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November 9, 2010


GMOs and Mother Nature - Closer Than You Think; Plastics; Sustainability of our farms; French Researcher Gives Up; Eating Glo-Fish


* GMOs and Mother Nature? Closer Than You Think
* Engineered plants make raw material for plastics
* GENERA: Students Launch a New Public Resource on Genetic Engineering
* Can biotechnology be used to enhance the sustainability of our farms?
* Combining Bt Cotton, Sterile Insects Prevents Destruction of Cotton Plants
* USDA Seeking Approval of Genetically Modified Sugar Beets
* French researcher halts development of GMO crops
* Bio-technology, good for crops
* Spontaneous GMOs in Nature: Researchers Show How a Genetically Modified Plant Can Come About
* MIT chemists engineer plants to produce new drugs
* GM Crops: A new peer-reviewed journal on the science and policy of GM crops
* New director for India's Gene Bank
* Intellectual property rights, private investment in Indian agriculture
* Office Sustainability Committee
* Activist Eats Glo-Fish

GMOs and Mother Nature? Closer Than You Think

- James Mcwilliams, NY Times Blog, Nov. 9, 2010 http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/gmos-and-mother-nature-closer-than-you-think/

When it comes to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), one criticism stands above the others: its unnatural. The idea that (unlike conventional genetic exchange within a species) genes from one species can be transferred to another fuels this perception of unnaturalness. The UKs Health and Safety Executive, a watchdog group for worker health, explains that genetic modification occurs when the genetic material of an organism (either DNA or RNA) is altered by use of a method that does not occur in nature. The anti-biotech Non-GMO Project notes that genetic modification creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in nature. The Huffington Post plugged last October as non-GMO month on the grounds that genetic modification produces goods through processes that do not occur in nature. Greenpeace has described breaching species barriers as unnatural. Daily Kos insists that gene splicing does not occur in nature. In a word: frankenfood.

Well, you know where this is going. Scientists have now confirmed what evolutionary geneticists have long suspected nature does produce GMOs. Swedish researchers discovered an enzyme-producing gene in a meadow grass that naturally crossed into sheeps fescue about 700,000 years ago. The most plausible explanation, said Professor Bengt O. Bengtsson of Lund University, is that the gene was transmitted by a parasite or pathogen, such as a virus, perhaps with the help of a sap-sucking insect. The fact that cross-species gene transfer happens without human intervention in nature, however rare, provides further justification for viewing transgenic technology not as a Frankensteinian intervention into the natural world, but as yet another method of trait selection, something weve been doing with heroic results since the dawn of agriculture.

None of this is to suggest that there arent sound reasons for vigilance when it comes to GMOs. Critics oppose the technology on many other grounds besides the perception that the process is unnatural. But the discovery that theres a precedent in nature for transgenic technology demands that we take a more intellectually nuanced look at food production a look that acknowledges that agriculture is, by definition, manipulating nature (and whats possible in nature) to serve human needs. Whether organic, conventional or biotech, the act of farming is, as the classicist-raisin farmer-writer Victor Davis Hanson once wrote, the elemental fight with soil, water, and living organisms to produce harvests at a profit. To divide the precious manifestation of that fight our food supply into real and frankenfood insults not only those who grow and produce our food, but nature itself.
James McWilliams is an historian at Texas State University. Follow @freakonomics on Twitter.


Engineered plants make potential precursor to raw material for plastics (w/ Video)

- PhysOrg.com, November 8, 2010

Watch video at http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-11-potential-precursor-raw-material-plastics.html

In theory, plants could be the ultimate green factories, engineered to pump out the kinds of raw materials we now obtain from petroleum-based chemicals. But in reality, getting plants to accumulate high levels of desired products has been an elusive goal. Now, in a first step toward achieving industrial-scale green production, scientists from the U.S. Department of Energys (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and collaborators at Dow AgroSciences report engineering a plant that produces industrially relevant levels of compounds that could potentially be used to make plastics. The research is reported online in Plant Physiology, and will appear in print in the December issue.

Weve engineered a new metabolic pathway in plants for producing a kind of fatty acid that could be used as a source of precursors to chemical building blocks for making plastics such as polyethylene, said Brookhaven biochemist John Shanklin, who led the research. The raw materials for most precursors currently come from petroleum or coal-derived synthetic gas. Our new way of providing a feedstock sourced from fatty acids in plant seeds would be renewable and sustainable indefinitely. Additional technology to efficiently convert the plant fatty acids into chemical building blocks is needed, but our research shows that high levels of the appropriate feedstock can be made in plants.

