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February 18, 2008


Phenomenal Growth of Biotech; Beef, commodity groups worried; Secrecy for crop trials?


* A Dozen Years of Double-Digit Growth
* Farmers continue to support biotech
* GM plantings concern grain, oilseed crushers and feed trade
* Europe facing meat crisis over GM wrangle
* Court allows field trials of GM crop
* Firms seeking crop trial secrecy
* Germany OKs label designating 'GM free' foods
* World Food Prize Receives $5 Million
* Scientists find secret to oil yield from corn
* New gene detection technology
* Salmonella Fertilizer Sparks Lawsuit
* Obituary: Ray Wu, 79


Biotech Crops Experience Remarkable Dozen Years of Double-Digit Growth

Socio-economic benefits becoming evident among resource-poor farmers

- International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (press release), Feb. 13, 2008


MANILA, PHILIPPINES - After a dozen years of commercialization, biotech crops are still gaining ground with another year of double-digit growth and new countries joining the list of supporters, according to a report released today by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). In 2007, biotech crop area grew 12 percent or 12.3 million hectares to reach 114.3 million hectares, the second highest area increase in the past five years.

In addition to planting more biotech hectares, farmers are quickly adopting varieties with more than one biotech trait. These "trait hectares" grew at a swift 22 percent, or 26 million hectares, to reach 143.7 million hectares - more than double the area increase of 12.3 million hectares. New crops were also added to the list as China reported 250,000 biotech poplar trees planted. The insect-resistant trees can contribute to reforestation efforts.

Further, 2 million more farmers planted biotech crops last year to total 12 million farmers globally enjoying the advantages from the improved technology. Notably, 9 out of 10, or 11 million of the benefiting farmers, were resource-poor farmers, exceeding the 10-million milestone for the first time. In fact, the number of developing countries (12) planting biotech crops surpassed the number of industrialized countries (11), and the growth rate in the developing world was three times that of industrialized nations (21 percent compared to 6 percent.)

"With increasing food prices globally, the benefits of biotech crops have never been more important," said Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA and the report's author. "Already those farmers who began adopting biotech crops a few years ago are beginning to see socio-economic advantages compared to their peers who haven't adopted the crops. If we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of cutting hunger and poverty in half by 2015, biotech crops must play an even bigger role in the next decade."

According to the report, biotech crops have delivered unprecedented benefits that contribute toward the MDGs, particularly in countries like China, India and South Africa. The potential in the second decade of biotech crop commercialization (2006-2015) is enormous.

Studies in India and China show Bt cotton has increased yields by up to 50 percent and 10 percent, respectively, and reduced insecticide use in both countries up to 50 percent or more. In India, growers increased income up to $250 or more per hectare, increasing farmer income nationally from $840 million to $1.7 billion last year. Chinese farmers saw similar gains with incomes growing an average of $220 per hectare, or more than $800 million nationally. Importantly, these studies showed strong farmer confidence in the crops with 9 of 10 Indian farmers replanting biotech cotton year on year, and 100 percent of Chinese farmers choosing to continue utilizing the technology.

While these types of economic benefits are well substantiated, the socio-economic benefits associated with biotech crops are starting to emerge. A study of 9,300 Bt cotton and non-Bt cotton-growing households in India indicated that women and children in Bt cotton households have slightly more access to social benefits than non-Bt cotton growers. These include slight increases in pre-natal visits, assistance with at-home births, higher school enrollment for children and a higher proportion of children vaccinated.

Rosalie Ellasus, a widowed mother of 3 children, found similar benefits, chosing farming as a way to support her family. "With the extra income generated from biotech maize, investing in farming made sense and allowed me to earn more than the medical technology field I was trained in," she said. "The biotech maze gave me peace of mind and meant less time monitoring for pests. With stack corn, I also incur savings on cultivation and weeding costs. With the added income, I have been able to send all my children to college."

"It's these types of benefits that will make crop biotechnology a vital tool in achieving the U.N. Millennium Development Goals of cutting hunger and poverty in half and ensuring a more sustainable agriculture in the future," James said. "To reach these goals, a continued broadening and deepening of biotech crop use is crucial to meeting food, feed, fiber and fuel needs in the future."

In 2007, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and China continued to be the principal adopters of biotech crops globally. While the United States continues to be the largest user of the technology, its biotech crop area represents a declining share of the global area due to a broadening adoption. [Editor's note: see ISAAA Country Fact Sheet for additional detail on specific countries.]

"With a dozen years of accumulated knowledge and significant economic, environmental and socio-economic benefits, biotech crops are poised for even greater growth in coming years, particularly in developing countries that have the greatest need for this technology," James said.

According to the report, Burkina Faso, Egypt and possibly Vietnam are the next mostly likely countries to approve biotech crops. Australia is field-testing drought-tolerant wheat and two states recently lifted a four-year ban on biotech canola. Finally, countries like India recognize the importance of using biotechnology to make the country self-sufficient in food grains, including rice, wheat and oil seed production with the first biotech food crop, biotech eggplant, expecting approval in the near-term.

"I predict the number of biotech countries, crops, traits, area and farmers will all grow substantially in the second decade of adoption," James said. "More developing countries are likely to approve the technology as it's now possible to design regulatory systems that are rigorous without being onerous given their limited resources. The current delay in timely approvals of biotech crops like golden rice with benefits for millions is a moral dilemma where the demands of regulatory systems have often become the end and not the means."

