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May 16, 2007


Cleaner Ethanol From Biotech Corn; Scientists vote for GM cotton; GM critics ignorant; Farmers seek Bt cotton; Apomictic hybrid cotton


Today in AgBioView from* AgBioWorld, May 16, 2007

* Cheaper, Cleaner Ethanol From Biotech Corn
* Scientists vote for GM cotton
* GM critics ignorant
* Farmers stage protests, seek Bt cotton
* Apomictic hybrid cotton
* Porous nanoparticles deliver chemicals into plants
* Peas to combat infectious diseases
* GM mosquito bacteria in malaria battle
* Ecological Impacts of GM Crops
* Agricultural Biotechnology Benefits in Thailand
* AgBioForum: Table of Contents


Cheaper, Cleaner Ethanol From Biotech Corn

The genetically-modified plants break down their own cellulose, making it possible to use waste biomass to produce ethanol.

- Kevin Bullis, MIT Technology Review, May 16, 2007


Researchers have genetically engineered transgenic corn plants that produce enzymes that can turn their leaves and stems into sugar by breaking down cellulose. The plants could lower the cost of creating ethanol from these sources, making such biofuel more competitive with that produced from corn kernels, the primary source of ethanol in the United States today.

Cellulosic sources of ethanol, such as waste biomass and switchgrass, are attractive because they are cheap and abundant. But converting cellulose, a complex carbohydrate, into sugars that can be fermented to make ethanol is more expensive than converting the starch in corn grain into sugar: breaking down the cellulose typically requires expensive enzymes extracted from genetically engineered microbes.

Now Mariam Sticklen, professor of crop and soil science at Michigan State University, and her colleagues have genetically engineered corn to produce the same enzyme that the transgenic microbes produce. The plant-grown cellulase could save about 30 to 50 cents per gallon of ethanol produced, Sticklen says.

Key to Sticklen's advance was engineering the corn so that the enzymes would not break down cellulose while the plants were still alive. Part of the solution was to use an enzyme found in bacteria that live in hot springs. The enzyme is only active at high temperatures--higher than those that a plant's cells would reach while it is alive. As a result, the enzyme remains dormant until it is heated to about 50 ºC.

Sticklen's transgenic corn is "one of several promising approaches to address the central obstacle impeding establishment of a cellulosic-biofuels industry: the absence of low-cost technology to overcome the recalcitrance of cellulosic biomass," says Lee Lynd, professor of engineering and biology at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, NH. But he adds that in-plant production of enzymes comes with its own challenges.

One of these challenges, according to James McMillan, a principal group manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, CO, is ensuring that the transgenic plants don't have negative environmental effects. For example, if plant matter containing these enzymes was left in the field, it could change ecosystems by making sugar more readily available to microorganisms.

If the researchers are able to overcome some of these challenges, the biotech corn could lead to more-efficient production of ethanol, starting by making better use of corn kernels. Much of the corn kernel contains cellulose that isn't converted into ethanol in conventional ethanol plants. Some developers are considering adding equipment to existing ethanol plants for processing this corn-grain cellulose. In Sticklen's transgenic corn, this cellulose in the kernel would contain enzymes for converting cellulose into sugar, which could simplify the process.


Scientists vote for GM cotton

- Jodie Thomson, The West Australian, May 16, 2007


Genetically modified cotton would deliver a range of environmental and economic benefits to farmers in WA's Ord River region, according to a new report co-written by the Department of Agriculture.

The report collates a decade of research and will add to growing pressure on the State Government to accept GM cotton rather than maintain its ban until a review of its policy next year.

Its release comes as Australia's chief scientist, Jim Peacock, unleashed a stinging attack on opponents of genetic modification, describing them as "unprincipled minorities" which were spreading false facts and hype.

The NORpak report, due to be launched tomorrow, provides a technical guide to cotton production in WA's north, and is largely the work of the Cotton Catchment Communities CRC, with significant input from the Department of Agriculture and Food and the CSIRO.

CRC chief executive Guy Roth said GM cotton varieties which were less reliant on conventional insecticides and herbicides had opened a window of opportunity previously denied to northern Australia.

The report was expected to provide a comprehensive information source for the Government when it reviewed its moratorium on GM crops, and also to the task force appointed by the Federal Government to look at expansion opportunities for agriculture in the State's north, he said.

