28 February 2005

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

Clair H. Hershey, Editor

1.01  Major plan to boost African agriculture unveiled
1.02  A century of corn selection
1.03  University of Illinois study identifies 50 genes that control oil content in corn
1.04  Major new research alliance formed to fight poverty and strengthen food security in the developing world
1.05  'Pyramiding' genes leads Dr. Lloyd Nelson to better wheats and Texas A&M University' Regents Fellow Service Award
1.06  World population to reach 9.1 billion in 2050, UN projects
1.07  China's new farm subsidies
1.08  An overview of plant variety protection in South Africa
1.09  ICRISAT plans rice biotech park
1.10  China planning large-scale introduction of genetically-engineered rice
1.11  The BIOS initiative - open source biotechnology is born
1.12  Monitoring the environmental effects of GM crops
1.13  Americans and GM food: knowledge, opinion & interest in 2004
1.14  Europe on transgenic crops: How public plant breeding and eco-transgenics can help in the transatlantic debate
1.15  Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture: Facilitated access or utility patents on plant varieties?
1.16  Tsunami-hit farmers to grow salt-tolerant rice
1.17  ICRISAT plans to start open field trials for transgenic groundnut
1.18  Soybean technology leaves pest nothing to live for
1.19  Spinning spider webs with potatoes
1.20  GM Swiss cheese and wine in 2005?
1.21  Sweet grapefruits and healthier pasta
1.22  Transgenic tobacco detoxifies polluted grounds
1.23  Plants, animals share molecular growth mechanisms
1.24  CAMBIA researchers publish a groundbreaking study demonstrating the viability of non-Agrobacterium bacteria in plant gene transfer
1.25  Heterosis in populations in nature of a domesticated plant
1.26  Results of the FAO e-mail conference entitled "Public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries: How to effectively involve rural people"
1.27  Update 3-2005 of FAO-BiotechNews (Excerpts).

2.01  Nutritional studies of opaque-2 and quality protein maize (QPM)
2.02  Courses covering non-food crop/product/processing topics

3.01 Historical publications of USDAs National Agricultural Statistics Service now available on the web
3.02 Syngenta releases important plant disease genome data for public use

4.01  Fellowship opportunity for PhD study in the U.S. - plant breeding and genetics
4.02  Generation Challenge Program travel grants for non-GCP member NARS

(None submitted)





1.01  Major plan to boost African agriculture unveiled

 [DAR ES SALAAM] The New Partnership for Africas Development (NEPAD) initiative has launched its draft plan for agricultural development, which stresses the central role that science can play in boosting African economies.

The Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme, launched at a workshop in
Dar es Salaam on 25 January by Tanzanian prime minister Frederick Sumaye, focuses on research, technology, information dissemination and training in the agriculture sector.

NEPAD is a comprehensive programme developed by African leaders to guide the continent's development with the assistance of international partners.

Its new agriculture programme aims to improve
Africa's economic and social development by increasing food production and tackling hunger. The Dar es Salaam workshop was the first in a series of meetings at which the draft plan will be presented, discussed and refined during 2005.

The plan covers increasing agricultural research, adopting and disseminating technologies, training academics and professionals, and building information systems for agriculture. The sustainable management of land and water are also key considerations.

Implementing the five-year plan will require every African country to allocate ten per cent of its annual national budget to agriculture. This target was originally set in 2003, but some states are currently allotting just two per cent.

Emmy Simmons, representing the G8 group of industrialised nations at the
Dar es Salaam meeting, stressed that African agriculture needed to adopt new technologies to compete better in international markets.

Simmons told the workshop that, working with NEPAD, industrialised countries have chosen areas of competency in which they can best assist
Africa. Germany has committed to assist on science and technology development, the United States on agriculture, and France on clean drinking water.

Africa will not go very far without science and technology," said Richard Mkandawire, an agriculture advisor to the African Union and to NEPAD, who added that there had been little implementation of the wealth of African agricultural research.

Things are beginning to change however, he said, with the creation of centres of research excellence and the recent opening in
Nairobi, Kenya, of the Biosciences Facility for Eastern and Central Africa (see Biosciences facility for east and central Africa opens).

Source: SciDev.Net
3 February 2005

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1.02  A century of corn selection

William G. Hill
For millennia, plant and animal breeders have used careful selection methods to obtain crops and livestock exhibiting enhanced desired traits of agronomic importance. In a Perspective, Hill explains progress toward understanding the sets of genes involved in selection of these traits. In particular he discusses a paper published elsewhere that details the genetics of two maize lines selected for one hundred generations to produce high and low concentrations of oil in the kernels.

The author is in the
School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH9 3JT, UK. E-mail:

Science, Vol 307, Issue 5710, 683-684 , 4 February 2005

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1.03  University of Illinois study identifies 50 genes that control oil content in corn

Corn with high oil content is in demand, particularly in corn sold for animal feed. And, although it may seem fairly simple to just cross breed corn selecting for high oil as a characteristic, it's not. One complication is that there isn't just one gene that controls oil content in corn. A recent study at the University of Illinois (U of I) identified 50 distinct genes that control oil.

"Some only have a small effect, but they contribute," said U of I plant geneticist John Dudley. "What we learned is that for the most part, it will be difficult to use biotechnology to shift oil content by changing any one gene. It's much more complicated than that."

Dudley explained that hybrid corn currently being grown and sold and considered to be high in oil content has only about 5 to 6 percent oil. "The University of Illinois actually has corn lines that have as much as 20 percent oil content. But the downside is that they have other characteristics that make them undesirable, such as low yield, weak stalks and a tendency to rot," he said.

