Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





April 7, 2002


Nature Retraction, NGOs in Thailand, Bove, Indian Cotton, Brazil, Rice


Today in AgBioView - April 8, 2002:

* Re: Scientist claims vendetta over GM research
* Report on Contaminated Wild Maize Rejected
* Study didn't prove anything
* Senate to probe NGOs
* Decision on Radical Farmer Delayed
* Biotechnology can help agricultural growth
* Indians Beat Monsanto At Bt Cotton Game
* Philippines, Indonesia regulate GMOs
* New technology could change agriculture forever, scientist says at
Northern Illinois U
* In a Plant's Plentiful Genes, a Chemistry Lesson

From: "Mary Murphy"
Subject: Re: Scientist claims vendetta over GM research
Date: Mon, 08 Apr 2002 19:24

Reuters quoted Quist as saying that "he insisted that his study's central
finding, that Mexican corn in the Oaxaca region had been contaminated by
GMO corn, stands."

In the same article, Chapela says, "We would call for other researchers to
produce more data and not to simply harp on the limited amount of data we

Both statements are disingenuous and false. Their "central finding" was
that they had PROVEN in the lab that GM corn had crossed with land races,
not that corn in general had crossed. And no one is "harping on the
limited amount of data" they had. Instead, they have harped about the
technical incompetence of Q&C's methodology -- which even Jane Rissler of
the Union of Concerned Scientists has admitted.

Chapela went on to tell The Herald (Scotland) that attempts to discredit
his research was part of a "vendetta" against him. The reality is that it
is a vendetta against bad science.

Besides, why would it be surprising if cross-pollination had occurred? The
Moratorium in Mexico did not begin until 1998!! As has been said on this
list many times, it is likely that it has occurred. But Quist and Chapela
did not prove it, as they had originally claimed.


From: "terry hopkin"
Date: Mon, 08 Apr 2002 18:15:19 +0000

I wonder if all the other magazines that have some pretence of being
scientific will also put in some form of text something to the effect that
what they had reported as gospel -- because it was in Nature -- wasn't.
Perhaps only the serious magazines will do so.



ps I used the word text because I know just how hard it is for some
editors to say "we was wrong!"

Report on Contaminated Wild Maize Rejected

Los Angeles Times, Part 1; Page 5
April 8, 2002

Scientists have cast doubt on claims that genetically modified corn has
contaminated wild maize grown in a remote area of Mexico. Ignacio Chapela
and David Quist of UC Berkeley had reported in the journal Nature about
finding traces of transgenic DNA in the maize. The research sparked calls
for a global ban on genetically modified crops. But other researchers said
last week that the study was flawed and the conclusions wrong. The editors
of Nature said the study should never have been published because of flaws
in its methodology.

Study didn't prove anything
Altered DNA did or didn't contaminate Mexican corn

Omaha World-Herald, EDITORIAL
April 7, 2002

Part of the foundation supporting the argument that genetically engineered
corn is hazardous to the environment has crumbled.

The journal Nature originally published a Berkeley University study last
year indicating that researchers discovered native Mexican corn
contaminated by DNA from genetically modified varieties. Mexico had banned
gene-altered seed to keep its native corn pure.

The finding was popular with opponents of gene manipulation. But the most
recent edition of the magazine announced that it shouldn't have published
the work. It ran two study critiques along with the original researchers'

One critique called the study a "testament to technical incompetence" and
suggested "an ideological conflict" had caused a "lapse in scientific
integrity." That translates into a charge that the researchers opposed
genetic engineering and set out to prove their preconceived notions.

Nature didn't retract the original article. But its editor, Dr. Philip
Campbell, wrote that the magazine has concluded there wasn't enough
evidence to justify publication. The original researchers used an
experimental - and problematic - technique to identify (or, as some would
have it, misidentify) the DNA in question.

The upshot is that Mexican corn may indeed be fouled by foreign genes. Or
not. The discredited study didn't prove anything, and those who wave it in
support of their anti-bioengineering activism can stop.

