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October 7, 2011


Swedes Speak Out; Facing Harsh Weather Ahead; Capturing Value; Cracking Open the Genome


41 Swedish Plant Scientists Speak Out Against Harmful EU Regulation Of Modern Plant Genetics

Gene technology to secure global food supply: crops must withstand harsher weather

Global capture of crop biotechnology in developing world over a decade

Scientists Eye “Windows of Opportunity” for Adapting Food Crops To Climate Change in the Next Two Decades

Scientists find genetic trick to make iron-rich rice

Who's Cracking the Pistachio Genome?

A 10-year Plan for Plant Science Begins to Take Shape

Successful Insertion of Transgene into a Specific Desired Location in Cotton

Developing Drought Tolerant Corn Hybrids


41 Swedish Plant Scientists Speak Out Against Harmful EU Regulation Of Modern Plant Genetics

- David Tribe, BioFortified, Oct. 6, 2011

Quasi-science prevents an environmentally friendly agriculture and forestry
European legislation in the field of genetic engineering is so narrow that it blocks the ability of researchers to take progress from publicly funded basic research on plants through to practical applications. We, 41 scientists who have received funding for basic research on plants from the Swedish Research Council, urge politicians and environmental groups to take the necessary steps to change the relevant legislation so that all available knowledge can be used to develop sustainable agricultural and forest industries.

One of the “Grand Challenges” facing mankind is to find ways to provide food, fuel and clean water to a burgeoning population using agricultural and forestry practices that are environmentally and economically sustainable. Research on plants has made tremendous progress and we now understand well how plants grow, how they protect themselves against disease and environmental stress and what factors limit production in agriculture and forestry. The prerequisite for progress has been basic research, especially studies of plant genes.

The application of this basic knowledge with the goal of making agriculture and forestry sustainable and environmentally friendly has been hindered by European gene technology legislation. These regulations impose very strict controls on the use of plant varieties developed by genetic engineering, while varieties developed via traditional breeding are released with no checks whatsoever. Some environmental groups leading opinion against GM plants criticise the use of genetic engineering by arguing that developments are linked to large multinational companies, that there is uncertainty about the risks, that they cannot be used in an agri-environment without increasing the use of chemicals and that only multinational companies benefit from GM plants. Let us examine these arguments.

Firstly: Genetic modification has revolutionized basic research on plants. For most of us; working in Swedish Universities with grants from the Swedish Research Council for basic research on processes such as photosynthesis, plant growth and biomass allocation, the function and role of plant hormones, the regulation of daily and annual growth rhythms, disease resistance and speciation etc., the use of GM plants is both standard practice and necessary. To draw clear conclusions requires that we are able to work with plants that demonstrate controlled changes in specified properties and such plants are produced more precisely and more quickly by genetic engineering than by traditional plant breeding.

Thousands of GM plants are grown each day in Swedish universities.
Second: There is no scientific uncertainty on the issue of whether GM crops pose more risk to consumers or the environment than conventionally produced crops varieties. The legislation was formulated when there was not yet sufficient data on this but now we know better. 500 independent research groups have received 300 million € from the EU to study the risks. The conclusion in a summary of the results (“A decade of EU-funded GM research”) is that “GMOs are not per se more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies”. We are basic research scientists and we know that the changes produced by genetic engineering are easier to control than those produced in other ways. The legislation argues the opposite, and imposes controls only on GM plants. To put this in other terms; the logic of the current legislation would suggest that only drugs produced by genetic engineering should be evaluated for side effects.

One of the main arguments against GM crops has been that varieties providing for a more sustainable agricultural sector have not yet been launched. The problem is that this is unlikely to happen with the current legislation. While plants resistant to disease – developed in the traditional way – can be grown at once, it takes many years to get a GM variety with the same properties approved for cultivation. The process from basic research – through applied research – to the finished seed marketed by a company is not only time consuming but also very expensive for GM crops: it costs an estimated minimum of 100 million SEK. Publicly funded researchers or small businesses will never have such resources and thus cannot translate advances made in basic research into a product for consumers. Only a few multinational companies are able to take these costs and therefore give the impression of a monopoly.

The regulatory framework is contributing to the lack of competition and the appearance of monopolies; it is not simply patent rights or unsound business practices, as is often claimed.

