Today in AgBioView from* http://www.agbioworld.org: <http://www.agbioworld.org> - March 7, 2007
* The Bollworm Never Went Away to Return!
* GM seeds are blowing in the wind
* E.Coli Update: Activists’ Deafening Silence
* MEPs back European organic logo
* Biotech profiting Iowa
* APHIS Statement on Clearfield CL131 Rice Seed
* Pakistan approves GM rules to protect farmers
* GM fears a myth
* GM crops need rethink
* New Success in Engineering Plant Oils
* Tomatoes with Enhanced Folate Content
* Institute Launches Agriculture Portal
* Challenges of Sustainable Development
* Symposium on Nutritional Biotechnology
* Workshop on Biosafety of GM Crops
The Bollworm Never Went Away to Return!
- C. Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India; kraoat/vsnl.com, March 7, 2007
Dr Suman Sahai has taken pot shots at Bt technology once again, using Continuously Repeated Anti-GM Propaganda (CRAP).
Realizing that a proportion of bollworm larval populations exposed to Bt protein may develop resistance to it over generations, biotechnologists came up with strategies to prevent the onset of such resistance or at least delay it. An isogenic non-Bt refugium and stacking two different Bt genes are two well researched strategies in the context. However, in more than a decade of cultivation of Bt crops in the United States and elsewhere, not a single verifiable instance of resistance to even the single-gene Bt transgenics was reported.
The refugium is a tested multi-design concept to delay build up of resistance in monoculture agriculture. However, in India there are a dozen alternate crop hosts for the American cotton bollworm which obviates the need for the isogenic non-Bt cotton refugium, although its avoidance is ill advised.
Suman Sahai has an inherent inability to distinguish between problems of management and those of science and technology. She avers that farmers are not adopting the recommended practices in the cultivation of Bt cotton such as the refugium, but projects the 'emergence of resistance in the bollworm, as well as problems created by other pests like pink bollworm and sucking pests' as the failure of technology per se and not that of management. She even uses extraneous problems like cotton wilt disease as evidence to the failure of Bt technology. Suman Sahai and her fellow activists have always rejected success stories of transgenic technology from other countries, but want us to believe in their misinterpretations of its failure outside India.
Suman Sahai cites a publication by Cornell University scientists on the performance of Bt cotton in China, qualified by her as a failure, since the Bt cotton farmers reportedly earn eight per cent less than non-Bt farmers and populations of other insects are on the increase. She asserts that the Cornell researchers anticipate the emergence of secondary pests which is likely to become a major threat where Bt cotton has been widely planted. However, Dr Jikun Huang, whose data were used by the Cornell research group, does not seem to agree with the latter's interpretation that Bt cotton failed in China.
The study of the last cotton season by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, cited by Suman Sahai, did not conclude that the bollworm became resistant to Bt protein, but considered it only as one of several possibilities. She conveniently ignored the other observations in the Arkansas report that, a) the single protein Bt variety is working well to protect against tobacco budworms, b) the dual genetically protected Bt cotton, Bollgard II, is holding up well against both bollworms and tobacco budworms and c) the farmers are expected to switch to gene stacked Bt cotton varieties. Nevertheless, even before Bollgard II made any significance commercial presence in India, she prophesies that 'the targeted pests will develop resistance' to it. Pest pressure, the function of the density of pest populations, is a well known variable, as for example, the cotton season of 2006-07 in India was a low pest pressure year. It is the rates of mortality and not just the pest density, that are important in assessing the efficacy of Bt technology.
Panchagavya is an Ayurvedic concept that contains cow's milk, curds, ghee, urine and dung, not just the last two as understood by Suman Sahai. Several clinical studies have indicated some human therapeutic benefits of panchagavya and with neem leaf extract it is a pest repellent. Suman Sahai recommends a truncated panchagavya with herbal pesticides like pongamia oil as a part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control insect pests on cotton. Indian entomologists know of not just panchagavya, but of several other plant species with pesticidal activity. She does not consider Bt protein as an integral part of IPM, though entomologists have repeatedly asserted that this can be an eminent fit into IPM, as was the use of Bt for more than half a century, even in organic farming.
It looks that there are several US Patents for products incorporating panchagavya along with antibiotics for use as pharmaceuticals. Interestingly, for Suman Sahai a US patent suddenly becomes a validity statement on panchagavya's efficacy. She should actually be fighting against such patents on Indian Traditional Knowledge, like it was done for neem and turmeric, though a patent in the US or anywhere else has no bearing in India and is no guarantee of its field success.
