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September 7, 2007


Organic Report's Fatal Flaws; New Research May Improve Yield; A New Revolution


* "Organic Abundance" Report: Fatally Flawed
* Research May Improve Annual Yield
* Company's Idea of a New Revolution
* A sigh of relief
* Spanish Court Case on Argentine Soy
* New Virus May be Killing Bees
* Ownership squabbles 'hindering' conservation
* Egyptian develops date palms for Brazil
* ISAAA Crop Biotech Update


"Organic Abundance" Report: Fatally Flawed

- Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute, Sept. 6, 2007


The recent report from Catherine Badgley et al. at the University of Michigan (Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, July, 2007) claimed that "organic agriculture has the potential to contribute quite substantially to the global food supply" and said "organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base."

This claim is simply not credible given the following internal fatal flaws:

1. Claiming yields from non-organic farming methods as organic;

2. Comparing "organic" yields to non-representative "non-organic" yields;

3. Double, triple, even quintuple counting of organic yields from the same few research projects;

4. Omitting non-favorable crop yields while using favorable yields from the same studies;

5. Misreporting yield results.

1. Non-organic Yields Used to Inflate Organic Productivity

In perhaps the most brazen example of research misrepresentation in decades, 105 to 119 studies claimed as "organic" by the University of Michigan group were not organic. Only 11% to 21% of "developing world" yields cited were from studies actually using organic farming methods. Some "organic" examples even used GMO crops; many (if not most) used synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The researchers did not provide enough detail to determine the exact number of misrepresented studies, but their main source (Pretty and Hine, 2001) stated clearly in their reports that only 14 of 208 studies in their database are "organic." The Michigan group relied on 70 of these for their paper. They also labeled as "organic" 49 yield ratios from the "System of Rice Intensification" which is not organic. Combined, these represent 79% to 89% of the 133 "developing world" yield ratios included in the study.

As an example, Badgley et al. claim organic methods increased Argentine maize yields by 37%. (Source: Roberto Pieretti in "Pretty and Hine, 2001") In fact, this statistic comes from Argentine farmers using herbicides to kill weeds, growing GMO herbicide-tolerant soy (~98%) and GMO insect resistant maize (~25%), and extensively using synthetic fertilizers and organic-prohibited herbicides and pesticides. To label these yield gains as "organic" is absurd. (Source: Mr. Roberto Peiretti, past president of the Argentinean No-Till Farmers Association: sdrob@idi.com.ar)

Another misrepresentation is China maize yield increase of 38%, reported from the East Gansu project run by the Chinese government. The primary source (Pretty and Hine, 2001) reports that "Grain output and food per capita [in the project area] have increased greatly because of improved crops varieties, runoff harvesting and water-saving irrigation, and fertilizers and pesticide use." [emphasis added]

These facts are made clear in the research reports used in the Badgley et al report, so their ignoring the non-organic reality of these projects is hard to explain. It is especially hard to explain given supervising author Ivette Perfecto's clear statement in a press release issued by the University of Michigan that "My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can't produce enough food through organic agriculture."

2. False Comparisons with low non-organic yields

The amazingly high yield increases reported in the developing world should have been a red flag that the non-organic yields used in the comparisons were uncommonly low.

For example, Badgley et al. report one study where Peruvian organic potato yields were 340 percent higher than non-organic (yield ratio of 4.40). Yet the "higher" organic potato yields (reported as "8,000 to 14,000 kg/ha", or 11,000 average) are below the year-2000 average potato yield for Peru, reported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization at 11,221 kg/ha in the year 2000. Many farmers in developing countries using non-organic methods report potato yields well above 15,000 kg/ha and non-organic potato yields in developed countries are routinely above 40,000 kg/ha - each considerably higher than the "high" organic potato yields.

3. Double, Triple, even Quintuple Counting of Yields from the Same Research Projects

The paper claims to analyze a "global dataset of 293 examples, yet there are numerous instances of repeated counting of yields from the same long-term studies.

For example, the maize yields from the long-term Farming Systems Trial project conducted by the pro-organic Rodale Institute (Kutztown, Pennsylvania, USA) are reported 4 times: once in a "case study" in a 1989 report from the National Research Council, twice in a report from Pimentel et al., and once in a 2001 newsletter article by Bill Liebhardt.

