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May 29, 2009


Bioeconomy 2030; Activism: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Famine Fighter's Last Battle


* OECD Report - The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda
* Mexico OKs GM Corn
* Activism: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
* Agricultural Biotechnology in Latin America: A quantitative perspective
** AgriGenomics World Congress 2009**
* Socio-economic Considerations, Article 26.1 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
* The Famine Fighter's Last Battle
* Genetically Engineered Plants and Foods: A Scientist’s Analysis of the Issues (Part I and II)

OECD Report - The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda 


A new report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that by 2015 about half of global production of the major food, feed, and industrial feedstock crops is likely to come from plant varieties developed using one or more types of biotechnology. These types include not only genetic modification (GM) but also intragenics, gene shuffling, and marker assisted selection, the report says. Its conclusion is based on an analysis of past trends, GM field trial data, and company reports.

The report also predicts that by 2015 several novel agronomic and product quality traits will reach the market for a growing number of crops. And biotechnologies, other than GM, will be used to improve livestock for dairy and meat. The new report is entitled "The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda". According to the report, the biological sciences are adding value to "a host" of products and services, producing what some have labeled the "bioeconomy". The bioeconomy could improve health outcomes, increase the productivity of agriculture and industrial processes, and enhance environmental sustainability. But harnessing its potential will require coordinated policy action by governments, says the report. The report describes the current status of biotechnologies and estimates biotechnological developments to 2015. It also looks at the roles of research and development (R&D) funding, human resources, intellectual property, and regulation in the bioeconomy, as well as at possible developments that could influence emerging business models. Policy challenges related to ag-biotech are said to include: the need to simplify regulation; encourage the use of biotechnology to improve the nutritional content of staple crops in developing countries; and ensure unhindered trade in agricultural commodities. The report is available online at the link below. (via The Meridian Institute's Food Security and Ag-Biotech News)

OECD: The Bioeconomy to 2030: designing a policy agenda

The biological sciences are adding value to a host of products and services, producing what some have labelled the “bioeconomy”. From a broad economic perspective, the bioeconomy refers to the set of economic activities relating to the invention, development, production and use of biological products and processes. If it continues on course, the bioeconomy could make major socioeconomic contributions in OECD and non-OECD countries. These benefits are expected to improve health outcomes, boost the productivity of agriculture and industrial processes, and enhance environmental sustainability. The bioeconomy’s success is not, however, guaranteed: harnessing its potential will require coordinated policy action by governments to reap the benefits of the biotechnology revolution.

The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda begins with an evidence-based technology approach, focusing on biotechnology applications in primary production, health, and industry. It describes the current status of biotechnologies and, using quantitative analyses of data on development pipelines and R&D expenditures from private and public databases, it estimates biotechnological developments to 2015. Moving to a broader institutional view, it also looks at the roles of R&D funding, human resources, intellectual property, and regulation in the bioeconomy, as well as at possible developments that could influence emerging business models. Fictional scenarios to 2030 are included to encourage readers to reflect on the interplay between policy choices and technological advances in shaping the bioeconomy. Finally, the book explores policy options to support the social, environmental and economic benefits of a bioeconomy.


Mexico OKs GM Corn

- Veronica Guerrero, Nature Biotechnology 27, )

Mexico has reformed its law to allow planting of genetically modified (GM) corn on experimental plots, ending 11 years of moratorium and controversy. Until this change in the law announced in March, Mexico had banned GM corn cultivation completely. Even though legislation governing GM crops had been passed in 2005, because Mexico is considered the birthplace of corn, rules related to GM were deemed to require special treatment.

Fabrice Salamanca, director general of AgroBio Mexico, a Mexican biotech association, explains that the recently amended guidelines contained in the Biosafety Law on Genetically Modified Organisms, also establish the need to create a seed bank to preserve different types of native or 'criollo' maize and provide financial support to encourage the use and conservation of native varieties. The experimental plots will be located exclusively in the northern region of Mexico, far from the states with native corn diversity.

Critics argue that, despite the rigorous specifications set out in the newly reformed law, data on the potential impact of GM corn on the crop's genetic diversity are lacking. But Salamanca points out that performing any survey in situ would have been impossible because the Biosafety Law prevented experimental GM planting. The new regulations, which include three phases—experimental, pilot crops and commercial planting—will ensure crops are assessed on a case-by-case basis. "If [the growers] don't provide evidence of the GM crop's value, they won't be allowed to continue cultivation."


