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Date:

October 15, 2008

Subject:

Bringing Golden Rice to Society; More Reasoned Debate; Intelligent Activism; European Consumers Not Concerned; MSU Arsonist Gets 9 Years; GM Beer to Cure Cancer

 

* Rockefeller to Fund Golden Rice's Path to Commercialization
* Golden Rice, Red Tape
* GM Reporting Should Rely On Real Expertise
* GM Crops Deserve More Reasoned Debate
* Future of Food: How Science Will Solve the Next Global Crises.
* Intelligent Activism
* Most consumers are not concerned about buying GM foods - new EU study
* Do European Consumers Buy GM foods?
* UK; Sir Ken Morrison comes out of the GM closet
* India's Tata Donates $50 million to Cornell's Ag School
* Michigan State Univ. Arsonist Sentenced to 9 Years in Prison
* Creating a GM Beer to Cure Cancer!

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Rockefeller Foundation to Fund Golden Rice's Regulatory Approval Effort

Excerpted from the speech of Judith Rodin (President, Rockefeller Foundation) who announced a grant to IRRI that will support the biosafety testing and regulatory cost of shepherding the Golden Rice through the regulatory maze on the path to commercialization
.
Full text of Rodin speech at

http://www.rockfound.org/about_us/speeches/101708food_prize.shtml

" As many of you know, Rockefeller grantees were first to harness biotechnology to fortify food's nutritional value - and not without controversy. Take Golden Rice, for example. In the sixty-five years since they began, we've funded the work of Golden Rice's engineers, Dr. Peter Beyer, Dr. Ingo Potrykus, and others for more than fifteen of them. Golden rice promises to alleviate the suffering of malnourished children and the debilitating effects of beta-carotene and vitamin A deficiencies - blindness and measles - in particular. Its widespread distribution could save almost 3 million children's lives, while nourishing as many as 300 million more - 40 percent of children under age five, in the developing world, according to the World Health Organization.

I'm delighted to announce, today, that we will be providing funding to the International Rice Research Institute - which we helped establish almost fifty years ago - to shepherd Golden Rice through national, regulatory approval processes in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. And we hope this is just the beginning. This continues our historic relationship with IRRI, an institution that has directly benefited billions of the world's poorest people. It also reflects our enduring commitments to connect families with technologies that can help them lead healthier, better, more productive lives, to see innovation through to action and impact, and to give great ideas, 90 percent down the road, that extra 10 percent they need to reach their destination."

------------------------------------

Golden Rice, Red Tape

- Henry Miller, The Guardian (UK), October 17, 2008 http://www.guardian.co.uk

'Bio-fortified rice could save hundreds of thousands of lives a year, but opposition to GM crops is still preventing its approval'

Biotechnology applied to crafting nutritional improvements in rice is on the verge of offering the kinds of public health benefits to Asia we haven't seen since the 20th-century's green revolution improved the nutrition and longevity of billions of people.

Last month, the Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry bestowed the prestigious Bertebos prize on Swiss plant biologist Ingo Potrykus. He is the co-inventor of "golden rice", a collection of new rice varieties biofortified, or enriched, by the introduction of genes that express beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A. (It is converted in the body, as needed, to the active form.)

Why was this achievement important? After all, most physicians in North America and Europe never see a single case of vitamin A deficiency in their professional lifetimes. The situation is very different in poor developing countries, however. Vitamin A deficiency is epidemic among the poor, whose diet is heavily dominated by rice (which contains neither beta-carotene nor vitamin A) or other carbohydrate-rich, vitamin-poor sources of calories.

In developing countries, 200-300 million children of preschool age are at risk of vitamin A deficiency, which can be devastating and even fatal. It increases susceptibility to common childhood infections such as measles and diarrhoeal diseases and is the single most important cause of childhood blindness in developing countries. Every year, about 500,000 children become blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency, and 70% die within a year of losing their sight.

Why not simply supplement children's diets with vitamin A in capsules or add it to some staple foodstuff, the way that we add iodine to table salt to prevent hypothyroidism and goiter? A good idea in theory, except that neither the resources - hundreds of millions of dollars annually - nor the infrastructure for distribution are available.

