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July 7, 2006


Mr. Green Genes; Basement Biotech; Reshaping Agriculture; Corn Sans Pollen; Shell Poohs Bioethanol; Activist's Tombstone


Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - July 7, 2006

* Mr. Green Genes - an old activist engineers confusion
* Tweaking Genes in the Basement
* Forces Reshaping World Agriculture
* Scientific Facts Back Up Statements
* Biotech Slashes Breeding Times
* Iowa State Researchers Developing 'Pollen-less' Corn
* Science and Technology to Play Bigger Role in China's Agriculture
* Shell Says Biofuels From Food Crops "Morally Inappropriate"
* Biotechnology Only Solution to Feed the World (says reporter, not the scientist)
* Common 'Couch' Potato Gets Protein Boost
* Pakistan: Finding New Ways to Eat
* Environmental Activist's Tombstone

Mr. Green Genes

- Ronald Bailey. Reason, July 7, 2006 http://www.reason.com/rb/rb070706.shtml

'An old anti-biotech activist tries to engineer some confusion'

Long time anti-biotech activist Jeremy Rifkin has come out in favor of a biotechnology technique. Should beleaguered biotechnologists break out the champagne and start celebrating? Not hardly. Earlier this week, Rifkin wrote an op/ed in the Washington Post in which he declared his support for marker assisted selection (MAS) for use in plant breeding. So far, so good.

MAS is a molecular technique in which researchers identify sections of DNA in a plant or animal located near a gene or genes that confer specific valuable traits. In plants, such traits might increase their resistance to drought or disease, or they might boost their productivity. Once a trait has been identified, researchers can trace it as they crossbreed the plants containing it with commercial varieties. Thus MAS makes it far easier for plant breeders to identify which of the crossbred plants carry the trait. That means that breeders don't have to plant the seedlings and then wait for them to grow up in the field before identifying which ones carry the sought-after new trait. MAS can cut the time to develop new commercial crop varieties in half.

Rifkin points to all of these advantages, but then declares that MAS has "made gene splicing and transgenic crops obsolete and a serious impediment to scientific progress." Whoa. Could that be true?

Plant geneticists and breeders don't agree. According to Alan McHughen, a plant biotechnologist at the University of California, Riverside, "The problem for Rifkin: MAS is not, as he suggests, an alternative to gene splicing (recombinant DNA or rDNA), but an adjunct. Both are powerful and useful tools that can be used together."

McHughen offers a real life example of how MAS and gene-splicing have been used to introduce disease resistance in rice. Many rice varieties have regularly been devastated by bacterial leaf blight. Fortunately, back in the 1970s researchers identified a blight-resistant species of wild rice native to Mali. Given the state of biotech then, it took years for the Xa21 gene that confers blight resistance to be identified. By the late 1990s, some California plant biotechnologists succeeded in using gene-splicing to insert the Xa21gene into commercial rice varieties to endow them with blight resistance. In 2003, Chinese plant breeders reported using MAS to identify and guide their efforts to successfully crossbreed a blight resistant rice variety with a productive commercial variety. Both are resistant to blight, but Rifkin wants to claim that one is a danger and the other is safe. Rifkin asserts that "With MAS, the breeding of new varieties always remain within a species, thus greatly reducing the risk of environmental harm and potential adverse health effects associated with genetically modified crops."

However, as McHughen points out, "The irony—if not stupidity—is that the resulting plant in each case is genetically identical. If one plant is safe, the other is equally safe. If one carries risks, the other carries the identical risks. Yet to Rifkin, the GE (genetically engineered) rice is so hazardous that it demands banning outright, and the other rice is the savior of sustainable agriculture." And what if the genes for disease resistance had not been found in a wild variety of rice, but in corn? Should farmers forego that advantage just because Mother Nature hadn't figured out a way to get beneficial genes from one species to another before human gene splicers came along?

Evidently, Rifkin thinks that breeding "within a species" is safe, but inserting genes from outside species is inherently bad, perhaps even immoral. Back in 1998 when he was flogging his book, The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World, Rifkin warned that because of biotech, "All living beings are drained of their substance and life becomes a code to be deciphered. There is no longer any question of sacredness or specialness."

Of course, not all of us share Rifkin view that tomatoes, soybeans and rice are inviolable entities, so he hints at environmental risks and adverse health effects to get people's attention. However, Rifkin doesn't cite examples of any such dangers. He can't; there haven't been any. In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences issued a comprehensive report with the fetching title, Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects that concluded, "To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population." The NAS also found that "assess[ing] products based exclusively on their method of breeding is scientifically unjustified." In other words, there is no reason to assess food made from genetically engineered crops any differently than foods made from traditional breeding methods. The NAS did recommend additional scrutiny if specific genetic modifications significantly change the nutritional composition of a food crop. Speaking of health risks, toxic varieties of crops have been produced by means of conventional breeding, as happened in the case of an insect resistant variety of celery (produced too much psoralen) and a potato (too much solanine).

