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March 6, 2008


Global R&D initiative; Cane, eggplant, papaya, corn in pipeline; Transgenesis gentler than mutagenesis


* A Global R&D Initiative to Avoid Crisis
* GM eggplant, papaya seen in 2 yrs
* Brazil GMO Cane Research Advances
* Origin's Seeds Approved Throughout China
* DuPont Innovation to Increase Yields, Simplify Compliance
* YaSheng Set to Expand Ag Biotech R&D
* Prospects for Engineering Insect-Resistant Plants
* Mutagenesis may induce more changes than transgene insertion


Agriculture for Sustainable Economic Development: A Global R&D Initiative to Avoid a Deep and Complex Crisis

- Joachim von Braun, Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture, Feb. 28, 2008



World agriculture has entered a new, unsustainable, and politically risky period. Agriculture - and the natural resources it depends on - has been overexploited ecologically, has suffered from underinvestment, has recently been exposed to ill-designed bioenergy programs, and has been politically sidelined for too long. It is now at a critical point. Appropriate responses to the food and agriculture price and productivity crises are lacking. A global initiative for accelerated agriculture productivity is necessary now; such an initiative makes economic sense, is pro-poor and sustainable, and serves security. The initiative needs political leadership and coordination. There is no effective governance architecture at the global level and national levels to address the matter. Industrialized economies, including the United States, should substantially accelerate their investment in international agricultural research and development (R&D) in cooperation with new players.

[see link above for full text; .pdf, 17 pp.]


Comm'l production of GM eggplant, papaya seen in 2 yrs

- Rudy A. Fernandez, The Philippines Star, Mar. 2, 2008


LOS BAŅOS, Laguna - Within two years, the Philippines will be a commercial producer of genetically modified (GM) eggplant and papaya.

This is the timetable of studies being done at the University of the Philippines Los Baņos-Institute of Plant Breeding (UPLB-IPB).

In a 1.5-hectare fenced field experimental area within the sprawling UPLB complex, GM eggplants are lushly growing while biotech papaya plants have just been transplanted.

The progress of the project was assessed during a recent field day by representatives of international and national agencies supporting it, members of the research sector, and journalists, including this writer.

Among those present were Dr. Clive James, chairman of the New York-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA); Dr. Randy Hautea, ISAAA global coordinator; Dr. Frank Shotkoski, director of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP) II-Southeast Asia; Executive Director Patricio Faylon of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD); UPLB vice chancellor Enrico Supangco; and UPLB-IPB officials led by Director Jose Hernandez.

The research on eggplant is being undertaken by UPLB-IPB in partnership with the Indian Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd. (Mahyco). It is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through ABSP II, EMERGE, and ISAAA.

Mahyco has developed a high-resistant biotech eggplant with help from Monsanto Co. These eggplant lines have been used as source of the protection of biotech eggplants in India, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.

Dr. Desiree Hautea of UPLB-IPB told this writer in an interview that the eggplants were transplanted inside the fenced field last Dec. 21.

The seeds from the eggplants to be harvested will be used in the subsequent multi-location trials, which constitute the next phase of the multi-stage research process.

The first phase was the seedling establishment inside a greenhouse.

The first trial in the two-season multi-location experiments will be done in three to four selected areas in Luzon. The second will be conducted in about 10 sites in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The GM eggplant is expected to be commercialized by 2010 upon approval by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI).

The new plant type is projected to be the answer to the fruit and shoot borer (FSB), the most destructive pest attacking eggplant in Asia. In the Philippines, for instance, losses from FSB range from 51 to 73 percent. To date, there is no FSB-resistant commercial eggplant variety.

Eggplant is now the country's top vegetable crop, covering about 20,000 hectares and yielding annually 179,000 tons valued at about P2 billion.

The same process will be followed for the biotech papaya.

The papaya plants were transplanted last Feb. 8 and are expected to be harvested by November or December 2008, Dr. Pablito Magdalita told this writer.

This will be followed by the multi-location trials in Luzon and in the Visayas, and eventually the commercialization.

The new plant type is resistant to papaya ringspot virus (PRSV), which has been the scourge of the papaya industry since it was first discovered in Silang, Cavite, in 1982. It has since spread to other parts of the country, except Mindanao.

Infected papaya plants have stunted growth and produced deformed fruits with concentric rings on the skin surface. Eventually, the plants die.

A flagship biotech program of PCARRD, the papaya research is a collaborative effort with ISAAA, ABSI II, USAID, the UPLB-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), and Program for Biosafety Systems.


Brazil GMO Cane Research Advances, Waits For OK

- Inae Riveras, Reuters via PlanetArk, Mar. 5, 2008


SAO PAULO - Sugar cane genetically modified for greater ethanol and sugar production could be developed in three to five years but strict Brazil biotechnology regulation could keep it off the market for as much as seven years, companies said on Tuesday.

