Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org: July 10, 2006
* The Benefits of Bt-Corn
* Roadmap for Developing Cleaner Fuels
* Gene swap find adds support for GM food
* Market forces should decide GM seed prices
Health and Food Safety: The Benefits of Bt-Corn
- By Drew L. Kershen, FOOD & DRUG LAW JOURNAL, v. 61 # 2 (June 2006), pp.197-235
ABSTRACT: In 1990-1991, Mexican-American women in the Rio Grande valley experienced pregnancies affected by neural tube defects (NTDs) at a surprisingly high rate. Investigators learned that NTD pregnancies are endemic to the region. Mexican-American women on the Rio Grande border are poor women who consume a diet heavy in corn tortillas. The corn is contaminated with a mycotoxin called fumonisin. Similar patterns of NTD-afflicted pregnancies have been found in China, Guatemala, and South Africa.
Bt-corn is a transgenic crop that is resistant to certain insects. Bt-corn has significantly reduced fumonisin contamination because it better controls these insects.
This article argues that women would benefit if their corn diets came from Bt-corn varieties. Two additional arguments, lacking the urgency and importance of the health benefits for women and their unborn children, are that consumers and animals would also have better, improved health through the wide-spread adoption of Bt-corn.
This article explains the scientific basis for health benefits from Bt-corn. The article also addresses the legal issues relating to food safety statutes and regulations, products liability, and product warranty arising from the fact that Bt-corn has health and food safety benefits.
The article is posted on Professor Kershen's Agricultural Biotechnology Law and Policy webpage. You can access the page by clicking on this link http://jay.law.ou.edu/faculty/kershen/rs_ablp.cfm . The article is the first citation located under the heading "Articles". The article is posted to the website with the permission of the FOOD & DRUG LAW INSTITUTE, the publisher of the FOOD & DRUG LAW JOURNAL.
DOE Publishes Roadmap for Developing Cleaner Fuels
-- Research Aimed at Making Cellulosic Ethanol a Practical Alternative to Gasoline --
WASHINGTON, DC -- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today released an ambitious new research agenda for the development of cellulosic ethanol as an alternative to gasoline. The 200-page scientific "roadmap" cites recent advances in biotechnology that have made cost-effective production of ethanol from cellulose, or inedible plant fiber, an attainable goal. The report outlines a detailed research plan for developing new technologies to transform cellulosic ethanol-a renewable, cleaner-burning, and carbon-neutral alternative to gasoline-into an economically viable transportation fuel.
"Cellulosic ethanol has the potential to be a major source for transportation fuel for America's energy future," Under Secretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach said. "Low production cost and high efficiency require transformational changes in processing cellulose to ethanol. DOE's Genomics: GTL program is poised to help do just that."
The roadmap responds directly to the goal recently announced by Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman of displacing 30 percent of 2004 transportation fuel consumption with biofuels by 2030. This goal was set in response to the President's Advanced Energy Initiative.
The roadmap identifies the research required for overcoming challenges to the large-scale production of cellulosic ethanol to help meet this goal, including maximizing biomass feedstock productivity, developing better processes by which to break down cellulosic materials into sugars, and optimizing the fermentation process to convert sugars to ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol is derived from the fibrous, woody and generally inedible portions of plant matter (biomass).
The focus of the research plan is to use advances in biotechnology -- first developed in the Human Genome Project and continued in the Genomics: GTL program in the Department's Office of Science -- to jump-start a new fuel industry whose products can be transported, stored and distributed with only modest modifications to the existing infrastructure and can fuel many of today's vehicles.
The new roadmap was developed during a December 2005 workshop hosted jointly by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Office of Science and the Office of the Biomass Program in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The success of the plan relies heavily on the continuation of the partnership between the two offices established at that workshop.
"Biofuels represent a tremendous opportunity to move our nation toward a reduced dependence on imported oil," DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alexander Karsner said. "We fully intend to use all of our resources and talent to support the President's goal of breaking our addiction to oil, while also enhancing our energy security."
The report, "Breaking the Biological Barriers to Cellulosic Ethanol: A Joint Research Agenda," and a fact sheet on the report may be viewed at http://www.doegenomestolife.org/biofuels
For more information about the Genomics: GTL program in the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Office of Science, see http://www.doegenomestolife.org/
For more information on the Office of the Biomass Program in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, see http://www1.eere.energy.gov/biomass/
Gene swap find adds support for GM food
- Sydney Morning Herald, July 10, 2006
The gene swapping antics of two wheat diseases are set to cause upheaval for biologists and deliver a powerful new argument in favour of genetically modified food, researchers say.