Activism: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

- Henry I. Miller, The Far Eastern Economic Review, May 29, 2009 http://www.feer.com 

Activism can be a good thing. Libertarians and civil-rights advocates lobby for constraints on undue government intrusion into our lives, and professional associations further the interests of its members. We benefit from getting to shop in the marketplace of ideas; but all is not good-faith, constructive activism, and some of the goods in the marketplace are shoddy.

A recent example was the trumped up claim by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of radical consumer and environmental groups, that Johnson & Johnson's baby-care products contained cancer-causing chemicals. In response to these charges, first made on the organization's Web site on March 12, a 3,500-store supermarket chain in China pulled the products from their shelves and Chinese regulators began an investigation. To the credit of the regulators, the charges were dispatched within a week, and the products are once again available. But some taint will linger on for a company that enjoys a 69% market share of baby-care products in China.

Whether the reason for such irresponsible behavior is ignorance of the principles of toxicology or an attempt to intimidate or extort money from companies, such false alarms do real damage to companies' reputations and to the public's understanding of the risk of consumer products and activities.

There are many examples of public misapprehensions fueled by misinformation from a variety of sources, including self-styled public interest groups and the large segment of the media who don't let facts get in the way of a good story. A tragic example is environmental activists opposition to the spraying of pesticides to kill insects that carry disease. The spraying of any pesticides let alone the possible resurrection of the use of DDT, which has been banned in most of the world for several decadesis often greeted by near-hysterical resistance.

Since the banning of DDT, insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue have been on the rise. The World Health Organization estimates that malaria alone kills about a million people annually, and that there are between 300 million and 500 million new cases each year.

The regulators who banned DDT and the activists who oppose its return ignore both its relative safety and the inadequacy of alternatives. Because it persists after spraying, DDT works far better than many pesticides now in use, some of which are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.

When it comes to the nexus of activism and public opinion in China, there is a kind of yin and yang. On one hand, NGOs that espouse views contrary or uncomplimentary to government doctrine are not tolerated, so the country is largely immune to the misrepresentations and machinations of groups such as Greenpeace, Consumers International and Friends of the Earth. Although in much of the world, gene-splicing technology, or genetic modification (GM), has been subjected to a relentless, decades-old campaign of lies, over-regulation and even vandalism, China has not experienced those problems. As a result, gene-spliced, pest-resistant cotton is now dominant in China, and papayas, sweet peppers, tomatoes, petunias and poplar trees have all been approved for commercialization. China currently ranks sixth in the world in the cultivation of gene-spliced crops and grows more than 100 times as much of them as all of Europe combined.

On the other hand, responsible activism could help to remedy the shortcomings of product manufacturing and its regulation in China, which have become a kind of poster-child for irresponsible, lethal tampering with food and drug ingredients (to say nothing of lead paint in toys and poisonous toothpaste) intended for export. The lengthy list of incidents includes melamine deliberately added to an ingredient in pet food that sickened and killed cats and dogs in various parts of the world; diethylene glycol, mislabeled as non-toxic glycerin, mixed into anti-fever medicines for children, which killed at least 100 in Panama; the contamination of precursors of the blood-thinning drug heparin with another chemical, that caused hundreds of allergic reactions and 19 deaths in the United States and at least 80 serious adverse events in Germany; melamine contamination of eggs produced in three Chinese provinces that caused kidney stones and renal failure in children; and widespread milk contamination with melamine that sickened more than 300,000 and killed at least six.

These debacles, which are certainly only the tip of a large iceberg, result from the decentralized, dispersed nature of many industries in China, the absence of an effective regulatory infrastructure, and the lack of appropriate incentives and disincentives that would make businesses accountable for their transgressions. As an editorial in the Wall Street Journal Asia observed: "The melamine scandal happened because of bad incentives throughout the supply chain. . . Milk collectors had an incentive to add melamine to make the milk look like it contained more protein (melamine fools protein tests). Dairy companies had incentives to look the other wayto maintain profitability and avoid scandal." Likewise, Chinese regulators and their political bosses often have found it most expedient to deny the existence of problems until the evidence becomes incontrovertible. We saw that in the SARS outbreak of and it is probably occurring again in the reporting on the incidence of H5N1 influenza in birds and humans.

