Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org April 25, 2007
* Tomatoes once tasted like cucumbers
* EC checks Romanian GMO labs
* A Regurgitated Wave Of Anti-GE Activism
* How About Economic Progress Day?
* Blame it on biotech mosquito bites
Tomatoes once tasted like cucumbers
- Bea Perks, Chemistry World, April 25, 2007, http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2007/April/25040701.asp
Plant geneticists have identified a gene in wild tomatoes that would have made the fruit taste of cucumbers. The gene appears to have been inactivated as the plant was domesticated, they say. The discovery was made when studying a plant hybrid produced by breeding a modern, cultivated tomato with one of its wild ancestors.
The tomato flavour we have grown to expect is associated with six-carbon (C6) aldehydes, explained Kenji Matsui, professor of biological chemistry at Yamaguchi University, Japan. Volatile C6 compounds, such as n-hexanal and n-hexan-1-ol, are considered the most important.
Conversely, cucumbers have C9 compounds to thank for their distinctive flavour. When C9 compounds are found in foods other than cucumbers and melons (both members of the cucurbit family) they are regarded as stale or 'off' flavours.
In cultivated tomatoes, an enzyme called fatty acid 13-hydroperoxide lyase (13 HPL) forms the flavoursome C6 aldehydes. The equivalent lyase in cucumbers, however, is able to form both C6 and C9 flavour compounds. This enzyme, dubbed 9/13 HPL, was not known in tomatoes - until now.
After Matsui's team crossed a cultivated tomato with a wild strain, they found that the hybrid does indeed carry a gene that encodes 9/13HPL. Since this would have allowed the wild tomato to produce a healthy dose of C9 compounds, it may have taken on a distinctly cucumber-like flavour, they suggest.
The research is part of a wider effort to identify new food traits that might tempt consumers. Since there is only a very small fraction of wild genetic variation still present in cultivated crops, breeding domesticated varieties with wild strains is one of the best ways to introduce new traits, such as different colours or flavours.
But Matsui certainly isn't aiming to breed this particular long-lost trait back into tomatoes - it tastes nice in cucumbers, but horrible in tomatoes.
'Nonetheless, this finding could emphasize that wild or classic varieties of modern crops are an important resource for novel traits,' he told Chemistry World.
Savour the flavour
The findings aren't a huge surprise for Roger Chetelat, director of the C M Rick Tomato Genetics Resource Center (TGRC) at the University of California, Davis, US. The TGRC supplies seed stock to researchers worldwide, including Matsui's team.
Fruits of the wild tomato species Solanum pennellii, which was included in the hybrid used by Matsui, are known to have a 'soapy . untomato-like' odour, said Chetelat. 'It makes sense to me that they would share something with cucumbers, at a biochemical level,' he said, 'though the fruits of the pennellii are foul and sticky, not nearly as appetising as a cuke.'
Chetelat knows of no examples of S. pennellii having been used for food in the past. 'S. pennellii is considered by taxonomists to be the most distant wild cousin of the cultivated tomato,' he said. 'I think it's stretching the results to say that this cucumber volatile was lost as a result of domestication.' The closest known wild relatives of the modern tomato are quite tasty, he added, so the cucumber volatile might have been lost previously, perhaps by evolution in the absence of farmers.
Still, while nobody wants to make tomatoes taste horrible, knowing how to avoid making them taste like that could be important, Chetelat added. S. pennellii could well be a source of valuable new traits (like yield or disease resistance), and knowing where genetic factors for bad flavours reside would prevent those traits ending up in new varieties.
K Matsui et al, J Agric. Food Chem., DOI: 10.1021/jf063756b
EC checks Romanian GMO labs
- HotNews.ro, Apr 25, 2007, http://english.hotnews.ro/EC-checks-Romanian-GMO-labs-articol_44807.htm
Romanian laboratories testing the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be evaluated by the Food Veterinary Office, a department in the European Commission (EC). European experts will visit the counties with a massive production of genetically modified soy. Results of the verification are due on Friday, April 27. The FVO mission has to evaluate the control system for human food and fodder produced with GMOs.
The experts have to check the progress in the control mechanisms, the legislation and the way the laws were implemented.
Assessments are also due for labs designed to determinate the GMO level in seeds and for custom points through which GMO imports may take place. 2006 will be last year for the 130,000 hectares with GMO soy plantations in Romania.
ed. note: It's not entirely clear that a prohibition on the cultivation of GM soy in Romania will work any better than it did in Brazil. See, "Joining the EU troubles GM soy bean farmers," CoExtra Country News (undated), http://www.coextra.eu/country_reports/news574.html and "Romania Harvests Trouble With Its GM Crops," Environment News Service, October 30, 2006, http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/oct2006/2006-10-30-04.asp In Brazil, GM soy was banned, farmers continued to grow it, and Europe continued to import it.