The collection of corn lines is part of one of the longest running experiments ever. Since 1896, scientists at the
University of Illinois have been studying the characteristics of corn. One aspect of the study has been to look for ways to improve the oil content, without losing other desirable traits like high yield.

When the study began more than a century ago, the data were meticulously recorded by C.G. Hopkins in small black journals using beautiful cursive handwriting. John Dudley came to the U of I in 1965 and has kept it going ever since.

The process involved harvesting 60 ears from high oil corn. The 12 with the highest oil content were planted in the field for a controlled crossing. "This isn't a biotech technique," said
Dudley. "We physically go out in the field before the silks come out and cover the ears to protect them from foreign pollen. Then we collect the desired pollen in a bag on the tassels and place it on the silks."

In this most recent leg of the experiment,
Dudley, along with other U of I researchers teamed with Monsanto to identify the genes in corn that can be used to increase the oil concentration through traditional plant breeding or genetic engineering and create hybrids with strong characteristics.

Researchers at Monsanto obtained the marker data for 500 lines of corn. A marker is like a label on a chromosome which may be located close to a gene. With each generation of crossing, the length of pieces of chromosome which have the same genes as in the original parents is reduced. Thus scientists can follow the marker and get closer and closer to the individual genes.

"A similar study had been done once in the past, but on a much smaller scale, using only about 100 plants," said
Dudley. "This study looked at 500 and used a technique called inter-mating in which two plants are crossed and then the resulting plants are crossed with each other for 10 additional generations."

Data was collected for two years, including starch, oil and protein content as well as data on yield and other characteristics. The study was also replicated in
Macomb and in Iowa and the findings were published in a recent issue of Genetics.

22 February 2005

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1.04  Major new research alliance formed to fight poverty and strengthen food security in the developing world

January 19, 2005

Two of the world's leading agricultural research centers - the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) - have announced details of a new IRRI-CIMMYT Alliance aimed at boosting international efforts to fight poverty and strengthen food security in the developing world.

The groundbreaking new scientific
Alliance is especially focused on harnessing science to provide the world's millions of poor farmers with improved access to new technologies that will make them more productive and help lift them out of poverty, as well as developing sustainable solutions to the developing world's urgent need for reliable food supplies. 

The Boards of Trustees (BOT) of the Philippines-based IRRI and the Mexico-based CIMMYT met in
Shanghai, China, on 7-9 January to map out details of their new Alliance. Made up of eminent persons and top scientists from around the world, the two boards are the highest policy-making bodies at the centers.

Because all three crops are cereals, IRRI and CIMMYT believe that research into their sustainable development and use - especially harnessing science to benefit poor farmers and enhance food security - can be much better coordinated through a strong, new

At the meeting in
Shanghai, the two boards identified four research priorities for potential first programs of the new Alliance:

- Intensive crop production systems in
Asia - specifically, rice-wheat and rice-maize - and research on crop and resource management, crop genetic improvement, and socioeconomics.

- Cereals information units to provide information for researchers and partners working on genetic improvement and the management of cropping systems involving the three staples.

- Training and knowledge banks for the three crops that would take advantage of modern technologies to provide training events, the development of learning materials and education methods, distance learning, Web-based knowledge systems, library services, and logistical support.

- Climate change research directed at both mitigating and adapting the three crops to global changes that are affecting temperature, water, and other factors having crucial effects on them. 

To further maximize the operational efficiency of the two centers, the IRRI-CIMMYT Alliance will also share a range of support services. These include services related to management and regulatory affairs for intellectual property rights and biosafety, information and communication technologies, public awareness, scientific publishing, library services, and external auditing. There is also good potential for sharing the country offices of the two centers in developing nations such as
Bangladesh, China, India, Iran, and Nepal.

Further, the IRRI-CIMMYT Alliance agreed to develop a unified governance and management system commensurate with these shared activities. The first steps involve appointing two common Board members by March 2006, and establishing a joint board committee to assess how best to achieve such a unified system. It will include two trustees from each center, the two directors general and two external consultants.

A second joint board committee will look at shared programs and services and working groups made up of staff members from both centers will be formed immediately to draft implementation plans for the four priority programs in consultation with stakeholders.

IRRI and CIMMYT, which were the first and second centers formed in what became the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), are the world's leading research and training institutes for rice, wheat, and maize. The three staples provide 60 percent of global food needs annually, and cover more than 70 percent of the planet's productive cropping land.

Dr. Keijiro Otsuka, IRRI BOT chair, and Dr. Alexander McCalla, CIMMYT BOT chair, said the new
Alliance will contribute significantly to international efforts to achieve the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals mainly because of the vitally important roles rice, maize, and wheat play in attaining food security, managing natural resources, generating income, and improving the livelihoods of the poor.

They said the new
Alliance will particularly focus on mobilizing and applying science for increased impact in the developing world. "The IRRI-CIMMYT Alliance will more effectively harness the world-class scientific expertise of the two centers to benefit the world's poor. The process should lead to a continuous evolution toward even closer integration of certain research programs to better achieve the missions of both centers.  We believe the Alliance will not only enhance our vitally important partnerships with the national agricultural research systems of developing countries and advanced research institutions but also strengthen the centers' contribution to the overarching goals of the CGIAR."

Web sites: IRRI Home (, IRRI Library (, Rice Knowledge Bank (, Rice facts (

Web sites: CIMMYT Home

Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz (

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1.05  'Pyramiding' genes leads Dr. Lloyd Nelson to better wheats and Texas A&M University' Regents Fellow Service Award

Overton, Texas

The Texas A&M University Board of Regents has named Dr. Lloyd Nelson as the recipient of the Regents Fellow Service Award. Nelson is an Overton-based researcher and plant breeder with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.