So what about the potential environmental "risks" hinted at by Rifkin? He shares one frequently expressed concern by many opponents of genetically engineering crops that transgenes (the inserted genes) will "contaminate" conventional varieties or wild relatives through crossbreeding. As support, Rifkin cites a Union of Concerned Scientists survey that claimed that traditional varieties of corn, soybeans and canola are "pervasively contaminated with low levels of DNA sequences originating in genetically engineered varieties of these crops." Rifkin adds, "Cleaning up contaminated genetic programs could prove to be as troublesome and expensive in the future as cleaning up the viruses that invade software programs."

Rifkin fails to explain why something like the Xa21 gene is a "contaminant" if it derives from crossbreeding with a gene-spliced variety, but is not a contaminant if it comes from crossbreeding with an MAS variety. "No geneticist uses the term 'contamination'- it is a purely non-scientific construction designed to elicit an emotional response from non-scientists," says McHughen. "DNA is not a virus and bears no analogous relationship to computer viruses, except, perhaps, by those who wish to trick people into adopting an otherwise unpalatable political agenda."

Ultimately, Rifkin's latest proposal creates a false dichotomy, genetic engineering or MAS, when, in reality, it is both. McHughen concludes, "Rifkin is an opportunistic parasite, preying on people's scientific ignorance to generate funding and support."
Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.


Tweaking Genes in the Basement

- Allen Riddell|, Wired, July 6, 2006 http://www.wired.com

In the 1970s, before the PC era, there were computer hobbyists. A group of them formed the Homebrew Computer Club in a Menlo Park garage in 1975 to trade integrated circuits and swap tips on assembling rudimentary computers, like the Altair 8800, a rig with no inputs or outputs and memory measured in kilobytes.

Among the Club's members were Apple founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. As the tools of biotechnology become accessible (and affordable) to a wider public for the first time, hobbyists are recapturing that collaborative ethos and applying it to tinkering with the building blocks of life.

Eugene Thacker is a professor of literature, culture and communications at Georgia Tech and a member of the Biotech Hobbyist collective. Just as the computer hobbyists sought unconventional applications for computer circuitry, the new collective is looking for "non-prescribed uses" of biotechnology, Thacker said.

The group has published a set of informal DIY articles, mimicking the form of the newsletters and magazines of the computer hobbyists -- many of which are archived online. Thacker walks readers through the steps of performing a basic computation using a DNA "computer" in his article "Personal Biocomputing" (PDF). The tools for the project include a $100 high school-science education kit and some used lab equipment.

Other how-to articles guide readers through cultivating skin cells and "Tree Cloning" -- making uniform copies of plant tissue. Thacker calls the spirit of his article "playful," but adds that it's entirely possible that hobbyists could be part of the future of important biotechnology.

"The people in the Homebrew Computing Club didn't all aim to be Bill Gates," Thacker said. "Nobody knew what was going to happen. There was an interest in the technology as it first became accessible to people who didn't work in big corporations."

The Collective is the inspiration of Natalie Jeremijenko, who began the Collective in 1997. An artist and professor of Visual Arts at the University of California at San Diego, Jeremijenko says the virtue of the hobbyist's "hands-on, DIY mentality" lies in its power to engage a wider audience in the issues surrounding biotechnology.

"Messing with the stuff of the future allows you to have an opinion and to participate in the political process that determines our technological future," she said. "It's a little theoretical; it's also fun." She conjures Benjamin Franklin as the patron saint of the hobbyist. Rather than appealing to God or to experts, Franklin appealed to the "sense-making of the everyman," she said.

With the tools of the biotech amateur now available for purchase -- used laboratory equipment has its own section on eBay -- some have asked why "garage biotech" has not spread even further. The main factor limiting an amateur biotech community is the immaturity of the technology, according to Drew Endy, a biological engineering professor at MIT. "Even though it's cheap it's extraordinarily difficult," he said. "The technology isn't reliable enough."

And there's another reason. "People are very comfortable manipulating silicon," said Endy. "A lot of people, to be blunt about it, are not comfortable with taking responsibility for the manipulation of genetics."

