EDITION 138 20 MAY 2003

An Electronic Newsletter of Applied Plant Breeding Sponsored by FAO and Cornell University Clair H. Hershey, Editor





* Assessing the Impact of the Green Revolution, 1960 to 2000

* Proceedings of World Cowpea Conference III

* New 2003 Barley Breeding Report Available to Producers


* Wheat Gene Controlling Cold-Weather Requirement Cloned

* Improving Wheat for Drought and Salt Resistance

* Control of Tillering in Rice

* Rice Genome: A Recipe for Revolution?

* New Research Initiative on Drought Resistance in Rice

* Genetic Improvement of Bush and Climbing Beans

* New Romaine Lettuces Resist Dieback Disease

* Whitefly-Resistant Cassava Variety

* Researchers Get to the Root of Cassava's Cyanide-producing Abilities

* Global Warming Threatens Food Shortages in Developing Countries

* Revolutionary Crop Yields Top List of Key Agricultural Events During Last 50 Years

* Classical Plant Breeding is the Route to Food Security

* Genomics, Genetic Engineering, and Domestication of Crops

* US Has Decided to Challenge EU's Policy on GM Foods in WTO

* Why Are Most Europeans Opposed to GMOs? Factors Explaining Rejection in France and Europe

* EU to Draft GM-Conventional Crop Separation Guidelines Soon

* One-Size-Fits-All GM Regulation is Stifling Research

* Proposed Association for Genetic Resources


* Ecocrop - An Updated Version

* FAO-BioDeC Database

* Every Ag Biotech Product on the Market Now Listed

* User's Manual for the LCDMV Software For Fingerprinting and Genetic Diversity Studies



Plant Breeding News is an electronic forum for the exchange of information and ideas about applied plant breeding and related fields. It is published every four to six weeks throughout the year.

The newsletter is managed by the editor and an advisory group consisting of Elcio Guimaraes (, Margaret Smith (, and Anne Marie Thro ( The editor will advise subscribers approximately two weeks ahead of each edition, in order to set deadlines for contributions.

Subscribers are encouraged to take an active part in making the newsletter a useful communications tool. Contributions may be in such areas as: technical communications on key plant breeding issues; announcements of meetings, courses and electronic conferences; book announcements and reviews; web sites of special relevance to plant breeding; announcements of funding opportunities; requests to other readers for information and collaboration; and feature articles or discussion issues brought by subscribers.Suggestions on format and content are always welcome by the editor, at We would especially like to see a broad participation from developing country programs and from those working on species outside the major food crops.

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* 26 May - 7June 2003: West African Bioinformatics Training Course. Ibadan, Nigeria. Contact: Professor Olufunso Olorunsogo, West African Bioinformatics Training Course 2003, Department of Biochemistry, University of Ibadan, Ibadan-Nigeria Tel: +23 (42) 810 7858; Fax: +23 (42) 810 3043; Email:;

* 26 May -13June 2003: 8th Annual Summer Institute in Statistical Genetics. Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. Contact: Ms Debra Hibbard, Institute in Statistical Genetics Box 7566, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7566, USA; Tel: +1 (919) 515 1932; Fax: +1 (919) 515 7315; Email:;

* 26-30 May 2003: Introduction to Biosafety and Risk Assessment for the Environmental Release of GMOs: Theoretical Approach and Scientific Background. Trieste, Italy.

* 27-30 May 2003: 1st International Conference and workshop on Challenges Of Genetically Modified Food. Cairo Egypt. Contact: Dr. Mahmoud El Hamalawy, P.O. Box 5950 West Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt; Tel: +20 (10) 5678 123; Fax: +20 (2-6377 446; Email:;

* 28-31 May 2003: "From the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution" Congress will be held in Bologna, Italy. Speakers include Norman Borlaug, Ron Phillips and Ingo Potrykus.

* 5-8 June 2003: Transposition, Recombination and Application to Plant Genomics. Ames, Iowa, USA. Contact: Symposium Office, 3208 Molecular Biology Building, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011-3260, USA; Tel: +1 (515) 294 7978; Fax: +1 (515) 294 2244; Email:;

* 7-11 June 2003: World Seed Congress 2003. Bangalore India. Contact: Dr. Manmohan Attavar, Indo-American Hybrid Seeds (India) Pvt. Ltd., 17th Cross, 2nd 'A' Main, K.R. Road, Banashankri 2nd Stage, Bangalore - 560070, India; Tel: +91 (80) 6760 111; Fax: +91 (80) 6761 479; Email:;

* 9-12 June 2003: The 1st Central Asian Wheat Conference. Almaty, Kazkahstan. Contact: A. Morgounov, 1st CAWC, c/o CIMMYT P.O. Box 374, Almaty 480000, Kazakhstan; Tel: +7 (3272) 284947 or 285966; Fax: +7 (3272) 282551; Email:;

* 21-25 June 2003: 120th American Seed Trade Association Annual Convention. Nevada, USA. Contact: American Seed Trade Association, 225 Reinekers Ln, Suite 650, Alexandria, VA 22314-2875, USA; Tel: +1 (703) 837 8140; Fax: +1 (703) 837 9365;

* 23-25 June 2003: Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology, Sacramento, California, USA.

* 29 June 3 July 2003: Public Goods and Public Policy for Agricultural Biotechnology. Ravello, Italy.

* 6-10 July 2003: 11th International Rapeseed Congress. Copenhagen, Denmark Contact: Anette Palm, 11th International Rapeseed Congress, Palm International Conferences, Turnstrasse 11, 67706, Krickenbach, Germany; Tel: + 49 (0) 6307 401103; Fax: + 49 (0) 6307 401104; Email:;

* 6-11 July 2003: XVth International Plant Protection Congress. Beijing, China. Contact: WEN Liping, IPPC Secretariat, Institute of Plant Protection, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, #2 West Yuanmingyuan Road, Beijing 100094, China; Tel: +86 (10) 6281 5913; Fax: +86 (10) 6289 5451; Email:;

* 6-11 July 2003: XIX International Congress of Genetics. Melbourne, Australia.

Note: Travel grants available to Genetics Congress The International Genetics Federation of Australia and some Australian organizers are financing some travel grants for scientists from developing countries to enable them to attend the 19th International Congress of Genetics in Melbourne on July 6-11, 2003. The grants are being awarded on a competitive basis. For more information visit

* 8 July 2003: GM Foods - Latest Developments. Chipping Campden, UK. Contact: Training Department, Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, GL55 6LD, UK; Tel: +44 (0)1386 842104; Fax: +44 (0) 1386 842100; Email:;

* 13-18 July 2003: Institute in Statistical Genetics. Melbourne, Australia. Contact: Ms Debra Hibbard, Institute in Statistical Genetics, Box 7566, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7566, USA; Tel: +1 (919) 515 1932; Fax: +1 (919) 515 7315; Email:;

* 14-25 July 2003: PRA/PLA Workshop. Reading, UK. Contact: Pascal SANGINGA []

* 17-22 August 2003: Arnel R. Hallauer International Symposium on Plant Breeding Mexico City, Mexico.

* 25-29 August 2003: EUCARPIA XXI International Symposium: Classical vs. Molecular Breeding of Ornamentals. Freising-Weihenstephan (Germany) Info: Prof. Dr. Gert Forkmann, TU München, Zierpflanzenbau, Am Hochanger 4, 85350 Freising, Germany. Phone: (49)8161713416, Fax: (49)8161713886, email:

* 1-6 September 2003: Tenth International Wheat Genetics Symposium. Paestum, Italy Contact: Leader SAS, Corso Garibaldi, 148-84123 Salerno, Italy; Tel: +39 (089) 253170; Fax: +39 (089) 253238; Email:;

* 7-13 September 2003: Recent Advances in Plant Biotechnology. High Tatras, Slovakia Contact: Alena GajdosovInstitute of Plant Genetics and Biotechnology SAS, Akademicka 2, P.O.Box 39A, 950 07 Nitra, Slovak Republic Tel: +421/37 73 366 61 Fax: +421/37 73 366 60 Email:

* 17-18 September 2003: Seedbanks: Determination, Dynamics & Management. Reading, UK. Contact: Carol Millman, Association of Applied Biologists, Horticultural Research International, Wellesbourne, Warwick, CV35 9EF, UK; Tel: +44 (0)1789 470382; Fax: +44 (0)1789 470234; Email:;

