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September 16, 2010


Alleviating Food Shortage in Africa;Safety Assessment; Chocolate Genome; Agropolis; Saving the Planet and Environmentalists


* GM Crops Can Help to Alleviate African Food Shortage
* Biofortified Sorghum In Africa: Risk Assessment
* Safety Assessment of Transgenic Plants in which Gene Expression Has Been Modified
* Food Security, Scarce Resources An Immediate and Urgent Challenge: Cribb
* Commissioner John Dalli's GM-Crop Non-Coexistence Proposals
* Green Revolution Plan Agreed at Ghana Meeting
* Australian Group Produces GM Rice
* Chocolate farmers could benefit from newly sequenced cacao genome
* British researchers unlock sugar secret
* Agropolis
* Philippines: Experts back commercialization of Bt eggplant
* University of the Philippines readies borer-free eggplant
* India's first agri-biotechnology institute to be ready in 3 years
* Who Needs a Greener Revolution?
* George Carlin on Saving the Planet and Environmentalists


GM Crops Can Help to Alleviate African Food Shortage, says new Academy of Science of South Africa report

- Academy of Science of South Africa, August 4, 2010 http://www.assaf.org.za/?p=2305#more-2305

Agricultural biotechnology, specifically genetic modification (GM) technology, can be one of the most vital tools for addressing the chronic food shortages in sub-Saharan Africa maintains a new report released by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). This report has been published as the result of a forum study in which ASSAf convened a series of expert workshops aimed at engaging African scientists in assessing the current challenges, opportunities and risks associated with the use of GMOs.

Africa is the only continent where food production per capita is decreasing and where hunger and malnutrition affect at least one in three people. Crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa have hardly changed over the past 40 years and cereal production has been steadily declining over the past four years.

The report suggests that GM technology can contribute to the resolution of the African food shortage, provided it is carried out within a framework of appropriate biotechnology policy with sufficient financing for human capital development, the construction and equipping of the necessary laboratories, and the use of rigorously planned, results-oriented GM food research. Research results have shown the possibility of increasing crop yields, improving the storage potential of harvested crops, improving the protein content of starchy foods, biofortification of local foods, and improving the functional potential of local foods.

Despite widespread scepticism surrounding the value of GM crops, this application of biotechnology is gradually finding its niche across the globe. A decade after GM crops were introduced into the world, their production has grown to approximately 125 million hectares globally.

The use of GM technology and its products are still in their infancy in Africa, and while South Africa remains the continents leader in the field, other African countries have begun to produce biotechnology products for commercial use. South Africa is one of three countries on the continent (along with Egypt and Burkina Faso) producing commercial GM crops. Despite most African countries having ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), only a few African countries have functioning biosafety legislation that allows field trials of GM products (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania).

To allow developing countries to derive the full potential benefits of biotechnology crops, technology developers should also consider factors such as the relevance and accessibility of a particular technology to ensure sustainability, not only in their post-release safety but also in terms of their potential socioeconomic impacts within developing countries, which to date have usually only been considered at a very late stage of product development.

Ongoing biotechnology research in Africa focuses largely on attempting to solve local problems associated with food production, health and the environment. Locally focussed biotechnology can play a role in increased global crop productivity to improve food, feed and fibre security in sustainable crop production systems that also conserve biodiversity. It can contribute to the alleviation of poverty and hunger, and the augmentation of traditional plant breeding, and can reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture, mitigate climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the cost effective production of biofuel.

The study was undertaken in collaboration with the Union of German Academies of Sciences and Humanities, the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC) and the Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAS).