Nelson is known for his work in developing 27 wheat, oat, barley and rye and ryegrass cultivars. One of the ryegrasses, TAM 90, is one of the most widely grown in the
United States. Two of his more recent releases, Axcella and Panterra, both dwarf annual ryegrasses, show promise as winter turfs for sports fields and overseeding of home lawns.

The success of TAM 90 and other releases were due in part to their improved resistance to plant diseases. Nelson's research was been cited by the awards committee as an example on how to "pyramid" genes for disease resistance.

"Pyramiding genes" is just what it sounds like. For any trait, multiple genes are usually at play. For example, when developing septoria-resistant wheats, Nelson identified plants that showed tolerance during seedling stage. Wheat seedlings were inoculated with septoria in the greenhouse. Plants showing resistance during the latent period the length of time from inoculation to the first symptoms were selected.

 Among other achievements by Nelson cited in the Regents Fellow award was his becoming recognized worldwide for his work in breeding for wheat disease resistance. Nelson organized the first International Septoria Conference in 1976 and has served as a consultant for wheat breeding programs in
Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia. In 2004, he was invited to speak at an international conference in China on the development of disease resistance in a super wheat.

He has also been chosen as a Fellow in the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science Society of America.

For more information on the Texas A&M center at Overton, visit the Web site at

February 11, 2005

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1.06  World population to reach 9.1 billion in 2050, UN projects
24 February 2005 The world's population will reach 6.5 billion by July and, despite lower expected fertility rates, is likely to reach 9.1 billion by 2050, with most of the increase taking place in developing countries, the United Nations Population Division says in its revised report for 2004.

In 2002 the Division had estimated a population in 2050 of 8.9 billion and last week, in a report sent to the 47-member UN Commission on Population and Development, had calculated the figure at 9 billion, reaching the 7 billion mark by 2012.

"World Population Change 1950-2050, the 2004 Revision" is the first of three volumes by the Division on global population trends.

"The world has added nearly 500 million people since 1999 just six years," Hania Zlotnik, the new head of the Division, told a press briefing. "The good news is that new estimates show that it will take a little longer to add the next half billion, reaching the 7 billion mark probably by 2013."

A summary of the report says, "Future population growth is highly dependent on the path that future fertility takes."

Median fertility is expected decline from 2.6 children per woman today to slightly over 2 children per woman in 2050. If fertility were to remain about half a child above that level, world population would reach 10.6 billion by 2050, while fertility half a child below the median would lead to a population of 7.7 billion by mid-century.

"At the world level, continued population growth until 2050 is inevitable, even if the decline of fertility accelerates," according to the report.

Almost all of the increase will take place in the less developed countries, whose populations is expected to reach 7.8 billion in 2050 from 5.3 billion now, while the population of the more developed countries will remain around 1.2 billion, it says.

Between 2005 and 2050, eight countries India, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Bangladesh, Uganda, the United States, Ethiopia and China are likely to contribute half of the world's population increase, while the population would at least triple in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Congo, the DRC, Timor-Leste, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger and Uganda.

Fertility in the 44 developed countries remains generally low, with any increases being small, the report says.

In the 60 countries worst affected by HIV/AIDS, the impact of the disease is seen in increased morbidity and mortality and slower population growth, the report says.

"We must take more urgent action to promote access to reproductive health, including family planning, and fight HIV/AIDS to save millions from AIDS and maternal death, as well as to reduce poverty in developing countries," UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said after reading the figures.

"As the world reviews the
Beijing women's conference next week, we must promote women's rights to protect their welfare and health, especially reproductive health. Too many of our sisters in developing countries are lost to their families and societies due to maternal death. We must do better to empower women to help eliminate poverty and promote prosperity."

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1.07  China's new farm subsidies

In 2004, China entered a new era in its approach to agricultural policy, as it began to subsidize rather than tax agriculture.
China introduced direct subsidies to farmers, began to phase out its centuries-old agricultural tax, subsidized seed and machinery purchases, and increased spending on rural infrastructure. The new policies reflect China's new view of agriculture as a sector needing a helping hand. The subsidies are targeted at grain producers, but they do not provide strong incentives to increase grain production.

Report in PDF format:

February 10, 2005

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1.08  An overview of plant variety protection in
South Africa.

Wynand Van der Walt and Bastiaan Koster. 2005. IP Strategy Today No. 13-2005. Pp. 18-28.

This essay provides one of the most comprehensive overviews of plant variety plant protection in
South Africa and discusses the national economic and regulatory environment in which plant breeders operate, and illustrate the benefits and deficiencies of the plant variety protection system in South Africa.

 Smolders-Van der Walt & Koster-PVP1.pdf

Contibuted by Anatole F Krattiger
Cornell Business and Technology Park

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1.09  ICRISAT plans rice biotech park

Source: Financial Express via SEAMEO SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center
For the first time, rice research is finally getting a boost through biotechnology. A 'rice biotech park' is being proposed by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) in association with Directorate of Rice Research (DRR) and Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU). To be located on the Icrisat premises, the park is expected to take shape by the end of this year.

Icrisat director general William Dar told FE collaborative efforts among DRR, Icrisat and ANGRAU would increase the research activities using biotech tools. "We are planning to work on transgenics and new varieties of rice which can be cultivated in different climatic conditions," Dr Dar said. The detailed project report has been prepared and we are awaiting budget support from the state government, he added without disclosing the amount sought.

Icrisat is working on public-private sector partnerships through the agri-science park which has become the social marketing initiative of Icrisat. With four components like the agri-biotech park, agri-business incubator, public-private sector research consortia and SAT eco-venture, projects are on the anvil for more collaborations for its agri-biotech park.

