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In This Issue

June 1, 2012

NEWS

Global
• Scientists Sequence the Tomato Genome 
• FAO: End Hunger and Malnutrition to Achieve Sustainable Dev't 
• DNA Discovery in Drought Resistant Crops 
• Mexico Ratifies the Nagoya Protocol 

Africa
• Trait Stacking for Biotech Crops: An Essential Consideration for Agbiotech Development 
• IITA Project Saves Africa from Striga Infestation 
• ICARDA, CIMMYT Build Partnership for Wheat Research 
• African Heads of State and Governments Agree to Give Biotechnology a Try 

Americas
• Time is Ticking for Some Crop's Wild Relatives 
• It's in the Genes: Research Pinpoints How Plants Know When to Flower 
• USDA Provides Funding to Cooperators for Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention 
• Rising CO2 Levels Affects Gene Flow in Wild and Domesticated Rice 
• Iowa State University to Get More Staff to Create Biotech Research Powerhouse 
• Glyphosate Tolerant Canola Receives Approval in Canada 

Asia and the Pacific
• APEC: Biotech to Improve Food Security 
• Seminar on Plant Genetic Transformation in Indonesia 
• Rice Bowl Index Highlights Solutions for Food Security Challenges Across Asia-Pacific 
• Chinese Ethnic Minority Gains Info on Agri-biotechnology 
• Embargo on Bt Brinjal a Great Disservice to India Says Academician 
• Seminar on Modern Biotech Informs Filipino Stakeholders 

Europe
• Why Plants Follow the Sun 
• Debate on GM Wheat in Great Britain 
• Plants Could More Efficiently Use Light for Food Production 
• Minister Announces £250M Strategic Investment in UK BioScience 

Research
• Effects of Cry1F on Army Worm's Predator 
• Scientists Investigate Long-term Effects of Bt Cotton on Aphids 
• Plastids Do Not Form Interconnected Networks 

Beyond Crop Biotech
• New Cannabis Without the 'High' 
• Pesticides and Bee Health: EFSA Reviews the Science 
• Scientists Unveil Pathways for Biosynthesis of Noscapine 

Announcements
• SEAMEO-BIOTROP Provides Fellowship for National Training Courses in 2012 

Document Reminders
• Publication on "Environmental Safety of Biotech and Conventional IPM Technologies" 

Latest Communication Products

Brief 47: The Status of Commercialized Bt Brinjal in Bangladesh
ISAAA Brief 47 is a comprehensive report on the status of commercialized Bt brinjal in Bangladesh. Brief 47 presents a thorough review and analysis of the deregulation of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh – from the scientific and biosafety assessment and commercial release to the planting of Bt brinjal by farmers in Bangladesh.
Agricultural Biotechnology (A Lot More Than Just GM)
The booklet explains and compares tools of agri-biotech including conventional breeding, tissue culture and micropropagation, molecular breeding and marker-assisted selection, and genetic engineering
Infomercial: What Do People Say About Biotech?
This informercial features photos of students, teachers, farmers, media practitioners, and consumers who were asked to write one-liners about their perception on biotechnology. These photos were taken during the science fairs held in the Philippines in 2013.
Infographic on Biotech Crops Benefits
This infographic summarizes the important contributions of biotech crops in increasing crop productivity, conserving biodiversity, reducing agriculture's environmental footprint, mitigating the effects of climate change, and alleviation of poverty and hunger

News

Global

The tomato genome has been fully sequenced for the first time, reports the Tomato Genomics Consortium in the latest issue of the journal Nature capping years of research work. The Consortium has sequenced the genome of the domesticated tomato from the cultivar "Heinz 1706", and details that tomatoes possess some 35,000 genes arranged on 12 chromosomes. The result of their work is an important step toward improving the yield, nutrition, disease resistance, taste and color of tomato as well as other crops.

James Giovannoni, a scientist at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Cornell University and the USDA Agricultural Research Service leads the U.S. team. He said that "For any characteristic of the tomato, whether it's taste, natural pest resistance or nutritional content, we've captured virtually all those genes." He added that it will now be easier and less expensive for seed companies and plant breeders to sequence other varieties for research and development. To provide access to the gene sequences of tomato and related species, an interactive website called solgenomics.net was created by Boyce Thomson Institute scientist Lukas Mueller and his team.

