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June 30, 2008


Who can afford corn? Will Rising Food Prices Reduce Poverty? A doorman in plant cells


* Who can afford corn? Almost no one
* Will Rising Food Prices Reduce Poverty?
* Farmers praise GM crops in EU study
* Europe needs to protect its crop research
* A doorman in plant cells
* Unlocking cocoa genome to relieve supply threats?
* Genes can silence one another through paramutations
* Breakthrough in plant medicine production
* Taiwan Plans Five Bio-Agricultural Parks
* US, Philippines Pact on Agricultural Cooperation
* Uganda: Organic farming backfires
* [Video] Engineering Salt-tolerant Plants


Who can afford corn? Almost no one, economist says

- Ag Answers, Purdue University and Ohio State University, June 24, 2008


Inexpensive and abundant corn helped move the ethanol industry onto the alternative fuels fast lane. With corn prices now at record highs, demand outpacing supply and crop losses inevitable with the Midwest floods, ethanol production could soon be stalled, a Purdue University Extension agricultural economist said.

As corn prices continue climbing, fewer ethanol producers can afford the feedstock, said Chris Hurt. In turn, domestic livestock producers and foreign buyers are finding it more difficult either to pay the high prices or obtain the grain they need, he said.

"The ethanol industry is struggling to pay for corn that has reached the $7 a bushel level," Hurt said. "So the ethanol industry may also experience losses and might not be able to bid the price. That will depend on what oil prices and, therefore, ethanol prices, are.

"Everybody is trying to evaluate how many bushels of corn we have lost because of weather-related damage, what the implications are for prices and who can pay these high prices. The answer today is that hardly anyone can pay these kinds of prices and still have positive margins."

Before planting even started this spring prospects dimmed for a corn crop approaching the 2007 record of 13.1 billion bushels. In March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected farmers would plant 86 million acres of corn nationwide -- an 8 percent decrease from this past year. Following a wet early spring that delayed planting in some states and then this month's devastating floods, the USDA adjusted its harvest estimate to 76 million acres and production to 11.7 billion bushels.

Using a similar 1993 Midwest flood as a model, Hurt estimated U.S. corn production could drop below 11 billion bushels this year. That's not nearly enough corn to go around, he said.

For starters, the U.S. ethanol industry needs 4 billion bushels of corn this year -- or 1 billion bushels more than 2007 -- to meet anticipated production, Hurt said. Also, livestock producers used 6.15 billion bushels and foreign buyers 2.45 billion bushels of U.S. corn in 2007, and both could buy at least that much corn this year, if it were available and more favorably priced, Hurt said.

Usage will have to come down, Hurt said. It likely will come from the livestock and foreign sectors.

"The USDA has said that if the ethanol industry gets 1 billion more bushels of corn it means that the domestic livestock industry will have to cut back 16 percent in feeding corn," he said. "And then our foreign buyers will have to cut back 18 percent."

Adding to the supply shortage and, ultimately, higher corn prices is the ongoing devaluation of the U.S. dollar.

"Another important part in who is going to be able to pay the price for corn is the exchange rate of the dollar," Hurt said. "When their currencies are strong, the foreign sector's currency goes a long way in the United States. If we should see our dollar weaken more, the foreign buyer is going to be able to stay in and pay these prices. That says that the domestic livestock feeder might have to bear even more of the consequences."

Corn growers came into the 2008 crop year needing to produce a bumper crop to satisfy the burgeoning grain demand. Those plans likely were drowned out by floods in much of the Corn Belt.

In four of the hardest hit corn-producing states -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri -- nearly 50 percent of the corn crop was rated fair to very poor as of Sunday (June 22), according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

With millions of farm acres damaged by high water, the losses to Midwest farmers stand to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, Hurt said.

"This crop in particular for our farm producers is the most valuable crop they have ever raised," he said. "Not only is it a valuable crop, they have the most invested in this crop of any crop they have ever raised. So if they are losing that crop it is going to be the biggest dollar loss that we have ever experienced on a per-acre basis."


