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Date:

July 21, 2007

Subject:

Pay more for food or go GM; GM crops spread across U.S.; Crops can co-exist

 

* Pay more for food or go GM
* GM crops spread across U.S.
* Crops can co-exist
* Planting seeds of green revolution
* Plant Breeding and Genetic Engineering
* Artist sketched DNA's double helix
* The challenge of nitrogen efficiency

-------------------

Families face stark choice ... pay more for food or go GM

- Tanya Thompson, Alastair Jamieson and Lyndsay Moss, The Scotsman, July 21, 2007

http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1138372007

CONSUMER resistance to the idea of genetically modified foods must be overcome if there is be a solution to the growing problem of food inflation, scientists have said.

Horror stories about the dangers of so-called "Frankenstein foods" prompted a backlash in the UK against the use of more intensive farming technology.

But with the price of staple goods - including milk, cereals and vegetables - soaring well above inflation, a growing number of experts are concluding that consumers will soon have to choose between expensive food and cheaper GM.

Economists say climate change and growing global demand could leave Britain facing a "food-security" crisis for the first time since the end of rationing in July 1954.

Scientists are now calling for a fresh debate about GM crops, which they claim will reduce prices and mitigate the impact of farming on the world's environment.

Although unnoticed by many shoppers, food prices are rising faster in Britain than almost anywhere else in the Western world. Bread, for example, is up 15 per cent and milk up 10 per cent.

A COMBINATION of poor harvests - as a result of severe weather brought on by global warming - and demand for crops which can be used as biofuels, have led to rising commodity prices in a phenomenon that analysts have dubbed "agflation".

Yesterday, the National Farmers' Union warned that the cheap-food era will soon end.

At present, millions of acres of commercial GM crops are grown in US, India and China and elsewhere, but there are none in Europe.

Alex Salmond, the First Minister, has pledged that Scotland will remain free from GM crops, but food containing GM ingredients is available - provided that it is labelled as such.

However, some experts believe Scotland must reconsider its position on GM crops if prices are to stay low and food remain in plentiful supply.

Dr Simon Best, chairman of the Bioindustry Association, said: "We have got used to the luxury of low food prices but excessive demand and climate change will prompt many people to rethink their priorities as shopping baskets become more expensive.

"Organic farming requires four times as much land-use. It is an extensive method of agriculture, rather than intensive. Acceptance of biotechnologies will allow us to develop cheaper and better food and mitigate our environmental impact."

Professor Bill McKelvey, chief executive of the Scottish Agricultural College, said: "Food prices are going to go up and there is going to be a greater need for high production. One option for us is that we should consider the use of GM."

The issue of GM foods has polarised opinion in recent years. Advocates claim it will enable farmers to gain higher crop yields through better weed control and reduce the use of toxic pesticides.

Poor countries, they say, will be less reliant on hand-outs, the nutritional content of basic foods can be improved and vaccines to fight disease can all be added to GM crops. In essence, they claim it is the answer to the growing problem of feeding the world.

BUT critics, such as Friends of the Earth Scotland, believe the large-scale release of GM organisms into the environment would irreversibly damage the countryside, eliminating diversity and turning it into a green monoculture.

They claim it may cause damage to human health, contribute to the evolution of pesticide-resistant "superweeds", and make organic farming impossible because of cross-pollination.

In 2003, several sites in Scotland ran trials of GM crops, which attracted mass protests and the destruction of plants. There are no longer any GM crops in Scotland, though trials with GM potatoes are taking place in England.

Keith Adamson, a farmer at Wester Friarton, Newport-on-Tay, Fife, was involved in Scottish trials of GM crops and saw protesters attacking his field of GM oil-seed rape.

Despite this, Mr Adamson believed the UK could not continue to shun the technology.

"That is going to hurt a lot of people... GM will be needed to feed the growing world population," he said.

"GM crops may be seen as the monster at the moment, but I think in the future it will be our godsend."

