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May 2, 2008


GM Pine, Trout Approved; Zeaxanthin in potatoes; Price doesn't cause hunger


GM Pine, Trout Approved; Zeaxanthin in potatoes; Price doesn't cause hunger

* Price doesn't cause hunger
* Should EU end GM isolation?
* "Brazil Bans Rice Exports"
* Testing for StarLink unnecessary
* Global fertiliser shortage looming
* GM seed in high demand for farmers
* GM Trout Approved in UK
* GM pines cleared in NZ
* More spending on science is needed
* Zeaxanthin from GM potatoes
* Grapevine Genome Mapped
* Plant-produced vaccines against flu
* The Germination Transcriptional Program
* 2009 World Congress - World Agricultural Forum
* Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference
* GMO Compass: A Quick Online Poll


It's not the price that causes hunger

- Robert Paarlberg, International Herald Tribune, Apr. 22, 2008


International prices of rice, wheat and corn have risen sharply, setting off violent urban protests in roughly a dozen countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. But is this a "world food crisis?"

It is certainly a troubling instance of price instability in international commodity markets, leading to social unrest among urban food-buyers. But we must be careful not to equate high crop prices with hunger around the world. Most of the world's hungry people do not use international food markets, and most of those who use these markets are not hungry.

International food markets, like international markets for everything else, are used primarily by the prosperous and secure, not the poor and vulnerable. In world corn markets, the biggest importer by far is Japan. Next comes the European Union. Next comes South Korea. Citizens in these countries are not underfed.

In the poor countries of Asia, rice is the most important staple, yet most Asian countries import very little rice. As recently as March, India was keeping imported rice out of the country by imposing a 70 percent duty. Data on the actual incidence of malnutrition reveal that the regions of the world where people are most hungry, in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, are those that depend least on imports from the world market. Hunger is caused in these countries not by high international food prices, but by local conditions, especially rural poverty linked to low productivity in farming.

When international prices are go up, the disposable income of some import-dependent urban dwellers is squeezed. But most of the actual hunger takes place in the villages and in the countryside, and it persists even when international prices are low.

When hunger is measured as a balanced index of calorie deficiency, prevalence of underweight children and mortality rates for children under five, we find that South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa in 2007 had hunger levels two times as high as in the developing countries of East Asia, four times as high as in Latin America, North Africa or the Middle East, and five times as high as in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The poor in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are hungry even though their connections to high-priced international food markets are quite weak. In the poorest developing countries of Asia, where nearly 400 million people are hungry, international grain prices are hardly a factor, since imports supply only 4 percent of total consumption - even when world prices are low. Similarly in sub-Saharan Africa, only about 16 percent of grain supplies have recently been imported, going mostly into the more prosperous cities rather than the impoverished countryside, with part arriving in the form of donated food aid rather than commercial purchases at world prices.

The region in Africa that depends on world markets most heavily is North Africa, where 50 percent of grain supplies are imported. Yet food consumption in North Africa is so high (average per capita energy consumption there is about 3,000 calories per day, comparable to most rich countries) that increased import prices may cause economic stress for urban consumers (and perhaps even street demonstrations) but little real hunger.

Import dependence is also high in Latin America (50 percent for some countries) but again high world prices will not mean large numbers of hungry people, because per capita GDP in this region is five times higher than in sub-Saharan Africa.

There is a severe food crisis among the poor in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, but it does not come from high world prices. Even in 2005 in sub-Saharan Africa, a year of low international crop prices, 23 out of 37 countries in the region consumed less than their nutritional requirements. Africa's food crisis grows primarily out of the low productivity, year in and year out, of the 60 percent of all Africans who plant crops and graze animals for a living. The average African smallholder farmer is a woman who has no improved seeds, no nitrogen fertilizers, no irrigation and no veterinary medicine for her animals. Her crop yields are only one third as high as in the developing countries of Asia, and her average income is only $1 a day.

One third of these poor African farmers are malnourished. In part because of the added burden of climate change, the number of undernourished people in Africa is now expected to triple by 2080, whatever the level of prices on the world market.

The long-term solution to such problems is not lower international prices or more food aid, but larger investments in the productivity of farmers in Africa.

African governments essentially stopped making these investments 25 years ago, when the international donor community pulled back from supporting agricultural modernization in the developing world.