Scientists are field-testing GMO cane varieties with higher sucrose yields than conventional ones, said Brazilian leading biotech companies Alellyx Applied Genomics and Sugarcane Technology Center (CTC).

"At this point, (the GMO cane) is more a regulatory issue than a scientific issue" said Paulo Arruda, scientific director at Alellyx Applied Genomics, developer of a variety being tested in the fields.

"If there are no major regulation setbacks, our target is to launch our first (commercial) variety in 2013-2014," Arruda said in a workshop promoted by sugar analyst F.O. Licht.

Brazil cleared commercial use of GMO soybean and cotton after passing a biosafety law in 2005, but it has taken until February 2008 to approve any other genetically modified agricultural product.

Last month Brazil's National Biosafety Council (CNBS) gave the final clearange for two varieties of transgenic corn for commercial use. Many other products have been waiting approval for years.

Ethanol derived from sugar cane has helped Brazil reduce its dependence on gasoline as a motor fuel.

The Alellyx genetically modified sugar cane program is focused not only in developing cane with a higher sucrose yield, but also with increased biomass and resistant to herbicides and insects and to drought.

The company, which has an agreement with US biotech giant Monsanto, is especially interested in supplying GMO cane for Brazil's new cane frontier.

"Most of Brazil's new cane areas are degraded pastures, where pluviometric levels are lower than traditional cane producing areas," Arruda said, explaining the importance of drought resistant varieties.

"We'd be happy if technology allows us to have 10-15 percent higher yields given the adverse conditions," he said.

Brazil's Sugarcane Technology Center (CTC) also sees regulatory aspects as the main barrier for GMO cane progress in Brazil rather than technical aspects.

"In three to five years it'd be possible for us to have available varieties (if regulation was okay)," Jaime Finguerut, industrial strategic development manager at CTC, told Reuters in the sidelines of the workshop.

Through the use of existing varieties, it's possible to raise conventional cane yields currently by around 2 percent per year. With GMO cane it would be possible to double this growth, Finguerut said.

But Arruda, from Alellyx, said government approval of GMO cane varieties should be simpler than other crops like soy or corn, which took years to be accepted in Brazil, as cane is not used directly as food.

About half of Brazil's almost 500 million tonne cane crop is turned into ethanol. Sugar, which accounts for the rest of the crop, does not contain any DNA or protein to be considered as a GMO product.


Origin's New Corn Hybrid Seeds Approved in Provinces Throughout China

Company Continues to Accumulates Hybrid Seed Germplasm

Local Germplasm Facilitate GMO Products

- Origin Agritech, Ltd. (press release), Mar. 4, 2008


BEIJING--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Origin Agritech Limited (NASDAQ GS: SEED) ("Origin"), a leading technology-focused supplier of crop seeds and agri-biotech research in China, today announced it has approved five new corn hybrid varieties for its product line for distribution during the next sales season in provinces throughout Central and West China. The company now has over 50 total corn hybrids approved for sale throughout China and its revenues consisted of 74.4% revenues from corn seed in 2007.

The new corn seed products include Ao Yu 1, Ao Yu 2, Ao Yu 5, Ao Yu 7, and Li Yu 35 approved in Xinjiang, Gansu, Shanxi, Sichuan and Shandong provinces separately, and should provide increased product coverage for our company throughout China. This marks the company's 10th year of their own internal breeding program.

Of the new products, we are excited to announce the acceptance of Li Yu 35 in Shandong province, which remains an important corn growing area in China. The Shandong province is second only to the Jilin province in corn production with 17.4 million tons of annual production to Jilin's 18.0 million tons of production. Li Yu 35 was also approved in Hebei, Henan, Shanxi, Anhui, and Tianjin.

Liang Yuan, co-Chief Executive Officer of Origin Agritech, commented, "Our accumulated hybrid germplasm from our conventional breeding techniques forms a base for our next generation, genetically developed seed. Our strategy continues to be to accumulate our local hybrid seeds to facilitate our genetically modified product line. This should not only add to our hybrid products for us in the near term, but provides a wider base to build upon and grow our genetically modified products in the long term."

The seed variety approval process is one of the most stringent regulatory requirements in all of China. The approval requires the applicant to undergo two growing seasons of monitored growth in at least five different locations in the region. Seeds submitted for testing are planted together with control seeds, which are typically the most popular seeds in the testing regions. Only seeds that have an increased yield of 8% or higher versus the control seeds, and that rank in the top six among all seeds being tested are cleared to proceed to the second year of testing. When successful, the approval is granted.