The method builds on Shanklins longstanding interest in fatty acids the building blocks for plant oils and the enzymes that control their production. Discovery of the genes that code for the enzymes responsible for so called unusual plant oil production encouraged many researchers to explore ways of expressing these genes and producing certain desired oils in various plants.

There are plants that naturally produce the desired fatty acids, called omega-7 fatty acids, in their seeds for example, cats claw vine and milkweed but their yields and growth characteristics are not suitable for commercial production, Shanklin said. Initial attempts to express the relevant genes in more suitable plant species resulted in much lower levels of the desired oils than are produced in plants from which the genes were isolated. This suggests that other metabolic modifications might be necessary to increase the accumulation of the desired plant seed oils, Shanklin said. To overcome the problem of poor accumulation, we performed a series of systematic metabolic engineering experiments to optimize the accumulation of omega-7 fatty acids in transgenic plants, Shanklin said. For these proof-of-principle experiments, the scientists worked with Arabidopsis, a common laboratory plant.

Enzymes that make the unusual fatty acids are variants of enzymes called desaturases, which remove specific hydrogen atoms from fatty acid chains to form carbon-carbon double bonds, thus desaturating the fatty acid. First the researchers identified naturally occurring variant desaturases with desired specificities, but they worked poorly when introduced into Arabidopsis. They next engineered a laboratory-derived variant of a natural plant enzyme that worked faster and with greater specificity than the natural enzymes, which increased the accumulation of the desired fatty acid from less than 2 percent to around 14 percent.

Though an improvement, that level was still insufficient for industrial-scale production. The scientists then assessed a number of additional modifications to the plants metabolic pathways. For example, they down-regulated genes that compete for the introduced enzymes fatty acid substrate. They also introduced desaturases capable of intercepting substrate that had escaped the first desaturase enzyme as it progressed through the oil-accumulation pathway. In many of these experiments they observed more of the desired product accumulating. Having tested various traits individually, the scientists then combined the most promising traits into a single new plant.

The result was an accumulation of the desired omega-7 fatty acid at levels of about 71 percent in the best-engineered line of Arabidopsis. This was much higher than the omega-7 fatty acid levels in milkweed, and equivalent to those seen in cats claw vine. Growth and development of the engineered Arabidopsis plants was unaffected by the genetic modifications and accumulation of omega-7 fatty acid.

This proof-of-principle experiment is a successful demonstration of a general strategy for metabolically engineering the sustainable production of omega-7 fatty acids as an industrial feedstock source from plants, Shanklin said.

This general approach identifying and expressing natural or synthetic enzymes, quantifying incremental improvements resulting from additional genetic/metabolic modifications, and stacking of traits may also be fruitful for improving production of a wide range of other unusual fatty acids in plant seeds.


GENERA: Students Launch a New Public Resource on Genetic Engineering and Need your Help

One of the biggest challenges of accurately communicating scientific information about a controversial topic is making that information easily available and accessible to the public. In the area of genetic engineering in agriculture, the public perception is that it lacks independent research on the risks, yet the scientific literature is replete with studies addressing those very questions. A small group of blogging scientists hopes to change that with a new web resource, but they need some help.

The plant genetics group blog, Biofortified, founded in 2008 by two graduate students, Karl Haro von Mogel and Anastasia Bodnar, hopes to bridge the gap. They have just launched a database called the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas, or GENERA for short. Each entry in the atlas will include meta-information such as funding type, crop studied, where it was conducted, and the source of funding as well as an expert summary of the study itself. The database will be useful for consumers who wish to learn more, for NGOs and government regulatory organizations, and for scientists.

So far, Biofortified has a list of three hundred studies that need to be entered into the database. While more studies continue to be published on a regular basis, the first task is to get the current literature entered into GENERA. "With so many studies, it would take far too long for two people to catalogue them all, said Bodnar. We'll need some help."

I programmed the background of GENERA to make it really easy to use, said Haro von Mogel. All it takes is filling out a simple form with the abstract, citation, crop, etc, and the atlas does the rest. The scientist bloggers are counting on the success of community annotation projects and wiki-based resources to help populate the database.

Interested scientists can register for the blog at www.biofortified.organd contact its editors to be given access to create entries in the atlas. Anyone can make a simple entry, and scientists familiar with the language in the studies can also help out by writing a summary of the study. Several examples have already been entered into the atlas, with and without the optional summary.