Will Rising Food Prices Reduce Poverty? (They Can, but They Won't)

- Raj M. Desai, The Brookings Institution, June 28, 2008


At the opening of the UN Food Summit in Rome recently, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted that food prices threaten to harm the world's poorest. World Bank President Robert Zoellick - photographed for dramatic effect with a loaf of bread in one hand and a bag of rice in the other at the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings - has suggested that food prices would set progress against poverty back seven years. Gloomy views like these are commonly heard in the offices of rich-country donors, namely, that recent rises in food prices will sharply increase poverty in the developing world. But lost amid all the talk of "food crisis" is the possibility that higher food prices may actually reduce poverty in the poorest areas of poor nations: the countryside.

Most generalizations about the effect of food prices on poverty fall apart when examined at the household level in developing countries, where several patterns are evident. First, urban households tend to have higher average incomes than rural households. Second, net buyers of food tend to be richer than net sellers of food. Third, net consumers of food in rural areas derive large shares of their income from farm work. A recent World Bank study shows that in Ethiopia, one of the most food-stressed countries on the planet, more than 50% of rural households (compared to about 4% of urban households) are net producers of food. In Vietnam, where more than 70% of the population is rural (and where 90% of rural residents own their own land) 57% of rural households vs. 9% of urban households are net food sellers. Of the poorest 40% of rural households in Vietnam, 56% are net producers.

These gaps imply that - all things being equal - a rise in food prices will transfer wealth from urban households to rural households and from higher-income food consumers to lower-income food producers. In other words, higher food prices may reduce the extreme poverty often found in rural areas, where about three-quarters of the world's poorest live today. Depending on the concentration of rural and urban populations, higher food prices may also reduce income inequality in some countries.

Of course, don't expect rural poverty or inequality to fall anytime soon. Governments in food-stressed countries, along with bilateral donors and international organizations are busy designing approaches to prevent this reversal of misfortune. Currently, the global alarm over food prices reflects a basic political axiom of most developing countries: urban groups have a far greater political voice than rural groups. Urban interest groups - manufacturers, laborers, and other urban consumers, rich and poor - are relatively small in poor countries and are, consequently, more easily mobilized. Meanwhile the subsistence farmers, small-holders, and landless peasants who constitute large portions of the population are much harder to organize. Add to this the fact that urban food buyers know exactly how much the rising cost of wheat or rice will affect their budgets, whereas food price effects on rural residents will be filtered through a number of unpredictable factors, including access to markets and demand for farm labor. In other words, rural food producers have a much foggier idea of how food prices are going benefit them. When potential losers know precisely how much they stand to lose, expect their voices to be the loudest. When those same potential losers also have a greater weight in their political system, expect governments to respond to their demands first. The results are familiar to anyone glancing at the headlines - food riots in the cities and a host of responses from price controls to export bans designed to mollify urban dwellers.

Rural areas in developing nations have long been discriminated against through a series of economic policies designed to transfer wealth to the cities. Policies that limit crop prices or that raise input costs for agriculture are among the clearest indicators of these distortions. Although in recent years the well-known "urban bias" in development has lessened - and the urban-rural gap has closed - some legacies of decades of pro-urban planning have left their imprint, mainly in the form of tax policies and public expenditures that favor cities at the expense of the countryside.

The richer donors, meanwhile, face an opposite distortion at home - a "rural" bias based on the protection of their agricultural sectors, and the subsidization of agricultural imports. An alliance of farm lobbies (who do no want to compete with developing-country farmers) and environmental groups (who oppose genetically-modified crops) in the US and the EU have effectively blocked foreign assistance that aims to boost agricultural productivity in the developing world. In the recent Starved for Science, Robert Paarlberg documents the gutting of agricultural assistance in the aid budgets of rich nations and international development banks over two decades. International organizations, too, act in concert with the interests of their stakeholder governments, both rich and poor. But where rich stakeholders shy away from long-term agricultural assistance while poor stakeholders demand short-term relief, the result is what we saw in Rome: lots of talk about hunger relief, food aid, and other remedies (that will disproportionately benefit urban centers), but few pledges to expand the yields or capacity of local growers.

