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November 17, 2005


Science Medal for Borlaug; Lessons from Sonoma; Advancing Arizona; Biofortified Sorghum; Peas from Down Under


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: November 17, 2005

* National Medal of Science for Dr. Norman Borlaug
* Lesson of Measure M: Grassroots Mobilization Works
* Will Transgenic Plants Adversely Affect The Environment?
* Advancing Arizona on its Way to becoming Genomics Central
* Africa Biofortified Sorghum
* Less Could be More When it Comes to Labelling GM Foods
* GM Crops 'Vital' for Africa's Food Supply
* Genetic Food Plan Axed

(From Prakash: A couple of days ago the AgBioView server went berserk and sent out multiple copies of the newsletter to all of you. This is extremely annoying and I am deeply sorry about this nuisance. I am working with the company to identify the problem and fix it. Again, I apologize for this irritation..... C. S. Prakash) ---------------------

Dr. Norman Borlaug wins the National Medal of Science

- White House, Office of the Press Secretary, November 14, 2005

Recipients of the 2004 National Medal of Science and 2004 National Medal of Technology

Today President George W. Bush announced the recipients of the Nation's highest honor for science and technology, naming the recipients of the 2004 National Medal of Science and National Medal of Technology. The National Medal of Science honors individuals for pioneering scientific research in a range of fields, including physical, biological, mathematical, social, behavioral, and engineering sciences, that enhances our understanding of the world and leads to innovations and technologies that give the United State s its global economic edge. The National Science Foundation administers the award, which was established by the Congress in 1959. For more information about the National Medal of Science visit http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/awards/nms/medal.htm.

The National Medal of Technology honors individuals who embody the spirit of American innovation and who have advanced the Nation's global competitiveness. Their vision and accomplishments have helped commercialize new technologies, create jobs, improve American productivity, and stimulate the Nation's economic growth and development. This award, established by Congress in 1980, is administered by the Department of Commerce. For more information about the National Medal of Technology, visit http://www.technology.gov/meda

See the full list at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/11/20051114-5.html

(From Prakash: On behalf of all AgBioView readers, I congratulate Dr. Borlaug for this awesome recognition for his contribution to the betterment of the world. The National Medal of Science is the highest honor bestowed on a scientist by the US Government.

Read all about this great man at http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/topics/borlaug/index.html )


The Lesson of Measure M: Grassroots Mobilization Works

- Mike Strunk, California Farm Bureau, Nov, 16 2005 (Via Vivian Moses)

I was stunned, I was humbled and I was thankful for the victory we achieved in defeating the anti-biotechnology initiative, Measure M. To the dozens of farmers who showed up on a rainy Sunday morning on their tractors, to the hundreds of volunteers who worked tirelessly to get our messages out, I send a heartfelt thank-you.

When the 10-year biotech moratorium qualified for last week's election in Sonoma County, I quickly realized we had a lot of work to do. This measure was largely symbolic, yet very important. We do not have many biotech crops grown in Sonoma County--just a handful of dairy farmers who grow biotech corn for feed. But because Sonoma County is the headquarters of the anti-biotech movement in the state, we knew if we were going to put up a fight, we would have to put up a great one.

We first had to educate ourselves on biotech crops. We learned that biotech crops are one tool in our toolbox to develop safe, affordable foods in an environmentally friendly manner. This is what the public wants, and this is what we aim to deliver. We knew we couldn't close the door to this innovation, even if the opposition tried to sell the initiative as merely a "time-out." We had to protect the farming way of life for those of us who utilize this technology now, and for those of us who might need it in the future. We could not let our opponents' campaign of county-by-county bans gain any more steam. We had to defeat them on their home turf.

Taking lessons from previous campaigns, we created a grassroots team to educate the public on biotech crops. We developed a strategy, held weekly meetings and made as many public visits as possible.

Knowing our strategy could not be executed without fund-raising, we mobilized our grassroots contacts so that we could achieve our fund-raising goals. I never thought I would be able to pick up the phone one day and call people I didn't know to ask for money, and I was amazed at the positive response I got from my fellow farmers.

We received donations from every part of the state. County Farm Bureaus that could afford to give, did. American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman supported us by giving the keynote address at our August fund-raiser. We learned that Bay Area media markets are among the most expensive in the state, so it was not cheap to execute this campaign. Now, with the campaign successfully ended, we will be working to retire the debt.

My hats go off to my Farm Bureau board in Sonoma County and to Lex McCorvey, our executive director, for the time and dedication they devoted to defeating Measure M. The support we all garnered from farmers at the county, the state and the national levels sends a powerful message. Grassroots mobilization works. It worked for us in Sonoma County--as it worked last year in Butte and San Luis Obispo counties--and I believe it is one of the biggest strengths of our organization.

