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March 24, 2010


Jeffrey Smith Questioned Point by Point; Urban Myths; Tarnished Gold Standard; GM in Organic Farming; Engineered Oranges Needed; DIRT!


* New Site Pushes Peer-Reviewed Science Over Misinformation
* Urban Myths about GM Grops
* Zero Sense In European Approach to GM
* The Tarnished Gold Standard for GM Risk Assessment
* Engineered Oranges Needed to Resist Disease -- NAS
* Pro-Poor Biotech and Biosafety Research in Partnership with Dev Countries
* Conducting Public-Sector Research on Commercialized Transgenic Seed: In Search of A Paradigm
* GM Seeds in Organic Farming: The Award Winning Book Now In English and Online
* Final Report of the FAO Conference ABDC-10 - Guadalajara, Mexico
* Bangalore INDIA BIO 2010
* Ghana: Professor Alhassan Urges Passage of Bio-safety Bill
* The Path of Science for GM Crops In India
* DIRT! - The Movie

New Site Pushes Peer-Reviewed Science Over Misinformation

- Academics Review, Mar 23, 2010 |

' A new site http://AcademicsReview.org exposes falsehoods in Smith's book 'Genetic Roulette' while inviting others to join the cause for good science'

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, and MELBOURNE, Australia - Two food science and biology academics are launching a new Web site, Academics Review, to examine claims against GM foods by Jeffrey Smith.

Founders Bruce Chassy, Ph.D, professor of food microbiology and nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dr. David Tribe, Ph. D., senior lecturer in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, authored a point-by-point scientific analysis of Smith's claims, which is posted on the site.

"Reliable information is extremely important to enable people to make healthy choices," said Tribe. "We hope Academics Review will be a resource for anyone who respects the open-minded search for truth that is the basis for scientific thinking."

Chassy and Tribe point out anyone searching the Internet for information to help them decide on the safety of GM foods would likely find a lot by Jeffrey Smith, who, like many people pushing advice online, isn't an expert on the issue. "Much of the 'evidence' Smith cites for his theories about GM foods has never been peer-reviewed or examined by the international community of scientists for verification," said Chassy.

Chassy and Tribe applied the same scientific method they teach their students to Smith's claims, posting the blistering results of their review of Genetic Roulette in clear, understandable language. The site can be accessed for free by anyone seeking to base their decisions on the best information available. "When Wendell Phillips in 1852 said 'Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,' he may as well have been referring to Jeffrey Smith," said Chassy. "We all have to be vigilant about what to believe, especially when it comes to our health."

Researchers, teachers, and other credentialed professionals in a range of scientific fields are welcome to apply to join Academics Review as participating members, and are invited to visit the Web site for more information. "Over time, additional content will be added to the site to help people access sound science about a variety of issues that affect their lives," Chassy and Tribe said

About Academics Review
Academics Review is an association of academic professors, researchers, teachers and credentialed authors who are committed to the unsurpassed value of the peer review in establishing sound science. They stand against falsehoods, half-baked assertions and theories or claims not subjected to this kind of rigorous review. Researchers, teachers, and other credentialed professionals in a range of scientific fields are welcome to apply to join Academics Review as participating members.

More information available at: http://academicsreview.org/

Prof. Bruce Chassy, University of Illinois, chassy.ar@gmail.com - 217-766-2750
Dr. David Tribe, University of Melbourne (Australia), dtribe.ar@gmail.com


Genetic Roulette


Genetic Roulette is Jeffrey Smith's second book in which he makes unsubstantiated claims against biotechnology. In it, he details 65 separate claims that the technology causes harm in a variety of ways. On these pages each of those claims - addressed in the same eight "sections" that correspond directly with the book - are stacked up against peer-reviewed science.


