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March 4, 2009


Undermining the Credibility of Biosafety Research; Making Wales Anti-Technology; Global Climate Crisis; Lines of Communication; Like A Blue Blue Rose?


* "It Undermines the Credibility of Biosafety Research"
* Restriction of GM Crops Makes Wales Look Anti-Technology, Claims Scientist
* Agriculture Biotechnology and the Global Climate Crisis
* South Africa: Farmers Pick Genetically Modified Food Seeds
* Three-Year Field Monitoring of Bt Maize Hybrids for Nontarget Arthropod Effects
* Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac Resistance Frequency in Tobacco Budworm
* Lines of Communication
* Futures in Biotech 39: Food, Genetically Modified
* Is Your Love Like A Blue Blue Rose?


"It Undermines the Credibility of Biosafety Research"


The announcement by Germany’s minister of agriculture, Ilse Aigner (CSU), that she will be considering a ban on the cultivation of genetically modified Bt maize in Germany, has brought forth heated responses. While environmental organisations were calling on Aigner to bring in a ban immediately, the German plant-breeders’ association (Bundesverband Deutscher Pflanzenzüchter) sees the freedom of scientific research in danger. Ecologist Dr Stefan Rauschen, who has for many years been actively conducting research into issues relating to the environmental safety of Bt maize, has written an open letter to Aigner and the Bavarian environment and health minister, Markus Söder (CSU).

In an interview with a German newspaper, Berliner Tagesspiegel, German agriculture minister Ilse Aigner announced that she wants to consider a ban on cultivating genetically modified Bt maize MON810 in Germany. "Plant genetic engineering has no recognisable benefit for people here," she said. Moreover, consumers were rejecting genetically modified plants and even farmers did not want them. Her ministry was searching "feverishly" for a solution that would enable individual EU states or federal states to issue cultivation bans.

So far, several EU countries and individual regions have issued bans on GM plants that have been approved and assessed as safe in the EU. Both the European Court of Justice and the European Commission have confirmed several times that the Bt maize cultivation bans issued to date comply with European Community legislation only if they are based on new scientific findings. Rejection by the public or a political majority is not enough on its own. However, in all cases where national cultivation bans have been appraised so far, the original assessment of MON810 as "safe for humans, animals and the environment" has been upheld.

In case of doubt, however, according to Aigner, she would want to ban MON810 maize. The Bavarian environment minister, Markus Söder, has supported her openly. Not only has he spoken in favour of a MON810 ban in Bavaria, he also wants to put a stop to field trials with GM plants. Söder wants such research to be permitted only if it is conducted in the greenhouse. The Bavarian government is opposed to field trials with Bt maize being conducted in Bavaria. These are carried out by the Federal Office of Plant Varieties and are prescribed by law as part of the cultivar approval process.

"This political U-turn is very annoying." Open letter from a scientist
Dr Stefan Rauschen of the agroecology working group at RWTH Aachen University (Institute of Biology III) has been involved in several research projects investigating the biological safety of Bt maize. He is currently the coordinator of a large-scale project financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with almost a dozen partner institutions from all over Germany. The latest political announcements prompted him to write an open letter to German agriculture minister Aigner and Bavarian environment minister Söder.

"The results of these research projects have been published in final and interim reports submitted to the BMBF, and in particular in international scientific journals," writes Rauschen. "Nothing has been found to indicate that MON810 represents a bigger or different risk to the environment than that presented by conventional maize cultivation. On the contrary, the cultivation of MON810 proved to be much more gentle on the environment than using insecticides to treat fields infested with the European corn borer."

The scientist said he was astonished that doubt had been cast on the validity of these results with the announcement of a possible ban. "The discrepancy between the scientific findings on the one hand and the political activities on the other undermines the credibility of the German and international researchers and the institutions at which this research is conducted. If politicians do not take the results of this research seriously and ignore them, why should citizens do otherwise?"

Aigner’s line is obviously not shared entirely without reservations by the German cabinet. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) led by Annette Schavan (CDU) warned against breaching the government’s coalition agreement, saying that research into and use of safe genetic engineering must not be "demonised", otherwise Germany could be isolated.


Restriction of GM Crops Makes Wales Look Anti-Technology, Claims Scientist

- David Williamson, Western Mail (UK), Feb. 27, 2009 http://www.walesonline.co.uk

A leading Welsh scientist yesterday condemned the Assembly Government’s plans to have the most restrictive policy possible on GM crops. Professor Denis Murphy, head of the University of Glamorgan’s biotechnology unit, said: “It’s creating this kind of atmosphere where people think Wales is anti-technology, looking away from the modern world instead of embracing it.”

