Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





April 6, 2007


National Corn Growers Call for Pipeline from Research to Traits; No CL 131 rice in Arkansas in 2007; High Quality Hay Market Impacted By Removal Of RR Alfalfa; Fashionable Fear; ACFNP (UK) Draft Opinion on Ice Structuring Preparation Derived From GM Baker's Yeast; Tobacco Varieties for Oil Production - Transforming Tobacco into an Oil Crop


Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org April 6, 2007

* National Corn Growers Call for Pipeline from Research to Traits
* No CL 131 rice in Arkansas in 2007
* High Quality Hay Market Impacted By Removal Of RR Alfalfa
* Fashionable Fear
* ACFNP (UK) Draft Opinion On Ice Structuring Preparation Derived From GM Baker's Yeast
* Tobacco Varieties for Oil Production - Transforming Tobacco into an Oil Crop


National Corn Growers Call for Pipeline from Research to Traits

- National Corn Growers Association (press release), April 5, 2007, http://www.ncga.com/news/notd/2007/april/040507.asp

A recent conference on the state of corn genetic research is cause for optimism about the potential commercial use of the findings, according to the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

The 49th annual Maize Genetics Conference showed a new level of cooperation between the geneticists who are mapping the maize plant genome and the breeders and agronomists who will ultimately use those findings to breed better corn, said Pam Johnson, chairman of NCGA's Research and Business Development Action Team.

"Many stakeholders will need to collaborate as we move forward," Johnson said. "The genome sequence is about half-completed. It will take innovation, creativity, discovery and the ability to translate that knowledge to application in the corn plant. We want an aggressive strategic plan for collaboration and results. They're doing wonderful research, and we want to keep the ball rolling."

NCGA wants to create a pipeline between basic research, like mapping the genotype, and product development. The association supports efforts to promote a phenotypic "library" - that is, a guide to how each gene's characteristics are expressed in the corn plant.

Armed with that information, corn breeders could then make sure they select the most desirable genes to breed into new generation hybrids. "The next step will be for the breeders, agronomists, nutritionists and others to give feedback about what is needed," said Johnson. "That might include genes that help the plant produce more starch, use water or nitrogen more efficiently and other specific needs for end-users."

The maize genome mapping project started in 2006 and is estimated to be complete in 2008.


No CL 131 rice in Arkansas in 2007

- David Bennett, Delta Farm Press, Mar 5, 2007, http://deltafarmpress.com/rice/070305-clearfield-131/

In a continuing effort to purge GM traits from the rice industry, the Arkansas State Plant Board has banned the rice variety Clearfield 131. The measure passed on a 6-5 vote at a March 2 emergency meeting and came after lengthy board deliberation and often emotional testimony from farmers, seedsmen and millers.

Bred to harness a natural mutation to tolerate the Newpath herbicide, Clearfield varieties have provided growers new tools to fight yield-sapping red rice. Many farmers facing red rice infestations consider the Clearfield technology a godsend and have set up farms around it.

At this late date - with rice planting already under way in Louisiana and only several weeks from beginning in southern Arkansas - such Clearfield-heavy operations must scramble for cropping options. And with Cheniere already sidelined this growing season, those options are rapidly narrowing.

In 2006, Cheniere and CL 131 accounted for 26 percent of Arkansas' rice acreage.

The Arkansas Plant Board's latest action stems from the furor that began last August when the USDA announced a GM trait, Bayer's LibertyLink (LL) 601, had been discovered in the U.S. rice supply. The trait - at levels around six grains per 10,000 - was later linked to the very popular Cheniere variety.

Despite U.S. government insistence that the LL traits are safe, some foreign markets, most notably the European Union, balked at taking U.S. rice. The U.S. rice industry has since worked to assure trading partners and to clean up the seed supply.

As part of that effort, in late December 2006, the Arkansas Plant Board banned Cheniere for the 2007 and 2008 growing seasons and mandated genetic testing of all seed stocks. It was during those tests that the GM problem with CL 131 (at even lower levels than in Cheniere) emerged.

