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 12, 2004


Converting Europe; Protectionism, Not Science; Preventing Fatal Birth Defects with Bt Corn; Introducing GM into Crop Centers of Origin; Biotech Myths and Facts


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - April 13, 2004:

* Is Europe a Continent of Old Cultures and Ancient Superstitions?
* Protectionism Influences Refusal to Use GM Foods
* New Technology Always Met With Fear
* Gene Silencing Creates Hypoallergenic Plants
* Evaluation of Bt Corn on Mouse Testicular Development
* Global Challenges and Directions for Ag Biotech: Mapping the Course
* Corn Fungus Linked to Fatal Birth Defect
* Academies Provide Free Scientific Information to Poor Nations
* Can GM Crops be Introduced Into Crop Centers of Origin and Diversity?
* Forum on Science and Technology Policy
* Communication to Policy-Makers, Researchers, and End Users
* Plant Biotechnology Myths and Facts


Is Europe a Continent of Old Cultures and Ancient Superstitions?

- David Petch - Comment on "Truth about trade and technology"

I think Dean Kleckner (Agbioview, April 10) is being a bit unfair on our European forbears when he says that the recent heavily circumscribed decision by the British Government to allow the planting of GM corn demonstrated "Europe is a continent of old cultures and aging demographics - and its views on science and technology unfortunately belong in another century."

Had the opportunities of biotechnology been available to the European population and political leadership of 1954 or even 1904 it would have been viewed with an enthusiasm and a maturity that seem beyond their descendants. In a sense the faults of the European establishment are worse than those Dean Kleckner describes. It is not that Europeans cannot free themselves from the shackles of ancient superstitions. It is rather that, having given birth to the scientific revolution and gained mightily from its technological fruits, we seem determined to retreat, disown the cause of our success and seek comfort in stasis, sentimental pantheism and timidity bolstered by pettifogging regulation.

Bayer CropSciences decision not to go ahead with the sale of the GM corn is sad but understandable. The thought that cheers me is that Western Europe cannot dictate to the world on this issue. The salvation for the biotech companies, and indeed for us all, could lie in making converts to GM elsewhere. The process is well underway in America, north and south. Prospects are good in India and China.

The struggle to disperse ignorance and prejudice in Europe must not cease, many of the indigenous scientific community will continue their work from within, but if scientific argument cannot prevail then example often will. The day that all hotels from Baltimore through Bangalore to Beijing refuse to offer the pernickety European traveller a guarantee that the breakfast cereal is 'GM-free' will be the day when the European wakes up to the folly of his ways. Let us hope we do not have to wait that long!


Protectionism Influences Refusal to Use GM Foods

- John Bamberger, The Wall Street Journal (Letter) 08-Apr-2004

Your April 2 editorial on Angola's refusal to accept genetically modified crops is very disturbing. The same European countries that "recommend" to these starving countries to not accept GM grain or seed contributions is not based on science but on protectionism.

European companies such as Syngenta, Bayer Crop Science, BASF, Lima Grain Genetics, etc., have been doing wonderful seed research projects with great potential to mankind, including genetic modification, right here in the U.S., for dozens of years, So why would they do this if GMs are dangerous? Protectionism: Monsanto Co. was the first to market with GM foods and the European companies fell behind and then started the Frankenfood scare tactics to play catch-up.

As a supplier to seed research companies, universities and traditional plant breeders around the world, I have firsthand knowledge of the extent of these programs and their potential to help starving countries around the world. Now that several plants' DNA has been mapped, the future of grain production is amazing: drought resistant plants and freeze resistance plants are currently being developed. Imagine grains grown almost anywhere.


New Technology Always Met With Fear

- The Advertiser (Adelaide), Letter, April 12, 2004

Regarding the article "GM crops debate is harvest of confusion", by Phillip Killicoat (The Advertiser, 9/4/04), adoption of new technologies in any area is always met with fear, particularly by the less informed. Agriculture is no different.

The reality is that the longer Australia takes to adopt GM technology, the more likely it is that farmers in Australia will not be able to be cost-competitive with the rest of the world. Non-adoption potentially threatens our largest exports.

Some farmers are worried that if they adopt GM crops, then the rest of the world might view this negatively. In fact, it is likely that the opposite will occur. Recent work has shown that adoption of GM crops actually increases export trade.

Reductions in pesticides and herbicides, drought resistance and higher production are all features which GM technology can offer. In Australia's marginal rural landscape, this surely is technology which deserves a more positive approach. Perhaps a way to increase the public's knowledge about GM is to publish more articles such as Phillip's.

-- Michael Gilbert, Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics Pty Ltd, Adelaide.

Phillip Killicoat's article on GM crops was interesting. He advances a compelling argument for genetically modified crops. What he does not say is that for the human species to survive and continue to evolve, we must develop more technology to replace that which is no longer effective - antibiotics as an example.