Over the past two decades the U.S. Agency for International Development has cut its support for agricultural science in Africa by 75 percent. World Bank lending for agriculture has dropped from 30 percent of bank lending in 1978 to just 8 percent. In 2005, the World Bank president at the time, Paul Wolfowitz, told a business forum: "My institution has largely gotten out of the business of agriculture."

This may be changing, and if high world food prices help speed the change, so much the better.

In a recent interview, the new World Bank president, Robert Zoellick, said he planned to raise agricultural lending to Africa next year from $450 million to $800 million. Since 2006, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also begun to focus more of its grant-making on the needs of poor smallholder farmers in Africa through an Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) chaired by Kofi Annan.

These are encouraging initiatives, because the productivity of farms in Africa - not food prices on the world market - should be the long-term focus.

Robert Paarlberg, professor of political science at Wellesley College, is the author of "Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept out of Africa."


Is it time for the EU to end their GM isolation?

- Robert Forster, Farmers Guardian, May 2, 2008


Soaring global hunger for food, and equally stratospheric commodity price rises, demand that the EU's policies on GM food are reappraised.

UK cereal farmers are among those keen to use new varieties to help them harvest bigger crops, off less land, with reduced impact on soil and water quality - and livestock farmers are equally anxious to get their hands on feedstuff that is cheaper.

This search for a win/win solution is a result of the world, quite suddenly, discovering that more than 50 per cent of its population lives in cities.

This crucial demographic tipping point means that more people are dependent on others to produce food than there are people in a position to either produce it for them - or for themselves.

And as the global economy continues to develop even more former subsistence farmers, in Brazil, India and China, will abandon their land to take up urban employment and add to world food supply pressures.

Evidence of the global battle to meet rising demand is plain to see. Cereal prices hover at record levels, rice has hit an excruciating high, world trade in meat and other products is being curbed by export bans - and there is increased political instability in developing countries where there are food shortages.

But despite these warnings there are some, no doubt encouraged by protectionist attitudes to production developed only a short time ago when food was more abundant and cheaper than it is now, who continue to frown on helpful GM techniques.

Independent observers struggle to understand why GM output, which was first licensed more than 20 years ago, still attracts well positioned, and influential, opponents and continues to be pilloried by them.

However, there can be no doubt that lobbying from objectors has been successful. Only one GM crop, an insect resistant maize, is grown inside the EU while a second crop, a blight resistant potato has still to complete its production trials.

In contrast the world's commercial GM production has rocketed since its standing start in 1996 because more governments are encouraging farmers to take advantage of a technique that allows more food to be produced off less land with the least possible damage to the environment.

Last year commercial GM crops were adopted by 12 million farmers, covered 114 million hectares, and plantings are expected to double before the end of 2015.

Major exporters like the US and Argentina have dedicated the most land (57.7 million hectares and 19 million respectively) because of expectations that the technology improves yields by offering protection against insects, drought and disease.

They are followed by Brazil (14 million hectares), then Canada (seven million) but most interestingly by India and China, where most new expansion is expected to take place.

This isolates the EU and also means it is inevitable that more, import reliant, consumers will purchase products containing an increasing proportion of GM ingredient as more of the world's production embraces GM techniques.

It is also predicted that by 2015 some 100 million farmers will plant GM crops in 45 countries - which means that whatever position Europe takes it will find GM products impossible to avoid.

Although EU objectors to GM cropping include aggressive campaigners like anti-globalisation and animal rights activists, as well as the more traditional support of organisations like Greenpeace, they also include farmers.

And they are backed by political opposition to GM production that has resulted in the unilateral banning of WTO approved imports which include several useful crop varieties.

Former chief scientist, Prof Sir David King, has calculated that the cost of the UK's failure to embrace GM crops has already cost up to £4 billion.

Animal feed importers, who have predicted spectacular rises in livestock feed prices and a corresponding reduction in livestock population unless the backlog of GM approvals for importation into Europe is quickly cleared, are also alarmed.

They are especially keen to introduce substitutes for record priced EU feed grain, and remove obstacles to import approval for gluten derived from the new GM maize variety, Herculex, now grown across both North and South America - and also new varieties of GM soya.

It is clearly an untenable situation when the EU Commission, which is being pilloried by the WTO for blocking GM imports without scientific basis, cannot gather enough support to approve the importation of products that have already been cleared by the European Food Safety Authority.

