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September 14, 2007


Chinese phytase corn; Bean yields a focus; Modern Food Wars


* Chinese develop phytase corn
* Bean yields also focus for biotech
* Farmers, consumers go for Pinoy GM rice
* Human Trials For Diabetes Cure
* Biotech ban may limit trade
* Many Modern Conflicts Are Food Wars
* Portugal Biotech Update
* A tragic GM 'outing'
* Blooming biotech
* Activists Are Enemies of the Poor


Chinese develop new high phytase corn

- AllAboutFeed.net, Sept. 14, 2007


Chinese scientists have developed a genetically modified (GM) corn that could help improve the nutritional value of livestock feed and reduce pollution.

The research is carried out by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS). The corn has now entered pre-production field trials.

The GM corn produces seeds containing high levels of the phytase enzyme. The enzyme helps livestock to digest phosphorus which is enclosed in the indigestible form of phytate.

Animals lack phytase in their system. As a result, farmers add the enzyme to animal feed to help livestock digest phosphorus.

Fungus gene

The CAAS scientists isolated the gene that produces phytase from a species of the fungus Aspergillus, and inserted it into corn.

Preliminary test have shown that compared to regular varieties, the rate of seed germination, growth speed and yield of the GM corn were no different.

The scientists said that, under current industry criteria for feed additives, adding just a few grams of the GM corn seed per kilogram of animal feed would be enough to satisfy livestock's nutritional demand for phosphorus.

Huge saving

If the technology is commercialised, Chinese farmers could save up to $60 million per year in buying industrial phytase.

Phosphorus pollution caused by animal waste is a serious problem in China, resulting in widespread algal blooms in the Chinese lakes. Better phosphorous digestibility could add to improvement of the environment.

China has not yet approved any GM corn for commercial sale.


Bean yields also focus for biotech scientists

- Martin Ross, Farm Week, Sept. 12, 2007


As producers and scientists work to boost corn bushels for a growing ethanol sector, the industry is not ignoring the need to fuel soybean yields for the biodiesel boom.

While U.S. soy oil stocks have been increasing, University of Illinois ag economist Darrel Good noted last week that oil consumption has reached record levels as well. Domestic use plus exports of soybean oil reached a record 16.93 billion pounds in the 10 months from October 2006 through July 2007, an 8 percent year-over-year increase.

Much of the increase in domestic soybean oil consumption was for the production of methyl esters used in the biodiesel production, Good said.

Domestic oil use from October 2006 through July 2007 was nearly 5 percent higher than during the same period the previous year, "well above the long-term growth rate of about 2 percent per year," he advised.

That raises questions about long-term soybean supplies, and biotech companies are looking at productivity improvements through such products as Monsanto's forthcoming Roundup RReady2Yield, which melds herbicide resistance with yield enhancement traits.

"We've identified areas in the DNA sequence within soybeans that have a high-yield impact," Monsanto's Clint Pilcher told FarmWeek. "The (Roundup Ready 2) gene has been inserted within that high-yielding genetic sequence.

"We expect a 7 to 11 percent yield increase. Farmers haven't seen huge yield increases in beans over the last decade or two. This would be the first technology where we'll really see a leap in yield."

Roundup RReady2Yield tentatively is slated for release in 2009.

Meanwhile, Monsanto continues to explore agronomic factors such as stress tolerance and plant metabolic processes that could be tweaked to further boost yield.

Monsanto hopes development of those "intrinsic yield" products could provide another 10 percent bump in yields, Pilcher said.

Four to five years down the product pipeline is a high-oil soybean expected to yield 3 to 5 percent more oil "and maintain protein and yield stability, as well," he reported.

At the same time, Syngenta aims to address a major Midwest yield pressure through increased biotech aphid resistance.

Doug Kirkbride, agronomist with Syngenta-affiliated NK Seeds, anticipates aphid-resistant varieties being released in 2010 "at the soonest." -


Study shows farmers, consumers go for Pinoy GM rice

- Philippine Information Agency (press release), Sept. 12, 2007


Manila -- Most consumers are likely to accept the country's genetically modified (GM) rice, which is expected to be commercially available by 2011, a recent study conducted by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and Strive Foundation showed.

Citing the study, Director Alicia Ilaga of the DA Biotechnology Program Office (DA-BPO) said more farmers are eager to try the new rice variety in the hope of reducing cost and losses brought about by pests.

Buoyed by these findings, Ilaga said she would commit funding for research and development (R&D) on rice biotechnology.

The ex-ante impact assessment of GM rice covered close to 1,000 farmers and consumers randomly chosen in Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Iloilo, Davao del Sur and Davao del Norte.

Majority of those polled said they are willing to plant, buy and sell GM rice.

