Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : August 17, 2004
* Biotechnology Bans Finally Arouse California Farm Industry
* Thailand - Fresh Efforts to Promote Biotech
* Uganda: Biotechnology Will Make Us Catch Up In Food Production
* India: Sibal In Haste to Set Up a New Transgenic Regulator
* ..... Biotech Watchdog 'A Single Regulator - A Welcome Idea'
* ..... ISAAA Chief for Pragmatism on Transgenic Regulator
* Enriched Rice A Distant Dream for India
* French Protesters Trash Biotech Corn Field
* ...... Battle of the Cornfield
* Blue Rose Quest Leaves Breeders . . . Purple
* Head of Dolly Clone Lab Is Found Hanged
* New Book on Gene Flow
Biotechnology Bans Finally Arouse California Farm Industry
- Mike Lee The Sacramento Bee (Krtbn), August 16, 2004 http://www.sacbee.com/content/business/story/10397422p-11317095c.html
California's agricultural establishment is gearing up for a ballot-box brawl this fall. Worried that county bans on biotech crops could spread throughout the state, mainstream farm groups from the California Cattlemen's Association to the national Farm Bureau are marshaling their resources.
It's a change in tactics for biotech backers, who until now have left the ban issue mostly in the hands of biotech companies. The stakes are higher than ever. November ballot measures in Humboldt, Marin, San Luis Obispo and Butte counties could determine whether the state embraces the new seed technology or makes its mark as free of genetically engineered crops.
Two counties -- Mendocino and Trinity -- already have outlawed such crops, citing a desire to protect organic crops from genetic pollution and to oppose the control of farming by a few multinational biotech companies. Several other counties also are being targeted, mostly in areas with strong organic sympathies and the kinds of crops that won't have biotech options for years.
For conventional farmers, the issues are twofold: preventing counties from regulating what they can grow and preserving the possibility of genetically engineered crops for the future. "It's going to wreak havoc on the state if every county passes ordinances to regulate" genetically modified organisms, said Don Bransford, a Colusa County grower and chairman of the California Rice Commission.
The key November battleground is rice powerhouse Butte County, where Measure D convinced ag leaders that the biotech backlash was a real threat, not just a political statement. If biotech crops are barred from Butte, some fear it would send an anti-technology message about California, and companies would hesitate to develop biotech varieties here. Herbicide-tolerant rice, which allows farmers to chemically kill weeds without harming crops, is expected to be one of the next major biotech crops.
The board of the rice commission -- the industry's dominant voice in California -- voted 28-1 last week to fight Measure D. It's developing a "communications plan" to influence Butte voters along with a backup litigation plan in case the measure passes. The commission didn't take a position on genetically engineered crops, which growers both support and oppose. Instead, Bransford said state law, not county mandates, should control how rice is planted.
Genetic engineering typically protects plants from bugs or makes them resistant to herbicides. The trick is accomplished in laboratories by cutting and pasting DNA. Many farmers around the world embrace the technology, which allows for easier pest and weed control. However, consumer advocates and organic growers worry about the potential health and environmental consequences of tinkering with the genetic code.
California has an estimated 600,000 acres of biotech crops, split between corn and cotton. That number has grown steadily over the years, but remains small compared to Midwest states. Much of California produces specialty crops that don't yet have biotech options, though several are being developed.
David C. Nunenkamp, deputy secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, last week told county agriculture commissioners that local ordinances could have a "chilling effect" on a core state industry. That's a common feeling in farm country, though many acknowledge concern about federal regulatory gaps and a state policy on biotechnology that hasn't been updated in two decades.
In July, the California Cattlemen's Association became one of the first statewide ag groups to publicly oppose all county biotech bans. They say such measures set a dangerous precedent that could someday threaten ranchers.
"It's inappropriate for local governments to dictate what tools may be used by agriculturalists now or in the future," cattlemen's president, Darrel Sweet, said in a statement. The cattlemen have dispatched a top official to lead opposition to the Butte measure. Their efforts will be backed by American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, who plans to speak at an Aug. 23 fund-raiser for Measure D opponents.
In Sacramento, biotech backers are widely rumored to be shopping legislation that would stop counties from regulating biotech crops. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the main regulator of biotech crops, reportedly is scouring county initiatives to build a legal case against them. The mounting opposition has the attention of anti-biotech activists who for months pushed ballot measures with relatively little resistance. "All of the ag world is lining up against Butte County," observed Renata Brillinger at Californians for GE-Free Agriculture in Occidental.
