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May 15, 2008


Aussie, Romanian Farmers Demand Biotech; Biotech Benefits Database; Farmaceutical Barley


* French parliament throws out GM bill
* WA dairy farmers call for GM pastures
* Farmers threaten protests over GM corn
* MINFAL and Monsanto sign Letter of Intent
* Syngenta Moves Into GM Seeds
* Key player in the dance of chromosomes
* Orfeus protein production system in barley
* GM Rice Resists Uptake of Arsenic
* Taiwan Implements Stacks Registration
* Swiss calls for GMO-free agriculture
* Online Biotech Benefits Database
* Online Protein-folding Competition


Setback for Sarkozy as parliament throws out GM bill

- Agence France Presse via Terra Daily, May 13, 2008


PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government suffered a setback on Tuesday as lawmakers unexpectedly threw out a controversial bill on genetically-modified (GM) crops.

Although Sarkozy's ruling right holds an absolute majority in the National Assembly, one third of his UMP party rebelled and joined left-wing lawmakers to vote out the text on technical grounds, by a whisker-thin 136 votes to 135.

Cheers broke out outside the parliament building where anti-GM campaigners had gathered in protest as the bill, which aimed to bring France into line with a 2001 European Union law, was rejected.

Anti-globalisation activist Jose Bove, who has been jailed several times for ripping up GM crops, called it a "historic victory".

"This is a collective victory for the citizens of this country who refuse GMOs (genetically-modified organisms). The government will not be able to do anything it wants after this," said a cheering Bove.

Left-wing critics attacked the legislation, drawn up following a national conference on the environment last October, as lacking strong enough safeguards to protect conventional crops from possible contamination from GMOs.

They also attacked its plans to make ripping up GM crops, a tactic of choice for French anti-GM activists, a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in jail.

Opposition among members of Sarkozy's UMP party was for different reasons: many argued the text gave too much ground to environmentalists by making it compulsory to publicly disclose any GM field under cultivation.

Green party deputy Noel Mamere said the National Assembly vote was "a fine lesson for the government and for Nicolas Sarkozy", while Greenpeace said it was "happy" the text had been voted out.

GM crops have proved divisive even in French government ranks, where Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and his junior minister, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, have openly clashed on the issue.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the text would be submitted to a new vote in both the lower-house National Assembly and the supper house Senate, and that a bi-partisan committee would meet Wednesday to start studying the text.

But the Socialist opposition warned the government it would not accept the text being forced through parliament.

Reflecting widespread public hostility to GM crops in France, the government in February banned the only strain of genetically-modified corn currently grown in France, MON810, produced by the US agribusiness giant Monsanto.

GM crops cover less than one percent of farmland in France, Europe's top agricultural producer.

While production of GM maize remains small, it has increased: some 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of the crop were planted in France in 2007, up from 5,000 hectares in 2006.


WA dairy farmers call for GM pastures

- ABC News (Australia), May 15, 2008


Western Australian dairy farmers are pushing to have genetically modified pastures grown in the state in order to stay competitive.

NSW and Victoria are planting the first GM canola this autumn after a ban on the crop was lifted earlier this year.

Peter Evans, from WA Farmers, says GM pastures could be available within four years.

And he says local milk production will fall behind if the state's moratorium isn't lifted.

"There are clovers and rye grasses that will be available to all pasture growing farmers and these will have a great advantage for dairy farmers," he said.

"And because NSW and Victoria have allowed genetically modified canola, we assume that they will allow these grasses to be grown.

"Once they're available, we'd be lobbying very heavily to be able to use them, otherwise we'd be at a competitive disadvantage."


Farmers threaten protests should Romanian authorities forbid GM corn

- HotNews.ro, May 12, 2008


Romania's Agriculture Producers Association (LAPAR) threatens to launch a series of protests in Romania and Brussels if Bucharest authorities forbid genetically modified corn crops in the country, Romanian monitoring agency Rador reads, quoting BBC. A decision on the issue was supposed to be taken by an Environment ministry commission on Friday but was postponed.

Official sources within the ministry declared for BBC that this year, Romania would have cultivated some 4000 acres of GMO corn as compared to 320 acres last year. GMO corn was banned in several European countries like France, Hungary, Austria and Greece.

However, the Commission did not take any decision to ban the GMO corn at the European level and urged the Food Safety European Agency to re-evaluate the issue.


