Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org - July 7, 2004:
* Re: Biotechnology As Religion
* Re: Drugs in Crops
* Ethiopian premier says Africa should not reject GM food
* Study Refutes Greenpeace Claims on GM Milk
* Opinions on biotech changing in Europe; more work to be done
* Uganda: Biotech Draft Guidelines Now Ready
* A less temperamental maize plant
* Govt formulates policy to exploit biotech potentials
* Cross-pollination produces fruit "children" that aren't quite the same as mom and dad
From: "Fran Smith"
Subject: RE: Beware Agrarian Utopians; GM research collapses in UK; Annan Calls for Green Revolution to Feed Africa
Date: Tue, 6 Jul 2004 14:32:05 -0400
Leigh Turner, in his essay, “Biotechnology As Religion,” drew parallels between biotechnology proponents and religious fanatics. I would suggest that he try the trick of replacing “biotechnology proponents” with either “organic proponents” or “environmentalists” in a new version of his essay.
He will see, I hope, that his very broad-brush treatment, with few facts or examples, has equal applicability.
Frances B. Smith
1001 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 1128
Washington, DC 20036
Date: Tue, 06 Jul 2004 15:10:53 -0300
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: Drugs in Crops
Undoubtedly the various precautions that Gregory Phillips describes are important for assuring that food crop based pharmaceuticals are kept separate from the food supply. However, I wonder if the gene-splicers might not be able to go a step further by tightly linking an easily-detectable marker to these traits. For example, if a maize drug crop were bright red, any kernels that got carried over in harvesting or handling equipment would be quite visible; the same would apply with accidental cross-pollination of nearby conspecifics. The key, of course, would be demonstrating the establishment of an inextricabe link between the marker and the trait in question. Such an extra layer of differentiation of these crops might go a long way toward reassuring nay-sayers.
Ethiopian premier says Africa should not reject GM food
- UN Integrated Regional Information Network, Nairobi, in English 6 Jul 04
Addis Ababa, 6 July: Africa should not reject genetically modified (GM) crops as a means of tackling its massive hunger, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Monday 5 July . Speaking after an international summit on hunger, Meles said traditional technology and biotechnology could be used in tandem.
"Should we rule out GM crops or biotechnology as a weapon in our arsenal? No. Why should we rule out any technology? GM technology is like every (other) technology," Meles told journalists.
"It could be used well, or it could be misused. The issue is how to use it well. I think it can be used well if is used safely and if it does not increase the already big power of huge multinationals at the expense of the small-scale farmer."
Prof Jeffrey Sachs, the special adviser to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed. "I think agro-biotechnology is an important tool that can add a lot to the food security and incomes of African farmers," Sachs said.
Both had spoken out at the summit, which aimed to establish sound policies towards halving the chronic hunger facing 200 million Africans each year by the target date of 2015.
The target is one of the eight MDGs agreed by international leaders in 2000 towards reducing poverty, hunger and disease across the globe.
Meles said African leaders needed to do more in key areas like governance and conflict on the continent as the main factors. "Without peace and stability there cannot be a sustained attack on poverty and hunger," he told journalists at a press conference after the one-day summit. "And we in Africa are the main causes of the problems of instability in our continent, and lack of leadership in this regard has been an issue."
Meles added that the stalled peace process with Eritrea was hindering development. "The lack of progress on that count is a problem both for Ethiopia and Eritrea," he said of the two-year deadlock since an international decision aimed at ending their tensions along their 1,000-km common frontier.
He stressed that Ethiopia "unequivocally" ruled out a return to arms to resolve the deadlock. "Only a peaceful solution will do," he said, adding that the matter had been raised with Annan.
Meles also argued that poor implementation of policies had often been responsible for failures to reduce poverty, but said this was mainly due to a lack of human skills. He added that developed nations "use this an excuse to fail on their repeated promises" while African nations used those failures as an excuse for their own flaws.
He stressed that if continents like Africa continued to suffer from hunger there could be no global stability or security in rich nations. "There is no security for the West without security for the rest," he said. "Security for the rest is primarily a matter of food security and fighting hunger."
Study Refutes Greenpeace Claims on GM Milk
Samples that were likely tainted made the GM milk study irrelevant.
- DEUTSCHE WELLE, 22.6.04
German scientists have refuted a study made public by Greenpeace, which claims genetically altered feed particles can make their way into milk.
A German agricultural research institute took pains to explain to a worried public that components from genetically altered livestock feed are not carried over into a cow's milk, but environmentalists at the activist group Greenpeace are nonetheless saying more studies should be carried out.
