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November 28, 2000


"Contamination", Ghana, Anti-drought seed, Public Opinion,


In answer to Roger Morton's query, I have to thank Dr. Bob Baker at the
University of Saskatchewan for the attached Excel table which uses
herbicide resistance as an example. One can set the so called
"contamination" levels and the level of outcrossing for the crop. If
one sets a "contamination" level of 0.01 Rr (where R represents the HR
allele coming into a crop as pollen thus 1% of seeds harvested carry one
herbicide resistant allele and the other 99% do not, probably a
reasonable figure for a non-GMO crop growing close to a GMO crop when
one takes the whole field into account), and a rate of cross pollination
within the crop of 0.05 = 5% (maybe a reasonable level for canola) one
finds that in the next generation the level of "contamination" is about
0.0076 = 0.76% of plants which over five generations stabilizes to about
0.55% or approx. 1 in 200. The bottom two lines represent the gametes
that woud be produced each generation, which as Roger states would remain
the same over generations assuming Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium.

Dr. Graham J. Scoles, Professor and Head
Department of Plant Sciences
University of Saskatchewan
51 Campus Drive
Ph: 306-966-5857
Fax: 306-966-5015

Financial Times (London)
November 29, 2000
by Mark Turner

GHANA: Laboratory heralds agricultural revolution

A host of African crops stand to benefit from biotechnology research now
being undertaken at the University of Legon

Her equipment may be a little rudimentary, and the smell of bats nesting
in the roof somewhat off-putting, but Elizabeth Acheampong's laboratory
heralds a transformation in Ghanaian agriculture.

One cannot help feel that were she in a country that adequately rewarded
entrepreneurship, she would be a millionaire within a decade.

Her shelves of yam, cassava and plantain seedlings reflect what many feel
are the first stirrings of a biotechnology revolution across the continent
- and, in the case of Mrs Acheampong's, who painstakingly created the
laboratory under the University of Legon but is contemplating private
enterprise, a potentially very profitable business opportunity.

Her forte is tissue culture: a technique where tiny fragments of crops
with particularly desirable qualities, such as yield, colour or
disease-resistance, are placed in a special growing medium, to create
scores of identical seedlings in a virus-free environment.

It is not a complicated technology - for one step of the process Mrs
Acheampong relies on a gas stove and pressure cooker - but the increases
in crop productivity can be remarkable. On the other side of the
continent, in Kenya, the success of tissue culture bananas has already
become a cause celebre.

While most of her work has been contracted by research institutes and the
government (which has proved somewhat reluctant to pay for it), or is
supported by international donors, Mrs Acheampong feels it is now only a
matter of time before the private sector gets in on the act.

She has already fulfilled one private order for plantains without
unsightly black spots; there are moves to create export-friendly ginger,
and she may soon be heading into the pineapple business.

Ghanaian pineapples do not appear to ripen to a nice yellow colour fast
enough for foreign markets, she says, and the race is on to improve stock
without using chemicals. Mrs Acheampong says she has already had an
approach (which she refused) from an entrepreneur trying to sell her
material for Dollars 400,000. In any case, she is now developing seedlings
of unspecified origin for the government.

"The country has arrived at the point where private companies are seeing
the advantage of this technology," says Mrs Acheampong. "This is the key
to the future."

Modern biotechnology had a curious genesis in Ghana. Although work began
in the late 1980s, the country woke up to its potential largely thanks to
an ethnic war sparked by an overpriced guinea fowl.

Back in the mid-1990s, the Kokomba and Nanumba in the north of the country
launched into a horrible conflict after a market trader allegedly offered
one of his kinsmen a cut-price deal, while a member of the other tribe was
being told to pay a price he felt was too high. The resulting war caused
massive destruction, with villages burnt and crops razed.

The government had a major crisis on its hands - if the region was to get
back on its feet, it needed thousands of new seedlings, and fast. The
biotechnology and nuclear agricultural research institute (BNARI) was
asked to step in, to see if tissue culture would do the trick.

In the event, the challenge proved to be too great for that technique, and
a more simple technology of micro-propagation - called Miniset - was used.
But the events nonetheless woke up the government to biotech's massive

"The war was what prompted the ministry to pronounce its desire to develop
these technologies," says Alfred Oteng-Yeboah, from Ghana's Council for
Scientific and Industrial Research. "This year was even called the year of
biotechnology in Ghana."

The first challenge, as in much of Africa, will be to complete legislation
to install the necessary checks and safeguards to the emerging science -
in Ghana that should be in place within a year. Issues of intellectual
property, environment and distribution will be crucial.

