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March 20, 2007


NDSU releases transgenic soybean variety; France adopts disputed EU laws on GMO crops; Surprising secrets of Frankenstein farm; GM Fish Illegally Smuggled into Germany; Malaria-Resistant Mosquitoes; Romania's GMO dilemma


Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org - March 20, 2007

* NDSU releases transgenic soybean variety
* France adopts disputed EU laws on GMO crops
* Surprising secrets of Frankenstein farm
* GM Fish Illegally Smuggled into Germany
* Malaria-Resistant Mosquitoes
* Romania's GMO dilemma


NDSU releases transgenic soybean variety

- NDSU Extension, March 18, 2007, http://www.farmandranchguide.com/articles/2007/03/18/ag_news/production_news/prod24.txt

A transgenic Roundup-resistant soybean variety, RG7008RR, has been developed and released by the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station, according to Al Schneiter, North Dakota State University Department of Plant Sciences chair.

RG7008RR will be marketed by the North Dakota State University Research Foundation through Roughrider Genetics.

Compared with RG6008RR (also released by NDSU) during tests conducted from 2004 through 2006, the new variety has a 1.8 bushel-per-acre yield advantage and is similar in maturity date and lodging resistance, according to Ted Helms leader of the NDSU soybean breeding project.

In other comparisons, plant height is about 2 inches shorter, while protein and oil content are similar. The new line has a purple flower; tawny, pubescence, brown pod; intermediate seed coat luster; and a yellow hila.

Numbers are used to designate transgenic varieties to avoid confusion with named nontransgenic types. RG stands for Roughrider Genetics, 7 the year of release, 008 the soybean maturity group, and RR designates resistance to the herbicide Roundup.

The North Dakota Soybean Council provided some of the funding for the development of RG70008RR.


France adopts disputed EU laws on GMO crop growing

- Sybille de La Hamaide, Reuters, Mar 20, 2007, http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSL202805920070320

Paris - France said on Tuesday it had brought its national legislation into line with European Union laws on growing genetically modified (GMO) crops, hoping to end a legal battle with Europe's top court.

The French farm ministry said in a statement it was publishing in the official journal the two main decrees converting into French law the European directive on GMO commercial and experimental crops.

The directive, agreed by EU governments in 2001, regulates how GMO crops may be grown and approved across the bloc.

It covers the cultivation of GMO seeds for crop or seed production and also includes imports of GMOs from other countries and their processing for industrial purposes.

In December last year the European Commission asked the Court of Justice (ECJ) to fine France for its failure to integrate the directive on the environmental release of GMOs.

The amount was based on a daily calculation for non-compliance since an initial ECJ ruling in July 2004, and has now grown to over 42 million euros, ministry officials said.

"We're still at risk from this fine but hope it will now stop growing. We'll have to see what the court will decide," a French farm ministry official said, adding that a separate daily fine of 366,744 euros was likely to be dropped.

French consumers are well known for their skepticism, if not hostility, to GMO crops, often dubbed "Frankenstein foods." The biotech industry insists its products are perfectly safe.

Moer Fields Destroyed

France has only approved one type of GMO crop, the "MON 810" maize produced by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto (MON.N: Quote, Profile, Research), to be cultivated for commercial purposes.

In 2006, around 5,200 hectares were grown with the maize, which has been modified to resist certain insect pests, the French maize growers association AGPM said.

That is only a minor part of the total grain sowings in France which account for more than nine million hectares, including 1.8 million hectares of maize.

Under the new rules, farmers will be obliged to give precise details on their GMO sowings, which should enable France to create a national register of all GMO crops in the country, including their number, surface and location, it added.

The register will be available on the Internet.

Maize producers stressed the register would not give a precise location for the GMO locations in a bid to stop farmers having their fields destroyed by protesters in what has become a common practice in France.

"For us it was important that the name of (GMO-growing) farmers and villages should remain confidential to avoid new ransacking," Luc Esprit, director general of France's maize producers group AGPM, told Reuters.

But a spokeswoman for France's anti-GMO lobby said her fellow activists would continue destroying GMO fields to oppose the growing of the crops for commercial and experimental use.

"France has listened to the EU, we now ask it to listen to French citizens who massively reject GMOs," she said.

"In the meantime we'll continue symbolic actions. We'll be even more determined."


Surprising secrets of Frankenstein farm

- Paul Whitelaw, The Scotsman, March 20, 2007, http://living.scotsman.com/tv.cfm?id=429112007

[review of] Animal Farm, Channel 4

DOLLY the sheep, that mouse with an ear on its back, and the Incredible Hulk. Each of these have proven categorically that genetic modification is a Very Bad Thing. "We should not be messing around with God's handiwork," cry the naysayers. "That way lies damnation."

But according to Dr Olivia Judson in Animal Farm, GM is nothing to be scared of. Indeed, she persuasively argued that humanity has been tinkering with its natural environment for centuries, and all for the common good. Food critic Giles Coren, on the other hand, thought that nature could take care of itself, thank you very much, without the assistance of syringe-wielding Belgian scientists.