Neither the EU, nor the UK, can afford to ignore the world's emerging food crisis, especially, as after 12 years of crop growing, the most entrenched GM objectors have still to show that GM products introduce environmental complications, when unstoppable commercial GM adoption in an increasing number of countries demonstrates there are firm benefits from increased yields.


"Brazil Bans Rice Exports": Much Ado About Nothing

- USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Apr. 30, 2008


In an announcement regarding the upcoming auction for 55,000 mt of lower quality government rice stocks, the Brazilian Minister of Agriculture announced that the government would block the export of the 1 million mt (milled equivalent) of rice currently in government stocks for the next 6 to 8 months. Some of the press mistakenly reported that Brazil was halting all rice exports.

View the Acrobat version: http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200804/146294473.pdf


Millers agree: Testing corn for StarLink not adding to food safety

- North American Millers' Association (press release), Apr. 28, 2008


Washington, D.C. - The North American Millers' Association learned on Friday that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has withdrawn its guidance for testing shipments of yellow corn and dry-milled yellow corn intended for human food use for the presence of Cry9C protein residues. FDA withdrew its guidance in response to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "white paper" and to an independent assessment of StarLink exposure, both of which found the U.S. corn supply is essentially free of StarLink.

In the EPA paper, the Agency concluded that Cry9C has been "sufficiently removed from the human food supply to render the level or risk low enough that continued testing for the protein in yellow corn at dry mills and masa production facilities provided no additional human health protection."

The EPA paper and the subsequent FDA announcement come after seven years and the testing of more than four million corn samples. No samples have been found to contain Cry9C protein in more than four years. From the beginning millers followed the FDA guidance, acknowledging the need to show quality assurance procedures were in place and working. "We're delighted that the recent actions by the EPA and FDA have validated our long felt conviction on the safety and wholesomeness of all milled grain products," said NAMA Chairman Rick Schwein, Grain Millers, Inc.

Millers remained confident throughout the process that a science-based risk assessment by EPA would conclude further testing for Cry9C was not necessary. There has not been a single incident of a human health affect from Cry9C. "As it turns out, there never was any real health or safety issue," said Don Sullins, PhD, ADM Milling Company and chairman of NAMA's Technical Committee. "Plus, since the last StarLink was grown in 2000 the U.S. has emptied and refilled its grain silos with seven harvests - a total of more than 75 billion bushels. It's time to move on."

NAMA is the trade association representing 49 companies that operate 170 wheat, oat and corn mills in 38 states and Canada. Their collective production capacity exceeds 160 million pounds of product each day, more than 95 percent of the total industry production.


Global fertiliser shortage looming.

- Dan Buglass, The Scotsman, May 1, 2008


MOTORISTS and transport operators may be complaining about the cost of fuel at the pumps with prices now in the region of £5 per gallon.

However, those with long memories might just recall that 40 years ago that same volume could be purchased for little more in the pre-decimal era than the equivalent of 35p.

Farmers are just about managing to survive with higher fuel costs which have seen "red diesel," now priced at over 60p per litre. But the same cannot be said for the cost of chemical fertilisers where demand and supply are currently miles out of balance.

Calum Findlay, a trader with the Lincolnshire based firm of Gleadell, which is one of the leading players in the UK market, is always close to market realities.

Speaking exclusively to The Scotsman yesterday, he said: "It is really quite frightening from the farmer's perspective. Granular urea - that's a form of nitrogen - has recently been trading at £350 per tonne, but my information is that it will soon be close to £390 per tonne.

"Some compounds, especially those containing high levels of potash and phosphate are heading fast for over £630 per tonne and that compares with little more than £200 per tonne 12 months ago. It's a global market with huge demand from China, India and Pakistan."

Another problem is that virtually no fertiliser is manufactured in the UK: not so many years ago the now defunct Scottish Agricultural Industries (SAI) has a massive plant in Edinburgh close to Leith docks. That site is now derelict and destined for commercial and rural development.

Total world demand for fertilisers is reckoned at close to 550 million tonnes, but the harsh fact is that the UK now accounts for less than 2 per cent of that market. There appears to be little prospect of a change and that may cause British farmers to reappraise their farming policies, according to Findlay.