Kim Coghill, a spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, was wary of a potential Bill Gates of biotech starting out as an amateur. "I hope he's not doing (something) in his basement without the guidance of the FDA," she said. All the members of the collective are familiar with the case of Steve Kurtz, a professor and artist who has had to defend himself against accusations of "bio-terrorism" after local police happened upon his amateur home lab in May 2004. He says his case has had a moderate "chilling effect."
"Amateurs need experts," Kurtz said. "We come to them with ideas and ask them for help. Scientists are (now) a lot more hesitant to get involved."

Kurtz adds that Tepnel, the company selling a biokit used to conduct a homebrew test for genetically modified organisms designed by Critical Art Ensemble, now refuses to sell to the general public.

While inconvenient, none of these obstacles will stop amateur engagement in the long-term, says Kurtz.
"They're not doing it because it's trendy -- people like the Biotech Hobbyist Collective," he said. "They authentically believe in what they're doing."

Getting Started on Garage Biotechnology

Full blog at http://www.fightaging.org/archives/000890.php

In the 70s, a handful of knowledgeable computer hobbyists gathered in the Homebrew Computer Club. A mere three decades later, hundreds of thousands of far more empowered individuals around the world collaborate on the production of hardware and software designs to the betterment of all. They are a cultural force and infrastructure for change unto themselves. What better future to look forward to that one in which many hands are joined in ever more beneficial trade and progress?

Today, the first biotechnology hobbyists are working their way through the same basics. As costs fall, the priesthood will dissolve and spread at the edges. Progress will accelerate - the long tail in any area of human endeavor has many hands and eyes, and a significant amount of funding power. More to the point, problems that traditional funds and organizations wouldn't touch will be open to new, less intensive, smarter approaches. This has all come to pass in the software world. It will also come to pass in biotechnology - which is simply a different form of programming in a wetter, much more complex operating system.

Garage Biotech and Suppression by Regulation


As a follow-up to my most recent post on a future of garage biotechnology - a future that could look much like present day open source software development, rife with possibilities; ever more efficient, ever better - you might want to read this rather depressing piece from Wired (see above)

Imagine where we'd be today if prosecutors and regulators were breathing down the necks of the early computer hobbyists in the 70s. These groups were part of a culture that gave rise to a huge industry and an ongoing empowerment of the common person far greater than any that has come before. Imagine if those people had not been able to obtain basic parts, if no company would sell to them, if innovation in computing had been squashed down to whatever happened within the conceptual boxes of a few large pre-existing companies and university departments. Government employees are not enablers of progress - they are millstones; the glue in the works; the boot on the neck.

As I've said before, of the challenges facing the future of healthy life extension research and the growth of beneficial biotechnology, it is ignorant, misguided, meddling politicians and bureaucrats that worry me the most.

At the end of their road of regulation, taxation, hostility to economic and research freedom, and centralized control lies something that looks much like the old Soviet Union - and each step towards that end is a step away from better medicine and longer, healthier lives.


Forces Reshaping World Agriculture

- Jeremy Mattson and Won Koo, Center for Ag Policy and Trade Studies, Agribusiness & Applied Economics Report No. 582; North Dakota State University
Complete document at http://agecon.lib.umn.edu/cgi-bin/pdf_view.pl?paperid=21789&ftype=.pdf

SUMMARY: Worldwide agricultural production is likely to become more competitive as a result of increased trade liberalization through the WTO and regional and bilateral free trade agreements. As a result, product specialization within countries will increase based on resource endowments. Production will increase in the countries that are the most efficient. Countries can become more competitive through agricultural research and development. Research in Brazil, for example, has helped that country become increasingly competitive in the world market.

Over the last several decades, total agricultural production has been increasing significantly across the world. The increase in total production has been largely due to higher yields. Increased yields and productivity are the result of technological advancements that began with the Green Revolution and continue today with biotechnology and other improvements in production. Agricultural research has led to higher yielding crop varieties, better livestock breeding practices, more effective fertilizers and pesticides, and better farm management practices. Future productivity increases will be influenced by public spending on agricultural research. Most countries, with the exception of Brazil, cannot significantly expand agricultural production land area, so future production increases will largely need to come from continually improving yields.

While technological advances initially appear to benefit producers by leading to higher yields, lower costs, and increased productivity, consumers ultimately benefit by lower real food prices. This can be demonstrated by the decline in real commodity prices over time. Consumers could also benefit from biotechnology through increased product quality, and there could be some environmental benefits from these technological advancements as well.

Increased production will be needed to satisfy increasing demand for agricultural products. This demand is based on a growing worldwide population (resulting in increased food consumption), rising incomes, and changing consumer tastes causing shifts in demand, and on the increasing use of agricultural products for industrial purposes.