In the future, GENERA will be useful for a variety of purposes. Studies can be searched on the basis of crop and study type, location, findings, funding, and publication status. Non-peer-reviewed studies will also eventually be included, and the site can be used to summarize all of the studies in the atlas. Scientists may find it useful in their own research. Were thinking about using it to write a review article someday, said Bodnar.

Getting this information more accessible to the public will be really beneficial for the public discussion of GE crops, said Haro von Mogel. People have this perception that there is no independent research done on these new traits, while about a third of the three hundred studies on our list are independently funded. People need to know about them.

Haro von Mogel and Bodnar founded Biofortified in 2008 when they recognized the lack of science-based information about genetic engineering on the web and the have worked to create a place where scientists and non-scientists can discuss and learn from each other. The blog currently features posts written by other graduate students and professors in the field.

Biofortified is independently run on a volunteer basis, and is not supported by any funding from any companies or government entities. While site hosting costs were initially footed by the founding members, these costs are now covered by a Changemakers grant awarded to Biofortified for winning the Ashoka Changemakers GMO Risk or Rescue contest.

Links: The GENERA homepage: http://www.biofortified.org/genera/

GENERA Tutorial: http://www.biofortified.org/genera/genera-tutorial/

An example entry with a summary of the study: http://www.biofortified.org/genera/entries/long-term-cow-feeding-study-with-bt-corn/

An example entry without a summary:

For more information about Biofortified : http://www.biofortified.org/about/

Contact: Email - contact@biofortified.org


Can biotechnology be used to enhance the sustainability of our farms? Dont forget to vote

- Pamela Ronald, November 8, 2010 http://scienceblogs.com/tomorrowstable/2010/11/can_biotechnology_be_used_to_e.php

The online debate at The Economist Magazine continues. Dont forget to vote. - http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/607

My rebuttal is here:

I agree with Charles Benbrook that "Bt crops have helped reduce insect feeding damage and lessened the need for toxic, broad-spectrum insecticides, and as a result, helped build populations of beneficial insects and promote above-ground biodiversity, two key sustainable farm-management goals."

I also wholeheartedly agree with his statements that "Multiple-tactic systems composed of 'many little hammers' offer the best hope for sustained progress" and "Biotechnology can help create new hammers and harden existing ones".

However, he incorrectly implies that GE crops are not being used as part of multiple-tactic systems today.

Bt crops are one of the few examples where a mandatory crop diversity strategy has been implemented. Global pest monitoring data suggest that this approach has helped to sustain the efficacy of Bt crops against most pests for more than a decade. For example, in Arizona, where an integrated pest management programme for Bt cotton is in effect, growers reduced insecticide use by 70% and saved more than $200 million.

Mr Benbrook describes an unlikely hypothetical scenario in which farmers can no longer rely on safe and cheap Bt insecticide sprays because Bt-resistant insects from cotton and corn "routinely overwinter in fruit and vegetable crops". This has not occurred yet despite more than a decade of use of Bt crops on a cumulative total of more than 200m ha worldwide.

Moreover, while some pests of corn and cotton have evolved resistance to Bt toxins in GE crops, the first cases of insect resistance to Bt toxins occurred in response to spraying Bt insecticides on conventional vegetable crops--an approach favoured by organic farmers, who are not allowed to use transgenics. To help delay resistance, many newer varieties of Bt crops produce two or more Bt toxins with different modes of action.

The bottom line is that strategies for managing pest resistance are needed whether farmers use GE crops or conventional crops.

Contrary to Mr Benbrook's assertion, Bt crops do promote self-reliance. Although farmers must buy the seed, this is the norm in any non-subsistence farming system where hybrid seed is used (organic and conventional). The advantage is that they do not need to buy and spray insecticides.

Mr Benbrook and I agree that overuse of a single herbicide can lead to the evolution of weeds that are resistant to that herbicide, which is problematic for farmers. Grower decisions to use repeated applications of particular herbicides have led to the evolution of resistant weeds. It is clear that herbicide tolerant (HT) crops need to be managed better for sustainability, rotating them with other crops or weed control methods. But this is also true of herbicide resistance traits developed through selective breeding or mutagenesis.

Mr Benbrook's argument neglects an important aspect of HT crops that are resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (aka Roundup). Glyphosate (a class IV herbicide) has displaced much more toxic herbicides (classes I, II and III). In Argentina, HT soyabean farmers were able to reduce their use of toxicity class II and III herbicides by 83-100%. In North Carolina, the pesticide leaching was 25% lower in HT cotton fields compared with that of conventional cotton. Thus the main problem with weed resistance in HT fields is that it forces farmers to go back to the more harmful compounds that were in use before the widespread adoption of HT crops.

