24 October 2003
An Electronic Newsletter of Applied Plant Breeding
Sponsored by FAO and Cornell University
Clair H. Hershey, Editor
1. EDITOR'S NOTES
2. MEETINGS, COURSES AND WORKSHOPS
-The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, Volumes 1 and 2 by Charles Darwin
4. NEWS, ANNOUNCEMENTS AND RESEARCH NOTES
-Agriculture and the Developing
-No Easy Answers on GM Crops
-Awareness of GM Foods Increasing, While Overall Support Slipping -Questions and Answers about the European Union's GM Seed Legislation -Brazil Agrees to Cultivation of GM Soya For Now -HarvestPlus:Cash Boost for Research to Make Crops More Healthy -University of Illinois Shares in Major Grant to Increase Vitamin A in Corn -Iowa State University Researchers Working on Nutritional Value of Corn Hybrids -Russia's Supreme Arbitration Court Strikes Down Plan to Evict Seed Bank at
St. Petersburg, Russia
-University of California Scientists Discover Plant Gene that Promotes
Production of Ozone-Destroying Methyl Halides
-Purdue University Researchers Solve Decades-old Corn, Sorghum Problem -A Complex History of Rearrangement in an Orthologous Region of the Maize,
Sorghum, and Rice Genomes
-'Slow DMD' Barley Promises Major Gains for Cattle Feeding -University of Minnesota Receives NSF Grant to Sequence Legume Genome -Resurrecting Hope: Drought Tolerant Crops -IUB Biologist Gets $2.6 Million to Study Soybean Disease Resistance -Fly Bites Plant, but Plants Can Bite Back, Purdue Scientists Find -New Defense Against Hessian Fly May Lie in Insect's Saliva -Ohio State University Tomato Researcher Studies Shape of Things to Come -Breeding Forages for Landscape Diversity -A$20 Million Victorian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics Promises Green
5. ON THE WEB
FAO Biotech e-mail Conference : Marker Assisted Selection Update 10-2003 of FAO-BiotechNews. The 10th issue of www.geneconserve.pro.br (October-December,2003)
1. EDITOR'S NOTES
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 (email@example.com), Margaret Smith
(firstname.lastname@example.org), and Anne Marie Thro (email@example.com). The editor
will advise subscribers one to 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We would especially like to see a broad
participation from developing country programs and from those working on
species outside the major food crops.
Messages with attached files
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2. MEETINGS, COURSES AND WORKSHOPS
* 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; http://www.agronomy.org/
* 13-14 November 2003: 1st
European Conference on the Co-existence of
Genetically Modified Crops with Conventional and Organic Crops. Helsingr,
Denmark. Contact: Sonja Graugaard, Tel: +45 (58) 113 356; Fax: +45 (58) 113
301; Email: GMCCemail@example.com;
* 17-28 November 2003, New
Delhi, India. "Genomics and crop improvement".
Training course organised by the International Centre for Genetic
Engineering and Biotechnology. See
http://www.icgeb.trieste.it/TRAINING/CRS03/GenomicsND.htm or contact
firstname.lastname@example.org 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; http://www.amseed.com/default.asp
* (NEW) 8-9 December 2003:
Ag-Biotech Food Forum: Fostering Support for the
Growing Application of Biotechnology in the Agriculture and Food Industry,
Chicago Hilton, Chicago, IL
Key Themes to be Addressed:
* Analyzing consumers acceptance of foods
produced by biotechnology and educating them on the benefits * Examining
the potential risks to the environment and public health * Discussing the
current EU moratorium and its impact to the US Food Processing Industry *
Establishing Best practices for Genetically Modified (GM) foods *Examining
the role of Intellectual Property law in protecting investments in
Registration: email@example.com ;
* 10-14 January 2003: Plant,
Animal and Microbial Genome XII. San Diego,
CA, USA. Contact: URL: http://www.intl-pag.org/
* 9-12 February 2004: ISHS
International Root and Tuber Crops Symposium:
"Food Down Under". Palmerston North (New Zealand). Info: Dr. M. Nichols,
INR, Massey University, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Phone: (64)63505799 ext. 2614, Fax: (64)63505679, email:
firstname.lastname@example.org web: www.crop.cri.nz/conferences/roottuber2004/
* 19-24 February 2004. Plant
Responses to Abiotic Stress, Keystone
Symposium. Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. Contact: Keystone Symposia, 221
Summit Place #272, Drawer 1630, Silverthorne, CO 80498, USA; Tel: +1 (970)
262 1230; Fax: +1 (970) 262 1525;
Email: email@example.com; URL:
* 4-9 March 2004: Comparative
Genomics of Plants (C6), Keystone Symposium.
New Mexico, USA. Contact: Keystone Symposia, 221 Summit Place #272, Drawer
1630, Silverthorne, CO 80498, USA; Tel: +1 (970) 262 1230; Fax: +1 (970)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; URL: http://www.keystonesymposia.org
* 8-14 March 2004: Sixth International
Scientific Meeting of the Cassava
Biotechnology Network (CBN VI). Theme - Adding Value to Cassava: Applying
Biotechnology to a Small-Farmer Crop. Venue: Centro Internacional de
Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), Cali, Colombia.
http://www.ciat.cgiar.org/biotechnology/cbn/index.htm Contact: Alfredo
Alves at email@example.com
* 21-24 March 2004: The 16th
Biennial International Plant Resistance to
Insects Workshop/Conference. Baton Rouge, USA. Contact: Mike Stout. Email:
* 11-16 May 2004. 15th International
Plant Protection Congress (IPPC),
Beijing, China. Contact: Wen Liping, 15th IPPC Secretariat Associate
Professor, Institute of Plant Protection, Chinese Academy of Agricultural
Sciences, #2 West Yuanmingyuan Road, Beijing 100094, China; Tel: +86 (10)
6281 5913 or +86 (10) 6289 5451; Fax: +86 (10) 6289 5451; Email:
firstname.lastname@example.org; URL: http://www.ipmchina.net/ipm/ipm_e.html
* 17-19 May 2004: 12th Meeting
on Genetics and Breeding of Capsicum and
Eggplant. Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands. Contact: Roeland Voorrips,
Plant Research International, P.O. Box 16, 6700 AA Wageningen, The
Netherlands; Tel: +31 (317) 477289; Fax: +31 (317) 418094; Email:
Roeland.Voorrips@wur.nl; URL: http://www.eucarpiacapsicum.nl
* 24-25 May 2003: Workshop
on Molecular Aspects of Germination and
Dormancy. Wageningen, The Netherlands. Contact: J Derek Bewley, Email:
email@example.com); URL: http://www.css.cornell.edu/ISSS/isss.htm
* 7-11 June 2004, Dijon France
: Fifth European Conference on Grain Legumes
and Second International Conference on Legume Genomics and Genetics ,
"Legumes for the benefit of agriculture, nutrition and the environment:
their genomics, their products, and their improvement".
* 20-26 June 2004: The 9th
International Barley Genetics Symposium. Brno,
Czech Republic. Contact: Lenka Nedomova, Agricultural Research Institute
Kromeriz Ltd., Havlickova 2787, CZ - 767 01 Kromeriz, Czech Republic; Tel:
+420 (5) 7331 7166; Fax: +420 (5) 7333 9725;
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; URL: http://www.ibgs.cz/
* 5-8 July, 2004: Campinas-S!ulo
(Brazil): III International Symposium on
Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Breeding Research and II Latin American
Symposium on the Production of Medicinal, Aromatic and Condiments Plants.
Info: Prof. Dr. Lin Chau Ming, Dept. Plant Production, Sector Horticulture,
Agronomical Sciences College, S!ulo State University, Botucatu-SP
18.603-970, Brazil. email: email@example.com
* 12-17 July 2004: Cucurbitaceae
2004, 8th Meeting on Cucurbit Genetics
and Breeding. Olomouc, Czech Republic. Contact: A. Lebeda, Palacky
University, Faculty of Sciences, Department of Botany, Slechtitelu 11,
CZ-783 71 Olomouc-Holice, Czech Republic; Tel: +420 (5) 8563 4800; Fax:
+420 (5) 8524 1027; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; URL:
* 18-22 July 2004: 7th International
Oat Conference . Helsinki, Finland.
Contact: Mrs. Pirjo Peltonen-Sainio, MTT, Agrifood Research Finland, Plant
Production Research, FIN-31600 Jokioinen, Finland; Tel: +358 (3) 4188 2451;
Fax: +358 (3) 4188 2437;
Email: email@example.com; URL: http://www.ioc2004.org/
* 18-23 July 2004: Plant Molecular
Biology. Plymouth NH, USA .Contact:
Gordon Research Conferences, 3071 Route 138, Kingston, RI 02881, USA; Tel:
+1 (401) 783 4011; Fax: +1 (401) 783 7644; Email:
firstname.lastname@example.org; URL: http://www.grc.uri.edu/grc_home.htm
* 6-9 September 2004): VIII
International Symposium on Plum and Prune
Genetics, Breeding and Technology. Lofthus, Norway. Info: Dr. Lars Sekse,
Plante Forsk - Norwegian Crops Research Institute, Ullensvang Research
Centre, 5781 Lofthus, Norway. Phone: (47)53671200, Fax: (47)53671201,
email: email@example.com web: http://www.planteforsk.no/
* 8-11 September 2004. Eucarpia
XVII General Triennial Congress, Vienna,
Austria. Contact: P. Ruckenbauer, IFA Tulln, Dept. Biotechnology in Plant
Production, Konrad-Lorenz Str. 20, A-3430 Tulln, Austria; Tel: +43 (2272)
66280 201; Fax: +43 (2272) 66280 203;
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; URL: http://www.eucarpia.org
* 12-17 September 2004: V
International Symposium on In Vitro Culture and
Horticultural Breeding. Debrecen (Hungary): Info: Dr. Mikl, Szent - Gyorgyi
A u. 4, PO Box 411, 2101 Godollo, Hungary. Phone: (36)28330600, Fax:
(36)28330482, email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, web:
* 27 September - 1 October
2004: 4th International Crop Science Congress.
Brisbane, Australia. Contact: PO Box 1280, Milton, QLD 4064, Australia;
Tel: +61 (7) 3858 5554; Fax: +61 (7) 3858 5583; Email: email@example.com;
* 24-28 October, 2004: IV
ISHS Symposium on Brassica and XIV Crucifer
Genetics Workshop. Daejon (Korea) Info: Prof. Dr. Yong Pyo Lim, Dept. of
Horticulture, Chungnam National University, Kung-Dong 220, Yusong-Gu,
Taejon 305-764, South Korea. Phone: (82)428215739, Fax: (82)428231382,
* October 31 - November 4,
2004: Annual Meetings, American Society of
Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America,
Seattle, WA, USA. Contact: ASA-CSSA-SSSA, 677 S. Segoe Rd., Madison WI
53711, USA; Tel: +1 (608) 273 8080; Fax: +1 (608) 273 2021; URL:
The two volumes of Charles
Darwin's "The Variation of Animals and Plants
under Domestication" are available from Labyrinth Books
www.labyrinthbooks.com. According to John Miles, Forage Breeder at CIAT,
this is "a masterpiece of pre-Mendelian plant and animal breeding. At $7.89
per volume, this has to be one of the best bargains around."
