Today in AgBioView from http://www.agbioworld.org - October 23, 2006
* Elitism about Biotech Keeps Food from Hungry
* Europe's Farmers Have A Right to Cultivate GM Crops
* Rice War: A Chinese Ag Economist Plows Ahead
* Hasten Research on GM
* Not a Single Person Has Been Harmed by GE Food
* You Say Tomato, We Say GM Food
* GM Peanut is Enriched with Vitamins
* Rutgers Explores Gene Modification
* Unraveling the Rice Genome: Expect No Miracles In The Near-Term
* Plant Breeding – from Stone Age to Green Era
* Herbicide-Resistant Crops in India: Issues
* Bt Cotton: Both Boon and Bane
* Divide Between Biotech Reality and Activist Rhetoric
* New Report Critical of Gates/Rockefeller and FAO's "Green Revolution for Africa"
Elitism about Biotech Keeps Food from Hungry
- C.S. Prakash, Des Moines Register, Oct. 20, 2006 http://desmoinesregister.com
In 1965 and 1966, crop failures created massive food shortages in my native India, which produced only about 10 million metric tons of wheat annually. Only emergency shipments of American grain prevented widespread famine.
In 2006, India is a net exporter of food, producing 73 million metric tons of wheat. This is thanks in large measure to Iowa's Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution he championed of new crop varieties and farming practices, including pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
This week, as the World Food Prize honors those who have fed millions globally, famine still threatens several parts of the world - on a scale that emergency shipments cannot hope to solve.
In sub-Saharan Africa, dramatically increased yields are needed to save and improve the lives of its many people who depend on the land. A "gene revolution" of biotechnology holds great promise, but anti-science and elitism have stood in its way.
European nations, especially, and their misperception of biotechnology as unsafe are responsible for this. As a result, many African governments limit farmers' access to biotech seeds. Some have even refused emergency food aid of biotech crops — fearing not that the food itself as unsafe, but that farmers might plant and harvest the donated grain and jeopardize exports of future surpluses to affluent nations with a zero-tolerance mentality.
Anti-technology rhetoric apparently carries more weight with European policymakers than the reality of starvation in a distant land. While activists uproot biotech test plots in Europe, small farmers in Africa cannot feed their families because their cassava and cowpeas succumb to viral diseases and insects devour their grains. So disease- and insect-protected crops remain unavailable to poor people trying to feed their families or eke out some income.
As Borlaug points out, affluent nations can afford elitist policies and pay more for food produced by "natural" methods. But the world's 1 billion chronically poor and hungry people cannot.
Fortunately, not every region shares the European mind-set. An estimated 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries -- including in Europe -- planted biotech crops in 2005. None of the activists' imagined safety fears have materialized. And the results have been phenomenal.
Insect-protected crops have eliminated the need for millions of pounds of chemical insecticides. Herbicide-tolerant crops have reduced the use of weed-killers and enabled farmers to use tillage practices that save soil and energy.
New types of vitamin-rich rice are moving ahead to prevent childhood blindness in rice-dependent regions of the world. African scientists are developing herbicide-tolerant maize with resistance to striga, a parasitic weed that causes nearly $1 billion in damage. Other benefits on the horizon include crops tolerant to drought and disease.
These improvements translate into increased yields to meet the growing global demand for food, feed, fiber and biofuels on an ever-decreasing amount of land available for farming.
The potential of biotechnology is seemingly limitless, but the obstacles are formidable. For much of the world, the United States is the model for regulating biotechnology, with its thorough and practical examination of all likely safety and environmental risks.
Yet other regions, especially Europe, have opted for hyper-cautionary systems that de facto prevent wide-scale adoption of biotechnology. Beneath it all is an anti-science, anti-technology ideology and fear.
There are strong indications that this all will ease in the next decade. Consumer benefits are coming or are already here, such as vegetable oils that prevent heart disease or cancer. Consumers in affluent countries will soon learn of the benefits that producers from Iowa to Africa already know, and they will care less about the false elitist claims that deny such benefits to those who most need them.
Very soon, Borlaug's lifesaving vision will be extended for a new generation. The "gene revolution" will continue what began with the "green revolution," and millions of lives will be saved or improved around the world.
