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July 31, 2007


How to improve crop yield; Insulin delivered by Lettuce Pills; Will Annan Change Course?


* The Green - Gene Revolution
* Modified corn OK'd for Maine
* A reckless mind
* Mother knows how to improve crop yield
* Insulin delivered by Lettuce Pills
* Will Annan Change Course?
* Reasons you should buy regular goods
* Car made of vegetables


Challenging the Green - Gene Revolution

- Dean Kleckner, AgWeb, July 27, 2007


The day after President Bush presented Norman Borlaug with the Congressional Gold Medal, the recipient of our country's highest civilian honor described the great challenges that await agriculture in the 21st century: "persistent poverty and environmental degradation in developing countries, changing global climate patterns, and the use of food crops to produce biofuels."

He might have added another category: meddlesome former United Nations officials who issue confusing statements.

That's because Kofi Annan, who stepped down as the UN's secretary general at the start of this year, is busy telling African farmers that they don't need biotechnology. Or so it would seem.

Annan is now the head of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and last week he appeared to take a stand against the Gene Revolution: "We in [ AGRA] will not incorporate GMOs in our programs," he said.

A newspaper in Kenya responded to his announcement with this headline: "Annan rules out use of GMOs in the war on hunger in Africa."

But did Annan really mean what he was quoted as saying? Some have suggested that he didn't--and that he was merely responding to the reality that African farmers can't afford genetically enhanced seeds and that some African governments lack the regulatory mechanisms to take proper advantage of the latest agricultural technology.

If Annan was misquoted or misinterpreted, then he has my sympathy: As we all know, the media sometimes gets the facts wrong.

Yet there's one man who can clear up this mix-up--assuming it really is a mix-up--and that's Kofi Annan.

So far, I haven't heard him issue the full-throated endorsement of GM crops that a leader truly committed to the future of African farming would deliver.

Annan should take his cue from the father of the Green Revolution. Writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, Borlaug hailed "the advent of a Gene Revolution that stands to equal, if not exceed, the Green Revolution of the 20th century."

As it happens, Annan's group has many good ideas. AGRA recommends an improved infrastructure for Africa, better market opportunities for its farmers, the nurturing of native-born scientists, and smarter government policies - all good common sense suggestions for anywhere. These strategies are what prompted the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation to invest $150 million in its program last year.

What African farmers need more than anything else, however, are better seeds. AGRA's own website says that "at the most fundamental level," agricultural progress on the continent "starts with improved crop varieties for larger, more diverse, and more reliable harvests."

In the 21st century, that means unfettered access to GM seeds while continuing to work with old technologies.

"Agricultural science and technology, including the indispensable tools of biotechnology, will be critical to meeting the growing demands for food, feed, fiber, and biofuels," says Borlaug.

Biotech crops are not a cure-all for the world's agricultural dilemmas, to say nothing of the especially thorny problems that farmers face on the world's most desperate continent. But it would certainly help Africa if scientists could apply their intelligence to improving beans, peanuts, tropical roots, bananas, and tubers with biotechnology.

The biotech option, without question, has helped farmers all over the world--so much so, in fact, that they've planted and harvested well over one and a half billion acres of GM crops. There's no special reason why farmers in Africa should not participate as equal partners in the Gene Revolution, except for figures like Annan telling them not to bother.

The beauty of the Gene Revolution is that farmers have chosen it--they know that genetically-enhanced crops make sense, and so they've embraced them very rapidly, much as a previous generation of farmers embraced the techniques of the Green Revolution, albeit a bit more slowly.

Why anybody would want to deny African farmers the choice of achieving similar benefits is beyond me.

Perhaps we should invite Annan to attend Truth About Trade and Technology's Global Farmer-to-Farmer Roundtable this October - held in conjunction annually with the World Food Prize and Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium. Last year, Borlaug attended the program and addressed the 22 Roundtable farmers from 16 countries. He encouraged them to share knowledge and collaborate.

He certainly didn't tell them to ignore biotechnology. But then the clear-speaking father of the Green Revolution isn't the kind of guy who would do that.

Dean Kleckner , an Iowa farmer, chairs Truth About Trade & Technology


Modified corn OK'd for Maine farmers

- Bangor Daily News, July 28, 2007


WATERVILLE, Maine - After pleas from farmers on both sides of the issue, Maine's Bureau of Pesticides Control on Friday approved the registration of corn that is genetically engineered with a natural pesticide. Maine is the last state in the country to allow the modified corn to be sold or grown.