* Section 1-Top 20 Urban Myths about GM Grops

o 1.1-Pusztai's Flawed Claims
o 1.2-GM Tomatoes Proven Safe
o 1.3-Bt Corn Statistics Don't Lie
o 1.4-These aren't even GM Potatoes!
o 1.5-Bt Cotton is Safer for workers than pesticides
o 1.6-Bt Cotton is Safer for sheep than pesticides
o 1.7-No evidence that pollen causes disease
o 1.8-Mycotoxins cause reproductive failure
o 1.9-A classic logical fallacy about Bt corn
o 1.10-Rats fed Roundup Ready Soy - no effect on liver
o 1.11- Rats fed Roundup Ready Soy -no effect on pancreas
o 1.12- Rats fed Roundup Ready Soy -no effect on testicular cells
o 1.13-Rabbits can eat Roundup Ready Soy too
o 1.14-Ermakova's findings defy logic
o 1.15-Eating soybeans increases soybean-specific IgG antibodies
o 1.16-Rats fed Roundup Ready Canola have healthy livers
o 1.17-Fast growing birds can eat Liberty-Link Corn
o 1.18-GM Peas Are discontinued
o 1.19-Animals Graze Where There's Feed
o 1.20-High Doses of Tryptophan Cause EM
* Section 2-The Devil is in the DNA
o 2.1-Any DNA Insertion can cause a mutation
o 2.2-The use of tissue culture in plant breeding is not new
o 2.3-GM Breeding is More Precise than other methods
o 2.4-Promoters are precise tools
o 2.5-Promoters can insert naturally into DNA
o 2.6-Breeders produce genetically stable crops
o 2.7-Mobile DNA drives evolution
o 2.8-Food Contains Lots of Novel RNAs
o 2.9-All Plant Breeding Causes DNA Scrambling
o 2.10-Chemical Composition of crops is highly variable
o 2.11-Biological variability is typical of crop varieties
* Section 3-Allergy Assessment Works As Planned
o 3.1-GM soybeans are no more allergenic than conventional soybeans
o 3.2-Today's food allergy criteria are more accurate
o 3.3-Bt crops are less likely to cause allergies or illness
o 3.4-Whole Bt-producing bacteria are safe (that's why
organic growers use it!)
o 3.5-Starlink corn was successfully recalled, caused no allergies
* Section 4-New proteins are carefully tested
o 4.1-GM Proteins are tested
o 4.2-Transgenes are safe, widespread in nature
o 4.3-Genes rearrange naturally all the time with no ill effects
o 4.4-Proteins are carefully characterized
o 4.5-GM plants contain minute amounts of harmless new proteins
o 4.6-Plant biology is better understood than Smith seems
to think it is
* Section 5-DNA transfer is common and, widespread in nature
o 5.1-DNA fragments in the gut are plentiful, but cause no problems
o 5.2-GM does not affect gene movement into bacteria
o 5.3-Transgenes are destroyed in the gut
o 5.4-Transgenes are not incorporated into our bodies
o 5.5-GM foods are irrelevant to the rise of antibiotic
resistant bacteria
o 5.6-The 35S promoter has been thoroughly researched
o 5.7-Bt-genes don't move from plants to bacteria
o 5.8-DNA moves between microbes in the mouth and throat
o 5.9-Plant genes don't move to gut microbes
* Section 6-GM crops protects the food chain
o 6.1-The safety of glufosinate herbicide tolerant crops
o 6.2-New herbicide-tolerant crops help the environment,
reduce agricultural impacts
o 6.3-Many foods contain phytoestrogens
o 6.4-GM crops have fewer toxins than non-GM crops
o 6.5-Disease-resistant crops are safe for humans
* Section 7-GM food additives are known to be safe
o 7.1-rBST-treated milk is the same as conventional milk
o 7.2-rBST has nothing at all to do with twinning
o 7.3-FDA-approved food additives are known to be safe
* Section 8-Better nutrition helps mothers and babies
o 8.1-GM foods safe for mothers-to-be
o 8.2-Mold-free food better for babies

Genetic Roulette is Jeffrey Smith's second book in which he rants
against biotech agriculture. In Section 1, each of those claims are
stacked up against peer-reviewed science.