The report is entirely funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, a U.S.-based philanthropic organization associated with the Green Revolution; Ibercaja, one of the largest Spanish banks headquartered in the maize growing region of Spain; and the Bussolera-Branca Foundation from Italy, which supports the open-sharing of knowledge on biotech crops to aid decision-making by global society.

Executive Summary: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/37/executivesummary/default.html


Farmers continue to show commitment and support for plant biotechnology in Canada and around the world

CropLife Canada releases two new independent studies on the commercial success of biotech soybeans and corn in Canada

- CropLife Canada (press release), Feb. 13, 2008


TORONTO - Today's farmers are reaping the benefits as the global acreage of biotech crops continue to rise exponentially. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), global biotech crop acres have reached 282.4 million acres in 23 countries in 2007, an increase of 12 percent from 2006.

Domestic acceptance of biotech crops has also continued to rise, with the biotech crop acreage in Canada increasing in 2007 to over 17 million acres from 15 in 2006 (ISAAA). The majority of this increase can be attributed to three main crops - soybeans, corn and canola. CropLife Canada released two new reports outlining the successful introduction of GM corn and soybean into the Canadian marketplace showing that GM soy and corn varieties now each command approximately 65 percent of the total acres grown.

"The reasons are clear. For farmers, biotech crops provide increased yields, improved disease and insect resistance, and more efficient production," states Dr. Lorne Hepworth, President of CropLife Canada. "In addition to increased productivity per acre, biotech crops allow for reduced tillage preventing soil erosion and moisture loss while reducing greenhouse gas emmisons."

The two new reports, Soybean Crops in Canada: A report on the successful introduction of GM Soybean into the Canadian marketplace and Corn Crops in Canada: A report on the successful introduction of GM Corn into the Canadian marketplace and the continued co-production of GM and non-GM corn hybrids, were produced by Andy McCormick, Answers 4 Business and Joe Colyn, Originz LLC after conducting interviews of stakeholders ranging from technology developers, seed growers and distributors, producers, grain handlers and shippers, to end-processors.

"In 2007, farmers planted over 1.35 million acres of glyphosate tolerant soybeans representing approximately 65 percent of the market share," says Dale Petrie, General Manager of the Ontario Soybean Growers, an organization representing soybean growers in Ontario. "The main reason behind this rate of adoption is the ease of production in weed control, no-till farming, and reduced fuel costs."

GM corn varieites have also increased to over 65 percent of the market share. Dale Mountjoy, President of the Ontario Corn Producers' Association, attributes this growth in biotech corn acres mainly to improved insect resitance. "Eastern Corn Borer is a significant pest of corn in Canada," said Mountjoy. "Since the introduction of Bt corn varieties, producers have been able to effectively manage this pest without the use of insecticides, which has helped to increase corn yields and led to the increase in farmer adoption. As new opportunities for animal feed and biofuel arise, we expect biotech corn acres will continue to increase."

Several smaller biotech crops are also being grown in Canada, including sugar beets for bio-fuel production. P.E.I. farmers are planing to grow 1,400 hectares of GM sugar beets in 2008, and expect that number to double in 2009.

"By supporting the use of GM crops in Canada, we are clearing the way to ensure Canadian farmers are on the leading edge of agricultural innovation to meet the evolving needs of farmers and consumers at large," said Hepworth.


Executive Summary

A decade since the introduction of Genetically Modified (GM) soybeans, the adoption of herbicide tolerant (HT) soybean for the commodity soybean oil crush market has become standard practice. The GM soybean market share continues to increase as growers realize production benefits in weed control and better land stewardship through the easier adoption of no-till planting. HT soy has been adopted by over 80 percent of farmers growing for the domestic crush market sector and has allowed the Canadian commodity soybean production base to compete effectively with HT soybeans from the USA and HT canola from western Canada in supplying the local crush markets.

Along with the commodity bean market, a vibrant food grade soybean production base has existed for more than 30 years in Canada, particularly south-western Ontario and Northern Tier soybean growing areas. Export markets for food grade soybeans have not accepted GM soybeans and as a result the soybean sector adapted and strengthened its Identity Preservation (IP) contracting and production practices to comply. Today GM and non-GM soybeans co-exist to satisfy these divergent markets and domestic crush needs.


The ten-year experience with GM and non-GM soybeans in Canada has been a success largely because:

- Canada continues to maintain an Identity Preserved (IP) non-GM soy market due in part to contract production and IP programs such as CIPRS (Canadian Identity Preserved Recognition System.

- Growers have readily adopted GM soybeans due to the ease of production and increased return per hectare

- North America does not require separation of GM and non-GM soybean varieties, therefore handlers can leverage their flexible grain handling capacity and good operating practices

- Technology developers continue to invest in new innovations, especially in the area of new value-added markets in the areas of bio-fuels and nutritional related traits

- Seed companies benefit from annual sales and reinvest in breeding new varieties


GM and non-GM Corn in the Canadian Marketplace

Executive Summary

In the 10 years since Genetically Modified (GM) corn has been available, it has grown to command 66% of the seed market. Much of its successful acceptance in the market can be attributed to increases in yields and improved insect resistance. The lack of major export markets requiring the segregation of GM and non-GM markets also played a factor as producers and handlers are able to manage all varieties in a single production and handling system, with the exception of a small European export market, which has been managed through the Market Choices program.


