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Date:

April 8, 2007

Subject:

BPI upholds permit for GMO corn; GE brassica trial for South Island; Insect-tolerant brinjal, rice crops in India soon; Fighting fungi and academia; Cattlemen applaud Superfund efforts; Hockey and Biotech

 

Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org April 8, 2007

* BPI upholds permit for GMO corn
* GE brassica trial for South Island
* Insect-tolerant brinjal, rice crops in India soon
* Fighting fungi and academia
* Cattlemen applaud Superfund efforts
* Hockey and Biotech

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BPI upholds permit for GMO corn

- Marianne V. Go, The Philippine Star, April 7, 2007, http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=72737

Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Director Joel Rudinas has upheld the permit for Monsanto's genetically modified corn MON863, assuring that the strictest tests and most stringent standards were applied by the BPI on the genetically-modified organism (GMO) corn MON863 before it was approved for entry and cultivation in the Philippines.

Rudinas said that the BPI approved MON863 "for direct use as food or feed and for processing on Oct. 7, 2003 based on a stringent regulatory process and compliance of the applicant on the terms and conditions set forth under Department of Agriculture (DA) Administrative Order No. 8, Series of 2002."

Rudinas said that contrary to fears raised by international environmental watchdog Greenpeace, "the safety assessments were conducted based on the context of international agreements like the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, Codex Alimentarius and International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC)."

Rudinas added that "Corn MON863 has undergone a process of scientific and technical assessment. Under DA AO8, the scientific evidence on the safety of Corn MON863 was examined thoroughly by an independent team of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) and parallel examination done by technical personnel of the Bureau of Agriculture, Fisheries and Product Standards (BAFPS) for food safety and the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) for feed safety."

Earlier, Greenpeace claimed that the corn strain showed signs of toxicity based on a study undertaken by a panel of three independent scientists in France.

The study, argued Greenpeace, showed that laboratory rats fed with the GMO corn Monsanto (MON) 863 YieldGard Rootworm displayed kidney and liver toxicity.

MON 863 is corn genetically manipulated to produce its own insecticide called "modified Cry3Bb1" to kill rootworm insects in the soil.

It also contains gene coding for antibiotic resistance.

Rudinas said "the evaluation is rigorous and the BPI and its partner-institutions ensure that only genetically-modified crops that have been well studied and found safe to human and animal health are allowed into our food supply and into our environment."

Given these processes, Rudinas said "the DA upholds the permit for Corn MON863, which allows the importation of the regulated article for direct use as food, feed and for processing." Rudinas said the BPI, however, would revisit the risk assessment for Corn MON863 "if new data provide that the risks have changed."

Moreover, Rubinas added, "the DA and its regulatory agencies will continue to monitor all GM crops and products that have been granted commercial approval to ensure that there are no significant risks to human and animal health and the environment."

Entitled "New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity," the study was published in the scientific journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

The study analyzed results of safety tests submitted by Monsanto to the European Commission (EC) when the company was seeking authorization to market MON 863 in the European Union.

The data shows that significant health risks were associated with the GMO corn.

Still, EC granted licenses to market MON 863 for consumption by both humans and animals.

The data was obtained by Greenpeace following a court case, and was passed on for evaluation by a team of experts headed by Prof. Gilles Eric SÚralini, a governmental expert in genetic-engineering from the University of Caen in France.

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GE brassica trial for South Island

- Farmnews (NZ), April 9, 2007, http://www.farmnews.co.nz/news/2007/apr/993.shtml

If Crop and Food get their way there could be a GE field trial involving brassicas at Lincoln in the very near future.

The aim of the trial is to assess agronomic performance of vegetables and forage brassicas over 10 years. The vegetables will be modified for resistance to caterpillar pests like cabbage white butterfly and diamond-back moth.

Keeping brassicas free from caterpillar damage ? without the use of synthetic pesticides ? is the goal of research being undertaken at Crop & Food Research near Lincoln, Canterbury.

Research leader Dr Mary Christey has produced plants of these species using molecular techniques ? genetic modification ? so that the natural pesticide produced by the Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria (known as Bt) is produced by the plant.