A study done in 2001 was recently brought to light by Greenpeace, which claims the test showed that particles of genetically altered feed had made its way into cows' milk.
A case of contamination?
Scientists from a Munich-based research group who carried out the tests said there were indeed genetically altered particles in the milk -- but said the results were scientifically irrelevant, because the test samples were most likely contaminated.
Professor Heinrich Meyer of the Weihenstephan Center for the Study of Milk and Food Products at Munich's Technical University, explained that in the 2001 study, samples taken from the Association of Milk and Milk Products in Hessen were sent to the Weihenstephan research institute, and "showed surprising indications of traces" of genetically altered materials.
But the testing samples had been sent by a private party and weren't part of a scientific study, Meyer explained. Thus, the quality of the samples was unclear, making the study irrelevant, he said.
The result did prompt the Weihenstephan institute to set up its own follow-up studies in 2003, which failed to repeat the initial findings.
Careful about samples
"The results of the first study results have no basis, because there was no decent control group," Weihenstephan's Meyer told DW-WORLD. And the results had never been published because the conditions on the farm where the milk had been taken from were unknown.
"It is always a problem to work with samples from third parties. You can't publish material like that," she said.
Greenpeace agrees that the particles found in 2001 could have gotten into the milk via feed-dust in the milking barn. But Greenpeace's genetic-technology expert Henning Strodthoff told news agencies that they also could have traveled through the intestinal wall of the cow, and via the blood into the milk.
"That would be one possibility, but in the end, we really don't know," he said.
Germany has a popular brand of milk products called Weihenstephan, but the company has no connection to the research organization or this study.
Opinions on biotech changing in Europe; more work to be done
- Agriculture Online, July 7, 2004
A group of US Grains Council (USGC) and National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) leaders recently toured the European Union and Russia to gauge attitudes toward biotechnology. NCGA President Dee Vaughan says those attitudes have changed since a similar tour four years ago.
"We've seen some incremental progress, especially with the governments, but there is still much work to be done," Vaughan says. "These governments argued before that biotech acceptance was a food safety issue, but now most of them appear to understand that isn't the case. Now they're arguing that biotech crops can't co-exist with organic crops, so now we're addressing that concern."
While countries like Russia and Poland seemed more open to biotechnology, other nations like Austria appear as unreceptive as ever, according to Vaughan.
NCGA Biotech Working Group Chair Helen Inman says many farmers seem to appreciate the promise of biotechnology, but because of consumer attitudes and regulatory challenges, they view the use of biotech products as a hopeless endeavor. She says the international press, consumer groups and environmental activists have perpetuated misinformation and inaccuracies concerning biotechnology.
Vaughan says one of NCGA’s goals is to dispel those inaccuracies by continuing an open dialogue with EU governments and farmers. "We're advocating biotech as another tool in the farmer's toolbox," he says. "If it doesn't make sense for the farmer to use it, we certainly understand that. But we do believe the farmer should at least have the choice to decide."
Uganda: Biotech Draft Guidelines Now Ready
THE MONITOR (Kampala), by Wamboga-Mugirya, 6 July 2004,
A draft policy with guidelines on the conduct of biotechnology in Uganda is ready. Dr Charles Mugoya, a senior official at the National Council of Science and technology (UNCS&T), said the draft documents - the policy and proposed regulatory draft framework - will be handed to cabinet by August.
"We now have a road-map which has given us some time-frame in which to pass over a final draft to the cabinet. We are saying that cabinet will receive the draft in the next two months," he said.
The policy draft contains, among other key components; procedures for risk-assessment and risk management of Genetically Modified Organism (GMOs); administrative and institutional frameworks for public participation and awareness.
Dr Mugoya who is the head of the National Bio-Safety Framework Project, said: "We have been engaging politicians, the academia, the media and interested civil society organisations, in discussions on which biotechnology direction Uganda should take."
He said that the UNCS&T has been working around the clock since 1995 to ensure that Uganda is not overtaken by events in the biotechnology and genetic modification science - a topical issue in most countries today.
In 1996, a bio-safety committee was formed and it has been guiding UNCS&T on steps to arrive at the national policy and regulatory frameworks on biotechnology. Currently, Uganda has no guidelines on biotechnology and particularly GMOs.
There have been strong anti-GMOs criticisms from outspoken environmentalists who fear they may contaminate Uganda's soils, affect the natural state of plants, especially crops and indigenous animals.