* 1.1-Pusztai's Flawed Claims
* 1.2-GM Tomatoes Proven Safe
* 1.3-Bt Corn Statistics Don't Lie
* 1.4-These aren't even GM Potatoes!
* 1.5-Bt Cotton is Safer for workers than pesticides
* 1.6-Bt Cotton is Safer for sheep than pesticides
* 1.7-No evidence that pollen causes disease
* 1.8-Mycotoxins cause reproductive failure
* 1.9-A classic logical fallacy about Bt corn
* 1.10-Rats fed Roundup Ready Soy - no effect on liver
* 1.11- Rats fed Roundup Ready Soy -no effect on pancreas
* 1.12- Rats fed Roundup Ready Soy -no effect on testicular cells
* 1.13-Rabbits can eat Roundup Ready Soy too
* 1.14-Ermakova's findings defy logic
* 1.15-Eating soybeans increases soybean-specific IgG antibodies
* 1.16-Rats fed Roundup Ready Canola have healthy livers
* 1.17-Fast growing birds can eat Liberty-Link Corn
* 1.18-GM Peas Are discontinued
* 1.19-Animals Graze Where There's Feed
* 1.20-High Doses of Tryptophan Cause EM


Zero Sense In European Approach to GM

- Robert Wager & Alan McHughen, EMBO Reports,(19 March 2010), doi:10.1038/embor.2010.33

European Union (EU) policies regarding genetically modified (GM) crops and food have increasingly isolated its member states from much of the rest of the world in this regard over the past decade. The discussion in European countries over whether to grow and eat GM crops and food has stalled plant research, while the rest of the world has been growing and using an increasing number of GM pest- or herbicide-resistant plants.

For reprint - write to Prof. Robert Wager


The Tarnished Gold Standard for GM Risk Assessment

- Henry I. Miller, GM Crops, Volume 1, Issue 2 March/April 2010. Download full paper at http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/article/10861/

The American public’s assessment of the accuracy of news stories is now at its lowest level in more than two decades, and their views of media bias and independence now match previous lows, according to a September 2009 Pew Research Center survey. Only 29% of Americans say that news organizations usually get the facts right, while 63% say that news stories often are inaccurate.

Although there are no similar survey data for "peer-reviewed journals" -- which submit articles to review by independent experts before they are accepted for publication and which have long been considered science’s “gold standard” – it is not uncommon for articles that are egregiously, obviously flawed to find their way into prominent international scientific publications. If the articles have policy implications, misinformation is quickly and widely propagated; feeds the propagandizing of opportunistic, anti-technology activists, and can have dire consequences.

The Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Stanford, CA 94305-6010, U.S.A. miller@hoover.stanford.edu


Engineered Oranges Needed to Resist Disease -- NAS

- Paul Voosen of Greenwire, New York Times, March 23, 2010

If the Florida orange industry wants to resist a sweeping tide of disease that has ravaged its trees for the past five years, it will likely have no choice but to genetically engineer its crops, according to a report released today by the National Academy of Sciences.

Since its discovery in 2005, citrus greening disease -- also known from its Asian origins as huanglongbing -- has spread to nearly every orange-growing county in Florida, carried by an invasive relative of the aphid, the Asian citrus psyllid. The bacterial disease has already cut the state's orange juice production by several percentage points, leaving swaths of the $9.3 billion industry to sprout misshapen, sour fruit unsuitable even for juicing. Once a tree is infected, there is no cure.

Researchers and farmers have scrambled to halt the disease, culling the insects and infected trees, but they have so far fallen short in finding citrus varieties that resist the disease. This lack of a breeding option means that for a long-term solution, the industry has few options, the academy concluded.

"Conventional plant breeding is unlikely to deliver resistant varieties," given the little resistance currently found, the report says. "This situation renders genetic engineering ... as more viable for developing citrus with resistance."

Though there are non-citrus plants that demonstrate resistance to greening, due to expense or incompatibility, the genes required for creating the modified trees would likely stem from "animal, plant, microbial or bacteriophage origin" or from components of venom or bacterial spore proteins, the report says.

Introducing genetically modified citrus trees would face substantial hurdles. While engineered crops using bacteria genes have been widely accepted in corn, soy and other cash crops, few minor crops have been deregulated for commercial use, with Hawaii's papayas, engineered to resist the ringspot virus, being the notable example.

