* Europe pays Friends of the Earth
* India: trials for ten crops
* Agri biotech on fast track
* Genetic phonetics
* White Rice is a Mutation
* Gene Conferring Resistance to Bt
* Worth of GM canola
* Brazil Committee Approves MON810
* Letter Sent to NPR
EU Commission pays group to lobby Brussels
- Martin Banks, The Telegraph (UK), August 17, 2007
The European Commission was accused yesterday of a "grotesque" waste of taxpayers' money after it allocated funding for an organisation that exists to lobby Brussels.
The lobby group, Friends of the Earth Europe, received 562,000 pounds funding from the EU Commission last year.
Its commission funding rose this year by 200,000 in order to meet "increased running costs." The group, which has a 25-strong staff in Brussels, is pre-eminent in lobbying the EU for tighter controls to combat global warming.
The commission argues that giving the organisation nearly half of its annual budget does not stop it from criticising the institution.
But Roger Helmer, a British Conservative MEP, says such funding is "anti-democratic".
"In funding such NGOs the commission can be seen to be responding to apparently independent, voluntary groups while, in fact, it is actually paying to have itself lobbied to take actions which, in the main, it would wish to take anyway.
"There is something grotesque about millions of pounds being spent every year by the commission merely to fund groups lobby it." He adds: "This is not a one-off. The commission has invited numerous pro-EU lobby groups and NGOs to a debate in October on the EU constitution.
"I wrote some time back asking for the invitation to be extended to UK eurosceptic groups to enable a balanced debate to take place. I am still waiting for a reply." Anja Leetz, head of fundraising for Friends of the Earth Europe, rejected the criticism, saying: "There has to be some EU funding for groups like ours otherwise industry and big business would just have their own way.
"Being part funded by the commission doesn't stop us from being critical if we disagree with its laws." A commission spokesman said such funding helps "facilitate a full and frank" debate.
MLRT for ten crops including Bt cotton and Bt brinjal
Combination of physical and biological containment measures to maintain genetic purity at highest le[vel]
- Ministry of Environment and Forests (press release), August 17, 2007
Ten GM crops including Brinjal and Bt cotton have been awarded field trials with respect to uniform isolation distance of 50 to 1000 meters .Recently concluded 79th meeting of Genetically Engineering Approval Committee ( GEAC ) accepted the recommendations of the sub-committee for Multi Location Research Trials (MLRT ) considering the pattern of pollinating agents, nature of pollination and additional bio-safety measures.
Scientifically, a uniform isolation distance is not tenable as the nature of the pollen flow and levels of contamination depends on the biology of the crop and the host environment in which it is being cultivated. Hence each crop needs unique isolation distance. Along with this, additional bio-safety measures have been prescribed case to case basis. The combination of physical and biological containment measures are adequate to maintain the genetic purity at the highest possible levels, the committee believes.
The much awaited Brinjal will have MLRT now with additional bio-safety measure of 300 meter distance between two acres of trials. Brinjal is a self pollinated crop and its pollinating crop and its pollinating agents are insects. Permission has been accorded to conduct MLRT of four transgenic Bt Brinjal, namely Co2-Bt, MDU1_Bt, KKM1-Bt and PLR1-Bt containg cry1Ac gene(EE1 event ) at five locations. They are ,Horticultural College and Research Institute- each at coimbtore and Peryakilam, Agricultural College and Research Institute each at Madurai and Killikulam and Vegetable Research Station at Palur. This trials will be conducted during June-September this year and January -April next year. They will help in evaluating their Agronomic performances and efficacy in controlling fruit and shoot borer and the effect of beneficial insects by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TANU ), Coimbtore. The name of lead scientist responsible for the trial will have to be submitted to Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM )/GEAC before undertaking the trials.
MLRT of Brinjal, okra and tomatoes will have to put the insect proof net covering which will restrict insects behaviour and affect agronomic yield. The height of the net cover has to be 1 -1.5 meter above the plant height. The pollinating agents for okra, brinjal and tomatoes are insects.
The prescribed minimum isolation distance is 50 meter for groundnut and the maximum is 1000 meter for castor.
Adequate biosafety during the conduct of field trials for GM crops
The requirement of a validated event specific protocol at an LOD of at least 0.01% will be dispensed with. Prior to commercial release/expert requir4ements, the LOD may be decided at levels that are practical to use, compatible with the acceptable threshold for labeling purposes and the genome size of the crop.