New information

With that background, on Feb. 21, the Arkansas Plant Board's seed committee recommended the full board adopt a measure allowing the planting of "clean" CL 131 seed (seed without lab detection for a LibertyLink trait, or seed with positive detections at, or below, a very low threshold).

The seed committee's recommendation was also made with the understanding that one of Arkansas' top two rice co-ops would take "clean" CL 131 from farmers, something that turned out not to be the case.

Just as significant, at the March 2 meeting, Darryl Little, Plant Board director, informed the board that additional testing data had been received.

"This has been a very difficult issue for everyone involved," said Little. "And it has evolved. I know I've heard a lot of comments about it being late in the game. But we're gathering information on a daily basis that can impact the market and marketability of our rice crop and can impact a grower if he plants a variety that will be adversely impacted in the marketplace.

"The (Arkansas) legislature charged this agency with protecting the rice industry from characteristics that can be in that rice that will adversely affect it on the world market."

The state's legal definition of characteristics of commercial impact is: "Characteristics that may adversely affect the marketability of rice in the event of commingling with any other rice and includes, but is not limited to those characteristics: (A) that cannot be identified without the aid of specialized equipment or testing; (B) that create a significant impact in their removal from commingled rice; and (C) whose removal from commingled rice is not feasible."

"This is the exactly the situation we're dealing with in Cheniere," said Little. "As sampling data began coming in relative to CL 131, we were looking at data on a lot-by-lot basis. That all changed last week, a few hours before the seed committee met."

It changed because of an APHIS (USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service) announcement indicating LLRice 62, a trait different than that found in Cheniere, had been detected in CL 131 head-row seed.

"That essentially means the variety contains LL traits," said Little.


In earlier testimony, Chuck Wilson, Arkansas Extension rice specialist, explained the significance of head-row rice and the APHIS discovery.

"Head-row seed is an early increase in the seed generation process," said Wilson. "With head-row seed, specific, individual heads are selected and planted in rows. One panicle plants one row. Selections are then made from those rows that conform to the specifications of a particular variety."

Head-row seed is four generations prior to the production of certified seed.

"Another issue I've been asked to talk about is the potential ramifications of finding LL rice in that early generation. If you assume, because it's Clearfield rice, that it was a simple, mechanical mixture, each one of those generations of seed increase has had two applications of Newpath. You're talking about four generations of Newpath application and we're still finding LL 62 in the current seed supply.

"Thus, it seems logical to assume that we're now dealing with a certain percentage of Clearfield rice that has both the Clearfield gene and the LL gene."

More questions

Little also informed the board of a letter from BASF sent to him and Cindy Smith, deputy administrator for USDA's Biotechnology Regulatory Services. In the letter, BASF references "a registered-grade lot of CL 131 that tested positive in three of four pools with the 35S-bar test. The 35S-bar test is the broad screening tool used to detect LL traits.

"So the laboratory had three of four positive pools in the 35S-bar test and went back to try to identify specifically which LL trait was in the sample. They tested it for LLRice 62 - which had already been determined to be in CL 131 - and it wasn't LL 62. They checked it for LL 601 and it wasn't LL 601."

Shortly before the Plant Board met, Little received an e-mail from HorizonAg, the Memphis-based company responsible for Clearfield varieties. The e-mail reported on further testing "done on the same sample. The laboratory determined the LL trait in the Clearfield sample isn't LL 06."

The three LL traits being ruled out is significant, Little explained, because, "there are only three LL events that have been deregulated: LL 06, LL 62 and, just last fall as the result of the detection in Cheniere, LL 601. So, apparently, whatever is in this sample isn't any of these deregulated events and we don't know what it is. That could be an additional problem with the marketability if and when it's identified."

Searching for answers

Early in deliberations and with a unanimous vote, the board adopted the following motion: "The ASPB shall determine eligibility for planting of rice seed for the 2007 planting season in the following manner: All laboratory reports shall be evaluated using GIPSA standards to determine eligibility for planting."