Appropriate activism could help to redress some of the shortcomings in China's quality control and regulation. Consumer groups should apply pressure to both industry and the government to demand accountability for unethical behavior that injures the public health, and they could boycott uncooperative offenders. And if they wish to protect their brand, responsible businessmen must insist that the government provide effective and consistent regulation.

Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He is the co-author, most recently, of The Frankenfood Myth, chosen by Barron's as one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.


Agricultural Biotechnology in Latin America: A quantitative perspective

- José Falck-Zepeda et al. IFPRI Discussion Paper No. 860 May 2009. (in Spanish) http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/dp/ifpridp00860.asp

In this paper, we consider both modern and traditional biotechnologies, yet emphasize issues surrounding genetically modified crops. The cultivated area with GM crops has increased at an accelerated pace in Latin America and the Caribbean to 32 million hectares, yet this expansion has happened only in three crops (soybeans, corn, cotton), two traits (herbicide and insect resistance, or combinations of both) and eight countries (Brazil, Argentina, México, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Honduras and Colombia). Private multinational companies have developed all of the products launched commercially in Latin America. Developers in national innovation systems in Latina America have not transferred any GM product to producers in the region. This does not mean the innovation sector in LAC countries has not produced sufficiently mature technologies. To the contrary, technologies exist in the regulatory pipeline in some countries that can be commercialized pending approval for commercialization.

The main questions we will explore in this paper are then what is the current capacity to produce biotechnology innovations in the region? Moreover, what are the determinants governing biotechnology innovation in Latin America? In this paper, we report data collected in a survey and its analysis done in 18 countries and 208 organizations examining agricultural biotechnology innovation and R&D capacity in Latin America and the Caribbean. Results from our study show that most of the biotechnology innovations produced by the public and private sector in LAC countries are conventional applications of biotechnology. Countries with a recorded history of investments in human and financial resources as wells as innovation and technical change, namely, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, have an enhanced capacity in terms of the number of techniques used and mastered. Countries with an intermediate capacity such as Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru and Uruguay, have a very respectable capacity to utilize conventional and modern techniques. In turn, the rest of the countries in Central America, Bolivia, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic; have a very poor innovation capacity for conventional biotechnology innovations and almost null capacity for modern biotechnology.

LAC institutions working on agricultural biotechnology innovation in Latin America cover a wide range of techniques, crops and productivity limitations. On one hand, this result is a reflection of the wide diversity of genetic resources in the region and the notable efforts made by the research systems and organizations in addressing strategic regional and national crops and traits. On the other hand, observed expansion of the innovation portfolio diversity without a significant increase in the level of human and financial resources destined to these purposes, has meant that in many countries a notable dilution of biotechnology innovation capacity has occurred.


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AgriGenomics World Congress 2009

2nd-3rd July 2009, London, United Kingdom http://www.agrigenomics.eu

Select Biosciences is proud to announce their second AgriGenomics World Congress. This year's event will take place at the Centre Point Tower in London.
Alongside an exhibition of selected scientific posters and service providers, Select Biosciences is organizing a two day event gathering some of the most influential players in the field from Europe, America and across the globe.

The agenda will include world leading research from renowned speakers and Keynote speakers will include:
* Brian Staskawicz, Chair of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California, Berkeley
* Martin B Dickman, Professor and Director, Institute for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology
* Johnathan Napier, Research Leader, Rothamsted Research
* Richard Flavell, FRS, CBE, Chief Scientific Officer, Ceres

The full two day agenda includes the following sessions:
· Enhancing & Understanding Plant Resistance to Disease
· Genomics for Stress Tolerance
· Growth Optimization for Food and Biofuels
· Systems - Based Approaches and Genomic Mapping
If you would like more information then please visit AgriGenomics.eu, or contact Sam Marsden at s.marsden@selectbiosciences.com


Socio-economic Considerations, Article 26.1 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety: What are the Issues and What is at Stake?

- Jose Falck Zepeda, AgBioForum, 12(1), 90-107 http://www.agbioforum.org.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety allows the possibility of including socio-economic considerations in biosafety regulatory approval processes and decision making for genetically modified products. Divergent opinions about the desirability of including socio-economic considerations have polarized the debate. For biosafety approval processes, assessment of socio-economic considerations will likely be before the fact, as the genetically modified product has not reached commercialization approval processes. This implies that there is a limited scope as to methods and approaches for assessments. To ensure that socio-economic assessments will not become an obstacle to the development and transfer of safe and efficacious products to farmers, all stakeholders need to understand clearly all regulations governing inclusion of socio-economic considerations. Furthermore, the decision-making process needs to clearly define decision-making rules and standards by which to guide approval processes.