In the future, modified crops will need even more modification to combat the pestilence and diseases that will no doubt overtake us. We will eventually lose this race and the population, estimated to be nine billion by 2050, will suffer massive and uncontrollable decline all the way back to the Stone Age.

However, Phillip does define the moment in time when our species began its decline - "ever since humans moved away from hunter-gatherer subsistence".

-- Rob Horne, Meadows.


Can GM Crops be Introduced Into Crop Centers of Origin and Diversity?

Note from Prakash: Often the argument that 'GM crops harm biodiversity in crop centers of origin' has been invoked to deny the fruits of this technology to developing countries. As most crops have evolved in the Third World, the greatest diversity is found in those regions including land races and wild relatives. Thus, the argument against introducing GM crops there becomes very emotional as it has happened with the Mexican corn.

One must thus look into the facts and reason as articulated in the commentary below with rice and cotton. Each crop, trait and region must be examined on a case-by-case basis. We have grown 'dwarf' rice is Asia for four decades, and is there any short statured types found yet in the wild species of rice yet? Genes do not hop out of GM crops any more than those from traditional varieties, and many GM traits are 'domestic' types with little value in the wild. Introduction of GM crops into the centers of their origin would have minimal or no conceivable impact on the biodiversity in most instances, and in fact may save valuable wild species ex situ by reducing agricultural encroachment into the wild ecosystem.

Introduction of GM Crops Into Crop Centers of Origin and Diversity

- C Kameswara Rao and S Shantharam, Special to AgBioView, April 13, 2004. http://www.agbioworld.org

Critics of the use of GM technology for crop improvement argue that the introduction of transgenic (GM) varieties into the Centres of Origin (CO) and/or Centres of Diversity (CD) of the concerned crop plants would eliminate the existing diversity and impoverish natural genetic resources. This is scare mongering that has now become an emotional and sentimental issue of serious proportions, but is bereft of any rationality, with science being paid a Nelson’s eye.

There is certainly a possibility of transgenics and their wild or
cultivated relatives inter-crossing in nature. Since this is a very
broad generalization, only a crop-wise and region-wise scientific evaluation of possible events and their consequences should guide our decisions and not rhetoric.

Centres of Origin of cultivated plants are identified on the basis of the number and diversity of wild species as well as the number of endemic species of the concerned genus in a given region, while the Centres of Diversity are recognized on the basis of the number and diversity of different varieties, wild and cultivated, of the species. The Centres of Origin and Centres of Diversity of crop plants as known to us are largely based on circumstantial evidence. In the cases of crops that are extensively cultivated over wide geographical ranges, a large number of new varieties were continuously developed, involving a large number of parents, making the issues virtually intangible. For example, IR-64 rice appears to have had more than 100 parents, with consequent extensive genomic rearrangements, some natural and the others induced.

It is often forgotten that species are placed in the same genus based on various taxonomic criteria and this does not necessarily mean that all the species in a genus are genetically related to each other. Genetic relationship of species and varieties should be determined on the basis of the degree of crossability. For species to interbreed producing fertile offspring with ease, their genomes should be compatible. Such considerations did not enter the early taxonomic treatments or the current criticism.

For various natural causes, the number/diversity of species/varieties in the CO may dwindle in time while the same species/varieties may be very successful in their new homes, which are not the CO. Hence CO and CD need not necessarily be the same. It is not a settled issue that India is a CO of rice while it is certainly a CD. So far as cotton is concerned it is neither a CO nor a natural CD.

Desired genes from the gene pools of crop plants need not be sourced from
living plants from the CO or CD. They may come from anywhere, such as
collections in research institutes, gene banks, pollen banks or such ex situ sources. The seed in various collections may not be viable after a time, but with the deployment of techniques of molecular biology, any
gene(s) from any source can now be isolated and utilized.

Distinctness of species and varieties is maintained in nature by the operation of reproductive barriers in various forms. If all species, even of the same genus, can intercross freely in nature, we would not have had so many wild species considered as related to the cultivated species. Varieties of a crop plant species may cross with each other in a greater frequency than species, but even this is not of such a common occurrence. Farmers have maintained the distinctness of varieties crops, of even those that interbreed freely in nature. Cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels' sprouts, broccoli and knoll-kohl are taxonomic varieties of the same species Brassica oleracea. Grown in the proximity of each other and unattended, these crops freely interbreed and lose their identity in a few generations, because they are not reproductively isolated from each other.
For over a couple of centuries, farmers have maintained distinct, not just these five crops, but several cultivars under each of them, which is not an easy task. Most other crop plant species do not pose similar difficulties.

If natural hybridization is a rare event, it is proportionately difficult under experimental conditions. It was estimated that it needed over 100,000 artificial crosses performed by several research groups over several decades, before a successful hybrid between Raphanus and Brassica was produced. It involved a dogged pursuit of over 100 years to produce a fertile Triticale by a very large number of plant breeders.

