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July 9, 2007


African GM Maize Resists Virus; Activists ruin GM potatoes; Govt refuses seed donations


* African GM Maize Resists Virus
* Ag ministers must vote on GM maize
* Adoption of GM Crops in the U.S.
* Activists ruin GM potatoes
* Govt refuses seed donations
* Are organic tomatoes more nutritious?
* Significance of Biotechnology for Pakistan
* ISB News - Table of Contents


First all-African produced genetically engineered maize is resistant to maize streak virus

- American Society of Plant Biologists (press release) via EurekAlert, July 8, 2007


Contact: Brian Hyps, bhyps+at+aspb.org

Maize streak viruses (MSV), geminiviruses that can destroy most of a maize crop, are endemic to sub-Saharan Africa and adjacent Indian Ocean islands where they are transmitted by leafhoppers in the genus Cicadulina. Maize can supply 50% of the caloric intake in sub-Saharan Africa but, in certain years, a farmer's entire crop can be wiped out. Now, scientists at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, along with colleagues at the South African seed company, PANNAR Pty Ltd, have developed a resistant variety of maize that they hope will help alleviate food shortages as well as promote the reputation of genetically engineered (GE) foods in Africa. Dr. Dionne Shepherd of the University of Cape Town will be presenting the results of her recent work and that of coauthors B. Owor, R. Edema, A. Varsani, D.P. Martin, J.A. Thomson and E.P. Rybicki, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists in Chicago (July 8, 11:20 AM) in a major symposium on Plant Biology in Sub-Saharan Africa organized by Debby Delmer of UC Davis.

Maize, which originated in Mexico, was carried to Africa in the 1500s and eventually displaced native food crops such as sorghum and millet. Maize streak virus, an endemic pathogen of native African grasses, was then carried to maize plants by viruliferous leafhoppers. African scientists have been working for more than a quarter century on developing resistant varieties of maize by selecting and crossing varieties with various degrees of resistance to the virus.

However, resistance requires multiple genes located on different chromosomes, so the process is not straightforward. The group at the University of Cape Town took the opposite approach. They mutated a viral gene that encodes a protein that the virus needs to replicate itself and inserted it into maize plants. When the virus infects one of these transgenic maize plants, the mutated protein, which is expressed at a high level, prevents the virus from replicating and killing the plant. The transgenic maize variety has proven consistently resistant to MSV and the trait can be reliably passed on to the next generation and in crosses to other varieties. Field trials are scheduled to begin soon, not only to test the effectiveness of the technology in the field but also to ensure that the GE maize variety has no unintended effects on beneficial organisms that may feed on it. The resistant maize will also be tested to ensure that the viral protein is digestible and non-allergenic. The MSV-resistant maize is the first GE crop developed and tested solely by Africans.

This group of scientists also surveyed 389 Ugandan MSV isolates to assess the diversity and genetic characteristics of this destructive pathogen. They found that the most prevalent strain of this virus is a product of recombination of different viral genotypes, thus identifying an important source of new pathogenic variants and illustrating the constantly changing evolutionary battle between plants and pathogens. MSV was first sequenced in 1984 and found to contain a genome of only 2700 DNA bases in a circle of single-stranded DNA. When it infects susceptible plants, they produce deformed cobs and are often severely dwarfed. As the name of the virus suggests, the leaves are marked with parallel, yellow-white streaks.

The timing of infection, the maize genotype, and prevailing climatic conditions can all influence the extent of damage wreaked by this viral pathogen. Young plants cannot survive the infection but older plants are better able to contain the infection, resulting in smaller losses of grain. However, drought can have a devastating effect on maize fields over a wide geographical area. Under warm and wet conditions, a long-bodied morph of the leafhopper C. mbila emerges, but this form only travels short distances of 10 meters or less, thus limiting its damage to crops. Under drought conditions, a stronger, short-bodied morph that can fly great distances spreads the disease over large areas, thus exacerbating the effects of the drought itself.