Senate to probe NGOs

The Nation (Thailand)
April 6, 2002

The Senate yesterday set up a special committee to investigate the
backgrounds of a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to find
out whether they had been hired by foreign organisations opposed to the
development of Thailand. The Senate spent three hours debating the issue
before voting 104-15 to set up the ad hoc committee. However, several
senators noted that it would difficult to investigate such a theory. The
19-member committee has been empowered to check the backgrounds certain
NGOs in 180 days.

Senator Mechai Viravaidhaya withdrew himself from being nominated to the
committee on the ground that he used to work as an NGO official. The
Senate set up the committee as a result of a proposal by Chiang Rai
Senator Busarin Tiyapairat.

Busarin said she suspected that certain groups of people pretended to be
NGOs but campaigned against major development projects by the government.
ýThis means the government is unable to run the country in line with its
policies. So, we should find out how they have been established, their
backgrounds, their connections with foreign agencies and how they have
been financed,ţ Busarin said.

Mechai said he supported the proposal as there were currently over 12,000
NGOs in the country while only 320 of them were endorsed by the
government. He said society should know the background details and roles
of these NGOs. One Bangkok senator, Jon Ungpakorn, said the probes against
NGOs should start with a positive attitude, not prejudice, while Chirmsak
Pinthong, another Bangkok senator, said he believed such probes would not
receive the full cooperation of the NGOs. He said the Senate could do
nothing if NGOs refused to send representatives to be questioned.

In another development, the International Service for the Acquisition of
Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) Thailand said NGOs in Thailand had been
misinforming the public about the danger of genetically modified foods.
The ISAAA said NGOs had been giving one-sided information to the public
about the possible negative effects of genetically modified food without
backing up the information with evidence.

Withoon Lianchamroon, an NGO official, alleged that the ISAAA was financed
by foreign developers of genetically modified foods to promote them.

Decision on Radical Farmer Delayed

Associated Press
Millau, FRANCE

A judge delayed a decision Friday on whether French farmer Jose Bove must
serve prison time for ransacking a McDonald's restaurant in a protest
against U.S.-driven globalization.

France's highest court recently upheld Bove's sentence of three months in
prison for using farm equipment to tear down a McDonald's under
construction in southern France in August 1999.

Jacques Chauche, a judge in the southern town of Millau, has been studying
how to apply the court's decision. On Friday, he decided to pass the case
on to the prosecutor's office in nearby Montpellier, said Bove's lawyer,
Francois Roux.

It was unclear when the prosecutor's office would make a decision.

As Bove already spent nearly three weeks in jail for the protest,
officials could order him to serve the rest of his sentence in a
supervised work release program, for example.

The militant sheep farmer says he would rather go to prison.

"I was found guilty in the French justice system, and I want to serve my
sentence," Bove said as he left the Millau courthouse, where about 3,000
supporters were gathered.

The McDonald's protest made Bove famous, and he now travels the world as
an anti-globalization leader. Earlier this week, Bove met with Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, in defiance of the Israeli soldiers who
surrounded the compound. Bove was then ordered deported by Israel.


Biotechnology can help agricultural growth

APRIL 03, 2002

LUCKNOW: Can biotechnology provide an answer to a farmerÝs prayer? While
the detractors may react, from mild unease to strong opposition, about
recombinant DNA technology and transgenic crop, CS Prakash, professor
plant molecular genetic college of agriculture, Tuskegee University, USA,
hails them as ultimate man-made miracle.