C. S. PRAKASH is a professor at Tuskegee University.
20th anniversary: This is one in a series of essays written in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the World Food Prize, awarded Thursday at the Capitol. The prize was founded in 1986 by Dr. Norman Borlaug, the agricultural scientist from Cresco who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work to feed a hungry world.
Europe's Farmers Have A Right to Cultivate GM Crops
- Renate Sommer, Member European Parliament, Brussels; European Voice, Oct. 19, 2006
In 'Genetically modified foods and their limits' (2-11 October 2006), it was claimed that notwithstanding the fact that genetically modified (GM) plants have been widely planted in Europe for more than ten years, "prospects for any large-scale uptake of GM crops by EU farmers look very limited".
I argue, however, that it is the transatlantic split on GM food which depicts the dilemma facing regulators and farmers around the world as they try to balance the opportunities and perceived risks of GM technology.
Concerns over safety tend to ignore the fact that this technology is now more than 30 years old. During this time, robust pre-market safety assessment procedures have been established by the scientific and regulatory community worldwide and are shared by nations from Austria to Australia. And the resulting boost to sustainable crop production has been achieved without any evidence emerging of harm to humans or the environment. On the contrary: improved yields and increased food security have been attained while cutting the use of pesticides, minimising soil erosion that conventional weed control methods entail and reducing carbon emissions through reduced reliance on fuel-intensive crop maintenance.
Sensing that they have been unable to win their arguments over safety, European activists who oppose this technology have shifted the debate from safety to choice - the right to choose not to eat products derived from GM crops. Europe has responded accordingly, with a rigorous labelling regime that supports choice. Yet still I see no real choice - it is almost impossible to buy food products in Europe with ingredients from GM plants.
Meanwhile, 8.5 million farmers around the world chose seeds based on this technology last year - including farmers from five EU member states. On the other hand, China, Brazil, India and many other nations are supporting large-scale biotechnology programmes.
But Europe still hesitates. And this carries costs - certainly for Europe and possibly beyond. The price of hesitation for Europe ranges from 'hard' losses of agricultural efficiency, industrial development, exports and jobs, to more subtle losses - in the quality of scientific debate in Europe, in the operating conditions for innovative companies, and even in the credibility of European governance.
The price beyond Europe may include discouragement of the use of a technology that is desperately needed in developing nations that trade with the EU: will South Africa dare to plant drought tolerant crops if it will prejudice their exports to a hostile EU?
Europe should take effective action to ensure that the existing regulatory system works as intended: to allow European farmers, industry and consumers access to safe and beneficial biotech products. At a minimum, this would include ensuring that farmers are not subject to unpunished destruction of their crops by lawless vandals, that regional and national authorities respect European farmers' rights to cultivate approved GM products and that timely approvals of new products proceed on the basis of the best scientific assessment.
Rice War: A Chinese Ag Economist Plows Ahead With His Push for GM Seeds
- Jehangir S. Pocha, Trade Observatory Oct. 2, 2006 http://www.tradeobservatory.org
Huang Jikun would like to introduce the term "magic bullet" into the Mandarin vocabulary. That's the kind of solution the feisty economist thinks genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be for some of China's biggest problems, and the 44-year-old Huang has been pushing Chinese planners for almost six years to allow the commercialization of GM rice.
"It could happen very soon," says Huang, whose clout with authorities is evident from the three Outstanding Scientific Progress awards he's received from the Ministry of Agriculture. "It'll be very good for China."
From his spartan office in the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy he established at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, Huang wades through stacks of papers and presentations to explain why.
"Our research clearly shows farmers growing Bt Cotton [a GM cotton manufactured by Monsanto] earned $225 more per hectare per year" than farmers growing traditional cotton, he says, citing a study he co-authored with leading U.S. experts and published in the journal Science.
"GM rice can also give results like this, helping farmers earn about $85 more per hectare per season versus farmers who grow traditional rice," Huang adds fervently, because all genetically modified crops give higher yields while lowering costs by requiring less pesticide.
China's food production is falling as arable land is lost to urbanization and desertification, and party officials are desperately searching for ways to mollify the country's increasingly restive peasants, who make only $350 a year and were chiefly responsible for the 87,000 public protests that swept China last year. The promise of reducing pesticide use in this country, which uses twice the amount per ton of food as the U.S., is also an emotional issue with the government, which has made cleaning up China's environment a top priority.
