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July 23, 2007


Concerns boost support for crops; German field attacked; Method to comb genomes


* EC Report on Unapproved GMOs
* Concerns boost support for GM food crops
* Simple method to comb genomes
* Bt Maize Enhances Parasitoid Performance
* Huge boost to sheep mapping
* Violence has never been a solution
* Anti-GM demonstrators invade German field


Commission Report "Economic Impact Of Unapproved GMOs On EU Feed Imports And Livestock Production"

- Comité du Commerce des céréales, aliments du bétail, oléagineux, huile d'olive, huiles et graisses et agrofournitures (COCERAL), EuropaBio, European Feed Manufacturers' Federation (FEFAC), and EU Oil and Proteinmeal Industry (FEDIOL) (press release) via Medical News Today, July 22, 2007


[excerpted; see link above for complete text]

Key industry messages

1. The industry welcomes the report and calls on the institutions to urgently address the issue of the low level presence of EU - unapproved GM materials entering Europe in traded commodities.

2. The industry urges Member States to vote to approve, in a timely manner, GM crops that have received a positive safety assessment from the EU's independent scientific body, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and to keep pace with approvals in other global regions, many of which are key trading partners of the EU.

3. Recently Commissioners Mandelson, Fischer Boel and Kyprianou have acknowledged the supply crisis developing in the European feed industry and the need to find practical solutions. This underscores the need to improve the EU approval system to function more swiftly or risk threatening Europe's ability to fundamentally source sufficient feed for our livestock sector.

4. The zero tolerance that is in operation in the EU for the low level presence of EUunapproved GM plant materials found in imported commodities - which have been approved by other Regulatory Agencies - is disproportionate to any potential risk.

5. It is essential for the EU to establish a workable tolerance for the low level presence of products that have obtained a positive EFSA opinion or have been approved by another OECD country to be present in cargoes of traded commodities.

6. Clear and pragmatic tolerance levels for the low level presence of EUunapproved GM material in EU food and feed imports will avoid international trade disruption, limit the impact on EU agriculture in the short term and enable other countries the freedom to continue to choose between different farming systems.

7. This situation is fully comparable with the plans that the European Commission has to create thresholds for adventitious presence of biotech seeds in non-GM seeds to avoid internal trade disruption in the EU.

8. This is not the first time the EU has had to agree procedures for handling products only approved outside the EU but which could be found in imports into the EU. For example the EU has managed to establish tolerances for the presence of EU un-approved plant protection products or medicinal substances.

9. The Industry urges EU Member States also to vote in favour of cultivation dossiers so that EU farmers are not left behind in competition terms with their counterparts elsewhere in the world.


Environmental concerns boost support for GM food crops

- Queensland Business Review (Australia), July 20, 2007


Public support for genetically modified food crops rose dramatically to 73 percent in 2007, up from 46 percent in 2005, due to perceptions about the role they can play in countering drought and pollution.

Australian Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, says a Biotechnology Australia report, released today, shows a major change in public attitudes towards biotechnology in all areas.

"When asked if GM crops should be grown in their state, 50 percent of respondents from all states said Yes, with a further 30 percent approving as long as they were strongly regulated," says Macfarlane.

"This marks a significant change in public attitudes and coincides with an increased confidence in science across society. The perceived benefits from biotechnology are increasing while the perceived risks are declining.

"Changes in attitudes have been influenced by the public's increased familiarity with gene technology and a perception that GM crops could be used to counter major environmental concerns."

The study looks at public concerns about biotechnology applications and seeks to understand what benefits people wanted from the technology.

The highest values placed on biotechnology applications were:

- cleaning up pollution (97 percent support);

- developing environmentally-friendly vehicle fuels (97 percent);

- recycling water more effectively (96 percent);

- helping address climate change (91 percent); and

- combating salinity (90 percent).


Simple method to comb genomes

- News-Medical.Net, July 22, 2007


Instead of immutable proprietary software, any species, genetic information resembles open source code that is constantly tweaked and optimized to meet the users specific needs.

But which parts of the code have withstood the test of time and which parts have undergone rapid evolutionary change has been difficult to assess.

An international collaboration by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the University of Chicago, and the Max-Planck Institute for Developmental Biology developed a simple method to comb whole genomes for all the software fixes and security patches accumulated over time. In a first trial run, the scientists catalogued the genetic variations in 23 strains of the mustard weed Arabidopsis thaliana that were collected from the wild all over the world.

"Our study represents one of the first whole genome scans for levels and patterns of genetic variation within a species," says Joseph R. Ecker, Ph.D., professor in the Plant Biology Laboratory and director of the Salk Institute Genomic Analysis Laboratory, who led the current study published in last week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. "It reveals the regions that are currently targeted by natural selection or have been so during the evolutionary past."

In an independent study the collaborators -- this time led by Detlef Weigel, Ph.D., director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tubingen, Germany, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute -- went through the genomes of 20 different strains of Arabidopsis thaliana with an even finer-toothed comb, allowing them to determine the exact nature of the changes. The findings of the second study are published in the July 20 issue of the journal Science.