Farmers can certainly use panchagavya as a part of IPM, to overcome any possible deficiencies in the protection afforded by Bt technology, but Suman Sahai does not think of the volumes of panchagavya and the infrastructure that would be needed if panchagavya were to be used in crop protection by every Indian farmer.
The original panchagavya is an expensive proposition and would involve rearing large numbers of cow populations and preparing large volumes of curds and ghee, which the majority in India can ill afford even for their own consumption. Human urine was shown to have several benefits in autourine therapy (Shivambhu). Even this may prove to be useful as pest repellent. We have plenty of it around and there are patented devices to collect urine and store it temporarily.
Suman Sahai suggests the use of introduced natural predators of cotton pests as a biocontrol strategy. Half a century of such strategies has not yielded any lasting solution but even have pointed out to the emergence of new problems.
Suman Sahai repeats her misinterpretation of the paper from the Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur, to harp on the inadequacies of Bt technology to control the bollworm, even after the principal author of the publication has roundly rejected her misuse of their paper.
A polyphagous pest like the bollworm will never disappear from the crop fields. We should learn to prevent our losses by controlling it using a multipronged approach. Management, not technology per se is the problem, magnified by prejudice.
GM seeds are blowing in the wind
- Kelly Weist, The Canyon Courier, 03/02/2007, http://www.canyoncourier.com/story_display.php?sid=5002
The created controversy over using biotech processes to genetically modify crops, and thus produce more and better food supplies, doesn't generally come up in the United States very much, thank God. In Europe, GM crops have been banned and regulated into non-existence based on fear-mongering and absolutely ridiculous claims. The sad part is, the Third World countries that could benefit the most from GM crops are being scared away from this life-saving technology by the same irresponsible scare tactics that are used in Europe.
When the issue does come up in the United States, most people get the "oogies". That's my technical term for the emotionally negative response that you get to some things, even though you have no identifiable reason to oppose it. Genetic modification seems to bring up visions of Frankenstein, a feeling of something just . . . wrong. But this feeling is 180 degrees from reality. GM crops are actually completely and utterly safe, and a damn good idea.
According to the PEW Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, the United States accounts for nearly two-thirds of all biotechnology crops planted globally. About 25 percent of crops worldwide are GM crops, and in the U.S., 107.3 million acres were GM crops in 2003. In the U.S., the main GM crops are soybeans, corn and cotton. In 2004, 85 percent of U.S. soybeans were genetically modified, and 76 percent of U.S. cotton. GM corn was about 45 percent of U.S. corn in 2004, and is growing exponentially, due to the increased demand in the past three years around corn-derived ethanol.
Funnily enough, when Americans are polled about GM food, 60 percent have said they have never eaten GM foods, and 54 percent said they wouldn't eat such foods. Surprise! You already have. In fact, even if you buy organic foods, you've probably still eaten GM grains or soy. Even with all this, there has never been a single scientifically documented case of anyone suffering from anything from eating the GM foods currently available.
GM crops allow food producers to not only grow more crops on less land, but to create disease and insect resistant crops. (This is truly no different than the breeding that farmers have done for centuries.) Further work will bring us crops that have essential vitamins and minerals added genetically to staples like corn, soy, wheat and rice. Put simply, fighting starvation and grinding poverty around the world means utilizing GM crops.
So why do so many people shudder at the words "genetically modified" food? Probably because irresponsible activists, whose real agenda is to reduce all of us to subsistence living, have spent billions to discredit this life-saving technology. They claim to be concerned about "overpopulation" and "our devastating effect on Planet Earth." They should have to explain why hungry children serve their purpose of "reducing humans' effect on the planet."
So here's the question: Do you want to explain to starving children why they can't have rice because you just have the "oogies?" Good luck with that.
E.Coli Update: Activists' Deafening Silence
- The Center for Consumer Freedom, March 6, 2007, http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_detail.cfm/headline/3261
Sometimes the best way to find out activists' true intentions is to notice what they don't say. Earlier this month, California's Department of Health Services (DHS) announced that the spinach responsible for last September's E.coli outbreak was grown on an organic farm. This confirms a widely-held suspicion that the activist-inspired storyline blaming conventional (read: "corporate") farming techniques for the villainous veggies is bogus.