Department of Agriculture cotton project manager Geoff Strickland said GM cotton traits such as resistance to insects and to herbicides had revolutionised pest control and weed management for cotton in the north. The introduced traits helped overcome problems associated with insects which contributed to the failure of the Ord cotton industry in the mid-1970s.

He hoped the report would demonstrate what was achievable and add some depth to the debate.

WAFarmers president Trevor De Landgrafft, who has previously called on the State Government to act quickly in reviewing its moratorium on all GM crops, said the report was part of mounting evidence that GM cotton in the north would be a valuable staple crop. "GM cotton is basically ready to go," he said. "The only thing really standing in its way now is the Government's attitude."

Agriculture Minister Kim Chance said the Government had an election commitment to maintain the moratorium on the commercial production of GM crops for the term of Government. He said the Government continued to allow contained laboratory research or small field trials, including recently approved research trials for GM cotton in the Ord at a maximum total area of 100ha.

A discussion paper on GM cotton by the GM Industry Reference Group, was due to be released soon for public comment.

Speaking in Melbourne, Dr Peacock said those circulating misinformation about GM were largely "self-serving organic farmers and illinformed environmental activists".

Dr Peacock - who played a key role in the development of GM cotton while working at the CSIRO - said gene technologies had improved the world's understanding of living things, and "this new knowledge should be put to best possible use".


GM critics ignorant, says chief scientist

Chee Chee Leung, The Age, May 16, 2007


AUSTRALIA'S chief scientist has criticised opponents of genetic modification, describing them as "unprincipled minorities" that were spreading false facts and hype.

Speaking at a conference in Melbourne, Jim Peacock said those circulating misinformation about GM were largely "self-serving organic farmers and ill-informed environmental activists".

His comments were made during a session on biotechnology and food at the Future Summit, where Victoria's chief scientist, Sir Gustav Nossal, said he believed resistance to GM was starting to wane. "The fear I think is gradually and slowly receding," Sir Gustav said after the session. "But I also think this is something that doesn't need to be rushed."

The Sunday Age reported last weekend that the Bracks Government was preparing to end the state's moratorium on commercial planting of GM canola, which expires at the end of next February.

But on Monday, Victorian Agriculture Minister Joe Helper denied that the Government had made up its mind, saying there would be broad consultation before any decision was made on the moratorium.

Dr Peacock, who played an important role in developing GM cotton while working at the CSIRO, told yesterday's conference that gene technology had improved the world's understanding of living things, and "this new knowledge should be put to the best possible use".

"I'm saddened by the delay that has been brought about by what I think are unprincipled minorities." This group was denying Australia the environmental, health and economic benefits of biotechnology.

The Biological Farmers of Australia described Dr Peacock's comments about organic farmers as inappropriate and "a cheap shot". Greenpeace campaigner Louise Sales said the statements were "outrageous", and that those opposed to GM made up a majority of the population, not a minority.

The latest National Technology and Society Monitor, released by Swinburne University and based on a survey of 1000 people, found that a majority were uncomfortable with GM plants and animals for food.

Dr Peacock said that GM foods were unlikely to become part of the regular food supply until consumers could see a real, personal benefit from the products. "It could be convenience, and it could be cheapness, but I think the telling one will be health."

Dr Peacock said that people like himself had "probably failed miserably" in recent years to help the public gain a better understanding of gene technology.

Sir Gustav said the technology's most valuable contribution was "how it helps us to learn". "Even if we never deploy a genetically-modified food organism anywhere in the world, the amount of learning that we are doing through genetic modification in the laboratory is of the most profound importance," he said.


MP farmers stage protests, seek one variety of Bt cotton

- Milind Ghatwai, The Indian Express, May 15, 2007


BHOPAL - Farmers in Madhya Pradesh's cotton belt have given a new dimension to the debate over genetically modified crops by staging street protests demanding supply of Bt cotton seeds of only one variety.

As many as 30 varieties of Bt cotton seeds sold by 13 companies are available in the state but farmers in Khargone and Dhar districts have shown an unusual preference for the RCH-2 variety. So much so that it has become a major law and order problem, forcing the administration to intervene and ration supplies.

Serpentine queues following arrival of fresh stocks and eventual lathicharge have become common features over the last few days in Khargone. Hoarding by some dealers have only made matters worse. Thousands of farmers have taken to the streets for the variety which apparently gives better yield and flowers early.