She is now applying to the Environmental Risk Management Authority for approval to undertake garden-scale field tests in Canterbury of the pest resistant forage kale, cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli. A public hearing on this application begins in Christchurch on Wednesday.

Contained tests like this one have been possible under existing regulations for many years, and Crop & Food Research has conducted 34 similar field tests on a range of crops since 1988.

Crop & Food Research's General Manager Research Prue Williams says it is important that New Zealand scientists continue to explore the benefits of GM technology. "This application for brassica research falls within the Government's recommendation to 'proceed with caution'. What we learn from this study will be essential to robust assessment of GM technology.

"New Zealand must be involved with GM research in order to preserve options for the future. By staying on the leading edge of this research we can continue to explore science which should have outcomes of benefit to New Zealand."

Dr Christey has been working on the problem of brassica pests for more than five years and says there is great potential for Bt-producing plants to kill caterpillar pests.

"As anyone who grows cabbages knows, caterpillar pests can wreak havoc in a short space of time if they are not controlled.

"Under laboratory conditions, caterpillars feeding on cabbage which has been genetically modified so it produces Bt all die within 48 hours, and the plant is virtually undamaged."

The natural pesticide only kills the caterpillars that are feeding on these brassica plants, being mainly cabbage white butterfly, diamondback moth and soybean looper. These are serious pests of brassicas ? the plant family which includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and forage kale ? in New Zealand.

So far the work has been carried out in the laboratory and controlled glasshouses. It has proved so successful that Dr Christey now needs to test whether this success can be replicated under field conditions.

Bt has been used as a biological control for insects for more than 30 years. It is used by organic farmers worldwide as a spray. In addition more than 15 million hectares of genetically modified Bt maize and cotton is grown around the world.

"The good thing about using Bt is that it has many different strains, and each strain is specific to particular pests. In addition, consumers of organically grown cauliflower and broccoli have been eating the bacterium for decades and It has not been shown to have any effect on the health of humans or animals."

Dr Christey says pest resistant brassicas could be grown with far fewer applications of pesticides. "In the US the average number of insecticide applications for cotton has decreased fivefold largely because of the introduction of Bt cotton. We expect that this pattern will hold true for pest resistant brassicas as well.

"This is a great trend in terms of the environmental sustainability of our food production and if pesticide use could be reduced even further that would be great for the environment."

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Insect-tolerant brinjal, rice crops in India soon

- Correspondents in Chhattisgarh, India eNews, April 8, 2007, http://www.indiaenews.com/business/20070408/46389.htm

India will soon start cultivating crops of insect-tolerant brinjals and rice as a group of scientists with a seed firm are close to developing a genetic technology.

The new technology for developing insect-tolerant food and vegetables would help in making available qualitative and nutritious food available to India's fast growing population at cheaper rate, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd (Mahyco) said in a statement Sunday.

'China has developed many insect-tolerant crops to reduce the environmental burden of pesticides that will be commercialised shortly. Now India too is not far behind as Mahyco scientists are close to achieving success,' Usha Barwale Zehr, joint director (research), said in the statement.

'Mahyco has completed extensive animal testing studies and food and feed safety studies in laboratories with fruit and shoot borer (FSB) as part of the regulatory requirements. These studies have shown encouraging results to develop a technology for insect-tolerant brinjal and rice crops,' Zehr said.

'Initial multi-location trials have been completed for the rice that is cultivated in about 44 million hectares in India and the bio-safety package is being completed,' the statement read.

Mahyco, established in 1964, is engaged in research, production, processing and marketing of 115 products in 30 crop species including cereals, oilseeds and vegetables.

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Fighting fungi and academia

- The Canberra Times, April 6, 2007, http://canberra.yourguide.com.au/detail.asp?class=lifestyle%20news&subclass=innovation&story_id=572731&category=science

AFTER almost 20 years researching one soil-dwelling bacterium, Dr Murali Nayudu is "extremely satisfied" as his work moves into the commercialisation phase, yet disappointed at the lack of peer and institutional support he has received.

"Why would you expect anyone to do this kind of science?" he said last week in his laboratory at the Australian National University's School of Botany and Zoology.