While dairy farmers said they needed the greater-yielding corn to maintain a competitive edge, organic growers said they feared for the health of Maine's residents.

"This technology has been out there about a generation," testified Peggy Gannon of Stetson, "and there have been no long-term tests on humans." Gannon and others asked the Bureau of Pesticides Control to wait for approval until next spring to give the Legislature time to review new liability rules for planting genetically engineered crops.

"Maine doesn't have this [engineered corn]. We are the only state because we're smarter," said Andrea DeFrancesca of Franklin.

Dairy farmers, however, asked the bureau to allow them the same tools that other farmers across the country are using, saying they could save money and environmental costs by eliminating pesticide spraying and growing a bigger, disease-free crop.

The genetically engineered corn approved Friday is Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis, corn.

Bt corn - which is used only for cow feed, not for human consumption - is genetically engineered to produce pesticidal proteins from the naturally occurring soil-borne Bt bacteria that kill certain insects. As such, the corn seed is considered a pesticide, which is why it requires BPC approval.

Members of the BPC said they recognized that Bt corn may require special management because of concerns the pollen may drift to organic corn.

"This is not Kansas," said BPC member Daniel Simonds. Referring to the different geography in Maine and how varying farms abut each other, he said, "The spatial management of this is quite complex and may be hard to monitor."

To deal with those concerns, the BPC approved the corn with two conditions: that an educational program be offered by the chemical companies, and that sales records be provided to the BPC to allow monitoring of how much and where the corn is planted.

The BPC held the hearing after a request filed in March by three biotech companies - Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Monsanto - on behalf of dozens of Maine farmers. The companies submitted applications to register seven Bt field corn products, all used as feed for animals.

Organic farmers at Friday's hearing testified that drift from Bt corn could contaminate their certified organic crops and possibly open them up to copyright infringement lawsuits from the chemical companies that manufacture the seeds.

Jody Spear of Co-Op Voices Unite said Bt corn poses unacceptable risks, including liver and kidney damage, allergies and asthma, as well as posing risks to other plants and animals.

"Consider that one out of every three bites of food has been pollinated by honeybees. You need to tread carefully," she said.

Logan Perkins of Protect Maine Farmers said the issue was not just about organic certification. "It is about the market, about consumer confidence and the farmers' ability to save seed."

But conventional dairy farmers argued that organic farms represent a small percentage of Maine agriculture and the "tail shouldn't wag the dog."

Dairy farmers from Knox, Pittsfield and Exeter testified Friday that using Bt corn will give them a competitive edge and allow them to stop spraying their fields with pesticides, which sometimes is done three times a season.

James Crane, an Exeter dairy farmer, raises 2,400 acres of crops with nearly 1,000 acres in corn, and pays $13 an acre to spray with pesticides.

He said Bt corn already is being imported into the state as cattle feed. "It is coming into the state by rail cars. Allow me to compete," he said.

The BPC began investigating Bt corn in 1994, conducting technical reviews to look for adverse effects on human health and for potential development of insect resistance.

According to Dr. John Jemison, an agronomist at the University of Maine in Orono, these reviews were conducted in 1997 after applications were filed to register three Bt corn products. The human health review concluded there were no concerns, and a process was established to identify any development of insect resistance. The registrations were denied, however, because Maine's pesticide statute requires that a need or benefit be demonstrated for the products. No such information was available at that time.

At Friday's hearing, the BPC members concluded that Maine farmers needed the edge provided by planting Bt corn.

"If we don't take advantage of this technology, these farmers may not be here in five or 10 years down the road," BPC member Richard Stevenson said.

The BPC will draft a new rule which then will be advertised by the Secretary of State's Office and a formal public hearing will be held in the future.


A picture of some of the opponents of Bt corn can be found at http://bangordailynews.com/absoluteig/gallery/news/072807_corn.jpg


Only a reckless mind could believe in safety first

- Jamie Whyte, The Times (UK), July 27, 2007


Worrying was considered foolish when I was growing up in New Zealand. Let your fretting show and you received the classic Kiwi response: "She'll be right, mate." When in doubt, just press on and set your mind at ease.

Times have changed. You never hear "she'll be right" these days, except said ironically. And this new pessimism is not restricted to New Zealand. Across the West, the "she'll be right" principle has been replaced by the so-called precautionary principle. When in doubt, stop and divert your efforts towards minimising the risks.