Soy yields from the same Rodale FST project are reported five times: once by the 1989 NRC report, once by Liebhardt, once by Hanson et al., and twice by Pimentel, et al.

4. Omitting Non-Favorable Crop Yields and Cherry-Picking Data

The paper reports the favorable yields of specific organic crops from research, while omitting the unfavorable yields of other crops reported in the same research. In addition, non-favorable study results from organic research groups were entirely omitted.

Four different favorable potato yield ratios are cited from one research project in Germany (90-106% of non-organic yields), while unfavorable organic potato yield data (75% of non-organic potato yields) published in the very same journal in which the Badgley paper appeared was omitted! (Gallandt, et al. American J of Alt Agriculture, 1998 which is now Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems)

The paper cites four separate favorable yield ratios for wheat from the first three years of a long-term California research project (McGuire et al., 1998), but they omit the drastically lower organic maize yields from the same project reported in 2004. The non-organic maize yields were 52% higher than the organic from 1996 to 2004. This result in particular calls into question one of the Michigan group's major claims: That organic farming can obtain ample nitrogen by growing off-season green-manure crops to replace the inorganic synthetic nitrogen fertilizer that currently underpins roughly half of global crop production. In this case, the legume crop cost half the ensuing corn crop. Thus, the green-manure strategy, implemented worldwide, threatens a major cropland expansion due to lower per acre yields and the ensuing loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity.

Moreover, while there were "no statistically difference in tomato yields among [the different systems]" during those 8 years, conventional irrigated wheat yields were nearly 30% higher than irrigated "organic" wheat over the same period.

Many of the studies cited by Badgley et al. are from organic activists with a clear agenda in reporting only high organic yields. The Michigan researchers call these sources "grey literature," but a more accurate term would be "biased observers with a clear economic and reputational stake in the outcome."

For example, there are numerous yield ratios gleaned from reports from "biodynamic" societies such as the Anthroposophic Society, the Institute for Biodynamic Research, and anti-GM/anti-conventional agriculture pressure groups such as Food First.

This clearly skews the results. A recurrent source for "developed country" yield ratios is an article written by Bill Liebhardt, published in the quarterly newsletter of an organic promotion organization. Liebhardt cites a 0.95 yield ratio for organic maize following a legume soybean rotation in comparison to continuous maize yields - despite the fact that the same research Liebhardt cites shows that non-organic maize following soybeans out-yields organic by 10 to 30 percent. This is a clear case of favoring the organic perspective.

More egregiously, Liebhardt combines tomato yields from two separate projects to claim "equal" organic tomato yields when the studies he cites found organic tomato yields were significantly lower yielding. In the first three years of one project, non-organic tomatoes out-yielded organic by 66 percent. So in the fourth year, the researchers started giving the organic tomatoes a literal head start by transplanting tomato plants started weeks earlier in a greenhouse -while still using tomato seeds in the non-organic plots. Yet the non-organic tomatoes continued to out-yield the organic by an average of 20% in the following four years. So in year seven of the project, the researchers tripled the amount of poultry manure applied to the organic plots, giving the organic tomatoes 3 to 4 times more nitrogen than the non-organic. Only after all these changes did the organic tomato yields surpass the non-organic by 9%. Even then, organic fruit quality was lower, used more irrigation water, had far greater weed problems, and cost hundreds of dollars more per acre to grow - losing money without a high price premium.

5. Misreporting of yields

The authors simply misreport organic yields compared to conventional in at least one instance. Badgley et al. report that organic apples achieve 100% equal yields (ratio of 1.00) in a study published in Nature (vol. 410, pages 926-930, 2001). The study actually reported organic apples achieved only 93% of non-organic yields (ratio of 0.93).


Guest ed. note: It has recently come to my attention that spam detection software, which is designed to protect email users from "junk email," often flag items containing the phrases such as 'organic food,' 'all natural,' and 'without pesticides.' As a result, some subscribers to AgBioView may not receive this edition because of the text of the article above.