THE Scottish Executive has stated its clear opposition to GM crops,

but Anthony Trewavas, a professor of plant science and fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, who gave evidence on the GM debate at a committee of the Scottish Parliament, insists the products have been eaten by Americans and Canadians for over a decade without any evidence of harmful effects.

"If there is the political will to use GM products, we can go some way to solve the problem of starvation," he said. "Animal feed has come from GM products for a long time. The stuff is cheaper because of the reduction in the use of pesticides.

"The Executive's intention is to be GM-free and that's a mistake. You should not stop people making that choice."

Dr Best added that technology was already being used to extend the season of fruit and vegetables and improve the quality of meat.

"Techniques such as selective breeding and reproductive assistance are already in widespread use. Organic farming doesn't mean animals are roaming around having sex when they feel like it.

"GM crops and cloning get a negative reaction among many consumers because Europe was never allowed to have a rational debate about the potential benefits. It is now time we had that debate."

An Executive spokeswoman said: "GM crops are not grown in Scotland and we believe this respects the wishes of Scottish consumers who want local, high-quality produce. It helps Scottish farmers compete in overseas markets which place a premium on pure, naturally produced food, and it enhances Scotland's international reputation for the production of high-quality foodstuffs.

"Scotland has a wonderful and varied environment, which is rich in biodiversity, and our farmers have a long history of working with the land to produce quality crops and products that people want to buy. We do not wish to jeopardise this." Crisis alert as impact of rising farm prices felt at checkout

MOST consumers in Britain probably have not noticed the increase in their weekly shopping bills, but the

price of cereals in the UK has jumped by 12 per cent in the past year and butter prices in Europe have increased 40 per cent.

Corn has doubled in price over the past 18 months, wheat prices have gained about 50 per cent, while sugar and cocoa prices are also on the up.

Analysts with Deloitte last week warned bread would go up by a further 5p a loaf because of rising wheat prices.

Sixty years ago, the average British family spent more than a third of its income on food - today the figure is a tenth. But for the first time in a generation, agricultural commodity prices are surging.

Nestle's chairman, Peter Brabeck, has warned that food prices around the world are set for a "significant and long-lasting" period of inflation, partly because of demand from China and India, and the increasing use of crops for biofuels, as well as general population growth.

This week the UN warned that rising prices for food would affect its ability to fight famine in Africa.

A report by the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, stressed that long-term prices would be up to 30 per cent higher than expected.

"Growth in the use of agricultural commodities as feedstock to a rapidly increasing biofuel industry is one of the main... reasons for international commodity prices to attain a significantly higher plateau," the report said.

The warning is likely to re-ignite the debate on food versus fuel. Under America's "ethanol policy", a quarter of US maize is converted into bio-fuels. As the US supplies more than two-thirds of the world's grain imports, the effect on food prices will be dramatic.

James Withers, deputy chief executive of the NFU Scotland, said consumers can no longer take food production for granted. "For the first time since the end of the Second World War, food security has been an issue again," he said.

"Food has been artificially cheap for a long time and we have expected to walk into Tesco and see the aisles fully stocked with food.

"The government has no food security policy and believes the rest of the world will feed the UK and that's not true. If you don't keep Scottish food production going... you could have a real food security crisis."

He cited the example of Argentina, which last year dramatically reduced beef exports, hitting world meat prices. Last month, thousands of Mexicans took to the streets to protest at the price of corn flour to make tortillas, which had risen by 400 per cent.

David Hughes, emeritus professor of food marketing at Imperial College London, commented:

"For some people on low incomes, if the price of food continues to increase... they will be hard hit.

He also believes that, as a nation, we will be forced to look closer to home to feed ourselves because the variety of produce will not be what we have come to expect.

He said: "Would we run out of food? No. We'd just have to adapt... eat more potatoes, more local, home-grown food. We'd have to look at more seasonal foods and totally re-think the way we eat."

*******************

Biotech crops spread across U.S.

