8 October 2004

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

Clair H. Hershey, Editor


1.01  Generation Challenge Program for developing countries
1.02  NSF awards 22 new projects for plant genome research
1.03  Father of Green Revolution speaks at congress
1.04  Dr. Henry Shands awarded William L. Brown Award for Excellence in Genetic Resource Conservation
1.05  The book opens on the first tree genome
1.06  Long reach of wind-blown pollen
1.07  Plant breeding for the tough times
1.08  Grain breeding's 'Holy Grail', a drought tolerant, high yielding crop
1.09  Australia joins global wheat breeding team
1.10  Mystery of garlic's sterility solved
1.11  Biologists finally close in on 'florigen,' the signal that causes plants to flower
1.12  New research at the University of Georgia shows plants can shuffle and paste gene pieces to generate genetic diversity
1.13  Natural biodiversity can enrich genetic base of crops
1.14  Wild crop species boost genetic diversity
1.15  Gene chips' research in cotton could lead to superior variety
1.16  An effort to genetically create a Roundup-tolerant grass seed stalls
1.17  Benefits, challenges of Roundup Ready alfalfa examined
1.18  One step closer to the perfect crop plant
1.19  U.S. National Science Foundation awards $4.2 million to Cornell University to sequence the tomato genome
1.20  UC Berkeley researchers identify chlorophyll-regulating gene
1.21  Monsanto to commercialize low-linoleic soybean
1.22  Updated fact sheet on GM crops in the U.S. released by The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology
1.23  Brazil court eases path for GM corn, cotton, rice
1.24  National Starch and Chemical Company launches TRUETRACE program to verify non-GMO products.
1.25  CIMMYT's guiding principles for developing and deploying genetically engineered maize and wheat varieties
1.26  GE is essential to improve cowpea, says International Institute of Tropical Agriculture breeder
1.27  Weighing the pros and cons of genetically modified crops in Africa

2.01  Descriptors for genetic markers technologies
2.02  A guide to effective management of germplasm collections

3.01  The Sesame and Safflower Newsletter.

4.01  NSF program solicitation: Maize Genome Sequencing Project: an NSF/DOE/USDA joint program
4.02  The Cassava Biotechnology Network (CBN) for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC): Small Grants for 2004
4.03  The Gines-Mera Memorial Fellowship Fund for Postgraduate Studies in Biodiversity 2004






1.01  Generation Challenge Program for developing countries

The Generation Challenge Program (GCP) was formally launched during the Fourth International Crop Science Congress in Brisbane, Australia to propel the use of plant genetic diversity and genomics research for the resource poor.

A new initiative of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the program seeks to explore plant genetic diversity and create crops that better meet the needs of small farmers through partnerships with research organizations and implementing institutions around the world.

GCP uses genetic and genomic tools to harness the rich global heritage of plant genetic resources to bring improved stress tolerance to the staple foods of developing countries. GCP Director Robert Zeigler said that the time is ripe to bring biotechnology to bear on the agricultural constraints that plague the poorest farmers, such as drought, pests and diseases, and low soil fertility.

Research will be organized under five subprograms: germplasm, genomics, bioinformatics, and molecular breeding for agricultural development. A central principle of the GCP is that products must make it from the lab to the fields of resource-poor farmers.

For more information about the Program, email Jenny Nelson at and Dave Poland at or visit

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Cornell University
Source: CropBiotech Update
1 October 2004

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1.02  NSF awards 22 new projects for plant genome research

Projects to expand knowledge about plants of economic importance

ARLINGTON, Va.--The National Science Foundation (NSF) has made 22 new awards as part of the seventh year of its Plant Genome Research Program (PGRP). From apples to Zea mays, the program's goal is to expand knowledge about the biology of the plant kingdom, especially plants that people around the world rely on for food, clothing and other needs.

The awards involve researchers from 56 institutions in 22 states, as well as collaborators from 14 countries around the globe. The two- to five-year awards, ranging from $700,000 to $6.6 million, will explore the inner workings of plants' genes as well as the role genetics plays in plant development, metal tolerance, susceptibility to diseases and other economically important characteristics.

NSF's PGRP is part of the National Plant Genome Initiative established in 1998 as a coordinated national plant genome research program by the Interagency Working Group on Plant Genomes of the National Science and Technology Council. The long-term goal of this program is to understand the structure, organization and function of genomes of plants of economic importance and plant processes of potential economic value.

The 2004 awards focus in three main areas: detailed analysis of the genomes of key plants and families of plants; functional genomics -- the study of relationships between genes and the biological roles they play; and databases and tools to capture, share and analyze the massive amounts of genomics data being produced by the scientific community. In addition, all projects continue the commitment of the PGRP to train the next generation of scientists by exposing students to research at the cutting edge of biological sciences. As many as 150 students will participate in this year's new projects.

"The research supported will allow a deeper understanding of the basic life processes in plants, development of improved crops, as well as train a future generation of scientists," said Mary Clutter, head of NSF's Biological Sciences directorate. "The outcomes of this work will impact every facet of our lives."

For example, a research consortium led by
Cornell University will participate in an international project to sequence the gene-rich portions of the 12 chromosomes of tomato by developing the detailed map of the tomato genome. The map that will result from this work will pave the way for development of improved varieties of tomato, and will also help scientists understand related plants, including potatoes, peppers, tobacco and coffee.

A project led by
Indiana University will study the genomes of the Compositeae, a group of plants that includes important crop species such as lettuce, sunflower and artichoke, as well as noxious weeds such as Russian thistle. This work should shed light on the processes that shaped the genomes of these plants during domestication and identify the traits that lead to weediness. And a project at Mississippi State University will work to develop genomic tools for loblolly pine, the primary source of pulpwood for the U.S. paper industry and a major crop in the southeastern states.

A number of functional genomics studies will look at how genes contribute to the internal workings of an organism. A project at
Pennsylvania State University, for example, will study the molecular genetic interactions between the rootstocks and scions of apple trees that affect the disease resistance and growth of the plant. Cotton is the world's most important fiber crop, and researchers at Texas A&M University will investigate the genetic and physiological pathways that lead to the development of cotton fibers.

As one of six projects focusing on aspects of maize (Zea mays), researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia will lead a project to understand how DNA packaging in the nucleus can control whether genes are turned on or off, a step toward providing tools for manipulating gene expression in maize and other crop plants.
University of Georgia researchers will study the structure and function of maize centromeres, which play a central role in cell division and ensure that the newly divided cells each receive a set of chromosomes.

A growing challenge is how to handle the massive amounts of data coming out of ongoing genomics projects and to make it readily accessible to the broader community of students, researchers and breeders. This year's awards include database awards to the University of Arizona focused on proteins involved in repackaging DNA so particular genes can be expressed during plant growth and development (ChromDB), to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on the genomes of grains and grasses (Gramene) and to the University of Tennessee on the genomics of poplars and related trees (Populus Genome Portal).

Also among this year's projects are two new "virtual centers," flexible collaborations of investigators at various institutions, all focusing on a common goal. One center, led by
New York University in collaboration with the New York Botanical Garden, the American Museum of Natural History and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, will target evolutionary genomics, the genetic mechanisms by which important traits have evolved in plants, such as the development of seeds. The second center, led by Yale University in collaboration with the University of California, Davis, will focus on using experimental approaches to define every gene -- perhaps as many as 60,000 -- in the recently completed rice genome.

NSF Program Officer: Jane Silverthorne, 703-292-8470,
Plant Genome Research Program:
FY2004 PGRP awards:

Prior year PGRP announcements:

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion. National Science Foundation funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. The National Science Foundation also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Receive official National Science Foundation news electronically through the e-mail delivery system, NSFnews. To subscribe, send an e-mail message to In the body of the message, type "subscribe nsfnews" and then type your name. (Ex.: "subscribe nsfnews John Smith")

Useful National Science Foundation Web Sites:
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Science Statistics:
Awards Searches:

21 September 2004

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1.03  Father of Green Revolution speaks at congress

Professor Monkombu Swaminathan, who has been recognized as the father of the Green Revolution, said crop-yield growth rates had fallen below levels needed to overcome malnutrition in developing countries.

Speaking at the 4th International Crop Science Congress in Brisbane, Swaminathan remarked that crop yields had improved in the past century because of scientific breakthroughs, improved varieties and better farming techniques. However, huge population increases, a reduction in farming lands because of city spread, and degradation of the environment meant researchers had to concentrate on increasing crop yields.

This year's International Crop Science Congress was attended by more than 1000 delegates from 65 countries. With the theme "New Directions for a Diverse Planet," the conference recognized the need for new approaches to meet the challenges of maintaining and enhancing food, feed, and fiber supplies to a steadily increasing world population; and the associated challenge of sustaining the soil, water and biological resources that underpin global cropping impact on the wider environment. Embedded within the program was the 5th Asian Crop Science Congress, where symposia dealt with topics of particular relevance to crop science in Asia.

For more information on the conference, visit

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Cornell University
Source: CropBiotech Update
1 October 2004

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1.04  Dr. Henry Shands awarded William L. Brown Award for Excellence in Genetic Resource Conservation

Dr. Henry Shands, Director of the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, ARS, USDA,  and long a leader in the U.S. National Plant Genetic Resources System, will be awarded this years William L. Brown Award for Excellence in Genetic Resource Conservation.

The award will be presented at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Shoenberg Auditorium, Ridgway Center, on Friday, October 8, at 6 pm, as part of the opening events of the 51st Annual Systematics Symposium.  The award ceremony is open.  For more information about the award and the symposium, or to register for symposium sessions, see:

Contributed byAnn Marie Thro

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1.05  The book opens on the first tree genome

DNA code harnesses poplar as renewable energy resource, can help stem global warming

WALNUT CREEK, CA--An international consortium including the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Genome Canada, and the Umeň Plant Science Centre in Sweden, has released the first complete DNA sequence of a tree, Populus trichocarpa, the Black Cottonwood or poplar, one member of the most ecologically and commercially valuable group of trees in North America. The sequencing was completed at the DOE Joint Genome Institute Production Genomics Facility.

"By helping to lead this international collaboration to sequence the first tree genome, DOE once again is pioneering discovery-class science that promises to yield important societal benefits," said Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. "The poplar genome sequence will provide researchers with a critical resource to develop faster growing trees, trees that produce more biomass that can be converted to fuels, and trees that can sequester more carbon from the atmosphere or be used to clean up waste sites. Just as DOE earlier played a leading role in mapping the human genome and making possible advances in human health, we now are pleased to build on that success and help deliver the poplar's parts list--and the clean energy and cleaner environment that scientists will produce using the genetic sequence of the poplar in the future."