MLRT for New Events will not be allowed to conduct in farmer's fields. They will be conducted minimum at one location and maximum at two locations in each state. RCGM made it mandatory to undertake these and strip trials by companies/institutions either in their own premises, research farms, long lease lands or at the State Agriculture Universities (SAU) /Indian Council of Agricultural Research ( ICAR ) institutions.
MLRT of Bt-cotton expressing approved genes/events, Bt cotton hybrids, transgenic cotton hybrids and others have been approved.
Agri biotech on fast track in India
- Economic Times (India), July 27, 2007
NEW DELHI: Riding on the success of Bt cotton, agriculture biotechnology has emerged as one of the fastest growing biotech industries in India in recent years, a latest report of the US department of agriculture (USDA) has said.
"It is the third largest contributor among various biotech sectors with total revenues of more than $229 million in 2006-07 fiscal, registering a growth of 55%," the report said. Export revenue from agriculture biotechnology has grown to $11.6 million in 2006-07 from around $8 million in the previous year, it added. The report, titled 'India biotechnology' and prepared by Santosh Kumar Singh, claimed Bt cotton coverage has surged over the past five years to cover 70% of total cotton area in 2007.
However, according to data available with the agriculture ministry, Bt cotton acreage stood at 24.4 lakh hectares, out of a total of 72.3 lakh hectares covered under cotton, till the week ended July 20 in the on-going kharif season. The USDA report said, the continuing legal issues pertaining to the pricing of Bt cotton seed are likely to be detrimental to technology transfer and foreign direct investment in India's biotechnology sector. The report alleged that the regulatory process governing the biotechnology sector is not entirely science-based. "The regulatory process, which is still evolving, is not entirely science-based," it said.
The environmental protection act of 1986 lays the foundation for India's biotechnology regulatory framework, which involves a hierarchy of monitoring committees, it added. Commenting on import policy, USDA said India's trade policy stipulates that imports of all biotech food and agricultural products, or products derived from biotech plants or organisms should receive prior approval from the genetic engineering approval committee (GEAC).
"The only biotech product approved for commercial imports by India so far is soybean oil derived from round-up ready soybeans for consumption after refining," it said, adding agricultural trade balance is almost 3:1 in India's favour. "US exports to India estimated at $365 million and India's exports to the US at $1.04 billion in 2006," the report said.
Agricultural trade between the US and India reached a record $1.4 billion in 2006, which excludes fish and forest products, it added. India's major agricultural exports to the US include cashew, sugar, spices, essential oils, processed horticultural products, rice, tea and castor oil.While US exports to India are almonds, cotton, fresh fruits, pulses, soybean oil, processed horticultural products and other consumer food products.
Genetic phonetics could be the trick to sounding out DNA's meaning
- PhysOrg.com, August 16, 2007
Most modern attempts to decipher how portions of genetic code are translated into physical characteristics are akin to a first-grader trying to sound out a word letter by letter - or, in this case, base pair by base pair.
But University of Florida researchers have developed a computational method that's more like reading whole words at a time.
In a world where science's ability to transcribe an organism's genetic code is growing faster every day, the technique could offer much needed efficiency in translating the seemingly endless string of characters into information that can cure disease or create new crops.
The researchers, from UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the UF Genetics Institute, published their verification of the method in Wednesday's PLoS ONE, an online journal produced by the Public Library of Science.
"We worked very hard to find ways to collect genetic information," said Rongling Wu, the project's lead researcher and a UF Research Foundation professor. "We now must work hard to find ways to use it."
In many respects, researchers think of an organism's genome as ticker-tape listings of four letters - representing four amino acid bases - repeated in varying orders. The goal is to find meaning within the sequences, to figure out how variations in the pattern affect the organism's physiology.
Humans, for example, have 3 billion letters in our code. Between any two of us, 99.9 percent of those letters are the same. But it's that last 0.1 percent of difference, peppered throughout our DNA in the form of single-letter changes, that accounts for our unique identities - from eye color to disease susceptibility.
These differences are called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced "snips").
The simplest way to find out how a SNP affects an organism is to collect a group of organisms that have different variations of that letter in their genetic code.
But physical traits are typically affected by multiple SNPs that interact in sometimes unpredictable ways - much like the way an "e" at the end of a word can change its pronunciation.
Fortunately, the rules of genetics say that SNPs that affect the same trait are generally related to each other in some way, such as being near each other.
Wu's model uses these rules in conjunction with statistical analysis of real data from genetically mapped organisms. As a result, the model can find whole groups of SNPs associated with a physical trait.