In developed countries, per capita consumption of vegetable oils has increased considerably in recent years. As incomes continue to grow in developed countries, consumer demand may increase for high quality and specialty products, which could have an effect on production systems. Consumption of animal products is now growing the fastest in developing countries, and vegetable oil consumption is also increasing significantly, while per capita consumption of rice and wheat may have peaked. These trends should continue if per capita income in these countries continues to grow. Increased demand for meat in developing countries could also have a significant influence on the demand for animal feeds such as corn and soybean meal.

An increasing percentage of agricultural goods are being used for industrial purposes. The wide variety of industrial products that can be produced from agricultural commodities includes biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, and numerous bio-based products. The increasing use of biofuels, especially ethanol, has become an especially popular trend. This is leading to an increase in demand for corn, which should positively affect corn price. The use of other crops for biofuels could also increase significantly in the long run, such as soybeans for biodiesel or switchgrass or other products for ethanol.

In the past, agricultural production has been more than able to keep pace with increases in demand, and as a result, real prices have declined over time. In the future, however, prices of some commodities could increase if demand grows at a faster rate than production.


NDSU Report: Biotechnology Among Forces Reshaping World Ag

Information Systems for Biotechnology News Report

The complete document is available at: http://agecon.lib.umn.edu/cgi-bin/detailview.pl?paperid=21789.

Biotechnology is among key forces reshaping world agriculture, according to a new report from North Dakota State University, authored by Jeremy Mattson and Won Koo of NDSU's Center for Agricultural Policy and Trade Studies.

The authors point out in their report, "Forces Reshaping World Agriculture," that growth of agriculture in the United States is dependent on productivity increases. Since there is little land available for expansion of agricultural production in the U.S., growth in production will require increased yields. Export competitiveness is also dependent on relative productivity growth against major competitors.

Future productivity growth will be influenced by current and future research, especially public research. "New developments that could lead to further productivity increases include improved technologies for nutrient, soil, water, and pest management; precision agriculture; and agricultural biotechnology," the report says. "The emergence of biotechnology could especially have a significant impact on productivity worldwide."
Farmers benefit from the use of GM crops through increased weed and insect control, which could lead to increased yields and decreased pesticide costs. Mattson and Koo report that despite some consumer concern, the biotechnology trend is likely to continue as it leads to productivity gains for farmers. "The introduction of GM wheat has been delayed, largely due to concern that consumers in export markets will not accept it, but it could eventually be adopted," they write.

While current biotech crops have been developed mainly to improve agricultural production, future biotech crops could be introduced that have qualities such as increased nutritional content or other characteristics that would benefit consumers. "Consumer response to the further adoption of biotech crops is uncertain, but it may become more favorable as these crops are developed with more obvious benefits for consumers." Developing countries could benefit the most from biotechnology through productivity gains and improved nutritional content of crops such as golden rice.

Mattson and Koo point out that while technological advances appear to initially benefit producers by leading to higher yields, lower costs, and increased productivity, consumers ultimately benefit from lower real food prices. According to ERS data, food expenditures by U.S. consumers as a share of disposable personal income has dropped steadily from 24.2 percent in 1930 to 10.1 percent in 2003.


Other articles in July 2006 ISB News Report at

* Human Immune Protein CD14 Expressed in Tobacco
* Super-Sizing Cassava
* Effects of Transgenic Cotton on Biodiversity, Pesticide Use and Yield
* ABIC 2006 Conference: Unlocking the Potential of Agricultural Biotechnology


Scientific Facts Back Up Statements

- Western Mail (UK), July 4, 2006 http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk

Sir - I was perplexed to read Huw Beynon's letter questioning the contents of my letter when it is apparent that he is unaware of the scientific facts surrounding GM crops. Precisely which of my statements is he querying?

That GM crops have been grown for over a decade? That they have been eaten by millions of people? That they have reduced pesticide use substantially without a single verifiable example of any damage? As a result the uptake in much of the world has been rapid and after 10 years of commercialisation, 21 countries including some in Europe have recognised the benefits.

This includes 7.7 million subsidence farmers who have chosen to grow them because of their agronomic advantages.

Even more strangely, Mr Beynon then seems to assert that biotech companies apparently only sell sterilised seeds. (Any chance of a couple of examples please Mr Beynon or are you confusing this with F2 hybrids?). He might want to contact a plant breeder or biochemist for some guidance.

Mr Beynon asks if I am prepared to claim that the consequences of GM crops will not impact on my children and grandchildren and here I have to admit that I cannot. Evidence to date suggests that by reducing tillage requirements, soil erosion, water pollution, pesticide use, whilst increasing yields and the capacity to grow crops in previously impossible conditions, GM crops will have a very positive impact on their lives compared with what they might have had had we continued to rely solely on 'conventional' breeding techniques (such as varieties bred by induced mutation often chosen by 'organic' growers).

