2 December 2003

An Electronic Newsletter of Applied Plant Breeding
Sponsored by FAO and Cornell University

Clair H. Hershey, Editor





* The Third William L. Brown Award for Excellence in Genetic Resource

* Agriculture and the Developing World
* Mexican Maize and GM Corn: Protecting a Center of Origin
* Working Group on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
* Brazil Eases Restrictions on Biodiversity Researchers
* Close the African Biotech Gap
* Molecular Evidence for Genetic Narrowing of the Canadian Oat Gene Pool
* Cornell Entomologists Demonstrate Better Insect Control with Novel
Technique of "Gene Pyramiding"
* Map-based Isolation of the Leaf Rust Disease Resistance Gene Lr10 from
the Hexaploid Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) Genome
* Columbia Economist Offers New Way to Compute Prizes for Agriculture Research
* Open Source Genetics Needed to Feed The World
* Latin America Gets New Bioinformatics Network
* Pasture Grass Fights Wheat Fungus Danger to Plants, Animals, People
* Diversity: What People, Grain Sorghum Have in Common

* Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species
* Selected Items from FAO-BiotechNews
-Marker assisted selection Proceedings
-AGORA Initiative
-Consumer Attitudes Towards GMOs
-E-mail Conference on Marker Assisted Selection
-African Biosciences Facility
* MaizeGDB: An Online Resource for Maize Genetics
* New Access for Agriculture



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

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

IN THIS ISSUE OF THE NEWSLETTER (Section 3), seventeen subscribers respond
to a question about use of personal digital assistants (PDAs) posted to the
editor, and distributed to the entire subscriber list on 5 November. This
type of inquiry and reader response can be a valuable function of the
newsletter. If you have a question of broad interest to subscribers, I will
solicit feedback to distribute in PBN-L.

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

Messages with attached files are not distributed on PBN-L for two important
reasons. The first is that computer viruses and worms can be distributed in
this manner. The second reason is that attached files cause problems for
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PLEASE NOTE: Every month many newsletters are returned because they are
undeliverable, for any one of a number of reasons. We try to keep the
mailing list up to date, and also to avoid deleting addresses that are only
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explicit permission.



*(NEW) 4-10 December 2003. Work Planning Week at IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria.
Program available from Rodomiro Ortiz (IITA) (

* 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;

* 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
biotechnology products

Registration: ;

* 10-14 January 2003: Plant, Animal and Microbial Genome XII. San Diego,
CA, USA. Contact: URL:

* 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: web:

*(NEW) 9-20 February 2004. Molecular Markers Use in Plant Genetic Studies
and Improvement. Caracas, Venezuela. A workshop organised by the Institute
for Advanced Studies, in Caracas, and the International Plant Genetic
Resources Institute, on behalf of the International Centre for Genetic
Engineering and Biotechnology. See (site
sometimes not available) or contact for more information.

* 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:; 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)
262 1525;
Email:; URL:

* 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. Contact: Alfredo
Alves at

* 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:; URL:

* 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:; URL:

* 24-25 May 2003: Workshop on Molecular Aspects of Germination and
Dormancy. Wageningen, The Netherlands. Contact: J Derek Bewley, Email:; URL:

* 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:; URL:

* 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:

* 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:; 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:; URL:

* 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:; URL:

* 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: web:

* 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:; URL:

* 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: or, 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:;

* 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:>



This section consists of a request for information on personal digital
assistants, followed by responses from PBN-L subscribers:

"I am looking for information regarding the use of PDA's (personal digital
assistants) in taking field notes. There are some rather expensive devices
(> $ 2500z) such has the Allegro CE from Juniper systems available but I am
looking for low-cost alternatives such as the Palm series. The hang up
seems to be the lack of keypads suitable for taking numeric field notes.
is not a problem since all PDA operating systems support spreadsheet like
input. I would very much like to hear from folks who have solved this problem."

Edzard van Santen,Ph.D.
Dept. of Agronomy and Soils
Auburn University, AL 36849-5412


Responses from subscribers:

I have been using PDAs in the field for over 10 years now. Initially I used
a Husky Hawk which was a reasonable size and not too heavy. Its downside
was compatibility with windows it did support a spreadsheet but data
transfer was not straightforward. I then used an HP95, which was quite good
for scoring plots and taking notes but very susceptible to rain drops
getting into the system. A blast with a hair dryer sorted it out but thats
not the sort of thing I carry in the field! I then progressed to Psion 3s,
which were good but restricted by one thing each spreadsheet could only be
~64K so, with only a modest amount of text input, you soon found that your
file was over-flowing. The best item that I have found so far was the Psion
Revo light but with a useable keyboard for note taking, ability to put
frames on the screen and also a zoom on the display. The trouble is that
Psion gave up on PDAs and you are now stuck with Palms or Pocket PCs,
unless you can find some old revos on Ebay and the like. In my view, these
are a retrograde step from the Psions for fieldwork as the screen is
smaller and you either have to have character recognition, which you need
to keep a close eye on to ensure that it translates correctly, or a virtual
keyboard. I have used a Pocket PC for one season and found that the stylus
soon scratched the screen surface (possibly accelerated by the dust blowing
around field trials). It is still useable but not so effective at character

To sum up, my belief is that current PDA products are not as good as
previous ones for field work but are a definite improvement upon a
notebook. I do not think it is worth investing in one of these bricks that
you can use in all conditions because the market changes so quickly it is
best to regard PDAs as a disposable item with anything more than 2-3 years
effective use as a bonus. If you spend a lot, you need to keep the PDA well
past its sell-by date to make it more cost effective than buying the
cheaper versions.

Bill Thomas
Scottish Crop Research Institute


We here at Plant Sciences use PDA's. Palm M515 - easy to read in daylight.
Popup keyboard (software) or graffiti entry, both work. Price is about
$250.00, if you get the memory cards, 16meg+ then you can save the data
directly to the card and read it as a file on the CPU or just use Documents
to go, and Sheets to go. This will save right into an excel file.

Now here is the kicker. The most popular have been the OLD HP200's They
have removable memory cards that allow you to read the data from them in a
Lotus 123 format right onto your computer in Excel. These are available
for $300.00 refurbs online.

Here is another money saving way to go.

Take a look at the TI-83+

$99.00! and for $15.00 you buy the USB cable and download the data to your
computer. If it gets trashed in the field you are not out hundreds of

James Jennings
MIS Plant Sciences Inc.


In the last 2 years I have been using a pocket PC for the recording of
field data. I use a database program which is compatible and synchronizes
with MS-Access on the desktop. When recording large amounts of data I use
the device with a so called 'Stow-Away' keyboard tied to a
clip-board. This way my complete device is not bigger than a regular
clipboard. Although I have no separate numerical keyboard, I can easily use
the numerical keys on the top row of the keyboard. I hope this explanation
is somehow understandable and possibly of some help.

Leo van Zanten
G&G Breeding
Oxnard, CA


We have been using various types of data logger over the last two decades.
They range from expensive polycorders down to palmtops in the recent years.
Tandys which were introduced somewhere in 1987-88 we still use and have
really paid for their cost.

Ploycorders robust but presently outdated and polycode not a
friendlylanguage to program anymore.

Tandy outdated no more in market

HP notebooks - good but not very robust

Palmtops - cheap - graffiti is not a easy writing for data taking prone to

Allegro CE expensive, most robust and versatile for field use. A good
replacement for polycorders but not for analog devices. RS232 devices
connects ok. We connect them to balances.

The question one must always ask what their staff can handle especially in
countries where computer literacy and support is not very high. I suppose
these were the reasons why we chose over the years more robust and user
friendly models despite their cost.

Mahalakshmi, Visvanathan (IITA)


As a plant breeder, I have the same problem that you have. I need a small,
reliable and practical device able to handle my Excel files. I have
purchased in 1999 (for 500$)a Compaq Handheld PC (C-Series 810) that I love
and take the highest care for. It looks like a miniature Laptop with the
screen folding on the key pad. It has a black and white screen with
adjustable contrast and a removable disk where the data is saved. If the
HPC crashes, the disk could be transferred to another machine and data
recovered. The only drawback with this machine is that it is not
waterproof, but it is not a huge issue for us in Saskatchewan.
This machine is not manufactured any more, and as you said, there isn't
anything on the market equivalent to it at a reasonable price. Our field
crew is now using newer Compaq IPAQ 4509. These machines are quite handy,
they are small, user friendly and are great to take notes on a single
characters. As long as you can walk along your plots and enter one type of
data in a single column, you will love it. If you need to take notes on
several characters at the same time, storing data in different columns of
an Excel sheet, it becomes difficult. Screen is quite small and navigation
from column to column could be painful.

