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March 22, 2007


Norman Borlaug Approaches 93; Corn seed availability limited; Online Database for Corn Growers; 'Green' Corn Project Funded; Iran to boost biotech research; Gene-Age training, tools for teachers; Drought-tolerant GM crops stalled


Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org March 22, 2007

* Norman Borlaug Approaches 93
* Corn seed availability limited
* Online Database for Corn Growers
* 'Green' Corn Project Funded
* Iran to boost biotech research
* Gene-Age training, tools for teachers
* Drought-tolerant GM crops stalled


Norman Borlaug Approaches 93

- Andrew Apel, guest editor, March 22, 2007, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net

Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug will turn 93 on Sunday, March 25, 2007. It's a birthday well worth celebrating, as his life's work--known as "the Green Revolution"--is estimated to have saved a billion lives which otherwise would have been lost to starvation.

His birthday has been celebrated before, at many times and places, including the University of Minnesota, [1] the US Department of Agriculture, [2] and the World Bank. [3] He's also received birthday tributes online, such as from AgBioWorld [4] and the American Council on Science and Health, [5] but many more examples can easily be found.

He's received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, [6] and the Public Welfare Medal, the highest honor available from the US National Academies of Science. [7] This is by no means a complete list of the honors bestowed on him, but it's hard to surpass the prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize, which he received in 1970. [8]

As we continue to benefit from his life's work, more celebrations are surely in order.


[1] http://www1.umn.edu/umnnews/Feature_Stories/Norman_Borlaug_90_years_strong.html
[2] http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/borlaug/borlaug%20photo%20gallery.htm
[3] http://www.iisd.ca/sd/ruralweek99/day2.html
[4] http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/topics/borlaug/quotes.html
[5] http://www.acsh.org/news/newsid.625/news_detail.asp
[6] http://www.worldfoodprize.org/press_room/2006/december/borlaug-congressional.htm
[7] http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=01222002
[8] http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1970/borlaug-bio.html


Corn seed availability limited

- Kristin Danley-Greiner, Farm News (Iowa), March 21, 2007, http://www.farmnews-iowa.com/News/articles.asp?articleID=5279

It turns out that seed availability for the upcoming growing season is limited and in some cases, entire strains are completely out.

Paul Kassel, a crops field specialist with Iowa State University Extension, said he had heard that both warehouses with triple stack corn and triple stacked hybrids actually sold out last December. Triple-trait corn products stacked with YieldGard Plus and Roundup Ready Corn 2 are from Monsanto, DEKALB, Asgrow and are the first triple trait products in the biotech industry to offer in-seed protection against corn borers and rootworms, plus the added punch of herbicide tolerance.

Darrel Good with the University of Illinois said he, too, had heard that the triple stacked varieties sold out "pretty quick."

"Seed will likely be available, but not always the first choice," he said.

On the Farm Advantage Web site, 88 varieties of various strains of corn seed were listed as completely sold out as of March 5, with 47 varieties of various strains considered to be in short supply, meaning less than 100 bags were left to be sold.

Jason Kolln, an agronomist with Pioneer, said that the soybean seed supply is in good shape.

"The corn supply is very challenging, especially CRW hybrids," he said.

The increased demand for corn by the ethanol industry has prompted more producers to consider planting corn this year, as have higher corn prices. According to crop experts in the South, quite a few cotton growers are switching a substantial amount of their acreage to corn this year.

Dr. Tom Barber at Mississippi State University said in his latest report that many cotton gins in the Delta are estimating that their cotton acres will be reduced by 50 to 60 percent from last year. Crop watchers reported that corn planting began in the South early this month.

Bill Chase, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association's production and stewardship action team, reported earlier this month that with a strengthening in soybean prices, some producers might swap beans for corn in the end.

But, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns announced in early March that an estimated 4.6 million acres in CRP contracts would leave the program between 2007 and 2010, with 1.4 million acres located in major corn producing states.


Online Database Keeps Corn Growers Aware of Seed Hybrids

- Prairie Farmer, March 21, 2007, http://prairiefarmer.com/index.aspx?ascxid=fpStory&fpsid=27519&fpstid=1

An online tool can help you keep track of the status of biotech corn seed hybrids from more than 75 seed companies. The database, a cooperative effort between the National Corn Growers Association and seed companies called Know Before You Grow, currently contains approval status for export of over 4,800 seed hybrids.