The environmental movement’s opposition to genetically modified plants runs counter not only to a transition to sustainable agriculture but also, paradoxically, to their “fight against the major chemical companies.” The costs associated with the introduction of GM varieties give these companies a monopoly on a huge market; 10% of the world’s agricultural land is planted with GM crops today. In addition, companies that have as one part of their business the production of agrochemicals get “revenue insurance” from GM varieties because the use of GM crops often leads to a reduced demand for their agricultural chemicals.

Ultra-right religious groups in the U.S. are trying to raise a quasi-scientific version of creationism as an alternative to evolution. In Europe we look at this public debate with amazement, as if it went against the notion that the Earth is round. However, in Europe we have instead much quasi-scientific scaremongering about the risks of GMOs, and this is fuelled by some groups within the environmental movement. The Swedish environmental movement has a proud tradition of working from a sound scientific basis. For many of us, an early involvement in the non-profit environmental movement was an essential element in choosing our current careers; we wanted to contribute to a better world. The environmental movement should view it as a warning that many of us, with sadness, abandoned it when we felt we could no longer belong to organizations that sided with anti-science and populist forces – without subverting our scientific principles. We urge the Swedish environmental movement to unite with science and act as a rational, informed voice to influence their more vocal foreign counterparts.

Changing the genetic engineering legislation is not only a very important issue for Europe. Poorly funded plant breeding researchers and organisations in many third world countries are also being deprived of one of their best tools to provide better local crops because of the obvious risk of being excluded from the GM-hostile European market.

We therefore urge our politicians to change this outdated law. It should be the characteristics of a plant that determines whether it should be checked, not the technology used to produce it. We do not believe that all checks on the cultivation of GM plants should be removed. Varieties that are toxic or could cause allergies or environmental problems must be subjected to governmental control and independent evaluation – but these same controls should apply to ALL varieties, whether they are produced by genetic engineering or not.

Our desire is that the world’s farmers will be offered seeds that have been developed to provide the most energy-and water-efficient and chemical-free agriculture and forestry as possible, but current genetic engineering legislation prevents this.

Read on


Gene technology to secure global food supply: crops must withstand harsher weather

- SeedQuest, October 2011

“So far, scientists have not been able to prove the occurrence of horizontal gene transfer with GMOs,” says Atle Bones, adding that “we have been eating plants for tens of thousands of years without incorporating plant genes or becoming more plant-like.” (Photo: Heidi M. Bones)

Rapid population growth and a swiftly changing climate compound the challenges of ensuring a secure global food supply. Genetically modified plants could help to solve the problem, believes a Norwegian crop researcher.

Over 90 per cent of the global food supply consists of either plants or meat from production animals raised on plant-based feeds. By 2050, 70 per cent more food will need to be produced worldwide on roughly the same area of farmland to keep up with global population growth. At the same time, major changes in climate are expected to occur.

Only 100 species
Although a quarter million plant types exist, global food production today is based on only about 100 of them. Wheat, corn and rice account for over 60% of all production.

“We depend completely on the success of these few crops. But I am convinced that the fitness of current plant varieties will not last forever. All it will take to trigger a famine is one year of badly reduced yields for just one of the three main crops,” warns Atle Bones, Professor of Biology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim.

Professor Bones and his colleagues have received funding for their research from a number of programmes at the Research Council of Norway, including the Large-scale Programme on Functional Genomics in Norway (FUGE).

Ensuring a supply of food
Professor Bones believes that in order to ensure a secure global food supply, we will have to use every existing means – including genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Genetically modified plants are created by adding, removing or modifying one or more genes in order to breed plants with desired traits. Currently, most genetically modified food is in the form of plants with traits added to make them more resistant to insects and chemical weed killers (herbicides).

Professor Bones envisions a future when plants will need extra-strong resistance to the effects of phenomena such as floods, cold spells, droughts and ultraviolet radiation.

Turning inedible plants into food
According to Professor Bones, there are thousands of plants that could be cultivated for food once they are bred to remove toxic compounds or undesirable traits.

Rapeseed is one of the world’s 15 most important crops. Professor Bones and his colleagues have figured out how to genetically instruct the rapeseed plant to remove toxins from its seeds.

“Rapeseed is currently used for producing cooking oil and animal feed, but it has certain limitations,” he explains. “Our technique could make it possible to utilise this plant to an even greater extent, and the principle could well be applied to other plant species or plant parts.”

Weighing benefits vs. risks
In Norway, the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board assesses all applications from companies seeking approval for a GMO product.