Between 30 percent and 33 percent of the respondents were aware of rice biotechnology and genetic engineering, while 17 percent of all respondents heard about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Among the respondents, urban consumers had the highest level of awareness on GMO, GE and rice biotechnology compared to rural consumers and farmers. The same survey showed that 15 percent of respondents have heard about the potential risks and benefits of biotechnology.

Majority of respondents accept GMO rice in general (63 percent), GM pest resistance rice (64 percent) and biofortified rice (69 percent). Only five percent of the respondents do not accept GM rice.

Fifty-eight percent of the respondents said they were willing to plant, buy and sell while nine percent said they were not willing to do the same. Thirty-two percent of the respondents gave a conditional yes.

For Vitamin A and Iron-enriched GM rice varieties, the willingness to plant and buy was generally the same figure-- 66 percent indicated their willingness, eight percent were not willing and 26 percent expressed conditional willingness

For Vitamin A, slightly above 20 percent of respondents are not willing to pay a higher price for GM rice.

However, between 49 percent and 55 percent of the respondents said they were willing to pay up to 10 percent increase in the price of GM Vitamin A rice.

Majority (85%) of the respondents expressed their desire to know more about rice biotechnology through radio, television and newspapers.

In the ongoing research project of PhilRice, the "3-in-1" rice funded by the DA BPO is gaining headway. Experts believe that by 2011, the first GM rice in the Philippines will pass all regulatory requirements for its much-awaited commercial release..

PhilRice's breeding quest for the "3-in-1" rice requires the transfer not only the beta carotene biosynthesis into the grains of local varieties but the genes for tungro resistance and bacterial blight resistance through conventional breeding technique.

The "3-in-1 rice" is also considered a genetically modified-derived (GM-derived) rice because Golden Rice, as one of its parents, is the result of genetic engineering that involved the deliberate artificial introduction of foreign genes from other plant species that enabled Golden Rice to produce beta carotene in the grain.

The "3-in-1 rice" is the first of its kind because it will be "stacked" with a combination of traits that will produce direct benefits to producers and consumers alike.

In essence, it is being bred to contain the characteristics of the first and second generation GM crops.

The first generation GM crops (those with agronomic traits like insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant plants) sought to increase producer profitability through cost reductions or higher yields, while the second generation GM crops - such as the Golden Rice - are expected to contain higher level of micronutrients, thereby boosting the health of a rice-dependent population.

"The expected benefits from the '3-in-1 rice' technology outweigh its investment and development costs," so says the study's basic hypothesis.


Local Professor Begins Human Trials For Diabetes Cure

- WESH2 (Florida), Sept. 13, 2007


ORLANDO, Fla. -- The key to curing a disease that affects 21 million people in the U.S. could be found on your dinner table nearly every night.

One University of Central Florida professor may have finally unlocked the code to wipe diabetes completely off the map.

Dr. Henry Daniell and his team of 20 bio-medical researchers have worked for five years, experimenting with genetically modified lettuce and its affect on diabetes patients.

They have come up with what they believe is a cure for diabetes.

"This would be not only a cure, but also an inexpensive cure," Daniell said.

A person with diabetes is sentenced to a lifetime of needles and careful monitoring of their blood sugar levels.

"I believe that it's going to be a very significant advancement and so far there has been no permanent cure for diabetes," said Daniell. "This is the first time the root cause of the problem, the immune disorder, is tackled."

Genetically modified lettuce is grown in a lab at UCF.

A leaf is placed in a machine and injected with the human gene for insulin.

"We can really be happy that we have made progress that helps a society, especially large numbers of people," said Daniell.

For people living with diabetes, the find is a major breakthrough.

Daniell said he has been stunned by the response from his find.

He's received thousands of e-mails and phone calls, mostly from Florida residents.

Daniell first tested his insulin-producing lettuce on mice, and the results were shocking.

"By the end of the study, the diabetic mice had normal blood and urine sugar levels," Daniell said. "And their cells were producing normal levels of insulin."

These results occurred after just eight weeks of treatment.

Daniell said if human trials, which are now under way, are successful, it would impact millions of diabetics worldwide and provide a permanent and affordable cure for the disease.

His team has found a way to grind the lettuce down to a fine green powder that can be distributed in the form of a capsule, which helps regulate the dosage.

Daniell is currently conducting clinical trials with a major pharmaceutical company.

If all goes well, this cure for diabetes could be made available to millions of people with diabetes in four years.


Biotech ban may limit US trade

- Budapest Business Journal, Sept. 14, 2007


The United States is expecting record harvests but EU rules against biotech-derived crops may force Europe to turn to South American sources to make up the differences.

"Unfortunately, without a workable approval process for grains derived through biotechnology, the EU is limited in its potential sources for corn," says Ken Hobbie, US Grains Council president and CEO. "They are likely to turn to South American sources, reducing the amount of feed grains from those origins available to other importers."