Just as an understanding of general phonetic principles allows a reader to sound out a whole word, this extra knowledge of genetics allows Wu's model to find whole pictures of genome/physical correlations.
"The real promise of Wu's work is that it could offer the opportunity for a researcher to not spend a really disheartening amount of time parsing out individual nucleotides, and move more directly to doing the type of genetic work that's going to have a greater significance," said Rory Todhunter, a researcher working with canine genetics at Cornell University.
In the paper, the researchers verified their model using genetic and physical information from mice that was first collected from the Washington University lab of James Cheverud in the mid-1990s. They then compared their results with several years' worth of genetic analysis.
This validation was important, said Wei Hou, the first author of the paper and an assistant professor at UF's department of epidemiology and health policy research. But the analysis of modern data will be the real key to the technique's importance. For example, the mouse genetic information used in this paper featured only a few thousand SNPs. The July 29 issue of the journal Nature cited more than 8 million SNPs for the mouse genome.
"This shows how we need to move beyond looking at genomes SNP by SNP," Cheverud said. "Imagine the work that's ahead of us if we don't."
Today's White Rice Is Mutation Spread by Early Farmers
Some 10,000 years ago white rice evolved from wild red rice and began spreading around the globe. But how did this happen?
- Cornell University (press release) via Newswise, August 17, 2007
Researchers at Cornell and elsewhere have determined that 97.9 percent of all white rice is derived from a mutation (a deletion of DNA) in a single gene originating in the Japonica subspecies of rice. Their report, published online in the journal PloS (Public Library of Science) Genetics, suggests that early farmers favored, bred and spread white rice around the world.
The researchers report that this predominant mutation is also found in the Indica subspecies of white rice. They have found a second independent mutation (a single DNA substitution) in the same gene in several Aus varieties of rice in Bangladesh, accounting for the remaining 2.1 percent of white rice varieties. Neither of these two mutations is found in any wild red rice species.
Both mutations produce shortened versions of the same protein in which the missing part is responsible for activating the molecular pathway leading to grain color in rice.
"We think that other domains of this protein are critical for other functions in the plant, because we never see the protein entirely deleted, just the part of the molecule that affects the pathway for grain color," said Susan McCouch, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics and the paper's senior author. Megan Sweeney, Cornell Ph.D. '06 and postdoctoral associate, was the paper's lead author.
The researchers speculate that ancient farmers actively bred and spread white rice varieties first throughout the Himalayan region and then the rest of the world because the varieties cooked faster (requiring less fuel), their hulls were easier to remove compared with red rice, and disease and insects were easier to see amid the white grains. The farmers also may have favored one mutation over the other because it may have produced favorable grains more consistently, the researchers say.
In 2006 the researchers first identified the gene that makes the rice seed's bran layer, or pericarp, white. This gave rice breeders and engineers a genetic marker to help develop new breeds. The Cornell researchers regularly introduce favorable genes from wild red rices into elite white cultivars to improve yields and provide better responses to stress, but they generally select against the gene for red pericarp because it is associated with such unfavorable "weedy" linked traits as seed dormancy and "shattering" (where seeds fall easily from the stalk).
"Breeders can now begin to screen for the red pericarp gene while selecting against closely linked traits like shattering and dormancy," said McCouch. The new tools may lead to more diverse domestic rice varieties.
Also, breeders are interested in using the marker to predict whether new generations will contain white or red grains, using DNA from young seedlings, long before the plants set seed.
McCouch noted that due to the genetics of pericarp color in rice (white grain is recessive and maternally inherited), when white grains appear in the panicle (the grain clusters on the stems), it is an indication that all seeds in the clusters will be white -- and offspring from these seeds will continue to produce white-grain plants. The researchers theorize that women who shucked rice for cooking thousands of years ago would have recognized the value of the white seeds and may have set aside selected panicles for breeding and planting.
Scott Williamson and Carlos Bustamante, both researchers in Cornell's Department of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology, were also co-authors on this paper. The research was supported by the Plant Genome Program of the National Science Foundation, the Generation Challenge Program, Chengbuk National University and Korea's National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology.
