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July 1, 2008


Super-nutritious Cassava; S. Korean Corn Imports; Mutant Plants Symposium


* Cassava - A Day's Nutrition In A Single Meal
* EU's stance on GM feeds blamed for raising costs
* S.Korea imports 330,000 T of GMO corn for food
* Adoption and impact of Bt maize in Spain
* An Impossible Coexistence: GM and Organic
* Carbon hoofprint of Cows supplemented with rbST
* Self-assembling proteins and food
* Symposium: induced mutations in plants


Fortified Cassava Could Provide A Day's Nutrition In A Single Meal

- ScienceDaily, June 30, 2008


Scientists have determined how to fortify the cassava plant, a staple root crop in many developing countries, with enough vitamins, minerals and protein to provide the poor and malnourished with a day's worth of nutrition in a single meal.

The researchers have further engineered the cassava plant so it can resist the crop's most damaging viral threats and are refining methods to reduce cyanogens, substances that yield poisonous cyanide if they are not properly removed from the food before consumption. The reduction of cyanogens also can shorten the time it takes to process the plant into food, which typically requires three to six days to complete.

Studies also are under way to extend the plant's shelf life so it can be stored or shipped.

The international team of scientists hopes to translate the greenhouse research into a product that can be field tested in at least two African nations by 2010. Funded by more than $12.1 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the group of researchers is led by Richard Sayre, a professor of plant cellular and molecular biology at Ohio State University.

Sayre presented an update on the BioCassava Plus project June 30 at the American Society of Plant Biologists meeting in Mérida, Mexico.

"This is the most ambitious plant genetic engineering project ever attempted," Sayre said. "Some biofortification strategies have the objective of providing only a third of the daily adult nutrition requirements since consumers typically get the rest of their nutritional requirements from other foods in their diet. But global food prices have recently gone sky high, meaning that many of the poorest people are now eating just one meal a day, primarily their staple food.

"So what we're working on has become even more important in the last year than it was when we started, not just in regions where people are malnourished, but across developing countries where food has gotten so expensive that people can't afford the diverse diet that they're used to."

Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is the primary source of calories for an estimated 800 million people worldwide, including 250 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, the current focus of the Gates-funded project. But the plentiful crop has several drawbacks. It is composed almost entirely of carbohydrates so it does not provide complete nutrition.

"So what we're working on has become even more important in the last year than it was when we started, not just in regions where people are malnourished, but across developing countries where food has gotten so expensive that people can't afford the diverse diet that they're used to."

The roots can be banked in the ground for up to three years, providing food security, but the plant must undergo time-consuming processing immediately after harvest to remove compounds that generate cyanide. Unprocessed roots also deteriorate within 48 hours after harvest, limiting the food's shelf life. And a plant disease caused by the geminivirus reduces yields by 30 percent to 50 percent in many areas in sub-Saharan Africa, a major blow to farm productivity.

Sayre and colleagues from multiple institutions set out to tackle virtually all of cassava's problems to make the plant more nutritious and to increase the crop's revenue-producing potential for farmers.

Sayre reported that the research team has been able to address each of the plant's deficiencies in individual transgenic plants. The next step will be to combine some or all of the bioengineered traits into a single, farmer-preferred cultivar, with the goal of eventually developing cassava varieties that carry all of the improvements developed by the researchers.

"We've begun field trials in Puerto Rico to make sure the plants perform as well outside as they do in greenhouses, and we hope to start field trials in the target countries of Nigeria and Kenya by 2009," Sayre said.

The labs in the project have used a variety of techniques to improve on the model cassava plant used for the research. They used genes that facilitate mineral transport to produce a cassava root that accumulates more iron and zinc from the soil. To fortify the plants with a form of vitamin E and beta-carotene (also called pro-vitamin A because it converts to vitamin A in the body), the scientists introduced genes into the plant that increase terpenoid and carotenoid production, the precursors for pro-vitamin A and vitamin E. They achieved a 30-fold increase in pro-vitamin A, which is critical for human vision, bone and skin health, metabolism and immune function.