The sequencing of the tomato genome has implications for other plant species, especially fleshy fruits such as strawberries, apples, melons, and bananas as they share some characteristics with tomatoes. Information about the genes and pathways involved in fruit ripening can potentially be applied to these crops to improve their quality.

The Tomato Genomics Consortium is an international group of scientists from Argentina, Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.

The news release is available at http://bti.cornell.edu/index.php?page=NewsDetails&id=135. The Nature article is available at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v485/n7400/full/nature11119.html.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released a policy report for the Rio+20 Summit to be held on June 20-22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro. According to the report, sustainable development is impossible without ending hunger and malnutrition.

FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva, said: "The quest for food security can be the common thread that links the different challenges we face and helps build a sustainable future. At the Rio Summit we have the golden opportunity to explore the convergence between the agendas of food security and sustainability to ensure that happens."

The report calls the attention of governments to establish and protect the rights to resources, especially for the poor; add incentives for sustainable consumption and production into food systems; promote fair and well-functioning agricultural and food markets; decrease risks and increase the resilience to the most vulnerable; invest public funds in important public goods, such as innovation and infrastructure.

Read the original article at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/146179/icode/. Download a copy of the policy report at http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/an894e/an894e00.pdf.

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An international collaboration among scientists from the University of Western Australia, Guangzhou University,  and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas has come up with a breakthrough. The team was able to identify the ‘stay green' DNA in barley which will help develop improve crops in areas where drought, heat and salinity are major problems.

Using a molecular biology technique known as EcoTILLING, scientists were able to identify 23 DNA sequence variations of which 17 occurred in the gene coding region. Two of these DNA sequence variations in the coding region are predicted to cause malfunctioned proteins.

Understanding the genetic variation in genes that encode the light harvesting chlorophyll proteins will enable scientists to use DNA markers to improve the ‘stay green' efficiency in plants.

The news from the University of Western Australia is available at http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201205314685/business-and-industry/dna-discovery-key-drought-resistant-crops.

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Mexico, known as one of the megadiverse countries in the world, is the fifth country to ratify the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, CBD's Executive Secretary, said: "Mexico's ratification is a significant milestone on the road to the entry into force of the Nagoya Protocol. It is exciting to see that one of the megadiverse countries of the world has taken this step in support of the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources. I urge other Parties to the Convention to ratify as soon as possible."

The Protocol will be implemented 90 days after the 50 countries have completed the ratification process. Aside from Mexico, Seychelles, Rwanda, Gabon, and Jordan have ratified the Protocol.

Read CBS's press release at http://www.cbd.int/doc/press/2012/pr-2012-05-23-Mexico-en.pdf.

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Africa

An article about an outcome of a social audit engagement with the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project was recently published in the online journal Agriculture & Food Security. The report was a response to the concerns raised over the use of stacked traits in Africa.

The report revealed that "a critical but unrecognized component of building trust with farmers involves publicly addressing the concerns surrounding stacked trait crops." The authors also argue that "it is important to actively anticipate the concerns that could be raised over trait stacking by incorporating them early into global access plans of such initiatives in order to facilitate adoption, provide the best value to the small-scale farmer, and gain trust with communities and farmers."

See the full report at http://www.agricultureandfoodsecurity.com/content/1/1/5. For more information, contact Obidimma Ezezika at obidimma.ezezika@srcglobal.org.

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Striga, a notorious crop parasite, is one of the major problems of crop growers in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) embarked on a four-year project in June 2011 to develop Striga control techniques for smallholder farmers. After one year of implementation, the project outputs are showing encouraging results.

The project called "Achieving Sustainable Striga Control for Poor Farmers in Africa" project, or ISMA include using Striga resistant maize and cowpea varieties, along with "push-pull" technology. The push-pull technology involves intercropping with specific Striga-suppressing forage legumes, using Imazapyr herbicide-coated seeds, encouraging maize-legume intercropping and crop rotation; and adopting Striga biocontrol technologies. In Kenya, the project has reached about 6,000 farmers. Partner seed companies have also released 66 tons of seeds using Imazapyr herbicide resistant (IR) maize technology. The IR maize technology, together with the use of Striga resistant maize varieties, could decrease the emergence of Striga by up to 60%.