He compared opposition to GM crops to ill-founded fears over the MMR vaccine. Dr Murphy believes the genetic modification of publicly owned crops could create high-vitamin foods which would boost agriculture and help eliminate hunger in the developing world.

The Welsh scientist, who will take part in a major United Nations conference on this theme in September, fears the Assembly Government’s policies are based on an outdated view of GM food. He said: “The first generation of GM crops were pretty useless. They were just making crops easier to grow and they were controlled by the private sector. “What we’re talking about now, [is] recapturing GM, if you like, as a publicly owned technology for poor farmers for improving real crops and improving the quality of the vitamin content.

“What the Assembly’s doing, they are looking backwards at the old situation, which may have been true 10 years ago. What they are not doing is looking forward and looking out to the rest of the world. They are looking inwards to their little lobby groups in Wales instead of looking outwards. And, partially, I think that’s the quality of advice they get.”

Dr Murphy said Wales faced greater threats from “invasive plants” – such as giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed – and overgrazing by sheep. The Assembly Government unveiled proposals this week designed to protect traditional farmers’ land from “cross-contamination” by GM crops.

The professor made his comments at an Institute of Welsh Affairs conference on science policy yesterday. Successive speakers highlighted further challenges facing Wales’ science community as it competes for Government and private sector funding.


Agriculture Biotechnology and the Global Climate Crisis

- Jason Kasting & Brian Harel, IP Handbook Blog, March 3, 2009 http://blog.iphandbook.org/?p=81

Genetically modified (“GM”) crops are essential to the future of this planet, some believe. But a disconnect exists between environmental advocates who favor reducing the effects of global warming while adamantly arguing against the consumption of GM crops.

Environmentalists urge that global warming is an immediate problem and that all nations should act quickly. Some of these same environmentalists, however, are fundamentally opposed to all forms of biotechnology, including those such as GM foods which have the potential to reduce the effects of global warming. It appears that this opposition is predicated on inaccurate data or a biased interpretation of existing data on GM foods and their benefits to global sustainability.

The modification of crops to increase yields and sustainability has been tested using rigorous standards for many years. It has been argued that agriculture biotechnology can provide strains of everyday crops capable of producing high-yields in the face of harsh ecological conditions such as increased global temperatures and drought. Al Gore and Senator Richard Lugar, proponents of using biotechnology to offset the effects of global warming, made this very argument while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. As temperatures rise, crops that have not been genetically enhanced to survive in harsh conditions could potentially produce low yields or crops that are useless due to weather damage. Gore and Lugar believe that for anti-GM countries to eliminate partial or complete bans on GM foods will help offset the inevitable negative effects of rising global temperatures.

Gore and Lugar’s goals are laudable, however it is unlikely that many European countries will change their views of GM crops, even if GM proponents argue that they will benefit global sustainability in the future. Greenpeace and others similarly situated still periodically stage protests and rally support for anti-biotech causes as they have been doing for many years, indicating that the anti-biotech movement in the EU and elsewhere is still prominent.

It is unclear whether the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December will have a substantial impact on global warming policy or global recognition of the benefits of GM crops. To some extent it will depend on the feasibility of the proffered recommendations regarding implementation of GM crops as a means of offsetting the negative effects of global warming. However, it will also require that we evaluate technologies (such as implementation of GM crops) that have the potential to reduce the harmful effects of global warming on their merits rather than as an ideological weapon. Gore and Lugar, along with other proponents of biotechnology, should use the Copenhagen conference as an opportunity to stress the global benefits derived from successful implementation of GM crops in order to ensure that high crop yields are not a problem as global warming becomes worse in the future as many experts predict.



South Africa: Farmers Pick Genetically Modified Food Seeds

- Namhla Tshisela Sowetan 03.mar.09 Via Agnet http://www.sowetan.co.za/

Despite growing concerns against the use of genetic modification for food production, the technology is gaining popularity among emerging black farmers in South Africa. Sowetan recently spoke to two farmers in Gauteng who use a genetically-modified seed with a built-in pesticide seed called Bt maize.

Remi Akanbi, information and projects manager at AfricaBio, a nongovernmental organisation that supplies the seed, said the Bt maize seed is mixed with a pesticide that targeted stalk borers. Akanbi said the seed contains a naturally occurring soil bacteria called Bacillus thurengensis. Bt kills stalk borers – pests that feed off mielie crops.
AfricaBio estimates that infestations of stalk borers can reduce mielie yields by between 10 and 45percent.

