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October 19, 2007


StarLink Testing May End; Maize mini-chromosomes; Potato protester fined


* StarLink Testing May End
* Science should be only criteria
* Protect Africa from tech vandalism
* Poplars Disarm Toxic Pollutants
* Maize mini-chromosomes
* Growers Anticipate RR Sugar Beets
* DuPont Recognized for Best Ag R&D Pipeline
* Self-assembled Virus-Like Particles in plants
* Farmers draw on Antarctic genes
* DA won't impose GMO ban
* Russian Scientists Stand For GMO
* Potato protester hit with fine


EPA Seeks Comment on StarLink White Paper

- US Environmental Protection Agency (press release), Oct. 17, 2007


EPA is seeking public comment on a draft white paper that recommends withdrawal of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's guidance to test for the StarLink protein Cry9C in corn grain. StarLink is a biotechnology-derived variety of insect-resistant corn. It was approved by EPA for animal feed and industrial uses, but not for human consumption, because of unanswered questions relating to Cry9C being a possible allergen. However, there has been no scientific evidence linking StarLink to any allergic reactions.

The registrant voluntarily cancelled its registration in 2000 when StarLink corn was detected in human food, since its presence rendered the food adulterated. At that time, as part of a broad effort to remove any remaining StarLink from the human food supply, FDA recommended that the milling industry establish a comprehensive program to test all yellow corn. EPA's white paper analyzes seven years of testing data and concludes that continued testing of corn for StarLink provides no added protection for human health.

In 2006, 99.99 percent of more than 412 million bushels of corn tested negative. The analysis shows that, after seven years, StarLink has been virtually eliminated from the U.S. food supply.

Guest ed. note: The EPA could have reached these conclusions six years ago.


Science should be only criteria for setting biotech corn rules

- Douglas R. Johnson, Ph.D., Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel, Oct. 18, 2007


It took nine years, but Alan Lewis, a former member of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, got what he wanted.

In December 1998, when the board was considering license applications for several varieties of biotech-enhanced, insect-resistant corn, Lewis said, "This board needs more than anecdotal evidence. ... The words I keep hearing are 'guess' and 'assume.' In my training as a scientist, the first thing we try to get away from is guessing and assuming."

Faithful to Maine law, the board turned down the applications because the applicants could not provide evidence there was a need for the products.

Fast-forward to 2007. In July, the pesticides control board reversed itself and voted unanimously (with one abstention) to approve seven varieties of insect-resistant field corn used to feed cows. The evidence of need was convincing.

A scientific study showed that the insects the corn is designed to resist were in fact active in Maine. Farmer after farmer testified that the biotech corn would make a difference in their dairy operations by increasing yields and cutting chemical pesticide use. Indeed, it was exactly the evidence Lewis, now no longer on the board, asked for nine years ago.

The final chapter in this saga, however, is still being written.

After approving the registrations, the board invoked its rulemaking authority and began considering rules governing the use of the corn products. Though the rules are still in draft form, there is cause for concern.

One of the proposed rules would require farmers to obtain a pesticide applicator's license before planting insect-resistant corn. Why? The 191-page study manual for the licensing exam has good information about chemical pesticides, but has no information -- none -- about planting insect-resistant corn.

Another rule would require plots of insect-resistant corn to include 660-foot buffers separating it from organic corn, seed corn and sweet corn.

Again, why? Organic growers are required by national organic standards to maintain their own buffers. Same for seed growers. The rule would only duplicate buffers already in existence. Much of the sweet corn sold in Maine grocery stores is already biotech-enhanced, so public safety isn't an issue.

The Maine Board of Pesticides Control took an important step when it considered the corn registration applications. It appointed a technical committee to analyze the scientific evidence supporting the products and to address the concerns of opponents. The 34-page report was full of information and analysis, all of it based on facts and science -- just what Lewis was looking for in 1998.

Though the report did not contain a recommendation on whether to approve the registrations, the conclusion was inescapable. Science supported the products. That and testimony from Maine farmers about the need for the products led to the unanimous vote for registration.

The draft rules take a step back from the science-based standard the board used to evaluate the original applications. Findings in the technical committee's report actually contradict the draft rules. The board's conclusion in 1998 that the products pose no health or environmental risks also conflicts with the draft rules.

Most disturbing is the abandonment of the "need" standard in the rulemaking process. It took nine years of data gathering and a scientific study to establish the need for the insect-resistant products in Maine. In the face of that, the board had no choice but to approve the products. Now, because a well-organized minority of Maine farmers and backyard gardeners is crying foul, the board is considering onerous rules that would make the products impractical to grow in Maine.