"We have been promoting other varieties, telling farmers that benefits are almost the same, but they are not ready to listen," Khargone additional district magistrate B L Kulmi told The Indian Express on Monday. Three other varieties sold by the same company have found few takers.

At two lakh hectares, cotton is cultivated over more than half the cultivable land in Khargone, the biggest production centre in the state.

Meanwhile, against the estimated demand of 1.5 lakh packets of RCH-2 variety, the company has been able to supply only 37,000 packets so far. Whenever new stocks arrive, farmers queue up, forcing the administration to intervene. Now the seeds are distributed at the local mandi instead of the distributor outlets.

The seed company is finding it difficult to cope with the sudden demand. "Our seeds have performed well in the last three years as the yield potential is very high," the company's regional business manager Pankaj Bhatnagar said.

The company sold 1.46 lakh packets last year in the entire state and in anticipation increased its supply to 1.66 packets this year. "Even 4 lakh packets would not be sufficient," Bhatnagar said. According to him, several farmers who were using illegal seeds have turned to legal varieties. But what seems to have fuelled the demand is the reduction in prices brought about by court and government intervention.

Sunil, an anti-genetically modified crop activist, said he was surprised by the protests. "Maybe they are sponsored or maybe farmers hassled by failures of other crops are looking for miracles," he said.


There's a new, exciting story on the cotton campus. It's called apomictic hybrid

A scientific breakthrough promises a seed revolution.

- Vivek Deshpande, The Indian Express, May 11, 2007


Nagpur - In what could be an important breakthrough in agro-technology, scientists at the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) have been able to apply apomixis - a technique to develop cotton hybrids that behave virtually as varieties - enabling the farmers to replicate the seeds themselves. It promises an end to the costly hybrid bargain for cotton farmers before every sowing season, and if everything goes well, farmers using other crops will also benefit.

Cotton farmers across the country spend more than Rs 1,000 crore annually on seeds. If and when completed, the apomixis mission will help save the poor farmers this precious money. The Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) has already given a nod to the apomixis project submitted by the CICR under the Technology Mission for Cotton (TMC) and has even released the necessary funds.

"Apomixis has been noticed in some grasses like sugarcane and sorghum, but so far the varieties couldn't be stabilised and so it had no commercial value," says B.M. Khadi, CICR director, who has successfully carried out the apomixis technique on cotton along with L.A. Deshpande, head of CICR's crop improvement department at the CICR.

"Hybridisation involves developing a cross between female and male plants. This needs to be done afresh every year by companies selling hybrids. Now, for the first time, we have been able to apply the apomixis technique to fix heterosys (creation of superior progeny of crops)," says Khadi.

The advantages of having this variety is that it is non-contaminable and non-outcrossable (natural crossing with other varieties), thus maintaining the quality for all future generations of the variety. "What is special about the apomictic hybrid is that all plants are similar to each other, with no segregation being noticed from generation to generation," says Khadi.

The apomixis story actually began at the Cotton Research Station of Marathwada Agriculture University (MAU), Nanded, in the 1990s, where the then cotton specialist Anil Ansingkar crossed three cotton species - G. arboretum (desi) cotton known for jassids and drought resistance, Hirsutum (American) cotton, known for its big bolls, high yield and ginning percentage, and Barbadense (Egyptian) cotton known for its long staple and strength - to come out with a good variety with good economic characters. Ansingkar observed that three plants of the "abnormal trispecies crop" showed apomictic characteristics.

"We were fortunate to have that. We have been working on it for more than three years," says Khadi. "We followed it up by applying it on hybrids and have already fixed heterosys in a few hybrids," he adds.

Khadi also hints at the possibility of introducing it in other crops. "We can sequence the gene responsible for apomixis and then it can be introduced in other crops to develop their apomixis varieties like the way Bt gene can be introduced to create a Bt variety," he says.

Mangala Rai, director general of ICAR, says, "It's a breakthrough with great potential. It will take about 10 years to make it a commercial success, but when you have a commercially valuable apomictic hybrid, it will be a virtual revolution."

C.D. Mayee, former CICR director and now with the Agriculture Research Scientists Recruitment Board, Delhi, also hails it as a potentially great achievement.

"Currently about 70 per cent of cotton is under hybrid cultivation. If you have an apomictic variety with the same vigour (high crop qualities) as the best hybrids, it will hold a great promise for the farmers," he says.