According to ISMA project manager Mel Oluoch, their initiative will lead to 50 percent increase in maize production and more than double the increase in cowpea yield, especially in areas that were previously infested with Striga.

For more details about the project, view http://www.iita.org/news-feature-asset/-/asset_publisher/B3Bm/content/saving-africa-from-the-violet-vampire;jsessionid=EAEA828BF7D00FD582044C4123803BCE?redirect=%2Fnews.

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Representatives from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)  met in Cairo from May 9-11, 2012  to develop research workplans and implementation mechanisms for a new global partnership called the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (CRP3.1). The main objective of the partnership is to increase the production of wheat to feed additional 56 million consumers by 2020 and additional 397 million consumers by 2030. 

Following the meeting, a joint ICARDA-CIMMYT team visited wheat trials at the Sids Research Station of the Agricultural Research Center (ARC) which will be an important research location of the program.

For more information, visit  http://icardanews.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/international-partnership-for-wheat-research/.

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African leaders have resolved to promote agricultural research and biotechnology in a bid to find practical solutions to the continent's perennial food shortage and hunger. The heads of state and government made this joint declaration at the end of the Global African Diaspora Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa on 28th May, 2012.

The Statement read in part "We, the Heads of State and Government of the African Union, the Caribbean and South America agree to establish multi-stakeholder working groups comprising the AU, CARICOM and representatives from the Diaspora in the following priority areas: Economic Cooperation; Science and Technology - including the establishment of Low Earth Orbit satellite, and research in agriculture and biotechnology." The declaration by the heads of state and government is expected to signal the growing consensus in the continent that biotechnology deserves a chance in Africa's agriculture.

For a copy of the declaration at the summit, go to: http://appablog.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/declaration-of-the-global-african-diaspora-summit/.

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Americas

Initiatives to create focus and revive global crops' wild relatives has been set off in the United States Department – Agriculture Research Service in Prosser, Washington and the US National Plant Germplasm System. Stephanie Green, plant geneticist in the agency observed that around 20 percent of all wild plants are now threatened. She leads efforts in conserving crops' wild relatives and setting the goal to get these germplasm to plant breeders who are in search for genes to increase resistance to drought, disease pressure and erratic weather.

Another initiative is spearheaded by Nigel Maxfed of University of Birmingham, England, where he developed a step-by-step protocol in conserving crops through various ways, that countries can use to identify and protect their wild relatives. He has initiated work in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan,Portugal, Switzerland, the U.K. and several other European nations, as well as in China and North Africa.

For more information, see "Crop Wild Relatives and Their Potential for Crop Improvement," as featured in the current edition of CSA News: https://www.crops.org/files/publications/csa-news/crop-wild-relatives.pdf. The full research paper is newly published in Crop Science: https://www.crops.org/publications/cs/articles/52/2/774?highlight=cT0oJTIyTWF4dGVkJTIyKSZxPShqb3VybmFsOmNzKSZsZW49MTAmc3RhcnQ9MSZzdGVtPWZhbHNlJnNvcnQ9. The news article can be viewed at https://www.crops.org/news-media/releases/2012/0530/543/.

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Ability to regulate flowering in plants at desired time of the year may contribute to increased food crop yield and possibly for use in biofuels. To this end, researchers at the University of Washington conducted research in Arabidopsis thaliana. Researchers led by Takoto Imaizumi reported in the journal Science the discovery of FKF1 protein which they said could be the key player by which plants recognize seasonal change and thus know when to flower.

Previous studies have revealed the presence of a flowering protein called Flowering Locus T produced in the leaves and travels to the shoot apex. The protein starts the molecular changes that lead to the development of flowers. The photoreceptor FKF1 protein on the other hand, is expressed in the late afternoon everyday, and if it occurs during long day, the light will activate the flowering mechanism involving Flowering Locus T. Hence, in short days, the protein is inactivated and flowering will not occur. This system keeps plants from flowering and reproduction during short days and long nights.

The original research article can be seen at  http://www.washington.edu/news/articles/its-in-the-genes-research-pinpoints-how-plants-know-when-to-flower.

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"We are committed to partnering with our stakeholders to achieve our mutual goals of identifying and mitigating threats to American agriculture, enhancing our emergency response capabilities, and increasing public awareness of the danger of invasive pests and diseases," said Tom Vilsack, U.S. Agriculture Secretary as he announced the $50 million fund support provided by the 2008 Farm Bill Section 10201.

