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December 8, 2005


Genetically modified field peas and reported effects in mice; Chance accused of being anti-GM crops; Coexistence of GM and non-GM Crops in Ireland; Benn defends aid for GM crops


Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: December 8, 2005

* Schubert - Is Plant Breeding Different from GM
* Genetically modified field peas and reported effects in mice
* Chance accused of being anti-GM crops
* Coexistence of GM and non-GM Crops in Ireland
* Benn defends aid for GM crops
* Yield enhancement and stability are goals of new crop research agreement
* Illinois farmers want to be able to keep some patented seed
* Myths around GM
* Expression of hepatitis B surface antigen in transgenic banana plants

From: "Roger and Carolyn Morton"
Subject: Schubert - Is Plant Breeding Different from GM - post script
Date: Thu, 8 Dec 2005 16:55:57 +1100

Further on Schuberts talk about GM vs conventional breeding. Schubert makes the point that "for the last 10,000 years, humans have selected and bred plants that did not make them sick and promoted their health."

And I agree - we have done this. But what happens when a conventional plant breeder wants to find, say, a new insect or disease resistance gene for her pet crop? She goes out into the populations of wild relatives of her pet crop plant. Wild relatives that have not been subjected to 10,000 years of selection for low toxicity. She then crosses these with her pet crop plant, selects her resistant line and does a few backcrosses to dilute out the "other" genes. Now, what screening is done on this new conventionally bred crop to determine if it still contains toxins from the wild relatives? The answer is NONE. Why is this OK? If Schubert says the GM crops have this hypothetical risk of throwing up toxic metablolites and comounds novel to the diet and that this should require them to be subject to "metabolic profiling" then why shouldn't conventionally bred crops which also have the same hypothetical risk be also subject to the same "metabolic profiling"?

I suggest Schubert funds some research in "metabolic profiling" that compares the results of profiling one conventionally bred cultivar with another and profiling one GM cultivar vs a conventionally bred sister. Once this study has been done we can see if profiling results in chaos or not. I would bet money that trying to interpret the results of such profiling will be a nightmare for both cases. But I suspect the nightmare will be bigger in the case of conventional vs conventional.


Genetically modified field peas and reported effects in mice

- Seedquest.com, December 2, 2005

There has been considerable media interest in an announcement by CSIRO that it has discontinued the development of a particular type of genetically modified (GM) pea after the publication of a paper reporting an immune response in mice that were fed the peas under laboratory conditions compared with those given non-GM peas.

Between 1997 and 2002, CSIRO conducted research and development field trials of genetically modified (GM) peas that were protected against pea weevils as a result of introducing an insecticidal protein (alpha-amylase inhibitor) derived from bean plants. These field trials enable data to be collected progressively under controlled conditions to enable researchers to decide whether results justify proceeding with further development. The trials were conducted under strict containment conditions – none of the GM material has been permitted to enter the human food chain.

FSANZ has not conducted any safety assessment of the peas since they are still in research and development, nor has any data been submitted to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) for assessment. However, CSIRO approached FSANZ several years ago to obtain advice on the type of data they would need to support an application to FSANZ to approve the peas for human consumption. FSANZ gave advice to conduct studies to, amongst other things, fully characterise the novel protein and in particular to determine its potential for toxicity and allergenicity in line with internationally accepted guidelines.

CSIRO has subsequently reported that these protein characterisation studies revealed that a modified form of the alpha-amylase inhibitor protein had unexpectedly been produced in the GM peas. In further studies, seed meal from the GM crops was fed to mice to determine if the modified form of the alpha-amylase inhibitor protein would also have a modified immune response. The results show that, under the specified experimental conditions, the modified protein has an altered immune response. However, the results do not show that the mice became allergic to the modified protein in food, nor does the study make any conclusions in relation to its relevance in humans.

The current approach internationally to the assessment of potential allergenicity is to use ‘an integrated, stepwise, case-by-case approach’. As no single definitive test can be relied upon to predict allergenic response in humans to a novel protein, a variety of information is considered in the assessment. At present, the information considered most relevant to the assessment is:

- the source of the novel protein;

- the physicochemical characteristics of the protein;

- similarity of the novel protein to known allergenic proteins; and

- susceptibility of the novel protein to enzymatic degradation in conditions that mimic normal digestion.