A Regurgitated Wave Of Anti-GE Activism In India
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India krao+at+vsnl.com, April 23, 2007, http://fbae.org/Channels/Views/a_regurgitated_wave_of_anti.htm
In response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a ban on the release of genetically modified organisms/seeds, the Supreme Court of India (SCI) directed the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), not to give approvals to genetically modified products until further orders (Indo Asian News Service, The Times of India, The Hindu, Financial Express). Issues emerging out of this PIL and the order of the SCI were discussed on this blog earlier (September 24, 2006).
In preparation for an upcoming hearing of the PIL, the Petitioners are heaping the same old dust in the hope of strengthening their case.
The major thrust is that their concerns are supported by 6.5 million farmers from across the country, which is unbelievable because the same activists claim that the MNCs are taking the farmers for a ride, as they are totally ignorant of GE crops. The unverified, probably unverifiable, support of 6.5 millions farmers has attracted international publicity from such media as the Free Speech Radio News, without identifying the obscene politics behind the valorous claim. Other than the six and half non-farmer professional activist petitioners, one wonders where from the 6.5 million farmers come, unless truck loads of hired and tutored agitators are brought in, like they do for the political rallies in India.
The activists charged the GEAC and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) with ignoring reports for the third consecutive year, of a suspected link with Bt cotton of the death of sheep, goats, buffaloes and human beings. These reports are still under investigation by the agencies of the Government of Andhra Pradesh (AP), at the suggestion of the GEAC. The death of goats, buffalos and human beings is the new spice added to the earlier reports of death of several sheep and a few cattle. No one has explained why only a couple of Districts of AP, more prominently the Warangal District, are the fountain head of such reports. The activists have not so far proved that Bt cotton is toxic to any organism other than the American Bollworm.
The Greenpeace invoked the Right to Information (RtI) Act, seeking toxicity and allergenicity data for GE rice, brinjal, okra and mustard, which was refused on grounds of 'Confidential Business Information' (CBI). The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled on April 19, 2007, that the DBT should disclose toxicity and allergenicity data on transgenic food crops which are under multilocation field trials across the country. The GoI did not give this information earlier, as Section 8 (1) (d) of RtI Act exempts from disclosure 'information, including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party'.
The CIC advised the GoI to be proactive and make relevant data public without waiting for applications for disclosure, as per the provisions of Section 4 of the RtI Act. The CIC, however, declined the request of Greenpeace, for making public the minutes of the meetings of the Review Committee on Genetic Modification (RCGM), under the DBT, which approved the various proposals of multilocation field trials of genetically modified food crops, but left the decision to the GoI.
In a reply to the PIL, the MoEF provided only a list of 144 applications so far approved for field testing, but not the 'biological results and implications' sought in the PIL, upsetting the Petitioners. The MoEF has even questioned the competence of a Court of Law to decide matters of science and technology (Times of India, April 23, 2007). In a comparable situation, the SCI had ruled on April 22, 2007, that 'in the field of education, a court of law cannot act as an expert'; science and technology issues are much more complex than those of education.
The activists have earlier argued that the level of expression of Bt toxin in Bt cotton was not adequate to afford the protection claimed but now say the opposite, that GE crops have a concentration of Bt toxin 1000 times greater than in non-GE Bt spray and so there is a risk to human health. They are blind to all the biosecurity tests conducted on GE crops the world over, including in India, for over one and a half decades and charge the GEAC with facilitating industry objectives of commercializing an array of GE crops, to the detriment of India's national interest and the sovereign issue of the protection of her biodiversity, of which they appear to be the sole custodians.
The issue of biodiversity is emotionalized and sensationalized, by ignorance or mischief, casting science aside. The activists are impervious to the fact that there are no risks to biodiversity on account of any of the crops under development. Their argument that since India is one of the hotspots or Megadiversity Centres, many plants have their origin here has no basis in science and Chattisgarh is not a Centre of Origin of rice. It is ridiculous to connect GE crop issue with Climate Change.
Toxicity and allergenicity issues are raised again, now adding carcinogenicity, in spite of the fact that no food or feed was ever tested as rigorously as GE foods for safety and that 350 million Americans are a living proof of their safety. The GE food crops have been shown in different contexts, to be safe as food and feed and that there are no environmental risks arising out of their cultivation, no matter what the activists assert. How long and how more rigorously these tests should be conducted is any one's guess, as the activists do not accept positive results of any safety tests as this would jeopardize their agenda of blocking all GE products.
The new interim prayers to the SCI include protocols sensitive enough to detect GE product contamination at zero detection levels (!?). Surprisingly, for those who hate all things foreign (except the material comforts), the activists demand for the Swedish, Danish and British Institution of Ombudsman to redress grievances against the GoI. To cap it, they want the Tort Law/Principle to provide for compensation for out of contract mishaps involving GE products.
To top all, there is the 'no GM crops to be grown in India' demand. In a country like India, where appeasement of ginger groups is the order of the day, a lesson from banning DDT under activist pressure about three decades ago, and revoking the ban recently by the World Health Organization, on realizing the error after a million deaths and a billion sicknesses, should be kept in mind.
