Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





September 9, 2010


Ladybirds OK; Castor Genome Deciphered; Amadea Potato; Indian AgBiotech In Limbo; Don’t Take the Activist Bait


Ladybirds OK; Castor Genome Deciphered; Amadea Potato; Indian AgBiotech In Limbo; Don’t Take the Activist Bait

* Bt Maize Not Harmful to Ladybirds
* Castor Bean Genome Published by Venter Institute
* BASF Applies for Approval of Second GM Starch Potato
* World Food Prize Foundation Honors Kofi Annan in Ghana
* India: BRAI Bill Leaves Biotech Commercialisation In Limbo
* India Biotech Information Goes Online
* The Journal of Social and Economical Issues of Biotechnology
* AgriGenomics Congress
* E-learning master in Biosafety in Plant Biotechnology
* The Role of Trust Building in the Development of Biosafety Regulations in Kenya
* Don’t Take the Activist Bait on Biotech Fish

Bt Maize Not Harmful to Ladybirds


Genetically modified maize has no harmful impacts on the two-spotted ladybird. This is the finding of a scientific study published in August 2010. It contradicts a similar study published in 2008, which the German minister of agriculture, Ilse Aigner, cited when justifying the German ban on cultivating MON810 Bt maize.

Ladybirds are among the insects that live in maize fields. The 2009 ban on cultivating MON810 Bt maize was based in part on a study that had found harmful effects on ladybirds. Now a new study has been published with different findings.

The conclusions in the 2008 study contradict numerous other studies that have found no negative impacts of Bt maize or Bt proteins on ladybirds. As part of the study, ladybird larvae were fed on flour moth eggs that had been sprayed with Bt protein solutions in various concentrations. The scientists found a higher mortality rate among the larvae fed in this way than in the control groups and concluded that the two-spotted ladybird might be harmed by Bt maize. The publication was used, along with others, to justify the ban on MON810 cultivation announced by Germany’s minister of agriculture, Ilse Aigner, in April 2009.

Other scientists expressed serious doubts about the study findings, saying among other things, that no clear dose-effect relationship had been found. The mortality rate did not increase in line with the Bt protein concentration sprayed on the flour moth eggs. In addition, the mortality rate in some control groups, in which the food had not been sprayed with Bt protein, was unusually high. Moreover, the study was criticised for the fact that it was not clear how much Bt protein had been applied to the eggs and how many moth eggs the larvae had eaten. In the view of the study’s critics, the larvae could not have eaten any appreciable quantity of Bt protein anyway, because young ladybirds only suck their food dry.

The new study reassessed the possible impact that Bt proteins might have on two-spotted ladybirds. It aimed to clarify, first of all, whether the larvae eat flour moth eggs in their entirety or whether they just suck them dry. Young ladybird larvae were given individual flour moth eggs and were observed while they consumed the eggs. It was found that they only suck the eggs dry. In no cases were larvae found to have eaten even a part of the outside.

To ensure that the ladybird larvae ingested a biologically relevant quantity of Bt protein, the new study used red spider mites as a food source. Red spider mites feed on maize, among other things, and of the ladybird’s natural prey organisms they are the ones that accumulate the most Bt protein. The exact amount was measured using an ELISA test. Ladybird larvae were fed exclusively on red spider mites that had previously been fed on Bt maize. The mortality of these larvae was not significantly different from that of the control group, which was given red spider mites that had been fed on conventional maize.

Finally, the ladybird larvae were fed with purified Bt protein in a nutrient solution, at a concentration ten times higher than that found in the red spider mites. No significant differences in larval development were observed between this group and the control group that received the nutrient solution without Bt protein. In another control group, substances were added to the nutrient solution that are known to be toxic to ladybirds. In this group, the mortality rate was significantly higher and the surviving larvae developed more slowly. This shows that the trial design is suitable in principle for demonstrating harmful effects of components of the feed solution.

Since the ladybird larvae in the experiment were exposed to much higher Bt protein quantities than they would be expected to consume in the field, the authors conclude that the cultivation of Bt maize has no harmful effects on the two-spotted ladybird.

Original paper - http://www.springerlink.com/content/5n7758gj612x0125


Castor Bean Genome Published by Research Team Including Scientists from the Venter Institute

- J. Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, MD; August 22, 2010 http://www.jcvi.org

A research team co-led by scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) and the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS), University of Maryland School of Medicine, today published the sequence and analysis of the castor bean (Ricinus communis) genome in Nature Biotechnology. Agnes P. Chan, Ph.D., JCVI, and Jonathan Crabtree, Ph.D., IGS were co-lead authors on the paper describing the 4.5X coverage of this important oilseed crop. The availability of the castor bean genome also has important biodefense implications since the plant produces the powerful toxin, ricin.