Disease caused by similar geminiviruses, Wheat dwarf virus (WDV) and various sugarcane streak viruses, also affect other crops, including barley, wheat, oats, sugarcane, and millet. Thus, the technology developed for MSV could potentially be adapted to develop resistance in these other crops. Virologist Edward Rybicki and microbiologist Jennifer Thomson are hopeful that this year's field trials will demonstrate not only the effectiveness of this technology in producing resistance to a destructive pathogen but also the safety of GE foods. Part of the objective is to provide seed that will be sold at a minimal profit to subsistence farmers, thus removing the objection that GE technology is principally profit-driven.


Agriculture ministers must vote on GM maize

- Stephen Cadogan, Irish Examiner, July 5, 2007


EU agriculture ministers must vote within three months on whether to allow imports of Herculex RW, a genetically modified strain of maize.

The decision will be extra difficult for Ireland's minister, Mary Coughlan, who is under pressure from Fianna Fáil's Green Party colleagues in government, including her junior minister, Trevor Sargent.

The European Green Party is urging member states to vote against the authorisation, claiming there are "serious and legitimate health concerns about the GM maize".

Some members, such as Britain, Finland and the Netherlands, almost always vote in favour of approving new GMOs. They are offset by a group of GMO-sceptic states like Austria, Greece and Luxembourg, which vote against and force a stalemate.

Last week, a panel of EU food safety experts failed to agree on allowing Herculex imports in food, animal feed and also in industrial processing, and returned no definitive decision either for or against a GMO maize type, sending the application to agriculture ministers for debate.

The European Commission must now transmit the dossier to agriculture ministers. If they do not reach a position within three months, the proposal is sent back to the commission for final adoption. This is a likely scenario, and in such cases the commission usually issues its own approval of the product under a legal default process.

Last week's vote was one of the EU's closest in recent years for authorising a new GMO application, with the 27 experts being closer than expected towards reaching a consensus majority in favour. France, Ireland and Italy abstained.

IFA president Padraig Walshe said he had received assurances from the Agriculture Department ahead of the recent meeting of the EU Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health that Ireland would be voting in favour of allowing the importation of maize into Europe. He said the Irish decision to abstain was annoying, as Ireland had raised the issue with the EU Commission in the first place.

Herculex RW was designed by Dow Chemical Co and DuPont to withstand corn rootworm. It was cleared for use in the US in late 2005, and in Japan earlier this year.

Herculex RW was first made available to US farmers for the 2006 growing season.

The European Commission-backed advisory group, European Food Safety Authority, said in April it is safe for the EU market.


Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.

- USDA Economic Research Service, July 5, 2007



U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) crops widely since their introduction in 1996, notwithstanding uncertainty about consumer acceptance and economic and environmental impacts. Soybeans and cotton genetically engineered with herbicide-tolerant traits have been the most widely and rapidly adopted GE crops in the U.S., followed by insect-resistant cotton and corn. This product summarizes the extent of adoption of herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops since their introduction in 1996. Three tables devoted to corn, cotton, and soybeans cover the 2000-07 period by State. See more on extent of adoption... http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/BiotechCrops/adoption.htm



The following tables provide the data obtained by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in the June Agricultural Survey for 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. Randomly selected farmers across the United States were asked if they planted corn, soybeans, or upland cotton seed that, through biotechnology, is resistant to herbicides, insects, or both. Conventionally bred herbicide-tolerant varieties were excluded. Stacked gene varieties include those containing GE traits for both herbicide tolerance (HT) and insect resistance (Bt).

* Genetically engineered corn varieties by State and United States, 2000-07


* Genetically engineered upland cotton varieties by State and United States, 2000-07


* Genetically engineered soybean varieties by State and United States, 2000-07


According to NASS, the States published in these tables represent 81-86 percent of all corn planted acres, 89-90 percent of all soybean planted acres, and 81-92 percent of all upland cotton planted acres (depending on the year).

Related Resources

Many people are interested in information about the global GE acreage. USDA does not collect these data. Estimates are produced by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and can be found in the report, Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2006. http://www.isaaa.org/


Activists ruin GM potatoes

- Cambridge Evening News, July 9, 2007


PROTESTERS have destroyed genetically modified potatoes being grown as part of a scientific trial in Cambridgeshire.