Enter a better, cheaper, more feasible solution: golden rice, which actually incorporates beta-carotene into the genetically altered rice grains. The concept is simple: Although rice plants do not normally synthesise beta-carotene in the endosperm (seeds) because of the absence of two necessary enzymes of the biosynthetic pathway, they do make it in the green portions of the plant. By using recombinant DNA, or gene-splicing, techniques to introduce the two genes that express these enzymes, the pathway is restored and the rice grains accumulate therapeutic amounts of beta-carotene.

Golden rice offers the potential to make contributions to human health and welfare as monumental as the discovery and distribution of the Salk polio vaccine. With wide use, it could save hundreds of thousands of lives a year and enhance the quality of life for millions more.

But one aspect of this shining story is tarnished. Intransigent opposition by anti-science, anti-technology activists - primarily Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and a few other groups - has spurred already risk-averse regulators to adopt an overly precautionary approach that has stalled approvals.

There is nothing about golden rice that should require endless case-by-case reviews and delays. As the British scientific journal Nature editorialised in 1992, a broad scientific consensus holds that "the same physical and biological laws govern the response of organisms modified by modern molecular and cellular methods and those produced by classical methods--. [Therefore] no conceptual distinction exists between genetic modification of plants and microorganisms by classical methods or by molecular techniques that modify DNA and transfer genes."

Putting it another way, government regulation of field research with plants should focus on the traits that may be related to risk - invasiveness, weediness, toxicity, and so forth - rather than on whether one or another technique of genetic manipulation was used.

In spite of its vast potential to benefit humanity - and negligible likelihood of harm to human health or the environment - nine years after its creation, golden rice remains hung up in regulatory red tape with no end in sight. By contrast, plants constructed with less precise techniques such as hybridisation or mutagenesis are subject to no government scrutiny or requirements (or opposition from activists) at all. And that applies even to the numerous new plant varieties that have resulted from "wide crosses", hybridisations that move genes from one species or genus to another - across what used to be thought of as natural breeding boundaries.

In an April editorial in the journal Science, Nina Fedoroff, an eminent plant geneticist at Penn State who is currently serving as senior scientific adviser to Condoleezza Rice, wrote: "A new Green Revolution demands a global commitment to creating a modern agricultural infrastructure everywhere, adequate investment in training and modern laboratory facilities and progress toward simplified regulatory approaches that are responsive to accumulating evidence of safety. Do we have the will and the wisdom to make it happen?"

The golden rice story suggests that the answer is, not yet.

------------------------------------

GM Reporting Should Rely On Real Expertise

- Robert Wager, SciDev.net, October 16, 2008

When it comes to evaluating the safety of genetically modified (GM) crops and food the world should rely on experts with good credentials. The media can, of course, add words of caution from critics. But it must be clear which opinions come from detailed knowledge and training, and which may be driven by other agendas.

Evidence-based reports showing the low risks associated with GM crops are scarcely reported. For example, there was little, if any, coverage of the International Council for Science 2004 report. It stated that there is no evidence that current GM crops damage the environment, or that consuming foods containing GM ingredients harms people.

Rather, headlines about 'frankenfoods' are common, with alleged health threats and environmental risks frequently gracing the pages of newspapers around the world. Most of these stories come from biotechnology critics and anti-GM lobby groups. A few are extreme extrapolations and one or two exaggerations from a kernel of truth. Such scare stories consistently lack evidence from quality peer-reviewed literature.

A 2002 report (updated in 2008) by the American Medical Association said "attempts to introduce GM foods have stimulated not a reasoned debate, but a potent negative campaign by people with other agendas. Opponents ignore common farming practices and well investigated facts about plants, or inaccurately present general problems as being unique to GM plants".

Genetically modified crops are not a panacea, but they are also not the bogeyman the media has allowed the public to believe. So how can the media differentiate between fanciful hypotheses and real concerns regarding GM crops and food?

Just because someone calls themselves an 'expert' in GM crops does not mean they have formal credentials in the field. Far too many critics have little or no training in the science - their opinions should be corroborated before being believed.

Science writers would be well served by talking to people trained in the field of agri-biotechnology, who actually know what the real issues are. Private corporations aside, the public sector has many world-class institutes heavily involved in agri-biotech. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) have long histories of improving agriculture in the developing world. They look at all options, including biotechnology. And publicly funded university-based research in biotechnology is happening around the world. There is no good reason why a given journalist cannot contact a scientist working in biotechnology for an authoritative point of view.

Journalists can also consult regulators. Many countries have tight regulations on food production to ensure public safety. For example, North American regulators demand data on food safety, nutritional composition and a wide variety of environmental considerations before commercialising any GM crop.