The castor bean, a tropical perennial shrub found in Africa and other tropical and subtropical regions in the world, is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family. There are approximately 6,300 species in this family that includes the cassava, rubber tree, ornamental poinsettias and jatropha. While the castor bean genome is the first to be sequenced and published from this family, the jatropha genome has been sequenced by JCVI and the company Synthetic Genomics Inc. Jatropha is also an oilseed crop.

The sequencing of the castor bean genome to 4.5 X coverage was conducted at JCVI. The results of this work show that the genome is 350 Mb and has an estimated 31,237 genes. Because of the potential use of castor bean as a biofuel and its production of the potent toxin ricin, the team focused efforts on genes related to oil and ricin production. They analyzed important metabolic pathways and regulatory genes involved in the production and storage of oils in the castor bean. The analyses could be important for comparative studies with other oilseed crops, and could also allow for genetic engineering of castor bean to produce oil without ricin.

Identifying and understanding the ricin–producing gene family in castor bean will be important in preventing and dealing with potential bioterrorism events. Genomics enables enhanced diagnostic and forensic methods for the detection of ricin and precise identification of strains and geographical origins. The team discovered that the ricin gene family was larger than previously thought, and they revealed approximately 28 genes in the ricin producing family. As a next step, the group suggest further comparative genomic studies with the close relative cassava, a major crop in the developing world, to further elucidate their disease resistance aspects.

Dr. Chan stated, "The availability of the castor bean genome will encourage more research into the positive aspects of this oilseed crop as a potential biofuel. Further study will also elucidate many aspects about ricin and enable researchers to potentially eliminate the bioterrorism threat of this natural toxin."


BASF Applies for Approval of Second GM Starch Potato

- Teresa Rush, Farmers Guardian (UK), September 7, 2010 http://www.farmersguardian.com

Chemical business BASF has applied for approval of its second genetically modified starch potato. The European Commission approved the company’s first GM potato - the Amflora potato - for commercial production of industrial starch in May this year.

The Amadea potato, like Amflora, produces pure amylopectin starch. Its agronomic properties and safety have been tested in field trials conducted over a number of years, says BASF, which is expecting to launch the product in 2013/14 after receiving a positive safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Amadea is initially intended to complement Amflora cultivation and will later substitute BASF’s first starch potato. German Federal Minister of Economics and Technology, Rainer Brüderle, helped to harvest the first commercially produced Amflora potatoes in Zepkow in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania last week.

Together with BASF chairman Dr Jürgen Hambrecht and Dr Stefan Marcinowski, member of BASF’s board of executive directors responsible for plant biotechnology, the Minister harvested the first tubers of the GM potatoes.

Farmers and representatives of the German-based Forum Grüne Vernunft e.V (Forum for Green Common Sense) were also present at the Amflora harvest, says BASF.


World Food Prize Foundation Honors Kofi Annan in Ghana

- World Food Prize Foundation, Sep 2, 2010 http://www.worldfoodprize.org

Accra, Ghana – The World Food Prize Foundation presented its Norman E. Borlaug Medallion to Kofi Annan on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010, during the first-ever African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in his home country of Ghana. The Medallion is presented to world leaders whose actions have benefited mankind but who would not normally be eligible for the World Food Prize.

The award is in recognition of Annan’s international leadership as Secretary-General of the United Nations and as chairman of the board for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. In both roles, Annan has brought significant attention to the issue of global food security, most notably in establishing the UN Millennium Development Goals during his time at the United Nations.

“Over the past decade, no one has done more than Kofi Annan to bring attention to the critical issue of global food security around the world nor in fulfilling Norman Borlaug's dream of bringing the Green Revolution to Africa," said Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation. The World Food Prize Foundation was founded by the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner who has been called the “father of the Green Revolution” for his breakthroughs in wheat production that helped save over a billion lives, and who had a passion for ending hunger in Africa.

“It is a great honor to receive this award in my home country of Ghana, which is making great strides in putting farmers and agriculture at the center of our development,” said Annan, who received a standing ovation from over 600 people in the audience. “Public and private partners are working closely together to transform Africa’s agriculture to benefit smallholder farmers and increase food security and nutrition in Ghana and across the continent.”

“We have left farmers to sink or swim without help for far too long,” Annan said. “After decades of neglect, agriculture has returned to the development agenda. Now it is time to bring together the many players – from farmers to CEOs – to achieve rapid, large-scale results that will put an end to hunger and poverty.”

Kofi Annan served as UN Secretary-General from 1997 to 2006. As Secretary-General, he was instrumental in laying out the Millennium Development Goals, a strategy to meet the needs of the world's poorest by 2015. One of the eight identified goals is to "eradicate extreme poverty and hunger." One of the specific targets the UN hopes to meet is to "halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger." In 2001, Kofi Annan and the United Nations received the Nobel Peace Prize for these and other efforts.