"Forest genomics is rapidly shaping how we do sustainable, intensive forestry," said David L. Emerson, Canada's Minister of Industry. "The complete poplar code provides us with the starting material for understanding factors that control the essential traits of trees that fuel our forest economy. It will help us farm trees with desired growth and wood quality characteristics, while protecting our forests from pests and diseases through the development of tools for early detection, diagnosis, and control, allowing for more vigilant conservation and forest management."

The Biological and Environmental Research program in the Department of Energy's Office of Science has provided a total of $12 million for the poplar initiative, including $8 million for sequencing and $4 million for associated research. The two-year project was coordinated out of the DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee and powered by the sequencing engine of the DOE Joint Genome Institute. The partnership includes Genome Canada, through Genome British Columbia and the University of British Columbia, and the BC Cancer Agency Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, which jointly implemented vital DNA mapping, sequencing, and fingerprinting strategies. Genome Canada and Genome BC have invested a total of $10.8 million CDN in the British Columbia Forestry Genomics project, of which $2 million CDN were dedicated to the poplar initiative. The primary European partner, Sweden's Umeň Plant Science Centre, collected an expressed sequence tag (EST) resource necessary for accurate gene prediction. The total investment in the Swedish Populus program exceeds $10 million, $3 million of which is directly connected to the genome sequencing effort. Stanford University served as an integral part of JGI's sequence finishing and quality control operation. Ghent University (Belgium) played an increasing role in annotating the sequence that has been generated.

With a genome consisting of more than 480 million letters of genetic code, Populus trichocarpa was sequenced eight times over to attain the highest quality standards. Poplar was chosen as the first tree DNA sequence decoded because of its relatively compact genetic complement, some 40 times smaller than the genome of pine, making the poplar an ideal model system for trees. The poplar genome, divided into 19 chromosomes, is four times larger than the genome of the first plant sequenced four years ago, Arabidopsis thaliana, the tiny workhorse for plant molecular geneticists.

"Although we're still in the early stages of analyzing the poplar genome, in our first pass we found more than 40,000 genes, most with significant relatedness to genes in other plants," said Daniel Rokhsar, JGI computational genomics department head. "The trick will be in figuring out how these similar gene sets have been customized and redeployed in poplar to generate a large woody plant instead of a small weed. We're currently comparing the poplar sequence with the genomes of rice and Arabidopsis to shed light on the evolution of these genes to see how they are differentially regulated in these diverse plants," Rokhsar said. The poplar consortium researchers plan to publish the results of their analysis early next year.

"Carbon management issues are overwhelming, but poplar trees could play a significant role in the solution," said Gerald Tuskan, whose team at the ORNL leads the poplar research effort. "Trees have a built-in mechanism for storing captured carbon dioxide in their leaves, branches, stems, and roots. This natural process of carbon sequestration suggests opportunities to further clean up the air by engineering trees so that they would more effectively shuttle and store more carbon below ground in their roots and the soil." Joining Tuskan on the ORNL poplar team are Steve DiFazio, Tongming Yin, Frank Larimer, Lee Gunter, Gwo-Liang Chen, and Phil Locascio. JGI contributors include Daniel Rokhsar, Nik Putman, Igor Grigoriev, Paul Richardson and Susan Lucas, who manages JGI's production sequencing operation.

"This achievement will have a huge impact on research far beyond the field of forestry," said Stefan Jansson at Umeň Plant Science Centre. Plant scientists throughout the world now have a tree model system to work with in addition to the already established models of Arabidopsis and rice. The many unique properties of trees, for example wood formation, longevity, seasonal growth and hardiness patterns, mean that Populus now can be used to study many fundamental biological questions." Joining Jansson in leading the Swedish poplar team are Jan Karlsson, G÷ran Sandberg, and Fredrik Sterky.

"The sequencing is extremely valuable because attributes found in the poplar model will also be applicable to other trees," added Don Riddle, Chief Scientific Officer of Genome British Columbia, on behalf of the four principal investigators of the Canadian component of the research. "Forestry is an integral part of Canada's economy--for industry, ecology, and recreation. Despite increasing pressure on forestry resources through human demand, pest outbreaks and global climate change, tree breeding for improved yield, quality and pest resistance is still in its infancy. This research will help provide a solid base in tree genomics to advance biological knowledge and aid breeding programs." The Canadian research team was led by Carl Douglas, Kermit Ritland, J÷rg Bohlmann, and Brian Ellis from the University of British Columbia.

The genome browser, developed by JGI and accessible at, is the repository for all the poplar sequence information. As a complement, a Swedish database with Populus gene expression information is also made available and can be accessed at

On September 22, Stefan Jansson from the Umeň Plant Science Centre will highlight the poplar work at the third Plant Genomics European Meeting, in Lyon, France.

On October 11, the poplar genome resource will be introduced to an international community of plant geneticists and ecologists. Consortium members Steve DiFazio and Pierre RouzÚ will present at the symposium "Functional Genomics of Environmental Adaptation in Populus" in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, cosponsored by DOE and Phytologist Trust. For more information about the meeting see:

21 September 2004

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1.06  Long reach of wind-blown pollen


Genetically modified creeping bentgrass pollen travels much farther than previously measured, scientists say. Pollen from creeping bentgrass engineered to resist popular herbicides traveled by wind up to 21 kilometers from its initial experimental planting sites. Lidia Watrud and colleagues tracked the flow of creeping bentgrass pollen from an area containing experimental crop fields in central Oregon. They collected seeds from naturally occurring grasses and potted sentinel plants, grew them to the seedling stage, and then tested them for presence of the transgene and resistance to Roundup. Based on results of greenhouse and laboratory tests, the researchers found that most of the pollen traveled within several kilometers of the initial planting sites. The team found evidence of transgenic seed formation up to 21 kilometers downwind in potted test or sentinel plants and up to 14 kilometers away in wild plants. Creeping bentgrass, used primarily on golf courses, grows naturally in many locations that have a cool season. The grass cross-pollinates with other grasses of the genus Agrostis. The team says the methods developed in this study can be used to assess the newly recognized potential for long-distance movement of viable pollen.

Genes from engineered grass spread for miles, study finds

By Andrew Pollack
The New York Times via

A new study shows that genes from genetically engineered grass can spread much farther than previously known, a finding that raises questions about the straying of other plants altered through biotechnology and that could hurt the efforts of two companies to win approval for the first bioengineered grass.

The two companies, Monsanto and Scotts, have developed a strain of creeping bentgrass for use on golf courses that is resistant to the widely used herbicide Roundup. The altered plants would allow groundskeepers to spray the herbicide on their greens and fairways to kill weeds while leaving the grass unscathed.

But the companies' plans have been opposed by some environmental groups as well as by the federal Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Critics worry that the grass could spread to areas where it is not wanted or transfer its herbicide resistance to weedy relatives, creating superweeds that would be immune to the most widely used weed killer. The Forest Service said earlier this year that the grass "has the potential to adversely impact all 175 national forests and grasslands."

Some scientists said the new results, to be published online this week by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, did not necessarily raise alarms about existing genetically modified crops like soybeans, corn, cotton and canola. There are special circumstances, they say, that make the creeping bentgrass more environmentally worrisome, like its extraordinarily light pollen.

Because Scotts has plans to develop other varieties of bioengineered grasses for use on household lawns, the new findings could have implications well beyond the golf course. And the study suggests that some previous studies of the environmental impact of genetically modified plants have been too small to capture the full spread of altered genes.

Scotts says that because naturally occurring bentgrass has not caused major weed problems, the bioengineered version would pose no new hazards. And any Roundup-resistant strains that might somehow develop outside of intentionally planted areas could be treated with other weed killers, the company said.
In the new study, scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency found that the genetically engineered bentgrass pollinated test plants of the same species as far away as they measured -about 13 miles downwind from a test farm in Oregon. Natural growths of wild grass of a different species were pollinated by the gene-modified grass nearly nine miles away.

Previous studies had measured pollination between various types of genetically modified plants and wild relatives at no more than about one mile, according to the paper.

"It's the longest distance gene-flow study that I know of," said Norman C. Ellstrand, an expert on this subject at the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the study but read the paper.

"The gene really is essentially going to get out," he added. "What this study shows is it's going to get out a lot faster and a lot further than people anticipated."

One reason the grass pollen was detected so far downwind was the size of the farm - 400 acres with thousands of plants. Most previous studies of gene flow have been done on far smaller fields, meaning there was less pollen and a lower chance that some would travel long distances. Those small studies, the new findings suggest, might not accurately reflect what would happen once a plant covers a large area.

"This is one of the first really realistic studies that has been done," said Joseph K. Wipff, an Oregon grass breeder. Dr. Wipff was not involved in the latest study but had conducted an earlier one that found pollen from genetically engineered grass traveling only about 1,400 feet. That test, though, used less than 300 plants covering one-tenth of an acre.

The effort to commercialize the bentgrass has attracted attention because it raises issues somewhat different from those surrounding the existing genetically modified crops.

It would be the first real use of genetic engineering in a suburban setting, for example, rather than on farms. And the grass is perennial, while corn, soybeans, cotton and canola are planted anew each year, making them easier to control.

Bentgrass can also cross-pollinate with at least 12 other species of grass, while the existing crops, except for canola, have no wild relatives in the places they are grown in the United States. And crops like corn and soybeans have trouble surviving off the farm, while grass can easily survive in the wild.

The bentgrass, moreover, besides having very light pollen - a cloud can be seen rising from grass farms - has very light seeds that disperse readily in the wind. It can also reproduce asexually using stems that creep along the ground and establish new roots, giving rise to its name.

Because of the environmental questions, the application for approval of the bioengineered bentgrass is encountering delays at the Department of Agriculture, which must decide whether to allow the plant to be commercialized.

After hearing public comments earlier this year, the department has now decided to produce a full environmental impact statement, which could take a year or more, according to Cindy Smith, who is in charge of biotech regulation.

Ms. Smith, in an interview yesterday, said the new study "gives some preliminary information that's different from previous studies that we're aware of." But more conclusive research is needed, she said.

