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June 17, 2008


Discount for AgBioWorld members; Attack on Swiss experiment; Extraterrestrial genetic material


* Discount for AgBioWorld members: ABIC 2008
* Destruction of experimental crops condemned
* Bayer will use tobacco plants to produce medicines
* Dole, McGovern named World Food Prize Laureates
* Earliest genetic material may have come from the stars


10% discount for all AgBioWorld members attending ABIC 2008

- Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (web posting), June 12, 2008


The Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference returns to Europe this August and will be hosted by University College Cork in Cork, Ireland from the 24th-27th. The annual ABIC conference brings many of the world's largest agriculture, fisheries and food biotechnology companies to the host country (many Fortune 500 companies) and this year is no exception.

At ABIC 2008 in Cork, there will be many hot topics under discussion and debate including innovations in areas such as biofuels and bioenergy, animal and plant breeding, fisheries biotech, molecular pharming, dairy and food, including dedicated sessions on policy, regulatory affairs and business strategies. Registration for the conference and for the association trade exhibition has now opened and full details of ABIC 2008 are available on the conference website. http://www.abic.ca/abic2008/html/program.html

Please select AgBioWorld from the drop down menu on the ABIC registration form to avail of your discount.


The Swiss National Foundation condemns the destruction of experimental GM crops

- Swiss National Foundation (press release), June 13, 2008

The Swiss National Foundation condemns the partial ravaging of experimental sites with tests of genetically modified wheat at the AGROSCOPE research station in Reckenholz-Tänikon, Switzerland near Zurich. The field experiments are part of the National Research Programme No. 59 (NFP59) "Benefits and Risks of the field release of transgenic crops", being carried out by the National Research Foundation with the mandate of the Swiss Government and approval of the Federal Office of Environment.

An important part of the field trials is risk assessment of transgenic crops which aims to assess interactions of genetically modified wheat with other plants, soil microbes and insects. The research results are intended to provide Swiss policy makers with the basis for decisions about whether genetically modified crops can be commercialised in Swiss agriculture.

These field experiments take into account critical arguments of opponents to GM crops. This is why we believe the destruction is in nobody's interest. The NFP59 programme leaders and the researchers have always placed high value on transparent information policies to engage in broad public discussion on the benefits and risks of field releases of GM crops. The researchers are meeting the highest international standards of biosafety in their field experiments.

The research board of the NFP59 together with the researchers involved will try to assess the damage to the projects and the whole research programme.


Guest ed. note: The 35 attackers gained entry to the facility after threatening guards with physical harm. Police arrested two men and three women, ages 29-39, after the incident. Motives for the attack are said to be unknown. See, "Attacke der Gentechnik Gegner", schweizmagazin.ch, June 14, 2008, http://schweizmagazin.ch/news/335/ARTICLE/4488/2008-06-14.html


Pilot plant for future-oriented technology opens in Halle: Bayer will use tobacco plants to produce medicines

First development candidate from the new plant for cancer indication non-Hodgkin's lymphoma - Clinical phase I could start in 2009

- Bayer AG (press release), June 16, 2008


Leverkusen / Halle - Medicinal products from plants or even tobacco for health - a vision that could soon become reality. Bayer and its subsidiary Icon Genetics have together developed a new production process that can be used to produce biotech drugs in tobacco plants. A new production facility for therapeutic proteins was inaugurated on June 16 in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, with a ceremony attended by guests from the scientific community, politics and business. In the future, the active substances produced in the tobacco plants could be used to develop new approaches to the therapy and prevention of diseases for which the current medical options are not satisfactory.

"This project is intended to improve our chances of finding new therapies for life-threatening diseases by using drugs obtained with biotechnological methods," explained Dr. Wolfgang Plischke, a member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG whose responsibilities include innovation. "Not all cancers are the same. There are many types of tumor disease which have to be treated individually with specific active substances. The objective is to use this process to produce an individual drug for each patient." This future-oriented technology is a perfect example of the innovative way in which Bayer is combining its extensive expertise in pharmaceutical research with its knowledge of plant genetics and biotechnology.

At Icon Genetics in the Halle Biocenter, 26 people are currently employed in research into and the development of biotech active substances produced in plants. These substances could be used, for example, to treat cancer or as a vaccine against influenza. The scientists work in approximately 1,000 square meters of laboratories and greenhouses. The new pilot plant has created 11 new jobs in Halle for highly qualified experts, most of whom come from the region. Bayer acquired Icon Genetics in 2006, and since then has invested over EUR 10 million in Halle in the study of plant-made pharmaceuticals.

"Icon Genetics embodies the high innovative potential of biotechnology. We are tremendously proud that a company like this has come to Halle," Minister-President Böhmer commented. "It shows that Saxony-Anhalt is a good location for research and that the success in biotechnology that is being achieved here is meeting with respect throughout the world."