Download full report at


Biofortified Sorghum In Africa: Using Problem Formulation to Inform Risk Assessment

- Karen E Hokanson et al.Nature Biotechnology Sept 2010 v. 28, pp900 - 903

Most of the genetically modified (GM) crops approved to date (e.g., corn, cotton and soybean improved for insect resistance or herbicide tolerance) do not have compatible wild relatives near their intended area of cultivation, and those that do are not being cultivated in the center of diversity of the species. However, many GM crops being developed to solve agronomic or nutritional problems in developing countries may be grown near centers of origin and diversity of the crop, where these plants were first domesticated and remain major crops. Furthermore, they are often being developed by publicly funded, nonprofit institutions. Such developers, and the regulatory authorities that oversee them, often have relatively limited experience and resources for risk assessment and are faced with some of the first decisions regarding risks associated with gene flow in centers of diversity.

Although the potential for negative effects of gene flow from GM crops in centers of diversity must be considered, some would argue that another kind of risk will be increased if the benefit offered by these products is delayed. It is essential, therefore, that data required for risk assessment, including those related to gene flow, are limited to information necessary to allow sound regulatory decisions. Numerous studies related to gene flow from GM crops have been conducted or proposed to address interesting research questions, including evaluations of distance and rates of gene flow, fitness of hybrids, ecosystem dynamics and other parameters5. Although some of these studies are useful for decision making, many lack a clear identification of the harm and how the study relates to a causal pathway from the GM crop to that harm. This accumulation of data under the name of 'risk assessment' can lead to considerable confusion about what is necessary for a regulatory decision6.

By focusing on the initial problem formulation phase of a risk assessment, it is possible for developers and regulators to gain a clear indication of the important questions to answer, and the data required to address them. By clearly identifying what are the harms, considering scenarios that might lead to them and developing testable hypothesis when necessary, risk assessments can be conducted in a manner that is open and transparent for all parties. This will allow developers and regulators, especially those with relatively limited experience in risk assessment, to move forward with confidence in their efforts to develop products and assess the risks, and to safely provide these technologies that hold such promise.


The Safety Assessment of Transgenic Plants in which Gene Expression Has Been Modified
Bruce M. Chassy, ISB News Report, Sept 2010.Full text at http://www.isb.vt.edu/

Engineered crops have become a significant component of modern agriculture. Prior to release for commercial planting, a thorough pre-market regulatory review focuses on any potential agricultural and environmental impacts of genetically engineered crops, as well as any differences in food safety that may be associated with the introduction of novel genes and their products. The regulatory review process is a comparative one in which differences between a new transgenic crop variety and its conventional counterparts are assessed, followed by a determination if any changes that have occurred have introduced new risks or heightened existing risks. To date, the great majority of transgenic cultivars that have passed regulatory review contain genes that encode proteins that confer desired novel traits such as insect or herbicide resistance.


Food Security, Scarce Resources An Immediate and Urgent Challenge: Cribb

- ABIC, Saskatoon, Sept. 13, 2010, http://www.abic.ca/abic2010

In Julian Cribb's opinion, it is time, literally, to put our money where our mouths are. Cribb was the second of two keynote speakers to kick off the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC 2010) in Saskatoon. He argues that investment in agricultural research will have to increase dramatically if we are to meet the greatest challenge facing us all: how to double food production in a generation to feed a population expected to top nine billion by 2050.

Cribb spoke around the themes in his latest book, The Coming Famine. The Australian author, academic, and champion of science communication painted an alarming picture of humankind rapidly outstripping essential resources of water, good land, energy, nutrients, technology, fish, and stable climates. Signs of these changes are already appearing, for example, in the business community where Australian mining giant BHP Billiton is striving to buy PotashCorp, which controls much of the worlds reserves of this essential plant nutrient.

While the Green Revolution of the 1970s transformed many developing countries from widespread starvation to food self-sufficiency, Cribb argues the new crisis is unlikely to yield to quick fixes of skill and technology. Scarcity of virtually every resource we need to feed ourselves will demand broader based solutions. For example, as cities grow, less water is available for irrigation. And around the world, aquifers such as the massive Ogallala Aquifer that runs from South Dakota to Texas, are being drawn down at an unsustainable rate. "We will not have enough water to feed ourselves in 25 years," Cribb says.

The same is true of arable land, which is being lost to degradation and the sprawl of our cities. These are typically situated on river valleys and coastal plains - the very best of our productive land. "We need to realize development has a new meaning: the permanent loss of food growing potential."

