Analyst says overseas firms gain edge as U.S. biotech approvals lag
British Shoppers back GM in face of rising food costs
Bishops in Kenya take new stance on genetically modified foods
Public sector should develop GM crops for seed companies
How to feed the world without destroying the planet
Freeze the footprint of food
Peru: new authorities must decide the entry of GMOsAfrica: Legal uncertainties frustrate biotechnology support for agricDecreasing the Cyanide while Increasing the Protein in Cassava
Are you Biotech Smart? Test your GM Knowledge in this Quiz!
Science and salmon
Analyst says overseas firms gain edge as U.S. biotech approvals lag
- Agri-Pulse, August 3, 2011; Volume 7, Number 31
With the challenges of feeding a rapidly growing global population, farmers are looking for new seed traits that can improve yields, withstand extreme weather, and provide greater end-user value. Brazil, where regulators are steadily approving new biotech seed traits, has signaled that it is open for biotech business.
That’s unlike the United States, where the regulatory approval process has slowed to a snail’s pace. Brazilian regulators approved 8 new genetically engineered traits for corn, soybeans and cotton in 2010 and 2 more this year, bringing their total to 30 since 2005. U.S. regulators deregulated a paltry three new traits last year and only 2 new traits in 2011. Twenty-four petitions are currently pending a determination by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a process that often takes 3-4 years.
What’s the holdup? “The time frame for completion depends on the compexity of the genetically engineered traits and the type and number of public comments,” explained a USDA spokesperson. Just last week,
APHIS gave the public another month to comment on Monsanto’s petition to deregulate corn that has been genetically engineered for drought tolerance. Most of the public docket is filled with comments from anti-GMO activists, who want all biotech traits banned, although a few farmers also weighed in to support biotech benefits.
Large biotechnology companies like Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta aren’t ready to export their research and development to South America or other developing countries, but “it could become a real problem if we don’t get things fixed here in the U.S,” says Val Giddings, a Senior Fellow with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
Giddings worked for APHIS when biotech companies first started filing petitions for the non-regulated status of specific biotech traits in the early 1990s. He says that deadlines for decisions on regulatory status, which are required by statute to be made within 120 days, were “routinely met or beaten” at that time. “That is definitely not the case today. Lately, petitions have taken years, not months.
“The main effect has been to disadvantage academic researchers and drive them away from biotechnology because they believe they can’t get stuff through the regulatory process,” explained Giddings. “The big companies still have the boots on the ground to navigate through the regulatory process. It’s the little guys, the academic researchers, who have really been disadvantaged so far.”
Giddings said “minor” crops, like almonds, grapes, stone fruits and other crops important to California agriculture, have really great biotech solutions that could be employed, but they are not being pursued the way they were 15 years ago because researchers are discouraged and think the regulatory hurdles are insurmountable.
“The difference is not that the regulators have become incompetent,” he said. “The real problem is that we have seen a multiplication of harassment lawsuits from career opponents of biotechnology.” For example, Giddings pointed to the Center for Food Safety, which routinely files lawsuits in the Ninth Circuit Court in California to stop biotech approvals, even though most challenges are eventually overturned on appeal.
“You’ve had a series of highly dubious judicial decisions that have ignored the facts and put biotech sugar beets and alfalfa in a state of uncertainty, casting a pall over the entire regulatory process because now APHIS is worried about how this will play out when they are sued.”
Giddings suggests APHIS has been poorly served by USDA’s Office of General Counsel and the Justice Department, who opted to take a defensive posture, similar to physicians worried about malpractice lawsuits. “They order additional tests - even though they know they aren’t necessary - just to document a paper trail for use in the courts when you have a lawsuit arising,” he added.
“What we’ve got now is a situation where the degree of regulatory scrutiny applied to biotech products is grossly out of proportion to the potential hazards of those products,” said Giddings.
Agricultural biotech is actually bringing to life the vision Rachel Carson articulated in the last chapter of her book “Silent Spring,” where she sees agricultural research being poised to follow a new path, he said. Carson’s vision “is one that relies not on conquering nature with synthetic chemistry, but by harnessing our increasing understanding of the principles of biology to make natural selection and biological phenomen, physiology and everything like that work for us in producing the food, feed and fiber that a growing population demands,” said Giddings.