* 21-26 September 2003: Global Aspects of Technology Transfer: Biotechnology. Big Sky, MT, USA. Contact: Gordon Research Conferences, 3071 Route 138, Kingston, RI 02881, USA; Tel: +1 (401) 783 4011; Fax: +1 (401) 783 7644; Email:;

* 22-24 September 2003: XXX CIOSTA CIGR V, Management and Technology Applications to Empower Agriculture and Agro-Food Systems. Turin, Italy. Contact: DEIAFA Sez. Meccanica Agraria Facoltà di Agraria, Università di Torino via L. da Vinci, 44 10095,Grugliasco (TO), Italy; Fax: +39 (011) 670 8591; Email:;

* 26 Sept.-1 Oct. 2004:The 4th International Crop Science Congress (4ICSC), "New Directions for a Diverse Planet," Queensland, Australia. To join the Congress e-newsletter for updates and announcements, visit:

* 7-10 October 2003: ITAFE'03 - International Congress on Information Technology in Agriculture, Food and Environment. Izmir, TURKEY. First announcement and call for papers. Email : or

* 12-17 October 2003,6th African Crop Science Conference, Nairobi, Kenya. Submit abstracts to Organizing Committee Chairperson Prof. Agnes Mwang'ombe.

* (NEW) 19-21 October 2003: Fourth INGENIC international Workshop Cocoa Breeding for Improved Production Systems, Accra, Ghana (See detailed description at the end of this section).

* 22-25 October 2003: First International Conference on Saffron Biology and Biotechnology. Albacete, Spain. Contact: Dr. Lourdes Gomez-Gomez, IDR-Biotechnology, Campus Universitario s/n, E-02071 Albacete, Spain; Tel: +1 (34) 9675 99200 ext. 2612; Fax: +1 (34) 9675 99309; Email:;

* 22-26 October 2003: Plant Genetics 2003: Mechanisms of Genetic Variation. Utah, USA. Contact: American Society of Plant Biologists, 15501 Monona Drive, Rockville, MD 20855-2768 USA; Tel: +1 (301) 251 0560; Fax: +1 (301) 279 2996; Email:;

* 2-6 November 2003: Annual Meetings, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America. Denver, USA. Contact: ASA-CSSA-SSSA, 677 S. Segoe Rd., Madison WI 53711, USA; Tel: +1 (608) 273 8080; Fax: +1 (608) 273 2021;

* 17-28 November 2003, New Delhi, India. "Genomics and crop improvement". Training course organised by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. See or contact for more information.

* 9-13 December 2003: Statistical Genetics Workshop, Institute in Statistical Genetics. Dublin, Ireland. Contact: Ms Debra Hibbard, Institute in Statistical Genetics Box 7566, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7566, USA; Tel: +1 (919) 515 1932; Fax: +1 (919) 515 7315; Email:;

* 10-12 December 2003: ASTA's 33rd Soybean Seed & 58th Corn & Sorghum Seed Conference. Illinois, USA. Contact: American Seed Trade Association, 225 Reinekers Lane, Suite 650, Alexandria, VA 22314-2875, USA; Tel: +1 (703) 837 8140; Fax: +1 (837) 9365;



Fourth INGENIC international Workshop, 19-21 October 2003, Accra, Ghana

Cocoa production is considered to be of low efficiency, with average productivity of about 400 kg per ha. Low yields can be ascribed to disease and pest damage as well as to deficient growing conditions and management. Low yielding varieties may be so because of low yield efficiency (pod yield versus total dry weight production) or because of bad adaptation to the environment. Cocoa varieties may even produce low yields under highly favorable growing conditions, which is an apparent contradiction. Cocoa breeding may have over-emphasised the vegetative vigour of new varieties which is important for rapid establishment of new plantings but which could be a disadvantage for adult plantings, due to strong inter-plant competition.

The objective of the fourth INGENIC Workshop is to analyse the possible contribution of genetic variation within T. cacao to improve efficiency of the cocoa tree and of cocoa production systems in different environments.

The following topics have been selected (not exhaustive): • How to develop more efficient cocoa trees that are well adapted to their environment? • Analyses of GxE interactions (sites, planting density, shade conditions, production systems, pruning, soil, rootstocks), • Analyses of physiological traits related to yield efficiency (light interception, yield/vigour ratio), • Selection for small trees and compact canopy shape, • Development of 'dwarfing' rootstocks aiming at smaller and more efficient plants, • Results on individual tree selection for new clones and on selection of new clones as parents for hybrid varieties, • The possible role of self-compatibility on pollination efficiency and yield, and • Any other discussion topics or suggestions on the type of planting materials that are required to improve cocoa growing systems.

Interested persons are invited to present papers at the workshop with regard to the above topics. These may include research papers, reviews (on specific topics or institutional/national reviews), discussion papers and any proposals or ideas for new activities on these subjects. INGENIC will try to get support for inviting lead speakers that will introduce certain topics or present general reviews on advances made. A tentative programme for the workshop will be send around in September 2003.

Besides the INGENIC workshop, a discussion day on cocoa genomics research is planned for Sunday 19 October. The objective is to follow up on the discussions co-organised by INGENIC and USDA in Miami in January 2002, aiming to further explore possibilities of collaborative activities in this new area of research. You will receive separate information from the organizers of that discussion day.

At the same time as the INGENIC workshop, INCOPED is also organizing a workshop on cocoa pests and diseases. INGENIC and INCOPED plan to have a joint opening session and cocktail on the evening of Sunday 19 October.

Papers: Abstracts of papers should be send to the INGENIC Secretariat before 31 July 2003 and full papers need to be presented at the Workshop Date & venue: Workshop: 19 to 21 October 2003 in Accra, Ghana (following the 14th. International Cocoa Research Conference). Cocoa genomics discussion session : 19 October (same place as the workshop) Registration fee Payment of the registration fee (100 US$), including lunches during the workshop and proceedings, is to be done in cash or with personal cheques at the workshop registration desk on 19 October Contacts: Chairman of the National Organising Committee : Dr.Yaw Adu-Ampomah , CRIG, c/o Private Mail Bag, International Airport, Accra, Ghana. E-mail: Secretariat of INGENIC : Dr. Michelle End, c/o BCCCA, Bedford Row, London, WC1R4JH, UK. Tel: (44)2076110148, E-mail:



Assessing the Impact of the Green Revolution, 1960 to 2000

- R. E. Evenson and D. Gollin, Science, v.300, no.5620, May 2, 2003, pp.758-762.

We summarize the findings of a recently completed study of the productivity impacts of international crop genetic improvement research in developing countries. Over the period 1960 to 2000, international agricultural research centers, in collaboration with national research programs, contributed to the development of "modern varieties" for many crops. These varieties have contributed to large increases in crop production. Productivity gains, however, have been uneven across crops and regions. Consumers generally benefited from declines in food prices. Farmers benefited only where cost reductions exceeded price reductions.

Summary: Evaluating International Research - The comprehensive picture that emerges from the SPIA study supports a nuanced view of internationally funded agricultural research. On the positive side, it is clear that productivity growth associated with MVs had important consequences. Increased food production has contributed to lower food prices globally. Average caloric intake has risen as a result of lower food prices--with corresponding gains in health and life expectancy.

Critics of further investment in research have noted that grain prices are at or near historic lows, and they question the need for further improvements in technology. They have also raised concerns about the sustainability of intensive cultivation--e.g., the environmental consequences of soil degradation, chemical pollution, aquifer depletion, and soil salinity--and about differential socioeconomic impacts of new technologies (18?21). These are valid criticisms. But it is unclear what alternative scenario would have allowed developing countries to meet, with lower environmental impact, the human needs posed by the massive population expansion of the 20th century. Nor is it true that chemical intensive technologies were thrust upon the farmers of the developing world. Both IARC and NARS breeding programs attempted to develop MVs that were less dependent on purchased inputs, and considerable effort has been devoted to research on farming systems, agronomic practices, integrated pest management, and other "environment-friendly" technologies. But ultimately it is farmers who choose which technologies to adopt, and many farmers in developing countries--like those in developed countries--have found it profitable to use MVs with high responsiveness to chemical fertilizers.