But after that, the potential is enormous. Dr Oteng-Yeboah hopes that
Ghana will be able to start exploring transgenic technologies - a more
complex form of biotechnology where desirable genes are transferred from
one organism to another, imbuing resistance to disease or drought. Ghana's
palm trees, for example, are being decimated by a virus - and unless
drastic technology is brought in, the economic consequences may be

Nevertheless, the biotech community is cautious about the environmental
consequences, and feels that the key is to use only indigenous crops. "The
issue is how to do this without affecting the environment unduly," says Dr
Oteng-Yeboah. "We want to develop this technology with local material."

One potential avenue, for example, might be to transfer the hardiness of
crops in the dry north, such as millet and sorghum, into southern crops
such as maize.

"Until now, biotechnology breakthroughs have primarily benefited farmers
and consumers in the developed world," said James Schroeder, deputy under
secretary for the US Department of Agriculture, at a biotechnology
conference in Accra this November. "But a host of African crops stand to
benefit from biotechnological improvement - the science holds great
promise for the alleviation of poverty."

It's Not Borrowed, It's Indian
An anti-drought seed is on its way

Indian Express
29 November 2000

Drought is an Indian reality and scientists at New Delhi's National
Research Institute on Plant Biotechnology (NRIPB) are trying to help
farmers to survive it with an anti-drought seed.

Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Corporation (MAHYCO) has got permission to conduct
field trials for its transgenic cotton that contains Monsanto's
BT-resistant gene. And across India, several pharmaceutical companies, big
and small, are jumping on to the biotech bandwagon. Suddenly, biotech is
big -- and booming.

A gene from a weed (Arabidopsis thaliana) is being introduced into Indian
mustard to make the crop consume less water. Scientists at NRIPB are
conducting open field trials on genetically-modified mustard that will cut
down irrigation by almost half, from the usual four-five floodings to
two-three floodings per season.

The scientists will continue trials for two more years to reach waterproof
conclusions, and more varieties of Indian mustard will be included during
this period.

Earlier this month, the NRIPB also began cloning Indian crop species that
are hardy and can resist periods of drought. This is a first, since till
now, most GM projects in India used genes "borrowed'' from labs abroad. "A
project is on to relocate genes from pearl millet (bajra) to economically
viable crops like wheat and rice, which love water,'' Kailash C. Bansal,
principal scientist, NRCPB, told The Indian Express.

Increasingly, more than one gene is being transplanted in plants to
provide multiple benefits and make the plant resistant to high
temperature, cold and salt stress. "Since this research is being done at a
public research institute, the seeds will not be any more expensive than
those currently available,'' said Bansal.

GM plants have faced criticism since insects often become resistant to
toxins produced in the insect-resistant varieties. This is possible since
the small genome size of insects make mutations easier and faster. To
counter this, the "high-dose strategy'' is being used that prevents the
insect from from developing resistance.

"Here, the gene is put into plastids and not the nuclear genome,''
explains Bansal. ``Since plastids are many in number in a given cell,
there is instant amplification and 10,000 to 50,000 copies of the gene are
made of the trans-gene, making it impossible for the insect to develop
resistance.''The multiple gene technique is also being used to develop
nutritionally-balanced varieties of tropical maize, rice and potato.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Corporation is planning to conduct
field trials for its transgenic cotton that contains Monsanto's
BT-resistant gene. "The application for the trials has just been accepted
by the government,'' confirms Ranjana Smetacek, Director, Public Affairs,

Many pharma majors too have jumped into the biotech fray, with Ranbaxy
developing and marketing a large number of diagnostic kits.
Aurangabad-based Wockhardt has a joint venture with Rhein Biotech of
Germany to develop recombinant HBV vaccine, while Cadila is working in
vaccines, biotherapeutics and immunodiagnosis. The biotech unit of Dr
Reddy's Labs has licenced its diabetes therapeutic technology to Novo
Nordisk, and Dabur India is working on a natural substance-based
immunomodulator. Nicolas Piramal would be working in collaboration with
the Department of Biochemical Technology in the field of diabetes.

Not to be left behind, many small drug companies are also working in
biotechnology. The Mumbai-based USV, which is setting up a molecular
medicine research lab with recombinant protein and clinical diagnostic
sections; and the Bangalore-based Biocon is doing research in bioenzymes.
After the infotech revolution, Indian industry seems to have discovered
its next port of call.


Public opinion should not be basis of decisions, GM inquiry told


A prominent United States bioethicist told the Royal Commission on Genetic
Modification on Wednesday that public opinion should not be the basis of
society's ethical decisions.
Iowa State University bioethics programme coordinator Gary Comstock had
been asked by Greenpeace cross-examiner Duncan Currie whether people
should have the right, if they wished, to be able to avoid genetically
modified products.