Not surprisingly, none of the self-proclaimed "consumer advocates" who hawked that fiction last September have recanted in light of the Department of Health's announcement -- that includes the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Center for Food Safety, and Consumer Reports magazine. The outrage they conjured up so quickly at the onset of the outbreak is now noticeably absent.
Why's that? Because the fact that spinach was contaminated at a small-scale (50-acre) organic farm doesn't help them demonize major food companies. In the case of Consumer Reports, the only outrage they've been able to muster lately has been in response to the leafy green industry's plan to institute a health & safety marketing program in April. (Companies voluntarily improving their product? Impossible!)
It bears repeating that California's E.coli outbreak got the attention that it did because food-borne illness is so rare in this country. Despite the rhetoric from radicals, Americans enjoy the safest food supply in the world -- and it's improving every day.
MEPs back European organic logo
- European Parliament (press release), 06-03-2007, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/public/story_page/032-3811-064-03-10-904-20070306STO03810-2007-05-03-2007/default_en.htm
With sales of organic goods growing by 30% a year and production expanding dramatically, MEPs have supported the creation of a European "organics logo" which would protect the special nature of organic food. Meeting last week, Parliament's Agriculture committee backed a report calling for a European logo for foods containing 95% organic ingredients. It also calls for organic food to be completely free of GMOs - current rules say that 0.9% of the product can be of GMO origin.
A need to "guarantee certainty for consumers"
The report adopted by MEPs is in response to a proposed regulation on organic production and food labelling that EU Agriculture Ministers are currently considering.
Marie-Hélène Aubert, the French Green MEP who acted as the rapporteur on the issue explained the need for action: "in the context of the ballooning demand for organic food in the EU and the resulting growth in supply, we need to guarantee certainty for consumers about the products they are buying".
The main thrust of her report is the call for a compulsory EU-wide logo for organic food on all products which satisfy the "organic" requirements. The report also calls for GMOs to be prohibited in the production of organic products.
Mrs Aubert would also like clearer labelling and closer inspection to determine the origins of goods so they can identified more accurately. For organic imported into the EU the report calls for an EU Agency or authority to independently certify the products.
The report would also like the proposed regulation legally changed so that the Parliament has a more powerful co-decision role instead of the existing consultative role. This is based on the fact it concerns food products which are sold in the EU's internal market.
What exactly is an organic product?
Organic products are those that are grown without fertilizers and pesticides and with respect to the environment and biodiversity. This involves crop rotation and the rearing of "free-range" livestock which are not force-fed hormones or antibiotics.
As well as the apparent health benefits of more natural food, the organic movement is a reaction against the perceived exploitation and intensity of post-war farming.
Although a booming industry, organic methods of farming occupied just 3.6% of the land in the European Union last year. In addition the practice differs widely in popularity across the continent - being much popular among farmers and consumers in Western Europe than in central and eastern European countries. Aware of the importance of the sector the EU adopted rules on organic farming in 1992 and in 2004 integrated it into the objectives of the reform Common Agricultural Policy.
The full Plenary of the Parliament will consider the Aubert report in March while EU Agriculture Ministers will further consider the regulation in June. As they consider the next steps to take Mrs Aubert reiterated the message of her report by saying "we need labelling rules that ensure the consumer knows both where the product comes from and under which quality standards it has been produced".
Biotech profiting Iowa
- Matt Nelson, The Daily Iowan, 3/6/07, http://media.www.dailyiowan.com/media/storage/paper599/news/2007/03/06/Metro/Biotech.Profiting.Iowa-2758815.shtml
Viewed from the perspective of goats that produce spider silk instead of milk, cloned sheep, and plants that glow in the dark, genetic engineering may seem like a frightening smorgasbord of freak-show oddities - but genetic engineering in the field of agriculture has proven to be a lucrative venture for Iowa farmers.
By selectively manipulating genes through technology, as opposed to conventional breeding methods, crop developers have created numerous strains of genetically modified plants with properties unique to the brands. While they go by many names, these strains are intended to be superior to organic breeds.
"[Genetically modified crops] work," said Gordon Wassenaar, a 70-year-old Prairie City farmer. "They save me money; they make me money; they're profitable."
Genetically engineered crops in the United States have been quickly adopted since 1996, when they were deemed safe for the public.