The end result, as shown in Table 2, is that virtually all consumers in the world have benefited from lower food prices. Many farm families also benefited from research-driven productivity gains--most clearly those whose productivity rose more than prices fell, but also those who produce much of their own food. But some farmers and farm workers experienced real losses from the Green Revolution. Those who did not receive the productivity gains of the Green Revolution (largely because they were located in less favorable agroecological zones), but who nonetheless experienced price declines, have suffered actual losses of income. The challenge for the coming decades is to find ways to reach these farmers with improved technologies; for many, future green revolutions hold out the best, and perhaps the only, hope for an escape from poverty.

Yet the prospects for continued green revolutions are mixed. On the one hand, the research pipeline for the plant sciences is full. Basic science has generated enormous advances in our understanding of plant growth and morphology, stress tolerance, pathogen resistance, and many other fields of science. This understanding should lead in due course to improvements in agricultural technologies. But on the other hand, IARCs and NARS are faced with numerous challenges to their survival. The budgets of many IARCs, not to mention many of their national program counterparts, have declined sharply in real terms over the past decade. The funding crunch reflects a number of factors. Development agencies, faced with public suspicions of new agricultural technologies, and perhaps eager to find shortcuts to development, have tended to shift funding away from agricultural research and toward other priorities. Moreover, life science biotechnology firms have been eager to claim that private sector research will take over the functions formerly occupied by public sector agricultural research.

But if the past offers guidance for the future, a strong public sector role will continue to be needed. In most crops and most regions of the developing world, private sector agricultural research is not likely to generate large impacts on production or social welfare. Continued green revolutions will depend on strong programs of national and international public sector research. The welfare of farmers and farm workers not reached by the Green Revolution ultimately depends on extending the Green Revolution beyond present boundaries. The IARCs will have an important role to play in generating and sustaining future advances in agricultural technology for the developing world.

See full paper at

From AgBioView 9 May 2003


Proceedings of World Cowpea Conference III now available online


New 2003 Barley Breeding Report Available to Producers Calgary, Alberta April 23, 2003 A new report on barley breeding in Western Canada offers producers and others an up-close look at the latest progress, trends and issues shaping the future of the crop.The 2003 Barley Breeding Report, "Portfolio for Progress," was produced by Meristem Information Resources Ltd., an independent, Calgary-based communications company, in partnership with Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF), a major research funding organization for farmers in Western Canada. It is produced for a broad range of barley stakeholders, including everyone from farmers and industry to consumers and the general public.

The report provides a simple overview of the world of barley breeding, including a look at barley breeding in the big picture, highlights of breeding progress and class-by-class updates on new barley varieties. It also features a short course on how Western Canada develops barley varieties. "What happens in barley breeding today will play a major role in the future of barley in Western Canada," says Lorence Peterson, Executive Director of WGRF. "For farmers, this has implications for everything from their investment in barley research through check offs, to the performance and market competitiveness of their crop in the years ahead. Understanding the fundamentals of barley breeding can help producers make decisions on their role in barley research and gain valuable perspective on where the crop is headed."

The growing role of farmers in research is a major trend covered in the report. Since the 1993/94 crop year, barley growers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan have generated approximately $600,000 annually for investment in barley breeding programs through the Barley Check-off Fund administered by WGRF. Since 1991, a separate provincial check off in Alberta, administered by Alberta Barley Commission, has collected up to $1.2 million annually, with roughly one quarter targeted for allocation to barley breeding. These check offs are part of a worldwide trend to farmer-funded crops research.

The 2003 Barley Breeding Report is a complementary publication to the 2003 Wheat Breeding Report. Both are supported as part of a broader effort by WGRF to keep producer investors informed of changes in their industry, and to help them best prepare for future trends and issues. The report was produced with the assistance of technical reviewers with broad involvement in barley breeding.The full 2003 Barley Breeding Report is available on the Meristem Land and Science Web site, - a resource for science-based information. The report can also be accessed through the Western Grains Research Foundation Web site,, which includes a broad range of regularly updated barley breeding information. Producers can request a printed copy of the report from the Foundation office by phone: (306) 975-0060, fax: (306) 975-0316, or email:

Meristem Land and Science features progress and perspective from the best minds in science. It is presented in co-operation with partners in agriculture, food, environment and life sciences. News release




Wheat Gene Controlling Cold-Weather Requirement Cloned

The gene that controls "vernalization," the biological process that requires cold temperatures to trigger flower formation in some plants, has been isolated and cloned in wheat for the first time by a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis.

"We are hopeful that this discovery, combined with existing biotechnological methods, will facilitate better manipulation of flowering time in wheat," said the team's lead researcher, Jorge Dubcovsky, a professor and wheat breeder in UC Davis' agronomy and range science department. "It also should open the way to a better understanding of the complex network of genes responsible for determining flowering time in temperate cereal crops."

Some plants, including certain wheat varieties, will not flower until they have been exposed to a certain period of cold temperatures. For example, winter wheat requires several weeks at low temperature, usually in the range of 40-50 degrees F, in order to flower and eventually produce grain. It is thought that the plants evolved this vernalization mechanism to prevent the cold-sensitive flowering parts of the plants from developing during winter when they might be damaged by extremely cold winter temperatures.

Previously, the VRN1 gene was known to largely control the vernalization process in wheat, but researchers didn't know a lot about it, other than its general location on three wheat chromosomes. To better identify the gene, Dubcovsky and colleagues used thousands of plants to develop detailed genetic and physical maps for the VRN1 region in wheat and for the same region in rice and sorghum. By comparing the maps, the researchers determined that the AP1 gene, which belongs to a family of genes known to be important to the regulation of flower development, is the VRN1 gene that regulates vernalization.

Funding for the study was provided by a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Research Initiative Grant and by the National Science Foundation.

Contributed by:

Jorge Dubcovsky Associate Professor Department of Agronomy & Range Science One Shields Avenue, University of California Davis, CA 95616, USA Phone: (530) 752-5159 Fax: (530) 752-4361


Improving Wheat for Drought and Salt Resistance

STILLWATER, Okla. - A new strategy to genetically engineer wheat to make it more resistant to drought and salt while improving yields is being reported by molecular biologists at Oklahoma State University.

"The technique, which involves adding genes to synthesize a naturally occurring sugar alcohol called mannitol, should help satisfy critics of genetically modified foods because the gene occurs naturally in many food plants and is routinely used as an additive in many processed foods," said Arron Guenzi, OSU associate professor of genetics.

OSU biologists describe the new strategy to help wheat overcome two of the main causes of crop failure in the April issue of "Plant Physiology," a leading international journal of plant biology research.

"We have demonstrated that wheat engineered to accumulate this sugar in leaf tissues has significantly improved productivity under stress from water deficit or salinity," Guenzi said.

Guenzi is the director of a laboratory in the university's Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources where the stress-tolerant wheat has been under development since 1996, thanks to support from the Oklahoma Wheat Research Foundation and National Science Foundation.

The lead author is Tilahun Abebe, a Fulbright Scholar, who conducted the research as part of his Ph.D. degree program. Other members of the research team were Bjorn Martin and John Cushman, both OSU faculty members.

The OSU biologists improved stress tolerance by introducing into wheat a chimeric, or hybrid, gene derived from corn and two common bacteria.

"Our experiments to date were conducted under very controlled conditions and in containment facilities. We hope to test these materials under field conditions beginning in 2004. This, of course, will require approval from the federal government," Guenzi said.

If the materials perform well in the field, it will take at least a decade to incorporate the trait into varieties available to the farmer, said Guenzi.

"This should allow us plenty of time to ensure consumers, farmers, regulatory agencies, and trading partners are all comfortable with this technology prior to commercialization," he said.

Arron C. Guenzi Voice: (405) 744-5532 Oklahoma State University FAX: (405) 744-6039 Dep. Plant & Soil Sciences Email: 368 Agriculture Hall Web: Stillwater, OK 74078-6028 USA


Control of Tillering in Rice


*Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China ‡China National Rice Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Hangzhou 310006, Zhejiang, China §China Agricultural University, Beijing 100094, China Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 200032, China ¶National Center for Gene Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 200233, China †These authors contributed equally to this work Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to J.L. (e-mail: The GenBank accession number for MOC1 sequences is AY242058.

