* Annan rules out GMOs
* South Africa Biotech Report
* Kenya Biotech Report
* EU to clear BASF potato
* Safflower seeds sowing a future
* Results for Monsanto-BASF partnership
* A new plant-bacterial symbiotic mechanism
* Semiconductor Membrane Works Better
* Death Of Cattle And Sheep In The Telengana Region
Annan rules out use of GMOs in the war on hunger in Africa
- Allan Odhiambo, Business Daily (Nairobi), July 17, 2007
In what is bound to stir controversy in agriculture and scientific circles, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan has ruled out the use of Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) in the battle against food insecurity and poverty in Africa.
"We in the alliance will not incorporate GMOs in our programmes. We shall work with farmers using traditional seeds known to them," he said. Mr Annan said poor pricing of commodities, and not type of seeds, keeps African growers away from their farmlands despite spiralling food insecurity and poverty on the continent.
"We need to get the right seeds into their hands by strengthening research partnerships with local universities and other institutions," he said. Mr Annan said insufficient infrastructure such as roads, poor storage facilities and weak market structures were to blame for Africa's continued dependence on food aid.
"Millions of Africans are being fed through aid and this is not sustainable. We have the means to make Africa self sustainable," he said. Mr Annan, who chairs the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), said infrastructure development will top the organisation's agenda for the next five years.
"We need proper market systems, an infrastructure of roads and storage facilities because failure by farmers to access them acts as a demoralising factor," he said. Agra was established last year with an initial $150 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates and Rockefeller foundations.
It seeks to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families get out of poverty and hunger through sustainable growth in farm productivity and incomes. Mr Annan said food production in Africa could be doubled in the next decade with improved seeds and increased access to inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides.
The Alliance was formed in response to recent calls by African leaders to chart a new path for prosperity by spurring the continent's agricultural development and also seeks to help reverse decades of relative neglect in funding for agricultural development for Africa.
It seeks to firm the vision laid out in the African Union's Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which seeks a 6 percent annual growth in food production by 2015 through increased usage of new technology and inputs such as fertiliser.
CAADP was established by the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development (AU/NEPAD) in July 2003 with special focus on four pillars including, extending area under sustainable land management and reliable water control systems, improving rural infrastructure and trade-related capacities for market access, increasing food supply, reducing hunger and improving response to food emergency.
South Africa, Republic of; Biotechnology Annual Report 2007
- Rachel Bickford, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, GAIN Report No. SF7028, July 14, 2007
The South African Government generally supports biotechnology: transgenic varieties of cotton, corn and soy are approved for commercial planting and account for approximately 92 % of South Africa's cotton, 44% of corn, and 59% of soybeans.
U.S. agricultural interests in South Africa are wide-ranging and diverse. Wheat is the main U.S. export, followed by many other bulk, intermediate and consumer ready products. Those affected by biotechnology issues are corn, soybeans and seeds (corn, cotton and soybean). Food aid passage through South Africa to other destinations can also be affected by South Africa's GMO policies.
South African biotechnology regulatory matters are discussed and decided by an Executive Council with representatives from eight departments. An Advisory Committee consisting of experts from around the nation carry out risk analysis on biotech products and give their recommendations to the Council for the final approval of any biotech product. The advisory committee and the Council do not meet frequently and so decisions are often delayed. Still, the regulatory structure in general is very progressive and several genetic transformation events have received approval for commercial planting. However, recently there have been some public objections from anti-GM lobby groups. These groups are demanding unscientific information from the GMO Registrar's office of the National Department of Agriculture and have effectively slowed the process for new approvals.
South Africa can play a vital role as other countries in Africa develop biotechnology policies because it has the most resources, such as scientific expertise and financial support, as well as a progressive regulatory system. Without the South African Government's leadership role in this region, the progress in agricultural biotechnology, or for that matter any technology, can be stifled by anti-technology groups.
