers who are considered "wasted," according to 1998 figures collected during the National Nutrition Survey.

The greatest vitamin A deficiency occurs in South and Southeast Asia, where 70 percent of the children under 5 are affected. Rice is the staple food, accounting for 80 percent of caloric intake in some countries.

In the early 1980s, researchers studying vitamin A deficiency in Indonesia, a group led by Alfred Sommer of Johns Hopkins University, showed that children with night blindness had a much greater risk of developing fatal infections. The greater their vitamin deficiency, the more likely they were to die.

One study showed that 30 percent fewer children died in a village where they were given vitamin A twice a year. As a result, the United Nations launched a worldwide campaign to reduce vitamin A deficiency through vitamin supplements and educational programs.

"I'm very excited about golden rice," said Sommer, now dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins. "It has the potential to really contribute."

Biotechnology skeptics argue that the gene-altered strain in its present form may not offer enough vitamin A to be beneficial. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the product will be determined in the laboratory, Sommer said. What matters is the amount of beta carotene present and the ease with which the body can absorb the material.

"We know that the technology works," he said. "It's been done. If people don't get in the way, it's a really powerful new tool."

Vitamin A is required for human growth. It plays an important role in the early embryonic development of all mammals. It's also key to the proper functioning of the immune system, the rod cells in the retina of the eye and mucous membranes throughout the body.

Since humans cannot make vitamin A in their bodies, it must be obtained through a healthful diet. Vitamin A comes in breast milk, eggs and other animal products, or is converted from beta carotene found in dark, leafy green vegetables and from orange and yellow fruits such as carrots, papaya and mangoes.

In the Manila region, three in every 10 Filipino children under 5 have deficient vitamin A levels, according to government health figures.

They are among the 100 million to 200 million children from throughout the world who grow sick each year simply because there's not enough vitamin A in their food.

The earliest clinical signs of deficiency are difficulty seeing in dim light and abnormal dryness of the eyeball, a condition known as xerophthalmia or night blindness. Other signs include patches of rough skin and dry membranes of the nose and throat. The most severe cases lead to blindness and death.

Adequate vitamin A decreases the incidence and severity of childhood diseases, such as measles. Conversely, vitamin A deficiency increases the risk in children of routine infections becoming severe, leading to death even before the signs of night blindness develop.

"More needs to be done for those not currently being reached," said Gary Toenniessen, director of food security for the Rockefeller Foundation in New York. "Children are still going blind each year due to vitamin A deficiency."

As Sagum-Simbul, chief of medical services at National Children's Hospital, is quick to point out, it is the children of the poorest families who are the most vulnerable. They spend more than half of their income on food and depend heavily on low-cost, high-energy starchy staples such as rice.

In the hospital ward around the sick child, parallel stories of vitamin A deficiency-induced illnesses abound. In one room, Jhesse Guclatar, an underweight 2-year-old, suffers from a severe case of measles. Across the corridor, Redalyn Dayawon, a severely malnourished 4-year-old girl, is battling persistent diarrhea.

Relatives, thin as the patients they tend, hover over the unnaturally still children.

John Paul's guardian, his 16-year-old sister, Mary Ann, is so stunted she looks to be more like 10. She has been ordered by her family to stay on a plastic yard chair by her brother's hospital crib and care for him until he comes home. She is missing school.

By noon on this day, she is still waiting for her father to bring her some food.


A grain of hope for the starving

Opponents fear consequences of genetically engineered rice hybrid


BAÑOS, Philippines - At the foot of an ancient volcano, deep within a sweltering jungle, scientists at an experimental agricultural station are developing a strange yellow grain never before seen in nature.

Known as "golden rice" for its buttery hue, this revolutionary strain has been genetically engineered to contain vitamin A. If successfully bred with common kinds of rice already grown around the world, the new hybrid could save millions of children from hunger and blindness.

But it may never be grown anywhere else. Development of the golden grain is being threatened by detractors who fear it may harm the natural environment and destroy agricultural practices that have sustained the world for centuries.

Golden rice is the world's first example of food genetically engineered to convey a benefit directly to the consumer. Until now, other forms of genetically modified plants have helped only farmers by resisting pests and fungicides.

In the billion-dollar dreams of the biotech companies backing it, the modified rice would herald a new generation of genetically enhanced foods that could include cancer-preventing tomatoes and vaccine-laced bananas. It is at the center of United Nations plans to address food shortages by engineering crops with reliably high yields and increased "micronutrients" - vitamins and minerals.