“But we won’t continue on that path,” he added, “unless regulatory decisions can be based on their merits and not on the basis of paranoid lawsuit management strategies.”
British Shoppers back GM in face of rising food costs
- Caroline Stocks, Farmers Weekly, August 3, 2011
More than a third of shoppers think genetically-modified foods should be allowed to be sold in the UK.
Research carried out on behalf of the Crop Protection Agency found 35% of consumers would support GM foods being stocked on supermarket shelves, while 37% think they should be allowed if they were nutritious.
In the face of rising grocery bills, the number of people who said they would back GM food rose to 44% if the technology kept food prices down. That figure increased to 46% if GM foods proved safe for the environment.
The findings came after 1,009 UK shoppers were asked about their concerns about food security. Conducted by Network Research between 16 and 19 May this year, the research also aimed to find out how rising food prices were affecting people's shopping and consumption habits.
Published in the CPA's booklet Impact of the Global Food Crisis: Changing Attitudes among UK Shoppers this week, the research showed consumers were increasingly concerned about food security.
Bishops in Kenya take new stance on genetically modified foods
- Fredrick Nzwili, Christian Century, Aug 01, 2011
Nairobi, Kenya, August 1 (ENInews)--Roman Catholic bishops in Kenya told people to eat genetically modified foods to check starvation amid a serious drought in the Horn of Africa.
The bishops spoke in response to opposition from some non-governmental organizations and legislators to a government plan to import genetically modified maize from South Africa.
"We are in favor of non-genetically-modified foods, but if there is a crisis and they can resurrect the person for one week, eat them," said Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth of Kisumu, who chairs the Justice and Peace Commission of the Kenya Episcopal Conference.
Okoth said the drought and food insecurity threatened the lives of many Kenyans. This had been worsened by the rising price of basic foods, the deteriorating condition of livestock, and high rates of inflation, he said.
Groups opposed to importing foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) argue they may harm people's health. But Professor Shaukat Shabairo, head of the National Council of Science and Technology, said the foods could help improve the situation.
"If you are being faced with a calamity and there are no options to explore, GMOs would be a viable source," said Shabairo.
The UN says nearly 2.9 million Kenyans need food aid due to the drought caused by failed rains.
"It is sin for somebody to die in Kenya of hunger. It is total neglect on the part of the government," said Bishop Cornelius Korir.
Public sector should develop GM crops for seed companies, says leading researcher
- Tom Levitt, Ecologist, August 1, 2011
As controversial UK trials of a potato genetically-modified to be resistant to late blight get underway, we speak to research leader and plant geneticist Professor Jonathan Jones about why he is in favour of an exapnsion in GM crops
Tom Levitt: Are the genetically-modified blight-resistant potato trials worth the cost to the UK?
- Professor Jones: Yes, when you consider the cost of late blight is probably £60 million a year in the UK. It’s about £500 per hectare to control it, including labour, fuel and chemicals. Also that's not always completely successful so there’s always some losses anyway.
TL: What about concerns about GM traits surviving and spreading in the wild, contributing to rise of superweeds?
- PJ: To the people opposed to this kind of herbicide-tolerance method of weed control, my question is, so what kind of weed control method would you recommend that’s not environmentally damaging and still works? It's all very well to criticise Roundup Ready and Monsanto - there are lots of good reasons for doing that - but you have to come up with some solution that works otherwise you lose very large amounts of yield to weeds. Idealism is OK for saying where you want to go but farmers have to be pragmatists. They have got to come up with the least bad solution for any of the problems they have got. My general view on RoundUp Ready is it's less bad than the weed-control methods that were used before it was introduced. But its's also a bit like antibiotics - if you just use one, resistance to it will develop and Roundup Ready weeds are certainly a problem now.
TL: What are your views on labelling or products - do consumers have the right to have the information to avoid GM if they want to?