According to reports, the EU corn crop will be down 8.7 million metric tons (342.5 million bushels) compared to 2006, with the majority of the loss in Romania and Hungary where drought is blamed for harvests estimated to be 50% lower than last year. Untimely rains in France, Germany and the United Kingdom damaged much of the wheat crop in those countries, already stressed by earlier heat waves.

The USDA has estimated the EU will need to import 6 million tons (236.2 million bushels) of corn and 1 million tons (39.4 million bushels) of sorghum, increasing competition for these grains on the international market.


Many Modern Conflicts Are Food Wars, Say Experts

Holistic approach built on food security can stabilize postwar societies

- David McKeeby, Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State, Sept. 12, 2007


This is the fourth in a series of articles on U.S. food aid programs and agricultural assistance for vulnerable populations around the world.

Washington -- Throughout history, hunger has been both a cause and effect of war. For this reason, according to anthropologist Ellen Messer and political scientist Marc Cohen, most modern conflicts should be viewed as "food wars," a concept that poses unique challenges for the United States as the world's leading provider of food assistance.

"Food does have this enormous moral weight in our society, and rightly so," Messer told USINFO in a recent interview. "Sharing food is part of the history of our way of life. Making sure that all have enough to eat is certainly part of all the religious traditions that make up America."

In exploring the link between persistent hunger and armed conflict, Messer, a professor at Brandeis University, and Cohen, a researcher for the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, have published a series of articles in recent years exploring famines, poverty and the distribution of food resources within communities. From their research, they have developed their concept of "food wars," the practice of warring parties fighting for control of food supplies to reward their supporters and punish their enemies.

In a 2003 study, they found that more than 56 million people living in 27 countries face "food insecurity," such as supply disruptions, shortages and malnutrition due to conflicts -- an average of 20 percent -- but noted that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has found country-specific levels as high as 25 percent in Sudan, 43 percent in Tanzania and 49 percent in Haiti, and at 70 percent or higher in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.

"We took this as a starting point for looking at a food wars concept, where conflict is one of the chief causes of hunger. We looked at the many ways that conflict interferes with food security," Messer explained, such as its effect on family income and its destruction of farms, markets, schools and health clinics. They also looked at the role of food insecurity in perpetuating conflict.

Today's most significant food wars, Cohen told USINFO, can be found in Sudan's Darfur region; in the greater Horn of Africa region, which encompasses conflicts in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo; and in the disruptions to families displaced by ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Food security remains a challenge for families driven from their homes by fighting in Colombia, he added, as well as in several post-conflict countries, including Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Tajikistan, with serious implications for those nations' futures.


To break the link between hunger and conflict, Messer said, aid efforts must operate simultaneously on two separate tracks: reducing food insecurity by addressing shortages with emergency food aid, while increasing food security by helping area residents to more effectively raise their own crops and strengthen the region's economy in ways that could reduce the likelihood of future conflicts.

"Food can be used as a hook to build other capacities," Messer said, "health programs, income generation programs and education programs, which is another very important way food is used."

By ensuring basic food security, food aid can promote stability and help communities resist renewed calls for militant violence or recruitment by terrorists, who exploit community grievances to justify attacks, according to Messer and Cohen.

Following the 2004 South Asian tsunami, said Cohen, joint relief efforts by government forces and insurgents in Indonesia's Aceh led to a peace agreement in 2005, evidence of how food aid can bring combatants together. But food security is only one variable in the equation, he acknowledged, looking across the Bay of Bengal to Sri Lanka, where hostilities resumed after a brief pause.

"A food security effort can be important in stimulating a peace process," Cohen said, "but it's obviously not sufficient to make it happen." Peace-building requires a holistic approach that integrates a variety of aid programs in post-conflict societies.

Food aid plays a particularly important role in the tenuous first months after the end of a conflict, Cohen said, as displaced families and former combatants return home to await the first new harvests.

"That's clearly a place where food aid is an appropriate kind of intervention," he said. "It's all the more important that it be linked to demining, perhaps agrarian reform, and rebuilding the infrastructure."

As the world's largest donor of humanitarian food aid, the United States plays an important role, he said, but it must do more through its partnerships with the United Nations and nongovernmental aid organizations to integrate emergency food aid into conflict resolution.

"If food activities, that is, building food security where it has been destroyed through conflict, is going to go forward, there has to be security, and this is the conundrum that so many of these post-conflict reconstruction reconciliation projects run into," said Messer.