DuPont Innovation to Increase Corn Yields, Simplify Compliance

Optimum AcreMax New Insect Protection System Introduced to U.S. Farmers

- Pioneer HiBred (press release), Mar. 4, 2008


NASHVILLE, Tenn.- DuPont business, Pioneer Hi-Bred, today introduced the first "in-the-bag" seed refuge system to farmers during Commodity Classic, the industry's premier agricultural trade show and convention.

The new insect protection system, Optimum AcreMax, will provide corn growers with improved productivity by increasing the number of acres farmers can plant to the industry's most advanced insect control options. The first phase of Optimum AcreMax insect protection will be launched as early as 2009, pending regulatory approval. The system will eliminate the need for farmers to plant separate corn borer and corn rootworm refuges with their Pioneer brand Bt corn hybrids.

"Pioneer is using innovation and science, and the strongest traits in the industry, to give U.S. growers a superior solution to protect crops from yield-robbing insect damage" said Frank Ross, Pioneer vice president, North America Operations. "For the first time, farmers will be able to plant all their acres with a single product that satisfies refuge requirements"

The Optimum AcreMax system is made possible through the industry-leading insect control technology of Herculex XTRA, which not only provides the most effective control of corn rootworm, but is also highly effective against above ground insects including corn borer, western bean cutworm and black cutworm.

"The Optimum AcreMax system will help farmers as soon as next year -- well ahead of any of our competitors" said Bill Niebur, DuPont vice president, Crop Genetics Research and Development. "And each generation of the Optimum AcreMax system will build on the last, bringing farmers greater convenience, yield potential and efficacy"

Optimum AcreMax 1 Insect Protection

Pioneer plans to launch the first phase of the system, Optimum AcreMax 1 insect protection in 2009, pending regulatory approval. Optimum AcreMax 1 will eliminate the need for a farmer to plant a separate corn rootworm refuge. Pending regulatory approval, the first phase will be a combination of a base hybrid with the Herculex XTRA trait and that same base hybrid with the Herculex I trait, all in the same bag. This approach would reduce the need to plant a separate rootworm refuge and increase the number of acres planted to the industry's best below ground pest protection.

All of the seeds will be glyphosate and glufosinate tolerant and treated with an insecticidal seed treatment that protects the seed from secondary below-ground insect pests.

Earlier this week, DuPont reached a milestone in the commercialization of Optimum AcreMax 1 with the formal submission of its regulatory dossier to the EPA.

"We're confident our scientific and field trial data supports the approval of our novel approach to more effectively manage insect pests in corn" said Niebur.

Optimum AcreMax 2 Insect Protection

Beginning as soon as 2011, Pioneer plans to introduce the next generation of its integrated insect protection program Optimum AcreMax 2 insect protection. Optimum AcreMax 2 will combine the YieldGard corn borer gene with Herculex XTRA, providing two modes of action for above ground pests. This addition will extend the integrated refuge strategy to include corn borer and allow growers to meet all of their refuge requirements with a single product. Pending EPA approval, this approach will result in a low level refuge integrated in the product mix to increase yields, simplify compliance, extend the durability of the traits and completely eliminate the need for a separate block or strip refuge.

Expanding Protection for Growers

DuPont recently announced a trait access agreement with Syngenta for its MIR162 trait that allows Pioneer to commercialize a unique product solution for farmers dealing with secondary insect pests. The MIR162 trait will be integrated into future insect protection products to provide a second, and in some cases, third mode of action for above ground pests such as corn ear worm, southwestern corn borer, western bean and black cutworm, fall army worm and sugarcane borer. Pending regulatory approval, this advanced insect control system will allow corn farmers in the South to plant more of their acres to Bt corn - increasing their overall yields and productivity and simplifying their farm operations. This combination of technologies could also provide an expanded insect control solution for farmers in other countries.


YaSheng Set to Expand Agricultural Biotechnology R&D Spending Along With China Trends

- Yasheng Group (press release), Mar. 4, 2008


REDWOOD CITY, CA - The YaSheng Group (PINKSHEETS: YHGG) over the past 10 years has expanded Agricultural Biotechnology R&D spending following suit with China's National Trends. YaSheng Group is leading the way in Northwest China in R&D through their Educational Institutes and high-tech R&D Growing Centers. As the company implements its international expansion plans, past and future investment into R&D will continue to fuel future growth.

"Chinese set to quadruple Agricultural Biotechnology spending"

An article published March 16, 2007 in The Financial Times of London, by Salamander Davoudiin, best reflects YaSheng's Past and Future R&D plans in their agriculture sector. By 2010, the Chinese government is expected to more than quadruple its spending on biotechnology as part of its strategy to improve national food safety and health standards.

"Spending on biotechnology is expected to increase fivefold," said Zhang Liang Chen, president of the Agricultural University of China.