Volume 1 available at: http://www.labyrinthbooks.com//itemdetail.asp?iid=039449
Volume 2 available at: http://www.labyrinthbooks.com//itemdetail.asp?iid=039450
4. NEWS, ANNOUNCEMENTS AND RESEARCH NOTES
Agriculture and the Developing World
Science is proud to publish,
in this issue, the 14 "grand challenges" to
world health. For the ninth challenge specifically, and for all the rest
more generally, world hunger is an overarching issue. So this is a good
time to give an accounting of where we are. It is a time especially rich
with new opportunities: The World Bank has just evaluated the Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and its 16 centers;
academic leaders in the United States have expressed concern about
intellectual property regimes and their impact on global agricultural
innovation (Science, 11 July 2003, p. 174); and a private-public
partnership has begun a major new fundraising effort to support the
conservation of valuable genetic resources ("germplasm"). To top it all
off, there is the contentious issue of genetically modified (GM) foods and
their role in meeting world needs.
Starting with the good news:
More attention is being paid to the need for
serious plant genetics and crop improvement for poor countries. Donor
agencies are being challenged to do more, and the Rockefeller Foundation
has revitalized its traditional leadership role in developing-country
agriculture. A fundraising effort by the Global Conservation Trust has
engaged for-profit companies and numerous nongovernmental organizations to
support ex situ conservation of germplasm resources, at CGIAR as well as at
national germ banks. To date, the trust has gathered $100 million in gifts
and pledges and is still counting.
The World Bank, the linchpin
donor agency for CGIAR ($50 million annually),
has completed a meta-evaluation of that organization's programs. The report
generally praises the work of CGIAR, although it notes a shift away from
research on productivity enhancement, amounting to an average annual
decrease of over 6% in the past decade. This, says the World Bank, is
partly attributable to a lessened role for independent advice from the
Technical Advisory Committee. The bank recommends significant changes in
governance to refocus CGIAR's emphasis on genetics and on support for core
activities at its 16 centers.
Unfortunately, there are three
items of bad news. The international
intellectual property regime for the development and transfer of genetic
resources has been so carved up by patents and licenses that it is
becoming, in the view of many, an "anticommons." That may be a product of
commercial interests, but there is enough blame to go around. The
Convention on Biodiversity, in trying to protect developing-country
interests in medicinal plants, is inhibiting the international collection
of genetic resources for agriculture. The new International Treaty on Plant
Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture attempts to fix that. But
although it supports the internationalization of most major public
collections, it introduces grave uncertainties surrounding "orphan crops"
vitally important to many developing nations.
A second problem, unrecognized
for too long, is the thinness of the
public-sector knowledge resources that are available for some of the most
important food security crops in the poorest countries. Among these orphan
crops are yams and plantains, which are staple foods for many of the
poorest sub-Saharan African nations. Less than half a dozen
geneticists/plant breeders work on each of these crops. That's the world's
only insurance against a catastrophe involving disease or stress resistance
that might affect tens of millions of people. These scientists should
probably not take the same plane to their next conference.
The final bad-news item, naturally,
is the furor over GM crops.
Developed-country resistance to GM commodities has discouraged their use in
parts of the developed world, despite some country-specific successes (as
in Argentina and China). The scientific consensus is reassuring with
respect to the safety of GM foods for consumers, and although some concerns
remain with respect to environmental impacts, the benefits from reduced
pesticide use may offset those risks.
As the GM crops controversy
works itself out, those concerned with
environmental quality should balance costs and benefits. Unless
agricultural production is increased on the good lands, population
pressures will cause farmers to move upslope and deforest the hillsides.
That's a double whammy: a loss for those families, and a loss for the
environment. And on already marginal lands, GM technology may offer the
best hope for producing crops that can withstand drought, impoverished
soils, and disease. For both these reasons, we'd better resolve the GM
controversy. Right now, it's a rich-country argument that's hurting the poor.
Volume 302, Number 5644, Issue of 17 Oct 2003, p. 357.
No Easy Answers on GM Crops
The worlds largest study of
the potential impact of genetically modified
crops on the environment has produced an ambiguous set of results result.
Ironically, this conclusion should make future decisions easier.
Any politician who had hoped
that science would be able to tell them
whether genetically modified (GM) crops are safe to plant will have been
left frustrated by the results of extensive farm trials released in London
last week (see GM crop trials provide mixed message). The trials were
carried out on 60 British farms over the past three years to assess GM
herbicide resistant varieties of three crops: oil-seed rape (widely grown
as a source of cooking oil), beet, and maize. In each case, and on each
farm, a direct comparison was made between the impact of using the GM
variety on weeds and insects, and that of using a conventional variety of
The results of the tests were
mixed. Two of three crops oil-seed rape and
beet came out badly. In both cases, the farming practices adopted for the
GM variety resulted in a decrease in the number of insects, which in turn
is likely to have reduced the level of birds and other wildlife which
depend on them for food. In the case of maize, however, the result was the
opposite; growing the GM variety resulted in an increase in insect life,
likely to have a beneficial impact on the natural environment.
Environmentalists and most
of the media were quick to pick up the negative
message from the experiments, namely that previous assertions by scientific
advisory boards and others about GM crops having no adverse environmental
impacts were wrong. For many in Britain in particular, the results of the
trials of oil-seed rape and beet represented the final nail in the coffin
for GM crops, already under fire on a wide range of fronts. A report
several weeks previously, for example, had argued that such crops were
likely to have minimal economic advantages for UK farmers.
But, in a global context,
a more nuanced interpretation is essential. For
the main message of the farm trials was not clear-cut; the fact that some
of the crops had a negative impact, while in other cases the impact was
benign, confirmed the need to assess such crops on a case-by-case basis,
and to avoid any type of blanket judgement. Furthermore, the experimental
and analytical techniques employed in the studies demonstrated that even if
science cannot answer the question of whether GM crops in general are safe,
it can provide a way of measuring environmental impacts that are directly
relevant to this question in specific instances.
Implications for developing
Both conclusions have immediate and important messages for those keen to
see GM crops grown in developing countries. The first is essentially
positive; the ambiguous results of the British trials indicate that it
would be wrong to cite environmental impacts on wildlife as a reason for
imposing a ban on all such crops. However, the study did not address other
issues which generate different concerns, in particular the spread of
engineeredgenetic traits into native varieties of staple crops. In
contrast, the trials show that there are circumstances in which the use of
GM crops can actually benefit wildlife.
This is no reason for abandoning
caution; if anything, the trials
underlined the importance of close analysis of the potential impact of
individual crops and the farming methods used to produce them. And this, of
course, is likely to place an additional responsibility on governments keen
to see their farmers grow such crops, but in a manner that does not harm
In particular, it is likely
to mean firstly that each proposed crop must be
assessed individually, itself a not insignificant task (the UK farm scale
trials, which only covered three crops, involved taking more than hundreds
of thousands of soil and insect samples over the three-year period).
Secondly, the trials underline the need to consider the concept of
environmental impactin the broadest possible context, namely not only the
immediate physical impact, but also the disruption to ecological cycles
caused by changes in farming practices.
Both of these have significant
resource implications. They will also
require ensuring that adequate training is provided if researchers are able
to carry out such tests in a reliable fashion. Indeed, one of the strongest
arguments against the widespread adoption of GM in developing countries is
that the lack of adequate monitoring and enforcement could put populations
and the environment at much higher risk than in countries with tough
enforcement. Look at the air pollution crisis facing many cities in the
developing world; or, the apparent ease with which Brazilian farmers have
been able to smuggle illegal GM seeds into the country from neighbouring
Another simplistic conclusion to be avoided about the results of the UK
farm trials is that GM maize is safe to plant or at least safer than the
other crops in the study. As commentators on the results have been quick to
point out, the apparent harmlessness of the GM variety of maize is
primarily accounted for by the relative toxicity of the herbicide atrazine
used on conventional maize crops. It was therefore not surprising that
significantly reducing the amount of herbicide used, and therefore allowing
weeds to flourish until a relatively late stage in the growing cycle,
reduced harmful impacts on wildlife.
The sting in the tail here
is that atrazine is about to be withdrawn as a
result of European regulations. But the results of the farm-scale trials,
as even the researchers themselves are quick to point out, are specific to
crops that have been genetically modified for resistance to this particular
herbicide. GM maize resistant to other herbicides will require a new set of
tests (or at least modification of the conclusions from the current ones).
Furthermore whereas the results
are significant for maize farming in
temperate zones, it would be inappropriate to extrapolate them to other
regions where, even if the same herbicide is used, growing conditions and
farming practices may be entirely different. The benign impact of the GM
maize in Britain was a direct result of the new weed control practices that
it allowed farmers to adopt, rather than the biological characteristics of
the new variety itself. Certainly there is little in the tests to justify
the claim of one industry lobby group (CropGen) that they demonstrated that
GM maize is better for biodiversity.
The caution suggested by the
UK experiments is entirely appropriate.
Chemical poisoning may produce the same symptoms worldwide. But disruption
of biodiversity and ecological cycles is a more subtle process, requiring a
higher level of both analysis and understanding and thus eventually of
monitoring (including monitoring of agronomic practices). In situations
where this disruption can be easily reversed, the threat may not be
significant. In other situations, for example when important food cycles
are at stake, extra caution is clearly needed.
Ironically, while both sides
in the GM debate have sought to interpret the
UK trials to suit their agendas environmentalists argue that they
demonstrate once again that GM crops are dangerous, industry that they are
flexiblethe real lesson for the protagonists seems to be different. For
environmentalists, the lesson must be that even though such crops can be
dangerous for the environment, they can also enhance it; for industry there
is an equally important lesson, namely than blanket assertions that GM
crops and the new farming practices they encourage will not damage natural
processes at least no more than conventional crops are no longer credible.
Some might argue that, by
introducing yet further uncertainties into the
decision-making process, science has only muddied waters that it should be
clarifying. But it is equally possible to argue that scientists have just
been doing what is most needed in the whole debate: putting hypotheses to
the test in the real world, and producing robust conclusions that need to
be taken into account by both sides. This, in itself, will not point the
way forward, either to regulators or politicians. But it helps to provide a
firm basis on which both can plan their future strategies.
20 Oct. 2003
Awareness of GM Foods Increasing, While Overall Support Slipping
Opinions open to change
Most Americans are unaware that they are already eating genetically
modified (GM) foods, although awareness of GM foods is growing. This,
according to a nationwide telephone survey of 1,200 randomly selected
Americans, released on October 15 by the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers'
Cook College. The study also found that while Americans seem to know more
about genetic modification than most Europeans, American's overall
knowledge about both GM foods and food production is relatively low.
Estimates suggest that as
much as 80% of processed food in the United
States may contain a component from a genetically modified crop, such as:
corn starch, high-fructose corn syrup, canola oil, soybean oil, soy flour,
lecithin, or cotton-seed oil. Genetic modification involves the transfer of
genes from one plant or animal to another with the purpose of expressing a
desired trait, such as protecting the plant from insects or increasing
Despite the abundance of products
with genetically modified ingredients in
the American marketplace today, the Food Policy Institute (FPI) study found
that only about half of the respondents (52%) were aware that genetically
modified food products are currently for sale in supermarkets. Although
this represents an increase in awareness since 2001, when a similar FPI
study found that only 41% of respondents knew that GM foods were available
in supermarkets, awareness remains low. Perhaps more strikingly, only 26%
of Americans believe they have ever eaten GM foods, though this represents
a 6% increase since 2001.