Portugal Biotechnology Update 2007

- Ann Marie Thro, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (GAIN Report No. PO7006), Sept. 10, 2007


[excerpted: 6pp. total]

Report Highlights: Portugal is one of the first European Union (EU) Member States to implement a coexistence regulation, to evaluate the effects of that regulation, and to establish rules for declaring biotechnology-free zones. A first-year coexistence compliance monitoring report indicated that currently required buffer zones kept the adventitious gene presence in surrounding corn crops well below the 0.9 percent threshold required to claim biotechnology-free status in Europe. While rootworm-resistant corn is the only agriculture biotechnology crop currently grown in Portugal, many Portuguese farmers are interested in additional biotechnology crops as potential solutions to other production problems.

The GOP published a coexistence decree in September 2005, establishing the rules for producing agriculture biotechnology crops. As a result, farmers are required to implement 200-meter isolation zones between biotechnology and traditional corn crops, and 300-meter zones between biotechnology and organic corn production. This distance may be replaced by a 24-row conventional-seed buffer zone, or by combining a 50-meter isolation zone with a 28-row conventional-seed buffer zone. In the case of insect resistant varieties, producers need also to create a "refuge" zone equal to 20 percent of field area, which must be populated with conventional corn varieties. The current coexistence decree effectively restricts biotechnology-seed use in most corn growing districts, because of the prevalence of small properties making it difficult, if not impossible, to meet the isolation zone requirements.


A tragic GM 'outing'

- Nature Biotechnology 25, 950 (2007) doi:10.1038/nbt0907-950a


To what extent did the French government's failure to publicly disclose the exact location of field trials contribute to the suicide of a farmer hounded by anti-GM activists?

Picnics are not normally matters of life or death. But last month, one French farmer chose to take his own life rather than witness anti-GM campaigners 'picnicking' among his transgenic corn. At 8:30 a.m. on Sunday August 5, after telephoning the local police in Saint-Céré, Claude Lagorse placed at his feet a corn seedling and a leaflet announcing the anti-GM 'picnic/debate' planned for later that day and then hung himself under a tree.

Lagorse's social standing and his own attitude to GM crops probably contributed to the complex interplay of tensions that led to his suicide. A father of four and a respected member of the local community in Girac in the Dordogne, he and his brother were members of a local eco-friendly farming cooperative, raising pigs and cultivating approx3.5 hectares of corn as feed.

We don't know why Lagorse chose to plant GM Bacillus thuringiensis toxin (Bt) corn (MON 810) but it was clearly not just adventitious happenstance. He had notified all the relevant government authorities. However, only his brother knew about the Bt corn. He had not told his neighbors. He had not even told his wife.

Why not? In the context of prevailing, ill-informed perceptions of GM crops in Europe, perhaps he feared his decision might poison relations with neighbors or damage his eco-friendly credentials. Even if Largorse recognized that the avoidance of chemical insecticides can make Bt corn more eco-friendly, would he have been able to convince surrounding farmers, especially those with entrenched anti-GM views?

At least part of the blame for Lagorse's secrecy, and his anguish on being discovered, can be placed at the door of the French system. In direct contradiction to Article 9 of European Directive 2001/18-CE, the French government still releases only the number and aggregate hectares of GM crop plots rather than their precise locations. In contrast, other national authorities provide very specific, identifying information. The UK authorities, for instance, publish a map reference that narrows the location to an area approximately one square kilometer. Obfuscation by the Gallic authorities has not prevented crop destruction, however: in the past three years, anti-GM groups' vandalization has affected half of all French field trials.

There is a clear solution. Those who embrace GM crops must do it openly, as democratic society demands. Otherwise, activists will exploit secrecy to foment public mistrust, portraying themselves as heroes exposing covert GM planting operations. French regulators, industry and farmers must become explicit and precise about the location of GM trials, even if that makes abuse of the system easier for activists in the short term. Ultimately, transparency and openness will make the continued destruction of property and intimidation of farmers difficult to justify. And most importantly, it could prevent a repeat of the recent tragedy.


Blooming biotech

- Carol Potera, Nature Biotechnology 25, 963 - 965 (2007)


'Roses are red, or maybe not. Genetic modification can do what nature cannot - make a blue rose' Recombinant technology has not yet taken root in ornamental plant breeding, but if some early genetically modified products succeed in the marketplace, might this change? --- A collaboration between US biotech firm Mendel Biotechnology, of Hayward, California, and the large German plant breeder Selecta Klemm, of Stuttgart, Germany, aims to exploit the power of plant functional genomics to create a new range of products for the worldwide ornamental plant, or floriculture, market. Focused on developing flowering plants that can adapt to changing environmental conditions, joint venture Ornamental Biosciences, is a rare foray for biotech into modern floriculture. Whether there is room for more than a scattering of such ventures in a field dominated by work on food crops, only time will tell.