That is not to say that I am complacent about possible problems about which we must remain vigilant but not at the expense of potentially enormous benefits.

In the UK we seem to tolerate killing 3,500 road users (and injuring another 50,000) every year so that we can enjoy the benefits of motorised transport. To me our decisions should be guided by those who truly understand both the facts, and the science and then assessed on a 'risk and reward' basis. When the first antibiotics were developed there were problems (and even some deaths) but is it being suggested we should not have developed them in case something goes wrong in two or three generations' time?

As I see it, GM crop technology offers potentially enormous rewards for very little, if any, risk and therefore it's an easy decision. Let's do everything we can to make our agriculture, our food and the planet better with every piece of technology we can lay our hands on.

In a democracy such as ours who would Mr Beynon like us to help us with such decisions? Experts in their field or The Man on The Clapham Omnibus? I know who gets my vote.

- Jonathon Harrington, Tregoyd, Brecon


Biotech Slashes Breeding Times

- Emily Padfield, Farmers Weekly (UK), July 7, 2006

New techniques, including genetic manipulation, are slashing plant breeding timetables meaning new grass varieties can be available in as little as one-and-a-half years. Traditional breeding programmes can take 15 years to produce varieties, but scientific advances mean progress can now be made at up to 10 times that previously possible.

And despite consumer concerns, Mogens Toft Jensen - head of marketing and product management at DLF-Trifolium - believes that using these new techniques is vital. "We must meet customers' demands for plants that perform under extreme conditions, such as drought and vast temperature variations."

At DLF-Trifolium's Plant Breeding Centre in Denmark, exciting developments in genetic breeding are taking place, says Klaus Nielson, head of research. "We are now close to producing a reproductive stemless, non-flowering grass variety"red fescue.

Engo Lenk, biogenetic scientist at the centre, says using sophisticated biotechnology DLF-Trifolium has been developing a red fescue that is stemless and non-flowering year on year. Principles for breeding the stemless red fescue could be used for more typical grazing species. "This not only prevents the transfer of transgenes from genetically modified plants to traditional species, but provides nutrient rich, palatable forage varieties for farmers."

Before the process is complete, a way to induce flowering to breed from stemless, non-flowering varieties has to be found, Mr Lenk says. "We need to either remove the repressor or reactivate the dormant flowering gene and supply this to the seed growers."

But genetic modification is not the only tool in DLF-Trifolium's armoury, says plant breeder Morten Greve. Analytical methods, marker-based breeding and screening play a considerable role in breeding programmes. A large number of existing varieties, including the popular Festulolium, are already available through suppliers thanks to these more traditional methods.

The company's first genetically modified product - fodder beet variety Simplex - has been proven resistant to the environmentally mild pesticide glyphosate (RoundUp). Developed in conjunction with Danisco and Monsanto, Simplex has obvious advantages for both farmers and the environment, such as lower pesticide application and increased ecological sensitivity.


Iowa State Researchers Developing Bio Corn

- Amy Lorentzen, AP, July 6, 2006

Researchers at Iowa State University say they are developing biopharmaceutical corn that doesn't produce pollen, preventing the plants from contaminating other crops. The team of researchers is using traditional breeding techniques to cross a male-fertile corn line with a biopharmaceutical line to produce a hybrid containing a therapeutic protein.

That protein is then crossed with a sterile corn that hampers pollination, preventing nearby traditional corn and other crops from being contaminated by the genetically modified corn. "Pollen is one of the controllable aspects of the system, and we can do it, and do it very well," said Kendall Lamkey, interim chairman of the Agronomy Department.

Some critics are skeptical that biopharmaceutical crops will not contaminate other crops meant for food and feed. If contamination by bio corn does happen, it could hurt exports and devastate farmers, said George Naylor, who grows corn and soybeans near Churdan in central Iowa, the nation's top corn-producing state.

"It makes you wonder if they can guarantee that this thing is 100 percent effective … in terms of the pollen" said Naylor, president of the National Family Farm Coalition. Iowa State's Plant Science Institute initiated the research, which is also supported by the College of Agriculture. Lamkey and Wang said it will take about five growing seasons to conduct all of the crossbreeding that's necessary for the project.

Lamkey, director of the Raymond F. Baker Center for Plant Breeding, leads the breeding portion of the work and researcher Kan Wang, director of the Center for Plant Transformation, engineered the corn to produce the therapeutic protein.