Cribb calls for a 'crash program' in agricultural research and development to meet the challenge of doubling food production in the next two decades. This means dramatically increasing budgets in agricultural research. This in turn will decrease strife in the world - much of it related to scarcity of food - and decrease the need for military spending for security. "We spend 40 times as much money on killing people as we do on feeding people," he says.

While Cribb has been criticized as being apocalyptic in his predictions, he insists he remains optimistic that human ingenuity can rise to the challenge. This means working together on an unprecedented scale, and setting aside such feuds as those that exist between organic and industrial agriculture.

He argues that since half the worlds people get their food from small, organic farmers in developing countries, it would make sense for agricultural researchers to develop genetically modified crops that produce more food with fewer nutrients and less water. Industrial farming, on the other hand, could benefit from advances in soil science that come from organic farming research.

Likewise, wide-ranging innovations from urban agriculture (think green roofs) to empowerment of young women (to help curb population growth) need support. "We need it all," Cribb says.


Commissioner John Dalli's GM-Crop Non-Coexistence Proposals

The new Commissioner for the Health and Consumers at the European Commission, Mr. John Dalli has proposed (13 July, 2010) to give EU Member States the right to choose whether to cultivate GM-crops, on all of part of their territory, using political and socio-economic reasons as the sole justification. This is in contradiction with EC Directive 2001/18/EC, which consequently would need to be amended. In contrast, the scientific recommendations remain the domain of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

In exchange, Mr. Dalli hopes that Member states may be more favorably inclined to approve EFSA recommendations for imported GM-crops upon which European meat and poultry farmers depend. The initial reactions from all stakeholders, whether Member States, the biotechnology companies, European and US farmer associations, or the anti-GMO NGOs have been uniformly negative; though obviously not for the same reasons. In this article by John Davison analyzes the motivations of the stakeholders, including those of Mr. Dalli and the European Commission.

Read the full-length article:


Green Revolution Plan Agreed at Ghana Meeting

- Naomi Antony, Sept. 10 2010 http://www.scidev.net

A private sector-led drive to contribute to a 'Green Revolution' in Africa took a step forward last week with the agreement of a "very clear action plan" to draw the continent out of its food crises.

The plan was drawn up at the first meeting of the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), in Accra, Ghana, which claims that, by including detailed mechanisms for monitoring and review, it will avoid the fate of other plans that have not achieved what they hoped for in Africa.

"This is the first time we have laid out a very clear action plan on what needs to accelerate the pace of the Green Revolution in terms of technologies, policies, finance and infrastructure investments," Akin Adesina, vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and executive co-producer of the AGRF, told SciDev.Net. "This was not a conference, it was not a workshop, it was a 'doing-shop'."

He added: "You cannot have a [green] revolution if you don't have a larger constituency supporting the move. What we were able to achieve in Accra was to have a huge group of stakeholders saying yes, Africa can and should end its food crisis."

The forum, which met last week (24 September), is an outcome of former UN secretary general Kofi Annan's challenge to the private and public sectors to contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Adesina said that the forum will hold a series of in-country workshops with all relevant partners to review the tasks they have committed to. It has already set up a sub-committee to produce indicators for measuring progress.

And the forum will also work with the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) to monitor the extent to which the areas being worked on at country level are feeding into the roundtable processes of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme a NEPAD initiative that deals with agricultural policy and capacity-building issues, and is aiming for a six per cent growth rate in African agriculture by 2015.

"We will not relent on making sure we push all the people that need to be pushed to ensure that they deliver on what they say they have committed to," said Adesina. He urged African countries to keep their promise, made in the 2003 African Union Maputo Declaration, of allocating ten per cent of national expenditure to agriculture. Other sources of finance will be the private sector and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Yvonne Pinto, director of the Agriculture Learning and Impact Network at the UK-based Institute of Development Studies, told SciDev.Net: "The good thing about the forum is [it shows] Africa is beginning to drive its own agenda. There's an appetite on the part of African governments to put money into [agriculture]."