Indeed, precaution is now explicitly endorsed by the UN, the EU and Tony Blair, who has claimed that "responsible science and responsible policymaking operate on the precautionary principle". From the genetic modification of crops to speed limits for trains to carbon dioxide emissions, the right policy is claimed to be the careful one.

Yet the precautionary principle is not really a maxim of good policy. In fact, it is meaningless. It can provide no guidance when making difficult decisions. Those who invoke it in support of their favoured policies do not display their prudence; they reveal groundless biases.

To understand the precautionary principle and its foolishness, we must first distinguish between what economists call "risk" and what they call "uncertainty". An outcome is risky when it is not guaranteed but we know its probability. An outcome is uncertain when we do not even know its probability. That a tossed coin will land heads is thus a matter of risk, while the destruction of an ecosystem from the introduction of GM crops is a matter of uncertainty.

Making decisions under risk presents no problem for which the precautionary principle could provide a solution. Suppose that, in return for an annual premium of £1, someone promises to pay you £1 million if you are abducted by aliens (such insurance exists). You should pay up if your chance of being abducted is greater than one in a million because then the policy is worth more than $1. The right decision can be determined from the numbers alone, with no help from caution, recklessness or any other attitude.

But suppose that, for all you know, the chance of being abducted could be well under one in a million or well over. What should you do? You lack the information required to know if the insurance is a good deal. It is in such situations of uncertainty that the precautionary principle is supposed to apply.

What does the principle tell you to do? Those who advocate precaution typically favour incurring costs now to reduce the chance of incurring greater costs in the future. That is their reason for wanting to limit carbon emissions, ban GM crops and slaughter livestock with some unknown chance of contracting foot-and-mouth disease.

Applied to our insurance conundrum, this principle tells you to buy the ticket. You should incur the £1 cost of the premium if there is any chance that it will save you from the greater cost of experiencing an uncompensated alien abduction. Whenever the prize is greater than the bet, and you do not know the odds, the principle says you should gamble. Bookmakers must dream of the day when punters bring such wisdom to the racetrack.

Better safe than sorry. This is the verity that the precautionary principle is supposed to bring to policymaking. But the difficult question is never whether it is better to be safe than sorry. Of course it is. The serious question is always which options are safe and which sorry.

The big lie behind the precautionary principle is the idea that we can identify safe options even when we are profoundly ignorant of the probable outcomes. It is nonsense to claim that betting or buying insurance is the safe option whenever you do not know the odds. And it is equally foolish to claim that slaughtering livestock is the safe option when you do not know by how much this will reduce the chance of an epidemic, or that banning GM crops is safe when you do not know its likely ecological effect.

For, as with insurance, such measures are costly. Those currently popular with the cautious lobby run into the billions and, in the case of limiting carbon emissions, perhaps the trillions. It is a strange kind of caution that recommends spending such sums when the chance of success is unknown.

Or, if it is crass to set mere monetary costs against risks to the environment or future generations, then consider the deaths such measures will cause. Banning GM crops, for example, will increase starvation in the third world. More generally, any serious economic cost will cause death because, among other things, less wealth means less nutrition and less healthcare. Economists have estimated that a life is lost for every £10 million of cost imposed by regulation. Sacrificing thousands of lives for uncertain gains takes a very particular notion of caution.

The precautionary principle is either uncalled for, because we know the relevant probabilities, or useless, because we do not know them and so cannot tell whether any policy is a safe or a sorry proposition. So we should hear no more of it. Not only does it lend bogus support to the policies it is fashionable, if arbitrary, to label precautionary. It also promotes the pernicious idea that ignorance is not a serious problem, that a wise policymaker can know that an action is right even when he does not know its likely effects.

Jamie Whyte is the author of Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking


Mother knows best - even how to improve crop yield

- AlphaGalileo, July 30, 2007


Scientists at the University of Oxford have paved the way for bigger and better quality maize crops by identifying the genetic processes that determine seed development.

Plant scientists have known for some time that genes from the maternal plant control seed development, but they have not known quite how. The Oxford research, supported by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and highlighted in the new issue of BBSRC Business, has found at least part of the answer.

Working in collaboration with researchers in Germany and France, Professor Hugh Dickinson's team found that only the maternal copy of a key gene responsible for delivering nutrients is active. The copy derived from the paternal plant is switched off. This gene encodes a potential signalling molecule found in the endosperm - a placenta-like layer that nourishes the developing grain, which is involved in 'calling' for nutrients from the mother plant, and so triggers an increased flow of resources. Similar mechanisms can almost certainly be expected in other cereals, and with cereal grain being a staple food across the world, the potential to harness this science to improve yields is clear.