Campaigners scaled security fences in the early hours Saturday to get into the field between Girton and Histon, and pulled up the crop, which is being developed to be blight resistant by German-based company BASF.

News of the action was posted on grass roots campaign website Indymedia UK by a correspondent known as "Digger", and it follows a protest march last week when two people were arrested.

The message read: "The potato plants were already flowering, spreading genetic contagion into the surrounding countryside.

"Public concern and demonstrations had failed to sway NIAB, the National Institute for Agriculture and Botany, who are carrying out the five-year trial on behalf of BASF.

"Friday's action follows the latest in a series of protests, on the previous Sunday, when demonstrators marched on the potato field. On that occasion, they were met by overwhelming numbers of police, and two participants were arrested. This time, however, no such obstacles were met."

BASF is now was assessing the damage and condemned the protesters' actions.

The company had stepped up security at the site, following threats to the trial, and obtained a High Court injunction banning people from entering the field.

A spokesman said: "While we understand some people have concerns about the technology, we are appalled they should resort to trespass and criminal damage to prevent legitimate scientific research.

"Those who have concerns should make their views known in a constructive way.

"The BASF GM potato is a significant development in finding an effective tool to combat the fungal disease late blight.

"Research translates scientific advances into tangible benefits for society, and we believe GM technology brings benefits to the farming community and food chain."

David Cole, from Devon, was fined £85 with £75 costs by Cambridge magistrates on Tuesday for removing crop labels from potatoes at the NIAB site during a previous protest, while Martin Shaw, 42, from Oxford, denied damaging a security fence and will stand trial later this summer.

Professor Wayne Powell, NIAB's chief executive, said: "We set out to deliver independent scientific evidence on GM crops which would allow an informed debate to take place on the future of this technology.


Govt refuses IDP seed donations

- The New Vision (Uganda), July 6, 2007


KAMPALA - Uganda will not accept donations of seeds from abroad for fear that they could be genetically modified, state minister for disaster preparedness and refugees said.

Musa Ecweru yesterday said the prime minister's office, which is responsible for the country's disaster management, accepts only processed foods, clothing, medicines and agricultural implements for distribution to the internally displaced people and refugees.

The minister was receiving 650 cartons of fortified rice and soy protein meal worth $15,000 from a US-based Christian Aid Initiative at the prime minister's stores in Kampala.


Are organic tomatoes more nutritious?

- Stephen Daniells, NutraIngredients, July 5, 2007


Organically grown tomatoes contain higher levels of beneficial flavonoids, says a new study from the US that fans the flames of the debate between conventional and organic foods.

The new study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, reports that tomatoes grown organically contained higher levels of quercetin and kaempferol aglycones than their conventionally grown counterparts.

According to a study published recently in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, the world market for certified organic foods was estimated at $23-25 bn (€17.3-18.8 bn) in 2003 with annual growth of about 19 per cent.

Alyson Mitchell from the University of California-Davis, and researchers from University of Minnesota studied the levels of quercetin and kaempferol aglycones in dried tomato samples (Lycopersicon esculentum L. cv. Halley 3155) between 1994 and 2004. The tomatoes were grown and processed conventionally or organically.

Mitchell and co-workers report that organic tomatoes contained on average 79 and 97 per cent more quercetin and kaempferol aglycones than conventionally grown tomatoes.

The explanation for these observations was that 'over-fertilisation' of the conventionally grown plants. Flavonoids are produced as a defence mechanism of the plant in response to nutrient deficiency. In the organically grown plants, no fertilisation occurred which was mirrored in increasing levels of the flavonoids over time as the soil fertility decreased.

"This increase corresponds not only with increasing amounts of soil organic matter accumulating in organic plots but also with reduced manure application rates once soils in the organic systems had reached equilibrium levels of organic matter," concluded the researchers.

Commenting independently on the research, Lord Krebs, former chairman of the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) and now an academic at Oxford, told The Times that higher flavonoid levels do not necessarily mean that organic food is healthier.