The board’s assessment guidelines are based on the precautionary principle, which postpones implementing any measure until its threat to human health or the environment has been ruled out.

For are we actually certain that genes from genetically modified food do not enter or alter human DNA, or that genetically modified organisms, once released into nature, will not negatively affect the ecosystem?

According to Professor Bones, “Opponents of GMOs see the worst case scenario as organisms turning out to be toxic or spreading into nature in undesired ways. To me, the worst case scenario would be a global food shortage because we squandered our chance to carry out research on introducing traits that enable plants to withstand the coming challenges.”

The biologist agrees that the benefits must be weighed against the risks, case by case. When it comes to GMOs, he says, there is no single truth but many.

“As of today, not a single report of GMOs having damaged health or the environment has been verified.” He stresses, however, that it is extremely difficult to prove specific effects of food, since a diet consists of many foods that have a combined effect.

Precise, quick and flexible
Conventional plant breeding, in which the best traits of a plant are selectively bred over time, is still a useful solution in many instances. But it is a method limited in its precision and speed and is restricted to certain species.

“Using gene technology,” continues Professor Bones, “we could in theory create a new product in the course of a few months, with a variety of traits added or altered, and tailored to different farming zones. Genetic modification can also be key for increasing the nutritional value of vegetable foods.”

“I don’t believe that gene technology or GMOs alone will save the world, but they will be part of the solution in certain areas,” concludes the crop researcher. “Some changes, such as climatic ones, are going to happen rapidly, so we don’t have time to wait the many years it would take with conventional selection to introduce the desired traits into our crop varieties.”

GMO distribution
Worldwide from 1996 to 2009, the area of farmland used to cultivate genetically modified plants increased 80-fold. In all, 25 countries (including seven in Europe) grow genetically modified plants on a large scale; more than half the world’s population lives in these countries. The total land area on which genetically modified plants are cultivated is more than 3.5 times the size of Germany.
The article is published in Norwegian in the Biotek og mat (Biotechnology and food) publication from the Research Council of Norway's Functional Genomics programme (FUGE).


Global capture of crop biotechnology in developing world over a decade

- Ademola A. Adenlea, Journal of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology . In Press

There is an urgent need for the advancement of agricultural technology (e.g. crop biotechnology or genetic modification (GM) technology), particularly, to address food security problem, to fight against hunger and poverty crisis and to ensure sustainable agricultural production in developing countries.

Over the past decade, the adoption of GM technology on a commercial basis has increased steadily around the world with a significant impact in terms of socio-economic, environment and human health benefits. However, GM technology is still surrounded by controversial debates with several factors hindering the adoption of GM crops.

This paper reviews current literatures on commercial production of GM crops, and assesses the benefits and constraints associated with adoption of GM crops in developing countries in the last 15 years. This article provides policy implication towards advancing the development and adoption of GM technology in developing countries and concludes with summary of key points discussed.


5. Conclusion
In summary, steady growth of GM crops in the past 15 years have shown that GM technology has a great potential towards contributing to sustainable agriculture, particularly in developing countries. Moreover, the global benefit of GM crops have made significant difference in terms of cost savings, increases in yield and profitability, improving the quality of life and reducing the use of pesticide and herbicide. This in turn leads to a significant saving on fossil fuels and lowering carbon dioxide emissions, thereby mitigating climate change.

According to James [66], more countries from different continents including Africa, Asia, Latin and Central America and Caribbean are expected to join GM producing countries on a commercial basis, and countries are expected to reach 40 or over by the year 2015 with about 20 million farmers cultivating GM crops across the globe. In the last few years supports for GM crops have come from different sections of life such as political leaders (e.g. G8 leaders), scientists, world reputed scholars, including policy makers and leaders from developing countries [19], [33] and [66], suggesting that benefits of GM technology are being recognised.

The world needs fast and reliable solutions to fast growing population and the problems of hunger, malnutrition, ravaging diseases, poverty and global warming crisis. One of ideal technological innovations such as GM technology can be part of solutions to these problems. It is imperative to understand that GM technology cannot establish its ground if continuously faced with the baggage of constraints as discussed in Section 4.1 above.