"Most Americans have
no idea that foods with genetically modified
ingredients are already for sale in the United States," says Dr. William
Hallman, Associate Director of the Food Biotechnology Program at the Food
Policy Institute and lead author on the study. "But bottom line, if you eat
processed foods, you're probably eating GM ingredients."
One reason Americans may be
unaware of the presence of GM foods in their
pantries is that the currently available GM foods are not labeled as such.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has reviewed the safety
of all GM foods on the market, requires labeling whenever there has been a
significant change in nutrients, allergens, toxins, or composition. To
date, the FDA has not found any significant differences between GM and
conventional foods and so does not require them to be labeled.
Although labeling is a contentious
issue among those who oppose the
technology, Americans' desire for labeling of GM food products remains
uncertain. Early in the interviews, before the issue of genetic
modification was raised, respondents were asked to say in their own words
what information they would like to see on food labels. Surprisingly,
virtually no one said that they would like to see labels contain
information about whether the food has GM ingredients (<1%). Yet, later,
when asked directly if they would like to see GM food labels, the
overwhelming majority of Americans (94%) said that they would.
The study found that self-reported
and objectively measured knowledge and
awareness of biotechnology and GM foods remain low in the U.S. The lack of
familiarity most Americans have with biotechnology is reflected in their
answers to an eleven-item true/false quiz given as part of the survey.
Approximately half of the respondents (52%) received a failing grade of
less than 70% correct. Only 4% of the sample answered all quiz questions
correctly. Only 60% were able to correctly reject the statement that
"tomatoes genetically modified with genes from catfish would probably taste
'fishy'." Similarly, 57% were able to correctly identify the statement
"ordinary tomatoes do not contain genes, while genetically modified
tomatoes do," as false. However, two-thirds of Americans were able to
correctly reject the idea that eating genetically modified fruit would
alter their own genes.
While most Americans do poorly
on this test, and their overall performance
hasn't changed much since 2001, they do perform better on these questions
than their European counterparts. Compared to the results reported in a
recent Eurobarometer survey of knowledge about biotechnology in Europe,
Americans outperform Europeans on every question.
American's basic knowledge
about farming and food production was also found
to be low. Only about half (55%) of Americans know that most of the corn
grown in the United States is used to feed animals such as cows, less than
half (46%) recognize that sugar is not the sweetener used in most processed
foods, and 16% incorrectly believe that peanuts grow on trees.
"Most people in this
country know very little about food production or
genetically modified foods," says Dr. Hallman. "However, lack of knowledge
about GM food does not stop Americans from expressing an opinion about it."
While the majority of Americans claim to know "very little" (55%) or
"nothing at all" (22%) about biotechnology, only about 10% of Americans
report being unsure of their opinion of GM foods.
When asked directly, about
half (49%) of Americans report that they approve
of plant-based GM foods, (down 9% from 2001) and about one quarter (27%)
approve of animal-based GM foods (unchanged from 2001).
The new study, however, also
found that American's opinions about GM foods
are not firmly held. Simply mentioning potential benefits of GM foods
significantly increased approval ratings for those products. For example,
of those who disapproved of plant-based GM food products, 30% said they
would purchase a GM product if it contained less fat and 24% if it tasted
better than ordinary food.
Consumers also favor GM foods
that confer environmental benefits; a third
(31%) of those who initially disapproved of plant-based GM food products
said they would be willing to buy a GM product grown in a more
environmentally friendly way than ordinary food. Almost half (44%) of those
who initially disapproved of plant-based GM food products said they would
be willing to purchase them if they contained less pesticide residue than
ordinary food. The latter finding is especially interesting considering
that reduction in pesticide use is one of the main benefits conferred by
some of the existing GM corn and cotton crops that are already widely planted.
Price reductions do not appear
to influence consumers as much as other
benefits. Only 12% of those who initially disapproved of plant-based GM
technology said they would buy GM foods if they were cheaper than ordinary
"Right now the major
benefits of GM crops are increased yields and reduced
pesticide use," says Dr. Hallman. "While that's good news for the farmers
and the environment, most consumers haven't taken much notice. However,
over the next few years, GM products will be introduced with consumers in
mind and will include benefits such as increased nutrition, better taste,
and lower price. When that happens, our data indicate that Americans may be
more receptive to GM foods, and consumers may go out of their way to learn
more about those products. But at the moment, most Americans aren't even
aware that GM food products are already on their plates."
The study was funded by a
grant from the United States Department of
Agriculture (USDA) under the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food
Systems Program (IFAFS). Copies of the report Public Perceptions of
Genetically Modified Foods: A National Study of American Knowledge and
Opinion can be downloaded at no cost at the Food Policy Institute Website:
15 Oct. 2003
Questions and Answers about the European Union's GM Seed Legislation
What is the EU Seeds Legislation?
The Directives on the marketing
of agricultural and vegetable seeds aim to
improve the quality of seeds (e.g. identity and purity of the variety)
marketed in the EU. Specific requirements are set out on sealing, labelling
If technical amendments and
updates of the Directives are necessary, the
Commission is assisted by Member States in adopting measures through the
Standing Committee on Seeds and Propagating Material for Agriculture,
Horticulture and Forestry. A Management Committee composed of
representatives of the Member States assists the Commission in those cases.
A Commission proposal can be rejected by qualified majority. The Commission
can despite this adopt the proposed law but has to get an opinion of
Council. If Council rejects it as well with qualified majority the law is
annulled. The European Parliament has a right of information.
Is there separate legislation on GM seeds?
Yes there is. All GM seed
varieties have to be approved and authorised in
the EU for cultivation under Directive 2001/18 on the deliberate release
into the environment of genetically modified organisms or under the
Regulation on genetically modified food and feed which will soon enter into
force. Authorisation is only granted after a positive scientific assessment
has concluded that no unacceptable risks to the environment or human health
is likely to appear.
Why is there a need to set thresholds for GM-impurities in conventional seeds?
Legislation on seeds has always
recognised that a 100% purity is not
possible, which is why thresholds have been set which take into account the
fact that plants are grown in an open field, that cross-pollination is a
natural phenomenon and that one cannot control wind and insects which
contribute to this. For example, certified soya beans may have up to 1%
impurities of another soy variety. Impurities can arrive through
cross-pollination, dissemination of volunteers and at harvest, transport
Thresholds in seeds also exist
for the presence of harmful organisms, e.g.
Genetic modifications have
been introduced in beet, maize, potato, swede
rape, soya bean, cotton, chicory and tomato world-wide. Only GM-maize,
GM-swede rape, GM-soya bean and GM-chicory are currently authorised in the
EU. Requests for authorisation for GM-potatoes, GM-beet and GM-cotton have
The EU is also heavily dependent
on imports of conventional seeds from
third countries where GM cultivation is present. About 33% maize seeds are
imported, 80% soya bean seeds, 66% cotton seeds and 10% rape seeds.
The experience of recent years
shows that the adventitiousor technically
unavoidablepresence of traces of GMOs in conventional seeds has therefore
become inevitable since it is an existing reality.
But although the seed directives
lay down minimum conditions in respect of
the seed harvested and intended to be marketed, in particular in respect of
varietal purity, they do not include specific requirements regarding the
presence of genetically modified seeds in seed lots of non-genetically
Therefore, to recognise this
reality and to facilitate the marketing of
seeds with traces of GM presence, it is proposed to establish de minimis
thresholds for such presence of authorised GM varieties only.
The thresholds should be adapted
to the reproductive system of the plants
concerned, the vegetative cycle, as well as the probability of adventitious
presence in the seed crop.
Conditions and requirements
could also be included for other plant species,
if appropriate, in the future.
What thresholds for GM-presence
in conventional seeds will the Commission
The proposed thresholds will
be established according to the species and
taking into account the reproductive systems of the plants:
0.3% for swede rape
0.5% for beet, maize, potato, cotton, chicory and tomato
0.7% for soya bean
The opinion of the Scientific
Committee of Plants (SCP) of 7 March
concerning the adventitious presence of genetically modified seed in
conventional seed has been considered while establishing the thresholds
proposed. The opinion has been reviewed and confirmed on 24 April 2002 and
on 30 January 2003.
What is the aim of such thresholds,
what is the relationship between the
seed thresholds and the labelling thresholds for food and feed products?
The thresholds which will
be proposed will be established at levels such
that food, feed or products intended for direct processing produced from
crops grown from non-genetically modified seed should have a GMO content
not exceeding the 0.9% threshold adopted by Council and European Parliament
and provided for by Regulation (EC) N° &/2003 on genetically modified food
and feed and by Regulation (EC) N° &../2003 on traceability and labelling
What kind of GMOs will benefit from the thresholds proposed?
It must be stressed that only
GMOs which have been assessed for their
safety to human health and the environment and authorised to be cultivated
will benefit from the seed thresholds.
The GM seeds present adventitiously
must indeed be authorised either a) as
GMOs for use in cultivation under Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate
release into the environment of genetically modified organisms or b) the
genetically modified organisms for food or feed use must be authorised to
be used as seeds under Regulation (EC) N° &./2003 on genetically modified
food and feed.
In the case of presence of
traces of genetically modified seeds in seeds of
a non-genetically modified variety to be used in food or feed, only GM
material derived from such GM seeds used in food or feed which is
authorised under Regulation (EC) N° &./2003 on genetically modified food
and feed is tolerated.
In order to benefit from the
seed thresholds, the presence of GM seeds must
in addition be adventitious or technically unavoidable.
Where the threshold is exceeded
or where the presence is not adventitious
or technically unavoidable, the label or document of a non-genetically
modified variety should state that the lot contains genetically modified
seeds and should specify the unique identifier(s) of the GMO(s).
Will these thresholds be important
for the co-existence of genetically
modified crops with conventional and organic farming?
The Commission has adopted
23 July 2003 a Recommendation on guidelines for
the development of national strategies and best practices to ensure the
coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic
In this Recommendation it
is emphasised that co-existence refers to the
ability of farmers to make a practical choice between the different types
of agriculture, in compliance with the legal obligations for labelling
It is stated that national
strategies and best practices for co-existence
should refer to the legal labelling thresholds and to the applicable purity
standards for food, feed and seed. The standards for food and feed have
just been established under the Regulation on GM food and feed. An
amendment of the seeds Directives will therefore provide the missing
thresholds for seeds.
30 Sept. 2003
Brazil Agrees to Cultivation of GM Soya For Now
[RIO DE JANEIRO] The Brazilian
government has decided to allow the
country's farmers to grow genetically modified (GM) soya for at least
The announcement, which has
sparked a storm of protest from environmental
groups, comes after the government decided provisionally earlier this year
to allow farmers that had illegally grown GM soya to sell their crops but
only until January 2004 (see Brazil to allow sale of illegally grown GM food)
The new legislation allows
farmers who have GM seeds in stock to grow GM
soya for the 2003/2004 harvest. The farmers will then be allow to sell GM
soya until December 2004, after which any remaining GM produce will have to
be destroyed. The legislation also makes farmers responsible for any health
or environmental damage that occurs as a result of the planting or
consumption of GM crops.