- PJ: I think long term, the rational approach is to assume that everything is "GM maybe", it's how everyone is living in the US, and if you really want to go GM free you go organic. But if I was advising BASF or another GM company, I would say you need to partner with a supermarket and come up with labelling that advertises in big letters that these potatoes are more environmentally-friendly with less chemical spraying [to protect against late blight] because of GM. It would probably only need to be for a couple of years but it would be respectful of people who want to avoid it.
TL: Is there an alternative to GM food out there?
- PJ: If you look at organic, it’s currently 2 or 3 per cent of the acreage of crops and its not zooming up, its been flat for two or three years at least. An argument I made to demonstrators last weekend is that I understand they are people who are opposed - for perfectly understandable reasons - to the current industrial agriculture and they'd like to replace it with something that’s much more environmentally friendly etc. I’d love to see that happen too, provided yield is maintained. My strategy for reducing the environmental impact of agriculture is instead to take the existing varieties favoured by existing agriculture and reduce the impact by putting traits in so that they don’t need to be sprayed so often. We'll see in a few years which strategy has the most success.
TL: When will we see GM traits developed in Africa?
- PJ: There is a lot of charitable money, for example the Bill Gates Foundation, that is supporting a water-efficient maize for Africa and important staples for poor people like virus-resistant Cassava and Sigatoka-resistant banana.
TL: Why are only a limited number of GM crops being grown worldwide?
- PJ: It's the high cost of regulation. The cost of GM is actually not that high when you look at the benefits. It’s not that expensive to do the science, it’s the regulation that costs money. The technology is there but the cost of regulation is killing it dead here in Europe and the UK. For example, take Monsanto, which is a big tomato and maize seed company. If it's going to cost $30-$100 million to de-regulate any trait, then for maize it's probably going to be worth $500 million plus a year so it's probably worth it.
If you are de-regulating a trait for tomatoes where your annual seed sales are $50 million or less then it doesn't make any economic sense, so you don't do it, or it's a lower priority at least. The cost of regulation is stopping the spread of the technology beyond the most profitable seed crops. What I'd like to see is a partnership between public sector researchers and private companies and for us to make a deal, for example, with BASF [who are developing GM blight resistance for a Dutch variety of potatoes] and put the trait they are developing into Maris Piper, a more popular variety with farmers and supermarkets, for the British market.
TL: What difference has the public concern about GM food actually made to GM research in the UK?
- PJ: Many researchers don’t want to get involved, they keep their heads down. It’s made it harder for them to link the science they do and the discoveries they make to crop improvement. It's made it all much harder for us to do something useful, as well as damaging recruiting. It's put people off agricultural science. The controversy has made people feel all this science on agronomy is a bad thing so they'll do something else.
TL: What should be the biggest research priorities for UK farming?
- PJ: I’d say probably wheat rust resistance. But the reason why late blight is such an important target for GM is that if you can cure late blight susceptibility you can really reduce the amount of sprays. The problem with wheat, is if you come up with something that is completely rust resistant, you’re still going to be spraying the wheat for other diseases. With many of the crops there are a lot of diseases you need to deal with before you can stop spraying for fungal diseases.
TL: What proportion of crops would you expect to be GM in the future?
- PJ: I would expect 90 per cent of worldwide maize, soyabean and cotton are going to be GM. I think it's already a high proportion of the rapeseed but that varies because it's grown in more environments, such as Europe which is non-GM at the moment. But really its not about whether it is or is not going to be GM but about how many traits are crops going to have. There are new methods for putting DNA into plant genomes at very precise positions - you could put 10 or 20 genes in that position and improve many different aspects of the plant all at once.
TL: How can we stop seed companies, like Monsanto, Bayer and Sygenta, monopolising the seed market?
- PJ: If the cost of regulation was zero a lot more companies could do it. It's the cost of regulation that is promoting monopoly domination and excluding the small companies and the public sector from making the contribution they otherwise could. That's why I argue for a private/public partnership where the public sector develops some of these traits. When it comes to concerns about safety of GM crops, part of the objections of some people is that the safety package is prepared by the company. Solution: have the evaluation in the public sector.
TL: Why is research being directed to GM over say reducing food waste and improving post-harvest storage - both identified as bigger priorities in increasing food security?