The government appears to be listening to Huang. In the 1990s China was one of the first countries to approve some genetically modified cash crops, such as cotton and corn, and today China has more acreage devoted to growing GM crops than just about any other country in the world. Though Beijing temporarily suspended approval of the commercialization of new GMOs in 2000, it pressed ahead with research, investing more than $500 million every year in developing GMOs.
Now four local companies, including one with links to Monsanto, have filed applications to permit the sale of their versions of genetically modified rice, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Even though China's ban on new GM crops is still in place, in July China's Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin said that by 2020 more than 60% of China's ag output growth will come from biotech products.
This has raised the hackles of domestic critics alleging long-term health and environmental effects of GMOs, and many of them have trained their ire on Huang.
Ma Tianjie, a Greenpeace activist in Beijing, says the world shouldn't take Huang and other experts supporting "Frankenfoods" at face value because many of them have uncomfortably close links with domestic and foreign manufacturers of genetically modified crops like Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont and Syngenta.
"These companies are forming alliances with scientists to lobby the government and shape public opinion," says Ma. "Huang is a government-paid expert, but he also has connections with the biotech and food industry. Jia Shirong, a professor and member of the government's Safety Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology, is also on the board of a leading biotech company. This multi-identity of scientists creates a real credibility problem."
It's a charge Huang tries to dismiss with a laugh, but it clearly galls him. "I called the journalist who first wrote this and challenged him to show proof," he says. "All they could come up with was that my wife works for a [Chinese] company associated with a U.S. biotech company. It's ridiculous."
Huang, who has led more than 40 research projects funded both by international and domestic organizations and has been a consultant to several international organizations, including the World Bank and the U.N.'s Food & Agriculture Organization, says the differing stands on GMOs are rooted in the way the seeds are developed: by fusing a natural seed with a gene from another organism that produces toxins that kill insects trying to eat the crop. This is what raises the health issues that exercise Ma, but Huang says since the crop itself exterminates insects, farmers need to use less pesticide.
The other method of genetically modifying a natural seed is to insert into it a gene that makes the crop tolerant to a specific herbicide, usually one the company makes itself. Huang says this allows farmers to use that herbicide to protect their crops, raising yields. But environmentalists, such as Ma, say this could allow GM seeds to outcompete natural seeds in the field and significantly reduce genetic biodiversity.
More significantly, Ma and other environmentalists also criticize the commercial aspects of genetically modified seeds, which are patented and generally sell at a premium. Since GMO companies push farmers to purchase new GM products every year, "This traps farmers into using expensive seeds and pesticides from a single company," says Ma. This often throws them into debt and threatens to cede control of a country's agricultural system to foreign GMO manufacturers.
As proof, Ma points to India, where the adoption of Bt Cotton has been a huge failure. The problem was worst in the central Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where some farmers who took large loans to buy new Bt Cotton seeds committed suicide when their yields were so poor that they couldn't repay their debts.
Huang says he doesn't claim to have the answers to all these issues. "Look, I'm not a scientist, just an economist," he says. "I realize there are concerns. What I can't understand is that when I present actual facts to make a case--real numbers, good data--[critics of GMOs] just throw out views without real basis. They say GMOs will bankrupt farmers, but today China has more land growing GM crops than anyone else except the U.S. and Brazil. Why would farmers do that if GMOs bankrupt them?"
Since the battle over GMOs often comes down to public perception, Greenpeace, Huang says, is using flawed surveys that show most Chinese oppose biotech food. The reality, he says, is the opposite. "Rich people in the cities may not want GMOs," he says. "But if you ask a poor person if they would prefer to get GM food that costs less, they will say yes!"
These class differences are crucial, says Huang, because China's urbanites have blindly accepted Western concerns about GMOs without thinking through China's particular circumstances.
"Rich countries that have a lot of food and few people" might have the luxury of nursing their doubts on GMOs, Huang says. "They can do things like organic farming, but do you realize organic farms grow about half the food [per acre] of a GM farm? We can't make organic farming a national policy in China. We're not Holland. We have 1.3 billion people to feed."
Hasten Research on GM
- Richard Sproull, Weekend Australian, Oct. 21, 2006
Research into genetically modified grain should be accelerated in the hope that state governments remove bans that have stymied the development of drought-resistant crops.
Tim Reeves, a director of the Grains Research and Development Corporation, said there had been a ''slowdown'' in research on GM crops because the private sector had been ''discouraged'' by government and community disquiet. Scientists working on heat-tolerant crops were unable to see a ''path to market'' in Australia, Professor Reeves said.
