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Date:

January 22, 2010

Subject:

Go Ahead for Alfalfa; Templeton Foundation to Chip In; Toxicity Claims Roundly Rebuffed; Nutritionally Complete Crops; Irrational Thinking

 

* Templeton Foundation - Can GM Crops Feed The World
* Bt Brinjal Controversy: Sharad Pawar Stands Firm
* State to Decide on Crop After Agri Varsities Send Info
* Give Bt Brinjal A Fair Trial, Say Scientists
* Engineered Maize Toxicity Claims Roundly Rebuffed
* Monsanto Will Let Bio-Crop Patents Expire
* Biotech Program Netted Farmers $50 Million In Savings In 2009
* Feeding Future Populations with Nutritionally Complete Crops
* Plant Biotechnology: The Genetic Manipulation of Plants
* LabTube TV
* Denialism : How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives

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Green Light Again for GM Alfalfa in the USA

- GMO Compass, Jan. 21, 2010 http://www.gmo-compass.org

In the USA, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) intends to permit the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa once more. This recommendation is based on a newly-completed environmental impact assessment. Year-long legal conflicts were antecedent.

The cultivation approval of herbicide-tolerant GM alfalfa issued in 2005 was revoked in 2007 after a Californian court ordered the thorough environmental impact assessment. Diverse environmental groups and consumer associations had filed suit against the approval. The plaintiffs accused the administration of insufficient investigation with regard to possible environmental damage, such as may occur through outcrossing with conventional plants or wild relatives as well as through the spread of resistant weeds.

The GM alfalfa was developed by the agro-biotechnology firm Monsanto and displays tolerance to herbicide containing the active ingredient glyphosate (RoundupReady).

By court ordinance, the cultivation of GM alfalfa was subject to strict constraints: for example, fields intended for planting required approval from the agricultural authority. Special obligations applied to the transport, storage and labelling of the harvest. Monsanto filed high-level suits against these constraints and negotiations are expected this year.

In the meanwhile, the UDSA has completed the environmental impact assessment ordered by the court. The report of 1,500 pages was published shortly before Christmas. The public may raise objections until the 16th of February. The report concludes that environmental damage, such as problems caused by new or more strongly emerging weeds, is “unlikely”. The USDA recommends that the unconditional cultivation of GM alfalfa be permitted.

In the USA, alfalfa is also known as ‘lucerne’ and is the fourth most cultivated plant with regard to planted area. It is grown in almost all federal states, occupies 9 million hectares and is used as fodder for milk cows and feed cattle. However, alfalfa harvest often is contaminated with wild plants, which results in a reduction of fodder quality with regard to taste, energy content and nutritional value. Through the presence of weeds, materials enter fodder that may be detrimental to the health of domesticated animals.

The system comprised of herbicide-tolerant GM alfalfa and the suitable complementary herbicide is intended to facilitate the effective control of undesirable weeds. Like all legumes, alfalfa is able with the aid of bacteria to extract nitrogen from the air and the use of nitrogen fertiliser therefore is not necessary. In 2006, GM alfalfa was grown on an area of between 80,000 and 100,000 hectares in the USA.

Legal processes also have taken place in the meanwhile on the subject of GM sugar beets, which have been approved in the USA since 2005 and which were planted on 450,000 hectares in 2009. In similarity to the case of GM alfalfa, an alliance of diverse environmental groups submitted a complaint to the highest court. They intend to force the agricultural authority to conduct an environmental impact assessment for herbicide-tolerant sugar beet as well. A decision may be expected later in the course of the year.

More info http://www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/alfalfa.shtml

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Can GM Crops Feed The World?

- Templeton Foundation, http://www.templeton.org

The World Health Organization currently cites hunger as the gravest single threat to global public health. Without new technology and innovative farming methods, production will fail to keep up with an ever-increasing world population. Genetically modified (GM) crops hold out the possibility of much greater agricultural productivity in the developing world, with strains that are drought resistant and less environmentally degrading. Sir John Templeton was keenly interested in genetics precisely for its potential to provide such large-scale, transformative breakthroughs. He understood that major advances in genetics might serve to empower individuals and even to provide paths out of poverty.

