Today in AgBioView from AgBioWorld.org, August 30, 2007:
* Police tear-gas farmers in clash over French GM crops
* No scientific evidence of GM food dangers
* Greenpeace Stunt Backfires
* Crop Engineered To Grow In Poisonous Soil
* Wine grape genome decoded, flavour genes found
* Kiwi scientists unpeel secrets of Vitamin C
* NINE OUT TEN PEOPLE LIE TO APPEAR MORE GREEN
* Alternative sweetener
* Fungus finds flaw in plant's disease-fighting gene
* France to establish reference authority for GMOs
* Let rationality decide GMO debate
Police tear-gas farmers in clash over French GM crops
Monday, August 27, 2007
By John Lichfield in Paris
Growing tensions in France between opponents and supporters of genetically modified crops have led to violent confrontations.
Gendarmes used tear gas and batons to prevent pro-GM farmers from invading a picnic for militant opponents of genetically modified maize at the town of Verdun-sur-Garonne in south-west France over the weekend.
Hardly a day has gone by this summer without opponents of GM maize - both environmental campaigners and small farmers - invading fields and trampling or cutting down crops. The protesters, led by the small- farmers' leader, José Bové, claim a citizens' right to destroy crops which, they say, threaten ecological calamity and the subjection of farmers to the whims of agro-industrial, multinational companies.
Tempers have risen to boiling point since the suicide earlier this month of a farmer in the Lot département who had agreed to plant a small section of GM maize. He took his life a few days after he had been warned that anti-GM protesters planned to hold a picnic on his fields.
The largest French farmers' federation, the FNSEA, called for Saturday's demonstration to protest against attacks on crops and alleged government inaction. Gendarmes used tear gas to prevent the farmers from crossing a bridge to the site of the anti-GM picnic, which was addressed by the extravagantly moustachioed M. Bové.
"If Bové keeps on cutting down our crops, we're going to shave his moustache," said one protester.
Michel Masson, head of the FNSEA in the central area of France, said: "There has already been one death and I can tell you that many farmers, rather than hang themselves from a tree, are now ready to take their rifles off the wall."
The confrontation is partly between town and country. It is also a confrontation between two different approaches to agriculture. The FNSEA supports a "scientific" and highly productive approach to agriculture. M. Bové and his supporters argue for a traditional, small-scale approach.
Successive governments have shied away from legislating clearly on GM crops. Most types are banned but farmers have been allowed to plant, experimentally, a variety of maize called MON810, developed by the US company, Monsanto, which is said to be immune to insect attack.
No scientific evidence of GM food dangers
- Business Report, August 23, 2007
The so-called evidence of genetically modified (GM) food dangers raised by Andrew Taynton is absolute rubbish and unsubstantiated (GM food dangers: Here is the evidence, Business Report August 14).
Taynton is entitled to his opinion but certainly not to his "facts". For "evidence", he uses an example of rats that developed potentially precancerous cell growth after being fed GM potatoes and rats that developed stomach lesions, with seven out of 40 dying within two weeks.
These so-called studies were done eight years ago, then denounced and rejected by scientists as flawed and scientifically unsubstantiated.
The infamous potato study was done by professor Arpad Pusztai in the UK in 1998.
Pusztai, in the first place, did not use GM potatoes; there were no GM potatoes grown commercially in the UK at that time. He used ordinary potatoes that he injected with a lectin.
These potatoes were never intended to be developed as a food crop, as was pointed out by Taynton's quoted source, The Lancet, in its July 3 1999 issue.
Surely Taynton must be aware by now that The Royal Society of London produced a peer review of Pusztai's study and concluded the experiments were badly designed, poorly carried out and inaccurately interpreted due to technical limitations of the experiments
I challenge Taynton to produce substantiated scientific or medical evidence of any adverse effects humans, animals or the environment have suffered as a result of GM food over the past 12 years (nine in South Africa; his reference to 65 health risks documented in a book by Jeffrey Smith is a joke: the book is a farce and flawed).
Consultant to agricultural biotechnology industry
Greenpeace Stunt Backfires
- The Jawa Report, August 29, 2007
(Bangkok, Thailand) Last April, the Thai government passed a law banning open-field trials of genetically-modified (GM) crops. Greenpeace was elated.
Recently, it was reported that the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry was going to seek cabinet approval for a lifting of the ban on open-field trials of transgenic crops. Assuredly, Greenpeace was not amused and reacted by dumping tons of papayas at the entrance to the ministry.
