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September 19, 2007


Male sterile technology; Alleviating peanut allergy; Basta Bugie!


* Male sterile technology for hybrid seed
* Proposal may become a GM crop killer
* Where the science doesn't count
* Alleviating peanut allergy with biotech
* Biotecnologie: Basta Bugie!
* ISAAA CropBiotech Update


Avesthagen develops male sterile technology for hybrid seed

- Moneycontrol.com (India), Sept. 19, 2007


Avestha Gengraine Technologies Pvt. Ltd. (Avesthagen), one of India's leading biotechnology companies based in Bangalore, today announced that the Australian Patent Office has granted a patent to the company on "A process for generating cytoplasmic male sterile line in rice and other crops by RNA editing'. This patent will revolutionize the agricultural industry and bring succor to the sector.

This invention promises to open up opportunities in developing hybrids in crops where conventional male sterility is not available or feasible. This technology would allow hybrid seed programs to be developed without narrowing the diversity of germplasm. Avesthagen assists farmers by creating innovative solutions that will benefit their production.

Avesthagen has provided a crucial breakthrough with this program for the agricultural industry, since it opens up many crops for hybrid seed production. Moreover, it can be transferred to any other crop within a short time span, as the technology is not crop specific.

Dr. Villoo Morawala Patell, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, Avesthagen said, "We are absolutely delighted to receive this news".

This patent follows close on the heels of the previous patent approval received by Avesthagen in South Africa and Australia entitled 'A process for generating genetically modified pearl millet through Agrobacterium and biolistic transformation' and various other Indian Patents. Over the years Avesthagen has made numerous inventions and now it has a significant portfolio of 137 patent applications of which 61 relate to Agri-Biotech domain.

Dr Patell further added that, "At Avesthagen, this patent positioning gives us substantial freedom to operate in the agricultural domain. We constantly aim to produce breakthrough solutions that are of benefit to our end users and this reiterates our commitment to research in the agri-biotech sector'.

In the words of Dr Patell, 'this was an idea in 1994 that I came up with, based on the knowledge and possibilities that emerged from my Ph.D. and I applied it to the needs of Indian agriculture for generating new male sterility lines. The project outline was first drawn up for ICRISAT for pigeonpea but was considered too out of the box. It was again expanded for rice for funding from IFCPAR (Indo-French Centre for the Promotion of Advanced Research) and finally got funded in 1998. This project was developed in collaboration with Prof. Jean-Michel Grienenberger, IBMP (Institute of Plant Molecular Biology, Strasbourg, France) and with the support of Prof. Udayakumar, University of Agriculture Sciences, Bangalore. The project, entitled "RNA Editing as a tool to generate male sterile lines in rice" was initially funded by IFCPAR for one year.. Avesthagen has taken it forward and has supported and developed the technology for the last eight years.

"I am extremely grateful to collaborators and colleagues at IFCPAR, IBMP, and UAS for their initial support. Today, it is indeed gratifying to see the efforts finally having borne fruit".


Proposed government rider may become a GM crop killer

Cultivation of genetically modified plants will be allowed only if it si nutritionally superior to the natural variety, says the draft guideline

- Jacob P. Koshy, Wall Street Journal via LiveMint, Sept. 19, 2007


New Delhi: The government is considering a proposal that says genetically modified (GM) crops, apart from passing several other field trials, also have to prove that they are nutritionally superior to their "natural" counterparts before they can be cultivated in any scale and, consequently, sold commercially.

The Supreme Court may have lifted an eight-month ban on field trials of generically modified or GM food crops (albeit with some riders) in May, but if the government decides to go ahead with this proposal, it will make it tougher for any GM crop to make the grade. Companies and research bodies developing GM eggplant, for instance, must, in addition to passing toxicity and allerginicity tests, show that this is nutritionally superior to ordinary eggplant. GM crops are usually cultivated because they promise high yields, good-looking vegetables and fruits, and are pest-resistant.

"A GM tomato can't just be big and juicy, but will have to prove that it's better than what you get now," said Vasantha Muthuswamy, senior deputy director general, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), who helped draft the guidelines.