By asking "Can GM Crops Feed the World?" the Foundation hopes to generate interest in a range of possible lines of inquiry. These include research on the environmental, economic, and social effects of GM crops; on financing mechanisms needed to give small-scale farmers access to GM crops; on the capacity of GM crops to spark wealth creation in the developing world; and on public apprehensions and misinformation about the use of GM crops and how these might be overcome.

The Foundation is still refining this Funding Priority for launch later this year. By June 1, we expect to post several Big Questions for applicants to consider as they prepare to submit Online Funding Inquiries starting on August 1.

============

India - Bt Brinjal Controversy: Sharad Pawar Stands Firm

- Zeenews January 22, 2010 http://biz.zeenews.com/

New Delhi: Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar Friday stood firm in his resolve to go ahead with commercially using BT Brinjal. Pawar told the media that initially there maybe constraints but in the long run it will only prove to be an advantage for India.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had voiced apprehensions about the crop as according to him safety methods that it went through were flawed. Pawar’s Cabinet colleague and Science & Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan came to his defence and countered Jairam’s claims. The Environment Ministry has the responsibility of briefing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the matter.

In a letter to Pawar written yesterday, Ramesh had said he was holding public consultations across the country before taking a final decision in the matter "since Bt Brinjal will be the first Genetically Modified food crop and ...I am well aware of the concerns that have been raised on this issue."

Ramesh added, the "expert panel (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee) may well be a statutory body but when critical issues of human safety are involved, the government has every right and in fact, has basic responsibility to take the final decision based on the panel's suggestions."
Meanwhile Ramesh also brought to Pawar’s notice his letters to Chief Ministers of six important Brinjal cultivating states including W Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Maharashtra.

The Environment Minister has also informed the Agriculture Minister that he had sought feedback from over 50 top scientists both in India and from abroad on this issue. Biotech regulator, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, had on Oct 14, 2009 cleared the Genetically Modified crop for commercial use.

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State to Decide on Crop After Agri Varsities Send Info

- Indian Express (India), Jan 20, 2010

Even as the state government is weighing all options before giving its nod to commercial cultivation of genetically modified brinjal or Bt brinjal, vegetable research scientists and biotechnologists from Anand Agriculture University (AAU) have already expressed their opinion in favour of its commercial cultivation. According to the scientists, there was no risk to human health in consuming Bt brinjal.

Bt brinjal has been developed by Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Coimbatore, and University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, from a ‘gene construct’ provided by US-based seed company, Monsanto. Once Bt brinjal is allowed for commercial cultivation, profits from it will be shared by the three stakeholders, apart from Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR) at Varanasi.

Agriculture Minister Dileep Sanghani told The Indian Express that his ministry had recently received a letter from the Central government, seeking the state government’s opinion about commercial cultivation of the vegetable in the state.

“My ministry has approached all the four agricultural universities — Anand Agriculture University, Navsari Agriculture University, Junagadh Agriculture University and Sardar Patel Agriculture University — seeking information about bio-safety and health aspects pertaining to Bt brinjal,” Sanghani said, adding, “Once we receive information from all these universities, we will take a decision and submit it to the Central government.”

However, Head of Department of Agricultural Biotechnology at AAU, R S Phogat, told this newspaper that Bt brinjal consumption poses no health hazards. He said health-related tests had already been conducted by IIVR, and it has cleared it for consumption.

Asked why noted scientist and pioneer of biotechnology Pushp Bhargava opposed commercial cultivation of the genetically modified vegetable and was mobilising the agricultural scientists against it, Phogat said Bhargava recently visited AAU but he never opposed Bt brinjal. What he insisted was a few more tests prescribed by the Department of Biotechnology under the Union Ministry of Agriculture before taking any final decision, Bhargava said.

Phogat confirmed that his university had received the letter from the state government. He said scientists from his department had already conveyed their opinion to Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF) Jairam Ramesh, on Tuesday. “But we will formally submit our opinion to the state government on the issue,” he said.

Gujarat accounts for 10 per cent of the total brinjal production in the country. The controversy about Bt brinjal arose after Bhargava, a Supreme Court-appointed observer in the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee(GEAC) in MoEF, objected to bio-safety approval given to the crop.