Three truck loads of transgenic papayas sent the message to the ministry that Greenpeace wanted the ban to continue. It was believed that public and political support to keep the ban would follow the papaya protest. But it wasn't to be.
Passers-by and onlookers formed a flood of people grabbing up papayas.
[A]fter the dumping, people flocked to load up on the free papayas, ignoring the environmental organisation's campaign against the dangers of GM fruit -- a message Greenpeace has been trying to get through to the government and the public for years.
Many passers-by, who mostly knew nothing about transgenic fruit, said they did not care about any health risks. They were just thinking about how hungry they were.
"I don't care if they're dangerous," said papaya salad seller Gig Krueyat, 70. "I don't know what the threat is ... nothing serious, I think ..."
Mrs Gig helped herself to three sacks of the fruit in minutes. Others, including some ministry officials and Rasi Salai dam protesters from Sri Sa Ket province who were camped near the ministry, also did not let the opportunity slip by.
A man waiting in traffic for the lights to go green near the ministry, leapt out of his car and joined the feast.
"I'm not scared of GM papayas. Rather, I'm scared I won't have any to eat," said Ubon Ratchathani villager Ampon Tantima, 31, before rushing back to his car with the free fruit.
Heh. Even ministry officials rushed out to get some papayas. And, although unconfirmed, there's a report that one person asked for mangoes next time.
Crop Engineered To Grow In Poisonous Soil
- Science Daily, August 30, 2007
Science Daily — When soils are too acidic, aluminum that is locked up in clay minerals dissolves into the soil as toxic, electrically charged particles called ions, making it hard for most plants to grow. In fact, aluminum toxicity in acidic soils limits crop production in as much as half the world's arable land, mostly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America.
Aluminum toxicity in acidic soils limits crop production in as much as half the world's arable land, mostly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America. (Credit: Image courtesy of Cornell University)Ads by Google Advertise on this site
Now, Cornell researchers have cloned a novel aluminum-tolerant gene in sorghum and expect to have new genetically-engineered aluminum-tolerant sorghum lines by next year.
The research, to be published in the September issue of Nature Genetics, provides insights into how specialized proteins in the root tips of some cultivars of sorghum and such related species as wheat and maize can boost aluminum tolerance in crops.
Sorghum is an important food crop in Africa, Central America and South Asia and is the world's fifth most important cereal crop.
"My lab has been working to identify the physiological mechanisms of plant aluminum tolerance as well as its molecular basis," said Leon Kochian, the paper's senior author, a Cornell adjunct professor of plant biology and director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture--Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory at Cornell. "The reason this is significant is there are extensive areas of the earth's lands that are highly acidic, with pH of 5 or below [pH below 7 is considered acidic]. Most of these areas are in the tropics or subtropics, where many developing countries are located."
Kochian's research shows that in aluminum-tolerant sorghum varieties, special proteins in the root tip release citric acid into the soil in response to aluminum exposure. Citric acid binds aluminum ions very effectively, preventing the toxic metal from entering the roots.
Kochian and colleagues, including the paper's first author, Jurandir Magalhaes, who received his Ph.D. from Cornell in Kochian's lab and now directs his own lab at the Embrapa Maize and Sorghum Research Center in Brazil, used genetic mapping to identify a single gene that encodes a novel membrane-transporter protein responsible for the citric acid release. The gene, they discovered, is only turned on to express the protein and transport citric acid when aluminum ions are present in the surrounding soil.
The researchers have now used the sorghum gene to engineer transgenic aluminum-tolerant Arabidopsis thaliana (a small mustard plant used in plant research because of its small genome and short life cycle) and wheat plants. Sorghum is harder to genetically transform, Kochian said.
The map-based cloning of this agronomically important gene in sorghum is helping advance this species as a model for further exploring the mechanisms of aluminum tolerance and discovering new molecular genetic solutions to improving crop yields, Kochian said.
"This research also has environmental implications for badly needed increases in food production on marginal soils in developing countries," said Kochian. "For example, if we can increase food production on existing lands, it could limit encroachment into other areas for agriculture."
The research is supported in part by the McKnight Foundation Collaborative Crop Research Program, the Generation Challenge Program, the National Science Foundation and the USDA-ARS.