[excerpted; see link above for full text]
Kenya Biotechnolgy Report 2007
- Mary Onsongo, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, GAIN Report No. KE7009, July 11, 2007
Kenya has a Draft Biosafety Bill and an approved National Biotechnology Policy. The National Biotechnology Policy 2006 outlines the safety procedures for biotechnology in the context of research development, technology transfer and commercialization of products. The passage of the Biosafety Bill into law is at an advanced stage. Currently, Kenya requires declaration of the genetic modification status as stipulated in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
Kenya has no legislation on biotechnology but existing regulations and recently developed National Biotechnology policy have provided guidelines that have enabled experimental GMO activities. The guidelines only address issues up to confined field trials, a step that will be overcome with the approval of the passage into law of the draft Biosafety Bill. Biotechnology research activities in Kenya range from application of tissue culture for mass production of disease-free planting materials, use of molecular markers for disease diagnosis, development of recombinant animal disease vaccines, marker-assisted selection to biotransformation and producing insect and virus resistant crops. The application of tissue culture technology has been initiated in different crops i.e. banana, vanilla, pyrethrum, potato, cassava, sugarcane, coffee, flowers etc. Increased use of DNA based molecular markers is now applied to address resistance to maize stem borer and drought resistance. There is ongoing research in development of GM crops, which are at various stages of Research and Development. These include Bt maize (confined field trials), viral resistant transgenic sweet potato, cassava resistant to the cassava mosaic virus, and Bt cotton (has undergone one season of confined field trial (CFT) and the second CFT has been approved for planting). It is hoped that in the next decade Kenya will commercialize some of these transgenic products.
Adoption of genetic modification has been slowed with the on going anti GM debate that has created fear, mistrust and general confusion to the public. However, Kenya recognizes that overtime the use and development of biotechnology will be integrated into its agricultural production systems. In its efforts of attaining food self-sufficiency, as a long-term national policy on food production and economic growth the country also knows it cannot ignore adoption of biotechnology as a tool. Kenya is in the process of developing a "Functional Biosafety Regulatory Framework". This involves biopolicy formulation, capacity building among regulatory agencies; development of a National Biosafety Bill, development of regulations and accompanying guidelines. There are efforts by government to demystify and inform the public properly (science-based dialogue and debates).
The U.S. exported transgenic products to Kenya in 2006/07. These include shipments under the McGovern Dole Food for Education Program, USAID food aid programs (Title 11, Food for Progress). The products are soybean/products and corn/products.
[excerpted; see link above for full text]
EU set to clear BASF genetically modified potato
- EURO2day, July 17, 2007
LONDON - The EU yesterday paved the way for approval of the first commercial cultivation of a genetically modified crop in the European Union since 2001, the Financial Times reported.
BASF AG, the German chemicals group, wants permission to sell Amflora, a GM potato, for industrial use in items such as packaging and paper coatings. It will not be used in food, the newspaper said.
The European Commission will use its power to take a final decision on whether to allow commercialisation of the potato, after national farm ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday failed to break a long-running deadlock over the issue.
Under EU rules, the European Commission, which backed BASF''s proposal, will take a final decision.
Approval is likely in the "coming months," the FT cited the commission as saying.
The European Food Safety Authority found the BASF-produced potato to be safe for cultivation as it did not cross-pollinate or produce toxins, the FT said.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission said: "There is no risk in using the potato. In this case the scientific evidence is irrefutable."
Safflower seeds sowing a protein-producing future
- Katrina Megget, in-Pharma Technologist, July 17, 2007
The humble safflower seed is looking like it could be the next protein-producing factory after SemBioSys Genetics produced commercial levels of an atherosclerosis treatment.
The Canada-based biotechnology company has successfully modified safflower seed lines, and expressed and collected apolipoprotein A1 and its variant apolipoprotein A1 (Milano), collectively referred to Apo A1,which is a next-generation cardiovascular drug that targets the removal of atherosclerotic plaque from arteries.
The development represents a move into the $35bn cardiovascular drug market, but the seed lines have also proved successful in producing about 43 other therapeutic proteins at a fraction of the cost of conventional methods, SemBioSys chief scientific officer Dr Maurice Moloney told US-PharmaTechnologist.com.
The transgenic technology, which is looking as an increasingly popular tool for producing proteins, was the brainchild of Moloney, who developed the genetically modified "Roundup Ready" crops.