USDA report focuses on corn, soybeans and upland cotton

- Cookson Beecher, Capital Press (Salem, OR), July 20, 2007

http://www.capitalpress.info/main.asp?SectionID=67&SubSectionID=790&ArticleID=33750&TM=45863.86

Biotech corn, soybean and upland cotton crops are continuing on an upward swing across the U.S. agricultural landscape, according to a recently released USDA report.

Soybean and cotton varieties with herbicide-tolerant traits have been the most widely and rapidly adopted biotech crops in the United States.

Crops with herbicide-tolerant traits can be sprayed with specific weed killers without causing damage to the crop.

Next in line when it comes to U.S. biotech acreage are insect-resistant cotton and corn.

Data used in the report were obtained by the National Agricultural Statistics Service in a survey that has been carried out every June since 2000.

In the survey, randomly selected farmers across the nation were asked if they had planted genetically engineered corn, soybeans or upland cotton seed.

The figures include not only herbicide- and insect-tolerant biotech crops but also "stacked gene" varieties - those that contain genetically engineered traits for both herbicide tolerance and insect resistance.

Herbicide-tolerant

These crops have been developed to survive applications of specific herbicides.

According to the report, herbicide-tolerant soybeans jumped from 17 percent of U.S. soybean acreage in 1997, to 68 percent in 2001, and to 91 percent in 2007.

Plantings of herbicide-tolerant cotton rose from 10 percent of U.S. upland cotton acreage in 1997 to 56 percent in 2001 and to 70 percent in 2007.

The adoption of herbicide-tolerant corn, which had been slower in previous years, has increased, accelerating to 52 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 2007.

Insect-resistant

These crops contain the gene from a naturally occurring soil bacterium known as Bt, short for Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a protein that is toxic to specific insects.

Bt versions of corn and cotton have been available since 1996.

In the case of Bt corn acreage, there have been some ups and downs over the years. From 1997 to 1999, acreage grew 26 percent, but then fell to 19 percent in 2000 and 2001.

But then in 2003, acreage began climbing again, rising to 29 percent that year and to 49 percent in 2007.

According to the report, the recent incline in Bt corn acreage was likely triggered by the commercial introduction in 2003-04 of a new Bt corn variety that is resistant to the corn rootworm - a pest that may be more destructive to corn yields than the European corn borer. Previously, the European corn borer was the only pest targeted by Bt corn.

As for cotton, plantings of Bt cotton rose more rapidly - from 15 percent of U.S. cotton acreage in 1997 to 37 percent in 2001 and 59 percent in 2007.

The use of Bt corn is expected to fluctuate over time, in accordance with infestation levels of European corn borer and the corn rootworm, which are the main pests targeted by Bt corn.

Likewise, the adoption of Bt cotton will likely depend on expected infestations of Bt target pests such as the tobacco budworm, the bollworm and the pink bollworm.

Since insects are not a major problem for soybeans, no insect-resistant varieties have been developed.

Stacked genes

The adoption rates cited in the report include "stacked gene" varieties of cotton and corn. These biotech varieties contain herbicide-tolerant and Bt traits.

Stacked cotton rose to 42 percent of cotton plantings in 2007, while stacked corn accounted for only 28 percent of corn acreage.

However, when looking at acreage with either or both herbicide-tolerant and Bt traits, genetically engineered cotton acreage reached 87 percent in 2007, compared with 91 percent for soybeans.

Adoption of all biotech corn was 73 percent.

State rankings

n Corn - Illinois was at the top of the charts for corn acreage planted in all genetically engineered varieties. In 2000, 17 percent of the state's corn acreage was planted in biotech corn; in 2004, 33 percent, and in 2007, 74 percent.

The United States had 25 percent of its corn acreage planted in biotech corn in 2000; 47 percent in 2004; and 73 percent in 2007.

n Cotton - Alabama led the pack in the amount of upland cotton acreage planted in biotech varieties. In 2005, the first year the figures were available, 92 percent of its cotton acreage was planted in biotech cotton, and in 2006 and 2007, 95 percent.

California came in third after Arkansas, with 24 percent of its upland cotton acreage planted in biotech varieties in 2000; 52 percent in 2004; and 61 percent in 2007.

