23 August 2004

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

Clair H. Hershey, Editor


1.01 Green Revolution for food security
1.02 Does hunger outweigh GM doubts?
1.03 Indigenous knowledge and rights must be protected
1.04 Global Crop Diversity Trust: not a good idea for ensuring global food security
1.05 Biodiversity research gets US$1m boost in Brazil
1.06 New name for Cornell Plant Breeding
1.07 ICRISAT's Agri-Business Incubator starts GM cotton initiative
1.08 ICRISAT to launch trials of GM groundnut next season and pigeon pea in 2006
1.09 New research confirms Barbara McClintock's view of heterochromatin and gene regulation
1.10 National Corn Growers Association announces valuable maize genome data now available to scientists
1.11 Brazilian scientists identify the genes in coffee beans
1.12 Graduate student formidable foe for rice water weevil
1.13 Hybrid characterization test for ethanol yields results
1.14 Wild potato's gene may protect vulnerable spuds
1.15 Researchers increase folate levels in plant  - Biofortifying cereals and grains
1.16 Crops that contribute to improved productivity and profitability of saline lands
1.17  Research goal: minimize cross-pollination of crops
1.18 Syrian scientists produce naturally coloured cotton by causing random changes in the genetic material of cotton seeds
1.19 Fusarium nursery shows new hope for reducing levels of deoxynivalenol in barley
1.20 Thai researchers discover iron-rich rice that can combat anaemia
1.21 Local breeding of chickpea is best for Western Australia
1.22 Disease-resistant papaya saves Hawaiian papaya industry
1.23 Are you afraid of injections?
1.24  Transgenic Gala apples display resistance to fungal attack
1.25  Plant  transport genes discovered

2.01  Announcement and Request for contributions: Crop Breeding and Applied Biotechnology (CBAB)

3.01 FAO-BiotechNews 8-2004

4.01 Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa, introduces competitive grants system





1.01  Green Revolution for food security

By Martin Trancik

With population growth on the rise around the world, and especially in developing countries, Dr. Gurdev Khush calls for a Green Revolution through improvements to rice.

In the world, 50% of humanity depends on rice as a dietary source. Among the three main crops feeding the world's population (rice, wheat and maize) rice is by far the most important. Of all calories consumed by human beings, 23% are derived from rice, whereby this percentage is even higher in traditional rice countries such as
Vietnam, Myanmar or Bangladesh with 66%, 76% and 77% respectively. Rice, by any standards, is important enough to be talked and thought about. It was the main topic of a speech delivered by Dr. Gurdev S. Khush on Friday, July, 16 in Basel entitled Green Revolution for Food Security: Achievements, Challenges and Role of Biotechnology.

Dr. Khush spent 34 years working as a scientist for the International Rice Research Institute IRRI and retired in 2001 as head of the IRRI's plant breeding program. Throughout his career, his path has been filled with research accolades due to his accomplishments with bettering rice cultivation.

Dr. Khush began his presentation by outlining the challenges the scientific community was facing with regards to rice in the early 1960s. Predictions in that decade gave the bleak prospect of serious food shortages and rice related famines by 1975. The task to assure a more secure food supply had to be tackled from various angles.

The first aspect in this research process was to improve the yield potential of various rice plants. Here, an increase was achieved by the introduction of a dwarfing gene into the plant, causing a greater ratio of grain to rice straw. Research dealt also with the plant's nitrogen responsiveness to fertilizer. This development lead to a considerable decrease in duration of he plant's growing season. An older variety such as Ptb 21 for example, took 180 days to mature, whereas the new IR 44482-9 variety was ready within 95 days.

Considerable attention was also devoted to the fight against diseases, insects or parasites such as the Grassy Stunt, Tungro or the brown plant hopper nymphs. The general aim, of course, was to boost the plant's resistance. With regard to Grassy Stunt, this was achieved by transferring a gene from a naturally resistant variety of wild rice called Oryza nivara. In this case, hybridisation and cross breeding was used to obtain rice varieties that were resistant to insects, parasites or disease.

The combined effect of all these developments was an increase in rice production from around 200 million tons in 1961 to 1500 million tons in 2003. In addition, the higher intensity of cropping, brought about by the multiple improvements to rice, meant that these 1.5 billion tons were produced on an area of 130 million ha. Using traditional rice plants would have meant that, in 2003, an area of 300 million ha would have been needed to achieve the same production.

Accordingly, Dr. Khush's interpretation of future challenges takes into account ecological constraints: en ever increasing world population forces farmers to produce even more food, however, this must happen in a way that uses less water, land, labor and chemicals. It is here, that genetic engineering in addition to methods such as conventional, ideotype or hybrid breeding will play a crucial role. Dr. Khush emphasized, "I think genetic engineering is the area that holds the most potential."

Japan, genetic engineering was used, for example, to create varieties of transgenic rice with a more efficient photosynthesis. In order to accomplish this, four genes from a variety of maize were introduced into rice, turning the latter from a C3-photosynthesis plant into a C4 variety. The resulting enhanced C4 variety was able to increase its photosynthesis efficiency from 25-30%. Since photosynthesis is the mode by which plants obtain energy, Dr. Khush showed how the enhanced C4 variety grew faster, and produced more rice over the C3 varieties - an effect that helped the researchers obtain their goal of increasing rice yields.

In the crucial area of insects and diseases, Dr. Khush noted that genetic engineering is used with the aim to provide resistance against damaging organisms. With the addition of one gene, past results demonstrated that insects and microbes have been able to overcome the resistance. Here, the addition of 3 to 4 new genes to rice seems to promise the best results.

Other aspects of research into genetic engineering that Dr. Khush highlighted dealt with new rice varieties with tolerance to submergence and, on the other extreme, tolerance to drought and salinity. Both drought and salinity are two closely related areas of particular importance. Dr. Khush emphasized, " Water is quickly becoming the limiting resource globally. This is a very big problem, since 50% of the world relies on rain-fed rice." However, Dr. Khush noted how new transgenic varieties have been developed that allow for the cultivation of rice in salty environments, as well as survive periods of drought. Both improvements increase the yield and dependability of rice farming.

Methods of genetic engineering were not only applied in dealing with issues of intensity or efficiency of cropping. They can also have health care implications. According to Dr. Khush, 400 million people in the world are at risk of Vitamin A deficiency. Lately, genetic engineering was used in order to boost the rice plants Vitamin A synthesis. Here, three genes were introduced: Psy and lyc from daffodil (Narcissus) and Cryt1 from the bacterium Erwina uredovora. This new variety of rice is called Golden Rice and was made available in 2003. The research was lead by Dr. Ingo Potrykus of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's Institute for Plant Sciences (appointed by Dr. Khush to head the vitamin A rice project) and Dr. Peter Beyer of the Center for Applied Biosciences,
University of Freiburg, Germany.

Dr. Khush gave an impressive overview over the biotechnological improvements to rice. Research in this area does not represent a mere intellectual or scientific game. There is hardly anything as vital as the creation of secure and improved food supplies in a world where the risk of famine and malnutrition is still painfully real.

Matin Trancik is studying Law at the
University of Basel, and is a Journalist for Checkbiotech.

Contributed by Robert Derham

(Return to Contents)


1.02   Does hunger outweigh GM doubts?

Maize damaged by insects in Zambia

Crop pests are a fact of life for African farmers, and chemical pesticides are often too expensive to allow profits. Two alternatives are genetically modified (GM) crops and insect resistant strains of crops developed by conventional breeding experiments. Critics of GM say the technology is being forced on African farmers but supporters say that hunger in Africa cannot be tackled with it.

In this article, Robert Scalia reports on the choices facing African farmers and governments. Uganda, for instance, has a lucrative organic market in Europe and the government forbids the planting of GM crops, but allows imports. Angola and Zambia have banned GM food in imports. Meanwhile, Kenya and South Africa are pushing ahead with GM crops.

Increasing yields is one thing but, as farmers have found, unless the produce looks and tastes right, people won't buy it. And whether or not GM can produce improved yields of safe food, other factors, such as loans for farmers, better infrastructure, and improved markets are also central to the improvement of food security in Africa.