The research began in 1989, triggered by big losses in the 1988 wheat crop due to a high incidence of take-all, a fungal infection of the roots of wheat plants. The Grain Growers Association gave him a small grant to look for biological control of the fungus which has become endemic to Australian grain growing lands and is most active when the soils are moist and growers hope for good harvests.

Laboratory tests of a range of native soil-dwelling bacteria identified a strain of Pseudomonas bacteria that attacked the take-all fungus. Over the next few years he and a growing team of researchers and students isolated the gene in Pseudomonas that causes it to produce the then unknown active compound. They created new strains by adding more copies of that gene to make it more effective as a take-all control.

At the same time, they began trying to identify the active compound. Because known anti-fungal agents were benzene based and thus toxic to most life forms, that's where they started looking.

"We assumed that all these bacteria produce benzene compounds so this is going to produce a benzene compound," he recalls.

After a PhD student Rajvinda Kaur spent 18 months on this line of inquiry with no result, they gave up on that idea. It was not until 1997 that Kaur's work led to the discovery of gluconic acid as the active compound, the first simple sugar to be identified as an anti-fungal agent anywhere in the world. Sugar acids are non-toxic and used as food additives.

The Grain Growers Association, which had maintained support for the work, provided additional funding to patent a broad range of applications of gluconic acid.

The research group had found it inhibits a range of fungal pathogens of in grain and fruit crops, as well as Trichophyton tonsurans, which causes tinea in humans. They have also found gluconic acid is a key agent in solubalising phosphate in soils and thus making it available to plants, an important factor in Australian soils which are low in phosphate.

"This discovery of a radically new type of non-toxic antifungal sugar could have wide implications for agriculture and medicine," Nayudu said.

Their early genetically modified strains contained an antibiotic resistance gene, a method then commonly used by researchers to identify GM strains of bacteria by exposing experimental bacterial cultures to antibiotics. The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator indicated this would be unlikely to gain approval for release into the environment due to the risk this gene might transfer to other soil microbes.

This led them to develop a new approach at a time when rapid progress was being made in GM techniques. Their new strains carried no antibiotic resistance gene, and instead of carrying more copies of the gene for gluconic acid they have extra promoter genes copied from other parts of the bacterium's genome attached to the gluconic acid gene so its activity is heightened. They vary from the natural strain by six or 12 base pairs of DNA in an organism whose genome has about 7million base pairs.

Experimental versions of the new strains also carried a gene for fluorescence, taken from jellyfish. Linked to the gluconic acid gene, this enables easy visual assessment of the target gene activity.In 2002 the work received a critical boost when the Grain Growers Association and the Grain Research and Development Corporation provided $2.3million to fully develop the research, prove the commercial viability of the product and trial a manufacturing process to produce it in commercial quantities. Nayudu said glasshouse trials had shown gains in crop yields of up to 20 per cent compared to the parent strain. "In the last five years we've discovered all the genes required for gluconic acid production, sequenced them, cloned them, and we've been able to transfer the genes to another Pseudomonas which doesn't naturally produce it," Nayudu said.

"It's like a fairytale, we have basically fulfilled all the milestones, and we are leading the world in this area. We understand the process whereby these bacteria fight this fungus better than anyone else in the world.

"We've had a belief that this bug is very special and with a bit of luck it has turned out to be so."

They are now in the process of finalising the most effective strains for commercialisation. The eventual product will involve coating wheat seeds with a film of the bacteria in suspended animation, ready to become active once planted in soil.

Philom Bios Australia, a branch of the Canadian company which specialises in agricultural inoculants, has entered an arrangement as a commercial partner. Field trials are underway in North America in wheat and other crops.

"The exciting thing is it's been taken up by a real-world company, we are in the final stages of signing a licensing agreement, and it has the potential to be used in a range of crops," Nayudu said.

Royalties will be shared between the ANU, GRDC and the Grain Growers Association, however, Nayudu is not expecting royalty flows to contribute to his future research.

Despite satisfaction in the project's outcomes, he admits, "I would have never been able to raise that $2.3million without having patents in place, but I would have never got those patents if I had published beforehand this is always the quandary."