The developing world too has strict regulations. In the Philippines, several government regulators as well as independent scientists and technical experts perform safety assessments of potential GM crops. And Brazil, India and many parts of Africa are rapidly institutionalizing regulations that will permit their farmers to benefit from growing GM crops.

The media must also stop presenting claims that we know nothing about the long-term hazards as being unique to GM foods. A recent European Union report points out that little is known about the long-term health effects ofany food, including GM. After pre-market safety evaluations, all we have to go by is a food's past safety record. And, in the case of GM crops and food, the safety record is impeccable.

The media must be more careful in covering scientific subjects like agri-biotech. There is a danger of putting the public off science altogether.

------------------------------------

GM Crops Deserve More Reasoned Debate

- Albert Weale, http://www.scidev.net October 16, 2008

Debates around the potential benefits of GM crops for developing countries must be reasoned and evidence-based, says Albert Weale.

The World Bank recently estimated that a doubling of food prices over the last three years could push 100 million people in low-income countries deeper into poverty. And the future does not look brighter. Food prices, although likely to fall from their current peaks, are predicted to remain high over the next decade.

As the world considers how to respond, the debate about genetically modified (GM) crops has inevitably reared its ugly head. 'Ugly' because the public exchange about this technology has usually seen extreme viewpoints gaining the most airtime. For example, in the United Kingdom, Prince Charles' spirited but ill-informed attack on GM crops this summer led to a flurry of opinionated responses. We could have been back in the polarised debates of the earlier part of this decade.

Since 1999, my organisation, the UK-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics, has twice examined the ethical issues raised by GM crops. In a 2003 report, the Council specifically focused on developing countries. Two of the conclusions are still particularly relevant today.

Ethical obligation
First, the council concluded that there is an ethical obligation to explore whether GM crops could reduce poverty, and improve food security and profitable agriculture in developing countries. In coming to this conclusion, the council considered differing perceptions of risk. When people have enough food, as in developed countries, consumers and producers will feel free to avoid risk - even if that risk is theoretical rather than real. But developing nations, struggling with widespread poverty, poor health,limited pest control and poor agricultural sustainability, have a different risk-benefit calculation.This is perhaps why the acreage of GM crops has tripled in developing countries over the past five years, compared to just doubling worldwide.

Consumers in prosperous countries are being asked to suppress their doubts about GM crops so that research relevant to the developing world continues. In effect, they are being asked to concede that any potential losses to them are outweighed by potential gains to poor countries, where yields are declining and conventional agriculture is increasingly unsustainable.

This does not belittle other factors needed for poverty reduction and food security - such as stable political environments, appropriate infrastructures, fair international and national agricultural policies, and access to land and water. GM crops are just one part of a large and complex picture. But we will not know how important a part until we explore their potential.

Case by case consideration
The Nuffield Council's second key conclusion was that the wide range of GM crops and situations must be considered individually. Those who oppose or support GM crops per se make an unhelpful generalisation.

Each time, the gene or combination of genes being inserted, and the nature of the target crop, must be assessed. It is also important to compare a GM crop with local alternatives.

For example, Golden Rice - enhanced for b-carotene to help fight vitamin A deficiency - is not needed where people have sufficient vitamin A from leafy greens, or ready access to vitamin supplements. But where this is not the case, the crop may significantly improve nutrition.

Similarly, herbicide-resistant soybeans can reduce demands for local labour. This may be devastating if a community relies on wages from manual weeding. But it may help communities struggling with a labour shortage due to high prevalence of diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

The role of research
Scientific and other evidence must be central in the debate, and over the past few years evidence about GM crops has grown.

For example, according to a recent news report in Science, soon-to-be-published research will clarify the amount of Golden Rice a child would need to eat each day to prevent vitamin A deficiency. This kind of research is vital if governments and farmers are to make informed decisions about GM crops. Indeed, before new research is funded, national and regional bodies in developing countries should be consulted about their priorities for crops and desirable GM traits.

In the United Kingdom, the government has committed 150 million (US$263 million) over the next five years to research aimed at making agriculture more resilient to the pests and diseases affecting poor farmers, and increasing smallholders' agricultural productivity.

Research efforts are also growing in the developing world, with South African scientists developing and working to commercialise virus-resistant maize, and countries like Kenya and Nigeria hosting projects to develop virus-resistant varieties of key African crops (see 'Agri-biotech in sub-Saharan Africa: Facts and figures').