MINFAL and Monsanto sign Letter of Intent

- Daily Times (Pakistan), May 14, 2008


ISLAMABAD: To introduce the certified BT Cotton seed, the Ministry of Food Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL) Tuesday signed Letter of Intent (LoI) with Monsanto.

The agreement would help Pakistan to expand cotton production through introducing Monsanto derived insect-protection technology 'Bollgard'. Secretary MINFAL, Muhammad Ziaur-Rehman and Monsanto Company Asia Pacific Vice President, Andre Dias inked an agreement here on Tuesday.

Speaking on the occasion Secretary Minfal said, "the agreement would provide an opportunity for introduction of BT Cotton varieties in Pakistan on mutually agreed arrangements. He said that LoI defines in general the basis for the parties to extend cooperation to advance transgenic technology in agriculture sector of the country.

"Under the agreement, both parties would pursue collaborative efforts to evaluate, develop and implement practical solutions to expand cotton production in Pakistan through the commercialisation of BT technology in the country," he added.

This was a joint effort between MINFAL and Monsanto to evaluate potential collaboration in cotton and also other crops to provide information and education regarding the safety and benefits of the technology to the Pakistani farmers, the secretary informed.

"The agreement would also help to develop business models and market services to achieve the parties objectives and meet the Pakistan cotton industry's needs to build a long-term strategy to innovate and expand agriculture production in the country," the secretary said. Andre Dias, speaking on the occasion said that Monsanto was a leading global provider of transgenic technology-based tools and agricultural products that had successfully improved farm productivity.


Guest ed. note: History once again repeats itself. Seed-saving, seed-sharing farmers (i.e., smugglers) were supplying this market with Bt cotton seed well before this agreement was reached.


A Leader In Crop Protection Moves Into Genetically Modified Seeds

- Amy Reeves, Investor's Business Daily, May 12, 2008


When you're at the top of one field, often the way to grow is to extend the brand.

Such is the case for Syngenta. The company was formed in 2000 out of the agribusiness branches of Novartis and AstraZeneca, two Swiss giants better known for their pharmaceuticals.

It's in a virtual tie with Bayer in the global market for crop-protection products. In the U.S., its fungicides, herbicides and insecticides command a leading 30% market share.

But through a series of buyouts over the past few years, the company has been moving into genetically modified seeds. In 2004, it bought Advanta, another AstraZeneca affiliate, and U.S. seed supplier Golden Harvest. Last year, it bought Fischer and Zeraim Gedera, which sell flower and vegetable seeds, respectively.

"In crop protection, there isn't a great deal of opportunity in terms of acquisitions," said Chief Financial Officer John Ramsey. "So acquisitions tend to take us into seeds."

Small Player

It's a strategy with some risk, since this brings Syngenta into a field dominated by companies like Monsanto (NYSE:MON - News) and Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW - News). The business requires expertise in biotechnology, since seeds these days are specially bred and treated to defend against pests and boost productivity. Thus, as in other tech fields, first movers have an advantage.

In fact, Credit Suisse analysts wrote in their March 4 initiation report: "We think Syngenta will never be the leading seeds company; it is too far behind competitors for that."

Ramsey admits Syngenta doesn't really expect to overtake Monsanto. But he says Syngenta's reputation with farmers, thanks to its pest-control products, will give it an edge as a new entrant.

"If you go to retailers in the U.S. in this field, the biggest brand in the retailer's shop will be Syngenta," he said. "We're not a startup company coming into the market with genetically modified technology."

The effort got a boost in February when DuPont agreed to license Syngenta's MIR162 technology for use in DuPont's Pioneer Hi-Bred corn seed. Financial terms weren't disclosed, but analysts heralded its importance.

"This agreement will allow Syngenta to generate additional value from its GM seeds portfolio through royalties ... and shows the recognition of Syngenta's GM technology, adding to our view that the company can be a credible player in the GM seed market," Deutsche Bank analysts wrote in a Feb. 19 note.

The deal was especially important since MIR162 was a technology that Syngenta had created in its own labs. The seed suppliers it bought had generally licensed the technology from other players, dragging down margins with royalty payments. But Ramsey says that in this field, you have to be an innovator.

The DuPont deal, he said, will "give a bit of credibility to a market that's saying, 'Well, come on, Syngenta, hurry up!'"