At a seminar on ŰRelevance of Biotechnology to Agriculture in IndiaÝ,
hosted by the CII on Tuesday, Prakash pleaded the cause for the need to
develop innovative value-added agricultural products to enhance the
revenue base of farming.ţ A revitalised ýIndian agriculture can be the
engine of growth for the 21st century,ţ he said and added that
ýbiotechnology can provide the needed fuel.ţ

Prakash said: ýMost experts believe that the greatest promise of
biotechnology is in its application in developing countries like India and
China because of their high reliance on agriculture, large farming areas,
low-yield crop and the urgency for food increase and economic
revitalisation. Countries like Mexico, Argentina, China and Chile,ţ he
pointed out ýhave already made considerable economic advances by
integrating biotechnology into their agricultural programmes while many
others are following close behind. India can, therefore, ignore
biotechnology only at its own peril.ţ

Recounting its positive aspects, the scientist said that it could minimise
crop damage through disease and pest-resistant varieties while reducing
the use of chemicals. ýEven the problems Indian conventional farming
faces, like blast in rice, rust in wheat, leaf rust in coffee, viruses in
tomatoes and chilies and leaf spot in groundnut can be significantly
minimised in an ecologically-friendly manner with the development of
genetically- reprogrammed seeds designed to resist these disease attacks.

ýMoreover, hazardous substances like neurotoxins in kesar dal, cynide in
tapioca, afltoxins in ground nuts and antimetabolites in chickpeas,
horsegram and sweet potatoes can be silenced effectively with the help of
biotechnology,ţ he claimed.

Later, addressing the gathering, P Pushpangdan from the NBRI, SPS Khanuja
from the CIMAP, HN Shahi from the Indian Institute of Sugarcane Research
and BS Shrivastava from the CDRI apprised the participants of their
contribution in the field. CII director Sunil Mishra said that Lucknow
with its multi-disciplinary blend of excellent facilities and expertise in
the area could be developed as a biotechnology city in times to come.

Indians Beat Monsanto At Bt Cotton Game

Financial Times Limited
April 09, 2002

The National Agriculture Research System (NARS) has developed three
varieties of Bt cotton, which will enable the farmers to recycle seeds
from crops cultivated in a season for the next season. Cotton crop can
also be made resistant to both bollworm and spodetetra pests. These seeds
are likely to be released for commercial cultivation within three years.
The Bt cotton seeds developed by multinational Monsanto being hybrids
cannot be recycled from the cultivated crops for the next season. Also,
Monsanto seeds are resistant to only American bollworm pests.

Deputy director-general of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR),
Dr Mangla Rai speaking to The Financial Express said that cry 1 (ac) and
cry 1 (ab) genes developed by Monsanto have been successfully transplanted
in three varieties of Indian cotton at the Pune-based Central Cotton
Research Institute and University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwar,
Karnataka. These transformations have been successful and protocols have
already been developed. Now seed multiplication is being taken up and
hopefully within three years, farmers will be able to use these seeds, he
said. Dr Rai said that if this venture of the Indian scientists is
successful, the farmers need not depend up on the supply of Bt cotton
seeds from a single company or agency. They will have multiple choices for
multiple seeds. The seed prices then cannot be dictated by a single

Dr Rai said that the varieties of Bt Cotton developed by Monsanto like
Mech 12, Mech 162, Mech 184 and Mech 195 are all hybrids. The seeds of
these hybrids cannot be recycled from crops after cultivation. The
scientists at NARS, therefore, thought of transplanting cry genes
developed by Monsanto on varietal cotton seeds. They have been successful
in developing three such varieties resistant to American bollworms like
the varieties developed by Monsanto. These seeds can be grown in different
regions of the country. He said that these varieties developed by NARS
scientists will help the farmers increase their productivity and recycle
seeds from cultivated crops. He said that the scientists at the New
Delhi-based Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) and National
Botanical Garden, Lucknow are workingon gene synthesis. Already three
genes of cotton have been taken up.

In one of the works, it has been demonstrated that cotton crop can be made
resistant to spodetetra pests. He said that this gene synthesis programme
is likely to be completed in five years and by that time the scientists
would be able to make Indian cotton resistant to many other pests. These
varieties would give a higher yield and would be resistant to pests as
compared to the varieties currently developed by Monsanto. Further, Dr Rai
said, if the Indian scientists were successful in gene synthesis, many
marvels will come to the fore, which would make Indian cotton resistant to
a number of pests apart from American bollworm. He said, We have entered
the era of biotechnology and transgenics and have a good pool of
scientists in the country to work out marvels. The government, therefore,
should support agricultural research through adequate flow of funds.

