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April 8, 2008


USAID cuts to CGIAR support; Salt-tolerant gene; Germs Eat Antibiotics


USAID cuts to CGIAR support; Salt-tolerant gene; Germs Eat Antibiotics

* Japanese Miller To Buy Biotech Corn
* Petition: USAID cuts to CGIAR support
* Salt-tolerant gene found
* Germs in Soil Eat Antibiotics
* Huge virulence gene superfamily
* Bt Resistance in Sugarcane Borer
* Effects of Refuge Transgenes on Bt Resistance
* Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab2 for Control of Lepidopteran Pests
* Bt Control of Western Bean Cutworm
* Product: I Love You Magic Beanstalk


USGC: Major Japanese Wet Miller To Buy Biotech Corn For Food Production

- Cattle Network, Apr. 3, 2008


WASHINGTON, D.C. - According to an article in a Japanese trade paper, "Daily Feed News" dated March 27, a major Japanese wet miller, Kato Kagaku Co., Ltd. (also known as Kato Chemical) will start accepting non-segregated commodity corn to use for production. The company buys corn for production of starch, sweeteners supplied to beer breweries, soft drink manufacturers and various processed foods used in industry sectors. Since 2000, Kato Chemical has been buying non-genetically modified corn via an identity preserved (IP) handling system. According to Hiroko Sakashita, associate director of USGC's Tokyo office, several factors influenced the company's decision to purchase genetically modified (GM) corn.

"The decision came as a result of high crude oil prices and the rapid growth of corn-derived alternative fuels," she said. "Such circumstances have invited higher corn prices and a partial shift of IP corn growers to higher-yield GM corn," she added.

Kato Chemical explained its reasons for purchasing biotech corn to its major customers before publicly announcing its decision last week. The company cited prospects of an even tighter supply of non-GM corn and anticipated difficulties getting IP corn exclusively, as reasons for its decision. Kato Chemical's announcement reflects decisions being made by other industrial corn processors in Japan.

"Kato Chemical's purchase was simply a business decision based on economics and the raw material needs of the processor," said Mike Callahan, USGC director of overseas operations for Asia. "Some - but not all - Japanese corn processors have decided to 'supplement' some of their raw material requirements with GM corn, but among most industrial corn processors there is still demand for IP, non-GM corn," he said.

In the past, Kato Chemical has actively participated in Council programs and meetings regarding value enhanced grain (VEG) and biotech products. In almost every year since 2000, the company has joined a fact-finding team which has visited the United States in an effort to learn more about corn supply, development, and the benefits of innovative technology. In 2007, the Japanese wet milling sector bought 3.4 million metric tons (1.3 billion bushels) of corn. Buyers purchased 3.511 million tons (138 million bushes) in 2006 and 3.512 million tons (13.8 million bushels) in 2005. The United States enjoys an over 97 percent market share in the Japanese corn sector.


USAID cuts to CGIAR support

- Jeff Bennetzen, Giles Professor, Member, US National Academy of Sciences University of Georgia (petition)


To Interested Congressional Partners and USAID Administrators:

The undersigned are all US scientists who are deeply concerned about the fate of an exceptionally important component of the world agriculture research infrastructure, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). As you are aware, the CGIAR centers were leading players in the first green revolution that increased worldwide food production dramatically in the second half of the last century. The CGIAR centers continue to provide the translational research, improved crop and livestock varieties, and training for developing world agricultural scientists that have been critical to the maintenance and improvement of food production in the poorest nations on earth. These gains have been accomplished despite dramatic losses of land to desertification, lowered soil fertility, political turmoil, and global climactic change. As a group, we are convinced that the CGIAR centers are absolutely essential to continued advances in world food production and we are concerned with ongoing and proposed cuts to USAID funding for the CGIAR 2009 budget.

The proposed 2008 budget for the CGIAR centers contains no USAID funding for biotechnology, and the 2009 budget proposal indicates plans for a severe system-wide cut in unrestricted funding to the CGIAR centers. The undersigned consider these two aspects of the 2008 and 2009 budgets to be unacceptable mistakes that will damage worldwide food production for many years to come. No other organization has developed the links to and focus on developing world agriculture as has the CGIAR system, and no other organization has such an impressive and uninterrupted history of accomplishments for increasing food production in the developing world. Although funding by the USAID for many targeted and important proposals through the CGIAR would be continued in 2008 and 2009 under the current scenario, the loss of unrestricted funds would dramatically impact the CGIAR system, allowing no CGIAR center to remain fully functional. Given the great importance of the CGIAR system, it would be more appropriate for the USAID to increase its overall funding commitment, with a special emphasis on the unrestricted funds that are so essential to the core missions of CGIAR.