Prof. Dickinson explains: "By understanding the complex level of gene control in the developing grain, we have opened up opportunities in improving crop yield.

"The knowledge and molecular tools needed to harness these natural genetic processes are now available to plant breeders and could help them improve commercial varieties further. For example, they can better understand how to successfully cross-breed to produce higher quality crops. The cereal grain is a staple food of the world's population: with the changing climate and growing population, the need for sustainable agriculture is increasingly pressing."

The mechanism used to switch off paternal genes ensures supremacy of maternally-derived genes. This process is known as 'imprinting' and is achieved mainly through 'methylation' - a naturally occurring chemical change in the DNA. A very similar mechanism takes place in animal embryos. However, unlike the animal imprinting systems where genes are often grouped in the chromosomal DNA, in maize imprinted genes are 'solitary' and independently regulated.


Diabetes Insulin delivered by Pills

Researchers developing Plant Grown Insulin from genetically modified Lettuce

- Mark Barone, Best Syndication, July 30, 2007


Researchers from the University of Central Florida have studied the effects of genetically altered tobacco plants that make plant insulin that showed promising results in diabetic mice. This UCF study received $2 million in funding from The National Institutes of Health. The study was first reported in the July issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal.

The researchers were able to take freeze dried plant cells from the modified tobacco plant and give it to five-week-old diabetic mice as a powder for over an eight week period of time. At the end of the eight weeks the diabetic mice had achieved normal blood and urine sugar levels and the mice were also having their own cells produce normal levels of insulin.

Currently insulin is not able to be delivered in pill form because it is broken down in the digestion process before entering into the bloodstream. Insulin is usually given by injection or by inhaling to reach the bloodstream effectively. Lead researcher Professor Henry Daniell goal is to develop plants that would protect the insulin during digestion and allowing the insulin to be gradually released into the bloodstream as the plant cells become broken down and digested.

"Currently, the only relief for diabetes is a momentary relief," Daniell said. "Diabetics still have to monitor their blood and urine sugar levels. They have to inject themselves with insulin several times a day. Having a permanent solution for this, I'm sure, would be pretty exciting."

The researchers are hoping that the human trials will be as successful as the mice studies. If successful, this method for delivering insulin would considerably reduce the cost involved in treating and preventing diabetes complications.

"Diabetes is a big health and financial burden in the United States and in the rest of the world," Daniell said. "This study would facilitate a dramatic change because so far there is no medicine that will cure insulin-dependent diabetes."


Will Annan Change Course on Crop Biotechnology?

- GMO Africa, July 30, 2007


When I, last week, took on Kofi Annan, the new chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), in a blog post titled, "Mr. Annan is Wrong to Discredit GM Foods", for suggesting that his organization would disregard modern crop biotechnology in its campaign against hunger and malnutrition in Africa, I expected a firestorm from opponents of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

I anticipated flaks and ridicules from the anti-biotech crowd for challenging the wisdom of a former Secretary General of the United Nations on modern agricultural biotechnology. Indeed, they came.

A reader by the name Dom wrote, "God it is such a good continent to test safety of GMO, people die fast.... go GMO go Monsanto and go other chemical companies.... experiment on people, not that Africa has enough problems." Which person doesn't know that GMOs have been grown in the U.S. for close to a decade and Africans, therefore, couldn't have been guinea pigs Dom wants us believe?

I rightly guess Dom has never set foot in Africa, though he "advised" me to, "Wake up, look around.... I bet you are one of those people knows nothing about integrity of ecology and how this could help solve food problems in Africa."

"Integrity of ecology" is the buzz-phrase that the greens like Dom fondly use to sanitize their opposition to biotech agriculture in Africa. I wonder why they don't mention that about 59% of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered. Or is it that American farmers don't believe in the "Integrity of ecology?"

Mr. Annan and Dom seem to read from the same script. Both don't seem to appreciate the potential benefits of genetically modified crops. During this time when GM crops are being grown for industrial use such as the production of biofuels, it would be naïve to advise the developing world to shun them. But it is encouraging that African scientists are challenging Mr. Annan to reverse course. AGRA, itself, is listening and has, already, clarified that it's not opposed to genetic engineering.