Source: Scoop, via SciDev.Net
10 August 2004

 (Return to Contents)


1.03  Indigenous knowledge and rights must be protected

Indigenous knowledge of biodiversity is important to the lives of millions, not least through the provision of food and medicine. But according to Alejandro Argumendo, director of Peru's Quechua-Aymara Association for Sustainable Communities International, intellectual property laws foster the privatisation of such knowledge, rather than its protection.

In this interview, he says that the definitions and uses of traditional knowledge are affecting indigenous rights. International frameworks, he says, are not able to establish or protect the rights of those who are the very source of traditional knowledge.

He highlights the importance of conserving both biodiversity and the traditional systems of knowledge transfer and exploitation that are central to its sustainable exploitation.

Link to full feature story in English
Link to full feature story in Spanish

Source: SciDev.Net
12 July 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.04  Global Crop Diversity Trust: not a good idea for ensuring global food security

An opinion article by Dave Wood <>

M.S. Swaminathan and Per Pinstrup-Andersen (AgBioView July 6, 2004) make a plea for further support for the Global Crop Diversity Trust that is trying to raise $260 million. Income from this Trust would fund seed conservation in 1,470 genebanks around the world.

With respect, I disagree. There are far more effective ways of ensuring global food security than supporting the Trust.

The first way is to ensure that the vast numbers of existing crop diversity collections are better evaluated, fully documented, and actually used. Our experience over the past thirty years is that very large collections directly servicing large crop breeding institutes work best for food security. This approach gave us the Green Revolution in rice and wheat. The bottleneck now is not yet more genebank samples, but more research, especially on wild relatives still evolving to match the stresses of climate change and new pests and still out there in the field. There is an essential role for biotechnology here but the present governance of the Trust includes anti-GMO elements. Can the Trust be trusted to be neutral on GMOs?

The second way is to recognize that 1,470 genebanks are far too many for secure storage of possibly 10 million samples. The Trust should not seek to encourage this inefficiency. Fortunately, there is a very new opportunity to solve this massive (and hitherto expensive) technical problem of poor storage. The new International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IT) entered into force last week (on the 29th June). The IT establishes an agreed global commons for crops to replace the national sovereignty endorsed by the Convention on Biological Diversity a decade ago. Thus there is no longer a political barrier to physically consolidating a multitude of national and institutional genebanks for greater security of storage. The present 1,470 genebanks are often of dubious technical quality, with an appalling record of sample duplication (essential for secure storage). In future, a limited number of large, technically excellent, duplicated genebanks, would!
  be of far greater service to global food security at far lower cost than the $260 million required by the Trust. Three or four genebanks would suffice, but the cost efficiency of very large stores is so great that several more could be built. Just this week, with the IT, this became possible.

The third way to ensure global food security is to return to the roots of genetic resource management through plant introduction and distribution. The proven value of plant introduction has been lost sight of in the promotion of conservation of a limited range of crops. Early efforts recognized that most crops grow better and produce more in continents away from their homeland (probably because they escape their co-evolved pests and diseases: the rabbit in Australia phenomenon). For example, Africa depends on maize, cassava and beans from Latin America; Brazil on coffee from Ethiopia; Malaysia on oil palm from Africa and rubber from South America; and the U.S.A. on wheat and soybean from Asia and sorghum from Africa. But this biological fact it was the driver for the great efforts of plant introduction of the likes of Vavilov, as he brought back 330,000 samples of crops for the new agricultural lands of Russia, and for the global collecting efforts of the US Department of Ag!
 riculture over more than a century. Millions of samples were distributed in the U.S.A., direct to farmers. This process of intercontinental crop diversification is not nearly complete. There are many food security crops and important pasture species not covered by IT. These omissions range from major crops such as soybean and groundnut to locally important staples such as teff and ensete from Ethiopia, peach palm from Latin America, and sago from S.E. Asia. Food diversification based on livestock will suffer as major tropical grass and legume pasture species are excluded. As the Trust will not cover crops excluded from the IT, it will fail to ensure the conservation of these vital crops and pasture species. It will also not promote the effective work of intercontinental crop diversification.

Finally, even for crops that are covered by the IT and the Trust, the only collections covered are in public domain genebanks either national or in the CGIAR institutes. These raw materials may not be the most essential for global food security. Certainly within the CGIAR the most immediately useful samples are from the vast range of trial material developed with care and skill by national and CGIAR scientists. Each modern variety may contain the good diversity from more than a hundred traditional varieties. This trial and breeders material is both excluded from the IT and Trust mandates (as material under development) and also not, unfortunately, securely stored. Its survival is an urgent priority.

In sum, priority funding is needed not for the Global Crop Diversity Trust, but for: more evaluation and enhancement of existing samples; consolidation of national collections into efficient and large international stores (with effective documentation) on the model of the CGIAR genebanks; greater emphasis on plant introduction and crop diversification; and secure storage for the millions of enhanced lines threatened by the retirement of breeders or changes in institutional interests.

Global policy over genetic resources now seems to be in disarray. The stamp-collectors urge for yet more conservation has taken over from the former ethic of 'stamps ensuring the delivery of mail' that gave us effective crop introduction and plant breeding to ensure food security.

Source: AgBioView
8 July 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.05  Biodiversity research gets US$1m boost in Brazil

[SAO PAULO] The Brazilian government has launched a US$1 million project to gather its biodiversity knowledge into a single network of national databases. The project, which will involve the creation of new specimen collection centres, aims to give Brazil control over its own biodiversity as well as any commercial benefits that arise from its use.

Much of the scientific knowledge about Brazilian species rarely finds its way home to Brazil. It is generated by researchers from other countries and published in foreign language journals. "We want to reverse this flow of information," says Lone Egler, general coordinator of the biodiversity research and policy programme at the country's Ministry of Science and Technology, which is responsible for the new project. "We are going to open our ark to see what we've got.

The project, which involves ten research institutions in the Amazon region and 23 in the semi-arid north-east of the country, will catalogue Brazilian plants, animals and micro-organisms. This work will involve gathering information currently dispersed throughout several biological collections into a single network, comprising new and existing databanks.
New research centres will also be set up to collect biological specimens, describe species and study the way they interact within ecosystems. This part of the programme will increase research investments in regions such as the Amazon, which are very rich in biodiversity but have limited human research capacity. In these areas, the programme will bring research training, doctoral opportunities and new equipment.

The National Institute of Amazon Research (INPA) is already working with local research organisations to create the first centre, which will have trail systems and lodges for researchers, in the state of Roraima. Two regional institutes, the Emilio Goeldi Museum and the National Semi-Arid Institute, will coordinate the creation of other research units in the Amazon forest.

Most of the information in the database network will be available to the general public. However, data that could have commercial value, such as that on molecular structures that could be exploited for drug development, will be available to national and international companies only under restrictive or paid conditions. The programme will encourage companies to create partnerships with participating Brazilian research organisations in order to access the data.

The project is, however, provoking criticism from states whose organisations were kept out of the process.

"It is not right to deliver our biological collections and not get anything in return, such as scientific qualifications and support to install laboratories," says Jose Maria da Silva, secretary of Science and Technology for Amapa. This state in the Amazon region prides itself on it successful conservation of more than 90 per cent of the forest within its boundaries.

Amapa was excluded from the project when the Brazilian government decided to have only two coordination centres, one each in the states of Amazonas and Para.

Source: SciDev.Net
6 August 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.06  New name for Cornell Plant Breeding

Cornell University has announced a name change for the Department of Plant Breeding, which will now be known as the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics.  The Faculty voted to approve this change, which was recently approved by the College and the University administration, because it reflects more appropriately the research, teaching, and extension activities of the Department.

Contributed by Ronnie Coffman
Chairman, Dept of Plant Breeding and Genetics
Cornell University

(Return to Contents)


1.07  ICRISAT's Agri-Business Incubator starts GM cotton initiative

The Agri-Business Incubator (ABI) at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India is now collaborating with private sector clients.