Lamkey said corn is easy to manipulate from a breeding perspective because it has large tassels that can control pollination. "From a molecular biology and biochemistry point of view, we know so much about corn," Wang said in a statement.


Science and Technology to Play Bigger Role in China's Agriculture

- Xinhua, Jlu 7, 2006 http://english.people.com.cn

China plans to become a major world power in agricultural science and technology by 2020, the country's Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin said here Thursday. Addressing a national conference on agricultural science and technology, Du said by 2020, science and technology will contribute 63 percent of the growth in the agricultural sector, 15 percent more than it does now.

China still has a long way to go to catch up with the United States, where technical advancements account for 81 percent of the growth in agriculture, and 85 percent of agricultural technologies are actually applied to agricultural production, he said.

To achieve this goal, the minister said China will focus its efforts on five areas:
The first is to maintain its edge in super rice, genetically-modified anti-worm cotton, and the development of new breeds. The second is to develop core technologies in the production of safe farm products, the prevention and control of agricultural disasters, the processing of farm products and improving the ecological environment. The third is to manufacture its own critical agricultural equipment so that the country will depend less on imports.

China will also strengthen its research in agricultural high technologies and the industrial application of such technologies, with the aim of obtaining some innovative and internationally-advanced technologies, Du said.
The country will nurture a number of agricultural research institutions and colleges, and corporate research centers that are globally competitive, he said.


Shell Says Biofuels From Food Crops "Morally Inappropriate"

- Reuters News Service July 6, 2006 http://today.reuters.co.uk

Singapore - Royal Dutch Shell, the world's top marketer of biofuels, considers using food crops to make biofuels "morally inappropriate" as long as there are people in the world who are starving, an executive said on Thursday.

Eric G Holthusen, Fuels Technology Manager Asia/Pacific, said the company's research unit, Shell Global Solutions, has developed alternative fuels from renewable resources that use wood chips and plant waste rather than food crops that are typically used to make the fuels.

Holthusen said his company's participation in marketing biofuels extracted from food was driven by economics or legislation. "If we have the choice today, then we will not use this route," Malaysia-based Holthusen said at a seminar in Singapore.

"We think morally it is inappropriate because what we are doing here is using food and turning it into fuel. If you look at Africa, there are still countries that have a lack of food, people are starving, and because we are more wealthy we use food and turn it into fuel. This is not what we would like to see. But sometimes economics force you to do it."

The world's top commercially produced biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol, mostly used in the United States and Brazil, is produced from sugar cane and beets and can also be derived from grains such as corn and wheat. Biodiesel, used in Europe, is extracted from the continent's predominant oil crop, rapeseed, and can also be produced from palm and coconut.

Holthusen said Shell has been working on biofuels that can be extracted from plant waste and wood chips, but he did not say when the alternative biofuel might be commercially available. "We are not resting. We are doing what everybody needs to do. We have worked over time on an alternative to get away from food, and this is what we call the second generation of biofuels," he said.

He said Shell, in partnership with Canadian biotech firm Iogen Corp., has developed "cellulose ethanol", which is made from the wood chips and non-food portion of renewable feedstocks such as cereal straws and corn stover, and can be blended with gasoline. Ethanol is typically extracted from sugarcane or grain.


Biotechnology Only Solution to Feed the World

- Mbae Lawrence, The Times - Kenya, July 6, 2006 http://www.timesnews.co.ke Via Checkbiotech.org

Biotechnology holds tremendous promise for the developing world. The use of high-yielding, disease and pest resistant crops will have a direct bearing on improved food security, poverty alleviation and environmental conservation in Africa.

By developing crops that more efficiently absorb nutrients from the soil, biotechnology can help farmers produce more on land already under cultivation, and may reduce the need for costly inputs such as fertilisers and nonrenewable resources such as oil and natural gas.

According to a Mexican scientist Luis Herrera Estrella, the use of tropical biotech crops can be modified to tolerate aluminum and acid soils to significantly increase the productivity of corn, rice and papaya.

Biotech crops that require less tilling may help to decrease soil erosion and development of plants that can grow in tough conditions such as drought, or dry or poor soils may make it easier to farm marginal lands hence helping to keep fragile soils such as wetlands and rain forests out of food production.

In many African countries, subsistence farmers eke out meager livings, and the ability to provide enough food for survival is often less than assured and the vital importance of staple crops such as rice, sweet potatoes and cassava can’t be overstated. Over 650 million of the world’s poorest people live in the rural areas and without sustainable agriculture; they will have neither the resources nor employment they require for a better life.

Burgeoning population especially in the developing world will soon outstrip food production since the rate of food production globally has dropped from 3 percent per annum in the 1970s to 1 percent per annum today.