"The Know Before You Grow database allows growers to check the status of hybrids before planting," says Martin Barbre, chair of the Biotechnology Working Group. "Although all the hybrids available on KBYG have full U.S. regulatory approvals, some traits or combination of traits, may not be approved in each market. Ultimately growers need to ensure grain from these hybrids is marketed properly."

NCGA's policy on biotech hybrid planting and marketing states: "These events must also receive full approval by the relevant U.S. and Japanese regulatory agencies and the product registrant must be aggressively pursuing approval in every country or bloc that requires approval prior to importation of corn, corn products, or food containing corn ingredients."

The Know Before You Grow database can be found at www.ncga.com/biotechnology/Search_hybrids/know_where.asp.


'Green' Corn Project Receives $2.8 Million

- The Fountain Pen (Guelph), March 21, 2007, http://www.thefountainpen.com/cgi-bin/showstory?id=5883

(University of Guelph) Helping to feed more people around the world in more efficient and environmentally friendly ways is the goal of a University of Guelph project that has just received $2.8 million from the provincial government.

The "Genes to Fields: Corn Biotechnology Capacity for Ontario" initiative involves finding new ways to increase the yield of Ontario's corn crop, an industry worth almost $1 billion a year. It will also help strengthen Ontario agriculture and make Guelph an international biotechnology hub, said lead researcher Steven Rothstein, a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Corn is one of the world's most important food crops and the foundation of a new "green" economy based on renewable corn-based ethanol and industrial polymers, Rothstein said. The Guelph team hopes to learn more about genes to enhance breeding, and then use biotechnology to improve crop yields and help farmers grow corn in more efficient and sustainable ways.

"We plan to combine experts in molecular genetics with experts in plant breeding and whole-plant physiology to develop a unique research program," he said.

"We believe no other publicly funded institution has the same capability. This funding will allow us to bring that expertise together and bring things to fruition that wouldn't otherwise happen."

The researchers will test how various genes affect plant development and determine which genes are responsible for desired traits. For example, Rothstein studies genes that help crop plants use nitrogen more efficiently. That may help reduce fertilizer pollution of ground and surface water and lower emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas.

"Nitrogen fertilizers are the No. 1 cost for farmers and the No. 1 source of pollution from crop agriculture," he said. At the same time, farmers need to double yields over the next 30 to 40 years to meet expected demand for crops used for food, animal feed and ethanol-based fuels. The researchers expect their work will yield candidate genes for other scientists and the private sector to use in developing enhanced plant lines.

"This project will allow us to explore innovative ways of altering corn to take better advantage of soil nutrients," added Manish Raizada, a plant agriculture professor who studies genes involved in plant regeneration. "We must save water and fertilizer and reduce grower costs while buffering agricultural systems from changes in climate."

Provincial support for the project came from the research excellence program of the Ontario Research Fund, intended to undertake major research projects, hire research teams and cover other operational costs. When added to funding from Syngenta, a leading agricultural biotech company, and from the University, the four-year project will receive more than $9 million.

Other Guelph scientists involved in the project are Prof. Joseph Colasanti and Yong-Mei Bi, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Profs. Elizabeth Lee and Matthijs Tollenaar of the Department of Plant Agriculture.


Iran to boost biotech research in the Middle East

- Wagdy Sawahel, SciDev.Net, March 21, 2007, http://www.scidev.net/content/news/eng/iran-to-boost-biotech-research-in-the-middle-east.cfm

Iran has agreed a science cooperation plan with Syria, and will spearheaded a network to strengthen research capacity in biotechnology in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The plan was signed by Syria's prime minister Mohammad Naji Otri and Iranian vice president Parviz Davoudi at the Syrian-Iranian Economic Cooperation Commission meeting in Tehran, Iran last week (12-14 March).

It highlights various scientific fields for collaboration including medical research, industrial production, energy, petrochemical research, agriculture, environmental research, water and sewage, higher education, and information and communication technology.

Iran will set up a centre to equip Syrian trainers teaching technical and scientific research skills to Syrian scientists and technicians in the agreed fields of cooperation.

Iran is also spearheading an agricultural biotechnology network to connect national biotechnology institutes, researchers, scientists, engineers, and policy-makers from member countries of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and promote the continuous exchange of knowledge and research results.

The network was approved at a two-day agriculture meeting for ECO member states - Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - also held in Tehran this month (5-6 March).

The network will set up a website and establish a biotechnology database listing institutions, scientists and their respective capabilities, and research programmes. It will also launch a public awareness programme for biotechnology.