He said: "We have seen a lot of marginal land come back into production following the end of compulsory set-aside, but even with the significant increase in cereal prices, profits now look questionable. I would still advise farmers to place their orders for nitrogen fertilisers now - prices could rise further, especially with sterling weak against the euro. In the short-term crops can be grown without phosphate and potash , but nitrogen is essential."

Meanwhile the international cereals markets have seen some easing in prices as speculators take bank their profits.

The Home Grown Cereals Authority notes that the International Grains Council (IGC) is forecasting a world wheat crop for the current year of 645 million tonnes. down by one million tonnes on last month, but still represents the prospect of a record harvest.

However world stocks for the end of the year are set to be the lowest for 27 years.

The Chicago futures market has recently seen wheat for December 2008 drop by $25 to $311.92 per tonne while the London price has slipped by £4 to £141 per tonne.

The consensus remains that farmers should lock into secure contracts, based on their individual assessment of the cost of production and the margin they seek to make a profit.


GM seed in high demand for farmers

- ABC Rural (Australia), May 2, 2008


Supplies of genetically modified canola seed have been stretched across New South Wales and Victoria, following last weekend's rainfall.

As a result, there's a delay in the delivery of seed to producers who want to plant GM crops this season.

Mick Townsend, a central New South Wales producer, says he has been told to wait until early next week for supplies to arrive.

"The interest from growers has been overwhelming and consequently demand has outstripped supply and there is a bit of hold-up for seed," he said.

"It could be as much as three or four days before we will get ours, say Monday or Tuesday.

"There are a few growers around not far from here that are planting or intend to plant as soon as seed becomes available.

"There has been a lot of interest from local farmers around here."


Genetically Altered Trout Approved for Release in U.K.

- James Owen, National Geographic News, Apr. 30, 2008


Plans to pour tankfuls of genetically altered fish into wild lakes and rivers have been given the go-ahead in the United Kingdom after conservation scientists backed the project.

According to a recent study, releasing the modified fish for anglers to catch is a better option than traditional trout farming and may even benefit native trout populations.

That's because the fish have been engineered to be sterile, so they won't breed with vulnerable wild strains.

These so-called triploid trout have three sets of chromosomes in their cells instead of the two sets normally found in diploid animals.

The two-year study, led by Dylan Roberts of the U.K.'s Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, investigated the impact of releasing triploid trout on native populations at 90 river sites in England and Wales.

The government's Environment Agency (EA) approved the plan last week following the study's publication.

The EA announced that by 2015 the estimated 750,000 farmed trout introduced each year in fishing waters must consist purely of triploids.

Fitting In

Naturally occurring triploid animals are very rare - triploidy in humans results in miscarriage or death soon after birth.

But viable triploids can be created in fish by subjecting their eggs to high temperatures or pressures to produce the extra set of chromosomes.

According to the study authors, sterile triploids are a solution to the problem of farmed trout interbreeding with native species.

Past studies have shown that "having the domesticated farm gene pushed into wild fish can be detrimental to their survival" and their ability to reproduce successfully, Roberts said.

Some experts had cautioned that sterile triploids would present a different ecological hazard, because they would be able to devote more time and energy to feeding and would outcompete wild trout.

But the new study showed that the genetically modified fish were not more damaging than farmed diploid fish.

"Basically, triploid trout didn't perform any better in the wild than normal [farm] trout," Roberts said.

Both normally farmed and engineered fish lost weight in equal measure when introduced to rivers.

"The reason for this is that they're coming from a fish farm where they are fed a high-protein diet that makes for muscle bound, obese fish," Roberts said.

"Put them into a wild environment and they struggle, because there's a lot less food about."

And triploids proved no more voracious when it came to the number of prey fish they ate in the wild, the study found.

The key difference between farmed diploid fish and engineered triploids was that the all-female, infertile trout stayed away from spawning areas during the winter breeding season.

Farmed diploids joined their wild cousins on shallow, exposed river sections, where both were heavily predated by mink, otters, and herons, the study team reported.

"We found that over the winter the triploid fish were surviving a lot more than diploids and even the wild fish," Roberts said.

Still, all stocked trout - whether triploid or diploid - sustained heavy losses due to predation when they were first released.

Only 15 to 20 percent of introduced fish were still present at the study sites after three months, Roberts said, because "basically they don't know what an otter or a heron is."

Anglers also didn't seem to notice much difference between stocked diploids or triploids, Roberts said.