For those needing clarification, said board member Mark Waldrip, "what this means is ... if there's any detection, at any level, in any sub-pool, then the sample is determined to be above 0.01 percent and to be ineligible for planting. Basically, it amounts to zero-tolerance."

Little asked for more "guidance related to whether this information related to CL 131 that's just come out in the last few days causes that variety to fall under the ban we placed on Cheniere."

With a vote on banning CL 131 looming, Waldrip explained why he was against it. "Tough decisions" will be required of "farmers. For my part, I don't want to make the decision for that farmer. I want him to make that decision, for him to have the ability to buy rice seed that has tested, to the best of our ability, zero. Because we're essentially not talking about lower than 0.01 percent now; we're talking about 'zero.'"

Waldrip also pointed out even lab-cleared CL 131, if allowed, would likely be planted on only the worst red rice fields. "With all the publicity surrounding this, if a guy doesn't have to absolutely have Clearfield, he won't plant it. I wouldn't."

While admitting the hardships a CL 131 ban would bring to many, board member Ray Vester warned that "next year, if this turns around and commodity prices are lower, this GMO will create a two-class system of seed in the selling of rice. It won't make one pay a premium, it'll make one be at a discount below the other. Then, we'll have people buying that discount and pushing our whole market down and we'll be selling rice at loan, or below."

After more debate, the board voted on the motion that "we direct staff, from this point, to consider CL 131 as a variety with LL (traits)."

The final vote was 6-5 in favor of adoption, with board chairman George Tidwell forced to break the tie.


High Quality Hay Market May Be Most Impacted By Removal Of RR Alfalfa

- Tracy Sayler, ISB News Report, April 2007, http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2007/news07.apr.htm#apr0703

The market for high quality, weed free alfalfa may be impacted by the removal of Roundup Ready alfalfa from the marketplace.

On March 12, a federal judge in San Francisco issued a court decision barring the sale and use of Roundup Ready (alfalfa tolerant to glyphosate herbicide) alfalfa after March 30. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer granted the injunction at the request of a group of organic forage growers and environmental and consumer activists, who claimed Roundup Ready alfalfa could be harmful to the environment and the economy. Breyer's ruling marked the first time a U.S. Department of Agriculture approval for a genetically modified seed product was overturned by a federal court. An April 27 hearing will determine whether the injunction becomes permanent.

Farmers who've already planted Roundup Ready alfalfa are not affected by the court decision, points out Larry Nees, state seed administrator for the Office of the Indiana State Chemist. "The injunction that's been filed does not impact any continued used, harvest or sale of Roundup Ready forage," he said. "It's important to note that the decision of this case was not focused on the safety of Roundup Ready alfalfa and Roundup Ready alfalfa seed. The district court that issued the injunction, and other regulatory agencies like the USDA, all agree that it poses no harm to humans and/or livestock. It's just an issue of technicality as to how this was originally approved by the USDA and whether all the steps were taken to make sure that there was no impact on the organic growers and the conventional alfalfa growers in certain areas of the country."

Said Jerry Steiner, executive vice president for Monsanto, about the injuction: We are hopeful that a reasoned approach in this matter will address questions about the regulatory approval process for Roundup Ready alfalfa while maintaining farmer access to this beneficial technology. The extensive regulatory dossier for Roundup Ready alfalfa, combined with farmer stewardship agreements, provides a robust and responsible approach to managing the environmental questions raised by the plaintiffs in this case.

Monsanto, Forage Genetics International (a seed developer and subsidiary of Land O'Lakes Inc.), and several farmers were granted intervenor status in this case on March 8. Plaintiffs, defendants and intervenors can participate in oral arguments for this case on April 27.