"This depends on the relevance of the differences to the human body. Tomato ketchup has higher levels of lycopene [a strong antioxidant] than either organic or conventional tomatoes. So if you wanted lots of lycopene you should eat tomato ketchup," he said.

A recent review, published in the journal Nutrition Bulletin and authored by Claire Williamson from the British Nutrition Foundation, stated that the overall body of science does not support the view that organic food is more nutritious than conventionally grown food.

"Organic farming represents a sustainable method of agriculture that avoids the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and makes use of crop rotation and good animal husbandry to control pests and diseases," wrote Williamson. "From a nutritional perspective, there is currently not enough evidence to recommend organic foods over conventionally produced foods."

Source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry Published on-line ahead of print, ASAP Article doi: 10.1021/jf070344+ S0021-8561(07)00344-5

"Ten-Year Comparison of the Influence of Organic and Conventional Crop Management Practices on the Content of Flavonoids in Tomatoes" Authors: A.E. Mitchell, Y.-J. Hong, E. Koh, D.M. Barrett, D. E. Bryant, R.F. Denison, and S. Kaffka


Guest ed. note: Many newspapers covering this research wrote headlines which, if they were printed on food packaging, would violate US Food & Drug Administration rules regarding truthful labeling. Here are some sample headlines:

Organic veg is better for your heart Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom - July 4, 2007

Organic fruit and vegetables really are better for your heart Times Online, UK - July 4, 2007

Organic Tomatoes Better For Heart And Blood Pressure Medical News Today, UK - July 7, 2007

Organic tomatoes' antioxidants healthier for heart & blood pressure SpiritIndia, India - July 8, 2007

At the same time, a number of newspapers wrote headlines which signal skepticism about organic claims with quote (') marks or words with similar implications. For instance:

Study: Organic foods may be more healthy than conventionally grown foods ABC7Chicago.com, USA - July 5, 2007

'Organic food better for heart' claims research Newconsumer.com, UK - July 6, 2007

Organic tomatoes may be healthier for your heart than traditionally grown ones China Daily, China - July 6, 2007

Organic food 'better' for heart Online - International News Network, Pakistan - July 8, 2007

The US Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly refused to approve claims on food packaging which assert health benefits of antioxidants. See,




See also, "FDA Rejects Tomato Benefit Proposal," CBS News, Nov. 10, 2005, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/11/10/ap/health/mainD8DP98V02.shtml

Excerpt: "The FDA authorized the following for use on product labels: "Very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that eating one-half to one cup of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce a week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting the claim.""

Interestingly, many of the articles with misleading headlines nonetheless cautioned consumers that the benefits of eating organic food remain unproved. This editor considers this to be a signal that the press may be growing weary of the insubstantial and often slander-based marketing efforts of organic food and farming.


Significance of Genetic and Biotechnology for Pakistan

- Ijaz Ahmad Rao, The Nation (Pakistan), July 9, 2007



The Center for Molecular Genetics (CMG), University of Karachi (KU) has taken initiative to hold International Symposium on Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in which eminent scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Islamic world have presented their papers and emphasized dialog between industry and academia towards better understanding of the most upcoming fields of modern technology. The symposium aims towards discussion and showcasing recent research and upcoming trends both in basic and Applied Biosciences in industry & academia and its possible healthy impacts on environment and socio-economic development in an economy. It also focused on how Industrial Biotechnology can be used to transform manufacturing, chemical synthesis, and energy production, while at the same time decreasing pollution; secondly how agricultural wastes can be used to create new consumer goods. The conference also provided an overview of the technological developments and new trends in Industrial Biotechnology and examined the barriers that must be overcome to advance the concept of a bio-based economy.


News Report: Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology

- Information Systems for Biotechnology, June 2007


Table of Contents

Gene-Deletor: A New Tool to Address Concerns over GE Crops

Metabolic Engineering through Plastid Transformation

Genetically Engineering Folate Biofortification in Tomato

Selected Highlights from 2007 BIO International Convention

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