"Golden rice is a miracle," said C.K. Prakash, director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University in Alabama. "To prevent its introduction would be a great setback for humanity."


Although golden rice was produced by publicly funded research and is intended to be distributed free to poor farmers, it has become a whipping boy in the battle over genetically engineered food and the "globalization" of national economies.

Environmentalists and others contend the rice will never deliver on its promise, a failure they say corporations backing it are well aware of. These companies include Pharmacia Corp. in Peapack, its subsidiary Monsanto, and Syngenta in Wilmington, Del.

The rice, according to its detractors, offers these agribusiness giants a one-in-a-million public relations opportunity and, perhaps worse, will lull the world's poorest farmers into a new form of high-tech serfdom. The first year's seeds may be free, but there's no guarantee they will stay that way, the critics point out.

"You cannot imagine a more dramatic moment as far as how food is going to be produced and how it is going to be managed and owned for the rest of this century," declared Andrew Kimbrell, a biotech critic who heads the International Center for Technology Assessment in Washington.

"This is a very hidden battle over whether food is simply going to be a corporate monopolistic product or whether the farmers of the world will still have some control over seeds."


The war is being fought on many fronts - in rice paddies, in corporate boardrooms, in council chambers in remote Asian villages.

In the balance, both sides believe, is the fate of the world food supply.

"I think we are at the crossroads," said Ingo Potrykus, a Swiss scientist who developed the new variety. "If golden rice is not embraced, it may kill the whole technology of genetically engineered food."

According to the statistics maintained by the United Nations' World Health Organization, half a million children go blind every year from vitamin A deficiency, and another 100 million are sickened by the deficiency. Supported mainly by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Swiss government, Potrykus and the co-inventor, Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg in Germany, worked for more than a decade to develop a food that would reduce the sorry numbers.

After many failures, they created the golden rice by inserting three genes - two from a daffodil, one from a bacterium - into the genetic matter of Taipei 309, a common strain of "japonica" rice used in lab experiments. As a result, beta carotene - the orange in carrots, the yellow in daffodils - is produced in the rice, giving it a golden cast. Beta carotene stimulates the production of vitamin A, which is essential for human health.


But to create golden rice varieties farmers can actually use, the experimental strain needs to be crossbred with the kinds of rice that flourish in regional climates.

That's why the first fruits of the golden rice experiment have come to the International Rice Research Institute here in Los Baños. Called IRRI (pronounced "eerie") by its 800 staff members, the institute is regarded as the world's premier institution for rice plant research.

Established in 1961 by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, the institute receives support from more than 30 donors, including the international aid agencies of two dozen governments. Its annual budget is $33.7 million.

Located in a lush, mountainous region two hours southeast of Manila, IRRI's rice paddies are where the Green Revolution began in Asia.

"Green Revolution" refers to the dramatic yield increases in cereal grain made in many developing countries starting in the late 1960s, due largely to the use of genetically improved varieties.

The legacy of the Green Revolution is strong - Asian farmers doubled their rice production in the 1970s and 1980s, heading off catastrophic food shortages by adopting new rice varieties, though it meant altering their traditional methods.

Critics charge the advances came at a high cost - making a whole new generation of farmers dependent on toxic pesticides and ruining swaths of the countryside where the new varieties didn't "take."

Now, IRRI scientists are trying to breed golden rice with more popular varieties, a process that could take up to three years. Then the plants must be moved to fields for the so-called open-air tests that will prove the crop's viability under real growing conditions and help scientists assess whether it can be safely grown without any unhealthful environmental effects.

IRRI's Gurdav Khush, 66, is considered the world's foremost rice breeder. He has played a key role in developing more than 300 rice varieties in the race to keep rice production ahead of population growth.

Pointing to a spot in a lush green field, Khush shows a visitor where he first grew the rice species known as IR36. Released in 1976, it became the most widely planted variety of rice - or any other crop - the world has ever known.

Khush is puzzled that these efforts are not universally applauded.

"It's very discouraging, you know, that there is all this opposition to genetic engineering and the Green Revolution," Khush said.

"We fed millions of people who would have starved. We brought peace and prosperity. Where does the fear come from?"


The laboratory complex sits next to a dormant volcano, Mount Makiling, with a profile that resembles a woman sleeping on her back. Her spirit is said to protect the area, but IRRI is ringed by opponents of its research.

On its one side sits the giant agricultural campus of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, where several prominent anti-biotech activists teach and have led protests. On another side is the town of Bay, where activists have been so successful that the municipal council has declared the area a "GMO-free zone" in an attempt to keep genetically modified organisms out.