Wine grape genome decoded, flavour genes found
PARIS, Aug 26, 2007 (AFP) - Scientists in France and Italy have deciphered the complete genetic code for the plant producing wine grapes, according to a study published Sunday.
While the findings will do nothing to enhance the mystique of winemaking, they could pave the way for gene-based manipulations to boost flavour and improve resistance against disease.
Dozens of researchers analyzing the Pinot Noir varietal of Vitis vinifera, the core species from which virtually all grape wine is made, found twice as many genes contributing to aroma than in other sequenced plants, suggesting that wine flavours could be traced to the genome level.
The French-Italian Public Consortium for Grapevine Genome Characterisation, which collectively authored the study, also gained crucial insights into the genetic evolution of plants over the last 200 million of years.
V. vinifera is only the fourth complete genetic sequence ever produced for a flowering plant, and the first for a fruit crop.
The other three are rice, the poplar, and Thale Cress, a species of wild plant related to mustard and cabbage.
Pinot Noir, the signature grape of the famous Burgundy wine region in northern France, was selected because of its inbred genotype, which made it easier to sequence.
The study, published in the British journal Nature, will be of enormous interest to global grape growing and wine industries eager to diminish costly plant disease and enhance the flavour of a product that generates some 200 billion dollars (150 billion euros) a year in revenue.
"It is strategic for a species as economically important as the grape vine to develop the tools and genetic resources" to resist pathogens and improve quality, wrote Anne-Francoise Adam-Blondon, one of the authors, in explaining the origin of the Franco-Italian initiative.
The researchers discovered that V. vinifera had large "families" of genes "directly correlated with the aromatic features of wine," especially related to tannins and terpenes.
Tannins, astringent compounds found in the grape skin and seeds -- especially red grapes -- adds body and structure needed for aging, and are considered essential for producing a balanced wine. They are also thought to help prevent hardening of the arteries.
Terpenes are the main ingredient in the essential oils of many plants and flowers widely used as natural flavour additives for food, and in fragrances. In wines, they are especially concentrated in the Muscat grape, where they exude floral tones of rose and violet.
The study also identified the genetic source in the plant of resveratrol, the anti-oxidant in red wine that been widely associated with health benefits ranging from anti-aging to boosting anti-viral treatments.
Perhaps even more important to winemakers than manipulating molecules related to taste -- which is sure to generate controversy -- is the potential to make V. vinifera more resistant to diseases that causes tens of millions of dollars in damage every year.
Research is already underway, noted Adam-Blondon, to isolate a gene that could increase resistance to oidium, an common form of mildew to which Pinot Noir is especially vulnerable.
This would also help reduce the use of chemicals in grape growing, she added, pointing out that in France that grape vines account for three percent of farm land cultivated, but 20 percent of herbicides used.
Stuff (New Zealand)
Kiwi scientists unpeel secrets of Vitamin C
NZPA | Monday, 27 August 2007
Agricultural scientists say they have uncovered the last big secret of vitamin C in plants, and it will create the chance to naturally breed healthier fruits.
The breakthrough in understanding just how plants manufacture vitamin C will enable state science company Hortresearch to identify DNA markers for individual plants naturally producing high levels of the vitamin.
These plants are likely to be used in selective breeding programmes to produce fruit with more vitamin C in a form easily retained by the body, unlike large doses taken in vitamin pills.
Existing cultivars of apples or bananas provide less than half the recommended US daily intake of 90mg/day of vitamin C for an adult male, and even an orange doesn't quite measure up – but the new research will lead to more potent fruit.
Hortresearch's science general manager, Dr Bruce Campbell said the team had isolated the last undiscovered enzyme and proved it controlled vitamin C in plants.
The enzyme was the last step in a chain of research begun overseas nearly 80 years ago by scientist seeking to understand how plants produce vitamin C.
NZ scientists studied kiwifruit, a plant naturally high in vitamin C, with typical green kiwifruit – bred from Actinidia deliciosa – containing about 100mg in each 100g of fruit..
The scientists worked on an inedible wild kiwifruit variety called Actinidia eriantha – with a white, hairy skin which is easy to peel – because it contains a massive 800mg of vitamin C per 100g.
Genetically engineered forms of the small and non-vigorous vines have also been used by Hortresearch in containment to investigate how specific genes in the many different kiwifruit species affect biological processes in the plants.
In these studies, transgenic plants were flowered and fruited in the greenhouse to check how inserted genetic material was expressed in the plant and inherited.
