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Date:

June 2, 2008

Subject:

Czech call for rationality; Crops set new record; Self-modifying animals

 

* Czech scientists call for rational debate
* US Forecasts Record Exports for 2008
* Brazil Produces Record Soybean Crop
* [Video] Could GM crops help feed Africa?
* Effects of Bt on red spider mite predator
* Rotifers Capture, Integrate Foreign DNA
* Intellectual Property Rights in Living Matter: New Zealand
* [Book] Genetic Glass Ceilings

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Czech scientists call for rational debate on GMO

- Jan Richter, Radio Praha, May 30, 2008

http://www.radio.cz/en/article/104603

A week before a key vote by EU environment ministers on tightening GMO cultivation rules, leading Czech scientists have called on European politicians to start a rational debate on the future of genetically modified plants. Claiming that GMOs are safe both for consumers and the environment, Czech experts would like to see the European Union embrace a more liberal attitude towards biotech crops.

After France suspended commercial cultivation of genetically modified maize last November, the Czech Republic became the European Union's second largest producer of biotech corn, after Spain. At a press briefing in Prague on Thursday, leading Czech scientists in the field of agricultural biotechnologies called for a rational debate on the issue and for more liberal EU policies on GMO in general. Jaroslav Drobník, a professor of biotechnology at Prague's Charles University, says the EU rules on biotech plants are the strictest in the world.

"Politicians in Brussels follow voters' concerns, and not rational arguments. I'm very curious how the vote on June 5 will turn out because EU votes on the issue reflect people's concerns and never rational arguments for or against."

Mr Drobník and his colleagues believe that genetically modified crops are safe, and are in fact better for the environment that conventional plants as they require smaller amounts of pesticides and herbicides. This makes them cheaper while at the same time, their yields are higher because fewer plants get damaged by pests. Frantiek Sehnal, the head of the Czech Academy of Sciences' Bilogical Centre, even says that genetically modified plants could be the answer to the world food crisis.

"Food prices are fast increasing and so is the number of people dependant on food imports. We therefore need to increase food production. But the area of arable land is getting smaller, fuel costs are rising and the requirements for environmental protection are higher as we want to use less pesticides. What can we do? We have to come up with more productive crops, and the best way to do so, the fastest way and the only possible way today is genetic modification."

Magdalena Klimovic(ová is an advisor for Greenpeace Czech Republic on GMO-related issues. She says that Czech scientists grossly underestimate the risks of biotech crops for the environment. Ms Klimovic(ová also thinks that the European Union should not change its strict GMO rules.

"I believe that Europe will become a model of sustainable practices in agriculture. It's hard to predict what will happen in 20 years' time as for the way Europeans feel, how picky they are about the quality of food and quality of life, we believe that the future lies in organic and sustainable farming."

The official Czech position on GMO cultivation rules is to be determined next week at a meeting of Czech experts and ministry officials.

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Record $108.5 Billion Agricultural Exports Forecast for 2008

- USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, May 30, 2008

http://www.fas.usda.gov/scriptsw/PressRelease/pressrel_dout.asp?PrNum=0094-08

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer today announced an updated quarterly forecast for U.S. agricultural exports - expected to reach a record $108.5 billion for fiscal year 2008. Today's upward revision is a $7.5 billion increase from February's previous record forecast and $26.5 billion above the final 2007 exports. Grains and animal products account for two-thirds of the export gains.

"America's increased export volume in bulk commodities like corn, other animal feeds and soybeans make agriculture the bright spot in the overall balance of trade," said Schafer. "U.S. producers are on track to export a record 63 million tons of corn, and set new export volume and value records for pork. Export volumes and values are also up for many horticultural products with sales growth to Canada and the European Union being exceptionally strong."

Asia continues to be an important growth market for U.S. agricultural commodities. U.S. exports to China are forecast to reach a record $10.5 billion, up almost $3.4 billion from 2007 levels. Canada and Mexico remain the United States' top two markets worldwide with exports forecast to reach $30.5 billion in 2008 - some $5 billion above 2007.

"Trade agreements have a significant impact on our ability to sell America's agricultural products in world markets," said Schafer. "Canada and Mexico, our two North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners, currently buy 28 percent of the value of America's agricultural exports - up from 20 percent purchased 15 years ago when trade began under NAFTA. Unfortunately, Congress has not been acting in the best interest of the American farmer and rancher by stalling approval of the signed trade agreement with Colombia, yet along with approving trade with Korea and Panama, Congress could provide three extremely important markets for expanding the trend of increased American export sales for years to come."

While agricultural imports in two-way trade with the United States will also increase - to a record $78.5 billion forecast by USDA - the $108.5 billion in export sales by American farmers and ranchers will net a positive agricultural trade surplus of $30 billion for the United States.

USDA's Economic Research Service, Foreign Agricultural Service and World Agricultural Outlook Board release agricultural trade forecasts quarterly. The summary and full report of USDA's "Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade" may be accessed from the ERS web site at http://www.ers.usda.gov or the FAS web site at http://www.fas.usda.gov . The next quarterly report will be issued at the end of August 2008.