When golden rice is ready for open-air testing, institute officials will have to seek permission from their neighbors. It's unlikely they're going to get it.

Filipinos have been debating the merits of genetically engineered crops since 1999 - in the popular tabloid press, in the legislature, over family dinner tables - ever since golden rice was first presented at a worldwide scientific conference in St. Louis. The next step, its inventors said then, was to take the grain to the Philippines for further experiments.

A spate of citizen groups - among them the Catholic Church and peasant-farmer organizations - successfully lobbied municipal councils to ban field tests. The opponents argued the technology might harm the environment by creating a race of "superweeds" impervious to pesticides or accidentally harm beneficial organisms, such as butterflies.

The powerful archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, stirred the pot with a statement last spring on agricultural technology. Urging the use of "safe alternatives" unless safety could be proven for gene-altered crops, Sin's cautions fell on attentive ears in this nation of 81 million, more than 80 percent of whom are Roman Catholic.

A thriving political movement opposed to genetically engineered crops is marching in step with an emerging anti-globalization campaign. That campaign rails against what its leaders see as the encroaching power of transnational corporations over everyday matters such as agriculture.

Leaders of a worldwide coalition of organizations led by Greenpeace International have made their thoughts clear on the subject: Golden rice, they say, will never be developed.

"We would try to prevent it from being released," said Isabel Meister of Greenpeace International in Zurich. "It's not good enough to be released."


To some, this opposition is coming from sore losers in the debate over the Green Revolution.

"It's fascinating to me that the same people who opposed the introduction of Green Revolution seed varieties and who lost that battle have moved on and are now latching on to transgenic seed varieties as their newest foe," said Robert Paarlberg, a Wellesley College political scientist who studies agricultural policy.

His book, "The Politics of Precaution," published last fall by Johns Hopkins University Press, describes the difficulties agricultural companies and developing world governments have had in introducing genetically modified crop seeds in India, Kenya, China and Brazil.

"In all cases, biosafety concerns are being used to slow down the technology, not because of any convincing evidence of biosafety risk, but because this is the most convenient way to block the technology," he said.

Scientists at IRRI have not been able to get any other country to join them in growing experimental strains of golden rice. "I'm sitting here with hundreds of transgenic seeds and trying to send this material to people," said Swapan Datta, a noted plant breeder. "There are so many delays. There's a tremendous amount of misunderstanding."

Technical issues remain, too.

"There are many challenges ahead," said Norman Borlaug, an American agricultural scientist who received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for developing new varieties of wheat. "One is to get these genes into high-yielding germplasm (seeds). Another is to see whether the carotene remains after cooking the rice. An even bigger challenge is to see whether Asian consumers - so picky about their rice - will accept a yellow-colored rice."

Representatives of agricultural giants - including Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont - argue that developing nations must be the staging areas for the spread of the revolutionary gene technology.

"It's an intriguing idea -supplying micronutrients in a stable, easily deliverable package like a seed," said Gerard Barry, a Monsanto scientist. Ultimately, advocates say, the technology could allow the farmers to grow crops that are viable in some of the Earth's most difficult growing regions.

Opponents contend that the big companies are using poorer countries as a way to force genetically modified foods into reluctant markets.


Ananias Loza, president of a national peasant farmer federation, is such a doubter. It could be a trap, he said, colonialism in another cloak.

"We are very concerned about who will control and ultimately benefit from this technology, said Loza, a 52-year-old rice farmer from Irosin in the Bicol region. "How sure are we that this will not lead to new forms of slavery or dependency for small farmers like me?"

Golden rice would be distributed for free. But genetically engineered crops, in general, offer seeds that have to be purchased every year, much as hybrid seeds are purchased annually by tens of thousands of American farmers. Farmers in the developing world are used to growing their own seed. The new intellectual property arrangements offered by agrichemical giants frighten many farmers, Loza said.

They also fear they would be forced to purchase a company's chemicals for pest and weed control whether they wanted it or not, he said.

Here in the Philippines, matters came to a head in August. Hundreds of protesters trampled a plot of genetically engineered corn being grown by Monsanto in Mindanao, where tensions are high between Muslim militant groups and the Philippine government.

A handful of other test sites in other parts of the country are being heavily guarded by armed sentries in watchtowers.

Now no governmental authority wants to even bring up the topic of expanding future open-air field tests, such as those that will be needed for golden rice.