- PJ: Food waste and post-harvest storage are also very important. But I don't want to say one thing is more important than another. By analogy with solutions to climate change or energy supply, it's about wedges- there is no one thing to do which means you don’t have to worry about the other things. Saving food waste is a bit like reducing losses through better insulation in the energy sector. It’s part but not all of the solution. It's important to do it but I am a plant geneticist so I am not going to do it. Improved post-harvest storage is definitely important, especially in developing countries and simple investments can go a very long way to reducing losses to rats and so on. But it doesn't mean you should stop the genetics until you've figured out solutions to these problems. You have to take all these solutions forward in parallel. It's utopian to say there is one solution and anything else is a distraction.
Professor Jonathan Jones is senior scientist at The Sainsbury Laboratory, based at the John Innes Centre. He also co-founded Mendel Biotechnology which carries out contract research with Monsanto, Bayer and BP
How to feed the world without destroying the planet
- Scidev.net and Nature 28 July 2011
By 2050, there will be another two to three billion people on Earth, and the planet's population will consume twice as much food as now. For 50 years farmland has grown at the cost of natural habitat and biodiversity, and already more than two-thirds of agricultural land is either in use or protected.
As a result, we need to develop the technology to double the output of the 10–15 main calorie crops, particularly if we are alleviate the burden on developing countries of feeding a rapidly growing population, argues Jason Clay of the WWF in the journal Nature.
He makes eight strategic suggestions — described as "food wedges" — for Africa, the continent that faces the greatest challenge of increasing food production.
Clay believes the responsible use of genetics is one of the keys. He suggests that mapping the genomes of staple food cropssuch as yams, plantains and cassava, andselecting useful genetic traits, can both increase production and improve drought tolerance, disease resistance and nutrient content.
Improving agricultural inputs and practices is also essential, he argues. It currently takes one litre of water to produce one calorie of food. Even if we halved water use and doubled production, food deficiency would still increase fourfold. Technologies already exist to achieve this, but in Africa they haveoften not been taken up. Mulching, for example, can help rebuild soil fertility and reduce water usage, and is suitable for use even in household gardens, without need for high-tech tools.
Even within nations some producers are ten times more efficient than their producers. We gain the most by improving the poorest performing producers.
Other strategic goals and research gaps include rehabilitating degraded land; reducing food waste — currently one out of every three calories is wasted — and improving property rights so that by 2020, half of African households can own the land they cultivate.
Clay notes that work to reform global food production is underway. For example NEPAD (African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development), the food company Mars, and WWF are working with experts to sequence the genomes of staple crops. These will be made public within three to five years.
There is no silver bullet for increasing food production. However Clay concludes that, with the correct reforms and the right partnerships, feeding the world without destroying the environment may be achievable.
Full article in Nature
Freeze the footprint of food
- Jason Clay, Nature 475, 287–289 (21 July 2011) doi:10.1038/475287a
Jason Clay identifies eight steps that, taken together, could enable farming to feed 10 billion people and keep Earth habitable.
Feeding future populations means doubling the productivity of neglected but nutritious crops such as yams and green bananas.
In the past 18 months, members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academia and the private sector have come together to develop ways to reform the global food system by increasing food production without damaging biodiversity. Groups such as the Global Harvest Initiative (http://www.globalharvestinitiative.org) and the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (http://www.saiplatform.org) are working to freeze the footprint of food.
It is a daunting challenge. An estimated 70% of the land that is suitable for growing food is already in use or under some form of protection. For 50 years, farmland has grown at 0.4% a year, at the cost of natural habitat. In the past decade, as developing economies have grown, this has increased to 0.6% and, with it, more biodiversity has been lost.
Historically, technology has helped to stem this expansion of the agriculture frontier. During the 'green revolution' of the 1960s and '70s, productivity increased at a faster rate than population and consumption, and encroachment was slowed or even halted in many places. Now, technology lags behind rising population and consumption. It needs to catch up, fast.
We will all feel the consequences of an unhealthy planet, but developing regions will bear the heaviest burden. Nowhere are these realities more pressing than in Africa. The effect of rising food prices has sparked political strife in Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt. Africa is a continent with many complicating factors, and solutions to feeding the planet should be applied there first.
