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June 19, 2007


CzechRep to grow GM flax; A Six-Inch Tall Tree; Scientists engineering mosquito


* CzechRep to grow GM flax
* A Six-Inch Tall Tree
* Scientists engineering mosquito
* GM crops' record shows safety
* In the wake of the Double Helix


CzechRep to grow GM flax

- Prague Daily Monitor, June 19, 2007


Prague - Flax will be another genetically modified crop to be grown in the Czech Republic after maize and potatoes, the Internet server Aktualne.cz reported on Sunday.

The Environment Ministry gave its consent to the seeding of genetically modified flax, which should be much more resistant to pests and fungi, for trial growing. The permit for Czech company Agritec is valid for ten years.

The flax will be grown in the village of Vikyrovice, northern Moravia, on an area of a maximum of 300 square metres a year under conditions set by the ministry.

"Growing genetically modified flax is virtually riskless, there is no danger of a leak of flax into the environment," the company said in its application, the server wrote.

The experiments with more resistant genetically modified flax come at a time when farmers growing the commodity are reducing areas under flax considerably, Aktualne.cz said. Flax production in the Czech Republic is being liquidated by cheap imports from Asia.

The European Union in 2004 formally lifted the moratorium of 1998 on allowing new genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but governments in individual countries take different approaches to GMOs. A ban is applied by Austria, Greece and Poland, while Great Britain, Finland and the Netherlands, for instance, are almost always in favour of new products.

Surveys have revealed that a large part of Europeans reject GMOs despite the fact that scientific tests and European inspection bodies describe them as safe both for health and the environment.


A Six-Inch Tall Tree: Researchers Demonstrate Way to Control Height

- Oregon State University (press release), June 18, 2007


CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Forest scientists at Oregon State University have used genetic modification to successfully manipulate the growth in height of trees, showing that it's possible to create miniature trees that look similar to normal trees - but after several years of growth may range anywhere from 50 feet tall to a few inches.

This is a "proof of concept" that tree height can be readily controlled by genetic engineering techniques. It opens the door to a wide variety of new products for the ornamental and nursery industries, experts say, if regulatory hurdles can be overcome - a big "if."

The findings were recently published in the journal Landscape Plant News.

"From a science perspective, this is a very interesting accomplishment and there's no doubt it could be made to work," said Steven Strauss, a professor of forest science at OSU.

"But further development may be precluded by social, legal and regulatory obstacles," he said. "Clearly there would be concerns whether the market for specialty tree products such as this would be strong enough to make it worth the large investments of time, money and testing that current regulation of genetically modified organisms would require, at least in the U.S."

That aside, he said, it appears that with further research and development programs, it would indeed be possible to create an elm tree - which ordinarily would grow to 100 feet or more - that is only five feet tall at maturity, a charming addition that would fit nicely on a backyard deck. Or a 30-foot version that might be a better fit on urban streets. Or, in fact, just about any height in between. Other changes can also affect foliage shapes or color in very attractive ways, and some might have value in cleaning up environmental pollution.

In their studies, OSU scientists were able to create young poplar trees, which grow rapidly and can reach a mature height of 150 feet or more, that were anywhere from about 15 feet to a few inches tall after two years of growth. The smallest of them could be difficult to even find, tiny little "shrublets" among the flowers in the field site.

The manipulation of height growth was achieved by insertion of certain genes, mostly taken from the model plant Arabidopsis, which inhibited the action of a class of plant-specific hormones known as gibberellic acids. These compounds are also used as sprays to control the size and fruiting of orchard trees. In trees, the compounds promote the elongation of plant cells - when they are inhibited, the cells do not fully elongate, and plants remain short and stocky.

"It's really interesting that these genes from Arabidopsis, which is a small plant in the mustard family, have been conserved through 50-100 million years of evolution and can perform more or less the same function in poplar trees," Strauss said. "The modified trees themselves look pretty much normal, just a lot smaller, and a little more compact or bushy."

Altogether, the researchers used seven distinct kinds of genes and more than 160 different types of genetic insertions to create about 600 genetically modified trees. All caused decreased signaling by gibberellic acids. They were grown in the field with USDA approval, and assessed several times for variation in size and appearance.