Bentgrass is already widely used in its nonengineered form by golf course operators, mainly for greens but also for fairways and tee areas, in part because it is sturdy even when closely mown. It is rarely used on home lawns because it must be cared for intensively. And creeping bentgrass does not cross-pollinate with the types of grass typically used on lawns, scientists said.

Executives at Scotts, a major producer of lawn and turf products based in Marysville, Ohio, said the genetically engineered bentgrass would be sold only for golf courses. They said golf courses cut their grass so often that the pollen-producing part of the plants would never develop.

And because nonengineered creeping bentgrass has not caused weed problems despite being used on golf courses for decades, they said, the genetically modified version would pose no new problems.

"There has been pollen flow but it has not created weeds," Michael P. Kelty, the executive vice president and vice chairman of Scotts, said in an interview yesterday. He said Scotts and Monsanto, the world's largest developer of genetically modified crops, had spent tens of millions of dollars since 1998 developing the bioengineered bentgrass.

The questions about the grass come after Monsanto, which is based in St. Louis, said earlier this year that it was dropping its effort to introduce the world's first genetically engineered wheat, citing concerns by farmers that its use in foods might face market opposition.

Scotts is also developing genetically modified grass for home lawns, like herbicide-tolerant and slow-growing types that would need less mowing. But those products still need several more years of testing, Dr. Kelty said, adding that the company would avoid types of grass that could become weeds. "We don't want to put a product out there that is going to be a threat," he said.

Scotts and Monsanto have received some support for their argument from the Weed Science Society of America, a professional group, which conducted a review of the weed tendencies of creeping bentgrass and its close relatives at the request of the Department of Agriculture.

"In the majority of the country these species have not presented themselves as a significant weed problem, historically," said Rob Hedberg, director of science policy for the society, summarizing the conclusions of the review. He said that because people have generally not tried to control bentgrass and similar species with Roundup, known generically as glyphosate, "the inability to control them with this herbicide is a less significant issue."

Still, the society's report noted that bentgrass could be considered a weed by farms that are trying to grow other grass seeds. And the Forest Service, in comments to the Agriculture Department earlier this year, said that bentgrass has threatened to displace native species in some national forests.

John M. Randall, acting director of the Invasive Species Initiative at the Nature Conservancy, said bentgrass and related species had been a threat to native grasses in certain preserves that the group helps manage, including a couple near Montauk Point on eastern Long Island.

Other opponents of the genetically modified grass seized on the results. "This does confirm what a lot of people feared - expected, really," said Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. "These kinds of distances are eye-popping."

The new study was done by Lidia S. Watrud and colleagues at an E.P.A. research center in Corvallis, Ore., who were trying to develop new methods to assess gene flow, not specifically to study the bentgrass.

They put out 178 potted and unmodified creeping bentgrass plants, which they called sentinel plants, at various distances around the test farm. They also surveyed wild bentgrass and other grasses. They collected more than a million seeds from the plants, growing them into seedlings to test for herbicide resistance and doing genetic tests.

The number of seeds found to be genetically engineered was only 2 percent for the sentinel plants, 0.03 percent for wild creeping bentgrass and 0.04 percent for another wild grass. Most of those seeds were found in the first two miles or so, with the number dropping sharply after that. Still, said Anne Fairbrother, one of the authors of the report, finding even some cross pollination at 13 miles "is a paradigm shift in how far pollen might move."

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - PNAS Online Early Edition Article #05154

"Evidence for landscape-level, pollen-mediated gene flow from genetically modified creeping bentgrass with CP4 EPSPS as a marker"

by Lidia S. Watrud, E. Henry Lee, Anne Fairbrother, Connie Burdick, Jay R. Reichman, Mike Bollman, Marjorie Storm, George King, and Peter K. Van de Water

20 Sept. 2004

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1.07  Plant breeding for the tough times

The scope of the presentation is as follows:

  • Breeding for the Australian environment - principles and challenges
  • Frost tolerance in cereals
  • Varieties with tolerance to drought, salt and boron
  • Suiting varieties to changing farm systems
  • - Weed competition
  • - Direct drill
  • - Stubble retention
  • The GMO issue
  • - Can we tackle the tough problems without GM technology?
  • - Will recent bans affect breeding progress?
  • - How can growers capture benefits from genetic progress, especially GM technology

What's in the pipeline for wheat from AGT and barley from the SA Barley Improvement

The presentation is at

Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC)

From: Papers from the High Rainfall Grains Research Updates held in August and September

17 Sept 2004

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1.08 Grain breeding's 'Holy Grail', a drought tolerant, high yielding crop

Perth, South Australia
Grain breeding's 'Holy Grail', a drought tolerant, high yielding crop, could be achievable if researchers understand, design and act upon crop plant improvement programs for drought conditions, according to plant stress expert, Abraham Blum of the Volcani Centre, Tel Aviv, Israel.

Addressing the Grains Research and Development Corporation supported 'Adaptation of Plants to Water-Limited Mediterranean-type Environments' international symposium at CSIRO Perth, last week, Dr Blum said the association between drought resistance, water use efficiency (WUE) and yield potential was often misunderstood.

"This can lead to conceptual oversight and wrong decisions in implementing breeding programs for drought-prone environments. Most breeding programs target high yield potential, which might not be compatible with superior drought resistance.

"On the other hand, high yield potential should therefore be reviewed in the context of its effect on and interaction with drought resistance and WUE on the background of the prevalent drought profile in the target environment," Dr Blum said.

According to Dr Blum, drought resistance is a function of dehydration avoidance, rather than desiccation tolerance.

"Plant production in water limited environments is often affected by constitutive plant traits that allow maintenance of water plant status, rather than by stress adaptive responses that support plant function at low water status.

"A major adaptive response sustaining crop production under drought stress is osmotic adjustment. Despite past speculation, there is no proof that osmotic adjustment entails a cost in terms of reduced yield potential.

WUE for yield is often equated with drought resistance, which is not necessarily so, according to Dr Blum.

Apparent genotypic variations in WUE are normally expressed by variable water use.

Reduced water use, which is reflected in higher WUE, is generally achieved by plant traits and environmental responses that reduce yield potential.

Under most dryland situations, where crops depend on unpredictable seasonal rainfall, the maximisation of soil moisture use is a crucial component of drought resistance, or avoidance, which is then often expressed in lower WUE.

"The effect of a single drought adaptive gene on crop performance in water-limited environments can be assessed only when the whole system is considered in terms of drought resistance, WUE and yield potential,"Dr Blum said.

Most of the information on drought resistance breeding is available on Dr Blum's website,

29 September 2004

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1.09  Australia joins global wheat breeding team

Australian wheat researchers are participating in the International Adaptation Trial (IAT) in an effort to develop better wheat varieties for Australia's $5 billion wheat industry.

Information from the IAT can be used by Australian breeders to make more informed decisions about the wheat varieties they import and exchange, the crosses they make, and the genes and traits they use.

"Importing wheat for breeding can be time consuming and costly given strict quarantine regulations that safeguard Australia against pests and diseases," says Dr Scott Chapman, CSIRO Plant Industry.

"We can use the IAT results to help us efficiently choose parental wheats to breed better wheat varieties for Australian conditions and limitations."

As part of the IAT wheat breeders from Australia and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) chose 80 different wheat varieties that were then grown in 36 countries to identify the nature of different wheat growing regions.

In Australia the trial was grown between 2001 and 2004 in more than 24 sites across the wheat belt.

Dr Chapman and Dr Ky Mathews from The University of Queensland analysed the performance data from the different wheat varieties in the IAT from Australian and overseas.

"Performance of the broadly adapted varieties across locations tells us about their stability in different environments and their similarities among locations," Dr Chapman says.

"Highly specific varieties, that were either susceptible or resistant to a particular stress, were used in the trial as 'probes' to identify if a specific stress was present or not, like root nematodes."

Working with CIMMYT, Dr Mathews developed online summaries of the IAT results and a Geographic Information System (GIS) that maps the results and other features of spring wheat growing regions.

"Data from the IAT has helped us understand the relationships between Australian and international wheat growing regions to add value to local and global wheat breeding research," Dr Chapman says.

This research is done in collaboration with The University of Queensland and is supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

17 Sept 2004

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1.10  Mystery of garlic's sterility solved

Restoration of fertility to the now-sterile garlic plant has been accomplished by Israeli researchers, thus opening the way to wide-ranging scientific research that could lead to improved yields and quality.

Garlic is one of the most popular vegetable condiments in the world. Its origins are in Central Asia, where in the past, several fertile or semi-fertile garlic plants were identified. However, the cultivated, commercial plants we know today are sterile and are propagated only asexually. The reasons for this as well as the means to restore the plants' fertility have remained unknown.

Recently, however, a team of researchers headed by Prof. Haim Rabinowitch, rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a researcher in the University's Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture, and Dr. Rina Kamenetsky of the Volcani Institute has succeeded in solving this ancient puzzle. Seven years of research that included study of the morphology and the developmental physiology of the plant have resulted in a simple solution to the garlic's infertility.

In its growth process, the garlic plant's bulbing and flowering occur simultaneously in the spring 'user-friendly new fundraising tool' launched both processes regulated by temperature and day length. During generations of cultivation, farmers selected those plants that displayed early ripening and large bulbs. The rapid growth of the bulbs drew most of the nutrient and energy resources of the plant, leaving little for blossoming. These shortages resulted in abortion of the floral bud at a very early stage of development, and hence complete sterility. In those cases in which the plants succeeded in producing a floral stem, the developing flower buds were strangulated by the small bulbs at the top that were developing rapidly under conditions of lengthening days.

Once the Hebrew University and Volcani Institute researchers understood the conditions that were contributing to the plants' sterility, they experimented with growing garlic plants under controlled conditions in which temperature and daylight were regulated. In this way, they succeeded in delaying the bulb growth in favor of flowering, regaining fertility and production of seeds.

"In creating this flowering and seed production, we were able to open up the possibilities for genetic diversity of the garlic plant which had remain frozen for thousands of years,"said Prof. Rabinowitch.

The work by the Israeli scientists has been hailed as 'landmark research' by experts abroad and opens the possibility for new physiological and genetic research on one of the most important vegetable condiments in the world. The seeds obtained in the experimental work can now be utilized in breeding programs to produce various desired characteristics using classical techniques.

Among the scientific goals are the development of plants that would be resistant to various pests and plant diseases, provide improved yields and quality, be adaptable to various climatic conditions, have adjustable seasonal growth patterns, and show increased storage life.