"They didn't find any difference in catchability or performance," he said.

Meal-Size Fish

The newly announced measure marks the first countrywide policy of stocking triploid-only farmed trout, said EA fisheries scientist Graham Lightfoot.

Other European countries don't have the same demand from anglers for readymade, meal-size trout, Lightfoot commented.

And in the U.S., where stocking policy is set by each state government, triploid trout are being introduced only in some parts of the country.

"In the United States there also tends to be more focus on stocking fish that are big enough [for anglers] to take," he noted. "So they seem to be going down the same route."

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), for example, has promoted the use of triploids as a means of conserving indigenous strains of rainbow and cutthroat trout.

Recent field studies of triploid rainbow trout introduced in Western streams suggest "they provide recreational fisheries of equal or superior quality to normal diploid fish," IDFG scientists said in the August 2006 issue of Fisheries magazine.

Despite their label as genetically modified animals, triploid trout aren't as controversial as they might sound, Lightfoot added.

"Elsewhere, triploidy has been used quite a lot in crop production," Lightfoot said. For example, "most of the bananas you buy are triploids.

"What people tend to get exercised about are transgenic situations where you're moving genetic material from one species to another," he said.

"In this case, all you're doing is retaining an extra set of trout chromosomes," he said. "And, of course, triploids can't breed."


GM pines cleared of risk to the environment

- Angela Gregory, The New Zealand Herald, May 2, 2008


A trial cultivation of genetically modified pine trees in the open has shown no demonstrable risk to the environment, says research agency Scion.

The Crown Research Institute says its field trial in Rotorua had not led to any modified gene transfer to other organisms or any discernible impacts on insects which live or feed on the trees, or bug life in the soil.

Dr Tom Richardson, Scion chief executive, told the Herald yesterday these were the key areas under investigation and the result was that there were no detrimental effects from exposure to the genetically modified pines.

The trees had been created by Scion from pine seeds and tissue with the injection of reporter and selection genes related to reproductive development.

Dr Richardson said those genes were easy to track with distinct qualities that allowed their behaviour to be traced by scientists as the trees grew.

The seedlings were planted five years ago and had grown into trees up to a couple of metres high. The 67 genetically modified pines and seven unmodified control trees were planted in a natural environment less than a hectare in size on the Scion campus.

But after an illegal break-in to the site in January with the destruction of 19 trees, only 50 genetically modified and five control genes had remained.

Dr Richardson said that had not affected the validity of the study's findings.

He said the Rotorua trial was New Zealand's most comprehensive and independent scientific field trial of genetically modified trees.

However, the research had no immediate commercial application as the genes used were not relevant to issues of cell-wall density or other factors such as fibre.

Potential commercial possibilities with other gene modification includedgrowing wood which was more dense,strong and straight for constructiontimber, or environmentally friendly woodtissue for quality paper production.

Dr Richardson said there were also carbon sequestration advantages through genetically modified fast-growing pines which would absorb carbon quicker.

He said the results from the trialsupported the argument that genetically modified trees were low risk and could be safely introduced into the environment without a negative effect on other organisms.

Dr Richardson was not aware of any large-scale plantings of genetically modified trees overseas but said a lot of research was being conducted in North America.

"The most important outcome from this is that New Zealanders have access to unbiased, comprehensive scientific information that can be used to inform the discussion ongenetic modification."

In 2000, the New Zealand Government established a Royal Commission on Genetic Modification of Organisms.

Dr Richardson said a key finding was that there was nothing inherently unsafe about genetic engineering and that opportunities to develop plant and medical biotechnology based on genetic modification should be maintained.

The commission concluded that New Zealand should proceed to explore genetic modification carefully, minimising and managing risks.


Results to date show:

* No evidence of the modified genes having transferred to other organisms.

* No evidence of detrimental impact on insect diversity by the genetically modified pines.

* No evidence of impacts on the micro-organism populations that live in close association with the pine roots.


A research menu

More spending on agricultural science is needed to help resolve the world's food crisis.

- Nature (editorial), May 1, 2008


This was not a sudden crisis. It may be only this spring that food prices have started sparking riots on the streets of Haiti and Egypt, not to mention rice rationing at Wal-Mart's cash-and-carry stores, but food prices have been rising since 2000. The rises accelerated in 2006, when global cereal stocks dropped to levels not seen since the early 1980s. And although the factors driving them are many and various, a good few of them look likely to persist for years to come.