C.U. Research May Help Farmers Improve Annual Yield

- Eve Waters, The Cornell Daily Sun, Sept. 7, 2007


In a lab already distinguished for excellence, yet another great discovery has been made. At the United States Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory, scientists have been able to isolate and clone an aluminum-resistant gene in sorghum plants that allows them to grow in acidic soil, the same acidic soil that covers over half of the world with a heavy concentration in under-developed countries in Africa, Asia and South America.

Leon Kochian, the research leader and supervisory plant physiologist at the United States Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory USDA-ARS and a Cornell adjunct professor in plant mineral nutrition, has been working on isolating this gene for over ten years. According to Kochian, over that time, "a lot of breeding has been done to isolate this gene."

The aluminum-tolerant gene encodes a transport membrane protein residing in the nuclear membrane of the root tip where cell division and expansion occur. The expression of this gene is triggered by the presence of aluminum in the soil. These proteins transport citric acid outside of the root tip, which in turn binds with the toxic aluminum in the soil and renders it inert.

The laboratory, located near the Veterinary School, focuses primarily on problems with American agriculture, but its close relationship with the Brazilian Agriculture Research Corporation, known as Embrapa, has provided the means for practical research and application of this new aluminum resistant gene. Embrapa's mission is to "provide feasible solutions for sustainable development of Brazilian Agribusiness through knowledge and technology generation and transfer," according to its website.

Kochian explained that his principle connection with Embrapa is through Jurandir Magalhaes, a colleague in agricultural research.

"Dr. Magalhaes came to my lab from Embrapa, which is the Brazilian national agricultural research agency, for his Ph.D in the department of crop and soil sciences," Kochian said. "He came to work on sorghum aluminum tolerance and brought with him a number of excellent genetic resources in sorghum, such as mapping populations and near isogenic lines. Using these materials, he first showed that a single gene controlled most of the variation in aluminum tolerance in sorghum."

Kochian and Jurandir were able to identify this gene and clone it using mapped base cloning.

Sorghum originated in Africa and now ranks as the fifth most important cereal crop in the world. The plant is naturally resistant to heat and is a staple of agriculture in many developing countries. Researchers are now focused on getting aluminum-resistant sorghum out into the field, because ultimately, "this has to go to the field and work." However, the task is made more difficult because much of the world is still skeptical of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Ideally, this aluminum-resistant sorghum will allow farmers in underdeveloped countries to begin to improve their yield. Kochian notes that in order to be truly efficient, "the goal would be to improve yields for the poor African farmers. The hope would be to increase yields to the level where the farmers are self-sufficient and can also derive some income from their crop. This can then be used to purchase a bit of fertilizer and other soil amendments to begin to improve the soil, and also more seed of the improved variety, which in turn would increase yields further. One can envisage this as a positive cycle that feeds upon itself to improve the lives of farmers."

Moreover, this new aluminum-resistant gene is not limited to sorghum plants. As Kochian explained, "once you make a breakthrough like this, it can be found in other species like corn and barley that use a similar gene related to aluminum tolerance."


Company Pushes Idea of a New Revolution

- Nebraska Farmer, Sept. 6, 2007


Bayer CropScience is changing its research to more closely match what it calls the "new agricultural economy." According to a press statement issued today, Friedrich Berschauer, chairman of the board of Bayer CropScience AG, says the company will boost its annual research to $1.02 billion by 2015 - which is a 22% boost from about $838 million currently being spent.

Berschauer made the announcement during the company's annual press conference in Monheim, Germany. He told reporters that limited ag lands, uninterrupted growth in the world's population and the impact of climate change are threatening the supply of agricultural products and are leading to shortage-driven prices for major commodities.

Calling this change the "silent agricultural revolution" he says Bayer CropScience expects the use of ag raw materials for production of biofuels to rise considerably, which will benefit both the seed and crop protection market. "Innovation and constant technological progress are the only way to overcome this challenge," he says.

The rising research budget will focus on such areas as new modes of action in crop protection, improved plant health along with optimized plant characteristics and new agronomic traits. The company will also increase its emphasis on herbicide tolerance, insect resistance and boosting yields. The company, along with its competitors, is already at work on new biotech approaches to make plants resistant to a number of stresses including drought, cold and soil salinity. The first products from the stress tolerance research program are expected in the market by 2015.