None of this is to suggest that emergency food aid is unnecessary. National and international actors do need to take steps to limit the malnutrition and starvation that rising food prices will cause. But they also need to understand both the causes and consequences of their combined neglect of agricultural investment.


Farmers praise GM crops in EU study

- Vanessa Mock, The Independent (UK), June 30, 2008


European farmers who grow genetically modified crops enjoy higher yields and revenues than conventional growers, according to a new study.

Scientists from the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission's scientific body, surveyed more than 400 Spanish farmers who grew Bt maize - the only GM crop allowed for cultivation in the EU. They found they produced higher yields and earned up to EUR122 more per hectare (£50 per acre) than conventional maize farmers.

It is the first time scientists have looked into the impact of GM in Europe, said Dr Emilio Rodriguez Cerezo, who led the research. "There are definite economic advantages for farmers for the reason that their crops are not destroyed by pests," he said.

The European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, wants to remove regulatory obstacles to the controversial technology, arguing that GM crops could counter soaring food prices. However, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who takes over the EU presidency tomorrow, will be calling for more controls on GM organisms. Environ-mental groups accuse the GM industry of exploiting the global food crisis to win approval for its products.


Europe needs to protect its transgenic crop research

- Howard J. Atkinson & Peter E. Urwin, Nature, June 18, 2008


Sir - On 5 June 2008, our authorized, small-scale field trial of transgenic potato plants for nematode control was destroyed by people seeking to coerce government and society. It was one of only two trials authorized in the United Kingdom this year.

Our concern is that Directive 2001/18/EC, the European Union (EU) legislation that governs such trials, is confused. Although it recognizes the need for field releases at the research stage (clause 23), it does not distinguish between these and development-stage trials in its risk assessments. It has also set the legal precedent of providing precise locations of trial sites to vandals.

We have no evidence that the 400 transgenic plants we released posed any environmental concern, particularly when considered in the context of the annual UK potato crop of 8,000 million plants and their naturally hazardous glycoalkaloid content.

If EU governments cannot protect the trials they authorize, they should establish secure, vandal-proof national testing centres.

Unfortunately, a failure to distinguish a research trial from product-development trials seems to have blinded activists to the published, broader aims of our work. We develop controls for nematodes on subsistence crops in Africa and Asia, where both farmers and governments recognize the need for new technologies.

What is the distinction between burning university books 75 years ago and now destroying university research intended for publication in scientific journals? European governments must ensure that science in our universities can progress without coercion.


A doorman in plant cells

Scientists at the University of Tübingen, Germany identified important signalling-protein for the stress-response of plant cells

- University of Tübingen (press release) via AlphaGalileo, June 19, 2008


The research group of Klaus Harter at the Centre for Plant Molecular Biology (ZMBP), University of Tübingen, Germany, identified the AHK5 as an important signalling-protein for the stress-response in plant cells.

Stomatal guard cells monitor and respond to environmental and endogenous signals such that the stomatal aperture is continually optimised for water use efficiency. A key signalling molecule produced in guard cells in response to plant hormones, light, car-bon dioxide and pathogen-derived signals is hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). The mecha-nisms by which H2O2 integrates multiple signals via specific signalling pathways lead-ing to stomatal closure is not known.

Klaus Harter and his team, together with the research groups of Alfred Meixner, Insti-tute for Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, University of Tübingen, Germany and of Radhika Desikan, Imperial College London, UK identified a pathway by which H2O2, derived from endogenous and environmental stimuli, is sensed and transduced to ef-fect stomatal closure. Histidine kinases (HK) are part of two-component signal trans-duction systems that act to integrate environmental stimuli into a cellular response via a phosphotransfer relay mechanism. There is little known about the function of the HK AHK5 in Arabidopsis thaliana. Here we report that in addition to the predicted cyto-plasmic localisation of this protein, AHK5 also appears to co-localise to the plasma membrane. Although AHK5 is expressed at low levels in guard cells, we identify a unique role for AHK5 in stomatal signalling. Arabidopsis mutants lacking AHK5 show reduced stomatal closure in re-sponse to H2O2, which is reversed by complementation with the wild type gene.