The introduction of GM corn into Canada has been successful mainly due to:

- Yield increases that now exceed 33% of 1997 levels attract grower participation.

- The steady and strong uptake on the part of growers has supported continued research and development in new traits and combinations of traits by the technology providers and seed companies.

- Cooperation by all points along the value chain in developing programs such as Market Choices and elevator Good Operating Practices to ensure channeling is properly managed.

- Improved farm management opportunities that herbicide tolerant (HT) and insect resistant (IR) traits provide for the grower.


World GM plantings concern European grain, oilseed crushers and feed trade

- COCERAL, FEFAC and FEDIOL (press release) via SeedQuest, Feb. 14, 2008


Brussels, Belgium - The latest ISAAA report on the GM production area shows the increasing popularity of the cultivation of biotech crops for farmers around the world. As compared to last year, GM plantings increased by 12 % in 2007 and, in some cases, represent up to 90% of total crops. This upward trend has been recorded for more than 10 years now and shows no sign of stopping. This leads the seed breeding companies to develop ever more new GM events, for cultivation, processing, food and feed uses in the EU's main supplying countries. The EU is a major importer of raw materials from these countries, particularly of soybeans and soybean products, and feed ingredients from the maize processing industry.

According to DG AGRI, while the GM approval process takes on average 15 months in the US, the European authorization process takes over 30 months. These asynchronous approval processes represent a serious threat to the supply of vital sectors of the European food and feed industry, which cannot secure the necessary raw materials for the crushing plants and/or the compound feed units.

The current zero tolerance policy in the EU puts in jeopardy soybean crushing in Europe. Already in autumn 2008, possible trace level presence of new GM varieties in US soybeans (not yet authorized for import and processing in the EU) will bring the traditional crushing of US soybeans in the EU to a standstill. Soon thereafter, upon cultivation of the new GMO varieties in South America, if the zero tolerance still applies and the new varieties are not yet authorized in the EU, all soybean meal imports and the crushing of soybeans in the EU will stop with a dramatic impact on all of the EU animal feeding industries.

The EU livestock sector will indeed suffer irreversible damage, with the loss of up to 44% of its poultry and 35% of its pig production according to DG AGRI estimates1. There are no viable alternatives to the import of approximately 35 million tonnes of soybean products as the key vegetable protein component for animal feed.

This is the reason why the European Grain Traders Association (COCERAL), the EU Oil and Proteinmeal Industry (FEDIOL) and the European Feed Manufacturers Federation (FEFAC) urgently call upon the EU and Member States for the establishment of a threshold for the presence of GMOs, which have undergone a feed and food safety risk assessment in and outside the EU according to the CODEX GM plant guideline. The above-mentioned industries call upon the EU and Member State authorities to safeguard the EU's crushing and livestock sector by tackling this issue of zero tolerance before it is too late.

1 http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/envir/gmo/economic_impactGMOs_en.pdf

COCERAL is the acronym for "Comité du commerce des céréales, aliments du bétail, oléagineux, huile d'olive, huiles et graisses et agrofournitures" and is considered as the voice representing the European cereals, feedstuffs, oilseeds, olive oil, oils and fats and agrosupply trade". The Members of COCERAL are the national trade organisations of most of the EU-27 Member States, who for their part represent collectors, distributors, exporters, importers and agribulk storers of the above-mentioned commodities. The members are composed of essentially private traders and in some countries also farmers' cooperatives.

FEFAC (Fédération Européenne des Fabricants d'Aliments Composés), the European Feed Manufacturers' Federation, represents 21 national Associations in 20 EU Member States as well as Associations in Switzerland, Turkey and Norway with observer/associate member status. The European compound feed industry employs over 100,000 persons on app. 4,000 production sites often in rural areas, which offer few employment opportunities.

FEDIOL (the EU Oil and Proteinmeal Industry) represents the interests of the European seed and bean crushers, meals producers and vegetable oils producers/processors. FEDIOL members crush 30 million tonnes of oilseeds a year, produce 20 million tonnes of meals and 9 million tonnes of vegetable oils and further process 7 million tonnes of imported oils. There are some 150 oilseeds processing and vegetable oils and fats production facilities across Europe, employing approximately 20 000 people.


Europe facing meat crisis over GM wrangle

- Carl Mortished, The Times (UK), Feb. 14, 2008


Europe is facing a crisis in the supply of meat because of delays and political resistance in Brussels to the use of genetically modified protein in animal feed.

Shortages in grain for animal feed and soaring prices are wreaking havoc in the livestock sector, causing pig and poultry farmers to reduce their output, according to animal feed compounders and livestock associations.

The problem has been identified in an internal European Union report on the effect of EU policy towards the use of GM products in animal feed. A failure by the EU to speed up the approval of GM soya imports will significantly raise meat prices, an outcome that is directly attributable to European policies, the report concludes.

Europe is struggling to find enough vegetable protein to feed its livestock, causing feed prices to rise. The EU imports 80 per cent of its feed protein needs - mainly new traits of GM soya and corn.

Outside Europe, farmers increasingly are turning to GM crop varieties to get better yields, but the speed of the transition is leaving Europe stranded with fewer sources of supply, the European Feed Manufacturers Association (Fefa) said.

