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February 1, 2008


'Useful' gene confers Bt resistance; US vs. EU vs. Poland; Biotech growth 30 to 330 percent


* Farmers may have Golden Rice by 2011
* India's agri-biotech sector grows at 30%
* Portugal's GM acreage increases 330%
* EU vs. Poland over GMO ban
* US vs. EU in GMO Case
* US Farmers Becoming More Sustainable
* CSH Lab in iPlant Collaborative
* Gene Conferring Resistance to Bt Toxin
* Father of hybrid rice ups the ante
* Top scientist scorns organic foods
* Video: Plant Genetics and the Environment


Farmers may have Golden Rice by 2011-IRRI

Golden Rice includes three new genes, including two from daffodil,is yellowish and contains beta-carotene, a substance that human bodies convert to Vitamin A

- Reuters via LiveMint.com (Wall St. Journal), Jan. 30, 2008


Hong Kong: Genetically modified (GMO) Golden Rice may be available to farmers as early as 2011, possibly helping to save millions of children threatened with blindness or premature death due to Vitamin A deficiency. Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), told Reuters it expected to release the GMO rice, enriched with Vitamin A, by 2011. It was conducting its first field trials in the Philippines this year.

It would be 10 years since the invention in 2001 of Golden Rice, which scientists have said may prove that the controversial biotechnology can help feed the poor and needy if applied with care and caution.

There is as yet no GMO rice grown commercially. Widely produced transgenic products, such as GMO soy, corn or cotton, are mostly pest- or herbicide-resistant. They are beneficial to farmers, but not necessarily to consumers. Golden Rice -- which includes three new genes, including two from daffodil -- is yellowish and contains beta-carotene, a substance that human bodies convert to Vitamin A.

Its research has been seen as a model for cooperation between public and private sectors in pursuit of human welfare. Its inventors are claiming no property rights for the rice. Neither are the companies that own the technology involved.

Zeigler was talking early this week after IRRI received a grant of $20 million for three years -- equivalent to 17 percent of its budget -- from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

High grain prices, climate change

The executive said the funding came at a vital time when soaring food prices and climate change threatened the gains made through the Green Revolution over the past several decades.

"The concern that we have ... is that these gains in productivity, food security, cheap rice, cheap food are in jeopardy," Zeigler said. "We have to address this."

IRRI says the fund will help it reach 18 million households, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with better rice varieties and raise yields by 50 percent in the next 10 years.

IRRI calculated the world needed to increase the annual rice output by nearly 70 percent to 880 million tonnes by 2025 from 520 million tonnes currently to meet projected global demand.

"We are focusing on more difficult rice growing areas that do not have irrigation," Zeigler said. "Drought tolerance and flood tolerance is the key for very impoverished areas."

This year, IRRI plans to hand out to more farmers in Bangladesh and India a flood resistant non-GMO rice, for which scientists made a breakthrough in 2006.

"We have now moved that gene into commercial varieties, the varieties that can be are grown by farmers," he said. "We tested them in Bangladesh this year. It went extremely well."

Together with China, IRRI is also working on dry land rice, known as aerobic rice, that can grow on dry soil like wheat.

"Water for agriculture is becoming more and more scarce as water is diverted for urban use and industrial use," he said.

"We are working very hard to develop rice that can be grown almost like a wheat crop or corn plant. However, that again is a very difficult and challenging scientific problem."


Agri-biotech sector grows at 30%

Backed by the government, the industry logs Rs 926 cr sales in 2006-07.

- Dilip Kumar Jha, Business Standard (India), Jan. 30, 2008


The agri-biotech sector in India is growing at 30 per cent for the last five years, and it is likely to maintain the growth in the future as well, says a Rabobank report titled "Indian agri-biotech sector: Emerging scenario, issues and challenges".

The country made its entry into agri-biotech in early 2002 with the government giving its nod for commercial cultivation of Bt cotton. Since then, agri-biotech continues to be the fastest growing industry among all the biotech industries in the country.