Over-expression of AHK5 results in constitutively less stomatal closure. Abiotic stimuli that generate endogenous H2O2, such as darkness, nitric oxide and the phytohormone ethylene, also show reduced stomatal closure in the ahk5 mutants. However, ABA caused closure, dark adaptation induced H2O2 production and H2O2 induced NO syn-thesis in mutants. Treatment with the bacterial pathogen associated molecular pattern (PAMP) flagellin, but not elf peptide, also exhibited reduced stomatal closure and H2O2 generation in ahk5 mutants.

These findings identify an integral signalling function for AHK5 that acts to integrate multiple signals via H2O2 homeostasis and is independent of ABA signalling in guard cells.


Unlocking cocoa genome to relieve supply threats for chocolate makers?

- Lindsey Partos, Confectionery News, June 26, 2008


Quality and supplies for the key ingredient in chocolate - cocoa - may gain from a new project that sees Mars link up with the US goverment and IBM to unlock the cocoa genome.

The US confectionery giant will invest $10 million in a five year project to sequence cocoa's double helix: a significant step that could help relieve risk to a cocoa supply chain impacted by shortages, and even produce a better chocolate.

"Mars saw the potential this research holds to help accelerate what farmers have been doing since the beginning of time with traditional breeding, ultimately improving cocoa trees, yielding higher quality cocoa and increasing income for farmers," said Howard-Yana Shapiro, global director of plant science for Mars.

In the past 15 years, cocoa crops have fallen foul to destructive diseases and drought that have seen growers lose some $700 million annually. A domino effect, the hit to supplies continues to push prices up for chocolate makers: in the past year prices have risen by almost 50 per cent on the back of shrinking supplies.

Cocoa prices peaked on 13 March this year, with ICE Futures US cocoa 2nd position seeing prices closing at $2,922 a tonne, "a staggering 39.2 per cent higher on the start of the year", say authors of a recent Fortis report.

Mars, IBM and the US Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service anticipate it will take about five years to complete the entire sequencing, assembly, annotation and study of the cocoa genome. The cocoa genome consists of about 400 million base pairs, whereas the human genome is made up of 3 billion base pairs.

Initially scientists from USDA-ARS and Mars will conduct various aspects of the project at the USDA-ARS facility in Miami, aiming to generate the raw DNA of cocoa. For the next step, researchers at US laboratory IBM will analyse the data, and identify patterns in order to develop the genetic map of the cocoa plant.

"From the sequencing of the human genome we can try and understand which variations in the genome will point us towards higher yields and more tolerance," says IBM research scientist Ajay Royyuru.

Clearly, combating cocoa shortages through science and eliminating disease outbreaks has considerable implications for a chocolate manufacturing industry intimately linked to supplies.

But with 70 per cent of the world's cocoa grown in Africa, any progress in locking in higher yields and reducing the vulnerability of the cocoa plant will also have massive implications for the growers.

"These crops may help protect an important social, economic and environmental driver in Africa," say the cocoa genome group in a joint statement on Thursday.

Mars added that it will make its genome research results free and available through the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA), which supports agricultural innovation for both humanitarian and small-scale commercial purposes.

Compared to major crops such as corn, wheat and rice, cocoa is the subject of just a few genetic research projects. But it is acknowledged that in today's increasingly tight food supply chain, genomic technology could have a major impact in alleviating food shortages around the world.

A group of international scientists recently sequenced the complete rice genome, providing new tools to improve the quality and size of future crops.

Six years of research work conducted by The International Rice Genome Sequencing Project, which includes The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), has found that the completed sequence for the genome consists of around 400 million DNA bases holding 37,544 genes on rice's 12 chromosomes.

The newly discovered sequence should provide a roadmap for agricultural researchers using both technology and conventional farming methods to develop hardier, more resistant strains of rice.