The Australian-led research has provided the first evidence of gene transfers between fungal diseases, finding a gene carrying a critical virulence factor moved from one disease to another.
Published in the journal Nature Genetics, the study suggests the gene transfer happened in the early 1940s and created a new, damaging wheat disease.
"In a broader context, it probably means that genes are transferring all the time, that they're very rarely fixed in the new host," said research leader Professor Richard Oliver, who heads Murdoch University's Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens.
"In this particular case, getting the new gene gave (the fungus) a whole important new property and led to the formation of a new disease.
"It's the first time that a fungal gene has been shown to move between different fungal species."
Prof Oliver said the research meant biologists would need to review their "most cherished notion" that species were distinct entities.
"This sort of work shows that's not really the case," he said.
"A species becomes more of a mosaic - some individuals have got some genes and other individuals have got other genes and they can swap genes between other organisms."
The implications for GM food would be difficult to ignore, Prof Oliver said, suggesting nature had always tinkered with gene modification.
"It's really saying that all the gene combinations that we can think of have almost certainly been tried in nature," he said.
"There've been, however, many billions of years to put all these combinations together, and any one that would actually survive and cause an impact in the environment, you could argue has already been tried in the environment and shown (to be) wanting.
"Nature has already been there, done that, and we shouldn't be overly worried about it."
The research discovered the same gene was associated with two different fungal wheat diseases - Yellow Spot and Septoria nodorum blotch.
Yellow spot, also known as tan spot, can cut yield by up to 10 per cent in Australia's main wheat growing areas, while nodorum blotch costs the grain industry more than $60 million a year in lost production.
Professor Oliver made the discovery while scrolling through 17,000 genes thought to be produced by the nodorum fungus, Stagnospora.
His research was part of the Grains Research and Development Corporation project to map the genetic structure of S.nodorum - the southern hemisphere's largest genome study.
He noticed the similarity of a particular gene and the ToxA gene, which causes Yellow Spot.
ToxA is host-specific and only affects wheat and wheat cultivars carrying a susceptibility gene known as Tsn1.
Strains of the Yellow Spot fungus Pyrenophora trici-repentis (PTR), which did not have ToxA, caused only a weak disease.
PTR was considered a mild pathogen until 1941, when it became what is now known as Yellow Spot.
Swiss researchers working with Prof Oliver then provided evidence that a gene transfer from nodorum blotch to PTR enabled it to colonise wheat cultivars containing the Tsn1 gene.
The team concluded that the stronger version of Yellow Spot caused by the gene transfer was spread to wheat fields worldwide through shipments of infected grain.
Market forces should decide GM seed prices
- Financial Express, July 10, 2006
Let the markets determine the prices of transgenic Bt cotton seeds instead of the state trying to play its role of Big Brother and dictating prices. Take the recent notice of enquiry issued by the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) to the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) and its multinational partner Monsanto, for reducing the trait value of transgenic Bt cotton seeds by a mere Rs 20. On June 11, Mahyco-Monsanto had reduced the trait value for a 450 gram Bt cotton seed packet from Rs 900 to Rs 880 following an order by the MRTPC. What has upset the MRTPC—it is looking into the matter following an application by the Andhra Pradesh government—is that though it wanted the rates to be brought down to a level equalling those prevailing in China, this hasn’t happened.
In China, Monsanto charges trait value equal to Rs 40. While it it necessary to protect the interests of farmers where genetically modified (GM) crops are concerned, surely the MRTPC would do well to first understand the pricing issue for GM Bt cotton seeds in-depth. If China has a lower trait value, it is owing to the play of market forces amidst a lot of competition. Importantly, an estimated 64.5% of cotton sowings in China are varieties developed by state-owned research bodies. With Chinese scientists having developed 22 varieties of transgenic cotton, this has helped keep prices low. Indeed, in China around 65% of its five million cotton farmers have chosen to sow transgenic seeds developed by state-run research institutes.
As opposed to this, all transgenic cotton varieties grown in India are based on technology developed by Monsanto. While it was reported some months ago that cotton plants have been grown from GM seeds developed by IIT Kharagpur and a private company and had got the government’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, we need to have many more such indigenously developed GM cotton varieties. And the government needs to lend its backing to both research institutes and private enterprise to make transgenic cotton a viable commercial option.