To mitigate the evolution of weed resistance, the newest HT varieties will have tolerance to more than one herbicide, which will allow easier herbicide rotation or mixing, and, in theory, help to improve the durability of herbicide effectiveness. Implementation of a mandatory crop diversity strategy would also greatly reduce weed resistance. These are also multi-tactic strategies.

Mr Benbrook's account also does not consider other benefits of HT crops to sustainable agriculture. HT crops have been associated with an increased use of conservation tillage, in particular no-till methods, that can improve water quality and reduce soil erosion. That farmers who use GE crops are more likely to practice conservation tillage suggests the two technologies are complementary.

In Argentina and the United States, the use of HT soyabeans was associated with a 25-58% decrease in the number of tillage operations. Such reduced tillage practices correlate with a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which, in 2005, was equivalent to removing 4m cars from the roads.

Finally, by limiting the scope of his discussion to only two traits, Mr Benbrook overlooks the benefits of other GE crops on the market. For example, in the early 1990s, Hawaii's papaya industry was facing disaster because of the deadly papaya ringspot virus (plants, like people, are susceptible to viral infection). The introduction of GE papaya resistant to the disease rescued the state's papaya industry. Today, 80-90% of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered, and there is still no conventional or organic method to control the ringspot virus.

In many regions, the use of biotech seeds allows successful organic production, an important marketing niche, by reducing disease spread, while enabling the remaining 97% of agriculture to become more sustainable by reducing insecticide use. This is true for organic farmers growing cotton in Arizona and papaya in Hawaii as well as for other growers of non-GE seed. Cumulative benefits over 14 years are an estimated $3.2 billion for maize growers in Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, with more than $2.4 billion of this total accruing to non-Bt maize growers. Comparable estimates for Iowa and Nebraska are $3.6 billion in total, with $1.9 billion for non-Bt maize growers.

Mr Benbrook's opening statement fails to address the dozens of other useful traits in the pipeline, including nitrogen use efficiency, provitamin A-enriched rice and drought tolerance.

Fourteen years of extensive field studies have demonstrated that genetically engineered crops are tools that, when integrated with optimal management practices, help make farms more sustainable. The vast benefits accrued to farmers, the environment and consumers explain the widespread popularity of the technology in many regions of the world.


Combining Bt Cotton, Sterile Insects Prevents Destruction of Cotton Plants

- Tiffany Kaiser, Daily Tech, November 8, 2010 http://www.dailytech.com

University of Arizona researchers have found that combining pest-resistant cotton and large numbers of sterile moths will prevent these destructive insects from damaging cotton plants in Arizona.

Bruce Tabashnik, study leader and department head of entomology in the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has used pest-resistant cotton and the release of sterile pink bollworm moths as a type of birth control that will help prevent destruction against cotton plants.

Tabashnik and his team targeted caterpillars of the pink bollworm as the enemy. These insects, which were first discovered in 1917, are one of the top destroyers of cotton plants worldwide. To remedy this issue, researchers used computer simulations to analyze over a decade of field data before conducting tests. Once testing began, Tabashnik used Bt cotton, which is a genetically engineered crop that contains a gene taken from the bacterium Bacillus thuringensis and gives the plant a protein capable of killing certain insects.

But Bt cotton cannot kill off cotton-destroying insects alone because it only kills certain insects, not all. Fortunately, pink bollworm caterpillars fall into the category of insects that are killed after eating Bt cotton, but the problem is that these caterpillars can become resistant to the toxins after a period of time, rendering the Bt cotton useless to a certain extent.

"The most widely used strategy to delay resistance is to set aside refuges...patches with regular, non Bt cotton where the pest can feed without ingesting the Bt cotton," said Tabashnik. "If you plant Bt cotton with no refuges, the vast majority of the caterpillars will die, but a tiny fraction will be resistant. These rare resistant survivors will emerge as adults and mate with each other."

Refuges make it so a majority of the insect population is non-resistant to the toxins. Since the amount of non-resistant caterpillars/moths outnumber those who are resistant, the chances of two resistant insects mating are slim. But the problem is that the pests are still alive and reproducing, whether they're resistant or not, thus destroying cotton plants. Refuges do not completely resolve the issue.

To keep unwanted visitors away from the cotton plants, researchers obtained large numbers of pink bollworms and sterilized them. Then, the sterile bollworms were released into the crop fields to block reproduction.