Adding protein to the cassava plant has posed a challenge, Sayre said. The scientists discovered that most of the nitrogen required to make the amino acids used for protein synthesis in roots is derived from the cyanogens that also cause cyanide toxicity. So their strategy for increasing protein levels in roots focuses on accelerating the conversion of cyanide-containing compounds into protein rather than completely eliminating cyanogen production, which would hinder the efforts to increase protein production, Sayre explained. To further address the cyanide problem, the scientists have also developed a way to accelerate the processing methods required to remove cyanide -- a days-long combination of peeling, soaking and drying the roots before they are eaten.

To strengthen the cassava plant's resistance to viruses, the scientists introduced a protein and small interfering RNA molecules that interfere with the viruses' ability to reproduce.

Prolonging cassava's shelf life has involved the development of a hybrid species that crosses two related plants native to Texas and Brazil. The strategy, still in development, will combine the properties of these plants and additional genes that function as antioxidants, slowing the rotting process that has been traced to the production of free radicals that damage and kill cells in newly harvested cassava roots.

The first cassava product the team plans to develop for investigations in the field will likely include the virus resistance, elevated protein, elevated beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A) and elevated minerals (iron and zinc), Sayre said.

"These traits have been working the best in the greenhouse, and the virus resistance is critical to success in the field," he said. "The thinking behind starting with these four traits is driven by science and by the impact they can have."

The BioCassava Plus project was launched with a $7.5 million grant from the Gates Foundation and recently received an additional $4.6 million in supplemental funding from the foundation to accelerate the application of this research in Africa by African scientists. The supplemental funding will support the training of African scientists so they can produce the transgenic plants in African institutions for use on African farms.

"It will not only be an improved staple crop eaten as a main source of nutrition, but we're also looking at the transformation of cassava from a staple crop to an income-generating crop," Sayre said. "That lifts people out of poverty, allows families to send kids to school and build infrastructure in their villages, so this is an important way to cross cultural barriers. There are many different cultures and languages in Africa, but higher crop yield, productivity, longer shelf life and making money are things that everyone understands."

The BioCassava Plus research team includes Claude Fauquet, Nigel Taylor, Dan Shachtman, Ed Cahoon and Paul Anderson of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis; Willi Gruissem and Peng Zhang of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich; John Beeching of the University of Bath in England; John Fellman of Washington State University; Martin Fregene and Hernan Ceballos of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia; Ivan Ingelbrecht, Alfred Dixon and Bussie Maziya-Dixon of IITA-Nigeria (an African research organization); Caroline Herron of IITA-Kenya; Simon Gichuki of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute; Ada Mbanaso of the National Root Crops Research Institute in Nigeria; Dimuth Siritunga of the University of Puerto Rico; Mark Manary of Washington University; and independent consultant Jeff Stein. Mary Ann Abiado and Kristen Mosier of Ohio State provide administrative oversight.


EU's stance on GM feeds blamed for raising costs

- Steve Dube, Western Mail via Wales Online, July 1, 2008


ZERO tolerance of genetically modified varieties is being blamed for restricting the flow of globally traded bulk commodities and adding to the rising price of raw materials.

A report commissioned by, among others, the European Feed Manufacturers' Federation Fefac and Coceral, which represents European traders in grains and oilseeds, says GM technology is being rapidly taken up around the world.

But it says new GM variety approval in the EU is continually frustrated at the political level and creating a widening gap in approvals between the EU and the rest of the world.

And the report says the current zero tolerance for non-approved varieties has created unacceptable risks for international trade because the cargo has to be returned to its country of origin if only a fraction is GM material and is detected, - irrespective of any testing before shipment.

The results have been dramatic and have effectively stopped imports of maize by-products. The report has been welcomed by the Agricultural Industries Confederation.

"This year when wheat and soya prices doubled, the livestock industry could not use imported US maize gluten, which has in the past been a valuable feed ingredient," said Tony Bell, chairman of AIC's feed executive committee. "The livestock industry paid dearly for the lack of these raw materials in a year of shortage and expensive cereal and protein supplies."