Freezing the footprint of food will require many actors working on several strategies simultaneously. There is no silver bullet. My experiences working with farmers in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and my current role as senior vice-president of market transformation at conservation group WWF, has shown me that we can find common ground with producers big and small to reduce the impact of key commodities.
I have identified eight strategies that, if applied globally and simultaneously, will help to reform the food system and protect the planet. Work has started on each of these 'food wedges', but no group is tackling them all at once. For example, WWF and its partners are directly supporting action on genetics, waste and agricultural carbon. Progress on the others requires more ideas and help, especially in Africa where the challenge is the starkest. Here are some of the goals — and research gaps — as they apply to Africa.
Eight food wedges
Genetics. Ten crops account for 70–80% of all calories consumed. Only one is on track to double production by 2050. Most estimates suggest that all ten need to double to meet future demand. I'm an environmentalist and am convinced that to increase production, we can't afford to ignore genetics, as long as it is applied in a responsible way. There has been a lot of debate over genetic modification, but there is in fact huge potential in using genetics through traditional plant breeding to select traits — techniques which humans have been using for more than 6,000 years. Now we have twenty-first century technology that allows even faster selection.
In Africa, staple food crops such as yams, plantains and cassava have been relatively neglected by plant breeders. The genomes of these crops should be mapped as a first step towards solutions to doubling or even tripling productivity, and improving drought tolerance, disease resistance and overall nutrient content. Genetic mapping would allow researchers to identify specific traits and markers within a species, and eventually breed plants displaying them. There are plant breeders in Africa prepared to do this.
Double or bust
Progress on some food wedges will occur faster than others. But every current system of food production needs to double productivity per hectare. If we cannot double the genetic potential of the 10–15 main calorie crops, on the same amount of land, we will fail to meet rising demand. NGOs and academics do not control the global food system, so instead they must try to change how governments and the private sector think about food production.
Today, most farmers in Africa do not produce enough to feed their own families. No single strategy will solve the global food problem or even ensure sufficient food for Africa. But with the right partnerships, and with improvements across the board, we might be able to feed the world without destroying the planet.
Peru: new authorities must decide the entry of GMOs
- Zoraida Portillo, Sciedev.net, 28 July 2011 ; Machine translated
[Lima] 'Confusion' is the word that best defines the view on the possible entry of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Peru, with changing the Congress this week and the inauguration of the new government of Ollanta Humala today.
While the law establishing a ten-year moratorium on the entry of GM was returned to Congress by the outgoing president, Alan Garcia , a multisectoral commission of the Ministry of Agriculture presented (22 July) its conclusions on the revision of the Regulation on Biosafety , which establishes guidelines for the entry of GMOs. Thus, the decision on the fate of the moratorium and any changes to the Regulation on Biosafety will correspond to the new members of the Legislative and Executive. One of the main conclusions of the commission is that the evaluation and Risk management can not rest with one entity, because it would create a conflict of interest.
The current biosafety regulations, the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INIA) is responsible for both functions. It also recommends that in its evaluation criteria includes not only health effects and biodiversity, but also socio-cultural, economic, and which Peru is the center of origin of various species. According to the commission, the state must provide adequate funding for equipment, personnel and training agencies and universities dedicated to research on GMOs and the institution in charge of controlling and supervising the implementation of the regulation. The findings are recommended, so it can be adopted or not by the Ministry of Agriculture.
However, none involved dares predict what the next step. "I have understood that the present Minister [of Agriculture] had planned to form a commission, according to the recommendations of the Multisectoral Commission to make necessary modifications to the regulations," said to SciDev.Net Sigueñas Manuel, who chaired the Multisectoral Commission and Director of National Agricultural Research INIA. However, he admitted that "the new government is not clear what will be the process." Ilko Rogóvich, the Peruvian Environmental Law Society, told SciDev.Net that the recommendations will be reported to the Minister of Agriculture new government. "Until the enactment of the moratorium law remains valid Regulation on Biosafety and the INIA has to continue working according to that mandate," he said.
Observation by Alan García to the moratorium will force the next Congress to insist on it or submit a new bill. Most of the parliamentarians elected officials are against GM and for the moratorium. Even the Minister of Environment appointed the new government, Ricardo Giesecke, advanced in an interview with RPP Noticias that the Peruvian biodiversity "GM does not require."