To reiterate what I wrote in my last week's entry, food insecurity in Africa is a gigantic challenge, which requires multi-pronged strategies to solve it. Agricultural biotechnology is one of the strategies that must be pursued feverishly.


Reasons you should buy regular goods

- Jackie Avner, The Denver Post, July 27, 2007


I don't like to buy organic food products, and avoid them at all cost. It is a principled decision reached through careful consideration of effects of organic production practices on animal welfare and the environment. I buy regular food, rather than organic, for the benefit of my family.

I care deeply about food being plentiful, affordable and safe. I grew up on a dairy farm, where my chores included caring for the calves and scrubbing the milking facilities. As a teenager, I was active in Future Farmers of America, and after college I took a job in Washington, D.C., on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee staff.

But America no longer has an agrarian economy, and now it is rare for people to have firsthand experience with agricultural production and regulation. This makes the general public highly susceptible to rumors and myths about food, and vulnerable to misleading marketing tactics designed not to improve the safety of the food supply, but to increase retail profits. Companies marketing organic products, and your local grocery chain, want you to think organic food is safer and healthier, because their profit margins are vastly higher on organic foods.

The USDA Organic label does not mean that there is any difference between organic and regular food products. Organic farms simply employ different methods of food production. For example, organic dairy farms are not permitted to administer antibiotics to their sick or injured cows, and do not give them milk-stimulating hormone supplements (also known as rbGH or rBST). The end product is exactly the same - all milk, regular and organic, is completely antibiotic-free, and all milk, regular and organic, has the same trace amounts of rbGH (since rbGH is a protein naturally present in all cows, including organic herds). Try as they may, proponents of organic foods have not been able to produce evidence that the food produced by conventional farms is anything but safe.

Do organic production practices benefit animals? Dr. Chuck Guard, professor of veterinary medicine at Cornell University, told me that it pains him that many technological advancements in animal medicine are prohibited for use on organic farms. He described how organic farms don't use drugs to control parasites, worms, infections and illness in their herds. "Drugs take away pain and suffering," he said. "Proponents of organic food production have thrown away these medical tools, and the result is unnecessary pain and suffering for the animals."

In order for milk and meat to qualify as USDA Organic, the animals must never be given antibiotics when they are sick or injured. On organic farms, animals with treatable illnesses such as infections and pneumonia are left to suffer, or given ineffective homeopathic treatments, in the hope that they will eventually get better on their own. If recovery without medication seems unlikely, a dairy cow with a simple respiratory infection will be slaughtered for its meat, or sold to a traditional farm where she can get the medicine she needs. I don't buy organic milk because this system is cruel to animals, and I know that every load of regular milk is tested for antibiotics to ensure that it is antibiotic-free.

Organic milk certainly is not fresher than regular milk. Regular milk is pasteurized and has a shelf life of about 20 days. Organic milk is ultrapasteurized, a process that is more forgiving of poor quality milk, and that increases the shelf life of milk to about 90 days. Some of the Horizon organic milk boxes I've seen at Costco have expiration dates in 2008! There is a powerful incentive for retailers to put the ultrapasteurized organic milk on the shelf just before the expiration date, so consumers will think the organic milk is as fresh as the regular milk. After all, consumers are paying twice as much for the organic product.

Do organic production practices benefit the environment? In many cases, they do the opposite. Recently, Starbucks proudly informed their customers that they would no longer be buying milk from farms that use rbGH, the supplemental hormone administered to cows to increase milk production (even though the extra hormones stay in the cow, and the resulting milk is the same). The problem with this policy is that Starbucks will now be buying milk from farms that are far less efficient at making milk. Without the use of the latest technology for making milk, many more cows must be milked to produce the same number of café lattes for Starbucks' customers. More cows being milked means more cows to feed, and therefore more land must be cultivated with fossil-fuel-burning tractors. More cows means many more tons of manure produced, and more methane, a greenhouse gas, released into the atmosphere.

I see Starbucks' policy as environmentally irresponsible. When a farmer gives a cow a shot of rbGH, the only environmental cost is the disposal of the small plastic container it came in. But the environmental benefits of using this technology are enormous.

Attention all shoppers: Safeway is adopting the same misdirected policy as Starbucks, judging from the prominent labeling of milk at my local Safeway store: "Milk from cows not treated with rBST." When I'm feeling particularly green, I drive past Safeway and shop at another grocery store in protest.