It is possible that there may be a few instances of natural hybridization
in otherwise non-crossing species. But a few chance hybridizations do
not mean anything unless the hybrids produce fertile offspring from the first generation onwards, and can back- cross. Even after such introgression, unless the new characters have an adaptive value, the new gene combinations do not survive in nature. Alternatively, plant breeders should select them for their agronomic or economic potential. Actually this was what has happened before artificial means of crop improvement were developed.

If transgenic varieties hybridize with their wild or cultivated relatives in nature, the frequency of such events cannot be more than what has been happening in nature, before the introduction of transgenics into the environment. It is an absurd contention that transgenes enhance the promiscuity of crop plants.

Since rice and cotton crops are often at the forefront of arguments against the introduction of transgenics of these crops into the environment through commercial cultivation, more particularly into areas supposed to be rich in diversity, issues related to these two crops are discussed here.

Of about 25 species in Oryza, the following species have genomes designated AA, similar to that of Oryza sativa, the cultivated species (the additional areas of distribution are given in parenthesis):

Tropical Australia: Oryza meridionalis (AA) Endemic; Oryza rufipogon (AA) (Tropical Asia) Tropical Asia: Oryza nivara (AA) (India); Oryza rufipogon (AA)
India: Oryza nivara (AA) (Tropical Asia); Oryza rufipogon (AA)
Tropical Africa: Oryza barthii (AA) Endemic; Oryza longistaminata (AA) Endemic West Africa: Oryza glaberrima (AA) Endemic? Central and South America: Oryza glumaepatula (AA) Endemic

While considering the introduction of rice transgenics into a particular area, reliable data on the accurate distribution of these species are essential. Several of these species are endemics and so are of concern only in the respective regions.

The following is a set of results of experimental inter-specific hybridization in Oryza, with the percentage of seed set given in parenthesis. The species listed are pollinators while the cultivated Oryza sativa was the female parent.

1. Oryza sativa complex (genome AA; diploids); Oryza nivara (9.1 to 56.7); Oryza rufipogon (18.5 to 73.0)*; Oryza glaberrima (29.5 to 56.7) 2. Oryza mayeriana complex (genome not designated; diploids); Oryza mayeriana ssp. granulata (zero)* 3. Oryza ridleyi complex (genome not designated; tetraploids) ; Oryza ridleyi (0.0 to 7.7)*
4. Oryza officinalis complex (diploids); Oryza officinalis (CC; 5.9 to
17.3)*; Oryza australiensis (EE;0.5 to 3.8)*; Oryza latifolia (CCDD; 0 to 25)*; Oryza grandiglumis (CCDD; 6.7)* 5. Not in any complex Oryza brachyantha (FF; 0 to 1.1)*

*Embryo rescue techniques were needed for the recovery of seed of these crosses. No data are available on the viability of this first generation seed and on the subsequent generations.

Only Oryza nivara and Oryza rufipogon have produced hybrids with Oryza
sativa, with seed set of any significance. Interspecific hybridization
between the cultivated and wild species does not seem to occur in nature.
Hybrids of Oryza sativa with species even in the same genome group are highly sterile and may require embryo rescue. Such hybrids cannot survive in nature.

For the following reasons the impact of the introduction of new rice varieties in the CDs of rice is manageable, with a few precautions in

1. Commercial varieties of Oryza sativa are neither normally sympatric nor naturally panmictic with the wild species of Oryza.

2. Rice is a predominantly self-pollinated crop. The viability of rice pollen is only for about five minutes and the receptivity of the stigma is about 20 minutes, though the florets may remain open for over an hour.
The distance of horizontal dispersion pollen is short, about six to seven meters. Even if it is 100 meters, a mere dispersion of pollen, if they are not viable, is of no consequence.

3. Data on the distribution of the wild species are generally vague. Generalized descriptions as 'South India' or 'Tropical Asia' or 'Central America', are misleading. The wild species have a pronounced disjunct distribution and appear and disappear, in the same area, time and again.
Even within a particular country, precise data on the distribution of the wild species are needed. For example, in India, the distribution of Oryza meyeriana is given as 'Southern, Eastern and North Eastern India'. but the species occurs only in small isolated pockets and not throughout these regions. The introduction of new varieties needs to be done cautiously only in the pockets of the occurrence wild relatives. Even then, a separation distance of 20 meters eliminates the chances of contamination and even 10 meters makes it unlikely.

4. Planting a refuge of some species which are taller the than the rice plants, around the field of the transgenic variety will provide a pollen screen. If these species are of some of economic importance (such as green manure), the farmer derives an additional benefit. Since rice grows in waterlogged conditions for most part, a non-rice refuge within the rice field is not a workable proposition.

5. The spread of the introduced genes requires positive selection
potential in the hybrid background. Granting this, genes for nutritional
enhancement such as _-carotene, iron and others, do not cause any adverse impact on the environment. Genes for herbicide tolerance operate only when triggered by the herbicide. Since rice plants cannot hybridize with any other grass species, introduction of transgenes for herbicide tolerance, abiotic stress such as salt, drought, shade and flood tolerance, are not of any appreciable consequence. Rice is a very delicate crop requiring great care. Even if any of these genes get incorporated into other varieties of rice, the chances of survival of these hybrid swarms and the consequences of that event cannot be alarming. Transgenics with such genes are any way meant for introduction in small areas.