The court has already accepted the fact that Roundup Ready alfalfa poses no harm to humans and livestock. As part of its regulatory filing for Roundup Ready alfalfa in April 2004, Monsanto provided USDA with an extensive dossier that addresses a variety of environmental, stewardship, and crop management considerations. Other regulatory agencies around the world, including Canada and Japan, have confirmed the environmental safety of Roundup Ready alfalfa.

In some parts of the country, the March 30 planting deadline does not leave enough time to plant Roundup Ready alfalfa that has been purchased. "We don't plant alfalfa until the middle of May," said Dale Scheps, who operates a 145-cow dairy farm in Almena, Wisc. Scheps planted 35 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa in 2006 and had already purchased enough seed to plant another 35 acres in 2007. "It's a major setback to have this technology taken away from us," Scheps said. "It will needlessly drive up our feed costs because we will have to replace superior quality hay."

Hay & Forage Grower (hayandforage.com), the only national publication devoted exclusively to alfalfa and other forage crops, reported this spring that if Roundup Ready alfalfa is held off the market for an extended period, an already tight supply of conventional alfalfa seed could get tighter. Some growers who bought Roundup Ready alfalfa for spring planting will switch to conventional varieties, while others might turn to other crops instead.

Because Roundup Ready alfalfa was introduced just two years ago and costs more than twice as much than conventional alfalfa seed, it represents a minute share of the U.S. alfalfa market. Of the 22 million acres of alfalfa grown in the United States last year, it's estimated that only about 200,000 acres were Roundup Ready - about 0.01 percent of the total. Thus, it is a small slice of business for technology provider Monsanto and most seed companies that sell it.

There are distinct advantages to planting Roundup Ready alfalfa. Plant scientists Kevin Bradley and Robert Kallenbach at the University of Missouri-Columbia point out that one of the clear advantages of this technology is in its broad spectrum weed control, including troublesome broadleaf weeds like curly dock, musk, bull, and Canada thistle, horsenettle, and dandelion. The application window is longer, with more effective control of many weeds than standard herbicides, and there is less risk of crop injury compared to other commercial herbicides.

Another advantage they see with the Roundup Ready technology is with spring establishment. Often, spring-established alfalfa is more difficult from a weed management standpoint. This is because many summer annual weeds emerge throughout April and May into newly seeded stands that have little to no canopy. To complicate this issue further, only a few conventional herbicide options are available for application on these newly seeded stands. However, they point out that the technology fee alone for Roundup Ready alfalfa costs about an additional $2.50 per pound of seed planted. Depending on alfalfa variety and seeding rate, this is an additional $125 per bag of alfalfa seed purchased.

Thus, Roundup Ready alfalfa is grown primarily for the segment of the hay and forage market that demands high quality, such as horses, purebred cattle breeders, and dairies. "California has a very finicky hay market where there is almost zero tolerance for weeds," said Steve Orloff, University of California-Davis farm advisor, about the advantage of Roundup Ready alfalfa technology. UC Davis has an extensive web site on biotech alfalfa: go to http://alfalfa.ucdavis.edu click on 'Biotech Alfalfa.'

Mark McCaslin, president of Forage Genetics International, reported at the National Alfalfa Symposium just before the release of Roundup Ready alfalfa several years ago that about 90% of the alfalfa produced in the U.S. is consumed domestically, much of it consumed on the farm where it is produced. He said over 98% of U.S. alfalfa hay/hay products exported is concentrated in five countries: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, and Mexico. Japan represents over 75% of all U.S. alfalfa hay/hay product exports, he said, and all five countries have a process for approving import of biotech crops and currently import products derived from U.S. produced biotech soybean, corn, canola and/or cotton.

About 40% of alfalfa hay in the United States is produced in the 11 western states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. This region also supplies the vast majority of the seed for the nation's alfalfa plantings, and it contributes significantly to exports of alfalfa hay and seed, according to a paper that outlines the importance of western alfalfa production (online at http://cals.arizona.edu/crop/counties/yuma/farmnotes/fn1101alfalfaprod.pdf). Alfalfa hay acreage in Montana is greater than any other western state, while production of alfalfa hay is greatest in California due to the higher yields in that state - more than 80% of California's hay is grown in regions where 7-10 cuttings are possible.