Moreover, it is not surprising to gather from a variety of literatures that most developing countries lack capacity building and still struggling with the establishment of biosafety system that can facilitate GM field trials and commercial release of GM products. Some of the challenges associated with the development of modern biotechnology still boil down to the fact that individual country government and international organisations have not clearly identified a coherent strategy and enabling policy instrument to deal with the problems. While some progress have been made on GM technology in terms of research and development, capacity building, and biosafety regulation in developed countries and a few developing countries, concerted effort is still needed to make it an accessible technology for every country.

Finally, the world of agricultural biotechnology should be appreciated while assessing its potentials and global impact in the last 15 years. More attention should be paid to the improvement of GM technology to harness its maximum potentials as well as taking case-by-case cautious regulatory approach [27], while considering future potential risks. All relevant institutions that include individual country government, private and public sector and international agencies should work together to ensure that everyone benefits from GM technology, particularly in developing countries. Therefore, the developing world if not entire world need GM technology and must not be ignored, marginalised or sidelined, because it has the weapons to fight poverty, reduce malnutrition and hunger, improve food security, create friendly environments, increase the income of poor farmers and benefit society as a whole.

Read on at


Scientists Eye “Windows of Opportunity” for Adapting Food Crops To Climate Change in the Next Two Decades

- Vanessa, Climate Change Ag and Food Security, 3 October 2011

A farmer with climbing beans in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A new study finds that modest temperature and rainfall changes significantly reduce the area suited for this crop. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT).

‘New Support Needed to Tap the Genetic Potential of Seed Banks With Increased Aid from Biotechnology’

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK (3 OCTOBER 2011)—Responding to appeals from African leaders for new tools to deal with the effects of climate change on food production, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has released a series of studies focused on “climate proofing” crops critical to food security in the developing world.

The studies constitute various chapters in a new book titled Crop Adaptation to Climate Change from John Wiley & Sons, which was developed by an international team of the world’s leading climate and agricultural researchers to provide adaptation strategies for more than a dozen crops—such as potatoes, beans, bananas and cassava—on which billions of people depend worldwide.

The studies describe how climate change could threaten food production and how specific adaptation strategies could neutralize or at least significantly lessen the impact. They argue that investments are urgently needed to identify important genetic traits, including drought tolerance and pest resistance, which will be critical for helping farmers adapt to new growing conditions.

“In these studies, we’ve brought together the best climate science with the best knowledge of crop improvement to spell out how crops will be affected and what plant breeders can do to avert or at least cushion potentially devastating blows,” said Julian Ramirez, a scientist at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and one of the authors of the studies.

The studies indicate that many of the critical traits farmers will need to deal with hotter, dryer, and in some cases, wetter conditions likely reside in seeds now safeguarded by international crop genebanks. But researchers note that tapping the potential of plant genetic resources, particularly the rich vein of traits contained in the wild relatives of key crops, will require more intensive application of cutting edge biotechnology, including new tools from the rapidly developing fields of genomics and transgenics.

“These results offer plant breeders a strong foundation for establishing research priorities for the next two decades, which is about the time they’ll need to develop new generations of crop varieties suited to shifting agriculture environments,” said Bruce Campbell, CCAFS director.

The studies indicate that the most direct impact on crop yields will come from changes in temperature and rainfall. But they also warn that indirect effects of climate change could result from altered incidence of pests and disease, though these changes will not always be for the worse.

Read on


Scientists find genetic trick to make iron-rich rice

- Imelda V. Abano, Scidev.net, 26 September 2011 | EN | 中文

Scientists say they have made a breakthrough in their quest to develop a rice variety to address iron and zinc deficiencies that affect millions of people in poor countries across Asia.
The genetically modified (GM) rice has up to four times more iron than conventional rice and twice as much zinc, Alex Johnson, from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) told SciDev.Net.
"The rice has some of the highest iron concentrations that have been described for white rice (up to 19 parts per million). We have also demonstrated that the iron is in the endosperm tissue that makes up white rice," Johnson said. This is important because of the widespread consumption of white rice.
"This new report documents the early and exciting results for one approach for increasing the iron content of the rice grain," said Gerard Barry, leader of the Rice Crop Team of the US-based HarvestPlus, which partially funded the research. "The increase in iron in the polished grain is very important in terms of human nutrition."
HarvestPlus, which promotes biofortification research, usually focuses on conventional plant-breeding methods. But increasing the level of iron in rice is hard to achieve through conventional breeding because there are few naturally occurring varieties of rice with higher concentrations of iron to kick off the breeding process.
Johnson and his team focused on nicotianamine, a substance that occurs naturally in rice and helps it to take up iron from the soil. Normally, it is low levels of iron in the soil that signal to the rice to switch on the genes that control the production of nicotianamine. The scientists have succeeded in keeping these genes switched on all the time.
The method also boosted zinc levels Johnson said that, since nicotianamine naturally occurs in rice, consumption was unlikely to have any adverse health effects.
But he said it would take ten years before the new rice variety could be released for human consumption, because of the need for evaluation in the field over several seasons, and the need for bioavailability studies to discover whether animals actually absorb the iron.
Field trials have begun at the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Link to full paper in PLoS ONE