"When a sterile moth mates with a fertile, wild moth, the progeny won't be fertile," said Tabashnik. "The sterile insects soak up the reproductive potential of the wild population. If you have a high enough ratio of sterile to wild moths, you can drive the reproduction of the wild population to zero."

Tabashnik and his team began testing this strategy in 2006. It is the first method of pest control that combines Bt cotton and sterile moths. As it turns out, this strategy has proved to be very effective.

From 1990 to 1995, cotton growers lost $18 million per year to the management of pink bollworm. From the time Tabashnik and his team began testing until 2009, the pink bollworm population decreased by 99.9 percent. In 2009, only two pink bollworm larvae were found in 16,600 bolls of non-Bt cotton in Arizona. Along with this decreased population came a large reduction in insecticide spray purchases. Between 2006 and 2009, cotton growers' cost to manage pink bollworm fell from $18 million to $172,000.

"We are running the pesticide treadmill in reverse," said Tabashnik. "Our new approach has resulted in huge environmental gains. We are using cutting-edge technology to create sustainable cotton farming practices."

This study was published in Nature Biotechnology on November 7.


USDA Seeking Approval of Genetically Modified Sugar Beets

- Bill Tomson, The Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com Nov. 2, 2010

WASHINGTONThe U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled Tuesday controversial plans to again approve genetically modified sugar beets in time for planting next year, a move that would nullify a federal court ruling in August that invalidated the original approval issued by the USDA five years ago.

The USDAs proposal, published Tuesday, represents the preliminary stage of the process and will be followed by a 30-day comment period before the department makes a final decision. The USDA laid out three possible options in the proposal, including an option not to re-approve the sugar beets, but said its preferred course of action would be to authorize the commercial production of genetically modified sugar beets under strict regulations.

The USDA remains in a legal battle with groups seeking to halt all production and planting of genetically modified sugar beets because of concerns that the plants contaminate nearby nonbiotech crops.

The mandatory conditions outlined in the permits would work to minimize any potential for the escape and dissemination of plant pests and the likelihood of environmental impacts of concern raised by the Court, the USDA said in a statement scheduled to be released later Tuesday.

The mandatory conditions the USDA proposes as part of the plan to allow for planting in 2011 are contained in an environmental assessment document that will be posted on the USDAs website Tuesday.

Genetically modified sugar beets now account for 95% of the U.S. crop. U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Whites August ruling to invalidate USDAs 2005 approval threw into doubt the ability of many farmers to plant in 2011 and the ability of seed companies to produce seeds for 2012.

Sugar from sugar beets will account for about 60% of domestic U.S. production this year. If farmers cant plant genetically modified seeds next spring U.S. sugar production will be cut by about 20%, according to an estimate the USDA supplied to Judge White.

March sugar futures on the New Yorks ICE exchange rose to a nine-month high of 30.19 cents a pound Tuesdaynearing Februarys high of 30.40 cents/lbbefore pulling back to 29.93 cents/lb.

APHIS takes its role in protecting plant health very seriously and is well aware of the importance of this decision for sugar beet growers and processors, said Michael Gregoire, deputy administrator for USDAs Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. We are issuing this environmental assessment to share our decision-making process as transparently as possible and allow for public comment.

Paige Tomaselli, a lawyer for the Center for Food Safety, said recently that as soon as the USDA issues any new approvals for genetically modified sugar beet planting in 2011, her group will challenge it in court.

Caroline Henshaw contributed to this article.


French researcher halts development of GMO crops

- Sybille de La Hamaide, Reuters, Oct. 29, 2010 http://www.futurespros.com

* INRA halts research on developing new GMO varieties
* Says public's image of GMOs as diabolic killed demand
* International seed firms to benefit as Europe lags

PARIS, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Europe's top farm researcher has abandoned work on developing new genetically modified crops (GMOs) due to widespread distrust and even hostility by European consumers.
"We have no research on GMO innovation anymore, none," Marion Guillou, president of the National Institute for Agronomical Research (INRA), told Reuters in an interview.

INRA, which has more than 1,800 researchers and is the leader in Europe in publication of scientific articles on agriculture, is now focussing on conventional crop strains and limiting its research on GMOs to assessing or improving plants as opposed to creating new varieties, she said. "Since European society does not want to buy GMOs, we had better focus on other technology," she said.
Under European Union law, only two GMO varieties are approved for cultivation, and planting in the 27-member bloc was limited to less than 100,000 hectares last year out of more than 134 million cultivated.