Africa: Legal uncertainties frustrate biotechnology support for agric
- Ngozi Oboh, Next, July 31, 2011
With the resurgent famine and food shortages in east Africa, experts have warned that Nigeria, with a burgeoning population, will have to revamp its food sector if it is to meet the task of providing enough food for an increasing number of people.
Meeting this challenge calls for a commensurate increase not only in agricultural production, but also in efforts to control plant and animal diseases as well as innovative techniques for post harvest losses.
Modern biotechnology has the potential to address these concerns and guarantee food security in the country, especially as there is recognisable need to improve the productive capacity of rural farmers through the deployment of appropriate technologies that is believed to hold the key to agricultural revolution in developing nations.
However, not some are sold on bio-engineered foodstuff. Lots of groups and individuals are against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), especially as it concerns the health implication of consuming GMO foods. There is therefore a realisation that biotechnology should be practised within a well structured ethical framework.
Bamidele Solomon, director general of National Biotechnology Development Agency said a realisation of this was one reason why the agency demonstrated unwavering support for the enactment of the national biosafety law and the application of intellectual property rights legislation.
“As we await the assent of Mr President to the bio-safety bill, I commend all for having stood for the truth regarding the need to integrate the technique of biotechnology to agriculture in the face of uninformed opposition and blackmail,” he said.
According to Mr Solomon, science, technology and innovation should be made the bedrock of the nation’s development effort. “It has been established that a transformed agricultural production is sine qua non for a resilient economy in any country. This is particularly true of Nigeria like most developing countries. We have a responsibility to show the light and point to the right way to go if Nigeria is to keep up with the tempo of development around the world.
“We can no longer allow the resource poor farmers to remain at subsistence level. Rather, we need to assist them to access appropriate technology that will help them get good returns for their labour. Modern biotechnology has a lot to offer in our bid to becoming self-reliant in our food production.”
Ita Ewa, minister of science and technology, who was represented by Manasseh Gwaza, director, physical and life sciences department of the ministry at the open forum on agricultural biotechnology held last week in Abuja, called on NABDA to offer support and guidance to all those engaged in the food production value chain with particular focus on market-driven research in agricultural biotechnology.
“There is a compelling need to raise awareness of the general populace on the benefits and safety of food products derived from modern biotechnology,” Mr Ewa said.
Obidimma Ezezika, Project Manager of the ethical, social, cultural and commercialization program for Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) said the positive impact of genetically modified crops found in other countries may not fully materialise in sub Saharan Africa due to the absence appropriate policy, regulatory and socio-economic conditions.
In addition the unique characteristics of the African farmer, who is typically poor and at the subsistence-level, present a number of challenges preventing a number of challenges preventing the African farmer from tapping into the benefits of GM crops
The presence of extreme poverty in sub Saharan Africa, lack of access to credit or land and inappropriate infrastructure are only some of the factors that limit the small-scale African farmer from truly enjoying the benefits of GM crops.
There is therefore the need to develop a framework that will address each of these barriers.
Barriers to innovation
Mr Ezezika disclosed that these have constrained public investment in agro-biotechnology development, and a subsequent lack of technologies relevant to the small-scale African farmer’s need.
To address poor access to inputs and infrastructure, he said small-scale farmers in Africa continue to struggle against high input costs, in part due to structural adjustment programmes that have removed subsidies.
“The engagement of private and public institutions in collaborative partnership is viewed as an ideal vehicle to drive up investment in rural farming resources and infrastructure. Furthermore, national governments of Africa have a role to play in providing subsidies and improving access to inputs,” he said.
Of concern also is the small-scale farmers’ limited ability to access credit needed to facilitate adoption of novel agro-biotechnologies. He said access to credit involves financing investment in human and physical capital as a means to enhance productive capacity especially in poorer populations,
“In Nigeria, it is estimated that only 18 percent of small-scale farmers have access to financial and credit services,” Mr Ezezika said. He suggested the establishment of cooperatives and organizations as well as micro-financing systems that require little or no collateral to enable small scale farmers access credit.