Jikun Huang, director of the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy in Beijing, said spending on agricultural biotechnology was due to at least double, although the budget for the next five years had yet to be finalized. "There will be a substantial increase in investment in biotechnology, especially agricultural biotechnology," Huang said. China already accounts for 20% of global investment in R&D focused on agriculture and biotechnology. According to Mr. Huang, the Chinese government spent $200M on agricultural biotechnology in 2003, an amount that has since doubled. China's population currently stands at 1.3B, or about 20% of the world's total population. By 2020, it is expected to climb to 1.5B. Yet, the country claims only 7% of the world's total arable land.

YaSheng Group has invested significant capital into agricultural R&D over the past 5 years. This investment, in conjunction with drought & insect resistant strains, and advanced drip irrigation has increased production of Hops, Potato, Corn, Seedlings, and Fruit crops. These improvements have helped secure new long term contracts with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Tingzhou, Yanying, and other major companies. YaSheng will continue to invest in Agricultural Biotechnology over the next 5 years to continue this upward trend.

"Establishing the ability to produce foods that meet all international and domestic demands remains a key focus of the company," says Chairman Zhou Cheng Sheng. "With the demands for Natural Organics on the rise given the conflicts revolving around genetically modified foods, food quality safety, and the need to feed a large population we must diversify our growing methods to ensure long term stability," added Sheng.

YaSheng Group has many projects that will come on-line over the next two years. "Part of their strategy is to keep a regular cycle of new and innovative projects on-line as old business cycles retire. This modernization effort will replace the obsolete and continue the growth and viability of the company," adds Chairman Zhou. "This will be best reflected in the second half of our 5 & 10 year expansion plan," said Zhou.

YaSheng Group continues to restructure from traditional business lines while focusing on profitable products as part of its preparation for International Restructuring, U.S. Public Listing, and the Global Expansion Plan.


Biotechnological Prospects for Engineering Insect-Resistant Plants

- John A. Gatehouse, Plant Physiology 146:881-887, 2008


Insect-resistant crops have been one of the major successes of applying plant genetic engineering technology to agriculture; cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) resistant to lepidopteran larvae (caterpillars) and maize (Zea mays) resistant to both lepidopteran and coleopteran larvae (rootworms) have become widely used in global agriculture and have led to reductions in pesticide usage and lower production costs (Toenniessen et al., 2003Go; Brookes and Barfoot, 2005Go).

The source of the insecticidal toxins produced in commercial transgenic plants is the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Bt strains show differing specificities of insecticidal activity toward pests, and constitute a large reservoir of genes encoding insecticidal proteins, which are accumulated in the crystalline inclusion bodies produced by the bacterium on sporulation (Cry proteins, Cyt proteins) or expressed during bacterial growth (Vip proteins). The three-domain Cry proteins have been extensively studied; their mechanism of action involves a proteolytic activation step, which occurs in the insect gut after ingestion, followed by interaction of one or both of domains II and III with "receptors" on the surface of cells of the insect gut epithelium. This interaction leads to oligomerization of the protein, and domain I is then responsible for the formation of an open channel through the cell membrane (Bravo et al., 2007Go). The resulting ionic leakage destroys the cell, leading to breakdown of the gut, bacterial proliferation, and insect death.

However, not all pests are adequately targeted by the Bt toxins used at present, and there is still a need to develop solutions to specific problems, such as resistance to sap-sucking pests and pests of stored products. This Update will review some developments to the basic Bt strategy and selected alternative methods for engineering insect resistance.

[full article continues at link above]


Microarray analyses reveal that plant mutagenesis may induce more transcriptomic changes than transgene insertion

- Rita Batista, et. al., Proceedings of the national academy of sciences, Vol. 105, No. 9, Mar. 4, 2008


Controversy regarding genetically modified (GM) plants and their potential impact on human health contrasts with the tacit acceptance of other plants that were also modified, but not considered as GM products (e.g., varieties raised through conventional breeding such as mutagenesis). What is beyond the phenotype of these improved plants? Should mutagenized plants be treated differently from transgenics? We have evaluated the extent of transcriptome modification occurring during rice improvement through transgenesis versus mutation breeding. We used oligonucleotide microarrays to analyze gene expression in four different pools of four types of rice plants and respective controls: (i) a {gamma}-irradiated stable mutant, (ii) the M1 generation of a 100-Gy {gamma}-irradiated plant, (iii) a stable transgenic plant obtained for production of an anticancer antibody, and (iv) the T1 generation of a transgenic plant produced aiming for abiotic stress improvement, and all of the unmodified original genotypes as controls. We found that the improvement of a plant variety through the acquisition of a new desired trait, using either mutagenesis or transgenesis, may cause stress and thus lead to an altered expression of untargeted genes. In all of the cases studied, the observed alteration was more extensive in mutagenized than in transgenic plants. We propose that the safety assessment of improved plant varieties should be carried out on a case-by-case basis and not simply restricted to foods obtained through genetic engineering.

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