While GMO crops are widely used in countries such as the United States and Brazil, France -- the EU's largest grain producer whose citizens are among the staunchest biotech sceptics -- banned GMO crop growing in 2008 after protests by local green groups.

Guillou said she feared the EU may lag behind in GMO technology, which aims to boost crop yields to feed the world's growing population, and that the beneficiaries of this aversion to GMOs will be the big international biotech companies. These include Monsanto of the United States and Switzerland's Syngenta.

Research in Europe on GMO plants is mainly carried out in laboratories after activists began ransacking field tests. Repeated destruction of GMO field tests has also discouraged INRA. Transgenic vines tested by the institute were uprooted in August in Colmar, in eastern France, leaving only one outside test, a forest of GM poplar trees.
"That's 1.2 million euros ($1.7 million) and seven years of researchers' work destroyed," Guillou said, calling for strong judicial sanctions against the activists.

INRA's work on new varieties now involves only conventional crops, for which research is less efficient, longer and more expensive but for which there is a market, she said. An example of current conventional research at INRA is a wheat plant resistant to fusarium, a fungus that produces mycotoxins that lower the grain's quality.

"We try to continue working with French and European seed makers so that there remains plants that are adapted to the European climate and agricultural conditions," Guillou said. French seeds group Limagrain also abandoned field tests in France in 2008 and transferred them to the United States.

The European Union's current proposal to let EU states decide for themselves whether or not to allow GMO crops would not be enough to bring a resurgence in GMO research in Europe, Guillou said.

INRA would consider investing in GMO crop development only with a change in consumer attitudes, she said. "The real change for us in order to come back to innovation, to create a new variety that has a particular characteristic useful to society, would be the day when the public asks for these plants," Guillou said.

"It's not going to be easy. For 20 years you have had people telling the public that GMO is by nature diabolic," she said. "At the same time it's the same people who travel to the United States or other countries and eat GMOs cheerfully."


Bio-technology, good for crops

- Joshua Kato, New Vision (Uganda), Nov 4, 2010 http://www.newvision.co.ug/

FOR two weeks, columnist, Opiyo Oloya has written expressing reservations about the impending trial of genetically modified maize in Uganda.

He argued that huge multi-national companies will start abusing small scale farmers by selling them seeds at a high price.

Oloyas reservations are not about the direct implications after consumption of the maize, but the possible manipulation of small scale farmers in Uganda.

He said instead of promoting genetically modified crops, the country should promote indigenous seeds.

I think we should not oppose testing genetically modified crops in Uganda without looking at its advantages and disadvantages.

It has been proven that genetically modified crops produce better yields and withstand harsh climate.

At a time when the country is undergoing climate change, farmers must be assisted by giving them better seeds.

We should not hide our heads in the sand because while we say no to the monster seeds, we have already used the technology before.

Using bio-technology improves yields and solves agricultural problems. Had it not been for bio-technology, the fight against the various viruses ravaging crops countrywide would have been slower.

In the last 30 years, viruses have attacked coffee, cassava, bananas and other crops.

Research stations in Kenya and Uganda are now working to find a solution to the rampant Cassava Brown Streak disease that is threatening to wipe out cassava in many parts of the region.

Bio-technology has been growing faster, irrespective of opposition from some farmers. Uganda is gradually adopting the growing of genetically modified cotton, with harvests already in Kasese and Soroti.

Experts argue that these are some of the innovations African farmers need. Oloya should realise that Uganda has already invested funds in the development of the bio-technology.


Spontaneous GMOs in Nature: Researchers Show How a Genetically Modified Plant Can Come About

- ScienceDaily, Nov. 4, 2010 http://www.sciencedaily.com/

Genetically modified plants can come about by natural means. A research group at Lund University in Sweden has described the details of such an event among higher plants. It is likely that the gene transfer was mediated by a parasite or a pathogen.

Introduction to genetics The debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is heated. One of the arguments against them is that it is unnatural to mix genes from different species. However, research in Lund, Sweden, shows that genetic modification can take place naturally among wild plants. "In our research group we have suspected this for some time, and now my colleague Pernilla Vallenback has used DNA analysis to show that this is indeed the case," says Professor Bengt O. Bengtsson at the Department of Biology at Lund University. The research group on evolutionary genetics has discovered that a gene for the enzyme PGIC has been transferred into sheep's fescue (Festuca ovina) from a meadow grass, probably Poa palustris, a reproductively distinct species. The DNA analyses also show that only a small part of a chromosome was transferred. This is the first proven case of the horizontal transfer of a gene with known function from the nucleus of one higher plant to another.