But she questioned the extent to which the various stakeholders have committed to the enterprise. "The buy in to the statements the kinds of which I have seen many times before is lower than AGRA or AGRF may think. "Monitoring and evaluation and open publication of this data will be key the main challenge here is turning the rhetoric into reality," she added.


Australian Group Produces GM Rice

- Sydney Morning Herald, Sept. 10, 2010 http://news.smh.com.au/

A team of Australian scientists has genetically modified rice to improve its tolerance to salt, offering hope of increased global production. And work is already underway to transfer the technology to wheat and barley, other staple foods for billions of people around the world.

The scientists from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) at the University of Adelaide worked in collaboration with colleagues based in Cairo, Copenhagen and Melbourne. They used a new technique to trap salt in the root of the rice plant, reducing the amount building up in the shoots and increasing its tolerance to salinity.

Research associate Darren Plett said the breakthrough offered the chance to increase global rice production, especially in areas where salinity was an issue. "Rice is often grown on land that is prone to high levels of salinity," Dr Plett said on Friday. "Lands that accumulate salt have lower crop yields, which can threaten food supply. "This has made salinity tolerance an increasingly important factor in the efforts to secure global food production."

Dr Plett said the research team modified a gene to increase the number of salt-transporting proteins in specific cells in the roots of the rice plant. The modification resulted in salt being trapped in the root, where it is less harmful to the plant and prevented it travelling to the shoot where it does the most damage.

"Our results provide a new approach for genetic modification to increase the tolerance of crops to the toxic sodium ion, which is a major environmental stress," Dr Plett said. "Successful genetic engineering efforts using this technology should assist in global food production." Result of the group's work have been published in the online peer-reviewed science journal PLoS ONE.


Chocolate farmers could benefit from newly sequenced cacao genome


A first draft of the cacao genome is complete, a consortium of academic, governmental, and industry scientists announced today. Indiana University Bloomington scientists performed much of the sequencing work, which is described and detailed at http://www.cacaogenomedb.org/, the official website of the Cacao Genome Database project.

Despite being led and funded by a private company, Mars Inc., Cacao Genome Database scientists say one of their chief concerns has been making sure the Theobroma cacao genome data was published for all to see -- especially cacao farmers and breeders in West Africa, Asia and South America, who can use genetic information to improve their planting stocks and protect their often-fragile incomes.

"When you have to wait three or more years for a tree you plant to bear the beans you sell, you want as much information as possible about the seedlings you're planting," said Keithanne Mockaitis, IU Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics (CGB) sequencing director and IU project leader. "We expect this information will positively impact some of the poorest regions in the world, where tropical tree crops are grown. Making the genome data public further enables breeders, farmers and researchers around the world to use a common set of tools, and to share information that will help them fight the spread of disease in their crops."

Mockaitis, a biochemist-turned-genomicist, joined the project in early 2009, and quickly set to work with her collaborators to tackle the challenge of sequencing and accurately pasting together the approximately 400 million base pairs of the tree's genome. Mockaitis' Cacao Genome Group partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Subtropical Horticulture Research Station in Miami sent samples to Bloomington, and these were prepared and sequenced in a redundant manner by her sequencing team in the CGB genomics laboratory. Sequence of some of the same material was generated using additional methods in laboratories of the USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and at the National Center for Genome Resources in Santa Fe, N.M.


British researchers unlock sugar secret

- Kris Bevill, Ethanol Producer, Sept. 15, 2010 http://ethanolproducer.com

A long-term research project being funded by Britain’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council achieved a significant breakthrough recently when researchers successfully modified plant genes to more easily access the sugars locked inside lignocellulose. The finding could result in more cost-effective cellulosic ethanol conversion from plant matter such as corn stover and miscanthus, as well as woody biomass.

