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August 25, 2008


Have they ever visited a farm? Bt: fewer acres, plenty of cotton; Insecticides in Ghana


* Have these people ever been to a farm?
* Low Acreage Not To Dent Cotton Production
* Two new agri-biotechnology research institutes
* Insecticide use on vegetables in Ghana
* Biochemists Manipulate Fruit Flavor
* Brazil approves GM cotton seed
* Molecular Plant Breeding for 21st Century Crops


Have these people never been to a farm to see what weeds and insects do to crop yields?

- Seed Today, Aug. 22, 2008


Jamestown, ND - The anti-biotechnology crowd has adopted a new talking point, claiming that biotechnology does not increase yields.

Activist groups are highly skilled at finding a fact and distorting it for their agenda. For this new talking point, they have twisted an April 2006 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report overall is supportive of biotechnology, but the activists found part of one paragraph they could exploit. Here's the quote they like to cite:

"Currently available (genetically engineered) crops do not increase the yield potential of a hybrid variety. In fact, yield may even decrease if the varieties used to carry the herbicide-tolerant or insect-resistant genes are not the highest yielding cultivars."

They ignore the rest of the paragraph, which states: "However, by protecting the plant from certain pests, GE crops can prevent yield losses compared with non-GE hybrids, particularly when pest infestation is high."

The point is that biotechnology helps prevent yield loss to ensure that corn hybrids and soybean varieties produce to their full potential.

It is true that no current biotech seed contains a "yield" gene as such, but there is no question that the improved weed control and insect protection do a better job of protecting yields than other forms of pest control.

On my own farm, we used to get at best 80- to 100-bushel corn crops before the advent of herbicide-tolerant corn. Today, we're averaging 130 to 160 bushels. This is a direct result of the ability to plant early because of assured weed control and the ability to no-till, which preserves soil moisture.

A new study by the European Commission's Joint Research Center found that Spanish farmers who planted insect-protected biotech corn had up to 11.8 percent higher yields than farmers who protected their crop with insecticide sprays.

A 2006 study by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy found that biotech crops planted in 2005 helped increase food production by 8.3 billion pounds and reduced pesticide usage by 69.7 million pounds.

The first decade of biotech development has succeeded in protecting yield potential. The biotech pipeline will continue that trend, but in addition, new traits will actually increase yield potential.

These advancements in technology at the molecular level are enabling genetic scientists to exploit untapped yield potential within seeds in ways that were not possible through conventional breeding techniques. It is one of the reasons that Monsanto feels that its goal of doubling crop yields by 2030 is attainable.

New developments in biotechnology, especially drought tolerance - expected by 2013 - will further increase the yield potential of the world's crop acreage. The continued development of new technologies is the best hope farmers and the public have of meeting the incredible growing demand for food, feed, fiber and biofuels in the coming decades.

While naysayers continue to twist facts and stick their heads in the sand, farmers are putting biotech seeds into the ground and producing higher yields for all.


Low Acreage Not To Dent Cotton Production Due To Bt Plantation

- Press Trust of India, Aug. 21, 2008


Cotton production may not witness a significant fall despite reduction in acreage by about five lakh hectares in 2008-09, thanks to better yield expected from increasing cultivation of genetically modified Bt-cotton.

Area under cotton cultivation declined to 85.9 lakh hectares as on August 17 from 90.7 lakh hectares on the same period last year, according to government data.

"While area under cultivation has shrunk, it will not have much impact on the output, as more than 80 per cent of farmers have planted Bt-cotton this year," President of the Confederation of Indian Textile Industries P D Patodia said.

The acreage under Bt-cotton plantation continues to rise with farmers sowing the transgenic seed in more than 80 per cent of sowing area, compared with about 65 per cent last year. So far, the government has approved 263 hybrid varieties.

The acreage under cotton has come down because of deficient rainfall in some of the growing areas like Maharashtra. Moreover, floods in parts of Punjab has worsened the situation.

While the textile industry is expecting a good yield despite low acreage, it is faced with high cotton prices on the back of strong export demand. Any setback in the domestic production may give a further jolt to yarn-makers.