Mr Bell said the situation was going to get worse as new GM soya varieties were now being grown for seed multiplication. "Soya accounts for most of the 78% of vegetable protein which the EU needs to import and it cannot be fully replaced, either from domestic production or alternative imported products," he said.

Mr Bell said major suppliers were already unwilling to offer material after the 2009 US harvest because of the EU policy, and the fact that GM presence could be found in around 90% of global traded soya.

"Soya supplies are critical to the EU livestock industry, and there are real dangers that we will destroy our livestock industry due to lack of raw material supplies," he said. "This could lead to consumers depending on non-EU livestock products, which have been fed on the very same GM crops which the EU seeks to block.

"The EU needs to be practical and implement a tolerance threshold for GM events that are already approved by regulatory bodies outside the EU.

"This is not about being pro or anti-GM as all companies trade in both GM and non-GM feed materials. It is about seeking a practical and workable solution to protect EU livestock."

The EC is currently working on a new GM policy. Mr Bell said it should not lose sight of the threat of a paralysis in imports of soya and soya products. "The knock-on effect would be serious commercial and welfare issues for the whole EU livestock industry," he said.

Gill Rowlands, a farmer and member of GM Free Cymru, said EU policy on GM had nothing to do with the escalating price of livestock feed.

"Why does Mr Bell present a picture of the livestock industry being destroyed due to lack of raw material supplies?" she asked.

She said Brazil and Argentina supply almost all the EU's animal feed supplies.

Mrs Rowlands said: "There is no crop grown in Brazil that is not allowed in the EU and because of its huge landmass Brazil is able to grow separate GM and non-GM crops. There are separate roads, ports and ships used to avoid contamination.

"Argentina's soya crop may be almost entirely GM but the prevalent variety, which is Monsanto's Round Up Ready soya, is approved in the EU. So there is no problem for animal feed supplies there either."

She added: "Security and quality of animal feed supply in the EU would be best served by encouraging the southern EU countries to increase their production of maize."


S.Korea imports 330,000 T of GMO corn for food

- Miyoung Kim, Reuters, June 30, 1008


SEOUL - South Korea imported 330,000 tonnes of genetically modified corn for food use for the first time in May and June, and sees around 160,000 tonnes of the less expensive corn arriving every month, a government source said on Tuesday.

The source at the Korea Food and Drug Administration also told Reuters starch makers in South Korea, the world's third-largest corn importer, are increasingly switching to GMO corn for price reasons and that around 60 percent of the country's imports for food use would be made up of GMO corn this year.

"There is one cargo carrying around 50,000 tonnes of GMO corns due to arrive early this month and GMO corn imports for food use (this year) are likely to total 1.2 million tonnes," the source said.

South Korea had been one of only two countries in Asia to stick with more expensive non-GMO corn for food use.

But it broke the restriction early this year as corn starch makers, squeezed by soaring prices of non-GMO corn, signed a deal to import the engineered corn for manufacturing starch and sweeteners, risking a backlash from consumer groups.

In February four South Korean starch makers -- Daesang Corp, Doosan Corn Products Korea, Samyang Genex and Shindongbang CP--agreed to import GMO corn and indicated they many have to buy more due to soaring prices of non-GMO varieties.

The four companies supply nearly 90 percent of South Korea's corn starch and sugar.

Global corn prices more than doubled over the past 12 months and reached a record high of above $8 a bushel last month, as demand for the grain, used for food, feed and fuel, increased on flooding in the U.S. Midwest last month, raising fears of reduced supply from the world's largest corn exporter.


Adoption and impact of the first GM crop introduced in EU agriculture: Bt maize in Spain

- Manuel Gómez-Barbero, Julio Berbel, et. al., European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, June 2008


Abstract: This report analyses the process of adoption by farmers of the only GM crop cultivated in Europe. Bt maize is a transgenic crop resistant to an important group of pests (the maize borers). The report used data from a survey carried out among 402 commercial maize farms, including both adopters and non adopters of Bt maize during three growing seasons (2002-2004). Farmers were based in three Spanish provinces (Zaragoza, Lleida and Albacete) situated in leading Bt maize growing areas of Spain. All farmers were producing maize for feed manufacturing.