In the safflower seed case, the Apo A1 gene is only expressed in the seed. The technology, which can be used in any oil seed, has been further developed so that the protein attaches itself to oil bodies in the seed making the recovery of the protein much easier as the oil floats out of the solution when the seeds are crushed to extract the protein.
"This dramatically reduces the cost of purification," Moloney said.
The company decided to focus on safflower because it was a less common crop, compared to canola, so it was easier to biologically isolate the crop reducing the chances of cross pollination or the accidental mixing of seeds with non-transgenic ones, he said.
Meanwhile, developing the seeds as the protein-producing factories instead of another part of the plant, meant the company could utilize the long-term storage capabilities that seeds have as well as being able to adjust production of the protein depending on the market demand.
"This is difficult to do if you are dealing with conventional methods like fermentation," Moloney said.
The cost advantages were also very promising over conventional methods, he said.
The cost to grow a ton of seed, about an acre of safflower which would then produce about 2kg of Apo A1, would be about $800. This is compared to the current cost which sits in the range of about $400 per gram of Apo A1.
Moloney estimated the technology could be developed to reduce the cost by 90 per cent.
As a result, the safflower seed technology would be particularly beneficial in the production of Apo A1, as large amounts of the protein were required for treatment, he said.
SemBioSys president and chief executive Andrew Baum said in a statement: "We believe manufacturing capacity and cost are major commercialization issues for pharmaceutical companies developing Apo A1. Today's announcement demonstrates that safflower seed is an enabling production vehicle for Apo A1 with the scale and economics necessary to allow for commercialization of this potentially transformative therapy."
Apo A1 has been described as a promising new therapy for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. It is the major component of the good cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL), which naturally removes atherosclerotic plaque from arteries.
Currently, Pfizer is developing Apo A1 via E.coli, with positive clinical trial results, while CSL and Borean Pharma have both recently confirmed the strong therapeutic potential of their respective Apo A1-based drug candidates, CSL-111 and Trimeric Apo A-I, in clinical and preclinical trials.
SemBioSys intends to scale up production of safflower-produced Apo A1 and perform the necessary preclinical work in 2008 in order to initiate clinical trials in 2009.
The company has also produced authentic human insulin in safflower, which is expected to enter clinical trials in early 2008.
SemBioSys is now planning to initiate development program partnerships.
Early results promising for Monsanto-BASF partnership
- Associated Press via Columbia Tribune, July 16, 2007
ST. LOUIS - A new research partnership is letting two of the world's biggest biotechnology companies peer into each other's private vault of genetic code. And the companies say the initial results are promising.
Monsanto Co. and Germany-based BASF AG announced the partnership earlier this spring, billing it as a unique venture that would help the companies speed development of the next generation of genetically engineered crops.
The $1.5 billion partnership gives both companies access to decades-worth of research that each had conducted in private.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported yesterday that the research partnership has begun in earnest. Much of the work is occurring at Monsanto's research campus in the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur.
"We're really pleased with the start of the collaboration," said Steve Padgette, Monsanto's vice president of biotechnology.
In May, the first batch of genes from BASF's sites in Germany began arriving in Creve Coeur for study.
Monsanto scientists say the findings have been positive.
Most important is the discovery that the two firms have discovered different sets of genes to give beneficial characteristics to crops such as corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. For each of the four row crops, Monsanto found that less than 10 percent of BASF's varieties had genetic overlap with those already discovered by Monsanto, Padgette said.
That boosts the menu of genes from which researchers can choose as they develop new varieties.
A new plant-bacterial symbiotic mechanism promising
- Institut de Recherche Pour le Développement (press release), July 15, 2007
Contact: Marie Guillaume-Signoret guillaum+at+paris.ird.fr
The growth of most plants depends on the presence of sufficient amounts of nitrogen contained in the soil.
However, a family of plants, the legumes, is partially free of this constraint thanks to its ability to live in association with soil bacteria of the Rhizobium, genus, capable of fixing nitrogen from the air. When these bacteria come into contact with their host plant, they trigger in the roots the formation and development of organs, termed nodules, where they continue to live. This close relationship is symbiosis, which benefits both organisms involved: the plant supplies nutritive elements to the bacteria which in return pass on the nitrogen they have stored up.