The problem is acute and is forcing farmers to cut back on the number of animals they rear, raising the threat of reduced meat supply. "We are looking at the collapse of the livestock industry," Alexander Doring, the association's secretary-general, said.

The emerging crisis over animal feed and meat supply is creating conflict within the European Commission, setting the directorate-general of agriculture against the health and environment directorates, which are responsible for the approval of GM foods.

The row erupted last year when economists in the Commission's agriculture directorate-general produced a report predicting a catastrophic surge in the cost of animal feed if Europe continued to delay the approval of new traits of genetically modified grain. The imported protein feed, mainly soya and corn, is sourced from the United States, Argentina and Brazil. New GM varieties are being developed rapidly, but EU policies have imposed delays of 2 years in the approval of the new GM grains for consumption. Moreover, the EU has adopted a zero-tolerance policy on GM, meaning that a single grain of non-approved GMO in a shipment can render it unfit for use.

A shift by American, Argentinian and Brazilian soya growers to non-EU approved crops would lead to soaring feed prices. On a worst-case scenario, the cost of feed would rise 600 per cent, according to the report Economic impact of unapproved GMOs on EU feed imports and livestock production.

"The short-term impacts in the pig meat and poultry sectors would be a substantial reduction in production, exports and consumption, and a very significant increase in imports," the report said. The cost burden would affect employment and incomes in agriculture and would lead to "significant increases in meat prices for consumers". The threat emerges at a time when demand for grain is acute. Feed prices have doubled in the past year, Tony Bell, of BOCM Pauls, Britain's largest feed compounder, said. But the delays in approving GM traits will worsen the tight cereal market.

The introduction of new GM maize traits in America means that the EU can no longer import it. The extra cost burden on EU farmers is expected to be €3.6billion (£2.6billion) for 2007-08. Poultry producers are facing a separate dilemma in the UK because supermarkets refuse to accept chickens reared on GM feed. "The position of the retailers is unsustainable," Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said.

"Initially, non-GM fed chickens will become much more expensive. They will become scarcer, but eventually they won't be available. We will not be able to supply them," he said.

The risk facing Europe is that its own livestock production will dwindle, Mr Doring said, and it will be forced to import more meat from Latin America and the United States.

The irony, he added, is that these imported animals will have been fed almost exclusively on GM feed: "We are strangling our livestock industry and the EU is increasing imports. The Brazilians are happy, they can sell us chicken fed on GM."


Apex court allows Govt panel to examine field trials of GM crop

- Indian Express, Feb. 14, 2008


NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stop the Government's Genetic Engineering Advisory Committee (GEAC) from examining applications for field trials of Genetically Modified (GM) crops. It, however, asked the panel to include eminent scientists M S Swaminathan and P M Bhargava as special invitees at the time of considering applications, for more "transparency" in its proceedings.

Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan questioned the interest and motive behind the petitions - filed by NGO Gene Campaign and activist Aruna Rodrigues - and sought to know, "how such petitions are filed, we don't understand."

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Rodrigues, raised his hands in despair, moved aside and refused to argue before the Bench. After an apology from Bhushan, the Bench while accepting it asked the advocate to "not to throw tantrum like this. You must answer every query posed by the Bench." It finally took into consideration some of the fears raised by the petitioners.

Agreeing with the submission of Additional Solicitor General B Dutta, who felt the court should stay away from these technical matters, the Bench, also comprising Justices R V Raveendran and J M Panchal, said, "We can't run the GEAC".

The petitioners had alleged that the GEAC, Government's apex regulatory body, was not properly constituted and in the absence of proper safety guidelines, allowing open field trials for the transgenic seeds may lead to contamination of related species. They had also claimed the co-chairman of the panel had conflicting interest as he was on the board of an NGO funded by an MNC involved in the business.

The Bench cautioned Bhushan from making "wholesale" allegations and getting suspicious against the panel members. "The GEAC is a broad-based organisation with so many scientists," it said, referring to the 29-member expert body.

In previous instances too, in the course of the court hearing, the court had refused to take upon itself a closer scrutiny of the workings of the GEAC.

On Wednesday, asking the Environment Ministry to consider inclusion of scientists Swaminathan and Bhargava as "special invitees" at the time of considering applications, the apex court said, "If such persons will be there, there will be transparency. Let them be invited to watch the proceedings."

The petitioner cited a report that Russia has refused to import GM food from India. Unfazed by his submission, the Bench remarked, "Russia, US and Canada have land mass more than our country where millions are suffering due to poverty. We cannot allow millions of us to die of poverty."

The court ensured that it is for the GEAC to examine the applications for approval with the condition that it would accept suggestions of the petitioners. As suggested by advocate Sanjay Parikh, the Bench also ordered that guidelines followed by it while granting permissions should be "disclosed".

The Bench was firm on refusing to vet any decision taken by GEAC, as it maintained, "THe GEAC will examine. It is an expert body. We do not have knowledge about the issue. It is not possible for us to give direction as sought by you to GEAC."


Guest ed. note: See also, "Pressure groups using PILs to get their way," Times of India, Feb. 14, 2008, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Pressure_groups_using_PILs_to_get_their_way/articleshow/2780982.cms


GM firms seeking crop trial secrecy

- Evening Standard (London), Feb. 16, 2008


Biotechnology firms are lobbying the Government to promise greater secrecy for future genetically-modified crop trials, it has emerged.