Bioseed Research India Pvt. Ltd., a part of the DCM Shriram Group, is working on research projects related to the application of agricultural biotechnology for the development of superior cotton hybrids. ICRISAT provides technology assistance for using molecular markers, gene marker identification, and genetic transformation. In addition, the seed company can make use of ICRISAT's greenhouse space, biotechnology labs and agricultural land for testing of their material.

Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, said that The ABI is an important institution for partnering with the private-sector companies, where entrepreneurs can develop commercial ventures using ICRISAT technologies.

The other project under the agri-business concept, is with Rusni Distilleries Pvt. Ltd., on generating extra-neutral alcohol (ENA), a raw material for producing potable alcohol, and fuel alcohol that can be added to petrol from sweet sorghum varieties developed by ICRISAT. According to ICRISAT scientist Kiran Sharma, the collaboration will generate better value for sorghum, a crop of the semi-arid regions, through its use for generating alcohol. ICRISAT will help further increase the sugar content in the sorghum varieties.

For further information, contact Dr. Kiran Sharma at

Visit the ICRISAT website at

6 August 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.08  ICRISAT to launch trials of GM groundnut next season and pigeon pea in 2006

In what could provide major relief to farmers reeling under drought, International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is set to launch field trials of genetically-modified short-term and high yielding groundnuts from next season and pigeon pea in 2006.

"The groundnut variety is ready for field trials from next seasons (2004) and we are in talks with partners including Indian Council of Agricultural Research in India," ICRISAT Director General William Dar told reporters here.

He said the field trials for the GM pigeon pea variety will start in 2006.

The two varieties are short-term of a duration of 90-100 days, and can raise the yield by 25-30 per cent, Dar said after signing of Memorandum of Association between ICRISAT and Asian Media Information and Communication of India.

He said the groundnut variety is resistant to Indian peanut clump virus while the Bt variety of pigeon pea is resistant to pod borer Helicoverpa.

Dar said that the organisation has also developed a variety of pearl millet, suitable for farmers in water scarce Rajasthan and gives an "outstanding" yield of 1.5 to two tonnes per hectare in 90 to 100 days against the common duration of 165 days.

"We have also developed a variety of sweet sorghum which is better than sugarcane in manufacturing ethanol, helping the country's energy needs and helping the environment," he said.

Advocating the use of GM seeds, he said they not only give better yields but also help the environment and farmers by reducing use of pesticides and other chemicals.

5 August 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.09  New research confirms Barbara McClintock's view of heterochromatin and gene regulation

Since its discovery by the botanist Emil Heitz in 1928, heterochromatin has been the subject of intense investigation, especially in relation to its effect on the expression of nearby genes. Heterochromatin was originally defined under the microscope as the parts of chromosomes which appear tightly packed.

Over 50 years ago, Barbara McClintock proposed, based on genetic and cytogenetic observations in maize, that invisible or "less conspicuous" heterochromatin would be found scattered around the genome, where it served as "controlling elements" for genes.

While controlling elements (now called transposable elements) have since been recognized as widespread components of all genomes, McClintock's view of heterochromatin (sometimes known as "junk DNA") and gene regulation remained  controversial.

A paper published this week in Nature reports that, once more, the late Nobel laureate was well ahead of her time.

Using a combination of genetic and  genomic approaches, Rob Martienssen (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York) and Vincent Colot (Unité de Recherche en Génomique Végétale, Evry, France), in collaboration with their colleagues W. Richard McCombie (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory) and Rebecca Doerge (Purdue University), have shown that transposable elements define heterochromatin whether visible under the microscope or not. Furthermore, although the study reveals that genes are frequently insulated from the effects transposable elements, it also demonstrates that such elements can control gene expression when inserted within or very near genes. This form of regulation is known as "epigenetic" because it has the unusual property of being remembered during development, and even from generation to generation.

Biochemically, epigenetic gene regulation can be programmed by small interfering RNA, as well as by a second "code" of histone protein and DNA modifications. Evidence is presented that imprinted genes, whose expression depends on inheritance from the maternal or paternal genome, may be programmed in this way not only in plants but in a variety of organisms, including mammals. Among the results of the study was the finding that the imprinted Arabidopsis FWA gene, which delays flowering when expressed, is under transposable element control.

20 July 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.10  National Corn Growers Association announces valuable maize genome data now available to scientists

ST. LOUIS-- Valuable maize (corn) research is now available to research scientists working to sequence the maize genome, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) announced today. Ceres, Inc., Monsanto Company, and DuPont subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. have transferred their maize sequencing information to a searchable database on the Internet hosted at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

After completing a licensing agreement downloadable on the NCGA Web site at, scientists can access the research at .

"Access to these gene sequences will help public-sector researchers more quickly develop corn plants with improved agronomic performance and profitable quality traits," said Patrick Schnable, professor and director of the Center for Plant Genomics and past chair, Maize Genetics Executive Committee.
In March, NCGA announced the three industry leaders would share their corn genome sequence data, which combined with the corn sequence data already in the public domain will significantly accelerate the identification of genes within the entire corn genome.

This project underscores NCGA's continued commitment to advancements through research. NCGA took a leading role in getting the Plant Genome Initiative signed into law in 1997 and continues to support this important effort. With the availability of sequencing data from Ceres, DuPont and Monsanto, the corn genome could be completely sequenced by 2007, potentially years ahead of when it would have been completed without this initiative.

The NCGA's mission is to create and increase opportunities for corn growers in a changing world and to enhance corn's profitability and usage. NCGA represents more than 33,000 members, 25 affiliated state corn grower organizations and hundreds of thousands of growers who contribute to state checkoff programs.
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit institute with a global vision to improve the human condition through basic plant research. Please visit for additional information.

Source: AgBioView
14 July 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.11  Brazilian scientists identify the genes in coffee beans

Researchers in Brazil have identified the 35,000 genes in the DNA of coffee, one of the country's biggest exports. Brazil's agriculture minister says the research will lead to production of crops that can resist disease and frost, and better tasting coffee.

The minister said improvements to coffee would not involve genetic modification. Instead, breeding experiments would be used to transfer pollen between plants whose genetic makeup was known.

The research took two years to complete, and its findings will not be made available to researchers in other countries for at least two more.

Source: BBC Online, via SciDev.Net
11August 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.12  Graduate student formidable foe for rice water weevil

The rice water weevil is about as long as a pencil eraser. The adults' feeding on the young rice foliage causes scars on the upper leaf surface.

But the larvae cause the real damage. They live underground in the saturated mud and obtain oxygen by piercing the rice plant's roots with spiny projections.

They prune rice roots and cause stunting, delayed maturity, reduced tiller production and increases competition from weeds. Rice water weevils cause an estimated $40 to $120 in damage per acre in a season.

The primary control of the rice water weevil is insecticides; other methods of cultural and biological control have met with little success.

Plant resistance to the pest offers "savings in production costs and a reduction of the pesticide load in the environment," Ratnayake said.

Scientists are developing a rice variety with genes containing proteins toxic to the pest.

"In order to continue the research, the best strategy would be to select a toxic protein against the rice water weevil larvae and insert that gene into rice," she said.

But before that can be done, the insect has to be studied even further since little research has been done on its basic biology.

"Progress on developing an artificial diet has been made," Ratnayake said, "and continued work is needed. To my knowledge, this is the first attempt to develop an artificial diet for the rice water weevil."

Ratnayake was able to develop reliable testing techniques to screen the proteins toxic to the larvae. She also developed a method to produce a large number of rice water weevil larvae for laboratory research.

Part of the challenge has been the fact the rice water weevil appear only for about three-and-one-half months per year, and could not be raised in a laboratory. So each summer for four years, Ratnayake would pack up her family and move to the Texas A&M System Research and Extension Center in Beaumont to study the insect in its natural environment.

Ratnayake received financial support for her studies from Texas rice farmers and RiceTec Inc., a private hybrid rice seed producing company in Alvin.

Source:  editor's excerpts from article in
10 August 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.13  Hybrid characterization test for ethanol yields results

Using a testing methodology developed at the University of Illinois, researchers have confirmed a link between corn hybrid selection and ethanol yield in dry-grind operations. And unexpectedly, they saw no correlation between extractable starch and ethanol yield in the study.

