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July 3, 2007


Zebra + horse = zorse; Secret to Wheat's Success; Philippines approves 41 crops


* Philippines approves 41 GM crops
* Genes Hold Secret to Wheat's Success
* Wheat harvest shows need for new crop tech
* FDA Extends GRAS Approval to LISTEX
* Green GM stance to up feed prices
* Court ruling not a victory
* 2007 World Food Prize Laureate
* Roadmap for getting open access
* Zebra + horse = zorse


Philippines approves 41 transgenic crop varieties

- Rhea Sandique-Carlos, MarketWatch, July 3, 2007


MANILA (MarketWatch) -- The Philippines has so far approved 41 varieties of genetically-modified plants for use in the country, with three types of corn also cleared for commercial cultivation, the Agriculture Department said Tuesday.

The corn varieties approved for commercial cultivation are Bt corn, which is resistant to corn borer, developed by U.S. agrochemical firm Monsanto Co., a herbicide tolerant corn also developed by Monsanto, and a Bt corn variety developed by Swiss company Syngenta AG, said Clarito Barron, assistant director of the department's Bureau of Plant Industry.

As well as corn varieties, plants that have been approved for direct use as food, feed and for processing are soybean, canola, potato, cotton, sugarbeet and alfalfa, Barron told a news briefing.

The BPI is also currently reviewing an application from Bayer CropScience to introduce a genetically-modified variety of rice for food, feed and processing.

Last year, total land area planted to Bt corn was estimated at around 200,000 hectares while those planted to herbicide tolerant varieties totaled around 56,000 hectares, the BPI said.

The Philippines was the first country in Asia to approve the commercial cultivation of a genetically-modified Bt corn variety in December 2002.


Genes Hold Secret to Wheat's Success, Researchers Say

- University of California/Davis (press release), July 2, 2007


The success of wheat as a food crop can be traced through thousands of years of genetic changes that occurred as wheat was domesticated for human use, write UC Davis plant scientists Jorge Dubcovsky and Jan Dvorak in the cover article of the current issue of the journal Science.

In this review article of the molecular genetics and genomics of wheat, the authors paint the picture of how gene mutations and the presence of multiple chromosomes -- a characteristic known as "polyploidy" -- enabled modern wheat to overcome several genetic bottlenecks that occurred during wheat domestication and subsequent evolution.

The authors conclude that, "Polyploid wheat has been able to compensate for diversity bottlenecks by capturing a relatively large proportion of the variability present in wild wheat. In addition, new variation is rapidly generated in the dynamic wheat genomes through gene deletions and insertions of repetitive elements into coding and regulatory gene regions."

Domestication of wheat began roughly 10,000 years ago as people in western Asia began the transition from hunting and gathering to raising crops and animals. Some of the important traits that were selected for during the domestication process include increased grain size, changes in the toughness of chaff so that the wheat can be easily threshed, and retention of the grain on the plant so that it doesn't scatter in the wind before or during harvest.

Globally, approximately 620 million tons of wheat are now produced each year, providing one-fifth of the calories consumed by people around the world. Ninety-five percent of the wheat crop goes into making baked goods such as bread, cookies and pastries, while the remaining 5 percent is durum wheat used for making pasta and related products.

Funding for this study was provided by grants from the National Research Institute, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.


"Genome Plasticity a Key Factor in the Success of Polyploid Wheat Under Domestication," Science, Vol. 316. no. 5833, pp. 1862 - 1866, DOI: 10.1126/science.1143986, June 29, 2007,


Variable wheat harvest shows need for new crop technology, farmer says

- Jeff Caldwell, Agriculture Online, July 2, 2007


As wheat harvest moves north, leaving behind damaged or underdeveloped acres in parts of Kansas and Oklahoma, this year's variable results show the need for new developments in wheat biotechnology.

So says Brookville, Kansas, wheat farmer Joe Kejr. The Kansas Association of Wheat Growers president says he watched his once-promising crop fall victim to some of Mother Nature's worst in the weeks leading up to this summer's harvest.

"First, we saw an April freeze that made some of the fields smell like silage. At some farmer meetings, we heard that if we had cool and dry weather, we still had a chance for a good crop. That is what happened in 1997, and we all hoped it could happen again," Kejr says.