They are concerned about the cost of the damage likely to be caused by anti-GM activists if the precise locations of fields hosting experiments continue to be made public.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it was concerned by the threat to "legitimate research" and was considering options to reduce the risk of GM crops being vandalised.

Under European law the location of GM crops must be published, but biotech firms want Defra to hold the information on a restricted register or release less specific details, the Guardian newspaper reported.

Julian Little, of GM industry group the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, told the paper: "We've been very clear to Government.

"We have to find a way of reducing the amount of damage you get when you do a field trial in the UK, that's absolutely imperative.

"Our view is we need greater security, or we need to reduce the visibility of the trials."

A Defra spokeswoman said: "We are considering options that would reduce the risk of crops being vandalised. However, at present there are no specific plans to change Government policy in this area."

A report published this week showed the global use of GM crops increased by 12% last year to reach 114 million hectares across 23 countries.


Germany gives green light to label designating 'GM free' foods

- Associated Press via International Herald Tribune, Feb. 15, 2008


BERLIN: Germany's upper house of parliament gave the green light Friday to a new label that will declare foods that contain no genetically modified organisms "GM Free."

Genetically modified foods are a sensitive topic in Germany, where environmental groups contend that many such crops are unsafe for humans and the environment.

Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, has already approved the law, which is expected to go into effect in March.

Under the law, milk, meat, eggs and cheese will earn the "GM free" badge only if animals did not feed upon any genetically modified products. Animals can still bear it, however, if they were exposed to genetically altered vitamins, amino acids and other additives, as long as there were no available alternatives.

EU law already requires that foods containing genetically modified organisms be labeled as such, which has been cause for protest from the U.S. food industry.

The new law also stipulates that genetically modified corn be cultivated at a distance of at least 150 meters (about 500 feet) from unmodified corn and 300 meters (about 1,000 feet) from organic corn.

Already, farmers who cultivate genetically modified corn in Germany are legally responsible for preventing cross-fertilization with other corn fields. German farmers already have plans to cultivate nearly 2,500 acres (more than 1,000 hectares) of the genetically modified corn variety MON810, which is resistant to the "corn borer" pest.


World Food Prize Receives $5 Million Pledge From Monsanto to Honor Norman Borlaug

Commitment to Restore Hall of Laureates - New Home of Annual Borlaug Dialogue

- The World Food Prize Foundation (press release), Feb. 15, 2008


DES MOINES, Iowa -- The World Food Prize Foundation on Friday accepted a $5 million contribution from Monsanto Company to ensure the continuation of the annual World Food Prize International Symposium -- now known as the "Borlaug Dialogue." The funds support a renewed fundraising campaign to transform the historic Des Moines Public Library building into a public museum to honor Dr. Norman Borlaug and the work of the World Food Prize Laureates.

The symbolic donation was made Friday at a press event in the rotunda of the former library. Monsanto President, Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant made the announcement with various state and local officials present. Also present was Julie Borlaug, granddaughter to Dr. Norman Borlaug, who read a statement from her grandfather.

"I am extremely grateful to Monsanto and Hugh Grant for their commitment and am pleased that this magnificent building will serve as a permanent home to carry on the mission and events of the World Food Prize," Dr. Borlaug's statement said.

Monsanto's contribution is meant to ensure that the Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates will become the permanent home of "The Borlaug Dialogue," the World Food Prize's annual symposium on cutting-edge topics of global food security.

Both the building and the symposium are named in honor of the Iowa-born Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his role in saving the lives of upwards of one billion people as the "Father of the Green Revolution." Borlaug founded the World Food Prize in 1986. It has since become informally known as the "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture" and the annual Borlaug Dialogue has come to be seen as one of America's foremost international conferences.

"Agriculture is at the intersection of many of the conversations thought-leaders around the globe are having today," said Grant. "Our contribution will help carry forward Dr. Borlaug's vision of bringing together the global ag community to connect and share information that can make an impact against global hunger, food security and other related issues."

Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, expressed the deepest gratitude of the foundation, Borlaug, and the family of Chairman John Ruan. "With this extraordinarily generous contribution, Monsanto will be officially recognized as a Borlaug Legacy Donor," said Quinn. "This designation is reserved for those organizations or individuals who have committed $5 million dollars or more to ensure that Norman Borlaug will receive the recognition he so richly deserves. Monsanto joins Polk County and the Ruan family in this very special category."

In addition to being the home of the Borlaug Dialogue, the Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates will emphasize the importance of global food security in today's world and will honor Dr. Borlaug, along with the World Food Prize Laureates and Iowa's agricultural and humanitarian pioneers, for their significant contributions to the global fight against hunger and helping feed the world. Open to the public, the Hall of Laureates will serve as a museum to recognize great achievements in agriculture and as an educational facility featuring interactive displays on hunger and food security. It will also house the organization's new national Youth Institute program, and conference and community events for other local groups and organizations.

With the $5 million commitment from Monsanto, the World Food Prize has now secured $19.3 million of the total $29.8 million needed to complete the project. The Norman Borlaug Hall of Laureates is scheduled to be completed in 2010.

The World Food Prize was founded by Dr. Norman E. Borlaug in 1986 to recognize and inspire breakthrough achievements in improving the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world. Laureates have been recognized from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, Denmark, India, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and the United States. In 1990, Des Moines businessman and philanthropist John Ruan assumed sponsorship of The Prize and established The World Food Prize Foundation, located in Des Moines, Iowa.