Why shouldn't the same standard of need apply to both groups -- those who want the products in Maine and those who don't? The proponents of insect-resistant corn did their homework, conducted studies and presented the board with a solid science-based argument for registering the products.

Now it's time for the opponents to do the same. If opponents believe rules are necessary to protect organic farmers or the public, it's their job to do the homework and make the case. As Lewis so correctly said, guessing and assuming aren't enough.

Douglas R. Johnson, Ph.D., is executive director of the Maine Biotechnology Information Bureau. www.mainebioinfo.org, which is funded by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, some of which manufacture bioengineered, insect-resistant corn.


Protect Africa from technological vandalism

African countries should adopt laws that protect the region's research efforts against technological vandalism, argues Calestous Juma

- Calestous Juma, Business Daily (Nairobi), Oct. 18, 2007


The Kenyan parliament is debating a bill to enable the country to regulate agricultural biotechnology. Critics, however, argue that passing the law would pose threats to the environment, threaten the welfare of farmers and expose the people to unknown health risks.

To the contrary, failing to adopt the law will condemn Kenya to the backwaters of technological innovation. Adopting biotechnology will do for African agriculture what the mobile phone has done for telecommunications. It will revolutionize agriculture, offer new tools for managing the environment and expand economic opportunities for farmers.

Predicting technological doom is not new. Early critics of the microelectronics revolution claimed that labour-saving technologies would create unemployment and lead to economic decline. African countries caved in to the scaremongering and imposed restriction on key fields such as industrial automation. Such decisions contributed to the so-called "digital divide" that separate Africa from the rest the world.

Similar scare tactics are being used today to oppose a technology that has been adopted in much of the world. Biotechnology critics invoke arguments about the risks of biotechnology to the environment and human health.

But they fail to consider the risks that Africa would face if it did not adopt biotechnology. If they succeed, their acts will result in a "genomics divide" that will isolate Africa from the most significant scientific advance of our times.

The critics take an adversarial approach that assumes that modern biotechnology cannot co-exist with traditional organic farming practices. They are wrong here too. The European Union, for example, is now looking into the merits of co-existence between organic farming and biotechnology.

Scientists argue that some genetic engineering techniques will lead to products that require less chemical use and could therefore be classified as "organic". In many cases such technologies will offers the best options available for society to promote sustainable development.

Much of the concern about biotechnology is a veiled critique on the fact that large multinational enterprises own patents to key techniques. The common approach used to deal with such monopolies has been to attack the enterprises. Two decades of corporate-bashing has hardly improved the welfare of the poor.

A different strategy is needed. For example, donor agencies interested in improving African agriculture could support efforts to secure enabling technologies and put them in the hands of institutions.

An example of such an institution is the Nairobi-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) that is creating a pool of patents of relevance to African agriculture. AATF can then make the seed available to African farmers without having to pay royalties on the patents.

Africa must develop the self-confidence needed to deal with enterprises that hold patents that are critical to their welfare. It is only through engagement with such enterprises that Africa will learn how to use those techniques. If they do not, they will be unable to benefit from the technologies even if they are off patent.

Critics of new technologies are right to make their concerns known. But they must also bear responsibility for the negative impacts of their action. One way to ensure this is for Africa to adopt laws against technological vandalism in all its manifestations.

Kenya, for example, is proposing a law against vandalism of optical fibre cables. This is because the country wants to protect its investments in bridging the "digital divide". Similar laws should be adopted to protect technologies that help to bridge the "genomics divide".

In the final analysis Africa's fate lies in its ability to take advantage of emerging technologies to meet its economic goals. It is the duty of the various arms of government to guard against technological vandalism.


Genetically Engineered Poplar Plants Disarm Toxic Pollutants 100 Times Better Than Controls

- University of Washington (press release) via Science Daily, Oct. 16, 2007


Scientists since the early '90s have seen the potential for cleaning up contaminated sites by growing plants able to take up nasty groundwater pollutants through their roots. Then the plants break certain kinds of pollutants into harmless byproducts that the plants either incorporate into their roots, stems and leaves or release into the air.

The problem with plants that are capable of doing this is that the process is slow and halts completely when growth stops in winter. Using plants in this way, a process called phytoremediation, often hasn't made sense given the timetables required by regulatory agencies at remediation sites.