In 2006-07, the industry made Rs 926 crore in sales, accounting for 10.84 per cent of the country's biotech market. In 2005-06, it registered a growth of over 81 per cent with a value of Rs 598 crore compared to Rs 330 crore in 2004-05.

Within six years, the Bt cotton acreage in the country has grown manifold accounting for about 70 per cent of the total area under cotton cultivation in 2007-08.

The report says that the industry was backed by the government through streamlined regulatory framework, policies and fiscal benefits that resulted in a functional genomics project with an investment of $8 million.

The government has already initiated a project to conduct genome-wide research on a range of agronomically important crops.

Also, the recent infrastructure developments have provided an impetus to the agribiotech sector in the country, says the report.

Private sector efforts to introduce agri-biotech in India began in 1995. However, most research and development (R&D) works have been conducted in the public sector.

A large number of specialist national laboratories, and research institutes and centres, and a limited number of universities and institutes of technology are also involved in R&D activities.

The research finds that agricultural biotech in India has good development potential. The country can become a major grower of transgenic rice and several genetically engineered vegetables by 2010. It is emerging as an important destination for both biomarkers and validation services.

There is an increasing use of molecular markers in crop breeding and a growing realisation that some of these new technologies will lead to future growth in the productivity and quality of crops such as rice, wheat, eggplant (brinjal), tomato and okra.

The agri-biotech sector is also reliant on a strong partnering model. Indian and US/European companies can derive synergies in combining their research and commercialisation expertise.

However, this would not be possible without active support from alliances among seed companies, the report says.

Alliances are becoming increasingly important in seed industry to bridge the gap between the field experience and emerging technologies.

This is because larger seed companies need to increase research productivity and biotech companies represent one of the major sources of this cutting-edge research.

It is this symbiotic relationship that fuels an increasing number of opportunities. It also brings opportunities to operate collaborative R&D programmes in biotech, especially, in genetically modified field trials.

As farmers face a limited choice of new seed traits, seed companies are looking forward to developing projects that are required to supplement their product pipelines. Biotech leadership of the country will certainly play a vital role to bridge the gap.

In recent developments in the sector, Indian food companies have started acquiring agri-biotech companies as part of a strategy to strengthen their food businesses.

Recently, ITC acquired Australian agri-biotech company Technico, which has operations in Canada, China, India and West Asia through its subsidiaries. Technico bought Technituber seed technology that has seed manufacturing facilities in China, Canada, and Manpura in Himachal Pradesh.


Area planted in GMOs increases 330% compared to 2006; Contamination levels are insignificant (<0.4% when the maximum level permitted is <0.9%)

- Office of the Minister, Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries (Portugal; press release), Jan. 29, 2008


[unofficial translation of original]

This publication on the Agriculture Ministry's web site (www.min-agricultura.pt) and on the web site of the General Directory for Agriculture and Rural Development (www.dgadr.min-agricultura.pt) is the second report on coexistence between genetically modified crops and other methods of agricultural production in 2007.

According to a study last year, there were 82 monitoring actions (control and inspection) which means in terms of area cultivated, close to 50% (2400 ha) of the area cultivated was monitored. The number of monitoring actions was 58% greater than in 2006.

The monitors and the results verify that the technical norms stipulated in the legislation are effective as far as ensuring the accidental presence of GMOs remains minimal in conventional products and that the contamination rate is less than 0.4% (the maximum values defined by law must remain below 0.9%). To obtain these results, 32 samples were analyzed after being collected from conventional maize grown adjacent to fields planted with MON810 genetically modified maize.

Farmer surveys In this press release it is possible to view the results of of surveys conducted on farmers who grew GMOs. Sixty -two surveys were conduced on farmers between 25 and 84 years of age. Results are as follows.

- 76% of the farmers planted GM maize for the first time in 2007 and the main reason they used to justify their choice of planting this type of variety was to control the corn borer.