The Famine Fighter's Last Battle

- Erik Stokstad, Science 8 May 2009:; Vol. 324. no. 5928, pp. 710 - 712; DOI: 10.1126/science.324_710a


More than a half-century after the research that helped spark the green revolution, Norman Borlaug is again fighting a devastating fungus that threatens wheat around the world. (Also: slideshow.)

On a cold, January morning in 2005, a small plane landed outside the town of Njoro, Kenya, where a handful of scientists waited eagerly as the plane taxied. After the propellers stopped, an old man slowly climbed out and walked across the grassy airstrip. Norman Borlaug, then 91, had come from Nairobi to examine for himself the impact of a highly virulent race of stem rust, called Ug99, a plant pathogen that had recently crossed the border from Uganda and was now threatening wheat farmers around the world.

Few living people—scientists or farmers—had had any experience with outbreaks of stem rust. To Borlaug, however, it was a familiar enemy. After epidemics had devastated wheat fields in Mexico in the 1940s, Borlaug, who was working at an agricultural experiment station in Mexico, bred new varieties of wheat that could resist the disease. These varieties were a key component of the green revolution of the 1960s, helping to boost wheat yields in Mexico and avert famine in India, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Ever since, the world had seemed safe from stem rust. Now, the energetic, tenacious, Nobel Peace Prize–winner is trying once more to defeat the threat.

At the airstrip, researchers from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) hustled Borlaug into a car and drove him 50 kilometers to the experimental plots they had planted in the village of Mau Narok. These small fields contained more than 100 varieties of wheat that had been sent to KARI from around the world to see how they would fare against Ug99.

The situation looked bad. As Borlaug combed every inch of the field, bent over in the chilling wind, his alarm grew. Almost all of the varieties were infected, their stems covered with a rash of red, spore-filled pustules of Puccinia graminis. Finally, Borlaug found a few varieties that showed some resistance, but he remained pensive. The world was ill-prepared to fight this reemerging threat, he thought.

Back in his office at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in El Batan, Mexico, Borlaug kicked into high gear. With his characteristic passion and impatience with bureaucracy, he wrote a blunt memo to CIMMYT's director general calling for more funding and threatening to sever his ties with the institution if it didn't happen immediately. Soon the Rockefeller Foundation, which had supported Borlaug's early work on stem rust, contributed as well. Borlaug and others formed the Global Rust Initiative (GRI) to coordinate international activities, key among them testing more wheat varieties and breeding resistance. Relentless, Borlaug has kept using his connections and reputation to highlight the danger of Ug99 and extract more funding from governments.

Since then, CIMMYT has created 15 varieties of high-yielding Ug99-resistant wheat. Seed is being grown to send to countries infected with, or in the path of, Ug99. The fungus is already endemic in Kenya and Ethiopia, it has been found as far east as Iran, and it is threatening the breadbaskets of South Asia. Meanwhile, three new, dangerous variants have appeared in South Africa and Kenya. "There is no room for complacency," Borlaug exhorted more than 300 wheat breeders and pathologists at a March conference in Ciudad Obregón, Mexico. "So let's get on with the job."

Hunger pangs
Born and raised on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, Borlaug initially wanted to be a high school science teacher. When he enrolled at the University of Minnesota in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, he was sickened by the number of homeless people he encountered camped out in parks, hungry and begging for food—a sight he never forgot. In the fall of 1937, Borlaug heard a lecture by Elvin Stakman, a renowned plant pathologist who studied stem rust, a poorly understood disease that periodically decimated wheat production around the world. "Rust is a shifty, changing, constantly evolving enemy," Stakman said in his lecture. "We can never lower our guard." Inspired by Stakman's weaving together of microbial evolution and human hunger, Borlaug switched to plant pathology and earned his Ph.D. with Stakman in 1942.

Borlaug took a wartime job with DuPont, working on fungicides and bactericides. At that time, the Rockefeller Foundation was starting to work with Mexico to improve its agriculture. The foundation hired Stakman, and Borlaug joined the team in 1944. It was a rude awakening coming from the laboratories of DuPont. When Borlaug arrived at the fields donated by the Mexican government 30 kilometers outside of Mexico City, there wasn't much to work with: one adobe shed and no equipment.

