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April 16, 2007


Cold-tolerant potatoes key in chip market; 'Adopt biotechnology in agriculture'; Emotions, science collide in cloning; Campaign against Bt cotton is motivated


Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org April 16, 2007

* Cold-tolerant potatoes key in chip market
* 'Adopt biotechnology in agriculture'
* Emotions, science collide in cloning
* Campaign against Bt cotton is motivated


Cold-tolerant potatoes key in chip market

- Guelph Mercury (Canada), April 16, 2007, http://www.guelphmercury.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=mercury/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1176721991908&call_pageid=1050067726078&col=1050421501457

U of G researchers say find could be a big plus for farmers

If Ontario chip manufacturers could store potatoes through the winter, they wouldn't need to import as many spuds to maintain year-round chip production.

But the low temperatures needed for long-term storage lead to dark brown chips that most consumers find unappetizing. Now, University of Guelph researchers say they've found an enzyme in a particular potato variety that prevents browning of chips made from cold-stored tubers.

Professor Rickey Yada and a team of researchers in the departments of Food Science and Plant Agriculture identified the enzyme -- called pyruvate decarboxylase -- in a potato from North Dakota (variety ND 860-2). They say that introducing the gene for the enzyme into local chipping varieties would be a big plus for the Ontario potato industry.

"There are major benefits in being able to store potatoes at refrigeration temperatures," Yada said. "Ontario potato farmers would see increased demand, and the chip industry would gain a consistent and tasty potato variety."

Currently, chip manufacturers store potatoes at temperatures between 10 and 12 C and treat them with inhibitors to prevent sprouting, a practice not favoured by consumers who prefer untreated produce.

But manufacturers have to do something because using colder temperatures with existing potato varieties creates a problem called low-temperature sweetening.

This results when starches in potatoes break down through a cold-induced chemical process into smaller sugar molecules. These sugars cause brown colour to appear during chip processing -- except in chips made from ND 860-2.

This marked difference in chip quality led the research team to explore what characteristics made the North Dakota potato different and more cold-tolerant. They found that one enzyme in particular, pyruvate decarboxylase, helped convert the broken-down sugars in cold-stored potatoes into other molecules, reducing the browning effect.

Yada says the variety's cold tolerance can be linked to its genetic origins in South America, where it evolved in the cold, high-altitude regions of the Andes Mountains. Now he and his research team hope to gain a better understanding of the enzymes responsible for the cold tolerance so they can ultimately transfer the genes to other high-yield chipping varieties.

Others involved in this research include Prof. Alejandro Marangoni and Reena Pinhero of the Department of Food Science, Prof. Al Sullivan and Vanessa Currie of the Department of Plant Agriculture and potato breeder Robert Coffin.

Funding for this research is provided by the Ontario Potato Growers, the Canadian Snack Food Association, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

It is also supported through contributions by Canada and the Province of Ontario under the Canada-Ontario Research and Development (CORD) program, an initiative of the federal-provincial-territorial Agricultural Policy Framework designed to position Canada's agri-food sector as a world leader. The Agricultural Adaptation Council administers the CORD program on behalf of the province.


'Adopt biotechnology in agriculture'

- Chennai Online, April 16, 2007, http://www.chennaionline.com/colnews/newsitem.asp?NEWSID=%7B592E9148-0989-48C7-AA15-3E3773D4856B%7D&CATEGORYNAME=TECH

Coimbatore: With production of foodgrains and oilseeds remaining either stagnant or facing a shortfall, India, which stands at the crossroads, needed a breakthrough technology to increase productivity in the available land, a senior official in Agricultural Science Recruitment Board, Delhi, said today.

The yield of oilseeds was short by 24 million tonnes, pulses 15 million tonnes, wheat remaining at 70 million tonnes and rice at 85 to 90 million tonnes. Biotechnology could be an improved tool to introduce a second green revolution in India, Dr C D Mayee, Chairman of the Board, said.

Addressing a two-day media workshop on 'Agricultural Biotechnology' here, Mayee, however, said there were a lot of misconceptions and misunderstanding about the technology, which has created a fear among the farming community.

With basic need of food sufficiency in the long run, in the wake of foodgrains production remaining stagnant at 210 to 215 million tonnes in the last one decade, India has already started importing wheat now, he said.

Cotton production, after introduction of BT, a small fraction of the technology, in 2002 in India, has witnessed tremendous growth from 140 lakh bales to 270 lakh bales now. Media has a vital role to play to provide right kind of information on the advantages of BT to the maximum benefit of farmers, he said.

When biotechnology was adopted in human and veterinary care, why was it not adopted in agriculture, Mayee asked.

In his address, G Balachandran, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, said, "More than 38 lakh hectares of cotton cultivation in the country are an indication that the farmers have accepted biotechnology."