According to him, the tests prescribed for bio-safety and health aspects were not proper and conducted in laboratories operated by private seed companies.

Bhargava’s opposition has put a further stay in the commercial cultivation of the crop and MoEF went with public hearing on the issue. One of them was held in Ahmedabad on Tuesday. Four more hearings are slated to be held in Nagpur, Bangalore, Chandigarh and Hyderabad.

================

Give Bt Brinjal A Fair Trial, Say Scientists

- The Hindu Business Line (India), Jan 20, 2010

Bangalore - As debate rages in the country over Bt brinjal — the vegetable genetically modified with the ‘Bt' bacterium — its votaries have sought to dispel fears and douse any fires that may stem the progression of the research into market.

A decision is due next month on going ahead with commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal and the technology should not be dismissed without a fair trial, said Dr K.K. Narayanan, Managing Director of agri-biotech company Metahelix Life Sciences P Ltd. “We hope the good sense won't get drowned” in voices of dissent, he said.

Bt brinjal has been cleared by the biotechnology regulator, the GEAC, and if also cleared by the Government, Bt brinjal will be the country's first GM food crop. In the wake of opposition to it by environmentalists, the Ministry of Environment has initiated public opinion on the trials through this month. It is being promoted by Mahyco along with the University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad, and Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Coimbatore.

Bt technology is safe, said many speakers who were present at the launch of the Bangalore India Bio 2010 here. Bt' stands for a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringensis, which is injected into genes of different crops for what biotechnologists claim are benefits: it said to make crops pest-resistant and more productive, as in the case of Bt cotton that came on the scene a few years ago.

Ms Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chairperson of the Karnataka Vision Group on Biotechnology, said: “This is an optional technology that was not thrust on farmers. Those who had sown Bt cotton have reaped its benefits.” Bt cotton, too, faced similar opposition a few years ago but today, the country was the largest producer of it. Besides, the soil bacterium has been around for many years, she said.

‘Unfounded fears'
“We want a meaningful debate on Bt technologies and would like to have a round table at the Bangalore Bio [due in June],” she said. “We would like to ensure that we take [the Bt] issue on a scientific basis and not on the basis of unfounded fears and a fear psychosis.” The three-day event has earmarked a session for agri-biotechnology.

According to Dr Narayanan, who was the former President of the biotechnology lobby ABLE, 23 such GM technologies had been developed and were being tested for safety, including on rice.

=======================

Engineered Maize Toxicity Claims Roundly Rebuffed

- Andy Coghlan, The New Scientist, Jan 22, 2010

MONSANTO, the giant of genetically modified crops, has for the first time been forced to release raw data from toxicology studies it carried out on three strains of its modified maize. An external analysis of the data claims it shows that eating the maize could result in damage to the liver and kidneys, but this has been dismissed as unsupportable by a government agency and independent toxicologists.

With legal help from Greenpeace and the Swedish Board of Agriculture, researchers at the Committee of Research and Information on Genetic Engineering, a French anti-GM lobby group, forced Monsanto to release the data from studies in which rats were fed with the three varieties of maize for three months.

Two of the maize varieties, MON 810 and MON 863, contain genes for the bacterial Bt protein, which protects against corn borer larvae. The third, NK 603, is resistant to the weedkiller glyphosate. All are widely grown in the US, while MON 810 is the only GM crop grown in Europe, mainly in Spain.

The re-analysis of the data, led by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen in France, concludes that the rats showed statistically significant signs of liver and kidney toxicity (International Journal of Biological Sciences, vol 5, p 706).

With each of the three strains of maize, researchers say they found unusual concentrations of hormones and other compounds in the blood and urine of the tested rats, suggesting each strain impaired kidney and liver function. By the end of the trials, the female rats that were fed MON 863 had elevated blood-sugar levels and raised concentrations of fatty substances called triglycerides. Both are potential precursors of diabetes, according to Séralini. And there were further signs that the kidneys of rats fed NK 603 were impaired, he says.

"What we've shown is clearly not proof of toxicity, but signs of toxicity," says Séralini. "I'm sure there's no acute toxicity, but who's to say there are no chronic effects?" He wants longer studies on more species to check for such effects.