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Brazil: Annual Soybean Report

- USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, May 30, 2008

http://www.fas.usda.gov/scripts/gd.asp?ID=146294752

Thanks to high international prices and good overall climatic conditions, Brazil's Oilseed sector is experiencing a moment of relative prosperity. Farmers produced a record soybean crop of an estimated 60.1 MMT on 21.7 million hectares, 1 million tons more of soybeans on 4% more area than last year. Brazil's overall soybean yield, nearly identical to last year's, is expected to reach 2.8 tons per hectare. Less occurrences of Soybean Rust contributed to this year's positive outcome. Production and area are in 2008/09 projected to increase by 7%, increasing production to 64.3 MMT.

View the Acrobat version: http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200805/146294752.pdf

View/Download the MS Word version: http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200805/146294752.doc

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Could GM crops help feed Africa?

- Jeremy Cooke, BBC News, May 30, 2008

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7428789.stm

In the final part of his series on whether genetically modified food can help solve the world food crisis, BBC News rural affairs correspondent Jeremy Cooke reports from Uganda.

To see the video (1 min, 29 sec.), visit the link above.

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Prey mediated effects of Bt maize on fitness and digestive physiology of the red spider mite predator Stethorus punctillum Weise (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae)

Fernando Álvarez-Alfageme, Natalie Ferry, et. al., Transgenic Research, March 6, 2008

http://www.springerlink.com/content/a7wv68173353627g/

Abstract: The present study investigated prey-mediated effects of two maize varieties expressing a truncated Cry1Ab, Compa CB (event Bt176) and DKC7565 (event MON810), on the biology of the ladybird Stethorus punctillum. Although immuno-assays demonstrated the presence of Cry1Ab in both prey and predator collected from commercial maize-growing fields, neither transgenic variety had any negative effects on survival of the predator, nor on the developmental time through to adulthood. Furthermore, no subsequent effects on ladybird fecundity were observed. As a prerequisite to studying the interaction of ladybird proteases with Cry1Ab, proteases were characterised using a range of natural and synthetic substrates with diagnostic inhibitors. These results demonstrated that this predator utilises both serine and cysteine proteases for digestion. In vitro studies demonstrated that T. urticae were not able to process or hydrolyze Cry1Ab, suggesting that the toxin passes through the prey to the third trophic level undegraded, thus presumably retaining its insecticidal properties. In contrast, S. punctillum was able to activate the 130 kDa protoxin into the 65 kDa fragment; a fragment of similar size was also obtained with bovine trypsin, which is known to cleave the protoxin to the active form. Thus, despite a potential hazard to the ladybird of Bt-expressing maize (since the predator was both exposed to, and able to proteolytically cleave the toxin, at least in vitro), no deleterious effects were observed.

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Common Aquatic Animal's Genome Can Capture Foreign DNA

- ScienceDaily, May 30, 2008

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080529141401.htm

Long viewed as straitlaced spinsters, sexless freshwater invertebrate animals known as bdelloid rotifers may actually be far more promiscuous than anyone had imagined: Scientists at Harvard University have found that the genomes of these common creatures are chock-full of DNA from plants, fungi, bacteria, and animals.

The finding, described May 30 in the journal Science, could take the sex out of sexual reproduction, showing that bdelloid rotifers, all of which are female, can exchange genetic material via other means.

"Our result shows that genes can enter the genomes of bdelloid rotifers in a manner fundamentally different from that which, in other animals, results from the mating of males and females," says Matthew S. Meselson, Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

In essence, Meselson and colleagues say, bdelloids may acquire DNA by habitually disintegrating their genomes -- something these unusual animals do regularly during periods of desiccation, which fractures their genetic material and ruptures cellular membranes. Miraculously, bdelloids can then spring back to life upon rehydration of their habitats, readily reconstituting their genomes and their membranes.

In the process of rebuilding their shattered DNA, though, they may adopt shreds of genetic material from other bdelloids in the same puddle, as well as from unrelated species.

Meselson and co-authors Eugene A. Gladyshev and Irina R. Arkhipova believe the findings may solve the longstanding mystery of bdelloids' sexless ways, and may shed light on their ability to adapt to new environments.

"These fascinating animals not only have relaxed the barriers to incorporation of foreign genetic material, but, more surprisingly, they even managed to keep some of these alien genes functional," says Arkhipova, a staff scientist in Harvard's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

"In principle, this gives them an opportunity to take advantage of the entire environmental metagenome," adds Gladyshev, a graduate student in molecular and cellular biology at Harvard.

While the scientists have yet to pinpoint the exact sources of the invasive DNA, they have ascertained that the foreign genes are concentrated in bdelloid telomeres, the regions at the ends of DNA thought to prevent its strands from unraveling -- much like the plastic cap on the end of a shoelace.