The Brazilian government has
been divided on the issue, reflecting strong
views within the Brazilian public. Vice-president José Alencar, for
example, who is standing in for President Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva while
he attends a UN meeting in the United States, initially refused to approve
the legislation, saying that it was illegal.
However after a long telephone
call with the President, Alencar is reported
to have agreed to sign the legislation, despite protests from the minister
of environment Marina Silva, the agricultural development minister Miguel
Rossetto, and several other government representatives.
The decision immediately triggered
demonstrations throughout the country.
Brazil's general procurator, Cláudio Fonteles, said that it could be the
subject of a legal challenge. And the Association of Federal Judges (Ajufe)
in Brazil announced that it will seek to have the decision overturned by a
A recent survey by the Brazilian
Institute of Public and Statistical
Opinion showed that 70 per cent of Brazilians would prefer to consume
products that are free of genetic modification
26 Sept. 2003
HarvestPlus: Cash Boost for Research to Make Crops More Healthy
A global research initiative
to develop crops with increased levels of
vitamins and minerals that are essential for human health has received a
boost with a US$25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The grant, announced today,
will support HarvestPlus, a public-private
initiative led by the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical
Agricultural Research (CIAT) and the US-based International Food Policy
Research Institute (IFPRI).
The initiative aims to develop
micronutrient-rich or 'biofortified'
varieties of six staple crops rice, wheat, maize, cassava, sweetpotato and
beans in a bid to end millions of cases of illness and death in the
developing world caused by a lack of micronutrients such as iron, zinc and
"Adding healthier food
to the agricultural research agenda is an idea whose
time has come," says Joachim von Braun, director general of IFPRI.
"Together with conventional strategies for improving nutrition, such as
fortification, supplementation, and diversification of food in diets, this
approach holds enormous potential."
The United Nations estimates
that nearly one third of the world's
population suffers from deficiencies in micronutrients, and malnutrition
contributes to more than half of child deaths in the developing world. Even
mild levels of micronutrient malnutrition can damage cognitive and physical
development, reduce disease resistance in children and increase the
likelihood of mothers dying in childbirth.
According to Howarth Bouis,
director of HarvestPlus, biofortified crops
have great potential in targeting those most affected by malnutrition
namely the rural poor who are also the most difficult to reach with
traditional nutrition programmes. "Biofortified crops have the potential to
transform the health of these communities by allowing them to grow crops
that are naturally fortified with essential micronutrients," he says.
The US$46 million initiative,
which is also funded by the World Bank and
the US Agency for International Development (USAID), will focus most of its
research during an initial four-year period on conventional plant breeding.
But some funds will also be allocated to exploratory research in developing
biofortified genetically modified crops.
Ian Johnson, World Bank vice
president on sustainable development and chair
of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, says that
the initiative shows how agriculture can be "a vehicle for public health
gains in a very low cost and easy way to deliver". He adds that it is also
an example of how "the application of science and technology will make the
difference [to the lives of the poor] in the next 20 to 30 years".
14 Oct. 2003
University of Illinois Shares in Major Grant to Increase Vitamin A in Corn
Researchers at the University
of Illinois will share in a three-year, $1.6
million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to
develop corn hybrids with higher levels of vitamin A and other
micronutrients. Other partners in this initiative are the International
Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, the International Institute of Tropical
Agriculture, Iowa State University, Monsanto Company, and Wageningen
Additional funds for this
overall effort will come from HarvestPlus, a
global research initiative to breed and disseminate crops for better
nutrition, which is being spearheaded by the International Food Policy
Research Institute and the International Center for Tropical Agricultural
Torbert Rocheford, associate
professor of plant genetics in the Department
of Crop Sciences, notes that this new initiative fits well with ongoing
research at the University of Illinois to develop corn hybrids with
enhanced levels of vitamin A.
"We have a major program
underway for screening germplasm for sources with
higher levels of beta carotene and other compounds that are essential for
producing vitamin A," Rocheford said "As a result, we have already
developed new genetic material that has some of the highest known levels of
beta carotene in the world."
He notes that other research
at the University of Illinois has focused on
identifying chromosome regions that have genes responsible for higher
levels of those compounds.
"The additional funding
from this initiative will contribute to our
research program and allow us to move more quickly toward the goal of
developing new corn hybrids with enhanced levels of vitamin A," Rocheford said.
Rocheford points out that
development of corn with improved levels of this
essential vitamin could have a major impact on improving the health of
large numbers of people in developing countries.
According to the United Nations,
nearly one-third of the world's population
suffers from deficiencies in micronutrients, such as iron, zinc, and
vitamin A. Even mild levels of micronutrient malnutrition can damage
cognitive and physical development, lower disease resistance in children,
and reduce the likelihood that mothers survive childbirth.
"By using crops that
have been bred to contain higher levels of essential
vitamins and micronutrients, developing countries could reduce some of the
time and expense associated with distributing supplemental vitamin and
mineral pills," Rocheford said. "The technique of bio-fortifying staple
crops such as corn will allow us to more easily spread the health benefits
to populations around the world."
17 Oct. 2003
Iowa State University Researchers Working on Nutritional Value of Corn Hybrids
Pew Initiative on Food and
Plant scientists are working
to develop corn fortified with beta carotene
to help fight blindness, birth defects and malnutrition in developing
nations, reports AP.
The research, under way at
Iowa State University in Ames, also involves
identifying known hybrids high in beta carotene. The substance is converted
by the human body into vitamin A, which is essential for vision, cell
division and growth.
"Corn is a good way of
delivering vitamin A because you to deliver it with
fats and oils that help in its uptake," said Stephen Howell, director of
the university's Plant Sciences Institute.
The project has two components:
Geneticist Steve Rodermel will lead a team
in developing the new corn varieties and nutrition expert Wendy White will
examine how vitamin A enrichment works.
"The crucial question
is how much the beta carotene needs to be increased
in this corn kernel," White said in a statement. "To answer this question,
we first have to understand how much of the beta carotene is absorbed by
the body and converted into vitamin A to meet daily requirements."
The study will focus on the
48 developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa
that use corn as their staple food, according to the AP.
"Nigeria will be one
of the first test sites for at least part of the
project," Howell said.
"In fact, a particular
area has been defined and there will be a team that
will go out and conduct some feeding studies," he said.
Initially, existing hybrids high in beta carotene will be planted, Howell said.
Iowa State will share in a
$1.6 million, three-year grant from the U.S.
Agency for International Development. Its partners on the project are the
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico; the
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria; the University
of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Wageningen University, the Netherlands; and
Monsanto Co. in St. Louis.
Any scientific findings will be shared freely, Howell said.
"I don't think we would
be doing this if we weren't intending that the
outcome of this would be of great benefit to the nutrition and diet of
these countries," he said in the AP report.
17 Oct. 2003
Russia's Supreme Arbitration
Court Strikes Down Plan to Evict Seed Bank at
St. Petersburg, Russia
A precious seed bank, one
of the world's major sources of genes used to
create better crops, survived the Nazi siege of Leningrad and may now,
according to this story, escape government efforts to take away the
building in which it is kept.
The story explains that the
Supreme Arbitration Court last week struck down
a December 2002 government resolution to transfer ownership of two downtown
St. Petersburg buildings housing the Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry to
the presidential property management department, local news agencies
Scientists at the institute
were outraged by the government's decision,
recalling the sacrifices employees made to save the collection during the
28-month blockade of the city during World War II, some dying of starvation
while several tons of edible seeds and grain sat in the basement of the
building on St. Isaac's Square.
The oldest seeds in the collection,
founded in 1922 by plant geneticist
Nikolai Vavilov, date back to 1894. Experts have estimated the value of the
collection at $8 trillion.
The N.I. Vavilov Institute
of Plant Industry is the only research
institution in Russia whose activities include plant genetics resources
(PGR) collection, conservation and study. This Institute, its
accomplishments, and role in maintaining the global ex situ collection are
well known world-wide. Its global PGR collection represents plant diversity
encompassing 320,000 accessions of 155 botanical families, 2,532 species of
425 genera. For instance, the collection harbours 95,000 accessions of
grain crops, over 43,000 of legumes, 52,000 of groat crops, 26,000 of
industrial crops, 28,000 of fodder crops, about 10,000 of potato, and
50,000 of vegetables. VIR also maintains a herbarium of 260,000 specimens.
169 thousand accessions promising
materials for breeding and donors of most
important commercial traits required for breeding of new cultivars and
hybrids in different regions of Russia have been deposited in the National
Seed Storage Facility at the Kuban Experiment Station.
The scientific network of
VIR includes the institute's headquarters with 9
plant resources departments, 13 fundamental research laboratories, and 12
experiment stations in different geographic zones of Russia.
15 Oct. 2003
University of California Scientists
Discover Plant Gene that Promotes
Production of Ozone-Destroying Methyl Halides
A team of University of California
- San Diego scientists has identified a
gene that controls the production by terrestrial plants of methyl halides,
gaseous compounds that contribute to the destruction of ozone in the
The discovery of the gene,
detailed in the October 14 issue of the journal
Current Biology, is important because it now provides scientists with a
genetic tool with which to probe how and why plants produce methyl halides.
The identification of the gene should also help researchers determine the
extent to which plants emit methyl halides into the atmosphere and why
certain plants increase their methyl halide emissions in high salt
The team of plant geneticists
at UC San Diego and atmospheric chemists at
UC Irvine dubbed the gene HOL for Harmless to Ozone Layerbecause disruption
of the gene largely eliminates methyl halide production. The researchers
discovered the gene in Arabidopsis, a mustard plant in the cabbage family
that is used commonly in genetic studies.
The researchers also found
closely related variants, or homologues, of the
HOL gene in the genetic databases of rice, cotton, corn and barley.
Homologues had been identified separately in cabbage and a salt marsh plant
by geneticists at the University of Montreal and the University of
Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, respectively. These discoveries, taken
together, indicate that the gene is likely a common trait of all
terrestrial plants. However, the scientists emphasize that the ubiquity of
the HOL gene in plants and their results cannot be used to suggest that
plants are responsible for the depletion of the earths ozone layer.
Stratospheric ozone depletion
is a human-created problem,says Robert C.
Rhew, an assistant professor of geography at UC Berkeley who noted that
most of the bromine and chlorine that reach the stratosphere are produced
by humans. Methyl halides are tricky compounds to study because they
emanate from both natural and human sources, and our study addresses the
current pressing question of how and why these methyl halides are
produced.Rhew conducted the study while a postdoctoral researcher in the
laboratory of Eric S. Saltzman, a professor of earth system science at UC
Irvine who is also a co-author.
The take-home message of this
study is that all plants probably have this
gene,says Lars Østergaard, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of
Martin Yanofsky, a UCSD biology professor and a co-author. Now we can
determine more precisely the impact plants have on the production of methyl
halides and whether it might be appropriate or feasible to engineer crops
to minimize the expression of this gene.
Østergaard and Yanofsky
began their collaboration with the UC Irvine
chemists several years ago, when Rhew, a former graduate student at UCSDs
Scripps Institution of Oceanography working on identifying natural sources
of methyl halides, wondered if a plant gene could be found that controlled
methyl halide production.