The guidelines even mandate that GM crops cultivated as animal feed - high yields are a big selling point in such cases - need to be nutritionally as good as the "natural" crop.

When genetically modified food crops were first allowed in the US a decade ago, some environmental groups alleged that they were of little nutritional value.

"We have taken all those matters into consideration," Muthuswamy added. Currently called the Draft Notification of Nutrition Guidelines for Genetically Modified Foods, the document was prepared by ICMR at the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad.

Though referred to as guidelines, companies would have to strictly adhere to them.

"These guidelines have been submitted to the genetic engineering approval committee (or GEAC, the nodal government body that has the final say on GM crops), and once they clear it, it will be a mandatory for companies to follow them," Muthuswamy said.

Most of the guidelines are detailed chemical tests, and list the data to be collected and the format in which test studies have to be submitted. Richard Goodman, professor of food science, at the University of Nebraska and responsible for specifying similar guidelines for GM crops in the US said: "These procedures are vital and while it's not too difficult to chemically prove nutritional superiority, you need a highly qualified, dedicated set of technical experts to evaluate such test results. I hope the Indian government has thought of that aspect too."

While the department of biotechnology (DBT), one of the government agencies involved with GM foods, has always said it's short on technical staff, Muthuswamy said that specialized training for analysing nutritional guidelines was being given to DBT officials.

"We have tied up with a Canadian company, AGBIOS, to provide training to our staff for this work. As of now, 60 scientists have specialized training and we hope to properly equipped within a year," she added.

Genetically modified eggplant is now at the penultimate stage of test trials and, if all clearances are given by GEAC, is expected to be commercially available in two years.


GM: where the science doesn't count

- James Heartfield, sp!ked, Sept. 18, 2007


Today's climate change activists pose as 'defenders of science'. Yet not so long ago, they irrationally rejected the scientific truth about GM crops.

Hold the front page: 'There is no change in the government's policy towards GM crops', says Hilary Benn of Britain's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Benn's statement was a reaction to yesterday's scaremongering frontpage story in the UK Guardian. The Guardian headline said 'The return of GM', and the report claimed that 'ministers back moves to grow crops in UK' (1).

It is hard to remember now, but in 2000 environmental campaigners were protesting all over the country, organising meetings and debates and breaking into premises, all to draw the public's attention to the dangers represented by... genetically modified organisms - crops, mainly. Lord Melchett, himself a former Labour cabinet minister turned Greenpeace activist, tore up GM crops. (My grandfather slaved away for his father at Imperial Chemicals Industries, dying young, as many did, because of the way the chemical fumes tended to accelerate your heart rate, leading to the 'Tuesday death'. GM crops would help alleviate the need to use these kinds of chemicals.)

The GM debate was remarkable. In quite a short time, environmental campaigners brought to the surface intense public anxieties about the industrialisation of the food chain. Just before the debate about the introduction of GM foods, there had been another public health scare when one government scientist, Dr Robert Lacey, warned that by 1997 one third of Britain could be infected with the debilitating brain illness Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD), from eating beef contaminated with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)-inducing prions. As it turned out, you were about as likely to die of CJD as you were to be struck by lightning, and there is still no proven link with it and BSE - but public distrust of authority was at an all-time high.

There was no real argument against GM food. But people felt very disconnected from the authorities, having little faith in the public pronouncements that there was no risk. That alone was enough to make most people alarmed. Opportunistically, environmental campaigners realised that they could gain influence by stoking public fears.

Activists like journalist Andy Rowell, language-school head Jonathan Matthews of the Norfolk Genetic Interest Network, the Open University academic Mae-Wan Ho, and the Guardian's George Monbiot stirred up a fantastic picture of rogue genes causing all kinds of extraordinary mutations as they passed through the food chain, or as they were carried on the wind from test-beds into 'healthy' British meadows.