Could these staunch moral opposites reconcile their views? Well, what better way of finding out than plonking them down in an imaginary farm in which all the animals are the product of manufactured gene splicing? Coren was justifiably disgusted by the sight of the so-called Schwarzenegger Cows, enormous musclebound creatures which have been specially bred for over a century. These bovine monsters are the result of farmers only allowing bulls and cows with the heftiest muscle mass to mate. The result, in Coren's words, are "four-arsed cows". They looked unnatural, frightening even. But if these beasts are being bred to feed the world, then surely that's a good thing?

Judson, a plummy Jenny Agutter type, certainly thought so. She was practically frothing with excitement at the sight of some hideous featherless chickens and - weirdest of all - fluorescent rabbits. How do you make a bunny glow in the dark? Easy, just add jellyfish genes to its DNA. All very impressive, but what on Earth are they for? Medical experiments apparently, although Judson didn't elaborate. It almost seemed like the scientists were playing around with nature simply because they could.

The one GM product which could undoubtedly have a positive effect on humanity, however, was the "golden rice" developed to eradicate vitamin A deficiency, which apparently kills 250 people every hour. Don't look for it in the shops, however, because it's banned. It really is a terrible and unjust world.

I must admit that by the end I was leaning with caution towards Judson's pro-GM camp. Coren just seemed nave. His argument basically amounted to bleating "it's just not right", without acknowledging the basic facts before him. This was intriguing stuff, full of unexpected asides. For example, did you know that carrots are only orange because the Dutch bred them that way in the 17th century in tribute to their royal family? No, me neither.



Genetically Modified Fluorescent Fish Illegally Smuggled into Germany

- Der Spiegel, March 20, 2007, http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,472688,00.html

German authorities are concerned that genetically modified fluorescent fish are being smuggled into the country. Even though the fish are legal in the US, dealers here face fines of EUR50,000 or five years in jail.

There has been widespread concern in Europe about genetically modified organisms, with protesters warning of the dangers of "Frankenstein foods." Now glow-in-the-dark Frankenstein fish have been smuggled into Germany -- and the authorities are concerned about the illegal trade.

The genetically modified fish, which have had their DNA tinkered with so they exhibit red, green or orange fluorescence, are sold in the United States under the trade name "GloFish" for $5 each. But the refashioned fish are banned in Europe.

Recently, though, they have been surfacing illegally in Germany. Specimens were discovered in a specialist store in the northern German city of Kiel, authorities from Schleswig-Holstein's Ministry of Agriculture confirmed Monday.

Ministry spokesman Christian Seyfert told the German news agency dpa that dealers at an ornamental fish fair in Kiel had also tried to sell the glowing fish. The organizers had banned those dealers from the fair and informed the district veterinary office, he said.

Seyfert said that the genetically modified zebra fish had been smuggled in from Poland and probably came originally from Asia. He said authorities were investigating the trade routes and had informed Germany's other federal states of the danger. Breeders and sellers of the genetically modified zebra fish face fines of up to 50,000 and prison sentences of up to five years.

However Hans-Jrg Buhk, head of the genetic engineering department of Germany's Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, believes that the genetically modified fish likely pose little risk. "You have to put a check on it at the beginning," he said. "Otherwise you have the effect of opening a door, and then you can't stop it any more. You can't predict how things will develop."

Scientists in Singapore originally created the fish to detect pollution, adding a color gene from a sea anemone to zebra fish eggs. If there are pollutants in the water then the fish light up, in up to five different colors.

The American company Yorktown Technologies quickly recognized the business potential of glowing fish and secured exclusive marketing rights in the US. "GloFish fluorescent fish are safe for the environment and make wonderful pets for new hobbyists and experienced enthusiasts alike," the company's Web site claims.

According to the firm, there is no risk if the fish get out into the wild. "Zebra fish are tropical fish and are unable to survive in non-tropical environments," the Web site explains.


Malaria-Resistant Mosquitoes

- Corinna Wu, MIT Technology Review, March 20, 2007, http://www.technologyreview.com/Biotech/18407/

Researchers show that benign, genetically engineered mosquitoes can outcompete disease-causing ones, suggesting a possible way to control the disease.

Mosquitoes genetically engineered for malaria resistance can outcompete their wild counterparts--at least in the lab, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. While previous studies have described the creation of malaria-resistant mosquitoes, this is the first time that researchers have shown a reproductive advantage for the genetically engineered organisms, which is an important requirement if such mosquitoes are to be used as a practical malaria-control strategy.

Malaria kills more than a million people worldwide each year, most of them children in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization. The disease is caused by Plasmodium parasites, protozoa that are transmitted from person to person by female Anopheles mosquitoes. Researchers have proposed a method of controlling the spread of malaria by introducing into the wild mosquitoes that can't transmit the parasite, but computer models suggest that malaria-resistant mosquitoes must almost completely replace the native population in order to stop the cycle of transmission.