Striking a balance
Many people worry about possible environmental risks from GM crops, such as gene flow to other plants, and this is something that scientific research must clarify. But alarm-raising without evidence is as helpful as calling 'fire' in a crowded theatre. Similarly, demanding evidence of zero risk before allowing a new technology is fundamentally at odds with any practical strategy for investigating new technologies. Mobile phones or aeroplanes might never have seen the light of day if such stringent demands had been placed on them.

In the case of GM technology it is clearly crucial to ask what the risks of adopting GM crops are. But it is also important to ask what the risks of not doing so are. Realistic cost-benefit analyses that consider local social and environmental conditions and development goals are needed on a country-by-country basis.

Heated debate about the food crisis must not detract from an evidence-based assessment of biotechnology's potential for improving agricultural productivity in developing countries. The benefits of GM crops must not be overstated. But neither can poor arguments be allowed to obscure strong arguments for a good cause.
----
Professor Albert Weale is chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and professor of government at the University of Essex, United Kingdom.

------------------------------------

The Future of Food: How Science Will Solve the Next Global Crises

- Wired magazine, Issue 16.1, Oct 20, 2008

Forty years ago, advances in fertilizers and pesticides boosted crop yield and fed a growing planet. Today, demand for food fueled by rises in worldwide consumption of meat and protein is again outpacing farmers ability to keep up. It's time for the next Green Revolution.

To explore the Wired Atlas, use the thumbnails to navigate from page to page. Click the main image to zoom, and click again for the navigation box to scroll through the spread.

http://wired.com/special_multimedia/2008/ff_futurefood_1611

------------------------------------

Intelligent Activism

-- John Rigolizzo, Jr., http://www.truthabouttrade.org October 17, 2008

Australia is so far away that I can almost understand what a badly informed character in an Oscar Wilde play says about the land Down Under: "It must be so pretty with all the dear little kangaroos flying about."

For Queensland farmer Jeff Bidstrup, kangaroos aren't cute marsupials that seem ready-made for Animal Planet documentaries. To him, they're big-time pests.

A worse problem than kangaroos, however, is the anti-biotech lobby in Bidstrup's country. It seeks to deny him and every other Australian farmer a right that American farmers can take for granted: The ability to choose what seeds they want to plant, including those that are improved through the latest genetic technologies.

A few years ago, Bidstrup decided to fight back--and that's why he is the recipient of the Dean Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award for 2008.

The board of Truth About Trade and Technology established the prize last year, in honor of its founder and chairman. It seeks to recognize "strong leadership, vision, and resolve in advancing the right of all farmers to choose the technology and tools that will improve the quality, quantity, and availability of agricultural products around the world." The award will be given out annually in conjunction with the World Food Prize. In 2007, it went to Rosalie Ellasus of the Philippines.

"We've had biotech cotton for more than a decade," says Bidstrup, who grows grain and cotton on about 12,000 acres in the Darling Downs region of Queensland, in northeast Australia. "I immediately saw the difference it made and understood that this was a wonderful technology for farmers."

But then the anti-GM activists struck. "One of Australia's states banned GM food crops, then all of them but Queensland passed their own moratoriums in a matter of weeks," says Bidstrup. (There are six states in Australia.) "There was almost no discussion. We were caught off guard, completely flat footed."

For a while, nobody did much of anything. "We all thought someone else would take care of the problem," says Bidstrup. The result: Inaction.

One day, Bidstrup saw professional protestor Percy Schmeiser on television. "He was standing in a wheat field, explaining how awful GM crops are," says Bidstrup. "But the field was full of weeds. It was a disgusting farm. It made me upset."

That got Bidstrup thinking: "I have two sons who want to be farmers. I started worrying about their future in this business. I realized that they aren't going to have one unless somebody does something about all of this anti-biotech nonsense."

So Bidstrup founded Producers Forum, a coalition of farmers who work to educate Australians about the benefits of biotechnology and to repeal moratoriums based on the kind of ignorance that allows some people to believe that kangaroos have wings.

Earlier this year, they succeeded in persuading the governments of New South Wales and Victoria to lift their bans and came close to convincing South Australia to do the same.

"We've made a lot of progress," says Bidstrup. "We're going to make even more in 2009 and beyond."

