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June 12, 2007


Profiling GM crops; Cholera vaccine in rice; Warning over organic chicken


* Better profiling for GM crops
* Cholera vaccine in GM rice
* Government investments in agri-biotech
* EU Split Over GM Approvals
* Training in Managing GMOs
* Warning over organic chicken
* Taking Action for the World's Poor and Hungry
* Call for Session Proposals


Scientists propose better profiling for GM crops

- Stephen Daniells, NutraIngredients, June 11, 2007


A new technique could result in better nutritional and safety profiles for the coming generation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Spanish scientists have reported.

The invention, published in the American Chemical Society's journal Analytical Chemistry, analyses the potential changes in the composition of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) in transgenic crops.

The new technique should be welcomed by both industry and consumers alike, particularly in the GM-sceptic European Union, since it has the potential to improve the nutritional and safety profiling of the crops and show how transgenic organisms may match or differ from their conventional counterparts

Focusing on the chemical structure of the amino acids, lead author Miguel Herrero and co-workers from Spain's Institute of Industrial Fermentations (CSIC) in Madrid used the technique to measure the presence of "L" or "D" forms of the amino acid, which may affect nutritional quality and digestibility.

The L/D system is a way of explaining the spatial configuration of amino acids. The compounds are non-superimposable mirror images of each other; in the same way as one's left hand is the same but opposite of one's right hand. Each form has different properties, with D-amino acids, for example, appeared to be involved with ageing and disease in humans.

"The analysis of chiral amino acids in transgenic foods demonstrated for the first time in the present work, apart from having interesting nutritional and safety implications, can be used as an additional indicator for assessing the existence (or not) of unexpected modifications in other metabolic pathways linked to the amino acids profile within a GMO," wrote the researchers.

The researchers combined micellar electrokinetic chromatography (MEKC) with a chiral selector and laser-induced fluorescence (LIF) to investigate the prevalence of L- and D-amino acids in conventional and transgenic (Bt) maize varieties.

Herrero and co-workers report that the technique was able to separate the amino acids in less than 25 min, and found that the conventional maize varieties showed different profiles for the L- and D-amino acids, said to reflect the variability expected from nature.

Comparison with the corresponding transgenic varieties and found no significant difference in the amino-acid profiles.

"This result seems to indicate that, in these maize samples, the new inserted Cry1Ab transgene has not modified any metabolic pathway linked to the detected amino acids, which seems to add a further proof about the safety equivalence of these samples," said the researchers.

"From our results, it can be concluded that the use of enantioselective procedures can open new perspectives in the study of the chemical composition, unexpected modifications, or both of GMOs," they concluded.

Source: Analytical Chemistry Published on-line ahead of print, ASAP Article 10.1021/ac070454f S0003-2700(07)00454-4 "Analysis of Chiral Amino Acids in Conventional and Transgenic Maize" Authors: M. Herrero, E. Ibanez, P.J. Martin-lvarez, and A. Cifuentes


Cholera vaccine delivered in GM rice

- Reuters via ABC Science Online (Australia), June 12, 2007


A new rice-based vaccine could give developing nations a cheap and effective treatment against the killer disease cholera, Japanese researchers say.

Unlike conventional cholera shots, which have to be refrigerated right up to the point of delivery, the genetically modified rice vaccine has a shelf life of several years at room temperature.

That would make the experimental treatment not only cheaper but much easier to distribute in cholera hot spots like Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia.

Dr Tomonori Nochi at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Medical Science and colleagues publish their research online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers inserted a gene from cholera bacteria, Vibrio cholerae, into the genome of the Kitaake rice plant.

The gene expressed a subunit of the disease-causing cholera toxin B, about 30 micrograms of which accumulated in each rice seed.

Mice then ate the transgenic rice in the form of powder, absorbing the cholera toxin B antigen.

This caused their immune system to release very specific antibodies that were capable of neutralising the cholera toxin.

The rice-based vaccine was also resistant to digestion by gastric juices in the stomach and remained active even after long-term storage at room temperature.

"Rice-based mucosal vaccines offer a highly practical and cost-effective strategy for orally vaccinating large populations against mucosal infections, including those that may result from an act of bioterrorism," the authors conclude.

