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March 23, 2007


Safe Protein in Clearfield 131 Rice Seed; Brazil allows genetically modified imports; Brazil Delays Vote on Gene-Altered Crop; Strong grower support for end to GM crops ban; Anti-hay fever GMO rice; Cheese bacteria fight off viral attacks; Virus Gene Confers Disease Resistance in Fescue


Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org March 23, 2007

* Safe Protein in Clearfield 131 Rice Seed
* Brazil allows genetically modified imports
* Brazil Delays Vote on Gene-Altered Crop
* Strong grower support for end to GM crops ban
* Anti-hay fever GMO rice
* Cheese bacteria fight off viral attacks
* Virus Gene Confers Disease Resistance in Fescue


USDA Identifies Safe Protein in Clearfield 131 Rice Seed

- Rachel Iadicicco, US Department of Agriculture (press release), March 22, 2007, http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/content/2007/03/content/printable/protein_clearfield131rice.doc

Evidence gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and testing conducted by two USDA laboratories as part of an ongoing investigation into the presence of minute levels of regulated genetic material found in Clearfield 131 (CL131) rice seed has identified LLRICE604 as the source of the genetic material. LLRICE604 was developed by Bayer Cropscience for herbicide tolerance as part of the LLRICE600 series. The protein contained in LLRICE604 phosphinothricin-N-acetyltransferase (PAT), has a long history of safe use and is present in many deregulated products.

The PAT protein has been repeatedly and thoroughly scientifically evaluated and is used safely in food and feed, cultivation and breeding in the United States as well as nearly a dozen other countries around the world. APHIS has previously deregulated similar genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant products such as corn, canola and soybean.

FDA has previously evaluated the PAT protein for safety on a number of occasions through the Agency's voluntary biotechnology consultation process. Therefore, FDA has concluded that the presence of rice from the LLRICE 600 series at low levels in food and feed would pose no food or feed safety concerns. Based on this determination, APHIS will not prevent movement or processing of CL131 rice from previous years.

In 1999, APHIS deregulated two similar herbicide tolerant rice lines, LLRICE62 and LLRICE06. After thorough safety evaluations, APHIS extended this deregulation in November 2006 to include LLRICE601.

APHIS was able to identify the regulated genetic material as a result of testing conducted by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service and Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration. The investigation continues to determine the circumstances surrounding the release and whether any USDA regulations were violated.

APHIS has issued emergency action notifications (EANs) since March 4, 2007, to distributors and processors of CL131 to stop the further distribution and planting of the rice seed. This early action helped to limit plantings of CL131. Horizon Ag notified the Agency that it believes only three acres of CL131 were planted by a single producer. APHIS is working with that producer to ensure crop destruction. APHIS will be providing anyone who was issued an EAN with specific instructions regarding appropriate seed disposition.

At this time, APHIS has not received a petition from Bayer to deregulate LLRICE604. Because LLRICE604 remains a regulated article, producers will not be permitted to plant any CL131 seed that is currently on hold. The EANs that have been issued will remain in place for regulatory reasons until APHIS can ensure the untreated rice seed has gone through a process that eliminates the possibility it can be germinated or grown.

APHIS has a comprehensive, science-based regulatory system in place to protect plant health and the environment by ensuring that biotechnology is developed and used in a safe manner. APHIS works in tandem with the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the environment and with FDA to protect the food supply.

Horizon Ag is licensed by BASF Corporation to market CL131 seed. Clearfield is a registered trademark of BASF Corporation. LibertyLink is a registered trademark of Bayer Cropscience Gmbh.


Brazil's Lula allows genetically modified imports

- Agence France Presse via France 24, March 23, 2007, http://www.france24.com/france24Public/en/administration/afp-news.html?id=070323003310.65yojkye&cat=null

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva eased rules on importing genetically modified agricultural organisms, the official news agency said.

The presidential green light given late Wednesday could most immediately benefit Germany's Bayer, which has sought approval for a variety of genetically modified corn.

It came after a bare majority of the 27 members of the National Technical Biosecurity Commission gave their backing for the commercialization of just one transgenic crop.