A 2006 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that herbicide-tolerant soybeans made up 87 percent of all U.S. soybean crops. Insect-resistant breeds, such as those used by Wassenaar, made up 35 percent of total corn acreage in 2005.
The Iowa Corn Grower's Association has also embraced transgenic breeds, called "Bt corn," to curb infestations of corn borers and rootworms, two of the most destructive insects in Iowa cornfields.
"[Genetic engineering] provides them a better yield, it reduces the number of insects damaging their crop, and it reduces the amount of pesticides they apply to control those insects," said Rodney Williamson of the Corn Grower's Association. "Those are the reasons growers have adopted this technology."
But not everyone has warmly embraced the fruits of genetic scientists' labor.
To prevent the spread of the altered corn, many organic farmers round out their fields with soybeans, which are genetically incompatible with corn, preventing cross-pollination by creating a separation distance between corn and the surrounding plants, according to the Iowa Corn Grower's Association.
In February, a federal judge ruled that the USDA had failed to adequately assess the effect of a Monsanto brand of modified alfalfa, which could contaminate organic breeds and increase herbicide resistance.
The brand, approved in 2005, was modified to resist the herbicide Roundup - also produced by Monsanto. But because of a lawsuit brought against the Agriculture Department by the Center For Food Safety and other groups, distribution of the alfalfa will likely be halted, pending a complete environmental-impact review.
And even though the Monsanto decision won't affect Iowa corn, the issue it presents - how an ecosystem can be disrupted by engineering - affects the nation.
"There's been a lot of discussions about herbicide resistance," Williamson said. "There's been studies at various universities; growers talk about that at the coffee shop."
Statement by Dr. Ron DeHaven Regarding APHIS Hold on Clearfield CL131 Long-Grain Rice Seed
- US Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, March 5, 2007, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/content/2007/03/ge_riceseed_statement.shtml
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is taking action to prevent the planting and distribution of a long-grain rice seed known as Clearfield CL131 because testing by a private company has revealed the possible presence of trace levels of genetic material not yet approved for commercialization.
"APHIS began issuing emergency action notifications (EANs) yesterday, March 4, to inform distributors that this seed, scheduled for planting this spring, must be held until APHIS can verify and identify the presence of additional genetic material. APHIS directed distributors to begin notifying producers yesterday. Additional EANs are being issued to affected producers as they are identified.
"APHIS is taking this action because the genetic material detected in Clearfield CL131 seed might be regulated, in which case it would not be approved for commercial use. The issuance of EANs will keep any additional CL131 seed from being planted until a determination can be made concerning the identity of this genetic material and the appropriate risk assessment can be conducted. USDA, through its own testing, is in the process of confirming the results reported by BASF Corporation.
"This action is prompted by test results informally reported to APHIS by Horizon Ag last Wednesday evening, with written results being provided to APHIS by BASF Corporation and Horizon Ag on Thursday. Clearfield is a registered trademark of BASF. Clearfield CL131 was not developed as a genetically engineered product. Horizon Ag is licensed by BASF Corporation to market this seed. Both companies are fully cooperating with APHIS.
"This is not the first detection of genetically engineered material in Clearfield CL131 rice seed. Last week, APHIS announced that trace levels of a previously deregulated genetically engineered trait had been identified in Clearfield CL131.
"Because of the possibility that the genetic material in question is regulated, APHIS is conducting an investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the release and whether any violations of USDA regulations occurred."
Pakistan approves GM rules to protect farmers - The rules will protect farmer's rights to re-use GM seeds
- Wagdy Sawahel, 27 February 2007, SciDev.Net, http://www.scidev.net/News/index.cfm?fuseaction=readNews&itemid=3444&language=1
Pakistan has moved to protect farmers' rights to save, re-use and exchange genetically modified (GM) seeds, which will protect them from depending on multinational companies for seed each year.
The cabinet has approved draft legislation to enable Pakistan to fulfill the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
The rules aim to preserve incentives for seed companies to continue to improve seeds and develop new plant varieties by stopping farmers from selling GM seeds on a commercial scale. But they will also protect farmers' rights to re-use GM seeds from one generation to the next.
The set of rules is similar to those adopted in India, where farmers are allowed to sell GM seed on a small scale as long as it is unbranded - known as 'brown bagging' in the United States.
Public sector research institutes will have ownership rights for their varieties and the scientists involved in their development will be given a 20 per cent share of any royalties from the sale of seed.