The survey found that Bt maize, like other pest-control technologies, produced variable impacts on maize yields in different provinces, ranging from neutral to 11.8% yield increase. Yield gains for growers of Bt maize were translated into revenue increase since no differences were found in the price paid to farmers for Bt or conventional maize. Regarding production costs, Bt maize growers paid more for the seeds than conventional growers, but had reduced insecticide use and costs. On average, growers of conventional maize applied 0.86 insecticide treatments/year to control borers versus 0.32 treatments/year applied by Bt maize growers. All things considered, the impact of Bt maize adoption on gross margin obtained by farmers in different provinces ranged from neutral to EUR 122/ha and year. In the survey, the reason most quoted by farmers for adopting Bt maize was "lowering the risk of maize borer damage" followed by "obtaining higher yields".

The report concludes that the differences in yields and gross margin are attributable to the adoption of Bt maize varieties and not to differences in the socio-economic profiles or technical capability of the farmers surveyed.

Document (.pdf. 2.05MB): http://ftp.jrc.es/EURdoc/JRC37046.pdf


An Impossible Coexistence: Transgenic and Organic Agriculture

- Universitat Autňnoma de Barcelona (web posting), June 26, 2008


The cultivation of genetically modified maize has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivation of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible. This is the main conclusion reached in one of the first field studies in Europe carried out by a researcher of the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autňnoma de Barcelona, who has analysed the situation in Catalonia and Aragon, Europe's main producers of transgenic foods.

The study was carried out by researcher Rosa Binimelis of the UAB Institute of Environmental Science and Technology. Binimelis is working on the European project ALARM (Assessing Large Scale Risks for Biodiversity with Tested Methods) and analyses the application of the concept of coexistence between Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and conventional organic agriculture in the European Union. The results of the research have been published in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics (April 2008).

Since GM cultivation was introduced in Spain in 1998 it has been surrounded by controversy, and this has evolved into a debate over the concept of coexistence between transgenic and organic agriculture. This concept was introduced in 2002 by the European Commission with two objectives: to deal with the emerging concerns derived from the admixture of different cultivations, since organic farmers are committed to not using GMOs, and to make it easier to lift the existing "de facto" moratorium - which is not officially recognised - within Europe so as to introduce new transgenic cultivations. Thus the concept of coexistence, after applying technical measures, should make it possible to operate freely in the market while reducing the political conflicts linked to GMOs. The European Commission is planning this year to evaluate how the policy of coexistence has been implemented in the past ten years.

Before GMOs were introduced previous studies in this area were carried out using modelling or experimental cases, due to the lack of commercial fields in most European countries. Researcher Rosa Binimelis however analyses the situation in Catalonia and Aragon, where the commercial cultivation of transgenic crops began in 1998. This research is therefore unique and especially relevant to the European Commission's assessment scheduled for this year. It involved qualitative techniques by means of 51 in-depth interviews and participant observation (twenty-two interviews with farmers while the remaining were held with key political figures, including government representatives, scientists, academics, as well as NGO members and other organisations and platforms).

The situation of both types of cultivations in 2007 was the following: the surface used to plant transgenic maize in Catalonia and Aragon was respectively 23,000 ha and 35,900 ha, which represent 55% and 42% of the total surface used to cultivate this crop. The variety of maize grown is the Bt corn, which is designed to ward off the European corn borer and is used mainly for feed production. The maize production process is integrated in cereal cooperatives, which cover the entire production chain from the sale of seeds and inputs to commercialisation, including technical advice. This system makes it difficult and expensive to segregate GM from organic and conventional production. There are no specific silos for organic maize while only a minority of cooperatives in the region restricts the use of GMOs. In parallel, organic agriculture is growing in Spain in the number of producers and hectares. However, this trend is reverted for the case of maize.

