Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: August 24, 2005
* Sorghum to be the Second Cereal Crop Sequenced
* Argentina OKs new GMO corn developed by Syngenta
* Monsanto plans GMO cotton royalty in Brazil-report
* No escape for transgenic papaya
* Monsanto readies distribution of new GM corn
* Industry to clamp down on organic labelling fraud
* Animal Rights Activists Desecrate Grave
earned that the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (JGI) has targeted sorghum for sequencing in 2006. The JGI was instrumental in sequencing the human genome.
According to NSP Research Director Dr. Jeff Dahlberg, the project will engage an international consortium led by Dr. Andrew Paterson from the University of Georgia. Dahlberg said the project is a logical outgrowth of long-term research efforts that have been supported by NSP to enhance the knowledge of the hereditary information of the sorghum plant. In the past, genomics research has been funded by sources including the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program, the United States Department of Agriculture National Research Initiative, and the International Consortium for Sugarcane Biotechnology.
"This is as important as the advent of sorghum hybrids 50 years ago," said Dahlberg. "Sequencing sorghum is a critical a step in building our knowledge base on how plants function and, like the use of hybrids, will allow us to make significant advancements in crop improvement for the next 50 years. This project will be valuable as we move from fundamental studies of genome organization and gene discovery to applied efforts in sorghum."
Rice was the first cereal grain to be sequenced and Dahlberg said that sorghum is the most logical choice for the next sequencing project because the crops are so complementary. "Sorghum is an important bridge to closely-related large-genome crops in its own tribe such as maize and sugarcane. Analysis of the levels and patterns of genomic diversity within and between sorghum, sugarcane, rice, and maize promises to advance our understanding of the biology and evolution of Poaceae grain and biomass crops, and create new opportunities for their improvement. Sorghum is one of the worlds leading grain crops, and is an important model for tropical grasses worldwide."
Argentina OKs new GMO corn developed by Syngenta
- Reuters, August 23, 2005
BUENOS AIRES - Argentina, the world's No.2 corn exporter, approved on Monday a new genetically modified (GMO) corn made by Swiss firm Syngenta
The variety, known as GA21, is resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, just like Roundup Ready corn developed by rival biotech giant Monsanto .
The government forecasts that farmers will seed between 3.0 million and 3.1 million hectares with corn this season, down from 3.32 million hectares in the 2004/05 crop year, mainly because GMO soybeans are cheaper and easier to grow.
But the government wants to encourage farmers to plant corn, which is crucial for replenishing soil nutrients.
"If through biotechnology we can achieve costs that are similar to soy's costs, this will generate sustainable crop rotations," Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos told a news conference.
Because Argentina already approved Roundup Ready corn last year, the impact of this green light is not expected to be great.
But Campos said Argentine farmers choose among more than 148 variations of Roundup Ready soybeans, which revolutionized the farm sector after their introduction in 1996, indicating that there is a market for fine-tuned crop options. Still pending is approval of a Monsanto corn variety that combines Bt and Roundup Ready genes to resist both insects and glyphosate, which analysts expect to have greater impact since Bt corn is already seeded on about 60 percent of corn lands. A conflict between the government and Monsanto over GMO soybean royalties has cast doubt about when the government would approve this new variety.
Argentina is the world's No.2 producer of GMO crops behind the United States, with ten biotech crop varieties approved for seeding: one for soy, two for cotton and now seven for corn, according to biotech lobby ArgenBio.
Monsanto plans GMO cotton royalty in Brazil-report
- Reuters, August 24, 2005
SAO PAULO - The Brazilian unit of biotech seed pioneer Monsanto Co. hopes to charge a royalty on genetically modified (GMO) cotton in Brazil by the 2005/06 crop, the Gazeta Mercantil paper reported on Tuesday.
Monsanto's sales manager Jose Carlos Caramate said in an interview with the paper that he estimated that five percent of Brazil's 1.3 million tonne cotton crop was from black market GMO seeds.
"We are studying the best way (to collect), but we should begin charging during the 2005/06 crop," Caramate said.
Monsanto's press department in Brazil said it would not comment on its plans to charge a royalty on cotton.
Monsanto has in the past charged royalties on black market soybeans in Brazil by establishing an agreement with exporters and cooperatives to collect from producers when they sell their soybeans.
The soy sector and Monsanto are currently in negotiations over the company's plan to raise the royalty.
"With the exception of Parana (No. 2 soy state) and Goias (No. 3 soy state), where negotiations are still continuing, we are prepared to collect the royalty on our technology throughout the country, including Roraima, Para and Mato Grosso (No. 1 soy state)," Caramate said.