However, to agro-scientists at Makerere University say GMOs are good for food security in Uganda, which has a high birth rate and inequality in food availability. President Museveni has said government will not allow importation of genetically modified seeds, into Uganda.
The debate on genetically modified foods has in recent times caused sanctions and counter-sanctions between the United States and Europe.
A less temperamental maize plant
- PNAS, July 6, 2004, 2004 Mar 2;101(9):3298-303, By Helena Morales Johansson
In the near future it could be possible to reduce the loss of maize crop due to damage at low temperature with the help of a new finding by researchers in the United States.
Maize is of tropical Mexican origin and its importance as human nutrition, as well as food source for livestock, has expanded outside its Mexican origins. Due to the increased need of maize it is grown in other temperate zones such as Europe and the United States, where it has to withstand temperatures below 15°C. During spring, there can be sudden drops in temperature for some days enough to damage a majority of the crop. If the temperature goes below 0°C it is more deleterious since maize is a frost-sensitive plant.
Due to the sensitivity of maize, the researchers, Wang and his colleagues at the University of Iowa State University in collaboration with the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, focused on finding how to enhance cold resistance in maize. The study intended to see if maize had a mechanism of its own, that could be improved upon to increase its ability to survive at low temperatures. The researchers introduced a gene, called NPK1, from tobacco into the maize plants that has previously been shown to be important for survival of tobacco plants at low temperatures. NPK1 activates a chain reaction, known as a signaling cascade, which induces the expression of genes important for survival at low temperature.
To investigate the effect of NPK1 on maize plant survival at temperatures ranging from cold to sub-freezing that normally damages the maize plants Wang and his colleagues introduced a fragment of the tobacco derived NPK1 gene into maize. The tests demonstrated that maize plants containing NPK1 survived longer at low temperatures than maize plants lacking NPK1. Furthermore, introducing NPK1 in maize did not affect the growth of maize.
As the researchers searched for an explanation of how NPK1 protects maize from damage at low temperature, classic theory led them to sugars. In research literature, sugars are documented as anti-freezing agent with higher levels positively correlating with an increased freezing tolerance in plants. However, Wang and his colleagues did not find a correlation between high sugar levels and higher resistance to low temperatures. Thus, the complete mechanism of how NPK1 provides protection at low temperatures in maize is not yet clear, says Dr Wang.
However, as Dr Wang points out, “Almost all organisms have this gene and the signaling cascade is only upregulated upon stress. The protective activation of this cascade may be too slow in maize. By the time the defense is upregulated the organism is dead. The insertion of NPK1 in maize allows the activation of maize’s natural responses to stress in a much shorter time period than through natural acclimation.”
An added benefit is that, NPK1 is not only involved in protection at low temperatures but it also helps plants survive drought, saline soil conditions and soils polluted with heavy metals. These properties indicate its importance for general stress resistance, which is important in agriculture where the growing conditions can change dramatically within a short time range. For example, the use of low temperature resistant maize could reduce the loss of maize plants and decrease the costs of producing maize. In the long term, this improvement could result in sustained production of maize leading to lower prices for the customers.
Expression of an active tobacco mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase enhances freezing tolerance in transgenic maize.
Shou H, Bordallo P, Fan JB, Yeakley JM, Bibikova M, Sheen J, Wang K.
Govt formulates policy to exploit biotech potentials
- Financial Express, July 6, 2004, By M Shafiqul Alam
The government has formulated the first ever National Biotechnology Policy of the country with a view to utilising the latest innovations in the field.
The innovations will be utilised for the development of the country's agriculture, food, industry, environment and health, sources said.
A 19-member national committee led by Science and ICT Secretary Omar Faruq formulated the draft policy, which would be finalised at an inter-ministerial meeting on July 10.
Based on the Policy, the government is set to announce a 20-year Perspective Plan to keep pace with the fastest growing fields of biotechnology and genetic engineering.
The sources said the Policy would be sent to the National Taskforce on Biotechnology for approval. Headed by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the Taskforce was formed early this year.
Though biotechnology has emerged as the fastest growing industry in the world with total turnover crossing more than $100 billion (10,000 crore), Bangladesh has yet to make any headway in the field.
Biotech firms in India have proved to be successful commercial ventures, wooing investments from the multinational companies and going joint ventures with the local food and pharmaceutical companies.
Plant biotechnology was initiated in Bangladesh in late 1970s and a number of research laboratories, universities and R and D organisations are involved in its research.
Presently, a few NGOs are also working on plant tissue culture.
However, commercially, biotechnology still remained in the primitive age despite the fact the country has a pool of foreign-trained biotech researchers now working in different universities.