- 90% mentioned they were having problems with corn borers, having up to 3 generations of this plague per crop season, and an average of 1.7 generations per crop season. This situation was forcing them to resort to insecticide treatments, with an average of 1.6 applications per crop cycle, and a maximum of 5 applications.

- As far as the agronomic balance obtained by using GMOs, results were as follows:

1. Ease of crop management
37%- easier
50%- the same
13%- less easy

2. Insecticide applications
7%- equal or more
86%- less

3. Yield
69%- higher
26%- Equal
5%- decrease, citing reasons not directly related to the GMO
varieties (soil crusting, late planting)

4. Product quality
86% Higher
12% Equal
0% Lower

It is important to mention that during 2007, 154 technicians were trained to help train farmers. There were also 24 training sessions during 2007 during which 558 farmers participated (North- 261; Central 222; Alentejo 75). Between 2006 and 2007, 1101 farmers were trained.

Planting notices As far as plantings on Portugues territory, this press release informs that the area planted to GMOs reached in 2007 more than 4 thousand hectares (4,199.4 ha), with plantings in all regions of the country, except the autonomous region of Madeira and the Azores.

In 2007, the area planted was 330% greater than that in 2006. One hundred sixty four notices were received for a total of 4,199.4 ha.

This press release mentions that Lagos is the only part of the European Union that is legally considered to be GMO-free, as per the legislation currently in place, the only one in the EU. Remember that Portugal is the only country in the EU that completed the legislative process on GMOs and that implements controls based on a surveillance network accompanied by an efficient monitoring system for GMO farms.


EU lawyers take action against Poland over GMO ban

- Jeremy Smith, Reuters, Jan. 31, 2007


BRUSSELS - European Union regulators launched legal action against Poland at Europe's highest court on Thursday for the country's move to ban the trade in and planting of genetically modified seeds, the EU executive said.

Poland's plans for what amounts to a national GMO ban, announced last year, quickly drew criticism from European Commission lawyers who routinely scrutinise any such proposals.

Earlier this month, they said it had no scientific justification. But Poland's insistence in proceeding with the ban, despite several warning letters sent from Brussels, meant the Commission now had to resort to legal action, it said.

"On the basis of the information provided by the Polish authorities in their replies to these letters, the Commission has no alternative but to refer Poland to the ECJ," it said, referring to the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.

"In their reply, the Polish authorities confirm their intention to maintain the ban Polish authorities believe that the use of GM seeds encroaches on the sphere of public morality, an encroachment that would justify a total ban on GM seeds."

As tested on several previous occasions, the Commission takes the view that if a region wants to ban GMO crops or products, such restrictions must be scientifically justified and crop-specific to comply with EU law.

It also believes that a proposed ban must not be politically motivated, or a blanket GMO restriction that might distort the EU's single trading market.

Poland's law on seeds and plant protection, adopted in April 2006, introduced a total ban of trade in GMO seeds varieties on Polish territory.

Since the use and trade of GMO seeds was harmonized across EU member countries, the Commission had told Poland -- in a first letter sent in October 2006 and then in another sent in June 2007 -- that its GMO ban broke EU law, the statement said.


US Seeks to Retaliate Against EU in GMO Case

- Jonathan Lynn, Reuters via Planet Ark, Jan. 31, 2008


GENEVA - The United States underlined on Wednesday its right to retaliate against the European Union in a row over an EU ban on biotech crops.

The dispute has pitted the EU against the United States, Argentine and Canada, the world's three biggest growers of genetically modified (GMO) food. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has ordered the EU to end the ban.

Brussels has found it hard to implement the WTO ruling because some of the 27 EU member states operate their own bans.

Many European consumers are wary of eating GMO crops after media scares about "Frankenfoods" and advocacy groups say they threaten biodiversity.

The WTO said it would hold an extraordinary meeting of its dispute settlement body on Feb. 8 to discuss a US request for compensation in the dispute.