"Then came the May rains that dropped more than 15 inches of rain for the month, and soon rust we had hoped to avoid came with it. Later, we saw why armyworms got their name. They came in like an army and finished off the flag leaves that the rust hadn't destroyed. So, if the rust didn't do enough damage, the worms sure took the final toll," he adds.

Kejr's story is not just one to garner sympathy from farmers whose crop did survive the growing season in good shape, or to identify with others whose wheat came up short. He's calling for more efforts in the industry to move along biotechnology that could protect growers in the future from the damage his crop sustained this year.

"Partnering with the larger industry to address these problems with technological tools needs to happen now. We must develop drought tolerant and rust resistant wheat varieties, and wheats that use nutrients more efficiently. If we start now, it will still take 10 years to get a trait developed with the help of biotechnology," Kejr says.

"It is urgent that we, as the U.S. wheat industry, lead with vision for the future and have unequivocal support for biotech wheat. It is not an option. Time is running out for future generations of wheat producers."


FDA Extends GRAS Approval LISTEX(TM) to all Food Products

- EBI Food Safety (press release), July 3, 2007


WAGENINGEN, The Netherlands - The FDA and USDA Announced Today They Have Approved LISTEX(TM) P100, the Natural Bacteriophage Product Against Listeria, as GRAS (Generally Recognised as Safe), for all Food Products

In the fight against Listeria, one of the most dangerous food pathogens, US food processing companies can now apply a novel yet natural tool: LISTEX(TM) bacteriophages. The FDA and USDA have approved this product from The Netherlands as GRAS, based on extensive safety and efficacy data and organoleptics tests confirming that LISTEX(TM) is safe and has no impact on taste, smell, colour, and other physical properties of treated products.

Bacteriophages ('phage') are the most abundant micro-organisms on earth. Fresh water and seawater can contain as many as 1 billion phages per ml, while in fresh and processed meat and meat products, more than 100 million viable phages per gram are often present. Phages are harmless to humans, animals and plants, and target only bacterial cells. They are extremely specific in regard to the bacteria they recognize. The LISTEX(TM) bacteriophages target only Listeria bacteria (leaving desirable bacteria in place), and are easy to apply in production processes.

In October 2006 the FDA had already proclaimed GRAS for LISTEX(TM) against Listeria in cheese. The extension to all products susceptible to Listeria, opens the door for the meat and fish industry to apply LISTEX(TM). Earlier this month, the Dutch designated inspection office SKAL confirmed the 'organic' status of LISTEX(TM) under EU law, as a result of which it can be used in the EU in regular and organic products.

EBI Food Safety's CEO, Mark Offerhaus: "Food Safety now tops the agenda of US food processing companies and consumers, who are insisting on 'green' solutions, rather than chemicals. Natural bacteriophages prove to be a unique solution, where increased safety does not come at the expense of product characteristics. US food processors can now benefit from LISTEX(TM), like their European counterparts."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Listeriosis, the disease caused by Listeria monocytogenes, is one of the most severe food borne infections, with a mortality rate of 30%. It can take weeks after exposure before an infection becomes apparent. The US Food Safety and Inspection Service maintains a zero tolerance policy for the bacterium, which grows at refrigeration temperature and is omnipresent. Risk groups include the Young, Old, Immunocompromised and Pregnant.

About EBI Food Safety

EBI Food Safety (http://www.ebifoodsafety.com), located in Wageningen ("Food Valley"), The Netherlands, develops and markets natural bacteriophage products against dangerous food pathogens and is viewed as product leader in this field. In 2006 the company was honored with the Technology Innovation Award by Frost & Sullivan. In 2007 the company was elected as one of Holland's 25 most promising young enterprises by FEM Business Magazine. The company's scientific network includes collaborations with universities and research centers around the world.


Green GM stance to up feed prices

- Pat O'Keeffe, Irish Farmers Journal, June 30, 2007


Feed prices, which have already increased by between 40 and 60% in the past year, look set to increase even further following a controversial EU vote on Monday to reject the use of a variety of Genetically Modified (GM) maize.