Biopharmaceuticals offer perspectives for beating disease

Today 15 percent of all medicines are produced using biotechnology, and as many as one in four new drug products is a biopharmaceutical whose active ingredient is produced in bioreactors using bacteria, brewer's yeast and insect or hamster cells, for example. These products, and cancer treatments in particular, are expected to account for a growing share of the market.

The production of "personalized medicines" using biotechnology processes is an especially important area. Proteins produced in tobacco plants can be obtained rapidly and in high yields, and this offers prospects for therapies which have previously been impracticable because of the length of time taken to produce them or their economic viability.

Before the tobacco plant can start producing a pharmaceutical active ingredient, the blueprint for the relevant drug product first has to be transported into the plant with the aid of agrobacteria. The plant is placed head-first in a bath containing a bacterial solution specific to the plant. A vacuum process enables the plant to take up the bacterial solution through its pores. The solution is distributed throughout the tobacco plant and its genetic information passes into the plant's cells. The plant then uses the blueprint introduced in this way to produce the active ingredient.

The first protein produced in the pilot plant in Halle which will be a candidate for clinical development is a patient-specific antibody vaccine for the therapy of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). NHL is a malignant disorder affecting the lymphatic system. The objective of the new therapy is to activate the patient's immune system, enabling the malignant cells to be targeted and destroyed by the body's own defense system. Phase I clinical testing is scheduled to begin in 2009. The therapeutic proteins obtained in Halle need to meet certain requirements in order to be used in clinical studies.

"This facility for the production of clinical trial supplies is an important step towards using our technology for the benefit of patients," said Professor Yuri Gleba, Managing Director and founder of Icon Genetics. "Using our method, the tobacco plant is able to produce large quantities of complex compounds for medicinal use - and it is a particularly rapid, simple, safe and low-cost method."


Robert Dole, George McGovern Named 2008 World Food Prize Laureates

Success of their school-feeding program has enhanced nutrition and education for millions of the world's poorest children

- World Food Prize Foundation, June 13, 2008


Former U.S. Senators Robert Dole and George McGovern have been selected to receive the 2008 World Food Prize for their inspired, collaborative leadership that has encouraged a global commitment to school feeding and enhanced school attendance and nutrition for millions of the world's poorest children, especially girls.

The McGovern-Dole international school-feeding program was established by the United States in 2000. Since then, it has provided meals to feed more than 22 million children in 41 countries and boosted school attendance by an estimated 14 percent overall and by 17 percent for girls.

The success of the McGovern-Dole program has also led to dramatically increased international support for expansion of school-feeding operations in developing countries around the world. As one example, the UN World Food Program's school-feeding operations have nearly doubled since 2001; in 2006 alone, it fed more than 20 million children in 74 countries.

Senator Robert Dole and Senator George McGovern will be presented the $250,000 "Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture" October 16 at the Iowa State Capitol.


Imperial College London Scientists confirm that parts of earliest genetic material may have come from the stars

- Imperial College London (press release), June 13, 2008


Scientists have confirmed for the first time that an important component of early genetic material which has been found in meteorite fragments is extraterrestrial in origin, in a paper published on 15 June 2008.

The finding suggests that parts of the raw materials to make the first molecules of DNA and RNA may have come from the stars.

The scientists, from Europe and the USA, say that their research, published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, provides evidence that life's raw materials came from sources beyond the Earth.

The materials they have found include the molecules uracil and xanthine, which are precursors to the molecules that make up DNA and RNA, and are known as nucleobases.

The team discovered the molecules in rock fragments of the Murchison meteorite, which crashed in Australia in 1969.

They tested the meteorite material to determine whether the molecules came from the solar system or were a result of contamination when the meteorite landed on Earth.

The analysis shows that the nucleobases contain a heavy form of carbon which could only have been formed in space. Materials formed on Earth consist of a lighter variety of carbon.

Lead author Dr Zita Martins, of the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, says that the research may provide another piece of evidence explaining the evolution of early life. She says:

"We believe early life may have adopted nucleobases from meteoritic fragments for use in genetic coding which enabled them to pass on their successful features to subsequent generations."

Between 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago large numbers of rocks similar to the Murchison meteorite rained down on Earth at the time when primitive life was forming. The heavy bombardment would have dropped large amounts of meteorite material to the surface on planets like Earth and Mars.

Co-author Professor Mark Sephton, also of Imperial's Department of Earth Science and Engineering, believes this research is an important step in understanding how early life might have evolved. He added:

"Because meteorites represent left over materials from the formation of the solar system, the key components for life -- including nucleobases -- could be widespread in the cosmos. As more and more of life's raw materials are discovered in objects from space, the possibility of life springing forth wherever the right chemistry is present becomes more likely."

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