Butte activist Scott Wolf remains defiant despite his opponents' daunting political and financial force. "We are definitely not going away," said Wolf, chairman of Citizens for a GE-Free Butte. "We are hoping our personal relationships and educating people about the issues will make the difference."
Thailand - Fresh Efforts to Promote Bio-Tech
- Ranjana Wangvipula Bangkok Post, August 17, 2004 http://www.bangkokpost.com/
Scientists, anxious at the negative perception of genetically modified (GM) crops, yesterday announced a fresh effort to promote biotechnology and inform the public about the scientific facts of GM issues, which they said have been distorted by some people.
Current problems are due to the public's GM knowledge not being based on science, said Sutat Sriwatanapongse, a senior scientist at the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Biotec). Mr Sutat has been assigned as acting chairman of the newly established Biotechnology Alliance Association (BAA), formed to educate the public about biotechnology applications, including controversial GM crops.
The public will be provided with more scientific facts as in the past people have often been misled, he claimed. Reports on GM papayas are one example of this, scientists at the BAA said. They said GM papayas such as those in Hawaii that are resistant to the deadly Ring Spot virus, should not be blamed for causing human allergies.
Such allergies could also be caused by non-GM crops. Other alleged negative side-effects from GM papayas should be carefully studied, they said. Scientists have discovered a GM technique to add a virus to the papaya plant gene, thus increasing its resistance to the Ring Spot disease.
However, the technique has led to concern from environmental groups, who fear its possible adverse impact on human health and the environment. "This information was reported to the public in a manner that depicted it as ugly and dangerous. That was discouraging for me," said Supat Attatham, a plant pathologist at Kasetsart University.
Mr Supat is conducting an experiment on GM papayas at the university campus in Nakhon Phathom. He said the probability of GM papayas harming the environment was very low and he called for the public to be educated with more scientific facts.
The BAA, mainly financed by Biotec and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, will inform the public about biotech issues and occasionally organise forums to discuss the pros and cons of GM crops.
Mr Sutat said the BAA welcomed non-governmental organisations and universities to join the group, along with the private companies that develop the biotechnology. Witoon Lianchamroon, director of Biothai, said the main problem with GM issues is whose version of the information is provided to the public, he said. "People need unbiased information to make up their own minds."
Uganda: Biotechnology Will Make Us Catch Up In Food Production
Barbara Among East African (Nairobi) August 9, 2004 http://allafrica.com/stories/200408100805.html
Dr Kisamba Mugerwa, Uganda's Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, has been appointed director of the International Service for Agricultural Research, a new division of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Special Correspondent BARBARA AMONG spoke to him recently about what the appointment means for the region
What is IFPRI?
IFPRI stands for International Food Policy Research Institute. Its strategic goals are to be a trusted global research centre that provides the knowledge needed for food and nutrition policy, serving poor people to communicate findings based on sound analysis. It is a source of in-depth understanding of the linkages between research and policy change so as to design food policy for low-income countries. We aim to have a strong presence in developing countries through corporate networks and decentralised operations.
What does your new job entail?
We are going to carry out studies and research that may help us to understand constraints that hinder efficient and effective delivery of technologies and services, and thus facilitate farmers to increase production and ensure food and nutrition security.
We will be focusing mainly on developing countries in reference to Africa as these are areas where people are still experiencing malnutrition, food shortages and poverty. This has also come after UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared the afro-green revolution, which is an attempt to ensure the use of technologies to promote sustainable agriculture.
It has also come at a time when we are reviewing the millennium development goals. It was anticipated that by 2015, the number of people experiencing hunger would have been reduced by half, but when we met recently in Johannesburg, the Food and Agricultural Organisation reported that we were lagging behind schedule. In most African countries, the number is increasing instead of decreasing. So, we are going to work on policy, which has been entrusted to the new division, ISNAR.
What will be the main focus of this research?
We shall focus on institutional change in agricultural innovation systems for enhancing the impact of agricultural research on all elements of the food system. By strengthening organisation and management of agricultural research programmes, ISNAR will enable innovations that benefit the poor, with a particular focus on sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite the fact that Africa produces large amounts of food, it has continued to suffer hunger and food insecurity. What is the problem?