Scientists led by the University of Washington's Sharon Doty, reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, say that genetically engineered poplar plants being grown in a laboratory were able to take as much as 91 percent of trichloroethylene, the most common groundwater contaminant at U.S. Superfund sites, out of a liquid solution. Unaltered plants removed 3 percent. The poplar plants -- all cuttings just several inches tall growing in vials -- also were able to break down, or metabolize, the pollutant into harmless byproducts at rates 100 times that of the control plants.

While federal regulations allow the growing of transgenic trees in greenhouses and controlled field trials for research purposes, they do not allow the commercial growing of transgenic trees. A transgenic plant is one in which its genetic material is manipulated. Sometimes only its own genetic material is altered and sometimes genetic material is added from other plants, bacteria or animals.

The work now being published raises the interesting question of the potential for using transgenic trees on sites where toxic plumes of pollutants are on the move in groundwater.

"Small, volatile hydrocarbons, including trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, carbon tetrachloride, benzene, and chloroform, are common environmental pollutants that pose serious health effects. Some of these are known carcinogens," Doty, an assistant professor of forest resources, said.

Trichloroethylene is a heavily used industrial degreaser that's made its way into groundwater because of improper disposal. Both unaltered poplars and the transgenic poplar plants produce the enzymes to break down trichloroethylene, C2HCl3, into chloride ions -- harmless salt that the plant sheds -- and recombines the carbon and hydrogen with oxygen to produce water and carbon dioxide.

The transgenic poplar plants just do it a lot faster. The enzymes used to metabolize the contaminants are from a group called cytochrome P450 found in both plants and animals. Poplars have a lot of P450s and Doty said scientists hope to eventually sort them to find ways to manipulate the plant's own genes to ramp up pollution degradation. In the meantime they are conducting experiments inserting a gene that produces cytochrome P450 in mammalian livers, in this case the livers of rabbits. Poplar genes producing cytochrome P450 is expressed in all their cells, but not at the rates achieved by the transgenics.

"We overcame the rate-limiting step by causing the poplar plants to overexpress the first enzyme in the degradative pathway," Doty said. "Using the mammalian gene is just a step toward the day when we understand the poplar P450 genes well enough to use promoters to enhance production of their own enzymes that degrade contaminants. With the plant's own genes, the results should be even better."

Mammalian cytochrome P450 has already been used in transgenic plants that can detoxify herbicides applied to fields to kill weeds. Japanese researchers, for example, published findings in 2005 about using a human gene to make rice plants degrade a suite of herbicides, something they said could help reduce the load of herbicides in paddy fields and streams.

Along with the trichloroethylene tests, the new results also found improved rates of uptake from solutions of chloroform, the byproduct of disinfecting drinking water; carbon tetrachloride, a solvent; and vinyl chloride, a substance used to make plastics. In air pollution experiments using 6-inch plants in closed containers, the transgenic plants had increased absorption of gaseous trichloroethylene and benzene, a pollutant associated with petroleum.

Work on phytoremediation at the UW has been funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy.

Doty and her colleagues plan to do additional experiments to determine the detoxification rates when poplars are grown in soils, and to ensure that plant tissues do not harm non-target organisms, such as bugs that might chew on them.

Sites with contaminated groundwater are treated in a variety of chemical, physical and microbial ways, says Stuart Strand, UW professor of forest resources and a co-author of the paper. In some places the groundwater is pumped out of the ground and the contaminants allowed to evaporate into the air. In other places sugars pumped into the ground can clean contaminants but make the water anaerobic -- oxygen starved -- and can produce other toxic byproducts, he says.

"It's destructive, disruptive and expensive," Strand says.

Some people see transgenic trees as risky. "As researchers we want to make sure such concerns are addressed and risks minimized. In the case of contaminated sites, we're already facing bad situations where the use of transgenic plants may reduce the known risks from carcinogens and other hazardous pollutants in the environment. Our ultimate goal is to provide a more rapid way to reduce the amount of carcinogens, one that is affordable so many sites can be treated," Doty said.

Because there is concern that transgenic trees might get into regular forests, Doty and her colleagues believe poplars may be a good choice, she said. Poplars are fast growing and can grow for several years without flowering, at which time they could be harvested to prevent seeds from generating. And unlike some other kinds of trees, branches of the hybrid poplar being studied do not take root in soils when branches fall to the ground.

Even though these things are true, Doty and her co-authors imagine that transgenic trees planted at contaminated sites would involve high levels of containment around where they are being grown.

"Commercial use of these trees requires federal regulatory approval and monitoring, and regulations are becoming increasingly strict for transgenic plants intended for biopharmaceutical or industrial purposes, including phytoremediation," the co-authors write in their paper.

Other co-authors are from the UW, Oregon State University and Purdue University.