A paper outlining Hortresearch's enzyme discovery was recently published in the US-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and it will be presented by one of the researchers, Sean Bulley, at this week's 17th annual Queenstown conference on molecular biology.
He said today that people needed vitamin C from eating fruit and vegetables, to help rebuild body tissues and fight infection and disease.
But people who turned to high doses of man-made vitamin C in capsules and pills could find it flushed from their system by their kidneys.
"While the vitamin C in a pill is quickly absorbed by our bodies, often a lot of it is just as quickly excreted," said Dr Bulley.
"But there is a suggestion that when consumed through fruit, Vitamin C is absorbed much more slowly, so you get the full benefit as well as all the other healthy properties of fruit such as fibre".
"A high vitamin C apple would be an excellent candidate for further research, although the science could be applied to almost any fruit," said Dr Campbell.
"Kiwifruit already have very high levels of vitamin C, so there is little need for this science in that crop. Instead we will be looking at other fruits that are commonly consumed around the world and which could use a vitamin C boost".
Marie Claire (UK)
August 24, 2007
NINE OUT TEN PEOPLE LIE TO APPEAR MORE GREEN
BEING GREEN HAS BECOME the new competitive sport amongst neighbours. Whereas once the size of your car and how neat the garden is were the preferred means of getting one up on the locals, vying to be the most ethical in the village is now the conversation of choice.
A survey conducted by Norwich Union revealed the extent of the country's new obsession, with nine out of ten people admitting to lying about how green they actually are.
75% of participants claimed that ethical values had become a main topic of conversation amongst neighbours and friends. More than half of people also viewed not being green as less acceptable than drink-driving.
Speaking to The Times, Dr Peter Marsh of the Social Research Coucil commented: 'People have to demonstrate to others that they are in one way or another good people. It now expresses itself in environmental concerns... Green is the flavour of the new millennium.'
Plant Biotechnology Journal
To cite this article: Hyeon-Jin Sun, Hiroshi Kataoka, Megumu Yano, Hiroshi Ezura
Genetically stable expression of functional miraculin, a new type of alternative sweetener, in transgenic tomato plants
Plant Biotechnology Journal (OnlineEarly Articles).
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Genetically stable expression of functional miraculin, a new type of alternative sweetener, in transgenic tomato plants
* Hyeon-Jin Sun,
* Hiroshi Kataoka,
* Megumu Yano and
* Hiroshi Ezura*
* Correspondence (fax +81 29 853 7263; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
* Graduate School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Gene Research Center, University of Tsukuba, Tennodai 1-1-1, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8572, Japan
*Correspondence (fax +81 29 853 7263; e-mail: email@example.com)
Keywords: low-calorie sweetener, miracle fruit, miraculin, sweetness-inducing activity, taste-modifying protein, transgenic tomato.
Miraculin is a taste-modifying protein isolated from the red berries of Richadella dulcifica, a shrub native to West Africa. Miraculin by itself is not sweet, but it is able to turn a sour taste into a sweet taste. This unique property has led to increasing interest in this protein. In this article, we report the high-yield production of miraculin in transgenic tomato plants. High and genetically stable expression of miraculin was confirmed by Western blot analysis and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Recombinant miraculin accumulated to high levels in leaves and fruits, up to 102.5 and 90.7 µg/g fresh weight, respectively. Purified recombinant miraculin expressed in transgenic tomato plants showed strong sweetness-inducing activity, similar to that of native miraculin. These results demonstrate that recombinant miraculin was correctly processed in transgenic tomato plants, and that this production system could be a good alternative to production from the native plant.
Fungus finds flaw in plant's disease-fighting gene
Tuesday, August 28, 2007 | 4:42 PM ET
A team of U.S. botanists has discovered the same gene that makes a plant resistant to one disease also makes it susceptible to another infection, the first time they say this phenomenon has been observed.
The unusual finding adds a new wrinkle to how scientists working with agriculture try to develop disease-resistant strains of plants to protect crops.
While the molecular makeup of disease-fighting genes is well known, little is known about genes that promote susceptibility, said three researchers at Oregon State University, writing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
But the trio said they discovered one such gene actually belongs to a known disease-fighting group.
The findings help explain why an epidemic of Victoria blight, a fungal disease, wiped out oat crops in the United States in the 1940s. The oats, they say, were a widely-planted version that contained a gene that provided good resistance to oat rust, another costly crop disease.