It seems that the newer generation of the Compaq Handheld have a wider
screen. Even if they have only a virtual keypad, they might be better to
handle large files than the IPAQ 4509.

Good luck in your search and please let us know if you find the miracle

Eric Lefol


I personally do not use a palm for taking notes in the field, but I know
Brasil, use a Newton (similar to palm) to take passport descriptors during
genetic resources collection missions. Maybe you can ask Dra.
Magaly Wettzell ( for e-mail of collectors.

Delis Perez


We have been using PDAs to take field data since before I came to the UW
Madison as a graduate student in 2000. I will tell you our experience and
some considerations in choosing a PDA. We started with a clamshell device,
the NEC MibilePro 770 (the current models is the NEC MoblilePro 900 ). We enjoyed
using this because it has an integrated keyboard, relatively long battery
life, removable battery, fairly small and lightweight and easy to use (for
users used to windows). It was not easy to see the screen in direct
sunlight, and we did not have a battery charger independent of the device,
so we could only charge the battery by plugging in the device (and then we
couldn't take data). We liked it so much that a few months ago we decided
to by another one. However, after doing some homework and looking at
Palms, Pocket PCs, clamshell devices (like the MobilePro and others), and
Tablet PCs, we decided to buy two Pocket PCs (which was the same price as
one MobilePro). Our reasons were because the PocketPCs are more powerful
than Palms, lighter and more portable as well as less expensive than
clamshell devices and tablet PCs, and have good battery life, and sharp
screens. We purchased two Dell Axim X5's each with an extra memory card,
an extra high capacity battery, screen protectors, and a cradle that can
charge the unit and the extra battery simultaneously. We have used them
this year to take data in the field and everyone in our unit is happy with
them (including those who are not as familiar with windows).

Really, the PDA that you choose depends on how you will use it. Here are
some things to consider.

Will you be using it for long periods without recharging the battery? That
will determine if you need one (or maybe several) high capacity, removable
batteries and a separate charger to charge the batteries as you use the
device. This also depends on if you will be somewhere near an electrical
outlet to charge an additional battery while taking data on the
device. You may consider a power inverter that plugs into a vehicle
cigarette lighter and produces AC current to plug your device or a charger
into if an electrical outlet is not nearby.

Are you going to use the device in direct sunlight? This will determine
the type of display you will need. Do you need color (for different types
of data on same spreadsheet) or is black and white ok? Do you need high
resolution or maybe a larger screen to see more data at once).

Does it need to be lightweight to hold in one hand while the other hand is
being used (like a Palm, PocketPC, MobilePro) or can it be larger (like a
tablet PC) so that one person enters the data while another calls the data?

Do you need a full keyboard, small keyboard, or can you enter data with a
stylus or touch pen? Keyboards may be more comfortable at first for
entering data, but with a little practice, the stylus may be quicker,
especially with numbers. Portable keyboards and thumb keyboards are
available for most Palm and Pocket PC types of PDAs and may be a good option.

How big and complex are your data files? Are they simple with a few
columns to see on a Palm or Pocket PC, or do you need a larger screen like
a clamshell device or a tablet PC? Do the files have a lot of data so that
they take up a lot of memory? If the data files you usually work with are
very large, you will need a device with a lot of memory and a fast
processor to keep up, possibly a tablet PC. Maybe the data files can be
broken down into multiple, simple files that can easily be handled with a
smaller, less powerful device.

How easy is it to transfer or backup data? Most PDAs transfer data to
desktop computers, but is it simple or difficult to get the data, and is
the data in the format you want it, or do you have to convert it? We feel
more comfortable being able to make backups of the data in the field every
so often, so we made sure our devices were expandable with memory cards to
have the data on the device and backed-up to a memory card.

I wrote this up quickly and I am sure I am forgetting some points to
consider. Just by way of information, I have owned and used PDAs
personally (for much more than just contacts, to do lists, and a calendar)
since 1998. I started with a Palm and switched to a Pocket PC and I still
prefer Pocket PCs (so there was some bias in our lab decision). I have
helped several other people purchase PDAs for personal use as well. I hope
this information is useful to you, and if you have any questions, please
let me know.

Matthew D. Robbins
Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics
University of Wisconsin Madison


Attached is a web site for a group that has implemented a barcoding/PDA
system for field work. I have had only indirect experience with the group,
but they appear to be one group at the forefront of this technology. Their
PDA system is Palm-based.

Jim Tokuhisa
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology


I'm a wheat breeder and I agree with you. This topic is of great interest.
The main problem is to find a recent PDA with an "old" monochrome screen.
We used a FC 486 from HUSKY. It's ok for working with a bright sun, a
temperature of 30C or a little rain but is heavy and the processor is only
a 486 and it's expensive. The product of Husky are very good for working in
fields conditions but always too expensive. We have try with a Jornada but
the colorscreen is unreadable under the sun. We also used a Psion Series 5
but the transfert of big files between PC and this Palm is not always
convincing. And they stop the fabrication.

So, I'm still looking for a good PDA.

Dario Fossati
Station federale de recherches en production vegetale de Changins (RAC),


I have been using an iPaq 3600 to collect notes at the field. It is already
an old model, and most of them have the problem of short battery life. I
also have a jacket with Compact Flash slot that allows me to store large
amounts of data. Since it has Windows Pocket PC, I can use Pocket Word or
Pocket Excel, fully compatible with other Office programs. There actually
exist several models with long life batteries and better performance. I am
ordering now an iPaq Pocket PC h2200 Series, with 12 hours battery life,
and CF and SD card slots. I am also getting a CF GPS receiver, in order to
take geo-referred data. All this is related to our precision farming
projects. If you're interested we can provide further data.

Dr. Miguel Esquivel


Regarding PDAs we use them for field notes at NSW Agriculture all the time.
One can buy an old HP200LX if available or buy a Palm 500 or 505 and use a
Belkin or Targus thumbpad with it. Both systems work very well.

Dr. Shoba Venkatanagappa
NSW Agriculture, Agricultural Research Institute
Wagga_Wagga NSW


The various plant breeders at this Institute (wheat, barley, canola,
lupins, field peas) have been 'agonising' over the PDA issue. We have used
DOS-based HP200LX hand-held machines for some years - they are excellent
(good battery life, numeric keypad, run loads of useful & cheap software,
accept PCMCIA cards for cheap storage etc., can be programmed in BASIC to
interface with barcode readers and electronic balances, and can still be
bought second-hand from Thaddeus computing at

My feeling is that the Pocket PC platform is probably the way to go in
future - mainly for ease-of-programming. We will have to rewrite all our
custom software for data capture from barcode readers etc. and I suspect
this will be easier in Visual Basic for Pocket PC (Windows) than in the
Palm OS. However, I could be wrong on this, and await others' views. My
colleague purchased a Palm Tungsten recently (the one with the built-in
keypad at the bottom) but it was not a success: the keypad was very small,
and it was not possible to easily write macros to aid data entry in the
spreadsheet software.

For my work any new PDA needs some essential characteristics: screen easily
readable in full sunlight; replaceable and rechargeable battery pack (to
allow swapping in the field and charging in a vehicle); ability to be
programmed to interface with other equipment; and simple data entry
(on-screen virtual keypad will probably be the solution since the
'specialised' machines are so expensive).

Dr David Luckett
NSW Agriculture, Agricultural Research Institute
Wagga Wagga NSW


We have tried using Palm-type devices for recording in the field (we are
involved in variety registration (DUS) work in agricultural and ornamental
crops, amongst other activities). As you say the keyboard (or lack) is a
problem. We also found the screens can be difficult to read in some
conditions (either too bright or too dull). Moreover, with some devices,
windy conditions can make the screen scroll more or less uncontrollably. We
need both spreadsheet and note-taking capability. PDAs can be fine for
simple recording in calm, temperate weather, but in adverse conditions, we
did not really find them robust enough. Hence we use Allegros now (not
especially cheap, but pretty tough, and adaptable to different types of
recording, numerical and text-based).

Dr. R. J. Cooke
Head of Plant Variety Rights Group
Cambridge, U.K.