Human-produced compounds that
release chlorine and bromine into the
atmospheresuch as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons and industrially
produced methyl bromidehave long been identified as stratospheric ozone
depleting compounds and are gradually being phased out under the 1987
Montreal Protocol in an effort to reduce the halogen load in the atmosphere.
But a number of studies in
recent years have found that some crops also
contribute to the atmosphere a small fraction of ozone-reacting methyl
halides, such as methyl chloride, methyl iodide and methyl bromidea
compound that is manufactured to be used in agriculture as a soil fumigant,
but which will be phased out completely by the Montreal Protocol by 2005.
One such study published in
Science three years ago by a UC Irvine team
estimated, from measurements of a rice paddy over a period of two years,
that rice farming around the world contributes 1 percent of the total
methyl bromide and 5 percent of the methyl iodide emissions.
The major industrial sources
of these halides increasingly are being
regulated, but we still must uncover their natural sources,says UCI
Chancellor Ralph J. Cicerone, a leading expert on ozone depletion who
headed the Science study. We only know where half of the methyl chloride
and two-thirds of the methyl bromide are coming from. The identification of
the HOL gene is a critical step forward in allowing us to determine more
precisely the contribution of plants to these unknown, natural sources of
Another study, published by
Rhew while a graduate student at Scripps,
estimated that 10 percent of the natural global emissions of methyl
chloride and methyl bromide could be coming from salt marshes, which make
up less than a tenth of one percent of the global terrestrial surface area.
Other studies have identified biomass burning, leaded gasoline combustion,
fungi and the oceans as primary sources of methyl halides.
Scientists have discovered
that as the concentration of salts, or halides,
increase in the soil or water, plants tend to release more of those methyl
halides into the atmosphere. This suggests that the current push to
generate new varieties of salt-tolerant crops to increase food production
may have the unintended effect of increasing methyl halide emissions.
The University of California
team discovered that the HOL gene controls the
production of an enzyme that catalyzes the production in plants of methyl
bromide, methyl chloride and methyl iodide. The scientists found that the
addition of bromide salts to a substrate on which their Arabidopsis plants
grew led to a more than a thousand-fold increase in methyl bromide. But
plants with a mutant, non-working copy of the HOL gene, the scientists
discovered, produced only 15 percent of the methyl chloride, 4 percent of
the methyl bromide and 1 percent of the methyl iodide of normal, wild-type
The UC scientists say the
enzyme produced by the HOL gene may function to
metabolize plant compounds that are thought to serve as insect repellents,
suggesting that plants may have initially evolved the biochemical pathway
that produces methyl halide emissions to ward off insects. This may provide
an additional challenge to scientists seeking to genetically engineer salt
tolerant crops that can minimize methyl halide production without losing
their natural insect resistance.
By studying plants with normal
and mutant copies of this gene,says Yanofsky
of UCSD, we should be able to address the question of whether the gene is
important for pathogen resistance.
The study was supported by
grants from the National Science Foundation and
NOAAs Postdoctoral Program in Climate and Global Change.
UC San Diego news release
13 Oct 2003
Purdue University Researchers Solve Decades-old Corn, Sorghum Problem
A team of Purdue University
researchers has recently uncovered the genetic
mechanism that prevents certain crop plants from growing tall - a finding
that has future crop production applications since some grains produce
greater yields if plants are kept short.
Guri Johal, assistant professor
of botany and plant pathology, and his
colleagues have identified the process that generates dwarfed corn and
sorghum plants, which grow to roughly half the height of their normal
counterparts. This discovery may help in the development of dwarf forms in
other crops, which hold the potential to improve food production in certain
regions of the world.
In the study, they also have
revealed the genetic process behind an
unstable variety of sorghum frequently used in commercial production. Their
findings are reported in Friday's (10/3) issue of Science.
Dwarf forms of crops, including
wheat, rice and sorghum, are of significant
agronomic importance, Johal said.
"Dwarf plants put more
of their energy into producing grains, instead of
growing tall," he said. That means farmers can apply fertilizers to crops
with the intent of increasing yield without the worry that plants will grow
so tall they topple over from wind, rain or even their own weight.
Increased yields of dwarf varieties of wheat, introduced throughout India,
Pakistan, and Southeast Asia during the 1960s, prevented massive food
shortages in those regions, he said.
Guri Johal, assistant professor
of botany and plant pathology at Purdue
University, kneels before a dwarf form of corn. Johal and his colleagues
have recently identified the genetic mechanism responsible for this dwarfed
A dwarf form of corn called
brachytic2 (br2) was recognized in 1951, but
until now, scientists have not understood the genetic mechanism underlying
the plant's mutation. These dwarf mutants are somewhat unusual, as their
lower stalks are highly compressed but the upper portions of the plant,
including the ears and tassels, are normal. A related mutant in sorghum
called dwarf 3 (dw3) has been put into widespread cultivation because it
displays ideal crop characteristics, such as increased grain yield and
improved stalk strength and quality, Johal said.
Johal and his colleagues found
that loss of a gene product called a
p-glycoprotein generates these dwarf corn and sorghum plants by interfering
with the movement of auxin, an essential hormone in plant growth and
development. They also have identified the genetic mechanism that causes
dwarf sorghum plants to spontaneously revert to a taller form.
In corn, the normal gene Br2
produces a p-glycoprotein, and the researchers
found that a mutation in this gene is responsible for the altered growth of
the dwarf plant. They also found that the dwarf mutants, while shorter than
their taller counterparts, have more cells per unit area in the stalk,
which makes the stalks stronger and perhaps more effective at retaining water.
Although p-glycoproteins are
involved in transporting molecules across cell
membranes, their exact function still has not been conclusively shown.
"This finding in br2
dwarf mutants demonstrates the 'real-world' impact of
research involving model plants," said Angus Murphy, assistant professor of
horticulture and a collaborator on the study. Murphy recently demonstrated
that in Arabidopsis, a plant commonly used as a model system in plant
genetics and molecular biology, mutations in a p-glycoprotein gene similar
to Br2 disrupt auxin flow, leading to alteration of the plant's form.
"After discovering that
p-glycoproteins control hormonal movement in
Arabidopsis, we were able to apply that information to demonstrate that the
same mechanism underlies a well-described phenomenon in corn," Murphy said.
"The kind of collaboration that produced this discovery is one of the
unique characteristics of the Purdue research environment."
Johal and Murphy work in different
academic departments located in
different buildings - but they both agree that the combination of their
diverse areas of expertise was key to their success.
"This study has been
a perfect match between genetics and physiology,"
Johal said. "Geneticists have known about this mutation for years, but
without this collaboration, we would not have been able to reveal the
physiological changes that cause it. Our combined areas of research
complement one another very well."
Johal and his colleagues also
report in the current study that a genetic
phenomenon involving a direct duplication of a part of a normal gene causes
instability in the sorghum dwarf mutant dw3. A direct duplication occurs in
a gene when a portion of its DNA sequence is repeated elsewhere in the
gene. In the case of the dw3 mutant, Johal and his colleagues show that a
direct duplication in the normal gene not only generates the dwarf
mutation, but also is responsible for the mutant occasionally reverting to
its tall form.
like the one we see in dw3, are unstable because they
can self-correct," Johal said.
In another phenomenon of genetics,
called recombination, a duplicated
portion of a gene can be removed by a process called unequal crossing over,
during which pairs of chromosomes slightly misalign to exchange
corresponding segments of DNA. The end result of this unequal crossing over
is that the dw3 dwarf reverts back to its normal form.
Curiously, one of the sorghum
plants in the study had the dwarfed
appearance typical of dw3, but Johal found that it lacked the duplication
responsible for dwarfing in other dw3 plants they studied. According to
Johal, the dw3 gene in this plant experienced unequal crossing over, which,
by removing the direct duplication, should have restored normal height.
However, this crossing over event introduced a few minor changes in the
gene that were significant enough to disrupt its function and still cause
the plant's dwarfed growth.
Because this gene lacks the
duplication, Johal said it is a stable mutant
that will not revert back to a tall form.
"This single discovery
of a stable mutant will have an immediate impact on
sorghum breeding," Johal said. "Now that we have identified this stable
mutant, the dw3 mutant can be corrected for commercial breeding."
Unlike dwarf sorghum, dwarf
corn has not been put into commercial use
partly because corn hybrids grown in the United States are not excessively
tall. In addition, br2 tends to produce barren plants when grown at high
densities. Furthermore, the equipment in use in the United States today
would not be able to effectively harvest significantly shorter plants, he said.
However, he said the discovery
of the dwarfing mechanism may renew interest
in developing a dwarf corn with improved yield, which could be of
particular interest in developing countries.
Dwarf varieties of rice and
wheat, introduced during the 1960s throughout
the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, were largely responsible for
thwarting famine, Johal said.
"The population explosion
in those regions placed many people at risk of
starvation," he said. "The introduction of dwarfing lines tripled or even
quadrupled the yield of wheat and helped prevent massive food shortages."
This increase in crop yield,
brought on by the introduction of dwarf crops
and other technologies, is often referred to as the "green revolution" in
According to Johal, sorghum
may be crucial to the future impact of the
"The next round of the
green revolution must impact Africa," he said.
"Sorghum, which is a staple in many parts of Africa, especially sub-Saharan
Africa, could play a key role there."
Other cereal crops, including
teff, a grain grown primarily in Ethiopia,
and basmati rice, grown in India, which both grow unusually tall, also may
benefit from the discovery reported in this study, Johal said.
This research was supported
by start-up funds made available to Johal by
Purdue University and a National Science Foundation grant awarded to
Murphy. Other collaborators on the study included Dilbag S. Multani and
Mark Chamberlin of Hi-Bred International Inc., Steven P. Briggs of Diversa
Corp., and Joshua J. Blakeslee of Purdue University.
Jennifer Cutraro, (765) 496-2050, firstname.lastname@example.org
Guri Johal, (765) 494-4448,
Angus Murphy, (765) 496--7956, email@example.com
Related Web sites:
Guri Johal: http://www.btny.purdue.edu/Faculty/Johal/
Angus Murphy: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/hort/people/faculty/murphy.shtml
Loss of an MDR transporter
in compact stalks of maize br2 and sorghum dw3
Dilbag S. Multani, Steven P. Briggs, Mark A. Chamberlin, Joshua A.
Blakeslee, Angus S. Murphy, Gurmukh S. Johal
reduction in plant height is usually achieved
by blocking the action or production of gibberellins. Here we describe a
different dwarfing mechanism found in maize brachytic2 (br2) mutants
characterized by compact lower stalk internodes. The height reduction in
these plants results from the loss of a P-glycoprotein that modulates polar
auxin transport in the maize stalk. The sorghum ortholog of br2 is dwarf3
(dw3), an unstable mutant of longstanding commercial interest and concern.
A direct duplication within the dw3 gene is responsible for its mutant
nature and also for its instability, because it facilitates unequal
crossing-over at the locus.
2 Oct 2003
A Complex History of Rearrangement
in an Orthologous Region of the Maize,
Sorghum, and Rice Genomes
Proceedings of the National
Academy of Science (PNAS)
Vol. 100, no. 21, 12265-12270
by Katica Ilic * , Phillip J. SanMiguel and Jeffrey L. Bennetzen *
*Department of Biological
Sciences, Purdue University, 201 South
University, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2064; and Purdue University Genomics
Core Facility, Purdue University, 170 South University, West Lafayette, IN
The sequences of large insert
clones containing genomic DNA that is
orthologous to the maize adh1 region were obtained for sorghum, rice, and
the adh1-homoeologous region of maize, a remnant of the tetraploid history
of the Zea lineage. By using all four genomes, it was possible to describe
the nature, timing, and lineages of most of the genic rearrangements that
have differentiated this chromosome segment over the last 60 million years.