Of course, there was no scientific evidence whatsoever. The absence of even one example of a negative health impact from the introduction of GM crops in the US put some pressure on the greens. They latched on to examples that really did not demonstrate any danger. Some oil was contaminated, leading to deaths - but it turned out it was nothing to do with GM. And then the Rowett Research Institute's Dr Arpad Pusztai did some experiments on GM lectins in potatoes that seemed to show negative consequences in rats. The press and the environmentalists latched on to the case - except that it only showed that the introduction of poisonous lectins into potatoes was bad for rats. When Pusztai was sacked for overstating the implications of his tests, GM campaigners adopted his case as a cause célèbre, only slowly coming to the conclusion that they had indeed overstated the dangers highlighted in Dr Pusztai's tests.

Meanwhile, another hero of the anti-GM lobby, Mae-Wan Ho, who had been involved in biotechnology in the Seventies, was largely preoccupied with the philosophical meaning of genetics rather than hands-on bio-science, and was interested in resurrecting the ideas of the disgraced Soviet biologist Lysenko, and also Bergson's vitalist cult.

GM activists came under pressure from scientists. In a public debate between George Monbiot and biologist Steve Jones, Jones denounced Monbiot as a charlatan (they have since made up). Andy Rowell attacked the scientists for being the mouthpieces of big business. The peer review of Arpad Pusztai's work was denounced as a cover for a hidden agenda to force GM food on an unsuspecting public. Scientific verification was not to be trusted, said the activists, who invoked a higher bar, the 'precautionary principle', which puts the onus of proof on those introducing technology that it could do no harm in the future.

Provoking the public's deepest uncertainties about the food chain proved a great success. Supermarkets withdrew GM food from their shelves and made it effectively unmarketable. In 2004, the New Labour government conceded that even the scientific experiments - the rapeseed fields that Melchett had torn down - should be stopped.

The activists, though, were not entirely happy that they had painted themselves into a corner of outright hostility to scientific method. They knew that if their irrational rejection of science and the modern world was made too explicit, people would find it difficult to go along with. On the other hand, the scientists were pretty bruised, too. They were desperate to win back some of the authority they had lost by being portrayed as tools of big business and proto-Frankensteins out to poison the public. Their subsequent pursuit of 'public understanding' turned out to mean lots of committees, often full of green activists, seeking to influence the scientists' agenda.

On the issue of climate change, scientists and environmentalists found more to agree on. As the international diplomatic manoeuvres engendered a new science of climate change, there was more influence for those scientists who lent their research to heavy-duty warnings of global catastrophe. The environmentalists were thrilled to find that the one community that had been most resistant to their ideas were now providing the ammunition.

Once environmentalists had routinely attacked science, drawing on the caricatures of the scientific method found in the Frankfurt school of sociology. Now they were defenders of science against the supposedly 'irrational' climate change deniers. The radical academic Bruno Latour, who had made a career arguing that science was nothing more than an ideological construct that reflected the interests of the powers-that-be, suddenly changed his mind over the issue of climate change. Protesters against the new runway at Heathrow summed up the activists' changed attitude to science. They marched with a banner that read: 'We are armed only with peer-reviewed science.'

The new, more positive attitude to science on the part of the environmentalists, though, is the reason why the previous issue of GM is still unresolved. The pressure for a return to GM testing in Britain comes from the National Farmers Union, which is lobbying to be allowed to introduce the latest biotechnology. Whether a minister did or did not talk to the Guardian over the weekend about reintroducing GM, the government's explicit position is that there will be no return to GM testing.

Still the activists are alarmed. They have an intuitive understanding that they got away with a lot when they committed the UK to outright opposition to GM testing. The decision was an outrage against scientific experimentation. The activists' arguments back then were a lot more hostile to science than they are today. The Guardian suggests that the pro-GM lobbyists, too, think that the debate has moved on, and that GM crops can be defended on grounds that they might be a solution to the problems raised by global warming. But whatever the reason, Britain should be engaged in GM testing - not because it can help with the problems of global warming, but because it is the right thing to do.