I have found that my Dell Axim X5 works great for taking field notes,
especially coupled with either the pocket excel (comes with the Dell) and
with Filemaker mobile (approximately CAD$70) software. The Dell itself is
about CAD$700.00 up here, but it is a reliable piece of equipment. I use
also a foldable keyboard available from Dell. With Filemaker and Pocket
Excel the synchronization with my desktop is a breeze.

Harikumar Nair, Ph.D.
Bioriginal Food & Science Corp.
Saskatoon, SK


In response to your request for info on PDA's for taking field notes I
thought I could give a summary of our experience at IGER of using various
computers for data capture in the field and also some possible solutions to
your problem.

First of all, recording numeric values. There are a number of numeric
keypad programs which allow you to define an area of the touch-screen as a
numeric keypad. I have tried a demo of one for Windows CE machines called
NumeriPad. Whilst the keys defined are on the small side, they are usable
with care. The usefulness of this method will depend on the size of your
PDA screen as you could lose a significant proportion of the screen on some
smaller devices.

Another method of entering numeric data is by handwriting recognition. I
have used this on some of our Itronix fex21 machines using the program
Calligrapher and have found it quite satisfactory for numeric data entry.
It does require you to write your characters fairly carefully on the screen
but once you get used to the pattern required it works well. I have also
used Jot character recognition software on a Windows CE machine and found
it works quite well. We don't commonly use it handwriting recognition on
the fex21 as it has a full qwerty keyboard with a numeric keypad and most
users prefer to use this method.

Mentioning the fex21 brings me on to another point touched on in your
e-mail ... cost. You have mentioned the Allegro (we have one of these used
mainly on a plot combine harvester) and we use fex21's. Neither of these
are cheap. The fex21 is around 1400 UK pounds ($2350) and the Allegro is a
similar price while you can buy PDA for a fraction of these costs. However,
what you are paying for is the data security. Both these devices are IP65
rated, they prevent dust ingression and can withstand light jets of water.
I don't know about the weather in your locality but withstanding rain here
in west Wales is essential and I'm afraid a standard PDA wouldn't survive
long. I know of some researchers who use their PDA in a plastic bag in wet
conditions but if you're doing this for a couple of hours it is inevitable
that water from your wet hand will actually get in the bag and you are
risking your PDA and more importantly, the data on it. We carry out a great
deal of destructive sampling i.e. harvesting grass plot yields. If you lose
the data there is no way back. Therefore, I have always been willing to go
for the expensive but reliable and safe option.

We have used data capture devices in the field for about 20 years. Our
first attempt was using an Apple II running on a converter with a car
battery and linked to a balance. This was not really what you'd call a
portable system and drained the battery quite rapidly! We then used
Datamyte dedicated data capture equipment which were not programmable but
did the job. The display of the Datamyte was only 16 characters which did
limit its usefulness. We next tried Epson HX-20's which were quite
revolutionary at the time as they were programmable using Basic had a
built-in printer and a built-in micro-cassette deck for saving data. We
were lucky in obtaining a generalised data capture program from SCRI
(Scottish Crops Research Institute) which was ideal for our requirements
However the Hx-20 was not 'ruggedised' and a regular winter job was
disassembling them to clean out all the bits of dried grass that got into
them. All the keycaps had to be removed as it was very easy for dried grass
to get down between the keys. We then moved on to the Husky Hunter which
ran the CP/M operating system The data capture program was adapted for the
Husky as we felt that a standard user image was important. The Husky was
ruggedised and far more reliable than the HX-20. We have since moved on to
PC compatible Huskies and have some Hunter 16's FS-2's and Husky FS3's and
although we are now also using the Windows Ce machines the PC-compatibles
are the mainstay of our data capture.

Many new users prefer Windows CE machines as they have all the applications
that they are used to on their desktops and they tend to use Pocket Excel
for data capture. However, I am not a great fan of Pocket Excel, as it is
difficult to provide the same level of data validation as one can with a
dedicated program, especially as Pocket Excel does not have a macro
facility. Also, within Pocket Excel you cannot have a printed record of
data items as they are recorded and notes of any changes to data during
collection. This is of particular importance for destructive sampling and
for conforming to a Quality Assurance scheme.

Anyway, I hope this is of some use and that you find something of interest
in it.

Alan Lovatt
Plant Genetics & Breeding Dept, IGER,
Plas Gogerddan, Aberystwyth


I have used PDAs to record field data for the past three years. The models
I have used, the PalmIIIe and the Sony Clie SL-10, are the cheapest I could
find. They could be considered disposable if one did fall into
themud. Rather than work with spreadsheets, I enter text files using
Graffiti, then parse the text files when I import them into Access. It is
also very easy to download text files of plot numbers from Access and then
add ratings in the field.

Most of my note taking is in the fall when cold temperatures play havoc
with batteries. I lost a day's data once when the batteries drained, so I
bought a Memory Stick for the Clie. I now back up a couple of times a day,
a habit that saved me from loosing another day's ratings because of the cold.

Paul Banks


Review of several Linux-based PDAs:

Sharp Zaurus SL-A300 Personal Mobile Tool -- this model Zaurus Linux PDA,
currently exclusive to the Japanese market, is claimed to be the world's
smallest and lightest PDA among QVGA color LCD-equipped handhelds (as of
June 2002). The device is based on a 200 MHz Intel PXA210 XScale processor
equipped with 64 MB SDRAM memory, and offers USB, IrDA, and audio I/O, plus
an SD card expansion slot.
Sharp Zaurus SL-C7xx Series -- Sharp calls the SL-C7xx PDAs "the world's
first PDAs with a full-color VGA-resolution (640x480 pixel) LCD display."
The SL-C7xx PDAs also provide a unique built-in QWERTY keyboard similar to
that of a normal notebook keyboard (although smaller). As with previous
Zaurus models, the software platform is based on embedded Linux along with
a Java virtual machine for enhanced software portability and world-wide
open source developer support. details: SL-C700 / SL-C750, SLC760
Sharp Zaurus SL-5x00 -- Sharp's first Linux PDA for the worldwide market
features an embedded Linux OS supplemented by Qt and a Java runtime
environment. The SL-5500 is based on a 206 MHz Intel StrongARM processor
with 64MB system RAM and 16MB built-in flash storage, while the SL-5600
uses a 400 MHz Intel XScale processor and has 32MB system RAM and 64MB
built-in flash storage. Both models have a full-color 320 x 240 pixel TFT
LCD with touch panel, plus a miniature built-in QWERTY keyboard (accessed
via a sliding cover), and are equipped with CompactFlash and SD-card slots,
IrDA, and USB interfaces. details: SL-5600 / SL-5500 / review of SL-5000D
(developer edition)
Sun Telecom S-935 -- this Linux-based two-way pager is a "clamshell"-like
device that provides full PDA capabilities, syncing, secure wireless
communications between work groups, and encrypted access to company
email/data. A J2ME VM is included for the PIM suite, syncing, and custom
application support.
IBM e-LAP reference design -- dubbed the "embedded Linux application
platform" (e-LAP), this ready-to-use (and easily modified) PDA reference
design based on IBM's PowerPC 405LP processor includes 32MB SDRAM, 32MB NOR
Flash (NOR), 64MB DiskOnChip Flash, a 4-inch 240x320 pixel color LCD, a
TCPA security chip, USB host/device, SDIO, and sound, plus a full Linux
embedded software stack including a browser and a J2ME VM.
GSPDA V-2002 -- this Linux PDA for the Chinese market is based on a 206 MHz
Intel StrongARM processor with 32MB RAM and 32MB NOR Flash memory, plus
USB, audio in/out, built-in BlueTooth, and an SD Card slot.
CDL Paron 'secure PDA' -- this unique device is claimed to be the world's
first handheld wireless device with built-in biometric user authentication.
It combines the functions of a PDA, Bluetooth wireless access, cellular
telephone, and biometric fingerprint recognition, along with a
security-oriented hardware/software architecture. The device has a 320x240
pixel color LCD and is based on a 206MHz StrongARM SA-1110 processor with
32MB or 64MB RAM and 32MB Flash, and uses a Linux 2.4.x kernel and provides
a PDA app suite and web browser.
Q-Reader Ebook -- this Linux-powered electronic reading device targets the
education market in China. As well as reading capabilities, the
multi-function device includes Web connectivity, email, and other PDA
features, including support for both English and Chinese languages.
Esfia PDA reference design -- based on a Samsung ARM7 system-on-chip
processor and a uClinux embedded OS, this reference design supports a color
or monochrome backlit 320x240 pixel LCD and is available for license to
companies wanting to distribute low-cost Linux-based PDAs in either the
China or worldwide markets. Resources include up to 32MB SDRAM, 8MB NAND
Flash, IrDA, RS232, USB, stereo-audio, and CompactFlash and SD card slots.
Mizi Linux PDA developer kit -- the PDA bundled with this kit, called the
EnDA C3224, is based on a 206 MHz StrongARM SA-1110 processor and has a 240
x 320 pixel TFT LCD. Other resources include 32M RAM and 32MB Flash memory,
a CompactFlash slot, USB and IrDA interfaces, internal digital FM stereo
radio, and a built-in speaker.
Infomart Kaii -- this new Linux-based PDA was created to fill a gap between
high-end, high-cost Pocket PC PDAs and low-end, low-cost Palm PDAs. The
device attempts to offer a high level of software compatibility with the
Zaurus, by employing a similar software platform. Unlike the Zaurus,
however, the Kaii uses a 160MHz Hitachi SH3 processor and provides an
on-screen, rather than physical, keyboard. Includes 32-128MB RAM along with
32MB of ROM (or Flash), depending on version.
Royal Lin@x -- Royal Consumer Information Products unveiled a prototype of
a new Linux-powered PDA at CES in Las Vegas, NV in January, 2002. The
device was based on a 206 MHz Intel StrongARM processor with 32MB system
RAM and 16MB built-in flash storage. It had a full-color 320 x 240 pixel
TFT LCD with touch panel, and was equipped with a CompactFlash expansion
slot, USB, IrDA, and an RS232 serial port. The device's software stack was
based on Century Software's PIXIL PDA software suite, which includes the
Microwindows GUI. However, this device never reached production.
Empower PowerPlay -- the PowerPlay III and PowerPlay V PDAs are
manufactured in Taiwan and sold online by Empower Technologies, a vendor of
Embedded Linux for intelligent appliances. The devices are claimed to be
Palm IIIxe and Vx compatible, respectively, from a hardware perspective.
But unlike Palm's PDAs, the PowerPlay PDAs run Empower
Technologies' Linux DA O/S implementation of Embedded Linux for the
Dragonball processor. PowerPlay III / PowerPlay V