''If the moratorium was lifted tomorrow we actually don't have drought-tolerant GM crops that could be slotted in,'' he said. ''It would be a minimum of five or six years before we get anything into the field.'
'Most state and territory governments have imposed moratoriums on GM crops. But some farmers hope for policy change, with NSW and Victoria possibly leading the way.
Professor Reeves, a former director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in Mexico, said it was critical that community concerns about the technology were debated.
If GM crops were available that had remarkable drought tolerance, the case for using them would be ''very topical and pretty compelling'', he said.''
The reality is, in the short term, the most likely breakthroughs in major tolerance are going to come from new varieties, synthetic varieties, because they pursue a wider pool of genetic diversity (than traditional wheat breeding).''
Not a Single Person Has Been Harmed by Genetically Engineered Food
- Letters, Wall Street Journal October 21, 2006
Re "Stalk-Raving Mad -- French Farmers, Activists Battle Over Rise in Genetically Altered Corn" (Marketplace, Oct. 12):
For almost 20 years, a scientific consensus has held that gene-splicing is essentially an extension, or refinement, of less precise, less predictable conventional techniques. You omitted the essential information that, historically, the problems of "altering the gene structure of food" -- two toxic varieties each of squash and potato, and one of celery -- all occurred in plants that were modified with conventional, not gene-splicing, techniques, and that after the consumption in the U.S. alone of more than a trillion servings of gene-spliced foods, there hasn't been a single confirmed instance of harm to a person.
Moreover, the 1999 study in the scientific journal The Lancet that you mentioned has been wholly discredited. It was excoriated by the British Royal Society and other scientists world-wide for its methodological deficiencies, and it was dismissed by the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine as "uninterpretable."
- Henry I. Miller, M.D., The Hoover Institution, Stanford, Calif.; (Dr. Miller was the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology from 1989 to 1993.)
You Say Tomato, We Say GM Food
- Michael Kenward, Labnotes, Oct. 19 2006 http://bulletin.sciencebusiness.net
We don't usually pass on news of a purely scientific nature in Labnotes, but a press release from BASF is too good to miss. With the title "Genetically enhanced flavonoid tomatoes could reduce cardiovascular disease," it tells us that "Tomatoes, genetically modified to contain a higher level of flavonoids, have in a recent study shown to substantially reduce a protein, the so-called C-reactive protein (CRP), in mice." It then says that CRP is "associated with a higher risk of heart and vascular diseases as well as type-2 diabetes".
Why is this interesting? Because a genetically modified tomato played a part in the early outbreak of lunacy on genetically modified (GM) foods. The agricultural bit of Zeneca, the life sciences offshoot from that once great chemicals company ICI, created the seeds for the crops that ended up in tins of puree made from GM tomatoes.
And then the lunacy started. GM food because the devil's plaything and is now hounded out of anywhere and everywhere, most recently from rice shipments shipped into Europe from the USA.
One lesson from the whole GM saga is that you don't try selling this sort of stuff to people just because it is there. You have to offer some real benefits.
In the case of Zeneca's tomatoes, sold in the UK by Safeway, the benefits really accrued to the growers. It was something to do with not going squishy too early, a benefit to processors rather than eaters. But in the eyes of the anti science extremists, even that was probably better than just growing something that you could survive a sustained bout of chemical warfare to eliminate nasty weeds.
You can't accuse BASF of this. The new tomato may well offer some real consumer benefits. It could be interesting to watch the various bands of health and environment activists fighting at the barricades on this one.
Genetically Enhanced Tomatoes Could Reduce Cardiovascular Disease
Tomatoes, genetically modified to contain a higher level of flavonoids, have in a recent study shown to substantially reduce a protein, the so-called C-reactive protein (CRP), in mice. CRP is linked to inflammatory processes in mice as well as human beings and is associated with a higher risk of heart and vascular diseases as well as type-2 diabetes.
To compare the effects of flavonoid-enriched and conventional tomatoes, scientist daily fed two groups of mice 12 milligrams of genetically enhanced and conventional tomato peel respectively. To a human adult, this is equivalent to a daily consumption of approximately 230 grams, or three fresh tomatoes. After seven weeks, the level of C-reactive protein was reduced considerably in both groups of mice. However, the level was significantly lower in the group of mice fed genetically modified tomato peel.