"The main agenda for golden rice is not malnutrition but garnering greater support and acceptance for genetic engineering among the public, the scientific community and funding agencies," said Von Hernandez, Greenpeace's chief spokesman for Southeast Asia. "To us, golden rice reflects a far deeper problem. There are too many questions about genetically engineered crops."

Date: 6 Jan 2002 04:27:34 -0000
Subject: Re: AGBIOVIEW: Melchett Switches Sides, Bt in River, Doubt over
From: "omcshane"

A draft letter to Scientific AMerican in response to their four
essays by envirnmental lobbyists claiming to represent the response
of "science"to Lomborg's work follows for your info and comment.

Sunday, 6 January 2002

The Editor
Scientific American

Dear Sir

RE: Misleading math about the Earth, January 2002.

I am sure others will make the point that Science does not defend itself against attack. Scientists challenge the work of other
scientists. Religions defend themselves against heresy. These four responses to Lomborg’s book read more like religious ‘statements
of faith’ by offended priests rather than the measured response of scientists. But then how many of the four authors are genuine
scientists in their fields? John Bongaarts is a vice president of the Population Council in New York. Naturally, he has a vested interest
in maintaining the population ‘problem’. Without it, he is out of a job.

He argues that ‘if population had grown less rapidly in the past we would be better off now.’ What is his evidence? Throughout human
history low growth rates in global population are associated with low growth rates in wealth. On the other hand, population explosions are
associated with increased wealth.

Bongaarts shows a huge misunderstanding of the economics of food production when he claims ‘massive governmental subsidies to
farmers, particularly in the developed countries, keep food prices artificially low. Although technological developments have reduced
prices, without these subsidies, world food prices would certainly be higher.’

What qualifies him to make such an extraordinary claim? The US and the European Economic Union have massive agricultural subsidies but
these artificially increase food prices rather than reduce them. Tariff barriers and quotas complement these subsidies as part of a
plan to exclude cheaper foreign food from domestic markets. For decades the WTO has promoted free trade for manufactured goods but
upheld protection of agricultural produce. The end result is higher food prices in developed countries and the throttling of the
agricultural economies from poor countries. John Bongaarts appears to believe that this has benefited the world’s poor.

New Zealand broke the mould when it removed all agricultural subsidies during the nineteen-eighties. This stimulated innovation
and our farmers became even more cost competitive in international markets. The Economic Union and the United States responded by
raising tariff barriers, quotas and domestic subsidies to keep New Zealand products from competing ‘unfairly’ with their homegrown

Contrary to John Bongaarts’ presumptions, New Zealand’s agricultural sector has increased output at lower prices while
removing land from agricultural production. Sir Roger Douglas, the Minister of Finance who removed the subsidies has proved to be a
great benefactor of the environment because much unproductive land has now reverted to native forest while soil erosion and water
pollution by chemical runoff has been reduced dramatically. Lomborg is correct. We can feed future populations using less land than we do
now AD provided that the OECD countries abandon their subsidies which encourage over investment in domestic agriculture, at the
expense of the environment.

The environmental benefits of Sir Roger Douglas’s reforms contradicts Thomas Lovejoy’s argument that environmental
improvement occurs only because environmentalists identify a problem and then develop solutions. They had no involvement in our
agricultural reforms and are normally embarrassed when I point out that this Chicago school politician has done more to improve our
current environment than groups such as Greenpeace or our ostensibly Green politicians.

But of course such policies are unpopular among government agencies whose budgets are driven by government interventions of all kinds.
It’s much easier for the Population Council to blame the starving people for their profligate breeding than to promote reforms within
the Federal Government which provides their own funds.

It is no surprise that Bongaarts attributes lower rates of hunger to ‘intensive efforts by governments and the international
community’. He obviously has little faith in the ability of ordinary people to grow their own food. This reveals the typical bias
of so many environmental advocates, most of whom have no faith in markets or individual enterprise.

John Bongaarts fails to recognise the harm that governments do and finds it easier to lay the blame on people’s private lives and
private choices. He fails to see that he proves Lomborg’s major point - that so much of the environmental litany is now driven by
ideology and self interest rather than good science. I have called this kind of science ‘budget science’ because its driven by the
need to gain next year’s budget rather than promote real solutions to real problems.

If these four essays represent the voice of modern American science then I wonder when your science, and your magazine, became vehicles
for government propaganda.