Philippines, Indonesia regulate GMOs

New Straits Times (Malaysia)
April 9, 2002, Tuesday
Compiled by Sarah Sabaratnam

THE Philippine government has approved guidelines regulating imports of
genetically-modified plants and plant products by July 1 next year, said
its Department of Agriculture recently.

By June 30 next year, the government would prepare a list of approved
commodities that will be allowed entry into the country. During the
transition period, its Bureau of Plant Industry will ask an independent
scientific panel to review the risks of importing GM products to health
and the environment.

Meanwhile, Indonesia also intends to issue new regulations on the
labelling of genetically-modified organism (GMO) products to ensure
consumer protection, said a senior government official recently.

New technology could change agriculture forever, scientist says at
Northern Illinois U

By Ken Lateer
Northern Illinois University

Although the word is dangerously close to the titles of cheesy science
fiction movies from the 1950s, "bioplants" may bring about a new tech boom
in the 21st century, and a leader in the industry recently brought his
knowledge to Northern Illinois University.

"We're in a new era, where genetic engineering opens the possibility to
use plants as factories of novel chemicals, and this will change the
economics of agriculture," said Robert B. Goldberg, a plant molecular
biologist at University of California-Los Angeles, at the time of his
election to the National Academy of Science.

Goldberg, an internationally known and respected expert on plant genetics
and biotechnology, gave a lecture on "Super Plants for the 21st Century"
on Thursday at Montgomery Hall. The audience was composed of about 50
students, faculty, community members and local farmers. Goldberg's
presentation included the premiere of a documentary, funded by the
American Society of Plant Biology, he and others have worked on for more
than two years. The documentary, titled "History's Harvest," will air on
the Discovery Channel sometime next fall.

During the lecture, Goldberg stressed the importance of using new
technology to breed novel kinds of plants and the importance of plant
biology to our civilization and our world.

"[It is essential] to educate the public about the history of agriculture
and where food comes from," he said. "In the next 50 years, we will have
to grow more food than in the entire history of mankind."

The reason for this massive surge is the projected population growth,
which estimates a global population of more than 10 million people.

Throughout the course of the documentary, which featured Goldberg as
narrator and interviewer, he talked with many prominent biologists who
were and are active in the so-called "Green Revolution."

The Green Revolution is credited with helping countries like India,
Pakistan and many African nations turn their food shortages into, in some
cases, surpluses. To do so, plant biologists, agricultural experts and
local farmers worked in unison to create new, more resilient plants and
teach the indigenous people to maximize fertilizer and technology in order
to feed their families and the community.

In some areas, chiefly in Europe, plant biologists and food manufacturers
recently have drawn some flack for attempting to "play God" by
manipulating nature.

However, in spite of the occasional ominous arguments spouted by anti-GMO
(an acronym used for genetically altered food products) protesters, this
manipulation of plant genetics is nothing new or dangerous, Goldberg said.

"Corn, [for example], wasn't made by nature," Goldberg said in his
documentary. "It was made by early man."

Early types of corn, such as those seen by Native Americans, were
diminutive, greenish-yellow and could not hold kernels on the cob. Only
after successfully breeding various strains could the corn actually be
planted, harvested and eaten in a productive manner. Likewise, edible
wheat "is the result of two wild grasses, selected by man for

Goldberg and other plant molecular biologists say the main difference
between what they are doing and the actions of the Native Americans
involves the level of control and knowledge. Because of the recent strides
in genomic research and biotechnology, scientists today have a better
understanding of what results their actions and research will cause.