This is what makes Farm Bureau tick. We had an issue that developed at the county level, created a strategy to defeat it, executed it and succeeded. California Farm Bureau offered advice and support, while the Sonoma County Farm Bureau organized the local Family Farmers Alliance that directed the campaign. I appreciated that working relationship. We all came together on this issue and the relationships we built--within the county and around the state--will help in the future.

I believe this is why we won.

(Mike Strunk, a farmer from Sebastopol, serves as president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. He may be contacted at lex@sonomacountyfarmbureau.com.)


Will Transgenic Plants Adversely Affect The Environment?

- Velkov Vassili V; Medvinsky Alexander B; Sokolov Mikhail S; Marchenko; Anatoly I. 2005. Journal of biosciences, 30. 4. 515 - 548.

Transgenic insecticidal plants based on Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) endotoxins, on proteinase inhibitors and on lectins, and transgenic herbicide tolerant plants are widely used in modern agriculture. The results of the studies on likelihood and non-likelihood of adverse effects of transgenic plants on the environment including: (i) effects on nontarget species; (ii) invasiveness; (iii) potential for transgenes to 'escape' into the environment by horizontal gene transfer; and (iv) adverse effects on soil biota are reviewed.

In general, it seems that large-scale implementation of transgenic insecticidal and herbicide tolerant plants do not display considerable negative effects on the environments and, moreover, at least some transgenic plants can improve the corresponding environments and human health because their production considerably reduces the load of chemical insecticides and herbicides.


Advancing Arizona on its Way to becoming Genomics Central

- Daniel Stolte, University of Arizona, November 16, 2005

UA/BIO5 researchers have received a $29 million federal grant as part of a consortium to unlock the genetic code of the corn plant. The knowledge gained from the Maize Genome Sequencing Project will enable plant scientists and breeders to improve agronomically important traits in cereal crops more rapidly.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) chose the UA team and its partners from a highly competitive pool of applicants including the Broad Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute.

The National Science Foundation has selected a consortium of four research institutions to sequence the maize genome: The University of Arizona, Washington University in St. Louis, Iowa State University in Ames and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, New York.

The UA team previously collaborated with Washington University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as part of an international consortium to unravel the rice genome sequence, which was published in Nature in August 2005.

The goal of the Maize Genome Sequencing Project is to unravel the complete DNA sequence of the maize plant and to determine the number of genes and their position on the chromosomes - the tiny bundles of DNA that form the storage units of genetic information.

The grant further strengthens and expands Arizona's leading position in genomics research, which is considered a key ingredient in building a leading-edge bioindustry. Genomics - the analysis of an organism's complete set of genes - provides the basis for the improvement of crops, development of new drugs or finding the ultimate causes for disease.

The Battelle Memorial Institute's 2002 AZ Bioscience Roadmap, commissioned by the Flinn Foundation, identified UA's genomics research capabilities as one of the university's core strengths with high potential for leveraging of state investments.

"The genome sequence will tell us which genes we need to focus on to develop corn varieties that produce higher yield and better quality with less water on less land," said Wing, who is a professor in the department of plant sciences at the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a member of BIO5.

Unraveling the corn genome will be a breakthrough with enormous implications for other cereal crops besides corn, including varieties important for Arizona, such as wheat, sorghum and millet.

"A lot of applications will result from this project," said Brian Larkins, a Regents' Professor in the department of plant sciences who works on enhancing the nutritional value of corn. "The cereals are very closely related to each other, so we can transfer a lot of what we learn about gene function in maize to other crops."

One important goal is to enhance drought resistance in corn and other cereal crops, which would greatly benefit regions with less favorable conditions for agriculture. Other improvements aim at increasing yield and nutritional value and optimizing the properties crucial for grain products such as flour, noodles and pasta.

"Once the corn genome sequence is in our hands, these advances can happen much faster," Wing said. Corn is one of the most important economic crops in the United States, and, together with rice, accounts for 70 percent of worldwide food production. The production of corn-based products with enhanced nutritional value that are safer and less allergenic than the foods we eat today will directly benefit consumers. Corn plants will also prove useful in producing novel compounds, such as industrial feedstocks, biofuels and medicinal products.

Wing's group provides the framework for the project: a so-called physical map that covers about 95 percent of the maize genome. Using the map, the scientists will then generate a draft sequence to reveal the locations of the genes within stretches of so-called non-coding DNA. Only the gene-containing regions will then be sequenced in detail. This sequencing strategy enables the consortium to sequence the corn genome at a fraction of the cost that was necessary to decipher the human genome, which is only sl corn genome.