Spreading cholera

Cholera bacteria, which are typically spread through contaminated food and water, cause acute diarrhoea that can lead to dehydration and shock.

If not treated with oral rehydration salts, the infection can be fatal.

Modern sewage and water treatment systems mean the disease is no longer a problem in the developed world, but it still claims lives in poorer nations, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

"When cholera occurs in an unprepared community, case-fatality rates may be as high as 50%, usually because there are no facilities for treatment, or because treatment is given too late," WHO says.


Government aims at Rs1,000 crore investments in agri-biotech sector

- Domain-b.com, June 11, 2007


Mumbai: The government has envisaged Rs1,000 crore investment for the development of agri-biotech sector through public-private partnership, a top official of the country's premier agricultural institute said.

"The plan, however, is in its conceptual stages," S A Patil, director, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, said at the annual biotechnology fair in Bangalore.

Like industrial and medical biotechnology, development of agri-biotech also would involve huge investments. This can be better achieved through private-public partnership, he said after inaugurating the agri-biotech day at BIO 2007.

"All the related ministries, including information technology, biotechnology, irrigation and rural development have to get involved for development of agri-biotech, where agricultural products are linked to need," he said.

He said a second green revolution was being contemplated through development of dry land farming technology.

"Karnataka is better as far as dry land development is concerned since watershed programmes are being taken up on a very large-scale here," he said, adding, "it can be really successful with participation of farmers."

Patil also said organic farming would play a major role in Karnataka's agri-biotech sector as it would bring down prices of agricultural products.

Biotechnology research and related business ventures, Patil said, have failed to match India's growth in other sectors, resulting in a steady fall in agricultural production since its peak during the 1970s and 1980s.

Patil, former vice-chancellor of the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad, recalled that the UAS was the first to have a centre dedicated to bio-agricultural research, which resulted in the first transgenic cotton variety being introduced in India. The IARI was also involved in these efforts.

"The new cotton breed has yielded up to 270 lakh bales of cotton within a year, though cultivated on less land overall. India will soon be the second largest cotton grower in the world. The IARI is now engaged in negotiations with Indian and overseas companies for seeds developed by it and collaborative research with Cornel University in the US," Patil said.

He suggested the setting up of a venture capital fund that couldsend this article to a friend provide capital for small firms engaged in bio-agricultural research, and earn back the funding through royalties. Only such efforts could bridge the increasing gap between the growth in population and total crop production, he said.


EU Split Over Approvals Of Two GMO Maize Types

- Reuters via Truth About Trade, June 12, 2007


Brussels - EU biotech experts failed on Friday to agree on approving two genetically modified (GMO) maize varieties, sending the applications to national ministers for further consideration, the European Commission said. The applications, both of which are for modified maize hybrids, do not relate to cultivation. The two maize types are designed to resist certain field pests -- such as the European corn borer and corn rootworm -- and also certain herbicides.

The first maize hybrid, submitted for EU approval by U.S. biotech company Monsanto, is known as MON810/NK603.

The second GMO maize, a hybrid known as 1507/NK603, is made jointly by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont Co., and Dow AgroSciences unit Mycogen Seeds.

Pioneer and Mycogen also submitted an application for a third GMO, a maize known commercially as Herculex RW and also by the code number 59122. There was no vote on Herculex RW.

If EU ministers cannot agree, the European Commission -- the EU's executive arm -- usually issues its own approval, valid for 10 years, under a legal default process.

For many years, EU countries have been unable to secure the majority needed to vote through a new GMO approval. They last agreed to authorise a new GMO product in 1998.


Training Vital in Managing GMOs

- Sifelani Tsiko, The Herald (Harare), June 11, 2007


A TRAINING workshop on Biosafety Clearing House that was held recently by the Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe represented a significant step in scaling up efforts to safely manage genetically modified organisms and to fulfil Zimbabwe's obligations under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Scientists, policy makers, regulators and researchers participated at the training workshop held in Harare from June 5-7.

BAZ registrar and acting chief executive officer Abisai Mafa said the purpose of the training was to provide training on how to search and input information into the Biosafety Clearing House databases.

The workshop also intended to provide information on the management of biotechnology in Zimbabwe -- providing information on risk assessment and risk management.