Three ventures have commenced in the agri-biotech park. Facility for testing aflatoxin contamination in food crops is one among them. The two other collaborations are with Avesthagen and Suri Sehgal foundation. About 10 companies have joined a new private sector, biopesticide research consortium. The consortium will work for the development and commercialisation of biopesticides developed and tested by Icrisat, Dr Dar said.

Four companies have joined agri-business incubator to incubate technologies. They include: Rusni Distilleries for the production of ethanol from sweet sorghum; Bioseed Research Ltd for developing transgenic cotton; Seed Works Ltd for transgenic cotton and vegetables and Sessler Tom and Hyglas for developing fermentor and agricultural implements.

Financial Express via SEAMEO SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center

February 18, 2005

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1.10  China planning large-scale introduction of genetically-engineered rice

China is on the verge of introducing genetically-engineered rice on a large scale as it seeks ways to adequately supply the basic staple to its people.  "It would boost
China's rice output by 30 billion kilograms (66 billion pounds) a year. That's enough to feed 70 million more people," Yuan Longping, head of China's super hybrid rice scheme, told the Changsha Evening News.

Yuan said the new rice strains still have to pass state appraisal, expected to be conducted later this year, before they receive vigorous promotion.  Shrinking acreage, falling water tables and a population that is expected to grow significantly beyond 1.3 billion are factors that have led
China to explore other ways to feed its masses.

According to supporters of the rice, it will enable farmers to do away with widespread use of dangerous pesticides that effect their health and harm the environment.  They also make much of the fact that it will result in better yields and higher quality grain that will spur farmers' incomes.

Source: Agence France Presse, Feb 17, 2005
via AgBioView from
21 February 2005

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1.11  The BIOS initiative - open source biotechnology is born

In a publication today in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, a team at CAMBIA in Australia unveils the kernelof the worlds first explicit open sourcebiotechnology toolkit. These tools, and the precedent they establish, will allow the public-sector, small to medium enterprises and even large firms worldwide to explore new business models and begin a new era of transparent and cost-effective innovation in life sciences.

The technologies include TransBacter, a new method for transferring genes to plants, and GUSPlus, a new way of visualizing where these genes are and how they function. These tools are seeding a growing movement the BIOS Initiative that will enable researchers, even in the poorest countries in the world, to be partners in the choice and development of the crop improvement technologies best suited to their own priorities, says Richard Jefferson, founder and CEO of CAMBIA. Most importantly, these new tools are provided under a new licensing paradigm that ensures that they are improved, shared and retained as a public resource.

Today also sees the launch of BioForge, an online collaborative research platform for biological innovation, developed in partnership with CollabNet Inc. In the tradition of open source software, BioForge makes it possible for scientists to work together to craft new, deliverable technologies within a 'protected

BioForge is a hands-on, evolving tool kit to make things happen. BioForge is about sharing capabilities and building communities of innovation to tackle the challenges of global health, poverty and hunger. These problems are best solved by empowering untapped resources - the countless creative people who are currently marginalized, says Jefferson, an influential scientist who in 2003 was named as one of Scientific Americans 50 Top Technology Innovators and is a Fellow of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

Members of the BioForge community will be able to use certified BIOS licenses to distribute their work. The BIOS Initiative provides a new licensing mechanism that encourages sharing of the core tools of innovation with all, while still allowing patenting of products, where necessary.

Not content with inventing new technology and new software communities, CAMBIA is also releasing new functionalities in its highly successful Patent Lens, which includes the world's fastest free, full-text searchable patent database, with over 1.6 million patents in the life sciences. CAMBIA has flagged its intent to expand its scope beyond the life sciences to include all patents in many countries, to create comprehensive search capabilities and to assist with opportunities for patent system reform. CAMBIA has also just added the INPADOC patent status database to its free online service, now allowing any searchers to know the dynamic status of patent applications and patents in over 40 countries. This expansion is part of our ongoing effort to restore transparency and trust in patent systems that are often perceived as misaligned with public interest, says Greg Quinn, Senior Informatics Specialist at CAMBIA.

BIOS is a model for a new innovation system for old challenges. It combines astute use of intellectual property, informatics, new biological sciences, and the unique human element that Internet communication now providessays

CAMBIA is a private, independent, non-profit institute partially self-financed, with assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation, R&D grants, and other philanthropic agencies. TransBacter, GUSPlus, Patent Lens, BIOS and BioForge are all trademarks of CAMBIA".

Link: CAMBIA researchers publish a groundbreaking study demonstrating the viability of non-Agrobacterium bacteria in plant gene transfer

February 10, 2005

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1.12  Monitoring the environmental effects of GM crops

FAO expert consultation recommends guidelines and methodologies

27 January 2005, Rome - A consultation of experts convened at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), recommended that any responsible deployment of Genetically Modified (GM) crops needs to comprise the whole technology development process, from the pre-release risk assessment, to biosafety considerations and post release monitoring.

Environmental goals must also encompass the maintenance and protection of basic natural resources such as soil, water and biodiversity. In this way monitoring could become the key element in generating the necessary knowledge to protect agro-systems, rural livelihoods and broader ecological integrity.

Potential hazards associated with GM cropping - according to the scientists - have all to be placed within the broader context of both positive and negative impacts that are associated with all agricultural practices.

Involving farmer groups

Environmental organizations, farmer groups and community organizations should be actively and continuously engaged in this process. These stakeholders - the workshop agreed - are absolutely intrinsic to the system.

FAO is ready to facilitate this process along with other agencies and national and international research centres, encouraging the adoption of rigorously designed monitoring programmes. Besides FAO and UNEP, the CGIAR Centres are expected to play an important role in partnership with national research centres.

