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Date:

April 2, 2007

Subject:

People 'empowerment' through biotechnology; Will biotechnology replace nitrogen fertilizer?; Cultivating a debate on GM crops; Ghana To Have Science, Technology Fund; Bacteriophage for Salmonella

 

Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org April 2, 2007

* People 'empowerment' through biotechnology
* Will biotechnology replace nitrogen fertilizer?
* Cultivating a debate on GM crops
* Ghana To Have Science, Technology Fund
* Bacteriophage for Salmonella

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People 'empowerment' through biotechnology pushed

- Balita News (Philippines), April 2, 2007, http://news.balita.ph/html/article.php/20070402153137321

Various stakeholders in the agriculture sector from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao on Monday held the first Biotechnology Information Organization Network (BIONet) National Congress in Bahay Kalinaw at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City to support the resounding call for poverty eradication through the responsible use of biotechnology in the Philippines.

The BIONet National Congress which gathered around 70 representatives from Laguna, Quezon, Negros Oriental, Tarlac, Ilocos Region, Mindoro Occidental, Lanao Del Norte, Lanao Del Sur, Central Luzon, Cordillera Administrative Region, Nueva Vizcaya, Bulacan and the CARAGA Region who earlier formed BIONets in their respective areas is a culmination of the DA's Biotech Information and Advocacy Program.

It started as information, education and communication (IEC) campaign to popularize biotechnology in the Philippines as one of several means to fight extreme poverty and hunger, and ensure food security in the Philippines.

Among the guests during the Congress were Health Undersecretary Jade del Mundo and Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning Joy Javellosa, Dr. Edita Burgos, Executive Director of the Biotechnology Media and Advocacy Resource Center, Dr. Nina Barzaga, Chairperson of the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines (BCP), former TESDA Director Edicio dela Torre, Gerardo Calderon, President of the Mayor's Development Center, Dr. Saturnina Halos, chair of the DA Technical Advisory Committee on Biotechnology, and Danilo Manayaga, president of Secura International Corporation.

Secura is a major partner of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the campaign to promote farming for natural ingredients especially in low-production areas, encouraging farmers to farm for crops and plants with high active ingredients that are in demand in the world market such as malunggay, atsuete, and papaya

The participants issued a Unity Statement identifying the major challenges of BIONet members, including hunger mitigation, job generation, nutrition, people empowerment, and socioeconomic growth.

As BIONet members, they vowed to work for the expansion of the network with special emphasis on the poor provinces and communities and the marginalized sectors - women, small farmers, and out-of-school youth in the community.

During the event, the LGU Course on Biotechnology was launched by the DA Biotechnology Program Implementation Unit (BPIU). This aims to educate the local government units headed by the local chief executives of the many benefits of traditional and modern biotechnology.

Director Alicia Ilaga, head of program said transforming brilliant science into smart business is the only way for biotechnology to benefit the people.

She said BIONet, on the other hand, will promote the use of biotechnology for local development.

"BIONet becomes the channel for delivery of the technologies produced in the Agricultural Biotechnology Center," she said, explaining that BIONet will significantly contribute in bringing the center's impact to its intended beneficiaries by becoming the channel for technology delivery.

She said the long-term solution to the many problems besetting the agriculture sector - such as massive conversion of agricultural land for other purposes, the spread of pathogenic diseases and massive infestation of farms that result to poor food production -- is modern biotechnology.

Ilaga admitted that because the Philippines is resource-poor to cope with other countries in the field of modern biotechnology, there's a need to consolidate all available resources to strengthen the competitiveness of traditional agri-fisheries products on one hand, and making use of the country's comparative advantage to create a natural ingredients industry using traditional biotechnology.

She said there is a need to come up with more superior crops that can resist pest and diseases, produce more yield that are bigger, better-tasting and rich in micronutrients, through the application of gene-splicing technique or genetic engineering in crop, animal and fisheries biotechnology.

According to Ilaga, the DA is now consolidating the three key research institutes namely the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) to strengthen the DA's research and development capacity in crop, fish and animal biotechnology.