India was one of the early movers in the matter of biosafety laws and policies and adopted biosafety rules in 1989. Balachandran said BT cotton was approved in India in 2002, after rigorous risk assessment studies conducted by different committees.

To strengthen India's capacity as also to implement the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the country is implementing a GEF-World Bank Capacity Building Project on Biosafety. This project carries out training workshop for all stakeholders and is an incremental factor for India's National capacity in order to implement the Cartagena Protocol, Balachandran said.

Apart from cotton, there are many more GM crop under development and field trials in India, he said.

The workshop is being jointly organised by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Delhi, and International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, Delhi.


Emotions, science collide in cloning

- Bill Glauber, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 16, 2007, http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=591531

Some say it's breeding tool; others fear harm to food

Bob Schauf knows cows. He breeds them and shows them, washes, clips and primps them like models poised to strut down a Paris runway.

Yet in all his years, Schauf never saw a cow quite like Blackrose, a gentle giant, a prize-winning Holstein who was "tall, strong, upstanding and beautifully shaped."

"She's one of those once-in-a-lifetime cows," Schauf says.

Make that twice in a lifetime.

Blackrose died in 2001. But her clones live on.

The tale of Blackrose and her clones provides a glimpse into the high-stakes, highly emotional collision of science, ethics, agriculture and food.

Four Blackrose clones were born in December 2000, and three still survive. And one of the cloned animals lives on Schauf's Indianhead Holsteins farm, nestled in a glorious patch of western Wisconsin, about 90 miles from Minneapolis.

Blackrose the clone looks like most any other cow - big, healthy, black-and-white hide, munching on hay. But the 6-year-old cow - and other cloned livestock like her - remains at the center of controversy. There are only about 150 cloned dairy cows in the U.S. dairy herd of 9 million.

On one side of the issue are breeders such as Schauf, who view cloning as one more tool to perfect a herd. They say resistance to cloning mirrors past controversies over reproductive techniques such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization.

"We didn't do a good job educating the public," he says.

On the other side, consumer groups fear that cloning may lead to unintended consequences that could harm the nation's food supply and imperil the health of animals.

"There are a whole host of concerns with the technology," says Joseph Mendelson, legal director for the Center for Food Safety, an environmental advocacy group.

In December, the Food and Drug Administration issued a 700-page "draft risk assessment" and found that milk and meat from "clones of adult cattle, pigs and goats, and their offspring, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals."

The public has until May 3 to comment on the assessment. A final report may be delivered this year, potentially opening the way for the United States to become the first country to allow the sale of meat and milk from cloned animals.

But don't expect to see milk from cloned cows at grocery stores anytime soon. Consumer resistance breeds food industry skittishness.

"Cloning, just the word itself, conjures up a lot of distasteful and unsettling images in people's minds," says Christopher Galen, spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation, a trade group of dairy farmers. "People don't really understand the science. Heck, people don't understand where food comes from these days. The word 'cloning' plays on people's worst fears on the role of science and food production."

The federation released a statement late last year saying it was reassured that the FDA's draft review found no health or safety issues with food from cloned animals. At the same time, the federation said, it supported the FDA's decision to maintain the moratorium on milk and meat from cloned animals entering the food supply during the comment period.

Ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned from a cell in 1996, the livestock industry has kept an eye on the technology to make genetic copies of prized animals and use clones as breeding stock. Milk not different, family says

For Schauf, 55, and his wife, Karyn Schauf, 51, cloning was a way to replicate an animal they truly loved.

Since 2001, farmers have voluntarily kept clones and their offspring out of the food chain. The Schaufs, who have raised four healthy sons, drink the milk from Blackrose the clone and say it tastes just like any other cow's milk. But they don't sell the product to the public.

"You can't tell the difference," Karyn Schauf says.

"It's so ridiculous they ban it," Bob Schauf says. "It's an emotion. People don't understand it. There are so many other things to worry about."

In their polished farmhouse, a picture of Blackrose hangs over the mantelpiece of the living room fireplace. In the barn, photos of Blackrose's children and clones hang on the walls of the paneled office, crammed with trophies and medals, just down the hall from prized, pampered cows that make up a good portion of the herd.

It was 1998. Blackrose was about 9 years old, getting on in years. The industry was abuzz with the promise of cloning.

"We just kind of tossed around the idea," Karyn Schauf says. "We didn't know how viable cloning was. Would the result be the original, the same?"

They took a gamble, literally taking a piece of skin from one of Blackrose's ears and sending it off to a lab in DeForest, a biotechnology company called Infigen. The price: $30,000 for the first successful clone, $5,000 for each additional clone.

In 2000, four clones were born. One died of pneumonia at age 4. And the other two were shipped to farms elsewhere.

"We were really excited to pick up the clones," Karyn Schauf says. "For awhile, we had three of them here. It was like they were on the same wavelength. They would get up at the same time and turn their heads at the same time."