The fund will support 321 project in the 50 states including American Samoa and Guam to help prevent the introduction or spread of plant pests and diseases that threaten U.S. agriculture and the environment. Specifically the projects include among others a nationwide survey of honey bee pests and diseases, the monitoring of high-risk international and domestic pathways for invasive species, applied research to combat citrus pests, the development of detector dog surveillance programs in certain high-risk agricultural states, and targeted invasive species public outreach.

Completed projects related to Section 10201 which were accomplished in the last three years include: developing eLearning modules for pest screening and increasing diagnostic capacity, training canine teams to conduct surveillance at ports of entry; supporting the 2011 national survey of honey bee pests and diseases and developing the Hungry Pest campaign – a targeted, nationwide invasive pest public awareness campaign.

See the news release at http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2012/05/0165.xml&
navid=NEWS_RELEASE&navtype=RT&parentnav=LATEST_RELEASES&edeployment_action=retrievecontent

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Researchers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service confirmed that the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere influences the flow of genes from wild or weedy rice plants to domesticated rice varieties. This is the first study that demonstrated such occurrence and explained that the flow of genes is not uniform.

"We know that global climate change will require some farmers to revise production strategies in response to shifting weather patterns and crop demands," said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling. "These new findings will help plant breeders design and interpret studies on how changes in climate may affect crop response."

Read more at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2012/120523.htm.

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In the next few years, Iowa State University (ISU) will hire more than 200 faculty members in a move that could help Iowa become a research and manufacturing center and expand its strong biotech offerings. Steven Leath, ISU president, said that they will make organized and cluster hires, using positions left open by retirements, along with slots backed by private companies and grants, to help create a multi-country commercial corridor stretching from Ames to Des Moines.

The informally named Capital Corridor is seen as Iowa's version of North Carolina's Research Triangle, where government agencies and agribusiness corporations join to do groundbreaking research. The corridor is part of the long-term plan called Capital Crossroads that involves a number of central Iowa leaders, companies, and organizations.

Work in the corridor could bring breakthroughs on proteins, enzymes, genetics, next-generation biofuels, food products, and pharmaceuticals, said Leath. He foresees research crossing over between ISU and possibly other schools and private companies to produce manufacturing jobs.

More details are available at  http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20120529/NEWS/305290025/0/SPORTS09/?odyssey=nav%7Chead&nclick_check=1.

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Canola growers in Canada are close to having an additional option to manage weeds. Pioneer Hi-Bred  received the regulatory approval for planting, feed, and food use of Optimum® GLY canola, a glyphosate tolerant canola.

Developers of Optimum® GLY brand canola used DNA shuffling technology to give tolerance to glyphosate and offer other advantages for farmers such as increase in yield.

For more information, visit http://www.pioneer.com/home/site/about/news-media/news-releases/template.CONTENT/guid.171AB400-0E0D-8492-8614-7B4BDD325D09.

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Asia and the Pacific

High officials of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) have recognized that biotechnology can contribute to food security and sustainability in the region. Prior to the APEC Ministerial Meeting which will be held in Kazan, Russia on May 30-31, experts have warned officials that climate change, population increases, limited arable land, and water scarcity pose challenges to meeting the food security needs in the region.

Dr. Julian Adams of the Program for Biosafety Systems gave APEC officials a briefing on the potential of biotechnology in the region. Dr. Adams said that "While food intake has been increasing, there is limited potential for cropland expansion in Asia." He also discussed the increased demand for water in the future, adding that, "In 2025, about two-thirds of the world's population – about 5.5 billion people – are expected to live in areas facing moderate to severe water stress."

To read the news release and more about APEC, go to http://www.apec.org/Press/News-Releases/2012/0528_food.aspx.

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A seminar on Plant Genetic Transformation entitled "State of the Art in Plant Genetic Transformation" was recently held in Bogor. The seminar featured Dr, Kan Wang, Professor in the Department of Agronomy and director of the Center for Plant Transformation Facility, Plant Science Institute Iowa State University, USA and the Leader of Biopharmaceuticals/Bioindustry Initiative. The seminar conducted at ICABIOGRAD was attended by many researchers from various institutions. Dr. Wang highlighted plant genetic transformation and together with bioinformatics and nanotechnology will become alternative technology that can potentially produce new plant varieties.