In 2006, US consumers spent $20.8 billion on ornamental plants, according to the Society of American Florists in Alexandria, Virginia, and global sales rang up billions more. Yet just two companies are dedicated to applying biotech tools in floriculture, a business that sells cut flowers like roses and carnations, potted plants like poinsettias, and bedding plants like petunias and geraniums (Table 1). "There are not many companies in the space, because there were not many relevant technologies for people to use until [recently]" says James Zhang, vice president of business development at Mendel Biotechnology. However, now that information has become available on genes and pathways that affect traits such as stress tolerance and color creation in plants, floriculture researchers finally have some of the tools they need to create hardier and more unusual plants.

The ten-year-old Mendel Biotechnology holds patents on key genetic engineering methods for making field crops such as corn and soybeans drought tolerant. "We were the first company to develop drought-tolerant technologies for plants," says Zhang. The firm focuses on making genetically modified (GM) plants that resist biotic stress, such as insects and fungal diseases, and abiotic stress, such as drought and low temperatures. Their 'Weatherguard' technology covers the C-box, or CRT binding factor (CBF), family of transcription factors, isolated originally from Arabidopsis thaliana. This family of regulatory factors binds to a genetic element called C-repeat/dehydration responsive element (CRT/DRE) found in the promoters of dozens of cold- and drought-responsive genes.

Unlike agriculture, where the same GM corn is planted year after year, traditionally floriculture is dynamic, and consumers covet new plant varieties.

Drought and cold tolerance share common molecular response pathways. Three members of the family (CBF1, CBF2 and CBF3) are induced within 15 minutes after plants are transferred to cold temperatures, and a fourth one (CBF4) is induced by drought. And both cold and drought stress induce the expression of the response to dehydration gene, RD29A, through activation of CBF proteins.

Because so many aspects of cold and drought tolerance are under transcriptional control, transcription factors are excellent tools for engineering plants to withstand these stresses. When overexpressed, heterologous CBF transcription factors switch on a plant's own defense systems. In rice, for example, the overexpression of a calcium-dependent protein kinase via an introduced CBF gene improves cold and drought tolerance1. CBF transcription factors have been successfully engineered into soybeans, canola, tomatoes, alfalfa, cherries, strawberries, rice and other crops by researchers at Mendel and elsewhere2. Now, Ornamental Bioscience is extending the technology to petunias and other bedding plants.

Ornamental Bioscience "is going after drought tolerance first," says plant molecular biologist Joche Bog, technical manager of the research facility in Stuttgart. Bog is starting with petunias, which are easy to transform and have a relatively short life cycle, to examine how transcription factors control drought tolerance. Once transformation protocols are worked out, they'll be transferred to impatiens, geraniums and poinsettias, he says.

Drought-tolerant plants fit right in with the environmentally friendly trend of 'xeriscaping', a type of landscaping that strives to reduce water use (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xeriscaping). In fast-growing areas of the western United States, up to half of residential water usage ends up on landscape plants and lawns. With drought-tolerant plants, "people don't have to worry about plants dying if they forget to water them or while [they are] on vacation," says Zhang.

Another project is investigating transcription factors that stop fungal pathogens such as powdery mildew, botrytis and sclerotinia from attacking plants. Reducing the need for insecticide use on plants protects the environment, a goal Ornamental Bioscience calls "ecological genetic support." Once in a blue rose

The only floriculture company currently marketing a GM ornamental plant is Melbourne, Australia-based Florigene. Founded in 1986 by the Australian government and private investors, to apply biotech to floriculture and forestry, Florigene originally partnered with the US-based Calgene (now owned by St. Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto). Today, Florigene is a subsidiary of Suntory, a beverage and food company headquartered in Osaka, Japan that has expanded into health foods and flowers. Eleven years ago, Florigene introduced a GM carnation, some 75 million of which have been sold in Australia, Japan and the US as Florigene-Moondust, -Moonshadow, -Moonlite and -Moonshade, in shades ranging from blue-violet to deep purple. These so-called 'blue' carnations embody Florigene's 'Blue Gene Technology', which currently is being used to fashion a blue rose that the company expects to hit the market sometime in 2008.

Three major groups of pigments, the betalains, the carotenoids and the flavonoids, are responsible for natural flower color. Florigene's Blue Gene Technology focuses on, among other things, the use of a recombinant cytochrome P450 enzyme, flavonoid 3',5'-hydroxylase (F3',5'H)3, to manipulate the concentration of the flavonoid anthocyanin delphinidin (named after delphiniums), which imparts blue-to-purple hues. Some flowers, such as forget-me-nots, larkspur, petunias and delphiniums, naturally contain delphinidin. However, the top-selling cut flowers, including roses, carnations and chrysanthemums, lack F3',5'H and hence delphinidin. Historically, cross-breeding has generated thousands of varieties of red, white, pink and yellow roses, but traditional breeding can never compensate for the total absence of the gene responsible for blue color.