Tillering in rice (Oryza sativa L.) is an important agronomic trait for grain production, and also a model system for the study of branching in monocotyledonous plants. Rice tiller is a specialized grain-bearing branch that is formed on the unelongated basal internode and grows independently of the mother stem (culm) by means of its own adventitious roots. Rice tillering occurs in a two-stage process: the formation of an axillary bud at each leaf axil and its subsequent outgrowth. Although the morphology and histology and some mutants of rice tillering have been well described, the molecular mechanism of rice tillering remains to be elucidated. Here we report the isolation and characterization of MONOCULM 1 (MOC1), a gene that is important in the control of rice tillering. The moc1 mutant plants have only a main culm without any tillers owing to a defect in the formation of tiller buds. MOC1 encodes a putative GRAS family nuclear protein that is expressed mainly in the axillary buds and functions to initiate axillary buds and to promote their outgrowth.

Nature 422, 618 - 621 (2003)


Rice Genome: A Recipe for Revolution? David Cyranoski

Last year was a good one for rice genomics. Draft genome sequences of the two agriculturally important sub-species of rice indica and japonica were published in April. And in November, high quality sequences of two of japonica's chromosomes were unveiled.

In the wake of these achievements, expectations are high. But, as David Cyranoski reports, not much is known about the real potential benefits of the rice genome. And while the sequencing was conducted as an open, team effort, economic considerations may mean that rice functional genomics will become a rather less collaborative venture.

In particular, the goals of further research are likely to diverge with rich countries being interested in improving traits like taste and texture, and others wanting to produce higher-yielding or nutritionally superior varieties for the developing world. These different scientific cultures and approaches present a formidable obstacle.

Source: Nature 422, 796 (2003)

SciDevNet April 24, 2003


New Research Initiative on Drought Resistance in Rice

The University of Queensland (UQ) has been awarded over $1 million to assist research aimed at providing disadvantaged farmers in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand with drought-resistant rice varieties.

The Rockefeller Foundation provided the grant to Professor Shu Fukai and Adjunct Professor Ken Fischer from UQ's School of Land and Food Sciences to help fund their research. Their work is attempting to identify the physiological characters that provide drought tolerance for the rainfed rice systems in the Mekong region of Asia.

Professor Fukai said part of the research would be conducted through partnerships between UQ and the National Agricultural Research Systems in the region.

"We are aiming to find rice plants and varieties that will cope with drought," Professor Fukai said.

"Rice is the most important food source in the world with over two billion people relying on rice for their daily food supply.

"Cambodia, Laos and Thailand are countries that don't have irrigation water to grow rice so around 70 percent of their rice fields simply rely on rainfall."

In addition to identifying drought resistant traits the research will also complement other programs that aim to identify the genes responsible for this resistance.

Professor Fischer said rice was the first major cereal with a fully sequenced genome. He said the next step in using the genetic information would be to fully understand the function of the fully sequenced genes.

"Once the genes for drought tolerance are identified researchers can use molecular tools to improve the efficiency of developing rice plants by identifying the particular genes that make certain plants more resistant," he said.

Professor Fischer said the grant would help fund the use of biotechnology tools that match the responses of different rice varieties to their genetic makeup. The money will also support a research fellow based at UQ.

"The Rockefeller Foundation has supported an international program of rice biotechnology for over 17 years. It has assisted with the training of more than 400 scientists and has invested over $100 million in rice biotechnology," he said.

Professor Fischer said the UQ team had been conducting research over the past 10 years to understand the physiological basis of the response of rice to drought. He said they had begun looking at the varieties that performed better in dry conditions.

"By using the new biotechnology tools we can identify the prime performers and locate the genes that make certain plants more drought resistant than others," he said.

Professor Fukai said several former postgraduate students who had travelled from Cambodia, Laos and Thailand to study at UQ were still continuing with the project after returning to their home countries.

University of Queensland news release

Source: April 29, 2003


Project Update on "Genetic Improvement of Bush and Climbing Beans" by Robin Buruchara, CIAT, Uganda; Email: R. BURUCHARA@CGIAR.ORG

The objective and major outputs by of the Rockefeller Foundation funded project on "Increasing Food Security and Rural Incomes in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa through Genetic Improvement of Bush and Climbing Beans' are presented below. Project objectives 1. Define the composition and distribution of Pythium species causing root rots of common bean in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya 2. Develop standardized molecular markers for defining and characterizing the angular leaf spot pathogen, Phaeoisariopsis griseola 3. Characterize the nature and inheritance of angular leaf spot resistance in common bean and develop molecular markers for marker assisted selection breeding 4. Combine and pyramid angular leaf spot, Pythium root rot and Fusarium wilt resistance into bean varieties that are preferred in the region (market class beans). 5. Disseminate the results to scientists from participating countries and bean researchers through a series of workshops and student training.

Major Outputs: · Nineteen Pythium species, including known bean pathogens, putative new species and two potential biological control agents, were identified by sequencing the ITS1 and ITS2 regions of the ribosomal DNA of 130 isolates associated with common bean affected with Pythium root rot in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. · Seven locus-specific microsatellite derived markers that can distinguish the main pathogen groups (Andean and Mesoamerican) of Phaeoisariopsis griseola, the causal agent of angular leaf spot disease, and between the pathogen groups found in Africa from those found in Latin America were developed and are being validated before being widely used in pathogen characterization in Africa. · Several resistance genes against P. griseola, that are controlled by major genes that are either dominant or recessive; acting singly or duplicated, and which may interact in an additive manner, with or without epistasis were identified in 12 genotypes including Mex 54, an important source of resistance in Africa, which appears to have more (recessive and dominant) than one resistant gene. · RAPDs, SSR and AFLP markers linked to some of the angular leaf spot resistance genes were identified in promising parental lines (Mex 54, MAR 1, G 10474, G 1090) and SCARs for some of these markers have been developed and their utility for MAS is being evaluated. · Several populations were developed to transfer, combine and pyramid resistance to angular leaf spot, Pythium root rot, fusarium wilt into a number of locally adapted but susceptible commercial bush and climbing bean cultivars. · Two workshops/courses have been conducted to train project and bean networks partners on the use of biotechnological tools in bean improvement: firstly, on application of molecular techniques in pathogen characterization and secondly, in marker assisted selection where, markers developed for ALS resistance were successfully tested, potential for marker assisted selection breeding under different settings evaluated, and an inventory made of the potential of MAS in bean breeding in Africa, traits that are likely to benefit from MAS, genotypes for which markers are available and when and where markers have a comparative advantage in breeding.

Source: Biotechnology, Breeding and Seed Systems for African Crops


New Romaine Lettuces Resist Dieback Disease ARS News Service Agricultural Research Service, USDA Marcia Wood, (301) 504-1662, April 10, 2003

It's the crisp, crunchy romaine lettuce that makes a Caesar salad so appealing. Romaine lettuce is also perfect for adding to other mixed greens. And what better natural, edible utensil for scooping up a creamy dip than the small, firm inner leaves of this lettuce? But today's commercially grown romaine is vulnerable to what's known as lettuce dieback disease. The disorder, which can easily devastate entire fields of this popular lettuce, is caused by one or more soil-dwelling Tombusviridae viruses. These include lettuce necrotic stunt virus, and tomato bushy stunt virus. Lettuce dieback disease doesn't afflict crisphead--also known as iceberg--lettuce or certain leaf lettuces. Two Agricultural Research Service plant geneticists have now bred what are apparently the first parent romaine lettuces that are resistant to these pernicious plant viruses. Edward J. Ryder and colleague Rebecca C. Grube developed the three novel lettuces, known as 01-778M, 01-781M and 01-789M, at the agency's U.S. Agricultural Research Station in Salinas, California. These lettuces result from about three years of research and testing in both infested and disease-free fields at Salinas and two other coastal California sites. The scientists noted that the lettuces have not yet been tested in other regions of California or Arizona where romaine lettuce is grown. Small supplies of the seeds of the new lettuces are available to plant researchers and breeders. Ryder and Grube will discuss their research with visitors at the research station's daylong Open House. Other Salinas scientists from ARS, the University of California at Davis, and the Artichoke Research Association also will describe their experiments for the guests.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research Agency



Whitefly-Resistant Cassava Variety A cassava variety resistant to one species of whitefly, apparently the first variety of any food crop with resistance to this pest, will be released this month by the Colombian Corporation for Agriculture Research (CORPOICA, it's Spanish acronym). Named 'Nataima-31', the variety is based on a cross made at CIAT between a clone from Ecuador and another from Brazil. The variety's resistance to the whitefly species Aleurotrachelus socialis Bondar will enable cassava growers in northern South America, where this species is a major pest, to lower pesticide applications. In the tropics a total of 43 whitefly species have been reported, damaging a wide range of food and cash crops through direct feeding or transmission of viruses. For more information, see the following Web site:


Researchers Get to the Root of Cassava's Cyanide-producing Abilities Cassava is the third-most important food source in tropical countries, but it has one major problem: The roots and leaves of poorly processed cassava plants contain a substance that, when eaten, can trigger the production of cyanide. That's a serious problem for the 500 million people who rely on cassava as their main source of calories, among them subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Rockefeller Foundation, Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, Cassava Biotechnology Network

Contact: Richard Sayre



Global Warming Threatens Food Shortages in Developing Countries - Researchers predict possible 10% or greater drop in maize production Washington, DC

In a report published in Global Environmental Change, researchers forecast potential annual losses of up to 10 million tons of maize due to climate change caused by global warming. The losses could eventually affect 140 million people in developing countries.Maize, known as corn in the U.S. and Canada, is essential to the diets of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Nearly 50% of the world's maize supply is produced in the developing world, where it serves as both a staple food for people and as livestock feed. Researchers at two Future Harvest Centers of the CGIAR - the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia, and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya - used a computer-modeling program called MarkSim to make the projection. MarkSim simulates weather conditions at different locations based on data from thousands of weather stations worldwide. "The decline in production will not be across the board or evenly spread, however," says economist Philip Thornton of ILRI. "Our simulations suggest that rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns will vary widely from one agro-ecosystem to another." "In some areas the fall in maize yields could be even greater than 10 percent, effectively threatening the food security of poor households, and putting some farmers' fields entirely out of production," says Peter Jones, geographer with CIAT and one of the authors of the report.

Improved Agriculture is the Answer Much of the harm predicted by MarkSim, Thornton notes, can be avoided by focusing on research to adapt agriculture to climate change. Scientists working in southern and eastern Africa, he notes, have already developed drought-tolerant maize plants that produce 20- to 35-percent more grain than contemporary varieties. "A ton-per-hectare yield loss when farmers are producing just 1.5 tons of maize would be disastrous," said Masa Iwanaga, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), a Future Harvest Center of the CGIAR, "but these consequences can probably be avoided if we step up research." The challenge, admits Iwanaga, is to find ways to get the new varieties of maize to the farmers throughout the world who could lose their livelihoods if the projections by the MarkSim model come to pass. "It can take up to 10 years for a new crop variety to reach all of the farmers who want to use it. Climate change doesn't give us that kind of time to respond," said Iwanaga. More than 50 development agencies are now accelerating the testing and distribution of drought-resistant plant types in an effort to speed delivery to needy farmers."Our ultimate objective is to arm the poorest and most vulnerable members of society with coping strategies geared to their locations," said Jones. "If we can provide quality information on local climate effects and encourage policymakers to act on this information, farmers will likely suffer less from crop losses due to climate change."

The Future Harvest Foundation promotes integrated policy and science based solutions to eradicate hunger, improve livelihoods and ensure sustainability of the world's critical biodiversity and natural resources. Future Harvest is an initiative of 16 food and environmental research centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is a strategic alliance of 62 members, four cosponsors, 12 international organizations, 16 Future Harvest Centers, and many hundreds of civil society organizations. The CGIAR alliance mobilizes cutting-edge agricultural science to create agricultural growth, improve food security, human nutrition, and health, and protect the environment. The knowledge generated by the CGIAR is made freely available to all.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is a not-for-profit organization that conducts socially and environmentally progressive research aimed at relieving hunger and poverty and preserving natural resources in developing countries. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) works in partnerships to improve the well-being of people in developing countries by enhancing the diverse and essential contributions livestock make to smallholder farming. Two-thirds of the world's domestic animals are kept in developing countries, where over 90% are owned by rural smallholders. ILRI research products are helping to solve the severe problems that hold back animal agriculture, sustainable food production and economic development in the tropics.

CIMMYT is the world's leading maize and wheat research center and employs more than 100 scientific staff from over 40 different nations. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT scientists work in more than 100 countries and with thousands of scientists and farmers worldwide. CIMMYT is a Future Harvest Center and receives funding from public and private foundations as well as more than 58 countries, with the majority of funds administered through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)

The Future Harvest Foundation news release



Revolutionary Crop Yields Top List of Key Agricultural Events During Last 50 Years

Washington, D.C. The most important change in agriculture in the past 50 years, say members of North American Agricultural Journalists, was the hybridization and improvement of many crops.

A list of 40 important events and changes in agriculture was prepared for NAAJ by three leading agricultural historians: R. Douglas Hurt of Iowa State University, C. Fred Williams of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and David Vaught of Texas A&M University. NAAJ members then voted on the top 10 developments in agriculture during the past 50 years. The results were released Sunday at the 50th anniversary meeting of NAAJ in Washington, D.C.

Hybridization is the process of inbreeding plants, then crossing their offspring to create stronger, higher yielding varieties. Hybrid corn was developed long before NAAJ was formed in 1953. Plant scientists were experimenting with it at the turn of the 20th century, and hybrid corn began to be sold commercially in the 1920s, noted Dan Looker, Successful Farming magazine writer and project organizer.

"But during the past 50 years, the combination of hybrid crops, cheap farm chemicals derived from fossil fuels, and mechanization has created a technological revolution in agriculture that has helped feed billions of people on the planet," he said.

When NAAJ founded 50 years ago, the average corn yield in the United States was 40.7 bushels per acre. Last year, even after a severe drought in many states, hybrid corn helped U.S. farmers harvest an average of 130 bushels an acre, Looker said. "Hybridization accounts for about half of that huge increase in yields as well as corn's improved ability to withstand drought," he said.

Here are the events and developments of the past 50 years that agricultural journalists picked, in order of importance:

1. Hybridization and other improvements of crops.

2. Genetically modified crops that have been engineered to kill insect pests and tolerate herbicides. Most U.S. farmers adopted this technology in less than a decade, starting in the 1990s. Some consumer groups, especially in Europe, oppose modifying crops through genetic engineering.

3. The discovery of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the chemical building block of heredity, by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. These researchers discovered the ladder-like double helix structure of DNA, helping to start the biotechnology revolution now underway.

4. Norman Borlaug's "Green Revolution." Plant breeder Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and now teaches at Texas A&M, developed high yielding dwarf wheat varieties that helped turn Third World countries such as India into food exporters. The wheat varieties were introduced into India and Pakistan in 1965. Borlaug's work helped prevent starvation and malnutrition across the globe.

5. The agricultural debt crisis of the 1980s, which started when the Federal Reserve Bank encouraged higher interest rates to slow inflation. This forced many full-time family farms out of business, created rural bank failures and crippled small towns.

6. The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring." Carson, a nature writer and former marine biologist, documented how the insecticide DDT accumulates in the environment and harms mammals and birds. Her book helped start the environmental movement.

7. The use of antibiotics for livestock and poultry, approved by the Food and Drug Administration nearly 50 years ago. Adding antibiotics to the feed of hogs and chickens not only prevents diseases, it makes the animals grow faster. And it makes it easier to confine them in large buildings with fewer disease outbreaks. Medical research has also identified overuse of antibiotics in livestock production as one reason antibiotics are becoming less effective medicines for humans.

8. Tie. NAAJ members gave equal votes to two developments: the adoption of no-till farming, which avoids plowing and slows soil erosion, and the fact that the farm population dropped below 2 percent of U.S. population for the first time during the 1990s.

9. The adoption of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer, a cheap source of nitrogen fertilizer made by using natural gas. Until anhydrous ammonia was adopted in the 1950s, farmers relied on animal manure and leguminous plants such as clover to provide this key plant food. Without cheap nitrogen, the high yields of hybrid corn and dwarf wheat would not have been possible.

10. Integration of the poultry industry. Most farmers once owned a few chickens to raise for meat and eggs. In the 1960s, once chickens could be confined in large buildings thanks to antibiotics and abundant cheap corn, the ownership of chickens gradually concentrated with a few companies. Those companies pay farmers a fee for each bird they raise for the company. A similar process of vertical integration is taking place today in the hog industry.