India produced 315 lakh bales of cotton in 2007-08 but prices saw a sharp increase by over 40 per cent between January and June.


Two institutes to promote research in agri-biotechnology

- The Economic Times, Aug. 21, 2008


NEW DELHI: The Centre on Thursday approved setting up of two autonomous institutions to promote need-based research in agriculture biotechnology, and food and nutritional sciences.

The National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute (NABI) and Bioprocessing Unit (BPU), to be built at a cost of Rs 380 crore, will be a part of the first Agri-food Park cluster being developed in the Knowledge City at Mohali.

"The central institute will have a major role in implementing relevant biotechnology programmes in the state and generating the required human resource," Information and Broadcasting Minister P R Dasmunsi said after a meeting of the Union Cabinet, which approved the project.

The cluster will house research and development and production units with NABI undertaking studies related to agri, food, and nutrition technology under one roof, while the BPU will be a link between the research and development system and production facility and serve as an incubator for start-up companies.

NABI will offer research under subjects including new gene discovery, genomics, designer crops, food processing technologies, bioprocess engineering, functional foods and nutraceuticals.

The cluster will produce not only PhDs but also agri-food entrepreneurs and spawn new industries for the region, said officials of in the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The Agri-food Park, the first of its kind integrating research and development, production and enterprise, has been designed with the help of Canadian experts from the Saskatchewan Agri-food Park.

NABI and BPU are expected to be developed over a period of five years.


Insecticide use on vegetables in Ghana

Would GM seed benefit farmers?

- Daniela Horna, Melinda Smale, et. al., International Food Policy Research Institute, Discussion Paper No. 785, Aug. 2008



Tomato, cabbage, and garden egg (African eggplant, or Solanum aethiopicum) are important crops for small-scale farmers and migrants in the rural and peri-urban areas of Ghana. Genetic modification has the potential to alleviate poverty through combating yield losses from pests and diseases in these crops, while reducing health risks from application of hazardous chemicals. This ex ante study uses farm survey data to gauge the potential for adoption of genetically modified (GM) varieties, estimate the potential impact of adoption on farm profits, and highlight economic differences among the three crops.

Farmers' expenditures on insecticides are below the economic optimum in all three crops, and the estimated function for damage abatement shows that insecticide amounts are significant determinants of cabbage yields only. Nonetheless, yield losses from pests and disease affect insecticide use. A stochastic budget analysis also indicates a higher rate of return to vegetable production with the use of resistant seeds relative to the status quo, even considering the technology transfer fee for GM seed. Non-insecticide users could accrue higher marginal benefits than current insecticide users. Comparing among vegetable crops with distinct economic characteristics provides a wider perspective on the potential impact of GM technology. Until now, GM eggplant is the only vegetable crop that has been analyzed in the peer-reviewed, applied economics literature. This is the first analysis that includes African eggplant.

Full text: http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/dp/IFPRIDP00785.pdf


Biochemists Manipulate Fruit Flavor

- Nutrition Horizon, Aug. 21,2008


Would you like a lemony watermelon? How about a strawberry-flavored banana? Biochemists at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston say the day may be coming when scientists will be able to fine tune enzymes responsible for flavors in fruits and vegetables. In addition, it could lead to environmentally-friendly pest control.

In the advance online publication of Nature on Aug. 20, UT Medical School Assistant Professor C.S. Raman, Ph.D., and his colleagues report that they were able to manipulate flavor enzymes found in a popular plant model, Arabidopsis thaliana, by genetic means. The enzymes - allene oxide synthase (AOS) and hydroperoxide lyase (HPL) - produce jasmonate (responsible for the unique scent of jasmine flowers) and green leaf volatiles (GLV) respectively. GLVs confer characteristic aromas to fruits and vegetables.

Green leaf volatiles and jasmonates emitted by plants also serve to ward off predators. "Mind you plants can't run away from bugs and other pests. They need to deal with them. One of the things they do is to release volatile substances into the air so as to attract predators of the bugs," Raman said.