Alleviating peanut allergy using genetic engineering: the silencing of the immunodominant allergen Ara h 2 leads to its significant reduction and a decrease in peanut allergenicity

- Hortense W. Dodo, Koffi N. Konan, et. al., Plant Biotechnology Journal (doi:10.1111/j.1467-7652.2007.00292.x), published online (subscribers only) Sept. 3, 2007



Peanut allergy is one of the most life-threatening food allergies and one of the serious challenges facing the peanut and food industries. Current proposed solutions focus primarily on ways to alter the immune system of patients allergic to peanut. However, with the advent of genetic engineering novel strategies can be proposed to solve the problem of peanut allergy from the source. The objectives of this study were to eliminate the immunodominant Ara h 2 protein from transgenic peanut using RNA interference (RNAi), and to evaluate the allergenicity of resulting transgenic peanut seeds. A 265-bp-long PCR product was generated from the coding region of Ara h 2 genomic DNA, and cloned as inverted repeats in pHANNIBAL, an RNAi-inducing plant transformation vector. The Ara h 2-specific RNAi transformation cassette was subcloned into a binary pART27 vector to construct plasmid pDK28. Transgenic peanuts were produced by infecting peanut hypocotyl explants with Agrobacterium tumefaciens EHA 105 harbouring the pDK28 construct. A total of 59 kanamycin-resistant peanut plants were regenerated with phenotype and growth rates comparable to wild type. PCR and Southern analyses revealed that 44% of plants stably integrated the transgene. Sandwich ELISA performed using Ara h 2-mAbs revealed a significant (P < 0.05) reduction in Ara h 2 content in several transgenic seeds. Western immunobloting performed with Ara h 2-mAb corroborated the results obtained with ELISA and showed absence of the Ara h 2 protein from crude extracts of several transgenic seeds of the T0 plants. The allergenicity of transgenic peanut seeds expressed as IgE binding capacity was evaluated by ELISA using sera of patients allergic to peanut. The data showed a significant decrease in the IgE binding capacity of selected transgenic seeds compared to wild type, hence, demonstrating the feasibility of alleviating peanut allergy using the RNAi technology.


Biotecnologie: Basta Bugie!

Movimento autonomo, apolitico (e forse anche un po' apodittico) di studenti, laureati e ricercatori in biotecnologie. Perchè chi sa, è giusto che dica... soprattutto quando c'è in gioco il futuro.



Guest ed. note: Those who can read Italian will find this new blog interesting. For those who can't, this is an English translation of its header:

Biotechnology: Enough Lies!

We are an independent, apolitical (perhaps even irrefutably) movement composed of students, PhDs and scientists in Biotechnology. Because those who know, must speak...particularly when the future is at stake.


CropBiotech Update

- International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Sept. 14, 2007


In This Issue


Discovery Promises More Nutritional Cassava
Agriculture in the Face of Climate Change


Setting a Biotechnology Stage in Africa
ICGEB-Africa Formally Opened
Regional Consultation on Biotechnology and Biosafety


Maximizing the Biofuel Potential of Sweet Sorghum and Sugar Cane
Biotechnologists Inducted into ARS Hall of Fame
Texas A&M Receives Sun Grant Funding for Bioenergy Research
New HTF Ethanol Hybrids from Pioneer
Monsanto Acquires Brazilian Seed Company
Sorghum Fit for Fuel and Feed
UD Leads Research Project on Rice Epigenetics
Bayer Opens First Agricultural Technology Center in Argentina

Asia and the Pacific

RP to Boost Production of Agri-Products through Biotech
Invitation to Comment on a Risk Assessment Plan for GM Cotton
Scottish Seed Potatoes' Journey to China
New Zealand's ERMA Approves GM Onion Trial


Intragenic Modification for Crops
German Gene-tech Law - Coalition Compromise


GM Potatoes with Improved Freezing Tolerance
Genome Analysis of a Plant Growth-Promoting Bacillus
Production of Herbicide-Resistant Transgenic Sweet Potato

Biofuels Supplement

News and Trends

Distance Learning for Jatropha Biodiesel Established
New Zealand Starts Rapeseed Biodiesel Trials
"Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining": A New Journal for Biofuels
Grain Ethanol Comparable with Advanced Biofuel Technologies
"Largest" Soybean Biodiesel Production in the US Opens

Biofuels Processing

Quest for Alternative Fermenting Microbes
Biofuels Policy and Economics
China Energy Plan Targets 15% Renewable Energy Use by 2020

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