A trade official said this was in fact a procedural device to get around inconsistencies in the WTO's dispute rules. The item would probably be withdrawn from the agenda following a likely EU objection as part of an agreement between Washington and Brussels to pursue a negotiated solution, he said.

But if they do not succeed, the issue will return to the dispute settlement body's agenda. Wednesday's move prepares for that eventuality.

The extended deadline for Brussels to comply expired on Jan. 11. The following week the United States decided to give the EU more time to do so.

Washington reserved its right to push later for a WTO decision on whether the EU had done enough to end the ban and, if Brussels was found wanting, to retaliate.

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab has said Washington's priority is to get Brussels to allow GMO crops, rather than to retaliate against EU goods.

But a document that the United States filed last week at the WTO said the US reserved the right to retaliate against the EU to compensate for the annual value of lost US exports, royalties and licensing fees to the EU from biotech crops.

These would be levied by imposing extra tariffs on EU goods or lifting other WTO agreements regulating agriculture or health and safety, the document said.

Austria continues to ban MON 810 maize made by US biotech company Monsanto and T25 maize developed by German drugs and chemicals group Bayer. And days after the Jan. 11 deadline expired, the EU's biggest food producer France also imposed a temporary ban on MON 810.

The case will be closely watched by other biotech companies such as US chemicals groups Du Pont and Dow Chemical and Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta.


Survey Finds Farmers Becoming More Sustainable

- National Corn Growers Association (press release), Jan. 30, 2008


Farmers are adopting best management practices in record numbers, according to a survey just released by the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) and The Fertilizer Institute (TFI). The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) hailed this survey as further evidence that growers are doing the right thing.

Among the results:

* More than three-quarters of those responding have conservation plans.

* Three out of five have fully adopted nutrient management plans.

* More than half of row crop producers who responded to the survey have fully adopted conservation tillage, nutrient management, grassed waterways and integrated pest, disease and weed management.

"Our growers know that successful farming requires proper stewardship of our land, air and water," said David Ward, Chairman of NCGA's Production and Stewardship Action Team. "This further confirms that we are seeing positive trends, and we continue to employ increased fertilizer efficiency and reduced use of pesticides and herbicides."

NCGA promoted this new CTIC/TFI survey to its membership, and approximately 2,000 farmers nationwide responded to the survey in late 2007, representing 2.5 million acres of farmed cropland. Survey respondents had an average of 29 years of farming experience, and 75 percent of those answering the survey farm a corn-soybean rotation or a corn-soybean-wheat rotation. Seventy-nine percent had at least some college education.

Last year, NCGA joined a new agricultural sustainability initiative managed by the Keystone Center. One of the goals of this effort is to increase productivity to meet future nutritional needs while decreasing impacts on the environment, including water, soil, habitat, air quality and climate emissions, and land use.


Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory To Play Central Role Addressing Key Questions In Plant Biology

iPlant Collaborative will unite scientists across disciplines

- Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (press release), Jan. 30, 2008


Cold Spring Harbor, NY - Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) will play a central role in an important new initiative called the iPlant Collaborative, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Collaborative will define and address "grand challenge questions" in plant biology that have global implications.

"The idea is to develop an all-encompassing computer- and internet-based infrastructure that will transform the way plant science is done, and that will be accessible, at different levels, by scientists across the disciplines and across the planet," explained Lincoln Stein, Ph.D., CSHL professor and a co-principal investigator of the Collaborative. "In addition, the program will be a valuable resource for students and interested members of the public."

CSHL and four research universities, led by the University of Arizona, will share a $50 million NSF grant over five years to launch the iPlant Collaborative. It will bring together researchers from every area within plant biology - molecular and cellular biologists, geneticists, genome scientists, as well as experts on ecosystems and biosystem diversity - by building infrastructure through which they can more readily interact and collaborate.

