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May 26, 2010


Rice yield breakthrough; Emulating cotton success; Bt brinjals in Philippines


Today in AgBioView
From* AgBioWorld, May 26, 2010

* Breakthrough in rice yields
* Emulating success of Bt cotton
* Philippines Bt brinjal field trial
* Sustainability with Agricultural Biotechnology
* Plant BioTech World Congress
* The Rational Optimist


Breakthrough in quest to boost rice yields
- Debora MacKenzie, New Scientist, May 24, 2010

If any crop needs an evolutionary boost, it's rice. Nearly half of humanity relies on the stuff, and yields must increase more than 50 per cent by 2050 to feed growing demand, so the discovery of a gene mutation that can bump up yields by a full 10 per cent is exciting news.

The Green Revolution doubled rice yields in the 1970s, making use of shorter varieties that wasted less energy on stems. But now yields are increasing more slowly for rice than for any other grain.

Some rice varieties have an ideal shape: the plants don't produce too many shoots which lack grains, and they have more branches on their grain-bearing structures, which are called panicles. Don't shoot

Two independent teams of geneticists, lead by Kotaro Miura at Nagoya University in Japan and Yongqing Jiao at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, have now identified the same mutation in one gene in these varieties.

It blocks the binding of a small, regulatory RNA molecule that normally inhibits the gene. The result is the suppressed branching of shoots, but increased branching in panicles.

Miura's team used standard plant breeding to introduce the mutation to new varieties, and ended up with as much as 52 per cent more grains per plant.

Jiao's team put the mutant gene into new rice varieties using genetic engineering and, under field conditions - the acid test for any rice plant - rice yields increased by 10 per cent.

Journal references: Nature Genetics, DOI: 10.1038/ng.592, and 10.1038/ng.591


'BT Cotton's Success Must Be Emulated in Other Crops'
- Outlook India, May 25, 2010

Genetically Modified (GM) crops, espcially BT cotton may have triggered a nationwide debates recently, but experts in the field of biotechnology vouch that infusion of technology into agriculture can bring a host of advantages that benfits every citizen in the country.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of curtain raiser of Bangalore India Bio 2010 today, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson, Karnataka Biotechnology Vision Group and CMD Biocon India said the success of what technology could do in agriculture was amply demonstrated with the success of BT cotton.

BT cotton has benefitted the farmers and helped them reap rich dividends. "We hope to emulate this success in many other crops as we go forward", she said.

K K Narayanan, President, Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises (ABLE) and Managing Director of BT major Metahelix said BT had evolved very rapidly in the country in the past one year.

BT in agriculture, he said, assumes significance in the wake of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterating yesterday that the country should achieve four per cent growth in agriculture to spur the economy to achieve double digit growth.

"Agriculture sector saw a negative growth last year. BT can help improve the crop yield across segments and make Prime Minister's wish come true. Wise thinking people know the use technology in agriculture", Narayanan said.

Whether it is the field of medicine, crop production or protection of environment, BT, which touches life of everyone, could contribute immensely, he said.

He said BT could provide drought resistant crops that could withstand the vagaries of monsoon and high temperatures. Only such technology can help the country maintain high productivity level in agriculture. It is highly relevant for a country like India where significant number of farmers practice rain-fed agriculture.


Philippines: CBSUA to pilot FSB-resistant eggplant research and plantation
- FreshPlaza, May 26, 2010

Some 1,600 square meters of land has been apportioned by Central Bicol State University of Agriculture (CBSUA) here as pilot site for the propagation of biotech eggplant here.

Dr. Dulce Mostoles, CBSUA's research professor and one of the facilitators during a biotechnology workshop and study tour conducted here recently, gladly stated that "this is the university's response to our farmer's clamour for a better alternative to traditional control methods."

Farmers suffer a yield loss of more than 50 percent every crop season, excluding the health and environmental hazard that they are facing due to frequent spraying just to get rid of eggplant pest and disease problems, particularly the harmful and most destructive pests in the Philippines and other Asian countries - the fruit and shoot borer, commonly called FSB.

Every year, eggplant production suffers a detrimental setback in terms of crop harvest due to a wide-scale infestation caused by FSB.

Dr. Diseree M. Hautea, Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSP II) regional coordinator and product manager, has been working on developing a biotech eggplant which would solve the unending plight of farmers for an FSB-resistant eggplant.

"Eggplant yield losses from 51- 73 percent due to FSB have been reported in the country. We need to develop a biotech eggplant since conventional breeding method is difficult due to sexual incompatibility and we have no sources of resistance in commercial varieties."

FSB poses great danger to farmer's potential yields since its larvae or caterpillars feed on eggplant's leaves and tunnel inside shoots, causing the shoots to break or wilt. Once invaded by FSB, the maturing fruits will eventually become inedible and unfit for market, thus contributes to the production loss of the eggplant farmers.

As to the question if f BT eggplant is safe for human consumption, Hautea has assured the public that before the FSBR or Fruit and Shoot Borer-Resistant eggplant is approved for commercial use, scientists and regulators ensure that it passes through many tests and safety assessments.

"Currently, the biotech eggplant is not yet commercially available. It is still under the multi-location field trials. Various tests are continually being done to ensure safety and performance of the product."

Approved pilot sites include Pangasinan, UPLB Extension Farm in Laguna, Sta. Barbara in Iloilo, Visayas State University in Leyte, UP Mindanao in Davao City, Cotabato and the Central Bicol State University of Agriculture (CBSUA) here in Camarines Sur.

Eggplants are widely grown in most parts of the country and considered as one of the leading vegetable crops in terms of area and volume of production. It is a good source of vitamins, fibers and minerals.