By using this ‘weight of evidence’ approach, a conclusion can be made as to the likelihood of the novel protein being a food allergen.

This internationally accepted approach has been elaborated by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO), and is followed by FSANZ. It uses a variety of data and information, which when considered together can be used to reach a conclusion about potential allergenicity of a new protein. The various animal models that are available are not considered to be sufficiently well developed or validated to use at the present time for this assessment. It is recognized however that, once developed and validated, they will form an important component of the weight of evidence approach.

As the modified form of the alpha-amylase inhibitor protein has not been subjected to this standard assessment for potential allergenicity, it is not possible to make any conclusions about its potential to be a food allergen in humans. Furthermore, the animal model used by the study authors has not been validated to predict human immune or allergic responses and the authors make no such predictions. It is therefore not clear what relevance (if any) the findings have in relation to human food allergy. Amongst other factors, the genetic composition of the host influences the outcome of exposure to the foreign protein.

While the significance of the research results for human allergenicity is not clear, the CSIRO has decided to end the research program. This type of situation is not unique to the development of GMOs - the development of conventionally bred, non-GM plants have also been terminated when unexpected or adverse effects have been detected.

FSANZ continues to monitor new scientific information from all sources and internationally agreed methodologies as they becomes available and will take this into account and modify safety assessment requirements where appropriate.


Chance accused of being anti-GM crops

- ABC, December 8, 2005

A Liberal member of the Upper House has accused Western Australian Agriculture Minister Kim Chance of letting his personal prejudices cloud his judgment in the debate over genetically modified (GM) crops.

Agriculture region MLC Anthony Fels says the State Government is burying its head in the sand by not allowing commercial trials of GM crops.

He says it is a disgrace that the Department of Agriculture has not carried out any trials of GM canola in the past two years.

Mr Fels it is clear Mr Chance has a personal bias against GM technology.

"He's indicated through what he's done that he doesn't support GM technology, he's pandered a lot to the anti-GM lobby groups and really by doing nothing he's satisfying what they're wanting which is no advancement of GM crops," he said.

Mr Chance says he does not have a view one way or the other on GM crops other than he believes WA needs more time to assess the technology.

He says while the Agriculture Department is not taking the lead in GM research, it is a partner in a number of GM trials around the state.

Mr Chance says members of a GM reference group have not been appointed yet, so it is nonsense to suggest it is stacked with anti-GM activists.

"I think that the Pastoralists and Graziers Association, the Western Australian Farmers Federation, leading scientists would be utterly appalled that they have been branded by Anthony Fels as radical anti-GM activists," he said.


Coexistence of GM and non-GM Crops in Ireland

- Dept of Agriculture and Food, 7 December 2005

Full report found at:



Benn defends aid for GM crops

- The Guardian, By John Vidal, December 8, 2005

Britain is to direct more foreign aid to develop genetically modified crops in Africa to speed up economic growth on the continent and use modern science and new technologies to tackle hunger.

A paper from the Department for International Development, launched yesterday by international development secretary Hilary Benn, includes commitments to promote patented GM seeds and scientific research by GM firms.

But Mr Benn said that it was up to individual developing countries to decide whether they wanted the controversial technology. "We should work on the basis of good science. I am genuinely neutral about GM," he said. The paper commits the government to channelling much of its new GM research funding through the Africa Agriculture Technology Foundation, based in Kenya, set up by in 2003 by the Rockefeller Foundation with American and UK government money and the help of major GM companies.

"GM is a very small part of our research activity," said Mr Benn. "It is mainly research into crops that the poor rely on. We will look at anything that could make a difference [to African poverty]." UK-based development charities reacted positively to the paper, but many groups urged the government to act with caution over GM.


Yield enhancement and stability are goals of new crop research agreement

- ACPFG, December 8, 2005

ADELAIDE, Australia - The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics Pty Ltd (ACPFG), based in Adelaide, signed a research collaboration agreement focusing on yield enhancement and stability in crops with Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., headquartered in Johnston, Iowa, USA.

Improving plant productivity, including the ability to cope with abiotic (environmental) stresses such as drought and nitrogen limitations, is a target for the new collaborative program. The overall goal is to provide farmers with better crop varieties.