Originally Monsanto had only charged royalties in the southern soy producing states such as Rio Grande do Sul, where Brazil's black market GMO soy production is concentrated.
But with the passage of a new biosafety law through Congress earlier this year, the planting of GMO soybeans was legalized across the country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said recently that Brazil has the potential to become a major world producer of cotton. The Latin American agricultural powerhouse recently won a landmark dispute against U.S. cotton subsidies at the World Trade Organizations.
No escape for transgenic papaya
- Checkbiotech, by Katharina Schoebi, August 23, 2005
In plant technology, the identification of transformed plantlets is pivotal for the further steps of research or production. Researchers have now been able to genetically engineer papayas so they can utilize mannose as a sugar source. In this way, they can efficiently be identified as transgenic and separated from non-transgenic varieties.
When researchers are genetically engineering plants, they afterwards have to separate those plant cells, that have effectively taken up new DNA (transformed) and those that did not add the DNA of interest to their genome (non-transformed).
In order to differentiate between transformed and non-transformed plant cells, scientists have developed selection systems that are mainly based on the use of antibiotics or herbicides. With antibiotic selection systems, scientists add a gene that renders the cell resistant to one specific antibiotic. Some cells will add the genes to their genome, while others will not. Cells are then grown in medium containing the specific antibiotic, which will kill the non-transformed cells, leaving behind only the desired cells.
However, there are some disadvantages with these selection systems. The plants could pass their acquired resistant against antibiotics or herbicides to other plants, and in some cases a selection system may not be applicable to all plant species of interest.
In addition, since there are so few selection system options, when scientist want to “stack” or add several genes of interest into a plant, they would need either a new selectable marker gene for each new gene introduced, or a technology for removing the initial selectable marker gene so that it can be used again for the subsequent transgenic event.
Although there is no evidence that selection markers pose a health threat to humans or animals, there is a definite possibility of poor consumer acceptance of food products containing antibiotic-inactivating proteins.
An alternative to the use of genes for antibiotic resistance is the introduction of various physiological marker genes in the plant cells. These genes affect the metabolism of the plants that afterwards are able to decompose substances that normally are toxic for them.
An example of such a physiological marker is a gene encoding the enzyme phospho-mannose isomerase (PMI). PMI converts mannose to mannose-6-phosphate, a step that is essential to use mannose as a carbon source. PMI is not present in many plant species and plants lacking PMI are not able to survive on a medium containing mannose, because they cannot metabolize this sugar.
The selection gene pmi is widespread in nature, however its presence in plants is restricted to only a few species. Since it does not confer resistance to either antibiotics or herbicides, it has no potential for conferring a selective advantage to weeds or microorganisms. The selection of genetically altered cells with the PMI/Man system is as good as, and sometimes even better than, traditional antibiotic or herbicide systems.
Still, there are some additional advantages. PMI is readily digested, has no adverse toxic effects in mice, generates no obvious biochemical changes in the mannose-associated pathway and lacks many of the attributes related to known oral allergens.
PMI could act as a selection system for plant transformation, as it was first described by Kirsten Bojsen et al. In 1999, Bojsen and her colleagues obtained a United States Patent as they showed that the expression of the bacterial pmi gene would allow Man-sensitive plant cell cultures of potato, sugarbeet and corn to grow on mannose and to use it as carbon source.
A research team headed by Yun Judy Zhu from the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center in Aiea, Hawaii, collaborating with USDA ARS scientists, genetically transformed papaya (Carica papaya L.) plant cells with the pmi gene. They published their results in the journal Plant Cell Reports.
The research group was able to show that non-transformed papaya plant cells, cultured on medium containing mannose instead of sucrose, converted mannose to mannose-6-phosphate but were unable to change mannose-6-phosphate to fructose-6-phosphate. This step, however, would be necessary for successful growth. These non-transformed plant cells had little or no PMI activity, and growth was inhibited at any mannose concentration higher than 5 gram per litre.
However, the genetically engineered papaya cells grew very well on medium containing mannose at a concentration of 30 gram per litre, and the tissue looked yellow and healthy. Dr. Zhu and her team were able to regenerate plants from the mannose-resistant cells within 13 to 17 weeks from the beginning of the transformation. The plants did not show any visible unusual morphology. Currently, the researchers are collecting seeds from these plants.
“We will set up a limited field trial to evaluate the segregated progeny population for stable inheritance and expression level of the pmi gene along with the phenotypic characterization,” Dr. Zhu told Checkbiotech. If the phenotype is agriculturally acceptable, so that it is worth settling the intellectual property right issues, the researchers will work with papaya industry for commercialization.