Groups opposed to modified food would certainly oppose the use of foreign genes in the country's oranges and, subsequently, orange juice. The United States, unlike Europe, requires no labeling of food carrying transgenic material.

"Several well-known activist organizations have taken a stance against genetically modified foods in general and would likely attempt to raise opposition in the general public to juice from transgenic oranges," the report says.

Field tests of trees engineered to resist greening are already under way, with a small grove planted by Southern Gardens, one of Florida's largest citrus producers. The company, a division of U.S. Sugar, developed the trees in collaboration with Texas A&M University. The trials are still too early to provide tangible results, the company said (Greenwire, July 28, 2009).

One of the largest challenges in introducing modified citrus varieties will be the hybrid planting system employed by farmers, which typically sees different varieties grafted onto common rootstocks. While scientists should target these rootstocks in developing resistance strategies, USDA has never tackled the complicated approval process such hybrids would entail, the report says.

Unless early test groves provide an unlikely breakthrough, it will take 10 to 15 years to develop resistant citrus, the report predicts. Until then, orange farmers must continue their vigilant efforts to control the psyllid population and destroy infected trees. Wariness should be employed in increasing insecticide use, the report adds, lest the psyllids develop resistance.

Report at http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12880 ]


Pro-Poor Biotechnology and Biosafety Research in Partnership with Developing Countries

- IFPRI via http://www.merid.org/fs-agbiotech/

This press release from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) provides an overview of IFPRI's activities as they relate to agricultural biotechnology and biosafety.

IFPRI's main foci are said to include: 1) the evaluation of likely outcomes from the potential adoption of genetically modified (GM) crop varieties in developing countries; 2) establishing a set of "good practice" methods by which decision makers can assess the economic effects of GM crop varieties, make informed policy choices, and develop regulatory processes; 3) supporting partner countries in Africa and Southeast Asia in the responsible development and safe use of agricultural technologies, through the IFPRI-managed Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS); and 4) analyzing the role of public-private partnerships in stimulating investment in pro-poor biotechnology research for developing country agriculture.

IFPRI's ongoing research is exploring which enabling conditions can increase farmers' access to well-adapted technologies. IFPRI is also initiating a research program to analyze issues around transferring genetic innovations to the poor in the context of intellectual property rights, and the potential implications for poor farmers of accessing technologies and of "benefit sharing." The press release can be viewed online at the link below.



Conducting Public-Sector Research on Commercialized Transgenic Seed: In Search of A Paradigm That Works

- Thomas W. Sappington et al. GM Crops, Vol.1, Issue 2 March/April 2010
Download full paper at http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/article/10833/

Public-sector scientists have a mandate to independently evaluate agricultural products available to American farmers on the open market, whereas the companies that sell the products must protect their intellectual property. However, as a consequence of the latter concern, public scientists currently are prohibited by industry-imposed restrictions from conducting research on commercialized transgenic seed without permission of the company. Industry acknowledged the seriousness of the problem after public warnings by a large group of entomologists to EPA and scientific advisory panels that the assumption of independence of public-sector studies on these products is no longer valid under current restrictions. Both industry and public scientists are working to find an amicable, mutually-acceptable solution.

Recently, the American Seed Trade Association brokered a draft set of principles designed to protect the legitimate property rights of companies while allowing public scientists independence to conduct most types of research on their commercialized products without the need for case-by-case agreements. While there are a number of potential pitfalls in implementation of the principles across companies, this effort represents a major step forward, and there is reason for optimism that this approach can be made to work to the benefit of industry, public scientists, and the American public.