"This is an excellent opportunity for the scientists in both organisations to develop outcomes relevant to the Australian wheat and barley industries and the US maize and soybean industry," said Professor Peter Langridge, Chief Executive Officer of the ACPFG.

"Increasing harvestable yield for our farmer customers is still the main focus of our research at Pioneer. This collaboration will help us to learn more about plant development and productivity under drought and nitrogen stress and allow us to bring dramatically improved products to market in the near future," said Bill Niebur, Vice President of Crop Genetics Research and Development at Pioneer.

The terms of the agreement give the ACPFG commercial rights to the collaboration's research outcomes in wheat and barley, while Pioneer will have commercial rights in maize and soybeans. Each will have commercial rights in other crops such as rice and sorghum.

"There is considerable scientific synergy between Pioneer and the ACPFG and we expect that this will be an important collaborative program that will grow into new areas over time," Professor Langridge said.

It is estimated that at least a dozen new scientists will work at the ACPFG as a result of the new collaboration, reinforcing the ACPFG's position as an internationally recognised crop genomics research facility and one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

The ACPFG is based at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus. It was founded in 2002, primarily with funds from the Australian Research Council, Grain Research Development Council and South Australian government.

"We're particularly pleased because this deal is the first major agreement with a large US commercial company for the ACPFG, a great achievement given we've been operating for less than three years," Professor Langridge said.

CONTACT: Michael Gilbert of ACPFG, +61 8 83036740 (office),
+0414 710 540 (cell), michael.gilbert@acpfg.com.au


Illinois farmers want to be able to keep some patented seeds

- ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 12/07/2005, By Repps Hudson

The Illinois Farm Bureau is urging a fresh look at federal laws that bar farmers from keeping patented plants' seeds from one year to the next.

The immediate target appears to be Monsanto Co.'s patented Roundup Ready soybeans, which comprise more than 80 percent of U.S. soybean production.

Illinois farmers produce one-fifth of the nation's soybeans. This year's harvest is estimated to be 3.04 billion bushels.

A resolution, approved Monday night, reflects the financial pressures on many farmers, who chafe at paying a premium for patented seeds. It also encouraged more research on seed technology by the private and public sectors.

The Illinois Farm Bureau's position, reached a decade after Monsanto began selling its patented seeds, is believed to be the first from a large soybean-producing state that challenges the seed giant's patent rights. The patented soybeans resist Roundup herbicide, which Monsanto also sells.

Farmers, struggling with higher fuel and fertilizer costs, want to save money by keeping Roundup Ready soybeans for their own use and planting them in later years. Monsanto has fought this practice in the courts.

Tamara A. White, the Farm Bureau's director of commodities, said four lawsuits involving brown-bagging are pending in Southern Illinois.

Brown-bagging is the centuries-old practice of saving the seed from a crop to be used in later years. Monsanto's Roundup soybean-use agreement specifically prohibits the practice. If farmers were allowed to brown bag seeds, experts say the resulting reduced sales would cut into the amount of money available for further research into genetically modified crops.

Lyle Roberts, executive director of the Illinois Soybean Association, said it's in farmers' long-term interest to ensure that companies doing research and development on GM seeds receive an attractive return on their investments.

"We believe you should let the marketplace decide. Farmers who plant these seeds make more money," said Roberts. "We think everyone should be working harder to get these products accepted in world markets."

"As far as this affects our business, it's not law," said Tami Craig Schilling, a spokeswoman for Monsanto. "We believe the farmer who loses access to technology in the long term is at risk. Patents protect invention and secure investment and innovation."

The American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington passed a similar resolution several years ago, said Michelle Gorman, a spokeswoman on biotechnology issues.

"Is there a way that farmers could save their seed and pay the tech fee?" Gorman said. "Farmers here see farmers around the world paying less for seeds, and they think that's unfair. You see 'brown-bagging' in Brazil. You see 'brown-bagging' in Argentina."

The Illinois Farm Bureau's resolution said if Congress were to amend the Plant Variety Protection Act, it should consider allowing farmers to keep the seeds from plants grown from patented seeds and to pay a reduced royalty. Farmers could use those seeds only on their own farms and would not be allowed to sell them.

Gorman said Monsanto's patents on genetically modified organisms are protected under a federal utility patent. The Supreme Court has ruled that a utility patent for seeds supersedes the Plant Variety Protection Act, she said.