In 2000, 61 percent of the upland cotton acreage in the United States was planted in biotech varieties; 76 percent in 2004; and 87 percent in 2007.

n Soybeans - Arkansas farmers planted the most biotech soybean acreage, with 43 percent of the state's soybean acreage in biotech varieties in 2000; 84 percent in 2003; and 92 percent in 2007.

The U.S. biotech soybean acreage accounted for 54 percent of its soybean acreage in 2000; 85 percent in 2004; and 91 percent in 2007.

Pacific Northwest

Although farmers across the country are increasingly turning to biotech crops when making planting decisions, that's only partly true for farmers in the Pacific Northwest and California, according to the recent USDA report.

In fact, when looking at the report's breakdown of biotech acreage for soybeans and corn, Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho didn't even make it to the charts, so scanty was the acreage in those states compared with biotech acreage in the heavy-hitting states.

And California made a showing only in the biotech cotton category, although that showing was significant.

But that doesn't mean that genetically engineered crops aren't making inroads into the region. Field corn is a prime example. Monsanto field corn rep Kevin Zander, whose territory includes a large part of the Northwest, said interest in Roundup Ready corn continues to be strong.

Three years ago, about 50 to 60 percent of the field corn planted across the region was Roundup Ready corn. Now in 1997, that number has risen to about 95 percent, a number that Zander said pretty much mirrors what's happening across the nation.

Citing Washington as an example, Zander said that corn acreage overall has gone up - from 150,000 acres last year to 190,000 acres this year. But since some of that acreage is in sweet corn, Zander said it's hard to pinpoint exactly how much of it is in field corn. But with about 95 percent of all field corn acreage in the state planted in Roundup Ready corn, it's safe to say that the acreage of Roundup Ready corn has increased as well.

Zander said Roundup Ready corn acreage in Idaho has gone up 15 to 20 percent over last year's plantings.

He said farmers like it because they usually only have to apply Roundup one time during the growing season to control weeds, in contrast to several applications of weed killers in the case of conventional field corn.

That reduced application rate helps cut costs and increase plant safety.

For Zander, the widespread adoption of Roundup Ready corn is a sign that "the future is here."

"But this is just the tip of the iceberg," he said, referring to continuing advances in genetic engineering aimed at protecting crops from an array of enemies, insects and weeds alike.

*******************

Biotech-enhanced crops can co-exist

Organic farmers bear the burden of protecting their crops from a small chance of cross-pollination.

- Douglas Johnson, Maine Today, July 20, 2007

http://business.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=121764&ac=PHbiz

For the past 10 years, opponents of biotechnology-enhanced crops in Maine have claimed bragging rights over the fact that our state is the only one in the nation to have turned down applications for growing Bt corn -- corn modified to contain the natural pesticide bacillus thuriengensis.

Though the close vote of the Board of Pesticides Control denying the applications in 1997 was officially because need for the corn had not been demonstrated, everyone close to the fray knew it was organized opposition, much of it from organic farmers, that shaped the outcome.

Now, three manufacturers of the seed have decided to try again and the fight has erupted anew. This time the battle isn't over whether Bt corn hurts monarch butterflies or causes other environmental calamities; solid science in the intervening years has settled those questions with a resounding no.

This time organic growers are claiming Bt corn will cross- pollinate their organic corn, causing it to lose its organic status. This newspaper supports that claim and in an editorial called on the Board of Pesticides Control to include adequate buffer zones as a condition of approval ("Before Maine gets Bt corn, protect organic crops," July 15).

Is the concern about cross-pollination justified? Should Maine's organic farmers be worried? Corn is an open pollinating crop, so pollen from one corn field theoretically can pollinate a nearby one. But corn pollen is heavy and doesn't travel far. It also loses viability quickly. Wind direction, weather and different maturity dates all play a role in cross-pollination.

Both research and practical experience tell us that cross- pollination between biotech and organic corn is not a problem. A biotech-enhanced corn that is resistant to herbicide sprays has been planted in Maine for years. Yet not one complaint has been lodged against it by organic growers. A study in Spain showed that after six years of cultivation, Bt corn can co-exist with organic and conventional corn "without economic and commercial problems." A 2004 report on U.S. co-existence reached a similar conclusion.