GM Seeds in Organic Farming: The Award Winning Book Now In English and Online

Prof. Mertxe de Renobales's book “More sustainable food: Genetically modified seeds in organic farming”, which was awarded the 2009 Prize from the “House of Representatives of the Principality of Asturias – International Society of Bioethics (SIMBI)” is now fully available in English at:


and in Spanish at: http://www.sibi.org/jgp/p2009.htm


Report of the FAO International Technical Conference ABDC-10 - Guadalajara, Mexico

- FAO-BiotechNews, 24-3-2010 http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp

Full ABDC-10/REPORTat http://www.fao.org/biotech/abdc/backdocs/en/

The report is now available of the FAO international technical conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC-10) that took place in Guadalajara, Mexico on 1-4 March 2010. A major objective of the Conference was to take stock of the application of biotechnologies across the different food and agricultural sectors in developing countries, in order to learn from the past and to identify options for the future to face the challenges of food insecurity, climate change and natural resource degradation.

The Conference was dedicated to "agricultural biotechnologies", a term covering a broad range of biotechnologies used in food and agriculture for a variety of different purposes such as the improvement of plant varieties and animal populations to increase their yields or efficiency; characterization and conservation of genetic resources; plant or animal disease diagnosis; vaccine development; and improvement of feeds and the safety of foods. The Conference was cross-sectoral, covering crops, livestock, forestry, agro-industry and fisheries and aquaculture.

ABDC-10 brought together about 300 policy-makers, scientists and representatives of intergovernmental and international non-governmental organizations from 68 countries, including delegations nominated by 42 governments. Plenary sessions during the four days were dedicated to issues such as how to target agricultural biotechnologies to the poor; how to enable research and development (R&D) in agricultural biotechnologies; and how to ensure that the benefits of R&D are accessible in developing countries.

Available in several languages from http://www.fao.org/biotech/abdc/.


Bangalore INDIA BIO 2010

- June 2-4, 2010; Bangalore, India http://www.bangalorebio.in/

Bangalore INDIA BIO, has emerged as India's biggest national event attracting participation from Biotech, Pharma & allied industries, Research institutes and all the major Biotech States. Bangalore INDIA BIO is now recognized as the Gateway to India generating tremendous interest and response worldwide from leading Bio Nations.

Bangalore INDIA BIO is promoted by the Vision Group on Biotechnology consisting of Industry captains, Policy makers & Research professionals and by the Department of IT and Biotechnology, Government of Karnataka and supported by ABLE, India's leading Biotech Association.

India's Biotech Vision 2015 Leadership Series - Dr. M.K. Bhan, Secretary, DBT
India's Biotech Vision 2015 Leadership Series - Mr. Ashok Kumar, Govt. of India
Bio Partnering Plenary Affordable Innovation: India's Rise As A Biotech Giant: The Astra Zeneca - Jubilant Case Study - Dr. Robert Kilpatrick
June 4 - Inauguration of Agribiotechnology Day - India's Biotech Vision 2015 Leadership Series Agribiotech Focus; Climate Change and Agriculture; New Age Technologie for Food and Nutrition


Ghana: Professor Alhassan Urges Parliament to Speed Up Passage of Bio-safety Bill

- Ghana News Agency, March 24, 2010 http://www.ghananewsagency.org/

Accra GNA - Parliament has been asked to expedite action on the passage of the Bio-safety Bill to allow for the production of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in the country, which farmers have been clamouring for.

The Bio-safety Bill, which received Cabinet's approval about a month ago, when passed, would specify the framework and level of genetic modification to be conducted on specific crops yet to be identified. It would also help prevent abuse of the GM technology, which ensures rapid growth, high-yielding of crops and enhances nutritional values.

Professor Walter Sandow Alhassan, Project Coordinator for Safe Biotechnology Management in Sub-Saharan Africa (SABIMA) under the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), who made the call, said the bill would address the fear of some sections of the public on the health safety of technology. He was speaking at the launching of the 2009 Global Status of Commercialised Biotech/GM Crops report at a press conference in Accra on Wednesday.

Professor Alhassan noted that contrary to perceptions, no scientific finding had proven that GM products were harmful to human health. He said Ghana's immediate neighbours including Togo, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, had promulgated the Bio-safety Law allowing for field trials of the GM technology. "It is just appropriate for Ghana to pass the bill because such produce from neighbouring countries would still find their way into the country", he added.