Owen McShane

Owen McShane, 158 Rangiora Road, R.D. 2, Kaiwaka, Northland 0582
Phone: 64 9 431 2775
Fax: 64 9 431 2772
See "Straight Thinking On Line" (http://mcshane.orcon.net.nz)


Speeding Up Breeding of Superior Plants

January 2001

That oatmeal you ate for breakfast this morning is loaded with healthful compounds known as antioxidants. They help to protect your body from damage caused by molecules known as free radicals. Oats, for instance, are rich in the antioxidants alpha-tocopherol and alpha-tocotrienol.

But what if tomorrow's oats could provide even more of these health-imparting compounds? That's a goal of ARS oat researchers at laboratories in several states. Aiding this research is an invaluable tool of modern biotechnology. Known as biomolecular markers, gene markers, or DNA markers, these pieces of genetic material are signposts or clues. They are telltale indicators that, for example, the specific oat plant under scrutiny indeed contains the gene or genes for producing impressively high levels of antioxidants or other prized traits.

ARS scientists at Aberdeen, Idaho, and Madison, Wisconsin, are narrowing down the search for DNA markers linked to genes that unerringly indicate a high level of antioxidants in oats. Their studies suggest that superior oats for the future could have significantly more antioxidants than most conventional varieties. Similarly, they plan to use marker-assisted technology to greatly increase the amount of protein that oats can add to your breakfast. This work by scientists at the Aberdeen and Madison laboratories, done in collaboration with nutrition researchers, should greatly enhance the health benefits of tomorrow's cereal quite a bit.

The antioxidant and protein explorations demonstrate one of the most important benefits of DNA markers. The markers allow plant geneticists to move forward quickly even when the gene or genes that control the value-added traits have not yet been delineated. Relying on DNA markers sidesteps the immediate need to pinpoint the gene or genes for the prized traits. The DNA marker and the gene for the needed trait are always inherited together and so are called “reliably linked.”

Capitalizing on DNA markers offers another important time-savings as well. In the past, breeders might have had to wait the full 3-month growing season to see if a newly bred oat plant had the traits they wanted. With DNA markers, however, the answer is already present in tissue that can be snipped from a tiny seedling only a few weeks old. DNA markers are detectable even in this early stage. This gives breeders the answer they need months earlier than previously possible.

In the laboratory, a DNA marker appears as a distinctive band or bands among the many bands on a thin gel. In all, the bands look somewhat like a bar code on a box of cereal. Plants lacking the trait won't have this distinctive marker pattern.

Our search for DNA markers encompasses many other crops as well, from grains to fruits to vegetables. For instance, ARS rice researchers in Beaumont, Texas, and their Texas A&M University colleagues have pinpointed markers that determine texture of cooked rice. (See “Rice Breeding Gets Marker Assists,” Agricultural Research, December 2000, p. 11.) These markers indicate rices that are ideal for products such as canned soups or instant rice mixes. The markers were the first to be used to breed rice with tailor-made texture.

In the cocoa-producing cacao plant, and in snap beans and wheat, we are hunting for other markers that identify plants with much-needed resistance to their worst natural enemies. We fully expect our experiments in Miami, Florida, to hasten discovery of cacao plants resistant to monilia pod rot, black pod, witches broom, and other costly fungal diseases. (See “Cacao and Marker-Assisted Selection,” Agricultural Research, August 2001, pp. 10–11.)

We are also tracking down biomolecular markers of a devastating fungal disease of snap beans, Sclerotinia white mold. (See “Looking for Genes To Protect Beans,” Agricultural Research, March 2001, p. 21.) This disease costs U.S. growers of snap beans and other crops an estimated $18 million every year. Scientists at our Prosser, Washington, laboratory are leading these investigations.

We have also zeroed in on fungal diseases of wheat. Our team at Manhattan, Kansas, has already discovered markers for resistance to leaf rust in wheat. (See “Tagging New Leaf Rust Resistance Genes in Wheat,” Agricultural Research, May 2001, p. 19.) These markers will be important in developing lines with multiple leaf rust-resistance genes, or “gene pyramids.” This research will help breeders develop wheat with durable resistance to this disease.

Wheat plants also require multiple resistance genes to fend off attack by Karnal bunt. In this issue, we report this same team's finding of a marker for one such resistance gene. (See story on page 7.) Now, these scientists are pursuing the full complement of markers for protection against Karnal bunt.

These researchers plan to post their findings on the ARS-managed GRAINGENES database. Scientists worldwide use this fast-growing repository of new information about wheat genes and DNA markers to speed up the breeding of excellent wheat cultivars for the future. ARS is a world leader in the management of this and other genetic databases for crops of agronomic importance.