Consumers assume that organic crops are environmentally friendly. However, organic production methods are far less efficient than the modern methods used by conventional farmers, so organic farmers must consume more natural and man-made resources (such as land and fuel) to produce their crops.

Cornell Professor Guard told me about neighboring wheat farms he observed during a visit to Alberta, Canada: one organic and one conventional. The organic farm consumes six times as much diesel fuel per bushel of wheat produced.

Socially conscious consumers have a right to know that "organic" doesn't mean what it did 20 years ago. According to the Oct. 16, 2006, cover story in Business Week, when you eat Stonyfield Farms yogurt, you are often consuming dried organic milk flown all the way from New Zealand and reconstituted here in the U.S. The apple puree used to sweeten the yogurt sometimes comes from Turkey, and the strawberries from China. Importation of organic products raises troubling questions about food safety, labor standards, and the fossil fuels burned in the transportation of these foods.

Does buying organic really benefit your family? Remember, there is no real difference in the food itself. At my local Safeway store, organic milk is 85 percent more expensive, eggs 138 percent higher, yogurt 50 percent, chicken thighs 80 percent, and broccoli 20 percent. If the only organic product you buy for your family is milk, then you are spending an extra $200 on milk each year. If you buy 5-10 other organic products each week, such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, yogurt and meat, then you could easily approach $1,000 in extra food costs per year. Families would receive a more direct health benefit from spending that money on a gym membership, a treadmill, or new bikes.

When I share this information with friends who buy organic, I get one of two responses: they either stop buying it, or they continue to buy organic based on a strong gut feeling that food grown without the assistance of man- made technology has to be healthier.

I don't push it, but I wonder: Why do people apply that logic to agricultural products, but not to every other product we use in our daily lives? There are either no chemicals, or the minutest trace of chemicals in some of our foods. But other everyday products are full of chemical ingredients. Read the label on your artificial sweetener, antiperspirant, sun lotion, toothpaste, household cleaning products, soda, shampoo, and disposable diapers, for example. The medicines we administer to our children when they are sick are man-made substances. Chemicals aren't just used to make these products; they are still in these products in significant amounts. It just doesn't make sense to focus fear of technology on milk and fresh produce.

I say, bypass the expensive organic products in the grocery store. Buy the regular milk, meat and fresh produce. It is the right choice for the family, animal welfare and the environment.

Jackie Avner lives in Highlands Ranch.


Car made of vegetables hits 240km/h

- David Wilkes, Herald Sun (Australia), July 27, 2007


THE tyres are made of potatoes and the brake pads from ground cashew shells.

The body was created from hemp and rapeseed oil, and it runs on fuel made from fermented wheat and sugar beet.

Yet despite the greenest of credentials, this mean machine is capable of an impressive 240km/h.

The one-seater racing car - called Eco One - has been built by experts from Warwick University to dispel the perception that "green" motoring means dull little electric runarounds or filling your fuel tank with chip fat.

The academics behind the project hope cars made in such a way will one day be a regular sight on Grand Prix circuits and that their ideas will be adopted by the mass automotive industry.

Eco One was designed by Dr Kerry Kirwan, a researcher at Warwick Manufacturing Group, the university's academic department that provides solutions to industry, and built by student Ben Wood, 23, over two months at a cost of $46,500.

Mr Wood said: "All the plastic components can be made from plants and although the chassis has to be made from steel for strength, steel is a very recyclable material.

"If we can build a high-performance car that can virtually be grown from seed, just imagine what's possible for the average family car."

Powered by the engine from a Triumph Daytona motor-cycle, Eco One does 0-100km/h in under four seconds.

Zoe Howard, head of communications for Warwick Manufacturing Group, said: "It demonstrates that not all eco cars have to be small and electric - they can be high-performance too."

The car has sparked interest in the motor sports industry, with several potential collaborators keen on developing the technology.

"The motor sports industry knows it's got to be greener. And the concept is transferable into cars for the race track or the motorway.

"The main message is how cutting edge technology is making high performance eco-friendly cars a reality, helping dispel the myth that green cars are slow and sluggish."

Eco One is 95 per cent biodegradable or recyclable, although its steering-wheel, seat and electrics are made of conventional materials.

It has not been raced competitively because, the designers say, it is in a class of its own.


Guest ed. note: Pictures of the car can be found at http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/green-machine/eco-one-sports-car-races-at-150-mph-made-from-salad-282633.php

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