But at the same time Lula vetoed the commercialization of genetically modified cotton, which has already been planted illicitly in 2006 on some 150,000 hectares (370,000 acres) in Brazil.

Despite political opposition, transgenic soybeans were provisionally approved in Brazil in 2004 and approval has been renewed annually. The government relinquished oversight after many farmers were found to have been planting genetically modified crops in southern Brazil.

About 10 genetically modified crops from Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Agroscience, mainly corn varieties, have been awaiting approval from the biosecurity commission.

The International Biotechnology Agricultural Purchasing and Application Service (ISAAA) says modified cotton and soybean crops cover 11.4 million hectares (28 million acres) of Brazil in 2006, a rise of 2.1 million hectares (5.0 million acres).


Brazil Delays Vote on Gene-Altered Crop Amid Protest

- Carlos Caminada, Bloomberg News, March 22, 2007, http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601086&sid=aq06GI.fnLBg&refer=latin_america

Brazil postponed a vote on whether to approve Bayer AG's gene-modified corn seeds after Greenpeace International protesters stormed the meeting.

Members of the environmental group entered the closed-door session held by the government's biotechnology council and demanded to participate in the talks, said Gabriele Vuolo, coordinator of Greenpeace's campaign against gene-altered seeds.

``We believe these sessions must be open to the public because they will have an impact on people's lives,'' Vuolo said in a phone interview from Brasilia. ``The transgenic corn will end up on the plates of Brazilians.''

Brazil, which allows farmers to plant gene-altered soybeans, hasn't yet approved corn engineered to resist bugs and weed killers. Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co., the world's leading developers of genetically modified seeds, are also pushing to get approval for their products in Latin America's biggest economy.

The South American country is the world's second-biggest soy producer and third-biggest corn grower.

Vera Canfran, the biotechnology council's spokeswoman, confirmed that the meeting was interrupted by protesters and said the vote will be postponed until April 18.

``It made no sense for them to be there,'' Canfran said in a telephone interview from Brasilia. ``They were there to create turmoil.''

Biotech Crops

Brazil is home to a 10th of the world's genetically modified crops. Planting of biotech crops in the country, including herbicide-tolerant soybeans, jumped 22 percent last year to 11.5 million hectares, the non-profit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications said in January.

Bayer's LibertyLink corn seed, already used by farmers in the U.S., Argentina and other countries, may help Brazilian growers boost yields because it produces plants that resist strong herbicides also made by the German company, said Andre Abreu, biotechnology manager at Bayer's crop science division in Brazil.

``We expect the seed to boost productivity in Brazil,'' Abreu said in a telephone interview from Sao Paulo. ``It contains a protein that nullifies any effect of the herbicides on the corn plant.''

Abreu declined to comment on the incident in Brasilia today. Bayer is Germany's biggest drugmaker.

Approval Delays

Delays in approval of seeds and other research may thwart President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's plan to invest 10 billion reais ($4.9 billion) in biotechnology over the next decade to fuel growth in agriculture and other industries, said Alda Lerayer of the University of Sao Paulo.

Repeated protests and court injunctions have prevented the country from ruling on biotechnology developments and will likely discourage investments, she said.

``Companies and researchers will not run the risk of investing money and time when the rules don't work,'' said Lerayer, a biotechnology professor at the university. ``This is bad for the country.''

Brazil's Senate on Feb. 27 passed a bill allowing the biotechnology council to approve new seeds by a simple majority, instead of the previous two-thirds majority, in a bid to speed up rulings.


Farmer sees strong grower support for end to GM crops ban

- ABC News Online (Australia), March 23, 2007, http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200703/s1879985.htm

A Wimmera farmers' representative says he believes most of the western Victoria region's grain growers are supportive of a push to end Victoria's ban on genetically modified (GM) crops.

The Victorian Farmers Federation's (VFF) new grains president says getting the Victorian Government to lift a moratorium on GM crops will be one of his priorities.

The Government says industry will be involved in a review of the ban, which is set to end in February next year.