In the current study, Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena and his colleagues at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, in Baltimore, put equal numbers of malaria-resistant mosquitoes and ordinary mosquitoes in a cage and allowed them to feed on mice infected with the malaria-causing parasite. The researchers then collected the eggs laid by the insects, reared them into adulthood, and allowed the new generation of mosquitoes to feed on infected mice.

After nine generations, 70 percent of the mosquitoes were malaria resistant, meaning that the genetically engineered insects had largely outcompeted their nonresistant counterparts. In contrast, mosquitoes that fed on uninfected mice did not show any fitness differences. The researchers published their findings in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Earlier work by Hillary Hurd, a parasitologist at Keele University, in the United Kingdom, showed that infection with Plasmodium affects mosquitoes' fertility. "There's a fitness cost to being infected," Hurd says, so mosquitoes that are protected from infection should have an advantage over those that aren't protected. The results of the Johns Hopkins study support that conclusion, she says.

Researchers have created different types of malaria-resistant mosquitoes by interfering with the Plasmodium parasite's complex developmental cycle. After a mosquito ingests the parasite from infected blood, the parasite invades the mosquito's gut and forms a cyst. That cyst eventually ruptures and releases spores into the mosquito's body, which migrate to the salivary glands. Then, when the mosquito bites another person, it transmits the parasite.

Jacobs-Lorena and his colleagues engineered mosquitoes to produce a peptide called SM1 that blocks Plasmodium from invading the mosquito's gut, thus interrupting the parasite's development. Since it is not a naturally occurring peptide, SM1 doesn't activate the mosquito's immune system, according to Hurd. "This is a very different strategy than what other groups are working on," she says. "If you induce an immune response ... there is a fitness cost too."

Unlike other groups that conducted experiments, the researchers bred the genetically engineered mosquitoes with ordinary ones, so the insects in their study had just one copy of the SM1 gene instead of two. "Our hypothesis is that there are many genes throughout the genome that confer fitness disadvantage, but they're recessive," says Jacobs-Lorena. So in mosquitoes engineered to have two copies of SM1, the traits coded by those recessive genes express themselves and reduce the fitness of the mosquitoes. Having just one copy of SM1 doesn't seem to reduce the insects' resistance to the malaria parasite, he adds.

Hurd cautions that the malaria-causing parasites used by the Johns Hopkins team infect mice, not humans. "Anyone taking this strategy needs to be certain that the molecule stops transmission of the human parasite," she says. "Many of them don't."

More work needs to be done before transgenic mosquitoes can be used in the field as a malaria-control method. "Transgenic mosquitoes by themselves will never be able to solve the problem," Jacobs-Lorena says. "The only way is to use a combination of approaches: a coordinated attack using drugs, insecticides, transgenic mosquitoes, and perhaps vaccines. Then we have a chance to make a significant change in the transmission of the disease. No one should think of this as a silver bullet."


Romania's GMO dilemma: who to side with - corporations or the EU?

- HotNews.ro, March 19, 2007, http://english.hotnews.ro/Romania%27s-GMO-dilemma-who-to-side-with-corporations-or-the-EU-articol_44527.htm

The Environment Ministry in Bucharest is due to push for public debate two new initiatives on genetically modified food - one for the introduction of GM soy testing and one for tests of GM plum trees. The Ministry recently authorized tests on GM corn. The moves come as agricultural experts are pushing hard to make Romanian citizens understand that GM crops are not harmful.

But environmental militants are redirecting the debate towards studies they say may help stop the expansion of non-conventional crops, while modified corn is the only GM plant allowed in the EU agriculture.

Romania is facing backbreaking decisions on aligning its agricultural legislation to the EU's and applying it wherever possible. But major companies are also pushing hard to have GM crops allowed at large-scale level.

"We're doing what the EU laws says and it says very clearly what can be cropped and what not", Environment Ministry official Catalin Cheran told HotNews.ro.

A short look over all notifications submitted on GMOs on EU territory (http://gmoinfo.jrc.it/gmp_browse.aspx) shows most come from US corporations such as Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta. Several other local players - state universities and companies covering national territories alone - are also profiled, but in a much lesser measure.

Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta have submitted documents asking to test GM crops in Romania. If applied, the groups may start putting up crops for testing GM soy, corn and plum trees.

They're also claiming that food is already insufficient and that "a solution to these crisis is the use of biotechnology in agriculture", as Clive James, a GMO supporter, put it during a Bucharest conference on March 2.

But anti-GM campaigners are also doing their best in preventing such pressure. Shortly after Hungary obtained an exemption from regulations on GM corn crops, a study was published claiming that GM corn damages human health.

And for the first time since GM corn was authorized for food production, a study recently published by Professor Gilles Eric Seralini of the University of Caen claims the only EU-approved GMO used on testing animals provides signs of toxicity in at liver and kidney level.


*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net. Prakash is traveling.