"This information is vital for the responsible and safe use of biotechnology and it also helps countries in making import and export decisions on food, feed and seed," he said.

"On the website, information from other countries can be searched to help in the processing of imports and exports requests of food, feed and seed."

Last year, Zimbabwe hosted the Sadc regional training course on GMO testing as part of regional efforts to adopt practical measures to safeguard human health and biological diversity.

Dr David Hafashimana, the UNEP/GEF regional advisor on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, who conducted the training, said BCH is an information exchange mechanism established by the Protocol to assist Parties to implement its provisions and to facilitate sharing of information on, and experience with, living modified organisms (LMOs).

He said the BCH is essential for the successful implementation of the Protocol.

"I'm here to assist. Most developing countries lack the capacity to manage and fulfil their obligations under the CPB," Dr Hafashimana said. "Lack of capacity is a big challenge for developing countries. They have requested assistance from the UNEP/GEF for training."

BCH assists Parties and other stakeholders in different ways in the implementation of the Protocol.

For example, experts say, it provides a "one-stop shop" where users can readily access or contribute relevant biosafety-related information.

They say this would assist governments make informed decisions regarding the importation or release of LMOs. Information on the BCH is owned and updated by the users to ensure its timeliness and accuracy.

After several years of negotiations, the CPB to the Convention on Biological Diversity was finalised and adopted at an extraordinary meeting of the Conference of Parties in Montreal in January 2000.

The conclusion of the Protocol provides an international regulatory framework to reconcile the needs of trade and environmental protection with respect to the rapidly growing biotechnology industry.

The Protocol creates an enabling environment for the environmentally sound application of biotechnology -- making it possible to derive maximum benefit from the potential that biotechnology has to offer while minimising the possible risks to the environment and to human health.

The establishment of the BCH is provided for under Article 20, paragraph 1, of the Biosafety Protocol as part of the clearing-house mechanism of the Convention on Biological Diversity to:

l Facilitate the exchange of scientific, technical, environmental and legal information on, and experience with, living modified organisms; and

l Assist Parties to implement the Protocol, taking into account the special needs of developing country Parties, in particular the least developed and small island developing States among them, and countries with economies in transition as well as countries that are centres of origin and centres of genetic diversity.

GMO products and seed are fast spreading to most Sadc countries that lack the technological capacity to screen and detect GMOs, a new study revealed.

A GMO Spread Survey report done by the Biotechnology Trust of Zimbabwe in collaboration with the Community Technology Development Trust and other research institutes said GMOs are spreading rapidly in Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Suspected GMO products in the five countries included maize, cotton, bananas, potatoes, poultry products and vegetables.

The major concern cited in all the countries under the study was human health and safety, followed by fear of contamination of indigenous resources by GMOs.

Most African countries still have reservations about GMO foods and seed and only a few countries allow them legally despite lacking the capacity to prevent their spread.

South Africa has embraced GMOs and as the region's strongest economy, scientists say, it could be the portal for their entry into the continent -- no matter what individual nations may do, industry watchers and activists say.

Dr Hafashimana said despite the numerous challenges facing most African countries, progress was being made in terms of managing and raising awareness about GMOs.

"There is some progress at the regional level. The African Union model on biosafety was adopted in 2001. There are new programmes that are targeting promoting and raising awareness on bio-safety issues in Africa," he said.

"We are also mobilising African countries in terms of capacity building, preparedness for negotiations at international level and the sensitisation of law-makers and policy makers about bio-safety.

"We are not yet there but we are moving in the right direction. When we train trainers, the information will eventually trickle down to the grassroots," Dr Hafashimana said.

Other participants at the workshop said training is critical to enable African countries to play their part in managing GMOs rather than leaving everything to powerful countries.

"It's important for us to have African trainers who understand our own situation and who don't bring any biases," said Priscilla Mazambani, a senior technical officer at the Biotechnology Authority of Zimbabwe.

Dr Dahlia Garwe of the Tobacco Research Board said the training was worthwhile and helped local scientists to fully understand the Protocol before they apply it.

"It has forced me to think more and to read more about the Cartagena Protocol," she said. "Its application is very important. I've working knowledge but I needed deeper understanding of how Biosafety Clearing Houses operate.

"The BCH is extremely important for our day-to-day operations. It is long overdue."