Unsurprisingly, Monsanto has refuted the findings, saying they do not demonstrate that there is any risk to the consumer. France's High Council of Biotechnology, too, has said that the study provides no new evidence of toxicity from the three maizes. Independent toxicologists contacted by New Scientist said Séralini's analysis overplays the importance of minor variations that most experienced toxicologists would consider to be random background noise.

The study did not address the environmental concerns associated with GM crops, which have led six European countries to ban MON 810.

===================

Monsanto Will Let Bio-Crop Patents Expire

- Jack Kaskey, BusinessWeek, Jan. 21, 2010 http://www.businessweek.com

'Genetically engineered soybeans will go generic, but woe to anyone that crosses the seed giant on new products'

Beset by federal antitrust lawyers, a deep-pockets competitor, and a barnful of groups opposed to genetically modified crops, Monsanto (MON) is suddenly playing Mr. Nice. Chief Executive Hugh Grant says the company will let patents on its bioengineered farm seeds expire without a fight, starting with its ubiquitous Roundup Ready soybeans in 2014. The move would allow rivals to make cheaper knockoffs—and farmers to plant these seeds from their own harvests—without legal restriction for the first time since 1996.

Don't expect Monsanto to turn into Mr. Pushover, however. The world's biggest seed company has begun selling new versions of herbicide-resistant soybeans and corn, with other gene-modified products to follow in 2011. Monsanto will be just as tough in protecting these patents, a strategy that has helped it capture 93% of the U.S. soybean crop with its first-generation biotech seed. To achieve that dominance, the company has also relied heavily on licensing rights to other producers. Says Scott S. Partridge, Monsanto chief deputy general counsel: "We are going to seek appropriate protection under existing patent laws."

Monsanto's conciliatory gesture hasn't helped so far. The St. Louis-based company disclosed in mid-January that it has turned over millions of pages of documents to the U.S. Justice Dept. as part of a civil investigation into allegations of anticompetitive behavior in its soybean business. In addition, DuPont (DD), the seed industry's No. 2 company, is suing Monsanto, accusing it of exploiting its market position and technology licenses to block products from DuPont's Pioneer-Hi Bred International unit and other companies.

Monsanto's stock, which soared from 10 a share in 2000 to almost 140 in mid-2008, is down more than 40% from its peak and has barely budged over the past year; it closed at 81.42 on Jan. 20, lagging both DuPont and Syngenta (SYT), another competitor, in price appreciation. In its fiscal first quarter, which ended Nov. 30, Monsanto lost $19 million as revenue tumbled 36%, to $1.7 billion. The company blamed the loss on plunging sales of Roundup weed killer, as farmers turned to generic varieties.

Grant, 51, sees a bounceback by 2012. Although activists continue to decry bioengineered crops—Monsanto was tarred in a recent documentary, Food Inc.—Grant notes that over the past 18 months Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, India, and China have opened the door to genetically modified crops or research. He sees that as a sign that fears of food shortages are trumping what he says is unfounded anxiety about safety.

New products may win over more converts. Monsanto is already marketing Roundup Ready 2 soybeans, which produce greater yields. This spring in the U.S. it is introducing a new corn with genes that make it immune to herbicides and a host of insects. A drought-resistant variety will follow in 2012. Monsanto scientists are also manipulating wheat DNA to produce a drought-hardy strain, which would open a new market for the $11.7 billion company.

Grant is betting that sales of these higher-priced, second-generation seeds will more than offset the loss of sales of earlier versions as their patents expire. "Growers will decide, 'Do I go with the old 1996 material or do I go with some of these new varieties?' " Grant says. "I'm fine with that setup."
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Kaskey is a reporter for Bloomberg News.

====================

Biotech Program Netted Farmers $50 Million In Savings In 2009

- Agriculture Online, Jan 20, 2010

Reductions in U.S. crop insurance premiums have resulted in significant farmer and taxpayer savings in 2009, according to data from the pilot Risk Management Agency Biotechology Endorsement program.

U.S. corn farmers participating in the program are estimated to have saved more than $50 million in premiums, and savings to taxpayers are estimated at more than $75 million in 2009, according to a report from Monsanto Company.