The genes involved with flavonoid biosynthesis, as well as transformation methods to insert them into ornamental plants and propagate color traits, are at the center of Florigene's intellectual property portfolio. Public documents filed with the Australian government to obtain permission to carry out greenhouse trials of the blue rose give some insights into Florigene's transformation methods. Florigene researchers transfer the gene encoding F3',5'H from petunias into the hybrid tea rose (Rosa x hybrida) using the vector Agrobacterium tumefaciens, along with marker genes for antibiotic resistance or sulfonylurea-type herbicide resistance. Vegetative tops of the plants bearing shoots and flowers are grafted onto nontransgenic Rosa multiflora or Rosa canina rootstock growing in greenhouses. However, the remaining details of the transformation and regeneration process "are company secrets," according to Steve Chandler, Florigene's general manager.

Even after the company achieved success with blue carnations ten years ago, the route to a blue rose has been thorny. The initial cloning of the blue gene from petunias took three years to achieve because it is expressed only at certain times during flower development and has high homology with other cytochrome P450 genes. Once isolated, simply inserting the blue gene is not sufficient to ensure blue-violet pigments will be present. The pH of the petal vacuoles and the presence of other flavonoids and metal ions contribute to blue coloration and must be regulated. "Flower color is not simply a result of pigment concentration," says Chandler, "physiological issues complicate it all."

Achieving a desired color in roses or other flowers requires downregulation of competing pathways and overexpression of others through the use of antisense RNA or RNA interference or the insertion of genes from other plants, according to Chandler. Orange petunias, for example, are made by starting with a red petunia, then downregulating an endogenous flavonoid 3'-hydroxylase gene and overexpressing an inserted dihydroflavonol 4-reductase (DFR) gene from a rose. Depending on the plant tissue, DFR can contribute to blue, red or orange pigments. In Florigene's GM blue rose, more than 90% of all the pigment in the petals consists of delphinidin, yet the flower is not truly blue, but rather lavender to mauve. Florigene researchers continue to tinker with genes and related factors to improve the color to attract consumers (Box 1). Smelling just as sweet

Today's roses may come in myriads of colors, sizes and shapes, but most have little to no fragrance. Like tomatoes, where breeding for commercial use has reduced the flavor, breeding has made roses brighter and more colorful with bigger blooms, but forced out genes for fragrance. "Flower breeders put so much emphasis on creating varieties with eye-popping blooms that scent got sacrificed along the way," says Harry Klee, a horticulturist at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Klee and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Golm-Potsdam, Germany, made a discovery that could one day lead to sweeter-smelling roses, as well as tastier tomatoes. They identified and cloned a set of genes from tomatoes that are responsible for both flavor (in tomatoes) and fragrance (in roses) - a family of decarboxylases that convert phenylalanine to 2-phenylethanol, commonly known as rose oil4. This volatile compound, which gives roses their heavenly scent, is used by the flavor and fragrance industry. Klee and Dave Clark, also at the University of Florida, Gainesville, cloned the last gene in the rose oil pathway, LePAR (encoding 2-phenylacetaldehyde reductase; details will appear in an upcoming issue of Phytochemistry). Klee's laboratory is reconstituting the entire pathway in bacteria to produce large quantities of natural rose oil, which is preferred by the perfume and food industry over chemically synthesized versions.

Clark, an environmental horticulturist, is engineering LePAR into roses to resurrect fragrance. His molecular model, the petunia, belongs to the Solanaceae family, as do tomatoes. "When we overexpress the tomato gene in petunias, it makes ten times more rose oil" than plants not spiked with the gene, says Clark. The Solanaceae family also includes tobacco, peppers, eggplants and potatoes, all valuable horticultural plants of economic importance. Lessons learned in the petunia model could be transferred to edible members of the family to improve taste.

Clark has met with several rose-breeding companies, who are watching his progress, but none has cut a deal. If none signs on, the University of Florida may support the commercialization of fragrant roses. "We can do it in house if we have to, but it will take a few years longer," says Clark. His quest is based on more than rose petals in the sky - consumer surveys indicate that people will pay more for roses with loftier scents. Shelf life

About 80% of US agriculture depends on GM crops, but floriculture lags behind for several reasons. Although floriculture researchers at Mendel Biotechnology, Ornamental Bioscience, Florigene and universities use standard genomics methods such as antisense RNA and RNA interference to silence or overexpress genes, there are few floriculture-specific tools. This has led molecular biologist Michelle Jones at Ohio State University in Wooster to create her own; she developed a petunia DNA microarray in collaboration with Anthony Stead at the University of London, Royal Holloway. Each microarray contains 4,500 unique cDNAs largely related to floral development, based on expressed sequence tags identified by Clark's laboratory. "We hope other researchers will contribute gene sequences for roots, vegetative tissues and other plant features," says Jones, to make the microarrays more comprehensive.