Call for Nominations: The Third William L. Brown Award for Excellence in
Genetic Resource Conservation

The William L. Brown Award recognizes the outstanding contributions of an
individual in the field of genetic resource conservation and use. It is
administered by the William L. Brown Center for Plant Genetic Resources at
the Missouri Botanical Garden and is made possible through a generous
endowment from the Sehgal Family Foundation, in cooperation with the family
of Dr. Brown.

William Brown was a distinguished, internationally-recognized scientist,
businessman, and humanitarian. Over the course of five decades, he devoted
himself to the collection, preservation, understanding, and sharing of
plant genetic resources in order to help meet the global demand for food.
The William L. Brown Award recognizes an individual whose efforts and
achievements reflect a concern for those issues that were so important to
Dr. Brown. Prior recipients include Carlos Ochoa of the Centro
Internacional de la Papa (International Potato Center) and Calvin O.
Qualset of the University of California at Davis.

All nomination materials and supporting letters must be received no later
than May 30, 2004. The name of the recipient will be announced in the fall
of 2004; an award ceremony will take place at the Missouri Botanical Garden
sometime thereafter. The recipient will receive a medal, an honorarium of
$10,000US, and reimbursement for expenses associated with travel to the
award ceremony.

Nominations should call attention to the nominees achievements and the
significance of his or her work as it relates to food security and the
conservation, management, and use of genetic resources. Please include a
photograph of the nominee along with a curriculum vitae containing a list
of the nominees publications. In addition, independent letters of support
are required from three individuals not directly associated with the parent
institution of either the nominee or the nominator. The letters may be sent
directly to the Award Committee by those writing them. Please do not send
videos or similar presentations, books, or published papers. All submitted
materials become property of the Missouri Botanical Garden and cannot be
returned. All nominations and letters should be sent to:

The William L. Brown Award Committee
WLB Center for Economic Botany
Missouri Botanical Garden
P.O. Box 299
St. Louis, Missouri 63166-0299



Agriculture and the Developing World

(Extracts from an editorial in Science, 17 Oct 2003: 357, by Donald
Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief)

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.

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.


Mexican Maize and GM Corn: Protecting a Center of Origin

When scientists reported two years ago that genes from genetically modified
corn may have been found in native Mexican corn species, it made headlines
around the world for a few days.

Not so in Mexico. In a nation where corn or maize was originally bred from
a wild plant some 7,000 years ago and where both civilization and culture
are intertwined with this crop, the possibility that genes from GM corn
could have an impact on the immense variety of Mexican maize has remained a
highly visible and charged issue.

"Maize is one of the great factors for development of culture for this
country," says Juan Manuel Hernandez, a Mexican agronomist from the
University Autonoma Agraria Antonio Narro, speaking at a two-day Mexico
City workshop on gene flow hosted by the U.S.-Mexico Foundation for Science
(FUMEC) and the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology in late September.

Without doubt, maize plays a pivotal role in Mexico and Mexican culture.
What may be less obvious is how important Mexican maize is to the rest of
the world, because Mexico is the crop's "center of origin."

As a center of origin, Mexico is a source of enormous genetic diversity.
Mexico has a tremendous array of maize some 59 races, each with a large
number of sub-varieties, said Rafael Ortega Paczka, research coordinator at
the University Autonoma Chapingo and member of the Mexican Society of Plant
Breeding. Unlike the limited number of varieties of corn that appear in
U.S. or European grocery stores, Mexican maize comes in all colors, sizes,
shapes, and textures with a variety of uses and flavors. What's more, it is
bred to grow in very specific places: from mountains where the weather is
wet and cool to the hot, drought-prone valleys, and everywhere in between.
The tremendous natural genetic diversity of maize is important to the world
because it allows breeders to develop new maize varieties with traits that
make it easier for farmers to grow.

In addition to these landraces, Mexico also is home to a wild grass called
teosinte, the plant from which maize was originally bred and developed
thousands of years ago. There is at least a theoretical concern that GM
corn could cross-pollinate with teosinte, introducing the corn's
"transgenes" (genes from one organism inserted into another organism) into
the wild teosinte population, according to evolutionary biologist Peter
Tiffin of the University of Minnesota.

The possibility for cross-pollination of native and agricultural varieties
also known as "gene flow" is not unique to GM corn. The concern is that
introducing modern corn varieties, including GM varieties, into the center
of origin could reduce the genetic diversity of maize. Should modern
varieties crossbreed with native maize, the resulting hybrids may prove to
be highly competitive and could displace some native varieties. As a
result, breeders could lose some genes from the native land races that may
be important later.

Because of general anxieties about agricultural biotechnology, concerns
about gene flow from GM corn receive significant attention and nowhere more
so than in Mexico.

"This is the central issue in many parts of the world, but especially in
Mexico because it is the center of origin [of maize]," said Exequiel
Ezcurra, president of Mexico's National Institute of Ecology.

Full article at:


Working Group on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

The Working Group on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
(WG-PGRFA) recommended FAO to go ahead with its strategy to strengthen
national breeding capacity.

The Working Group on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is a
technical intergovernmental group (countries' representatives) called by
the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to
discuss and make recommendations on issues related to Plant Genetic
Resources. Last October the WG-PGRFA met in Rome to discuss several
issues, including the topic, Sustainable use of Plant Genetic Resources for
Food and Agriculture: Strengthening Plant Breeding. To guide the
discussion FAO prepared a paper (CGRFA/WG-PGR-2/03/2 available at
asking for guidance from the WG-PGRFA on the following issues:

FAO's survey study on national plant breeding capacity;

Support for core breeding activities for neglected crops and
sub-optimal environments;

Investments in base-broadening activities;

The promotion of farmers' and stakeholders' participation in
plant breeding activities;

Ways of bridging the gap between conventional plant breeding and
applied biotechnologies;

Ways to facilitate capacity building, transfer of technology and
public/private partnership;

Ways in which national plant breeding programmes can be assisted
in the identification of areas for strategic resource allocation and
enhanced partnerships for plant breeding.