"This grant reinforces the position of the UA as a world leader in plant genomics," said Vicki Chandler, director of BIO5 and a Regents' Professor in the department of plant sciences at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "It further exemplifies our exceptionally competitive position in attracting national funding for key areas such as genomics -- an invaluable asset for Arizona's developing bioindustry."

Wing's team will take advantage of the state-of-the-art genomics facilities in the Thomas W. Keating Building, the future home of BIO5, scheduled for completion in spring 2006. "The new building will offer the increased space we need to expand our laboratory facilities for the project," Wing said. "It will also allow us to enhance capacities for computation. BIO5 makes large-scale endeavors like this possible by investing heavily in bioinformatics."

Deciphering billions of letters of genetic code yields vast amounts of data, which have to be stored, accessed and interpreted. BIO5's capabilities in bioinformatics help scientists manage and analyze complex data.

The software used to generate the genetic map was developed by Carol Soderlund, who holds a research faculty position at BIO5 and in the department of plant sciences at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Her computer program was used to build the physical maps of every large genome that has been sequenced to completion, including the human genome.


Africa Biofortified Sorghum


Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project Consortium is a needs-driven, African-initiated and African-led initiative. It brings together nine globally-respected institutions under the leadership and co-ordination of the Africa Harvest Biotechnology Foundation International (AHBFI) or "Africa Harvest".

The ABS Project - also dubbed "The SuperSorghum Project" (see www.supersorghum.org) is truly African initiative as seven of the nine consortium member organisations are in Africa while the other two in the USA. At least 80% of the project budget will be spent on ABS research and developments in Africa. The project will also build the infrastructure and human capacity of many African organizations.

Africa Harvest's CEO, Dr. Florence Wambugu, had the initial project vision as her dream has always been to bring the tangible benefits of science and technology, and in particular biotechnology, to Africa's most needy people. While Dr. Wambugu agonized on the challenge of translating 'high-level science' to the most needy in Africa, another African scientist, Dr. Blessed Okole, the Technology Manager at South Africa's Council for Science and Industrial Research, CSIR Bio-Chemtek, was equally pained at the challenge of using science to meet the needs of his poverty stricken continent.

Dr. Wambugu flew to South Africa several times to share her vision with Dr. Okole. It was therefore a natural progression for the two African scientists to "meet urgently" after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the Grand Challenges in Global Health (GCGH) initiative which sought to identify critical scientific challenges in global health and increase research on diseases that cause millions of deaths in the developing world each year.

After heated discussions going late into the night, the two Africa scientists realized that the ABS Project would require pulling together the scientific and institutional muscle of several African and international organizations. Their first call was to Dr. Paul Anderson, the Research Director at Pioneer Hi-Bred, which is a subsidiary of the Dupont company. His immediate response was that there are many ways in which Pioneer would play a charitable role. Dr. Anderson's reaction left no doubt that the ABS Project had been born, paving the way for other strategic partners to be brought on board.

The ABS consortium is an excellent example of how strategic partnerships can help achieve a specific purpose. Individually, none of these organizations had the capacity to achieve the objectives of the ABS Project, but together, playing clearly identified roles, the goals are achievable.


The Writing is on the Label: Less Could be More When it Comes to Labelling GM Foods

- Alicia Roberts, Sparkplug, Nov. 16, 2005 (From Agnet)

Canadian consumers are curious customers, but how much information do they really want? That's the question philosophy professor David Castle of the University of Guelph is trying to answer. He's leading a study that's investigating whether or not food labels should include information about genetically modified (GM) foods.

"Genetic modification means different th ings to different people," says Castle. "We're investigating from an ethical standpoint and trying to determine more than just whether or not people want the information, but also why they want the information and how they can use it. We ultimately want answers to these questions so we can develop recommendations for labelling policies that accurately reflect Canadian values."

When asked, a majority of Canadians say they would prefer to have labels on GM foods and would like more information as opposed to less. But consumers don't specify what type of information they would prefer and, more important, why they want that information. This makes it difficult to determine what and how much information is appropriate. And currently, the Canadian General Standards Board says labelling is a voluntary standard, which means the industry creating the product can decide to use labels or not.

Castle is working with Prof. Conrad Brunk of the University of Victoria's Department of Philosophy, Prof. Karen Finlay of Guelph's Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies and Guelph graduate students Chris Nolan and Anthony Vander Schaaf. The team is analyzing existing studies and conducting focus-group exercises to help determine whether labelling GM foods would be useful to consumers and what motivates them to buy GM or non-GM products.