Advances in agricultural productivity, facilitated by the work carried out by the CGIAR in the developing world, have been the only consistent foundation for escape from continuing cycles of poverty and dependence in many of the developing countries, as evidenced by the recent examples of India and the People's Republic of China. Increasing food demand by the developing and developed worlds, conversion of biomass to liquid fuels, plus increased human and climactic stresses on agricultural lands, has led to significant price increases for food all over the world. Global food stocks are at their lowest levels in many years, positioning the world for a reduced ability to respond to emergency food needs in any region struck by drought or other disaster. Only increased food production in both the developing and developed worlds can overcome these looming threats. The CGIAR centers, particularly the outreach, translational research, and crop/livestock development that are provided through unrestricted funds, are necessary to meet these needs.

As a group, we request that you help us to reverse the planned cuts to the USAID agriculture program, including funding of the CGIAR centers, by insisting that the Administrator of USAID make funding commitments to agriculture and to the CGIAR system an Agency priority both in the current fiscal year and in the years to come. We can assure you that the CGIAR system continues to demonstrate its unique and essential value around the world. Decreased support to the system will lead to dramatic and far-reaching decreases in worldwide food production, thereby contributing to a destabilization of geopolitical relationships and a general decline in human well-being. None of this can be in the best interests of the United States nor our friends around the world.

Sincerely, The Undersigned


Salt-tolerant gene found in simple plant nothing to sneeze at

- Texas A&M University (press release) via EurekAlert, Apr. 7, 2008


Whether a plant withers unproductively or thrives in salty conditions may now be better understood by biologists.

The cellular mechanism that controls salt tolerance has been found in the arabidopsis plant by a Texas AgriLife Research scientist collaborating with an international team.

Complex-N-glycan, a carbohydrate linked to a protein in plant cells, was previously thought to have no helpful function for plant growth and to cause certain allergies in humans, according to Dr. Hisashi Koiwa, lead author of the study in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"This gene has been considered non-essential or even a nuisance," Koiwa said. "People thought it was an allergen and couldn't find anything good it was doing in plants. So, it was thought of as not necessary for the growth or development of a plant."

However, the team discovered that this carbohydrate may, in fact, be responsible for a plants' ability to contend with salt water.

The team's finding "significantly clarifies" the role of the gene and could lead to the development of food crops and other plants capable of producing well in areas with salty water, according to the science academy's journal reviewers.

Almost one-third of nation's irrigated land and half of the world's land is salt-affected, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department's Agriculture Research Service. Salt left in the soil after the water evaporates, the research service notes, means plants don't grow as well and, therefore, yield less.

The study used arabidopsis, a plant commonly used in labs because it grows quickly and has a relatively simple, well-known genome.

The researchers applied salt to the growing plants and then examined sick plants, or those that appeared salt sensitive.

"We had to study the diseased status of the plant to understand its health," Koiwa said. "We looked for sick plants in the lab to find out why they were that way."v

He said the finding may help plant breeders look for this gene as they cross plants in order to develop varieties less affected by salt.


Germs in Soil Find Antibiotics Tasty

- Associated Press via PhysOrg.com, Apr. 3, 2008


(AP) -- Antibiotics for breakfast? The drugs are supposed to kill bacteria, not feed them. Yet Harvard researchers have discovered hundreds of germs in soil that literally gobble up antibiotics, able to thrive with the potent drugs as their sole source of nutrition.

These bacteria outwit antibiotics in a disturbingly novel way, and now the race is on to figure out just how they do it - in case more dangerous germs that sicken people could develop the same ability.

On the other hand, the work explains why the soil doesn't harbor big antibiotic buildups despite use of the drugs in livestock plus human disposal and, well, excretion, too.

"Thank goodness we have those bacteria to eat at least some of the antibiotics," said bacteriologist Jo Handelsman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who wasn't involved in the study. "Nature's pretty effective."

The discovery, published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, came about almost by accident.

A team led by Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church has a Department of Energy grant to develop ways to create biofuels from agriculture waste. Plants are full of natural toxins, so the goal was to find microorganisms in soil capable of breaking down certain of those chemicals. To winnow down the strongest candidates, they tried exposing these bacteria to what should have been far more toxic substances, antibiotics.