Once again, Borlaug was shocked by poverty and hunger; on top of other problems, 3 years of stem rust had slashed wheat yields in half. "I've seen the misery that comes from rust epidemics," he says. Borlaug began to train Mexican technicians and made thousands of crosses of wheat varieties from around the world, trying to improve resistance to stem rust, boost production, and adapt varieties to local conditions. Counter to the culture of the time, Borlaug insisted that scientists work alongside technicians in the fields. Yields began to improve.

But the progress wasn't fast enough for Borlaug. When he learned about an abandoned experiment station 2000 kilometers to the north in the Yaqui Valley of Sonora, he decided to visit. Stem rust had caused massive problems for wheat farmers there as well, but apparently one variety was somewhat resistant. It took 2 days to fly there in an old Fokker Tri-Motor.

The station was in shambles, Borlaug recalls. "There was nothing except a few goats running around." But Borlaug saw an opportunity and had a crucial—if unorthodox—insight: He realized that because of the difference in climate between the two stations, his team could grow two generations of wheat a year. First, they could plant summer wheat in the cooler highlands near Mexico City, then harvest that seed and plant it in the warmer fall weather in Sonora, which was only 40 meters above sea level.

His idea instantly met with opposition. At the time, most agronomists thought that seeds required a dormant phase after harvest. Another dogma was that breeders should plant their varieties and make selections in the same place that farmers were planting. His boss, who vetoed the idea, also balked at the cost of renovating a second experiment station, as well as the time involved in transporting researchers and seed across the country. Borlaug threatened to resign. Finally, Stakman intervened, and Borlaug got the green light.

This new approach, called shuttle breeding, cut breeding time in half; it also allowed Borlaug's team to produce more adaptable varieties that could grow in a range of latitudes, climates, and soils. By 1956, the team had introduced 40 varieties that could resist stem rust, and Mexico no longer needed to import wheat. Breeders at CIMMYT are still shuttling seeds between Mexico City and Ciudad Obregón.

Starting in 1953, they bred varieties with even greater yield potential, crossing their resistant wheat with short-stemmed wheat from Japan that produced more grain. Their short, sturdy stems prevented them from blowing over, which damages the plant. With these dwarf Mexican wheat varieties, first introduced in 1961, yield potential doubled to 9 metric tons per hectare.

Worldwide impact
Impressed with the success in Mexico, the Rockefeller Foundation decided to take it global. Working with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, Borlaug helped create a network of about 15 testing nurseries around the world to test the disease-fighting, yield-boosting potential of these new varieties. These data proved crucial for helping deal with famines in South Asia in the mid-1960s. After some head-butting with bureaucrats to get the seed introduced, wheat yields rose by 60% in India and Pakistan by 1970. Pakistan became self-sufficient in 1968, and India 6 years later.

When CIMMYT was founded in 1966, Borlaug became director of the wheat-breeding program. On 20 October 1970, he had already left for the fields when his wife, Margaret, received a call at 4 a.m. announcing that Borlaug had won the Nobel Peace Prize. The citation noted that "more than any other single person of this age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace."

The green revolution has been criticized for its reliance on synthetic fertilizers, irrigation that led to salinization of soils, and other problems; Borlaug acknowledges some of these shortcomings but says they pale in comparison to starvation and political unrest. Moving forward, he says, scientists will have to find a way to boost global grain production by 50% in 2 decades "in environmentally more sustainable ways."

After he officially retired from CIMMYT in 1979, Borlaug turned to Africa, co-leading the Sasakawa-Global 2000 Programme to bring relatively simple technology—fertilizer, improved irrigation techniques, and crop management—to poor farmers. By the 1990s, Borlaug was also teaching fall semester courses at Texas A&M University. He spent the rest of the year mainly in Mexico, where he consulted at CIMMYT, starting his workday, as usual, before 6 a.m. His family saw him for just a few months a year, at most, as had been the case since he first began fighting stem rust in the 1940s.

Stem rust returns

Borlaug's resistant varieties protected the world's wheat against stem rust for decades. So it was a surprise to Ravi Singh, the chief bread wheat breeder for CIMMYT, when he heard about an infestation of stem rust at a research station in Uganda in 1998. "My first thought was it's a mistake. It can't be possible," Singh recalls. Wheat in Uganda had typically been afflicted with yellow rust, not stem rust.