Akanbi said stalk borer infestations reduce the quality of mielies, resulting in tons being wasted during harvest. She said stalk borer invasions also cause fungal infections that are harmful to humans if consumed.
She denied claims that Bt is harmful to humans and animals. “It kills only targeted stem borers and is not harmful to humans and other insects.”

Akanbi said most processed mielie and soya products in South Africa are genetically modified. lla Baloyi of Devland, Soweto, started using genetically modified mielie seeds on a 0,4ha patch three years ago. The 60-year-old mother of two said she was eager to use the seed after being informed of its pest-resistant qualities.
Baloyi, chairperson of Ntwanano, a community project with 20 members, grows both Bt maize and non-Bt mielies as well as spinach and sweet potatoes.

She said the GM seed produces more mielies than the conventional seed. She harvested two tons of mielies in 2006, compared to an “insign ificant” yield before. She is confident that the mielies are safe to eat. “People said that after a few years, the maize would make me sick. I eat Bt maize and anyone can see I am strong ,” she said. Ntwanano owns a mill and ground the mielies into mielie- meal, which is donated to various charities and hospices in the Soweto area.


Three-Year Field Monitoring of Cry1F, Event DAS-O15O71, Maize Hybrids for Nontarget Arthropod Effects

- Higgins, Laura S. et al. Environmental Entomology; Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 281-292(12); February 2009 http://esa.publisher.ingentaconnect.com/

Field studies were conducted over a 3-yr period to investigate the potential effects of cultivating transgenic maize hybrids containing a Cry1F insect-resistant protein on nontarget arthropod abundance. The narrow spectrum of activity of Cry1F against a subset of lepidopteran pest species would not suggest broad-spectrum effects on nontarget arthropods. However, because of the insecticidal nature of Bt proteins, an alternate hypothesis is that some nontargets may be affected by exposure to the protein.

To examine this hypothesis at the field level, monitoring for nontarget organism abundance was initiated at four locations across the U.S. Corn Belt from 2004 through 2006. At each location, paired fields (≈0.8 ha each) of commercial Cry1F maize hybrids and isogenic nontransgenic control hybrids were planted. Sampling methods used to monitor nontarget organisms included visual surveillance, sticky cards, pitfall traps, and litterbags. Data were analyzed using multivariate analyses to look for a general community level response to the treatments. Analysis of variance was conducted on individual taxa to detect differences distinct from the primary community response. Community level analyses of the nontarget arthropod abundance showed no significant impact on community abundance when comparing Bt with non-Bt maize fields. Analyses of the individual taxa also showed no significant differences in abundance between Bt and non-Bt fields.

Results of these studies confirm earlier laboratory testing and support the hypothesis that Cry1F maize does not produce adverse effects on nontarget arthropods occurring in maize fields.


Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac Resistance Frequency in Tobacco Budworm (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae)

- Blanco, Carlos A et al., Journal of Economic Entomology, Vol.102, Number 1, February 2009 , pp. 381-387(7) http://www.ingentaconnect.com/

The tobacco budworm, Heliothis virescens (F.) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), is one of the most important pests of cotton, Gossypium hirsutum L., that has become resistant to a wide range of synthetic insecticides. Cry1Ac-expressing cotton has proven its effectiveness against this insect since its introduction in North America in 1996. However, the constant exposure of tobacco budworm to this protein toxin may result in the development of resistance to it.

To estimate the frequency of alleles that confer resistance to a 1.0 g of Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac diagnostic concentration in field-collected insects, the second generation (F2) of 1,001 single-pair families from seven geographical regions representing 2,202 alleles from natural populations was screened in 2006 and 2007 without finding major resistant alleles. Neonates of 56 single-pair families were able to develop to second instar on the diagnostic concentration in the initial screen, but only seven of these lines did so again in a second confirmatory screen. Minor resistance alleles to Cry1Ac may be quite common in natural populations of H. virescens. Our estimated resistance allele frequencies (0.0036-0.0263) were not significantly different from a previously published estimate from 1993.

There is no evidence that H. virescens populations have become more resistant to Cry1Ac.


Lines of Communication

- Editorial Nature Methods 6, 181 (2009) http://www.nature.com/nmeth/journal/v6/n3/full/nmeth0309-181.html

The increasing impact of science on society calls for improved communication between scientists and the public via dedicated science media centers as well as nontraditional personal blogs.

The public likes science stories it can easily relate to, and we have to admit that most science, including that published in Nature Methods, is unlikely to get more than a snore from nonscientists. In contrast, science stories that have a human interest or other emotionally charged angle require the concerted efforts of both journalists and scientists to ensure that the public understands the story well enough to make an informed personal decision. A failure in this regard can lead to a crisis that is difficult to resolve. A case in point is the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination scare when a highly reported but unjustified link to autism caused some people to stop vaccinating.