For the past seven years, Dr. Wang has been the leader of maize and soybean transformation projects of ICI Seeds Research and Development in Slater, Ames, Iowa (now Syngenta). Since 1996 when she moved to Iowa State University, she developed the first plant transformation facilities for public use. This facility has been used for maize, soybean, rice and Brachypodium transformation. Currently, she is developing anti-diarrhea vaccines in transgenic maize that has gone through three confined field trials already in the USA.

For more information, visit http://biogen.litbang.deptan.go.id/index.php/2012/04/seminar-rekayasa-genetik-tanaman/. For information on biotechnology in Indonesia contact Dewi Suryani at catleyavanda@gmail.com.

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A diagnostic tool that provides insight and information on the robustness of the food security system across Asia-Pacific was recently launched by Syngenta Company. Amply called "The Rice Bowl Index", the tool is designed to identify problems and find solutions derived from productive dialogue, collaboration and action between governments, NGOS, and the private sector.

Dr. Robert Berendes, Global Head of Business Development at Syngenta opined that, "It is clear from this analysis that collaboration and a system wide integrated approach are vital in order to effect change that is sustainable in the long term."

Professor Paul Teng, one of Asia's leading food security experts supports the Rice Bowl Index in A White Paper he said  "It is easy to fall into the trap of inaction due to the complexities in dealing with food security. What is most challenging is how to translate the complexity of food security into an opportunity for action. The Rice Bowl Index is one platform which supports an effort and commitment to doing so," said Professor Teng.

The news release can be seen at http://www.syngenta.com/global/corporate/en/news-center/news-releases/Pages/120530.aspx.

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The Inner Mongolia Association for Science and Technology, Chinese Society of Biotechnology, and the China Biotechnology Information Center organized a GMO and Biosafety Workshop during the 2012 Inner Mongolia S&T Month on May 16, 2012 in Hohhot, Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, China. Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region is the home of China's ethnic minority.  It is an important agriculture and grazing area characterized by arid and semi-arid climate. Biotechnology has been identified as a potential technology to improve its agricultural sector.

During the workshop, Prof. Zhang Chunyi, Vice Director of Biotechnology Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, made a presentation on "Agri-biotechnology: Challenge and Opportunity for Agricultural Development". Professor Zhou Huanmin from Inner Mongolia Agricultural University introduced the progress of transgenic animal studies (e.g. cloned sheep). Ms.Zhang Tian from China Biotechnology Information Center (BIC) discussed science communication as a driving force in agri-biotechnology development.

Around 300 representatives from universities, public and private sectors of Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region attended the workshop.

See the news at http://www.nmgzkj.com/shtml/?id=5582. For news on agri biotechnology in China, contact Zhang Tian of China BIC at zhangt@mail.las.ac.cn.

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Delivering a 19th Dr. B.P. Pal Memorial Lecture on "Research Priorities for Application of GM Technology to Indian Agriculture", Prof. G. Padmanaban said  the embargo on Bt brinjal a great disservice to the country in terms of turning away researchers from the field of biotechnology. He further cautioned that even industry is reluctant to invest in transgenic crop research due to prevailing political and regulatory uncertainty on crop biotech in the country. "It is suicidal for a country to deny itself a technology option," he added.

The lecture was presided by Dr. P.L. Gautam, Chairperson of the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers' Rights Authority (PPVFRA) of India. Elaborating on the potential applications of transgenic technology to agriculture as multi-faceted and fascinating, he said that it is unfortunate that controversies, often based on wrong or exaggerated interpretations of scientific facts, have threatened the exploitation of this technology in India. It is not as if transgenic or GM technology will be a stand-alone strategy, but it can easily blend with traditional and alternate approaches to provide a holistic solution. None of the technologies are mutually exclusive and it will be a folly to deny this country of a technology option, he said.

"The debate for and against GM technology has raged all over the world and people have taken extreme positions one way or the other and it appears to me that this is not an issue that can be settled through arguments, he said. "Ultimately it has to be a political decision, based on a clear perception of its utility and a careful risk-benefit analysis and not be guided by populistic movements. One hopes that overwhelming scientific data and success on the field would eventually lead to realistic decisions being taken on the application of GM technology, which is highly relevant to improve agricultural productivity in India."