Other than reduced size, there appeared to be striking variation in foliage color and leaf shape, some of which might have significant ornamental value. Root development also appeared to be very strong, which might provide increased stress tolerance and have value where extensive root development is needed, such as in bioremediation of polluted soils or in very windy, limited soil moisture situations.

From an environmental viewpoint, the researchers said, dwarfed trees such as this are unlikely to be any kind of threat to spread, because they would compete very poorly with normal or wild trees. In virtually all tree species, low height is a disadvantage as trees compete for sunshine. Another possible value, from that perspective, is that this trait might be used to help control the spread of exotic and potentially invasive trees that are commonly sold by nurseries.

The initial studies were done with poplar, Strauss said. Similar results should be possible in any tree species, but are limited by the lack of research into gene transfer methods for most ornamental and forest trees. However, usable methods are already available for sweet gum, elm, black locust and pines. The current successful modification with poplar could be just "the tip of the iceberg," the researchers said in their report.

Dwarf trees and crop plants created with traditional cross-breeding or horticultural techniques are already widely used in fruit trees, the ornamental tree industry and agriculture.

The advances for cereals have been part of the "Green Revolution," in which plants such as rice or wheat were created that directed less energy to height growth and more to development of stout stems and plentiful seed. In orchards, semi-dwarf fruit trees produce more fruit that is easier to harvest. The improvements in cereal yields have been credited with preventing the starvation of millions.

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Images: http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/photos/treeheight.jpg
All of these genetically modified trees are from the same poplar variety, were planted at the same time, and are two years old - but clearly are growing to very different heights, shapes and colors. Researchers at Oregon State University have demonstrated that gene modification can be used to control the height and other characteristics of trees. Cathleen Ma, a senior research assistant in the Department of Forest Science at OSU, did these gene transfers and is monitoring the trees in field experiments.


Scientists engineering mosquito to fight malaria

- Christine Afandi, IPPMedia (East Africa), June 19, 2007


A new study shows that genetically modified insects have a higher survival rate and lay more eggs and as such scientists have created a mosquito that is resistant to malaria parasites, renewing hopes of conquering the world?s leading killer disease.

The study on the genes appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

According to the journal equal numbers of genetically modified and ordinary `wild-type` mosquitoes were allowed to feed on malaria infected mice in the laboratory.

The genetically modified (GM) mosquito has a gene that prevents infection by the malaria parasite, which leads to 16 to 18 million malaria cases and results into over 100,000 deaths every year in Tanzania.

Among pregnant women, malaria is responsible for 25 per cent of all maternal deaths. According to statistics obtained from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Tanzania loses 3.4 per cent of its GDP estimated at USD 350 million (over 400bn/-) as direct and indirect costs of malaria.

Thus the American scientists will be able to save many people in Africa who are ever suffering due to malaria if their experiment proves beyond doubt that it is safe and efficient in the long run.

It will activate efforts by scientists and governments to control the tropical ailment, which accounts for 60 per cent of deaths among children below the age of five years.

In Africa malaria kills one child every 30 seconds. Scientists will introduce the GM insects into wild populations and hope they will take over due to their ability to survive better than the disease-carrying strains in malaria endemic areas.

During the reproductive stage more of the GM or transgenic mosquitoes (created as a result of gene manipulations) survived, as compared to the disease-carrying strains.

``After nine generations, 70 per cent of the insects belonged to the malaria-resistant strains,``the journal said.

The gene for green fluorescent protein (GFP) was inserted by scientists into the transgenic mosquitoes, which made their eyes glow green. This helped the researchers to easily count the transgenic and non-transgenic insects.

``To our knowledge, no one has previously reported a demonstration that transgenic mosquitoes can exhibit a fitness advantage over non-transgenic,`` Dr. Mauro Marrelli and his colleagues from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland say in the journal.

The study showed that modified mosquitoes had a higher survival rate and laid more eggs.

When both sets of insects were fed non-infected blood they competed equally well said Dr. Marrelli.

The scientists noted that for the study to have major impact on the world, resistant mosquitoes had to survive better than non-resistant ones, even when not exposed to the malaria bug.

The researchers however said, ``The results have important implications for implementation of malaria control by means of genetic modification of mosquitoes.``

The scientists add that GM mosquitoes would interfere with the development of the malaria parasite, making it difficult for the organism to become re-established after it had been eradicated from a target area.