"The scope of what people worry about with genetic modification is wide, and it always will be," says Castle. "The cause for concern might arise from a different background of information than what industries expect, so we need to know why the information is needed and how it will help the consumer." This is a two-year study. The first year will focus on the consumer surveys and data collection; the second year will focus on the development of a policy statement.


GM Crops 'Vital' for Africa's Food Supply

- John Yeld, Cape Argus (South Africa), Nov. 16, 2005 http://www.capeargus.co.za/

Africa will have a projected cereal crop shortfall of 88.7 million tons by 2025, but the population will have doubled to 1.5 billion in the same period, a University of Cape Town biotechnologist has warned.

This was why biotechnical solutions involving genetic engineering to produce more and better crops were a vital part of efforts to achieve food security for Africa, Professor Iqbal Parker told parliament's agriculture committee yesterday.

Parker, research director in UCT's health sciences faculty and professor of medical biochemistry, said he was not a lobbyist for GMOs (genetically modified organisms). But he believed there were very tight controls in place in South Africa relating to genetic engineering, and the country had to be "logical and sensible" because many biotechnological advances were being made.

But the ANC's Tshepiso Ramphele expressed several concerns about GMOs. He said MPs had an obligation not to take decisions that were detrimental to South Africa, and there were reports that some countries allowing the production of genetically modified crops had suffered declines in agricultural exports because of opposition from importing countries.

There was also the problem of "bio-pollution" whereby farmers producing natural or organic crops such as red maize had their crops polluted by genetically engineered maize on neighbouring farms. Ramphele also questioned whether South Africa was able to make informed assessments about GMO crops.

Parker said "first-generation" biotechnology had been available for 15 years for many uses, including insulin production from pig pancreases and for cheese and beer production, "(but) many people get scared of biotechnology when they hear of it".

However, there had been dramatic advances and there was now "third generation biotechnology" such as genetic modification which did not require the use of any animal sources. There was also a very tightly controlled process to ensure that genetically modified bacteria - such as those used in producing insulin which also involved some human genetic material - could not survive outside the laboratory. South Africa had biotechnology policy and legislation in place and ethical issues were being addressed, he said.


Genetic Food Plan Axed

- Jeff Sommerfeld, The Courier Mail (Australia), Nov. 18, 2005


A multimillion-dollar project involving genetically modified food has been scrapped by the CSIRO after an altered pea produced lung inflammation in mice. The discovery will raise new questions about the safety of genetic modification.

But supporters say the discovery of the defect has shown that safeguards work. CSIRO has spent more than a decade and $5 million testing techniques to make peas and beans pest and disease resistant by introducing alpha-amylase inhibitor protein.

As part of its risk assessment, CSIRO asked the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra to test whether the peas with the introduced protein caused an immune reaction in mice. After two weeks, the GM peas caused an immune response and lung inflammation in mice. The immune response increased after four weeks.

John Curtin School of Medical Research immunologist, Paul Foster, said the consumption of plant by the mice had altered their basic immune response. When the plant was inhaled it caused an inflammation of the lung, Professor Foster said.

"However, normally you would not inhale a transgenic plant," he said. Dr TJ Higgins, the deputy chief of CSIRO Plant Industry, said this was only the second example of such a reaction recorded in genetic modification. "The only other example I know about was when a gene was taken from brazil nuts and transferred into soya beans," Dr Higgins said. "Work was immediately stopped on those soya beans."

Dr Higgins said the CSIRO was finalising arrangements with the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator for the disposal of the peas. "The field sites are monitored for several years afterwards to ensure no further GM peas grow," he said.

Dr Higgins said the same test on beans did not have a reaction as the protein was slightly different for peas. "This shows the regulators are doing their job," he said. "The regulatory system works. It ensures we have food from GM plants as safe as we get from conventional plants. Anything that has a slight risk is picked up. "It doesn't support the view that all GM foods give rise to Frankenstein foods."

Dr Higgins and Professor Foster said mice used in the test did not die and their reaction to the plant had not been life-threatening. Australian Greens senator Rachel Siewert (WA) said there were deep concerns in the community about the impacts of genetic modification.

"This one is a classic example of the problems that can eventuate when we start fiddling," Senator Siewert said. "Scientists are moving down quite dangerous lines in what they are creating and we know it can escape into the bush as weeds and things."

Gene Technology Regulator Sue Meek said much of the CSIRO trial had been done before the establishment of her office. However, the experiments had been conducted under the same strict guidelines. "This allows experimental work to be conducted in the field - but tightly controlled," Dr Meek said. "What we have seen in this instance is how a regulatory system should work - experimental work under tightly controlled situations."