Annan is currently the chairman of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). AGRA works to achieve a food secure and prosperous Africa through the promotion of rapid, sustainable agricultural growth based on smallholder farmers. Smallholders--the majority women--produce most of Africa's food. AGRA aims to ensure that smallholders have what they need to succeed: good seeds and healthy soils; access to markets, information, financing, storage and transport; and policies that provide them with comprehensive support. Through developing Africa's high-potential breadbasket areas, while also boosting farm productivity across more challenging environments, AGRA works to transform smallholder agriculture into a highly productive, efficient, sustainable and competitive system, and do so while protecting the environment.

This year, the World Food Prize’s annual international symposium will focus specifically on “Taking it to the Farmer: Reaching the World’s Smallholders” during a week of events, October 12-16, in Des Moines, Iowa. During that week of events, the World Food Prize will also be awarded; this year’s honorees are David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, and Jo Luck, president of Heifer International.

Quinn presented the medallion to Annan at Thursday's AGRF opening session. On Friday, Quinn will also lead a conference session at the AGRF that focuses on the work of Dr. Borlaug, and a panel of speakers will also discuss the ongoing progress of bringing the next Green Revolution to Africa.


India: BRAI Bill Leaves Biotech Commercialisation In Limbo

Priscilla Jebaraj, The Hindu, September 9, 2010 http://www.thehindu.com

The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) will only deal with the safety and efficacy aspects of biotech products, leaving the controversial commercialisation aspect hanging in the air, according to the latest version of the BRAI Bill, 2010.

The Bill, which was supposed to be introduced in the last session of Parliament, is back in limbo after objections by the Health Ministry. However, the latest version of the Bill has incorporated the changes demanded by the Environment Ministry.

One of the major amendments includes a clarification that since the BRAI Bill will only handle safety and efficacy, “any decision on commercialisation will have to be taken by competent authorities under relevant laws,” according to Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.

“There is no clarity on which authorities would be competent or which laws would be relevant,” he admits. “In the case of GM [or genetically-modified] foods, it may still be with the Ministry of Environment and Forests,” he says. “Or it could be Health, Agriculture or the DST [Department of Science and Technology],” he added, leaving the door open for a further turf war.

Mr. Ramesh feels that decision can be taken later, while the Bill itself should be passed into law in the next session of Parliament. Originally, the BRAI was supposed to come under the control of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).

Mr. Ramesh suggested that in order to avoid conflicts of interest, a regulatory body should come under a Ministry unrelated to biotechnology promotion, or under the Cabinet Secretariat. However, he has accepted the compromise of the Department of Science and Technology as the nodal Ministry.

In a deal worked out between DBT and the Environment Ministry on Independence Day, just before the Cabinet considered the Bill, the Ministry agreed to give up control of the current body responsible for GM food clearances, the Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee. Its role will now be taken over by the Environment Appraisal Panel, whose decisions can be reversed by its parent body, the BRAI.

However, in return, the Environment Ministry has wrested the right to appoint the chairman and member secretary of the Panel.


India Biotech Information Goes Online


The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) announces the launch of a new user-friendly and interactive website of its India Biotech Information Centre (BIC). India BIC website (http://www.isaaa.org/india) is a one-stop-shop for reliable information on genetically modified (GM) crops and agri-biotech related developments in the country. It contains the most comprehensive and packaged information related to GM crops and also features most updated information related to biotech policy and regulatory environment in the country.

Catering to the needs of multiple stakeholders, the website filters and logically decodes complex biotech science related information so as to expand the understanding of biotechnologies in agriculture. It also features important research publications, short and snappy documents and biotech video documentaries that are translated in major Indian languages.


The Journal of Social and Economical Issues of Biotechnology


A peer-reviewed scientific journal, international in scope addresses the significant and practicable knowledge regarding the review articles and debates held about these issues suggest that more accents should be given globally to resolve such social and economical consequences.

The Journal of Social and Economical Issues of Biotechnology under Open Access Category outlines the possible economical and social benefits of new modern biotechnology along with the application of technology in various key areas as agricultural research policy, industrial development, production and marketing of food, consumer issues, and in agricultural research policies and involves in solving many controversial socioeconomic issues.

Submit your manuscript at
OMICS Publishing Group, Sunnyvale CA 94086, USA. E-mail: editor.jseib@omicsonline.biz


AgriGenomics Congress

- June 30th - July 1, 2011; Hamburg, Germany http://www.selectbiosciences.com/conferences/AGWC2011/index.aspx

AgriGenomics is the detailed study of the genetic makeup of plants and how all the genes work together to produce the crop. Recently there has been great interest in genetically engineering plants to optimize yields and their use in bio-fuels. There is also focus on the alteration of certain genes to increase plant resistance towards disease and infection.