The rice genome has been the most stable, sharing 11 orthologous genes with
sorghum and exhibiting only one tandem duplication of a gene in this
region. The lineage that gave rise to sorghum and maize acquired a two-gene
insertion (containing the adh locus), whereas sorghum received two
additional gene insertions after its divergence from a common ancestor with
maize. The two homoeologous regions of maize have been particularly
unstable, with complete or partial deletion of three genes from one segment
and four genes from the other segment. As a result, the region now contains
only one duplicated locus compared with the eight original loci that were
present in each diploid progenitor. Deletion of these maize genes did not
remove both copies of any locus. This study suggests that grass genomes are
generally unstable in local genome organization and gene content, but that
some lineages are much more unstable than others. Maize, probably because
of its polyploid origin, has exhibited extensive gene loss so that it is
now approaching a diploid state.
14 Oct 2003
'Slow DMD' Barley Promises Major Gains for Cattle Feeding
Researchers are making major
progress toward building a better barley for
feedlot cattle with a new effort toward "slow DMD" barley varieties, says
Dr. Brian Rossnagel of the University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre.
The key trait in the potential
varieties is a slower rate of dry matter
disappearance (DMD,) says Rossnagel, whose effort is supported in part by
producers through the Barley Check-off Fund, administered by Western Grains
Research Foundation (WGRF.) Feeders often refer to barley as "too hot" -
its rapid digestion can lead to the twin problems of acidosis and bloat,
which can reduce feed intake and weight gain. But cattle fed slow DMD
barley digest the grain more slowly, reducing the buildup of volatile fatty
acids and gases that cause these problems.
"Slow DMD barley will
allow cattle to maintain feed intake at a higher
level," says Rossnagel. "As a result, we estimate a significant improvement
in barley's feed-to-gain ratio. We're just getting started with this
material, so the first registered variety will likely be five to seven
years away, but our chances of success are quite promising. It looks like
there is good potential for improving this trait."
Cattle feed is arguably the
most important end use of barley on a volume
basis - 80 percent of total barley production is ultimately used as feed,
with 75 to 80 percent of this used by cattle, says Rossnagel. But the
complexities of the rumen environment have made it extremely difficult for
incremental grain improvements to have any impact on animal performance.
Now, a rise in the power of science and in screening technology has widened
the opportunity for identifying beneficial nutritional and digestibility
characteristics, and incorporating these into new varieties.
The slow DMD trait was first
identified and bred into new barley varieties
by researchers at Montana State University (MSU), which has released the
variety Valier, the first North American variety bred specifically for slow
DMD. "The slow DMD trait appears to be well expressed in Valier, but the
agronomics of the variety aren't well suited for Canadian production," says
Rossnagel. "At the Crop Development Centre, we have a long-standing
relationship of sharing material with MSU, and we are now using some of
their material along with other germplasm to develop slow DMD varieties for
The Crop Development Centre
has made several initial crosses with Valier
and is also working with material from the world barley germplasm
collection, which shows an even slower rate of dry matter disappearance.
"The starch in all cereal
grain is held in the kernel in a protein matrix,
which is broken down in the digestive process," explains Rossnagel. "Slow
DMD barley has a different starch-protein matrix structure compared to a
traditional barley such as Harrington. If you take Harrington and roll it,
the result is a relatively powdery substance with very exposed starch
granules - the rumen enzymes can digest this really fast. With slow DMD
barley, as with corn, this rapid digestion is much less likely to happen
because the starch is held more tightly in its protein matrix.
"Slow DMD barley will
not completely eliminate acidosis and bloat problems,
but it should greatly reduce them."
More information on this topic
is available in the latest WGRF Industry
Report newsletter, which focuses on "Building a better feed barley for
cattle." The Industry Report is available on the WGRF Web site,
The Barley Check-off Fund
allocates approximately $600,000 annually to
barley breeding programs. The Fund is administered by Western Grains
Research Foundation, based on an annual check-off of $0.40/tonne, deducted
from Canadian Wheat Board final payments to producers in Saskatchewan and
20 Oct 2003
University of Minnesota Receives NSF Grant to Sequence Legume Genome
MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL--The
University of Minnesota has received $10.8
million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a multi-institution
initiative to sequence the genome of a model legume known by its scientific
name, Medicago truncatula (the barrel medic). Medicago truncatula is the
third plant genome to be sequenced; only Arabidopsis--a plant widely
studied as a model green plant--and rice have been sequenced to date.
Medicago was given such high priority because it provides an excellent
experimental system to study agriculturally important legumes like
soybeans, mung beans, chickpeas, cowpeas, and lentils, crops that
constitute the major source of protein for people throughout the developing
world. Alfalfa is also a legume and is a major source of protein for
foraging cattle and a close relative of Medicago truncatula.
Nevin Young, a professor with
a joint appointment in the departments of
plant pathology and plant biology in the university's College of
Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, will lead the work, which is
part of NSF's plant genome research program.
Legumes acquire their high
protein content by virtue of their ability to
produce their own fertilizer through a process known as nitrogen fixation.
Legumes also produce many novel compounds with health-promoting properties,
such as anti-cancer activity.
"Legumes are responsible
for a majority of the biologically generated
nitrogen in the world, especially in agriculture," said Young. That is,
before the expensive, energy-intensive process of commercial fertilizer
production was invented, agriculture worldwide depended on legumes to
supply the nitrogen needed to make protein. Legumes perform this feat with
the help of bacteria that infect their roots and form specialized
structures called nodules. Within nodules, nitrogen gas from the air is
converted into a form that living organisms can use to make amino acids and
The special compounds legumes
make include phytoestrogens and isoflavones,
which have been linked to many health benefits. By sequencing the genome,
scientists will have the basic tool to understand all these processes and
put them to work to improve health and nutrition, Young said.
"We need to have a complete
inventory of the genes and gene products," he
said. "Until then, we won't even know what we don't know about legume
biology. It's like trying to build a car without a complete parts list.
With the genome sequence, scientists can sit down and look at all the
pieces involved in making health-promoting compounds, converting nitrogen
to a usable form, and packing legumes with protein and figure out ways to
make them work better."
Of special interest is the
way legumes and the bacteria that infect their
roots "tell" each other who they are. Such communication is essential for
the two organisms to recognize each other and take the next steps in the
cooperation that leads to nitrogen being "fixed" into usable forms. The
only way to understand the communication is to get a complete gene sequence
for legumes, said Young. The sequence for the infecting bacteria has
already been determined, in a project that included another University of
Minnesota professor, Michael Sadowsky.
The value of having the Medicago gene sequence will be manifold.
"We want to develop more
intelligent ways of using crops through
traditional breeding, as well as new avenues for applying biotechnology,"
said Young. "We want plants to fix nitrogen and produce useful compounds as
efficiently as possible." He noted that the genes governing the
interactions between legumes and beneficial bacteria also control
interactions with soil fungi. The roots of many crops, trees and other
plants depend on the biochemical "talents" of fungi in order to extract
water and nutrients from soil.
Young directs a group that
includes Bruce Roe, director of the University
of Oklahoma Genome Center, and Chris Town of The Institute for Genome
Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Md. The cooperative agreement between
Minnesota and NSF is for $10.8 million over three years, and it adds to
more than $5 million in Medicago genomics research already underway at
Minnesota. Young will direct the sequencing project and coordinate its
bioinformatics component in cooperation with Ernest Retzel of Minnesota's
Center for Computational Genomics and Bioinformatics. Bioinformatics is the
discipline that deals with extracting useful information from reams of
data, such as is generated in any sequencing project. Roe and Town will
lead the actual DNA sequencing work, which will be performed at highly
specialized robotic facilities at Oklahoma and TIGR.
The Minnesota-led project
is matched by a parallel Medicago sequencing
initiative under way in Europe, primarily in England and France. Medicago
has eight chromosomes; the U.S. group will be sequencing six, and the
European group will sequence two. The researchers will concentrate on the
gene-rich regions of chromosomes.
As a model legume, the Medicago
genome sequence is expected to
revolutionize the field of plant genomics. Scientists will quickly begin to
discover the genes responsible for important biological processes like
nitrogen fixation, plant-microbe symbiosis and the synthesis of
health-promoting compounds. The Medicago sequence is also expected to speed
the development of new scientific tools for legume research, including DNA
chips and DNA microarrays, techniques that enable researchers to predict
the functions of proteins. The Medicago genome sequence is even expected to
simplify and accelerate future sequencing efforts envisioned for crops like
20 Oct 2003
Resurrecting Hope: Drought Tolerant Crops
Scientists are researching
ways of genetically improving a plant's ability
to cope with drought. They believe that an answer lies in a unique plant,
X. viscosa. This plant can survive long periods without water, and then,
when the rains come, "resurrect itself". The secret they say is in its genes.
A type of resurrection plant,
Xerophyta viscosa Baker is an unusual (and
very tough) plant. Xerophyta viscosa is particular to Africa and is found
in mountain top habitats such as Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg
mountains, which stretch across Lesotho and South Africa.
This plant has many medicinal
applications. The species of resurrection
plant known in Zulu as 'isiphemba' or 'isiqumama' (Xerophyta retinervis) is
used for asthma treatment, nose bleeds, general aches and as an
anti-inflammatory. The active ingredient, called amentoflavone, is also
found in gingko extract. But there is a critically important aspect to
these resurrection plants which has nothing to do with medicine and has
another branch of science very, very interested.
What is so unique about X.
viscosa amongst the higher plants, is that it is
able to survive long periods without water. When it rains again, the plants
rehydrate completely and remarkably resume their full metabolic functions
within 24 to72 hours, depending on the species (1).
Imagine if other plants, in
particular crop plants, were capable of this?
To the average farmer or small crop grower living in drought-prone regions
this may seem a little far-fetched. Scientists say that this may in fact be
achievable. The secret is in the genes. X. viscosa's ability to survive
extremes of temperature, high winds and lack of water that would see other
plants perish, is in fact genetically coded.
Excerpted from Science in Africa, October 2003
IUB Biologist Gets $2.6 Million to Study Soybean Disease Resistance
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The National
Science Foundation has approved funding
for a new three-year, $2.6 million Indiana University Bloomington study of
genes that make soybean plants resistant to disease.
IUB biologist Roger Innes
leads a team of scientists from the University of
Minnesota Twin Cities, Cornell University, Virginia Tech, the University of
Oklahoma and IUB. The researchers will sequence a large segment of DNA
shared by soybean and its wild relatives that includes genes for disease
resistance. The location and identification of these genes is a crucial
step in the isolation and transfer of these genes to crops that may benefit
from enhanced disease resistance.
Despite lingering questions
about their ecological effects, the genetic
modification of crops presents an alternative to pesticide use -- a
prospect that appeals to both farmers and consumers.
Soybean (Glycine species)
is second only to corn in number of acres planted
in the United States and is an important source of protein and oil for
humans and animals.