In a move that has caused anger in the feed trade, Ireland abstained from Monday's vote at the EU Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health. As recently as last Thursday, Minister for Agriculture Mary Coughlan had signalled that Ireland would be voting in favour of allowing the importation of "Herculex'' maize into Europe. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had deemed to product to be safe. "Herculex'' is a maize variety produced by Pioneer and it is now authorised in ten countries. It is modified with a gene that makes it resistant to maize rootworm.

Junior Minister for Agriculture Trevor Sargent confirmed to the Farmers Journal that over the weekend he had discussions on the matter and that "these discussions resulted in a longer term view been taken on the issue.'' "If we had voted to roll-over on Herculex we'd find it impossible to get GM free status.'' He rejected any suggestion that the decision would lead to a scarcity in supplies of GM-free animal feed ingredients and said that there were ample supplies available. However, sources in the feed trade strongly disagree. "There is only one certainty; the action of the Government is going to lead to far higher feed cost for farmers,'' according to animal feed consultant Michael Ennis.

He said that Ireland annually imports approximately 800,000 tonnes of corn gluten and distillers grains from the US, from a total import of about 2.9m tonnes.

IFA president Padraig Walshe said that the decision has to be rescinded by the Council of Ministers "as a matter of urgency''. He said that, as recently as last Thursday, he had received assurances from the Department of Agriculture that Ireland would be voting in favour of allowing Herculex product to be used in Europe.

The decision to abstain was particularly annoying, given that Ireland had raised the issue with the Commission in the first place, Walshe said.

As of this week, merchants were being told that corn gluten is not available, while supplies of distillers grains are limited. Those products would generally make up 25-30% of a typical coarse beef ration. They will now have to be replaced by other ingredients, almost certainly at a higher cost.

The move comes against the background of a major EU Commission report (see page 4) which warns that European agriculture will find it increasingly difficult to source non-GM feed, as major exporters such as the US, Brazil and Argentina plant increased acreages of GM crops.

The report warns that if major producers continue to adopt the use of non-EU approved GM varieties, it will have drastic consequences for the EU pig and poultry sectors in particular. Ironically, EU produced pork and poultry would then be replaced by imported meat product - produced using the same GM feeds banned from Europe.

The report identifies major feed importers such as Ireland as being vulnerable. Concerning soybeans and soybean meal, the EU imports vast volumes of these feed products which would be difficult to replace by alternative protein rich feed.

Feed price across the world have already risen sharply due to increased demand from the feed and biofuel trades. Figures obtained by the Farmers Journal show that in the past 12 months, the price of distillers grains has surged by 59%, while the important corn gluten is up a massive 59%.


Court ruling not a victory for environmentalists

- Western Farm Press, June 29, 2007


Our April column on the court case and preliminary injunction involving Roundup Ready alfalfa expressed the hope that the planting ban would be lifted in the near future. We also had a "disclaimer" when we wrote that once an issue is in the court system, "sizing up the impact and future developments is best left to the experts."

When we learned last month that U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer upheld the RR alfalfa planting ban, it left a lot of questions up in the air and brought a thumbs-up response from environmentalists that was off the mark.

Judge Breyer, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for Northern California by President Clinton, ordered the USDA to conduct a comprehensive study of RR alfalfa's effect on the environment and other alfalfa varieties before it can be released again.

Unless there's a successful challenge (we haven't yet heard if there will be an appeal), it will take some time to get back on track. The USDA estimates that studies needed to satisfy the court will take two years.

In mid-May eHay Weekly ran an article by the University of Wisconsin's Dan Undersander that helped clarify the current situation for growers. He noted that Judge Breyer's permanent injunction allows existing fields planted to RR alfalfa before March 30, 2007 to continue to be "grown, harvested and sold."

But, the Judge imposed several conditions and required that the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) draft regulations to implement them. APHIS is required to notify growers individually of the restrictions within 45 days of the May 7 order.

"The important consideration is that no restrictions are in effect until the growers receive the notice from APHIS," Undersander wrote.

For growers facing tough weed species in particular, genetically modified alfalfa means better control with less herbicide, an obvious environmental plus. The permanent injunction issued by the court in May followed a lawsuit brought by the Center for Food Safety and others against the USDA.