Polynucleotide Encoding a Gene Conferring Resistance to Bacillus Thuringiensis Toxin and Method of Use
- Clemson University, Case #188 (web accessed August 19, 2007)
Inventors: David Heckel and Linda Gahan
Summary: Insecticidal protein toxins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are safe, effective and specific means for controlling insect pests of agriculture. Crops such as cotton and corn have been transformed with modified Bt genes that encode the toxin. These transgenic plants protect themselves from insect damage by expressing the toxin in their cells, which kills insects that are feeding on them. This insect control method has been very successful, with more than 20% of cotton and corn acreage in the US consisting of transgenic Bt-expressing varieties in 2000. However, insects can develop resistance to Bt-toxins, just as they have to chemical insecticides. Although Bt-resistant strains of insects have been studied for several years, until now the molecular identity of the genes that make the insect resistant to the toxin has been unknown. We have successfully identified and cloned a gene that confers high levels of Bt resistance in the key cotton pest Heliothis virescens (tobacco budworm). This is the first molecular identification of a Bt-resistance gene in any species. It will enable for the first time DNA-based diagnostic techniques for the detection of resistance in field populations of this pest and related species.
Applications: Specific applications include the development of a diagnostic kit for detection of Bt-resistance in field populations of Heliothis virescens.
Patent Status: Patent application has been filed. Detailed information must be provided under a confidential disclosure agreement.
Please download the confidential disclosure form and mail the completed form to: Vincie Albritton, Marketing Director Clemson University 223 Brackett Hall Clemson, SC 29634-5705 PH: 864-656-5708 FAX: 864-656-0474 Email: valbrit+at+clemson.edu
Licensing: Our interest is to identify interested industry parties to license the process and to collaborate with in its further development. Contact:
For more information about this technology, please contact: Vincie Albritton, Associate Director Phone: (864) 656-5708 Fax: (864) 656-0474 email: valbrit+at+clemson.edu or Janet Dillon, Project Administrator Phone: (864) 656-4237 Fax: (864) 656-0474 email: gjanet+at+clemson.edu
GM canola 'could be worth extra $200m'
- Jodie Thomson, The West Australian, August 18, 2007
Allowing WA farmers to grow genetically modified canola could unlock a crop worth an extra $200 million a year, according to an assessment by a leading academic which increases pressure on the State Government to end its moratorium on GM crops.
Professor Michael Jones, director of the WA Agricultural Biotechnology Centre at Murdoch University, said GM canola could deliver a windfall for growers through boosted yields of up to 20 per cent.
Professor Jones' assessment came as Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran released a national report outlining the environmental and economic benefits of the new technology in a move designed to add pressure on State governments to lift moratoriums on GM crops.
The Bureau of Rural Sciences report examining oilseed crops such as canola and cotton warned the industry would struggle over the next decade without production benefits from biotechnology.
Professor Jones said GM canola would increase yield potential by 15 to 20 per cent, adding $200 million a year to the value of WA's canola crop.
"They would be using more environmentally friendly herbicides and down the line you would expect oils with improved health properties and you could also see more efficient use of fertiliser," he said.
Canola is an oil and fodder crop and can also act as a "break crop" - where it is used in crop rotation systems to help control weeds and plant diseases.
About 500,000 tonnes of canola is expected to be harvested in WA later this year, less than 7 per cent of the State's total predicted grain crop, which is dominated by wheat and barley.
GM canola has been grown for years by major competitors Canada and the US and is likely to be the first broadacre GM crop to be grown in the WA Wheatbelt if the State Government's moratorium is lifted.
A conventional canola variety is in full flower at Ashley Wiese's property south of Narrogin. He expects per hectare returns to be good this year, a result of booming global prices and above average yields. While the returns can be strong, it is a relatively expensive and risky crop to grow, which has led to the State's production falling in recent years. The offer of better gross margins was likely to increase canola plantings. Mr Wiese supports the push by the State's farm groups for the GM moratorium to be lifted.
"I think there has been a swing in producer sentiment," he said. "In the early days the big concern was that we would lose markets but I think consumers have shown us direction in their lack of willingness to pay a premium for non-GM product."
An estimated 4.8 million hectares of GM canola, about 5 per cent of global biotech crop area, was grown last year, mainly in Canada and the US.
Yesterday's BRS report warned that the failure to adopt the GM technology could cost the Australian economy $3 billion over the next decade and the oilseed industry would struggle in coming years without production benefits associated with GM varieties. WA shadow agriculture minister Gary Snook yesterday criticised Labor's "sit and see" policy.
Agriculture Minister Kim Chance denied there was significant pressure on the State to lift its moratorium, which is due to be reviewed next year.
"Most of the contact received by this office seeks an extension of the moratorium," he said.
GM opponents said the report was a "rehash" of well-known facts and figures.
Biological Farmers of Australia spokesman Scott Kinnear said the promise of improved profits for farmers was unrealistic and Australia was likely to follow the experience in North America where there were problems segregating grain or seed.