Given the increasingly important role that science has in society and public policy in many countries, and its unique capabilities for benefit or harm, one would think that media companies would be increasing their science reporting staff, but the opposite may be occurring instead. CNN just cut its entire science, technology and environment news staff; NBC Universal has cut environmental news staff, and there seems to be a trend toward using general reporters to cover all types of news.

In 2002 the UK government and science communicators responded to the need for improved science reporting by creating the nonprofit Science Media Centre (SMC). This is essentially a centralized press office that provides vetted information and scientific contacts for journalists when a big science story hits the headlines. The SMC also provides training for scientists on how to communicate with the media. The passage of the UK government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) bill in 2008—with public support for the human-animal embryo research it allowed—has been highlighted by the SMC as evidence that getting scientists to proactively engage the media can elicit public support for even controversial research.

Other countries are jumping onboard. Australia was inspired to incorporate the Australian SMC in 2005 and New Zealand followed suit in 2008. North America should soon see its first such center when the Science Media Centre of Canada starts operations.

These regional organized efforts to improve communication between scientists and the media are laudable and important, particularly when big science stories erupt that have the potential for lasting harm if reported inaccurately. But attempts to improve public science communication should not be limited to traditional media. Nontraditional media such as blogs offer an alternative with a far larger pool of potential science communicators. Based on numbers from the US National Science Foundation, a conservative calculation indicates that the total number of science and engineering doctorates awarded in the US since 1960 will pass one million this year. Counting the number of medical doctors and people with undergraduate science degrees swells the number of scientifically savvy potential science information consumers and communicators several-fold.

A powerful aspect of blogs is their capacity to put a human face on science and related health issues by allowing scientists to discuss how these things affect them personally in a format in which regular readers feel as though they know the writer. Analysis of the MMR vaccine incident suggests that emotional arguments like a scientist talking about vaccinating his or her own children might be more powerful than the rational arguments that form the basis of normal scientific discourse. The public's emotional response to genetically modified food in some countries might also have been very different if people could see numerous online blog entries from scientists discussing why they were not concerned about the scenarios being promulgated in the press. But can enough scientists be convinced of the potential benefits of blogging to make this a reality?


Futures in Biotech 39: Food, Genetically Modified

Hosts: Marc Pelletier

Dr. Lisa Weasel discusses the controversies surrounding genetically-modified foods.

Guest: Dr. Lisa Weasel, associate professor of biology at Portland State University in Oregon, a member of Governor Ted Kulongoski's task force on developing public policy for bio-pharmaceutical crops in Oregon, and author of Food Fray: Inside the Controversy over Genetically Modified Foods.

Why isn't there a wide consumer acceptance of genetically modified (GM) foods? If we can design crops that reduce pesticides, grow more effectively in poor soil, bring nutrients such as vitamins A to populations with high incidences of blindness, or even just taste better, why are we hesitating? Running time: 48:04

Listen at http://twit.tv/fib39


Is Your Love Like A Blue Blue Rose?


The worlds first blue roses have been on display at the International Flower Expo in Tokyo and will be on sale to the public by next Autumn. They have been genetically modified and implanted with a gene which skillfully synthesises the pigments from pansies.

It was the first time that these blue roses had been on display in public and they are attracting a lot of attention because they are really unusual. The lovely roses were developed by an Australian based company, a subsidiary of Suntory. The company has invested the sum of 3 billion yen to create these blue roses and also blue carnations, this project has been ongoing since 1990.

Scientists for the company were the 1st to implant the gene that produces Delphinidin, the pigment that produces a vivid blue hue and is not naturally found in roses. It was four years ago that the first genetically modified blue roses were produced although there was further research required in order to make them safe to grow.

Roses have been cultivated for over 5,000 years and there are about 25,000 different species of roses. The usual colour of roses are red, pink, white and yellow. The blue rose is said to denote unrequited love as it symbolises a quest for the impossible. This seems very apt!

The blue roses that you have been able to buy in florists in recent years were only created by using dyes to stain the petals of white roses. The Suntory roses are believed to be the first true blue roses.

The blue roses were featured along with 860 exhibits all of which were being displayed at the 5th annual IFEX. This is the largest garden show and flower show and attracted over 32,000 visitors over the course of one weekend.

Another attraction was “glow in the dark” roses which have been modified to light up in the dark!

See the blue rose at http://www.your-own-greenhouse.com/is-your-love-like-a-blue-blue-rose/