The research team’s discovery centered around the modification of enzymes that control xylan, one of the main components of lignocellulose. Approximately one-third of a plant’s sugars that could be used for ethanol production are locked away inside the xylan, according to lead researcher and University of Cambridge professor Paul Dupree. Until the discovery, it has been problematic for researchers to determine how to access those sugars. “We don’t understand how that sugar is locked away and why it’s difficult to release sugar that can be fermented,” Dupree said. “What we have discovered is one of the ways that the plant makes it difficult for us and how to overcome that. The consequences are that when this is deployed it should be cheaper and use less energy to release the sugars from maize stover, wheat straw, wood, and that makes [ethanol production] more economically viable.”

After identifying the two enzymes that appeared to control the xylan portion of lignocellulose in plants, the University of Cambridge research team, which is part of the BBSRC’s sustainable bioenergy center, experimented with growing Arabidopsis plants that lacked those two enzymes. “What we didn’t want to do was end up with floppy plants that can’t grow properly, so it was important to find a way of making xylan easier to break down without having any major effects,” Dupree said. Surprisingly, what they discovered was that the altered plants functioned just as well as the traditional plants. “If you put them side-by-side, you wouldn’t be able to see any difference at all,” he said. “We can detect some difference, but it’s not a large difference. So one of the important discoveries is that it is possible to change the structure to make it easier to extract the sugars and you don’t necessarily end up with severely weakened plants. It makes it worthwhile trying to improve the plant material.”

Work will immediately begin on using this knowledge to access sugars located in willow trees and, eventually, energy crops such as miscanthus and corn stover. Dupree’s team will focus on willow research because it can be readily grown in the U.K. and harvested in three-year cycles, he said.

The results of this scientific breakthrough could be applied in several ways, according to Dupree. The first is breeding of new plant varieties that lack the xylan-controlling enzymes. Creating genetically modified crops is also an option. Finally, it could also lead to an alteration of the enzymes used in cellulosic ethanol production. “So now we know how the plant has locked the sugars away a little bit more, perhaps in the processing process where we extract the sugars we can use that knowledge to modify our processing,” he said. “That could also be faster than modifying the plants themselves.”

Dupree said the next stage of research will include close collaboration with industrial partners to determine how quickly research results can be translated into real applications for transportation fuels.




The Grand Challenge - Food subjugates the earth. There is 38% of the world’s surface devoted to agriculture, and crops consume 87% of water used globally. The poorest people do not combat just starvation but obesity due to widespread malnutrition. Food miles and bacterial contamination dominate the news. The public has become suspicious and fearful of commercial agriculture, causing organic food and local food movements to be created. As global warming looms, threatening to decrease photosynthesis globally and reduce total arable land, it appears many of these problems are only going to multiply.
We have a different vision of the future. We believe in a world that uses 90% less water, 80% less space, and 100% less pesticides to grow the world’s food. A world where your food is not transported a single mile to get to you.
We believe in Agropolis.

Our Solution - AGROPOLIS is a concept for the next wave of hydroponic, aeroponic, aquaponic farming – growing vegetables without the use of soil. Initially, it will be a combined farm/restaurant/concept store, where people come to eat food they can see was grown on the premises. You walk into the store and on all the walls, and through the back wall into a room beyond, you see nothing but green – the vegetables sold in the store being grown on site. Underneath your feet you will see tilapia swimming in the aquaponics fishtank, the nutrients they process going directly to feed the plants. The store is an ecosystem unto itself. What we offer to consumers is a different experience with food. You will never have a tomato fresher than one you just saw being picked, or a lettuce more local than one where you stand next to the room in which it was grown. That is the value we offer.

Unlike other urban farm efforts, we are aware of and will integrate new and emerging technologies.

Our technological contributions are threefold:

(1) In collaboration with NASA, we will combine sensor and robotic innovations into the state of the art hydroponic systems.

(2) We will research genetically modified organisms made specifically for a controlled agricultural setting.

(3) We will integrate new advances in artificial lighting like LEDs into controlled agriculture.

Finally, our farm, unlike urban farms to date, will be a powerful consumer experience – aiming urban farming not simply at the environmentally conscious but also to those who simply enjoy fresh food.