Nor is the crisis unremittingly heinous. Higher food prices, other things being equal, mean higher farm incomes, and there are a lot of poor farmers in the world who could do with such a boost. But although this may suggest benefits for some in the future, the net effect so far has been negative. An interim report released by the World Bank in April says that seven years' poverty reduction has been undone by the past two years of high staple-food prices.

The causes of these shortages are not easily undone, and some of them are things no one should want to undo. In China and India there is ever more - and utterly reasonable - demand for a third meal in the day and more meat in the diet. In Australia prolonged drought has had a severe effect on wheat production. High energy prices mean costly fertilizers and insecticides, not to mention making farm machinery more expensive to run. In the United States, more and more corn (maize) goes to making ethanol, raising the price of both corn and other cereals that can substitute for it.

There are various ways in which the fruits of scientific research might have helped ease the suffering that comes from this confluence of factors. But here, too, the harvest is not what it might have been. Public spending on basic agricultural research fell during the 1980s and 1990s in rich countries (see page 8). The proportion of US aid ploughed into agriculture wilted from 25% to 1% , bilateral farming aid from Europe dropped by two-thirds and World Bank lending in the sector slipped from 30% to 8% . The reasons for this included the perceived success of Green Revolution technologies in Asia, and, indeed, some backlash against intensified farming among green groups. The downslide was most pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa, where the cutbacks were still severe even though there had been no Green Revolution comparable to that in Asia. A contributing factor to this decline from the 1990s on was Europe's attitude to genetically modified crops, which both chilled research in the area and reduced incentives for such technologies to be fielded in countries looking to European export markets.

One might assume that such cutbacks in research reflected poor results. Not so; the pay-offs to agricultural research are massive. The World Bank's World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development (http://tinyurl.com/2ngyqd) - the first of the annual reports to focus on agriculture for a quarter of a century, the bank noted with self-reproach - cites 700 published estimates of rates of return on investment in agricultural research, development and extension services in developing countries. It reports an average annual return of 43% .

Agriculture has poverty-busting powers beyond straightforward revenue increases. One reason for this is that poor people in poor countries who earn a little extra cash will spend it on basic local goods and services - agricultural growth spurs economic growth from the bottom up. A study of 42 developing countries covering the period from 1981 to 2003 found that growth in gross domestic product (GDP) that originated in agriculture increased spending by the poor two-and-a-half times more than does GDP growth in other sectors.

The past weeks have brought signs that global institutions and donors are beginning to bow, belatedly, to this logic. On 2 April the World Bank announced its intention to double agricultural lending to sub-Saharan Africa over the next year, and bank administrators say that a portion of the new money will go towards basic research. Britain, the International Monetary Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are also opening their coffers. In the case of the Gates's money, much will be channelled through the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa led by Kofi Annan.

There are many useful directions for such development; higher yields, drought resistance and reduced requirements for inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides are all promising. But the more pressing problem for poor farmers is not the development of new technologies but access to those already there. Plenty of good agricultural science - such as locally adapted seed varieties and soil surveys - sits unused because it has not been delivered in a form adequately tailored to the end users and their limited means. Resources need to go towards coordinating and strengthening local agricultural extension services as an integral part of revamping and reintegrating the research infrastructure. Agricultural research systems in sub-Saharan Africa are fragmented into almost 400 distinct agencies, eight times the number in the United States and four times the number in India.

Access is not just a matter of seeds and bloodlines and new agronomic know-how. Weather services that rich-world farmers rely on are extraordinarily hard to get hold of in poor countries. The first attempt to evaluate the impact of climate change on agriculture in Africa, for example, had to rely on climate-sensitivity studies carried out in the United States for lack of any data from the continent in question. Better weather and climate data would allow lenders, be they development banks or local sources of microfinance, to create insurance products for farmers of a sort that is almost completely unavailable to the world's poor. These pragmatic solutions should get a large slice of a rapidly expanded pie.


Zeaxanthin is bioavailable from genetically modified zeaxanthin-rich potatoes.