6. It is actually necessary to bring transgenic (GM) varieties of rice into large-scale cultivation in order to understand the probable problems and to device mechanisms to contain them. The problems, if any, are easily taken care of, if the impact of the new varieties is evaluated case-by-case, region-wise.

7. To a naturally possible extent, commercial varieties of rice have been exchanging genes among themselves and with the wild species of Oryza all along and there is no evidence of the hybrids surviving to any considerable extent or of having any significant impact on the environment.

8. In conclusion, while caution should certainly be the watch word, there
are no alarming possibilities that warrant a blanket ban on the introduction of transgenic (GM) rice for commercial cultivation..

Since 1890, when the first hybrids of cotton with superior qualities were produced, cotton breeders have put in enormous efforts and time to continuously develop inter-specific and inter-varietal hybrids, with the result the current cultivated cottons cannot be ascribed to any taxonomic species. They never existed in nature as they are synthetic and have not evolved through natural means.

Species of Gossypium and cultivated cotton are only rarely sympatric. In India, the only wild species is Gossypium stocksii, a migrant from the Middle East, which occurs in North Western Gujarat, where cotton is not cultivated.

Cotton pollen are among the heaviest in the angiosperms, with about 70 per cent of hydration. They are spinescent, sticky and tend to clump. This and the structure of the cotton flower make it extremely difficult for the cotton pollen to be wind borne. Cotton being a self- pollinated crop, the chances for cross-pollination are quite low. The refuge takes care of any pollen drift.

The most prominent and controversial transgenes in cotton are the Bt genes for pest resistance. Natural hybrids between species of Gossypium and cultivated cotton varieties are not a common event. There can be some small degree of hybridization between the transgenic and the cultivated cotton varieties, but this cannot be more than what has been happening in nature, among the cotton varieties, all the time. Even in such a rare event, even if the Bt gene is transferred to another variety of cultivated cotton, how can the consequences be catastrophic? In fact, such an event amounts to a free transfer of expensive and time-consuming technology without the burden of the regulatory process. If we are innovative we can make the best use of the situation.

The scientists should provide information to answer the arguments against introduction of transgenics into CO and CD. Otherwise, the public would get misled and avoidable opposition, based in ignorance and/or misinformation, builds up.

C Kameswara Rao is at Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India; krao@vsnl.com; and S Shantharam is at Biologistics International, Ellicott City, MD, USA; sshantharam@biologistics.us


Gene Silencing Creates Hypoallergenic Plants

- Drug Week, April 9, 2004 http://www.NewsRx.net

According to a study from Australia, "pollen of many grasses, trees, and weeds are the source of inhalant allergic proteins while various other plant products are allergenic only upon their ingestion as a food source. Allergenic proteins of pollen are exposed to human immune system after their rapid release from pollen upon coming in contact with moist surface of nasal mucosa. The advent of molecular cloning and ability to genetically transform plants now offer unprecedented opportunities to produce hypoallergenic plants by targeted switching off allergen production."

"Gene silencing strategies that operate at post-transcriptional level are highly suitable for blocking allergen production. We have demonstrated the concept of allergen gene silencing through antisense approach by producing ryegrass plants that do not produce major allergen in its pollen. Our results show the potential of antisense approach in reducing the allergenic potential of plants," according to P.L. Bhalla and colleagues, University of Melbourne, Institute of Land &  Food Resources.

"Such a strategy can have a general applicability for production of transgenic plants depleted of both inhaled and ingested allergens. In addition, such an approach could also help in elucidating the in vivo function of allergen(s) in plants and contribution of an allergen to overall allergenic potential of an allergen source," researchers predicted. Bhalla and colleagues published their study in Methods (Knocking out expression of plant allergen genes. Methods, 2004;32(3):340-345).


Evaluation of Bt Corn on Mouse Testicular Development by Dual Parameter Flow Cytometry

- Denise G. Brake, Robert Thaler, and Donald P. Evenson*J. Agric. Food Chem., 52 (7), 2097 -2102, 2004. (Forwarded by Sonny Ramaswamy)

The health safety of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) corn (Zea mays L.) was studied using mouse testes as a sensitive biomonitor of potential toxic effects. Pregnant mice were fed a Bt corn or a nontransgenic
(conventional) diet during gestation and lactation. After they were weaned, young male mice were maintained on the respective diets. At 8, 16, 26, 32, 63, and 87 days after birth, three male mice and an adult reference mouse were killed, the testes were surgically removed, and the percentage of germ cell populations was measured by flow cytometry. Multigenerational studies were conducted in the same manner.