Facilitating Conservation Farming Practices and Enhancing Environmental Sustainability with Agricultural Biotechnology: Executive Summary
- Conservation Technology Information Center

Today's farmers are under unprecedented pressure. The earth's population is nearly 7 billion, and is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Farmers must meet that growing demand - with a shrinking resource base - while protecting soil, air and water quality. Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, summed up the challenge when he wrote that farmers and ranchers will be called upon to produce more food in the next 50 years than their ancestors did in the past 10,000 years - and do it in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Biotechnology-derived crops and the sustainable farming systems they facilitate are key tools in the race to grow more food, feed, fiber and fuel while protecting the environment.

Race Against Time

To meet the projected soybean demand of 2030, growers would have to add 168 million acres of soybeans to existing production if global yields remained the same as today, or double those yields to 59.5 bushels per acre to harvest enough soybeans on today's acreage.

Biotech crops show promise to double or triple the current rate of yield increase in corn, and match or exceed the average 0.5-bushel-per-acre annual increase in soybean yields.

Not surprisingly, millions of farmers have adopted biotech crops readily. In the U.S., 91.5 percent of the soybeans, 85 percent of the corn and 88 percent of the cotton in the 2009 crop was planted to biotech varieties. Worldwide benefit of agricultural biotech,


A New Generation

The first wave of biotechnology-derived crops focused primarily on input traits, which improved production efficiencies. In fact, the worldwide economic benefit of agricultural biotechnology between 1996 and 2007 was calculated at $44 billion. The next generation of biotech crops will feature additional input traits such as tolerance to more herbicides and insects, as well as more efficient use of water and nitrogen. It will also introduce valuable output traits, including:

+ Improved health profiles of oils and grains,

+ Modification or elimination of major allergens, and

+ More efficient conversion to biofuels.

Protecting the Environment

Environmental benefits from biotech input traits add up quickly in pounds of herbicides and insecticides eliminated from the production system. For example:

+ Herbicide-tolerant soybeans and cotton reduced U.S. herbicide usage in 2007 by 47.4 million pounds of active ingredient, and

+ Insect-resistant cotton and corn varieties decreased insecticide applications that year by 8.67 million pounds of active ingredient.

There are significant long-term benefits, too. The adoption of biotech crops - especially soybeans - closely tracks the expansion of conservation tillage and no-till production. Between the introduction of Roundup Ready® soybeans in 1996 and the 2008 cropping season, the U.S. acreage of no-tilled full-season soybeans grew by nearly 70 percent.

Conservation tillage and no-till improve soil quality, conserve water and provide wildlife habitat. They also significantly reduce soil erosion, nutrient enrichment of streams and herbicide runoff. In fact, a number of studies show reductions in soil loss of more than 90 percent and reduced movement of total phosphorus by more than 70 percent on no-till fields.

High-residue farming practices also build up soil organic matter by capturing and storing atmospheric carbon. In fact, reducing tillage can quadruple carbon sequestration in cropland soils, and no-till can increase annual carbon storage five-fold. Reducing or eliminating tillage also lowers fuel consumption, cutting greenhouse gas emissions further. In all, conservation tillage and no-till can significantly improve the carbon footprint of farm operations.

Markets for water quality and carbon credits are emerging that could make environmental services such as combating water pollution and sequestering carbon - which conservation farming practices can often accomplish more cost-effectively than many alternatives - into income opportunities for farmers.

Best Option

No other options have been identified with the potential to improve yields and safeguard the environment as well as biotech crops farmed with sustainable practices. Every ton of soil saved on the field, every pound of pesticide that doesn't have to be applied, every dollar that helps a farmer stay economically viable and every bushel of yield produced is a milestone in the effort to provide for a steadily increasing global population.

Download full report (pdf, 28 pp.):


Plant BioTech World Congress to Highlight Scientific Discoveries and Technologies Bringing New Hope to Feeding the World and Improving Lives
- International Association for Plant Biotechnology, May 26, 2010

Discoveries that can increase crop yields and productivity, create sustainable forests and new medicines, and other advances to improve the lives of farmers and others' lives, especially in the world's poorest countries, will be among the recurring themes of presentations at the upcoming International Association for Plant Biotechnology (IAPB) 12th World Congress, June 6-11, 2010, at the America's Center in downtown, St. Louis, Missouri.

IAPB President Dr. Roger Beachy, Director of USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will introduce and preside over the Congress, attended by scientists, science policy leaders and others from across the world.

The program includes 60 major presentations by invited speakers and more than 200 short talks. In addition to the topics above, presenters also will discuss biotechnology in terms of agriculture challenges as a result of climate change, and global population growth. More information is available online at <http://www.iapb2010.org>www.iapb2010.org.


The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves
- Matt Ridley, HarperCollins, May 18, 2010. Hardcover, 448 pp.

Book Description

Life is getting better - and at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down - all across the globe. Though the world is far from perfect, necessities and luxuries alike are getting cheaper; population growth is slowing; Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people's lives as never before. The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for two hundred years.

Yet Matt Ridley does more than describe how things are getting better. He explains why. Prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else. The habit of exchange and specialization - which started more than 100,000 years ago - has created a collective brain that sets human living standards on a rising trend. The mutual dependence, trust, and sharing that result are causes for hope, not despair.

This bold book covers the entire sweep of human history, from the Stone Age to the Internet, from the stagnation of the Ming empire to the invention of the steam engine, from the population explosion to the likely consequences of climate change. It ends with a confident assertion that thanks to the ceaseless capacity of the human race for innovative change, and despite inevitable disasters along the way, the twenty-first century will see both human prosperity and natural biodiversity enhanced. Acute, refreshing, and revelatory, The Rational Optimist will change your way of thinking about the world for the better.


*Compiled by Andrew Apel.
Prior editions archived at <http://www.agbioworld.org>http://www.agbioworld.org