The consultation was organized in the light of the controversy and public concern over Genetic Modifications (GM). FAO asked a group of agricultural scientists from many parts of the world to provide clear preliminary guidelines on the most accurate and scientifically sound approach to monitoring the environmental effects of existing GM crops.

Protecting agrosystems and livelihoods

"FAO's aim is to provide a tool to assist countries in making their own informed choices on the matter, as well as protect the productivity and ecological integrity of farming systems" said Ms Louise O. Fresco, FAO Assistant Director-General of the Agriculture Department.

She added "the need to monitor both the benefits and potential hazards of released GM crops to the environment is becoming ever more important with the dramatic increase in the range and scale of their commercial cultivation, especially in developing countries."

The experts acknowledged that a great deal of data is already available. What needs to be done is to bring together and coordinate this volume of often scattered information. They also emphasized that monitoring the effects of GM crops on the environment is not only necessary but feasible even with limited resources when it is integrated with the deployment of these crops.

The experts agreed that it is important to identify the most accurate existing data. They noted that field and traditional expertise should become a strong resource in addition to scientific expertise. These data could be used in indicators to measure the effects of GM crops on the environment. Significant changes that might cause concern should be promptly notified. In this regard, a full stakeholder engagement - farmers, scientists, consumers, public and the private sector and the civil society - will be necessary and integral to the process.

One of the difficulties in monitoring agriculture is the heterogeneity of farming systems in the different regions. The group of scientists recommended that the objective of environmental monitoring of GM crops should be nested within processes that address broader goals. There would be a need to adapt any methodology to the specific farming system through a well-designed process.

Monitoring GM crops will provide information for policies and regulations, but mainly will give producers informed options in order to allow technologies to be adopted in a sustainable way.

Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz (

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1.13  Americans and GM food: knowledge, opinion & interest in 2004

A report from the Food Policy Institute
by W. Hallman, W. Hebden, C. Cuite, H. Aquino, and J. Lang.

This report presents the results from the third in a series of studies examining public perception of genetically modified (GM) food in the United States. All three studies were based on survey results of separate, nationally representative samples of approximately 1,200 Americans taken in 2001, 2003, and 2004. While the survey instrument on which the current report is based maintained many of the same measures of awareness and attitude as its two predecessors, it also included several new queries that assess the ability of respondents to recall specific news stories related to GM food, their interest in the topic, and where they would go to look for new information.

Many questions that were repeated from previous years have changed considerably in the current survey. Some of the classic measures of awareness and opinion now incorporate an "unsure" response as choice supplied by the interviewer. While respondents were allowed to volunteer this response in the past, explicitly providing this option to respondents reduced guessing on knowledge-based questions and encouraged a more accurate representation of opinion than in the past.

The report begins with an investigation of Americans' awareness and knowledge about the topic in general, their ability to recall related news stories, familiarity with laws and regulations as well as other questions designed to get at highly specific knowledge about agricultural biotechnology. Next, it details the effect of the new survey methodology on reported opinions about plant-based and animal-based GM food. Finally, it delves into a number of novel findings about interest in hypothetical television shows about GM food, desire for information on food labels, and reported behavior with regards to information seeking.

Consistent with results from our previous studies and others, these findings suggest that the American public is generally unaware of GM food. Most Americans have heard or read little about it, are not aware of its prevalence in their lives, and are confused as to which type of GM products are available. Respondents struggled with factual questions related to GM food and the science behind it, could not recall news stories related to the topic, and were not very knowledgeable about laws regarding the labelling and testing of GM food. Americans are also unsure of their opinions about GM food and split in their assessments of the technology when forced to take a position.

Americans say they are interested in the topic of GM food, specifically those topics related to human health. Respondents say they desire more information on food labels and report that they would like to see GM foods labeled as such. The majority of Americans admit they have never looked for information about GM food and most say they will search the Internet should the need arise.

Complete report in PDF format:

Source: Food Policy Institute, via
23 February 2005

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1.14  Europe on transgenic crops: How public plant breeding and eco-transgenics can help in the transatlantic debate

Thro, A.M. (2004).AgBioForum, 7(3), 142-148.

In the debate on transgenic crops, philosophic views are as important as scientific data. Certain views regarding transgenic crops are more characteristically European, less frequently articulated in the
United States, and, consequently, often less understood here. A clear understanding of these views and what they imply is necessary for effective dialogue. Insight into philosophical positions is critical to focusing discussion clearly on likely ultimate outcomes. Such insight also informs the development of consensus-building research, extension, and education activities.

The present paper grew out of one-on-one discussions with founders of biotechnology start-up companies and science-entrepreneur incubators in
Germany, seminars with several hundred university students in Austria, and conversations with state and national government officials in both countries and Croatia. These discussions extended to journalists, "green" parliamentarians, and representatives of both nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and large businesses in all three countries. The occasions were an Embassy Science Fellowship (ESF) with the US Mission to Germany in 2002 and an ESF in the office of the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Department of Agriculture in Austria in 2003. The views expressed in this paper are personal and do not represent the position of CSREES, USDA, or any other agency.

The paper is offered as a commentary and brief introduction to some more-commonly held European views on transgenic crops, as well as some implications of those views that are often overlooked. The author's immediate objectives are to encourage all participants in the GMO debate to address philosophical and scientific issues separately, explicitly, and thereby more clearly, and to point out action areas (particularly for research) that resonate positively across many groups regardless of their position on transgenic crops. The ultimate objectives are to contribute to a broader appreciation of positive biological and social-economic possibilities presented by transgenic crops and to encourage research on the full spectrum of choices for farmers and consumers.