They do it through intelligent activism. Bidstrup and his farmer allies concentrate on the media, giving interviews to journalists and writing letters to the editor. Bidstrup himself speaks with enormous authority: He has farmed for 40 years, serves as the director of a company that sells a certified organic product, belongs to a co-op that processes organic crops, and is a former organic grower himself.

In one recent letter, he pointed out that his countrymen depend on GM crops everyday: "In Australia, our intensive animal industries are reliant on imported and domestic GM protein, and we rely on imported GM soy of 90 per cent of our soy extract that is used in most processed foods."

It makes no sense for Australia to stop its own farmers from growing these crops: Under a ban, "the chickens will still eat GM soy, we will still eat the chickens, but the profits and environmental benefits will be exported to our competitors."

Because of the efforts of the 2008 Kleckner laureate, the truth about biotechnology is on the verge of victory in Australia.

Let's look forward to the day when Bidstrup can go back to worrying full time about kangaroos.
----
John Rigolizzo, Jr. is a fifth generation farmer, raising fresh vegetables and field corn in southern New Jersey. The family farm manages both road side retail and wholesale markets. John is a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology

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Most consumers are not concerned about buying GM foods, says new EU study

- Conservatives In The European Parliament, http://www.conservativeeurope.com October 14th, 2008

Brussels, 14th October 2008 -- Most consumers are not concerned about buying GM foods, according to a latest EU study. Euro-MP Robert Sturdy today hosted a press conference with three key scientists to promote their report with these findings entitled, "Do European Consumers Buy GM Foods?"

The Consumer Choice study was designed to observe and analyse the behaviour and attitudes of European consumers towards GM labelled products since their introduction in 2004. In particular, consumer perception was looked at as an important element in shaping the opinion of European policy makers.

The academics - Dr Vivian Moses, from London; Dr Victoria Wibeck, from Sweden; and Prof Louis Kembow, from Spain, presented their findings to initiate policy debate on this controversial subject. Their study explored whether consumers bought GM-labelled products when presented with them in the familiar commercial environment of a supermarket or corner grocery store.

There are at least 69 grocery products on sale in Europe labelled as containing genetically modified ingredients, mostly soya based. The study highlighted:

* Although the number and range of genetically modified products is limited, where they are available, consumers buy them.

* Whatever people say in opinion polls, most do not actively avoid GM foods in the grocery stores, suggesting that they are not greatly concerned with the GM issue. Also contrary to previous beliefs, other studies have confirmed that, unprompted, GM does not appear high in a list of worries about food.

* Retailers consider them to be worth stocking and consumers must buy them in sufficient quantities to meet commercial requirements.

In addition to comparing claimed and actual consumer behaviour, the Consumer Choice study also considered the political and media environments in the ten European countries it focused on, noting a considerable shift in sentiment in some markets.

For example in the UK, between May 2006 and April 2007, media reports which treated GM foods and crops unfavourably outnumbered favourable reports by roughly 2:1. Since then the trend has reversed. This swing in media sentiment has been matched by a shift in political sentiment, with government ministers and scientific advisors explicitly favouring consideration of GM developments.

Mr Sturdy was asked to lead a press conference on this report as he sits on many relevant committees, Environment, Agriculture and International Trade. He said he welcomed a balanced debate on the production and trading of GM products, particularly at a time of uncertain food security and rising prices.

He said: "I very much welcome the debate on the production and trading of GM products, particularly at a time of uncertainty in food security and rising prices.

"Growing economic, social and legislative pressures means that we must facilitate a real, well-balanced debate when it comes to agri-food and fuel crops. I recognise that this is a nationally politically sensitive issue - but that is not a reason to shy away from it.
"During my tenure as an MEP, whether I have worked on setting more stringent EU wide standard for water, contributing to debate on plant protection products or strengthening our policy regarding rules of origin within the trade committee, my focus has remained on the support of sound science. It is for that reason that I am here today, supporting the publication of this Consumer Choice report."

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Do European Consumers Buy GM foods?

- European Commission, October 14th, 2008 http://www.kcl.ac.uk/consumerchoice

Following a decade of argument in Europe, the 2004 introduction by the EU of mandatory labelling for GM foods, the widespread importation into European countries of GM-animal feed, and the rapid development of GM agriculture and products in many parts of the world, it was pertinent to inquire how European consumers respond when offered the opportunity of buying GM-products in the familiar environment of their normal food shops.