Since research is done in real-time as well as "offline" in conjunction with mathematicians, computer scientists and engineers, informatics experts, and even social scientists, plant biologists can be certain that the tools available through the iPlant network will reflect the latest knowledge. "This reflects the way science is done in the 21st century," says Rob Martienssen, Ph.D., professor and head of plant genetics at CSHL. "The days have long passed when it made sense for individual scientists, or individual labs, or even individual institutions, to attack major scientific questions in isolation from the broader community."

Collaboration across disciplines in pursuit of innovative science - for instance, plant genome experts working side-by-side with mathematicians and statisticians to interpret the results of innovative microarray scans of genomic mutations designed by biosystems engineers - is already the norm in the plant science community and throughout the life sciences.

"But," emphasizes Dr. Stein, whose bioinformatics tools are widely used by genome scientists worldwide, "the dimension that is lacking, and which the Collaborative seeks to address, concerns the forging of a functional community, within the discipline and extending to those in computer science, math and other fields, upon whose expertise plant science depends."

CSHL, through its Dolan DNA Learning Center (DNALC), will collaborate with the project team to embed outreach materials within the iPlant portal, thus tightly linking plant research and education. Such material will include video and audio podcasts to publicize the project and to provide students and teachers a window on the "grand challenge" development process.

The DNALC will work with plant researchers to develop video interviews and narrated animations that explain the conceptual background and historical development of each "grand challenge." The culmination of which will spawn a nationwide program that will train 1,000 science teachers in how to utilize iPlant tools for student projects that support integrative and computational thinking.

"Science education and public outreach typically begin well after a scientific revolution has settled down into what Thomas Kuhn called normal science. In this project, we want to directly involve students and teachers in this revolutionary period of plant research by providing them with educational interfaces into the same data used by iPlant scientists," stated David Micklos, Ph.D., Executive Director of the DNALC.

The iPlant Collaborative was formed after a call for proposals in 2006 from the NSF's Department of Biological Infrastructure. CSHL will host the Collaborative's inaugural meeting, set for April 2008, as well as additional meetings throughout the five-year period of the NSF grant.

"It's an exciting prospect that brings to mind some other forward-looking moments in the recent history of biological research in which CSHL was deeply involved," said Dr. Martienssen. "It was on our campus that the idea for sequencing the first plant genome got off the ground, and where the outlines of what became the Human Genome Project were first sketched. We are hoping that the iPlant Collaborative will also achieve great things."

CSHL is a private, non-profit research and education institution dedicated to exploring molecular biology and genetics in order to advance the understanding and ability to diagnose and treat cancers, neurological diseases, and other causes of human suffering.


Polynucleotide Encoding a Gene Conferring Resistance to Bacillus Thuringiensis Toxin and Method of Use

- David Heckel and Linda Gahan (inventors), Clemson University, Case #188



Insecticidal protein toxins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are safe, effective and specific means for controlling insect pests of agriculture. Crops such as cotton and corn have been transformed with modified Bt genes that encode the toxin. These transgenic plants protect themselves from insect damage by expressing the toxin in their cells, which kills insects that are feeding on them. This insect control method has been very successful, with more than 20% of cotton and corn acreage in the US consisting of transgenic Bt-expressing varieties in 2000. However, insects can develop resistance to Bt-toxins, just as they have to chemical insecticides. Although Bt-resistant strains of insects have been studied for several years, until now the molecular identity of the genes that make the insect resistant to the toxin has been unknown. We have successfully identified and cloned a gene that confers high levels of Bt resistance in the key cotton pest Heliothis virescens (tobacco budworm). This is the first molecular identification of a Bt-resistance gene in any species. It will enable for the first time DNA-based diagnostic techniques for the detection of resistance in field populations of this pest and related species.


Specific applications include the development of a diagnostic kit for detection of Bt-resistance in field populations of Heliothis virescens.

Patent Status: Patent application has been filed.