"Although the health benefits of tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables are commonly known, this is the first time that a specific fruit has demonstrated to reduce C-reactive protein and thus could help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular and heart disease," says Dr. Dietrich Rein, BASF Plant Science's nutritionist. He adds that 95% of the beneficial tomato flavonoids are in the peel.
The biological mechanisms by which fruits and vegetables reduce human C-reactive protein and thus exert their benefits on human health are not fully understood and are likely to be numerous. Nevertheless, Professor Dr. Uwe Sonnewald, University of Erlangen, coordinator of the study, stresses the importance of the findings: "It shows that genetic enhancement of fruits and vegetables may in the future allow an optimization of the human diet and help reduce diseases."
Transgenic Flavonoid Tomato Intake Reduces C-Reactive Protein in Human C-Reactive Protein Transgenic Mice More Than Wild Type Tomato; Rein et al. Journal of Nutrition, 2006; 136: 2331-2337).
GM Peanut is Enriched with Vitamins
- Manila Bulletin, October 23, 2006 http://www.mb.com.ph/
Andhra Pradesh, India -- A genetically-modified (GM) peanut will no longer merely be protein-rich but also pro-Vitamin A-rich with betacarotene genes from corn now being embedded into it by a Filipino-headed international research agency.
Since 2003, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has been developing peanut with Vitamin A enhancement in answer to extensive Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) specially among children in developing countries.
Dr. Kiran K. Shirma, ICRISAT principal scientist genetic transformation and agribusiness incubator head, said peanut holds a high potential of Vitamin A enhancement more than other crops. "Vitamin A is oil-soluble. If it’s put in peanut, you can aim for higher levels," he said.
Peanut may have advantage over rice in this nutrient enrichment since the pro-Vitamin A betacarotene-rich Golden Rice being developed by scientists has only 22 micrograms up to 37 (MCG) per gram betacarotene content. But the GM peanut’s potential betacarotene level is a significantly more. "We don’t know how much we can get, but we aim for 500 to 600 micrograms per gram. It’s achievable because there is a similar study in mustard which has 30 to 40 percent oil (where nutrient level was raised substantially using the same strategy)," he said.
ICRISAT has been pushing for acceleration of crops’ GM development considering its tremendous role in enhancing food security and nutrition in the poor. "We have discussions with the US and India on how we can have GMO (genetically modified organisms) much faster from laboratory to farm," said Dr. William D. Dar, (a former Philippine agriculture secretary who is on top of ICRISAT’s worldwide operation as director general) in an interview.
Speeding up of commercialization of GMOs to him is important. "Stricter government regulation is hindering commercialization of GMOs. Of course we’d like to be bio-safety conscious, but not to the point of (delaying it and allow) food shortage," he said.
The 500 MCG per gram level is already satisfactory since this is just the Vitamin A normal recommended daily intake. "When you eat bio-fortified peanut even in small quantity, you can get the daily requirement. If it exceeds, this oil-soluble substance is not harmful. And peanut oil is neutral oil. It’s not bad for the heart," said Shirma.
Field testing of the variety will be in about three years. ICRISAT will first conduct field testing in India and then in other collaborating countries. "This material is relevant to anyone. Once we’re satisfied with the requirement, we can help any country and they can put it in their background," he said.
Rice breeders could only possibly enhance peanut’s Vitamin A content through genetic modification since there is no other peanut variety found to be rich in Vitamin A. "This is a good example where a gene is brought from corn to peanut. By conventional breeding you can’t do that."
The other factor ICRISAT has to test is bioavailability or the human body’s capacity to absorb Vitamin A from betacarotene. Betacarotene molecule conversion to Vitamin A varies from 1:2 to 1:32 depending on how betacarotene is consumed together with other foods. The research agency may begin animal testing simultaneous with field testing in two years. "We need to see how it performs in field condition," he said.
Bio-availability will be tested on an animal called gerbil, a small mammal, which has shown to have the same bio-availability rate as human. ICRISAT is also working on a drought-resistant peanut which will use drought-resistant genes from a crucifer called "avabidopsis italiana." This it started three years ago in partnership with the Japanese International Research Center Agricultural System (JIRCAS) as Japan is interested in basic GM research even if the country itself does not consume GM goods.