Available at:
(The actual article is at:

Contributed by Ann Marie Thro

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1.15  Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture: Facilitated access or utility patents on plant varieties?
Walter Smolders. 2005. IP Strategy Today No. 13-2005. Pp. 1-17.

This paper, written by a former attorney of a major biotech/seed company and industry insider, is perhaps the best argued essay ever written on this subject that analyzes, and criticizes, in detail the practice of utility patents on plant varieties. The paper shows that several claim categories of utility patents for plant varieties are questionable. It also concludes that the examination of such patent applications and the enforceability of several claim categories are problematic. At the very least, serious consideration should be given to the issuance of guidelines for disclosure requirements and more stringent evaluation standards for determining whether a patent claim on a plant variety is obvious.

Interestingly, and highly relevant to developing countries who are in the process of implementing TRIPS, the author postulates that industry invests primarily in markets that will offer a return on investments, in the initial stage of technology development the strength and enforceability of IPRs are welcome but not essential. Much more important are potential market size, local infrastructure, the availability of skilled people to adapt new technologies invented in developed countries to local needs, and the existence of an appropriate biosafety legislation and administration.

Finally, the author describes in detail the pros and cons of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
Treaty and why it is much more attractive than the Convention on Biological Diversity. This article explicitly recognizes that access to genetic resources in itself is a benefit and that without access to genetic resources, there is no benefit sharing; a truism that seems to have been forgotten at times in the drafting of access to biodiversity legislation. The author concludes that we need to rebalance the rights to plant varieties granted by utility patents with a contribution to society.
 Smolders-Van der Walt & Koster-PVP1.pdf

Contibuted by Anatole F Krattiger
Cornell Business and Technology Park

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1.16 Tsunami-hit farmers to grow salt-tolerant rice

Rice varieties that can grow in salty conditions are being sent to help farmers whose fields were flooded with seawater by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

This International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) initiative is targeted at
Malaysia and Sri Lanka, where rice-growing regions were badly affected by the tsunami: the waves have left behind substantial salt deposits as well as destroyed crops and eroded soil (see Sri Lankan crops and water hit by tsunami salt).

IRRI is also investigating the situation in
India and Indonesia. Officials in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand say that their rice fields were mostly unaffected by the tsunami.

Ren Wang, deputy director-general for research at IRRI, believes the project will be important for the long-term agricultural and economic regeneration of the region.

"Many of those affected by the tsunami depended on local agriculture not just for food but also for their livelihoods," he said.

Rajalakshmi Swaminathan from the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in India, has given the initiative cautious approval, describing it as "laudable" but stressing that questions such as whether the rice varieties would grow equally across varied salt concentrations in the soil, and whether the quality of grain would be any different should be answered before the rice is sent to the farmers.

Provided these concerns are addressed, said Swaminathan, the salt-tolerant varieties "would be of great help to the farmers affected by the tsunami".

IRRI's genebank stocks about 100,000 strains of rice about 40 of which can tolerate salty growing conditions.

As well as shipping rice to the farmers, IRRI is providing advice online about how to grow rice in tsunami-affected fields through its Rice Knowledge Bank.

The website includes guidance (also available on compact discs) on safely storing grain. To help address the shortage of labour that the tsunami death toll caused, it also suggests ways of growing rice that rely on as few people as possible.

IRRI will evaluate the extent of salt damage to coastal rice fields and estimate how much of the land can be reclaimed by growing salt-tolerant rice.

Duncan Macintosh, a spokesperson for IRRI, told SciDev.Net, "It is not possible for IRRI to accurately estimate how long fields will be salt damaged because the situation varies so much from district to district and country to country. Some fields may recover in one year (and after some repair work) but others could take several years."

IRRI is a rice training and research centre, and is one of 15 centres funded by the Consultative Group on International Agriculture, an association of public and private donors.

Source: SciDev.Net
2 February 2005

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1.17 ICRISAT plans to start open field trials for transgenic groundnut

By Phalguna Jandhyala, Business Standard via Checkbiotech
The International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) plans to start open field trials for transgenic groundnut during the coming kharif season in August. ICRISAT has, for the first time, also conducted contained field trial for transgenic chickpea crop.

Kiran K Sharma, principal scientist (genetic transformation lab), ICRISAT, told Business Standard that the institute has successfully completed three contained field trials within the institute and plans to start open field trials from August.

We have approached the Centre and also the Department of Biotechnology to sponsor the research which is required to take the product through the validation process,Sharma said. The crop would initially be tested in Rajasthan where the Peanut Clump Virus disease is most prevalent, he added.

According to him, the transgenic groundnuts also get infected at a very early stage during seed germination. However, unlike the untransformed groundnuts, the transgenic groundnuts do not support virus multiplication and carry very little or no virus by the time of harvesting, and no effect of the disease on growth and development of plants.

Speaking about the transgenic chickpea, he said, The Legume Pod Borer is the major virus which affects the chickpea crop, and since
India is one of the largest producer of this crop the institute has developed the transgenic chickpea.

The virus damages around $500-million worth of crop across the world and in
India it accounts for a loss of around $3,00,000, he added.

We would be carrying out two more field trials in the next 24 months and then would validate it in the open field trial before launching it in the commercial market. So, the whole process will take another five years, he said.

On the investments required in the sector, Sharma said, Once the contained field trials are completed, we would require around Rs 3 crore to take the product for validation and develop packages, he said.

February 16, 2005

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1.18 Soybean technology leaves pest nothing to live for

Source: AgAnswers, an Ohio State University and Purdue Extension Partnership

A soybean pest responsible for an estimated $1.4 billion dollars in U.S. crop losses each year will soon go hungry, thanks to Purdue University research.