"We think (the resolution is) fair," said Henry Kallal, a delegate who represents farmers in six counties in or near the Metro East. "The farmers I represent say it's virtually impossible to find non-GMO seeds now."

The 357 delegates, representing countries and districts throughout Illinois, approved the resolution after 35 minutes of debate, said White, and reducing subsidies to farmers, the delegates on Tuesday adopted language that urges the U.S. government to get countries - particularly Japan, South Korea and those in the European Union - to lower agricultural tariffs and subsidies, said Kallal, who chaired the farm-policy task force.

In addition, delegates supported some form of "income assurance" that would protect U.S. farmers when crops fail or market prices are low. They also want to see more government support for "green payments" for practicing land and habitat conservation.


Myths around GM

- THE WESTERN MAIL, By JA Harrington, 05 Dec 2005

Sir - I was both sorry and rather dismayed to read Jose Macdonald's letter suggesting that GM crops might be the cause of a recent E.coli outbreak. I say this because by writing this letter, Mrs Macdonald demonstrated her lack of knowledge of genetics and by printing it in your normally well-balanced newspaper you helped to publicise another myth about GM crops.

Genetic modification of plants (and other organisms) is a technique, NOT an end product; it is not possible to buy 'GM' any more than it is possible to buy an artist's painting technique or a composer's recording method. It is, of course, possible to buy their end product in the form of a beautiful portrait or a symphony.

Plant breeders have been using chemical and radiation techniques for inducing random variations in plant species for a hundred years or more although this process is very inefficient in that it takes an awful lot of failures to produce one success!

Organic growers often plant varieties which have been bred using these techniques particularly when they require improved disease resistance to avoid using fungicides.

The Chinese have even started sending plant material into space to expose it to radiation in the hope a beneficial mutation will occur.

Where GM plant breeding techniques work and are beneficial they should be welcomed just as they are in a great many countries around the world.

Jose's letter describes how GM crop growers use 'dangerous chemical sprays'. As opposed to what? Nothing? No of course not!

They use on average around 30% fewer active ingredients according to research done over the last three years in the USA where many crops have been grown commercially for around eight years.

At last autumn's Abergavenny Food Festival, Professor Denis Murphy of Glamorgan University and I were delighted to be invited to speak on the subject of 'Myths and Misunderstandings of GM Crops' and both hoped that we had laid to rest a great many of the issues raised in the media over the past ten years or so. From Mrs Macdonald's letter, it would appear that we will have to open a new file ready for next year!

J A Harrington, Optima Excel Ltd, (Agricultural and Environmental Consultants), Pen-y-lan, Tregoyd, Brecon


Expression of hepatitis B surface antigen in transgenic banana plants

- Planta, an International Journal of Plant Biology

Embryogenic cells of bananan cv. Rasthali (AAB) have been transformed with the 's' gene of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) using Agrobacterium mediated transformation. Four different expression cassettes (pHBS, pHER, pEFEHBS and pEFEHER) were utilized to optimize the expression of HBsAg in banana. The transgenic nature of the plants and expression of the antigen was confirmed by PCR, Southern hybridization and reverse transcription (RT)-PCR. The expression levels of the antigen in the plants grown under in vitro conditions as well as the green house hardened plants were estimated by ELISA for all the four constructs. Maximum expression level of 38 ng/g F.W. of leaves was noted in plants transformed with pEFEHBS grown under in vitro conditions, whereas pHER transformed plants grown in the green house showed the maximum expression level of 19.92 ng/g F.W. of leaves. Higher monoclonal antibody binding of 67.87% of the antigen was observed when it was expressed with a C-terminal ER retention signal. The buoyant density in CsCl of HBsAg derived from transgenic banana leaves was determined and found to be 1.146 g/ml. HBsAg obtained from transgenic banana plants is similar to human serum derived one in buoyant density properties. The transgenic plants were grown up to maturity in the green house and the expression of HBsAg in the fruits was confirmed by RT-PCR. These transgenic plants were multiplied under in vitro using floral apex cultures. Attempts were also made to enhance the expression of HBsAg in the leaves of transgenic banana plants by wounding and/or treatment with plant growth regulators. This is the first report on the expression of HBsAg in transgenic banana fruits.