The Biotechnology Endorsement pilot program lowers crop insurance premiums for irrigated and non-irrigated corn producers who plant qualifying hybrids. Monsanto Company was the innovator of the pilot Biotech Yield Endorsement program, which received Federal Crop Insurance Corporation approval in 2007 for the 2008 crop year.

The pilot launched in four states and was expanded this past year to a total of 11 states under the name Biotechnology Endorsement Program. Participation doubled to 11.8 million corn acres from 5.9 million corn acres in 2008. Corn farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin who planted eligible hybrids from Monsanto and other seed companies could qualify for a premium rate reduction.

According to Monsanto research, a significant number of qualifying acres in the program this year were planted with Monsanto triple stack hybrids. "Using RMA data, we estimate farmers and taxpayers derived significant economic benefit from Monsanto technologies," says Monsanto corn traits marketing manager Matt Kirkpatrick. "Farmers planting qualifying corn technologies saved more than $50 million in insurance premiums, resulting in taxpayer risk subsidy savings of more than $75 million."

The cost of premiums paid by producers during the 2009 Biotechnology Endorsement program was reduced on average by more than $4.24 per acre for those farmers who planted Monsanto technologies, versus $3 per acre in 2008.

To be eligible for the premium rate reduction using Monsanto hybrids, at least 75% of the total acreage in an insured unit planted for grain, including replanted acres, must be planted to hybrids containing YieldGard VT Triple PRO, YieldGard VT Triple, or YieldGard Plus with Roundup Ready Corn 2 technologies. In 2010, program enhancements include the addition of SmartStax, the newest corn platform from Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences.

Other program enhancements include the addition of Colorado to the program, bringing the number of states participating in the program to 12; and the eligibility of irrigated acres in all 12 pilot states.

===============

Feeding Future Populations with Nutritionally Complete Crops

- Sonia Gomey-Galera, et al., ISB News Report, January, 2010

'Imagine a world in which no one goes hungry and no one is malnourished.'

It sounds too much to hope for when we look around the real world and see that up to half the population lacks access to a balanced diet. The best way to provide adequate supplies of essential vitamins and minerals is to eat a varied diet, including fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, and dairy products. In the West, an adequate diet can be achieved by visiting the supermarket or grocery store, but in developing countries many people subsist on monotonous diets of staple cereals, such as rice, corn, and wheat. Although they provide calories, cereal grains are poor sources of most vitamins and minerals; a diet comprised mostly from cereals will address hunger, but not malnutrition. Micronutrient deficiency diseases are therefore rife in the developing world, causing millions of needless deaths and adding to miserable socio-economic conditions.

Many strategies have been proposed to address nutrient deficiencies, including supplement distribution, fortification programs, and attempts to make crops more inherently nutritious.4 Unfortunately, such programs have had limited success: first, because they require significant funds and a good organizational infrastructure, both of which tend to be lacking in developing countries; and second, because they rely on compliance from farmers and consumers. Fortification programs have been successful in some cases, e.g., salt iodization, but these are rare exceptions and merely shift the problem onto the remaining nutrient deficiencies. Biofortification is the most ambitious approach, as it attempts to address the problem at the source. For example, the levels of several mineral nutrients in crops can be improved by including mineral salts in fertilizers. As above, however, there has only been limited success, and only when there is a good infrastructure and enough money to pay for fertilizers. This excludes a significant proportion of the most malnourished people in the world, who cannot afford the technical measures to improve the nutrient content of their own crops.

A relatively new approach is to create novel crop varieties that are more nutritious, thereby removing the onus of compliance from producers and consumers alike. There is significant genetic variation in the quantity of some nutrients, so breeding crops and selecting those with higher levels of vitamins and minerals seems like a logical approach.1 Unfortunately, trying to enhance nutrient levels by conventional breeding is a very long-term venture, particularly when the aim is to transfer nutrient-rich traits into locally-adapted breeding varieties. Even if this could be achieved in a reasonable time scale, the complexity of breeding for several different nutrients at once would be insurmountable, and some nutrients are simply not present at high enough levels to make breeding a viable option. Conventional breeding is therefore a dead end when constructing a visionary strategy for generating nutritionally complete cereal crops.