So, now is a good time for scientists, business people, bio-ethicists and patent experts from around the globe to come together and catch up with the latest developments in this fast expanding field.


E-learning master in Biosafety in Plant Biotechnology

Faculty of Agriculture of the Marche Polytechnic University, Ancona , Italy

Application forms are available at http://www.univpm.it/Entra/Engine/RAServePG.php/P/646010013400/M/253510013478/T/First-level-distance-learning-Master-in-Biosafety-in-plant-biotechnology

This Master is developed in collaboration with l'UNIDO: http://binas.unido.org/moodle/mod/resource/view.php?id=132#Module%207

The 2010/2011 course starts tentatively on 5 November 2010. Applications are accepted between 07 July and 1 October 2010. The Registrations site will open in due time.

For the 2010-2011 edition,m thanks to a contribution from the Minister of Environment http://bch.minambiente.it are expected 3 grants for students of Italian Nationality, 1000 euro each, to cover costs for registration fees, and 3 grants for students with other Nationality, 2500 euro each, including 1.000 euro for the registration fee and 1500 to cover costs for the participation at least at one on http://www.nepad.org/ organization other grants for African
students can be available. The selection of students eligible for the different grants will be based on the scientific curricula and on experience and competences in the biotechnology and biosafety sector.

Italian Embassy or Consulate in different countries have now the mandate to give a full assistance to applicants interested to any kind of educations in Italy, so in preparing the application please also contact the Italian Embassy or Consulate in your country.

Thank you in advance for your help in the dissemination of the information on the E-Biosafety Master.

Best regards, Bruno Mezzetti; b.mezzetti@univpm.it


The Role of Trust Building in the Development of Biosafety Regulations in Kenya

- Crop Biotech Update, Sept 3, 2010; www.isaaaa.org

The Role of Trust Building in the Development of Biosafety Regulations in Kenya authored by Justin Mabeya and others was recently published by the McLaughlin Rotman Center. The 16 page report describes the challenges and importance of trust among the stakeholders in the development and implementation of biosafety regulations in Kenya. The report also provides a set of guidelines that could help other African countries to improve stakeholder trust in developing biosafety regulations.

The report is freely downloadable at http://www.lead-journal.org/content/10216.pdf


Don’t Take the Activist Bait on Biotech Fish

- Consumer Freedom, September 7, 2010 http://www.consumerfreedom.com/news_detail.cfm/h/4253-dont-take-the-activist-bait-on-biotech-fish

Last week the Food and Drug Administration released a preliminary report declaring that genetically modified salmon appears to be A-OK. The agency is holding hearings in the coming weeks to determine whether to approve the fish for consumer consumption. In its analysis, the FDA determined that the super-salmon aren’t likely to pose any significant environmental threat, and that the fish are “as safe to eat as food from other Atlantic salmon.” As if on cue, anti-technology and environmental groups are having a collective conniption fit, trotting out the same tired arguments we hear about genetically modified food crops.

Thirty-one groups led by the “Center for Food Safety” and Food & Water Watch recently put out a press release, and the gripes (in the release and elsewhere) boil down to this: The modified salmon might escape the underwater pens they’re grown in, and they might out-compete wild salmon for food, and they might cause an allergic reaction in some people.

And the price of Apple stock might drop to a penny a share.

These activists don’t have any evidence—just “might” language and wild theories that force scientists to prove a negative. This approach to risk assessment has a name. It’s the Precautionary Principle, the idea that governments should (or even can) eliminate all risks from life, no matter how small, before allowing something to go forward. This is a favorite weapon of activist group that want to slow down technological progress with endless environmental assessments and re-assessments.

Can’t be too careful, right? Better safe than sorry? Not really. The Wall Street Journal rightly calls this the “paralyzing principle” because it opens the door to an endless supply of theories and fear-mongering—and results is usually a battle of data versus fantasy. As long as Food & Water Watch can pull “risks” out of thin air, activists can tie up the regulatory process. And that’s the real goal behind “precautionary” challenges, as one activist leader famously stated: “They don’t get to do it. Period.”

The difference between reasonable and unreasonable risk is evident in the FDA’s preliminary report (emphasis added): [T]here is a reasonably certainty of no harm from the consumption of food from this animal

As a result of all of these containment measures, the potential occurrence of any significant effects on the global commons or any foreign nations not participating in this action is considered extremely remote. In addition, no effects on stocks of wild Atlantic salmon are expected.

Let’s face it: There’s always a remote chance of lightning striking you. (The same goes for winning the lottery.) But most people seem to get along just fine in their daily lives. For groups on the green fringe, though, blowing risk out of proportion is business as usual.