Fashionable Fear

- Dean Kleckner, Truth About Trade & Technology, April 5, 2007, http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=7387

The classic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft--think of him as a 1930s version of Stephen King--once wrote: "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."

Milk cartons exploit this primal sentiment when they carry labels reading "rBST-free."

Most people don't even know what rBST is. When ordinary consumers encounter a sticker that mentions rBST, it can trigger their fear of the unknown. Perhaps they should be forgiven if they assume that rBST can turn them into zombies.

Unfortunately, much of the dairy industry is starting to behave like a herd of extras from "Night of the Living Dead." America's second-largest dairy cooperative is now telling its farmer-members to quit using rBST.

Somebody needs to tell their board of directors that zombies aren't real--and that these worries about rBST are figments of their imaginations as well.

BST is a hormone that occurs naturally in cows. It helps them produce milk. Many years ago, scientists learned how to produce a synthetic version of it, called rBST. It's essentially no different from regular BST. If dairy farmers add it to the BST already in cows, then their cows produce more milk.

Here's the best part: There isn't a drop of difference between milk that comes from cows that have received rBST and those that don't. It looks the same, tastes the same, and is just as healthy. And, if you're a milk drinker, it's possible; even very likely, you have been drinking that milk safely for more than 13 years.

Yet some marketing genius decided to exploit limited public information and infer, through misleading labels, that "rBST-free" milk is better for you. A small number of consumers have bought in and responded by saying that they don't want rBST in their milk--and now the whole dairy industry is reeling. A recent California poll (Massey) indicated consumers aren't very concerned. But it doesn't seem to matter; Safeway and Starbucks have announced plans to drop this milk from their shelves and menus.

As a farmer, I believe we have an obligation to meet consumer demands. We should produce the foods that people want. That's how free markets work.

What makes the rBST controversy so infuriating is the fact that consumer demand is being manipulated--and my tolerance for this strategy is well past its expiration date.

I recently came across an interview with best-selling author Michael Crichton, posted on a website called The Daily Ablution. Unlike Lovecraft and King, Crichton doesn't specialize in the horror genre, though his books are certainly full of frights. This is the guy, after all, who gave us "Jurassic Park" and "State of Fear."

One of the questions focused on genetically-modified foods. What does Crichton think of them? I loved his answer so much that I'd like to reprint it here in full:

"Most of the people I know who are anxious about GM say that their concerns lie with the fact that the technology is of unproven safety. They share their worries with like-minded people by use of their cell phones. When I remind them that cell phones are a technology of unproven safety, and that the construction of all these wireless networks around the world and in our houses is a development of unproven safety, they just shrug. They don't care. Even though most of them are old enough to remember the false fears about cancer and electromagnetic radiation. You'd think that fear could be easily reawakened in them, but no.

"From this I conclude fears are a matter of fashion. Worries are like clothing styles, they come and go, rise and fall, based on what the worry fashion leaders tell the herd of independent minds to fear this year. GM is fashionable to fear. But that will change."

I hope the fear of rBST is just a passing fancy--a spilt-milk controversy that nobody will remember a few years from now. I've always maintained that in the long run, facts will prevail over emotion. In the short-term, however, emotion often carries the day. That's what we're seeing with rBST.

The good news may be that just as "Night of the Living Dead" spawned many sequels, the fuss over rBST will move into its second act. There's still plenty of time to drive a stake through its heart.


Dean Kleckner, an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology. Mr. Kleckner is the former President of the American Farm Bureau.