What can be done? An important principle of nutrition is that minerals and vitamins are very different beasts. Minerals are inorganic compounds. They cannot be synthesized from other molecules and must be obtained from the environment. To make plants rich sources of minerals, those plants must be persuaded to remove minerals from the soil and stockpile them.5 In contrast, vitamins are organic molecules that can be synthesized from basic organic compounds like sugars and amino acids, given appropriate enzymes. To make plants rich sources of vitamins, those plants must be endowed with the ability to synthesize them.4 The key is to take the part of the plant that is eaten (for cereals this would be endosperm of the seed) and modify it to increase its ability to store minerals and capacity to synthesize vitamins.

The idea of metabolically engineering plants to produce high levels of vitamins is not new. Many research papers have been published that describe plants with sometimes astonishing levels of key nutrients, and there have been several widely publicized successes such as Golden Rice, containing such high levels of the vitamin A precursor ß-carotene that rice grains appear golden yellow in color.6 Although these successes have advanced the field significantly and provided hope that individual deficiency diseases can be eliminated or reduced, the enhancement of single nutrients still leaves a massive gap in the nutritional welfare of populations targeted with such crops. To avoid the disappointing yet inevitable outcome of such strategies, which could be to solve one deficiency problem only for another to arise in its absence, the focus for metabolic engineering strategies of the future should be to provide nutritionally complete crops.

Nutritional completeness means that a single staple crop, such as rice or corn, would provide every single micronutrient required by the human body and at appropriate levels such that the recommended daily intake (RDI) of all micronutrients would be achieved with the typical daily consumption of grain. Given our biological complexity, it is perhaps surprising that our bodies require such a small number of preformed organic molecules: a handful of amino acids, a couple of long-chain fatty acids, and a few vitamins. We also require a total of 16 minerals, but 11 of them are required in such small amounts that deficiency is almost unheard of, leaving only five—iron, zinc, selenium, iodine, and calcium—that need to be considered in nutritional enhancement strategies. The future of metabolic engineering should be looking at ways to achieve adequate synthesis of all essential compounds in a single crop, which means tackling multiple metabolic pathways at the same time.

Based on a recently developed combinatorial gene transfer system, we were able to enhance three vitamins—ascorbate (vitamin C), folate (vitamin B9) and ß-carotene (provitamin A)—in the endosperm of corn.8 This was achieved by expressing genes for the necessary enzymes—phytoene synthase and carotene desaturase for provitamin A, dehydroascorbate reductase for ascorbate, and GTP cyclohydrolase for folate—each under the control of a promoter sequence that ensured the genes were expressed solely in endosperm tissue. The seed kernels of the resulting corn plants contained 169-fold the normal amount of ß-carotene, 6-fold the normal amount of ascorbate, and double the normal amount of folate, which means that a single typical serving would contain the entire RDI of ß-carotene, about one fifth the RDI for ascorbate, and adequate amounts of folate. If deployed, such a crop would simultaneously address three major nutrient deficiency diseases that are prevalent in the developing world without the need for supplementation or sourcing more exotic and expensive vegetables.

This is only the first step. We are already investigating the possibility of stacking even more genes in transgenic corn plants, causing the endosperm tissue to produce several other vitamins and essential amino acids, as well as encouraging it to accumulate zinc and iron from the environment.

Critics argue that more should be done to diversify the diet of the world’s poorest people, but such criticism falls on deaf ears when there is no diversity to be found or it is out of the reach of impoverished people in the developing world. Nutritionally complete staple crops will provide an important short-term solution to the growing problem of global malnutrition, improving the health and wealth of subsistence farmers and in time allowing them to seek more conventional nutritional diversity.9 We hope that by aspiring to produce nutritionally complete cereal crops, we can provide a workable solution to a major global health problem and can provide it in years rather than decades or centuries.

References at http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2010/Jan10.pdf

------
Other articles in this month's issue of ISB News Report at http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2010/Jan10.pdf

- Iron Biofortification of Rice Targeted Genetic Engineering

- Biofortification of Vitamin B6 in Seeds

- The Accumulation of Novel Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Transgenic Plants

===============

Plant Biotechnology: The Genetic Manipulation of Plants

- Book by Adrian Slater, Nigel W. Scott, & Mark R. Fowler. 2008, $37.60, Paperback, 372 pages, Oxford University Press, USA; ISBN-10: 0199282617

Throughout history, humankind has pursued means to improve the yield of crop plants through selective plant breeding and hybridization. Today, genetic manipulation provides a powerful tool for directing plant breeding. But how is genetic manipulation implemented? What benefits can it offer? And what are the broader issues surrounding the use of this technology?