Speaking to SciDev.Net, Anwar Nasim, president of the Federation of Asian Biotech Associations and chair of Pakistan's National Commission on Biotechnology, welcomed the news saying "the bill is of great importance for farmers in Pakistan and we are happy that it has now been approved by the cabinet".
"This can serve as a model for other developing countries," said Nasim.
CropLife International - the global federation that represents the plant science industry - also welcomed the regulations, saying they underlined the patent protection that GM crop technology is already subject to.
"We hope that the newly enacted piece of legislation will foster the improvement of varieties, while safeguarding the proprietary rights of titleholders," said Javier Fernandez, Manager of Intellectual Property and Trade Affairs at CropLife International. The cabinet approved the draft legislation for plant breeder's rights this month (14 February). It will be submitted to the parliament after vetting by the Law, Justice and Human Rights division.
GM fears a myth
- Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - Australia (press release), web dated March 1, 2007, http://www.maff.gov.au/releases/07/07024pm.html
Australia's traditional export markets for canola accept genetically modified (GM) canola just as readily as conventional canola - and pay a similar price for both.
Welcoming the release today of the ABARE report Market acceptance of GM canola, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Peter McGauran, said the report found that GM canola was being accepted in markets throughout the world and non-GM canola did not appear to be attracting a price premium.
"Fears about GM canola have proved unfounded and consumers around the world now accept it to be a safe food ingredient. As a result of this, Australian growers of non-GM canola are not receiving any overall premium," Mr McGauran said.
"The analysis conducted by ABARE concludes there is nothing to support the concerns that unintended presence of GM canola in other grain exports, particularly wheat and barley, would adversely impact on trade.
"As well as debunking the myths of price premiums and the disruption to wheat and barley trade, ABARE has shown there is no basis to the fears expressed that products derived from animals fed GM feed would suffer in the marketplace.
"The report also confirms that Australia, like many other countries including those within the European Union, is already a large consumer of GM products."
Australian-produced GM cottonseed is used as oil for human consumption and as protein meal for animal feed.
The use of GM feed rations from cotton, along with imported GM soybean meal, has had no negative impacts for Australia's livestock industries.
"Worldwide acceptance of GM is clear. GM crops are now grown by more than 10 million growers in 22 countries," Mr McGauran concluded.
Market acceptance of GM canola can be found on the ABARE website: www.abareconomics.com
GM crops need rethink: Heffernan
- NineMSN, Mar 7, 2007, http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=60163
Australia needs to review its attitude to genetically modified (GM) crops so the Top End can be transformed into the nation's food bowl, Liberal senator Bill Heffernan says.
Senator Heffernan told Fairfax newspapers that GM crops such as cotton were more environmentally friendly because they were more water efficient and required less chemical pesticides.
Even though West Australia has banned all GM crops, trials of GM cotton near Kununurra in far north WA had highlighted its potential as a commercial crop.
"One of the things which would make Kununurra immediately viable would be GM cotton production," Senator Heffernan said.
advertisement "The taskforce and Northern Territory and West Australian governments have to come to terms with a change of attitude on things like GM produce."
Rice growers had also expressed formal interest in moving to the water-drenched Top End, which Senator Heffernan said could develop itself as one of the world's great food, fibre and energy exporters as countries such as India and China faced problems with food production due to increasing water storages.
"One of the most alarming things about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is that in 50 years' time, 50 per cent of the world's population is going to be water poor," he said.
"If Australia is to remain an aggressive world marketer in primary industries, it needs to look at all the opportunities that present themselves with climate change."
New Success in Engineering Plant Oils Technique could yield materials to replace petrochemicals and more nutritious edible oils
- Brookhaven National Laboratory (press release), March 5, 2007, http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/PR_display.asp?prID=07-24
UPTON, NY - Using genetic manipulation to modify the activity of a plant enzyme, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory have converted an unsaturated oil in the seeds of a temperate plant to the more saturated kind usually found in tropical plants. The research will be published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the week of March 5, 2007. Photo of Shanklin and Nguyen
John Shanklin and Tam Nguyen working at the fluorescence microscope. (Click image to download hi-res version.)
While conversion of an unsaturated oil to an oil with increased saturated fatty acid levels may not sound like a boon to those conscious about consuming unsaturated fats, "the development of new plant seed oils has several potential biotechnological applications," said Brookhaven biochemist John Shanklin, lead author on the paper.