- A. Bub, J. Möseneder et. al., European Journal of Nutrition, Mar. 2008


The carotenoid zeaxanthin accumulates in the human macula lutea and protects retinal cells from blue light damage. However, zeaxanthin intake from food sources is low. Increasing zeaxanthin in common foods such as potatoes by traditional plant breeding or by genetic engineering could contribute to an increased intake of this carotenoid and, consequently, to a decreased risk of age-related macular degeneration. Our aim was to investigate whether zeaxanthin from genetically modified zeaxanthin-rich potatoes is bioavailable in humans. Three men participated in this randomized, controlled double-blinded, crossover pilot study. All subjects consumed 1,100 g of mashed potatoes, either genetically modified (Solanum tuberosum L. var. Baltica GM47/18; 3 mg zeaxanthin) or wild-type control potatoes (Solanum tuberosum L. var. Baltica; 0.14 mg zeaxanthin). A second treatment was followed after a 7-day wash-out period. The concentration of zeaxanthin was significantly increased in chylomicrons after consumption of genetically modified potatoes and 0.27 mg of the 3 mg zeaxanthin dose could be detected in chylomicrons. Consumption of control potatoes had no effect on concentrations of zeaxanthin in chylomicrons. After normalization of chylomicron zeaxanthin for plasma triacylglycerol, the time course of zeaxanthin concentrations peaked at 7 h after consumption of genetically modified potatoes. There were no significant differences in the concentrations of other major potato carotenoids such as lutein and beta-carotene in chylomicrons after consumption of genetically modified and wild type control potatoes. Thus, consumption of zeaxanthin-rich potatoes significantly increases chylomicron zeaxanthin concentrations suggesting that potentially such potatoes could be used as an important dietary source of zeaxanthin.


Italy and France Successfully Map Grapevine Genome

- USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Apr. 29, 2008


Italy and France successfully map the grapevine genome. The six-millon Euro joint research program produced the first analysis of a grapevine's genome These results can be utilized to develop new, disease-resistant grapevines, reducing the need to use chemical pesticides.

View the Acrobat version: http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200708/146292236.pdf


Plant-produced vaccines against flu provide protection


- Prime Newswire via CNN money via CheckBiotech, May 1, 2008

HILLSIDE, N.J. - InB:Biotechnologies, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Integrated BioPharma, Inc. (Nasdaq:INBP), announced today that prototypes of the Company's influenza subunit vaccines provided complete protection against infection in the ferret challenge model and proved highly immunogenic in a mouse model. The ferret model is the industry standard for studying influenza infections and for testing flu vaccine candidates.

The studies were performed at the Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology (CMB) in Newark, Delaware in collaboration with Dr. Vidadi Yusibov, and the results were published in the respected, peer-reviewed journals Vaccine and Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses.

In the first published report of immunizing ferrets with plant-produced recombinant influenza antigens, portions of hemagglutinin (HA) from the H3N2 strain of influenza were expressed as fusions with the Company's proprietary carrier molecule and tested with and without the addition of H3N2 neuraminidase (NA) antigen. The protective efficacy of the plant-produced HA and NA antigens was assessed in immunized ferrets by intranasal challenge with live egg-grown H3N2 virus. All vaccinated animals in the study were protected from disease as measured by several influenza-related symptoms (Mett et al. (2008) A plant-produced influenza subunit vaccine protects ferrets against virus challenge. Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses 2(1), 33-40).

In the experiments published in Vaccine, full-length HA antigen from the same influenza virus strain was produced in plants. Immunized mice mounted significant serum hemagglutination inhibition (HI) and virus neutralizing (VN) antibody titers. The results demonstrate that plant-produced HA protein can induce target-specific immunity that correlate with protection (Shoji Y, et al., Plant-expressed HA as a seasonal influenza vaccine candidate, Vaccine, online 9 April 2008).

The final set of preclinical experiments is currently underway in ferrets to determine minimal protective dose and to evaluate alternate dose regimens for full-length HA vaccine candidates directed against current strains of seasonal influenza and highly-pathogenic avian influenza viruses.

"The successful completion of this first challenge study in ferrets is an important step in moving our seasonal and pandemic flu subunit vaccine candidates toward human clinical trials, projected to begin in 2009," said Robert Erwin, President of InB:Biotechnologies. "These data also demonstrate the potential of our plant-based manufacturing technology to address increasing global demand for flu vaccine."