Adds Berschauer: "The increase in productivity which we will need to achieve in agriculture in the coming years will only be possible with modern crop protection and the new approaches offered by plant breeding and plant biotechnology."

The company is already at work to bring 26 new active substances to the crop protection market by 2011. Seventeen of these have already been brought to market. The company is also active in the seed and biotech markets with 40 lead projects, including six herbicide tolerance and insect tolerance projects in a late stage of development. These will start entering the market by 2010.

The company is even looking at the biofuels market and some alternative products including Jatropha curcas - an oil-bearing shrub with inedible fruit that grows in arid regions. The seeds have more than 30% oil, which can be used to make low-pollutant biodiesel, the company claims. Jatropha can be cultivated on marginal land in tropical and sub-tropical regions, which would be land unsuitable for food crops. Berschauer says he hopes the research in this area "will be a major contribution to the development of a sustainable biofuel industry."


A sigh of relief

Japan accepts U.S. genetically modified corn

- Ike Wilson, Frederick News Post (Maryland, USA), Sept. 6, 2007


Japan's recent agreement to accept genetically modified U.S. corn is a welcome turn of events for the national corn industry.

The announcement comes as a sigh of relief, said Jamie Jamison, Dickerson, a grain farmer and director of the National Corn Growers Association. Japan is the largest importer of American corn, and the U.S. is the largest corn producer in the world.

"Approval is a big, big help to farmers and I'm happy it got done before harvest," Jamison said.

Japan had balked at receiving Agrisure Rootworm trait (MIR 604), a genetically modified corn which produces a protein that kills corn rootworm.

The corn has finally cleared Japanese regulatory hurdles, said Mimi Ricketts, a spokeswoman for the National Corn Growers Association.

The approval affects East Coast corn growers -- including Maryland -- only in so far as the American corn industry will be boosted as a whole, but it's good news that's appreciated all the same, Jamison said.

Exports of farm products will help boost Maryland's farm prices and income, said Maryland Grain Industry Executive Director Lynne Hoot.

Maryland's agricultural exports were estimated at $313 million in 2006. The state's corn production contributes $120 million to the state's economy. Feed grain accounts for the state's third largest export, according to the Maryland Grain Association.

Such exports help support about 3,223 jobs both on and off Maryland's farms in food processing, storage, and transportation.

Jamison said corn grown on the East Coast is consumed by the East Coast. The ability to export corn to Japan affects other growers, particularly, Midwest farmers, he said.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted agricultural exports will reach record levels, rising from $79 billion in fiscal 2007 to $83.5 billion in 2008.

The approval to export the biotech corn comes after a lot of work by many people, Jamison said.

Hoot said the Japanese have been very particular about not receiving the corn. In the past, they had turn down whole shipments if a small quantity of the genetically modified corn was found mixed in with organic shipments.

"Approval of the corn is a real benefit to our farmers," Hoot said.

In 2005, Maryland planted 470,000 acres of corn, harvested 400,000 acres, for a total production of 54,000 bushels, according to the Corn Growers Association.


Monsanto Loses Spanish Court Case on Argentine Soy

- Nicolas Misculin, Reuters via PlanetArk, Sept. 7, 2007


BUENOS AIRES - A Spanish court ruled against biotech giant Monsanto in its bid to make importers pay royalties on Argentina's genetically modified soy, company and government officials said on Thursday.

Monsanto vowed to appeal the ruling.

For about a year starting in mid-2005, the company held up shipments of Argentine soymeal at some European ports, filing lawsuits to try to enforce patents on its Roundup Ready gene technology in countries that buy Argentine soy products.

Roundup Ready soy, which is genetically engineered to resist Roundup herbicide, was never patented in Argentina but is widely grown in the South American country -- the world's No. 3 soy exporter and its top supplier of soyoil and meal.

Monsanto's drive to make importers pay the royalties was stymied when a court in Madrid ruled that Sesostris, controlled by international commodities group Louis Dreyfus, was exempt from such payments, an Argentine government official told Reuters.