The paper was very well received by the WG-PGRFA members. They highlighted
the importance now being given to sustainable use of PGRFA through plant
breeding. They felt that the document is an important step towards finding
a better balance between the plant genetic resources conservation and
use. The WG-PGRFA made the following comments:

Supported the proposed survey study and asked donors to provide
resources to accomplish it;

Recommended that FAO implement strategies to help improve
national plant breeding capacity, including through using molecular
techniques as tools;

Endorsed the attention to genetic base-broadening and to
neglected crops;

Stressed that lack of capacity building in major crops remains

The above-mentioned FAO strategy to strengthen national plant breeding
capacity, through alliances with its research and development partners,
will also help countries to achieve their goals in implementing the
International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
(IT). This IT is expected to enter into force in 2004, after 40 countries
ratified their signatures to the treaty (as of today, 33 instruments of
ratification, acceptance, approval or accession have been deposited with
the Director-General of FAO). The Treaty's objectives are the conservation
and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and
the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use, in
harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, for sustainable
agriculture and food security.

Contributed by Elcio Guimaraes


Brazil Eases Restrictions on Biodiversity Researchers

The Brazilian government has introduced new rules exempting scientific
researchers from tough conditions imposed by current legislation on
collecting genetic material from plants, animals and microorganisms.

The move follows complaints from researchers that the rules for collecting
such material, which is vital for research into biodiversity, are too
restrictive, and have practically frozen scientific activity in this field
Brazil's biopiracy laws are stifling research).

The new rules were approved last month by Brazil's Council for the
Management of Genetic Patrimony (CGEN), which is attached to the Ministry
of Environment.

They specify that "the advancement of knowledge and scientific research
supporting the conservation and the sustainable use of national
biodiversity are activities of strategic interest to the country". However
they also specify that the research must not be carried out for commercial

"Anyone who has organised or taken part in a expedition to collect
biological samples will be aware that it would be impossible to obtain
authorisation from the owners of all the properties from which samples are
taken before starting the expedition," says biologist Carlos Joly from the
University of Campinas, in the state of SàPaulo.

Joly coordinates a biodiversity research programme that involves 36
different projects and more than 300 scientists. "In most cases it is not
even possible to identify the owners [of the property], not to mention the
fact that the route taken by an expedition is usually decided during the
field work", he says.

Even with the new rules, the impact of the current legislation on research
remains controversial. A draft law being prepared by the Ministry of
Environment promises to loosen restrictions on Brazilian scientists
carrying out biodiversity research ever further.

Under the proposed law, biodiversity research projects carried out by
scientists linked to Brazilian universities and research centres would no
longer require approval by the CGEN. The only requirement would be that the
institution is registered with the council, and submits research reports on
a regular basis.

"The new rules are likely to stimulate biodiversity research which, under
the new law, will fall into a specific category for non-commercial
scientific investigation", says Marcelo Varela, a lawyer linked to the
University Centre in Brasilia who represented the Brazilian Society for the
Advancement of Science (SBPC) in a group that has been discussing the
proposed law for several months.

"The Brazilian scientific community agrees that there is a need for
effective legislation to protect Brazil's biodiversity," says Glaci Zancan
from the Federal University of Parana "However, [genuine] research
activities must not be obstructed."

The draft law defines three types of biodiversity studies: scientific
research, bioprospecting and technological development. Research in the
first category would be exempt from authorisation, and restrictions on
bioprospecting would also be reduced, providing that it is carried out by
an institution registered with the CGEN.

In contrast, projects falling into the third category will still require
specific authorisation, and perhaps even the signing of a contract.

12 November 2003


Close the African Biotech Gap

African researchers attending a major biotechnology conference have decried
the lack of African capacity to conduct leading-edge biotechnological
science. While many African problems, especially in agriculture, may be
solved using biotech tools, too often scientists in the developed world
with access to more modern facilities must be called in to do the real
work. For many African researchers, that is just not good enough.

In Ibadan, more than130 delegates from all parts of Africa with leading
researchers and development assistance partners from the United States have
attended the three-day conference at the International Institute of
Tropical Agriculture (IITA). The United States Agency for International
Development (USAID), with support from the Federal Government of Nigeria
and the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program, phase 2 (ABSP 2) of
USAID along with IITA sponsored the meeting. It was the third in an annual
series designed to highlight the USAID-Africa partnership in biotechnology.
The United States has greatly increased its support to
biotechnology in Africa (as well as to other parts of the developing world)
in the past several years.

African research teams have welcomed that support but point out that there
are still major gaps to be filled in both technological infrastructure
(laboratories and modern equipment) and in human scientific capacity. To
address such concerns and help close the biotech gap in Nigeria, IITA with
USAID has just begun a major biotech capacity building program.

The meeting also discussed recent progress in several biotech research
areas as well as the policies and legal frameworks that must be in place
(for example, effective laws on biosafety and legislation on intellectual
property rights) for countries to take full advantage of biotechnological
tools. Delegates deplored the lack of accurate information available to
both the general public and to African policymakers about genetic
enhancement in food products. They agreed they had an important job to do
in countering with truth any ill-informed anti-GMO campaigns. It would be
unfair if Africans, especially the rural poor, did not have the chance to
take advantage of the potentially huge benefits that genetically enhanced
crops could provide.

IITA is a center of excellence for agricultural research for the
development of Africa. Its goal is to enhance, in a sustainable and
environmentally friendly way, the livelihoods, wellbeing, and food security
of millions of Africans.

For further information contact:
David Mowbray Head, Communications IITA, Ibadan ,
(234) 02 241-2626 ext. 2770
Contributed by Ortiz, Rodomiro (IITA) (


Molecular Evidence for Genetic Narrowing of the Canadian Oat Gene Pool

Contributed by Yong-Bi Fu, PhD
Research Scientist, Plant Gene Resources of Canada, Saskatoon Research
Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 107 Science Place, Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan, S7N 0X2, Canada.

There is longstanding concern that modern plant breeding reduces crop
genetic diversity. Such reduction may have consequences both for the
vulnerability of crops to changes in their pests and diseases and for their
ability to respond to changes in climate and agricultural
practices. However, this concern has not been clearly demonstrated in
recent molecular studies of genetic diversity of several crop species. To
address this issue, diversity changes in 96 Canadian oat (Avena sativa L.)
cultivars released from 1886 to 2001 were investigated using 30 SSR and 10
AFLP primer pairs. A total of 62 alleles were found from 11 informative
SSR loci and 442 AFLP bands were scored. Analyses of AFLP variability
revealed a trend of fixing 1% of the AFLP variation during the 115 years of
the Canadian oat breeding. Analyses of the dynamics of SSR alleles over
time revealed random, shifting, increasing and decreasing patterns of
allelic change at 3, 1, 2 and 5 loci, respectively. Significant decrease
of alleles was detected in cultivars released after 1970 and also in some
specific breeding programs. However, three different band-sharing analyses
of the genetic diversity of the grouped cultivars failed to detect
significant diversity changes among cultivars released from different
breeding periods or programs. These findings indicate allelic diversity at
particular loci, rather than average genetic diversity, is sensitive to the
oat breeding practices.

The SSR findings are published in Crop Science (43:1989-1995 (2003
Nov-Dec)) and the AFLP results will appear in 2004 January-February issue
of Canadian Journal of Plant Sciences. Further efforts are being pursued
to understand the reduction of SSR alleles with respect to oat breeding
practices over years and determine how general these oat findings are with
respect to other Canadian gene pools such as in flax, wheat and
soybean. These combined efforts should not only help rationalize germplasm
conservation in Canadian crop gene pools, but also enhance the
understanding of genetic erosions in plant breeding programs.


Cornell Entomologists Demonstrate Better Insect Control with Novel
Technique of "Gene Pyramiding"

Entomologists at Cornell University have provided the first experimental
evidence that breeding plants to produce two different proteins by a
process called "gene pyramiding" delays the development of resistance in
targeted insect pests. The research has important implications for the
long-term protection of agricultural crops produced through biotechnology,
particularly Bt corn and Bt cotton. The team performed the research using
diamondback moths, one of the world's major insect pests, and Bt broccoli.

The paper, "Transgenic plants expressing two Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)
toxins delay insect resistance evolution," will be published in the journal
Nature Biotechnology on December 1.

Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis, is a type of bacterium that produces
proteins toxic to many major agricultural insect pests. Bt was promoted as
an environmentally benign insecticide by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book,
Silent Spring. Even though it is benign, Bt accounts for less than two
percent of the world's insecticides because of its cost and relatively low
effectiveness. When plant breeders developed the technology to genetically
engineer the gene for Bt into a specific crop, the crop itself became a
very effective method of control.

The principal scientists involved with the Bt pyramid gene project are Jun
Cao and Lisa Earle (Plant Breeding, Ithaca), Tony Shelton and Jian-Zhou
Zhao (Entomology, Geneva).

Bt plants were first commercialized in 1996, and Bt corn and Bt cotton
became widely used alternatives to conventionally bred corn and cotton. In
2002, Bt crops were grown on 36 million acres worldwide.

"Breeding plants to express Bt proteins provides positive economic benefits
to growers, and health benefits for the environment and farm workers," said
Tony Shelton, Cornell University professor of entomology at the New York
State Agricultural Experiment Station, in Geneva, NY, and one of the
paper's authors. "We're moving into the second generation of the technology
now. As techniques have become more sophisticated, technology allows us to
pyramid two Bt genes in a plant."

The paper is the result of 10 years of research by Shelton and his
collaborators to develop transgenic plants as an alternative to
conventional insecticide sprays. Using dual-toxin broccoli plants developed
by Elizabeth Earle and Jun Cao, in the plant breeding department at
Cornell, Shelton's lab examined how resistance to the two toxins developed
in a population of diamondback moth after 24 generations. Resistance was
compared under several different management strategies.

"Plants containing two Bt toxin genes substantially delayed the development
of resistance compared to two single-toxin plants used sequentially or in a
mosaic," said Shelton. "Regulatory agencies and companies now should work
together to promote the development of these pyramid plants and, in the
long term, phase out single gene plants."

Mathematical models of insect resistance suggest that plants with genes for
two different Bt toxins would delay resistance longer than planting a
mixture of two single-toxin plants in the field (called a mosaic), or using
two single-toxin plants sequentially in crop rotation. Such models have
already prompted one company to develop a variety of cotton that expresses
two Bt proteins. Shelton's lab provides the first experimental confirmation
of the value of dual-toxin plants.

Since the commercialization of Bt plants for insect control, there have
been no instances of insect populations developing resistance in the field,
but there is a constant danger that the pest species will develop
resistance to the toxin, as has happened with many conventional
insecticides. To help prevent insects from developing resistance to
transgenic Bt crops, the EPA has mandated that a portion of acreage next to
a Bt crop be devoted to what is called a "refuge." A refuge is an area in
which the non-transgenic version of the crop is grown. This area allows
some susceptible insects to survive so that the gene that encodes for
resistance does not become abundant in the insect population.

In addition to providing better resistance management, plants with
pyramided genes for Bt proteins require less space set aside as refuge,
which helps growers (for whom a refuge can represent a significant portion
of the crop damaged) get a greater return for their acreage. Preventing
insect resistance also extends the useful life of Bt crops, which helps
manufacturers and growers.

"We have based resistance management programs in the United States on some
pretty solid theory, but Shelton and his team have given us very useful
data," said Fred Gould, professor of entomology at North Carolina State
University, and a leading expert on Bt crops. "This research should make
the EPA and companies more open to developing pyramided or dual-toxin plants."

"This work has important implications in the U.S., but also in Australia,
India and China, where millions of acres of the cotton crop contains Bt,"
adds Jian-Zhou Zhao, the paper's first author.

"Using more Bt crops and less insecticide are environmentally and people
friendly strategies in pest control," said Shelton. "The next step in our
research program is to extend the crop's useful life by having plants
express the Bt proteins only when the crop is most susceptible to insect

This research was funded by the USDA's National Research Initiative
Competitive Grants Program.
26 Nov. 2003


Map-based Isolation of the Leaf Rust Disease Resistance Gene Lr10 from the
Hexaploid Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) Genome

Catherine Feuillet, Silvia Travella, Nils Stein , Laurence Albar, Aur)e
Nublat, and Beat Keller
Institute of Plant Biology, University of Zrich, Zollikerstrasse 107,
CH-8008 Zurich, Switzerland


More than 50 leaf rust resistance (Lr) genes against the fungal pathogen
Puccinia triticina have been identified in the wheat gene pool, and a large
number of them have been extensively used in breeding. Of the 50 Lr genes,
all are known only from their phenotype and/or map position except for
Lr21, which was cloned recently. For many years, the problems of molecular
work in the large (1.6 x 1010 bp), highly repetitive (80%), and hexaploid
bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) genome have hampered map-based cloning.
Here, we report the isolation of the Lr gene Lr10 from hexaploid wheat by
using a combination of subgenome map-based cloning and haplotype studies in
the genus Triticum. Lr10 is a single-copy gene on chromosome 1AS. It
encodes a CC-NBS-LRR type of protein with an N-terminal domain, which is
under diversifying selection. When overexpressed in transgenic wheat
plants, Lr10 confers enhanced resistance to leaf rust. Lr10 has
similarities to RPM1 in Arabidopsis thaliana and to resistance gene analogs
in rice and barley, but is not closely related to other wheat Lr genes
based on Southern analysis. We conclude that map-based cloning of genes of
agronomic importance in hexaploid wheat is now feasible, opening
perspectives for molecular bread wheat improvement trough transgenic
strategies and diagnostic allele detection.
26 Nov. 2003


Columbia Economist Offers New Way to Compute Prizes for Agriculture Research

After many decades of economic growth, the single most important cause of
human mortality remains malnutrition. The World Health Organization
estimates that food deficits cause about 6 million deaths per year, or 14
percent of the total. Surprisingly, most people who die from hunger are
actually farmers not by choice, but by necessity. They are born in rural
areas, and have no other resources with which to earn a living. When a farm
family's production falls short of their own food needs, they fall into a
downward spiral of malnutrition, ill-health, and even lower production.

In the November issue of AgBioForum, William Masters, director of the Earth
Institute's Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development, proposes a
new way of fighting hunger: by giving cash prizes to innovators who develop
sustainable techniques that the world's poor can use to feed themselves.

Prizes have been used to solve many seemingly-intractable problems, from an
18th-century prize for determining longitude at sea, to the 20th century
prizes for long-distance flight given to Charles Lindbergh and Amelia
Earhart. These prizes work well when governments or philanthropists
anticipate that a breakthrough would be valuable, but are unlikely to be
easily sold in the marketplace or obtained from university laboratories.

Professor Masters' approach proposes targeting any increase in the
productivity of low-income farmers, using recently-developed measurement
methods to compute what each innovation is really worth.

Professor Masters' proposal is motivated by the magnitude and nature of
global hunger. Because the poorest people are farmers, one of the most
effective tools in the historical fight against malnutrition has been
agricultural research, adapting seed varieties and production techniques to
local needs. This type of research consistently pays for itself, often many
times over but the gains are spread over millions of very poor
beneficiaries, so the costs of research can't be recovered locally, either
by private-sector innovators through product sales, or by local governments
through taxes.

"This mechanism offers a way for philanthropists and foreign-aid donors to
pay directly for demonstrated research achievement," says Professor
Masters. "We know that people want to pay for good research. This offers a
way to find which research is worth funding, using verifiable data from
field experiments and farm surveys."

Right now, research achievements are rewarded in one of two main ways. The
oldest approach is through universities and public laboratories, paid for
by government grants or philanthropy but these are difficult to steer
towards high-priority targets. To make researchers more responsive to
people's needs, governments offer them intellectual property rights over
their innovations but these have value only when a technology's users can
be made to pay for it. Professor Masters' proposal is intended to help fill
the gap between these two methods, to reward innovations that are not now
being rewarded through either kind of funding mechanism.

Although it would take some time for new research to generate results on
the ground, Masters believes that offering prizes for research results
would have an immediate impact, by attracting attention to the fruits of
R&D. He said, "I have worked for ten years in West Africa on this issue,
and I know dozens of agricultural technologies that are out there right now
saving lives. No one rewards these innovators. Prizes would help them
spread their ideas to more people, and to develop them further."

"Some of the best innovations come from individuals, often working in
non-profits and NGOs others come from people in universities and public
laboratories, and some come from private companies like Monsanto. No one
has a monopoly on discovery," said Masters. "This proposal is about
rewarding innovation, wherever it comes from."


The Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development (CGSD) was
established in July 2002 to research and craft solutions for the pressing
international development problems of our time. CGSD manages the social
sciences activities of the Earth Institute, such as economics, education,
and urban growth. Its hallmark approach involves interdisciplinary
collaborations with natural scientists at the Earth Institute, operating on
the underlying principle that because development problems cross
disciplines - from the environment to disaster preparedness to public
health to economic planning - so must the solutions.

The article is:
William A. Masters (2003), "Research Prizes: A Mechanism to Reward
Agricultural Innovation in Low-Income Regions" AgBioForum 6(1&2, November):

The journal is published at the University of Missouri; more information is
available on-line from:

More information on Professor Masters' work is available from:
11 Nov 2003


Open Source Genetics Needed to Feed The World

This week Australian genetics pioneer Richard Jefferson was recognised by
Scientific American, the prestigious international science magazine, as one
of the 50 global technology leaders of 2003. His latest inventions could
unleash a new Green Revolution, giving farmers, researchers and agriculture
businesses across the world access to the potential of modern genetics.

And hes calling on the global biotechnology community to adopt open access
genetics - freeing up the tools of modern genetics and biology from the
shackles of excessive patenting. Jefferson will be honoured at a
presentation on Thursday 11 December at the New York Academy of Sciences
along with Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computers, The Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and other science, engineering, commerce
and public policy leaders.

Professor Richard Jefferson and his team of scientists and IP experts at
CAMBIA (Center for the Application of Molecular Biology to International
Agriculture) are creating a powerful and freely available genetics and
policy toolkit that will allow plant breeders and scientists around the
world to add new directions to conventional plant and animal breeding.
Chinas leading plant geneticist, Professor Zhang Qifa, has already used the
toolkit to create 20,000 unique rice lines in his quest for more robust,
high yielding rice that uses less water and are resistant to pests and

"We dont always need to insert foreign genes," says Jefferson, "as we are
yet to harness the potential of the crops own genome." "Biotechnology is
being stifled by the complexity, expense and misuse of patenting. So we are
taking a different approach with our toolkit to ensure its available for
all to use," says Jefferson.

"CAMBIA and the Rockefeller Foundation are working together to create an
'Open Access' biological technology movement - just as the computing
community has created Linux and other great Open Source innovations. Our
tools will be free to all and are crafted to unleash the creativity of
researchers and farmers. Companies will have much greater opportunities to
create wealth from new crops and products, winning much-needed public trust
in the process"

Jefferson originally founded CAMBIA in Canberra in 1991, to give developing
countries access to the tools of molecular biology. It soon became clear,
however that many of the same barriers to the creation and adoption of new
technology in developing countries are also hindering businesses and the
research community in the developed world in particular the confused web of
intellectual property rights which is hurting both small and large
biotechnology companies, and which has gutted the public sector.

28 Nov. 2003


Latin America Gets New Bioinformatics Network

A second network has been launched in Latin America to boost regional
collaboration in bioinformatics -- the use of information technology to
store and analyse biological information, particularly in genomics

The Iberoamerican Network for Bioinformatics, launched last month, aims to
improve training, increase research coordination and encourage student
exchanges in the region. It links more than 20 research groups from
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Paraguay,
Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as Spain.

"Bioinformatics is now widely recognised as a crucial field for research
and development in agricultural, veterinary and human health sciences, as
well as in biotechnology", says the coordinator of the network, Wim Degrave
of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil.

The Network will receive 50,000 a year from the Spanish governments
Iberoamerican Programme of Science and Technology for Development (CYTED).
It will collaborate with another initiative the Latin American and
Caribbean Network for Bioinformatics (LacBioNet) which was set up last year
to promote training, research and information on bioinformatics, and
already links more than 360 research groups in 12 countries.

"Bioinformatics and computational biology are disciplines in which
scientists in developing countries can contribute on the world scene from a
less disadvantaged position [than in other fields of science]," says
Degrave. "An Internet link and a computer are all that you need to

28 November 2003


Pasture Grass Fights Wheat Fungus Danger to Plants, Animals, People

A western American pasture grass crossed with wheat can improve
resistance to a fungus that can be toxic to plants, animals and people,
according to Purdue University researchers.

Resistance genes in the grass that replaced genes in wheat increased
protection against Fusarium head blight, or wheat scab, the scientists
said. In the December issue of the journal Theoretical and Applied Genetics
the researchers also report that they located and mapped the small bits of
DNA, or markers, associated with the resistance gene in the grass, called
tall wheatgrass.

"In the past 10 or 15 years, the fungus Fusarium graminearum has emerged as
one of the diseases of primary concern in wheat," said Herb Ohm, Purdue
agronomy professor. "This is because the widespread practice of reduced
tillage in fields provides a perfect environment for growth of the fungus."

Reduced tillage, meaning the soil is not plowed for planting, cuts farmers'
costs and helps prevent erosion, he said. In the eastern United States, the
upper Midwest and other places where large amounts of corn and wheat are
both grown, Fusarium is a major problem, especially when the weather is
warm and humid or rainy. Corn stalks left as natural mulch after harvest
also foster fungus growth.

The fungus causes head blight that leads to major wheat crop losses. In
1996, crop losses due to Fusarium totaled at least $38 million just in
Indiana, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"The disease has occurred most years since the early 1990s," Ohm said. "Its
increase in frequency and severity coincide with reduced soil tillage,
along with favorable weather warm, humid conditions for several weeks prior
to and during wheat flowering in mid- to late-May."

The fungus also produces a mycotoxin that sickens animals and people. Pigs,
cattle, horses, poultry and people can develop vomiting, loss of appetite,
diarrhea, staggering, skin irritation and immunosuppression when they eat
grain or hay infected by Fusarium. The most severe cases can be fatal.

Research has found evidence that these toxins may be cancer-causing. People
usually ingest the fungus when they eat contaminated grains and cereals.
According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, people
in developing countries face the greatest risk from Fusarium mycotoxins.

"Fusarium production of mycotoxins is a more serious problem than wheat
production loss," Ohm said. "The toxin results in complete loss because you
can't use the grain to make food for people or livestock."

The fungus can infect most cereal grains, including corn, wheat, barley and
some oats.

Replacement of the wheat gene was done with conventional crossbreeding and
selection and didn't involve any genetic engineering. Because the two
plants are closely related, the wheat is not altered, except for the added
protection against Fusarium.

The newly identified resistance gene in the wheat grass is on a different
chromosome in the genome than other known resistance genes used in wheat.
This will enable researchers to combine the newly discovered effective
resistance gene from wheatgrass with other genes that protect wheat against
Fusarium. This breeding of a plant with more than one resistance gene is
called gene pyramiding.

"For some diseases, such as Fusarium, a single resistance gene will not
give you complete resistance," Ohm said. "So we try to identify genes from
different resistant varieties or sources that will give some resistance.

"Then we use genetics to determine whether resistance genes from two
different sources are on different locations in the genome. If they are,
then we can pyramid them."

Now that Ohm and his team of researchers know they can combine the tall
wheatgrass resistance gene with other resistance genes, they will try to
produce a line of wheat with several genes resistant to Fusarium. The seed
will then be available through the U.S. Department of
Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service laboratory in Aberdeen, Idaho,
that is a seed repository for wheat lines from around the world.

"The whole basis of plant breeding is to put the favorable genetic traits
of different parent lines into one progeny line," Ohm said. "Prior to the
DNA era, we had to rely on characterizing plants just on phenotype
(observable traits). For certain traits that's fairly easy to do. For many
traits it's difficult because of environmental effects.

"Some phenotypes have good crop yield in one environment but not in other
environments. This makes it difficult to determine which genes affect yield
in one wheat variety compared to another."

For instance, under perfect conditions, one wheat line might have a very
high yield but may not in an arid climate. By using DNA to compare traits,
environmental impact is not a factor because if a gene is present and
activated, then scientists can ascertain if a characteristic is genetic or
environmental, Ohm said. The bits of DNA known as markers allow scientists
to determine more quickly whether the gene carrying the desired trait is
present in a plant.

Other researchers on this study were Xiaorong Shen and Lingrang Kong, both
postdoctoral fellows in Ohm's research group.

The Ag Alumni Seed Improvement Association and Purdue Agricultural Research
Programs provided funding for this research.
26 Nov. 2003


Diversity: What People, Grain Sorghum Have in Common

Diverse. To society, the word means racial, ethnic and cultural
differences. To scientists interested in biological diversity, the meaning
is no different.