InB:Biotechnologies, in collaboration with Fraunhofer USA CMB, has developed the iBioLaunch(tm) platform for the accelerated development and manufacture of vaccine antigens in non-genetically-modified green plants. This technology offers significant advantages of speed, surge capacity and cost over egg-based and cell culture-based approaches to meet growing demand for seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines. The iBioLaunch(tm) platform is also being used to develop vaccines and therapeutics against human papilloma virus (HPV), malaria, plague, anthrax and other pathogens of public health significance.


Elucidating the Germination Transcriptional Program Using Small Molecules

- George W. Bassel, et. al., Plant Physiology, Mar. 21, 2008


The transition from seed to seedling is mediated by germination, a complex process that starts with imbibition and completes with radicle emergence. To gain insight into the transcriptional program mediating germination, previous studies have compared the transcript profiles of dry, dormant, and germinating after-ripened Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) seeds. While informative, these approaches did not distinguish the transcriptional responses due to imbibition, shifts in metabolism, or breaking of dormancy from those triggered by the initiation of germination. In this study, three mechanistically distinct small molecules that inhibit Arabidopsis seed germination (methotrexate, 2, 4-dinitrophenol, and cycloheximide) were identified using a small-molecule screen and used to probe the germination transcriptome. Germination-responsive transcripts were defined as those with significantly altered transcript abundance across all inhibitory treatments with respect to control germinating seeds, using data from ATH1 microarrays. This analysis identified numerous germination regulators as germination responsive, including the DELLA proteins GAI, RGA, and RGL3, the abscisic acid-insensitive proteins ABI4, ABI5, ABI8, and FRY1, and the gibberellin receptor GID1A. To help visualize these and other publicly available seed microarray data, we designed a seed mRNA expression browser using the electronic Fluorescent Pictograph platform. An overall decrease in gene expression and a 5-fold greater number of transcripts identified as statistically down-regulated in drug-inhibited seeds point to a role for mRNA degradation or turnover during seed germination. The genes identified in our study as responsive to germination define potential uncharacterized regulators of this process and provide a refined transcriptional signature for germinating Arabidopsis seeds.


2009 World Congress - World Agricultural Forum

Kampala, Uganda February 24-27, 2009


ST. LOUIS (April 14, 2008) - For the first time in history, the World Agricultural Forum's (WAF) 2009 World Congress will take place outside of the United States and will be hosted by the Republic of Uganda. Due to overwhelming interest for what was supposed to be a regional meeting has become the WAF's 2009 World Congress, "Africa Meets the World: Creating Prosperity By Investing in Agriculture." The 2009 World Congress, scheduled for February 24-26, 2009 in Kampala, Uganda will conclude with the introduction of the WAF Task Force on Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education in Africa - Entrepreneurship and Community Development on February 27, 2009.

Download the complete announcement at: http://www.worldagforum.org/files/resourcesmodule/@random480623b48e41e/1208362089_WAF_2009_Congress_Announcement_FINAL.doc


Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference

University College Cork, Ireland, Aug. 24 to 27


Dear friend of agricultural biotechnology: In recent years, the annual Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC) has become an essential event for professionals around the world. Scientists, entrepreneurs, policy specialists, government officials and many others depend on ABIC conferences to be educational, challenging and interactive, thereby ensuring that the relevant issues central to agricultural biotechnology are addressed.

ABIC 2008 will be hosted in University College Cork, Ireland from August 24th to 27th. The primary sponsor for the 2008 conference is Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority. Teagasc provides integrated research, advisory and training services for the agri-food industry in Ireland and employs over 1,500 staff across over 100 locations throughout Ireland.

The theme of ABIC 2008 Cork is Agricultural Biotechnology for a competitive and sustainable future. At a time when global agricultural faces significant challenges, an in depth discussion of how ag biotech can influence the sustainability of global agriculture while maintaining competitiveness is both timely and necessary.

Get close to the issues

The goal of ABIC Cork 2008 is to provide a stimulating forum for delegates to network and discuss the ag-biotech topics most pertinent to their day to day experiences. As such the program committee has devised a conference format that will facilitate authoritative speakers to address a wide variety of issues across 12 parallel and 2 plenary sessions.

Program and speakers: http://www.abic.ca/abic2008/html/program.html

Registration (rates rise after June 27): http://www.abic.ca/abic2008/html/registration.html


GMO Compass

A quick online poll

Agriculture in the 21st century -> click here http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/home/

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