For one thing, the new tropical-like oil has properties more like margarine than do temperate oils, but without the trans fatty acids commonly found in margarine products. Furthermore, engineered oils could be used to produce feedstocks for industrial processes in place of those currently obtained from petrochemicals. Shanklin also suggests that the genetic manipulation could work in the reverse to allow scientists to engineer more heart-healthy food oils.
"Scientists have known for a long time that the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fatty acids plays a key role in plants' ability to adapt to different climates, but to change this ratio specifically in seed oils without changing the climate is an interesting challenge," remarked Shanklin. "Our group sought to gain a better understanding of the enzymes and metabolic pathways that produce these oils to find ways to manipulate the accumulation of fats using genetic techniques."
The researchers focused on an enzyme known as KASII that normally elongates fatty acid chains by adding two carbon atoms. The longer 18-carbon chains are more likely to be acted on by enzymes that desaturate the fat. So the scientists hypothesized that if they could prevent the chain lengthening by reducing the levels of KASII, they could decrease the likelihood of desaturation and increase the level of saturated fats in the plant seeds.
Their hypothesis was supported by the fact that scientists had previously identified a plant with a mutated KASII that showed reduced enzyme activity, and these plants were able to accumulate more saturated fats than was normal. So the Brookhaven team set out to reduce KASII activity with the use of RNA-interference (RNAi) to see if they could further increase the level of saturation in plant seed oils. Photo os seeds
The Brookhaven scientists performed their experiments on Arabidopsis, a plant commonly used in research. Like other plants from temperate climates (e.g., canola, soybean, and sunflower), Arabidopsis contains predominantly 18-carbon unsaturated fatty acids in its seed oil. Tropical plants, in contrast (e.g. palm), contain higher proportions (approximately 50 percent) of 16-carbon saturated fatty acids.
The results were surprising. The genetic manipulations that reduced KASII activity resulted in a seven-fold increase in 16-carbon unsaturated fatty acids - up to an unprecedented 53 percent - in the temperate Arabidopsis plant seed oils.
"These results demonstrate that manipulation of a single enzyme's activity is sufficient to convert the seed oil composition of Arabidopsis from that of a typical temperate pant to that of a tropical palm-like oil," Shanklin said. "It is fascinating - and potentially very useful - to know that we can change the oil composition so drastically by simple specific changes in seed oil metabolism, and that this process can occur independently from the adaptation to either tropical or temperate climates."
For example, such a technique could lead to the engineering of temperate crop plants to produce saturated oils as renewable feedstocks for industrial processes. Such renewable resources could help reduce dependence on petroleum.
Conversely, methods to increase the activity of KASII, and therefore the production of 18-carbon desaturated plant oils, may provide a useful strategy to limit the accumulation of saturated fatty acids in edible oils, leading to more healthful nutrition.
This work was funded by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences within the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, and by Dow and Dow Agrosciences. Co-authors included Brookhaven biologist Tam Nguyen, Mark Pidkowich of the University of British Columbia, and Ingo Heilmann and Till Ischebeck of the Georg-August University of Göttingen.
The PNAS paper can be viewed online at: http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0611141104
Scientists Genetically Engineer Tomatoes with Enhanced Folate Content - Research could provide vital daily nutritional requirement
- National Science Foundation, Press Release 07-022, March 5, 2007, http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=108451&org=NSF&from=news
Leafy greens and beans aren't the only foods that pack a punch of folate, the vitamin essential for a healthy start to pregnancy.
Researchers now have used genetic engineering--manipulating an organism's genes--to make tomatoes with a full day's worth of the nutrient in a single serving. The scientists published their results in this week's online edition of the journal PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"This could potentially be beneficial worldwide," said Andrew Hanson, a plant biochemist at the University of Florida at Gainesville who developed the tomato along with colleague Jesse Gregory. "Now that we've shown it works in tomatoes, we can work on applying it to cereals and crops for less developed countries where folate deficiencies are a very serious problem."
Folate is one of the most vital nutrients for the human body's growth and development, which is why folate-rich diets are typically suggested for women planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant. Without it, cell division would not be possible because the nutrient plays an essential role in both the production of nucleotides--the building blocks of DNA--and many other essential metabolic processes.
Deficiencies of the nutrient have been linked to birth defects, slow growth rates and other developmental problems in children, as well as numerous health issues in adults, such as anemia.