NAAJ members identified several other key trends that weren't on the historians' lists. They include the increasing mechanization of agriculture in general. For example, mechanical tomato pickers (which were on the list but didn't make the top 10) became popular in the 1960s. The U.S. grain export boom of the 1970s that followed sales to the former Soviet Union in 1972, was another key event. So was elimination of rail freight subsidies for grain in Canada, which led to more exports of Canadian crops and livestock into the United States.

NAAJ was formed as Newspaper Farm Editors of America. Today the group represents about 100 newspaper, magazine and news service writers who cover agriculture in the United States and Canada.

- AgNews,Texas A&M Univ, April 3, 2003

Source: AgBioView 4 April 2003 ++++++++++

Classical Plant Breeding is the Route to Food Security

- Ann Marie Thro and Paul Zankowski Nature v. 422, p 559; April 10, 2003

Ann Marie Thro, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, US Department of Agriculture, Washington DC, and Paul Zankowski, Plant Variety Protection Office, Agricultural Marketing Service, US Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Maryland, write that in the unusual and perceptive News Feature "Crop improvement: a dying breed" (Nature 421, 568-570; 2003), on the importance of classical plant breeding, contains an error concerning intellectual property rights applied to plants.

The authors say that plant breeders' rights, called 'plant variety protection' in the United States, allow and defend the right of plant breeders to use protected varieties as parents in further breeding, contrary to the impression given in your feature. The patent system, not plant breeders' rights, prohibits the use of protected varieties as parents in further breeding. Moreover, utility patents on plants became important only after public plant breeding had already declined.

The authors go on to say that as pointed out in the News Feature, classical plant breeding is the only technology that is currently capable of delivering the secure harvests we require. This is because only plant breeding can manage many subtle traits at once, as needed to confront challenges of climate change, newly emerging pests and other uncertainties.

Public plant breeding is also a good investment. The rate of return to investment in public plant breeding is 35% for potatoes in the northwest United States, realized in reduced cost of production and improved food quality as well as in increased yield, according to A. A. Araji and S. Love (Am. J. Potato Res. 79, 411-420; 2002). These results are typical of studies in other crops.

Source: AgBioView 11 April 2003


Genomics, Genetic Engineering, and Domestication of Crops

- Steven H. Strauss, Science, Vol. 300, No. 5616, April 4, 2003, pp.61-62.

Genomic sequencing projects are rapidly revealing the content and organization of crop genomes. By isolating a gene from its background and deliberately modifying its expression, genetic engineering allows the impacts of all genes on their biochemical networks and organismal phenotypes to be discerned, regardless of their level of natural polymorphism. This greatly increases the ability to determine gene function and, thus, to identify new options for crop domestication. The organismal functions of the large majority of genes in genomic databases are unknown.

At the same time, however, government regulatory regimes are making field studies of genetically engineered (GE) plants needed to understand gene function in the context of normal plant development increasingly difficult. These regimes have been created largely because of biosafety issues raised by genes imported from distant species. However, they have been applied to asexually introduced genes whose source and effects resemble those of traditional breeding. This imposes large costs that impede the delivery of public benefits from genomics research.

The first wave of widely planted transgenic crops expressed traits that were encoded by exogenous (bacterial or viral), gain-of-function genes such as those for herbicide or pest resistance. Their action depended on the solitary effects of single proteins that were virtually independent of plant metabolism. By transferring functions between phylogenetically divergent organisms, these genes imparted traits that could not be readily obtained from traditional breeding. This created transgenic plants with very high agronomic and environmental value but also raised difficult questions because of their ecological and evolutionary novelty.

In contrast, genomics-guided transgenes (GGT) will increasingly be based on native or homologous genes from related species. Such genes will often modify metabolism in a manner similar to that of natural or induced mutations, but it should be possible to create desired phenotypes with greater precision and efficiency. Dominant alleles important to agricultural goals, but poorly represented in breeding populations because they are rare or deleterious to wild progenitors, can be created and inserted into varied kinds of germplasm. Traits that have already been genetically engineered in this manner include diverse modifications to plant reproduction, stature, and lipid and lignocellulose chemistry. The improvements achieved via GGTs should be comparable to or of greater value than those obtained via traditional breeding approaches that have achieved wide public acceptance, and have been free of calls for government regulation.

Field trials are important for identifying useful GGTs and provide several biosafety mechanisms. GGT modifications will generally be achieved by altering the function or expression of key regulatory molecules that influence plant development, including enzymes, transcription factors, and signal transducers. Organismal regulatory systems are expected to be under strong stabilizing selection due to natural selection and their high degree of internal complexity. Strong modifications to such systems are therefore likely to be deleterious to fitness in wild environments.

The limited scale of release from small field trials provides a large safety buffer for transgenes that produce deleterious, neutral, or even mildly beneficial changes in fitness. For a recombinant gene from a field trial to invade and therefore have a significant environmental consequence, it must overcome the huge numerical obstacle that is normally provided by extant wild and domesticated gene pools. Despite the great diversity of genes that can comprise GGTs, many of the modified traits are familiar, having a long history of domestication and consequent reduced fitness through artificial selection. Male sterility, seedless fruits, delayed spoilage, and dwarf stature are familiar examples.

GGTs that improve abiotic stress tolerance of crops, including tolerance of cold, heat, salt, and drought, would appear to pose a higher risk of spread in the environment than domestication traits. However, physiological considerations and breeding experience suggest this might not be the case. Alterations of regulatory genes that control pathways related to tolerance of abiotic stresses often have complex antagonistic effects on other dimensions of fitness. Natural adaptations to highly stressful environments, including the C4 pathway of carbon fixation, often involve multiple physiological mechanisms controlled by sets of elaborately regulated genes. Manipulations of one or a few genes to promote stress-tolerance in agronomic environments may therefore not significantly elevate fitness in wild plants and could even do the opposite.

Despite intensive direct and indirect breeding for abiotic and biotic stress- tolerance in annual crops, where populations or species adapted to highly diverse ecological conditions are hybridized, inbred, and effectively cloned, there appear to be no known cases where populations that are substantially more invasive in the wild were generated as a consequence. It appears that wild plants achieve stress resistance differently from crops bred for high yield under agricultural conditions.

Field trials need to be conducted in the early stages of research and development to identify valuable GGTs. The differences in crop physiology in field versus laboratory and greenhouse environments are well known. Anticipated benefits, as well as unexpected pleiotropic effects, may be missed if field trials are avoided at this stage. Because of large variation in plant phenotype as a result of transgene configuration (e.g., promoters), chromosomal site, host variety, soil, climate, and their many complex interactions, studies need to include many insertion events, years, and locations. This is especially true for transgenes that impart complex phenotypes such as abiotic stress resistance. In contrast, the first wave of transgenic traits, largely pest and herbicide resistance, could be evaluated to a high degree of confidence in artificial environments because their expression was little changed by growth environment.

In many parts of the world, however, conducting adequate field tests is extremely difficult. Many European countries stringently limit all but a few kinds of recombinant field trials (i.e., those for major crops and transgenes that have very high economic value to companies). Except for China and a few other countries with sophisticated biotechnology research programs, developing countries generally lack the research infrastructure, or effective regulatory institutions, for extensive field tests. In the United States, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency regulations permit many kinds of field tests to be undertaken, so long as performance standards are followed that provide high levels of confinement (e.g., large crop borders and separation distances), and there is sufficient infrastructure in place to allow regulatory procedures to be monitored. However, the time span and expense of rigorous field studies that conform to regulations often far exceed the resources available to genomics researchers, particularly academic scientists funded by research grants.

The possibility of vandalism and the threat of attacks on personal property associated with publication of field trial notices can be intimidating to researchers and institutions. They may necessitate large investments in security systems and, because of the potential for arson, may pose substantial risk for personal and institutional liabilities. Increasing concerns over legal and public perception impacts from low-level contamination of food crops especially by industrial feedstock or pharmaceutical-producing crops, even if of negligible health or environmental consequence, may require that costly measures are put in place to restrict gene flow from all kinds of GE crop trials, or that field test sites are placed in isolated, difficult-to-reach places.

For transgenes that produce a domestication trait and are in a small-scale trial (see table below, Type 1), the degree of intrinsic environmental safety seems sufficiently high that most trials could, perhaps after an initial USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) notification and review, be exempted from continued regulatory oversight. This exemption assumes that linked transgenic sequences, such as selectable markers or other pieces of transferred DNA, are acceptable (online fig. S1). This would likely be the case in the U.S.A. for an intensively studied gene like nptII (resistance to the antibiotic kanamycin), which has been deemed acceptable for food use and entry into the environment on a large scale.