There were no apparent differences in percentages of testicular cell populations (haploid, diploid, and tetraploid) between the mice fed the Bt corn diet and those fed the conventional diet. Because of the high rate of cell proliferation and extensive differentiation that makes testicular germ cells highly susceptible to some toxic agents, it was concluded that the Bt corn diet had no measurable or observable effect on fetal, postnatal, pubertal, or adult testicular development.

If data from this study were extrapolated to humans, Bt corn is not harmful to human reproductive development.


Global Challenges and Directions for Agricultural Biotechnology: Mapping the Course

- National Academy of Sciences, USA; http://dels.nas.edu/banr/internat.html

Discussions and debates about the use of agricultural biotechnology have centered around questions of what agricultural biotechnology is doing and what it can do. There have been few reflections on the greatest societal problems and how this technology might address them. New thinking and approaches are needed to move society in a direction where agricultural biotechnology is safely and equitably applied to the most important global challenges. To this end, the National Academies’ Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology, Health, and the Environment (CABHE) proposes to convene a workshop to address the question, what should agricultural biotechnology do? In asking this question, the committee would like to spark a research and development agenda that caters to the needs of society and focuses on goals such as achieving food security, preserving biodiversity, conserving natural resources, and improving the health of populations. It is in this context that the workshop would identify the important needs of the developing world and address if /how agricultural biotechnology can contribute to meeting these needs.

There are also few discussions that put agricultural biotechnology into a larger socioeconomic and political context. Technology does not exist in a vacuum, and agricultural biotechnology is only one of many potential tools for solving global challenges. Technology must not be thought of as a cure-all, but rather a resource which should complement the context in which it is applied. Issues surrounding agricultural biotechnology are controversial, and there is a need to proceed cautiously and inclusively in order to maximize the benefits and minimize the potential risks and socioeconomic concerns associated with its use. In light of this, the proposed workshop will also identify the potential shortcomings, pitfalls, and impacts of using agricultural biotechnology in the developing world and the numerous other technological, social and political elements that need to accompany it on the road to building solutions.

Opinions and ideas from people in developing countries will form the cornerstone of the workshop agenda. Several months prior to the workshop several mechanisms, including an electronic request for input, will be used to reach stakeholders and experts who would not typically have direct input into National Academies activities, particularly those close to agriculture in developing countries. These experts and stakeholders will be asked to identify important global challenges without regard to what agricultural biotechnology can currently do, but with regard to what it should do in the future. Approximately five ideas from this forum will be chosen as case studies for a large public workshop. The workshop will bring together social scientists, biologists, other experts, and stakeholders to discuss the case studies and whether agricultural biotechnology could and/or should be applied to the associated problems. If its use seems appropriate, the group will identify a path for implementation, which considers both the research and development needs and the broader socioeconomic and political contexts.

A CABHE ad hoc steering committee will oversee the process of contacting stakeholder and experts; use their input to determine the global challenges; and plan the large public workshop. The committee will publish a report which summarizes the workshop and highlights key paths for applying agricultural biotechnology to important global problems.

Your input needed at http://dels.nas.edu/global_challenges/


The National Academies Provide Free Scientific Information to Developing Nations


WASHINGTON – The National Academies now offer free online access in more than 100 developing countries to the reports of the Academies, as well as to journal articles from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The goal is to help developing countries tackle challenges such as disease, hunger, and economic transition with enhanced scientific knowledge.

"Elevating global science and technology capacity is critical because of a growing gap between industrialized nations and the developing world in the formation and use of new technologies," said Bruce Alberts, president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. "As industrialized nations with financial resources and a trained scientific work force exploit new knowledge and technologies more intensively, developing countries that lag in S&T capacity fall further and further behind."

This National Academies initiative stems from heightened interest among scientists around the world in the institution's work and in scientific and technical information in general. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences is a member of the InterAcademy Panel (IAP), a worldwide network of 90 science academies that counsel governments and everyday citizens on major global issues such as sustainable development and infectious disease. The IAP has identified equitable access to scientific information and bridging the "digital divide" as major priorities. And it designated April as the time to begin setting and implementing national science agendas that were recommended in a major report issued by the IAP's InterAcademy Council in February at the United Nations. The report, Inventing a Better Future: A Strategy for Building Worldwide Capacities in Science and Technology, is available online at <http://www.interacademycouncil.net/streport>.

Since January 2002, PNAS has offered developing countries free online access to the research articles, commentaries, and reviews published in the journal, which are now available free of charge in more than 130 countries, listed at <http://www.pnas.org/misc/faq.shtml#developing>. This access allows international scholars and others to benefit from this scientific information immediately.

The National Academies Press (NAP) now allows readers in most developing countries to obtain Academies reports free from the NAP Web site in portable document format (PDF). Eligible nations are listed at <http://www.nap.edu/info/faq dc pdf.html>. In the first two months of this year, NAP gave away 15,600 books and 6,500 individual chapters to people in these nations. In addition, NAP's site will soon feature special "subject portals" on topics such as drought and water sciences, which are of particular interest in the developing world.