Judy St. John
Associate Deputy Administrator
Crop Production, Product Value, and Safety
National Program Staff
Beltsville, Maryland


Shortcuts to Disease-Resistant Wheats

January 2001

Everyone likes to take shortcuts in time-consuming tasks. And wheat breeders are no exception. Someday, wheat breeders may be able to use new molecular tools being developed by ARS in collaboration with Kansas State University and the Kansas Wheat Commission.

These tools show promise for reducing the time it takes breeders to move important quality and resistance traits into breeding populations of wheat using conventional breeding techniques. Currently, it can take as long as 10 or more years to develop new wheat varieties.

“Using molecular (or DNA) markers may shorten the task of improving insect and disease resistance while maintaining good yield and quality characteristics,” says plant geneticist Gina L. Brown-Guedira in ARS' Plant Science and Entomology Research Unit in Manhattan, Kansas.

Molecular markers are small pieces of genetic material—DNA—that can be seen on a gel and are known to be reliably linked in this case to resistance genes. They offer breeders a fast and safe way to identify wheat resistant to pathogens.

Brown-Guedira and ARS molecular biologist John P. Fellers are focusing on finding markers that will ultimately be used to incorporate longer-lasting resistance to major wheat diseases, such as leaf rust, Karnal bunt fungus, and fusarium head scab. (See “Tagging New Leaf Rust Resistance Genes in Wheat,” Agricultural Research, May 2001, p. 19.)

One major accomplishment by scientists in this laboratory is identification of a molecular marker for a gene that holds the key to nearly 25 percent of the resistance to Karnal bunt fungus. This fungus is currently quarantined by 72 countries, making it a threat to our export markets. Besides yield losses, Karnal bunt disease lowers the quality of flour used for food.

Scientific studies on Karnal bunt are limited to geographic areas where the fungus is present. Working with the fungus in noninfected areas is restricted to guard against potential spread.

“But markers can be used at any stage of plant growth without having to infect plants with disease,” says Fellers.

So far, researchers in the United States and abroad have identified markers for disease-resistance genes, insect-resistance genes, and quality and environmental stress genes in wheat that can be applied to wheat breeding programs.—By Linda McGraw, formerly with ARS.

This research is part of Plant, Microbial, and Insect Genetic Resources, Genomics, and Genetic Improvement (#301) and Plant Diseases (#303), two ARS National Programs described on the World Wide Web at http://www.nps.ars.usda.gov.

Gina L. Brown-Guedira and John P. Fellers are in the USDA-ARS Plant Science and Entomology Research Unit, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS 66506; phone (785) 532-7260 [Brown-Guedira], (785) 532-2367 [Fellers], fax (785) 532-6167.


Journal Pioneer (Summerside)
January 5, 2002 12
(Via Agnet)

"Biotechnology -- and the role it is now playing in feeding our growing world population -- is one of the most misunderstood yet most valuable technologies being used in food production today," says Denise Dewar, executive director of plant biotechnology for CropLife Canada (formerly the Crop Protection Institute of Canada). As part of the organization's efforts to inform and educate Canadians on the benefits of biotechnology in producing a safe a nutritious food supply and the steps that are being taken to minimize the risk involved through its use, CropLife Canada has produced a new information booklet called Plant Biotechnology In Canada. It provides a background on the use of biotechnology in this country as well as details on the regulatory process in place to protect human health and safety and the environment. The publication also discusses the potential benefits to society through the use of biotechnology both today and into the future. "Canada is a world leader in producing a safe, healthy and abun


The Vancouver Sun
January 7, 2002
By Mia Stainsby
(Via Agnet)

According to this accompanying story, not everyone shares John Robbins' abhorrence of genetically modified food. Brian Ellis, a plant bio-technology professor in the faculty of agricultural sciences at the University of B.C., was quoted as saying, "It's a question of risks and benefits," and that a major benefit of GM technology is it can create more productive agriculture, tailoring plants so they perform better in our current food production system. Ellis was cited as saying he does not agree with arguments that Roundup, which is sprayed on crops with Roundup resistant genes, has health impacts, adding, "There is no evidence. It's a herbicide that tends to break down quite quickly. It's considered the most benign of herbicides out there." Farmers like GM seeds, he says. They're paying higher prices for the seeds but spending less on pest and weed control. Ellis states that, "A lot of inflammatory language is being used and I don't think it's justified. I'm not saying there aren't any problems with it but