Philippines: Experts back commercialization of Bt eggplant

- Nora O. Gamolo, ALL VOICES, Sep 13th, 2010 http://www.allvoices.com

For almost two decades, Filipino environmentalists and experts have tussled with each other on the issue of adopting genetically modified organisms (GMO) and making them available for widespread public use. Now, another issue has posed itself for consideration or combat, whichever way one looks at it.

Agricultural biotechnology expert Dr. Serge Francisco is batting for the commercialization and adoption of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) eggplant since it would benefit farmers, consumers and the environment.

Francisco's position is anchored on the studies he had made on Bt eggplant, as contained in his book "Projected Impacts of Agricultural Biotechnologies for Fruits and Vegetables in the Philippines and Indonesia."

The scientist stressed that the current protocol for genetic engineering in the country is more stringent than in the United States, which also has a large organic farming sector.

He said that in the US, the only requirement to conduct genetic engineering in the laboratory is to notify the US Department of Agriculture.

In the Philippines, however, laboratory work on the genetic engineering has to be approved by the Department of Science and Technology Biosafety Committee (DOST-BC).

Francisco argued the strict framework is a guarantee that there will be no shortcuts in the process.

His studies contends that Bt eggplant cultivation would lead to a huge reduction in expenses for pesticides and other inputs since the genetically-modified variety is armed with proteins that fruit and shoot borers (FSBs) feasting on eggplants avoid like the plague.

With bigger harvest volumes, farmers are thus assured of meeting the demand for eggplants, which comprise about 20 percent of demand for vegetables. Technically, the hugely popular tomato is considered taxonomically as a fruit rather than as a vegetable.

On the other hand, Dr. Saturnina Halos, chair of the Biotechnology Technical Advisory Team of the Department of Agriculture (DA), said the country's strategy for biosafety, the National Biosafety Framework, is considered a model by other Southeast Asian countries.

Because of this, the Philippines had been visited by representatives from Peru, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea and other countries, said Halos.

In the Philippines, a GM crop first goes through several years of development, and then another five to six years of regulation before it hits the market, said Julieta Estacio, head of the secretariat of the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines (NCBP) and DOST-BC.

Each step in GMOs' development and evaluation needs to be approved by the DOST-BC and the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).

An expert in GM crops, Dr. Halos also clarified that Bt eggplant is not the first food crop in the country. The Philippines had been importing many genetically modified (GM) commodities.

She also said that consumer products such as beer, cheese, gelatin, some juices and detergents already contained GM components. This is something not many people know, she said.

She, however, contended that available GM crops support sustainable agriculture, and that Bt corn has been proven as safe as its non-GM counterpart to the environment. Hence, GMOs are as beneficial to farmers as non-GMOs, and that they provide the requirements of sustainable agriculture.

Dr. Halos said GM crops can help agriculture cope with climate change as they either improve crops for climate change, such as the drought-tolerant rice and corn. Insect resistant and herbicide tolerant crops now being developed reduce the damaging processes to the environment.

Planting GM crops also neutralize the impact on the environment of other agricultural, industrial or household practices. For instance, GM crops planted in 2006 practically reduced by 14.8 billion kg the amount of carbon dioxide released and the environmental impact of 6.6 million cars on the road.

To assuage critics looking at one critical angle of Bt crops production, Dr. Halos said there is a strategy to delay insects from developing resistance to Bt, and that Insect Resistance Management (IRM) is required for Bt corn growers.


University of the Philippines readies borer-free eggplant

- CROP BIOTECH UPDATE, Sept 3, 2010 http://www.isaaa.org/kc

The University of the Philippines is in high hopes to commercialize its first-ever locally developed genetically modified (GM) eggplant in the next two years once it has passed the rigorous and robust science-based safety assessments set by the Philippine biotech regulatory framework. The fruit and shoot borer-resistant (FSB-R) eggplant, also called Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) eggplant, being developed by the Institute of Plant Breeding of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), is currently under multi-location trials in seven sites within the country including Pangasinan, Laguna, Camarines Sur, Iloilo, Leyte, Davao City, and Cotabato. The multi-location trial is one of the several levels of safety assessments where the biotech product performance and safety to environment are being evaluated before it undergoes to another series of evaluation prior to commercial release.