It is because Africa missed the green revolution, the time when there was a breakthrough and increased production using improved seeds and planting materials. Africa missed out on that. But now it is not possible to depend on just improved seeds and increased productivity. We need a combination of related factors: good soil, availability of water, irrigation schemes, a market to motivate producers, value addition in order to attract good prices, improved infrastructure in terms of communication, rural electrification and roads.
How can Africa make up for the missed opportunity?
We need political support from African leaders if we are to achieve this and more investment in agriculture. Figures indicate that developed countries spend about 2.6 per cent of their gross domestic product on research to generate technology, but in developing countries we only spend 0.6 per cent, and in sub-Saharan Africa it is hardly 0.2 per cent of the GDP. We need to promote private partnership because the environment has changed, with the private sector playing more roles.
When was this green revolution and where did it take place?
It took place in Asia, in the 1960s. India, for example, was then suffering food deficiency, but now it has a surplus. It's only in Africa where there is a problem, so we need to look into the framework through which we deliver services: that is why we need policy and institutional reforms.
How bad is the hunger situation in Africa?
Out of the 800 million people still experiencing hunger in the world, about 700 million are in sub-Saharan Africa. In many countries, the poverty level is still high. For example, in Uganda 38 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, yet Uganda is considered to be doing well. Again, Africa is lagging behind in the utilisation of biotechnology, which would have gone a long way to increase productivity.
What is your stand on the use of genetically modified organisms?
Well, Uganda has accepted to the use GMOs. The media dwell on seed terminates instead of biotechnology. Uganda has accepted that in case of calamities, we can accept GMOs. We are working hard through the National Council of Science and Technology to put in place appropriate biotechnology and biosafety policies and a legal framework.
What is being done to ensure that our farmers adopt these methods?
We are emphasising sensitisation of farmers. The Uganda government is doing it right from the centre through district agricultural officers. Technology transfer, research and development to increase agricultural productivity and trade in food are both limited due to economic and technological factors.
Biotechnology development would go a long way in enhancing productivity, reducing poverty, increasing food security and nutrition, promoting healthcare and sustainable use of natural resources.
India: Sibal In Haste to Set Up a New Transgenic Regulator
- Financial Express, August 16, 2004 http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=66046
A debate has begun in the country on the nature of changes needed in the existing regulations for transgenic crops and products. This debate has gained momentum from the recent announcement made by the Union science and technology minister, Kapil Sibal for putting in place a new single window regulatory authority for clearance or rejection by January 2005.
The minister made this statement while inaugurating an international conference on 'Agricultural Biotechnology : Ushering in the Second Green Revolution' on August 10. He also said that the government will come out with a national biotechnology policy. The minister's statement doubtlessly shows that he is in a hurry in fixing an unrealistic timeframe. Comparatively the government to which he is a part has decided to move cautiously.
The government with a view to bring changes in the existing regulations has appointed two expert panels - one headed by Dr MS Swaminathan on applications of biotechnology in agriculture and the other headed by Dr RA Mashelkar on application of transgenic technology in pharma sector. The government has also planned to set up a third panel to recommend the use of genetically modified organism (GMOs) in food and processed food. The Swaminathan panel has submitted its report while the recommendations of the MaÜshelkar committee is awaited.
The government's intention is to evolve a new regulatory regime on basis of the reports of the three panels on use of transgenic technology in three different sectors. The present law involves different ministries, departments and agencies in the process of clearance, but the final clearance is given by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) under the Union environment ministry. This is in nature a single window system at the top with involvement of different agencies.
As the existing law involves different ministries in the process of regulation, the reports of the three panels are likely to be put up for inter-ministerial consultations before a final draft legislation is prepared for placing before the Parliament. Thus setting up of a single window system of clearance will involve considerable time - definitely more than what Mr Sibal expects!
Mr Sibal has not clarified what he means by 'single window system of clearance'. In a way a single window system of clearance already exists with the GEAC as the sole regulator for all transgenic products. Does he mean that this existing single window system will be revamped by making cosmetic changes? If so this may be done within the time limit he has prescribed. If Mr Sibal means setting up of an autonomous regulatory authority as recommended by the Swaminathan panel and demanded by the industry, then tÜhe process will take more time than what Mr Sibal thinks.