Who's Cracking the Pistachio Genome?

- Zachary Russ, Genetic Eng and Biotech News, Oct 20, 2010

"Without plants, we’d be in serious trouble."
--Preface to "Achievements of the National Plant Genome Initiative and New Horizons in Plant Biology," National Research Council, January 2008.

Two months ago, the draft sequence of the castor bean, Ricinus communis, was published to some fanfare, earning a spot as the cover article of Nature Biotechnology. Of course, the sequence itself had already been shared before publication, with continuous updating and annotation. It is one of 21 publicly available plant genomes—a list that includes grapes, corn, apple, sorghum, cucumber, cassava, rice, cacao, peach, papaya, and soybean. The other nine are: five model organisms—two varieties of Arabidopsis, a grass (Brachypodium), monkey flower, and one legume (Medicago)—as well as moss, spikemoss, poplar, and green algae.

For an exceedingly diverse plant world, the selection of which plants to sequence reveals the two major drivers of whole-genome sequencing in plants: agricultural productivity and scientific curiosity. With sequencing technology becoming faster, cheaper, and more exciting (sequence a billion bases a day—imagine that), whole-genome sequencing is well on its way from cutting-edge to customary. But how does one decide which plant to sequence, and what good will come of it?

Whole Genomes—a Big Deal?
One of the most significant limitations is genome size. In this regard, plant genomes vary widely: from about 450 Mb for rice to 2,500 Mb for maize and a stunning 16,000 Mb for wheat. For reference, the human genome is about 3,000 Mb.

It's useful to note that whole-genome sequencing is not, by any means, an exhaustive mapping of the organism—it is just one part of a portfolio that includes the epigenome, proteome, metabolome, and a laundry-list of other omes that are necessary to fully describe the plant's functioning.


Another notable project is using the soybean sequence to find homologous genes in other members of the genus and recombine them back into the soybean genome for hardier plants. An entire segment of the Plant Genome Research Program's 2009 funding is dedicated to heterosis studies, where genomic data is used to figure out why heterozygous hybrids are stronger than their purebred counterparts.

Going Green
The product of a growing knowledge base and new engineering applications may very well be the next Green Revolution but only if social and regulatory factors permit. But it's not easy: Consider the "Major Accomplishments" section of the National Plant Genome Initiative's five-year plan. In the "Discovery" section, you'll find all sorts of new genomic data and data analysis tools, but flip to "Translation" and you'll find a slightly different story: Marker-assisted selection constitutes the only two entries.

One mentions identification of blight markers, while the other describes the creation of new germlines from crosses selected with marker-assistance. What you don't see is cross-species gene recombination or new recombination techniques.

A small sidebar trumpets the development of "submergence tolerance rice," expected to greatly increase crop yields in Bangladesh and rescue many of the world's poor from malnutrition and worse. Dig a little deeper and you'll find that this rice was produced with precision breeding rather than genetic modification to avoid regulatory testing and public disapproval.

For all the advances in gene delivery and plant modification, these remarkable advances are being impeded by societal apprehension and regulatory hurdles. Indeed, in a recent article, researchers at Oregon State argued that onerous paperwork, excessive containment requirements, and legal liability were effectively strangling biofuel and agricultural GMO R&D.

It's a shame that these technologies have become the latest example of "the public giveth and the public taketh away." At a cost of millions of dollars per genome ($30 million for the main corn genome project, another $2–5 million for the mini-chromosome and structure), better understanding of the risks and rewards of GMO technology is essential for the public to get a full return on its investment.

And, for the record, no one is cracking the pistachio genome ... yet.


A 10-year Plan for Plant Science Begins to Take Shape

- Elizabeth Pennisi , Science Insider, 26 September 2011

U.S. plant scientists have taken the first steps toward a 10-year plan to help improve global food supplies using sustainable practices and to make progress in understanding how plants work.

