Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, http://www.agbioworld.org May 9, 2007
* Technology Could Double Crop Yields
* Grains go on a 'health kick'
* GM Chicory Brings Hope to African Malaria Patients
* Oil palm biotech success
* Court allows field trials of GM crops
* VC finds salvation in GM seeds?
* GM silkworms spin colors of rainbow
* EU Must Speed Response to New GMOs
* Intragenic Crop Improvement
* World Fast Against Malaria
Victoria, Australia Researchers Develop Technology That Could Lead to Doubled Crop Yields
Technology Delays Leaf Ageing Process
- Government of Victoria Australia (press release), May 7, 2007
Research scientists from Victoria, Australia have developed a technology that could lead to doubled crop yields, and improved environmental and health outcomes, the Minister for Innovation, John Brumby, announced today at the BIO 2007 Conference in Boston. The new technology delays the leaf ageing process, enhances biomass production, increases seed yield and also has potential molecular farming applications.
"The modification of plant ageing, referred to as plant leaf senescence, has important agricultural consequences and leads to a wide range of potential applications," said John Brumby. "It will mean farmers can get the same crop yield from half the land being used."
White clover enhanced with LXR technology. Scientists from Victoria, Australia, demonstrated that the technology can lead to increased carbon fixation and thus to enhanced seed yields, increased herbage production and quality.
Agriculture Minister Joe Helper said the delayed leaf senescence leads to increased carbon fixation and thus to enhanced seed yields, increased herbage production and quality. "Scientists from the Department of Primary Industries, in collaboration with La Trobe University, have developed this delayed senescence technology based on the targeted modification of cytokinin levels in plants," Mr. Helper said.
"Cytokinins are natural plant hormones that influence plant growth and development, including control of shoot and root formation, inhibition of leaf senescence, and mediation of stress responses," Mr. Helper added. "This research has huge potential for farmers all around the world."
DPI Research Director German Spangenberg said cytokinin levels are increased in plants under the control of a highly developmentally regulated plant gene promoter. This technology has been given the name LXR.
"The LXR delayed senescence technology also offers significant opportunities for applications in molecular farming which in turn could result in high value products for health, bioenergy and environmental outcomes," Prof. Spangenberg said. "We would be able to test the LXR technology combined with the production of plant-based antibodies for animal health, productivity and environmental outcomes, such as targeting approaches to mitigate methane production from livestock -- an important source of greenhouse gas emission."
Prof. Spangenberg said initial proof of the success of LXR technology under laboratory and glasshouse conditions has been demonstrated in white clover, a key temperate pasture legume.
"Results of the field evaluation of LXR white clover have shown a doubling of seed yields, thus demonstrating the potential of the LXR technology to enhance seed production," Prof. Spangenberg said. "The LXR technology is being further developed and commercialized through the Australian agricultural biotechnology company, Phytogene, a wholly owned subsidiary of Agriculture Victoria Services Pty Ltd."
Prof. Spangenberg said that the LXR delayed senescence technology is currently being evaluated in a range of crops including wheat, canola and lucerne (alfalfa) under laboratory, and glasshouse conditions prior to field trials.
Victoria's ability to make these important scientific discoveries will be further enhanced through the Bracks Government's $180 million investment in a new biosciences research centre. To be located in Melbourne, the centre will build on Victoria's international reputation in plant and animal molecular genetics, and its application for productivity, quality improvement, adaptation to climate change and biosecurity preparedness. Other science agencies, both national and international, with complementary objectives are invited to partner or link in to the new centre.
Grains go on an even bigger 'health kick'
- Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (press release), May 8, 2007
A new generation of grain-based foods could soon play a major role in improving public health, according to one of Australia's leading biologists,
In an address today to BIO 07 in Boston MA, Dr Morell says ongoing research into new high-fibre barleys, high-amylose wheat varieties and oilseeds which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, should soon lead to the production of cereals and a host of other foods which will help improve bowel and heart health.
CSIRO's research into high amylose wheat (HAW) is part of a $A12.5 million international collaboration with Australia's Grains Research and Development Corporation and French farmer-owned company, Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients.