The Vitamin A enrichment project is financed by the Harvest Plus which gets funding from the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) and the William and Melinda Gates Foundation. VAD is reportedly inflicting 100 to 200 million children worldwide and is causing one to 2.5 million deaths in preschool children. In the Philippines, VAD is inflicting two in very 10 pregnant and lactating women and four in every 10 children aged six months to five years.
Rutgers Explores Gene Modification
- Roland Zemla, University Wire, October 17, 2006
New Brunswick, N.J. - The long-standing controversy over genetic engineering has led Rutgers University scientists to search for archaeological evidence proving that genetic rearranging has in fact been a natural process through which animals and plants evolved.
Instead of engineering "Frankenfoods" in a laboratory, scientists discovered the process of modifying the DNA of a plant or animal to produce desirable characteristics may be what the plant or animal is doing naturally. University researcher Joachim Messing said it's called "plant genomic evolution."
The recent research of Messing -- project leader and director of the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at the University -- may fuel the fires of the genetically modified organism controversy as he offers insight into plant genomic evolution that explores the yet uncharted terrain of evolutionary development.
"Our findings elucidate an active evolutionary process in which nature inserts genes much like modern biotechnologists do," Messing said in a prepared statement. "Now we must reassess the allegations that biotechnologists perform 'unnatural acts' -- thereby creating 'Frankenfoods.'"
The research began after Messing and colleagues completed the rice genome, mapping out the entire DNA of one variety of rice. They also worked in other so-called "cereal grains," mapping the genome of corn in a process called shotgun DNA sequencing.
Segments of the rice genome were compared with analogous segments of two corn chromosomes -- the threadlike bodies of a cell that carry DNA.
In their comparison, the researchers developed a genetic history that showed clear signs of "reconfiguration and reshuffling, reminiscent of working with Lego blocks," Messing said.
This is not the first project that hopes to sidestep fears of "Frankenfoods." In 2002, Messing and Biologist Jinsheng Lai found a protein similar to one existing in corn could be added to corn's amino acid sequence to make corn more nutritious to the chickens who feed upon it.
Then, the research was hoped to get genetically modified food onto a market that at the time rejected their use. Now, public awareness groups remain against the concept of genetically modified food, arguing that it is unnatural. In this GM work, engineers are inserting genes from different organisms both plant and animal in nature.
However, Messing is working with plants and plant genome sequences. Messing and the other researchers hope their project shows GM detractors that plant genes may have an evolution that resembles this gene insertion, except the researchers called it more of a jumping or reshuffling of genes.
The researchers show that plant genomes exhibit evolution from a far more dynamic structure than previously believed. In his research Web page, Messing said cereal grains are of particular interest. "One interesting feature of the genomes of different cereal species is the enormous size variation," Messing said.
It has been long established that the number of chromosomes in plant species has changed over time -- with some evolutionary stages exhibiting four through eight or more sets. "Maize [corn], for example, began with four sets of chromosomes about five million years ago and eventually trimmed down to the set of two that we see today," Messing said in a prepared statement.
Messing said the genome shows spontaneous shifts, wherein chromosome segments can be lost, replicated or moved to other chromosomes. Plant genomes contain rearranged segments and duplicated regions with analogous sets genes.
For example, in the corn genome certain genes were "naturally" cut out and other "dummy" pieces were inserted which made analogous segments different in size, according to Messing. Project researchers found that 10 percent of the genes in the corn segments were missing completely in rice, and 20 percent were in new positions.
Within the corn genome, genes appear to be very mobile, according to the research. In it, 20 to 25 percent of the corn genomes appears to have moved to other locations in the sequence over the course of five million years of evolution. The original two-thirds of the genes disappeared entirely from their original form.
"The research -- conducted by international collaboration of scientists -- will help scientists and farmers improve these significant crops and gain new and important insights in the evolution of the grass species in general," Messing said.
Unraveling the Rice Genome: Expect No Miracles In The Near-Term
- Ashok B Sharma, Financial Express (India), Oct. 23, 2006 http://www.financialexpress.com
'Applications of biotech tools, however, may not always result in production of GM crops'
Responding to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) call for increasing global rice production by additional 200 million tonne by 2025, the scientists are on the job of developing new rice varietal lines and hybrids to meet the rising demand for this major staple crop. Needless to say, technology would also be harnessed to develop suitable non-genetically modified (non-GM) high yielding rice with high nutrition content.