A full copy of 19 Dr. B.P. Pal Memorial Lecture " Research Priorities for Application of GM Technology to Indian Agriculture" is available on IARI website at http://iari.res.in/files/Dr-BP-Pal-Memorial-Lecture-26-05-2012.pdf.

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A seminar on modern biotechnology was held in Naga City, Philippines, on May 28, 2012. The seminar, organized by the Biotech Coalition of the Philippines, together with the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), and Department of Agriculture, was participated by educators, farmer organizations' leaders, and media practioners.

The goal of the activity was to promote the safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology, to help the country attain its development goals of food security, poverty alleviation, improved health care, sustainable development, and environment protection.

Dr. Antonio Alfonso, PhilRice scientist and head of the Golden Rice Project, was one of the speakers in the seminar. He discussed the potential of the vitamin A enriched rice variety known as Golden Rice to solve the malnutrition problem of the country.

Read the complete article at http://www.pia.gov.ph/news/index.php?article=861338368382. For more news about biotechnology in the Philippines, send an email to bic@agri.searca.org..

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Europe

While the observation that plants follow the sun has been recorded since the 15th Century, how this was scientifically achieved and why this occurred remained a mystery for years. But a team of European scientists may have solved the mystery and they say that the answer lies in a class of plant hormone called auxin. Scientists from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VIB) and University of Ghent in Belgium have identified that auxin is stored at specific sites in the plant.

The scientists led by Elke Barbez, with supervision from Jürgen Kleine from VIB and Jirí Friml, also from VIB and the University of Ghent, found out that auxin transport within the plant plays a vital and complex role. Auxin is produced in the growing sections of the plant before it is sent to other parts where it is needed, including the stem. For the plant to best absorb sunlight, the stem needs to straighten out as soon as possible. More auxin is then delivered to the underside of the stem than to the topside, resulting with the underside growing faster and the stem straightening out. If auxin transport is regulated, plants are able to take full advantage of local and changing conditions.

The researchers said that their findings will benefit agricultural scientists and farmers. They added that increasing auxin levels at the right moment in the right place would result in better growth and increased yields.

Read more about this research at http://phys.org/news/2012-05-sun_1.html. The Nature article is available at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v485/n7396/full/nature11001.html.

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A demonstration against the field trial of GM wheat by the organizers Take the Flour Back was prevented by the Harpenden, Hertfordshire, police last May 27. The GM wheat trial is being conducted by the scientists at Rothamsted Research Institute to determine the transgenes efficacy in controlling aphids.

The large cereal aphid Sitobion avenae has been wreaking havoc in conventionally grown wheat in the UK and can only be treated with broadband insecticides that are expensive, can cause the development of pesticide resistant colonies and affects non-target organisms. The aphids suck the plant juice and can also transmit viruses hence compounding the problem. GM wheat contains the gene for (E)-ß-farnesene which repels the aphids when they come in contact. Its natural enemy the Lady bug is attracted to the substance, thus the aphids become a defenseless prey.

The critics were concerned about allergenicity claims and cross-pollination of the transgenic wheat plants These issues were quickly countered by the pro-scientific lobby group, Sense About Science, to be not possible. No record of allergenicity has been recorded in the literature and wheat is a self-pollinating crop and cross pollination is miniscule.

In another news article, Mark Lynas, a member of the said pro-science group who once protested about GM trials commented that: "I think today is a turning point. Today is the first day that people have turned out to defend the scientific method and defend the age of reason from the ideologically bonkers wing of the environmental movement."

The original news in Dutch can be seen at http://www.biosicherheit.de/aktuell/1418.debatte-gentechnisch-veraenderter-weizen-grossbritannien.html. A related news article can be found at http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2012/0528/1224316805992.html.

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Leaf pigments that are not associated with photosynthesis may better be eliminated from the system so that plants can produce more food. This is the conclusion of the paper published by the researchers from Wageningen University in the journal Plant Cell.

An experiment on the effectiveness of photosynthesis under different lighting conditions was conducted at the University greenhouse.  Results showed that plants can adapt to the color of light in their place of habitat for efficient photosynthesis. Specific color combinations of light increases photosynthesis more than in the presence of single light color.