The author's analysis reveals a social confrontation between proponents and opponents of GM technology regarding the consequences it can have and the measures to be taken in regulating and taking responsibility for any cases of admixture. Confrontation also exists when trying to define technical measures that would guarantee this coexistence. Finally, the study analyses the difficulties organic farmers would face in order to claim compensation if admixture took place, due to technical uncertainties in measuring the level of "contamination" or its origin, but also because of social reasons. Many farmers who could sue for damages prefer not to do so in order to avoid any local confrontations in small villages.

As a result, the area devoted to organic maize was reduced by 75% in Aragon from 2004 (year in which the first analyses were carried out) to 2007 and by 5% in Catalonia between 2002 and 2005. The percentage in Catalonia is lower because the only available data come from the first years of the analyses, when the cultivation of GM maize was not as widespread as it is today.

Given this context, the research concludes that both the concept of coexistence and different implementation proposals have generated new problems instead of solving existing conflicts. The results until now point to the promotion of genetically modified farming over any other alternative.


Guest ed. note: "[T]echnical measures that would guarantee this coexistence" are completely beside the point. The issue is not whether GM crops can coexist with other crops--they quite obviously can, and do. The issue is, instead, whether the people who grow them will agree to coexistence. Since they won't, it's impossible.


Carbon hoofprint: Cows supplemented with rbST reduce agriculture's environmental impact

- Cornell University (press release) via PhysOrg.com, June 30, 2008


Milk goes green: Cows that receive recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rbST) make more milk, all the while easing natural resource pressure and substantially reducing environmental impact, according to a Cornell University study to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 30, 2008.)

Producing milk uses large quantities of land, energy and feed, but rbST - the first biotech product used on American farms - has been in agricultural use for nearly 15 years. Now it is found to reduce the carbon hoofprint by easing energy, land and nutritional inputs necessary to sustain milk production at levels sufficient to meet demand.

This research found that, compared to a non-supplemented population, giving rbST to one million cows would enable the same amount of milk to be produced using 157,000 fewer cows. The nutrient savings would be 491,000 metric tons of corn, 158,000 metric tons of soybeans, and total feedstuffs would be reduced by 2,300,000 metric tons. Producers could reduce cropland use by 219,000 hectares and reduce 2.3 million tons of soil erosion annually.

In 2007, there were 9.2 million cows in the United States. For every one million cows supplemented with rbST, the world would see an environmental saving of 824 million kilograms of carbon dioxide, 41 million kilograms of methane and 96,000 kilograms of nitrous oxide. For every one million cows supplemented with rbST, the reduction in the carbon footprint is equivalent to removing approximately 400,000 family cars from the road or planting 300 million trees.

"Supplementing cows with rbST on an industry-wide scale would improve sustainability and reduce the dairy industry's contribution to water acidification, algal growth, and global warming," says Judith L. Capper, Cornell post-doctoral researcher, and the lead author of "The Environmental Impact of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rbST) Use in Dairy Production," PNAS.

Joining Capper on the paper: Dale E. Bauman, Cornell professor of animal science and the corresponding author; Euridice Castaneda-Gutierrez, former Cornell post-doctoral researcher; and Roger A. Cady, of Monsanto, St. Louis. Cornell funded the research.

"Sustainability is important in agricultural production, with an emphasis placed upon meeting human food requirements while mitigating environmental impact," said Bauman. "This study demonstrates that use of rbST markedly improves the efficiency of milk production, mitigates environmental impact including greenhouse gas emissions and reduces natural resource requirements such as fossil fuel, water and land use."


Guest ed. note: Agricultural researchers should be careful about resting the value of their research upon claims regarding global warming. These claims are rapidly losing credibility. In any event, climatology is best left to climatologists.


Self-assembling proteins offer golden food future

- Stephen Daniells, NutraIngredients.com, June 30, 2008


There is a big future for exploiting protein's natural tendency to self-assembly into micelles or nanotubes, says a leading researcher in the field.

"Self-assembling of proteins is common. In fact, it's more of a rule than an exception. If we can manipulate this self-assembling of proteins at the nanoscale, I see a big future for it," said Professor Kees de Kruif from NIZO Food Research.