In a major rice producing country like India, the annual rate of growth in output of this staple crop has tapered off to a level lower than the annual increase in population growth of 1.8%. "Though the yield potential of rice is 10 tonne per hectare, farmers on the average still harvest five tonne per hectare. To close this yield gap, we must develop varieties with more durable resistance to disease, insects and tolerance to abiotic stress," says a noted plant breeder and World Food Prize recipient, Gurudev Kush.
Scientists at the recently concluded 2nd International Rice Congress in New Delhi were of the view that no major technological breakthrough is in sight that would increase the yield of rice. A major technological breakthrough means increasing the photosynthesis in rice (C3 crop) to the level of that in maize, sorghum and sugarcane (C4 crop). The scientists are on the job of developing C4 rice, but it would take about a decade for the results to be forthcoming, they say.
But the availability of rice genome structural sequence, has given agricultural scientists the confidence to proceed. The International Rice Genome Sequencing Project has identified about 56,298 genes. "After this project of structural genomics, scientists are busy identifying its functions. Once the function of a gene is identified, it will be possible to develop better by introducing genes through traditional breeding in combination with marker-aided selections or through direct engineering of genes into rice varieties," says Kush.
Scientists, however, insist that applications of biotech tools would not result in production of GM or transgenic crops. An array of "novel crops" can be developed by using tools like marker-aided selection, molecular characterisation, exploitation of apomatic genes, allele mining, harnessing heterosis, pyramiding of rice genes and other biotechnological tools. These 'novel crops' would not be called transgenic, as no transgene from other crop would be involved, they say.
The director-general of the International Rice Research Institute, Robert S Zeigler says, "We have effective biotechnological tools at our disposal such as improved rice crops which would not be transgenic crops. The NGOs need not worry on this account. Development of transgenic crop is only one of the many options."
The director-general of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Mangla Rai says, "the ongoing successful efforts on cloning blast resistant genes, pyramiding BLB resistance genes, QTL mapping of salt tolerant, root traits and Basmati quality traits are likely to enhance our ability to manage biotic and abiotic stresses and improve quality traits effectively ".
One recent success story is the development of the non-GM rice for Africa with high nutrition content called the New Rice for Africa (NERICA). NERICA varieties, developed by the African Rice Centre (WARDA), combine the high yielding quality of Asian rice and the adaptability to the local conditions of African rice. According to WARDA, these new varieties have shown productivity gains and could translate into substantial economic gains.
Rai says that India needs to follow the Chinese example of increasing the area under hybrid rice. This would help India to raise its average rice yields from the current level of 2.08 tonne per hectare.
Plants and Their Breeding – At The Cutting-Edge from Stone Age to Green Era
Prof. Jussi Tammisola (Assoc. Prof. in Plant Breeding, University of Helsinki, Finland) has just posted a .pdf version of his powerpoint presentation on plant biotechnology which can be downloaded at
The accompanying notes with a detailed explanation of the slides can be found at
Prof. Tammisola was the first ever public critic of plant gene technology in Finland (in the 1980s) and has 35 years of lecturing and basic research experience in public sector plant breeding. He is a Global Lead Author of IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development)
Choice of Technology for Herbicide-Resistant Transgenic Crops in India: Examination of Issues
- S. R. Bhat and V. L. Chopra, Current Science, August 25 2006, vol. 91 (4), p435-438. Full paper at http://www.iisc.ernet.in/currsci/aug252006/435.pdf
Herbicide-resistant transgenic crops (HRCs) constitute nearly 72% of the 81 m ha under transgenic crops. Since the advent of large-scale cultivation of transgenic crops in 1996, HRCs have maintained the lead in terms of area coverage. HRCs were readily accepted in developed countries, where weed-control strategies almost always rely on the use of herbicides. The relevance of HRCs on small and fragmented farm holdings of India is, however, contentious.
The proponents advocate that the new technology is scale-neutral and its benefits should be made available to Indian farmers. The other section firmly believes that HRCs are not suitable to our conditions and pose serious threat to the employment and livelihood opportunities of the poor and marginal farmers and farm labourers, and will adversely impact environment, ecology and biodiversity.