Biofuel: Gene scientists find secret to oil yield from corn

- PhysOrg.com, Feb. 17, 2008


Agricultural scientists in the United States have identified a key gene that determines oil yield in a corn, a finding that could have repercussions for the fast-expanding biofuels industry.

The gene lies on Chromosome 6 of the maize genome, according to a paper published on Sunday by Nature Genetics.

It encodes a catalysing enzyme called DGAT1-2, which carries out the final step in the plant's oil-making process.

In addition, a tiny amino acid variant within this gene can boost the yield of oil and oleic acid -- the sought-after edible fat in corn -- by up to 41 percent and 107 percent respectively.

The paper, written by a team from the US chemicals and agribusiness giant DuPont, was based on a comparison of 71 strains of maize whose oil content ranged from low to high.

DGAT is "a promising target for increasing oil and oleic-acid contents in other crops," say the authors, led by Bo Shen of DuPont unit Pioneer Hi-Bred International, in Johnston, Iowa.

Present-generation biofuels are derived from food crops such as corn, sugar cane and soybeans.

Initially viewed as an environmentally-friendly alternative with no geopolitical risk compared with dirty fossil fuels, biofuels are now under attack as some unintended consequences emerge.

The impacts include higher prices in the global food market as more fields are devoted to growing fuel rather than food, and the destruction of forests in Brazil and Indonesia as land is cleared for fuel crops.

Scientists are looking at ways of boosting output from existing biofuel crops by adding the promise a higher yield in oil. Proposed methods include classic cross-breeding as well as genetic engineering, a technology that remains fiercely opposed in some countries.

Another avenue of exploration for biofuel production is in non-food fibrous plants and cellulose materials, such as switchgrass, wood chips and straw. But these novel sources, hampered by costs and technical complications, are struggling to reach commercial scale.

Global biofuel production tripled from 4.8 billion gallons (18.16 billion litres) in 2000 to about 16 billion gallons (60.56 billion litres) in 2007, but still accounts for less than three percent of the global transport fuel supply, according to US Department of Agriculture figures.


New gene detection technology made from self-assembling DNA

- Joe Caspermeyer, Research Magazine (Arizona State University), Jan. 14, 2008


Scientists at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute have developed the world's first gene detection platform made up entirely from self-assembled DNA nanostructures. The results, appearing in the January 11 issue of the journal Science, could have broad implications for gene chip technology and may also revolutionize the way in which gene expression is analyzed in a single cell.

"We are starting with the most well-known structure in biology, DNA, and applying it as a nano-scale building material," says Hao Yan, a member of the institute's Center for Single Molecule Biophysics and an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

Yan is a researcher in the fast-moving field known as structural DNA nanotechnology - that assembles the molecule of life into a variety of nanostructures with a broad range of applications from human health to nanoelectronics.

Yan led an interdisciplinary ASU team to develop a way to use structural DNA nanotechnology to target the chemical messengers of genes, called RNA.

The team included: lead author and chemistry and biochemistry graduate student Yonggang Ke; assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry Yan Liu; Center for Single Molecule Biophysics director and physics professor Stuart Lindsay; and associate professor in the School of Life Sciences, Yung Chang.

"This is one of the first practical applications of a powerful technology, that, till now, has mainly been the subject of research demonstrations," says Lindsay.

"The field of structural DNA nanotechnology has recently seen much exciting progress from constructing geometrical and topological nanostructures through tile based DNA self-assembly initially demonstrated by Ned Seeman, Erik Winfree and colleagues," says Yan.

A recent breakthrough of making spatially addressable DNA nanoarrays came from Paul Rothemund's work on scaffolded DNA origami, a method in which a long, single-stranded viral DNA scaffold can be folded and stapled by a large number of short synthetic "helper strands" into nanostructures that display complex patterns.

"But the potential of structural DNA nanotechnology in biological applications has been underestimated, and if we look at the process of DNA self-assembly, you will be amazed that trillions of DNA nanostructures can form simultaneously in a solution of few microliters, and very importantly, they are biocompatible and water soluble," says Yan.

DNA chip and microarray technology have become a multi-billion dollar industry as scientists use it to examine thousands of genes at the same time for mutations or uncovering clues to disease. However, because DNA probes are pinned to the solid surface of the microarray chips, it is a relatively slow process for the targets to search and find the probes. Also, it is hard to control the distances between the probes with nanometer accuracy.

"In this work, we developed a water-soluble nanoarray that can take advantage of the DNA self-assembling process and also have benefits that the macroscopic DNA microchip arrays do not have," says Yan. "The arrays themselves are reagents, instead of solid surface chips."

To make the DNA origami RNA probes, Yan has taken advantage of the basic pairing rules in the DNA chemical alphabet ("A" can only form a chemical bond with "T" and "G" can only pair with "C"). By controlling the exact position and location of the chemical bases within a synthetic replica of DNA, Yan programmed a single-stranded genomic DNA, M13, into nanotiles to contain the probes for specific gene expression targets.

Yan refers to the self-assembled DNA nanoarrays as nucleic acid probe tiles, which look like a nanosized postage stamp. In a single step, the M13 scaffold system can churn out as many as 100 trillion of the tiles with close to 100 percent yield.