The findings from the two-year study, a collaboration between the University of Illinois and Syngenta Seeds, confirm that growers and processors may benefit by selecting corn hybrids shown to produce optimal ethanol yield and quality, along with strong agronomic yield. Identifying such hybrids holds the potential to improve the amount of total ethanol produced in dry-grind corn processing plants and could have a positive impact on process economics.

The research indicated approximately 23 percent ethanol yield variability among all the grain samples tested for dry-grind ethanol production. This variability in ethanol yields can be attributed primarily to genetics and planting location. Dr. Vijay Singh, assistant professor of food and bioprocess engineering at the University of Illinois, recently presented these findings at the International Quality Grains Conference in Indianapolis.

The study shows no correlation between extractable starch and ethanol yield, although starch gets converted into ethanol. This unexpected finding makes the assumption that corn hybrids with high starch would yield high ethanol invalid.

The researchers attribute the lack of correlation to the fact that the dry-grind ethanol process involves significant physical, chemical and bio-chemical separations and treatments that may make un-extractable starch still fermentable. Results from the study suggest that measurement of starch content does not provide a fully accurate picture of a hybrid's compatibility with dry-grind processing.

The test methodology measured actual ethanol creation, rather than an indirect measurement based on weight loss due to CO2 generation. The testing protocol mimicked the dry-grind process and involved taking ethanol measurements at different time intervals during fermentation. This approach determined rate of fermentation and ethanol profiles over time.

This new test methodology is already finding its way into commercial uses. Syngenta Seeds has implemented the measurement technique to characterize its NK® Brand Extra Edge(tm) corn hybrids for ethanol production at the company's Stanton, Minn. Research facility. This new ethanol laboratory was designed to apply proven third-party research to the company's efforts to add value to emerging agricultural markets.

"Growers are in the business to make money and one thing a seed company can do is not only give them quality genetics, but also give them good information. This testing methodology helps us to categorize NK Brand corn hybrids so growers and processors can accurately identify the most favorable hybrids for dry-grind ethanol production," said Dr. Jim Graeber, NK Brand market development manager, Syngenta Seeds. "Twenty-seven Extra Edge hybrids characterized for dry-grind ethanol production are available for the 2005 growing season."

Syngenta is a world-leading agribusiness committed to sustainable agriculture through innovative research and technology. The company is a leader in crop protection, and ranks third in the high-value commercial seeds market. Sales in 2003 were approximately $6.6 billion. Syngenta employs some 19,000 people in over 90 countries. Syngenta is listed on the Swiss stock exchange (SYNN) and in New York (SYT).

 NK* and Extra Edge(tm) are trademarks of a Syngenta Group Company.

10 August 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.14  Wild potato's gene may protect vulnerable spuds

ARS News Service

America's favorite veggie--the potato--sometimes falls victim to its worst enemy, a disease called late blight. But Agricultural Research Service scientists have found a promising gene that might help.

Isolated from a wild Mexican potato, Solanum bulbocastanum, the novel Sbul1 gene may work in concert with other genes to boost the ability of popular, domesticated S. tuberosum tubers to shrug off attacks by the fungus-like microbe, Phytophthora infestans, that causes late blight.

A team led by ARS plant physiologist William R. Belknap at the Western Regional Research Center at Albany, Calif., identified the Sbul1 gene, following earlier research by John P. Helgeson, formerly with ARS at Madison, Wis.

Helgeson had fused S. bulbocastanum with S. tuberosum potatoes. Then, ARS researchers at Aberdeen, Idaho, used samples of these potatoes to develop new, experimental tubers that they provided to Belknap.

Each time they crossed, or "hybridized," the Wisconsin potatoes with other tubers, the Idaho team lessened the amount of genetic material from the wild potato--narrowing the California team's search for the resistance gene.

At Albany, researchers isolated and copied the Sbul1 gene from one of the Aberdeen potatoes, then moved the gene into domesticated potatoes for tests in the specialized greenhouses of ARS plant pathologist Kenneth L. Deahl in Beltsville, Md.

The California group also determined the blueprint, or structure, of the Sbul1 gene and pinned down its location within the wild potato's genome.

Deahl's greenhouse tests of the Sbul1-enhanced tubers are being succeeded by outdoor trials in the Midwest.

Read more about the research in the August issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at:

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

9 August 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.15  Researchers increase folate levels in plant  - Biofortifying cereals and grains

A team of researchers led by Karel Schubert, Ph.D., affiliate research biology professor in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, recently achieved a breakthrough to enhance levels of folate, a vitamin essential to human and animal health, in the model plant Arabidopsis.

The research was performed at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, where Schubert also is vice president of technology management and science administration. Schubert was principal investigator working with Tahzeeba Hossain, Ph.D., Danforth Center research scientist. The results of the study were published in the April 6, 2004 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

" The results from our folate research project are a significant step in realizing the potential of biofortification - the fortification of plants through science - to meet the demands for improved human and livestock nutrition without relying on food and feed supplements," explained Roger N. Beachy, president of the Danforth Center, and professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

The Danforth Center is the product of a unique and innovative alliance joining Washington University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Monsanto Company, and Purdue University. Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a global vision to improve the human condition. As a hub for regional plant science collaboration, the Danforth Center teams up with scientists at businesses and research institutions to undertake research initiatives.

During discussions about three years ago, Ganesh Kishore, Ph.D. vice president, DuPont Agriculture and Nutrition, encouraged. Beachy, Schubert and Hossain to undertake this project. These discussions led to the research project that resulted in increasing folate levels in plants. Additionally, the Danforth Center worked with. Irwin Rosenberg, Ph.D., and Jacob Selhub, Ph.D., of the Friedman College of Nutrition and Policy at Tufts University.

"Schubert and Hossain studied one branch of a biochemical pathway in Arabidopsis that leads to the biosynthesis of folates. They postulated that the levels of folate in plants could be enhanced by increasing the levels of the enzyme GTP cyclohydrolase-1, a key rate-limiting step along the pathway that leads to folate production. The team successfully cloned the folate-producing gene from the bacterium E. coli using a form of GTP cyclohydrolase-1 that is not similarly regulated.

The gene from E. coli was introduced into Arabidopsis. This resulted in an increase of the folate levels in the Arabidopsis leaf tissue to a level greater than the amounts typically found in spinach, a plant known to be rich in folates. Many researchers use Arabidopsis in their investigations, as it is a good model for other plant systems.

Plants are a major source of dietary folates, with green leafy vegetables, legumes and certain fruits being the richest sources of dietary folates. In countries where cereal grains are a dietary mainstay, folate deficiency is a leading cause of neural tube defects in newborns, and cancer and cardiovascular disease in adults.

According to the March of Dimes, inadequate intake of folate by women before pregnancy is the most common cause of birth defects, including neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

Using the outcomes from this research, the researchers will investigate ways to enhance folate production in cereals, and root and tuber crops. If successful, rice, potato and other crops low in folates could be biofortified with increased folate levels. 

5 August 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.16 Crops that contribute to improved productivity and profitability of saline lands

One of the objectives of the CRC is to identify and develop new crops that contribute to improved productivity and profitability of saline lands.

The project aims to develop a salt- and waterlogged-tolerant cereal, and forms part of the CRC's research into scientifically sound and practical plant-based approaches to managing salinity in wheat belt areas.

Our aim is to develop cereals capable of extending cropping onto soils with salinity levels too high for existing cultivars. A number of Hordeum species inhabit salt marshes and since several Hordeum x wheat hybrids have been reported, it might be possible to cross these salt tolerant species with wheat. Hordeum marinum (common sea barley grass) is a species of particular promise.

This research aims to provide productive options for managing the increasingly large areas that have and will become salty over the next ten years.

The research challenge

Sea barley grass (Hordeum marinum) has very high salinity tolerance, and is capable of growing at levels approaching sea water. It also posssesses mechanisms for root aeration which contribute to waterlogging tolerance. The challenge for researchers is to create a successful hybrid with wheat that maintains these key traits.