There is both a great need and great potential right now, says Gary Stacey, a plant scientist at the University of Missouri, Columbia, who chaired a closed meeting last week in Bethesda, Maryland, that was organized by the American Society of Plant Biologists. The meeting attracted 75 plant scientists from institutions around the country, as well as additional representatives from government, industry, and other professional societies.

Food prices and the demand for food are rising, says Stacey, climate change is affecting natural habitats as well as cropland, and there’re increasing efforts to use plants for energy. But plant scientists have largely been on the sidelines in tackling these escalating problems. “They are not recognized for their potential [contributions], maybe not even within the plant community and certainly not outside of it,” says Keith Yamamoto, a molecular biologist at University of California, San Francisco. In 2009, he led a panel from the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council whose report emphasized the potential role of plant science in meeting societal needs.

Workshop participants flagged food security and a need for a second, greener Green Revolution as critical issues. Progress will require new model systems, intensively studied species that provide insights useful both in basic and applied research. There should be more emphasis on describing genetic diversity, wherein genes for useful traits are tracked down in a wide range of species for potential transfer into economically useful plants. Toward that end, some participants called for expansion of transgenic technologies, such that value-added genes could be joined to a broad range of fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Other scientists stressed that plants, whose environments can be tightly controlled because they don’t move, might be better models than animals for understanding the relationship between genotype, phenotype and environment. “One of the major goals is to model and infer how plants really work, based on genomic information, in different environments,” says Jim Carrington, president of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Major questions on the table include how genes dictate an individual’s range of traits and how the environment affects the manifestation of those traits. New sensing technologies of scales from cells to ecosystems will be needed to explore these questions, the participants pointed out.

Learning how plants tolerate drought, heat, and flooding is useful not just for agriculture but also for predicting how wild species might cope with climate change, says Edward Buckler, a geneticist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Ithaca, New York. He would like to see the creation of long-term monitoring sites for agricultural environments along the lines of what the National Ecological Observatory Network, a project funded by the National Science Foundation, is hoping to do for natural habitats.

Cheaper, faster genome sequencing is already revolutionizing all aspects of plant science, including the characterization of genetic diversity. Many more plant genomes should and will be sequenced, says Stacey. But sequencing will also be a boon for describing the microbiomes of plants to understand the full impact of the microbial world on plant function, particularly those that interact with roots.

Yamamoto would like to see the field move beyond plant breeding as the chief means of generating new varieties because current methods can take too long. Instead, he envisions using systems biology and synthetic biology to create designer plants that can withstand, say, extreme drought or improve a food’s nutrition quality. But he’s not sure that ambitious goal will make the report’s final cut. “I didn’t hear anything that rises to the level of a 10-year challenge,” he said. “It’s a steep hill to climb to get people to think 10 years [ahead] and really be bold about things, especially when they feel so uneasy about what’s gong to happen tomorrow.”

Yamamoto ‘s also not sure that a 10-year plan will lead to new funding, given the current tight budget situation. An 8-year-old estimate pegs annual federal funding for competitive plant science research at $350 million, and participants said that tripling that amount, to $1 billion, would not be unreasonable. “We can easily spend that on one telescope, so isn’t feeding the world worth as much?” asks Tom Brutnell, a plant biologist at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in Ithaca, New York.

Organizers hope to circulate a draft report of the meeting for outside comments, with the ultimate goal of issuing a final report by March 2012 with the field’s priorities. “If we can show that we made an effort to prioritize things,” Stacey explains, “I would hope that would have more influence that just [being seen] as a clamor for funding.”


Successful Insertion of Transgene into a Specific Desired Location in Cotton

- Bayer CropScience and Precision BioSciences, Press Release, Oct 04, 2011

MONHEIM, Germany, & Research Triangle Park, N.C., (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Bayer CropScience AG and Precision BioSciences Inc. announced today that both companies have successfully inserted a gene into a specific desired location in cotton using Precision's Directed Nuclease Editor(TM) (DNE) technology. This significant technical achievement will mean that Bayer can deliver more precise, innovative solutions sooner to farmers and has triggered a milestone payment to Precision. Further details were not disclosed.