These interactions improve crop yields of leguminous plants that are crucial for human diet (soybean, peas, ground nuts and so on...) and as animal feed (alfalfa, clover, sainfoin). In addition, cultivation of legumes living in symbiotic association with bacteria can contribute to vegetation regeneration schemes on soils depleted in nitrogen owing to overexploitation, erosion or desertification. The plant cover thus formed can help achieve ecological restoration, by enriching the soils in nitrogen. However, the symbiotic processes studied predominantly concern the leguminous plants of temperate zones, very little those of the tropics.
The team from the IRD's 'Laboratoire des Symbioses Tropicales et Méditerranéennes' and its partners (1), taking as model a symbiosis between a tropical aquatic legume, Aeschynomene, and Bradyrhizobium, bacteria of the Rhizobia family, have just revealed a new mode of communication at molecular level between these two organisms. The bacteria of this original model have their own photosynthetic pathway, a unique property in the rhizobia (2). This special character confers on it the exceptional, rare ability to form nodules on the stems of its host-plant. The plant thus acquires the possibility of fixing much higher quantities of nitrogen than those usually measured in leguminous plants which have nodules only on their roots.
The researchers sequenced (3) the genes of two bacterial strains of Bradyrhizobium, ORS278 and BTAi1, in order to find out their genetic make-up and identify the genes involved in this rather special form of symbiosis. These bacteria were found to have no nod genes, usually essential for nodulation. Bradyrhizobium consequently appeared to use mechanisms that involved other genes. This surprising result calls into question the universally recognized model of molecular communication that initiates the rhizobia-legume symbiosis. This common model requires the presence of several nod genes which allow synthesis of the Nod factor, a compound elaborated by the bacterium which enables the plant to recognize it, by molecular recognition, thereby allowing the microorganism to penetrate inside the plant by the root hairs. The finding raises the question as to what signalling pathway Bradyrhizodium might use to gain entry to the plant and set off nodulation.
The first observation was that the bacteria did not penetrate the roots of its host-plant by the hairs. It took advantage of "crack zones" comparable with wound areas. The set of results obtained from subsequent work, seeking to identify the genes involved in producing the unknown signal molecule that plays the role of Nod factor, prompted the team's hypothesis that a molecule similar to a plant hormone (4), cytokinin, could act in the mechanisms by triggering nodulation. The discovery of the nature of the signal molecule itself, which remains to be fully determined, brings a glimpse of future agricultural applications.
Many plants live in symbiosis with bacteria, but the mechanisms are known for only a small number of these interactions. The demonstration of alternative pathways capable of triggering the nodulation signal in certain rhizobia is promising for future techniques for bringing these bacteria into association with different leguminous plants. It therefore becomes possible to increase agricultural production of a greater number of important plants, notably in tropical countries, while cutting down the use of fertilizers.
(1) This research was conducted in the 'Laboratoire des Symbioses Tropicales et Méditerranéennes', mixed research unit UMR 113 (IRD, CIRAD, AGRO-M, INRA, University of Montpellier 2), with the participation of the Genoscope at Evry, the CEA, the DOE Joint Genome Institute, the University of Minnesota and the University of Missouri.
(2) See scientific bulletin n°154 accessible on www.ird.fr/fr/actualites/fiches/2002/fiche154.htm
(3) sequencing: molecular biology method that can identify all the DNA sequences of an organism and therefore its genes.
(4) plant hormones play a role in communication within a plant.
Reference : Eric Giraud et al. Genoscope CNRS-UMR 8030, Atelier de Génomique Comparative Genoscope, Centre National de Séquençage CEA Cadarache, France. "Legume Symbioses: Absence of Nod Genes in Photosynthetic Bradyrhizobia" Science, june the 1st, 2007.
Advances in soybean screening
- Scientist Live, July 17, 2007
An invisible, yet deadly parasite known as the root-knot nematode is crippling soybean crops. While plant breeders are racing to develop cultivars resistant to the root-knot nematode, they are being slowed down by current time-consuming and expensive methods of screening for resistant plants. Now, researchers believe they have found a shortcut for screening resistant soybean crops.