Draft Opinion on an Application under the Novel Foods Regulation for Ice Structuring Preparation Derived From Fermented Genetically Modified Baker's Yeast Saccharomyces Cerevisiae as a Food Ingredient

- Advisory Committee For Novel Foods And Processes (UK), April 2, 2007, http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/icedraft.pdf


The parent organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been widely used in the food industry for fermentation purposes for a very long period. The specific yeast strain used for production of ISP, a derivative of strain CEN.PK, has been classified in the Netherlands, under Council Directive 90/219/EC5, as belonging to Group 1 AB. The applicant also noted that commercial production of ISP [ice structuring protein] for markets outside Europe commenced in the second quarter of 2003.

The expression vector contains a synthetic gene coding for ISP type III HPLC 12 originating from ocean pout. This ISP has the same amino acid sequence as the ocean pout ice protein, but the nucleotide sequence has been engineered to reflect optimal codon usage in yeast, thus maximising expression in this host.

The vector used to introduce the ISP expression cassette was designed to integrate the expression cassette into the ribosomal DNA (rDNA) of the yeast genome. The resulting yeast strain, CENPK338, contains a multicopy expression cassette inserted at the rDNA locus with no antibiotic resistance markers and no bacterial or fish DNA.

The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes is satisfied by the evidence provided by Unilever that the range of uses for its ice structuring protein preparation is acceptable, subject to the applicant's adherence to the proposed specification and the production parameters described above. In order that consumers should be adequately informed and are not misled, the Committee also recommends that information should be provided in an easily accessible format to consumers indicating that the ingredient is manufactured using a GM yeast.


ed. note: For the full text of the Draft opinion, download the 19pp., 90KB .pdf at http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/icedraft.pdf


Development of High Seed-Yielding Tobacco Varieties for Oil Production - Transforming Tobacco into an Oil Crop

- Wendy Pline-Srnic, Ph.D. and Corrado Fogher, Ph.D. Plantechno, Srl, April 6, 2007

As opposed to most agricultural crops, since its earliest domestication, tobacco has been bred for leaf production and characteristics. Breeding has selected against seed characteristics, because plant energy directed to seed production detracts from leaf production; in fact in many areas tobacco plants are 'topped' to remove flower heads before they develop. Although tobacco seeds typically contain between 30-40% oil, (similar to oilseed rape and sunflower, and higher than soybean), tobacco is commercially grown for the leaf, and little attention has been paid to the excellent potential of tobacco as an oil crop, that is until now. A small plant biotechnology company near Milan, Italy called Plantechno, is developing tobacco as the next major oil crop. Early in their breeding program, they have already selected lines which produce 5.7 tonnes of seed per hectare with an oil content of 39.4%. In current cultivation regimes, this equates to over 2,000 L extracted oil/ha, higher than the majority of temperate oil seed crops. Using cold press extraction, 81% of the oil is extracted, leaving a residual oil-cake containing about 10% oil and 35% protein, with great potential as a livestock feed due to its high residual fat content, including a high proportion of omega 6-fatty acids. Further, tobacco is able to thrive on poor quality soil, so its production for oil would not compete with food production. There are several potential uses for the oil including combustion or biodiesel fuel, industrial chemicals, paints, and as a very rich source of the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid. Tobacco seeds, and thus tobacco oil, do not contain nicotine. With the aim to develop tobacco plants adapted for the production of seed, a breeding program using classical methods such as testing, crossing and selection, intraspecific crossing and selection, chemical mutagenesis, in vitro somaclonal variation induction, as well as genetic engineering, is underway to develop tobacco lines for seed production and seed composition. This breeding program increases the seed and oil yield by shifting the balance from leaf quality and development, to seed yield. Agronomic production trials are currently underway in Italy to develop systems of direct seeding of tobacco into fields, as opposed to transplanting germinated seedlings, a practice currently used to produce tobacco for leaf production. These field studies also grow tobacco at much higher densities than those used for leaf production, in attempt to shift the emphasis from leaf to seed development by cultural practices. Improvements through conventional breeding, genetic engineering, and low input agronomic practices will transform tobacco into a high-yielding new oil crop.


For more information, visit http://www.plantechno.com/


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