The tribunal also ordered that US-based Monsanto pay all court costs, in what the Argentine official described as an "extremely forceful and clear ruling."

Monsanto criticized the decision, however.

"Although we are disappointed in the decision, we are not surprised as the trial judge unexpectedly refused to admit certain critical evidence thereby undermining our ability to fully and properly prosecute our case," the company said in a statement. "We will therefore be appealing the decision."

The Argentine government asked to participate in the patent lawsuits as a third party, fearful that its soymeal exports to Europe could be hurt. Monsanto filed suit in Spain, the Netherlands, Britain and Denmark and importers lost money due to delays at port.

Europe is the main market for Argentina's soymeal and Spain is the top importer, buying 3.9 million tonnes of it last year from total Argentine exports of 25.7 million tonnes, according to government figures.

Drawn-out negotiations between Argentina and Monsanto to design a more effective royalty system for Roundup Ready soybeans collapsed when Monsanto took legal action.


Newly Discovered Virus May be Killing Bees - Study

- Maggie Fox, Reuters via PlanetArk, Sept. 7, 2007


WASHINGTON - A newly discovered virus may be killing bees or may be making some bees vulnerable enough to disappear, US researchers reported on Thursday.

While the virus probably does not alone account for what scientists call colony collapse disorder, or CCD, it could help explain what is happening to bees across the United States, they said.

The virus, called Israeli acute paralysis virus, or IAPV, was discovered in Israel in 2004 and is new to science.

CCD hit an estimated 23 percent of all beekeeping operations in the United States during the winter of 2006-7. "These beekeepers lost an average of 45 percent of their operations," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the journal Science.

Beekeepers do not find bees dead -- they simply find the hives nearly empty, with the queens alone and workers gone.

Honeybees originally imported from Europe are used to pollinate US$14.6 billion worth of fruits, nuts and other US crops annually. Bees also have disappeared from hives in Brazil and across Europe.

A team led by Dr. Ian Lipkin, an expert in the spread of infectious diseases at Columbia University in New York, ground up bee samples from across the United States and compared them to non-affected bees from Pennsylvania and Hawaii. They also looked at bees imported from Australia and samples of a bee product called royal jelly from China.

They then sequenced the genomes -- the entire collection of DNA -- and looked for genes from bacteria, viruses and parasites. They found five major bacterial groups, four lineages of fungi and seven types of viruses.


"We found a remarkably high viral burden in bee populations -- both those that have CCD and not," biologist Edward Holmes of Pennsylvania State University told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Only one was always associated with CCD -- IAPV.

"Whether it is a causative agent or a very good marker is the next major question that we need to address," said Diana Cox-Foster, an entomology professor at Penn State. A marker might mean that something else that was making the bees disappear also helped them become infected with the virus.

Jeffery Pettis of the US Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory in Maryland said IAPV was only one of several leads that must still be followed.

"I hope no one goes away with the idea that we have actually solved the problem," Pettis told the briefing.

"I still believe that multiple factors must be involved in CCD." Perhaps interactions among parasites, viruses and nutrition could be involve, he said.

IAPV can by transmitted by the varroa mite, a parasite known to affect US bees.

Lipkin said in a telephone interview the next step is to infect healthy bees with IAPV and see if their colonies then collapse, as seen in CCD.

Cox-Foster said the team was also looking at other possible causes of CCD, although some leads were being pursued more urgently than others.

"We have very little evidence that the radiation from cellphones could impact bees," she said.

She said tests also have shown that genetically modified crops have no ill effects on bees, although chemical pesticides could be adding stress.

As for why the bees disappear, Cox-Foster said they may deliberately avoid returning to the hive when they begin to feel ill, perhaps to protect their sisters and the queen.


Ownership squabbles 'hindering' conservation

- SciDev.net, Sept. 7, 2007


Scientists warn that continued debates over the ownership of animal genetic resources are delaying conservation of key breeds in developing countries.

At a conference on animal genetic resources in Interlaken, Switzerland this week (3-7 September), researchers said ongoing debates have meant that developing countries have not built critical genetic reservoirs of certain species, fearing that by sharing, they will lose specific breeds to their neighbours.