Brazilian National Biosafety Technical Committee Approves Monsanto Company Insect-Protected Corn Trait
Decision Brings Brazilian Farmers Closer to Accessing Technologies and Benefits Other Growers Have Used for More Than a Decade
- Monsanto Co. (press release), August 17, 2007
ST. LOUIS -- Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON) today welcomed the news that the Brazilian National Biosafety Technical Committee (CTNBio) approved the company's MON 810 insect protection event, known in the United States as YieldGard(R) Corn Borer, for future commercial use in corn in Brazil.
The regulatory process in Brazil is a multi-step process, and while other steps are still required, the Committee's decision brings the technology closer to reality for Brazilian farmers.
"We're pleased with the decision of CTNBio," said Brett Begemann, Executive Vice President of International Commercial for Monsanto Company. "While more regulatory reviews remain ahead, we can look forward to providing Brazilian farmers with access to the yield benefits of our trait technologies in combination with our higher-yield seed offerings." Begemann adds, "These same technologies have helped other growers increase their productivity and profitability for more than ten years in countries around the world, including Argentina."
CTNBio is managed by the Ministry of Science and Technology and is charged with making science-based, technical assessments of biotechnology crops including commercial conditions of use. The CTNBio approval may be followed by a review from the National Biosafety Council (CNBS) to examine social and economic factors. Following a favorable review by CNBS, and approvals of the individual MON 810 events in specific hybrid varieties, farmers will be able to plant these higher-yielding seeds.
Corn is the third most planted crop in the world and Brazil ranks third in the world based on harvested area.
Corn hybrids that include the MON 810 event express a naturally occurring protein called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, that helps the corn plant protect itself from feeding damage caused by harmful insects, including corn borer. Using biotechnology traits to help the plant protect itself from insect damage helps farmers increase yields and reduce the application of pesticides. The MON 810 trait was first introduced in the United States in 1997.
Letter Sent to NPR from Bob MacGregor, Canada
Re: Moira Gunn, corrigendum
To NPR Ombudsman:
Ms. Gunn seems to have jumped onto the anti-GMO bandwagon. How can NPR hope to maintain a semblance of neutrality and fairness when a topic is represented by such an obviously biased host? I want to point to just three of the more obvious erroneous views/opinions Ms. Gunn has expressed: (1) GMOs are inadequately tested, (2) GMO's are less healthy and (3) poor people would rather starve than eat GMOs.
First, there is no non-GM crop which has received even a fraction of the safety testing of any GM crop. Excessive pre-release testing has been one of the main factors that has inhibited the development of a more diverse offering of GM crops...and has created the environment for dominance of the industry by just a few, very large, rich multinationals.
Second, in BioWorld Today, Ms. Gunn was quoted as saying, "...it is a women's issue. We will go to any extent to make sure we have healthy food for our children, and we are doing the right thing for our family. Do you want us to just not ask anymore?" This quote illustrates Ms. Gunn's naivete or ignorance about biotech foods.
Numerous scientific societies around the world have concluded that GM foods are at least as safe as conventional foods. More specific to the quote, repeated studies have shown that Bt corn has substantially lower concentrations of mycotoxins than either conventional or organic corn. Choosing products with organic corn over those with GM corn for ones' family is negligence not good parenting. It is irresponsible of Ms. Gunn to advocate the removal of safer products from the market in favour of less safe, and totally untested, ones.
Third, Ms. Gunn claims in the BioWorld Today article that, "People in other parts of the world say they would rather starve than eat our corn." The truth is that at least one government has decided that it would rather let its people starve than allow them access to GM food aid; hungry citizens were breaking into warehouses of this food aid to get access to the food for their families, while their government preferred for them to starve.
Over ten million farmers worldwide are enthusiastically growing GM crops. Over 90 percent of these farmers are in the developing world. These crops have proven to be more productive and envirnonmentally much safer than their conventional counterparts. No unexpected adverse human health or environmental effects have ever been verified for these crops despite intensive surveillance for the past decade.
Opponents of the technology are creative in their imaginative hypotheses of harm, but none of the claims has ever proven valid. Ms. Gunn may have a book to sell, but she shouldn't have an NPR soapbox to sell it from.
Guest ed. note: This letter was sent in response to the article,"GMOs 'A Women's Issue,' Insists Author Of New Book," Calibre, August 13, 2007, http://calibre.mworld.com/m/m.w?lp=GetStory&id=266096121. It quoted Moira Gunn's statements on National Public Radio.
*by Andrew Apel, guest editor, andrewapel+at+wildblue.net