Corn Fungus Linked to Fatal Birth Defect

'Eating habits heighten risk for Hispanics, researchers say'

- David Wahlberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 2, 2004. Full article at http://www.ajc.com/health/content/health/0404/02fungus.html

A toxin in a fungus that grows on corn could cause fatal birth defects, researchers say, by interfering with folic acid, the vitamin recommended to pregnant women to prevent such birth defects. The toxin, fumonisin, already is known to cause brain and lung diseases in horses and pigs. In a report published today in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers -- including some from Georgia -- say fumonisin could be a cause of neural tube defects in humans.

Fumonisin in corn tortillas could explain a cluster of neural tube defects in 33 Hispanic babies born in 1990-91 in Brownsville, Texas, the researchers say. A lawsuit alleging that air pollution caused the widely publicized problems -- which occurred at a rate triple the national average at the time -- led in 1995 to a $17 million settlement with dozens of companies that operated factories near the Texas-Mexico border town.

Bt Corn Produces Healthier Crops for Humans and Animals

'Studies show biotech corn is less susceptible to harmful molds'

Biotech corn may actually be safer to eat than conventional varieties - particularly in some developing countries - because it has built-in protection against insect pests that burrow into corn kernels, creating conditions for a mold to develop that can be harmful to both humans and animals.

"There is now clear evidence that food and feed products from Bt corn are often safer than the corresponding products from conventional corn because of lower levels of the mycotoxin fumonisin," according to a November 2003 report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).1

Fumonisin is produced when insects burrow into corn stalks and kernels, allowing fungi to enter and produce harmful mold. While mycotoxin levels are closely monitored in the industrial world, they are not monitored in many developing countries in the tropics where the threat from fungal infection is greatest.

"Minimizing insect damage through Bt corn has significantly reduced concentrations of fumonisin in food and feed," said Clive James, the author of the report from ISAAA, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help alleviate hunger and poverty by sharing crop biotechnology applications. "This is a major benefit in developing countries where levels of the harmful mold are higher in food and feed and where corn is directly used as food by a significant portion of the population."

A number of independent studies have confirmed that Bt corn - enhanced with a naturally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, that wards off insect pests - has significantly lower fumonisin levels:

* A 2000 study by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service found that fumonisin levels were between 30 and 40 times lower in Illinois Bt corn
fields than in those planted with traditional varieties.

* A 1999 Iowa State University study found a "significant" lowering of fumonisin levels in Bt corn over conventional varieties. "Our results indicate that under some conditions, genetic engineering of maize for insect resistance may enhance its safety for animal and human consumption," said the study's lead researcher, Gary Munkvold. 3 "Lower mycotoxin concentrations in Bt corn hybrids clearly represent a benefit to consumers."

* "Bt corn is protected against damage from corn borers and consistently has 90 percent less fumonisin than conventional plants," said a 2000 report from the American Academy of Microbiology titled, 100 Years of Bacillus Thuringiensis: A Critical Scientific Assessment. "Thus, protection against insect damage and subsequent fungal infection may have important health implications for consumers and farm animals exposed to fumonisins in their diet."       

High levels of fumonisin can cause liver and kidney damage in many animals, and fumonisin is believed to be a human carcinogen. While human food safety from high fumonisin levels are generally not considered a major problem in the developed world, it is a more serious health issue where insect infestation levels are high and corn is a staple for human survival.

More at http://www.whybiotech.com/index.asp?id=4213


AAAS 29th Annual Forum on Science and Technology Policy

- April 22-23, 2004; Washington, DC http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/forum.htm

A Forum for discussion and debate about budget and other policy issues facing the S&T community. Since its beginning in 1976 it has grown into an annual institution that draws nearly 500 of the nation's top science and technology experts. The Forum has established itself as the major public meeting in the U.S. on science and technology policy issues.

Science and Technology in Context: An Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference

- April 23-25, 2004; AAAS Headquarters, 1200 New York Ave., Washington DC

This annual conference provides a forum for ideas on theory and application of science and technology. In addition to scholarly presentations, the conference will include a science policy career workshop, keynote addresses, a career fair, and a session on underrepresented groups in the sciences. All those interested in science, engineering, and technology policy are encouraged to attend. This event is open to the public and free of charge. For information, visit: http://www.gwu.edu/~cistp/stglobal


Communication to Policy-Makers, Researchers, and End Users

- Overseas Development Institute, United Kingdom http://www.odi.org.uk/RAPID/Projects/R0163/Communications/Comms_review_03.html

Based on a literature review of the issues surrounding the communication of research with the objective of influencing policy, this page on the recommendations from the review offer a useful overview on how researchers can be more effective at communicating with policy makers. There are also some interesting points on the research needs of developing countries embedded in the recommendations report under 'Communication of research to researchers'.