In 10 EU countries, surveys were undertaken and retailers consulted to see which GM-labelled- and GM-free-labelled-products were on sale in the different types of grocery stores. We then asked what consumers actually did when they had the opportunity of buying GM- or GM-free products, not just what they said they would do. In six of those countries (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK) GM-labelled-products are currently on sale while in four (Germany, Greece Slovenia and Sweden), in which they are not, products labelled "GM-free" are widely available.

It is clear from checking data of actual purchases against answers to questions about their preferences and intentions from the very same purchasers, that most shoppers do not actively avoid GM-labelled-products. Responses given by consumers when prompted by questionnaires about GM-foods are not a reliable guide to what they do when shopping in grocery stores .

At the present time the public debate on GM issues in Europe generally is relatively subdued, although markedly more active in some countries (e.g. in the UK in the summer of 2008 and in France earlier that year). When asked about attitudes in surveys or focus group discussions, consumers in several countries raised ethical concerns, and pointed to environmental and health risks; they were generally less aware of possible benefits than of potential hazards.

In the participating countries, we looked at the pattern of media reporting, observed the political landscape, ran focus groups of consumers (not in the Czech Republic or Estonia) (see Chapter 5), asked retailers for information and recorded products on sale in grocery stores (see Chapter 3). We then ran market surveys comparing individuals' purchasing intentions with their actual behaviour (not in Estonia or Slovenia) and sought responses to questionnaires directed to Europeans from Poland and the UK) who visit North America where GM-products are widely used. Our findings showed that Europeans buy GM-foods when they are physically present on the shelves.

We conclude that a major factor in governing the purchase of GM-products by Europeans is the decision of retailers to make them available to consumers.

Thus, to the question "Do Europeans buy GM food?", the answer is "yes - when offered the opportunity".

Download the full report and individual chapters from http://www.kcl.ac.uk/consumerchoice

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UK; Sir Ken Morrison comes out of the GM closet

- Rick Pendrous, Food Manufacture October 13,2008 http://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk

Sir Ken Morrison, former boss of supermarket chain Morrison, has come out in support of genetically modified (GM) food. Speaking at a meeting in York last week to launch the Farexchange supply chain initiative, Morrison said: "I have no problems with it ... If food is scarce I can see a great future for it, but under strict controls."

His views were supported by English Farming and Food Partnerships chief executive Sion Roberts, who said GM food would be needed if the world was to double food production to feed a predicted population of 9bn by 2050.

"GM is already a reality; acreage [across the world] increases year in, year out," said Roberts. However, he added: "In my view, GM is not the answer to everything; but it does appear it will be the answer in some parts of the world." He cited the potential benefits of GM, such as the development of drought- and salt-resistant crops.

Yorkshire Forward's food and drink sector manager John Sorsby argued that to encourage the support of consumers in the UK and Europe, more education and "sensible science" on GM was required. He warned against the dangers of "scaremongering", while Roberts called for a more "balanced debate" on the subject.

Morrison also questioned the drive for more premium food with a "local provenance" - especially given the financial pressures currently facing consumers. "People are looking for value and they will continue to do so," said Morrison. He said sometimes 50% extra was charged for food because it was local and described this as "unjustified". Morrison said: "Being local to most people is not important."

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India: Tata Donates $50 million to US Varsity

- Lalit K Jha, NDTV (India) October 19, 2008 http://www.ndtv.com

Tata Education and Development Trust, a philanthropic entity of the Tata Group, has decided to donate a whooping $50 million (about Rs 240 crore at current exchange rates) to the prestigious Cornell University in New York.

University President David Skorton has called this donation coming from Tata as "one of the most generous endowments ever received from an international benefactor by an American university."

An agreement in this regard was signed by Ratan Tata, head of the Tata Group, and David Skorton, president of the Cornell University early this week. Ratan Tata is an alumnus of the university. Skorton made this announcement during the course of his State of the University Address on October 17.

The $50 million (about Rs 240 crores) is expected to give a major boost to the research and other activities of this private university located in Ithaca, New York. The university's entire endowment for international financial aid is about $1.5 million per year.

As per the agreement, the endowment consists of $25 million to establish the Tata-Cornell Initiative in Agriculture and Nutrition. This will contribute to advances in nutrition and agriculture for India, the university said.

The goal of the new agriculture initiative is to improve the productivity, sustainability and profitability of India's food system, with the aim of reducing poverty and malnutrition, said Alice Pell, Cornell vice provost for international relations.