Where there is a concern about gene movement and possible invasive properties, more detailed data on both extent of confinement and fitness effects could be required, particularly for larger tests. This might be the case where an abiotic stress- resistance gene, under the control of a physiologically appropriate promoter, appears to improve stress resistance substantially and without negative pleiotropic effects in field or laboratory environments. The degree of domestication of the crop, the social value of the GGT, and the characteristics of the test environment (e.g., proximity and weediness of wild relatives), are also important in decisions about regulation and data collection.

The U.S. National Research Council and its parent body, the National Academy of Sciences, have issued three major reports that identified traits, rather than the method of production, as the key factor for consideration of risks of GE plants. Until recently, this distinction was mostly academic, as there were very few introduced genes, and most were of exotic origin and conferred novel phenotypes. Genomics is changing this significantly. It is allowing breeders to generate similar kinds of traits to those sought conventionally by targeting the underlying genes. These kinds of GGT traits--particularly those that impart obvious domestication phenotypes or utilize native or homologous genes--should require far less oversight by government regulators, especially at the field-testing stage.

Decisions about which traits are sufficiently domesticating or homologous in mechanism to consider suitable for exemption will not always be simple. However, a logical starting point might be to consider the extent of diversity likely to be present in relatives of crop plants. Where novel biochemical pathways or distinct kinds of proteins are added that are unknown within a crop genus, a strong scientific rationale or new experimental data about its domesticating effect and food safety would need to be presented to qualify for exemption. Regardless of exemption at the field-trial stage, it is expected that data on environmental and food safety would need to be presented before commercial release was permitted. By facilitating field trials, however, relaxed regulation of GGTs will help in collection of high-quality safety data.

Regulations that distinguish between classes of recombinant plants may decrease some public condemnation of agricultural GE. If regulatory costs and hurdles were significantly reduced, it might promote GE crop development by small companies and public sector investigators. Given the widespread suspicion of the power and ethics of many large corporations, and the major role that this social skepticism has played in the controversy over GE crops, such "democratization" of biotechnology might be as important as biological advances in promoting public approval of GE in agriculture. (See original paper for references)

Source: AgBioView 4 April 2003


US has Decided to Challenge EU's policy on GM Foods in WTO

Washington (AFX) - The United States has decided to challenge the European Union's de facto moratorium on genetically modified foods in the World Trade Organization, senior administration sources said. "We've been pushed against a wall here," a senior administration official told AFX News on condition of anonymity, adding that a case is expected to be filed by "mid-June" at the latest. And it could come sooner. In fact, "sooner is probably more likely," the official said. Officials are still debating the timing of filing the legal papers. At issue is whether to file the case before or after the upcoming G8 summit in Evian, France.

Bush is set to travel to the southern French coast early next month for the annual gathering of the heads of state of the Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US. Richard Mills, spokesman for US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, whose office would lodge the complaint for the US, declined to comment on the decision to go ahead with the case, saying simply "the EU's moratorium is illegal under WTO rules and needs to be lifted." A group of EU countries including France has placed a moratorium on approving GMO imports, effectively halting the trade. The US contends that the ban, applied since 1999, harms its exports of maize, cotton and soya.

The US has been toying with the idea of filing a case against the EU for several months, but delayed filing the case because of the war with Iraq, officials have said. In January, Zoellick stunned reporters when he announced that he "personally" held "the view that we now need to bring a case" in the WTO even though there was not an official government consensus on the matter. Zoellick at that time was careful to note that a cabinet level meeting hosted by the National Security Council still needed to take place before a decision could be made. A formal meeting including the heads of the Agriculture, Commerce and State Departments is no longer necessary, an official said.

"There's been inter-agency consultation at that level but without a formal meeting," the official said, "the consensus is there." Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, who has been a vocal proponent for filing a case, separately summoned a group of senior administration officials to his Capitol Hill office this week to press for filing a case. "I called this meeting because I was tired of getting an inadequate response from administration officials," Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in a written statement after the Tuesday meeting in his office.

"They say they support bringing a case, but their actions don't match their words. I finally decided that the only way to get a clear answer was to bring administration officials to my office, so I did," Grassley added. EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy has said in recent months that if the US did file a case, the EU would win. "We would win a case like this," Lamy told reporters in Washington in March after meetings with US lawmakers and administration officials, including Zoellick.

And EU officials have suggested that there would be a consumer backlash against American goods resulting in boycotts of American food products if the US filed a case at the WTO. The spat comes on the heels of strainedUS-EU relations over the war in Iraq and a separate trade dispute over tax breaks that benefit US exporters such as Boeing Co and Microsoft Corp. Earlier this week, the EU was authorized by the WTO to levy up to 4 bln usd in sanctions against the US for tax breaks given to US exporters that have been found to be illegal under the rules of the Geneva-based trade body.

The EU has given the US until autumn to change its tax laws or face the sanctions that would be imposed beginning January 1, 2004. Asked if the US-EU relationship would be harmed if the fines were levied, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said trade disputes are a natural part of the relationship. "Clearly, trade is always one of those many issues that allies are going to differ about and remain the best of allies. That's the nature of trade,"

Fleischer said Wednesday. "So it's part and parcel of a relationship that is as robust as it is that we're going to have inevitable trade disputes. And that's why the WTO has set up the mechanisms it has," Fleischer added.

AgBioView 9 May 2003


Why are Most Europeans Opposed to GMOs? Factors Explaining Rejection in France and Europe

This paper has been recently published in the Electronic Journal of Biotechnology, 15 April 2003, (URL: <>) It is free online.

Abstract: A strong movement of opposition to GMOs developed in the late 1990s in many countries, especially in Europe, although these technologies were presented from the outset as highly promising and their advantages were often highlighted. How can this rejection be explained? The aim of this paper is to answer that question through the case of France, which is fairly representative in this respect of various European countries, even if the opposition movement is here particularly strong. One examines various factors, actors and processes that have led to such strong opposition to GMOs that at this stage their development in Europe has almost totally been halted. In the first part of the article we recall the results of several recent surveys, showing the level of acceptance or refusal of genetic engineering in several countries. We then examine important factors of rejection: the focus on potential risks of GMOs and the extensive publicity given to them, coupled with the inadequacy of answers to these diverse criticisms, and a drawing up of an unfavorable risk-benefit balance. Lastly, we point out that various fears and objections to the evolution of agriculture and to the functioning of society (e.g. limited trust in institutions and firms) appear to be crystallized around GMOs.

Contributed by Sylvie BONNY, INRA, FRANCE Email:


EU to Draft GM-Conventional Crop Separation Guidelines Soon

European farmers should see their first official guidance in a few months on how they might grow genetically modified (GM) crops alongside traditional plants in the future, the EU's farm chief said on Thursday, reports Reuters. The EU executive, hosting a debate to hear scientific views on the controversial issue, will present its views on technical measures that farmers would take to minimize cross-pollination between GM, non-GM and organic crops. Although the all-day session has not produced policy making conclusions, the Commission will use the data given by a wide range of interested parties -- scientists, the biotech industry, farm and environmental groups -- as the basis for its proposals.

"It should bring us a step closer to finding a rational and efficient approach to ensure the co-existence of conventional and organic agriculture with genetically modified crops in the European Union," said European Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler. "I hope that the results will also help us to draw up a first set of guidelines on co-existence before the summer," he said. EU agriculture ministers would be informed of the debate's progress at their next meeting in May, he said, writes Reuters. Delegates heard a dozen papers from various EU crop scientists presenting their studies on co-existence and discussed the technical merits of differing separation distances between plants, flowering times and risks of cross-pollination.

The two GM crops where co-existence was particularly addressed were maize and oilseed rape, as the limited cultivation of these crops is already approved in the EU. In Spain, for example, successful commercial cultivation of GM maize over the past five years proved that co-existence between different agriculture forms was possible and manageable, according to Swiss crop giant Syngenta AG. Spain is the only EU state to grow GM maize on a commercial scale, using the "Bt" variety. Its national area sown to maize, of which more than 80 percent goes into animal feed, is some 500,000 hectares. Of this, around five percent is GM maize. "Co-existence between the different types of agriculture has been successfully achieved in Spain, demonstrated by its five-year experience with Bt maize cultivation," said Esteban Alcalde, Syngenta's regulatory manager for the Mediterranean countries.