But even when farmers have access to credit they still may not benefit fully from biotechnologies if there is poor access to information and agricultural extension services.
According to Mr Ezezika, while access to necessary and appropriate resources are imperative to small-scale farmers’ benefitting from GM crops, new technologies run the risk of rejection if they are not considered in the context of traditional, social and cultural norms of the community.
“As such it is crucial to integrate local and traditional knowledge and farming practices with the knowledge of researchers from universities, government laboratories and other formal institutions of science and technology,” he said.
Decreasing the Cyanide while Increasing the Protein in Cassava
- The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis,MO. August 2, 2011
Researchers working at The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center have made an another advancement in their efforts to improve the root crop cassava which is a major source of calories to 700 million people worldwide, primarily living in the developing world. A study conducted by Dr. Narayanan N. Narayanan and Dr. Uzoma Ihemere, research scientists working in the lab of Dr. Richard T. Sayre, have developed an approach that not only accelerates the reduction of cyanogen during food processing, resulting in a safer food product, but also lead to increased root protein levels and enhanced nutritional value. The results of this research are published in the recent article, "Overexpression of Hydroxynitrile Lyase in Cassava Roots Elevates Protein and Free Amino Acids while Reducing Residual Cyanogen Levels," in the PloS One journal.
Cassava has many properties that make it an important food source across much of Africa and Asia. It grows well in poor soils with little rainfall, but it also has many limitations; both leaves and roots contain potentially toxic levels of cyanogenic glucosides and although calorie dense, the starchy, tuberous roots provide the lowest sources of dietary protein among the major staple food crops; less than 30% of the minimum daily requirement.
Insufficient protein intake often leads to protein energy malnutrition (PEM), which can lead to permanent physical and mental disabilities. Cassava has the lowest protein to energy ratio (P:E) of any staple food, making resource-poor populations that rely on cassava as their major source of calories at high risk of PEM. According to the World Health Organization, PEM is by far the most lethal form of malnutrition, affecting one in four children in Africa.
Hydroxynitrile Lyase (HNL) is a natural cassava protein that contains 50% essential amino acids and is found in the leaves of the plant. It can be eaten by humans with no allergic side effects. Narayanan and his colleagues showed that transgenic roots expressing HNL had a 53-74% reduction in root cyanogen levels, and resulted in a nutritionally enhanced cassava that contained three times as much protein and twice as much total amino acids when compared with wild type. They also proved that over-expression of HNL reduced the time required to process and remove life threatening cyanogens in the tuberous roots from days to minutes. Significantly, HNL is heat stable and will tolerate cooking for 15 minutes which is helpful in variety of food preparation methods.
“This breakthrough demonstrates that it is possible to use genetic modification to deliver enhanced cassava with decreased cyanogenic content as well as increased protein and essential amino acids that will directly benefit children and at-risk populations,” said Narayanan.
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Science and salmon
- Editorial, LA Times, August 2, 2011
Eight senators from salmon-fishing states warn the Food and Drug Administration against spending money to study whether genetically modified salmon are safe. There's plenty to debate, but squelching scientific inquiry isn't the answer.
People tend to respect and believe in science — until it tells them something they didn't want to hear. Thus President George W. Bush clung to his billion-dollar-a-year Reading First program even after a study by his administration showed that it wasn't improving students' reading. Senators from states where the gray wolf was reintroduced successfully pushed for legislation delisting it as an endangered species; it didn't matter what the Interior Department had determined.
Now eight senators from salmon-fishing states are warning the Food and Drug Administration that they will pursue legislation — already passed in the House — to keep the FDA from using any of its funding to study whether genetically modified salmon are safe for the environment and consumers. There's plenty to question when it comes to genetically engineered salmon, but squelching scientific inquiry isn't the answer.
The salmon have been tinkered with by AquaBounty Technologies Inc. to grow twice as fast, making them cheaper to raise and bring to market. The FDA appears to have been on a fast track to approve the salmon for human consumption despite some sketchily designed studies on consumer safety. But the bigger worries about the salmon concern the environment — and the valid issue raised by the wild-salmon fisheries about whether the genetically modified fish could escape and pollute the gene pool.