Researchers at the University of Georgia report the discovery of several molecular markers that will help soybean breeders to accurately screen for root-knot resistant plants at a fraction of the time and cost of current screening techniques.
While previous studies of soybean crops helped researchers to locate genes associated with root-knot nematode resistance, University of Georgia scientists recently identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) nearby genetic regions that code root-knot nematode resistance.
After linking the identified SNPs to root-knot nematode resistance, scientists developed a marker assisted screening test that used SNPs to determine whether or not plants were resistant to root-knot nematode.
"The basic objective of any breeding scheme is to identify elite individuals that can pass on their desirable characteristics," explained Bo-Keun Ha, lead author of study.
While Ha says most conventional breeders rely on phenotypic evaluations of plants to select the plant with most desirable traits, this process takes time and money.
For example, if a breeder wants to select plants with resistance to root-knot nematode based upon a phenotypic evaluation alone, he or she must grow a large population of plants, inoculate plants with nematode eggs, wait until the growth of the nematode and evaluate the damage before selecting the most resistant plants.
Instead of relying on the time-consuming phenotypic screening to determine whether or not the root-knot resistance genes are present in soybean crops, "marker assisted selection can inform breeders about the presence of the resistance gene in individual plants," said Ha.
Also, because marker assisted selection involves the screening of a few markers across thousands of plants Ha pointed out that the marker assisted selection is rather inexpensive and time efficient.
"Our results found SNPs linked to two root-knot nematode resistance genes and developed the resources for a relatively high throughput method of selection for the two genes," said Ha. "The SNP assays that we have reported will empower soybean breeders to efficiently incorporate root-knot resistance genes into new productive cultivars."
Semiconductor Membrane Better Than Biological Ones
Multiple applications are envisioned
- Lucian Dorneanu, Softpedia, July 16, 2007
A new type of semiconductor membrane actually displays better electrical performances than its biological cousins and could find its way into many electronic applications, from single-molecule detection devices to DNA sequencing.
"By creating nanopores in the membrane, we can use the membrane to separate charged species or regulate the flow of charged molecules and ions, thereby mimicking the operation of biological ion channels," said lead researcher Jean-Pierre Leburton, the Stillman Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Illinois.
Together with postdoctoral research associate Maria Gracheva and graduate student Julien Vidal, he performed various simulations of the new membrane's operating characteristics, at various electrostatic potentials and found it to be more efficient than currently used biological membranes.
Made of two 12-nanometer-thick silicon layers with opposite (p- / n-) doping, the membrane is embedded with nanopores and has a positive electrostatic potential on the n-side and a negative one on the p-side. The artificial nanopores can control the ion flow with a tunability never previously achieved in biological ion channels.
This solid-state semiconductor membrane could be uses as replacement for biological ion channels and could find its way into many applications, like DNA sequencing and protein filtering. The sequence of DNA constitutes the heritable genetic information in nuclei, plasmids, mitochondria and chloroplasts that forms the basis for the developmental programs of all living organisms. Many medical sciences use this process to study fundamental biological processes and as reliable methods in diagnosis and forensic research.
"Using semiconductor technology to sequence the DNA molecule would save time and money," Leburton said. "By biasing the voltage across the membrane, we could pull DNA through the nanopore. Since each base pair carries a different electrical charge, we could use the membrane as a p-n junction to detect the changing electrical signal."
Causes Of Death Of Cattle And Sheep In The Telengana Region Of Andhra Pradesh In India
- C Kameswara Rao, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education Bangalore, India firstname.lastname@example.org, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org, July 13, 2007
Reports of cattle and sheep dying allegedly on consuming Bt cotton plants in the Warangal, Khammam and Adilabad Districts of the Telengana area of Andhra Pradesh (AP) in India (Deccan Herald, February 7, 2007; The Hindu, March 2, 2007; GM Watch, March 4, 2007; Hindustan Times, June 17, 2007; GM Watch, June 18, 2007; Hindustan Times, June 18, 2007), are a never dying story.