Goldberg's documentary, "History's Harvest," will appear on the Discovery
Channel in the fall. For a free DVD of the program or for more information
on genetically modified plants, contact Robert Goldberg through e-mail at


April 6, 2002
University of Alabama at Birmingham
(Via Agnet)

Food isn't a topic most philosophers have explored, but with controversies
surrounding genetically modified (GM) foods, mad cow disease and
agricultural terrorism, today's food policy issues abound with ethical
questions. UAB bioethicist Gregory E. Pence, Ph.D., explores the issues in
his new book, "Designer Food: Mutant Harvest or Breadbasket of the World?"
Debate over GM foods stems from diverse political ideologies rather than
facts, he says. He opposes what he calls alarmist views against using GM
foods to feed the starving. Organic crops alone can't feed the planet's
population. "If a billion people suddenly only ate organic food, we'd need
six billion more cattle to produce the manure, which means cutting down
rainforests and converting parks to feed pastures."


April 5, 2002
Inter Press Services
Mario Osava
(Via Agnet)

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Fuelled by the Brazilian government's failure to enforce
a ban on genetically engineered crops, transgenic soy has, according to
this story, been smuggled over the border from Argentina, and is spreading
fast in Latin America's biggest country. A report by Liberal Party
parliamentary Deputy Ronaldo Vasconcellos was cited as saying that U.S.
agro-industry giant Monsanto's Round-up Ready (RR) soy, resistant to the
company's own broad-spectrum Round-up weedicide, is being planted in
Brazil with virtually no controls. The commercial planting of RR soy was
initially authorized by Brazil's National Technical Commission on
Biosafety in 1998. However, it was then banned by the courts after
non-governmental organizations complained about the lack of studies on the
long-term environmental and health impacts of transgenic crops, as called
for by Brazilian legislation. The story says that transgenic seeds, which
have been brought in from Argentina since 1997 or 1998, account for an
estimated 60 percent of the soy bean crop in the state of Rio Grande do
Sul -- Brazil's southernmost state -- and transgenic soy has spread north
to nearly all of the country's farming regions, according to the
information gathered by Vasconcellos. Joao Henrique Hummel, president of
the Brazilian Association of Seeds, was cited as saying that the 60
percent figure is based on the drop in sales of seeds certified to be
non-transgenic, which now account for just one-third of the soy planted in
Rio Grande do Sul. However, there is no way to prove that two-thirds of
the soy beans planted in Rio Grande do Sul are transgenic, said
Vasconcellos, who noted that disseminating exaggerated figures is actually
in the interests of sectors that want the ban on growing transgenic crops
in Brazil lifted.


In a Plant's Plentiful Genes, a Chemistry Lesson

Washington Post
By Justin Gillis
Monday, April 8, 2002; Page A07

Last week's announcement that the rice plant probably contains more genes
than a human being might have seemed mystifying. But step back a moment to
consider the harried life of a plant.

A plant has to find its nutrients wherever it happens to be. It cannot
take shelter from a storm. Some plants can deploy physical defenses, such
as nettles or bark, but most cannot. If plants had a point of view, they
would see the animals of the Earth, including people, as marauding
plunderers determined to gobble them up; plants would feel naked before
the onslaught.

Above all, plants lack a critical advantage that pretty much every animal
on the planet takes for granted.

"For animals, if it's too hot, if it's too cold, if something is about to
eat them, their general response is to leave," said Jeffrey L. Bennetzen,
a biologist at Purdue University. Plants, of course, are stuck in place.

But nature has compensated plants richly for their deficits, and therein
lies one explanation for why a rice plant might have more genes than a

The pressure of evolution has taught plants to make tens of thousands of
chemical compounds, which they use to ward off competition from other
plants, to fight infection, to respond to the environment, and to
manipulate the behavior of animals. In fact, even the lowliest weed is a
chemical factory that puts DuPont to shame.

"Plants live by chemistry," as Bennetzen put it.

The complicated evolutionary knowledge of how to make those chemicals is
encoded in the plant's genes, which are its instructions for making
proteins. Biologists say that's one explanation for why plants are turning
out to have so many genes -- they are carrying what amount to chemistry
instruction manuals in their cells.

The chemical wizardry of plants is a daily fact of human life, but people
don't often stop to think of it that way. The pungent flavor of basil, the
intoxicating aroma from a glass of wine, the spicy smell of a gardenia,
the cloying sweetness of a candy bar -- all are a testament to the ability
of plants to make a wide array of chemical compounds.