Maize mini-chromosomes can add stacks of functional genes to plants

- University of Chicago Medical Center (press release), Oct. 19, 2007


Contact: John Easton john.easton@uchospitals.edu

A new method of constructing artificial plant chromosomes from small rings of naturally occurring plant DNA can be used to transport multiple genes at once into embryonic plants where they are expressed, duplicated as plant cells divide, and passed on to the next generation -- a long-term goal for those interested in improving agricultural productivity.

In the October 19, 2007, issue of PLoS-Genetics, a team of academic and commercial researchers show that their "maize mini-chromosomes" (MMC) can introduce an entire "cassette" of novel genes into a plant in a way that is structurally stable and functional. Early results, the study authors say, "suggest that the MMC could be maintained indefinitely."

"This appears be the tool that agricultural scientists, and farmers, have long dreamed of," said Daphne Preuss, PhD, professor of molecular genetics and cell biology at the University of Chicago and chief scientific officer and president of Chromatin, Inc., the makers of the MMCs.

"This technology could be used to increase the hardiness, yield and nutritional content of crops," she said. "It could improve the production of ethanol or other biofuels. It could enable plants to make complex biochemicals, such as medicines, at very little expense."

It could also "cut one to two years out of any new transgenic project," said Preuss, who is taking a leave of absence from the University to bring this technology into the marketplace. "You get a better product faster, which saves time, reduces costs, and frees up resources."

The production of transgenic plants, including maize, has historically relied on techniques that integrate DNA fragments into a host chromosome. This can disrupt important native genes or lead to limited or unregulated expression of the added gene.

Currently, to add a single gene, plant scientists create hundreds of transgenic plants in which the new gene is randomly inserted into a plant chromosome. Then they screen the gene-altered plants to find the few that might be suitable for commercial use. If they want to add two genes, they create twice as many new plants, screen for single-gene successes, then cross breed them to get both new genes, a slow and laborious process.

Instead, Preuss and colleagues have constructed MMCs that contain DNA sequences found in maize centromeres, the chromosomal regions needed for inheritance. Rather than inserting the new genes randomly into a plant's natural chromosomes, these mini-chromosomes remain separate.

As a result, the new genes can be arranged in a defined sequence, with each gene surrounded by the desired regulatory mechanisms. This results in more consistent and controlled expression. The whole cassette of genes is passed on as a group during cell division as well as to the next generation.

In their PLoS paper, the researchers characterized the behavior of the maize mini-chromosome through four generations. Using a gene for red color as a marker, they showed that the added genes are expressed "in nearly every leaf cell, indicating stability through mitosis" -- the process in which a cell duplicates its chromosomes to generate two identical daughter cells.

They also show that the MMC is efficiently passed on through meiosis, the creation of gametes, to the next generation, at ratios "approaching Mendelian inheritance."

Taken together, the authors conclude, the maize mini-chromosome, once introduced, behaves much like an ordinary chromosome. It remains distinct from the other chromosomes. Its gene cassette is structurally stable from generation to generation. The genes it carries are expressed and it is transmitted through mitosis and meiosis.

This development has not gone unnoticed. Six years ago, Preuss and two of her post-doctoral students at the University, Gregory Copenhaver and Kevin Keith, started Chromatin to refine and apply this technology. On October 10, 2006, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued Chromatin patent No. 7,119,250, which extends the exclusive right to use these mini-chromosomes to all plants. This includes "a crop plant," the patent states, "a commercial crop plant, a vegetable crop plant, a fruit and vine crop plant, a field crop plant."

On May 22, 2007, biotech giant Monsanto Company purchased non-exclusive rights to use Chromatin's mini-chromosome stacking technology in corn, cotton, soybeans, and canola. Chromatin is in discussions to license this technology to other companies, potentially capturing most of the US corn market.

The timing was ideal. The US, in order to limit oil imports and reduce greenhouse gasses, hopes to double its use of ethanol in fuels by 2012 and to double that twice over by 2022. Because of increased demand, corn prices rose this summer by about 50 percent over last year.

Preuss and colleagues hope to apply the technology to other plants, including sugar cane and switch grass, which could also serve as biofuel sources. They are also looking at other applications and expanding the gene carrying capacity of their mini-chromosomes. They have successfully delivered mini-chromosomes about six times the size of MMC1, suggesting that this platform can carry "a large number of genes."

The National Institutes of Health and the Advanced Technology Program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology provided partial support for this project. Additional authors include Greg Copenhaver of the University of North Carolina, and Shawn Carlson, Gary Rudgers, Helge Ziegler, Jennifer Mach, Song Luo, Eric Grunden, and Cheryl Krol of Chromatin.