The researchers also found that leaf pigments that are not directly involved in photosynthesis are considered as "waste" light as these colors absorb the light but are not used for photosynthesis. These findings can be applied in the development of crops to produce more food by reducing wasteful colored light present in greenhouses.

The article can be found in Dutch at http://www.wur.nl/NL/nieuwsagenda/nieuws/PPSG_pigmenten_.htm

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Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts announced the £250 funding to support various researchers that will make UK's bioscience research base globally competitive and responsive to the grand challenges society will be facing in the coming decades.

Commenting on the funding, the minister said that "This £250 million investment from Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for the first phase of major five year research programmes will sustain excellent science at some of the UK's leading institutes and universities. This will drive growth, support highly skilled jobs and keep the UK at the very forefront of bioscience, with benefits ranging from health care to energy and global food security."

Funds will be provided to the following projects as enumerated in the 26 Institute Strategic Programme:

  • Wheat pre-breeding programme at the John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research and University partners.
  • Investment in a vector-borne diseases programme at Institute for Animal Health
  • Funding for a programme in integrated gut health led by Institute of Food Research
  • Immunology programme at the Babraham Institute focused on lymphocyte homeostasis.

In addition, 14 strategic UK capabilities will be developed and maintained that include the following: ARK-Genomics at The Roslin Institute; long-term experiments at Rothamsted Research; the Genome Analysis Centre for advanced high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics; and BBSRC Crop Phenotyping Centre at Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University.

Details of the grant and the specific projects can be viewed at http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/policy/2012/120524-pr-minister-announces-250m-investment.aspx.

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Research

Army worms (Spodoptera frugiperda) are the first organisms that exhibited field-evolved resistance to Cry1F-expressing maize (Mycogen 2A517). On the other hand, ladybird beetle (Coleomegilla maculata) suppresses populations of maize pests by feeding on aphids, thrips, lepidopteran eggs and larvae, as well as plant tissues.

Cornell University scientist Anthony Shelton and colleagues evaluated the impact of Cry1F-expressing maize on a number of fitness parameters of ladybirds for two generations using army worm larvae as prey.

Results showed that the length of larval and pupal stages, adult weight, and fecundity of ladybirds had no significant difference if fed with resistant army worm larvae reared on Bt maize or control maize leaves. Bioassays also confirmed that the ladybirds were exposed to Bt protein. Based on these findings, the Bt protein did not affect the important fitness parameters of army worms' predator and that the protein was diluted when transferred to other trophic levels.

Read more information about the study at http://www.springerlink.com/content/g9v7254n85u84341/.

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Scientist Ju-Hong Zhang from Jilin University, China, and colleagues conducted a study to investigate if Bt cotton affects aphids (Aphis gossypii), a non-target organism. The team compared the life-table parameters of aphids for the first to 37th generations that fed on Bt cotton to those that fed on non-Bt cotton cultivars. To detect the transmission of Bt protein from Bt cotton to aphids' honeydew, the team used enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) method.

Results showed that the life-table parameters of the Bt cotton-fed aphids did not differ significantly from those that fed on non-Bt cotton from 1st to 37th generations. Based on the assay, Bt protein is present in the Bt cotton leaves, and the content varied at different growth stages. Traces of Bt protein were found in the Bt-fed aphids as well as in their honeydew.

The authors of the study concluded that even if there are traces of Bt protein found in the aphids, the protein still had no negative impact on aphids in short or long term.

Read the research article at http://www.academicjournals.org/ajb/PDF/pdf2012/22May/Zhang%20et%.20al.pdf.

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Plastids have been known to have tentacle-like prostrusions called stromules, which appear to connect each other. Based on a previous study conducted in 1997, these stromules transfer molecules within interplastic communication system. Scientists from the University of Guelph, Canada, reexamined this notion.

Martin Schattat and colleagues used a photoconvertible fluorescent protein (mEosFP) to test the transfer of proteins in differentially colored plastids. Transfer of proteins will be confirmed when intermediate colors are generated. The team developed Arabidopsis lines expressing plastid-targeted mEosFP. They observed that the stromules came into contact with each other for up to 50 minutes, but the plastids' colors remained the same. Based on these results, fluorescent proteins are not transferred between plastids.

It is concluded in the report that macromolecules are not exchanged between plastid networks.

Read the abstract at http://www.plantcell.org/content/24/4/1465.