Specifically this project will:
-Identify sources of salt- and waterlogging-tolerance in 'wild' Hordeum germplasm.
-Determine which of the salt- and waterlogging-tolerant species can be crossed with wheat, using cytogenetic techniques.
-Produce cytogenetic stocks (pre-breeding materials) from successful Hordeum x wheat crosses, and identify lines with a high degree of salt- and waterlogging- tolerance.

How is the research being done?

The research team is screening 'wild' Hordeum germplasm to find which species can donate genes for salt- and waterlogging-tolerance, and which can be hybridised with wheat. The outcomes are uncertain in this cutting-edge research, because we know little about the 'wild' Hordeum species.

We have:
-produced a Hordeum marinum - wheat amphiploid, demonstrating the feasibility of using Hordeum marinum in the development of cytogenetical stocks to transfer traits associated with salt- and waterlogging-tolerance into bread wheat.
-screened thirty-six Hordeum accessions for waterlogging tolerance in collaboration with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences which holds the most comprehensive collection of 'wild' Hordeum germplasm in the world
-screened these same accessions for salinity tolerance in Sweden
-imported accessions of interest to the project and are presently growing these in a quarantine glasshouse at the University of Adelaide-
collected a diverse range of Hordeum marinum accessions from across the Western Australia wheat belt

Researchers are now:
-conducting the cytogenetic work to hybridise selected 'wild' Hordeum species with wheat
-screening these cytogenetic lines for salt- and waterlogging-tolerance as the lines become available.

Benefits from this research

Salinisation is a threat for up to one-third of agricultural land in Australia with large areas already salt-affected. Currently the productive use of saline land is limited to fodder for livestock, with little opportunity for cropping.

Our objective is to develop a cereal with substaintially more salt tolerance than current cultivars of barley or wheat, so extending the range of soils on which cereals can be grown profitability. Not only will this offcer farmers the benefit of more profitable options for salty land, it will also give them more flexibility - particularly for those farmers who do not use livestock in their enterprise.

Salty land is often prone to waterlogged, so waterlogging tolerance is also needed. Undomesticed or 'wild' species within the Triticeae (same tribe as wheat and barley) are potential sources of salt- and waterlogging-tolerance.

Even with these advances, cropping is unlikely to be viable on severely salt-affected land, where fodders such as saltbush and salt tolerant grasses will remain the best option.

Nor will salt-tolerant cereals 'solve' the problem of salinity. They might help use manage some of its symptoms, but will do little to address the cause of rising water tables, for that we need perennials with high water use.

29 July 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.17  Research goal: minimize cross-pollination of crops

The unpredictability of cross pollination is a concern for organic corn growers whose marketing efforts depend on keeping their crops free of transgenic traits.

Iowa State University researchers hope a demonstration project at the Allee Research Farm near Newell will help them devise strategies organic growers can use to minimize the cross pollination that occurs between their crops and transgenic hybrids in fields nearby.

"We know that pollen is moving around. That wasn't the issue," said Iowa State University agronomist Mark Westgate. "The question is, is there a way organic producers can keep their product pure? What we're trying to do is help minimize the movement of pollen."

The study was set up to not only measure the distance and direction corn pollen travels to pollinate neighboring corn plants, but also to provide a visual demonstration for growers.

The visual effect was accomplished by planting a strip of purple popcorn within a 15-acre field of standard yellow corn. Separation distances of 30 to 150 feet were cut out of the yellow corn to represent the range of buffer strips recommended by the industry.

Nature took care of the rest, with the dominant purple color showing up on ears of standard yellow corn wherever cross pollination occurred.

"The idea of using the purple popcorn was so we could actually see the effects with purple kernels showing up on the ears. We wouldn't have to do testing to see if it was cross pollinated," said Allee Farm Superintendent Lyle Rossiter.

Not surprisingly, the rows of yellow corn nearest the popcorn had the most purple kernels. The percentage of purple kernels diminished rapidly as distances increased, but evidence of cross pollination was evident beyond the field borders, as well.

A few purple kernels were found as far as 1,600 feet away in the border rows of corn fields planted up to 19 days earlier and separated from the test plot by oat and soybean fields, Rossiter said.

The amount of cross pollination was greater than it would be among typical field corn hybrids due to the popcorn's genetics, Westgate noted.

"If we could have a worst-case scenario, the popcorn gave it to us," he said. "It had big tassels and a longer pollination period, so it produced much more pollen than a typical hybrid."

In addition to determining the percentage of cross pollination, researchers will study weather and wind direction data gathered at the Allee Farm to investigate the relationship between pollen drift and prevailing winds. The data will be used to help growers plan strategies for protecting the purity of organic crops from planting through harvest.

Some separation standards recommend fallow between an organic and non-organic crops, but Westgate said growers might be better served by a different kind of buffer, such as a taller crop that would help trap the pollen. "We're looking to see if a buffer around that field could help minimize the pollen flow into the field," he said. "We're looking for ways to minimize the amount of out-crossing. The question is how much border do you need for a given wind condition?"

Another strategy organic growers have used effectively is to stagger planting dates in fields planted to organic and transgenic corn so pollination occurs at different times, he said.

Monitoring the wind direction and speed during pollination will tell a grower where the greatest risk of cross pollination is within a field, Westgate said. Armed with that knowledge, growers could plan their harvest and marketing strategies based on crop areas they are reasonably sure remained pure.

"They need to know at flowering so they can assess the marketing potential for their crop," Westgate said. "You can't wait until after harvest to know whether or not you have a crop to market."

A key for organic growers will be to work with their neighbors to find out what corn hybrids are being planted, and when, so they can map out a reliable strategy of their own to minimize out-crossing, he added.

However, he said a zero-tolerance standard for the presence of transgenes in organic corn seed is virtually impossible to meet.

"Right now, the organic grower bears all the risk," Westgate said. "The isolation distances that are part of the organic program work just fine for typical problems, like spray drift, but with transgenes it's a different set of criteria. The only solution I can see is for the industry to adopt some minimum level of impurity. Then we can design management strategies to help organic producers meet that level."

30 July 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.18  Syrian scientists produce naturally coloured cotton by causing random changes in the genetic material of cotton seeds

Scientists in Syria have produced naturally coloured cotton by causing random changes in the genetic material of cotton seeds. The researchers, from the Agriculture Institute of Syria's Aleppo University, say in state newspaper Teshreen that they hope their discovery will have positive economic, environmental and health impacts.

Naturally coloured cotton varieties have been developed before but have not been used in Syria, a leading cotton producer, because they are not suited to local soils and climatic conditions.

According to Mohamed Naif Al-salty, director of the agriculture institute, the scientists have produced two brown varieties that produce greater yields and higher quality fibres than other naturally coloured varieties, making them ideal for commercial textile production.

By eliminating the need for dyes, naturally coloured cotton makes textile production cheaper and reduces the environmental and health impacts associated with toxic dye waste. Also, naturally coloured cotton does not fade with washing the way conventionally dyed cotton does.

The new varieties were produced by exposing cotton seeds to chemicals that cause random, unpredictable changes, or mutations, in their genetic material. Some of the mutations produced undesirable traits and the plants were destroyed, but others had beneficial effects, such as natural colour and stronger fibres.

Speaking to SciDev.Net, Mohamed A. Hamoud, head of the genetic research division at Tanta University in Egypt, said that although the Syrian researchers have been successful, their method is time-consuming and labour intensive because it requires numerous breeding experiments.

Hamoud suggests that genetic engineering would be a more efficient approach. The beneficial traits could then be introduced by purposefully altering specific parts of the plant's genes.

Unlike the 'random mutation' approach, genetically engineering coloured cotton would not require extra work to improve fibre quality. Hamoud explains that one of the newest innovations in naturally coloured cotton is the possibility of transferring genes that control colour to cotton varieties that already have high-quality fibres.

However, this approach would need to be highly controlled to prevent the exchange of genes between the modified crops and locally grown cotton varieties, says Hamoud.