Professor Alhassan said GM technology did not only improve crop yield but also ensured insect resistance which made farmers to save substantial amount of money that would have been spent on pesticides, enhanced nutritional values and increased the shelf life of produce.

He said though Parliament was yet to pass the bill, Ghanaian farmer-based organisations had been clamouring for the GM technology to enable them to improve their production in order not to be outdone by their Togolese, Nigerian and Burkinabe counterparts who would flood the local markets with such products.

Professor Alhassan said some GM products had arrived in the country, adding that it was not true that such products were unsafe for human health and questioned: "If they were unsafe, would people not develop some side-effects?"

He called on government to muster the political will to pass the bill to allow Ghanaian farmers to use the GM technology and improve their production which would ensure food security and contribute towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The report was prepared by Dr Clive James, Founder and Chairman of the International Service for Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), an organisation providing information and knowledge sharing service to the global community on biotechnology, and dedicated to the late Nobel Peace Laureate and Father of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug.

The report showed an increase in the number of countries applying the GM technology from 24 the previous year to 25 the following year, while the number of hectares cultivated also increased from 125 million to 134 million during the same period.

It recorded an increase in the number of farmers who used the GM technology at 14 million currently, as against 13.3 million in 2008, while developing countries topped the list of countries planting crops with stacked traits or multi-purpose pesticidal effect.

On specific country basis, the report cited Burkina Faso as using the GM technology to increase its cotton production from 8,500 hectares in 2008 to 15,000 hectares in 2009; Egypt's maize production rose by 15 per cent and South Africa also recorded an increase of 17 per cent maize production within the same period.

On global basis, the report showed record hectare production for all four major biotech crops: soybean occupied more than three-quarters of the 90 million hectares; cotton rose to 33 million hectares; maize increased to over one-quarter of the 158 million hectares and canola moved to more than one-fifth of the 31 million hectares.

Dr Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan, Member of Parliament for Mion and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Affairs, gave the assurance that Parliament would this year begin work on the bill to ensure that it was passed as soon as possible. He said Ghana was part of the global scientific community and could not afford to be passive on the scientific arena and pledged his support for the bill.

Dr Alhassan who is a soil scientist, said the country had capable scientists who could work on the application of the GM technology if the bill was passed and allayed fears of skeptics who held the view that GM products were unsafe to reconsider their position.

He said the country should embrace the GM technology and incorporate it into the newly launched National Science and Technology Policy to ensure overall development.


The Path of Science for GM Crops In India

- Debashis Banerji, The Hindu (India), March 23, 2010

Decisions on GM crops should be taken on the basis of sound science only after incorporating known advances in plant transformation technology.

The recent restraint on commercial release of Bt brinjal despite approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee has become controversial. The step was taken after consultations with diverse stakeholders in several states. The majority view in the consultations was that commercial release of Bt brinjal could wait. Reasons included cautionary advice of European scientists about inadequate bio-safety assessment by seed producer company Mahyco and possible threats to indigenous brinjal biodiversity. Some scientists and politicians consider the decision a setback to advances in agriculture biotechnology and therefore to attainment of food security in the long-term. Many biotechnology researchers have taken it as a blow to their efforts. So we must carefully chart the way ahead for introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops and for relevant avenues of biotechnology research, especially in genetic engineering.

Bt brinjal is a genetically engineered brinjal containing the Bt toxin gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (therefore, Bt). The Bt toxin confers resistance to two pests — fruit and shoot borer (FSB, Leucinodes orbonalis) and fruit borer (Helicoverpa armigera). Genetic engineering (GE) or recombinant DNA technology (r-DNA) is a path-breaking technique compared to conventional plant breeding, as it allows genes to be transferred across species, from animals to plants, microbes to higher organisms and vice versa. Like other GM crops, commercial production of agriculturally suitable Bt brinjal involves two steps. First is the production of the primary transformant by GE. The gene to be transferred (transgene), for instance, the Bt gene, is inserted into a chromosome of a target crop variety, which is most amenable for its cellular acceptance and integration by a particular r-DNA protocol. The host variety for this primary event has high acceptance for the transgene, but is usually not agriculturally suitable and therefore, we need a second step, namely, the production of the commercially viable and agriculturally suitable GM hybrid or variety. This is done by transferring the Bt gene from the primary transformant to a hybrid or variety by a conventional plant breeding technique based on cross-pollination.