Plasmodium falciparum and plasmodium vivax which are single celled parasites are known to spread malaria which is endemic in Africa, South and Central America and parts of Asia.

The organism is passed to humans through the bite of the female anopheles mosquito. Every year, more than 300 million people fall ill with some succumbing to the disease due to lack of effective treatment.

More than 90 per cent of the cases are in sub-Saharan Africa. In recent times, the world has been in a catch-22 situation as the disease continues to become resistant to available drugs, while research on a vaccine moves at a snail's pace.

Tanzania has not been spared either. Resistance to readily available sulphur based drugs forced the government to abandon common malaria medicines for Artemisinin Combination Therapy (ACT), which is currently recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

So far, 20 countries, seven of them in Africa, - have updated their malaria treatment, following increased drug resistance. Coartem, which has been adopted by many countries in Africa, was developed by Ciba and Sandoz laboratories in 1996.

The change in the first-line drugs will help countries like Tanzania, recently identified as a hot-spot for malaria, fight the disease.

It has also been established that when people with HIV/Aids contract malaria there is a surge in HIV in the blood making them more likely to infect their partners.

When HIV positive people are attacked by malaria, their immune system weakens significantly, creating the right environment for HIV to replicate.

Climate change and poor land use has also contributed significantly to the rise in malaria cases, these include swamp reclamation and deforestation.

Global warming has led to a rise in mosquito populations especially in the tropics and the rate at which the insects bite humans.

The severity of the disease has forced some scientists in Tanzania to push for re-introduction of DDT, which was banned in 1988 fro its adverse effects on the environment and animal health.

Recently, the US announced a five year USD 1.2 billion programme to halve malaria-related deaths in 15 hard-hit countries. Already Uganda, Tanzania, Angola, Malawi, Senegal and Rwanda have started to benefit from the initiative.

Those expected to be included in the programme next year are Liberia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Kenya, Ghana and Benin.

President George W Bush said the US took the initiative since malaria inflicted a financial cost of USD 1.2 billion a year on sub-Saharan Africa.

The director of the UN Millennium Project, Prof Jeffrey Sachs says that giving peasant farmers in malaria prone areas high yield seeds, fertilizer and mosquito nets to prevent malaria infection and poverty would help spur economic growth.


GM crops' record shows safety

- Robert Wager, Times Colonist (Victoria, Canada), June 18, 2007


Re: "Activists sound alarm over sterile zombie seeds," June 13.

The ETC Group has long claimed biotechnology represents a threat to the public.

The problem is that exactly none of its dire predictions about biotechnology in general and genetically modified (GM) food specifically have come true.

The world is rapidly incorporating GM crops into agriculture systems and those who continue to push unsubstantiated fear are being ignored.

Currently more than one million farmers grow 200 million acres of GM crops. In the last 10 years more than a trillion meals containing GM ingredients have generated zero documented health problems.

GM crops are certainly not the bogeyman some would have us believe.


In the wake of the Double Helix: from the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution

- R. Tuberosa, University of Bologna, Italy; R.L. Phillips, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA; M. Gale, John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK, editors. 784 pages, September 2005, ISBN 88-86817-48-7


The year 2003 marked the 50th anniversary of the paper in Nature by Watson and Crick describing the structure of DNA. This anniversary was thus an appropriate occasion to organize a Congress to debate the main achievements and shortcomings of the Green Revolution and the Gene Revolution, both of which were sparked by applications derived from a sound knowledge of the principles that govern the structure and function of DNA and genes. The objective of the Congress was to bring together the "architects" of the Green Revolution and many of those who have spearheaded and shaped the impending Gene Revolution in agriculture.

We were honoured by the participation of N. Borlaug, M.S. Swaminathan, G. Khush, G.T. Scarascia Mugnozza and many other eminent scientists.

We hope that the articles presented in this Volume will stimulate and inspire young scientists to undertake a working career aimed at contributing knowledge useful in meeting one of the greatest challenges of this century, namely to provide sustainable food security at the global level while safeguarding the remaining biodiversity.


Section I - The Architects of the Green Revolution

Section II - Biodiversity and Germplasm Resources

Section III - Genes, QTLs and Crop Improvement

Section IV - Tools, Models and Platforms for Plant Genomics


Visit http://www.dista.agrsci.unibo.it/doublehelix/Pagine63_66.pdf


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