Plants do not learn from other plants in the way many animals learn
behavior from their parents, so the expertise to make all these chemicals
must be carried in the genes.

Two scientific papers published on Friday reported the first detailed
analysis of the full genetic complement, or genome, of the rice plant.
Genes are only a small portion of the total genetic material, and
scientists are still trying to fish all of them out of the mix. But they
estimate that rice has somewhere between 32,000 and 55,000 genes.

Humans are estimated to have 30,000 to 40,000 genes, so if rice finally
comes out in the midrange of estimates, it will be the first organism
shown to have more genes than a person.

It probably won't be the last. Plant geneticists say some species carry
enormous amounts of genetic material, sometimes hundreds of times as much
as a person. Even if much of that turns out to be "junk DNA," the
mysterious DNA scattered throughout a genome, it seems inevitable that
many organisms will be found to have more genes than people.

What all those genes are doing in rice is something the scientists are
still puzzling out. But the largest single group of genes identified so
far encode instructions for making enzymes, the proteins that perform
chemical reactions in plants -- strongly implying that many of the genes
in a rice plant are devoted to producing compounds that help the plant
cope with its environment.

Until the rice papers, mankind had escaped the indignity of being upstaged
on gene count by a "lower" form of life. But there have been detailed
scientific reports on only five organisms to date, and some of those came
uncomfortably close.

The tiny worm Caenorhabditis elegans, for instance, has about 19,000
genes, at least half as many as a human being -- this for a microscopic
nematode that's essentially a hollowed-out tube with a rudimentary brain.

Comparing the worm to another research organism -- Drosophila
melanogaster, the fruit fly -- points up another reason why counting genes
is starting to seem less than revealing. The fly appears to be a far more
complicated organism than the worm, with a complex body plan, a bigger
brain and some fairly elaborate behavioral patterns. Yet the fly turned
out to have fewer genes than the worm -- only about 13,000.

It has been known for years that animals generate biological complexity
that doesn't depend strictly on gene count. In at least some animals,
unlike in plants, a single gene can get sliced and diced to make
variations on a particular protein. Like a baker using one cookie cutter
but then decorating each cookie in a different way, an animal cell seems
to be able to use one gene to generate many proteins.

The new research is driving home the importance of those mechanisms,
suggesting that at most, biological complexity may be coupled to gene
count only in plants. Scientists say the old idea of a straightforward
correlation between the number of genes and an organism's complexity is on
its deathbed.

"I think it's absolutely collapsed," said Donald Kennedy, editor in chief
of Science, the journal that published the rice papers. "You don't tell an
awful lot about an organism's complexity from the number of genes that it

The new research could give scientists far more insight into the chemistry
of plants. Many thousands of plant compounds are known already, and some
of them have played storied roles in human history. In 1897, for instance,
a German chemist named Felix Hoffmann tweaked a chemical from the bark of
a willow tree and came up with the compound known as aspirin, launching
the modern pharmaceutical industry.

Plants didn't originally devise their chemicals to fill medicine chests,
of course. Typically, the compounds are evolution's way of giving the
plant a means to manipulate animals. A lot of the chemicals are aimed at
repelling animals that would otherwise eat the plant, while others are
designed to attract bees or other creatures that help a plant reproduce by
spreading pollen.

Plants often employ both strategies at once. Benjamin Burr, a biologist at
Brookhaven National Laboratory, cites the example of apricots and peaches.
These plants make delectable fruit that inspires animals to chomp away.
Evolution wants the animal to tote the fruit -- and the seed inside --
some distance from the parent plant, but it does not want the animal to
eat the seed. So the pits of these fruits contain a compound that breaks
down, in an animal's body, into a familiar poison.

"If you eat apricot or peach pits, you can poison yourself with cyanide,"
Burr said.

Scientists know of many examples of this kind of chemistry, but they
assume far more are waiting to be discovered. They expect the gene maps
now being unveiled to give them powerful new insights into the chemical
wizardry of plants -- perhaps turning up new drugs or industrial compounds
in the process.