The researchers are now turning their attention to investigating the molecular basis of the flowering process and to identifying the genes involved in the control of that flowering.

The results of the research appeared recently in one of the leading American horticultural journals, the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science.

13 Sept 2004

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1.11  Biologists finally close in on 'florigen,' the signal that causes plants to flower

Ithaca, New York

Postdoctoral researcher Brian Ayre was listening attentively to a Cornell University seminar on flower development when he asked what seemed an obvious question: "What is the signal that controls flowering?" The seminar speaker laughed. "They've been trying to figure that out for a hundred years," he said. More laughter followed, as one of Ayre's colleagues shouted from the back of the room: "Florigen!"

No one's laughing now. Ayre, currently a faculty member at the University of North Texas, went on to publish a provocative report in the August 2004 issue of Plant Physiology along with his postdoctoral adviser Robert Turgeon, a Cornell professor of plant biology. Their paper recounts the serendipitous discovery that the plant protein, CONSTANS, may be the signal -- "florigen" -- that causes plants to flower. Or at least, the researchers say, CONSTANS plays an important role in generating the signal.

Trying to understand flowering is a popular pursuit because of its importance in agriculture. Flowers are the precursor of fruit, and if flowering can be controlled, plants can be manipulated to remain in a vegetative or flowering state. Accelerated flowering could lead to a much shorter growing season -- an important advance for both growers and plant breeders. And the significance for the floriculture industry is equally huge.

Textbooks predating the 1970s dedicated entire chapters to this elusive signal. More recently, though, florigen has become an example of a dead-end pursuit in plant biology -- one more likely to prompt sarcastic grins than scientific inquiry to find this crucial puzzle piece in the understanding of plant development.

Turgeon's research focus at Cornell is on understanding how molecules move in the phloem, the "bloodstream" of plants that carries food, nutrients and signaling molecules. When Ayre joined his group, they were by no means setting out to discover the signal that induces flowering.But as sometimes happens in science, "people from outside of the field end up making significant contributions because they have different tools and different perspectives," says Turgeon, picking up the story: "We were coming at the study from a transport perspective. We got into this when we got a hold of the promoter of the galactinol synthase gene, a genetic factor that drives expression of genes specifically in the vein of the leaf so that they can enter the phloem. I saw this as a tool to study the transport of large molecules through the phloem. Once we got the tool, we began to design experiments to use it. We applied it and got a very interesting result."

The researchers took two approaches that led them to the conclusion that CONSTANS is a signal involved in flowering. First, using Arabidopsis plants in which all CONSTANS protein had been abolished, they introduced a copy of the CONSTANS gene under the control of the galactinol synthase promoter, which causes the protein to be synthesized only in the leaf. Despite this precise expression pattern, they saw that the signal had a dramatic effect on flowering. This suggests that either CONSTANS is moved throughout the plant to the site of flowering through the phloem, or it interacts with another factor inside the phloem that is transported to the site of flowering.

They provided further evidence for CONSTANS' role in floral signaling when they grafted Arabidopsis plants that contained no CONSTANS protein onto plants synthesizing CONSTANS in their leaves. This elegant experiment showed that CONSTANS, or another factor that it interacts with, was able to move through the graft junction to signal flowering in the parts of the plant that formerly were devoid of any of the protein.

Turgeon credits the late Russian plant physiologist M.H. Chailakhyan for some of the earliest work in trying to understand the nature of the flowering signal. In 1937 Chailakhyan named and defined florigen as a graft-transmissible signal that induces flowering. Ayre's and Turgeon's work appears to fit this historical definition of the flowering hormone, they say.

However, it is not clear whether CONSTANS is in fact the flowering hormone. More likely, Ayre says, "It may be interacting with another downstream factor that moves to the site of flowering action. It is clear now that CONSTANS is an important factor in generating this signal."

Comments Jan Zeevaart, an emeritus professor of plant biology at Michigan State University who has dedicated much of his research career to florigen and other plant hormones: "It is gratifying to see that there are finally molecular approaches to the problem. For quite some time, some people have ridiculed the concept of florigen, but those of us who have worked on the physiological aspects always knew that it could not be dismissed so easily."

"The exciting thing is that it appears that people are finally closing in on the identity of florigen," Turgeon responds. Ayre adds: "I suspect that CONSTANS and downstream components, such as a protein called FT, are going to be pretty hot topics in the next couple of years."The article in Plant Physiology was titled "Graft Transmission of a Floral Stimulant Derived from CONSTANS." Ayre's and Turgeon's work was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

At Cornell, Peter Davies, a professor in the Department of Plant Biology since 1969, has spent his career working on other plant hormones. Excited by the finding, he recently recalled a quotation from a fellow plant physiologist in the 1970s: "Flowering is a religion based on the totally unfounded dogma of florigen."

As it turns out, the "religion" may be about to get some new followers.

Related World Wide Web sites:

The following sites provide additional information on this news release. Some might not be part of the Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their content or availability.

oTurgeon laboratory:

This article was prepared by Sarah Nell Davidson, a graduate student in plant biology and science-writing intern in the Cornell News Service.

30 September 2004

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1.12  New research at the University of Georgia shows plants can shuffle and paste gene pieces to generate genetic diversity

Athens, Georgia
A team of researchers at the University of Georgia has discovered a new way that genetic entities called transposable elements (TEs) can promote evolutionary change in plants.

The research, published Sept. 30 in the journal Nature, was led by Dr. Susan Wessler, a Distinguished Research Professor of plant biology at UGA.
The Wessler lab studies TEs, which are pieces of DNA that make copies of themselves that can then be inserted throughout the genome. The process can be highly efficient. Almost half of the human genome is derived from TEs and, this value can go to an astounding 95 percent or even higher for some plants, such as the lily.

"Normally transposable elements just copy themselves, said Wessler, "But there were a few anecdotal reports of plant TEs that contained fragments of plant genes that the TE had apparently captured while it was copying itself. The fact that these instances were so rare suggested that this was not an important process."

In analyzing the TE content of the entire rice genome, Ning Jiang and Xiaoyu Zhang, two postdoctoral fellows in the Wessler lab along with Zhirong Bao, a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Sean Eddy of Washington University in St. Louis, discovered that capturing rice gene fragments is a way of life for one type of TE called MULEs.

MULEs with captured gene fragments were called Pack-MULEs. The study identified more than 3000 Pack-MULEs that contained over a thousand different rice gene fragments. Many of the Pack-MULEs have two or three gene fragments picked up from different genes but now fused together into a new gene combination.

 "There are only a few mechanisms known for evolving new genes, and one is genetic recombination, which can bring fragments of different genes next to each other," said Wessler. "A second is the duplication of an existing genes followed by mutation of one of the pair until it evolves into another function, though this is not the usual fate because the duplicate copy usually mutate into oblivion."

The discovery of thousands of Pack-MULEs in the rice genome indicates that this may be an important mechanism to create new genes and new functions in rice and in other plants where MULEs are known to flourish. Recent studies indicate that species evolve through the generation of new genes and/or gene variants that help a population adapt to a changing environment, for example, or to inhabit a different niche.

Why are transposable elements so successful? Some think that they are simply "junk" that, much like viruses, they can make lots of copies but do little to help the host. There is mounting evidence, however, that TEs help organisms evolve by making it easier to generate the sort of genetic novelty that is necessary for them to cope with a changing world.

Thus, instead of being beasts of burden, Pack-MULEs may serve rice as a tool of evolutionary change.

Related news release: Pack-MULEs are toting a new look at plant evolution

30 September 2004

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1.13  Natural biodiversity can enrich genetic base of crops

Natural biodiversity can enrich the genetic base of cultivated plants with novel alleles that improve productivity and adaptation. This was highlighted in a study of Ait Gur and Dani Zamir of the Robert Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

Gur and Zamir evaluated the progress in breeding for increased tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) yield using genotypes carrying a pyramid of three independent yield-promoting genomic regions introduced from the drought-tolerant green-fruited wild species Solanum pennellii. Yield of hybrids parented by the pyramided genotypes was more than 50% higher than that of a control market leader variety under both wet and dry field conditions that received 10% of the irrigation water. The study, according to the authors, demonstrated the breaking of agricultural yield barriers that provides the rationale for implementing similar strategies for other agricultural organisms that are important for global food security.

For the article published in the August 24 issue of PLoS Biology, visit

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept of Plant Breeding, Cornell University
Source: Crop Biotech Update
27 August 2004

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1.14  Wild crop species boost genetic diversity

Researchers in China crossed synthetic wheats from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico with local wheats, producing a hybrid now benefiting Chinese farmers. Breeders in Sichuan province have been using the CIMMYT-developed synthetic hexaploid wheat to improve quality, yield potential, and disease resistance. CIMMYT said that after Chinese scientists crossed and backcrossed this wheat with high-yielding local varieties, several lines were developed, and they are currently testing five more.

The synthetic wheats pass on beneficial traits such as large kernels, heavy spikes, and resistance to new races of Chinese stripe rust. During two years of yield trials, the two varieties derived from synthetic wheats had 20% to 35% higher yields than the commercial check variety. One of these varieties, Chuanmai42, had the highest average yields at more than six tons per hectare in the trials. It is now recommended by the government to farmers.

For more information visit

In related developments, the International Institute of Tropic Agriculture (IITA) based in Nigeria, Africa has acknowledged the work of Dr. Nagib Nassaar of the Universidade de Brasilia for his work in the genetic enhancement of cassava with wild Manihot species which has benefited many organizations doing cassava breeding, including IITA.
In a letter to Nassar, Rodomiro Ortiz, direction research for development of IITA, noted that Nassar provided "cassava germplasm for identification of excellent breeding lines at IITA" and that his breeding approaches showed "the benefits of preserving biodiversity through the use of Manihot genetic resources for enhancing cassava germplasm aimed at higher yields and improved nutrient quality."

Email Nagib Nassar at

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Cornell University
Source: Crop Biotech Update
3 September 2004

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1.15  Gene chips' research in cotton could lead to superior variety

College Station, Texas
A technology that uses "gene chips," which can help analyze tens of thousands of different DNA elements in a cotton plant, could lead to cotton varieties with superior traits and improved fiber quality.

Dr. Jeff Chen, a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station scientist, is working on a $5.7 million National Science Foundation project led by Thomas Osborn at the University of Wisconsin, and a project funded by the National Institutes of Health on translating gene expression mechanisms using plants as a model system.