So assembling Hispanic, African-American and Caucasian students and
professors to examine the genome of grain sorghum, and tap into the
collection of 40,000 different varieties from around the world, seems like
the sensible thing to do.

Outreach to under-represented groups in hopes of attracting new scientists
is part of a $2 million sorghum genome grant, funded under the Plant Genome
Project of the National Science Foundation, recently awarded to a team led
by Dr. Patricia Klein, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station researcher at
Texas A&M University's Institute for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology.

Klein and co-investigators Dr. John Mullet and Dr. Robert Klein will work
with Dr. Tineke Sexton at Houston Community College to teach aspiring
students how to generate and analyze genetic fingerprints on the sorghum
varieties and to present their findings in various scientific arenas.
Mullet is the institute's director and Robert Klein is a U.S. Department of
Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service scientist.

"We need all the talent we can get in the sciences," said Mullet, himself
once a liberal arts major with hopes for a law degree until a biology class
grabbed his interest.

Here's how it will work. Klein, Klein and Mullet will train Sexton in their
labs at Texas A&M. Sexton, in turn, will train HCC students to extract DNA
and fingerprint a subset of lines from the 40,000-variety sorghum
collection, using funds from the grant to help set up labs at HCC. The
sorghum team also will give guest lectures to Sexton's classes in Houston,
and the Internet will be used to keep the students and faculty connected.

Since the Plant Genome Research Project began in 1998, NFS has awarded some
$375 million to 120 projects. Over the last decade, Mullet noted, NSF has
emphasized trying to integrate research with education and training.

"The makeup of the Houston Community College System is exactly the
demographics that we needed to tap into, and their enrollment is about the
same as here at Texas A&M," Patricia Klein said. "That made the connection
for us."

HCC awards associate degrees to one of the most diverse student bodies in
the country, according to Patricia Klein. Its 50,000 students are 23
percent African-American and 36 percent Hispanic.

The sorghum team had been grappling with how to interest a diverse set of
college students to participate in their research when Sexton, a former
doctoral student of Mullet's, called with a plea. Sexton, a native of The
Netherlands now teaching at HCC, was looking for her former professor's
support on a grant she sought to help engage her students in science.

Out of the $1.9 million overall grain sorghum genome project, therefore,
the team carved out some $200,000 to work with the Houston college's
undergraduates. Mullet said the grant will be augmented with funds from the
Heep Foundation as well.

Patricia Klein hopes to see "excitement from the students who realize the
potential." She said the project will "put a face with a name" as students
get to work with researchers on the high-profile genome project.

"I would hope that some who are involved with this project at the community
college will want to stay in science," she said. "And those who come to
Texas A&M would be able to come to work in our labs here as well."

That connection would benefit not only the students but the researchers who
acknowledged that finding students who want to work in science labs can be

Work by the students will have a major impact on the grain sorghum
research. Grain sorghum is grown throughout much of the world and is
important both as livestock feed and for human consumption. Genes for a
trait of major importance - drought resistance - will be the focus of the
overall project which will take about four years, Mullet said.
25 Nov 2003



Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species

As announced some time ago the Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized
Species has now launched its web site. The aim of this site is to be the
internet gateway to information on underutilized species for a large and
diverse clientele including researchers, development workers, policymakers,
donor organizations, farmers, consumers, etc. The site is not intended to
duplicate existing efforts, but rather to provide an umbrella or portal to
all sources of information about underutilized species available.

The kind of information accessible through this portal ranges from details
of specific crops, events of interest, important topics related to
underutilized species, to relevant publications. Shortly it will provide a
database of experts and ongoing activities on underutilized species.
Besides making knowledge available for download, the site also intends to
offer a platform for communication among interested parties.

The web site's URL is

We hope you find this tool of information useful and encourage you to
actively contribute to its content.

Your feed-back is appreciated and we apologize in advance should there be
any cross-posting.

Irmgard Hoeshle-Zeledon
Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species
Via dei Tre Denari 472/a
00057 MACCARESE (Fiumicino)
Rome, Italy


FAO-BiotechNews: Selected Items from 11-2003

Marker Assisted Selection - Proceedings

On 17-18 October 2003, the Fondazione per le Biotecnologie, the University
of Turin and FAO organised an international workshop in Turin, Italy,
entitled "Marker assisted selection: A fast track to increase genetic gain
in plant and animal breeding?". The proceedings of the workshop, with 11
papers covering crops, livestock, fruit trees and farmed fish, are now
available, providing an up-to-date overview of the status regarding marker
assisted selection. See or contact to request to receive the proceedings by e-mail.

AGORA Initiative

Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA), an initiative to
provide free or low-cost access to major scientific journals in agriculture
and related biological, environmental and social sciences to public
institutions in developing countries, was launched on 14 October 2003 by
FAO and a range of public and private sector partners. It provides access
to over 400 journals, many dealing directly or indirectly with
biotechnology, from the world's leading academic publishers. Participating
institutions need computers connected to the Internet with a connection of
56k baud rate or higher. See (in
Arabic, English, French or Spanish) or contact for further


FAO-BiotechNews: Selected Items from 13-2003

Consumer Attitudes Towards GMOs

The Third Session of the Intergovernmental Group on Bananas and Tropical
Fruits will be held on 11-15 December 2003 in Puerto de la Cruz, Canary
Islands, Spain. The Group was established by FAO's Committee on Commodity
Problems in 1999 and provides a forum for consultations on and studies of
the economic and technical aspects of production, marketing, trade and
consumption of bananas and tropical fruits. One of the items on the
meeting's agenda is consumer attitudes towards GMOs. In this respect, a
paper by C. Marris has been commissioned by FAO entitled "Issues concerning
public awareness and attitudes towards genetically modified bananas and
tropical fruits". See (document
CRS 13, available in English, in Spanish (summary) and, later, in French)
or a copy can be requested from

E-mail Conference on Marker Assisted Selection

The moderated e-mail conference on "Molecular marker assisted selection as
a potential tool for genetic improvement of crops, forest trees, livestock
and fish in developing countries", hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum,
began on 17 November and continues until 14 December 2003. Discussions,
highly relevant, have focused so far on applications in crops and livestock.
Messages are available at
Those posted in November can be requested as a single e-mail (79 KB) from

African Biosciences Facility

A Biosciences Facility for Eastern and Central Africa is being established
as part of NEPAD's (New Partnership for Africa's Development)
continent-wide network of centres of excellence. Establishment of the new
Facility has been made possible by an initial investment of more than
Canadian $30 million by the Canada Fund for Africa through the Canadian
International Development Agency. The facilities will be hosted by the
International Livestock Research Institute, in Nairobi, Kenya. Biosciences
embrace a wide range of biological specialisations related to all living
organisms, including animals, microbes, plants and trees. See
(1.68 MB) or contact for more information.


MaizeGDB: An Online Resource for Maize Genetics

MaizeGDB (<> is undoubtedly
the 'must-bookmark' one-stop shop for anyone with an interest in maize

The user-friendly web interface makes it easy to navigate through the large
array of tools and resources. You can search through compilations of BACs,
ESTs, probes, QTLs, phenotypes, references and so on almost any data set
you can think of that is related to maize genetics. All of these resources
are provided with a layman's summary of what they are.

Tools that can be sourced through MaizeGDB include the genome browser,
which provides a slick means of accessing BACs, ESTs, microsatellites and
sequences from any given region of the 10 maize chromosomes, as well as a
maize-specific BLAST search engine. Educational resources that are relevant
to maize are also collated on the site. These resources provide some nice
basic background information on maize in general, and maize genetics in

It is some of the added extras on the site that show that the MaizeGDB team
have gone the extra mile in an attempt to achieve their stated aim of
presenting maize genetic resources "in a way that creates intuitive
biological connections for the researcher with minimal effort". Examples
include the online tutorial and the downloadable PowerPoint presentation
for introducing new users to the database. They have also flagged their
intent to make the site as responsive as possible to the community it
serves through a short but pithy survey, which they encourage users to fill
in, together with jobs and meetings notice boards.

Finally, if the site itself is not enough to satisfy a 'maizeophile's'
thirst for information, you can also sign up for regular e-mail newsletters.
Nov. 2003


New Access for Agriculture

A United Nations scheme launched last week extends unrestricted access to
contents of the journal Nature within developing countries.

For details see
An equivalent scheme for researchers in agriculture was launched on 14
October by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. see


24 Oct 2003