For more information about this technology, please contact:

Vincie Albritton, Associate Director
Phone: (864) 656-5708
Fax: (864) 656-0474
email: valbrit@clemson.edu


Janet Dillon, Project Administrator
Phone: (864) 656-4237
Fax: (864) 656-0474
email: gjanet@clemson.edu


Father of hybrid rice keeps upping the ante

- China Daily, Feb. 1, 2008


Yuan Longping, known as the father of hybrid rice, is inching toward the finish line in a decade-long race to raise crop yield.

The race started in 1997, with the 700 kg per mu (0.066 hectare) and 800 kg targets realized in 2000 and 2004; before he set his sights on 900 kg.

"I hope hybrid rice with a per-mu yield of over 900 kg is grown nationwide by 2010," Yuan, 78, said at his experimental paddy field in Hainan province.

The yield increase is vital to feeding the country's growing population, now at 1.3 billion and expected to reach 1.6 billion by 2030.

In recognition of his achievements, Yuan was on Wednesday chosen on CCTV's list of the Top 10 Annual Business Figures.

Yuan, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, did not show up at the awards ceremony, because he was too busy with his work in Hainan.

"Trial planting projects are also going on in 20 counties in Hunan. So far, 18 have yielded successful results," said Yuan, who has devoted himself to the development of hybrid rice since the 1960s.

Zhai Huqu, president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said hybrid rice was one of the biggest success stories in the country's agricultural history. It was first developed in the early 1970s, and has added 400 million tons in the following two and half decades.

Thanks to the progress in the research of high-yield rice, China's total yield hit 500 million tons last year although planting acreage dwindled.

Yuan's "super rice" is now grown in more than half of China's paddy fields as well as more than 20 other countries.

CCTV said Yuan's rice should be seen as the biggest made-in-China brand.

An earlier online poll showed that the majority of Chinese believe Yuan deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to fighting hunger.


Top scientist scorns 'tastier' organic foods

- The Independent (UK), Jan. 31, 2008


A leading scientist has described claims that organic foods are more nutritious and taste better as "fiction".

And any aims to turn Ireland into an 'organic island' were also scorned yesterday by Dr Con O'Rourke, who said this would mean there could be no exports and there would need to be massive recycling.

Dr O'Rourke, a former senior member of agricultural body Teagasc and scientific journal editor, said substantial research had not shown any differences between organic and standard foods.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland yesterday had an open debate on the attitudes and findings on organic food. Research from the body shows that less than one-third of people (32pc) surveyed believe organic food to be a healthier option while 15pc believe it to be "full of flavour and taste".

"Organic foods are often claimed to be more nutritious and to taste better," said Dr O'Rourke.

"However, this has to be regarded as a fiction since, to date, rigorous scientific evaluation has failed to show significant and consistent difficulties."

In addition, genetically modified (GM) foods are "no less safe" than conventional foods, with a 'GM-free' Ireland as unlikely as an 'organic Ireland', he said.

However, organic food consultant Siobhan Morris said the organic food market was worth 66m in Ireland last year -- up from 38m in 2003. She spoke of the benefits of organics in terms of animal welfare and said that there was an improved taste.

Organic milk was found to have up to 80pc more anti-oxidants while cereals and vegetables had up to 40pc more nutrients, she said.

Chef Darina Allen said the cost of organic foods depended on where they were bought, with supermarkets often more expensive than some farmers' markets.

Broadcaster and food consultant Clodagh McKenna, pictured above at the event, said children had to build up an understanding of food from early on.


Science Matters: Plant Genetics and the Environment

- uctelevision, YouTube, Jan. 31, 2008


[run time: 30 mins.]

What if plants could grow with less water, in poor soil, using less fertilizer or toxic chemical pesticides to produce food for a hungry world? Or what if plants could remove toxic substances from the environment? UCSD plant biologist Julian Schroeder takes you on an exploration of how genetic modification of plants may be able to achieve these goals and address environmental challenges that are in our future.

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