Growers Anticipate Roundup Ready Sugar Beets

- Sean Ellis, AG Weekly, Oct. 15, 2007


POCATELLO, Idaho - Many sugar beet growers can hardly wait for the chance to use a new biotech product designed to help them fight weeds and reduce production expenses.

Industry officials expect a majority of sugar beet growers in Idaho will plant Roundup Ready sugar beets next year when the seed becomes available commercially. Roundup Ready sugar beet seed is genetically modified to have a built-in resistance to Monsanto's popular herbicide Roundup.

"People are really excited about it. I think the whole sugar industry is excited about it," said Carl Montgomery, a sugar beet grower in Eden.

Based on the results of a large-scale demonstration project in the Magic Valley last year, growers expect the product will help them control weeds, apply less chemicals and make fewer passes through the field, which would save on fuel costs.

The demo project included 270 acres of Roundup Ready sugar beets planted side-by-side on an equal number of acres treated with traditional herbicides. The plots used the same pivot, and farmers managed the fields identically.

The Beet Sugar Development Foundation contracted with Amalgamated Sugar Co. to do the demonstration project in 2006.

"I'm really happy with it. I'm 110 percent happy with it," said Mike Gott, who planted 60 acres of Roundup Ready beets as part of the demo project.

Gott said the yields on the Roundup Ready plots were a little better than yields on the conventional sites. The Roundup Ready plots also virtually eliminated weed problems and no hand crews or extra labor was needed.

"We just didn't have a weed problem. We had 95-99 percent weed control," he said.

Gott said the Roundup Ready plots were sprayed twice while the conventional plots needed to be sprayed four times.

Test plots go commercial

Although smaller demonstration plots of Roundup Ready beets have been studied for about a decade, the Idaho project was the first commercial-scale project.

According to farmers and industry officials, the test plots passed on the three main issues growers were most concerned about: yields, weed control and beet quality.

"The yields looked good, and the quality of the beets looked good," said John Schorr, corporate director of agriculture for Amalgamated. "The tests looked really good. It's a positive thing for growers.

"We're very excited about it. It's been a long time coming. It's about time we're able to use the same technology that (other crops) use."

The success of the test plots has generated anticipation in the industry.

"I think there's a lot of excitement among growers to get Roundup Ready beets," said Jeff Henry, co-president of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association.

Industry officials aren't ready to release official yield numbers but promise they're good.

"The yields we're going to get from Roundup Ready beets will be as good or better as our conventional varieties," said Thomas Schwartz, executive vice president of the BSDF, based in Denver.

"The yield (on Roundup Ready plots) was actually a little better than on the conventional sites," Gott said.

Weed control

About 170,000 acres of sugar beets are grown in Idaho, and 1.3 million acres are harvested nationwide. Revenues from the state's sugar beet industry were about $220 million last year.

How the product performed on weed control was a major issue for growers as some industry experts say weeds can reduce yields by up to 30 percent.

"Weeds are difficult to control with sugar beets," Montgomery said. "The opportunity to control weeds (with this product) is very appealing."

The potential savings growers can realize by using the product will depend on the grower and the area, Schwartz said. If a grower is already doing a good job of weed control with conventional herbicides, a switch to Roundup Ready beets may not result in a lot of savings, though "he's going to certainly see a lot of convenience."

Growers who have major weed problems could see enormous savings, he added.

"It could vary from breakeven to $100 an acre," he said.

Roundup Ready beets have already received regulatory approval to be grown in the United States and Canada, and processor acceptance was the last hurdle. All countries that are major sugar beet markets have approved Roundup Ready beets, and formal approval by the European Union is pending and expected soon.

The EU's scientific wing has given its blessing for the importation of sugar, pulp and molasses from Roundup Ready beets, and U.S. industry officials expect Europe to approve the technology at the end of this year or early next year.

Though farmers who plant Roundup Ready beets will pay a so-called technology fee that will work out to about $50 to $60 per acre, they still expect to come out ahead in the end. The added expense for the technology is expected to be offset by savings from less cultivation and hand labor.

With field laborers becoming harder and harder to find, "we have to get to the point where we literally eliminate hand labor," said Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.

Schwartz said he expects the vast majority of sugar beet growers in the United States will use the product. He projects 50 percent of total acres will be Roundup Ready in 2008 "and it will just go up from there."

One of the main concerns growers have is whether there will actually be enough Roundup Ready seed available for everyone who wants it next year.