Building on core technology developed by CSIRO's Food Futures National Research Flagship and Biogemma (Limagrain's biotech subsidiary), the joint venture recently produced an experimental wheat variety with an amylose content of 70 per cent.
CSIRO's RNAi gene silencing techniques enabled researchers to define the genetic changes required to generate HAW and will help the team develop both conventionally-bred and GM wheat varieties.
Dr Morell's team is also working on a new barley cultivar called BARLEYmaxTM - a hull-less variety with 25 per cent of total dietary fibre, plus resistant starch, which has an appealing taste and features properties very favourable to food formulation. "Increasing wheat's resistant starch levels could lead to a reduction in colorectal cancer risk and improvements in the control of blood glucose," Dr Morell says.
"Another CSIRO Food Futures' gene-technology research project led to the potential development of land crops with the capacity to produce the same omega-3 fatty acids previously only available to people who eat ocean fish.
"In 2005 a team led by CSIRO's Dr Surinder Singh developed the world's first plants that produce DHA and EPA in their seeds - these are the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish," Dr Morell says.
"That groundbreaking achievement sourced genes from a number of organisms including marine algae - a combination that allowed the team to meet their objective to be the first to demonstrate that land plants can produce EPA and DHA in their seed oil."
He says Dr Singh's team is now making significant progress in using genes from marine algae to further optimise omega-3 expression in linseed, canola and cotton.
Genetically Modified Chicory Brings Hope to African Malaria Patients
- Dafra Pharma (press release), May 8, 2007
WAGENINGEN, the Netherlands -- Dafra Pharma has commissioned Plant Research International (PRI) to begin new research into optimising the production method of artemisinin via genetically modified chicory plants. The aim of the research is to realize inexpensive, large-scale production of artemisinin under controllable conditions. Artemisinin is a basic raw material used in ACTs (Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies), the latest generation and most effective antimalarial treatment according to the WHO.
Malaria and ACTs
According to WHO, some 300 to 500 million cases of malaria and Some 1.5 to 2 million deaths occur annually due to malaria worldwide, of which 90% in Africa. Every 30 seconds one child dies of malaria in Africa.
And yet malaria is perfectly treatable. Rapid diagnosis and treatment with an ACT can conquer the disease before it becomes life-threatening. Since the malaria parasite has become resistant to the older, more conventional antimalarial treatments, such as chloroquine, SP etc, WHO recommends ACTs as the first-line treatment in African countries. However, artemisinin is an expensive plant extract, which means that an ACT can currently easily cost 10 times more than treatment with, say, chloroquine. ACTs are very expensive for African patients. This means that the price of ACTs - and therefore the price of artemisinin - needs to drop sharply.
Biosynthetic production of artemisinin via plants
Earlier research done by Dafra Pharma (Belgian pharmaceutical company that is private market leader in Afrika for ACT's) and Plant Research International (PRI) (University of Wageningen, the Netherlands) showed in a wide range of plant species that the diversion of the biosynthesis of the enzymes in chicory, involved in the production of the bitter compounds, can be carried out very efficiently.
New research by PRI, also commissioned by Dafra Pharma, now aims to examine how the artemisinin precursor (dihydroartemisininic acid) can be optimally extracted from the chicory root. With its chemical experience and know-how, Dafra Pharma can, after extraction, convert the precursor into artemisinin, which can be used to produce ACTs.
Industrial scaling-up for a humane cause
To free Africa from malaria - the slogan for World Malaria Day 2007 - some 400 million treatments per year will be needed. Accordingly, PRI and Dafra Pharma will continue their close cooperation in the optimization of the biosynthesis technology for the industrial production of artemisinin.
PRI and Dafra Pharma have opted to use inuline chicory as artemisinin production platform. The advantage of this industrial (i.e. non-food) crop is that the entire chain - from large-scale agricultural production up to and including extraction - is already in place in both Belgium and the Netherlands.
Dr FH Jansen, R&D Manager at Dafra Pharma, states it must the objective of Dafra Pharma to achieve inexpensive, large-scale industrial production of artemisinin via chicory roots in 3 to 5 years time.
This new inexpensive basic raw material should enable Dafra Pharma International to bring future ACTs to market at a price of half a dollar per adult antimalarial treatment.