"One hundred and fifty years ago, people said woman shouldn't hold
property or vote. This was a view held even by women.

"They were wrong.

"One hundred and fifty years ago people in my country thought that people
of different skin colour were naturally slaves. As did Aristotle.

"They were wrong. The fact that people have an opinion is totally
irrelevant to ethics."

Earlier, Professor Comstock had told the hearing that developed countries
had an obligation to help less developed states.

Widespread anti-GM sentiments could, by shutting down research
establishments in the countries that could afford the technology,
indirectly deprive the needy.

He also said, though ethnic minority concerns about the technology should
be heeded, the question became "more difficult" if such concerns
disadvantaged people "in other parts of the globe."

In other submissions Federated Farmers said it was important that New
Zealand farmers had choice in order to meet market demands, "using all
available production systems".

Farmers had the right to determine what technologies they used. The
Government's role was to set the legislative framework, "not to intervene
by seeking to anticipate market demands."

Putting his own example, Australian Cotton Industry Council chairman Peter
Corish said use of presently available GM product reduces use of
pesticide, reduced his family's, his staff's and the environment's
exposure to pesticide, allowed him to reduce labour costs and to grow
cotton on organic principles - should he consider there was a market

Federated Farmers vice-president Thomas Lambie, an organic dairy farmer,
said that organic production could co-exist with conventional and GM.

Under cross-examination, Grains Council chairman Neil Barton said that
roadside grasses would be very different species to any GM crops that
would be grown. Lingering fears could be satisfied by buffer strips and
"good management".

It was conceded that, under certain conditions, manure spilled from cow
trucks could carry seed.

An earlier submission by Agcarm, the association for agricultural,
chemical and animal remedies manufacturers, argued strongly for the
ability to be able to protect research data.

Gaining approval to introduce a modified organism, it said, required the
production to authorities of a "package" of data, relating to a wide range
of subject, from allegenicity and toxicity research to risk assessments
and containments.

Such data packages could cost "well in excess" of $100 million to generate
and were of considerable commercial value.

November 27, 2000

AS biotech crops safe

Washington State University Scientist Says Biotechnology Need Not Be

ATTENTION: Science, Agriculture editors

PULLMAN, Wash., Nov. 27 (Ascribe News) -- International controversy over
genetically modified crops threatens future advancements in biotechnology
, said Washington State University plant pathologist R. James Cook. Cook,
who has been studying wheat and barley root diseases for 35 years, said
developments, such as new methods of preventing a root disease of barley,
hang in the balance. Because all varieties of wheat and barley are
susceptible to these diseases, his efforts have been directed at fighting
them by accessing their natural enemies in the soil. He said this is now
possible with biotechnology.

"We now can access genes in the natural enemies of these root-disease
fungi, which are actually other fungi, and put them into plants," Cook
said. "This provides the plants with the same method of defense used
against the pathogen by its natural enemy."

With this in mind, Cook, along with R.A. Nilan Distinguished Professor
Dieter VonWettstein and research assistant Yongchun Wu, are currently
working on a project to develop a barley plant with resistance to a root
disease that is deadly to all commercially grown varieties of wheat and
barley. If they are successful with barley, they plan to expand the work
to include wheat. With the project still in its early stages, the question
is whether the world will accept this kind of genetic modification by the
time the work is complete, Cook said.

"The controversy has two parts: the part you read about in the press, and
the real reasons," said Cook regarding the recent media coverage of
biotechnology , in particular the recall of Aventis StarLink corn.
The part people read in the newspapers and see on television concerns the
safety of genetically modified foods. For example, is it harmful to the
health of people, animals or the environment, Cook said.
"These are genuine concerns people have when they hear we're doing
something to the food supply. But if that was all there is to it (the
controversy), science could correct it."

The other part of the controversy is more problematic in that genetic
modification of crops is a new technology that will likely replace many
kinds of current technology.

"There are winners and losers with any change, and the real resistance to
biotechnology is actually a natural resistance to change," Cook said.
"This is behind much of the objections in Europe to biotechnology."

Chemical sales companies are an example of an industry that will be
impacted because of advances in biotechnology . As biotechnology reduces
the need for pesticides, the companies that make and market crop chemicals
will need to adjust, Cook said.

Some environmentalists say a genetically modified plant, such as StarLink
corn is a problem because it could cause an allergic reaction in some
people. Cook points out there is no evidence linking StarLink corn with
allergic reactions in people. Opponents also say the modified gene could
jump to a native plant, upsetting the ecology. Cook said there is no
substantial evidence supporting this fear either.