"Unfortunately, we don't know exactly how the gene jump between the species occurred, which is not surprising as it took place perhaps 700,000 years ago. The most plausible explanation is that the gene was transmitted by a parasite or pathogen, such as a virus, perhaps with the help of a sap-sucking insect," says Professor Bengtsson. If gene jumps can occur naturally between plants belonging to different species, does this mean that there is no longer any reason to oppose genetically modified crops? According to Bengt O. Bengtsson, the answer is far from simple. He notes that the new results are interesting and important, but they do not say much about what is right or wrong in society. "Many fear genetically modified crops because they believe that they may lead to unwanted gene spread in nature. This argument does not impress me. I sympathise, however, with the unease over the increased use of patents and monopolising practices in plant breeding. That is why it is so important that free and commercially independent research on plant genetics can be carried out in universities," says Bengt O. Bengtsson. The research has been published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE. Email or share this story:

-- Pernilla Vallenback, Lena Ghatnekar, Bengt O. Bengtsson. Structure of the Natural Transgene PgiC2 in the Common Grass Festuca ovina. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (10): e13529 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013529


MIT chemists engineer plants to produce new drugs


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Humans have long taken advantage of the huge variety of medicinal compounds produced by plants. Now MIT chemists have found a new way to expand plants pharmaceutical repertoire by genetically engineering them to produce unnatural variants of their usual products.

The researchers, led by Associate Professor Sarah OConnor, have added bacterial genes to the periwinkle plant, enabling it to attach halogens such as chlorine or bromine to a class of compounds called alkaloids that the plant normally produces. Many alkaloids have pharmaceutical properties, and halogens, which are often added to antibiotics and other drugs, can make medicines more effective or last longer in the body.

The teams primary target, an alkaloid called vinblastine, is commonly used to treat cancers such as Hodgkins lymphoma. OConnor sees vinblastine and other drugs made by plants as scaffolds that she can modify in a variety of ways to enhance their effectiveness.

Were trying to use plant biosynthetic mechanisms to easily make a whole range of different iterations of natural products, she said. If you tweak the structure of natural products, very often you get different or improved biological and pharmacological activity.

OConnor, graduate student Weerawat Runguphan and former postdoctoral associate Xudong Qu describe their engineered periwinkle plants in the Nov. 3 online edition of Nature. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society.

Engineering new genes into plants has been done before: In the 1990s, scientists developed corn that could produce an insecticide called Bt, which comes from a bacterial gene. However, OConnors approach, known as metabolic engineering, goes beyond simply adding a gene that codes for a novel protein. Metabolic engineers tinker with the series of reactions that the host organisms use to build new molecules, adding genes for new enzymes that reshape these natural synthetic pathways. This can lead to a huge variety of end products.

Most metabolic engineers use bacteria as their host organism, in part because their genes are easier to manipulate. OConnors work with plants makes her a rare exception. She doesnt believe one approach is better than the other, but one factor that drew her to engineer plants is that most plant synthetic pathways have not been completely revealed. You cant reconstitute a whole plant pathway in bacteria unless you have all the genes, she said.

In previous experiments, OConnor and her students induced periwinkle root cells to create novel compounds by feeding them slightly altered versions of their usual starting materials. In the new study, they engineered the cells to express genes that code for enzymes that attach chlorine or bromine to vinblastine precursors and other alkaloids.

The two new genes came from bacteria that naturally produce halogenated compounds. Its much more rare for plants to generate such compounds on their own, said OConnor. It is also possible, though very difficult, to synthesize halogenated alkaloids in a laboratory.

To make alkaloids, plants first convert an amino acid called tryptophan into tryptamine. After that initial step, about a dozen more reactions are required, and the plants can produce hundreds of different final products. In the new genetically engineered plants, a bacterial enzyme called halogenase attaches a chlorine ( or bromine ) atom to tryptamine. That halogen stays on the molecule throughout the synthesis.

In future work, the researchers hope to engineer full periwinkle plants to produce the novel compounds. They are also working on improving the overall yield of the synthesis, which is about 15 fold lower than the plants yield of naturally occurring alkaloids. One way to do that is to introduce the halogen further along in the process, said OConnor.