Written for the Overseas Development Institute's website, the literature review looked at the dominant views in the literature regarding the communication of research to policy-makers, other researchers, and end users. The science in the piece focuses mainly on the alleviation of poverty. (via scidev.net)


Plant Biotechnology Myths and Facts


* Myth: There are no biotech food products currently on the market.
- Fact: Today, it is estimated that at least 70 percent of processed foods on grocery store shelves contain ingredients and oils from biotech crops. Biotech crops were first commercially grown in the United States in 1996. The most popular biotech crops are corn, soybean, cotton and canola.

* Myth: Biotech foods are unsafe to eat.
- Fact: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that biotech foods and crops are as safe as their non-biotech counterparts. The American Medical Association and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences have also declared biotech foods safe for human and animal consumption. In addition, since being introduced to U.S. markets in 1996, not a single person or animal has become sick from eating biotech foods.

* Myth: Biotech foods taste different than foods made from conventional crops.
- Fact: Biotech foods taste exactly the same as regular foods and organic foods. Studies have shown that they do not taste any different, appear any different, nor affect the human body differently.

* Myth: Organic or conventional crops are more nutritious or safer than biotech crops.
- Fact: Organic and conventionally grown foods are nutritionally exactly the same as biotech crops. In the future, biotech crops may be even more nutritious. Scientists are working to develop biotech crops that may actually be more nutritious and healthy than conventional and organic crops. For instance, rice has been developed with higher levels of Vitamin A, and future biotech soybeans may produce lower levels of trans fats. Also, researchers are working to develop allergy-free peanuts and soybeans which will benefit up to seven million Americans who suffer from food allergies.

* Myth: Biotech foods are not regulated or tested.
- Fact: Biotech crops and their food products are extensively regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Biotech crops undergo intense regulatory scrutiny from their growth in the fields to their delivery in the marketplace to ensure that they are safe for consumption and do not pose any environmental hazards. Testing of biotech crops before they are introduced to market generally takes about 6-12 years at a cost of $6-12 million.

* Myth: Meat, milk and eggs from livestock and poultry fed biotech feed products are not as safe as similar products from livestock and poultry fed conventionally produced feed.
- Fact: Animal feed is often made from biotech crops, and the livestock and poultry that eat these feeds are not affected in any way by the biotech foods. The meat, milk and egg products from these farm animals are exactly the same as those from animals eating conventional feed products.

In fact, livestock and poultry can actually benefit from feeds made from biotech crops. Some biotech feeds are nutritionally enhanced with added amino acids and hormones that improve animal size, productivity and growth. Other biotech feeds can increase digestibility.

Biotech feeds also have a positive impact on the environment. Livestock producers are challenged with identifying how to dispose of more than 160 million metric tons of manure annually. Animal manure, especially that of swine and poultry, is high in nitrogen and phosphorus, which can contribute to surface and groundwater pollution. Several biotech feeds decrease phosphorus and nitrogen excretion, total manure excretion and offensive odors.

* Myth: The United States does not require labeling of biotech foods.
- Fact: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a labeling policy that requires biotech foods to be labeled as such if the product is significantly changed nutritionally or uses material from a potential allergen. In other words, if a biotech product is nutritionally the same as a non-biotech product, there is no requirement for labels. However, if a biotech product uses a gene from a peanut, which is a known potential allergen, then it must be labeled. Today, the majority of biotech products in the marketplace are not labeled as such since they are nutritionally equivalent and are not derived from known allergens.

* Myth: Biotech foods and crops are not widely accepted.
- Fact: Biotech crops and their food products are accepted virtually worldwide. In fact, in 2003, biotech crops were grown on more than 167 million acres in 18 countries. Since they were first grown commercially in 1996, biotech crop acreage has increased 40-fold. In the United States, 81 percent of soybeans grown are biotech; 73 percent of cotton is biotech and 40 percent of corn is biotech. While the United States grew 105 million acres of biotech crops in 2003, Argentina and Canada each grew more than 10 million acres of biotech crops that same year; China and Brazil each grew more than 5 million acres of biotech crops in 2003.

* Myth: Biotech crops negatively affect the environment.
- Fact: The environment actually significantly benefits from biotech crops. Pest-resistant and herbicide-resistant biotech varieties reduce the need for pesticides and enable farmers to use low toxicity herbicides. Studies have found that biotech crops that ward off diseases and pests have reduced farmer's pesticide use by 46 million pounds annually. Crops improved through biotechnology can actually help the environment by improving habitats for birds and other wildlife, and by enabling farmers to reduce the consumption of fuel and greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers have found that the use of biotech crops can reduce the need for plowing to control weeds, which leads to better conservation of soil and water and a decrease in soil erosion and compaction.

Biotechnology is also being used to help the forestry industry develop trees that are resistant to deadly diseases, and in some cases, biotech trees are planted for use in programs that help combat the greenhouse effect.