Besides, the country has over 30 biological and agricultural R and D laboratories where biotechnology could be developed with minimum support to infrastructure and human resource development.
Under the Policy, the government would set up biotech incubator parks in collaboration with experienced foreign organisations in different places depending on the availability of bio-resources.
The parks will be structured on a commercial format and they will mainly focus on food and cash crop, medical biotechnology including herbal medicine and industrial product having market demand.
A national authority on biotechnology will also be set up to work as the umbrella for the development and regulatory work of the country's public and private biotechnological initiatives.
It would also create an enabling environment for the growth of bio-tech industries through simplification of procedures for getting clearances for commercialisation of biotech products.
The government has already announced the biotech sector as a thrust area. The Policy declares that government will facilitate venture capital funds and bank credit to emerging biotechnology companies.
The Policy aims at addressing some of the core issues involving Intellectual Property Rights, Bio-safety, Bio-surveillance and Bio-ethics with due emphasis on knowledge, innovation and indigenous practices.
The government will also conduct a detailed inventory of the country's bio-resources with the help of universities, research and development organisations, NGOs and private agencies in order to promote sustainable exploitation of bio-resources.
The Policy identifies some priority areas in biotechnological applications around which the entire biotechnological research would function.
All research in biotechnology will have to be product-oriented and assured in terms of investments and returns, the Policy stated.
Under the Policy, the government will create a necessary seed fund and encourage the private organisations to come up with specific areas in biotechnology to be solved through the Contract Research Programme.
The government will also approach international funding organisations for financing important biotechnology projects of national interest, particularly those related to poverty alleviation, food security and health and livelihood improvement.
Cross-pollination produces fruit "children" that aren't quite the same as mom and dad
- Honolul Star Bulletin, By Betty Shimabukuro, July 7, 2004
Don't call these fruits mutants, clones, Franken-fruits or -- heaven forbid -- genetically modified. Hybrid is more acceptable. The industry prefers that you think of them as, well, exotic.
These stone fruits carry such unglamorous names as pluot and peacharine, designed to emphasize their mixed parentage (a plum and an apricot; a peach and nectarine). They are the products of cross-pollination, sometimes called inter-species pollination.
Their season is now, and it's a short one. Most varieties are around for just two or three weeks. Those pictured on this page will be in supermarkets only a few more days, although other hybrids -- particularly the many types of pluots -- will be passing in and out through August.
Mike Watts, director of specialty fruits for Kingsburg Apple, says it takes about five years to bring a new fruit to market. Kingsburg, located near Fresno, Calif., is a major producer of hybrids.
The process: A plant -- a plum tree, for example -- is cross-pollinated by hand with pollen from, say, an apricot tree. The seeds that result are planted. Trees grow from those seeds and bear fruit after a period of years. Those second-generation fruit are the "children," as Watts puts it, and there could be hundreds, all different in some way. The fruits of the experiment, so to speak.
"In one crossing we might get 1,000 different things ... after we evaluate them we might get one or two or nothing," he says. By which he means new hybrids worthy of the market. The most promising fruit are then propagated from cuttings.
Kingsburg has 30 to 35 hybrid varieties and releases a couple of new ones every year, Watts says. The aim is fruit that is consistently sweet. "We're constantly looking for different colors, different flavors."
Despite its name, this fruit is a cross between two varieties of pale nectarine, no mango involved. It is named for its texture and flavor, which the producer, Ito Packing, says blends both fruits. Coming into season in a few weeks is a honeydew nectarine, another nectarine cross that is slightly green with a faint taste of melon.
PEACH + NECTARINE = PEACHARINE
A peacharine is 50 percent peach, 50 percent nectarine. It is darker outside than a typical peach, but pale inside, and has very little fuzz. The flavor is a blend of the two fruits and usually quite sweet, although the early season fruit is tart.
PLUM + APRICOT = PLUOT
A pluot (PLU-ott) is 75 percent plum, 25 percent apricot. When the percentages are reversed, that's an aprium. The variety shown, Flavor Supreme, is light red, with a pinkish flesh inside. Other pluots may be purple, yellow or speckled and go by names such as Dinosaur Egg. Pluots tend to be sweeter than plums, without so much tartness right under the skin.
NECTARINE + PLUM + APRICOT = NECTACOTUM
A nectacotum (neck-tah-cah-tum) is one-third each nectarine, plum and apricot. The hybrid, now in its third season, is large, dark and smooth-skinned, with dark, plum-like flesh.