30 July 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.19 Fusarium nursery shows new hope for reducing levels of deoxynivalenol in barley

The names TR04281, TR04282 and TR04283 may not mean much today, but they could represent a dramatic shift in the fortunes of western Canadian barley growers as they battle Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) in the years ahead.

These three experimental barley lines show up to a whopping 50 percent reduction in levels of deoxynivalenol (DON), the FHB-produced mycotoxin, compared to typical current varieties, such as AC Metcalfe, as evidenced by trials conducted at the FHB nursery for barley in Brandon, Manitoba.

"These lines are among the first material from our program bred specifically for FHB resistance that are entering the registration trials," says Dr. Bill Legge, barley breeder and FHB nursery manager at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Brandon Research Centre. "Of the better ones in that group, the DON levels we've seen are 50 percent lower than they are in AC Metcalfe."

Progress at the Brandon-based FHB nursery is featured in the August edition of Western Grains Research Magazine, available on the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) Web site. Western Canadian wheat and barley growers are major investors in breeding research through the Wheat and Barley Check-off Funds, administered by WGRF. The Research Magazine offers "Ideas and issues for farmer research investors."

All three advanced AAFC Brandon lines are first-year entries in the 2004 co-op registration testing system. If they continue to perform well over three years in this Prairie-wide system, they can be put forward for registration. Allowing a couple years for seed increase and additional malting quality testing, they could be in farmers' hands within five years.

"We'll watch them closely over the next several years, but we expect the Fusarium resistance to hold up well," says Legge. "We have a number of years of nursery data now, so we're reasonably confident the improvements we've seen are real and stable."

The new lines are the first of several on the way that signal a key breakthrough in the long-term research battle with Fusarium, which has been a major effort since FHB epidemics in 1993 and 1994. Since 2000, the effort has included the Brandon-based FHB nursery, which has allowed researchers to screen thousands of barley lines annually for FHB response.

"In the first years of the nursery, the focus has been on examining early generation material from crosses segregated for FHB resistance, along with evaluating existing barley varieties and advanced breeding material. That has allowed us to identify the best existing material for advancement in breeding programs and to provide farmers with information on the resistance of current varieties. Now, with support from the nursery, we've advanced to the stage where some of our best two-row barley material, bred specifically for FHB resistance, is entering registration trials."

The advanced AAFC Brandon material is a recent highlight of the broad progress to come from several institutions, including the University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre and the Alberta-based barley breeding group headquartered at Lacombe. "We're seeing a shift in the FHB resistance material that's going through the nursery - we're seeing better material overall," says Legge.

Both the Fusarium research and the funding that supports it is a strong co-operative effort, says Dr. Keith Degenhardt, Hughenden, Alta., producer and Chair of WGRF. The AAFC Fusarium research effort in barley has been supported in part by the AAFC Matching Investment Initiative (MII), WGRF, the Agri-Food Research and Development Initiative (ARDI) and the Agriculture Development Fund (ADF). For 2004, the effort was further strengthened with new funding support from the Canadian Wheat Board.

"This collaborative funding support is a strong signal of the high priority FHB solutions are to western Canadian farmers and their industry," says Degenhardt. "It's also a reinforcement of the importance of working together to achieve those solutions."

WGRF is farmer funded and directed. The Foundation supports Fusarium research through its Barley Check-off Fund, which supports barley breeding programs, and through special funds allocated from interest generated by the Reserve Fund of the Barley Check-off Fund.

6 August 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.20 Thai researchers discover iron-rich rice that can combat anaemia

The Department of Agriculture has discovered two strains of rice that can accumulate iron and might be further developed to fight anaemia among the poor.

Dr Laddawal Kannanut, of the department's Rice Research Institute, said the strains were Korkhor 23 and Khao Hom Phitsanulok 1.

The C-7 academic said she had studied 45 strains of Thai rice to find which had the best potential to accumulate iron as a way to fight iron-deficiency among the poor.

The study found that Korkhor 23 had iron at the rate of 36.67 parts per million (ppm) when milled with the unpolished technique. The rate went down to 22.5ppm in polished rice.

Unpolished Khao Hom Phitsanulok 1 rice had iron at the rate of 25ppm, compared with 22.5ppm in its polished rice.

Laddawal said the study also found that rice grown in different areas had different rates of iron accumulation.

The institute will continue its study to find better iron-accumulation strains, she added, and employ genetic engineering to improve the strains' ability to accumulate iron. The studies will also determine the best growing and milling techniques to preserve iron in the rice.

Laddawal said 26 per cent of the population suffered from anaemia, and high-iron rice could be a way to help them overcome the problem.

21 July 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.21  Local breeding of chickpea is best for Western Australia

Western Australia could miss out on a $400 per hectare crop, while the north eastern and central grainbelt could go without a legume rotation if chickpea breeding is centralised.

According to University of Western Australia researcher, Jens Berger, chickpea varieties bred for more benign, long growing seasons, such as at Tamworth, New South Wales, could be limited to under 0.5 tonne per hectare yields in low rainfall environments such as at Merredin, Western Australia.

Chickpea is one of Australia's highest earning crops, but Western Australia's production could be threatened by a shift in breeding focus. Early plant vigour and phenology can differ tremendously across the broad range of genetics assembled in Australia to deliver variable yield performance.

"Most Australian-bred cultivars are too late for optimal productivity in the short season Mediterranean-type environments, typical of WA's northern wheatbelt," Dr Berger said.

In an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) funded project, the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) recently finalised two years of studies on 72 chickpea lines across sites at Merredin, Western Australia, Minnipa, South Australia, Walpeup, Victoria, Tamworth, New South Wales and Warwick, Queensland.

While lines well-adapted to short-season Mediterranean environments generally performed consistently across the country, most Australian-bred cultivars were productive only in benign environments.

For a given genotype, yield varied from 0.2 to  3.0 tonnes per hectare, depending upon the environment, indicating significant genotype by environment interaction.

According to Dr Berger, this disparity reflects the need for specific, targeted breeding and selection to cater to Australia's broad range of chickpea growing environments.

Apart from ascochyta blight resistance, few chickpea characteristics are required uniformly across the country.

"Diverse needs are difficult to meet in a single, centralised breeding program, where prevailing environmental and soil conditions would create selection pressure unable to produce lines offering traits necessary for other areas," Dr Berger said.

Centralising chickpea breeding in eastern Australia defied this logic, according to CLIMA Director, Kadambot Siddique.
The early generations following hybridisation must be advanced in the target environment to correctly evaluate for desired traits and develop superior cultivars.

Responsiveness of chickpea lines to the day length and temperature of a Western Australian environment differed significantly from Tamworth, New South Wales and Horsham, Victoria.

More than one third of Western Australian growers have already acknowledged the importance of locally developed varieties by supporting CLIMAs kabuli chickpea initiatives through the Council of Grain Grower Organisations (COGGO).

"We commend their foresight and hope desi chickpea, potentially a major industry in Western Australia, can also benefit from such local development," Professor Siddique said.

21 July 2004
(Return to Contents)


1.22  Disease-resistant papaya saves Hawaiian papaya industry

A new papaya, genetically resistant to papaya ringspot virus (PRSV), has rescued the Hawaiian papaya industry and may have the potential to do the same in other papaya-growing regions of the world, say plant pathologists with The American Phytopathological Society (APS).

"In 1992, Hawaii's papaya industry faced economic disaster when PRSV was discovered in the Puna District of the Hawaii Island where 95 percent of the state's papaya was grown," said Dennis Gonsalves, plant pathologist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Hilo, HI. By 1995, PRSV was widespread in Puna and the industry was in a crisis situation. PRSV rapidly spreads when aphids (small insects) pick up the virus on their mouths while feeding on infected plants and continue to feed on healthy plants.

In the late 1980s, plant pathologists began to develop transgenic papayas resistant to PRSV and the disease-resistant papaya was commercially released in May 1998.

"Today, we are proud to say that the transgenic papaya has fulfilled the hope of the Hawaiian papaya industry to control PRSV and to restore the supply of papaya to nearly the level existing before PRSV entered Puna in 1992," said Gonsalves. The resistance of the transgenic papaya allowed farmers to directly reclaim their farms without first clearing their land of all infected papaya trees. The percentage of Hawaii's fresh papaya production produced in Puna has risen from a low of 65 percent in 1999 to 84 percent in 2002.