According to Dr. Desiree Hautea, FSB-R/Bt eggplant project leader, the development of FSB-R/Bt eggplant in the Philippines started through the granting of royalty-free license to UPLB from the Indian Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited (Mahyco), to use its eggplant lines as source of FSB-R trait for the Philippine eggplant variety. Through this public-private partnership, UPLB scientists started the research in 2003 and underwent contained trials in UPLB-IPB, confined field trials in 2007, and now, the current multi-location trial all over the country. The Bureau of Plant Industry from the Department of Agriculture is spearheading the safety assessment of biotech crops under the field trial stage.

The FSB-R/Bt eggplant developed through modern biotechnology, produces a natural protein that makes it resistant to FSB, the major pest problem in eggplant production. "In the Philippines, damage by FSB results in yield losses from 54-70%, and to date, there is no available commercial varieties resistant to this pest. Through the development of FSB-R/Bt eggplant, farmers may double its income by 200 percent and gain an additional of Php 50,000 per hectare of production," said Dr. Hautea. Likewise, she stressed that insecticide application may lessen up to 72 times per season and may decrease spraying that accounts to 24% of production cost.

Eggplant is one of the major vegetable crop in the country in terms of area and volume of production, and small-scale farmers are expected to benefit most from the promising FSB-R/Bt eggplant technology.

To learn more about the Bt eggplant project in the Philippines, visit http://isaaa.org/programs/supportprojects/abspii/research/default.asp. For more news updates on biotechnology, visit the SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center website at http://www.bic.searca.org/, or e-mail bic@agri.searca.org.


India's first agri-biotechnology institute to be ready in 3 years

- FRESH PLAZA, September 14, 2010.http://www.freshplaza.com/

The National Agri Food Biotechnology Institute (Nabi), an ambitious project of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology, is likely to be ready in the next three years. The autonomous institute, along with a bio-processing unit, would become India’s first institute in the field of agri-biotechnology, for which the centre has earmarked Rs 400 crore to be injected in next five years.

The interim facility in Mohali is partially operational and will be fully functional in next six months. The one of its kind institute aims at catalysing the transformation of agri-food sector in India. The facility would prepare value-added products based on agriculture and undertake new researches related to agriculture.

The institute, along with bio-processing unit and biotech park, would be spread over 130 acres at Knowledge City at Mohali. Of the total allocated 130 acres for the cluster, Nabi’s permanent campus would be built on 35 acres, while the bio-processing unit (BPU) and biotech park would come up on 15 acres and 80 acres, respectively.

Speaking to Business Standard, Nabi Executive Director Rakesh Tuli said: "Nabi would be co-located with BPU that would be set up under DBT and an agri-food biotech park (ABP) would be set up under public-private partnership. The Nabi, BPU and ABP would therefore comprise an Agri-Food Biotech cluster that would act as a "biotechnology hub" in the region. The agri-food cluster has been developed to link three essential related biotechnologies of crops, food and nutrition, and carry out bench-to-market activity through its state and regional resource networks."

"The project cost of the institute and BPU is Rs 400 crore, wheareas ABP would be set up under public-private partnership. We will act as an institute for knowledge generation and translational science leading to value-added products based on agri-food biotech innovations. Also, we will develop synergy among knowledge providers and investors in agri-food sector to carry innovations to marketplace," he added.

At present Nabi is working on wheat quality improvement for processing industry and for nutrition. The second project is related to making fruits like litchi, orange seedless.