Yan's team designed three different DNA probe tiles to detect three different RNA genes along with a bar code index to tell the tiles apart from each other. "Each probe can be distinguished by its own bar code, so we mixed them together in one solution and we used this for multiplex detection," says Yan. The group uses a powerful instrument, an atomic force microscope (AFM), which allows the researchers to image the tiles at the single molecule level.

On the surface of each DNA probe tile is a dangling single-stranded piece of DNA that can bind to the RNA target of interest. "Each probe actually contains two half probes, so when the target RNA comes in, it will hybridize to the half probes and turn the single-stranded dangling probes into a stiff structure," says Yan. "When it is stiffened, it will be sensed by the atomic force microscope cantilever, and you can see a bright line, which is a height increase. The result is a mechanical, label-free detection."

The technology is able to detect minute quantities of RNA. "Since the DNA-RNA hybridization has such a strong affinity, in principle, a single molecule would be able to hybridize to the probe tile," says Yan.

Although there are still many technical hurdles yet to overcome, the group is excited about the potential applications of the technology. "What our approach provides is that the probe tiles are a water-soluble reagent, so the sample volume can potentially be shrunk down to the volume of a single cell level. Our ultimate goal is to detect RNA gene expression at the single cell level," says Yan.


Salmonella Fertilizer Sparks Lawsuit, Worries over Tainted Produce

- NewsInferno, Feb. 15, 2008


Salmonella has allegedly been found in organic fertilizer, leading to a lawsuit and concerns that the salmonella-tainted fertilizer could contaminate fruits and vegetables being sold to consumers. In a suit filed February 6th in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California, the Oceano Packing Company is suing True Organic Products and Western Farm Service for selling fertilizer contaminated by salmonella. The lawsuit came after three unrelated Oceano customers reported finding salmonella in Oceano crops.

True Organic and Western Farm are being sued for negligence, breach of express and implied warranty of fitness, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unfair competition, and for allegedly violating the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. Adopted as part of the 1990 Farm Bill, the Act states that any agricultural product labeled or represented as 100 percent organic must be produced in accordance with federal guidelines and requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) establish national standards governing the marketing of certain agricultural products as organically produced; assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent standard; and facilitate interstate commerce in organically produced fresh and processed food.

According to the lawsuit, salmonella has already been found in crops in which contaminated fertilizer tainted the products. It is unknown if these crops have been released to the public and how many crops were affected. The results are unimaginable given that the tainted fertilizer would likely also contaminate livestock and run-off into water supplies and other crops.

The complaint also alleges that Western Farm engaged in criminal conversion and defamed Oceano, that Western Farm representatives entered Oceano's property in January without permission, removing items, mostly chemicals. The complaint also alleges Western Farm represented to third parties that Oceano does not pay its trade debts in a timely manner.

During the 2007 growing season, Oceano contacted Western Farm, a California company, for its recommendation on a fertilizer. Western recommended a fertilizer known as "true 10-5-2," manufactured by True Organic Products. Oceano, which claims to have conducted its own investigation, states the fertilizer was the source of salmonella contamination.

Salmonellosis is an infection emerging from Salmonella and is usually passed from the feces of people or animals to other people or animals. Most people infected with Salmonellosis develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours following infection. Many different kinds of illnesses can cause these symptoms; determining Salmonella requires laboratory tests to identify the bacteria in the stools of an infected person. Once identified, testing can determine the specific type of Salmonella and which antibiotics treat it. Salmonellosis lasts a week and most people recover without treatment; however, in some, diarrhea may be so severe hospitalization is required and the infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other body sites. Without treatment, severe cases can result in death. Some bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, largely due to the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals. A small number of persons infected will develop pains in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination - a condition called Reiter's syndrome - which can last for months or years and can lead to chronic arthritis; antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person later develops arthritis.


Ray Wu, Cornell's acclaimed pioneer of genetic engineering and developer of widely grown, hardy rice, dies at 79

- Cornell University (press release), Feb. 14, 2008


Ray J. Wu, Cornell professor of molecular biology and genetics, who was widely recognized as one of the fathers of plant genetic engineering, from which sprang the development of widely grown rice plants resistant to pests, drought and salt, died at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca Feb. 10. He was 79.

The cause of death was cardiac arrest.

In 1970 Wu developed the first method for sequencing DNA and some of the fundamental tools for DNA cloning (sequencing involves determining the base sequence in a DNA molecule). After several innovative modifications by other scientists to greatly speed up the process, the same strategy is still being used today, and led to the DNA sequence determination of the entire genomes of rice and human, among other organisms -- helping scientists to understand different genetic traits.

Born in China and educated in the United States, Wu was a scientific adviser to the governments of both China and Taiwan. As such he exerted great influence on U.S.-Chinese cooperation in biological science and education.

At Cornell, in 1999 he committed to a gift of $500,000 to establish the Ray Wu Graduate Fellowship in Molecular Biology and Genetics to support a first-year graduate student. He funded the gift over the next five years to create a permanent endowment to support one graduate student each year in the field of molecular biology and genetics.

Following his pioneering work in the 1980s on the development of efficient transformation systems for rice, Wu and his group genetically engineered rice plants resistant to pests, drought and salt. A gene from the potato, called proteinase inhibitor II (or PIN-II), caused the rice plants to produce a protein that interferes with the digestive process of the pink stem borer, causing the insect to eat less, thus reducing plant damage. In a second study, a barley gene enabled rice plants to produce a protein that makes them salt- and drought-resistant so that they grow in saline conditions and recover quickly from dry conditions.