Since there are relatively few plants (exception: leguminous plants) that are able to use mannose as a carbon source, the researchers predict that the PMI/Mannose selection system would also work well with most crops. However, Dr. Zhu and her colleagues do not have a current project works with a mannose selection system in other crops, but “in the future, we might use the PMI/Man system for transforming tropical ornamental plants,” Dr. Zhu said.
Dr. Zhu’s laboratory will seek agricultural industry support through a cooperative research agreement to continue research on PMI/Man system for tropical plants. In addition, they will also try and collaborate with papaya growers in order to conduce field tests on the improved papaya varieities. They will also strive to collaborate with Syngenta - who developed the mannose selection system - for licensing agreement for any potential commercialization of their product.
Katharina Schoebi is a biologist and a Science Writer for Checkbiotech. Contact her at email@example.com.
Yun J. Zhu et al. Effective selection of transgenic papaya plants with the PMI/Man selection system. Plant Cell Reports. Published Online, DOI: 10.1007/s00299-005-0956-6
Yun J. Zhu
Hawaii Agriculture Research Center
99-193 Aiea Heights Drive
Aiea, Hawaii, HI 96701
Monsanto readies distribution of new GM corn
- Sun Star (Philippines), August 22, 2005
SEED giant Monsanto Philippines will begin over the commercial distribution here of a genetically-engineered corn variety that could resist both the destructive Asiatic corn borer and herbicides used to eliminate field weeds.
Francisco Camacho, Monsanto's technology development executive here, said the "dekalb-stacked hybrid" has been approved for planting in the country by the Bureau of Plant Industry.
"This hybrid essentially solves the problem of our farmers here about the potential damage from the corn borer and weeds," Camacho said Thursday in a Monsanto-sponsored radio program.
According to a report from the University of the Philippines Los Baños-based Biotechnology Information Center (BIC), the new hybrid corn seed is practically a combination of the controversial Bacillus thuringiesis (Bt) corn and the Roundup-Ready corn, which underwent several field tests here and the neighboring areas.
Bt corn was approved for planting in the country in late 2002 while Roundup Ready corn was introduced in the markets earlier this year.
"So called stacked-trait corn, the plant bears two introduced genes in its genetic make-up. The first one called Bt gene (cry1ab) comes from a common soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis.
"The second one, the EPSPS (5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase) gene, isolated from CP4 strain of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, is a naturally-occurring bacteria in the soils which enables the corn plant to continuously produce essential aromatic amino acids even in the presence of glyphosate, a non-selective herbicide," the BIC report said.
Camacho said the availability of the new product in the local markets is very essential in combating the infestation of the corn borers and the weeds that could potentially destroy 60 to 80 percent of a normal cropping.
"As we have also experienced here in Socsksargen (South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos) area, the infestation of the corn borers and weeds reduces the quality of the corn as it encourages the presence of fungus," he said.
He added that the use of the new corn variety would reduce the cost of production, especially in terms of spraying pesticides and herbicides and the payment for the laborious manual weeding.
Camacho said that with the opening of the product for commercial distribution, he said they expect more farmers to adopt the various biotechnology corn varieties.
Local Monsanto personnel earlier said that over 8,000 hectares of farmlands have been planted with Bt corn in the Socsksargen area, considered as the second biggest corn-producing region in the country. (Allen V. Estabillo)
Industry to clamp down on organic labelling fraud
- Nutra Ingredients USA, By Lindsey Partos, 8/23/2005
The food industry must rapidly stamp out any fraudulent claims for organic food, if integrity and consumer trust is to be maintained.
Food manufacturers continue to enjoy strong demand for their organic food products.
Annual retail sales of organic foodstuffs have soared tenfold to top €1.51 billion in UK alone in the past decade, encouraging more growers and food makers to get involved.
But a report on Sunday in the UK's The Observer newspaper claims that there are “disturbing levels of fraud within the industry.”
Claims such as these could erode consumer confidence and eat into the buoyant growth figures.
According to the paper's investigation, following what is believed to have been the UK's first concerted investigation into organic food fraud by trading standards officers, farmers, retailers and food inspectors have disclosed a raft of malpractice.
“Trading standards teams across the UK told The Observer they were aware consumers' concerns about fraud were increasing,” reports the paper.
Fraudulent moves included food labelling offences and using organic certification without the right accreditation.
There are well over 4000 organic farmers and food processors in the UK working in a European market currently worth about €20.7 billion.
Commenting on The Observer article, a spokesperson for the Soil Association, the UK's leading accreditation body, told FoodNavigator.com that “tougher moves by trading standards and environmental health officers is better for genuine producers and organic consumers.”