Dafra Pharma Ltd
Dafra Pharma is a Belgian family-owned pharmaceutical company and is the private-sector market leader across Africa for artemisinin-based combination antimalarial therapies. Dafra Pharma has built up a unique distribution and promotional network in 36 African countries with currently more than 120 local African medical representatives. Since its founding in 1997, Dafra Pharma has focused on research and development in medicines for "neglected tropical diseases", such as malaria, sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis, TBC, leishmaniasis and others.
Plant Research International
Plant Research International is part of Wageningen UR (Netherlands) and is the most important Dutch research institute for scientific research on plants. The institute develops and uses genetic modification for research on sustainable agriculture, healthy food and a safe environment.
Sabah oil palm biotech success
- Daily Express (Sabah, Malaysia), May 8, 2007
Kota Kinabalu: The Sawit Kinabalu Berhad Group has successfully produced the first DxP oil palm clone from leaf ex-plant through tissue culture techniques from its biotechnology laboratory in Tawau.
It is believed that this is the first DxP clone produced in Sabah.
In announcing this achievement, the Group Managing Director of Sawit Kinabalu Berhad Group, Salim Mohammad, thanked Sawit Kinabalu Berhad Chairman-cum-Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Musa Aman, for his far-sightedness of clones by tissue culture.
The signing and collaboration agreements on tissue culture of oil palm between Sawith Kinabalu Berhad and Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) on Aug. 23, 2004 in Kuala Lumpur was witnessed by Musa.
Salim commended MPOB for their support to enable Sawit Kinabalu to produce the first clonal DxP material in a record time of only two years from initiation.
He felt that this progress augured well with the Sabah Biotechnology Action Blueprint 2006-2015 launched by Musa on April 19, 2007.
Oil palm planting materials from tissue culture are expected to produce 30 per cent more fruit bunches and oil than conventional planting materials from seeds.
Salim said the source materials for tissue culture at Sawit Kinabalu Berhad were from its proven high yielding DxP palms researched at its seed production and breeding unit also in Tawau.
The current biotechnology laboratory of Sawit Kinabalu which has a capacity of 30,000 plantlets per annum are in the process of expanding to a capacity of 200,000 plantlets per annum.
Initially, all the clonal materials from this laboratory would be for internal uses. Sawit Kinabalu is expected to make available the clonal materials to public in 2009.
Court allows approved field trials of GM crops
- The Hindu, May 8, 2007
In a boost to supporters of Genetically Modified Crops, the Supreme Court today allowed the Centre to conduct approved field trials of genetically modified seeds in the country subject to certain restrictions.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan permitted field trials of GM crops, which were earlier approved by the the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) in April and May 2006, provided it fulfilled certain conditions.
The government should increase the isolation distance up to 200 metres between the GM planted fields and the other fields and a protocol for testing for contamination up to 0.01 percent for neighbouring fields was established, the apex court said.
It also said a designated scientist should be made responsible for ensuring that all the conditions were complied with during the field trials of GM seeds. While the court allowed the commercial release of four approved Bt cotton varieties, it said no new species should be introduced.
The bench said GEAC, the GM regulatory authority under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, should submit a detailed data, if any, about the effects of GM crops - i.e. the toxicity and allergic reactions before the court.
The apex court, on a public interest litigation filed by Aruna Rodrigues and others, had on September 22, last year had directed GEAC not to clear any GM crop for fresh field trials.
On May 1 last year, it had also said the GEAC and not the Review Committee for Genetic Manipulation (RCGM) under the department of Biotechnology should be responsible for field trials and approval of GM crops.
VC finds salvation in GM seeds?
- Sidhu Damdami, The Tribune (Chandigarh, India), May 7, 2007
Ludhiana - The solution to the crisis facing the Punjab agriculture sector lies in genetically modified (GM) crops, contract farming, purpose-oriented agro research and such varieties of crops, which require less watering.
Spelling out his mantra for salvaging the rapidly deteriorating agriculture sector, the new Vice-Chancellor of Punjab Agriculture University, Dr. Manjit Singh Kang, said that PAU would shortly start research to develop varieties of genetically modified crops.