"I think there will be an ample supply of seeds for everybody next year and then certainly for 2009 and on," Schwartz said.

Montgomery said he would be surprised if fewer than 90 percent of Idaho growers use the product.

"Our only concern is whether we have enough seed," he said.

The product will end up being better for the environment, too, Schorr said, because less chemicals will be used and fewer tractor trips across the field means less diesel fuel will be burned.

"This will be a win-win for a lot of people: growers, the consumer and the environment," he added.


DuPont Recognized for Best Agricultural R&D Pipeline and Products

- DuPont (press release) via CNN Money.com, October 17, 2007


DES MOINES, Iowa -- DuPont has received three prestigious Agrow Awards in recognition of its innovative and industry-leading agricultural product pipeline and technologies. The awards were presented to DuPont's Crop Protection and Pioneer Hi-Bred businesses at the inaugural 2007 Agrow Awards ceremony in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 16.

"We are thrilled with the recognition we've received from the Agrow Awards and our peers in the industry," said Erik Fyrwald, group vice president -- DuPont Agriculture & Nutrition. "New products and technologies such as the Optimum(TM) GAT(TM) trait, DuPont (TM) Rynaxypyr(TM), and a broad array of others in our crop protection and biotech pipelines will deliver powerful new tools and choices to farmers around the globe."

DuPont Agriculture & Nutrition was recognized for the following products and technologies:

Best R&D Pipeline. DuPont received the 2007 Agrow Award for "Best R&D Pipeline" in recognition of the broad array of new active ingredients and biotech traits in development across the DuPont Agriculture & Nutrition platform. The depth and breath of the DuPont pipeline across new chemistries and genetic traits make it unique to the industry.

DuPont Agriculture & Nutrition is preparing to launch its new Optimum(TM) GAT(TM) trait in soybeans, which offers growers expanded choices for controlling a broad spectrum of weeds through both glyphosate and ALS herbicide tolerance. The trait also will be introduced in corn and other crops.

In addition, new Pioneer seed and trait developments on the horizon include drought tolerance, nitrogen use efficiency, a line of high-yielding soybeans and soybean varieties with higher levels of healthy oils.

On the crop protection front, a new anthranilic diamide insecticide, DuPont(TM) Rynaxypyr(TM), will be launched this year. Following this in the pipeline are a new fungicide for cereals, a second-generation anthranilic diamide insecticide and two promising candidates for herbicides and fungicides.

Some of the exciting products in discovery and development include new DuPont herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, as well as new Pioneer seed and trait advances in herbicide tolerance, disease resistance, insect control, yield and agronomic improvements, improved feed characteristics, increased ethanol production, healthier oil production and improved crop processing characteristics.

Best Novel Agricultural Biotechnology -- Optimum(TM) GAT(TM) Trait. DuPont used proprietary gene shuffling technology to develop the Optimum(TM) GAT(TM) trait that provides tolerance to glyphosate and ALS herbicides, giving growers a new and better choice that maximizes yield potential, improves crop safety and expands weed control options. This next-generation herbicide tolerant trait allows growers to incorporate complementary ALS herbicides offered by DuPont Crop Protection into a glyphosate program, giving them longer lasting, broader spectrum weed control under more conditions than ever before.

DuPont is on track for commercial introduction of the Optimum(TM) GAT(TM) trait in soybeans by 2009, pending regulatory approval. DuPont also plans to commercialize the trait in corn and other crops.

Most Innovative Chemistry -- DuPont(TM) Rynaxypyr(TM). DuPont Crop Protection was recognized for its novel insecticide, DuPont(TM) Rynaxypyr(TM). This unique molecule is extremely effective at providing long-lasting control of a broad spectrum of chewing insects and several other important insect species at low application rates in a wide variety of crops. It also exhibits an excellent environmental profile. Rynaxypyr(TM) will be launched in selected markets later this year under the DuPont(TM) Altacor(TM), Coragen(TM) and Prevathon(TM) brand names.

The Agrow Awards were developed to recognize excellence in the crop protection and production industry. The inaugural awards were announced at a black-tie ceremony on Oct. 16. The ceremony was held in conjunction with XVI International Plant Protection Congress in Glasgow and was co-hosted by the BCPC (formerly known as the British Crop Production Council) and Agrow.