According to Carlos Sere, director general of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), this fear has delayed vital conservation efforts.

"We are concerned that the talks will take too long and by the time they are concluded, we will have lost many breeds," he told SciDev.Net.

Sere said conservation of unique breeds should be going on in parallel to the debate over ownership of genetic materials.

He added that countries that have animals of similar genetic origin should organise joint programmes to conserve these resources.

"It has always been hard to determine who owns a specific animal breed, especially in Africa. Most animals are owned by communities that are known to move freely across borders, and it becomes difficult for a country to claim ownership," he said.

Kenya and Tanzania have one such ownership dilemma, over the Maasai red sheep, reared by the Maasai community on the border of the two countries.

Ownership of livestock genetic material has also been a controversial issue in the international arena, with developing countries accusing developed countries of biopiracy.

Ed Rege, a researcher at ILRI, said biopiracy is bound to persist if local researchers do not know about the quality of genetic resources in their region. ILRI has been training local scientists on the genetics of local breeds, and has also proposed a programme to educate farmers on the diversity of their herds. Researchers at the conference also supported using genebanks and a combination of advanced genomics and geographic mapping techniques to determine suitability of different breeds to different environments.


Egyptian develops date palms for northeastern Brazil

Agronomist Magdi Ahmed Ibrahim Aloufa has developed date saplings for the northeastern Brazilian semiarid. The work has been developed in the biotechnology laboratory at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, and now he seeks companies and organizations interested in producing dates in the region.

- Joana Rozowykwiat, Brazil-Arab News Agency, translated by Mark Ament, Sept. 7, 2007


Recife - Dates, fruit typical of the Middle East, may help transform the reality of the northeastern semiarid. This is the proposal of Egyptian agronomist Magdi Ahmed Ibrahim Aloufa, who developed, in the biotechnology laboratory of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), date saplings adapted to northeastern Brazil. The researcher is now after partners interested in growing the plants and trading dates, a greatly appreciated product in the country. To him, however, as important as the economic potential of the fruit, is its capacity for adaptation to degraded areas and dry regions.

A coordinator at the laboratory and vegetable physiology professor at UFRN, Magdi Ahmed believes that the northeast has chances of becoming an exporter of dates, but has not yet started investing in this market sector. "The plant has a very good economic value. And the only Latin American country that has acclimatised dates is Mexico, from where Brazil imports the largest share of the dates it currently consumes," explained the Egyptian, who has been based in Rio Grande do Norte since 1983.

According to him, in Petrolina, in the interior of Pernambuco, there are some date producers, but they plant from seeds, a practice that does not guarantee the quality of the fruit. "In laboratory, we developed saplings through biotechnology, guaranteeing the size, flavour and early maturing of the dates," he explained. This way, the dates take only four years to produce fruit, whereas from seed, and without quality control, dates could take up to 15 years to start producing.

Magdi Ahmed's main objective, however, is to occupy degraded regions and semiarid soil with date palms. "It is a plant from the Middle East, produced in all of the Arab countries, and that grows in the desert. Therefore, apart from the economic question, which is the one that currently interests the most, there is also the environmental question, which is the word of the hour," he evaluates. Date palms fertilize the soil, reducing the temperature and interrupting the progression of areas that are in a process of desertification.

Despite the viability of his project, the Egyptian has found difficulties in finding partners. He has presented the proposal to several governmental organizations. All of them have demonstrated interest in the project, but they allege lack of funds. "The secretariat of Science and Technology of the state of Rio Grande do Norte has also shown interest, but has not yet answered," explained the researcher, who is also after companies and non-government organisations interested in developing his dates.

"I believe that a large part of this resistance is due to the fact that it is not a fruit of the region. This is a shortsighted point of view as it is a project with great potential. But there must be ample work to introduce this new fruit," he explains. According to him, the partners could also help by supplying a structure for development of the saplings. "Despite having a capacity for production of a large number of trees, the Biotechnology Laboratory at UFRN does not have sufficient structure for acclimatisation," he laments.