In an exclusive interview with this writer at the PAU campus in Ludhiana, the internationally known expert in genetics and plant breeding said he would probe the possibilities to develop such a high-yielding variety of paddy, which would require less irrigation. For this revolutionary purpose, domestic stock of plant germplasm would be used. If necessary, even germplasm available in foreign countries would be used. Help would also be taken from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in the Philippines, which have a tie-up with PAU, said Dr Kang.
Expressing grave concern over the depletion of underground water table, Dr Kang said it was necessary for the farmers to be persuaded to go for crop diversification and late planting of paddy. It was also necessary to provide them alternative varieties of crops which are low on water requirement.
Describing the environmental controversy related to GM crops as the one based on unfounded fear; Dr. Kang stated, 'this disinformation' about GM crops started from the failure of a limited experiment done on butterflies. Later it was found that butterflies died not because of GM feed but due to the overdose of the feed.
Openly recommending the cultivation of genetically modified crops in Punjab, the VC said that the successful experiment of Punjab farmers with Bt. Cotton has already proved the point.
Favouring co-operative, contractual and corporate farming in Punjab, he said, PAU would be open to collaborate with private companies on such research projects. To recharge its funds, the university would also take up research work outsourced to it by private companies.
Expressing concern over the critical financial health of the university, he maintained that PAU being a state university is to be mainly funded by the government. However, for this purpose, he is also in favour of knocking on the doors of international financial institutions, including the World Bank. There are also plans to get some research projects sponsored by PAU alumni spread all over the world. Some offers have already come in, he added.
Commenting on the existing state of affairs in his alma mater, where he has returned after spending about four decades in Louisiana State University, US, Dr. Kang said, the number of students has gone down. The connection between the students and the faculty has also become weak. A sense of complacency and fatigue is palpable on the campus.
Citing an example, he said, even the advisory printed in the annual university diary to guide farmers on farm operations like use of fertilisers, insecticides, pesticide etc, has not been updated for the last 2-3 years. "The people at the university need to be made excited to work. To start with, I have already asked the department heads to formulate three and five years plans on the basis of SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threats)", he stated.
Genetically-engineered silkworms spin colors of rainbow: study
- PhysOrg.com, May 08, 2007
Why take all the trouble to dye silk when silkworms can be genetically modified to spin any color of the rainbow?
That's the goal of Japanese scientists who have genetically engineered silkworms to produce a specific color, according to a new study.
The study's author, Takashi Sakudoh of the University of Tokyo, said understanding the pigment transport system of silkworms could "pave the way for genetic manipulation of the color and pigment content of silk."
In nature, silkworm cocoon colors vary from white, yellow, straw, salmon, pink and green. The colors in the silk are from natural pigments absorbed when the silkworms eat mulberry leaves.
Japanese researchers observed in silkworms that produce white silk that the "yellow blood," or Y gene, was mutated. A segment of DNA had been deleted.
The Y gene enables silkworms to extract carotenoids, yellow-colored compounds, from mulberry leaves.
The scientists found that mutated insects produced a non-functional form of the carotenoid-binding protein (CBP), known to aid pigment uptake.
Using genetic engineering techniques, the researchers introduced pristine Y genes into the mutant insects.
The engineered worms produced working CBP and yellow-colored cocoons.
The yellow color became more vivid after rounds of crossbreeding.
Silk fibers could be produced in a flesh color and a reddish color, the authors wrote in the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
Indian and Mexican scientists win science prize
- Michelle Picard-Aitken, SciDev.Net, May 3, 2007
An Indian chemist and a Mexican biologist were each awarded the Trieste Science Prize last week (26 April).
Administered by the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, the annual Trieste Science Prize celebrates scientists from the developing world whose achievements have made "an enormous impact on international science".
The winners were Luis Rafael Herrera-Estrella, professor of plant genetic engineering at the Centre of Research and Advanced Studies in Irapuato, Mexico, and Goverdhan Mehta, honorary professor of organic chemistry at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.
Herrera-Estrella was honoured for pioneering plant biotechnology techniques used in the commercial production of genetically modified plants.