The body carries out once a year inspection visits – about 4000 – as well as spot checks, on its licensees.
Firms wanting to use the organic logo have had to fulfill a host criteria prior to obtaining the logo license. And the spokesperson claims the 32 inspectors ensure they continue to meet the demands of the association.
“But firms selling their foods without our license are outside of our remit,” he added.
Rules that govern the labelling of organic foods come from Regulation EC2092/91, and are, as for all labels, designed to ensure that consumers are not misled.
For a product to be termed ‘organic' it must meet the standards of an approved independent control body, which has inspected all aspects of its production.
Labels must indicate the organic certification body with which the processor or packer is registered. The rules are the same for manufactured foods with one or more organic ingredients.
The EU regulation recognises that it is not yet possible to make products entirely from organic ingredients.
As a result the manufacturer can use up to 5 per cent of certain non-organic food ingredients and still label the product as organic. However, genetically-modified ingredients and artificial food additives are never allowed in organic foods.
For foods which contain 70 to 95 per cent organic ingredients the word organic appears only in the ingredients list and as a description on the front of label to show the percentage of ingredients which are organic.
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 15:19:05 -0500
From: "Dr. Tom DeGregori"
Subject: Animal Rights Activists
Is there any doubt about how demented the animal rights activists are (see article below)?
I doubt if any of their supporters will condemn this latest macabre outrage.
Being part of the movement and remaining silent about such actions is little different than carrying them out. Of course, this is merely the latest outrage of these groups even though it is a sicker than usual. Their continued physical and psychological assaults against the living are now joined with their assault against those who have passed away. And by making research more difficult, they are also attacking the less fortunate who are now alive and those yet to be born. Sick, Sick Sick!
Targeted guinea pig farm closes
- BBC, 23 August 2005
A farm that has been breeding guinea pigs for medical research for more than 30 years is to stop after intimidation by animal rights activists.
The family-run Darley Oaks Farm in Newchurch, Staffordshire, has been hit by a six-year campaign of abuse.
The owners and people connected with the firm have received death threats.
The family said they hoped the decision would prompt the return of the body of their relative Gladys Hammond, whose remains were stolen from a churchyard.
The remains were taken from her grave in nearby Yoxall in October.
Mrs Hammond, who was buried in St Peter's churchyard seven years ago, was the mother-in-law of Christopher Hall, part-owner of the farm.
In a statement, a close relative of Mrs Hammond, who declined to be named, said there was now no reason why her body could not be returned.
"Gladys was a relative of the Halls by marriage only and had no involvement in guinea pig breeding.
"She was a kind, gentle country lady who loved animals. She was also friendly, generous and loving and always put her family first."
The Hall family have been subjected to hate mail, malicious phone calls, hoax bombs and arson attacks.
A spokeswoman for David Hall and Partners confirmed that the business, where several thousand guinea pigs are reared, was to stop breeding animals for medical research.
The Hall family is now expected to concentrate on the arable side of the business.
Campaigners who have legitimately picketed the farm over recent years said they would continue their protest until the guinea pig breeding operation officially closed at the end of the year.
Johnny Holmes, a spokesman for Stop the Newchurch Guinea Pigs, said: "This is the most fantastic day of my life.
"It's a victory for the animals and it's a fundamental victory for the animal rights movement.
"Ideally, I wish they would close down today and hand them over. We want those guinea pigs out."
In a statement, the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI ) expressed its best wishes to the family and said their decision was "regrettable but understandable".
Director of the ABPI Philip Wright said guinea pigs had been essential in research into respiratory disease resulting in breakthroughs in the development of new medicines.
'Not a victory'
"The activities of a few animal rights extremists have placed impossible pressure on those going about their legitimate business," he said.
"While animal rights extremists are likely to be only one factor in the final decision, it does underline the need for greater protection of those individuals and companies targeted."
David Bird, from Staffordshire Police, told BBC Radio 4 it had been impossible to give complete protection because the campaign had been so widespread.
"We have had some success in dealing with those responsible. What I would say is that this closure is not a victory for anybody," he said.
"This campaign has done absolutely nothing to further the cause of animal rights."
Rod Harvey supplied fuel to the farm and endured four years of abuse from activists before he was forced to cease trading with the Halls.
The 63-year-old businessman said he received threatening letters, including one accusing him of being a paedophile which was then sent to a number of people he knew.
"In December 2003 a brick came through the window of my front door, hitting my foot and cutting my hand," he said.
"In view of what they (the Hall family) and their staff have had to put up with I'm not surprised that they have stopped breeding guinea pigs.
"I just feel so angry that these animal rights activists have won."