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June 19, 2008


DT wheat success; Nitrogen-efficient rice; 'Warriors' destroy field trial


* Researchers identify drought-tolerant wheat lines
* Costs to food business of GM zero tolerance
* Eco-warriors destroy GM crop field
* Bug-Proofing Corn May Be Pricey Advance
* Improved nitrogen use efficiency in rice
* Toxicity of Pollen from Bt Rice Lines
* Risk to Nontarget Organisms from Bt Corn
* OECD Biotechnology Update
* Database: Biotechnology Capacity assessments


Aust researchers identify drought-tolerant wheat lines

- ABC News (Australia), June 18, 2008


Australian researchers developing a drought-tolerant wheat have had early success in field trials and hope to have the world's first transgenic wheat in farmers' hands in five to 10 years, a biosciences leader said.

The researchers have identified two genetically modified lines that generate yield increases of 20 per cent, said German Spangenberg, executive director of the Victorian AgriBiosciences Centre, part of a state government research division.

"They are exciting results. There were very significant grain yield gains," Mr Spangenberg said in an interview on the sidelines of an international biotechnology convention in San Diego.

The test plots were planted in northern Victoria, an area of Australia that suffered significant drought losses in its 2006/07 wheat crop.

Researchers have asked for regulatory approval to conduct more field trials over the next two years.

"Those trial will allow us to validate these results," he said. "The availability of water for agriculture is an important constraint. To see genetic innovation in a major crop like wheat for drought is very exciting."

No commercial transgenic wheat currently exists in world markets due to strong opposition by consumer and environmental groups in many countries.

Several biotech crop developers, notably Monsanto Co and Syngenta have done extensive work in developing different types of biotech wheat, but Monsanto shelved its herbicide-resistant wheat project and Syngenta has slowed the pace of its work on a disease-resistant wheat because of the widespread opposition.

That obstacle could be shrinking, however, as food shortages and accompanying skyrocketing prices for grain have applied a recent shock to the world food system.

Syngenta has its genetically modified spring wheat nearly ready to submit for regulatory approval, but plans to wait for further market acceptance, said Syngenta's head of industry relations Jack Bernens, who was also attending the BIO International Convention.


Costs to food business to rise if GM zero-tolerance prevails, warns CIAA

- Lindsey Partos, FoodNavigator.com, June 16, 2008


Europe's vast food industry calls for an end to 'uncertainty' over non EU-approved GM traces in foodstuffs, warning that new risks on the horizon could bring massive costs to the European supply chain.

In a joint statement, players ranging from food product makers to European cereal firms estimate immediate costs of detecting unapproved, but deemed safe elsewhere, GMOs in the soybean and derivative supply chain, such as lecithin, at between EUR1 billion and EUR2.8 billion.

Further, with new GM soy events due to be rolled-out onto the global food supply chain later this year, the industry believes the risk of finding non-EU approved GM material in the supply chain could rise significantly.

"We want to anticipate the risks, we do not want to appear in the EU rapid alert system," says Beate Kettlitz, director for food policy, science and R&D at the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA).

The CIAA, together with a swathe of other industry groups that includes European cereal group Coceral, the Federation of European Rice Millers, as well as flour and maize millers' associations, assert that minute levels of GM varieties approved elsewhere in the world, 'must be tolerated [in the EU] in order to avoid disruptions to the European food sector'.

"A threshold of 0.5 per cent would be appropriate," Beate Kettlitz tells BakeryandSnacks.com.

Today, EU law dictates a 0.9 per cent threshold for GM (EU-approved) material in food and feed. Any excess to the percentage means the food industry must ensure their products have a GM label.

However, GM material approved by key supplier countries, such as the US and Brazil, but not approved by the European 27 member bloc, is not tolerated at any point in the supply chain.

The CIAA, along with the other food players, insist this lack of tolerance will be extremely harmful to businesses. Findings from a recent study commissioned by the food stakeholders found the key negative effects of 'zero tolerance' are: reduced income and employment in the European food industry; a cost burden to the food supply chain; legal uncertainty for importers and processors; and a disruption for EU processing and increases reliance on imports.

On the burden of cost, the group cites a recent incident for the European rice industry when minute traces of unapproved GM rice were detected in imports of US long-grain rice.

According to the study, this event led to a 90 per cent cut in US rice imports, and has so far cost the European rice milling industry between 52 million and 111 million, 'pushing the average EU rice miller into debt'.

And if zero-tolerance continues, the risk, and cost, to industry will rise as new, non-EU approved events, reach the supply chain.

"The current situation is untenable," said Geoff Thompson at the CIAA. "All we asking for is legal certainty to protect our food supply chains," he added.

According to Beate Kettlitz, the food stakeholders, urging policymakers to seek 'practical and durable solutions' have already presented their findings to Europe's legislative executive, the European Commission. They have also asked their members, that include food firms such as ADM, Unilever and Kellogg's, to approach their respective national governments.