The second edition of Plant Biotechnology: The Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants presents a balanced, objective exploration of the technology behind genetic manipulation, and the application of this technology to the growth and cultivation of plants. The book describes the techniques underpinning genetic manipulation in a clear, lucid manner, and this influential tool is used in practice.

'Misinformation is rife, sadly, and there is a clear need for good sources of accurate and appropriate accounts of plant biotechnology development. Adrian Slater, Nigel Scott and Mark Fowler have produced just such a textbook, providing a critical appraisal of the genetic manipulation of crop plants for advanced undergraduate study and the postgraduate student market.' W. Paul Davies, Annals of Botany, Vol. 94. No 4, October 2004.

`Review from previous edition: Quite simply this is a superb book and a valuable resource for all those with an interest in the genetic modification of plants, either as students of the science or potential consumers of the produce. In short a great book, well worth the money. ' Microbiology Today, Vol. 31, February 2004, p45.

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LabTube TV

http://www.labtube.tv/

LabTube.tv is the online repository where you can share your scientific or biomedical video with the wider community. Uploading is completely free of charge – simply register (or login if you already use another Technology Networks site) and off you go! To allow easy browsing, clips are stored in a matrix of Channels (see the menu bar) and Categories. You can also search by keyword to find videos on your favorite topic. If you would like to use your video for marketing purposes you can upgrade to a Featured Video which adds company branding and email/weblink functionality.

=========

Denialism : How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives

- Book by Michael Specter, Penguin Press, $18.45, 2009, ISBN-10: 1594202303

In Denialism, New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter reveals that Americans have come to mistrust institutions and especially the institution of science more today than ever before.

For centuries, the general view had been that science is neither good nor bad-that it merely supplies information and that new information is always beneficial. Now, science is viewed as a political constituency that isn't always in our best interest. We live in a world where the leaders of African nations prefer to let their citizens starve to death rather than import genetically modified grains. Childhood vaccines have proven to be the most effective public health measure in history, yet people march on Washington to protest their use. In the United States a growing series of studies show that dietary supplements and "natural" cures have almost no value, and often cause harm.

We still spend billions of dollars on them. In hundreds of the best universities in the world, laboratories are anonymous, unmarked, and surrounded by platoons of security guards-such is the opposition to any research that includes experiments with animals. And pharmaceutical companies that just forty years ago were perhaps the most visible symbol of our remarkable advance against disease have increasingly been seen as callous corporations propelled solely by avarice and greed.

As Michael Specter sees it, this amounts to a war against progress. The issues may be complex but the choices are not: Are we going to continue to embrace new technologies, along with acknowledging their limitations and threats, or are we ready to slink back into an era of magical thinking? In Denialism, Specter makes an argument for a new Enlightenment, the revival of an approach to the physical world that was stunningly effective for hundreds of years: What can be understood and reliably repeated by experiment is what nature regarded as true. Now, at the time of mankind's greatest scientific advances-and our greatest need for them-that deal must be renewed.

From Publishers Weekly
Although denialists, according to Specter, come from both ends of the political spectrum, they have one important trait in common: their willingness to replace the rigorous and open-minded skepticism of science with the inflexible certainty of ideological commitment. Specter analyzes the consequences of this inflexibility and draws some startling and uncomfortable conclusions for the health of both individuals and society.

For example, though every reputable scientific study demonstrates the safety of major childhood vaccines, opponents of childhood immunization are winning the publicity war; childhood immunizations are tumbling and preventable diseases are increasing, often leading to unnecessary deaths. Specter, a New Yorker science and public health writer, does an equally credible job of demolishing the health claims made by those promoting organic produce and all forms of alternative medicine.

Specter is both provocative and thoughtful in his defense of science and rationality—though he certainly does not believe that scientists are infallible. His writing is engaging and his sources are credible, making this a significant addition to public discourse on the importance of discriminating between credible science and snake oil.