Biotechnology is working to solve these problems by producing plants that resist pests and diseases which is a major cause of crop damage in the developing world.

According to Jonathan Swift (1727), the king of Brobdingnag in Gulliver's Travels, whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.

Biotechnology also offers hope of improving the nutritional benefits to food varieties and it is poised to bring direct health benefits to consumers through enhanced nutritive qualities that include more and higher quality protein, lower level of saturated fats and increased vitamins and minerals.

The technology can also reduce the level of natural toxins (such as in cassava and kidney beans) and eliminate certain allergens like peanuts, wheat and milk

In many countries, from Africa to Indonesia to South America, cassava plant is an important source of starch, carbohydrates, protein, calcium, and vitamins A and C, and plays a vital role in the diet and income of some 500 million people worldwide. Sweet potato on the other hand is a staple that provides vital source of calories and essential minerals to millions in the developing world.

In 1998, African farmers lost 60 percent of the cassava crop to mosaic virus and sweet potato yields were laid dangerously low, loosing in some cases up to 80 percent of expected yields due to sweet potato weevil and the feathery mottle virus (SPFMV).

Towards developing more nutritious staple crops, researchers are using biotechnology to develop cassava that more efficiently absorb trace metal and micronutrients from the soil, have enhanced starch quality and more beta-carotene.

A strain of "golden rice" that packs more iron and beta carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, could be in the market in the near future. This will help more than 100 million children who suffer from vitamin A deficiency, the global leading cause of blindness as well as some 400 million women of childbearing age who are iron-deficient, placing their babies at risk of physical and mental retardation, premature births and natal motility.

Science and technology can contribute positively towards alleviation of hunger and that is why Americans overwhelmingly support initiatives aimed at increasing agricultural productivity and the use of biotechnology in addressing concerns of global food and nutritional security.

Biotechnology represents a frontier advance in agricultural science, and has far-reaching potential in advancing global food production in an environmentally sustainable manner. While the world population continues to grow in the developing countries where food is already a problem, biotechnology represents a powerful tool that can be employed in concert with many other traditional approaches in increasing food production in the face of diminishing land and water resources.

"To still have hunger in our world of abundance is not only unacceptable but unforgivable", Ronald Cantrell of the International Rice Research institute, in the Philippines said. World hunger is a complex issue, one for which there is no answer yet, while biotechnology may not be the only solution, it can be a valuable tool in the struggle to feed a hungry world.


Common 'Couch' Potato Gets Protein Boost

- Indian Express, July 7, 2006 http://in.news.yahoo.com/060706/48/65ooa.html

Though reaching it to your dinner table is still a long way off, scientists at the Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) here have been celebrating an indigenous GM potato breakthrough which they claim will supplement diets low in lysine. The CPRI's genetically modified (GM) potato has recorded eight times the normal lysine content during trials on deployed potato; it also marked an ''incidental'' increase in its protein level by about 50 per cent.

One of the 20 amino acids normally found in proteins, lysine is an essential amino acid, the human nutritional requirement being 1-1.5 gram daily. The researchers believe that GM potato could be the vegetarian answer to egg or other animal proteins due to its high bioavailability.

This is the first GM potato developed in the country by insertion of AmA-1 gene derived from the Amaranthus plant. Professor Asis Datta and his team at the National Centre for Plant Genome Research, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, have developed the gene and patented in the US.

Dr SK Pandey, director of CPRI, Shimla, says the research is aimed at making potato a wholesome food. There are some amino acids which are missing in potato but available in cereals. Induction of the AmA-1 gene compensates for those missing amino acids in potato. The AmA-1 gene construct is put into the background of Jyoti, Sinduri, Sutlej, Pukhraj and Jawahar varieties of potato grown in the country.

The GM potato is now in its conclusive phase of field trials at Jalandhar, Delhi and Shimla, Dr Pandey says. The research on the project began in 1998. ''We are sure that the field trials nearing completion this month would also yield similar results,'' says Dr SK Chakrabarti, senior scientist associated with the project at CPRI. ''The results will be sent later to GEAC for approval before its large-scale field trials.''

The GM potato, if successful, would help control protein deficiency as it is staple food in several parts of the country. Once the GM potato comes into commercial production, says Dr Chakrabarti, efforts will be made to popularise it among people in different forms.

''We have already developed a simple technique to produce potato flour, which can be mixed with wheat flour to prepare softer and more nutritious chapattis or paranthas,'' says Dr R Ezekiel, scientist at CPRI. ''This flour can be added to other food items as well.'' Potato starch, in fact, may also be a better substitute to corn starch in the food processing industry.