An attorney for the Center was quoted as calling the ruling "a great victory for the environment." A great victory? Has he tried to calculate how many more pounds of herbicide will be needed in fields that would have otherwise been planted to genetically modified seed?

Breyer's ruling comes at a time when growers are facing current and pending regulations that impact weed control. For example, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has two alfalfa herbicides on its restricted list in groundwater protection areas. Both diuron and norflurazon require an approved management plan before being applied.

The DPR is continuing to scrutinize other soil active herbicides in groundwater protection areas, and is ramping up its air quality efforts by targeting pesticides that emit volatile organic compounds. Four alfalfa herbicides are being scrutinized ? hexazinone, trifuralin, sethoxydin, and clethodin.

Besides the above issues, you can add a new effort by federal and state agencies to recharge the "weed-free forage" program for hay and straw that's brought onto government-owned lands. At a time when biotechnology is becoming even more important, the loss of a valuable and much-needed tool is anything but "a great victory for the environment."


2007 World Food Prize Laureate Revolutionized Post-Harvest Technology

Purdue University scientist and former "Tomato King" pioneered breakthroughs in large-scale storage, packaging and transportation of fruit and vegetable products

- World Food Prize (press release), web dated June 28, 2007


(WASHINGTON, D.C., USA) Dr. Philip E. Nelson of Purdue University was named winner of the $250,000 World Food Prize for his innovative breakthrough technologies which have revolutionized the food industry, particularly in the area of large-scale storage and transportation of fresh fruit and vegetables using bulk aseptic food processing.

Dr. Nelson was announced as the 2007 Laureate by Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department on June 18 hosted by Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs Daniel Sullivan. Also participating in the announcement ceremony were World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran, Acting Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Dvelopment (USAID) Henrietta Fore, Congressman Tom Latham (R-IA) and World Food Prize Selection Committee Chairman and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug.

In making the announcement, Amb. Quinn stated that Dr. Nelson's food science research has significantly reduced post-harvest waste and spoilage and greatly increased the availability and accessibility of nutritious food worldwide, particularly in emergency situations.

"Dr. Nelson's pioneering work, which began with tomatoes and later included a variety of seasonal crops, has made it possible to produce ultra-large scale quantities of high quality food," Ambassador Quinn said. "This food can then be stored for long periods of time and transported to all corners of the world without losing nutritional value or taste."

Dr. Nelson's research led to the discovery of methods and equipment to preserve perishable food at ambient temperatures in very large carbon steel tanks (beginning with 100 gallon tanks and increasing in capacity to 8 million gallons). By coating the tanks with epoxy resin and sterilizing the valves and filters, food products were able to be stored and removed without reintroducing contaminants. As a result, enormous quantities of pathogen-free food could be distributed to plants around the world for final processing and packaging.

Later partnering with the Scholle Corporation, Dr. Nelson developed a low-cost aseptic "bag-in-box" system for preserving and shipping foods. By the 1980's, this technology had spread throughout the global food industry. Working with another company, Fran Rica Manufacturing (now part of FMC), Dr. Nelson engineered a variation of the bag sealing fitment as a membrane, which ruptures during the fill and then reseals with a sterilized foil cap. This is now the standard technology used for processing and packaging of aseptically processed foods worldwide.

In the developing world, these technologies have made it affordable and convenient to transport and deliver a variety of safe food products without the need for refrigeration, averting loss due to spoilage. Citrosuco, a leading orange juice producer based in Brazil, has used the technology developed by Dr. Nelson to ship up to eight million gallons of orange juice to the United States and Europe. The technology has also been applied to bring potable water and emergency food aid to survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as to other crisis situations worldwide, and is used in school nutrition programs in developing countries.

"Affordable and safe movement of food is critical in fighting world hunger and Dr. Nelson's technologies will help reach those in need ," said Sheeran. The World Food Programme was one of several organizations to support the nomination of Dr. Nelson.

Dr. Nelson has been involved in the storage and packaging of food since childhood. He spent his early years working on his family's tomato farm and canning factory in Morristown, Indiana and once earned the crown of "Tomato King" at the Indiana State Fair.