But Borlaug says he was not surprised by the return of stem rust. "I used to tell the new people, ‘Don't think this isn't a problem,’ " he recounted to Science in a 2007 interview.

At first, the severity of the threat was hard to gauge, Singh says. After surfacing in 1998, the new race, dubbed Ug99, did not reappear at the Uganda research station's monitoring plots for several years. But in 2002, the fungus showed up at the research station in Njoro, Kenya. Initially, some 30% of the varieties tested at KARI appeared vulnerable. The wind-borne spores were clearly spreading.

"This is a time bomb," Borlaug told his colleagues at CIMMYT, recalls Christopher Doswell of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a longtime associate. Even if conditions are not wet enough for an outbreak, stem rust can lie in wait on alternative hosts, such as a shrub called barberry. Ug99 is "going to lie there, and then all of the sudden it's going to go boom," Borlaug warned colleagues.

In 2003, Ug99 was detected in Ethiopia, where it became established in the damp wheat fields of the highlands. Borlaug thought nations should start growing, or "multiplying," seed from the few known resistant varieties from Kenya. But agriculture departments in various nations that hadn't seen stem rust in decades underestimated it, thinking their own varieties would be resistant. Hit with a budget crisis, CIMMYT couldn't do the work alone.

Borlaug started a quiet campaign, requesting a private meeting in 2004 with then–U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Michael Johanns, who steered an initial $35,000 of emergency funds to testing efforts by scientists in Kenya and Ethiopia. Borlaug and Doswell also went to the U.S. Agency for International Development, which later provided $400,000.

Borlaug was even more alarmed when he returned from his visit to Kenya in January 2005. He railed against the bureaucracy and the shortage of funds at CGIAR, which hampered a rapid response. He was also mad at what he saw as the low priority national agricultural departments were giving to monitoring for rust.

Again, he appealed to the Rockefeller Foundation, which provided $80,000 to CIMMYT. It was enough to fund an expert panel to further assess the threat. Then CIMMYT and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas hosted an international meeting in Nairobi. Borlaug and Singh had urged breeders from 18 countries to send samples of commercially grown wheat to be planted by KARI. That way, they could see how they fared when infected with Ug99. During the field trip to the experimental plots, the visiting breeders were shocked at how many wheat varieties were stricken. "It was a mixture of embarrassment and desperation," says Miriam Kinyua, a wheat breeder who was head of KARI's Njoro station at the time.

Ug99 continued its march. The next year, it turned up in Yemen, continuing a global track predicted to take it across the fertile crescent and into Southern Asia (Science, 30 March 2007, p. 1786). By 2007, the fungus had been found in the main wheat-growing area of western Iran, where for now it has stalled due to drought.

Borlaug, too, has slowed down a bit after being diagnosed with lymphoma in 2006. But he still helped garner a 5-year, $27 million grant from the Gates Foundation that's being used to fund basic research, surveillance, and breeding.

The cancer is under control now, and Borlaug was full of vigor at a March meeting of the renamed Borlaug Global Rust Initiative in Ciudad Obregón. After visiting his old research plots, he says he's pleased with progress but insists much more needs to be done. "It has to be an international effort," he says, thumping his finger on the arm of his wheelchair. "So you can move the multiplication [of seed] and the replacement of the susceptible varieties before disaster strikes."

Ronnie Coffman of Cornell University, BGRI's vice chairperson, says that bringing researchers together to work on stem rust has become a second calling for Borlaug. "He's almost an evangelist now," he says. And the missionary work continues. When Coffman and Borlaug visited Washington, D.C., last year, Borlaug insisted on renewing his passport.


Watch Video: The Famine Fighter's Last Battle http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/324/5928/710-b

An audio slideshow chronicles Norman Borlaug’s lifelong efforts to defeat a plant pathogen called stem rust. This fungus threatens wheat production, especially in the developing world. Narrated by Science reporter Erik Stokstad, the slideshow features interviews with Borlaug and other scientists about a new race of fungus and research to create resistant varieties of wheat.


Genetically Engineered Plants and Foods: A Scientist’s Analysis of the Issues (Part I and II)

by Peggy Lemaux, Annual Review of Plant Biology

Full text of both papers can now be downloaded at

Part I:  http://ucbiotech.org/biotech_info/annual_review/part_1/
Part II: http://ucbiotech.org/biotech_info/annual_review/part_2/