Bob Schauf says he grapples with the moral dilemmas posed by cloning.

"Well, God gave man dominion over the animals," he says. "That's where it stops. I'm a Christian. I don't believe it is right in playing with human beings. This is a way to enhance genetics in the dairy business."

But for all the promise he sees in cloning, Bob Schauf admits there are obstacles. The company that produced the Blackrose clones ran out of money in 2004 and ceased operations.

Bob Schauf also is shopping for a new dairy cooperative to take his milk. Soon, the current one won't accept his milk because a cloned animal is on the farm. Apparently, a key customer was uneasy, he says.

"The biggest deterrent is cost," Bob Schauf says of the future of cloning. "I can't see it having a big impact."

But for that once-in-a-lifetime animal, a cow like the original Blackrose, cloning may still be worth the price, he says. Just don't expect a perfect match.

"Our clones weren't identical," he says. "Genetically, they were. Some weren't as tall as Blackrose; one was huge, but the markings were different. The Lord is still in charge."


Campaign against Bt cotton is motivated, says research scientist

- The Hindu, April 16, 2007, http://www.thehindu.com/2007/04/16/stories/2007041613200300.htm

Coimbatore: For the septuagenarian R. Krishnamurthy, an authority on cotton research in the country after six decades of dedication and innovation, the campaign against genetically engineered (Bt) cottonseeds is a motivated one.

"This campaign of toxicity in this cotton is triggered by some pesticide companies as their use in the cotton sector has slumped drastically, thanks to the Bt seeds.

"After all, it is cotton which consumes 50 per cent of the total pesticide used in the country," contends the doyen of cotton breeding.

"Bt cotton is a roaring success not because it is a hybrid or is of high quality, but because it is able to combat diseases," he says.

No complaint

Punjab has extended the trial of one hybrid for one more year and there has been no complaint against it in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra and even Andhra Pradesh.

The major problem, according to him, is the entry of "illegal Bt seeds".

"A couple of years ago, the share of illegal seeds was almost 70 per cent. Now it has slumped to 30 per cent," Mr. Krishnamurthy says.

In an interaction with G.Satyamurty, he recounts his association with cotton stalwarts, traces the growth in cotton varieties and hybrids, and shares his thoughts on the current scenario.

A post-graduate in agriculture, he began as Farm Manager, Central Farm, Coimbatore.

After being posted as Research Assistant in Rice Fallow Cotton in 1954, cotton became his life breath for the next 34 years of Government service in various capacities.

Recognising his phenomenal contribution to cotton research, the Attur-based Rasi Seeds made him its Director of Research after superannuation.

National share

He is the father of LRA 5166, which had a national share of 20 per cent in the late 1980s, both in area and production.

It was he who brought out Suvin, the finest extra-long staple cotton.

It is now in high demand in Japan, which is able to spin even up to 200 counts with this.

He has been responsible for the release of 43 cotton hybrids under the banner of Rasi Seeds Besides, 20 Bt cotton hybrids are in advanced stages of testing and six are awaiting approval for commercial release.

During the current year, nine Bt cotton hybrids developed by Mr.Krishnamurthy have been proposed for National Variety Trial in various zones.

Winner of several awards, he received the Association of Biotechnology-led Enterprises Award on April 12.


"I would like to call myself a breeder rather than a researcher. This field requires a lot of discipline and you have to work virtually round-the-clock," he says.

He considers Ramanatha Iyer, who was instrumental in research on "desi types", as the doyen of cotton breeders in the early part of the century.

He also recalls his association with the galaxy of cotton researchers like T.V.Rangasamy, S.M.Kalyanaraman and R.Balsubramanian.

In 1960, it was Santhanam, the doyen of cotton, who brought him into the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and gave him "freedom to work" on a number of varieties from Russia.

It was M.S.Swaminathan, "who was my boss in the later stages" who "reposed a lot of faith in me", he adds.

Mr.Krishnamurthy explains how a Cambodian variety entered India and helped develop a number of varieties like CO 1,2,3,4 here resulting in a phenomenal increase in cotton area.

The MCU variety that was developed in 1971-72 was very popular.

Similarly, some French experts working in Central Africa in 1965 brought in three very good varieties that were better than even Russian types.

Thus was born REBA-B-50. Next to be given birth were Supriya and Suman. Suvin was released in 1973.

But it was LRA 5166, developed in 1975-76 through "three way crossing", which was unique and popular across the whole of the peninsula.


" Even when the hybrids were prominent, it was this variety which had a substantial share in the national production," he says.

Both LRA 5166 and LRK 516 were used even in Pakistan as they were resistant to leaf curl virus that broke out there in 1995.

While he is happy with the current research, overemphasis on hybrids by the research stations has resulted in a very few varieties being developed, he says.


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