In this line, she said Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap has approved the funding for a Biotechnology Research Fellowship Grant as part of the plan to create a pool of 200 well-trained scientists specializing on biotechnology within the next 10 years.

"Since right now, we cannot compete in modern biotechnology, we decided to consolidate all our resources to strengthen our capacity, and at the same time, target the world's natural ingredients industry by farming for natural ingredients," she said.

The DA through the BPIU is facilitating contract to grow for Secura which processes and extract the active ingredient or valuable plant resources from plants which the company supplies to food, medicine and pharmaceutical companies. (PNA)

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Will biotechnology replace nitrogen fertilizer?

- Dr. Tom Bruulsema, International Plant Nutrition Institute, in Farm & Ranch Guide, March 31, 2007, http://www.farmandranchguide.com/articles/2007/03/31/ag_news/production_news/prod23.txt

Research in molecular biology has put highly desirable and widely adopted traits for herbicide and pest resistance into crop plants. It is expected that the science will soon impact the rate of progress in yield improvement, and that genetically modified plants may show increased stress tolerance and nutrient use efficiency. What is the likelihood of being able to replace N fertilizer altogether?

Plants of the legume family have always been able to make their own N. A complex symbiosis with rhizobial bacteria lets them make the ammonium they need for protein synthesis directly from the N gas abundant in the air. They fix N using the nitrogenase enzyme of the bacteria. It costs the plant something for energy, but perennial species like alfalfa are efficient enough at it that they rarely respond to N fertilizer. Transferring the trait to non-legume crops would be a major challenge. The most important grain crops of the world - the cereals ... corn, wheat, and rice - are all non-legumes. They take most, if not all, of their N from the soil. They generally do not produce high yields without N fertilizer.

Research on the genetic control of the legume symbiosis has led to identification of the plant genes that trigger the formation of nodules.A breakthrough was reported in the summer of 2006. Dr. Giles Oldroyd, a scientist working at the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Britain, said: "The fact that we can induce the formation of nodules in the plant in the absence of the bacteria is an important first step in transferring this process to non-legumes. ... However, we still have a lot of work before we can generate nodulation in non-legumes."

Considering that both the plant and the bacteria need to take many more steps after nodulation in order to begin the process of effectively taking N from the air, it is clear that the science behind the transfer of the process to non-legumes is in its infancy. The genome (DNA sequence) of the rhizobial bacteria that fix N in alfalfa was published in 2001. At least 100 scientific studies since then have cited the article - which shows that research is active. However, owing to the complexity of the processes involved, much remains to be discovered.

The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation announced in December 2006 that it has finished mapping and sequencing the genome of another bacterium that works as a natural fertilizer. Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus is found in sugarcane, sweet potatoes, and pineapples. As an endophyte - living between the cells of the roots of its host - its association is not as intimate as that of the rhizobia that invade the root cells of a legume to form nodules. However, this organism is responsible for the low N requirements of sugarcane and contributes to the high energy efficiency of the Brazilian ethanol industry.

Genetic improvement has contributed to steady yield gains in North American corn production. Since 1940, yields have been on an increasing trend, growing by about 1.8 bushels per acre each year. Some anticipate that genetic engineering will almost double the rate of yield improvement. The past increase in yields has been accompanied by improved N use efficiency. Biotechnology is reducing the amount of N fertilizer used to grow a bushel of corn, because yields are increasing faster than rates applied.

Sunlight, water, and nutrients remain the major factors limiting crop yields. Biotechnology has potential to improve the efficiency by which plants utilize all three. But growing global demand for food, fuel,fiber, and feed ensures that plant nutrient inputs will continue to play an important role for the foreseeable future.

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Cultivating a debate on GM crops

- Agnieszka Le Nart, Warsaw Business Journal, April 2, 2007, http://www.wbj.pl/?command=article&id=36702&type=wbj

Independent farmers and agricultural firms are opposing a curb on genetically modified crops

A new bill restricting the application of bio-technology to increase crop output and resilience was approved by the Sejm in February and is now awaiting finalization. The bill comes in the wake of an EU court's decision that a Polish ban on genetically modified (GM) crops, introduced in the summer of 2006, cannot override EU laws permitting the cultivation and trade of GM crops.