That bacteria can eat weird things is the basis for the field of bioremediation. Some bugs help break down oil spills, for example.

Nor is it a surprise that soil bacteria can withstand some antibiotics; some had already been found. After all, a number of antibiotics are natural - think penicillin. Some antibiotics have been derived from soil.

Instead, the surprise was how many bacteria didn't just survive but flourished when fed 18 different antibiotics, natural and manmade ones - including such staples as gentamicin, vancomycin and Cipro - that represent the major classes used in treating people and animals.

Church's team gathered soil from 11 spots in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, from city parks to pristine forest to a cornfield fertilized with antibiotic-containing manure.

Bacteria prefer to eat sugars, like rotting fruit. Put in laboratory dishes to subsist only on antibiotics, the germs grew a little more slowly but the researchers found every drug tested could support growth of some bacteria.

More disturbing, a number of bacteria could withstand levels of antibiotics that were 50 to 100 times higher than would be given to a patient.

"They were not only resistant, they were super-resistant," Church said.

"I guess we weren't really thinking about it as something that bacteria would just eat for breakfast," he added. "They are capable of living on this stuff for a long, long time."

The finding comes amid increasing concern that many infections could soon become untreatable, as more bacteria become immune to today's antibiotics even as few new drugs are being discovered.

But the medical impact of the new work isn't yet clear. Germs in soil aren't big human threats, and no human pathogen has been spotted with the same ability. Still, many of the soil bacteria tested are relatives of human pathogens, including a notorious E. coli strain.

So the next step, under way now in Church's lab, is to identify the actual genes that let these bacteria devour and degrade antibiotics. Then the question becomes whether that genetic mechanism is something soil bacteria might be able to transfer to human pathogens, thus making them more drug-resistant.

Wisconsin's Handelsman says gene pathways involved in metabolism are far larger and more complex than the type of single-gene resistance often seen in human pathogens. "It's not really as bleak as that."

And Church agrees his work is "not entirely all bad news. ... It gives us some time to get ahead of it and figure out if it really poses a threat."


Huge virulence gene superfamily responsible for devastating plant diseases

- Virginia Tech via EurekAlert, Apr. 2, 2008


Blacksburg, Va. - A research team from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech has identified an enormous superfamily of pathogen genes involved in the infection of plants. The Avh superfamily comprises genes found in the plant pathogens Phytophthora ramorum and Phytophthora sojae. The pathogen genes produce effector proteins that manipulate how plant cells work in such a way as to make the plant hosts more susceptible to infection. The results suggest that a single gene from a common ancestor of the both pathogen species has spawned hundreds of very different, fast-evolving genes that encode for these highly damaging effector proteins.

P. sojae causes severe devastation in soybean crops and results in $1-2 million in annual losses for commercial farmers in the United States. P. ramorum, which causes sudden oak death, has attacked and killed tens of thousands of oak trees in California and Oregon. Both pathogens belong to the oomycete group of organisms that also includes the potato late blight pathogen responsible for the Irish potato famine. The scientists probed the recently published genome sequences of both organisms using bioinformatic tools that can look for specific amino acid sequences or motifs. Advanced searches of the genome sequences (BLAST and Hidden Markov Model) revealed that the P. sojae and P. ramorum genomes encode large numbers of effector proteins (374 from P. ramorum and 396 from P. sojae) that likely facilitate the infection of their host plants. Given that there are more than 80 species of Phytophthora pathogens, these findings imply that there are more than 30 000 members of this superfamily within the genus Phytophthora.

Proteins arising from the Avh superfamily have very different amino acid sequences but share two common motifs at one end of the protein (N-terminus). The readily identified RXLR and dEER motifs (single letter code for amino acids) are required for entry of the proteins into plant host cells. Similar motifs are also found in the effector proteins produced by the malarial parasite Plasmodium as it invades red blood cells. The team also detected some conserved amino acid motifs (W, Y and L) at the other end (C terminus) of some of the proteins that have been selected over years of evolution. These C-terminal motifs are usually arranged as a module that can be repeated up to eight times. The functions of these C-terminal motifs are being investigated further.

The Avh gene superfamily is one of the most rapidly evolving parts of the genome. Duplications of genes are common and presumably responsible for the rapid expansion of the family. The diversity and duplication of genes noted in the sequences are consistent with maximizing the number of effector genes in the pathogens while making it increasingly difficult for the host defense systems to recognize invading molecules, ideal features for effector proteins aimed at wreaking havoc on susceptible plant hosts. Professor Brett Tyler of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, the leader of the project, remarked: "The extraordinary speed with which the Avh genes are evolving suggests that these genes are key to the pathogens' ability to outwit the defense systems of the plants."