Mars and USDA-ARS have worked together in the past 10 years on research projects related to improving traditional methods of cocoa breeding and reducing the threats to crop yields. Mars and IBM have also worked together on projects in the past, but this is the first project that sees all three establishments linking up together.


Genome communication

Alleles of homologous genes can silence one another through paramutations

- University of Arizona/Tucson (press release) via EurekAlert, June 27, 2008


In the late 19th century Gregor Mendel used peas to show that one copy of a gene (allele) is inherited from the mother and one from the father. In the progeny, the inherited genes are expressed at the right time and in the right place, but until recently, it was thought that although gene products could be modified during the life of the organism, the genes themselves were unchanged, except for random mutation. Now it appears that one copy of some genes can alter the expression of the other copy, and those changes are passed down to the next generation. These epigenetic alterations, called paramutations may be important in introducing changes when plants and other organisms are environmentally stressed. The exact mechanisms of how genes talk to other genes and change their behavior are being investigated, and recent results suggest that these processes could be important in engineering plants responsive to a variety of environmental conditions.

Dr. Vicki Chandler and her colleagues have studied paramutations in maize and other plants and have identified some of the genes and mechanisms that operate in this epigenetic process. Dr. Chandler, of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona, Tucson, will be presenting this work at a symposium on Maize Biology at the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists in Mérida, Mexico (June 28, 9:10 AM).

The sequencing of genes, proteins, and, ultimately, whole genomes has revealed that genomes are not simply strings of genes, but rather complex, communicating, and interacting regions of information that could be compared to DNA computers controlling growth, development, and metabolism in each organism. The physical architecture of the genome is also highly complex. The nucleus, where the genome resides, is not full of strings of DNA like a pot of spaghetti. Rather, the strands of DNA are wrapped around proteins called histones and the whole is organized into an elegant and highly controlled structure called chromatin. When it is time for genes to be expressed, a section of chromatin is unwound and the DNA for that particular gene is made available to the machinery that transcribes DNA to RNA. Once the process is finished, the DNA is neatly folded back into the chromatin structure until needed again. Different parts of the genome can interact by direct contact or through intermediaries that can be proteins or RNA sequences. The exact mechanisms of how paramutagenic alleles communicate with their homologous partners are still unknown, but the work of Chandler and others suggests that both direct contact of homologous regions and changes induced by intermediary RNA molecules may be involved.

Peas also played an important role in the discovery of paramutations, as the first mutants of this type were observed in peas in 1915. Then, in the 1950s, Alexander Brink identified these types of mutations as interactions between alleles. He recognized that these interactions resulted in heritable changes to the expression of those genes. Since then, paramutations have been found in humans and other animals, as well as other plant species including tomato, tobacco, petunia, and maize. In animals, paramutations may be important in mediating the occurrence of diseases like diabetes. Chandler and her co-workers have been investigating paramutations in maize at the b1 gene, which regulates the distribution of the purple pigment anthocyanin in plant tissues.

At the b1 locus, the paramutagenic allele, which causes light or stippled pigmentation arises spontaneously from the wild-type allele, which causes dark purple pigmentation. If a plant with the paramutagenic allele is crossed with a wild-type allele, the progeny get both alleles. However, the paramutagenic allele silences the wild-type allele and produces a plant with stippled rather than purple pigmentation. The silent state is then passed on in subsequent crosses.

Several different components may be involved in paramutation, although they may differ among species. One important player is an array of repeated non-coding DNA sequences that lies upstream of the gene sequence of the paramutagenic allele. Seven of these tandem repeats are required for b1 paramutation. If only three tandem repeats are present, there is only partial paramutagenic activity. One possibility is that these tandem repeats are involved in direct interactions of chromatin regions, which results in paramutation changes. However, RNA also appears to be part of the process. The gene mediator of paramutation1 (mop1), an RNA dependent RNA polymerase is absolutely required for paramutation silencing at the b1 locus as well as for several other maize genes. In Arabidopsis, this RNA polymerase is associated with the production of small, interfering RNAs (siRNA) that function in gene silencing in other contexts. The siRNA could thus act as an intermediary molecule, being sent to silence the homologous allele. A third component is the placement of methyl groups on the control sequence (promoter) of the wild-type gene. Gene methylation has been known for some time as a cell defense mechanism for silencing foreign DNA but is also functional in other cellular processes. In several species, such methylation is also directed by RNA molecules. None of these processes is likely to be sufficient by themselves to effect paramutation, but rather all of them may interact, although to varying degrees in different species.