But isolated instances of cross-pollination have occurred between organic and biotech-enhanced crops. In agriculture, nothing is 100 percent.

So whose responsibility is it to make sure organic crops are pure, the organic grower or the neighboring farmer? The rules for organic production adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, after a lengthy comment period, place the responsibility squarely on the organic grower. On page 45 of the 554-page rule is the following: "fields and farm parcels must also have distinct, defined boundaries and buffer zones to prevent contact with the land or crop by prohibited substances applied to adjoining land (emphasis added)."

The USDA rule codifies a well accepted farming practice. Because farming is conducted in the open, anyone who chooses to grow a crop that will command a higher price in the market must absorb the added cost of producing that crop. In the case of organic crops, which fetch higher prices, the added cost of buffer strips must be borne by the organic grower.

Though this may seem harsh, imagine the chaos that would result if farmers changing their crops for more profit, for example growing plants for pharmaceuticals, demanded that their neighbors be responsible for maintaining the purity of their high-profit operations.

Unfortunately, the fight over who, if anyone, should be responsible for buffer strips is detracting from the more important task of encouraging farmers to work together to resolve conflicts.

The Maine Department of Agriculture has developed a "Plan for Co-Existence." It recognizes that different farming practices have different needs, and it gives steps farmers can take to minimize conflicts.

In 2006, the Pew Initiative on Biotechnology conducted a two- day workshop on co-existence. One of the conclusions: "Co- existence is a journey, not a destination." It's time for Maine farmers to begin that journey.

About the Author

Douglas Johnson is the director of the Maine Biotechnology Information Bureau in Stonington.

*******************

Planting seeds of green revolution

- Jane Ininda, Business Daily (Nairobi), July 20, 2007

http://www.bdafrica.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2018&Itemid=5821

Last Saturday, as I stood with Kofi Annan in the field of Mr. Pharis Wekesa, a farmer in western Kenya, and examined an experimental variety of maize bred to increase the productivity of small-scale farmers, it struck me that we do indeed stand on the threshold of enormous changes for Africa's poorest farmers.

These changes promise to dramatically increase their productivity, their incomes and their options.

This is the goal of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, a new organisation whose board is chaired by Kofi Annan. His visit sparked widespread interest, not only in the rural areas, but also among the media and all sectors of society committed to ending the chronic poverty experienced by more than 200 million Africans.

It also sparked debate about how to best accomplish this goal, including debate around the issue of genetically engineered crops (GMOs).

I am a plant breeder and programme officer for the Alliance, and the views of our Chair and our organisation on this question are quite straightforward, although perhaps unlikely to satisfy those who are either for or against GMOs.

As Mr Annan said, the Alliance strongly believes that the application of science and technology - in everything from field-based soil ecology to cyberspace-based market information systems--is essential to improving the productivity of Africa's small-scale farmers.

Today, an important Alliance initiative is developing new crop varieties that better withstand pests and disease, and cope with marginal soils and drought, and dramatically increase farmers' yields. Such robust new varieties are absolutely key to raising farm productivity.

To develop these varieties, the Alliance is funding conventional plant breeding approaches. As Mr. Annan said, we are not at this time funding development of new varieties through the use of genetic engineering.

We have chosen to focus on conventional breeding techniques at this point because we know that they can produce significant benefits in the near term and at relatively low cost. Until now, conventional plant breeding - which can be very technologically sophisticated--has not received sufficient attention or investment in Africa. Thus, its potential remains largely untapped, along with the inherent genetic potential of African crop varieties.

Furthermore, conventional breeding is highly practical. It makes the best use of current scientific capacity and fits within existing regulatory frameworks, enabling relatively rapid dissemination to farmers of the new varieties they desire.

Therefore, conventional breeding is the starting point of Alliance efforts to develop improved seeds, precisely because our goal is to begin making a difference now. However, we also know that science is continually evolving, as is society and scientific capacity.