The research appears in the March 25 issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (vol. 105, no. 12, pp. 4874-4879, 2008) in the article "RXLR effector reservoir in two Phytophthora species is dominated by a single rapidly evolving superfamily with more than 700 members."


Allele Frequency of Resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ab Corn in Louisiana Populations of Sugarcane Borer (Lepidoptera: Crambidae)

- Fangneng Huang et. al., Journal of Economic Entomology (Vol. 101, No. 2, pp. 492-498), April 2008



Transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, Zea mays L., has been widely used to manage a corn borer complex in the mid-southern region of the United States. The sugarcane borer, Diatraea saccharalis (F.) (Lepidoptera: Crambidae), has become a dominant cornstalk boring species in some areas of this region, especially in Louisiana. Therefore, management of sugarcane borer resistance to Bt corn is critical to ensure the long-term sustainability of Bt corn for the region. This study screened 280 two-parent family-lines of sugarcane borer from four geographical populations in Louisiana during 2005 to determine whether Bt resistance allele frequency in sugarcane borer is sufficiently low to meet the rare resistance assumption of the current "high dose/refuge" resistance management strategy for Bt corn. These sugarcane borer family-lines were examined for Bt resistance by using novel F2 screening procedures. No major Bt resistance alleles were detected in these four populations. The estimated frequency of major Bt resistance alleles was <0.0027, with a 95% probability and a detection power of 94%. The estimated minor resistance allele frequency was 0.0063, with a 95% CI of 0.0025-0.0117. During a previous study, a major Bt resistance allele was detected in one individual from 213 family-lines of another Louisiana population of sugarcane borer. Combining these data with the current screen, the frequency of major Bt resistance alleles across the five populations was 0.001, with a 95% credibility interval of 0.0001-0.0028 and a detection power of 95%. Major Bt resistance allele frequencies in Louisiana sugarcane borer populations seem to be low, and they should support the rare resistance allele requirement of the high dose/refuge strategy.


Effects of Refuge Contamination by Transgenes on Bt Resistance in Pink Bollworm (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae)

- Shannon Heuberger, Journal of Economic Entomology (Vol. 101, No. 2, pp. 504-514), Apr. 2008



Refuges of non-Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton, Gossypium hirsutum L., are used to delay Bt resistance in pink bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders) (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae), a pest that eats cotton seeds. Contamination of refuges by Bt transgenes could reduce the efficacy of this strategy. Previously, three types of contamination were identified in refuges: 1) homozygous Bt cotton plants, with 100% of their seeds producing the Bt toxin Cry1Ac; 2) hemizygous Bt plants with 70-80% of their seeds producing Cry1Ac; and 3) non-Bt plants that outcrossed with Bt plants, resulting in bolls with Cry1Ac in 12-17% of their seeds. Here, we used laboratory bioassays to examine the effects of Bt contamination on feeding behavior and survival of pink bollworm that were resistant (rr), susceptible (ss), or heterozygous for resistance (rs) to Cry1Ac. In choice tests, rr and rs larvae did not differ from ss in preference for non-Bt versus Bt seeds. Survival of rr and rs also did not differ from ss on artificial outcrossed bolls (a mixture of 20% Bt and 80% non-Bt cotton seeds). On artificial hemizygous Bt bolls (70% Bt seeds) and homozygous Bt bolls (100% Bt seeds), rr had higher survival than ss, although rs and ss did not differ. In a simulation model, levels of refuge contamination observed in the field had negligible effects on resistance evolution in pink bollworm. However, in hypothetical simulations where contamination conferred a selective advantage to rs over ss individuals in refuges, resistance evolution was accelerated.