The molecular components of paramutation probably arose as cell defense mechanisms against viral or bacterial DNA. They have evolved to serve the needs of plants that grow in complex and changing environments from which they cannot escape, but to which they may be able to adapt through mechanisms like paramutation. Indeed, two instances of paramutation are known to be influenced by temperature. This work has implications for engineering crops that may be able to adapt to higher temperatures or drought conditions, as well as for applications in human and veterinary medicine.


Breakthrough in plant medicine production at Wageningen UR

- Plant Research International and Wageningen University (press release) via SeedQuest, June 24, 2008


Wageningen, The Netherlands - A research team including scientists from Plant Research International and Wageningen University has succeeded in further unravelling and manipulating the glycosylation of proteins in plants. This is the result of the research* soon to be published in the renowned scientific magazine The Plant Cell. The scientists expect that this knowledge will allow plants to be applied more often in the production of therapeutic proteins, an important type of medicine.

The discovery fits in with technology developed by Plant Research International for the production of biopharmaceuticals in plants.

Proteins in plants, animals and people are equipped with various sugar chains in a process known as glycosylation. The sugar chains are of significance to the functioning of many proteins. Moreover, their identity and uniformity is crucial to the quality of therapeutic proteins.

The glycosylation of proteins in plants, people and animals basically consists of three stages. Initially sugar chains are constructed, which then attach to the protein in specific locations. Finally, the sugar chains are further modified as specific sugars are attached to the chain.

"We are the first institute in the world to identify a gene in plants that is involved in the construction of these sugar chains, the first stage in glycosylation," says scientist Maurice Henquet. "It seems that the chains become increasingly uniform as the expression of this gene is reduced." One type of chain, a relatively simple one, is mainly developed. The sugar chains which are attached to the proteins are therefore a better starting point for making adjustments that are designed to optimise the biological function as medicine.

"From now on we will be able to improve the manipulation of glycosylation," Henquet continues. "And plants will become even more suitable for medicine production."

Plant Research International has multiple publications and patents in the field of improving glycosylation in plants for the production of biopharmaceuticals.

The research was a joint venture with Professor Ludwig Lehle of the Regensburg University and was partly financed by the Experimental Plant Sciences research school, the Centre for BioSystems Genomics (CBSG) and the Netherlands Proteomics Centre (NPC).

* Title: "Identification of the gene encoding the ?1,3-mannosyltransferase (ALG3) in Arabidopsis and characterization of downstream N-glycan processing" The article is already available online. Link: http://www.plantcell.org/cgi/content/short/tpc.108.060731?keytype=ref&ijkey=Hh0z97yxOvwU1dE


Government Plans Development of Five Bio-Agricultural Parks

- China Economic News Service, June 27, 2008


The Council of Agriculture (COA) has earmarked NT$1.47 billion (US$474.19 million at NT$31:US$1) for the establishment of five bio-agricultural parks designed to boost Taiwan`s biotechnology industry and help transform traditional agriculture into bio-agriculture.

The five parks are the Pingtung Agricultural Biotechnology Park, Changhua National Center for Flower-Breed Development, Taiwan Orchid Plantation Park, Chiayi Spice and Herb Biological Technology Park, and Yilan Marine Biotechnology Park. Together, the five will employ an estimated 17,000 people and generate a projected NT$29 billion (US$935.48 million) in production value in 2012. That same year, the bio-agricultural industry in Taiwan as a whole is predicted to have a production value of more than NT$71 billion (US$2.29 billion). Worldwide, the figure is expected to reach US$500 billion that year.