The majority of research in this area to date has focussed on dairy proteins, with the potential of casein micelles and alpha-lactalbumin nanotubes being explored, Prof de Kruif told FoodNavigator following his presentation to attendees at the Nanoscience conference at IFT Annual Meeting and Food Expo in New Orleans.

The protein casein makes up about 80 per cent of the protein content of cow's milk (30-35 about 2.5 gram per litre grams per litre) and is found naturally in the form of spherical micelles with diameters ranging from 50 to 300 nanometres. The stability of these micelles during processing also makes them a very attractive nano-encapsulator.

Indeed, according to Prof de Kruif, Mother Nature designed the casein micelles to concentrate, stabilise and deliver nutrients to the newborn.

In nature, calcium phosphate is bound inside the micelles, but food scientist can replace calcium with other minerals or vitamins, thereby providing a delivery system for certain bioactive molecules.

"Caseins are very beautiful proteins, with functionalities in food unsurpassed by other food proteins," said Prof. de Kruif. Indeed, they are very stable to heat, and the stability can be increased by cross-linking with transglutanimase (TGase).


Another dairy protein receiving interest from researchers is bovine alpha-lactalbumin. By adding an enzyme to the protein, Prof de Kruif and his team were able to produce food-grade nanotubes.

"This was the first time that anyone made man-made nanotubes from proteins," he said.

In addition, for food scientists, the tubular structures are more interesting than the spherical ones, he said.

Moreover, by taking the science further, and manipulating this self-assembly process, new proteins with new functionalities can be produced, said Prof de Kruif. "They could replace the use of gelatine."

These nanotubes could also be used for encapsulation of ingredients, he said. Moreover, the nanotubes would not need to sealed and could be left open-ended. And how far away are we from using such nanotubes in food?

"This is still a bit far fetched in the sense that you can make the nanotubes and you can stabilise them, but they are too expensive for the food business at present," he said.

"We need investment to scale this up."

Beyond dairy

Since the self-assembling of proteins into intriguing structures is common to all proteins, Prof de Kruif says that, in principle, non-dairy proteins could be used.

"In theory, you need a long stiff molecule, like gelatine," he said. "We should look at elongated structures because they're the interesting ones, not the globular proteins."

Study with plant proteins is still in its infancy, but the study performed with milk proteins should be translated to other proteins.

Prof de Kruif looks at the issue from a material science rather than food science point of view and focuses on understanding what properties the protein should have. "It's the same as a chemical engineer asking what properties a plastic should have before they start developing it."


The application of nanotechnology and nanoparticles in food are emerging rapidly, and some analysts predict that nanotechnology will be incorporated into 16.4bn worth of food products by 2010.

However, enthusiasm over the rate of progress and the possibilities is being tempered by concerns over possible downsides of the science of the miniscule, according to the Institute of Nanotechnology.


International symposium on induced mutations in plants, Vienna, Austria

- FAO and IAEA (web posting), June 30, 2008


The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are organising the 'International symposium on induced mutations in plants' (ISIM) from 12 to 15 August in Vienna, Austria.

The following topics will be covered:

- molecular genetics and the biology of spontaneous, physical, chemical and transposon-induced mutagenesis;

- high throughput mutation screening techniques, including targeting induced limited lesions in genomes and other reverse genetic strategies;

- new mutation induction techniques, e.g. ion beam implantation and activation of transposition;

- development, characterisation and management of various mutant germplasm collections;

- development of novel mutant traits and their application in crop breeding;

- mutational analysis and gene discovery of important crop characteristics (tolerance to abiotic stress, resistance to diseases and insects, quality and nutritional characteristics, etc.);

- socioeconomic impact of widespread mutant varieties.

The symposium is tailored for scientists working in the fields of plant sciences, functional genomics and plant breeding as well as managers of both public and private institutions in these sectors.

For further information, please click: http://www-pub.iaea.org/mtcd/meetings/Announcements.asp?ConfID=167

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