Chen's work involves DNA microarrays or "gene chips." In his laboratory, by spotting DNA elements directly onto 1X3-inch glass slides, one chip can potentially contain all annotated genes (approximately 30,000) of an animal or plant genome.

 "DNA microarrays have broad applications in studying changes in gene expression and genomic structure in many biological contexts, including genetics, physiology, development and environment," Chen said. "With the help of computational and statistical tools, these changes can be incorporated into understanding of biological networks that regulate plant growth and production traits."

 The technology "provides a high-throughput tool for practical applications," Chen said. Those include a wide variety from medical diagnostics to plant breeding programs.

 The work was initially funded by Cotton Incorporated and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Collaborators include Barbara Triplett, a fiber biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service in New Orleans, and the Texas A&M University staff of David Stelly, a molecular cytogeneticist, Peggy Thaxton, a cotton breeder, and Sing-Hoi Sze, a computer scientist.

 They recently received a five-year award of $2.5 million from the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program for their ongoing studies of physiological and genetic effects on early stages of cotton fiber development.

 Chen's team is collaborating with Jonathan Wendel, project leader of the National Science Foundation-funded Cotton Evolution Genome Project at Iowa State University. The two research groups will collectively develop a high-quality DNA microarray resource that is open and accessible to the cotton community.

 The microarrays will eventually include all favorable genes from cotton researchers so they can be used in cotton breeding and field applications.

 "This project represents a clear example where Cotton Incorporated and state-funded research initiatives have had a multiplier-effect' on garnering substantial federal funding for cotton research," Chen said. "In the current era of genome biology, plant researchers are working together in groups to share expertise necessary to generate large amounts of genomic resources for the entire research community and to the cotton industry.

 "Genomic resources generated in rice, corn and wheat have produced tremendous impacts on the plant research community and plant production agriculture. Cotton researchers are establishing new information and technologies that will enhance cotton's share of competitive federal research support for genomic research."

 Chen said he would like to expand genome biotechnology education outside the university setting.

"We would like to build an outreach program where middle school teachers can bring their classes to our laboratories so they can learn about genome biotechnology," he said. "It would give students an opportunity for a hands-on look at how to extract DNA from plants and amplify DNA in test tubes. They would be exposed to how science and technology programming involves not only agriculture, but biotechnology and engineering as well."

20 Sept. 2004

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1.16 An effort to genetically create a Roundup-tolerant grass seed stalls because of market, scientific and regulatory dilemmas

Alex Pulaski
The Oregonian via

Five years ago, Madras farmer Ron Olson searched for a name for his new grass-seed company.

Borrowing from a nearby one-room schoolhouse founded 100 years earlier, Olson settled on New Era Seed. The name captured a fresh century's promise, Olson thought -- fitting for a venture to cultivate genetically modified grass seed on a commercial scale for the first time.

Seed giants Monsanto and Scotts had contracted with Olson and other growers, who foresaw picture-perfect golf course tee and greens, and sunny profits from grass designed to be immune to Roundup, Monsanto's leading herbicide.

Instead, their dreams are on hold. They have foundered on two fronts: fears in the divided grass-seed industry that genetically altered seed could contaminate a signature Oregon crop and dry up exports, and environmentalists' objections that the new product could morph into an unconquerable weed.

A year ago, New Era's seven growers brought in their first harvest. Now they await an uncertain federal approval process that could stretch another year or more. The delay, and resulting corporate orders, has left bare dirt where most of their promising grass acreage once grew.

The inability of Monsanto, Scotts and the Madras growers to get their new product off the ground highlights the complex scientific, regulatory and market hurdles agricultural producers face in developing new, genetically modified, or GM, crops even in a country that grows more bioengineered corn, soybean and cotton than anyplace else in the world.

To the naked eye, the Madras fields planted two years ago appeared just like any other in Oregon, the country's top grass-seed producer for decades. With $300 million in annual sales, Oregon's grass-seed industry ranks only behind nurseries and livestock in agricultural production.

But the Madras acreage was unique among the half-million acres of grass seed grown in this state. The creeping bentgrass plants were modified to resist Roundup. The world's most widely used herbicide, Roundup kills most weeds and grasses, including annual bluegrass -- a common weed on courses.

Scotts, the lawn and garden care company with annual revenues of $2 billion, and Monsanto, the agricultural chemical and seed corporation with annual revenues of $4.9 billion, are betting that their Roundup Ready bentgrass seed will first take root in the lucrative golf-course market.

Commercial success there could one day revolutionize the $40 billion home lawn and garden industry with next-generation genetically modified grasses requiring less watering and mowing.

(remainder of article)

13 Sept. 2004

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1.17 Benefits, challenges of Roundup Ready alfalfa examined

Commercial varieties of Roundup Ready alfalfa are expected to be available to California forage producers next year.

A team of University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisors have been evaluating this new technology for the past four years and two of those specialists, Fresno County farm advisor and weed specialists Kurt Hembree and Ron Vargas, his counterpart in Madera County, are convinced alfalfa tolerant to glyphosate will be a valuable new tool for forage growers.

The two farm advisors told a standing-room-only alfalfa field day at the UC Kearney Ag Center in Parlier that the only question remaining is the economic benefitwhat will Monsanto and Forage Genetics International charge for this new technology. They have not tipped their hand to Vargas and Hembree.

Hembree and Vargas said there are stewardship issues with this new technology. However, those concerns can be managed for growers to apply glyphosate over the top of alfalfa to kill weeds without damaging the crop. It will be third major crop in the West with this technology. Corn and cotton varieties are the other two.

"Roundup Ready alfalfa will not be a panacea, but it will be a real good tool for alfalfa growers" in establishing alfalfa and producing quality hay for the life of a stand, said Hembree.

Hembree said it will be easier to establish a weed-free stand of alfalfa with the technology and it should remain weed free for its life span of three to five years in the central San Joaquin Valley.

Better quality
Hay quality should improve with fewer weeds and animal welfare should improve with the control of poisonous and other undesirable weeds, he added.

However, Roundup will not control all weeds. Cheeseweed, nettles, fleabane, filaree, henbit and marestail are not effectively controlled Roundup, said Hembree.

Tank mixes will be necessary to cover all weeds. Hembree said form his tests in Fresno County, he expects a tank mix of Roundup and Pursuit to be the standard for alfalfa weed control.

That is not all bad. Vargas and Hembree continually raise red flat of weed resistance with constant Roundup treatment. They both say the technology will offer longevity only if growers rotate weed control chemistry and tank mixing.

"Roundup should not be used every year for the life of the stand. Consider rotating with other chemistry and tank mixing to prevent resistance," said Hembree, who reminded grower and pest control advisers at the field day that there are 5,000 acres of ryegrass in California identified as resistant to glyphosate. In the Midwest, there are at least 500,000 acres of Roundup-resistant marestail.

"We are seeing reports from the U.S. cotton Belt of Roundup resistance in lambsquarter," said Vargas, who was called to an almond orchard in Madera County where the berms were "solid lambsquarter" after two glyphosate applications. Other growers have reported to Vargas that they are beginning to have difficulty controlling lambsquarter with Roundup.

Weed shifts
Using Roundup will also result in "weed shifts." Weeds not controlled by Roundup will become more dominant and that can change a grower's weed control strategy.

While there has been considerable discussion about emerging resistance to Roundup since the introduction of herbicide-resistant crops, Roundup has been identified as a herbicides with a low risk of resistance buildup.

Herbicide resistance is not exclusive to Roundup, Vargas noted. There are reports from California's Imperial Valley of weed resistance to the newer grass herbicides as well as resistance to ALS inhibitor herbicides elsewhere.

"Rotate herbicides with different modes of action. If you rotate Roundup and Touchdown, you are not rotating herbicides," said Vargas

And, use recommended rates. A University of Nebraska study revealed a rapid buildup in herbicide resistance when growers cut rates to sub-lethal doses.

"Monitor for resistance. Make note of clumps of weeds," said Vargas.

"And know what weeds you are trying to control," said Hembree. This will allow for best herbicide selection to control the weeds.

Hembree said the Forage Genetics varieties released in 2005 are expected to be in dormancy classes 3 and 8. "We have been working with some of the new varieties at the West Side Research and Extension Center at Five Points and they look pretty darn good," he added.

Expect a 5 percent loss at stand establishment with herbicide-resistant variety because seed lots will not be 100 percent pure, said Hembree.

The Fresno County farm advisor said one pound active ingredient is just as effective as two pounds, but application timing is critical. The three-to-four trifoliate stage is ideal. Applying Roundup at the first trifoliate is too early because a second weed flush is likely. Treat at the six-to-nine trifoliate stage and the crop canopy will prevent Roundup contact with the weeds.

Add flexibility
Roundup Ready alfalfa will offer more flexibility to growers in weed control and possibly stand establishment. Typically, alfalfa stands are established in the fall. With this new technology, Hembree said it may be possible to establish alfalfa in the spring if a grower finds himself kept out of the field in the fall. That is usually precluded now by the threat of weeds taking over the stand before it is well-established.

Gene flow does not seem to be an issue with isolation of 900 feet between conventional and Roundup Ready alfalfas for forage production. The isolation between seed fields needs to be at least 1,500 feet.

Feral alfalfa, however, poses a challenge. This can develop into a problem along roadsides where feral alfalfa is common. County road crews now use Roundup to control this alfalfa, but with herbicide resistant alfalfa, this could be a new challenge in keeping roadsides clean, said Vargas.

Feral Roundup Ready alfalfa could be problem if is part of a rotation with Roundup Ready cotton and corn. Vargas' recommendation is to avoid rotating glyphosate crops.

"You do not want to lose this technology," said Vargas.

Glyphosate is used to take out conventional alfalfa stands. Vargas said 2, 4-D and Dicamba will take out herbicide-resistant stands in the fall, but that may be a touchy issue since there are times when phenoxy herbicides are banned in the valley and others areas.

Marketing Roundup-resistant alfalfa is not expected to be a major issue since the majority of Californias hay is sold domestically. However, Vargas pointed out that Japan is a prominent destination of hay exported from the U.S. Japan has been reluctant to accept genetically modified crops.
Four years of research by the UC team has well-identified the problems associated with Roundup Ready alfalfa. Hembree and Vargas are convinced the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Source: Harry Cline, Western Farm Press via and
30 September 2004

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1.18 One step closer to the perfect crop plant

REDWOOD CITY Herbicide tolerance is the most common transgenic crop trait in the world. Its importance might increase in the next years, as researchers discovered a new gene, providing a robust tolerance against glyphosate, one of the most important commercially sold herbicide active ingredients.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the herbicides Roundup from Monsanto and Touchdown by Syngenta. Generally, it is toxic to all kinds of weeds and crops. Thus for a long time, it was not possible to use it in agriculture. Only since glyphosate tolerant crops have been developed with the help of genetic engineering, has glyphosate been frequently used to increase crop yields. 80% of the U.S. market in soybeans and cotton are now plants that tolerate glyphosate.