"Folate deficiency is a major nutritional deficiency, especially in the developing world," said Parag Chitnis, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, which funded the research. "This research provides the proof-of-concept for the natural addition of folate to diet through enhancement of the folate content of fruits and vegetables."
The vitamin is commonly found in leafy green vegetables like spinach, but few people eat enough produce to get the suggested amount of folate. So, in 1998, the Food and Drug Administration made it mandatory that many grain productssuch as rice, flour and cornmeal be enriched with a synthetic form of folate known as folic acid.
Folate deficiencies remain a problem in many underdeveloped countries, however, where adding folic acid is impractical or simply too expensive.
"There are even folate deficiency issues in Europe, where addition of folic acid to foods has not been very widely practiced," Gregory said. "Theoretically, you could bypass this whole problem by ensuring that the folate is already present in the food."
Will doctors be recommending a healthy dose of salsa for would-be pregnant women anytime soon? Probably not, the researchers say.
"It can take years to get a genetically-engineered food plant approved by the FDA," Hanson said. "But before that is even a question, there are many more studies to be done--including a better look at how the overall product is affected by this alteration."
And there is another hurdle the researchers must clear. Boosting the production of folate in tomatoes involved increasing the level of another chemical in the plant, pteridine. Little is known about this chemical, which is found in virtually all fruits and vegetables.
Meridian Institute Launches Agriculture Portal
- Meridian Institute (press release), 3/6/2007, http://www.merid.org/fs-agbiotech/more.php?id=5954
Meridian Institute has launched an Agriculture Portal website that offers in-depth information about Meridian's experience in agriculture and food security. The new site features: 1) detailed information about individual Meridian projects in the area of agriculture and food security; 2) a quick reference guide to Meridian's agriculture experience; 3) daily headlines from Food Security and Ag-Biotech News; and 4) a Food Security and Ag-Biotech News flier available for download. The site also offers information about select projects from other substantive areas in which Meridian has expertise, including forestry, health, climate change, and security. The Agriculture Portal website is available at the link below.
Biological Sciences for the 21st Century: Meeting the Challenges of Sustainable Development in an Era of Global Change
May 10-12, 2007, Washington, D.C. http://www7.nationalacademies.org/IUBS/Registration.html
How can cutting-edge biological research address critical needs for sustainability in:
Advancing population health?
Developing sustainable energy solutions?
Promoting food security?
Conserving ecosystem services?
Do you have a current research project that demonstrates the application of an area of biology to addressing one of these needs? Submit an abstract for competition for selection for poster presentation! Recognition will be given to the top posters from younger investigators. http://www7.nationalacademies.org/IUBS/Poster_Session.html
The International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS), as part of its 29th General Assembly, May 9-13, 2007, and hosted by the National Academy of Sciences through its U.S. National Committee to IUBS.
NC Research Campus and UNC Universities Host Major Symposium on Nutritional Biotechnology - Research Summit Explores New Front in Biotech Revolution
University of North Carolina at Charlotte (press release), March 6, 2007, http://www.publicrelations.uncc.edu/default.asp?id=15&objId=212
In association with the development of the North Carolina Research Campus, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte and five other North Carolina universities are hosting a major symposium featuring the top national researchers in these emerging fields. Entitled "Who We Are and What We Eat: The Role of Metabolomics and Nutrigenomics in Creating Healthier Foods and Healthier Lives," the symposium is scheduled for April 15 to 17 at the UNC Charlotte campus.
Planned as a comprehensive national meeting in nutritional biotechnology, the conference will feature research presentations by prominent researchers from leading research universities, federal agencies and industry. Topics to be discussed will include the development of nutritionally improved crops, bioactives in agriculture, new ways of studying nutrient-gene interactions, the use of metabolomics and nutrigenomics as clinical tools, and how bioinformatics can facilitate new discoveries. Approximately 300 researchers in the field are expected to attend.
Latin America: Workshop on Biosafety of GM Crops and the Evolution of Regulatory Frameworks: Issues and Challenges
September 24-28 2007: Fundação Ezequiel Dias- FUNED, Rua Conde Pereira Carneiro, 80 Bairro: Gameleira , Belo Horizonte - MG (Cep: 30510-010) http://www.anbio.org.br/eventos/icgeb.htm
*By guest editor Andrew Apel, andrewapelat/wildblue.net. Prakash is traveling.