To keep up with those demands, Syngenta has been enlarging its research and development capacity. Earlier this month, it expanded its research campus in Stein, Switzerland. It also invested $65 million in a new GM research center in Beijing that it expects to open in 2010.

The latter move builds on Syngenta's decision last year to buy 49% of Sanbei Seed, a Chinese corn-seed seller. Ramsey said the company is also looking to make buyouts in the biotech field to "spread our innovation footprint."

All this activity means that seeds now provide 30% of Syngenta's revenue. But that doesn't mean the legacy business, crop protection, is sitting idle. In fact, in the first quarter, crop-protection sales rose 22% from the year-ago period while seeds grew a more modest 13%.

Like many other agriculture players lately, Syngenta is benefiting from strong industry fundamentals. Rising demand for more and better food from emerging markets, along with demand for biofuels and two years of bad weather, have tilted the supply-demand balance sharply in favor of suppliers. Companies like Syngenta, whose whole purpose is to increase yield, especially benefit.

"If you look back over the last eight years, in seven of those years the world has failed to produce enough agricultural produce," said Ramsey. "The answer to this is technology."

New Products

In such an environment, Syngenta almost can't help but grow. Still, as in seeds, you need to keep cranking out new technology to make a better pesticide than the next guy.

Credit Suisse's analysts, despite their skepticism on seeds, lauded Syngenta's steady turnout of new crop-protection products, and its full pipeline up to 2012. They especially note Syngenta's addition of its own version of glyphosate, the basis for Monsanto's best-selling weed killer, Roundup.

"This enables Syngenta to compete with Monsanto directly in a product that continues to take market share from selective herbicides both alone and in combination with resistant seeds," said the initiation report.

The combination has proven highly profitable for Syngenta. Overall, earnings last year grew 26% over the year before to $2.21 a share, as sales gained 15% to $9.24 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect 2008 to be even better, with profit up 51% to $3.34 a share.


Research shines spotlight on a key player in the dance of chromosomes

- EurekAlert, May 13, 2008


Cell division is essential to life, but the mechanism by which emerging daughter cells organize and divvy up their genetic endowments is little understood. In a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois and Columbia University report on how a key motor protein orchestrates chromosome movements at a critical stage of cell division.

The study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Within the complex world of the cell, motor proteins function as a kind of postal service. These proteins carry cargo from one location to another in the cell, a job that requires precision, in both the location and the timing of delivery. They are fueled by a small molecule, adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP).

Some motor proteins are essential to mitosis - the process by which cell division occurs in higher organisms. During cell division it is important for chromosomes to line up at the middle of the parent cell allowing for their separation between the two daughter cells.

Motor proteins play a key role in the movement of chromosomes to and from the poles of the cell. Should any of these processes lose coordination, it could result in disease or cell death.

How chromosomes move during cell division is a question that is fundamental to biology and is of importance in understanding many diseases. University of Illinois physics professor Paul Selvin and his colleagues focused on a motor protein, centromeric protein E (CENP-E) that is known to be associated with chromosomes.

"The question is whether CENP-E acts like a transporter or like an anchor," Selvin said.

"A transporter moves things around the cell, whereas an anchor sits someplace in the cell, holds onto something, and causes the thing to be held down," Selvin said. "It turns out CENP-E is known to be an anchor, but is it also a transporter?"

Earlier studies had established a role for CENP-E in aligning paired chromosomes. This alignment is important for ensuring that one of each pair makes its way into a different daughter cell.

CENP-E is part of a large class of proteins called kinesins. These motor proteins walk across the cell on special tightropes, called microtubules, using ATP as an energy source.

"The motion of 'normal' kinesin, kinesin-1, is now well known," Selvin said. "It turns out it's like a little person - it walks with its two feet, one in front of the other. I was interested to know whether the normal rules of how kinesin walks apply to these different kinds of kinesins."

"In vivo studies are hampered by the presence of lots of other proteins, making it hard to study how much a single protein moves, how fast it moves and how much force it produces," said Hasan Yardimci, a post doctoral researcher in Selvin's lab and lead author on the study.

Instead, Yardimci used a technique that allowed him to look at one molecule at a time.

The most direct way to measure how a protein moves is to watch it in real time. Using special molecular bulbs called quantum dots, which light up the protein, Yardimci was able to watch CENP-E move along its microtubule tightrope. By resolving these motions on the nanometer scale, he was able to make two key observations.