Rupanyup farmer and VFF grains vice-president Andrew Weidemann says growers are keen for GM trials to resume.

"I'd say that there's a very high level now of support for the technology and most growers now are wanting to see some trials of that technology so that they can come and see for themselves the benefits, potential benefits, that it may bring to their farming businesses," he said.

The North-West Municipal Association chairman, Darryl Argall, says he thinks some concern about GM produce still exists in the community.

"Look, I think it's going to be very, very 50-50. It'll be well split ... some people will be in favour of it and some won't and it's a really ticklish situation," he said.


Anti-hay fever GMO rice may win over Japanese doubts

- Zee News, March 23, 2007, http://www.zeenews.com/znnew/articles.asp?rep=2&aid=361701&ssid=364&sid=ENV

Something as simple as eating a bowl of rice could bring relief to millions of Japanese hay fever sufferers each year -- if that rice is ever allowed to hit the market.

The rice, now under development in Japan, is genetically modified, but GM technology is still viewed with deep suspicion by many consumers here, where no GMO crops are commercially grown despite increasing a growth in global acreage.

Still, some industry officials say a biotech crop with health-enhancing characteristics may offer one of the best chances for acceptance of GMO crops in a country that boasts one of the world`s longest average life spans.

"Those are the kind of products that may find greater acceptance, at least in the context of the Japanese consumers," said Randy A. Hautea, director at the South East Asia Center of the pro-biotech International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

Hay fever, which by some estimates afflicts one in five Japanese, has ballooned into a major health problem.

"Japan has a high premium on things like improving the quality of life," said Hautea, who is based in the Philippines.

Japanese researchers have successfully cultivated a genetically modified rice that contains some of the allergy-related proteins found in Japanese cedar pollen, the most common cause of hay fever in Japan.

Eating the rice helps the body`s immune system develop a tolerance to the allergy-causing pollen, much in the same way as allergy shots, experts say.

Experiments on mice have shown that those fed with the rice sneezed much less often than mice that had also been showered with pollen but had not eaten the rice.

Japanese researchers have been working on the project since about 2000, and the next major step would be to test the effectiveness of eating the transgenic rice on humans.

But Japan`s Agriculture Ministry, which is supervising the project, says it does not have a timetable for beginning testing on humans, much less one for when the rice might reach consumers.

Nevertheless, the developers hope to bring a product to market at some point, said Shinichi Ui of the ministry`s Innovative Technology Division.

Ui said the project had reached a sensitive phase in many ways, including defining whether the crop should be described as "food" or "medicine," in which case the farm ministry must work closely with the Health Ministry.

"This is all new to us, and there are no precedents that might give us some idea of how things will develop from here," he said.

No country has yet produced GMO rice on a commercial basis, although China appeared close to taking that step in 2005.


Food fight: Cheese bacteria fight off viral attacks

- Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters, Thu Mar 22, 2007, http://www.reuters.com/article/healthNews/idUSN2237813120070322?feedType=RSS

Scientists have found a way to ensure starter cultures used to make cheese can ward off attacks from bacteria-eating viruses -- a finding that could mean the difference between a great Gouda and wasted milk.

Attacks by viruses known as phages pose a particular problem for companies like Danish food ingredient maker Danisco, whose starter cultures are used in about half of all the ice cream and cheese produced in the world.

"Phages are one of the major causes of product failure for the food industry, especially in the dairy industry," said Philippe Horvath, a scientist at Danisco's laboratory in Dange-Saint-Romain, France.

The tiny viruses that infect bacteria enter the cell and rapidly replicate until the cell ruptures, spreading the virus in a series of repeating cycles.

"It's an explosive propagation," he said in a telephone interview.

Horvath and colleagues at Danisco have discovered how to harness bacteria's own natural defense mechanisms to produce phage-resistant bacteria. They reported their results in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

The study helps explain the role of a new family of repetitive sequences in the genome of bacteria called CRISPR sequences. They resemble some of the DNA sequences in the phages.


In computer models, scientists proposed that the CRISPR sequences allow bacteria to hijack a bit of the virus' genetic code, helping it to fight off attacks.