Though the Swaminathan panel had a series of consultations with industry bodies before finalising the report and has, in fact, made several recommendations in favour of the industry, the industry bodies are not fully satisfied. They feel the report needs to further modified in their interests. The three-day international conference in Delhi organised jointly by the industry body, FICCI, ISAAA and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation had a separate on August 11 for discussions on the Swaminathan panel repÜort in which several speakers demanded suitable changes in the recommendations. The conference, however, has not come out with any such resolution so far. The Swaminathan panel report is equally criticised by the NGOs who feel that it is weighed in favour of the industry. Some experts view that the report represents a bundle of contradictions.
The industry bodies are represented in the Mashelkar Committee. Not being fully satisfied with the recommendations of the Swaminathan panel, the industry bodies have submitted their proposals before the Mashelkar committee and are pressing hard to get them through.
Before a taskforce could be set up for recommending the use of GMOs in food, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has come out with its study expressing serious concerns over the safety of GM foods and has outlined the structure of the proposed regulatory authority and called for a overhaul in the regulatory system. The industry bodies are not satisfied with the ICMR report. A group on Indian scientists in the country and in job overseas, including Prof CS Prakash, Dr Gurudev Kush, Prof C Kameswar Rao, Dr Seetharam Annadana, Dr Gurumurti Natarajan and others have criticised the ICMR report.
The battle, therefore, is long drawn. Setting up of an autonomous regulator will take some time.
India: Biotech Watchdog 'A Single Regulator - A Welcome Idea'
- Financial Express (India), August 14, 2004
The government’s decision to replace regulatory agencies in the biotechnology sector with a single regulatory body is welcome.
Even if the Science and Technology minister Kapil Sibal’s target date of January 2005 for setting up the body seems overly ambitious. India’s experience with the existing model has been far from satisfactory. Multiple agencies, embroiled in turf wars and entrenched in red tape, have spectacularly managed to retard commercialisation of transgenic technology in this country. Approval for the first strain of Bt cotton in the country, for instance, came after four long years. And the going’s been mighty slow ever since. A single biotech regulator, maybe even one directly accountable to Parliament, will help cut through the red tape, streamline decision-making and eliminate the ad hocism evident until now.
There will, of course, be the temptation to view a single window clearance mechanism as a sell-out to the pro-GM lobby. That would be unfortunate. It is no one’s case that the biotech sector (specifically, transgenic applications) should be outside the purview of regulation. In fact, given that GM technology is relevant for processed foods, pharmaceuticals as well as foodgrain, there is a strong warrant for caution. But there is little reason to believe that multiple agencies are in any way more effective when it comes to regulation as evidenced by the thriving black market for spurious Bt cotton seeds in Gujarat, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh.
Let’s also not forget that a regulator’s performance is also a function of policy. Therefore, the need for a rational, commonsensical approach to regulation cannot be overemphasised. For instance, reinventing the wheel every time a cotton hybrid is to be modified by Bt is ridiculous. But going through the entire regulatory process while seeking approval for say, a different crop altogether, makes sense.
Government thus should begin by appointing competent individuals with specialised domain knowledge as regulators. Rules and procedures will then be based on sound science than fear-mongering and lobbying by business. They need to enforce existing regulations. As also take decisions in a transparent manner, and put out all relevant information in the public domain. Provide the consumers of this technology -- be they farmers or grocery shoppers -- the tools to make an informed choice. Thereafter, let the market decide the fate of a GM product.
ISAAA Chief for Pragmatism on Transgenic Regulator
- Financial Express, August 16, 2004 http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=66060
The announcement of the the Union science and technology minister Kapil Sibal on setting the time frame for the launch of a new regulatory authority for transgenic products, though, could generate enough optimism among the participants at the recent 'International Conference on Agricultural Biotechnology: Ushering in the Second Green Revolution' in Delhi, Clive James, chairman of the International Service for Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) rather prefers to view it with a sense of pragmatiÜsm.
Speaking to FE, Mr James said: "Single regulatory authority seems to be a good concept. It would mean one-stop shopping. But let's see how it can work in India. If it works well the outcome would be good." When pointed out, in context, that US which is the global leader in transgenic technology has not yet adopted a single window regulatory system, he said, "Yes, you are right.
In US we have three different agencies regulating transgenic products." The agencies that regulate transgenic products are Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Environment Protection Agency (EPA). In US there is a heavy penalty for violation of regulations.