"The protein takes eight nanometer steps in a hand-over-hand fashion," Yardimci said. The protein moved in a direction consistent with the way chromosomes move within cells, over lengths that are normally observed during cell division.

To test the kind of loads that CENP-E could withstand, Yardimci set up a tug of war between a micron-sized bead and the protein. As the protein moved, it pulled on the bead.

By measuring the force on the bead, the researchers were able to calculate how much force CENP-E could exert.

The observation that CENP-E shares several common features with kinesin-1 provides insights into its molecular workings.

"We showed that it is likely that CENP-E moves chromosomes around," Selvin said. "That is, we showed that it is a transporter in vitro, hauling around a little bead. Now we need to do it in vivo, on chromosomes."


Icelandic biotechnology company launches unique Orfeus protein production system in barley

- ORF Genetics (press release) via SeedQuest, May 14, 2008


Reykjavik, Iceland - ORF Genetics, an Icelandic biotechnology company, announced yesterday the opening of new and revolutionary 22,000 ft2 (2043m2) cultivation facilities in Grindavik, Iceland. Utilizing its unique Orfeus protein production system in barley, ORF Genetics produces and markets biorisk-free ISOkine human growth factors for use in medical research, drug discovery and cosmetics.

The state-of-the-art Green Factory uses geothermal energy for safe, indoor cultivation of genetically engineered barley. It is set in the middle of a lava field, close to IcelandA4s best-known tourist attraction, the Blue Lagoon. The barley is cultivated in a soil-less hydroponic system on specially designed conveyor belts, allowing for the production of up to 90 different proteins at a time. The Orfeus system and new facilities allow ORF the flexibility to easily scale their production according to the unique requirements of different customers and markets. Currently ORF has more than 100 different growth factors in its pipeline and 10 ISOkine growth factors already on the market.

Bjorn L. Orvar, CEO of ORF Genetics, said at the opening of the greenhouse: "Our research and development efforts in recent years are now bearing fruit, and we see great opportunities for rapid growth, specifically in the field of drug discovery and cosmetics."

Minister of Industry Ossur Skarphedinsson said as he harvested the first barley in the Green Factory: "ORF's ideas have sprouted from the dynamic Icelandic public research environment, and the company's leaders, with unflagging entrepreneurial optimism, have overcome all difficulties, making ORF a unique high-tech company in the world. The new 'Green Factory' leverages the company's deserved green image, as production is based on green and renewable energy from Iceland's volcanic depths."

ORF will be exhibiting their products in the US at the upcoming Supplier's Day Show hosted by the New York Society for Cosmetic Chemists in May.


Rice Shortage Could Be Eased by Plants That Resist Uptake of Arsenic

genetically engineered rice plants that resist the uptake of toxic metals could boost production and ease the shortage of this staple crop in countries where irrigation with contaminated groundwater has created soils with toxic levels of arsenic.

- Bob Ewing, Digital Journal, May 3, 2008


Rice is a staple food for more than 80 per cent of the world's population. Rice production is falling in Bangladesh, parts of India and South and East Asia due to toxic levels of arsenic in the topsoil.

Om Parkash of the University of Massachusetts Amherst leads a research team that uses genetic engineering to produce rice plants that block the uptake of arsenic, which could increase production of this valuable crop and provide safer food supplies for millions.

"By increasing the activity of certain genes, we can create strains of rice that are highly resistant to arsenic and other toxic metals," says Parkash, a professor of plant, soil and insect sciences. "Rice plants modified in this way accumulate several-fold less arsenic in their above-ground tissues, and produce six to seven times more biomass, making the rice safer to eat and more productive."

This could help alleviate the current world-wide rice shortage.

The press release says that the deep tube wells that are installed to provide drinking water in Bangladesh and other countries are producing water with naturally occurring levels of arsenic that greatly exceed safe limits in drinking water.

When the groundwater is used to irrigate rice paddies it causes a buildup of arsenic in topsoils that is toxic to the rice plants, thus, reducing the amount of rice that can be produced in a given area.

Arsenic builds up in all parts of the plant, including the rice grains used for food, creating health problems in hundreds of thousands of people, including several forms of cancer. Arsenic is also present in the rice straw used as animal fodder, causing arsenic to enter the food chain in dairy products and meat, and affecting the health of animals.