In the first step, GE is used to ensure that an alien gene of a desired trait can be inserted and integrated into a crop of interest. In nature a gene, on accidental entry into an alien cell, is immediately destroyed. The exceptions are the DNA of parasitic bacteria and viruses. They have some DNA of unique mobility and protective armour which confer on them the property of crossing species barriers and infecting and surviving in alien host cells. Genetic engineers have taken advantage of this phenomenon. The transgene is attached to such mobile microbial DNA, which acts as a carrier and then by suitable protocols this recombinant DNA is transferred to host cells. From these transformed host cells, whole plants or primary transformants are developed using tissue culture techniques. Seeds of these are collected for future use.

In the second step, the primary transformant is crossed with suitable hybrids or varieties to produce the usable GM crop. The favoured method for this is backcrossing, to obtain homozygous plants which have uniform expression of the transgene, reliable performance and which breed true with regard to the inheritance of the transgene.

Thus, Mahyco produced Bt brinjal primary transformant by incorporating the Bt gene into a bacterial plasmid DNA (pMON10518) and transferring this r-DNA by the common agrobacterium-mediated transformation technology to a brinjal variety. This primary transformant was crossed with several brinjal hybrids (MHB 4, 9, 10, 80, 99 etc) to produce the Bt MHB lines for commercial release.

What is not so well-known, however, is that for most commercially released GM crops the protocols still date from as far back as the mid-1990s, overlooking the many advances in GE technology since then. For instance, Mahyco uses a slightly modified technique enunciated by M. Fari et al in 1995 (Fari et al, Plant Cell Report, pp.82-86, 1995). The plasmid used continues to have, besides the Bt transgene, antibiotic resistance markers (npt II and aad) and the 35S CaMV promoter. Over the last two decades, however, plant transformation technology has moved ahead rapidly as scientists around the world have endeavoured to make the technology bio-safe. They recognise the danger that since the transgene-vector recombinant DNA had the capacity of ‘jumping into' alien species, it could also ‘jump out' of a transgenic crop and ‘jump into' another species causing gene contamination. In this context, a major apprehension was that the antibiotic resistance marker DNA fragments could spread to other species from the GM crop. To take care of these dangers, genetic engineers developed safe markers and protocols for obtaining marker-free transgenic crops.

Similarly, scientists had reservations about the gene switch (promoter) derived from the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (35 S CaMV) as parts of its base sequence resembled some sections of the HIV virus. To avoid it, safe promoters have been designed. Innovations on promoters have also focused on tissue-specific promoters for tissue-specific transgene expression in plants. For instance, at present in the commercially released Bt crops, Bt gene expression being non-specific, Bt toxin is formed in all organs of the plant. It would be better if it were expressed only in the susceptible tissues and not everywhere including the roots. With new tools it is now possible to have expression of a gene, only where it is needed and by using controls of temporal expression, when it is needed. Random unpredictable insertion of the transgene into the genomic DNA has been another concern of the researchers. Such random insertion, even in non-genic segments of the genome, could have unintended negative consequences. Therefore, attempts for site-directed non-random insertion of a transgene have been a thrust area of research with some success in the case of plants. A rapidly developing area constitutes attempts to insert multiple genes in a crop or gene stacking. One such example, besides Golden Rice, is the production of GM cotton with the Bt gene along with a gene for resistance to sucking pests developed at the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow under the leadership of Rakesh Tuli.

Many such advances have been made in plant transformation technology to make it more efficient, relevant and bio-safe and this is a continuing effort around the world, including India. However, it is disconcerting to note that in India the GM crops released or waiting to be released have been produced through an underdeveloped technology dating from the mid-1990s.