Cattle and sheep were dying even before Bt cotton cultivation came into practice in Telengana. No one has so far conclusively proved that Bt protein in the Bt cotton plants was the real culprit. During our visit to the Warangal district in December 2006, no one we met, other than the activists, said that the animals died because of the toxicity of Bt cotton plants. The All India Crop Biotechnology Association asserted that the deaths of sheep, goat and cattle were not related to consumption of Bt cotton leaves and plants, basing on the studies by the Centre for Animal Disease Research and Diagnosis of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, on goats and rats that were fed with Bt cotton leftovers, which indicated no untoward clinical effects. Yet, the activists want the world to believe that Bt cotton plants cause these alleged animal deaths and so Bt transgenics should be banned.
The Hindu (March 2, 2007) reported that veterinary surgeons in the Telengana region were administering symptomatic treatment to farm animals that showed such symptoms as convulsions, nasal discharge, vomiting, diarrhea and respiratory problems. This is a pragmatic approach, since the 'culprit toxic substance is not identified', but the long term mitigation of the problem lies in identifying the actual causes.
Since Bt protein was repeatedly established that it is not toxic to mammals on the basis of its mode of chemical action, we have been urging for an investigation that would establish the real causes.
If cattle are reported to be dying on eating Bt cotton plants only in the Telengana region of AP, the causes are probably elsewhere, other than with the Bt gene.
Water stress, so common in Telengana, leads to the accumulation of a large number of chemical compounds in the drying cotton plants, Bt or non-Bt, such as resins, polyphenols such as gossypol and several others, which can be toxic when consumed in large quantities.
Recently, scientists from four public sector laboratories such as the AP Forensic Science Laboratory, the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute, the Western Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory and Acharya NG Ranga Agriculture University, seem to have reported the presence of nitrates, nitrites, and residues of organophosphates in Bt cotton plants. Certainly, the Bt gene is not responsible for the occurrence of these compounds.
An article in the journal Current Science (February 2007) reported very toxic levels of nitrate in the leafy vegetables spinach and chenopodium sold in Delhi markets. Older plants and more fibrous parts of these vegetables such as the leaf stalks contained several times more nitrate than the herbaceous parts of the same plant. Post harvest cotton crop stubble is several months older and heavily fibrous. Stubble of non-Bt cotton and non-cotton crops in the same region too may contain nitrates, nitrites and organophosphates. The possibility that the affected cattle did not feed on such non-Bt stubble was not eliminated.
Details of specific poisonous chemical compounds, and their quantities in the feed and gastric residues in the affected animals, needed to make an objective evaluation are not available.
There is some overlap between the symptoms caused by nitrate and pesticide poisoning, on which separate articles are posted on this site. There is a correspondence between many symptoms reported of the dead animals and those of nitrates and insecticides.
Since the farmers use significantly lower quantities of insecticides on the Bt cotton crop, than on a non-Bt crop, nitrates and nitrites are more likely to be the toxicants than organophosphates. But this has to be established beyond the current assumptions from the public sector labs.
The reported statement of the Director, AP Department of Animal Husbandry, that 'no biosafety studies of Bt cotton seeds had yet been conducted', is factually incorrect. On the basis of extensive and intensive biosafety studies on Bt cotton conducted for over a decade in different parts of the world, its safety to mammals is not in doubt. Also important is the fact that while Bt cotton is being grown in nine states, no cattle toxicity complaints came, except from a few villages in AP. As observed by Hindustan Times (June 18, 2007), the situation does not warrant trashing the thousands of field tests and analyses done on the biosafety of Bt cotton.
The AP Government has rightly advised farmers not to allow animals to graze on Bt cotton fields and informed the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests about the findings of the public sector labs, which prompted the latter to order a probe.
The solution to the problem lies in an appropriate grazing management, by providing the cattle with proper feed and preventing them from grazing on drying post-harvest stubble of any crop, not just cotton, particularly in the dry Telengana districts. Prior to harvest, cattle are not allowed to graze on crop fields and the same practice should continue after crop harvest too.
There is yet no answer to the question 'Why do cattle die eating Bt cotton plants only in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh?'
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net