Ansingkar says, "Fixing of heterosys in hybrids is great news. It will prove to be a great boon for farmers once we have commercially ready apomictic hybrids."

What is apomictic hybrid?

+ What we now have are either hybrids or varieties. Hybrids are crosses that need to be reproduced every year to maintain the basic characters such as yield, fibre and quality, as its use next year results in segregation (different plants showing different characteristics). That's why farmers have to buy hybrid seeds afresh every year.

+ Varieties are the natural species, whose seeds the farmers can replicate themselves.

+ Hybrids are made by crossing males and females of parent plants. The first generation hybrids are called F1.

+ It is in this F1 stage of the trispecies cross done at MAU, Nanded, that the CICR scientists have been able to fix heterosys by applying the apomixis technique.

+ The hybrids so produced will behave as F1 variants for all generations without showing any variability like the present hybrids do.

+ This will enable the farmers to reuse the seeds every year or buy them at Rs 50/bag as against Rs 400-Rs 900/bag that they currently pay.


Porous nanoparticles deliver chemicals into plants

- Institute of Physics Publishing, May 15, 2007


Although nanoparticles can be used to deliver DNA, drugs and other molecules into animal cells, this is not so easy to do in plants because of their cell walls, which act as barriers. Now, researchers at Iowa State University in the US have succeeded in overcoming this problem by using silica nanoparticles with a honeycomb shape. The nanoparticles have pores measuring just 3nm across and can transport DNA and chemicals into isolated cells and intact leaves. The breakthrough result could find applications in plant biotechnology and might even be used to improve crops in the future.

Victor Lin and colleagues have shown that the pores of mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) can be used as reservoirs for efficiently encapsulating ?-oestradiol - a chemical trigger for expressing a certain gene in tobacco plants. The researchers used gold nanoparticles to cap the pores of ?-oestradiol-loaded silica nanoparticles, which were then coated with DNA molecules encoding a "marker gene" of green fluorescent protein (GFP). The GFP gene expression is controlled by the presence of ?-oestradiol. MSN uptake by cells MSN uptake by cells

After coating it with DNA, Lin and co-workers fired the MSNs into tobacco plant cells. By using chemicals to uncap the nanopores the scientists found that they could control the release of the MSN-encapsulated ?-oestradiol. "Controlled release of these molecules in plant cells will allow us to study gene functions more effectively," said Lin.

Using the GFP, the Iowa team was able to track the movement of the MSNs as they travelled across the cell walls in the plant. The researchers say the system may also allow them to deliver RNA or small peptides and any molecule that can be encapsulated inside the pores. Moreover, they may be able to deliver imaging agents that could probe the environment of a plant cell when it undergoes development or physiological changes.

Lin told nanotechweb.org that the technique could serve as a new design principle for future generations of smart nanodevices for target-specific delivery of proteins, genes and chemicals in plant cells and tissues. His team will now investigate whether pore size in the MSNs can be enlarged without compromising the overall particle size and shape of these nanomaterials. Bigger pores could allow other biological molecules, such as enzymes and functional polymers, to be encapsulated. The researchers also plan to look at uncapping the MSNs using radiation, magnetic fields, temperature and internal stimuli such as cellular pH and osmotic pressure.

The work was reported in Nature Nanotechnology.


Release trial approved

Peas to combat infectious diseases

- Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (Germany/press release), April 25, 2007


The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has approved a field trial with genetically modified peas in Gatersleben (Saxony-Anhalt) under certain conditions. Thanks to an inserted gene construct, the GM peas produce antibodies against certain infectious diseases.

It is not the first time that GM plants that produce active pharmaceutical substances have been tested on small areas in Germany. Last year there was a field trial near Rostock involving various GM potato lines, one of which contained an active substance that triggers inoculation protection against a rabbit disease triggered by viruses. This strategy - using plants as a production system for vaccines or drugs, is being followed around the world by various research bodies and companies.

Mixing antibiotics with animal feed has been banned in the EU for over a year. They may be used only as animal medicine, but not to promote growth or as a standard prophylaxis against infectious diseases.

The animal feed industry is therefore looking for new ways of protecting animals against infectious diseases. In addition, a number of antibiotic agents have become ineffective because mass use of them has led to the spread of resistant pathogens.