A technology offering complete resistance to soybean cyst nematode, developed by a team of Purdue scientists and their colleagues at the Indiana Crop Improvement Association, consistently produced higher soybean yields than conventional nematode-resistant varieties in a series of field trials completed last fall.

The technology, which employs a unique combination of genes known commercially as CystX®, will be widely available for planting during the 2005 season. CystX® is not a seed variety, but is instead a suite of genes that can be bred into already existing soybean varieties.

"This year's field trials clearly demonstrate that this technology does work," said Virginia Ferris, Purdue entomologist and one of the scientists who developed the CystX® technology. "CystX® is a major improvement over the existing methods for soybean management. It offers higher yields and resistance to all varieties of soybean cyst nematode, even when the nematodes are present in high densities."

In field trials, CystX® soybeans produced an average of 5.4 bushels per acre more than conventional varieties resistant to soybean cyst nematode. At a soybean price of $5 per bushel, this could put $27 more in farmers' pockets for every acre of soybeans they plant if the cost of CystX® varieties is the same as conventional seed.

Fields planted with CystX® varieties also had up to a 75 percent reduction in soybean cyst nematode population densities, said Jamal Faghihi, research entomologist and one of Ferris' collaborators.

Soybean cyst nematode is a tiny parasitic worm found in up to 60 million acres of cropland in all
U.S. soybean-growing regions. In its juvenile stage, the worm feeds on the roots of soybean plants, severely limiting the plant's ability to produce pods.

Sixteen different so-called "races" of soybean cyst nematode might exist, but most of the current resistant soybean varieties can fend off only one or two races of the parasite, Faghihi said. Multiple races are present in most infested fields, making this pest especially difficult to fight, he said.

Ferris and her colleagues developed the CystX® technology through conventional breeding methods with molecular markers that brought together a combination of genes providing resistance to all soybean cyst nematode field populations. The resistance genes originated in the Hartwig soybean, but resistant Hartwig has yield problems and cannot be easily crossed with high-yielding varieties, Ferris said.

The CystX® technology overcomes this yield loss thanks to a unique group of genes called pairing control genes, which permit the resistance genes to be crossed with high-yielding lines. Breeders rely on these pairing control genes to ensure that soybean varieties carrying the CystX® technology include the full suite of soybean cyst nematode resistance genes as well as genes that lead to higher yields, said Rick Vierling, adjunct professor of agronomy and director of the genetics program at the Indiana Crop Improvement Association. Vierling also is a co-inventor of the CystX® technology.

CystX® is patented through the Purdue Research Foundation and licensed to Access Plant Technology, a company that specializes in the marketing and commercialization of plant-based technology. Ferris and her colleagues received funding from checkoff funds through the Indiana Soybean Board to develop the resistant soybeans.

For more information about CystX®, log onto To learn more about the Indiana Crop Improvement Association, log onto

February 15, 2005

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1.19 Spinning spider webs with potatoes

The light-weight fibers of spider webs have the ability to support objects that weigh a thousand times more than the fibers weight. The spider silk proteins that spiders use to make their webs of wonder are referred to as spidroins. The protein consists largely of glycine and alanine amino acids, and its physical strength rivals that of Kevlar. Yet, unlike Kevlar, spider silk is not only strong, it has an high level of elasticity and heat stabilitymaking it a Holy Grail for scientist to try and mimic and reproduce.

Dr. Udo Conrad and his research team at the
Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Gatersleben, Germany, have a similar fascination with spider silk, although their work transcends all others. In 2001, they took the world by surprise, when they published their research in Nature Biotechnology about how they were able to enhance potatoes and tobacco plants so that they would produce a spider silk protein.

Contributed by
Checkbiotech Director

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1.20 GM Swiss cheese and wine in 2005?

BASEL - In Switzerland, new labelling regulations concerning GM food will apply from February 2005. It seems to be doubtful, however, whether the Swiss Government took into account existing international trade agreements within the WTO.

Labelling regulations are a highly complex and sometimes contradictory affair, because they are an area where science, politics and prejudice meet. No one can seriously doubt that it is legitimate to craft a law defining what does and does not constitute genetically modified food. At the same time, there cant be any doubt that labelling has become a tool in the hands of those who oppose genetic modification on grounds of principle. On the other side, the onus to inform clearly lies with the food industry. Unfortunately, people often do not understand enough about science, and thus governments will always have to take into account wide spread misconceptions.

Contributed by
Checkbiotech Director

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1.21  Sweet grapefruits and healthier pasta

Citrus species contain large quantities of special ingredients called flavanones, which affect fruit flavour and benefit human health. Flavanones are important dietary components with a role in maintaining healthy blood vessels and bones. Furthermore, they suppress cancer and mutagenesis and are known to prevent allergies, reduce inflammation and act as anti-microbial compounds

A research team headed by Yoram Eyal, from the
Institute of Horticulture in the Volcani Center in Israel, isolated and characterised the gene encoding a special enzyme, which is responsible for the production of the bitter flavanones. They published their results in The Plant Journal.

View the article

Contributed by Robert Derham
Checkbiotech Director

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1.22  Transgenic tobacco detoxifies polluted grounds

Many industrial, municipal and military areas have become contaminated with hazardous pollutants. This constitutes a long lasting potential danger, because emission is possible through air, ground, water or food chain. Therefore, the grounds should be remediated, that is, cleansed from the toxic substances. There are several methods to do this, and they are used differently depending on the pollutant that needs to be removed.