The way glyphosate operates, is it inhibits the synthesis of essential aromatic amino acids. Under these conditions, plants are not able to survive. However, there is a similar enzyme in some microorganisms that does the same work, but is not affected by glyphosate. Researchers took this into account and inserted the resistant enzymes gene into crop plants. Thus, desired plants can even survive in the presence of high concentrations of herbicide. Regrettably, glyphosate remains in the plant and accumulates. In this way, it might interfere with reproductive development and may lower crop yield if plants are sprayed late in development.

Seeing this disadvantage, researchers from Pioneer Hi-Bred, Intl. and Verdia Inc. in Redwood City searched for a method to detoxify glyphosate. One solution was to let an enzyme called glyphosate N-acetyltransferase (GAT) carry out the process. GAT modifies glyphosate and turns it into N-acetylglyphosate that is indeed stable as well, but no longer herbicidal.

With the process of DNA shuffling, the team obtained an enzyme that had a nearly 10,000-fold improvement over the parental enzyme. The improved enzyme confers glyphosate tolerance to corn plants in the field.

Before these plants will be brought out on the market, it will take at least five years, Dr Castle explained because, It takes years to test trait efficacy in the field, convert the trait into elite varieties, and to assemble product safety data for the U.S. regulatory agencies. Pioneer Hi-Bred is evaluating corn plants now and the joint venture between Verdia and Delta and Pine Land is evaluating the trait in cotton.

According to reports, Verdia Inc. also has projects underway in the areas of insect, herbicide and disease resistance. Probably we will hear a lot more in the future.

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

By Flora Mauch, Checkbiotech
24 September 24

Contributed by Robert Derham

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1.19 U.S. National Science Foundation awards $4.2 million to Cornell University to sequence the tomato genome

The National Science Foundation has awarded $6.5 million to Cornell University researchers to sequence the tomato genome, improve genetic manipulation of maize to learn how to make crops more aluminum tolerant and to develop and use innovative computational algorithms for the simulation of turbulent combustion.

Specifically, $4.2 million over two years has been awarded to the research consortium directed by Steven D. Tanksley, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Breeding, to sequence all 12 tomato chromosomes. Stephen Pope, the Sibley College Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and his research group have been awarded almost $1.4 million to develop computer algorithms to improve the ability to simulate combustion processes and, thereby, improve the design of combustion devices. In addition, a research group directed by Leon Kochian, an adjunct professor of plant biology and the director of the U.S. Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory at Cornell, has been awarded $933,000 over five years to generate better molecular and genomic resources to improve aluminum tolerance and crop performance in acid soils.

Tanksley's map of the tomato (Solanum lycopersicon) genome not only will help scientists better understand the structure and organization of the tomato genome but also will promote the understanding of the genomes of related plants, including potatoes, peppers, eggplant, coffee and tobacco.

The tomato genome contains about 950 million base pairs of DNA, with more than 75 percent of it densely packed and largely without genes, Tanksley explains. "The majority of genes are found in long contiguous stretches of gene-rich DNA located on the distal portions of each chromosome arm," he says. "In this project, we will contribute to the sequencing of the gene-rich regions of all 12 tomato chromosomes."

Kochian will focus on ways to improve aluminum tolerance in plants, since aluminum toxicity reduces yields of crops by up to 50 percent on potentially arable lands around the world, especially in South America, Asia and Africa, where maize is a staple crop and acid soils are common.

 "Breeding for aluminum tolerance and agronomic practices aimed at reducing soil acidity have historically been productive ways to improve crop production," Kochian explains. "However, it is widely recognized that further enhancements of crops' tolerance to aluminum will depend on identifying aluminum tolerance genes and the underlying mechanisms in order to facilitate improvement via biotechnology."

Thus, his project seeks to identify and characterize aluminum tolerance genes and their associated mechanisms in maize, which is one of the most important crops grown on acid soils. The information he gleans will be added to various publicly available databases and should prove useful to both traditional and biotechnological crop improvement strategies. The grant also will support a summer internship program for minority undergraduates at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell.

Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provide additional information on this news release. Some might not be part of the Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their content or availability.

o Steven Tanksley:

Abstract of new tomato genome project:

 o Leon Kochian:

Abstract of maize genome project:

24 September 2004
(With editing by PBN-L)

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1.20 UC Berkeley researchers identify chlorophyll-regulating gene

Berkeley, California
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have identified a critical gene for plants that start their lives as seeds buried in soil. They say the burial of seeds was an adaptation that likely helped plants spread from humid, wet climates to drier, hostile environments.

In a study published in the Sept. 24 issue of the journal Science, the researchers found that a gene called phytochrome-interacting factor 1, or PIF1, affects the production of protochlorophyll, a precursor of the chlorophyll used by plants to convert the sun's energy into food during photosynthesis.

While a seed germinates under soil, in the dark, it is producing a controlled amount of protochlorophyll in preparation for its debut above ground. Much like a baby takes his or her first breath of air after emerging from the womb, seedlings must quickly convert protochlorophyll into chlorophyll once they are exposed to light for the first time.

"It's a delicate balancing act," said Peter Quail, professor of plant and microbial biology at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources and principal investigator of the study. "The young plant needs some protochlorophyll to get the ball rolling in photosynthesis. But if the plant accumulates too much of the compound, it leads to photo-oxidative stress, which is seen as bleaching on the leaves. The overproduction of protochlorophyll is like a ticking time bomb that is set off by the sun."

Quail is also research director of the Plant Gene Expression Center, a joint research center of the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of California.

The researchers targeted the PIF1 gene because it binds to phytochrome, a protein that is triggered by light and that controls a plant's growth and development. The researchers disabled the PIF1 gene in the species Arabidopsis thaliana, a mustard plant, and compared the mutant seedlings with a control group of normal plants.

They grew the seedlings in the dark to mimic conditions beneath the soil, bringing groups out into the light at different time points throughout a six-day period. In nature, seeds are typically buried under 2 to 10 millimeters of soil, taking anywhere from two to seven days to germinate and break through the soil surface.

"We found that mutated plants had twice the levels of protochlorophyll than normal, wild-type plants, suggesting that phytochrome acts as a negative regulator for protochlorophyll," said lead author Enamul Huq, who conducted the study while he was a post-doctoral researcher at UC Berkeley's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. "We also saw that the longer the seedlings were grown in the dark, the more likely they would die when they were exposed to light."

The mutated seedlings failed to switch off production of protochlorophyll throughout the germination period, so the longer the seedlings stayed in the dark, the more toxic the levels became.

Huq, now an assistant professor of molecular cell and developmental biology at the University of Texas at Austin, pointed out that it is an "unbound" form of protochlorophyll that is toxic. Normal plants, he said, produce enough of an enzyme, called protochlorophyllide oxidoreductase, to bind with typical levels of protochlorophyll. But not enough of the enzyme is produced to handle the overabundance of unbound protochlorophyll churned out by the mutant seedlings.
The researchers say the ability of plants to precisely regulate production of protochlorophyll was probably an evolutionary development designed to ensure seed survival among higher plants.

Primitive plants, such as mosses and some species of fern, thrive in moist, humid environments where their spores can stay safely above the soil surface. But all higher plants - from grasses to trees to agricultural crops such as wheat and corn - must have the ability to transition from the darkness of an underground environment to life above ground.

"The development of seed burial in plants provided a long-term survival benefit through protection from predators and hostile surface conditions," said Quail. "The true test of our hypothesis would be to verify whether primitive plants have the PIF1 gene, and whether the gene is functional."

The finding may also have implications for agricultural biotechnology, allowing researchers to manipulate the gene to improve the efficiency with which plants carry on photosynthesis.

Other co-authors of the study are Bassem Al-Sady and Matthew Hudson of UC Berkeley's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, and Chanhong Kim and Klaus Apel of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's Institute of Plant Sciences in Zurich, Switzerland.

The study was supported by grants from the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, the USDA and Syngenta.

23 September 2004

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1.21  Monsanto to commercialize low-linoleic soybean

A new low-linolenic acid soybean that will reduce or eliminate trans fatty acids (trans fats) in processed soybean oil, while maintaining performance parity with leading soybean varieties, has been developed and is now ready for commercialization. The Monsanto variety carrying the VISTIVE brand will be available for the 2005 crop season.

Produced through conventional breeding, the soybean variety will be grown by contract growers who, in participation with soybean processors, will crush the grain, refine the oil, and market that oil to food companies. The low-linolenic oil offers direct consumer benefits, specifically enhanced food-grade oils.

For more details of the new soybean, visit

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Cornell Univesity
Source: Crop Biotech Update
3 September 2004

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1.22  Updated fact sheet on GM crops in the U.S. released by The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology

The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology has updated its fact sheet on the amount, and types, of genetically modified crops grown in the U.S. to include 2004 data recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The fact sheet, titled "Genetically Modified Crops in the United States," includes the following highlights from 2004:

" An additional 3.9 million acres of genetically modified soybeans were planted in the U.S. in 2004, increasing the portion of US soybeans which are genetically modified from 81% in 2003 to 85% in 2004.

" U.S. farmers planted an additional 4.9 million acres of genetically modified corn in 2004, increasing the portion of U.S. corn which is genetically modified from 40% in 2003 to 45% in 2004.

" For the first time in three years, total cotton acreage in the U.S. increased. The share of cotton which is GM a total of 10.6 million acres also increased from 73% in 2003 to 76% in 2004.

" South Dakota and Mississippi continue to adopt genetically modified crops faster than other states. In 2004, 79% of all corn and 95% of all soybeans grown in South Dakota were genetically modified. 97% of all cotton produced in Mississippi was genetically modified.

The complete fact sheet is available at:

3 Sept. 2004

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1.23 Brazil court eases path for GM corn, cotton, rice

Brasilia, Brasil

Brazil's biotech regulator was cited as saying on Friday that it could clear new varieties of genetically modified (GM) soy, corn, cotton and rice for commercial use by December.