"Already on the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Bangladesh and West Bengal, there are more than 300,000 people who have developed cancer from arsenic poisoning by drinking contaminated water and eating contaminated food," says Parkash.

"The World Health Organization has dubbed this one of the major environmental disasters in human history."

Parkash is currently working with the UMass Amherst Office of Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property and several interested companies to bring this technology to the marketplace.

"Basically, the companies will use our gene constructs in new or existing rice lines, producing hybrid rice that will go through the cultivation and seed production stage," says Parkash. "Then the new strains of rice will be commercialized and brought to market."


Taiwan Implements Stacks Registration

- USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, May 14 2008


Taiwan has implemented registration for stacked traits, effective immediately, in accordance with a May 6 notice issued by the Department of Health (DOH). Taiwan believes that this is supplementary to existing GM registration requirements on single events. While it does not intend to make a notification to the WTO, DOH is open to suggestions from interested parties. DOH did not specify a deadline for completion of commercial stacked event registration. As a result, no impact on US corn and soybean trade is anticipated.

View the Acrobat version: http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200805/146294586.pdf

View/Download the MS Word version: http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200805/146294586.doc


Cabinet calls for GMO-free agriculture

- Swissinfo, May 14, 2008


The government has come out in favour of extending a ban on genetically modified organisms (GMO) in agriculture until 2013.

Voters approved a five-year blanket ban in a nationwide ballot in 2005, but research remains permitted. Parliament is to debate the government proposal.

The Federal Environment Office said the current moratorium had had no adverse impact on farming or research in Switzerland, and Swiss agriculture could benefit from its GMO-free status.

Results of a national research programme into genetically modified plants are expected by 2012.

Leading farmers' organisations, environmental and consumer groups support the government's policy on GMOs, according to the authorities.


CropLife International offers online Biotech Benefits Database

- CropLife International (press release) via SeedQuest, May 13, 2008


Brussels, Beligum - CropLife International announced today that its Biotech Benefits Database now contains over 80 published papers and reviews that demonstrate the benefits associated with the use of agricultural biotechnology products. The Biotech Benefits Database is an online, searchable collection of papers that CropLife International has also shared through the Biosafety Information Resource Center of the Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH), an information exchange mechanism established by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to assist Parties with the implementation of the treaty's provisions to facilitate sharing of information on, and experiences with biotechnology.

"CropLife International is committed to supporting the Biosafety Clearing-House and identifying scientifically sound and reputable studies on plant biotechnology," said Denise Dewar, Executive Director, Plant Biotechnology at CropLife International. "By sharing these resources with the Parties to the Biosafety Protocol, governments will have access to accurate and comprehensive information needed to develop science-based procedures for the procedures for the international trade of living modified organisms."

The Biotech Benefits Database is an online collection of papers that can be searched by crop type, biotech trait, country or region, or by a particular impact. All papers included in the database have either been published in peer-reviewed journals or have been prepared by organizations that have summarized peer-reviewed studies. The Biotech Benefits Database can be accessed through CropLife's Web site at http://www.croplife.org or http://croplife.intraspin.com/BioTech/

The Biosafety Clearing-House is a Web site database designed to provide information on national regulatory requirements, facilitate information exchange, and to assist governments as they make decisions about the importation or release of living modified organisms (LMOs) in their jurisdictions. CropLife's Biotech Benefits Database provides rapid access to scientifically-credible research that can be used within the BCH. The BCH is available on the Web at http://bch.biodiv.org/.


Tetris-Like Game Lets Players Find Scientific Solutions

- Eric Bland, Discovery News, May 13, 2008


While it may not carry the same buzz of the recently released Grand Theft Auto IV, Foldit is a new online game that holds grand promise.

Scientists hope the free, downloadable 3D puzzle game, similar to Tetris, may help speed research in developing a vaccine for HIV, creating chemicals that destroy harmful environmental contaminants, producing enzymes that break down cellulose into sugar that can then be turned into ethanol, and in solving problems that have vexed biochemists for years.

All of those solutions rely on a complicated field of science called protein folding. And the Foldit game offers new design solutions to this field.

"People are good at solving 3D puzzles," said Zoran Papovic, a computer scientist at the University of Washington who helped develop Foldit. "So why not let them figure them it out?"


foldit: Solve Puzzles for Science website: http://fold.it/portal/adobe_main/

Over 70 folding competitions are under way.

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