To speak with Innes, contact
David Bricker at 812-856-9035 or
25 Sept. 2003
Fly Bites Plant, but Plants Can Bite Back, Purdue Scientists Find
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. The Hessian
fly changes wheat growth by injecting
poisons into the plants, but a newly discovered resistance gene that can
kill the insect may add a new defensive weapon for the grain crop.
Using the new gene in combination
with other genes is expected to extend
resistance time to the most economically damaging insect of wheat by as
much as six times. Scientists from Purdue University and the U.S.
Department of AgricultureAgricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) mapped
the new gene and two closely linked markers, or bits of DNA, that indicate
its presence in soft red winter wheat.
Results of the study are published
in this month's issue of the journal
Theoretical and Applied Genetics.
"Although 30 other genes
resistant to the Hessian fly are known, this is
the first resistance gene found on this particular chromosome," said
Christie Williams, Purdue entomology assistant professor and USDA-ARS
scientist. "The unique chromosomal location is important because it will
allow us to easily pyramid the gene with other resistance genes to extend
the durability of resistance against this pest."
When several genes are combined
in one plant to create the desired effect,
in this case better resistance to the Hessian fly, it is called pyramiding.
In order to pyramid genes successfully, they must be in different locations
in the genome.
Now that Purdue researchers
have discovered the gene, called H31, and know
that it's on a different chromosome than previously known Hessian fly
resistance genes, they will intentionally breed wheat plants with three
different Hessian fly resistance genes, Williams said. This should be
especially effective because all of the genes to be used are strong genes
in other words, 100 percent of the plants containing them would be
resistant under almost any stress, such as drought.
crossbreeding and selection is used to transfer
the Hessian fly resistance genes into a single plant. It doesn't involve
any genetic engineering.
The soft red winter wheat
studied in this research is used mainly for
pastries, although the H31 resistance gene has its origin in pasta wheat.
The researchers used an insect that is a widespread and highly virulent
strain, the L biotype of the Hessian fly.
Hessian fly infestations have
been controlled for about 60 years in the
United States by wheat varieties naturally resistant to the fly. Hessian
flies can overcome a single newly released resistance gene in about eight
years, Williams said. However, by combining several different genes that
afford protection from the pest, scientists believe resistance can be
extended for 50 years.
"Computer modeling predicts
that if three Hessian fly resistance genes are
combined in one cultivar or line of wheat and planted along with a few
susceptible plants that serve as a refuge for weaker strains of the fly, we
can extend the durability of resistance," she said. "We want to pyramid the
resistance genes in wheat plants because it's much harder for the Hessian
fly to overcome three different resistance genes simultaneously."
For the flies and the plants, it's the old axiom: survival of the fittest.
The flies conquer the plants'
resistance because a few of the insects are
genetically strong enough to survive on resistant plants that kill the
majority of the larvae. When two surviving Hessian flies mate, their
offspring are capable of overcoming the plant's resistance. This continues
until all the flies in the area are able to withstand the plants' genetic
At that point, a new line
of plants with different resistance genes must be
The method of using natural
genes in the plants to protect against a pest
is called host plant resistance.
"Host plant resistance
is really the preferred way of dealing with many
insect problems because it lessens the need to apply chemicals that can
degrade the environment," Williams said.
The Hessian fly, which German
mercenaries apparently introduced to North
America during the Revolutionary War, causes catastrophic losses if not
controlled by resistant plants. In Morocco, which didn't have resistant
plants until recently, the Hessian fly destroyed 36 percent of the
country's wheat crop annually. During the 1980s the state of Georgia
suffered $28 million in lost wheat in one year after the fly overcame the
plants' resistance gene used in the area at the time.
The Hessian fly is particularly
insidious because it actually can control
the wheat plant's development.
The adult fly lays eggs on
the plant leaves. After the eggs hatch, the
resulting tiny, red larvae crawl down to the base of the wheat where they
feed on the plant. If the plant isn't resistant to the insect, the larvae
inject chemicals from their saliva into the plant that completely alter the
wheat's physiology and growth.
The plant stops growing and
actually begins producing more sugar and
protein in order to feed the larvae. Specialized cells develop in the wheat
plant so that the insect has the perfect environment to grow, Williams said.
"If the plant is resistant,
there is no visible sign that the flies have
been on the plant," she said. "Resistant plants will kill the larvae in
about four days."
Williams and her research
team hope to determine the biochemical processes
that allow the Hessian fly to control the plants and also the ones that
enable the plants to kill the insect.
Other scientists involved
with this study are: Chad Collier, Department of
Entomology and USDA-ARS laboratory technician; Nagesh Sardesai, Department
of Entomology postdoctoral fellow; Herb Ohm, Department of Agronomy
professor; Sue Cambron, USDA-ARS research associate.
USDA provided funding for this study.
Writer: Susan A. Steeves,
(765) 496-7481, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Christie Williams, (765) 494-6763, email@example.com
Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, firstname.lastname@example.org;
22 Sept. 2003
New Defense Against Hessian Fly May Lie in Insect's Saliva
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Erin Kendrick-Peabody, (301) 504-1624, email@example.com
Imagine this scene: The larva
of a Hessian fly bites into the tender leaf
of a wheat plant. In its saliva are substances poisonous to the plant,
causing stunted growth and even death. But this time, endowed with unique
resistance genes that act like an alarm system, the wheat is able to detect
the intruder and deploy a fighting response.
Scientists with the Agricultural
Research Service and Kansas State
University (KSU) aim to give wheat this defensive edge by understanding its
enemy's offensive arsenal. For the first time, ARS entomologist Ming-Shun
Chen and KSU colleague Xuming Liu have identified several genes from the
Hessian fly's salivary glands that may be responsible for triggering
release of the plant-altering compounds.
What makes the Hessian fly
such a troubling pest is its ability to reinvent
itself--literally. The Hessian fly, which has plagued U.S. wheat farmers
since at least the Revolutionary War, has countless biotypes. In other
words, the insect is capable of mutating to produce races that can overcome
the resistant wheat plants put out by scientists and breeders.
Engaged in a vicious cycle,
plant breeders must have new wheat varieties
ready to fend off the resilient Hessian fly, which typically makes a
comeback in six to 10 years. And as the pool of fly genes with
counter-resistance grows, the task of creating hardy wheat plants becomes
increasingly more difficult.
Hoping to find a more stable
solution, Chen and Liu have gone to the source
of the unique Hessian fly-wheat interaction: the fly's salivary glands.
There the potent molecules are synthesized and directed into the wheat
plant. These compounds appear to help create a favorable environment for
the developing Hessian fly larva.
Chen's next step is to determine
if the recently found fly genes and gene
products are associated with the virulence, or counter-resistance, of the
different fly biotypes.
The Hessian fly has been known
to cause up to $100 million worth of damage
and crop losses in a single year.
ARS is the chief scientific
research agency of the U.S. Department of
17 Oct. 2003
Ohio State University Tomato Researcher Studies Shape of Things to Come
That round cherry tomatoes
go in salads and long roma tomatoes go in cans
is no mystery. What remains a puzzle for researchers is why tomatoes come
in so many different shapes and how and when such variations occur.
But not for much longer.
Ohio State University geneticist
Esther van der Knaap is leading a unique
research project aimed at unraveling the tomato morphology code. Her goal
is to understand vital development processes that determine whether
tomatoes are round, elongated or shaped like a pear.
"We are trying to identify
a major gene that controls fruit elongation,"
said van der Knaap, a researcher with the Ohio Agricultural Research and
Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster, Ohio. "By identifying the gene that
controls whether a fruit is round like a cherry tomato or shaped like a
roma-type tomato, we can get a handle on the molecular process that is
perturbed during fruit development and results in a differently shaped fruit."
Funded by the National Science
Foundation, van der Knaap's research is a
crop with multiple benefits. First, it will help scientists understand how
tomatoes grow -- from a few cells into an ovary, and from that ovary into
the fruit we buy at the grocery store. What makes her laboratory unique is
that van der Knaap looks at variations in fruit morphology as tools to
study processes that regulate fruit development.
"We have done studies
to try to find out when a change in shape occurs,"
van der Knaap said. "Does it happen very early during flower development?
Or does it happen later on, after fertilization? We have looked at
different tomato varieties with different shapes, and it seems that each
(shape-shifting) process is controlled independently. If we identify the
genes that control each of those processes, then we'll have the pieces of
the puzzle and can start putting them together into one big story of how
Flower development is another
key aspect of fruit growth that van der Knaap
is analyzing. Mapping this developmental process will allow her to pinpoint
when and where a change in fruit shape first takes place, even before the
flower is fertilized. For example, once van der Knaap identifies a gene
that controls oval shape in tomatoes, she can look back at the whole
development process and see when the oval shape is first evident. Thus far,
nobody has described the entire flower development process of tomato.
Van der Knaap also is studying
how domestication has transformed the once
small, round wild tomato into the varieties available today.
"We don't know very well
how domestication occurred," van der Knaap said.
"We don't know what kind of genes caused the enormous increase in fruit
size and variation in fruit shape. The wild-type tomato started out as a
tiny fruit, made to propagate the species and not to feed us. Once we know
all the genes that were mutated during domestication, we will be able to
piece together how domestication shaped the tomato fruit."
Beyond basic science, van
der Knaap's research could lead to the
development of new tomato varieties, helping growers to serve specialty
tomato markets and processors to reduce costs.
"Tomato processing companies
are interested in developing varieties which
carry very blocky, almost square-shaped fruit, in order to pack them more
efficiently," van der Knaap pointed out. "Others might be interested in
developing extremely elongated tomatoes shaped like cucumbers. These fruits
would be very advantageous when preparing sliced tomatoes for hamburgers,
as less ends would have to be thrown away."
Another potential application
of this technology is the development of
seedless tomatoes with the same taste and nutritional value of their seedy
counterparts. Van der Knaap said there's much interest in separating
fertilization and seed development in tomatoes, and her research could shed
light into this process.
"We know that what's
important for fruit to develop is to have a good seed
set," she added. "But if you can uncouple fertilization and seed
development, then you can actually get very good fruits that are nutritious
and taste just like regular tomatoes but without any seeds. This might be
of interest to seed companies and great news for consumers who don't
tolerate tomato seeds or simply don't want to deal with them when preparing
Down the road, Van der Knaap
is planning to create a tomato morphology
database containing all the information derived from her research, which
will be available to the public. She said this data could be used in the
future as a model for the study of fruit development -- and possibly shape
manipulation -- in other crops of the Solanaceae family, such as peppers
Tomatoes are the second most
important vegetable crop processed in the
United States. Ohio ranks third in the nation in the production of
processing and fresh market tomatoes, with a total farm value of $101.3
million in 2002.
OARDC is the research arm
of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural,
and Environmental Sciences.
26 Sept. 2003
Breeding Forages for Landscape Diversity
Minnesota Institute for Sustainable
Sustainable Agriculture Newsletters Index
College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences
Volume 11, Issue 9 September/October 2003
By Daniel Ungier, MISA intern
We often think of sustainable
agriculture in terms of landscapes. But Nancy
Ehlke, a geneticist at the University of Minnesota, has been working on a
smaller scale of the genetics of crops. She is leading a group of
researchers in a plant breeding program designed to improve crops to make
them more suitable for sustainable agricultural practices.