Jones' goal is to use petunias as a molecular model system to improve knowledge about floriculture. "We need to convince the industry that genetically engineered ornamentals are better and cheaper than traditional breeding," Jones says. For some traits, such as blue flowers, genetic engineering offers the only option. If knowledge gained in GM petunias can be translated to other species, the floriculture industry may dig up money for basic research that could lead to licensing deals or more floriculture biotech startups.

Jones' focus is on finding genes that slow the senescence of flowers in vases and gardens, a consumer-desirable trait that could boost sales of ornamentals. Although she works in Ohio, the sixth-largest producer of floriculture crops in the US, she receives no funding from floriculture companies. To explore ways to control senescence, Jones uses transformed petunias created by Klee and Clark that overexpress a mutant ethylene receptor gene (etr1-1) from Arabidopsis, which, when inserted into petunias, extends the life of the flowers5. Withering regulation?

Like all GM organisms, GM ornamentals face government regulation before marketing. The standards, enforced by the US Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, are less stringent than those for GM food crops. Yet the paperwork and field trials extend costs and timelines, and even prompted one floriculture company to close its GM program (Box 2). GM agricultural crops offset these costs because farmers grow thousands of acres of one variety of corn or soybeans. But at a fraction of the size, the ornamental plant business cannot spread costs over enough plants to ensure a profit. Moreover, within a flower category, hundreds of varieties are marketed, so a GM trait in one type of flower garners a small market share.

Unlike agriculture, where the same GM corn is planted year after year, traditionally floriculture is dynamic, and consumers covet new plant varieties. Classical plant breeding adeptly provides new blooms and colors. In the five to ten years that it would take biotech to perfect a GM plant, something entirely different may come into vogue. "It's like trying to hit a running target," says University of Florida's Clark.

"You have to think differently about how to apply biotechnology to floriculture than to row crops or vegetables," says Alan Blowers, biotech project manager at Ball Helix, the internal biotech division of the 100-year-old Ball Horticultural Company in West Chicago, Illinois. Just 15 years ago, sweet peas were the number-one crop in acreage grown by Ball Horticultural Company, but today the company grows zero acres of this out-of-fashion plant.

Ball Horticultural, a family-owned business in operation since 1905, set up Ball Helix in 1998 to provide its breeders with analytical technologies to improve traits such as flower color and disease resistance, and to troubleshoot problems. Ball Helix's genetic-engineering capabilities are a trade secret intended exclusively for in-house purposes. Nonetheless, Blowers dreams of making a pine-scented poinsettia to replace the lost scent in homes with artificial Christmas trees. Nothing is in the works, and it will take years of investment in molecular biology methods to insert the relevant genes encoding enzymes involved in scent production.

Yet over 15 years, the market for corn and soybean varieties holds strong and steady and is not affected by consumer whimsy. In contrast to most GM crops in use today, in which recombinant traits such as herbicide or pesticide resistance appeal mainly to farmers, floriculturists must design plants with consumer appeal to add value. Traits that lure consumers are especially important because ornamentals are a purely discretionary purchase.

But, somewhat intriguingly, fragrant roses or drought-resistant petunias do not seem to meet with the same resistance as GM food crops. "I give talks to master gardener groups with 600 people, and I hardly ever hear of anyone who is apprehensive about bioengineered ornamentals," says Clark.

For its part, Florigene has been selling GM carnations in three countries for ten years. "We've sold millions and millions of them, and once every three or four years a single individual will protest against them," says Chandler. Ultimately, perhaps fragrant roses could even improve the public's perception of agbiotech in general. "GM roses will not save the earth," admits Klee, but they may prove more palatable and less threatening to Western consumers than GM crops.

1. Oh, S.J., et al. Plant Physiology. 138, 341-351 (2005).

2. Zhang, J.Z., Creelman, R.A.& Zhu, J. Plant Physiol. 135, 615-621 (2004).

3. Tanaka, Y. Phytochem. Rev. 5, 283-291 (2006). |

4. Tieman, D. et al. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 103, 8287-8292 (2006). ChemPort |

5. Jones, M.L. et al. J. Exp. Bot. 56, 2733-2744 (2005).


Environmental Activists Are Enemies of the Poor

- Roy Innis, Hawaii Reporter, Sept. 13, 2007


"People here have no jobs," Mark Fenn admitted, after taking documentary producers on a tour of his $35,000 catamaran and the site of his new coastal home. "But if you could count how many times they smile in a day, if you could measure stress" -- and compare that to "well-off people" in London or New York -- "then tell me, who is rich and who is poor?"