A federal tribunal said majority of its judges recognized the power of the government's Technical Commission on Biotechnology (CTNBio) to determine what GMO products can be sold in Brazil. Jairon do Nascimento, CTNBio's executive secretary, was quoted as telling Reuters that, "The commission (CTNBio) could produce final technical findings (clearance) by December for three products.

"We have at least 11 GMO products from soybeans, corn and cotton, to human and animal vaccines that we are considering for approval on the commercial market in Brazil," Jairon said.

The CTNBio's 36 scientist members are due to meet again on Oct. 21-22.

View CTNBio's other institutional acts regarding genetically modified organisms at

13 Sept. 2003

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1.24 National Starch and Chemical Company launches TRUETRACE program to verify non-GMO products

National Starch and Chemical Company has expanded its crop identity-preservation program and implemented a broader, documented identity-tracing program to verify the non-genetically modified organism (non-GMO) status of the company's food ingredients.

 The program, named TRUETRACE(TM), provides customers with traceability for National's food ingredients at all stages of their development, from seed to crop, to production and distribution. The program covers all the company's food ingredients made from corn grown in the United States.

 Protecting corn varieties from adventitious contamination and providing traceability is becoming ever more challenging because farmers in the corn-belt of United States have been greatly increasing their acreage of GM corn crops over the last few years. Currently, between one third and one half of the corn acreage in the corn-belt states is being used to grow GM corn, and that is projected to increase considerably in the next few years.

"The ability to provide fully traceable documentation that grain grown in the US is from non-GM sources is becoming increasingly more important, especially as more regulations are implemented to require this traceability," said Joe Emling, manager, grain quality and traceability, agribusiness, National Starch and Chemical Company. Currently, European Union regulations require food producers of genetically modified organisms to inform purchasers of all the stages of the GM product's production and distribution. Although EU laws require the traceability of genetically modified products, they do not explicitly require traceability for non-GM products. National Starch's TRUETRACE program will make information available to customers in Europe and elsewhere who request it.
 TRUETRACE adheres to the guidelines of the British Retail Consortium/Food and Drinks Federation (BRC/FDF) Technical Standard for the Supply of Identity Preserved Non-Genetically Modified Food Ingredients and Products. This standard represents the best practices available for ensuring the proper segregation and documentation of non-GM corn and provides for non-GM identity preservation and traceability that meets or exceeds regulations in major markets worldwide.

 Starting at the source

Growers in National's TRUETRACE program grow non-GM corn exclusively or take special precautions to isolate GM corn from non-GM corn to avoid cross-contamination. These growers provide National with extensive documentation of their seed varieties, field locations, and equipment cleaning, which are subject to periodic audits. Corn delivered to National Starch manufacturing facilities can thus be traced to the original farm on which it was grown and the seed varieties used in production.

 "Our customers value the non-GM status of our modified food, functional native and resistant starches," said Mike Klacik, Senior Director of Nutrition and Bioscience, National Starch and Chemical Company. "National Starch is able to provide the TRUETRACE program because of its direct, long-standing relationships with corn growers in its primary contracting areas, and because it has a team of experts in plant science, agronomy, supply chain logistics and regulatory affairs. This infrastructure and the know-how make it possible for us to offer this quality assurance program to our customers."

 National Starch and Chemical Company is a worldwide manufacturer of natural polymers, specialty polymers, adhesives and electronic and engineering materials, with 2003 sales of $3.05 billion. National Starch is headquartered in Bridgewater, N.J., and is a member of the ICI Group.

15 Sept. 2004

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1.25 CIMMYTs guiding principles for developing and deploying genetically engineered maize and wheat varieties

El Batan, Mexico
Many of the worlds poorest people are small-scale farmers, whose livelihood is at risk because of low productivity and insecure harvests. At the same time, poor urban and rural consumers suffer from malnutrition, the so-called hidden hunger, which impairs productivity. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), one of the Future Harvest international agricultural research centers supported by the CGIAR, together with its partners, works to solve these problems of poverty and food insecurity with a range of multidisciplinary research and capacity-building activities focused on food, agricultural, and natural resource maize and wheat systems.

In the last two decades, biotechnology has produced a number of valuable tools and techniques that can be used to help improve and conserve all crop species. Thus, CIMMYT believes that biotechnology (which includes a range of techniques such as tissue culture, marker-assisted selection, genomics, and genetic engineering) has an important role to play in improving the productivity, stability, quality, and use of maize and wheat varieties in developing countries while preserving the environment. CIMMYT, along with its CGIAR sister centers, is committed to making these new opportunities offered by biological sciences available as public goods and thereby complementing private-sector research so that technologies can reach resource-poor farmers and malnourished poor consumers.

While plant breeding that utilizes non-transgenic approaches will remain the backbone of CIMMYTs crop improvement strategies, genetically engineered maize and wheat varieties (popularly called genetically modified organisms, GMOs) will not be excluded as products capable of contributing to CIMMYTs principal goals. Indeed, in tackling certain intractable problems, using genetically engineered crops may be the best available approach for meeting the challenges of food security and environmental protection.

CIMMYT is conscious that the development and use of genetically engineered varieties is controversial in many countries. However, it also recognizes that these varieties have been commercially available since the mid-1990s, initially in the USA, but increasingly in other developed and developing countries. While no technology is risk-free, major environmental or food safety issues have not been identified. Recently, developing countries have also commercialized genetically engineered varieties, and benefits to resource poor farmers and consumers are being realized. While the initially available varieties possess input traits (e.g., insect resistance or herbicide tolerance), the technology offers to improve many other traits such as drought tolerance and nutritional quality, all important for resource poor farmers and consumers in developing countries.

CIMMYT believes that it is important that any variety, genetically engineered or not, released to farmers be safe and effective. Thus, efforts will be focused on evaluating the environmental and food/feed safety aspects on all new varieties. Equally important is to ensure the sustainability of the technology for farmers. Thus, efforts will also focus on issues such as resistance management strategies, intellectual property rights and seed saving technologies that allow farmers long-term benefits, inexpensive access to the varieties and the ability to save seed from generation to generation.

Recognizing that both the scientific community and the general public express a range of conflicting opinions on the use of genetic engineering, CIMMYT favors public dialogue based on transparency and science. CIMMYT will take a holistic approach in this debate by examining, to the best of our ability, biosafety, food safety, trade, intellectual property rights, and ethical and cultural aspects, all of which shape the science and policy actions related to the development and use of GMOs.

This approach leads CIMMYT to the following guidelines:

  1. In keeping with its mission, CIMMYT will continue to engage in research designed to produce international public goods appropriate for use by resource-poor farmers. In doing so, it will typically use a range of technologies, including modern biotechnological methods, to produce germplasm containing traits important to and useful for resource-poor farmers. GMOs may be used in research and development by CIMMYT to the extent that they contain traits beneficial to farmers, and for which there has been careful consideration and due regard for the full range of social, economic, biosafety, public health, and environmental concerns. In addition, transgenic technologies are becoming an increasingly important basic research tool for studying the genetic, biochemical, and physiological mechanisms underlying important traits that will improve the efficiency of traditional breeding programs. 
  2. For sound scientific and practical reasons, CIMMYT will continue giving priority to work with the gene pools of maize and wheat, including their wild or weedy relatives, as the first and often most effective means of bringing benefits to resource-poor farmers. Genetic engineering will be used to broaden conventional breeding strategies if it is believed to be a more efficient means for developing crops with improved quality, reduced dependence on agrochemicals, and more suitability for conserving natural resources. The formulation of these Guiding Principles is therefore not intended as a shift in emphasis or priorities in center research programs; conventional breeding techniques will continue to be used widely in improvement programs. 
  3. All projects involving the use of genetic engineering will be listed on CIMMYT's public web site, as part of its policy for transparency. Details regarding the target traits, genes, germplasm and countries will be provided. The information will be updated to provide the current status of each project. 
  4. CIMMYT will continue to monitor, investigate, and assess the possible social, public health, and environmental implications of the use of genetically engineered plant varieties in the ecological regions in which they might be used and, especially, in the centers of origin or of diversity of the species that may be genetically engineered. As in other subject areas, these activities will be carried out in cooperation with national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES), farmers, and other partners. CIMMYT encourages and will continue to engage in complementary research on maize and wheat genetic diversity and its management in farmers' fields. 
  5. In all its genetic engineering-related research, CIMMYT will observe the highest standards of safety in the conduct of laboratory, greenhouse and field experiments. 
  6. CIMMYT will comply with relevant national, regional, or international biosafety, food, environmental, and policy regulations for the conduct of research on genetically engineered organisms. The center will not use or conduct research on genetically engineered organisms in any country lacking such regulations, and will help to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to enact and enforce such regulations. In certain circumstances, the center may voluntarily adhere to higher or more stringent standards than the minimums imposed by national legislation and regulation. The center will not make GMOs available in a country without that country's prior informed knowledge, consent, and support. All countries that receive GMOs and related products from CIMMYT must have biosafety regulations in place. 
  7. CIMMYT will work with national partners, using the best expertise available, to examine potential risks and assure the safety of all of its products, including GMOs. If a recipient country lacks the expertise to conduct its own risk assessment, the center will work with national partners to help develop this capacity, and to develop appropriate strategies and methodologies. The center will also pursue active research in collaboration with advanced research institutes on the biosafety and deployment of GMOs. 
  8. CIMMYT acknowledges that crop improvement research should adopt an integrated approach and should not become overly reliant on any single technology. Furthermore, in seeking to develop and promote agricultural systems that are productive, sustainable, and resilient, due regard will be given to the maintenance of appropriate diversity within those systems. 
  9. CIMMYT adds new maize and wheat genetic resources each year to those that are already conserved under long-term ex situ conditions. The center will continue to develop and implement measures that are feasible given current technology and funding to protect the genetic integrity of incoming (and already held) accessions and to maintain them according to international standards. The data arising from screening undertaken during the implementation of these measures will be made available as produced and without restriction. 
  10. CIMMYT will continue to abide by the letter and spirit of its 1994 agreements with FAO concerning the management of collections of maize and wheat germplasm held 'in trust.'The center also reiterates its intention to associate itself formally with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and, as in Article 15.1(c) of that Treaty, recognizes the authority of the Governing Body to provide policy guidance relating to ex situ collections held by them and subject to the provision of this Treaty,including guidance on the subjects covered by these Guiding Principles. 
  11. CIMMYT acknowledges the importance of an open and informed discussion on issues related to biotechnology and recognizes the need and value of technologies available in the public domain that have the potential to improve the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers and consumers in developing countries and protect the environment.