We do not preclude the use of crop genetic engineering in the future if that is the most appropriate tool to address the needs of small scale farmers and if African governments endorse its use.

We believe it is up to governments, in partnership with broader society, to use the best scientific knowledge available to put in place policies and regulations that will guide the safe development and use of new technologies, as Kenya and other African countries are doing.

Our mission is to use the wide variety of tools and techniques available now in Africa to make a difference for our farmers. Our mission is not to advocate for or against GMOs.

To those who would reduce the problem of hunger in Africa to a question of "yes" or "no" to GMOs, we believe they are at best missing the point, and at worst creating a distraction from the range of concrete actions urgently needed to solve one the most critical humanitarian problems of our time. We cannot wait to end poverty and hunger.

Our farmers cannot wait. We are getting to work.

*******************

Plant Breeding and Genetic Engineering

- Alliance for a Green Revolution, web posting July 20, 2007

http://www.agra-alliance.org/about/genetic_engineering.html

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa supports the use of science and technology - in everything from field-based soil ecology to cyberspace-based market information systems - to aid Africa's smallholder farmers in their urgent efforts to end widespread poverty and hunger.

An important Alliance initiative is the development of new crop varieties that will withstand pests and disease; cope with drought, marginal soils and other environmental stresses; and dramatically increase farmers' yields. Only with sustainable increases in farm productivity will smallholder farmers be able to feed themselves and their families, end widespread hunger, produce a marketable surplus, and stimulate economic growth.

Our goal is to develop 1000 new varieties as rapidly as possible, using conventional breeding and participatory methods in which plant breeders work closely with farmers to develop varieties with the traits farmers need.

The Alliance is not at this time funding the development of new varieties through the use of genetic engineering. We have chosen to focus on conventional breeding techniques - which can be quite technologically sophisticated - for two main reasons:

1. We know that conventional methods of plant breeding can produce significant benefits in the near term at relatively low cost. Until now, however, conventional plant breeding has not received sufficient attention or investment in Africa, leaving untapped the inherent genetic potential available in African crops. With improved seeds produced through conventional breeding methods, plant scientists and farmers could readily raise average cereal yields from one tonne to two tonnes per hectare - making a major contribution toward ending hunger and poverty in Africa.

2. Conventional crop breeding fits within the regulatory frameworks now in place in most African countries, enabling relatively rapid dissemination to farmers of the new varieties they desire.

Therefore, conventional breeding is our starting point. However, we also know that science and society are continually evolving. The Alliance itself will be funding initiatives that strengthen Africa's scientific capacity at a number of levels. We do not preclude future funding for genetic engineering as an approach to crop variety improvement when it is the most appropriate tool to address an important need of small-scale farmers and when it is consistent with government policy.

Our mission is not to advocate for or against the use of genetic engineering. We believe it is up to governments, in partnership with their citizens, to use the best knowledge available to put in place policies and regulations that will guide the safe development and acceptable use of new technologies, as several African countries are in the process of doing. We will consider funding the development and deployment of such new technologies only after African governments have endorsed and provided for their safe use.

Our mission is to use the wide variety of tools and techniques available now to make a dramatic difference for Africa's smallholder farmers as quickly as possible.

*******************

Artist Odile Crick, 86, sketched DNA's double helix

- Adam Bernstein, The Washington Post via News & Observer (North Carolina), July 21, 2007

http://www.newsobserver.com/nation_world/story/644624.html

WASHINGTON - Odile Crick, an artist who made the first widely published sketch of the double-helix structure of DNA, died of cancer July 5 at her home in La Jolla, Calif. She was 86.

Her husband, Francis Crick, was one of three men credited with discovering the structure of the molecule. Mrs. Crick made it visible to the world in an April 1953 issue of the journal Nature.

Her graceful drawing of the double-helix structure of DNA with intertwined helical loops has become a symbol of the achievements of science and its aspirations to understand the secrets of life. The image represents the base pairs of nucleic acids, twisted around a center line to show the axis of the helix.