Fenn is coordinator of the World Wildlife Fund's campaign against a proposed mining project near Fort Dauphin, Madagascar. The locals strongly support the project and want the jobs, improved port, sustained development, and improved living standards and environmental quality this state-of-the-art operation will bring. No wonder.

People there live in abject poverty, along dirt roads, in shacks with dirt floors, barely able to afford food on their $1,000-a-year average income. There is little electricity and no indoor plumbing. The area's rainforest has been destroyed for firewood and slash-and-burn agriculture. People barely eke out a living.

Hypocritical Activists

But Fenn claims the mine will change the "quaint" village and harm the environment. He says he feels "like a resident," his children "were born and raised" there, and the locals "don't consider education to be important" and would just spend their money on parties, jeans, and stereos.

Actually, Fenn lives 300 miles away and sends his children to school in South Africa. And the locals hardly conform to his insulting stereotypes. "If I had money, I would open a grocery store," said one. "Send my children to school," start a business, become a midwife, build a new house, said others.

Economic Growth Needed

You have to see the film, Mine Your Own Business, to fully grasp the callous disdain these radical activists have for the world's poor. That's certainly the reaction audiences had after seeing it May 30 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Fenn's demeaning and somewhat racist statements perpetuate human misery.

These enemies of the poor say they are "stakeholders" who want to "preserve" indigenous people and villages. They never consider what the real stakeholders want -- the people who actually live in these impoverished communities and must endure the consequences of harmful environmentalist campaigns that are being waged all over the world--from Europe to Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the United States.

The WWF, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, and other multinational activist corporations battle against mines in Romania, Peru, Chile, Ghana, and Indonesia; electricity projects in Uganda, India, and Nepal; biotechnology that could improve farm incomes and reduce malnutrition in Kenya, India, Brazil, and the Philippines; and DDT that could slash malaria rates all over Africa, where it kills 3,000 children every day.

Activists Spreading Lies

When my son and some friends brought two tons of biotech food to impoverished families near Cancun, Mexico, Friends of the Earth protesters told the villagers the corn was poisonous. The radicals didn't acknowledge that Americans eat the same corn every day -- and they didn't bring one peso in aid for the people whom they were deceiving into passing up free food.

They harp on speculative dangers of technology, and they ignore the real, immediate, life-or-death dangers that modern mining, development, and technology would prevent. They never mention the jobs, clinics, schools, roads, improved housing, and small business opportunities these economic activities make available -- or the electricity, refrigeration, safe water, better nutrition, reduced lung and intestinal disease, and fewer deaths of children.

The activists pervert "sustainable development" to mean no development, and they ignore how mines lay the foundation for modern schools, hospitals, libraries, and businesses that can sustain prosperity and better living standards for generations.

Economic Development Needed

Agitators use global warming and "corporate social responsibility" to force companies to acquiesce to their agendas -- and ignore human rights to energy and technology and people's desperate cries for a chance to take their rightful place among the Earth's healthy and prosperous people.

The activists promote the placing of little solar panels on huts, but they never advocate supplying enough electricity to help communities emerge from poverty and disease.

They extol the virtues of micro credit, to support minimal family enterprises, and they demand debt forgiveness and more foreign aid for corrupt dictators. But they oppose economic development that would eliminate the need for more international welfare.

They blame Newmont Mining for accidents that killed five people over a two-year period in Ghana, but they refuse to acknowledge their policies and pressure campaigns cause millions of deaths every year.

U.S. Not Immune

Such environmental injustice is prevalent here in the United States, too.

A few years ago, the poor, mostly black community of Convent, Louisiana welcomed plans for a $700 million plastics factory that would bring good construction and permanent jobs, health benefits, a stronger tax base, and better schools. More than 70 percent of the residents wanted it. But the Sierra Club and a Tulane University group claimed the high-tech plant would pollute and cause cancer.

In fact, cancer rates would have gone down, because residents would have had better nutrition and regular medical check-ups. But the radicals won, the plant wasn't built, and residents still work menial jobs for minimum wages in sugarcane fields.

Technology's Real-World Benefits

Yes, there are environmental impacts from mines, dams, and other development. They change lives and communities. There are health and other risks.

But those changes also came with the Industrial Revolution. Are we worse off for it? Would we prefer to return to the jobs, lifestyles, and living standards of pre-industrial, pre-electrical America -- when cholera and malaria were ever-present, and the average life expectancy was 45?

Would any of the greens, who clamor to keep the world's poor "indigenous" (and thus impoverished, energy-deprived, and diseased) care to live that lifestyle for even one month?

This intolerable situation cannot continue, and people of conscience must no longer remain silent.

Roy Innis is national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). This article first appeared in Townhall.com, and is reprinted with permission.

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