A next step, Meselson says, is to determine whether bdelloid genomes also contain homologous genes imported from other bdelloids. He and his colleagues also hope to examine whether the animals actually use any of the hundreds of snippets of foreign DNA they appear to vacuum up.

Nearly all other multicellular animals have strong safeguards against foreign DNA, but bdelloids' seeming embrace of genetic detritus is in keeping with their general quirkiness: Shunning sex and entirely lacking males, the ubiquitous creatures are also extraordinarily resistant to radiation, as Meselson and Gladyshev demonstrated earlier this year in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

With nearly 500 recognized species worldwide, bdelloid rotifers were discovered in 1702, when the renowned Dutch scientist and microscopy pioneer Antony van Leeuwenhoek added water to dust retrieved from a rain gutter on his house and observed the organisms in the resulting fluid. He subsequently described the creatures in a letter to Britain's Royal Society, which still counts an envelope of van Leeuwenhoek's rain-gutter dust among its holdings.

In addition to Harvard, Meselson and Arkhipova are also affiliated with the Marine Biological Laboratories in Woods Hole, Mass. Their work with Gladyshev is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

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Reference: Eugene A. Gladyshev, et. al., "Massive Horizontal Gene Transfer in Bdelloid Rotifers", Science, May 30, 2008, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/320/5880/1210

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Intellectual Property Rights in Living Matter: New Zealand

- The University of Oklahoma College of Law, May 30, 2008

http://jay.law.ou.edu/faculty/kershen/rs_iprlm_newzealand.cfm

The Oklahoma Journal of Law & Technology (OkJoLT) announces the posting of three concise papers about intellectual property rights in living matter in New Zealand. These papers on the law of New Zealand are the eleventh set of papers for the Intellectual Property Rights in Living Matter Student Project of the University of Oklahoma, College of Law. Mr. Ryan E. Jenlink, J.D. 2008, authored these New Zealand papers under the guidance of Professor Drew Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law. [Note: the links below are to files in .pdf format.]

1. Protecting Plant Varieties in New Zealand http://jay.law.ou.edu/faculty/kershen/IPRLM/Protecting%20Plant%20Varieties%20in%20New%20Zealand%20-%20FINAL%20accepted%20Mar%206%202008%20proofed.pdf

2. Biotechnology, Patents, and the Law--New Zealand http://jay.law.ou.edu/faculty/kershen/IPRLM/Biotechnology%20Patents%20and%20the%20Law-New%20Zealand%20-%20FINAL%20accepted%20Mar%205%202008%20proofed.pdf

3. Maori Claims to Traditional Knowledge of NZ http://jay.law.ou.edu/faculty/kershen/IPRLM/Maori%20Claims%20to%20Traditional%20Knowledge%20of%20%20NZ%20-%20FINAL%20accepted%20Mar%2030%202008%20proofed.pdf

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Guest ed. note: For more scholarship on intellectual property rights in living matter at The University of Oklahoma College of Law, visit http://jay.law.ou.edu/faculty/kershen/rs_iprlm.cfm Jurisdictions also covered under this topic include Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, the European Union, India, International Agreements, South Africa, South Korea and the United States. Please remember that these papers reflected the law as of the date posted but that statutes and regulations change and that more recently decided regulatory and judicial opinions affect the interpretation of the statutes and regulations. Hence, readers must be aware that to have current information, the reader would need to check for changes in the law and its interpretation since the positing of any particular paper.

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Genetic Glass Ceilings: Transgenics for Crop Biodiversity

- Jonathan Gressel, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Feb. 12, 2008

http://www.amazon.com/Genetic-Glass-Ceilings-Transgenics-Biodiversity/dp/0801887194

Only 1 left in stock--order soon (more on the way).

Product Description

As the world's population rises to an expected ten billion in the next few generations, the challenges of feeding humanity and maintaining an ecological balance will dramatically increase. Today we rely on just four crops for 80 percent of all consumed calories: wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans. Indeed, reliance on these four crops may also mean we are one global plant disease outbreak away from major famine.

In this revolutionary and controversial book, Jonathan Gressel argues that alternative plant crops lack the genetic diversity necessary for wider domestication and that even the Big Four have reached a "genetic glass ceiling": no matter how much they are bred, there is simply not enough genetic diversity available to significantly improve their agricultural value. Gressel points the way through the glass ceiling by advocating transgenics -- a technique where genes from one species are transferred to another. He maintains that with simple safeguards the technique is a safe solution to the genetic glass ceiling conundrum. Analyzing alternative crops -- including palm oil, papaya, buckwheat, tef, and sorghum -- Gressel demonstrates how gene manipulation could enhance their potential for widespread domestication and reduce our dependency on the Big Four. He also describes a number of ecological benefits that could be derived with the aid of transgenics.

A compelling synthesis of ideas from agronomy, medicine, breeding, physiology, population genetics, molecular biology, and biotechnology, Genetic Glass Ceilings presents transgenics as an inevitable and desperately necessary approach to securing and diversifying the world's food supply.

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