Pakistan: Finding New Ways to Eat

- Ijaz Ahmed Rao, Dawn (Pakistan), July 1, 2006. Excerpt here... Full commentary at http://www.dawn.com/weekly/science/science3.htm

Genetic engineering of microbes, plants and animals implies conferring new capabilities on an organism by transferring into it the appropriate DNA of another organism with the desired capabilities.

Agricultural innovation has always involved new, science-based products and processes that have contributed reliable methods for increasing productivity and environmental sustainability. The set of techniques commonly referred to as biotechnology has introduced a new dimension to such innovations, and the most widespread application of genetic engineering in agriculture by far is in engineered crops.

Thousands of such products have been field-tested and over a dozen have been approved for commercial use. The traits most commonly introduced into crops are herbicide tolerance, insect tolerance and virus tolerance. They are also more resistant to bad conditions like drought, floods and frost.

Agricultural biotechnology is helping to provide people with more and better crops and food and holds even greater promise for the future, particularly in the background that the Green revolution farming methods are coming to an end due to environmental and soil degradation, loss of seedling varieties and high input costs.

Pakistan is an agricultural state. It covers a total area of 19,671 million acres, of which 5,411 million acres are cultivated. The irrigation system to support this cultivation is one of the largest in the world, and agriculture remains the dominant sector of the economy and accounts for about 26 per cent of GDP, half the employed labour force, and a large share of foreign exchange earnings.

In this scenario, genetically manufactured crops can only improve our economy and play essential role in poverty alleviation. It is worth knowing that in 2003, six countries grew 99 per cent of the world's transgenic crop area and, it is estimated that the global GM crop area in 2003 was 167.3 million acres, which is 15 per cent higher than the 2002 figure.

And so, now we need technology like Crop biotechnology to overcome the forthcoming challenges. Also, Pakistan can gain economical benefits from biotechnology projects in a number of ways. Firstly, they provide employment in the agriculture, health, energy and manufacturing sectors. And secondly, there is likely to be some downstream processing which adds value to the product before it leaves Pakistan, providing skilled employment, adding to our pool of knowledge and to our production infrastructure.

The government of Pakistan has taken initiative by setting up institutes like National Commission on Biotechnology, National Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB) to develop and help flourish crops biotechnology products. Though, Pakistan has ratified many international agreements like TRIPS, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), the Cartagena Protocol and so on to show its growing worldwide interest in the genetically modified organism trade under WTO rules and regulations, but the impasse in the process for the approval of regulations and poor implementation process by the Ministries reflects a lack of commitment to our national responsibilities.

Perhaps the most telling fact about the safety of plant biotechnology is that there is not a single documented case of an illness caused by foods developed with biotechnology since they first came on the market in the mid-1990s.

A report by European countries validating the safety of biotech crops summarised more than 15 years of research by 400 research teams funded by European governments. The report concluded that "the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny (over biotech foods) probably make them even safer than conventional plants and foods".

Today, more than 3.6 billions people around the world are taking directly or indirectly genetically modified food. Despite the fact that Pakistan is overwhelmingly an agrarian economy, it is unable to produce edible oil sufficient for domestic requirements and substantial amount of foreign exchange is spent on the import of soybeans, canola and palm oil. Our total requirement of edible oil is estimated at 1.65 million tons against the domestic production of various types of edible oil which is around 600,000 tons annually and, therefore, the shortfall of about 900,000 tons is met through imports of soybean oil. By venturing into biotech crops, Pakistan will be able to deal with this issue as well.

The big question whether we should follow the model of Zambia's government; which has created unfriendly environment for investors and pushed its nation into edge of famine. It is also fact that in January 2001, Bolivia introduced a ban on all food and agricultural products derived from GMO crops, but in August 2001 the Bolivian government lifted the ban and made a permanent law on this subject.


The Environmental Activist's Tombstone

- Activist Humor, June 30, 2006

An activist whose specialty was warning about the imminent extinction of the human race decided to make a dramatic statement by purchasing his tombstone in advance. So he went to a stonecutter, and after choosing the grandest monument available, the stonecutter asked him what inscription he would like on it.

The activist had already chosen his epitaph, and without hesitation, replied, "Here lies an honest man and an activist."

"Sorry, but I can't do that," replied the stonecutter. "In this state, it's against the law to bury two people in the same grave."

The activist thought for a moment. "How about," he asked, "'Here lies an honest activist'?"

"Okay, I guess I could do that," the stonecutter said. "But can you keep lying after you're dead?"

More including 'Why God Created Environmentalists' and 'Environmentalism: The Oldest Profession' at http://activismhumor.blogspot.com/