The plants are now grown on more than 100 million hectares of farmland worldwide, and include asparagus, maize, papaya and beans -- all crop species important to Latin America's economy.
"Doing high quality science in developing countries is far more difficult than in developed countries," Herrera-Estrella told SciDev.Net.
"Recognition from important awards such as the Trieste Science Prize are very important in making politicians aware that in spite of the difficulties, scientists in developing countries have the skills and expertise to produce first class science."
He is now working to understand how plants adapt to nutrient-deficient soils, such as the 500 million hectares of phosphorus-poor farmland in Latin America.
Goverdhan Mehta was recognized for significant advances he has made in the synthesis of organic compounds.
Anti-cancer drugs and carbon compounds with potential applications in nanotechnology devices are among the 50 complex and biologically active products that Mehta's group have synthesised.
As president of the International Council for Science in Paris, Mehta is now dedicating himself to promoting international collaboration in science, particularly on issues relating to sustainable development.
He also plays a key role in developing science education and policy in India as a member of the country's Scientific Advisory Committee.
The Trieste Science Prize, now in its third year, honours outstanding scientists who have not yet been awarded other international prizes for scientific achievement.
The prize, financed by coffee company illycaffè, includes a US$50,000 cash award. Previous prize recipients have been from Brazil, China, India and Taiwan.
Herrera-Estrella and Mehta will receive their awards at a ceremony in Trieste, Italy, this month (17 May).
EU Must Speed Response to New GMOs - Farm Chief
- Jeremy Smith, Reuters via Planet Ark, May 7, 2007
BRUSSELS - Europe must speed up its approval process for new biotech crops and foods to avoid future problems with key suppliers like Argentina, Brazil and the United States, Europe's farm chief said on Friday.
Shipments of maize feed products had fallen in the past few months due to efforts to keep out genetically modified (GMO) materials that were approved elsewhere but not in the 27 countries of the European Union.
EU regulators had to consider what would happen if imports had to be blocked altogether from given origins to avoid unwanted contamination, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said.
"Many of our trade partners have a different perspective on GMO regulation from ours," she told delegates at an international cereals and oilseeds conference.
"One part of the problem seems to be that, when the European Union considers authorising a new GMO, the approval process takes a considerable time. We are examining why this is, and whether we can speed it up without compromising on the risk assessment," Fischer Boel said.
Soybeans and soy products were a bigger potential headache than maize since EU imports of maize feed were low, she said, adding that it would be hard to replace the larger volumes of soybeans and soymeal with other protein-rich feed.
"We hope to avoid having to block soya imports from our main suppliers -- the United States, Argentina and Brazil," Fischer Boel said. EU importers took more than 40 percent of Argentina's soy shipments and more than half of Brazil's, she said.
"Whereas this could be difficult in the case of the US, Argentina and Brazil ought to work with us actively on this issue, given that we take a high proportion of their soyabean exports," she said. "Nevertheless, we can't rely on hope alone."
For many years, little has changed in the split of opinion on biotech policy among EU governments, which are consistently unable to secure the weighted majority that is legally required to vote through a new GMO approval.
An application to approve a new GMO product usually takes many months, if not years, as EU governments raise objections that lead to extra scientific risk assessments. The application then goes to a committee of EU-27 experts, then is often escalated to ministers when the experts cannot agree.
European consumers are well known for their antipathy towards GMO foods but the biotech industry says its products are safe and no different to conventional foods. Europe's hostility to GMO foods is unfounded, it says.