Medicago announces technological milestone with production of self-assembled Influenza Virus-Like Particles in plants

- Medicago, Inc. (press release), Oct. 18, 2007


QUEBEC CITY - Medicago Inc. (TSX-V: MDG), today announced it has made a significant breakthrough by using its proprietary expression system to produce a vaccine candidate for H5N1 Avian Influenza in highly immunogenic particles called Virus-Like Particles ("VLPs"). VLPs have significant advantages over conventional vaccines as they are known to enhance immunity and therefore increase protection against disease. These particles are similar to the virus from which they were derived from; however they lack viral nucleic acid, which results in the best compromise between safety (not infectious) and efficacy (highly immunogenic).

"Our transient expression system which produces recombinant vaccine antigens in the cells of non-transgenic plants has demonstrated its efficiency and medical potential by successfully producing the H5N1 Avian Influenza vaccine candidate in VLPs," said Dr. Louis Vezina, Chief Scientific Officer of Medicago.

"This is an excellent result and a major milestone for Medicago," said Andy Sheldon, President and Chief Executive Officer of Medicago. "VLPs offer a promising avenue for the development of effective vaccines for diseases such as the constantly evolving H5N1 Avian Influenza. Our unique ability to rapidly deliver vaccines that can protect against the multiple variations of viruses will, in our opinion, give our technology a critical advantage over traditional egg-based and cell culture technologies. Using our proprietary plant-based technology, we believe we now have the ability to deliver a VLP vaccine for testing a month after the identification and reception of genetic sequences from the pandemic strain."

Medicago has initiated preclinical studies with its proprietary VLP against H5N1 Avian Influenza virus and is now accumulating data. It is expected results from this first study will be published in the coming weeks.


Frost-wary farmers draw on Antarctic genes

- Philip Hopkins, The Age, Oct. 19, 2007


A GROUP of farmers is seeking to develop frost-resistant, genetically modified wheat using a gene from Antarctica.

The Molecular Plant Breeding Co-operative Research Centre will conduct the research for the farmers, who have formed a company, Green Blueprint International. GBI has lodged a prospectus to raise $2 million to fund the research.

The partners aim to develop frost-resistant wheat varieties using a gene from Antarctic hairgrass. The frost-tolerant gene creates a protein that inhibits icy crystal growth in the plant.

Chief executive of the Molecular Plant Breeding CRC Glenn Tong said genes for these ice recrystallisation proteins were not unique to Antarctic hairgrass and were also in wheat and barley. But researchers hoped the Antarctic genes would lead to better ice crystal inhibition.

West Australian farmer John Stone said 75 farmers were already part of the scheme, which aimed to have 100 investors contribute about $20,000 each. Frosts could devastate some grain crops, cutting yield by at least half, he said.

GBI's initial investment will finance research to prove the concept. A similar level of investment will be required to take the technology to the next level.

The centre has planted Australia's first drought-tolerant GM wheat trial.


DA won't impose GMO ban

- Jonathan L. Mayuga, ABS-CBN News, Oct. 17, 2007


The Department of Agriculture is standing by the national policy on modern biotechnology and rejected the call of Gov. Joseph Maranon of Negros Occidental for support in banning genetically modified organisms in the province.

Agriculture Undersecretary Bernie G. Fondevilla, in a letter to Maranon, said the DA is prevented from imposing a GMO ban, saying it runs counter to the national policy of promoting the safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology.

Fondevilla was reacting to an earlier letter from Maranon asking the DA to support the province's campaign to promote the province as an organic-food island. Subsequently, the campaign calls for the banning of GMOs.

Maranon's called the attention of the DA last month and asked for its "active participation and support" in imposing the ban on the entry, importation, growing, planting, selling and trading of GMO plants and animals.

Maranon also asked the possibility of integrating or pairing a monitoring stations to be put up by the provincial government with the existing quarantine arrangements of the DA in entry points in Negros.

Fondevilla, however, said that the DA respects the decision of the provincial government of Negros Occidental to ban GMOs in the province to achieve its vision of becoming the country's first organic-food island.

But he cited the national policy issued by President Arroyo on July 16, 2001, which states that the Philippines "promotes the safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology as one of several means to achieve and sustain food security, equitable access to health services, sustainable and safe environment, and industry development."

According to Fondevilla, the policy directed the DA, along with the health, environment and natural resources, trade and industry departments, and other concerned agencies of the government, to formulate directives and regulations, on the access and use of modern biotechnology products.

Subsequently, he said, the DA issued Administrative Order 8s 2002, or the rules and regulation governing the importation and release into the environment of plant and plant products derived from modern biotechnology.

Further, on March 17, 2006, he said President Arroyo issued Executive Order 514, which establishes the National Biosafety Framework, which strengthens the National Biosafety Committee of the Philippines.