Lack of technological capacity, shortage of equipment and manpower at border posts, lack of knowledge on the possible effects on environment and biosafety, pollen drift and porous borders are some of the major challenges facing African countries when it comes to tracking and putting safety mechanisms to manage GMOs.

Step by step, Africa will eventually build its own mechanisms for safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology to minimise adverse effects on the environment and biological diversity.

But for now, more work still needs to be done.


Warning over organic chicken

- ITV News (UK), June 11, 2007


More organic chickens sold by the "big four" supermarkets contain a food poisoning bug then factory farmed poultry, according to a television investigation.

When scientists tested 46 organic birds from Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons they found 41 (89 per cent) contained the most common bacteria that causes food poisoning, campylobacter.

This compares to the 70 per cent of factory farmed chickens that Government tests showed to carry the bug, found the programme Tonight With Trevor McDonald.

The series also analysed the birds for the antibiotic-resistant 'superbug' form of campylobacter and found 26 per cent tested positive.

Professor Martin Blaser, head of medicine at New York Medical school and an expert on the bacteria, told the programme: "I think it's important to educate the public that organic chicken is not free of bacteria and it's not free of campylobacter and it has to be prepared in exactly the same safe ways that non organic chicken is."

The programme will also broadcast covert footage filmed by an animal welfare organisation at a farm that supplies organic chickens to Asda.

The images are said to show two week old birds that are attacked and eaten alive by vermin and others with "hock burns" on their legs caused by ammonia from chicken waste.

Asda, in a statement sent to the programme makers, said: "We insist that all of our suppliers adhere to the strictest health, safety and food hygiene standards, and that is why we take allegations made against any of our suppliers extremely seriously."


Taking Action for the World's Poor and Hungry People


A "2020 Conference" on Taking Action for the World's Poor and Hungry People will take place October 17-19, 2007 in Beijing, China. The conference is being organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Chinese State Council Leading Group Office on Poverty Alleviation and Development. The conference will look at what steps are needed to improve the welfare of the world's poorest and hungry people, based on the best available research and experience.

"Critical questions" to be addressed include: 1) Who are the poorest of the poor and those most afflicted by hunger? 2) What are the key pathways out of extreme poverty and hunger? 3) Which strategies, policies, and interventions have been successful in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger so far? and 4) How can existing actions to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger be accelerated or scaled up, and how can innovative solutions be designed and implemented for and with the poorest and hungry?


BIO Issues Call for Session Proposals for 2008 BIO International Convention

- Press release, June 11, 2007


WASHINGTON--The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) invites leaders in science, finance, business, law, and government policy to submit proposals for breakout sessions at the 2008 BIO International Convention to be held June 17-20 at the San Diego Convention Center. The day pattern will change from previous years to Tuesday-Friday.

The BIO International Convention continues to be the number one resource for the latest information and the newest opportunities for executives, investors, scientists, policy leaders, and journalists from around the world. Speakers at the sessions will share breakthroughs in medicine, diagnostics, the environment, energy production, food and agriculture, and more with a global audience of an estimated 24,000 attendees.

The convention will feature more than 200 breakout sessions in 21 educational session tracks, including biodefense; bioethics; clinical research/clinical trials; devices and diagnostics; drug discovery and development; emerging company issues; finance; food and agriculture; industrial and environmental; intellectual property/legal; manufacturing; nanotechnology; technology transfer/licensing and other key business areas for doing biotech business globally.

The most popular educational tracks from the 2007 BIO International Convention included business development, clinical research, devices and predictive diagnostics and technology transfer. Super Sessions, Biotech Entrepreneurship Boot Camp and the Translational Research Forum all drew significant attendance.

Applications for educational sessions will only be accepted online, at http://www.bio2008.org/Attendees/program.html. The online application process closes on Friday, September 7th at 5:00 pm EDT.

All proposals will be reviewed by BIO staff, the standing BIO Program Committee and a local Program Committee composed of biotechnology professionals. Applicants will be notified of the status of their session proposal beginning early November 2007.

The 2007 BIO International Convention drew a record 22,366 attendees, a nearly 15 percent increase from the previous year, with representatives from 48 states and one-third of attendees from outside the United States.


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