Source: Integrating Carbon-Halogen Bond Formation into Medicinal Plan Metabolism, by Weerawat Runguphan, Xudong Qu, and Sarah E. OConnor. Nature, 3 November, 2010


GM Crops: A new peer-reviewed journal on the science and policy of genetically modified crops

In January 2010, Landes Bioscience Journals launched GM Crops (http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops) as the first international peer-reviewed journal of its kind, with a distinguished editorial board headed by Editor-in-Chief Professor Naglaa A. Abdallah at the University of Cairo. The new publication is dedicated specifically to transgenic crops, their products, their uses in agriculture and all technical, political and economic issues contingent on their use. In addition to publishing original research, GM Crops will also publish regular features, including Extra Views and GM in the Media.

Just a few weeks ago, Professor Channapatna S. Prakash (Tuskegee University) and I joined Professor Abdallah and the board as co-editors for this new journal.

This is a welcome opportunity to establish an authoritative vehicle encompassing both the scientific and non-scientific aspects of GM crops and their products, as well as issues related to the adoption of the technology around the world.

With an increasing international focus on genetically modified crops, improved agronomic traits resulting from the genetic engineering techniques and applications coupled with the increasingly successful use of the technology in more and more countries with each passing year, the timeliness of the new journal could not be more appropriate. GM Crops fills a significant void in today's scientific literature, serving as an international forum to initiate and facilitate discussion of the progress and problems in this most important area of biotechnology.

We hope you will look favourably on sending your future manuscripts in this area to GM Crops. For further details, please consult the Call for Papers (http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/cfp).

Questions? Ask Kristine Pipit (mailto:kpipit@landesbioscience.com) or Kim Mitchell I(mailto: kmitchell@landesbioscience.com) (tel: +1-512-637-6050) - or ask me.

-- Professor V. Moses, King's College, London


India's National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources Appoints New Director

- Crop Biotech Update, isaaa.org

Plant biotechnologist Kailash Chandra Bansal has been appointed as the new director of the National Plant Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources based in New Delhi, India. Before his present appointment,Dr. Bansalwas connected with the National Research Center for Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research where he was able to develop [ http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/38/default.asp ]biotech wheat, mustard, and tomato, with improved traits on [ http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/32/default.asp ]tolerance to drought, [ http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/pocketk/31/default.asp ]salinity, and cold stress. One of his most important contributions to the agriculture industry is the development of GM tomato with longer shelf life to avoid postharvest losses.

Dr. Bansalobtained his PhD from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) andgained postdoctoral experience from Harvard University and Rutgers University.He was also an awardee of the prominent Rafi Ahmand Kidwai Award of ICAR.

Read more at http://irri.org/news-events/irri-news/india-plant-biotechnologist-bansal-appointed-director-of-national-bureau-of-plant-genetic-resources-in-new-delhi.


Intellectual property rights, private investment in research, and productivity growth in Indian agriculture: A review of evidence and options

- Kolady, Deepthi; Spielman, David J.; Cavalieri, Anthony J. 2010 International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Download full paper at http://www.ifpri.org/publication/intellectual-property-rights-private-investment-research-and-productivity-growth-indian-

With the growth of private investment in developing-country agriculture, new advances in the biological sciences, and rapid integration of developing countries into the global trading system, intellectual property rights (IPRs) have become an important concern for policymakers, corporate decisionmakers, and many other players in the agricultural sector. But there are still unanswered questions about whether emerging and evolving IPR regimes in developing countries will contribute to increasing agricultural productivity and improving food security. This paper attempts to answer some of these questions by tracing the effects of IPRs on private investment in crop genetic improvement and, in turn, on agricultural productivity. The paper focuses specifically on the case of India, the regional leader in implementing IPRs in agriculture.

Findings indicate that maize and pearl millet yields grew significantly during the last two decades due to the combination of (1) public policies that encouraged private investment in Indias seed industry during the 1980s, (2) public investment in hybrid breeding programs that generated new materials offering substantial yield gains, and (3) biological IPRs conferred by hybridization that conveniently married the private sectors need for appropriability with the nations need for productivity growth. Although past lessons are not an indication of future success, this convergence of policy solutions and technology opportunities can be replicated for other crops that are vital to Indias food security.


Office Sustainability Committee


Two workers interested in being on the office sustainability committee discuss sustainable food choices.


Activist Eats Glo-Fish

Patented Glo-fish Sushi? How One Activist Is Cooking with Experimental Frankenfoods to Raise Consciousness About GMOs



In his first experiment with the Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Zack made sushi rolls out of GloFisha patented brand of GM fluorescent zebrafish, which is publicly available as a pet. The idea, as Zack
explains in the above video, is to give people the opportunity to beta test transgenic fish before the FDA approves GM salmonsoon to be the first genetically-engineered animal for human consumption.