"Our results are the first biological demonstration that CRISPR provides a resistance against phages," Horvath said.

The researchers tested their theory on Streptococcus thermophilus, a bacteria used in making cheese and yogurt.

They were able to manipulate the DNA within the bacteria, adding a new spacer that gave it immunity against the attacking virus.

"We replicated what happens naturally in the lab using molecular biology tools. We've also shown that when we artificially take them out, the bacteria loses resistance," Horvath said.

Although the Danisco researchers could use the finding to produce genetically modified starter cultures for cheese and yogurt, they will not, out of respect for concerns over genetically modified organisms or GMOs in foods.

"We'll let nature do the work for us by simply challenging the bacterium with the phage," he said.

Then, they will simply choose the resistant bacteria for their cell cultures, he said.


Bacterial Virus Gene Confers Disease Resistance in Tall Fescue Grass

- North Carolina State University (news release), March 15, 2007, http://news.ncsu.edu/releases/2007/march/046.html

Researchers at North Carolina State University have discovered that inserting a specific gene from a bacterial virus into tall fescue grass makes the grass resistant to two of its biggest enemies.

The NC State researchers showed that the inserted gene - the T4 lysozyme gene, a gene found in bacteriophages, or bacterial viruses - conferred high resistance to gray leaf spot disease in six of 13 experimental grasses. Three of the six resistant grasses also showed high resistance to brown patch disease. These two diseases are arguably the most important - and severe - fungal diseases affecting tall fescue grass.

The finding has the potential to have wide applications in engineering resistance to a variety of fungal diseases in not only tall fescue grass - the most widely planted turfgrass in North Carolina and a commonly utilized grass in the southeastern United States - but various other crops.

A paper describing the study was published in the February edition of Transgenic Research.

The collaborative research involves four faculty members: Dr. Ron Qu in the Department of Crop Science, Drs. H. David Shew and Lane Tredway from the Department of Plant Pathology, and Dr. Eric Miller, in the Department of Microbiology. The research was mainly performed by Dr. Shujie Dong, a post-doctoral researcher who was a graduate student of Qu's, with assistance from two other scientists in Qu's lab - Drs. Jianli Lu and Elumalai Sivamani.

About half of the turfgrass planted in North Carolina - one million acres - is tall fescue grass, a cool-season grass that has a high tolerance for the heat and drought of North Carolina summers, Tredway says. It is ubiquitous in the Southeast, found on lawns, golf courses and commercial acreages.

Gray leaf spot disease is caused by the Magnaporthe grisea fungus, the pathogen that also causes rice blast - the major disease of rice plants. Gray leaf spot causes round or oval tan spots that turn gray when there's high humidity. It infects blades to make the grasses die rapidly.

Brown patch disease, caused by the soil-dwelling fungus Rhizoctonia solani, a major pest to various plant species, brings about circular, brown lesions on grass. Lawns with brown patch disease appear wilted, even if watered sufficiently, the researchers say.

Miller, the microbiologist, says that the bacterial viruses exist widely in different environments, and produce an array of products that are harmful to bacteria; as viruses attempt to spread, which they need to do in order to survive and thrive, the T4 lysozyme gene produces the enzymes that chew through the bacterial cell walls.

Miller says that the lysozyme now made by the grass does essentially the same thing to a fungus when it tries to infect, thereby providing anti-fungal properties in tall fescue and allowing the grass to withstand fungal disease.

Tredway says the benefits of potential applications may be felt economically and environmentally.

"A lot of money is spent on fungicides, which also have an impact on the environment," he said. "Disease-resistant plants have the potential to reduce those economic and environmental impacts for many years."

Qu says that future research will replicate this experiment in the field, rather than just in the lab, and that other disease resistance genes show anti-fungal properties in tall fescue. He also hopes to study how the group's genetically altered plants interact with other important fungal diseases to further test their anti-fungal mettle.

Much of the work was funded by NC State's Center for Turfgrass Environmental Research and Education and the Turfgrass Council of North Carolina.


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