One of the EU's main tasks will be to set rules for economic liability if there is cross-pollination of neighboring crops, according to Reuters. Civil legislation on liability for damage to crops, which in this case would apply if commercial value was reduced due to cross-pollination, differs widely across the 15-nation bloc.

Some farmers fear that GM varieties will contaminate their traditional crops and reduce their value. But the reverse might occur, where a GM crop cross-breeds accidentally with a normal type, thus losing the specific GM characteristics of the crop. Fischler takes the view, supported by the biotech industry, that the EU should not exclude any form of agriculture and farmers should be able to grow the crops that they choose. "Co-existence means that no form of agriculture, GMO or non-GMO, should be excluded in the EU in the future," he said. "Only if farmers are able to produce the different types of crops in a sustainable way, will consumers have a real choice." Green groups were less impressed, saying contamination risks were so high that strict EU-wide rules had to be in place before GM and non-GM crops could be grown in close proximity, writes Reuters.

"As with so many other previous meetings organized by the European Commission, this round table seems primarily geared towards paving the way for genetic engineering in European agriculture," European Parliament Greens said in a statement. "It is well established, especially for maize and oilseed rape...that if GM crops are grown on a large scale and without any precautionary measures, then gene flow will occur between fields, farms and across landscapes," it said.

As Reported in the News is a weekday feature that summarizes one of the most interesting stories of the day, as reported by media from around the world, and selected by Initiative staff from a scan of the news wires. The Initiative is not a news organization and does not have reporters on its staff: Posting of these stories should not be interpreted as an endorsement of a particular viewpoint, but merely as a summary of news reported by legitimate news-gathering organizations or from press releases sent out by other organizations.

The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology



One-Size-Fits-All GM Regulation is Stifling Research Steven H. Strauss

An increasing amount of genetic engineering in agriculture closely resembles the conventional crop breeding that has been done for thousands of years, and unnecessarily stringent regulation of this type of gene research is limiting its usefulness, argues Steven Strauss of Oregon State University, United States in this article.

Strauss says that the level of government regulation should be dramatically reduced when genetic engineering is based on "native or homologous" genes, or those commonly found within related plant species.

Regulations that distinguish between different types of genetically modified (GM) plants may decrease some public condemnation of agricultural genetic engineering, he says. And it might promote GM crop development by small companies and public sector investigators.

Science 300, 61 (2003) Source: SciDevNet 4 April 2003


Proposed Association for Genetic Resources

A new association will bring together communities involved in GR to share experiences, focus efforts and build partnerships to address the formidable task to sustainably use and conserve the world's genetic resources.

Web Survey available! Let us know your opinion

Why do we need an association for genetic resources? Conserving and using agricultural genetic resources (GR) is vital to help meet the needs of the world's present and future generations for food supply and development. Scientists, development workers and farmers are conserving and using genetic resources across the world, often with little or no formal contacts outside their countries or regions. A network, society or association (hereinafter referred to as an association) would bring together this global community involved in GR to share experiences, focus efforts and build partnerships to address the formidable task to sustainably use and conserve the world's genetic resources.

What would be the objectives? This proposed association would provide an international technical platform dedicated to the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources throughout the world to: § Promote research and technical cooperation for genetic resources § Provide a forum to exchange knowledge, information, experience and ideas § Raise public awareness for support to the conservation and use of genetic resources

Who would be members? Membership of such an association could be broad and include institutional, corporate, individual and student members from a wide section of the community, public and private sectors, civil society, schools and national conservation and farmers' groups.

What types of activity would be covered by this association? An association dedicated to genetic resources should provide an opportunity for sharing information and experiences and for public awareness to increase the visibility of global efforts. Indicative activities could include: § Knowledge activities: Web site, journal, newsletter § Technical activities: Conferences, congresses, workshops and thematic networks § Public awareness activities: Media presentations, education

What are the options to establish this association? Suggestions include: a. A new association A new association could be designed to respond to the needs of the GR community. This would give a high profile to activities but would require considerable investment for establishment and operations. b. A GR chapter or section under an existing society or association A chapter or section could be formed under an existing suitable society/association that is interested in establishing a sub-group on genetic resources. This would reduce establishment and operation costs, as well as benefiting from the reputation of the parent body although it could result in less autonomy and visibility. c. A virtual community of practice This option is the simplest and lowest cost opportunity using electronic communications to form a group of practitioners for GR to focus on exchange of information and ideas. Operation costs would be low but there is a risk that it may not reach communities with limited electronic access and therefore have low visibility for effective public awareness.

We have prepared a web survey to be filled out in order to collect suggestions about this initiative: For more information please contact: J.M.M. Engels IPGRI - Via dei Tre Denari, 472/a 00057 - Maccarese, Rome (Italy) Email:



Ecocrop - An Updated Version (

With Ecocrop you can:

Identify a suitable crop for a specified environment -

Enter information about your local climate and soil conditions, such as temperature, rainfall, light soil texture, depth, pH, salinity and fertility. Ecocrop then identifies plant species with key climate and soil requirements that match the data you have entered. Obviously this is a 'rough guide' and once you have your list you need to look more closely at local conditions, markets etc. When a species is chosen - there is a direct link from the site to the EcoPort species record. This has much more complete information - including fields for Genetic resources and Plant Breeding.

Identify a crop with a specific habit of growth (the new feature) -

Specify one or more characteristics of a plant, such as life form and span, growth habit, crop category and form of cultivation. Ecocrop then identifies plant species that match your data.

Identify crop for a defined use -

Specify one or more use(s) and Ecocrop identifies according to your choice of plant species for food, fodder or pasture, green manure, energy, fibre, timber, paper pulp, shelter and shade, industrial purposes, erosion control, ornamentals and many other uses.

Look up the environmental requirement and uses of a given crop -

Specify the plant species of your interest and use Ecocrop as a checklist or library to look up its climate and soil requirements and uses.

Save and retrieve your search criteria -

Register to Ecocrop, and you can login and save your search criteria for later use. Irmgard Hoeschle-Zeledon Coordinator GFU for Underutilized Species Via dei Tre Denari, 472/a 00057 Maccarese Rome, Italy Tel.: ++39-06-6118-292 Fax: ++39-06-61979661 email:


FAO-BioDeC Database

FAO-BioDeC is a database meant to gather, store, organize and disseminate, updated baseline information on the state-of-the-art of crop biotechnology products and techniques, which are in use, or in the pipeline in developing countries. The data base includes about 2000 entries from 70 developing countries, including countries with economies in transition.

Data Source: Information was obtained from published literature, surveys carried out by ISNAR as well as information collected by FAO through fact-finding missions and expert consultations. The data base is still incomplete at this first stage. Verification and regular updating of information in the database will be done through a network of national correspondents. All comments, criticisms and suggestions are most welcome.

The main objective of FAO-BioDeC is to give an overview of the different stages of adoption and development of these technologies in different countries and regions; it may assist to identify needs and gaps in agricultural research and offers countries the opportunity to give a closer look to programmes in neighbouring countries and identify potential partners for joint programmes.

The data base at this stage is limited to research, testing and commercialization of specific crop technologies and products in developing countries. No quantitative information is available with regards to the human capacity or funding involved. It does not cover activities carried out in developed countries even if they are meant for subsequent use or adoption in developing countries, nor does it cover research being carried out in international research centres located in developing countries.

The database will be expanded in a second phase to include the animal, fisheries and forestry biotechnology sectors.

Source: AgBioView 18 April 2003


Every Ag Biotech Product on the Market Now Listed

A comprehensive article that lists every biotech agricultural product that has been approved in Canada, Mexico and the United States is now available on A total of 73 biotech products have received commercial approval so farmers can grow them in these three countries: 56 in the United States, 54 in Canada and three in Mexico. The vast majority are different varieties of four major crops: soybeans, cotton, corn and canola. Read on at..

Source: AgBioView 4 April 2003


User's Manual for the LCDMV Software For Fingerprinting and Genetic Diversity Studies

The Calculation Software of Molecular Distances between Varieties) is a computer program developed in the SAS language (SAS Institute Inc., version 6.12), with the help of the modules SAS-STAT, and SAS-IML that will analyze biochemical markers (isozymes) or molecular markers (RFLP, STS, SSR, RAPD, AFLP) obtained on homogeneous or heterogeneous varieties. (May 2003)