Scientists at Bayer CropScience used an enzyme known as a DNE engineered meganuclease produced by Precision to target the insertion of a transgene near an existing transgene in a plant line. This approach could reduce the time required to produce a new plant characteristic and removes complexities associated with current product development methods. This is the first known report of a site-specific insertion using an engineered nuclease in cotton.

Precision's DNE technology, which is based on the production of DNA-cleaving enzymes called engineered meganucleases, enables crop researchers at Bayer to delete, insert, or otherwise modify genes at user-defined sites within plant genomes. By facilitating the direct introduction of value adding traits into plant species, the technology can streamline product development and reduce the time it takes to get a product ready for the market.

Precision BioSciences and Bayer CropScience are developing additional DNE-engineered meganucleases for use across the company's crop platforms.

Dr Johan Botterman, Head of BioScience Product Research at Bayer CropScience, said: "This technology milestone is a world first and delivers enormous capacity for Bayer to precisely target and more efficiently deliver significant benefits in key crops to farmers globally. And this is just the beginning."

"We are thrilled to announce this important achievement with Bayer CropScience, an established innovator and leader in global agribusiness," said Derek Jantz, Vice President of Scientific Development at Precision BioSciences. "We are looking forward to continuing our successful relationship with Bayer CropScience to develop next-generation agricultural products."


Developing Drought Tolerant Corn Hybrids

Amy Lathrop, & Deana Namuth, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Sept. 29, 2011

Drought susceptible corn in a field trial. (Photo by Pioneer Hybrid)

If drought is often a challenge in your farming operation, you may be interested in new advances in drought tolerant corn and whether to include these hybrids in your crop rotation.

Crops need water to carry out processes necessary for survival. Water helps cool plants and transports dissolved nutrients throughout the plant and supports photosynthesis and plant growth.

Developing Drought Tolerance in Corn
Drought tolerant corn varieties have been developed using the “native gene” approach. This refers to using traditional plant breeding techniquzes, but with an added twist from using cutting edge molecular tools. In this manner, breeders conduct crossing experiments to determine the relative chromosome location of these native drought tolerant genes, and then use marker-assisted selection to help move along the breeding process more efficiently.The “native gene” approach has allowed breeders to bring in more than one gene affecting drought tolerance. In contrast, a transgenic/biotech approach (which involves genetic engineering) introduces a single new gene into corn from another organism.

How RNA Chaperones are Being Bred into Hybrids
Genes not present in any corn germplasm can be incorporated and then bred into elite crop lines through “native approaches.” These biotech-derived varieties are still in the industry development pipelines and not yet available to producers. Let’s take a look at one drought tolerant trait in the pipeline that uses RNA chaperones.
To learn more about genetic engineering in general, please refer to the CropWatch article Making a Genetically Engineered Crop.

RNA chaperones are proteins that help produce and protect other proteins during times of stress. Although the specific mechanisms aren’t yet fully understood, in general, RNA chaperones help make sure that RNA molecules and critical plant proteins maintain their proper shape. Therefore, even under drought stress, critical proteins produced by the plant fold into their proper shape. If the shape of a protein is damaged, it cannot properly perform its function. During the reproductive growth stages, damaged proteins can lead to yield loss. RNA chaperones help stabilize yield even during drought conditions.

Precision Phenotyping
You may hear the term “precision phenotyping” as you research corn varieties for your operation. This term refers to a set of tools and designed experiments which help breeders determine which specific genes and/or traits contribute the most toward drought tolerance. Careful control of the environment and precise observations are necessary to accurately assess the drought tolerance levels of corn lines/varieties. In an effort to control the growing environment, fields with uniform soil conditions are selected. These fields also need to meet certain requirements in terms of latitude, altitude, and soil fertility. Researchers select low rainfall areas that would be able to grow good crops if water were present. Drip irrigation is typically used in to control the amount of water the plants receive.

The experiments must also be conducted at the correct time during the corn’s life cycle. Researchers are interested in what is happening during specific plant processes in specific tissues at a critical stage (such as flowering, grain fill, etc). As an example, UV (ultra-violet light) sensors and infrared sensors are often used to create images that allow researchers to “measure” the temperature of the plants. With UV light, the plants that appear purple in the picture tend to be cooler than those that are red or yellow.

Breeders also look for specific DNA markers in plants that exhibit drought tolerance. These markers are then used to plan specific crosses to “stack” multiple drought related traits into drought tolerant hybrids. This approach of carefully controlled environments, DNA work, and detailed field observation is called “precision phenotyping.”