However, Mr James views the minister's announcement in a positive manner. He said: "The minister by setting a timeframe for action has expressed the political will of the government to address the concerns. The growth of the transgenic technology in India is necessary for ensuring food and nutritional security."
Unlike other advocates of the transgenic technology engaged in creating unnecessary hypes, the ISAAA chief was clear in defining the role of transgenic technology in ensuring food and nutritional security. He said: "Transgenic technology is not a silver bullet to solve the problems. Genetically modified crops are not the panacea, but they are essential." He said that transgenic technology can at best be taken as an alternative approach for ensuring food security.
Mr James said that global population is slated to increase to 9 billion by 2050. Ninety per cent of the world's population will be in the developing countries. At present 840 million people suffer from malnutrition and 1.3 billion people are afflicted by poverty. Therefore, conventional crop improvement alone will not double food production by 2050. Successful should be to apply multiple approaches, including population control, he said.
When pointed out that the problem in India is not due to the availability of food which is in surplus, but due to the limited access to food by low income people, Mr James said : "the transgenic technology can also solve the problem by raising the income of the people." Quoting Neilson survey on the performance of Bt cotton in India, he said that there are evidence of farmers reducing their costs by lesser application of pesticides and thereby increasing the yield of the crop. He said that increase in yield has helped the farmers to generate more income. The increase in yield has also helped in more deployment of labour force. Therefore, transgenic technology does not displaces labour, he said.
Mr James was emphatic that Bt cotton has performed well and has gained the acceptance of farmers. He said "in days to come the transgenic technology will offer stacked trans genes in the host crop for multiple benefits like improving nutritive value and protecting it from a number of pests and diseases." He claimed that the technology by developing a varieties of crops is actually aimed at increasing the biodiversity. "The Greens should not express concerns at the loss of biodiversity", he said.
When confronted with the problem of pollen flow to other crops causing a concern for loss of biodiversity, he said : "the terminator technology which is still at a conceptual stage can restrict the pollen flow to other crops. It was at the behest of the objections raised by the Greens this technology had to be shelved."
Enriched Rice A Distant Dream for India
- Business India, Indo-Asian News Service, August 14, 2004 (via Agnet)
New Delhi -- Fears of environmental damage and food safety have, according to this story, held up India's plans to develop varieties of genetically modified (GM) nutrition enriched rice that could solve some of India's malnutrition problems.
Swapan K. Datta of the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), was quoted as saying, "Products like salinity- and drought-tolerant rice varieties as well as the vitamin-A enriched Golden Rice have been developed but we are not getting the green signal to go ahead with field-testing," adding that fears about food safety of GM agriculture products continue to be a major hurdle to solutions for problems like pests, salinity and drought. "The different kinds of rice being suggested for field testing are Golden Rice (named after its colour), pest resistant Bt rice, iron enriched rice and varieties of salinity tolerant and drought resistant rice."
Datta was further cited as saying that permission for field-testing Golden Rice, which has a high level of vitamin A, has been sought in India, the US and the Philippines, adding, "While the US has granted permission, it is still awaited in India and the Philippines."
If the government gives its clearance, IRRI is hopeful that India would be able to provide farmers with Golden Rice seeds i n three to five years after completing the mandatory field trials.
French Protesters Trash Biotech Corn Field
- MARSAT, France, August 14, 2004
Several hundred protesters trashed a field of genetically engineered corn Saturday, despite the presence of about 100 pro-biotech militants and almost as many police.
After a long face-off in which the two sides traded insults and occasional blows, and gendarmes attemped to keep them apart, the protests pushed down a fence and trampled a 1.5-hectare (3.7-acre) area where the genetically modified corn was growing, yelling, "no, no no to GMO." The protesters included Gilles Lemaire, national secretary of the Green party, and Gerard Leras, the party's regional chief.
One of the protesters was punched in the face and was seen bleeding, an AFP reporter said, and two protesters were detained by police. About 500 people took part in the demonstration according to organizers, but police put the figure at 300.
Last month, a group of self-styled Green vigilantes led by Jose Bove, the French farmers union activist who shot to prominence after he helped demolish a partly built McDonald's fast food restaurant in 1999, vowed to destroy all genetically modified crops in France. The government has approved tests of GM crops in 15 regions.