A key concern regarding the second step of transfer of the transgene from the primary transformant to a suitable hybrid or variety through repeated backcrossing is the choice of the acceptor host hybrid or variety. In India with diverse agro-climatic zones a preferable strategy would be to use acceptor lines which are best adapted to particular zones of cultivation of a crop. This approach is being followed for Bt cotton being developed by the Central Institute for Cotton Reseach (CICR), Nagpur, under the stewardship of K.R. Kranthi. However, commercial release of GM crops tends to take a short-run view and to attract farmers, companies use very high yielding hybrid lines as acceptors. These very high yielding hybrids and their Bt counterparts require much higher inputs of fertilizers and irrigation than even the Green Revolution hybrids. The even more important point is that world-over the higher yields of GM crops are not because of the inserted transgenes but due to the use of very high yielding hybrids or varieties as the acceptor host.

In view of the above considerations, it would be wiser to take precautionary measures and not rush into commercialisation of a technology that is currently still being perfected by our scientists. One should wait till truly bio-safe GM crops, especially bio-safe food crops have been produced using advances in plant transformation technology. Researchers are already working towards producing marker-free GM crops, with safe promoters, site-directed insertion of single or stacked genes, genes expressing in specific tissues, and other necessary attributes for bio-safety. A major endeavour of genetic engineers is the production of transplastomic GM crops through chloroplast transformation rather than nuclear transformation. In such transgenic crops there is enhanced formation of the transgene product, as a plant cell contains only one nucleus but many chloroplasts. Further, with transplastomics there is little chance of gene contamination by pollen flow. This should become a thrust area of plant transformation initiatives. In this context, the proposal that GM research should mainly be in the public sector is of great relevance. There could also be public-private partnered GM crop production.

As Prof. M.S. Swaminathan has said, “Unless R&D efforts on GM foods are based on principles of bio-ethics, bio-safety, bio-diversity conservation and bio-partnerships, there will be serious public concern in India, as well as many developing countries, about their ultimate nutritional, social, ecological and economic consequences.”

(The writer is Director, Bio-Science, Samaj Pragati Sahayog, Madhya Pradesh. Former Professor of Botany at CCS University, Meerut, he was associated with pioneering work on agrobacterium-tobacco DNA combination at the Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Research Institute, New York.)


Dirt! - The Movie


Airs Tuesday, April 20, 10PM ET, check local PBS listings. http://video.pbs.org/video/1436149763/ -

"Floods, drought, climate change, even war are all directly related to the way we are treating dirt."

DIRT! The Movie - -directed and produced by Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow--takes you inside the wonders of the soil. It tells the story of Earth's most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility--from its miraculous beginning to its crippling degradation.

The opening scenes of the film dive into the wonderment of the soil. Made from the same elements as the stars, plants and animals, and us, "dirt is very much alive." Though, in modern industrial pursuits and clamor for both profit and natural resources, our human connection to and respect for soil has been disrupted. "Drought, climate change, even war are all directly related to the way we are treating dirt."

DIRT! the Movie--narrated by Jaime Lee Curtis--brings to life the environmental, economic, social and political impact that the soil has. It shares the stories of experts from all over the world who study and are able to harness the beauty and power of a respectful and mutually beneficial relationship with soil.

DIRT! the Movie is simply a movie about dirt. The real change lies in our notion of what dirt is. The movie teaches us: "When humans arrived 2 million years ago, everything changed for dirt. And from that moment on, the fate of dirt and humans has been intimately linked." But more than the film and the lessons that it teaches, DIRT the Movie is a call to action.

"The only remedy for disconnecting people from the natural world is connecting them to it again."

What we've destroyed, we can heal.

"Thought-provoking...welcome humor and visual pizzazz." - Andrew Barker
"fun and accessible..." - Emily Cataneo
"...we need to pay better attention to the earth under our feet..." - Harriette Yahr
"takes a unique look at people and the soil they tread." - Amy Wallace
"...an uplifting story about people from all walks of life who are striving to renew our relationship with the ground beneath our feet." - Shannon L. Bowen
"...a fascinating documentary that celebrates the soil that covers our planet." - David D'Arcy