"We found that one out of 10 genes is very different," says Weigel. "This plasticity is truly surprising for a genome that's very streamlined and unlike bigger genomes doesn't contain a lot of junk DNA," he adds.

A decade ago, Arabidopsis was widely adopted by plant scientists as an easily manipulated model for other plants because it is simple to grow in the laboratory, has a short life cycle and a small genome. Compared to corn, which might have as many as 2.5 billion base pairs of DNA and the human genome with roughly 3 billion pairs, Arabidopsis only has about 120 million base pairs of DNA.

With nowhere to run, plants are under constant threat from heat, cold, high acidity or salinity, or pathogens such as viruses and leaf-munching insects. In response, plants mobilize physiological and biochemical defenses that help them survive. "We expected certain classes of genes to be highly variable due to natural selection in different environments. Both studies revealed precisely which gene family members indeed were shaped by evolution," says Justin Borevitz, Ph.D., a former post-doctoral researcher in the Ecker lab and now an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago.

As a general rule, genes that don't change over time are under strong negative selection because they perform important housekeeping functions, while genes that vary widely such as disease resistance genes are under strong positive selection. "We covered both ends of the spectrum and ended up with a top list of no changes and a top list of a lot of changes," explains Borevitz. "All the data have been placed in a publicly accessible database and now researchers everywhere can look up their favorite genes."

To assemble their lists, the Ecker team poured over data derived from old-fashioned gene-chip technology, in which 25 nucleotide-long samples of every gene expressed in an Arabidopsis cell are spotted onto a tiny glass slide known as a microarray. The chopped up genomes of the different strains were then allowed to bind to their immobilized counterparts. Reduced hybridization resulted in a signal telling the researchers which regions the genomes differed from the fully sequenced reference strain.

"This method is simple and relatively inexpensive and can be applied to any organism whose whole genome has been sequenced and for which a gene array is available or can be easily made," explains Ecker. "For these reasons it is attractive to a wide audience practicing evolutionary genomics."

Weigel's team went a step further and effectively re-sequenced whole genomes with the help of nearly a billion 25-mers tiled on 5 large arrays that cover every possible nucleotide exchange on both strands of DNA. The high-resolution approach revealed a high number of specific changes in genes belonging to the so-called F-box superfamily, whose members plays a crucial part in flagging proteins for degradation.

"As highlighted by both studies, many genes that harbor major-effect changes in wild populations are likely to mediate interactions with the environment," says Weigel. "Ultimately, experiments under more natural conditions will be required to fully appreciate the functional relevance of such sequence variation."


High Susceptibility of Bt Maize to Aphids Enhances the Performance of Parasitoids of Lepidopteran Pests

- Scientist Live, July 23, 2007



Concerns about possible undesired environmental effects of transgenic crops have prompted numerous evaluations of such crops. So-called Bt crops receive particular attention because they carry bacteria-derived genes coding for insecticidal proteins that might negatively affect non-target arthropods.

Here we show a remarkable positive effect of Bt maize on the performance of the corn leaf aphid Rhopalosiphum maidis, which in turn enhanced the performance of parasitic wasps that feed on aphid honeydew. Within five out of six pairs that were evaluated, transgenic maize lines were significantly more susceptible to aphids than their near-isogenic equivalents, with the remaining pair being equally susceptible.

The aphids feed from the phloem sieve element content and analyses of this sap in selected maize lines revealed marginally, but significantly higher amino acid levels in Bt maize, which might partially explain the observed increased aphid performance. Larger colony densities of aphids on Bt plants resulted in an increased production of honeydew that can be used as food by beneficial insects.

Indeed, Cotesia marginiventris, a parasitoid of lepidopteran pests, lived longer and parasitized more pest caterpillars in the presence of aphid-infested Bt maize than in the presence of aphid-infested isogenic maize. Hence, depending on aphid pest thresholds, the observed increased susceptibility of Bt maize to aphids may be either a welcome or an undesirable side effect.

Authors: Cristina A. Faria, Felix L. Wäckers, Jeremy Pritchard, David A. Barrett, Ted C.J. Turlings

To read the original journal article, click here. http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObjectAttachment.action?representation=PDF&uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0000600


Huge boost to sheep mapping

- Farm News (New Zealand), July 22, 2007


The sheep genetics industry received a huge boost last week with the announcement that New Zealand-based livestock genetics company Ovita (a 50:50 partnership between Meat & Wool New Zealand and AgResearch) has committed $1.2 million worth of funding to help map the sheep genome.

"Just as mapping the human genome will help in fighting disease, mapping the sheep genome could help livestock producers breed better animals faster," Independent Chairman of Ovita, Rick Bettle said today.

The genome is defined as all the biological information that makes up an organism, including its genes and DNA sequences. When scientists first mapped the human genome they found that they could measure the differences in DNA between individuals.