"Genetic engineering/modification (GM) of green leaf volatile production holds significant potential towards formulating environmentally friendly pest-control strategies. It also has important implications for manipulating food flavor," said Raman, the senior author. "For example, the aroma of virgin olive oil stems from the volatiles synthesized by olives. By modifying the activity of enzymes that generate these substances, it may be possible to alter the flavor of the resulting oils."

According to Raman, "Our work shows how you can convert one enzyme to another and, more importantly, provides the needed information for modifying the GLV production in plants." The scientists made 3-D images of the enzymes, which allowed them to make a small, but specific, genetic change in AOS, leading to the generation of HPL.

AOS and HPL are part of a super family of enzymes called cytochrome P450. P450 family enzymes are found in most bacteria and all known plants and animals. Although AOS or HPL are not found in humans, there are related P450 family members that help metabolize nearly half of the pharmaceuticals currently in use. In plants, AOS and HPL break down naturally-occurring, organic peroxides into GLV and jasmonate molecules. "Each flavor has a different chemical profile," Raman said.

"A notable strength of this manuscript is the combined use of structural and evolutionary biology to draw new insights regarding enzyme function. These insights led to the striking demonstration that a single amino acid substitution converts one enzyme into another, thereby showing how a single point mutation can contribute to the evolution of different biosynthetic pathways. This begins to answer the long-standing question as to how the same starting molecule can be converted into different products by enzymes that look strikingly similar," said Rodney E. Kellems, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at the UT Medical School at Houston.

The study dispels the earlier view that these flavor-producing enzymes are only found in plants, Raman said. "We have discovered that they are also present in marine animals, such as sea anemone and corals. However, we do not know what they do in these organisms."


Brazil approves use of Bayer's GMO cotton seed

- Roberto Samora, Reuters, Aug. 21, 2008 3:55pm EDT


SAO PAULO - Brazil's biosafety regulator CTNBio has approved the use of Bayer's genetically modified cotton seed, which is tolerant of the herbicide glufosinate ammonium, the regulator and the company said on Thursday.

The seed must still be approved by the Latin American country's Agriculture Ministry before it can be planted.

Within the CTNBio's decision-making committee, 18 members voted in favour, three against and two abstained.

Any objections to the decision must be raised within 30 days, and would be examined by the National Biosafety Council, which comprises representatives from 11 government ministries.

CTNBio's decision was its first approval of a genetically modified crop since September 2007, when it approved Syngenta's pest-resistant Bt11 corn.

Several genetically modified crops are already planted in the agricultural powerhouse, including herbicide-resistant soy and pest-resistant cotton. Genetically modified corn already approved in Brazil could be planted on some farms next season.


Molecular Plant Breeding as the Foundation for 21st Century Crop Improvement

- Stephen P. Moose and Rita H. Mumm, Plant Physiology, Aug. 2008


Abstract: The fundamental discoveries of Darwin and Mendel established the scientific basis for plant breeding and genetics at the turn of the 20th century. Similarly, the recent integration of advances in biotechnology, genomic research, and molecular marker applications with conventional plant breeding practices has created the foundation for molecular plant breeding, an interdisciplinary science that is revolutionizing 21st century crop improvement. Though the methods of molecular plant breeding continue to evolve and are a topic of intense interest among plant breeders and crop scientists (for review, see Cooper et al., 2004; Nelson et al., 2004; Lörz and Wenzel, 2005; Varshney et al., 2006; Eathington et al., 2007; Mumm, 2007), they have received relatively little attention from the majority of plant biologists engaged in basic scientific research. The objective of this article for an Editor's Choice series on future advances in crop biotechnology is to briefly review important historical developments in molecular plant breeding, key principles influencing the current practice of molecular plant breeding, and factors that influence the adoption of molecular plant breeding in crop improvement programs. Furthermore, we emphasize how the application of molecular plant breeding is now contributing to discoveries of genes and their functions that open new avenues for basic plant biology research.

Full article: http://www.plantphysiol.org/cgi/content/full/147/3/969

*by Andrew Apel, guest editor.