"The role of the DA regulations is to provide Filipino farmers a wide array of available technologies for agriculture production and ensure that the products of these technologies are determined safe by DA regulatory agencies consistent with standards on food, feed and environmental safety," he said.

He cited as an example the list of approved products in the registry of regulated articles for propagation, or direct use for food, feed and processing into food and feed issued by the Bureau of Plant Industry.

The products, he said, are now commercially available in the market.

Fondevilla said the DA is barred from banning such GM products, which have been declared safe.

However, he said, the DA respects their decision to establish the province as an organic food island, saying the DA is also promoting organic agriculture through compliance with organic standards and certification and accreditation systems.


Russian Scientists Stand For GMO

-Russia InfoCentre, Oct. 16, 2007


Several respected scientists have spoken in behalf of genetically modified products during last week's press conference. Among them mass media spotted the director of Research Institute for Nutrition, the dean of Moscow State University's biology faculty, the head of virology department of Moscow State University and the director of the Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology.

Scientists said Russian population was intimidated by tales about transgenic soya beans thus forcing domestic producers to abandon adding soya protein to their products. However, currently we lack serious and reasoned facts about possible adverse effects of transgenic soya. Instead of soya protein food for necessary food quality producers add minced pigskin, synthetic polymers and collagen, only 15-20% of which are assimilated by human organism.

Scientists claim not GMOs are dangerous but incorrect production of said organisms. Thus we need a correct and qualitative control system for food, which appears of shop shelves, and such system exists.


Agriculture grads reap salary harvest

- The Australian, Oct. 18, 2007


DEMAND for graduates in agriculture and natural resource management would rocket by 36 per cent in the next six years due to major changes in farming, a study by the University of Sydney has found.

The industry could grow by about 123,000 jobs by 2013.

The faculty of agriculture, food and natural resources study said issues such as climate change and the rise in biofuels would necessitate a new skill set for agriculture workers.

Demand for environmental scientists (45 per cent increase) and forestry scientists (44 per cent) would be highest, the study said.

The demand would be spread wider than the farm gate: the study found there were keen employers in finance, commodity trading, environmental consulting, journalism, biotechnology, catchment management, managing urban parks and gardens, environmental engineering, food and beverages, biosecurity and mining.

The current skills shortage coupled with the future demand meant today's students were graduating on handsome salaries. Almost all at the University of Sydney had been offered jobs and had accepted the best offer even before graduation, agriculture dean Les Copeland said.

Salaries average about $55,000, but recruitment firms told the university that some employers were also offering extras, including a car, mobile phone costs and travel allowances.


Potato protester hit with fine

- Tim Hobden, Oxford Mail, Oct. 17, 2007


A GM foods protester was fined more than 400 yesterday for damaging a metal fence that collapsed under his weight as he tried to destroy a field full of genetically modified potatoes.

Activist Martin Shaw, from Campbell Road, Oxford, failed in his bid to rip up the crop of spuds and was instead found guilty of criminal damage to the 6ft mesh fence which buckled under his weight as he tried to scale it.

The field of potatoes, which is being developed to be blight resistant by German-based company BASF in Cambridgeshire, was destroyed just days later by other activists. advertisement

Shaw, 43, has been arrested on five previous occasions for protesting against GM foods. He said he would appeal against the conviction.

His only regret, he added, was that he failed to uproot the potatoes.

Speaking after the hearing, he said: "I was committing a 'crime' to prevent a greater crime... to prevent genetic pollution.

"I just regret not having pulled up the plants. I believe the vast majority of the British public would prefer Britain to be and remain GM-free.

"Every day, millions of people are making decisions about GM crops versus organic crops and they are voting with their feet."

And he defended the direct action protests which left him owing 100 in compensation to the multinational chemicals corporation.

"This was the last test site in the whole country. Ten years ago there were hundreds of test sites in this country.

"Some times it (direct action) is the only way."

Shaw was arrested by police protecting the 40-metre square field in July this year during an anti-GM foods protest.

He evaded the police officers guarding the site during the protest but was arrested when he fell to the ground as the mesh fence collapsed.

He admitted he planned to destroy the crop but denied one charge of criminal damage to the fence, saying he believed the metal railings would be able to hold his weight.

Magistrates in Cambridge disagreed and ruled he was reckless as to whether damage would be caused to the fence panel.

Shaw, was fined 125, ordered to pay compensation of 100 as well as 200 in costs.

Just days after Shaw's arrest, campaigners scaled security fences in the early hours to get into the field between Girton and Histon, and pulled up the crop.

BASF had stepped up security at the site following threats to the trial and obtained a High Court injunction banning people from entering the field.

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