Nayudu said despite pressure from the Government for universities to embrace commercially oriented research, this does not seem to be happening as fast as it should.

"It's a bit like universities want to have their cake and eat it. They are really happy to have the money coming in for research and the commercialisation rewards, but they fail to recognise what is required for that.

"Don't do commercialisation or applied research if you want to be in a university, that's my advice. Work on things like the social behaviour of butterflies, do something academic."

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Cattlemen applaud renewed efforts on Superfund clarification

- High Plains Journal, April 8, 2007, http://www.hpj.com/archives/2007/apr07/apr9/Cattlemenapplaudrenewedeffo.cfm

Lawmakers say Congress never intended for manure to come under Superfund

U.S. cattle producers are applauding the introduction of legislation, supported by 66 members of Congress, to clarify that livestock manure is not a hazardous substance under Superfund laws.

In recent years, opponents of animal agriculture have suggested Superfund laws should be applied to manure from animal feeding, farming and ranching operations. (Superfund is the common name for the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, CERCLA of 1980, and Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act, EPCRA of 1986.)

Eight Senators and 58 House leaders from both political parties are now saying that Congress never intended for America's farms and ranches to be slapped with liabilities and penalties under the Superfund law.

"Superfund is about toxic waste sites and chemical spills, not livestock manure on farms and ranches," says NCBA Director of Legislative Affairs Stacey Katseanes. "The Superfund laws were created in the 1980s to provide for cleanup of toxic waste dumps and hazardous chemical spills, to force reporting of releases of hazardous chemicals and to enable emergency response."

Senators Blanche Lincoln, D-AR, and Pete Domenici, R-NM, and Representatives Collin Peterson, D-MN, and Ralph Hall, R-TX, are leading co-sponsors of the Senate and House bills, respectively. These proposals will clarify that livestock manure is not classified as a hazardous waste under Superfund laws.

"It's also important to note that manure management on U.S. farms and ranches is already heavily regulated under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and countless state laws," says Katseanes.

In the 109th Congress, 228 members of Congress signed on to House and Senate bills to exempt livestock manure from Superfund. But the bills didn't see passage before the Congressional session ended in December.

"We're grateful to all the members of Congress who are working to protect our farmers and ranchers from misuse of Superfund laws," says John Queen, NCBA President and a cattle producer from North Carolina. "America's cattlemen work every day to protect the land, water and air. I can't imagine Congress would ever intend for our nation's ranch lands to be treated as Superfund sites."

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Hockey and Biotech

- Theresa Phillips, About.com, Biotech/Biomedical, April 8, 2007

As I contemplated what is going on in the world today, Easter Sunday, and how I could relate it to my Biotech page, I wandered out into the living room where the NY Islanders had just scored their second goal against the NJ Devils, in the last 10 minutes of the 3rd period, thus, appearing to eliminate any chances of my significant other's favorite team (the Leafs, of course, being originally from Toronto area) making the playoffs. I racked my brain to find a link between biotechnology and the event of the day - the close of regular season hockey and start of playoffs.

Here's what I came up with:

1. It's possible some of the players' equipment or clothing might contain products of Biotech discussed in my article [http://biotech.about.com/od/whatisbiotechnology/a/EverydayEnzymes.htm ] on Everyday Biotech applications.

2. Likely many of the medical treatments used when they get injured have benefited or developed from biotechnology. The one that comes readily to my mind is dissolvable stitches.

3. I wondered if there might be something to ice manufacturing, similar to the use of Bacillus species and ice nucleating proteins utilized for snow-making machines on ski hills. I couldn't find a link, but it's possible some newer zambonies are running on biofuels, or at least a fraction of bioethanol in their regular fuel.

4. Finally, and I might be grasping at straws here, but the confectionary food sold at each and every game contains sugars produced with the help of bioengineered enzymes.

Of course, coming from the University of Guelph, I am well aware of the biotechnological advances in horticulture and turfgrass production, which I'm sure the Leafs will benefit from in the coming month while they're enjoying a leisurely round on the golf courses of Ontario.

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