Observers believe that the five parks will give a strong shot in the arm to Taiwan`s bio-agricultural industry, and that they will help stimulate business in the areas around them.

Sun Chih-li, director of the Biotechnology Industry Study Center of the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (TIER), notes that Taiwan is quite strong in agricultural technology and that its food industry is also quite mature, which can boost the development of the domestic bio-agricultural industry. Sun predicts that the output of Taiwan`s bio-agricultural industry will reach NT$53 billion (US$1.71 billion) this year.

In addition to the five parks, the Executive Yuan (Cabinet) recently approved a venture project aiming at the development of agricultural biotechnology in the fields of plant seeds, breeding animals, marine breeding, biotech foods, animal-use vaccines, biotech pesticides, fertilizers, and testing reagents.

Agricultural biotechnology can already be seen in many daily products such as toothpaste, shampoo, bath oil, facial masks, health foods, anti-cancer medicines, and garments. The COA recently transferred technology for the extraction of collagen from fish scales to the Taiwan Fertilizer Co., which will use it for making facial masks. The market value of the technology is estimated at more than NT$30 million (US$967,742), and the facial masks to be produced from it are expected to be on the market by the end of this year.

Taiwan Fertilizer has already invested NT$60-70 million (US$1.94-2.26 million) in the development of collagen products, for which it will need 40,000 tons of fish scales per year. Thanks to the promising market, this will bring fortune to the island`s fishermen and to Taiwan Fertilizer itself.

Last year the COA raked in fees amounting to about NT$33.77 million (US$1.09 million) for the transfer of more than 70 items of technology. Five years ago, the take was a mere NT$1 million (US$32,258).

This year COA has a total budget of NT$3.9 billion (US$125.81 million), and two thirds of which was launched in 16 reforming farms for developing new bio-agricultural technology. Next year the government`s budget for COA will expand to NT$4.4 billion (US$141.94 million).

In another success story, the COA`s Taiwan Forestry Research Institute recently perfected a process for extracting taxine from the Taiwan yew, and transferred the technology to a domestic enterprise at a price of NT$3 million (US$96,774). Insiders explain that taxine is used in cancer medicines, and that its global market value is estimated at scores of billions of dollars.


USDA Signs Agreement With Philippines On Agricultural Cooperation

- US Department of Agriculture (press release), June 27, 2008


WASHINGTON - Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer today signed a memorandum of agreement with Philippine Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap to promote agricultural trade and investment between the two countries. The objective is to advance agricultural cooperation, productivity and sustainable natural resource management through science and technology collaboration. In addition to the memorandum, USDA will sponsor a trade and investment mission to the Philippines sometime in the fall.

"The Philippines and the United States share broad economic ties and a profound commitment to democracy" said Schafer. "We are further strengthening our agricultural and strategic partnership through increased cooperation that standardizes food safety regulations, rural development, biotechnology, and product distribution and marketing. We are very pleased to recognize the friendship that continues to grow between our two countries"

The Philippines is a key market in Southeast Asia for U.S. agricultural exports, with sales reaching over $950 million in fiscal year 2007, the highest level ever. The United States remains the top food and beverage supplier to the Philippines. At the same time, the United States is the number one market for Filipino agricultural products, with sales for more than $621 million in fiscal year 2007, including coconut oil, tropical fruits and vegetables and sugar.

The Philippines is the first Asian country to approve the planting of a biotechnology food crop - corn - and remains a consistent supporter of rational, science-based regulations in many international bodies. The Philippines remain on schedule to commercialize genetically engineered, insect-resistant eggplant in 2009 and virus-resistant papaya and nutritionally-enhanced rice soon thereafter.


Uganda: Organic farming backfires in North

- Fresh Plaza, June 24, 2008


The army and bollworms have spread to Ogur sub-county in Lira, threatening to attack the whole northern region, farmers have warned. The green and dark-brown worms are thriving in the area because the farmers no longer spray their gardens in a bid to produce pure organic cotton. The New Vision last week reported the outbreak of the pests in Ogur village, a situation that is threatening to lead to low cotton yields and famine.