How About Economic Progress Day?
- John Stossel, Townhall.com, April 25, 2007, http://www.townhall.com/Columnists/JohnStossel/2007/04/25/how_about_economic_progress_day
Last Sunday was marked by an orgy of celebrations of Earth Day, the worldwide annual event intended to "to spark a revolution against environmental abuse."
Even the Bush administration had an Earth Day website, which stated, "Earth Day and every day is a time to act to protect our planet".
Watching the media coverage, you'd think that the earth was in imminent danger -- that human life itself was on the verge of extinction. Technology is fingered as the perp.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
John Semmens of Arizona's Laissez Faire Institute points out that Earth Day misses an important point. In the April issue of The Freeman magazine, Semmens says the environmental movement overlooks how hospitable the earth has become -- thanks to technology. "The environmental alarmists have it backwards. If anything imperils the earth it is ignorant obstruction of science and progress. ... That technology provides the best option for serving human wants and conserving the environment should be evident in the progress made in environmental improvement in the United States. Virtually every measure shows that pollution is headed downward and that nature is making a comeback." (Carbon dioxide excepted, if it is really a pollutant.)
Semmens describes his visit to historic Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, an area "lush with trees and greenery." It wasn't always that way. In 1775, the land was cleared so it could be farmed. Today, technology makes farmers so efficient that only a fraction of the land is needed to produce much more food. As a result, "Massachusetts farmland has been allowed to revert back to forest."
Human ingenuity and technology not only raised living standards, but also restored environmental amenities. How about a day to celebrate that?
Yet, Semmens writes, the environmental movement is skeptical about technology and is attracted to three dubious principles: sustainable development, the precautionary principle, and stakeholder participation.
The point of sustainable development, Semmens says, "is to minimize the use of nonrenewable natural resources so there will be more left for future generations." Sounds sensible -- who is for "unsustainable" development?
Blame it on biotech mosquito bites
- Harry Cline, Western Farm Press, Apr 24, 2007, http://westernfarmpress.com/news/042407-mosquito-bites/
"Maybe you've been bitten by a genetically modified mosquito! That just occurred to me, Harry. Maybe that explains why your brain turns to mush when writing about biotech topics. Now you'll have to use genetically-modified insect repellent to get back to normal!" Roderick Taylor
What a relief. Thanks Rod for the e-mail diagnosis. Now I know what's wrong with me.
But before I rush out and get a can of biotech Off, allow me to inflict on you and your friends some other observations caused by biotech mosquito bites.
The injunction halting the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa is one of the most ludicrous and wasteful uses of the court system yet. It has nothing to do with protecting the environment. Northern Federal District Court Judge Charles said so in the preliminary injunction to stop biotech alfalfa seed sales: "Roundup Ready alfalfa does not have any harmful effects on humans or livestock."
Why in the world, then, is this in court?
Because the anti-biotech/anti-business bunch who filed this wants to stop ag technology. It's that simple.
In filing to intervene in the case at the hearing on the temporary injunction, Monsanto, Forage Genetics, and three alfalfa growers, including Tulare's Mark Watte, detail the process and environmental protection rules now in place to preclude pollen "contamination" of organic or conventional alfalfa seed from herbicide-resistant seed production.
For example, isolation of Roundup Ready alfalfa seed fields pollinated by leaf-cutter bees must be nearly double the isolation distance required now for foundation seed production. For honeybee-pollinated transgenic alfalfa seed, the isolation distance is more than 17 times the distance required for foundation seed production.
There's one even more absurd piece of news from my friends at the Cornucopia Institute.
These protectors of the environment are complaining that the government's rules to treat raw almonds to prevent disease outbreaks are unfair and discriminate against small farms and people who like to eat raw food.
Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst at Cornucopia, says the rule is unwarranted, "especially onerous" to small-scale and organic farming. Cornucopia claims the rules proposed for processing raw almonds are too expensive for small growers.
Kastel assures us that "raw produce and nuts are not inherently risky food," and that contamination occurs when livestock manure or fecal matter is "inadvertently" transferred through contaminated water, soil, or transportation and handling equipment.
And what is a major source of nitrogen in organic production?
It would seem that a organization that wants to "protect" the small family farm would welcome added safeguards for its clientele. Apparently not. Rather this group believes the public is clamoring for raw foods.
"The new rule is another case of the public being deprived of the opportunity to intelligently choose their food supply," according to Jimbo Someck, who operates four independent natural food stores in the San Diego area.
That is not exactly true, Jimbo, as Cornucopoia points out in its news release. Exempted from the new rules will be roadside farm stands. However, I think I'd rather purchase California almonds someplace where my health is of more concern than protecting the small farmer.
- tamijean37, YouTube, April 22, 2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zl7SS_nMTPY
When bitten by a genetically modified spider, a nerdy, shy, and awkward CAT gains spider-like abilities that he eventually must use to fight evil as a superhero!!
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net