He, who is one of the pioneers in the cloning of plants in the Northeast, believes that the future of the entire region is in investment in agriculture and technology. "The progress is slow due to lack of resources. I am very sorry, as we could be doing much more. With the support of the government, we could develop the region, putting into practice what we are developing in the laboratory," he explains.

Native fruit

Despite the lack of interest of partners for the production of dates, the agronomist is celebrating an agreement signed between the UFRN and the Bank of the Northeast (BNB), which has already made possible research for the production of special cashew and Brazilian plum trees. "We intend to produce these trees in great quantity and distribute them to small producers, family farmers," explained Magdi.

The laboratory received 128,000 Brazilian reais (around US$ 65,000) for the project and the result of the studies is that cashew, abundant in the region, may be produced with quality control, as is the case with the Brazilian cherry, a fruit that is facing extinction.

The city of Serra do Mel, 320 kilometres away from Natal, will be one of those benefited by the initiative. "The city currently lives off cashew trading, but the fruit produced there is native, and does not produce large volumes of fruit," explains the agronomist, who plans to distribute around 50 saplings to the farming families in Serra do Mel.


Apart from production of saplings of native fruit, the BNB resources are also being employed in the modernization of the Vegetable Biotechnology Laboratory, which has been developing research on plant cloning for 23 years. According to Magdi, the site is also going to receive a centre for conservation of native species that are facing extinction.

"The funds should be spent in phases. Therefore, apart from modernizing the laboratory, we are creating a germplasm bank, where we will keep some threatened species in vitro," explained the laboratory coordinator.

According to him, the preservation in laboratory will be a reference in the northeast, where there are only similar experiments in the field. "In vitro, we guarantee that the plants will not suffer natural accidents, being threatened by climate conditions and diseases," she explained. The researcher also added that the redoing of the existing structure in the laboratory should be ready by the end of the year, but that the establishment of the conservation centre is a long-term project.

The research for genetic improvement of the plants in Rio Grande do Norte began in 1984, with Magdi Ahmed's arrival - he is a doctor in biotechnology from Université de Pierre e Marie Curie (Paris) - at UFRN. At the time, there was no laboratory, and no qualified personnel specialized in genetic engineering at the University. Determined, Magdi sent a project to the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and managed to collect funds for the purchase of equipment, as well as scholarships for graduation students to work in the laboratory.

Today, apart from coordinating the space and teaching vegetable physiology, the Egyptian also has a base for research on vegetable biotechnology and is a consultant at the Rio Grande do Norte Agricultural Research Organization (Emparn) and of the CNPq itself.


Crop Biotech Update

- International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, August 31, 2007


[table of contents]


Grapevine Genome Decoded
Aluminum-Tolerance Gene Cloned in Sorghum
Plant Resistance Gene May Cause Susceptibility Too
Gelatin Recovery System from GM Corn Established
Public-Private Partnerships Beneficial to Crop Research


Bt Maize Trials Perform Positively in Egypt
Bamboo Booms in Africa
New Crop Varieties to Fight Hunger in Kenya
New IFAD-Supported National Program for Comoros


Brazil Approves Second GM Maize Variety
Two Spud Scourges Return with a Vengeance
Borders Can't Stop Cotton Boll Weevil Migration
'Goetze' to Replace 'Foote' in Willamette Valley, Oregon
Dow AgroSciences and Hexima Collaborate for Cotton Seed Development

Asia and the Pacific

Syngenta Introduces Tropical Sugar Beet in India
Capacity Building Workshop Series on GM Crops for Philippine Stakeholders
Important Enzyme in Vitamin C Biosynthesis Discovered
Philippines to Learn from Indian Bt Cotton Experience
LIPI to Focus on Three Development Fields


Serbia and Denmark Approve Field Trial of GM Plants for the Detection of Explosives in Soil
Dow AgroSciences Acquires Netherlands Based Duo Maize
UK Chemists Synthesize the Natural Insecticide Azadirachtin
Western Corn Rootworm Gatecrashes Germany


Protein Changes in Sugar Beet Associated with Fusarium fungal Infection
Cadherin Protein Enhances Bt Toxicity
Transgenic Approach to Increase Lysine in Corn
Transgenic Rice with Japanese Cedar Pollen Allergen Developed

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