Since PRSV is a worldwide problem on papaya, other countries have showed interest in developing the technology for their use. "Due to its success, the transgenic papaya has often been referred to as the model for the use of biotechnology to help agriculture," said Gonsalves.

More on this subject can be found in this month's APS feature article at The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a non-profit, professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and management of plant disease with 5,000 members worldwide.

American Phytopathological Society

20 August 2004

(Return to Contents)


1.23  Are you afraid of injections?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004
By Flora Mauch, Checkbiotech
In the future, instead of going to the doctor to be vaccinated, you may be able to eat a potato at home. Researchers at the Center for Vaccine Development in Baltimore are developing a strain of potato that when ingested has the same effect as an injected vaccination, when eaten in a certain quantity.

Some of the well known intestinal diseases are Typhus and Cholera, which are caused by bacteria. In addition, there are several other parasites and viruses than can cause diarrhea-based infections. These illnesses are transferred through polluted water or food, and in consequence, when people come in contact with a contaminated source, they develop the typical symptoms of diarrhea, fever and stomach-ache. Without an appropriate treatment these infections can lead to death.

As intestinal infections are very frequent in developing countries, as well as periodically in developed parts, this new possibility of being immunized is extremely significant from a global standpoint.

At the present, diarrhoeal diseases are prevented by medication and improvements of hygienics. In addition, antibiotics are an effective treatment, when a bacterium can be identified as the cause of this disease. But unfortunately, the medical supplies needed to treat diarrhea are not granted everywhere in the world because time, money and coordination are lacking.

Seeing the need for a better vaccination solution, Dr. Carol O Tacket, from the Center for Vaccine Development in Baltimore, developed prototypical vaccines against cholera and several other pathogens (May issue of Expert Opin Biol Ther., vol. 4)

For that, genes that encode viral, bacterial or parasitic proteins, called antigens, from some of the known causers of diarrhea, were introduced into potato plants. Just as with antigens in injected vaccines, the antigens produced in the enhanced potatoes will not cause disease related symptoms on their own.

Thus, Dr. Tacket inserted these genes of interest into potato cells, and confirmed that they were expressed in fully mature potatoes. Her studies in mice and humans demonstrated that when they were fed the enhanced potato, the antigens produced in the potatoes were able to pass through the barrier of the stomach and intestine. This is a significant achievement in medicine, because so far there have been only a few vaccines that have succeeded at crossing this barrier.

To confirm that the antigens transferred into plant cells led to the production of antibodies, Dr. O Tacket took blood samples from the mice and human patients. After ingesting the enhanced potatoes, the blood samples showed antibody-secreting cells and antigen-specific serum. This demonstrated that an immune response had been generated, which in turn leads to vaccination.

After such a success, the question comes up, if the immune response induced by ingesting the enhanced potatoes is comparable to an injected vaccination. In response, Dr. O Tacket explained, To date, we have done Phase 1 studies looking at safety and immunogenicity. We have not done comparisons to other vaccines or to other routes of vaccination, such as injections.

Thus, the achieved success gives hope for a new area of vaccination, as the manufacturing, packaging, storage, transportation and administration of such vaccines will be much more economical - and those who are afraid of injections will have one less thing to worry about.

Flora Mauch is a Science Writer for Checkbiotech in Basel, Switzerland and is
currently studying Biology.

Contributed by Robert Derham

(Return to Contents)


1.24  Transgenic Gala apples display resistance to fungal attack
By Mark Finlayson, Checkbiotech

BOLOGNA/ZURICH - Past efforts to classically breed apple cultivars with resistance to apple scab disease have proved insufficient. Direct gene transfer experiments involving genes from scab-resistant wild apples, however, have lead to promising results.

Apple scab is a fungal disease of major importance to apple growers and is caused by Venturia inaequalis. This fungus, of the family ascomycete, spends winter on dead leaves beneath trees. After spring time rainfall, it then sporulates and infects the leaves and fruit of nearby trees, causing undersized, gnarled and thus worthless apples.

Commercial orchards have retreated to removing fallen leaves in autumn, combined with rigorous and costly fungicide spray schedules throughout most of the season, with costs exceeding $100 per acre a year.

An obvious alternative solution is the use of resistant cultivars. Several small-fruited, scab-resistant wild species have been investigated, in particular Malus floribunda 821. In M. Floribunda, scientists have identified the genes of the so-called Vf region as an important factor in resistance to V. inaequalis.

Conventional breeding methods have been used to develop several scab-resistant cultivars from M. floribunda, but none of them has yet met the fruit-quality standards of other commercially successful cultivars such as Golden Delicious or Gala.

A group led by Enrico Belfanti at the University of Bologna and Eve Silfverberg-Dilworth at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich has now conducted a gene transfer experiment in which one of the Vf genes, HcrVf2, was introduced into the susceptible cultivar Gala by means of A.tumefaciens-mediated transformation.

The five resulting transgenic lines were tested in greenhouse conditions for scab resistance. The leaves of three lines showed no signs of infection. In rare cases, some pinpoint pits, which are signs of resistance reactions, were observed. Another line showed some restricted fungal development. In comparison, untreated Gala and one (only partially transformed) line were severely damaged.

The experiment successfully demonstrated the capability of HcrVf2 to confer resistance to the scab disease. Field trials such as this one could lead the way to elaborate gene therapies and change the future of pest control in commercial apple orchards, not only cutting costs for growers, but also reducing the usage of fungicide.

Further studies will seek to provide insight into the exact mechanisms of scab resistance. The precise function of the other genes of the Vf cluster, for example, still remains to be examined.

Mark Finlayson is a Biology student at the University of Basel and a Science Writer for Checkbiotech.  Contact him at about this article.

Contributed by Robert Derham

(Return to Contents)


1.25  Plant  transport genes discovered

Scientists at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell University, USA discovered phosphate-transport genes that enable plants to interact with beneficial soil dwelling fungi and to access phosphate delivered to the roots by these fungi. Maria Harrison, senior scientist, announced this development during the American Society of Plant Biologists' annual meeting in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Scientists say this is a first step in enhancing beneficial relationship for crop plants while reducing fertilizer use and phosphate pollution in the environment. The identification of the phosphorus uptake protein in the plasma membrane of the plant has significant implications to understanding how symbiotic fungi work with plants to assist the uptake of phosphorus and other nutrients from the soil.

Harrison's team will continue their research on discovering which genes in the plant play a role in establishing the symbiotic relationship and of those that regulate the transfer of phosphorus into the plant.

For more information, email Brian Hyps of the American Society of Plant Biologists at

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Cornell University

(Return to Contents)



2.01  Announcement and Request for contributions: Crop Breeding and Applied Biotechnology (CBAB)

We are contacting you to present the journal of the Brazilian Society of Plant Breeding [Sociedad  Brasilera de Mejoramiento de Plantas (SBMP)], "Crop Breeding and Applied Biotechnology" (CBAB). This is the fourth year of existence. We have had contributions from authors in various Latin American countries but the International Centers and many other researchers from the region have not taken opportunity of this publishing venue. CBAB is among the journals rated with the highest standard by the Brazilian evaluation system. We are writing to invite you to submit work on breeding and biotechnology, for publication in CBAB. We are producing a top-level journal in Brazil, and we are working to make it a highly respected journal at the international level.

A detailed description of the journal, past issues, and instructions for contributors can be found at

General policy and scope of the journal

The CBAB - CROP BREEDING AND APPLIED BIOTECHNOLOGY (ISSN 1518-7853) is the official quarterly journal of the Brazilian Society of Plant Breeding  (, abbreviated CROP BREED APPL BIOTECH. It is indexed in AGRIS, AGROBASE and CAB International Abstracts. It publishes original scientific articles which contribute to the scientific and technological development of plant breeding and Brazilian agriculture. Articles should be to do with basic and applied research on improvement of perennial and annual plants, within the fields of genetics, conservation of germplasm, biotechnology,  genomics, cytogenetics, experimental statistics, seeds, food quality, biotic and abiotic stress, and correlated areas. The article must be unpublished. Simultaneous submitting to another periodical is ruled out. Authors are held solely responsible for the opinions and ideas expressed, which do not necessarily reflect the view of the Editorial board. However, the Editorial board reserves the right to suggest or ask for any modifications required. Complete or partial reproduction of articles is permitted, provided the source is cited.