Since last year, a large number of independent farmers have protested vehemently to the ban. According to research firm Martin & Jacob, some 59 percent of independent farmers in Poland favor having the option to cultivate GM crops. However, only NYSE-listed agricultural R&D firms Monsanto and Pioneer have had the necessary resources to lead the fight in the courts. In January, the companies won their case against Poland's Research Centre for Cultivar Testing (COBORU) based on the EU precedent.

This decision inspired a draft bill which allows GM, but imposes complex restrictions and procedures that would effectively obstruct the activitiy of farmers and enterprises seeking to adopt agricultural bio-technology. It exacts a three-year, multi-level registration process for the crops in question, imposes a significant burden of accountability on farmers for potential harm to consumers or other farms, and requires costly monitoring systems.

Genetic engineering in agriculture is especially relevant with regard to the production of cleaner fuels. "EU standards to reduce fuel emissions call for an increase in the proportion of renewable energy resources to 20 percent," says Professor Tomasz Twardowski, president of the Polish Federation for Biotechnology. "I am confident that green bio-technology is the way of the future, especially for the production of new materials, including textiles, and ecological energy solutions, such as bio-diesel and bio-ethanol," he concludes.

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Ghana To Have Science, Technology Fund

- Timothy Gobah, Graphic Ghana (Accra), March 31, 2007, http://www.graphicghana.info/article.asp?artid=16216

A Proposed fund to help develop science and technology in the country is being considered to run parallel to the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETfund).

The science and technology fund, which will be operational by the end of the year, is expected to provide funding for research, as well as for developing activities in science and technology and biotechnology.

The President, Mr J.A. Kufuor, made this known in a speech read on his behalf by the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Mr Ernest Debrah, at the Third ECOWAS Ministerial Meeting on Biotechnology in Accra.

President Kufuor said Ministers of Education, Science and Sports and Finance and Economic Planning were liaising to develop the Science and Technology Fund Bill for Parliamentary consideration. The four-day conference focused on agriculture and the use of biotechnology to tackle its hitherto intractable problems. Food and nutrition security remain Africa's most fundamental challenge for human welfare and economic growth, with an estimated 200 million undernourished people on the continent.

President Kufuor said the inadequate intake of essential micronutrients by many Africans was exacerbated by arid climates and poor soils that could not support the food needed to supply these nutrients.

"Added to these are intractable problems of pests and diseases that appear to overwhelm our resources. Biotechnology as a tool to complement traditional practices and with the enabling policy environment, can address the production constraints and contribute to food security in Africa," he said.

He said Africa had to jealously preserve the raw material for biotechnology application for sustainable exploitation in partnership with the modern technologically advanced counterparts.

In a welcoming address, a deputy Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and Environment, Mr Abraham Dwuma Odoom, said over the past decades, most regions of the world had experienced a generally increased trend in food production.

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Bacteriophage for Salmonella gets "no objection" from F.S.I.S.

- Meat & Poultry, March 30, 2007, http://www.meatpoultry.com/news/headline_stories.asp?ArticleID=84519

SALT LAKE CITY - According to a statement issued by OmniLytics, Inc., a bacteriophage capable of targeting Salmonella has been issued a "no objection" letter by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. The bacteriophage, known as BacWash is designed to be sprayed on livestock prior to slaughter.

The product also has potential applications to treat livestock holding areas, transportation vehicles and living quarters.

The company announced this past December a similar letter of no objection for the use of a bacteriophage targeting E. coli O157:H7 on live animals. Bacteriophage, also known as "bacteria eaters," are bacterial viruses that are environmentally friendly, biodegradable, and have no effect on non-target organisms. This past August, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of bacteriophage as a food additive for the treatment of Listeria in ready-to-eat meat and poultry products.

"The U.S.D.A.'s allowance of the extended use of our BacWash product to treat Salmonella inserts for the first time a truly effective Salmonella control that can be applied prior to the organism being introduced into the processing facility," said Justin Reber, president and chief executive officer of OmniLytics. "We're confident that reducing the level of Salmonella going into the plant will reduce the contamination of final product being shipped to the consumer."

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*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel@wildblue.net.