In various agreements with individual farmers, Dunavant, a major cotton dealer in the region, instructed non-use of insecticides, promising high prices for the organic cotton. Under the agreements, cotton, simsim and other food crops are supposed to be sold to only Dunavant. Experts predicted that the worms would spread to Pader, Kitgum, Apac, Oyam and Dokolo, hitting hard the economic livelihood of the cotton-producing areas. To make matters worse, the bollworms have come during the planting season.

The farmers have spent less on inputs because they were also discouraged by the crop failure last year. However, they have resorted to emergency measures to save their crop. But lack of funding has hindered the purchase of chemicals to spray their gardens to exterminate the pests. Analysts have argued that a presidential intervention would solve the crisis in the agricultural north to restore hope and prosperity in the region.

"The pests are spreading like a bushfire but the district agricultural department is not responding," cried Lawrence Ogwal. "We cannot afford to buy the necessary pesticides because the prices are high. A small bottle of the pesticide costs sh6,000." The pests, according to Ogwal, destroy the groundnuts, sunflower, soybeans, cotton and other vegetables. Erison Olet, another farmer, said: "We are uncertain about the harvests. We are vulnerable to famine. Our livelihood is at stake."

"We appeal to the President to come to our rescue. If the pests destroy our crops, our efforts towards Bonna Baggawale (Prosperity For All) scheme will be futile." Olet also disclosed that the ginners had abandoned farmers. "Annoyingly, they claim in the press to have helped us in poverty-alleviation. "They came asking for our signatures but nothing has been done to provide pesticides. We are at crossroads."

Erute North legislator, Charles Gutumoi, confirmed: "We are aware about the pest invasion but the sector responsible has not considered it necessary to solve the problem." "We have raised the issue but nothing has been done. This is an economic war in the northern region," he said. "Our farmers have been cheated. "Less effort has been put in to provide farm tools and inputs to our returning internally displaced people. "This mistake should not be repeated."

Gutumoi added: "There is rot in the agricultural ministry and the President should sanction investigations like he does in other sectors." "We cannot rule out economic sabotage by some of the ginners operating in the north. "Farmers are not gaining from their efforts. Imagine what will happen if all the gardens are destroyed?" The Lira district agricultural officer, Peter Ajungo, also confirmed the outbreak of the pests. "The farmers were misled by the organic buyers not to spray their crops, which have caused outbreak of the pests in the district."

"Farmers came to my office and reported the outbreak. I advised them to buy the necessary pesticides," Ajungo said. "For us, we have the knowledge to provide but we are not armed with chemicals, pesticides and tools." Ajungo explained: "Beyond offering advice, it is beyond our capacity to provide tools to farmers freely." Quinto Labeja, the Patongo sub-county chief in Pader district, denied press reports that Dunavant had given the farmers farm inputs worth sh3.8b. "The said tractors are not working because of fuel shortage.

"We received 48 pairs of oxen ploughs but these people exaggerated in the media," he said. "They just gave us seven iron sheets for the small stores we built ourselves and claimed that they built them for us."


Salt of the Earth -- Engineering Salt-tolerant Plants

- vculifesciences, YouTube, June 25, 2008


With the world population at six billion people and counting, a food supply is an ever-increasing concern. Meanwhile, 25 million acres of productive agricultural land are being lost each year as the soil becomes increasingly salty. We could face a substantial shortage. The question is: should we fix the soils or alter the genetics of plants? Eduardo Blumwald at the University of California has genetically engineered a plant to endure salty soils. His transgenic creation borrows a specific salt-tolerant gene for the lowly cabbage plant.

All 50 Secrets of the Sequence videos have an accompanying classroom-tested lesson that encourages students to further explore the video topics. Each lesson includes background information, state and national science standards, discussion questions and answers, teacher notes and an activity that will ensure a hands-on, "minds-on" experience. To see lessons for this series, visit http://www.pubinfo.vcu.edu/secretsofthesequence/

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