The 2007 World Food Prize will be formally presented to Dr. Nelson at a ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol on October 18, 2007. The ceremony will be held as part of the World Food Prize's Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, which this year focuses on "Biofuels and Biofood: The Global Challenges of Emerging Technologies." Further information about the Laureate Award Ceremony and Symposium can be found here. [http://www.worldfoodprize.org/symposium/2007.htm ]

The 2007 Laureate Story (opens as PDF) [http://www.worldfoodprize.org/assets/laureates/2007/2007%20WFP%20Laureate.pdf ]


Roadmap for getting open access

- Liz Moyer, July 2, 2007, moyer+at+huarp.harvard.edu

I have been surprised that the development community has not so far spent much effort lobbying the U.S. Congress for open access. Nearly the entirety of scientific publishing could be opened with a single U.S. law requiring all federally-funded research papers to be placed in publicly accessible archives. This action by the U.S. would weaken the stranglehold of private academic publishers, and Europe would then surely follow suit.

A U.S. law seems the most direct route to opening access for developing-world researchers.... especially since this very legislation was actually proposed in the Sentate last year: see http://cornyn.senate.gov/index.asp?f=record&lid=1&rid=237171. The bill died without a vote, but could be reintroduced ... if enough voices demand it.

For discussion of open access and the power of private academic journal publishers see https://www.arp.harvard.edu/AfricaHigherEducation/Online.html#research

Right now the open access proponents are largely academics and taxpayer-rights groups. It's tragic how little attention is paid in the development community to steps like this bill that would encourage long-term development. The more people speak out for it, the better.

Also the more concrete the proposed solution, the better. Tell a U.S. senator that he should care about developing countries and he'll nod and agree but you'll have accomplished little. Tell him, "if you want to help Africa, reintroduce the Cornyn & Lieberman Federal Research Public Access Act", and he at least has a roadmap for action, and he'll have to say yes or no to it.

Liz Moyer is an atmospheric scientist at Harvard University; in 2006 she taught postgraduate students from throughout Africa at the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences ... and still corresponds with them to send them journal articles they otherwise have no access to. In 2008 she will join the faculty of the University of Chicago.


Zebra + horse = zorse

- New Zealand Herald, June 29, 2007


It has to be the ultimate zebra crossing.

Eclyse the zorse is striking proof of how an offspring inherits genes from both parents - which in her case was a male zebra and a female horse. The result is shown in her amazing coat which looks like a zebra's that has been partly covered in white paint.

While most zebra-horse crossbreeds have stripes across their entire body, Eclyse has only two such patches, on her face and rump.

The 1-year-old was born after her mother, Eclipse, was taken from her German safari park home to visit a ranch in Italy.

There she was left to roam freely with other horses and a number of zebras. One zebra called Ulysses took a shine to her and there was some horseplay. When she arrived home to Germany, Eclyse's mother surprised her keepers by giving birth to a baby zorse.

Eclyse has become a major attraction at her home safari park at Schloss Holte-Stukenbrock, near the German border with Holland.

In Africa, horses and zebras are often crossbred and used as trekking animals.

Hybrids are an interesting curiosity. The mule is perhaps the most famous cross - a combination between a horse and a donkey - and an animal of economic importance because it is a hard worker.

Hybrids are not easy to create, however. The mating pair's different number of chromosomes - the "packets" of DNA in each cell - makes a pregnancy hard to achieve.

A horse has 64 chromosomes; the zebra has 44. The zorse that results from cross-breeding will have a number of chromosomes that is somewhere in between.

The zorse can only result where the sire is the zebra.

"The smaller number of chromosomes has to be on the male side," said Lesley Barwise-Munro, a veterinary surgeon in Alnwick, Northumberland, and a spokeswoman for the British Equine Veterinary Association.

"If it had been the other way around there would have been no pregnancy. It's how nature works."

And hybrids were invariably sterile, she added.


Guest ed. note: Some might say that Eclyse is 'transgenic' because she contains 'foreign genes', and exemplifies 'terminator technology' because the genes render her sterile.

Video of Eclyse the zorse: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/multimedia/video.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10448585&content_media_id=4890424

Picture of Eclyse: http://media.apn.co.nz/webcontent/image/jpg/zorsemain.jpg

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