Battle of the Cornfield
Pro and anti GM campaigners came to blows in France at the weekend, with rival activist groups involved in a fight in a cornfield near Marsat, leading to two arrests.
One group, the 'volunteer reapers', led by the anti-globalisation campaigner José Bové, has been illegally tearing up experimental genetically modified (GM) crops across France for some time. Their adversaries are a new group, the 'volunteer farmers and researchers in favour of GM organisms', led by Pierre Pagesse, the managing director of a French biotech firm.
The clash comes against a backdrop of rising tension on the issue of GM crops. The French government has recently been softening its opposition to open field experiments and the previously conservative wine growing industry has just announced that it wishes to keep an open mind on the potential benefits of GM technology.
Local government, however, is increasingly siding with the environmentalists. The volunteer reapers have persuaded 3,000 French mayors to issue outright bans on GM tests in their districts, with one mayor in the Haute-Garonne district facing a court action brought by the prefect of his départment over the issue.
“Eighty percent of Europeans are against GM organisms in their food and 75 percent of French people are opposed to open field experiments," the French Green MP, Moisette Crosnier, told the ‘Independent’. "We have to keep up the pressure on the Government and remind it of the will of the people.”
Blue Rose Quest Leaves Breeders . . . Purple
- Eric D. Tytell, Tribune Newspapers: Los Angeles; August 17, 2004
Roses are red, violets are blue.
But what if roses were blue?
Florists might stand to make a lot of green. Modern biochemists and geneticists are now closing in on a prize that has obsessed rose lovers for centuries, the creation of the true blue rose.
The flower does not exist in nature, and despite centuries of effort, no breeder has managed to even come close. They have called many roses blue: Blue Girl, Bleu Magenta, Blue Moon.
They are purple. The only way to create the elusive and unnatural color blue is by manipulating the genetic code of the rose, and millions of dollars are being spent on the effort by genetic engineering companies.
The prize is a hefty piece of the $25-billion global cut-flower market, which hasn't seen a major twist in roses since the introduction of yellow around the turn of the last century. But beyond the monetary prospects, flower lovers are already fantasizing about what new emotional dimensions blue would bring to the rose.
"You think of blue as the ocean and sky, which are very powerful elements," said Amulka Kitamura, a designer at the Flower Box in Santa Monica. "I think it would be stunning." The problem is that blue pigment does not exist in roses. No amount of breeding will bring it to life.
"We're trying to attain the apparently unattainable," said Frank Cowlishaw, an amateur rose breeder in Derbyshire, England, who has spent 25 years trying to tease the color from nature through careful breeding.
Many flower pigments have the same basic chemical structure--a molecule called an anthocyanin. Extra chemical decorations, called hydroxyl groups, determine the color. One extra hydroxyl group makes a dark brick red, two is a light pinkish red, and three is blue.
Roses do not have a gene that allows them to add the third hydroxyl group. Which is why Florigene, formed in 1986 to develop genetically modified flowers, decided to start with carnations. For some reason, carnations seem easier to manipulate genetically than roses.
After about $18 million and four years of work, Florigene scientists managed to create the Moondust carnation. They began selling them in 1996. "They are selling quite well for us," said Ken Young, a spokesman for 1-800-Flowers.com.
The trouble is, they are purple.
Florigene was taken over by Suntory, the Japanese beverage company, in 2003. The company aimed to produce blue roses using the "blue gene" from petunias. "But the petunia gene did not work at all in roses," said Yoshikazu Tanaka, the director of Suntory's blue rose effort.
After trying genes from several flowers, Tanaka's group eventually settled on the blue gene from pansies. Roses seem to understand pansy DNA best. Finally, in a triumphant news conference June 30, Suntory announced it had produced "a synonym for the impossible"--the blue rose.
Well, sort of. It's purple.
"The flower is a nice color, but not sky blue," Tanaka admitted. Meanwhile, serendipity arrived in a beaker full of bacteria at Vanderbilt University.
In 1999, biochemists Fred Guengerich and Elizabeth Gillam were studying a group of enzymes called cytochrome P450s, which help the body to deactivate and eliminate toxins. To produce a large quantity of one particular form of the enzyme, they pulled a gene out of humans and inserted it into bacteria, a standard procedure in their lab.