Ehlke's team begins by selecting
crops that would be environmentally and
economically suitable for Minnesota's farms. Legumes such as clovers,
birdsfoot trefoil and alfalfa are an economical source of protein and
minerals for livestock. They make a quality cover crop, improve soil and
water quality, reduce the need for extra fertilizer and work well in
rotational grazing systems.
Because they are perennial
forages, they limit the need to till land and
thus reduce soil erosion as well. Each species has drawbacks and
challenges, though, highlighting the need for improvement through plant
breeding. Birdsfoot trefoil, for example, does not hold up well under
intense grazing pressure; and like many forage legumes, its poor seedling
vigor makes it difficult to establish a stand. Ehlke's team has initiated a
breeding program designed to select disease-resistant birdsfoot trefoil.
The project is also working
on breeding turfgrass, the grasses that grow on
our lawns and athletic fields. In addition to their decorative effect, they
prevent soil erosion, provide a cooling effect in warm weather, and clean
the air. Ehlke sees these grasses as a major area of potential economic
growth in Minnesota. If turfgrass can be bred for pest resistance, winter
hardiness, efficient water use, and tolerance to wear and tear, reasons
Ehlke, then inputs on lawns can be reduced and water could be conserved as
well. Breeding ryegrass for winter-hardiness is the first step toward
increasing the turfgrass market in Minnesota. Ehlke's project includes an
effort to develop new varieties of perennial crops for the seed production
industry. Like forage legumes, the perennial seed crops allow reduced
tillage and thereby protect the soil from erosion and provide wildlife
habitat. They also distribute the workload across the growing season.
Native species are yet another aspect of the project. Ehlke sees native
plants as a unique opportunity to increase the diversity of agricultural
systems. For instance, the prairie legume Illinois bundleflower has the
potential to be used as a perennial grain crop, as part of a forage
mixture, and possibly even for biofuel.
"I would like to have
an impact and get farmers seeds they can use,"
explains Ehlke. The overall goal of the team's research is to continue to
find a way to provide farmers with economically advantageous crops that
encourage more sustainable practices at the same time. She can be reached
18 Sept. 2003
A$20 Million Victorian Centre
for Plant Functional Genomics Promises Green
John Brumby, Innovation Minister
for the State of Victoria, Australia, has
recently opened a new agricultural gene research centre that will explore
ways to lower pesticide and herbicide use, and make plants resistant to
drought, frost, salinity and low soil fertility.
The $20 million Victorian
Centre for Plant Functional Genomics project
located at the University of Melbourne was kick-started with a $4 million
Science, Technology and Innovation infrastructure grant in 2002. The
establishment of this Centre promises to position Victoria as a world
leader in developing new technologies for broad-acre agricultural production.
The Centre aims to discover
the biological function of plant genes and how
sets of genes and their products work.
Centre researchers are already
screening a range of native and exotic
grasses that carry adaptive genes expressing tolerance to a range of
environmental stresses, including:
A salt-tolerant grass, Agrostis robusta, that was previously thought to be
Weeping grasses, Microlaena stipoides, that are tolerant to aluminium
levels in soil;
Antarctic hair grass, Deschampsia antarctica, which can handle extreme
Hypoallergenic ryegrasses that can reduce hay fever.
The two core partners in the
Centre are the University of Melbourne and the
Victorian Department of Primary Industries through the Plant Biotechnology
Centre at La Trobe University. The combination of the skills and expertise
of these two worldclass research institutes offers an unmatched suite of
functional genomics services in Australia.
23 Sept. 2003
7. ON THE WEB
FAO Biotech e-mail Conference : Marker Assisted Selection
FAO is pleased to announce
that the FAO Electronic Forum on Biotechnology
in Food and Agriculture is planning to run its next e-mail conference from 17
November to 12 December 2003 on the theme of marker assisted selection for
crops, forest trees, livestock and fish in developing countries. This will
be the 10th conference hosted by the Forum since it was launched in March 2000.
Any Forum Member may subscribe
to this moderated conference. To do so,
please send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org leaving the
subject blank and entering the one-line text message as follows: subscribe
If you have colleagues wishing
to subscribe to the conference, they should
first join the Forum i.e. send an e-mail to email@example.com
leaving the subject blank and entering the following text on two separate
The Background Document for
the conference will be sent to Forum Members
before the conference begins.
John Ruane, PhD
E-mail address: Biotech-Admin@fao.org
FAO website http://www.fao.org
Biotechnology Forum website http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp
FAO Biotechnology website http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp (in Arabic,
Chinese, English, French and Spanish)
p.s. The report of the first
six Biotechnology Forum conferences (available
in English at http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp) has been translated into
Spanish and will be available shortly.
Update 10-2003 of FAO-BiotechNews.
We welcome your feedback and
encourage you to tell your colleagues or
contacts about this e-mail newsletter. Instructions for subscribing (and
unsubscribing) are given at the end of the Update. In addition,
instructions for subscribing to FAO-BiotechNews-Fr and FAO-BiotechNews-Esp,
and Spanish versions of FAO-BiotechNews respectively, are also given at the
The Coordinator of FAO-BiotechNews,
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
E-mail address: mailto:FAO-Biotech-News@fao.org
FAO website http://www.fao.org
FAO Biotechnology website http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp (in Arabic,
Chinese, English, French and Spanish)
*** NEWS ***
1) Biotechnology research papers
As part of the ESA Working
Papers series, FAO has recently published "The
economics of agricultural biotechnology research" (Paper 03-07) and
"Biotechnology R&D: Policy options to ensure access and benefits for the
poor" (Paper 03-08), both by C.E. Pray and A. Naseem. ESA Working Papers are
produced by FAO's Agricultural and Development Economics Division (ESA) and
are circulated to stimulate discussion and comments. See
http://www.fao.org/es/ESA/work-e.htm or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request a
copy of the papers.
2) Biotechnology in forestry
Issue number 30 of the annual
bulletin Forest Genetic Resources, produced
by FAO's Forest Resources Development Service, is now available on the web. In
addition to a number of other biotechnology-related articles, it includes
"The role and implications of biotechnology in forestry" by A. Yanchuk, an
updated summary of a paper published in Unasylva (2001), 204, 52-61 by the
same author when he was a visiting expert at FAO. See
or contact Forest-Genetic-Resources@fao.org for moreinformation.
3) Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety takes effect
The Cartagena Protocol on
Biosafety to the Convention on Biological
Diversity entered into force on 11 September 2003. The objective of the
Protocol is "to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection in
the field of the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified
organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects
on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also
into account risks to human health, and specifically focusing on
transboundary movements". As of 25 September, there were 61 Parties to the
Protocol. The 1st meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the
meeting of the Parties to the Protocol takes place on 23-27 February 2004 in
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. See a press kit, with information in English,
French and Spanish, at http://www.biodiv.org/doc/press/pk-bs-01.asp or
contact email@example.com for more information.
4) CBD - Cartagena Protocol
The Secretary-General submitted
to the 58th session of the United Nations
General Assembly, which opened on 16 September 2003, the "Report of the
Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity". The General
Assembly is the main deliberative organ of the United Nations. The report
provides information on ongoing work regarding the Convention, including
the status of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on
Biological Diversity. See Document A/58/191 in Arabic, Chinese, English,
French, Russian and Spanish from http://www.un.org/documents/ or contact
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
5) Impact of new biotechnologies
A report entitled "Impact
of new biotechnologies, with particular attention
to sustainable development, including food security, health and economic
productivity" has been submitted by the Secretary-General to the 58th
session of the United Nations General Assembly. The 17-page report, prepared
by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development secretariat,
"identifies sectors and countries where biotechnology is making a
significant contribution to economic productivity and human welfare as well
as the needs for capacity-building, technology transfer and political will".
See Document A/58/76 in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and
Spanish from http://www.un.org/documents/ or contact email@example.com for more
6) Aarhus Convention - GMOs
At their 1st meeting in 2002,
the Parties to the Aarhus Convention (i.e.
the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access
to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to
Justice in Environmental Matters) established a Working Group on GMOs. The
main task of the Working Group is to explore options for a legally binding
approach to further developing the application of the Convention to GMOs,
including through possible instruments, to select the most appropriate
options and to develop these for consideration and possible decision or
adoption by the Parties at their 2nd meeting. The 2nd meeting of the
Working Group on GMOs takes place on 1-3 October 2003 in Geneva,
meeting agenda and relevant documents (in English, French and Russian) are
available at http://www.unece.org/env/pp/gmo.htm or contact
firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
7) Analysis of food for GMOs
The Institute for Health and
Consumer Protection of the Joint Research
Centre of the European Commission and the World Health Organization (WHO)
Food Safety Programme in Europe have collaborated since 2000 in the
organisation of training courses on techniques for detecting GMOs in foods,
intended to teach molecular detection techniques to laboratory personnel
with a good level of analytical knowledge, but with no or little expertise
in this specific domain. The manual, entitled "The analysis of food samples
for the presence of genetically modified organisms", edited by M. Querci, M.
Jermini and G. Van Den Eede, used during these courses has now been made
available on the web. See http://gmotraining.jrc.it/ or contact
email@example.com for more information.
8) GM foodstuffs
The Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD) has
recently published "Considerations for the safety assessment of animal
feedstuffs derived from genetically modified plants". This 46-page document
"addresses considerations in the safety assessment of GM foodstuffs,
including the fate of DNA and protein in animal feeding, animal feeding
studies, and future GM feedstuffs. As well, there is background material on
the various organisms and traits constituting GM plants used as animal
feeds". It is number 9 in the Series on the Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds.
See http://www.olis.oecd.org/olis/2003doc.nsf/LinkTo/env-jm-mono(2003)10 or
contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request the publication.
9) Food safety and GM crops
The International Food Policy
Research Institute (IFPRI), one of the 16
research centres supported by the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR), has just published 2020 Focus 10, entitled
"Food safety in food security and food trade", edited by L.J. Unnevehr. It
contains 17 policy briefs describing "how developing countries are
addressing food safety issues in order to improve both food security and
food trade, and discusses the risks, benefits, and costs when such policies
are implemented". Number 16 is a 2-page brief on "Food safety and GM crops:
Implications for developing-country research" by J.I. Cohen, H. Quemada,
and R. Frederick. See http://www.ifpri.org/2020/focus/focus10.htm or contact
IFPRIemail@example.com to request a copy.
To join FAO-BiotechNews-Fr
(the French language version of
FAO-BiotechNews), send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org leaving the
subject blank and entering the following one-line text message:
The Welcome Text that subscribers
receive on joining the e-mail list,
describing its aims and scope and how it works, is available at
http://www.fao.org/biotech/Welcome-Fr.htm (in French)
4. To join FAO-BiotechNews-Esp
(the Spanish language version of
FAO-BiotechNews), do the same as for FAO-BiotechNews-Fr except the message
should read: subscribe FAO-BiotechNews-Esp-L
The Welcome Text is available
The 10th issue of www.geneconserve.pro.br
the following articles:
- Manihot rogersii Nassar:
a new synthetic species
- Does recurrent selection improves apomixis in cassava?
- Acess to genetic resources: Lessons learned from the Costa Rican Experience.
- Fertility and Chimera induction in cassava
plus sections Exerpts,news and photos gallery