Toxicity and Characterization of Cotton Expressing Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab2 Proteins for Control of Lepidopteran Pests

- S. Sivasupramaniam et. al., Journal of Economic Entomology (Vol. 101, No. 2, pp. 546-554), Apr. 2008



Cry1Ac protoxin (the active insecticidal toxin in both Bollgard and Bollgard II cotton [Gossypium hirsutum L.]), and Cry2Ab2 toxin (the second insecticidal toxin in Bollgard II cotton) were bioassayed against five of the primary lepidopteran pests of cotton by using diet incorporation. Cry1Ac was the most toxic to Heliothis virescens (F.) and Pectinophora gossypiella (Saunders), demonstrated good activity against Helicoverpa zea (Boddie), and had negligible toxicity against Spodoptera exigua (Hübner) and Spodoptera frugiperda (J. E. Smith). Cry2Ab2 was the most toxic to P. gossypiella and least toxic to S. frugiperda. Cry2Ab2 was more toxic to S. exigua and S. frugiperda than Cry1Ac. Of the three insect species most sensitive to both Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) proteins (including H. zea), P. gossypiella was only three-fold less sensitive to Cry2Ab2 than Cry1Ac, whereas H. virescens was 40-fold less sensitive to Cry2Ab2 compared with Cry1Ac. Cotton plants expressing Cry1Ac only and both Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab2 proteins were characterized for toxicity against H. zea and S. frugiperda larvae in the laboratory and H. zea larvae in an environmental chamber. In no-choice assays on excised squares from plants of different ages, second instar H. zea larvae were controlled by Cry1Ac/Cry2Ab2 cotton with mortality levels of 90% and greater at 5 d compared with 30-80% mortality for Cry1Ac-only cotton, depending on plant age. Similarly, feeding on leaf discs from Cry1Ac/Cry2Ab2 cotton resulted in mortality of second instars of S. frugiperda ranging from 69 to 93%, whereas exposure to Cry1Ac-only cotton yielded 20-69% mortality, depending on plant age. When cotton blooms were infested in situ in an environmental chamber with neonate H. zea larvae previously fed on synthetic diet for 0, 24, or 48 h, 7-d flower abortion levels for Cry1Ac-only cotton were 15, 41, and 63%, respectively, whereas for Cry1Ac/Cry2Ab2 cotton, flower abortion levels were 0, 0, and 5%, respectively. Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab2 concentrations were measured within various cotton tissues of Cry1Ac-only and Cry1Ac/Cry2Ab2 plants, respectively, by using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Terminal leaves significantly expressed the highest, and large leaves, calyx, and bracts expressed significantly the lowest concentrations of Cry1Ac, respectively. Ovules expressed significantly the highest, and terminal leaves, large leaves, bracts, and calyx expressed significantly (P < 0.05) the lowest concentrations of Cry2Ab2. These results help explain the observed differences between Bollgard and Bollgard II mortality against the primary lepidopteran cotton pests, and they may lead to improved scouting and resistance management practices, and to more effective control of these pests with Bt transgenic crops in the future.


Frequency and Severity of Western Bean Cutworm (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) Ear Damage in Transgenic Corn Hybrids Expressing Different Bacillus thuringiensis Cry Toxins

- Herbert Eichenseer et. al., Journal of Economic Entomology (Vol. 101, No. 2, pp. 555-563), April 2008



The frequency and severity of corn ear damage caused by western bean cutworm, Striacosta albicosta (Smith), were measured on transgenic corn, Zea mays L., hybrids expressing two different insecticidal Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) (Berliner) Cry toxins (Bt) selected to protect against damage caused by larval European corn borer, Ostrinia nubilalis (Hübner). A field cage experiment deliberately infested with western bean cutworm egg masses resulted in less damage in the hybrid expressing the Cry1F protein and supported fewer western bean cutworm larvae than its non-Bt isoline. Corn hybrids expressing Cry1F, grown in small plot field experiments at three locations over two separate years and exposed to natural western bean cutworm infestations suffered less damage than non-Bt or Bt-hybrids expressing a Cry1Ab protein. Later maturing hybrids suffered more damage than shorter-season hybrids. Finally, corn ears observed in strip trials for several years in diverse agronomic conditions in farmer-cooperator fields corroborated the in-plant protection conferred by corn hybrids expressing the Cry1F protein in small plot field trials.


I Love You Magic Beanstalk - For nature lovers or justlovers -

- Somya, Coolbuzz, Apr. 2, 2008


Now here is an idea for an ideal gift for the one you love or the one who might love nature! So you know how these things work, open the can and water it with care and voila! the greens come out adding oxygen to your system and greenery to your room. But guess what? It doesn't end here, the uncanny part is yet to come. Of all the leaves that sprout out, one of them will have the three-word cliché embossed on it in perfect clarity - I love you. Isn't it an awesome way to ask someone out, it will take time to grow and if you suddenly change your mind you can want your plant back before the three words are on display!

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