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Beyond Crop Biotech

Scientists at Israel's Tikum Olam have developed a cannabis plant that does not leave people ‘stoned'. The new cannabis looks, smells, and even tastes the same but it does not induce the usual feelings associated with smoking marijuana that are brought by the substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The scientists at Tikun Olam, a research facility located in the northern Galilee region reduced the amount of THC in the plant and increased the effects of another substance called cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical that could be effective against diabetes and various psychological disorders, and possibly prevent the spread of cancer.

The new marijuana is being made available in limited amounts to some users. The Sheba Medical Center and Israel Cancer Association said that medical marijuana has been approved for use in about 6,000 Israelis suffering from various illnesses.

More details are available at http://phys.org/news/2012-05-israelis-cannabis-high.html.

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Bees play a valuable role as crop pollinators, contribute to biodiversity and provide hive products such as honey and royal jelly. With the current lowering of bee population, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently published a state-of –the-art scientific review of the risks posed by pesticides to honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees. The scientific experts looked in detail at four key areas, as suggested by the European Commission:

  • the acute and chronic effects of pesticides on bees, particularly colony survival and development
  • how to estimate the long-term effects of exposure to low concentrations
  • the need to take into account the cumulative and combined effects of different pesticides
  • existing test protocols and possible new protocols that take into account the exposure of bees to pesticides through nectar and pollen.

A dedicated and coordinated work programme related to bees in the areas of pesticides, animal and plant health, and genetically modified organisms are currently being developed by EFSA's scientific experts. The Authority is also carrying out a gap analysis for risk assessment and data collection and will identify areas for further research.

See the original article at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/120523a.htm

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Scientists at the University of York and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Australia have discovered a complex gene cluster leading to the synthesis of the medicinal compound noscapine. Noscapine, a compound usually derived from the family of plants Papaveraceae like poppy is currently used as a suppresant in cough mixtures for decades and it has been claimed recently to have anti-cancer activity. It was one of the first natural products to be chemically characterized almost 200 years ago but the pathway for production and the genes involved in its synthesis was identified only recently.

Ian Graham, director of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York said that the discovery will enable them to produce an outline of the pathway and define a number of processes involved which usually takes years. Tim Browser, head of R&D for GSK Australia's Opiates Division said that the discovery is a breakthrough for faster and easier plant breeding given the fact that the genes are grouped in a cluster and this will be used to develop high yielding commercial noscapine poppies in order to establish a reliable route of supply.

Read the original article at http://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2012/research/poppies/

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Announcements

Through funding support from the Government of Indonesia, BIOTROP has lined up five subsidized national training courses for 2012 to be conducted at the Center's headquarter in Bogor, Indonesia. The training courses and dates of implementation are as follows:

1. Agro-Industrial Wastes Utilization (9-13 July)

2. Cloning, Sequencing and Analysis of Specific Genomic Target Region Using Bioinformatics (1-4 September)

3. Mapping of Benthic and Geomorphological Habitats of Shallow Waters (16-21 September)

4. Managing Stored Product Pests through Good Fumigation Practices (16-21 September)

5. Utilization of Low-Cost and Locally Available Materials for Good Quality Fish Feed Manufacturing (16-19 October)

Fellowships are available to at least 15 participants per training course, who will meet the following minimum qualification requirements: at least a BS degree holder; currently holding a regular appointment in his/her organization; has at least 2 years of working experience or is currently involved in the subject matter of the training to be attended; preferably not more than 45 years old.

For details about the fellowship, visit http://www.biotrop.org. For information on biotechnology in Indonesia, contact Dewi Suryani at catleyavanda@gmail.com.

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Document Reminders

A book authored by eminent entomologists Drs. HC Sharma, MK Dhillon and KL Sehrawat critically looks at the comparative assessment of the "Environmental Safety of Biotech and Conventional IPM Technologies", to make informed decisions in pest management for sustainable crop production.

The content of the book covers a detail review of all the concerns raised on the potential of recombinant technologies that allowed a greater modification than is possible with conventional methods. This book is published by Studium Press LLC and will be highly useful to students, researchers, administrators, NGOs, and the industry all over the world.

For more information about "Environmental Safety of Biotech and Conventional IPM Technologies", contact Dr. Mukesh Dhillon of IARI at mukeshdhillon@rediffmail.com.