Commenting upon the initiative, he added: "A translation unit would be set up in Nabi to establish linkages in the region among relevant R&D units, management institute and small- and medium industries. The unit will support, strengthen, and promote innovation through several initiatives. It will support R&D research resource units in the sate and region. Also, It will administer innovation grants in agri and food sector to create innovation ecosystem in punjab and neighbouring states. It will also scout early stage leads and technologies in existing institutes at Punjab and rest of the country and offer partnership for product development & commercialisation."

"Besides, we also want to create section 25 company with equity participation of the centre and private entrepreneurs. We will nurture the companies and after it becomes self sustaining, it can move out," He added.

The facility would also offer masters of science degrees in biotechnology of crops, food and nutrition.


Who Needs a Greener Revolution?

- Valent Rull, EMBO reports, vol. 11, No 9, 2010; European Molecular Biology Organization. Download full commentary at http://www.secondaryagriculture.org/data/GGR.pdf (Thanks to Dr. Desh Pal Verma of OSU)

'Achieving food security for the future pits production increase against growth control'

How do we feed the ninebillion people who are projected to inhabit the Earth by 2050? The issue is one of serious concern (Ash etal, 2010; Butler, 2010), as an increase in food production of up to 40% will be needed to cope with the growing population. response, many scientists, politicians and economists have proposed a second green revolution. Their call references the first green revolution of the mid-twentieth century, which allowed many developing countries to drastically increase their food production.

According to proponents of a new global greener revolution (GGR), it will require an extensive transformation of agriculture to increase production and improve quality in an equitable and sustainable manner without compromising the environment (etal, 2010). Science and technology will be fundamental to achieving the goals of enhancing crop efficiency and food quality, as well as developing new protein sources (Beddington, 2010).

At a glance, such a philanthropic proposal might seem the right thing to do, but further analysis reveals that a GGR is not as charitable as it first appears; in fact, it could lead to undesired and even disastrous consequences.
This essay is therefore intended as a warning to scientists to think critically before signing up to a GRR: consider carefully the political, social and economic forces that would benefit from such a revolution
and the potential long-term consequences for the environment and mankind.

In an article for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Sir John Beddington, the UK Governments chief scientific adviser and professor of applied population biology at Imperial College London, lists the four main challenges for humanity in the twenty-first century as follows: to feed ninebillion people in a sustainable way; to cope with increasing demands for clean water; to generate more energy; and to do all of this while mitigating and adapting to climate change (Beddington, 2010). Science will play a crucial role in this endeavour, provided the necessary investments are being made.

The kinds of advances in science that the world requires are far reaching and various. Plant science will need to improve existing crops by breeding or genetic modification to increase photosynthetic efficiency, reduce the need for fertilizers, and develop new methods of pest, disease and weed control. Agricultural science and farmers need to develop sustainable livestock farming that reduces the emission of greenhouse gases, notably methane. Fisheries and aquaculturehigh priorities for future food securitywill require scientific knowledge and technological innovations to avoid over-fishing, to increase productivity and to deal with climate change and ocean acidification.

Engineers will need to develop tools such as global positioning system-based fertilizing or watering systems and remote sensors to optimize the use of resources in agriculture. Nanotechnologies, genomics and electronics can be useful for improving disease diagnostics, the delivery of pesticides, fertilizers and water, or for monitoring and managing soil quality. Finally, science will also play a role in changing our diet to reduce the consumption of meat and dairy products and to develop alternative protein sources (Royal Society, 2009; Beddington, 2010; Godfray etal, 2010).

Together, these goals aim to achieve so-called sustainable intensification: producing more food from a given area while reducing the environmental impact (Godfray etal, 2010). This is a considerable challenge, resting
on the hope that greener innovationsmostly based on molecular biology and genetic manipulations of plants and farm animalswill be environmentally safer, although this is not a straightforward path in many cases. .

Read on at http://www.secondaryagriculture.org/data/GGR.pdf

Valent Rull is at the Botanical Institute of Barcelona (CSIC-ICUB), Barcelona, Spain. E-mail: vrull@ibb.csic.es


George Carlin on Saving the Planet and Environmentalists

(Warning: Profanity; Not Safe for Work!)


(Thanks Alan!)