Terrence Sejnowski, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, where Francis Crick later worked, said: "Mrs. Crick's drawing was an abstract representation of DNA, but it was accurate with regard to its shape and size of its spacing.

"The models you see now have all the atoms in them," Sejnowski said. "The one in Nature was the backbone and gave the bare outline. It may be the most famous [scientific] drawing of the 20th century, in that it defines modern biology."

Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins were credited with the first explanation of DNA and its structure, which has been revolutionary in the understanding of genetics and spurred the field of biotechnology. They shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their work on deoxyribonucleic acid.

Mrs. Crick was initially reluctant to abandon her pottery and paintings of Rubenesque nudes to take on the job of illustrating her husband's work.

She also was famously underwhelmed when her husband -- returning from his standing lunch with Watson at the Eagle pub in Cambridge, England -- excitedly told her for the first time about his DNA findings.

"You were always coming home and saying things like that," she said, "so naturally I thought nothing of it."

A bohemian life

Odile Speed was born Aug. 11, 1920, in King's Lynn in Norfolk, England. Her mother was French, and her father was a British jeweler.

She studied art in London, Paris and Vienna but returned home when the Nazis advanced into Austria. She became an officer in the Women's Royal Naval Service, and her proficiency in German brought her work as a code-breaker and translator of captured documents.

She was stationed at the Admiralty defense complex in London when she first met Crick, a scientist four years her senior working on military research, particularly magnetic and acoustic mines.

She married Crick in 1949. After he became famous, the couple became known for their bohemian London parties at their home, the Golden Helix. Mrs. Crick often enlivened the occasions with her accordion.

"A typical party ... organised on the slightest pretext, would fill all four floors of the Golden Helix with friends, music, punch bowls ... and the scent of the odd joint in the air," Matt Ridley wrote in his 2006 biography of Francis Crick.

The Cricks settled in California in the late 1970s when Francis received a distinguished professorship at the Salk Institute and switched from his studies of DNA and the genetic code to trying to understand the brain.

When he served as president of the institute, Francis Crick displayed his wife's paintings of nudes around the workplace. He died in 2004.

Survivors include two daughters, Gabrielle Crick of London and Jacqueline Nichols of England; a stepson, Michael Crick of Bellevue, Wash.; a brother; and four grandchildren.

Francis Crick once said that his wife stopped him from using Jacqueline when she was in an infant in an experiment that involved the protein lysozyme, which is found in tears and saliva. "Odile would have none of it," he wrote in a memoir. "What! Use her precious baby for an experiment! I was sternly forbidden to attempt it."

*******************

The challenge of improving nitrogen use efficiency in crop plants: towards a more central role for genetic variability and quantitative genetics within integrated approaches

Bertrand Hirel, Jacques Le Gouis, Bertrand Ney and André Gallais, Journal of Experimental Botany 2007 (58(9):2369-2387; doi:10.1093/jxb/erm097), published online on June 7, 2007

http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/58/9/2369

In this review, recent developments and future prospects of obtaining a better understanding of the regulation of nitrogen use efficiency in the main crop species cultivated in the world are presented. In these crops, an increased knowledge of the regulatory mechanisms controlling plant nitrogen economy is vital for improving nitrogen use efficiency and for reducing excessive input of fertilizers, while maintaining an acceptable yield. Using plants grown under agronomic conditions at low and high nitrogen fertilization regimes, it is now possible to develop whole-plant physiological studies combined with gene, protein, and metabolite profiling to build up a comprehensive picture depicting the different steps of nitrogen uptake, assimilation, and recycling to the final deposition in the seed. A critical overview is provided on how understanding of the physiological and molecular controls of N assimilation under varying environmental conditions in crops has been improved through the use of combined approaches, mainly based on whole-plant physiology, quantitative genetics, and forward and reverse genetics approaches. Current knowledge and prospects for future agronomic development and application for breeding crops adapted to lower fertilizer input are explored, taking into account the world economic and environmental constraints in the next century.

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