Novoplant, one of the new plant biotech firms that have set up in the area around the IPK (Leibnitz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research) in Gatersleben, is working on a new approach. The aim is to give feed crops the ability to produce antibodies against certain infectious diseases by inserting suitable genes. If these GM plants are mixed with the animal feed, the animals will ingest the antibodies. These take the form of certain surface proteins of the pathogens, thereby preventing them from attaching to the cells of the intestinal wall. The antibodies present in the feed peas have the effect of a 'passive inoculation'. According to Novoplant, this means that they supplement the animals' own immune system. Feed to counter infectious diseases - ready for market by 2010?

Novoplant has developed four different GM pea lines that each produce specific antibodies for a particular infectious disease. According to Novoplant's managing director, Dieter Falkenburg, the first of these new feed additives should be ready for market in 2010.

The furthest advanced are the GM peas for which Novoplant has now applied for deliberate release authorisation. A complex gene construct consisting of several elements has been introduced into the peas so that they produce "single-chain antibodies". These bind to a particular site on the surface of Escherichia coli bacteria , which trigger intestinal infections in pigs. The antibodies are produced only in the seeds and not in the rest of the plant.

The herbicide resistance (bar) gene used as a marker gene in an early phase of the development is no longer present in the GM peas. It was possible to remove the marker gene during selection of the progeny of the parent line because the marker and target genes had been inserted into the pea genome separately. This cotransformation process is one of the new gene transfer methods that has been refined within biological safety research and which make it possible to integrate only the target gene and to remove DNA sequences that are needed only for technical reasons.

The trial in Gatersleben is to investigate whether the GM peas behave in the same way in the open as they have done in greenhouse tests. Among other things, the researchers are interested in the genetic stability of the peas and the antibody yield that can be achieved under field conditions. Novoplant also intends to use the trials to obtain plant material to be used in animal trials. This pea line was tested in field trials in the USA in 2005. No gene bank propagation plots in release year

The approval covers the planting-out of 600 transgenic plants in the 2007 growing season on a site measuring 100 square metres. The BVL is satisfied that the trial will have no harmful effects on humans, animals or the environment. As a precaution, however, it has issued extra safety conditions on top of the measures provided for in the trial application.

Peas are largely self-fertilising and have no relatives in Europe. Outcrossings are unlikely, but cross-pollination by means of insects cannot be entirely ruled out. The GM peas do not produce antibodies in the pollen.

Around 75,000 people signed a petition protesting against the release trial. They feared above all that GM peas might cross into the Gatersleben gene bank populations. A proportion of the many pea samples stored there is propagated each year in the open. The gene bank has years of experience in preventing cross-contamination between the different samples. In addition, the IPK will not cultivate any peas from the gene bank's collection on the institute's fields during the year of the release trial. Any agricultural cultivation of conventional peas must be at least 1000 metres away from the trial plot.

In addition, the trial field must be shielded from small mammals and birds. The GM peas must be harvested by hand and anything not required for further research must be destroyed. In the year following the release, the field is to be examined for emerging pea plants, and any that emerge must be removed.


Mosquito bacteria identified in malaria battle

- Phil Stewart, Reuters Health, May 15, 2007


ROME Scientists in Italy say they have identified a potential weapon against malaria - the bacteria carried by the blood-sucking mosquitoes that spread the disease.

Malaria is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito that infects humans with the malarial parasite. The disease kills at least a million people annually, and most of the victims are young children in sub-Saharan Africa.

With attempts to completely eradicate mosquitoes or create a vaccine so far unsuccessful, the Italian scientists set out to find any bacteria that lived symbiotically inside the pests.

Such bacteria could potentially be genetically altered later to attack the malaria parasite when it reaches the mosquito, said Daniele Daffonchio at the Universita degli Studi di Milano, one of five Italian universities behind the research.

In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on Monday, the team said it identified one candidate -- a bacterium called Asaia, which is found throughout the mosquito's body.

That includes the mosquito's gut and saliva gland as well as its reproductive organs, meaning that the altered bacteria could spread to mosquito offspring.

"Instead of spraying chemical or biological pesticides, you could use this symbiotic bacterium that is passed on," Daffonchio said. "You don't have to spray every year."

Daffonchio said research into modifying bacteria like Asaia was being conducted to battle the deadly Chagas disease.

Chagas, spread by a beetle, can lead to a range of problems from heart disease to digestive tract malfunctions, and kills tens of thousands of people a year in Latin America.