Caught between these two extreme views, the Government of India is approaching this issue cautiously and has not placed HRCs on its priority list of traits to be modified through genetic engineering approaches (Draft Biotechnology Policy). In this article, we examine various issues surrounding commercialization of HRCs and highlight some technical aspects that have not received deserved attention so far. We hope that this article will stimulate objective and informed discussions on this topic.
Bt Cotton: Both Boon and Bane
- M. Radhika, Tehelka, Oct. 28, 2006
'Genetically modified BT cotton can work as a double edged sword for the small cotton farmer'
In January this year, the Andhra Pradesh government filed a complaint with the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) against Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB) -- the Indian subsidiary of the agriculture-biotech multinational Monsanto -- accusing it of overpricing genetically modified BT cottonseeds.
MMB was selling the seeds to farmers in AP and other states at Rs 1,200-1,850 for a 450-gram packet (1US$ = Rs. 45) . A large part of this amount, Rs 900, was being charged as "trait value" or royalty. In its submission, the AP government pointed out that Monsanto charged only about Rs 400 for the same packet of seeds in China and only about Rs 200 in the US........
Read on at http://www.tehelka.com/story_main21.asp?filename=Ne102806BT_Cotton.asp
Divide Grows Between Biotech Reality And Activist Rhetoric
- Center For Consumer Freedom, October 19, 2006. Embedded link at http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_detail.cfm/headline/3159
David Blaine's got nothing on the minions of the anti-biotech movement. If you want to see a truly stupendous exercise in smoke-and-mirrors and misdirection, look no further than people like Jose Bové and Ségolène Royal, or groups like Greenpeace -- they've practically cornered the market on rhetorical tricks and red herrings. Of course, that's almost understandable since everything mainstream science has to say about their most popular punching bag, genetically modified foods (GMOs), directly contradicts their doom-and-gloom predictions.
Witness the case of Claude Menara, a French farmer who recently started harvesting transgenic corn. As The Wall Street Journal reports, the patented seed has saved Menara about $38 per acre in pesticide bills -- which would translate into nearly $4,000 in savings for the average French farmer:
On a recent morning, he shows off an ear of genetically modified corn, full and yellow, alongside an unaltered ear that was withered and ruined. Transgenic corn has added genes, which produce a protein that makes the borer's stomach explode. Cracking open the stalk of the non-GM ear revealed a squad of pink worms.
In an industry seeing increased consolidation and decreased government support, even a small financial boost can mean the difference between success and bankruptcy for farmers like Menara. But that hasn't stopped anti-biotech activists from doing their best to keep France GMO-free. Greenpeace -- the godfather of the anti-GMO cabal -- has sent 1,500 "detectives" across France to "out" farmers who use genetically modified seeds. Its disciples then publish the locations of the "guilty" farms and plan obnoxious rallies to voice their scientifically challenged concerns.
One French presidential hopeful -- Ségolène Royal, a lock to win the Socialist Party nomination -- has called for a ban on planting GMOs. And neo-Luddite activist extraordinaire Jose Bové has launched a nationwide campaign of GMO-crop destruction. Bove recently visited Menara's farm and directed his activist acolytes to trample nearly 30 acres of corn. Menara doesn't mince words when it comes to Bove's group, three of whom were arrested and face jail time for vandalism: "They are thugs."
Stateside, this particular brand of organized thuggery has yet to catch on, and U.S. farmers are freely planting biotech crops to cut costs on everything from irrigation to pesticides. But activist successes across the Atlantic will doubtlessly embolden domestic detractors -- including former presidential hopeful Carol Moseley Braun, who recently denounced "Frankenfoods" at an University of Evansville conference. And who knows what sort of roadblocks -- legal or otherwise -- the likes of the Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth, The Center for Food Safety, and Greenpeace will throw up to obstruct what any sensible person would see as a godsend.
New Report Critical of Gates/Rockefeller and FAO's "Green Revolution for Africa"
October, 20 2006, Oakland, CA: The Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as Food First, today released a report that is highly critical of the Rockefeller and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations' $150 million "Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa" (AGRA). The Food First Policy Brief is titled:
Ten Reasons Why the Rockefeller and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations' Alliance for Another Green Revolution Will Not Solve the Problems of Poverty and Hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa
by Eric Holt-Gimenez, Ph.D., Miguel A. Altieri , Ph.D., and Peter Rosset, Ph.D.
To read the complete report, click on the following link: http://www.foodfirst.org/policybriefs