The advisory board to be set up for this purpose would be co-chaired by Ratan Tata. The remaining $25 million of the endowment would be used for the Tata Scholarship Fund for Students from India. This is to help attract more of the best and brightest students to Cornell from India. The scholarships will be offered to between six and 10 students annually, depending on level of need, and could ultimately support up to 25 Tata scholars at Cornell at any one time.

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Man charged in 1999 arson sentenced to 9 years in prison

- Abby Lubbers, MSU State News (Michigan), October 21, 2008 http://www.statenews.com/

A Detroit man was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison and more than $3.7 million in restitution for his involvement in a 1999 arson at MSU's Agriculture Hall. He has worked as an FBI informant in similar cases since August 2007.

Frank Brian Ambrose was the first person sentenced in connection with the New Year's Eve fire that destroyed research on genetically modified crops. Ambrose and his ex-wife, Marie Jeanette Mason, set fire to the offices of the Agriculture Biotechnology Support Project.

Ambrose's sentencing came 10 days after the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagen Frank, requested the sentence be reduced to eight to 10 years from the maximum 20 years. Ambrose traveled across state lines to record conversations with other targets, Frank said.

Defense attorney Michael Brady requested the minimum sentence of five years in prison, based on Ambrose's assistance in the other investigations. "I asked for five years because that's the least (the judge) could have given; the prosecutor asked for seven, and the judge posted more than that," Brady said. "I prefer the prosecutor's numbers to the judge's."

Frank said the sentence was legally appropriate "It takes account of the seriousness of what Ambrose did, and it takes account of the good he did to make things better," Frank said.


Aren Bernard Burthwick and Stephanie Lynne Fultz, of Detroit, also were charged for their involvement in the arson. All four people were arrested in March, following an eight-year investigation. Each was charged with four counts of conspiracy to commit arson, aggravated arson and arson connected with the incident at Agriculture Hall.

"We're ecstatic about the fact the case was resolved the way it was," MSU police Chief Jim Dunlap said. "Our job is to get them to the dance floor, the judge's job is to do the sentencing. Mason was turned in by Ambrose for her involvement in the arson. She was convicted Sept. 26 of conspiracy to commit arson and two counts of substantiated arson. Her sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 5 at the U.S. District Court in Lansing.

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Better Beer: College Team Creating Anticancer Brew

http://www.rice.edu/nationalmedia/news2008-10-16-beer.shtml

Rice students enter 'BioBeer' in synthetic biology's iGEM contest

College students often spend their free time thinking about beer, but a group of Rice University students are taking it to the next level. They're using genetic engineering to create beer that contains resveratrol, a chemical in wine that's been shown to reduce cancer and heart disease in lab animals.

Rice's "BioBeer" will be entered in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition Nov. 8-9 in Cambridge, Mass. It's the world's largest synthetic biology competition, a contest where teams use a standard toolkit of DNA building blocks -- think genetic LEGO blocks -- to create living organisms that do odd things.

Notable past iGEM creations include sheets of bacteria that behave like photographic film and bacteria that smell like mint while they're growing but like bananas when they stop growing. Rice's student-led iGEM team -- the Rice BiOWLogists -- are returning for a third year. Their entry last year, a bacterial virus that fought antibiotic resistance, was well-received but finished out of the prize running.

"After last year's contest, we were sitting around talking about what we'd do this year," said junior Taylor Stevenson. "(Graduate student) Peter Nguyen made a joke about putting resveratrol into beer, but none of us took it seriously."

But when the team began looking in earnest for a new project this spring, they discovered a good bit of published literature about modifying yeast with resveratrol-related genes. When they looked further, they found two detailed accounts by teams that had attacked both halves of the metabolic problem independently.

"That was when we said, 'You know, we could actually do this,'" said junior Thomas Segall-Shapiro.

Ironically, most of the team's undergraduate members aren't old enough to legally drink beer. But the reality is that with less than a month to go until the competition, the team has yet to brew a drop. All their work to date has gone into creating a genetically modified strain of yeast that will ferment beer and produce resveratrol at the same time. While the team does plan to brew a few test batches in coming weeks, these will contain some unappetizing chemical "markers" that will be needed for the experiments.

"There's no way anyone's drinking any of this until we get rid of that, not to mention that there's only one genetically modified strain of yeast that's ever been approved for use in beer, period," said Segall-Shapiro. "In short, it will be a long time before anybody consumes any of this."

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