Intragenic Crop Improvement: Combining the Benefits of Traditional Breeding and Genetic Engineering
- Caius M. Rommens, J. Agric. Food Chem. (ASAP Article 10.1021/jf0706631 S0021-8561(07)00663-2), web release date May 9, 2007
New crop varieties are developed by applying traditional breeding methods that rely on random genome modifications. These varieties combine multiple traits that support farm efficiency and acceptable yields but also contain genes associated with the production of toxins, allergens, and/or antinutritional compounds that were not considered during the selection process. Furthermore, existing cultivars frequently lack the functional genes required for specific sensory traits and the formation of health-promoting antioxidants. One new method efficiently addresses some of these issues by either silencing undesirable genes or enhancing the expression of genes that are linked to dormant beneficial traits. Rather than incorporating foreign DNA into the plant's genome, these methods transform crops with plant-derived transfer (P-) DNAs that consist of only native genetic elements. The genetic modification can be characterized molecularly so that any inadvertent transfer of undesirable DNA, as may be the case with traditional methods, is excluded. A recently developed intragenic potato plant is silenced for the polyphenol oxidase, dikinase R1, and phosphorylase-L genes in a tuber-specific manner. French fries derived from these tubers lack discolorations, display an enhanced potato flavor, and produce greatly reduced amounts of the suspected carcinogen acrylamide. It is argued that intragenic modification is unlikely to trigger phenotypic, biochemical, or physiological variation that is new to the species. Similarly, the targeted traits are similar to those that breeders select for and often have a history of domestication and reduced fitness. For these reasons, an updated regulatory system is proposed whereby intragenic crops are considered as low risk and should be cleared for commercial release in a timely and cost-effective manner. By using modern techniques to modify the same genetic material that is used by breeders, intragenic approaches may be perceived as an acceptable extension of traditional methods in crop improvement.
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World Fast Against Malaria
- Leaders in the Fight Against Malaria, May 8, 2007
Today, with a continued sense of urgency and desperation, world leaders in the fight against malaria call for a second international day of fasting to focus worldwide attention on the extreme emergency facing billions of people living in malaria infested regions of the world. Participating organizations include Malaria No More, The Malaria Foundation, Roll Back Malaria, Africa Fighting Malaria, Dunk Malaria, The Free Africa Foundation, Hedge Funds vs. Malaria, The "LOVE, HALLIE Foundation," The Buy-A-Net Malaria Prevention Group, The Iyalode Tejuoso Malaria Foundation and The World Swim Against Malaria.
The second annual World Fast Against Malaria will be held on May 10, 2007. Adults all over the world are asked to fast from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm (drinks and medications are allowed). Children are asked to fast from 9:00 am until12:00 pm. 100% of donations related to the fast will go to buy long lasting life-saving nets for $5 per net. To participate in the fast and or sponsor your fast or the fast of others please visit http://www.fastagainstmalaria.com
"Today, people have the chance to fast, donate and save a life. Literally. I did so, and hope you will too," said John Bridgeland, CEO of Malaria No More, "because the lives of millions of children are at stake." Between one and three million people, 90% of whom are children under the age of five, die from Malaria annually – even though it is preventable.
"We are asking so little with the hope that many will embrace our call to action," said Mary Galinski, President of the Malaria Foundation International. "The second World Fast Day Against Malaria on May 10th is a gift to all, a chance to recognize the plight of millions of children suffering and dying of malaria each year and at the same time a day to be thankful that many countries have been freed from malaria. With increased awareness this will be the case in many more parts of the world."
"The World Swim Against Malaria is proud to be the operating partner of the World Fast Day Against Malaria and 100% of the money we raise will buy long lasting insecticidal mosquito nets," noted Rob Mather, Founder of the World Swim Against Malaria. "This will hopefully be a significant step to protect children and their families where malaria is the biggest killer of children and a leading cause of death among mothers. We are proud to leverage our technological and distribution infrastructure to try and save as many lives as possible."
Africa will be dominant recipient of nets as 90% of malaria deaths occur there. “However, we hope as many as possible of the 80 or so countries affected by malaria will benefit also, including countries in Asia and Latin America,” added Dr. George Ayittey, the distinguished economist whose organization, the Free Africa Foundation, is rolling out malaria free zones and clinics in villages throughout Africa. "It takes a village to raise a child," says an African proverb. So too it takes a global village – to fight malaria.
Lance Laifer, a co-Founder of the World Fast Against Malaria, added that the fast day was chosen to commemorate the birth date of Sir Ronald Ross, the man who in the late 19th century succeeded in demonstrating the life-cycle of the parasites of malaria in mosquitoes. This was a very important step in understanding that mosquitoes are the culprits when it comes to malaria transmission. Mr.
Laifer also noted the proximity of May 10 to Mother's Day (May 13), because malaria is one of the world's largest killers of mothers, particularly first-time mothers.
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net