It will be coordinated by the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran, which will provide training, consultancy and laboratory facilities for joint research activities.

Nazar Mohammad Halim, of the faculty of science of Kabul University, Afghanistan, welcomed the network.

"It will enhance the capacity of ECO's member states in agricultural biotechnology research and development to face the combined regional agricultural challenges of reduced water availability, soil degradation, and rapidly increasing pressure of disease and pests," Halim told SciDev.Net.

Fredun Hojabri, founding president of Sharif University of Technology Association, a global organisation for alumni of Iran's top scientific university, emphasised that the network would benefit the region. "I am very pleased to see that the scientific cooperation between Iran and its neighbouring countries is increasing," he told SciDev.Net.


Gene-Age training, tools offered to Valley science teachers

Southwest Farm Press, March 20, 2007, http://southwestfarmpress.com/news/032007-science-training/

Lower Rio Grande Valley science teachers will soon be able to use expensive scientific equipment at a nominal fee to teach biotechnology to their students, according to scientists at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.

"Within a few weeks we will be providing the equipment and training to local teachers so that they can teach their students the cutting-edge technologies of today's modern biology laboratory," said Dr. Javier Gonzalez, a post-doctoral research associate with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.

"This will allow schools to teach the kinds of labs that will fast-forward the biology education of students to prepare them to thrive in the Gene Age," he said.

The training and equipment loan program will be offered by the Weslaco Center in collaboration with the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory near New York City. This non-profit agency studies the genetic basis of animal and plant development, human cancer and mental disorders, Gonzalez said.

"Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's educational branch, the Dolan DNA Learning Center, with funding from the National Science Foundation, has put together laboratory equipment that will be housed here at the Weslaco Center and made available to teachers in the Valley at a minimal charge," Gonzalez said.

Instead of spending more than $10,000 to purchase equipment, participating schools will purchase only the consumables needed in such a laboratory, and a small fee for shipping and replenishing, he said.

"Those nominal costs will range anywhere from $20 to $200, depending on usage, but it's minor compared to the costs of buying this equipment and the knowledge that will be imparted to local students," Gonzalez said.

In 2004, Gonzalez spent three weeks at the CSHL's lab facilities in New York to learn about its research programs and the educational outreach programs of the Dolan DNA Learning Center.

In 2005, experts from Dolan joined Gonzalez in Weslaco to teach a week-long workshop for 20 biology teachers from throughout the state.

"This is another example of how we at the Weslaco Center are working to develop the next generation of scientists and technicians by working with local schools," said Dr. Michael Gould, director of the Weslaco Center.

"Fortunately, we've been successful in acquiring these and other resources to help students here in the Rio Grande Valley gain access to these exciting and rewarding careers," he said.

Schools or school districts wanting to participate in the program must send a representative to a workshop on March 25-26 at the Weslaco Center. Participants will be trained in the use of the equipment, consisting of a PCR machine, centrifuge, UV-lightbox, pipettes, a digital camera and pre-cast agarose gels.

Under the guidance of expert instructors from Texas A&M and the New York laboratory, participants will use the equipment to conduct one of many experiments it can be used for, including the examination of plants and foods to determine whether they have been genetically modified.

The workshop starts with breakfast on March 25 and ends at noon the following day. Participants will receive a $100 stipend, payable upon completion of the workshop.

"We need to get teachers signed up as soon as possible, so please contact us at your earliest convenience," Gonzalez said.


Consumer concerns stall investment in drought-tolerant GM crops

ABC Radio (Australia), March 22, 2007, http://www.abc.net.au/rural/news/content/2006/s1878923.htm

Investment in drought-resistant genetically modified (GM) crops has stalled, due to fears of consumer resistance.

The head of Melbourne University's Faculty of Land and Food Resources says companies are reluctant to spend money on field trials or seek regulatory approval for the commercial release of crops such as corn, canola, tobacco and tomatoes.

Professor Rick Roush says some crops have been proven to increase yields during drought and Australian farmers are missing out.

"As far back as 2003 a Canadian company has been experimenting with drought-tolerant canola and showed even then that it could get yield increases of as much as 26 per cent under drought conditions," he said.

"It'd be very difficult for people in Australia to move forward to develop this, given the moratoria in the southern states - who would find the resources or be daring enough to try to make the large investment in these kinds of crops that's required to bring them to market in Australia."


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