The following types of submissions are accepted:
Plant breeding programs
Release of cultivars
Book review

Authors of articles in the journal CBAB - CROP BREEDING AND APPLIED BIOTECHNOLOGY profit from the following benefits:
        Free publication
        Digital submission and revision of articles
        Expeditious publication
        Articles available in pdf on the WEB
Contribution by Elcio Guimaraes (member editorial board of CBAB). Translation from Portuguese, and additional information extracted from the website by the editor.

(Return to Contents)



3.01  Update 8-2004 of FAO-BiotechNews (selected items)

1) Marker assisted selection - FAO e-conference summary document The summary document of the FAO e-mail conference entitled "Molecular marker assisted selection as a potential tool for genetic improvement of crops, forest trees, livestock and fish in developing countries", which ran from 17 November to 14 December 2003, has now been published. The document aims to summarise the main themes discussed during the moderated e-mail conference, based on the 85 messages posted, roughly 60% of which came from people living in developing countries. It is available at or can be requested from

2) REDBIO 2004 presentations The 5th Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on Agricultural Biotechnology (REDBIO 2004), a meeting organised by the REDBIO/FAO network every 3 years, was held on 21-25 June 2004 in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. In addition to the "Declaracion de Boca Chica", presentations are now available from the plenaries, poster sessions and the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as from 15 symposia and 20 workshops covering a wide range of agricultural biotechnology topics. See or contact for more information.

5) FAO/IAEA plant newsletter no. 13 Plant Breeding and Genetics Newsletter No. 13 (July 2004) has now been published by the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section, Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, and the FAO/IAEA Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratory. The 16-page newsletter, issued twice a year, gives an overview of their past and upcoming events (meetings, training courses etc.), ongoing projects and publications. See (825 KB) or contact for further information
To join FAO-BiotechNews-Fr (the French language version of FAO-BiotechNews), send an e-mail to leaving the subject blank and entering the following one-line text message: subscribe FAO-BiotechNews-Fr-L The Welcome Text that subscribers receive on joining the e-mail list, describing its aims and scope and how it works, is available at (in French) 4. To join FAO-BiotechNews-Esp (the Spanish language version of FAO-BiotechNews), do the same as for FAO-BiotechNews-Fr except the message should read: subscribe FAO-BiotechNews-Esp-L The Welcome Text is available at (in Spanish)

 (Return to Contents)



4.01 Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa, introduces competitive grants system
July, 2004

The Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) is a non-political Sub Regional Organisation (SRO) of the National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) of ten Countries: Burundi, D.R. Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. It aims at increasing the efficiency of agricultural research in the region so as to facilitate economic growth, food security and export competitiveness through productive and sustainable agriculture.

ASARECA carries out its activities through regional research Networks, Programmes and Projects (NPPs). ASARECA's portfolio comprises of 19 NPPs which operate in priority commodities, natural resource management, policy, marketing and agricultural information. In this regard, the ASARECA Strategic Plan urges the Association and the member National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) of ASARECA to embark on developing sustainable financing initiatives.

As part of ASARECA Sustainable Financing Initiative the Competitive Grant System (CGS) has recently been established. The CGS will be supported with funds from several donors, administered through a uniform multi-donor funding arrangement. Grants will be awarded to multi-donor disciplinary, multi-institutional and regionally co-ordinated teams.

Objective of the CGS

The overall objective of the ASARECA CGS is to harness more efficiently the existing research capacities in the sub-region in order to bring significant benefits to end users. This will be achieved through the following:

i) Improving the quality of research as well as its relevance for the development of the sub-region;
ii) Strengthening the national agricultural research systems (NARS) through improved involvement of key stakeholders, in research for development;
iii) Increasing the co-operation and collaboration amongst private and public, national, regional and international institutions in the conduct and management of agricultural research for development;
iv) Increasing the linkages between stronger and weaker stakeholders to facilitate capacity building;
v) Establishing a flexible, participative, transparent and targeted agricultural research project selection, financing and evaluation process;

The CGS Processes will include:-

i. Registration of potential partner institutions.
ii. Issuing of research calls.
iii. Submission of concept notes.
iv. Development and submission of full proposals.
v. Award of grants for research.

July 2004

(Return to Contents)



* 19-23 September 2004: 16th Annual Meeting of the Association
for the Advancement of Industrial Crops (AAIC) and New Uses Council,
Minneapolis, MN, USA. Theme 'Industrial Crops and Uses To Diversify
Agriculture'. For more information visit meetings section of the AAIC web
site at or contact Dr. Russ Gesch Tel: 320-589-3411 ext. 132
or E-mail:
Submitted by Dr. Terry A. Coffelt, Research Geneticist, USDA-ARS-USWCL

* 26-30 September 2004. 8th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms. Montpellier, France. Contact: Sophie Masliah, Lab. of Plant Cell and Molecular Biology, INRA. Versailles, 78026 Versailles Cedex, France; Tel: +33 (1) 3083 3730; Fax: +33 (1) 3087 3728; Email:;

* 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:;

*10-13 October 2004: International Cotton Genome Initiative (ICGI) biennial world-wide meeting, Hyderabad, India. Contact:  P. Vidyasagar // C/O Vibha Agrotech Limited // 501 Subhan Sirisampada Complex, Raj Bhavan Road  // Somajiguda, Hyderabad82 (A.P), INDIA // Phone: +91-40-23301473, 55620538 // E-mail:    URL: Contributed by David M. Stelly, ICGI Chair (

* 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,

* 31 October 4 November 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;

* 7-10 November 2004: International Conference: Post Harvest Fruit:
The Path to Success, Campus Lircay, Universidad de Talca, Talca, Chile. (See complete
conference description in January 2004 newsletter)

* 8-10 December 2004. ASTA's 34th Soybean Seed and 59th Corn & Sorghum Seed Conferences. Chicago, IL, USA Contact: 225, Reinekers Lane, Suite 650, Alexandria, VA, USA; Tel: +1 (703) 837 8140; Fax: +1 (703) 837 9365;

* 4 - 9 May 2005. 11th International Lupin Conference, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. 1st Circular is available at Contact:
Submitted by George D. Hill, Secretary/Treasurer International Lupin Association ( At our meetings we have usually had a substantial number of submissions from Plant Breeders.  I would expect that it will be the same at this meeting.

* 13-17 June 2005, Murcia (Spain): XIII International Symposium on Apricot Breeding and Culture.
Info: Dr. Felix Romojaro and Dr. Federico Dicenta, CEBAS-CSIC, PO Box 164, 30100 Espinardo (Murcia), Spain. Phone: (34)968396328 or (34)968396309, Fax: (34)968396213, email: Symposium Secretariat: Viajes CajaMurcia, Gran Via Escultor Salzillo 5. Entlo. Dcha., 30004 Murcia, Spain. Phone: (34)968225476, Fax: (34)968223101, email:

(Return to Contents)



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.

REVIEW PAST NEWSLETTERS ON THE WEB: Past issues of the Plant Breeding
Newsletter are now available on the web. The address is:
 We will continue to improve the organization of archival issues of the
newsletter. Readers who have suggestions about features they wish to see
should contact the editor at

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 some e-mail systems.

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 temporarily inaccessible. If you miss a newsletter, write to me at and I will re-send it.

To subscribe to PBN-L: Send an e-mail message to Leave the subject line blank and write
SUBSCRIBE PBN-L (Important: use ALL CAPS). To unsubscribe: Send an e-mail
message as above with the message UNSUBSCRIBE PBN-L. Lists of potential
new subscribers are welcome. The editor will contact these persons; no one
will be subscribed without their explicit permission.

(Return to Contents)