But as Europe continues to ride the wave of fervent anti-GM sentiment, any moves to allow currently unauthorised GM material,however minute, into the food supply chain, are likely to come up against strong opposition. But the food industry believes it is impractical and unrealistic not to accept that trace amounts will turn up in the imports.

"It is simply impossible to guarantee the total absence of GM traces from countries where GM crops are widely grown," said Ruth Rawling, chairwoman of the EU's grain trade group, Coceral.


Genetically-modified crop field destroyed by eco-warriors

- Vincent Moss, Sunday Mirror (UK), June 15, 2008


Eco-warriors have destroyed an entire crop of genetically modified potatoes - wiping out vital research to help end famine worldwide.

No one has claimed responsibility for the destruction of thousands of the spuds in a field near Tadcaster, North Yorks.

But Environment Minister Phil Woolas, who had sanctioned the trial by scientists at Leeds University, last night launched a furious attack on the "gutless" group behind the incident.

Supporters of GM foods believe they could help alleviate food shortages and stop prices spiralling.

But critics claim they harm the environment and have dubbed them "Frankenstein foods".

Mr Woolas said: "The people behind this should have the guts to go public and join the debate about GM foods. Their arrogance appalls me."

The attack on June 5 leaves Britain with just one remaining field of GM crops, government sources said last night.


Bug-Proofing Corn May Be Pricey Advance

- Jane Roberts, Memphis Commercial Appeal, June 17, 2008


Monsanto Co. is seeking government approval to offer corn that is resistant to insects attacking the plant from above and below the ground, and is tolerant to two herbicides.

The trick is doing it with one seed. By 2010, Monsanto expects to have SmartStax seed on the market, for the first time allowing farmers to have eight gene traits that they now buy separately from Monsanto or competitor Dow AgroSciences.

And because the traits are expected to provide more power against weeds and pests, Monsanto says the government should be able to lessen restrictions about how much genetically modified acreage it permits.

"All totaled, we estimate the SmartStax hybrid system could provide an estimated yield benefit of an additional 4 to 10 percent on the farm," said Carl Casale, executive vice president of strategy and operations at Monsanto.

Currently, government regulation says farmers must plant a buffer of nongenetically modified corn next to acres of modified seed so that pests passing between the rows stand less of a chance of becoming immune.

The set-aside areas are called refuges.

St. Louis-based Monsanto is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to lower the "refuge" planting in traditional Corn Belt states from an average of 20 percent to 5 percent. In the Cotton Belt, it says the refuge can be reduced from 50 percent to 20 percent.

"It will be a tremendous positive for us because the refuge is very high for corn in cotton-producing counties," said Angela Thompson, corn and soybean specialist at the University of Tennessee Experiment Station in Jackson.

Depending on pest infestation levels, she expects SmartStax could give farmers three to 20 more bushels of corn per acre.

"One of the negatives is how much the seed is going to cost. Right now, we are paying a premium for corn with two, three or four traits stacked in. No one is sure how much Monsanto would charge for the four extra stacks."

In 1996, Monsanto introduced gene traits that made crops resistant to key pests by injecting a protein in the germplasm that killed them.

The next year it introduced herbicide-resistant crops immune to Roundup. Farmers could spray the crop with Roundup, killing the weeds but not the crop.

The technologies, available in a variety of crops, became immediately popular with farmers because in many cases, they improved yields and reduced the need for chemicals.

While the American Corn Growers Association is generally in favor of SmartStax, it is also on the record for promoting choice in the marketplace and honoring customer wishes.

"Choice is getting very limited if you do not want to grow genetically modified crops," said Larry Mitchell, director of government affairs.

When American producers switched nearly wholesale to genetically modified crops, customers in the European Union, Japan and South Korea stopped buying.

"While we are selling a little bit in there now," the loss of market in some years cost U.S. corn producers $1 a bushel, Mitchell said.

About 80 percent of the association's 12,000 members use genetically altered seed.


Genetic engineering of improved nitrogen use efficiency in rice by the tissue-specific expression of alanine aminotransferase

- Ashok K. Shrawat, Rebecka T. Carroll, et. al., Plant Biotechnology Journal, June 13, 2008


Summary: Nitrogen is quantitatively the most essential nutrient for plants and a major factor limiting crop productivity. One of the critical steps limiting the efficient use of nitrogen is the ability of plants to acquire it from applied fertilizer. Therefore, the development of crop plants that absorb and use nitrogen more efficiently has been a long-term goal of agricultural research. In an attempt to develop nitrogen-efficient plants, rice (Oryza sativa L.) was genetically engineered by introducing a barley AlaAT (alanine aminotransferase) cDNA driven by a rice tissue-specific promoter (OsAnt1). This modification increased the biomass and grain yield significantly in comparison with control plants when plants were well supplied with nitrogen. Compared with controls, transgenic rice plants also demonstrated significant changes in key metabolites and total nitrogen content, indicating increased nitrogen uptake efficiency. The development of crop plants that take up and assimilate nitrogen more efficiently would not only improve the use of nitrogen fertilizers, resulting in lower production costs, but would also have significant environmental benefits. These results are discussed in terms of their relevance to the development of strategies to engineer enhanced nitrogen use efficiency in crop plants.