Malaria has become resistant to some drugs, and work on a vaccine has been slow.

Malaria also is intertwined with the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Recent research showed that people with malaria are more likely to transmit to sex partners the virus that causes AIDS.


Ecological Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops: Ten Years of Field Research and Commercial Cultivation

- Olivier Sanvido, Jörg Romeis, Franz Bigler, Adv Biochem Engin/Biotechnol (2007) 107: 235-278 DOI 10.1007/10_2007_048, Published online: March 31, 2007

Abstract The worldwide commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops has raised concerns about potential adverse effects on the environment resulting from the use of these crops. Consequently, the risks of GM crops for the environment, and especially for biodiversity, have been extensively assessed before and during their commercial cultivation. Substantial scientific data on the environmental effects of the currently commercialized GM crops are available today. We have reviewed this scientific knowledge derived from the past 10 years of worldwide experimental field research and commercial cultivation. The review focuses on the currently commercially available GM crops that could be relevant for agriculture in Western and Central Europe (i.e., maize, oilseed rape, and soybean), and on the two main GM traits that are currently commercialized, herbicide tolerance (HT) and insect resistance (IR). The sources of information included peer-reviewed scientific journals, scientific books, reports from regions with extensive GM crop cultivation, as well as reports from international governmental organizations. The data available so far provide no scientific evidence that the cultivation of the presently commercialized GM crops has caused environmental harm. Nevertheless, a number of issues related to the interpretation of scientific data on effects of GM crops on the environment are debated controversially. The present review highlights these scientific debates and discusses the effects of GM crop cultivation on the environment considering the impacts caused by cultivation practices of modern agricultural systems.


Conclusions The risks of GM crops for the environment, and especially for biodiversity, have been extensively assessed worldwide over the past 10 years of commercial cultivation of GM crops. Consequently, substantial scientific data on environmental effects of the currently commercialized GM crops are available today, and will further be obtained given that several research programmes are underway in a number of countries. The data available so far provide no scientific evidence that the commercial cultivation of GM crops has caused environmental impacts beyond the impacts that have been caused by conventional agricultural management practices. Nevertheless, a number of issues related to the interpretation of scientific data on effects of GM crops on the environment are debated controversially. To a certain extent, this is due to the inherent fact that scientific data are always characterized by uncertainties, and that predictions on potential long-term or cumulative effects are difficult. Uncertainties can either be related to the circumstance that there is not yet a sufficient data basis provided for an assessment of consequences (the "unknown"), or to the fact that the questions to solve are out of reach for scientific methods (the "unknowable"). There is thus a need to develop scientific criteria for the evaluation of effects of GM crops on the environment in order to assist regulatory authorities when deciding whether environmental effects of GM crops are considered to represent a relevant environmental impact.

Agricultural production systems are complex and diverse. As with the adoption of any new technology, the use of agricultural biotechnology might include positive and possibly less favorable environmental impacts. GM croping systems can help to reduce some environmental impacts associated with conventional agriculture, but they will also introduce new challenges that must be addressed. When discussing the risks of GM crops, one has to recognize that the real choice for farmers and consumers is not between a GM technology that may have risks and a completely safe alternative. The real choice is between GM crops and current conventional pest and weed management practices, all possibly having positive and negative outcomes. To ensure that a policy is truly precautionary, one should therefore compare the risk of adopting a technology against the risk of not adopting it [172]. We thus believe that both benefits and risks of GM crop systems should be compared with those of current agricultural practices.


The Study of Agricultural Biotechnology Benefits in Thailand

Executive Summary

- Biotechnology Alliance Association (BAA), March 2007



5.1 The Potential Economic Benefits of Bt Cotton and GM Papaya in Thailand

The first generation of agricultural biotechnology benefits small farmers through improving yields and reducing costs. Biotechnology, particularly gene manipulation, is an alternative to conventional breeding that improves plant characteristics; productivity is increased and inputs are decreased. When conventional breeding techniques fall short, genetic engineering is the only solution for integrating desired characteristics into plants. Bt cotton and PRSV-resistant transgenic papaya are used as case studies in this analysis since they are major economic crops in Thailand and the genetically modified versions of these crops are already available for adoption (after passing the regulatory process). A summary from the Study of the Center for Applied Economic Research of Kasetsart University in July 2000 on the benefits of growing GM Bt cotton in Thailand indicated three measurable monetary impacts as follows:

+ Benefits to the Farmer: The direct benefits to farmers include an increase in yield and a savings in bollworm insecticide spraying. Even though insecticides are still being used for other insects, a savings in bollworm insecticide significantly reduces total cost of spraying. In all cases of Bt cotton production, net profits are greater than those of Sri Samrong 60. Even in the first case where yield of Bt cotton is assumed to be equal to that of Sri Samrong 60, savings in spraying cost is large enough to compensate for seed cost. In the second and the third case, Bt cotton shows much higher benefits to farmers when yields are assumed to be significantly improved (a reasonable assumption based on field trial of Nucotton 33 B).

+ Foreign Exchange Savings: Thailand is a net importer of cotton, so increased cotton production would reduce foreign imports. The amount of foreign exchange savings depends on planted area, yield, and imported price - which are almost the same as the domestic price.

+ Employment Creation: The ginning business would benefit by the creation of new jobs. In turn, income generated from these jobs would increase the national income as a whole. Papaya is an important food crop for Thai people. It has limited export value currently, but is extensively used locally for green papaya salad. In 1975 the first outbreak of "Papaya ring spot virus" (PRSV) occurred. By 2003 the disease had spread throughout the country (USDA Report, 2005), and approximately 80% of planting areas were infected with the virus causing yield reductions of 50%. There are no effective means of controlling the virus except by employing genetic engineering tools. Genetically modified varieties show 90- 100 % resistance to PRSV. Based on field test results at the Department of Agriculture's field station, it is estimated that GM, PRSV-resistant papaya produces a 20-fold yield increase over non-GM varieties. If GM virus resistant papaya is adopted, farmers stand to profit 22- fold.

5.2 This Study - Socio-economic Conclusions

This Study reported preliminary estimates for two important crops; Bt cotton and GM papaya. Both have been severely affected by pest problems in the past 15 years. The cotton industry has nearly disappeared in Thailand, greatly due to difficulty in controlling cotton bollworm. Similarly, papaya production has fallen to less than one-third of its former peak. GM crops provide major benefits around the world, and hold great promise for Thailand once biosafety protocols are finalized. If Thailand returns the cotton and papaya industries to levels of a decade ago, and if GM crops are as successful here as elsewhere, Thailand stands to reap significant benefits. Based on our analysis:

+ Bt Cotton; Resistant to Bollworm Insect and Leaf Roll Virus Disease:

- Improves yield by 55%

- Saves 50% pesticide cost or 18% of production cost

- Increases seed cost by 9% of total production cost

- Takes 3-years for adoption, and an additional 10-years to reach 80% adoption

- If cotton production area remains at current level of 11,200 ha (70,000 rai), Thailand would benefit by US$11.5 million (Baht 400 million)

- If cotton production area returns to peak level as during the 1990's, at 68,400 ha (427,500 rai), Thailand would benefit by US$43 million (Baht 1.5 billion)

+ Khaek Dum Papaya; Resistant to Ring Spot Virus:

- Improves yield by 471%

- No perceptible cost benefit

- Takes 3-years for adoption, and an additional 10-years to reach 80% adoption

- If papaya production area remains at current level of 17,862 ha (111,638 rai), Thailand would benefit by US$680 million (Baht 24 billion)

- If papaya production area returns to peak level as between 1997-2001, at 26,103 ha (163,142 rai), Thailand would benefit by US$880 million (Baht 30 billion)


Table of Contents

AgBioForum, Volume 10, No. 1, 2007


The Net Gain to Cotton Farmers of a Natural Refuge Plan for Bollgard® Cotton N.E. Piggott & M.C. Marra

The Long-Run Impact of Corn-Based Ethanol on the Grain, Oilseed, and Livestock Sectors with Implications for Biotech Crops. A. Elobeid, S. Tokgoz, D.J. Hayes, B.A. Babcock, & C.E. Hart

The Cost of Product Development of Bt Corn Event MON810 in the Philippines A.J. Manalo & G.P. Ramon

Insect Resistance Management Plans: The Farmers' Perspective C. Alexander

Inequality and GM Crops: A Case-Study of Bt Cotton in India S. Morse, R. Bennett, & Y. Ismael

A Review of International Labeling Policies of Genetically Modified Food to Evaluate India's Proposed Rule G.P. Gruère & S.R. Rao


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