"The blight fungus makes a toxin that causes disease in susceptible plants — that is, only plants that carry this gene," said Jennifer Lorang, an OSU research associate and one of the study's authors.
Although it's not known why exactly the gene makes plants more susceptible to the fungus, the authors speculate the fungus might use the gene "for nutritional gain."
The researchers identified the genetic response to the diseases using Arabidopsis thaliana, a small plant in the mustard family frequently used for research because of its quick growth. It was also the first plant to have its entire genetic code mapped by scientists.
France to establish reference authority for GMOs
- People's Daily, August 29, 2007
French minister for ecology and sustainable development Jean-Louis Borloo has announced plans to establish an authority to take charge of matters related to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), the local press reported Wednesday.
Among other things, the minister, who was speaking Tuesday, called for total transparency and responsibility with regard to the cultivation of GMO crops.
In France, the expert body in charge of evaluating risks related to the GMO is the Commission on Biomolecular Engineering ( Commission du Genie biomoleculaire), a consultative body constituted by the agriculture and environment ministries.
Let rationality decide GMO debate
The bio-safety law must be enacted before field trials on genetically modified crops can resume
August 29, 2007
The Agriculture Ministry has said it would, at a later date, submit a proposal to the Surayud Cabinet to lift the ban on field trials of genetically modified organisms (GMO), which has been in force for the past six years. The ministry, which was earlier scheduled to table the proposal at yesterday's Cabinet meeting, withheld it without giving a reason why. Officials at the ministry insisted that Thailand, one of the world's major food producers, must restart field tests of genetically modified crops to keep up with advances in global research and to maintain the country's competitiveness.
If the Surayud government decides to scrap the earlier Cabinet resolution issued on April 3, 2001, by the then-Thaksin government to ban field tests of genetically modified crops, as requested by the ministry, government and private-sector researchers will be able to resume experimenting with and conducting field trials of papaya and other crops, such as palm oil and flowering plants.
The ban was imposed on the grounds that there was a lack of reliable measures in place to ensure bio-safety, and since then researchers have only been allowed to do research and development on genetically modified crops in closed environments or laboratories.
The 2001 ban followed a controversy over possible threats to bio-diversity and the environment after environmentalists and anti-GMO activists found that genetically modified papaya under field trials supervised by the Agriculture Ministry were also being grown by many farmers in surrounding areas.
It was suspected that seeds of genetically modified papaya were either stolen or were purposefully given to farmers. The growing of genetically modified papaya has since become widespread and has become popular among consumers who do not seem to worry about its impact on bio-diversity and the environment, or the long-term health effects on people who eat genetically modified food.
The Agriculture Ministry and the country's GMO research community are pushing for the resumption of field trials of genetically modified crops to ensure Thailand is well positioned to take advantage of the technology if and when the ongoing global debate on its virtues and drawbacks is settled in the favour of GMOs. This is not a totally unreasonable standpoint.
Genetically modified crops are now being farmed in 22 countries over a total area of 637.5 million rai and they are expanding fast, while their trading value is estimated at about US$6 billion (Bt203 billion) per year. Many genetically modified crops have already been sold in the market, including soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, potatoes and papaya. Developed countries like the United States, France, Australia, Canada, Spain and Germany, and developing countries like China, India, Argentina, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brazil, have embraced GMO technology.
Adding to the urgency of the GMO debate are the already evident effects of global warming and climate change, including flooding, drought, rising sea levels and natural disasters that have resulted in failed crops and lower yields, which pose a threat to global food security. Many experts believe that the world, particularly poor developing countries, needs another Green Revolution and that GMO technology will enable that to happen. While the GMO debate is not likely to be settled in the foreseeable future, Thailand should resume field trials of genetically modified crops but only with stringent safeguards in place to prevent genetically modified crops from contaminating the environment or crossbreeding with indigenous plant species and strains.
The Natural Resource and Environment Ministry is finalising draft legislation on bio-safety, which would ensure that the GMO research community and industry are well regulated and the environment and bio-diversity well protected. But the move to lift the ban must be made concurrently with enforcement of the bio-safety law.
In other words, the ban on field trials should not be lifted until the bio-safety law is put in place. Thailand should take a balanced approach by investing in research and development on GMOs, while at coming up with effective measures to prevent contamination in which scientists and the regulators both play crucial roles. Thailand can make advances in GMO research and development while at the same time preventing and mitigating any potential ill effects.