Director of SheepGenomics, Dr Rob Forage, explained how mapping the sheep genome could benefit the sheep industry.

"In the livestock industries, we're interested in the parts of the DNA that are responsible for livestock production traits," Dr Forage said.

"Many desirable livestock traits can"t be measured early enough or on farm; for example eating quality can only be measured after growth and slaughter. By knowing which parts of the genome are responsible for particular livestock traits we could make a selection or breeding decision based on information from a DNA marker test.

"In this way the sheep genome can deliver a very powerful set of diagnostic tools on which to manage the sheep better or to breed a better next generation."

Although several years away, the DNA marker information gained from the sheep genomics program is planned to be delivered through Sheep Genetics as a ?marker-enhanced' Australian sheep breeding value (ASBVme).

"Where the DNA markers impact on characteristics that are already measured or held by Sheep Genetics, such as eye muscle depth and scanning data, then we could add the genetic status of the animal from the DNA marker test to what we already know on the breeding value," Dr Forage said.

As part of a coordinated international effort, Australian researchers have been involved in sheep genome sequencing work since 2002.

In late 2003, the $30 million SheepGenomics program - a joint Meat & Livestock Australia and Australian Wool Innovation initiative - was established to translate this global research into tangible benefits for the Australian sheep industry.

The money provided by Ovita will help fund an international collaboration led by Australian scientists from the University of Sydney, AgResearch, University of Utah and CSIRO Livestock Industries called the International Sheep Genomics Consortium (ISGC). Key financial investors in the ISGC are Ovita (NZ$1.2M), the Australian Federal Government (through an International Science Linkage Grant of A$857,000), SheepGenomics (A$507,000) and Genesis Faraday (UK?100,000).

Already the ISGC has mapped a ?virtual' sheep genome sequence, which was announced in November 2006 and based on the DNA information then available.

SheepGenomics continues to research many livestock traits including muscle growth, wool performance traits, resistance to parasites, and lamb survival. The advances being made have borrowed heavily from prior international investment in human and cattle genomics, allowing the Australian sheep industry to save money and shorten the research path by several years.

Dr Forage said the $1.2 million boost in funding from Ovita was a sign of how important, and how extensive, the sheep genome project is.

"This is a very good example of trans-Tasman cooperation in an area of great economic significance to both countries," Dr Forage said.

"This funding from Ovita further shores up the trans-Tasman collaboration between Meat & Wool New Zealand, AWI and MLA in the field of sheep genomics.

"It"s not just Australia and New Zealand collaborating on this project. The international science community is working together to coordinate the discovery and development of a DNA diagnostic tool that can be applied to sheep. In the process, we will get a first glimpse of a sheep genome sequence."


Violence has never been a solution

BDP wants civil justice for green technology

- Federal Association of German Plant Breeders e.V. (Bundesverband Deutscher Pflanzenzüchter e.V.(BDP)), July 20, 2007 [translated]


Bonn - The Federal Association of German Plant Breeders e.V. (BDP) condemns the destructive attacks on genetically improved plants in the strongest terms. "We find ourselves targeted every time there is a critical disagreement with this new technology. The criminal behavior of some opponents of genetic engineering is not legitimized by anything, and has no place in a country governed by the rule of law," said Christoph Herrlinger, a representative of the BDP, at a press conference today in Berlin. His remarks were highlighted by the repeated public calls of biotech opponents this weekend for the destruction of maize fields in Brandburg.

Ripping up plants or chopping them with sickles in the dark of night, dumping petroleum on fields, and setting fires under farm trucks, is not an acceptable form of disagreement, Herrlinger added. This is not merely because these criminal offences amount to trespass, burglary, blackmail, arson and vandalism. At the same time, this threatens the livelihood of farmers, hinders the work of scientists, and poisons the climate for innovation. There seems to be no group which is sufficiently well-organized to express its criticisms clearly and succinctly, without resorting to criminal activity. Even so, the BDP is ready for an open dialogue. "We will seek legal measures against those organizatons who engage in criminal conduct. The ability to motivate violence cannot be the deciding factor", Herrlinger concluded.


Anti-GM demonstrators invade German maize field

- Expatica, July 23, 2007


Altreetz, Germany (dpa) - German police arrested dozens of militant protesters who invaded a field of genetically modified maize Sunday in defiance of a court order.

Anja Becker, a spokeswoman for the protesters, said they wrecked about 15,000 square metres of crop in the demonstration which had been planned and announced weeks ago.

A police helicopter and 570 officers were waiting for the group near Altreetz, close to Germany's Polish border. A no-trespassing order had been issued by a court in the nearby city of Frankfurt-an- der-Oder.

Both police and protesters said nobody was hurt in the melee as the demonstrators kicked over and tore up plants.

The anti-GM group objects to the planting of a maize variety which has been genetically modified by Monsanto, the US seed company, to contain a toxin against European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis).

GM opponents claim the transgenic maize could kill other insects as well and damage the environment. Maize is grown in Germany as an oil plant or as animal feed.

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