Toxicological Assessment of Pollen from Different Bt Rice Lines on Bombyx Mori (Lepidoptera: Bombyxidae)

- Hong-Wei1 Yao, Cai-Ying Jiang, et. al., Environmental Entomology, June 2008


Abstract: The relative toxicity of Bt rice pollen to domestic silkworm, Bombyx mori Linnaeus (Lepidoptera: Bombycidae), was assessed by a leaf-dip bioassay under laboratory conditions. Silkworm first instars were sensitive to pollen from Bt rice lines, B1 and KMD1, but were not sensitive to pollen from Bt rice line TT9-3. First instars were 1.34-2.12 times more sensitive to B1 pollen than older instars. Bioassays of subacute toxicity under a worst-case scenario suggested that continuous exposure to a sublethal dose of B1 pollen or equivalent doses of non-Bt rice pollen affected silkworm survival and development. Young larvae were more affected by continuous exposure to Bt pollen than older larvae but less affected by non-Bt pollen. Ultrastructural observations showed that Cry proteins associated with Bt pollen were released into the larval lumen and resulted in pathological midgut changes and negative impacts on silkworm survival and development. However, considering that the sublethal dose of Bt pollen (LC15) used in this study is equivalent to the highest detected density of rice pollen on mulberry leaf under field conditions and that the likelihood of such high density of rice pollen occurring in the fields is extremely low, we suggest that the risk of Bt rice pollen on silkworm rearing is negligible.


Assessing the Risk to Nontarget Organisms from Bt Corn Resistant to Corn Rootworms (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae): Tier-I Testing with Orius insidiosus (Heteroptera: Anthocoridae)

- Jian Duan, Debra Teixeira, et. al., Environmental Entomology, June 2008


Abstract: A 14-d continuous dietary exposure bioassay using nymphs of the insidious flower bug, Orius insidiosus (Say) (Heteroptera: Anthocoridae), was conducted to assess nontarget impacts of genetically modified corn event MON 863 expressing the Cry3Bb1 protein for management of corn rootworms, Diabrotica spp. (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Nymphs of O. insidiosus were continuously fed a bee pollen diet inoculated with a maximum hazard exposure dose (930 ?g/g of diet) of the Cry3Bb1 protein for 14 d. The Cry3Bb1 protein at a concentration of 930 ?g/g of diet had no adverse effect on the survival and development (to adults) of O. insidiosus nymphs. In contrast, when O. insidiosus nymphs were fed bee pollen diet treated with a hazard dose of the protease inhibitor E64 (53 ?g/g of diet) or the stomach poison potassium arsenate (8.9 ?g/g of diet), all nymphs died before developing to adults. Furthermore, statistical power analysis indicated that at levels of 80% power and a 5% type I error rate, the study design would have been able to detect a minimum 30% reduction in survival of test nymphs and a 20% reduction in nymphal development to the adults relative to the buffer control groups. Based on the maximum level (93 ?g/g) of the Cry3Bb1 protein expressed in MON 863 corn tissues including leaves, roots, and pollen, findings from this study indicate that corn hybrids containing the MON 863 event have a minimum 10 times safety factor for nymphs of O. insidiosus and thus pose minimal risk to this beneficial insect.


Biotechnology Update

- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Internal Co-ordination Group for Biotechnology (ICGB), Apr. 30, 2008


This newsletter provides up-to-date information on OECD activities related to biotechnology. It is mainly intended for delegates to OECD meetings who are already familiar with certain aspects of OECD's work. We hope that it is also informative for the wider biotech community.

The contents of this newsletter have been provided by those members of the OECD secretariat who are responsible for the various activities.

[Follow link above for full text, .pdf, 25 pp.]


Plant Breeding and related Biotechnology Capacity assessments

- Food and Agriculture Organization, United Nations (web posting), June 18, 2008


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with several organizations, including the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR), national programmes, private sectors, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), has been assessing national plant breeding and biotechnology capacity worldwide. The main objective is to determine the needs and opportunities, providing a technical basis for defining capacity building options, and for shaping strategy and development policy to strengthen plant breeding in developing countries.

The mechanism to assess national capacity is based on a questionnaire designed through an expert consultation: "Towards the Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources Food and Agriculture (PGRFA): Strengthening National Plant Breeding and Biotechnology Capacity", which was prepared for the Working Group on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA) of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture CGRFA (CGRFA/WG-PGR-2/03/2).

This version is the first release of the online database on the plant breeding and related biotechnology assessment (PBBC).

[Click on "survey database" to access data]

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