Source: CIMMYT e-newsletter
30 September 2004

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1.26 GE is essential to improve cowpea, says International Institute of Tropical Agriculture breeder
Ibadan, Nigeria

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has over the years tried, without much success, to improve cowpea, a protein -rich crop, through conventional breeding. Cowpea is an ideal crop for improving the nutrition of resource poor farmers, especially since animal protein is expensive. Dr. Christian Fatokun, IITA Cowpea Breeder, said that his institute had collaborated with advanced laboratories all over the world and committed substantial human and financial resources into cowpea improvement all to no avail because of abundant diseases and insect pest attacks on the crop.

Fatokun added that Nigeria is the leading producer of the crop but the yield is so poor that a farmer hardly realizes more than 300 kilograms of yield per hectare. To increase the yield, pesticides must be applied, but which are expensive and not environment- friendly. To achieve any success in controlling the insects, especially Maruca vitrata, that which destroys the cowpea flowers and causes severe yield loss, genetic engineering is essential to incorporate resistance in the crop, said Dr. Fatokun.

A few years ago, the Institute was instrumental in the development and subsequent adoption of the Nigerian Biosafety Guidelines, and the establishment of a national policy on biotechnology. Other stakeholders supporting the public awareness drive of biotechnology in Nigeria include the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and several national universities with specific study programs in biotechnology.

1 October 2004

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1.27 Weighing the pros and cons of genetically modified crops in Africa

El Batan, Mexico
Should Africa embrace genetically modified crops to help feed its hungry people? That question is explored by a recent paper entitled Debunking the Myths of GM Crops for Africa: The Case of Bt Maize in Kenya. The paper compares the benefits of genetically modified crops to information available on the risks, and finds that most objections are not backed by evidence. Hugo De Groote, Stephen Mugo, and David Bergvinson from CIMMYT, along with Ben Odhiambo of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, conducted the study, which argues for a discussion based on scientific evidence and evaluation of potential benefits against concerns.

Genetically modified crops have been successful in many countries, including Canada and the US, where they have increased yields, lowered labor and cultivation costs, and reduced the use of chemical inputs. Genetic engineering has the potential to enhance food security and nutritional quality in ways not possible with conventional technology. Because the technology is contained in the seed, it is easy to distribute to farmers. This is particularly important in Africa, where extension services have largely collapsed and transport infrastructure is poor.

Concerns about deploying genetically modified crops in Africa include food safety, ethics, environmental risk, loss of landrace biodiversity, and the lack of appropriate biosafety regulations. Although long-term effects need to be analyzed, current studies by national and international organizations reveal no demonstrated toxic or nutritionally harmful effects of foods derived from genetically modified crops.

Sounding Out Public Opinion

The study by de Groote and his colleagues focused on Kenya, where maize, the main food crop, is planted on 30% of arable lands. It drew on a variety of data sources, including participatory rural appraisals and farmer and consumer surveys. De Groote thinks it is important to make research results understandable to the general public so everyone can participate in the debate.

To gauge awareness and attitudes about genetically modified crops, the researchers interviewed 604 consumers, only half of whom were aware of them. Many appreciated the benefits but worried about potential negative effects on health and the environment, especially on local plant varieties. De Groote says consumers are increasingly aware of genetically modified food and generally accept it, but their concerns about environmental safety and biodiversity have to be addressed.

Several seed companies in Kenya have expressed interest in producing and distributing Bt maize seed, which offers an effective and practical method for reducing stem borer damage in maize. Genetically engineered Bt maize contains a gene from the soil-dwelling bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a toxin that helps control certain pests but is not harmful to humans or livestock. The Bt gene was first introduced into the commercial maize market in 1996. It has provided control for many pests and could help decrease pesticide use.

"The major surprise was that, contrary to the usual claims, Bt maize is very likely to benefit poor farmers and small seed companies,"says de Groote. Stem borers are a real concern for farmers, especially in low-potential coastal and dry areas.

Farmers in Kenya lose 400,000 tons, or about 14%, of their maize to stem borers. That is roughly the amount the country imports each year. De Groote says Bt maize alone will not solve this problem, but could help reduce losses and increase food security.

The IRMA Project

In 1999, the Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA) project was launched in Kenya to develop borer resistant varieties using both conventional breeding and biotechnology. Kenya already had experience with genetically modified crops and had biosafety policies in place. IRMA, a collaborative project between CIMMYT and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, receives financial support from the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture.

Before initiating the project, all parties involved agreed that transformed plants would carry only the gene of interest, without marker genes; that transgenic crops would only be developed for countries with appropriate biosafety regulations; and that only genes in the public domain would be used. They also agreed that the project would work under the highest scientific standards. When the project ends, other countries in Africa will be able to evaluate results from Kenya's experience and decide for themselves which path to follow.

"I hope that the results will be accepted not only by the scientific community but also by the general population, in Africa as well as in the developed world,"says de Groote. "I also hope they will put to rest some of the major concerns about Bt maize for Africa."

To make informed choices possible, the researchers contend that scientists in Africa need hands-on experience with the new technology. They need to test and adapt it using the appropriate regulatory framework and precautions. Further, the researchers believe that the technologies need to be developed in a participatory approach, since African farmers and consumers have the right to choose technologies based on the best knowledge available. They should not be denied the chance to improve their livelihoods as a result of an academic debate in which they are not included.

For more information: Hugo De Groote or Stephen Mugo

Source: CIMMYT e-newsletter
30 September 2004

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2.01 De Vicente, C., T. Metz and A. Alercia. 2004. Descriptors for genetic markers technologies. International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy.

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2.02 Engels, J.M.M. and L. Visser (eds). 2003. A guide to effective management of germplasm collections. IPGRI Handbooks for Genebanks No. 6. International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome. Italy.

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3.01  The Sesame and Safflower Newsletter.

EcoPort ( has moved to an open source software and the links to the Newsletters have changed.

The majority of the articles deal with plant breeding.

The URLs for the Internet versions of the last 5 editions are as follows: Just click on "Table of contents" and choose the articles of interest.

No. 18 - 2003
No. 17 - 2002
No. 16 - 2001
No. 15 - 2000
No. 14 - 1999

Contributed by Peter Griffee

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4.01 NSF program solicitation: Maize Genome Sequencing Project: an NSF/DOE/USDA joint program

Maize Genome Sequencing Project: An NSF/DOE/USDA Joint Program

Synopsis of Program:

Under the auspices of the National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announce their intention to support large-scale sequencing of the maize genome. Previous funding has supported development of maize genome sequence resources, including physical and genetic maps, Expressed Sequence Tags (ESTs), sequences derived from gene-enriched genomic libraries, Bacterial Artificial Chromosome (BAC) sequences, and a community genome database. The objective of this program solicitation is to solicit proposals that build on these resources to develop a comprehensive sequence resource for the maize genome that will capture the majority of the sequence information in a timely and cost-effective manner.

View complete document at

15 Sept 2004

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4.02 The Cassava Biotechnology Network (CBN) for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC): Small Grants for 2004

The Cassava Biotechnology Network (CBN) for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has actively stimulated research on cassava by providing assistance in the development of project proposals on priority topics. It has also served as a broker, building coalitions between national agricultural research and development institutions (NARDIs) and donors. In addition, CBN supports the formulation of research proposals through its Small Grants Program, which provides about US$100,000 per year.

Source: CIAT-News - September 2004 Issue: 12
A Newsletter from

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4.03 The Gines-Mera Memorial Fellowship Fund for Postgraduate Studies in Biodiversity - 2004

We are pleased to announce the second call for applications to The Gines-Mera Memorial Fellowship Fund for Postgraduate Studies in Biodiversity. The Fund is supported by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC), which provides resources, and by CIAT.

We particularly invite applications for the 2004 awards from MSc students whose work will be conducted in whole or in part in Uganda or Rwanda, or both countries; and from PhD students in Colombia, Peru, or Ecuador.

Source: CIAT-News - September 2004 Issue: 12
A Newsletter from

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* 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, email:
* 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; URL:

* 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; URL:

*(NEW) 29 March - 1 April 2005.The next meeting of the EUCARPIA Section Genetic Resources is announced on the EUCARPIA website under:
Section Genetic Resources
2005, Section Meeting. Castelsardo (North Sardinia), Italy
Plant genetic resources of geographical and 'other' islands. Conservation, evaluation and use for plant breeding
29 March - 1 April 2005
Info: S. Bullitta
Via Enrico de Nicola
07100 Sassari, Italy
Tel.: ++39 079 229332 Fax: ++39 079 229354

Download: First Announcement (MS Word)

Contributed by Helmut Knpffer

* 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.

* (NEW) 6-10 June 2005. 5th International Triticeae Symposium held in Prague, Czech Republic ( You are welcome to register and offer your contributions. We are obliged for any suggestion that would improve our Symposium. Any further distribution of this information to whom it may concern is highly appreciated.

The programme has 5 sessions. Each session will be opened with a key lecture after which contributions will follow. The time for key lectures is 30 to 50 minutes and 10 minutes for discussion. Oral presentations have 15 minutes and 5 min. for discussion. Posters to each session will be displayed in the lobby.  

Session no. 1. Phylogeny
Session no. 2. Taxonomy and Nomenclature
Session no. 3. Biodiversity and Conservation
Session no. 4. Genetics and Molecular Research
Session no. 5. Breeding

Contacts: Vojtech Holubec, PhD.
Research Institute of Crop Production
Dept. of Gene Bank
161 06 Praha 6 Ruzyne
Czech Republic
phone: +420-233 022 497

Frantiek Hnilicka, PhD.
Czech Agricultural University
Dept. of Botany
165 21 Praha 6 Suchdol
Czech Republic
phone: +420-22438 2519

Contributed by Helmut Knpffer

* 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:

*(NEW) 12 14 September 2005 Seeds and Breeds for the 21st Century, at Iowa State University -- A conference engaging diverse stakeholders interested in strengthening our public plant and animal breeding capacity.

The conference is announced by RAFI.  It is a follow up to a meeting held in 2003 in Washington DC on the same subject.  The proceedings of the 2003 meeting are on the web site at  There is little other information at this point.  The contact person is Laura Lauffer, 919 542 6067

Please share this information with other plant breeders

Contributed by Anne Marie Thro

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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.

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