A third study increased temperature stress tolerance by introducing the bacterial gene for trehalose (sugar) synthesis into widely planted rice varieties. Wu and his colleagues said the strategy could enhance stress tolerance for other crops, including corn, wheat, millet, soybeans and sugar cane.

Wu joined the Cornell faculty in 1966, as an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, became a professor in 1972, and in 2004 was named a Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor Molecular Biology and Genetics. He served as department chair (1976-1978) in CornellÕs Section of Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology. Prior to joining the Cornell faculty, he was a Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Fellow, working under Efraim Racker, at the Public Health Research Institute of the City of New York. He has also worked at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania. He was a National Science Foundation Senior Fellow at the Medical Research Council Laboratory in Cambridge, England, and a visiting associate professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

While on sabbatical leave from Cornell in 1989, Wu was director of the Institute of Molecular Biology of Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan. He also served as an honorary professor and later as an adjunct professor at Peking University.

Wu founded the China-United States Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Examination and Application program, which from 1982 to 1989, brought over 400 of the top Chinese students to the U.S. for graduate training, and produced more than 100 faculty members in major universities or key members in industry. These scientists, with colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, formed the Ray Wu Society to promote life sciences frontiers.

Among other advisory roles to both the Chinese and Taiwanese governments, Wu was instrumental in establishing the Institute of Molecular Biology, the Institute of Bioagricultural Sciences of Academia Sinica in Taiwan, and the National Institute of Biological Sciences in Beijing, and he held several honorary professorships at Chinese universities and research institutes.

Wu was elected a fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in 2003; and elected a fellow in the Chinese Academy of Engineering. He was given the prestigious Frank Annunzio Award in Science and Technology in 2002, which is presented by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation.

Between 1982 and 1995 he served as scientific adviser to the China National Center for Biotechnology Development; chairman, Scientific Advisory Committee of the Institute of BioAgricultural Sciences, Taiwan; chairman, Advisory Committee to the Transgenic Plant Program, National Science Council, Taiwan, and chairman, Board of Scientific Advisers of the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.

Born in Beijing on Aug. 14, 1928, Wu came to the United States in 1948 at the urging of his father who at the time was attending professional meetings in San Francisco. He earned his bachelorÕs degree in chemistry from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, in 1950; and then earned his doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955. Wu became a naturalized United States citizen in February 1961.

He is survived by his wife, Christina, and two children, Albert Wu '80, M.D. '84, and Alice Wu '82, M.S. '86, and three grandchildren.

Ray Wu 'set the highest standard for all his colleagues'

This week, tributes to Ray Wu came from his many colleagues and collaborators across the Cornell campus. Volker M. Vogt, professor of molecular biology and genetics, said: "He was well known and appreciated by legions of admirers and friends, both at Cornell and abroad. Ray was a pioneer in recombinant DNA technology and in genetic engineering of plants.

"For many years and continuing to the present, Ray and his collaborators worked successfully to develop genetically modified strains of rice that are tolerant to drought- and salt-stress, in order to help feed the large fraction of humanity that depends on rice as a staple food. His commitment to this goal was unwavering. Ray also served as a scientific adviser to the governments of both mainland China and Taiwan, and he exerted great influence on U.S.-Chinese cooperation in biological science and education. He became a revered figure in universities and research institutes of those countries. In the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Ray's thoughtful advice and even-tempered judgment were hallmarks by which he will long be remembered. His 'can do' attitude toward solving both scientific and human relationship problems, always with respect for others and without anger or prejudice, set the highest standard for all of his colleagues.

"In generosity of spirit Ray was unmatched. His personal donations to help support or honor Chinese or Chinese-American graduate students in the department and at Cornell were a manifestation of this generosity. In unselfishly giving so much of himself in all of his endeavors, Ray truly left a mark. His colleagues and friends in the department, at Cornell, and all over the world will miss him greatly."

Elizabeth Earle, professor of plant breeding and genetics, said: "I will always remember Ray's personal kindness, including sending me photographs he had taken of me and my family at a recent event. He attended many plant breeding seminars, sitting in the first row and taking careful notes. It was impressive to see such a distinguished senior scientist interested in the work of graduate students and always looking forward."

Susan McCouch, professor of plant breeding and genetics, said: "Ray Wu was a gentleman and a scholar. He will be fondly remembered by his many friends, colleagues and students for his devotion to rice research, his enthusiasm for new knowledge and his mentoring of a generation of young scientists. He made enormous contributions to the development of rice transformation systems that are widely used to address crop production constraints throughout the rice-growing world. I am particularly grateful to him for support and guidance during my graduate studies at Cornell and for his friendship and collegiality throughout my own career. I will miss seeing him sitting in the front row of our weekly seminars but am comforted by the memory of his thin, erect frame walking unaided up until the last days of his life, his alert eyes and kind smile."

Wu's longtime collaborator Arjay Garg, a senior research associate, said: "His untiring help, generosity and legacy will remain with us forever. We had a vision and a commitment to see that the research results are of benefit globally. I'm very grateful to him for providing me an excellent opportunity to work at Cornell, and contribute to transgenic rice research."

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