"My students noticed some of their bacterial cultures were turning blue," said Gillam, who is now at the University of Queensland, Australia. After some thought, though, the researchers had a good guess of what they were seeing--indigo, the same pigment that makes blue jeans blue.
They surmised that the bacteria took an amino acid called tryptophan and converted it into a compound called indole. The new P450 enzyme changed the indole into indigo. Using indigo would avoid many of the problems Suntory and Florigene ran into using their anthocyanin-based blue pigment. They have a long way to go, though.
"In our initial attempts," Guengerich said, "the gene didn't know whether to turn the stem, the thorns or the flower blue." "It was just quite bizarre," said Lisa Notley, who worked as a research assistant with Gillam. They worked on the blue rose for five years, but never produced viable blue flowers or persuaded a company to invest in their discovery. Without funding, they turned to other research.
The blue rose has not been kind to its pursuers. DNA Plant Technology in Oakland, which also tried to discover a viable blue gene, closed its research and development wing in 2002. Japan's Kirin Brewery, another competitor in the quest, is now more interested in developing disease-resistant plants.
Even with a truly blue rose, there are still many hurdles. "Just because it's a blue rose does not guarantee success," said Terril Nell, president of the Society of American Florists. The flower must hold up during shipment, last a long time in the vase and have a good fragrance. Suntory and Florigene are continuing to tweak the rose genome. In two to four years, they hope to be selling blue roses, not purple.
Head of Dolly Clone Lab Is Found Hanged
- Nicola Stow, Edinburgh News, August 16, 2004 http://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=948042004
The head of the science lab which created Dolly the sheep has been found hanging in his holiday home. Professor John Clark, who was believed to have been suffering from depression was found in his remote cottage in the village of Cove, north of Eyemouth, on the Berwickshire coast.
Prof Clark lead the Roslin Institute in Midlothian, one of the world’s leading animal biotechnology research centres. He played a crucial role in creating the transgenic sheep that earned the institute worldwide fame. The 53-year-old, who was believed to have been suffering from depression, had only recently returned to work. Speaking from their Edinburgh home, his wife Helen said: "We are trying to deal with telling family and friends at the moment but it’s been a huge shock."
A police source said: "The professor has been under stress for some time and on Thursday morning he apparently left the house as normal to go to work. "The alarm was raised when he didn’t appear and his family asked someone to check the house in Eyemouth. Tragically, Professor Clark was found dead inside." The professor’s funeral is expected to be held in the Capital at the weekend. A police spokesman said: "There are no suspicious circumstances and a report will be submitted to the procurator fiscal."
On his appointment as director of the Roslin Institute in 2002, Julia Goodfellow, chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, described Prof Clark as "an excellent appointment" under which the institute would continue to flourish. Prof Clark said he was delighted to be appointed director of the centre and was "looking forward to the challenges of leading Roslin". Prof Clark became a head of department at Roslin in 1993 and group leader at the institute in 1985. He pioneered the development of transgenic livestock and oversaw the establishment of the institute’s research programme on human embryonic stem cells.
In 1997, it made headlines worldwide after unveiling Dolly as the first cloned animal. It was thought that the firm’s genetically-cloned sheep would revolutionise the biotechnology sector, while its modified pig organs would be transplanted into humans, providing a solution to the donor crisis. But after 16 years of pure research, the group’s 150 employees across Scotland and New Zealand dwindled to a skeleton.
New Book on Gene Flow
- Klaus Ammann
Dear friends, a major publication has been announced and is ready to be distributed. It produces a broader view on gene flow and its consequences of Genetically Modified Plants into Wild Relatives If you become a member of EFB, see below the website and forms, then you enjoy a 20% discount.
New Plant Biotechnology Book: Introgression from Genetically Modified Plants into Wild Relatives Edited by H C M den Nijs, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, D Bartsch, Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, Germany, and J Sweet, National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), Cambridge, UK
A major concern with the use of genetically modified plants is the unintentional spread of the new genes from cultivated plants to their wild relatives and the subsequent impacts on the ecology of wild plants and their associated flora and fauna. This book reviews these issues, focusing on the ecological and evolutionary effects of introducing GM cultivars. It presents current knowledge of crop-wild relatives hybridization and introgression, and the measurement and prediction of their consequences. CABI Publishing, 0 85199 816 X, Hardback, £75.00 (US$140.00)
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