* Myth: Biotech crops are harmful to monarch butterflies.
- Fact: In 1999, biotech opponents publicized the results of a Cornell University study that found, in a laboratory setting, that monarch larvae could be harmed if they ate large amounts of pollen from certain biotech corn varieties. In subsequent comprehensive studies, it has been found that biotech corn does not threaten the overall health and well-being of monarch butterflies.

Two major reports published in 2001 demonstrated that the research presented by John Losey on monarch butterflies is irrelevant to conditions faced by butterflies in the real world. Both the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that biotech corn does not harm monarch butterfly populations in the field. They also found that monarch butterflies can actually benefit from biotech corn; planting biotech varieties can reduce the use of broad spectrum pesticides which would otherwise harm exposed butterflies and other insects.

* Myth: Biotech crops increase food allergies.
- Fact: There is no evidence that biotech crops increase food allergies; in fact, researchers are working to develop biotech foods that are allergy-free.

* Myth: Using biotechnology to improve plants is not natural.
- Fact: Since the Stone Age, farmers have been using breeding techniques to genetically modify crops to improve quality and yield. Modern biotechnology is the most recent in a long list of tools, including selective breeding, hybridization and crossbreeding. In fact, biotechnology is the most efficient and cost effective method available for plant breeders. The use of biotechnology in plants is simply another step in the evolution of plant breeding techniques.

* Myth: Growing drugs in plants is dangerous - pretty soon there will be drugs in our cereal.
- Fact: Biotech plants that produce proteins for biotech drugs (also known as "plant-made pharmaceuticals" or PMPs) are carefully monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and are grown under very strict confinement requirements that ensure that they do not commingle with crops that are used for food or feed. Additionally, farm equipment that is used for these types of plants cannot be used for any food or feed crops. Federal regulations are designed to prevent protein-producing plants from crossing paths with crops used for food and feed production making it highly unlikely for "drugs" to appear in cereal.

* Myth: Biotech foods can't feed the world.
- Fact: In actuality, biotech foods alone can't feed the world - poverty and starvation are issues rooted in socio-political problems. However when combined with other modern farming techniques, agricultural biotechnology can be an essential tool to combating world hunger.

* Myth: Biotech crops will cause "superweeds" to develop.
- Fact: Biotech opponents have promoted the concept of "superweeds" which could supposedly form by taking on herbicide-resistant characteristics of biotech crops growing in the same field. These "superweeds" will supposedly grow out of control and be resistant to weed killers. The reality is, few crops have the ability to transmit traits of any sort to nearby weedy relatives. In cases where this can and does take place, the resulting weeds resistant to the herbicide used with the biotech crop remain controllable with many other herbicides and a variety of intercropping and cultivation techniques. Far from being unique, or even particularly problematic with crops improved through biotechnology, this is a well known phenomenon that farmers have a long history of managing successfully.

* Myth: The only people who benefit from biotech plants are the agricultural companies who develop and sell the seeds. There's no real benefit to consumers and farmers.
- Fact: Farmers, consumers and the environment all benefit from plant biotechnology. More than seven million farmers worldwide have discovered the agronomic, economic, environmental and social benefits of biotech plants - including nearly 6 million farmers in developing countries. These resource-poor farmers have found that biotech plants can offer more comprehensive and cost-effective weed and pest control and higher outputs.

Pest-resistant and herbicide-resistant biotech varieties reduce the need for pesticides and enable farmers to use low toxicity herbicides. Studies have found that biotech crops that ward off diseases and pests have reduced farmer's costs significantly by eliminating 46 million pounds of pesticides per year, improving farmers' incomes by $1.2 billion per year. Farmers have found that the use of biotech crops can reduce the need for plowing to control weeds, which leads to better conservation of soil and water and a decrease in soil erosion and compaction.

Today, consumers benefit from biotech plants in many ways - one of which is simply the existence of some foods that, without biotechnology, would have become extinct. In the late 1990s, papayas were threatened with extinction by the ringspot virus. A new variety of biotech papaya that is resistant to this deadly disease was introduced in 1997, which helped save Hawaii's $17 million papaya industry. In the future, consumers may benefit from biotech crops that are enhanced nutritionally or are allergy-resistant.

* Myth: Biotech companies won't disclose where field trials of biotech crops are being grown because they are trying to hide things from the public.
- Fact: The reality is, the location of fields that grow biotech plants have been threatened by vandalism, a sad fact recognized by USDA who protects this information as "confidential business information," a practice which is not unique to biotechnology, but practiced by any economic sector that involves new product development.

Since 1986, at least 36 states have adopted laws specifically addressing crimes committed by "eco," or plant terrorists. While state laws vary widely, crimes such as theft of data, vandalism, and breaking and entering by these groups are recognized. Additionally, after Sept. 11, 2004, states have increasingly sought to strengthen or enact additional and stricter laws against plant activists engaging in terrorist activities. Currently, a bill has been introduced to the U.S. Senate (S.430) that would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to enhance agricultural biosecurity in the United States through increased prevention, preparation and response planning.