One method is the microbiological remediation system (MRS), where microorganisms are in charge of breaking down the pollutants. This approach has proven to be quite successful. It can also be used in-situ, which means, the contaminated ground can be cleansed without being removed. That is an important factor in cases of broad contamination, because removing the contaminated soil would be too expensive. The MRS can only remove harmful substances that are organic, but it removes them very effectively. This is in contrast to most of the physical and chemical remediation methods, which usually leave by-products.

Besides the MRS method, another option is to use plants. There are, for example, many plants that are known to naturally remove heavy metals. This process is called phytoremediation, and it promises to be an inexpensive and resourceful method. It is also very suitable for continuous remediation and large areas, since plants grow over a long time without needing much more than water.

Dr. Y. Iimuras laboratory, at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and technology (AIST) in
Tsukuba Ibaraki, Japan, recently found that genetically engineered tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) could degrade organic pollutants in the ground such as bisphenol A (BPA), pentachlorophenol (PCP) and other chlorophenols (2). What Dr. Iimuras laboratory did was, they took a gene from a known, detoxifying, fungal enzyme (Coriolus versicolor) called laccase III, and inserted it into tobacco plants.

View the article

Contributed by
Checkbiotech Director

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1.23  Plants, animals share molecular growth mechanisms

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A newly discovered plant protein complex that apparently switches on plants' growth machinery, has opened a scientific toolbox to learn about both plant and animal development, according Purdue University scientists.

The protein complex triggers communication between molecules along a pathway that leads to the creation of long protein strings, called actin filaments, that are necessary for cellular growth, said Dan Szymanski, agronomy associate professor and lead author of the study. Knowledge of the biochemical reactions involved in this process eventually may allow researchers to design plants better able to protect themselves from insects and disease.

"These genes and their proteins are required for normal development and for normal cell-to-cell adhesion," Szymanski said. "They affect the growth of the whole plant and also the shape and size of types of cells in the plant."

Results of the study are published in the February issue of the journal The Plant Cell.

"Perhaps by learning about this pathway for actin filament formation, we can engineer plant cells to grow in different ways or alter how cells respond to external stimuli so they can defend themselves against insect or fungal attacks," Szymanski said.

A protein complex known as Actin Related Protein 2/3 (ARP2/3) is a cellular machine that controls formation of actin filaments, which are important for cell growth and movement. Actin filaments organize the inside of the cell and allow it to grow, and they determine where certain structures in a cell are positioned and how plants respond to gravity and light.

Szymanski's team used a deformed version of a common research plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, and specifically looked at small, hairlike structures that exist on most cells. They found that the shape and size of these hairs, or trichomes, readily show when genes affecting actin filaments are askew and causing altered growth.

The researchers previously had learned that a large protein complex, known as WAVE, activated ARP2/3, but they didn't know specifically which WAVE protein was the actual switch. Their latest research showed that a WAVE protein they've dubbed DISTORTED3 (DIS3) turns on APR 2/3, which in turn triggers formation of new, growing actin filaments.

Because some genes have survived through time as multicellular life evolved, they have been conserved in both plants and animals, Szymanski said. So, some of the plant proteins that comprise the ARP2/3 and the WAVE complexes are interchangeable with proteins in animals. Others proteins are not interchangeable, and Szymanski's research team is delving into how this affects the growth process.

"DIS3 has two ends that are common in both plant and animal proteins," he said. "But DIS3 has a very large segment in the middle that is specific to plants. We'd like to know if this section is important and whether it regulates DIS3 or the whole WAVE complex."

For growth and development biochemical processes to proceed normally, activators such as ARP 2/3 are needed to trigger actin filaments' formation and growth, Szymanski said. However, scientists don't know the specific function of certain actin filaments. The molecular tools Szymanski's research team developed will help scientists learn more about these functions in both plants and animals.

The other researchers on this study were Dipanwita Basu and Salah El-Din El-Essal, research assistants; postdoctoral students Jie Le, Chunhua Zhang and Gregore Koliantz; Eileen Malley, laboratory manager, all of the Department of Agronomy; and Shanjin Huang, postdoctoral student, and Christopher Staiger, professor, both of the Department of Biological Sciences. Staiger and Szymanski also are members of the Purdue Motility Group.

The Energy Biosciences Division of the Department of Energy, the USDA National Research Initiative and the Purdue Agricultural Research Program provided funding for this research.

Beth Forbes,
Agriculture News Page

23 February 2005

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1.24  CAMBIA researchers publish a groundbreaking study demonstrating the viability of non-Agrobacterium bacteria in plant gene transfer

Nature 433, 629 - 633 (10 February 2005); doi:10.1038/nature03309
Gene transfer to plants by diverse species of bacteria
Wim Broothaerts, Heidi Mitchell, Brian Weir, Sarah Kaines, Leon M.A. Smith, Wei Yang, Jorge E. Mayer, Carolina Roa-Rodriguez & Richard A. Jefferson
CAMBIA (An Affiliated Research Centre of Charles Sturt University), G.P.O. Box 3200, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia

By Mona Akbari
Breakthrough removes obstacles in biotechnology

Researchers at CAMBIA have made a breakthrough in biotechnology by successfully transferring genes to plants using several bacteria other than Agrobacterium tumefaciens or At, that so far has been considered the only microbe capable of such gene transfer. The discovery has earned the scientists a publication in Nature, one of sciences most prestigious journals.

The finding is particularly significant since using At for gene transfer to plants is covered by complex patenting laws that has prevented its use by many organizations worldwide. The new technology is an exciting alternative, since it will be available through an open-sourcelicense that has no commercial restrictions, but requires a commitment to sharing improvements.

Agrobacterium is commonly found in soil and naturally parasitizes plants by inserting its bacterial genes into the plants genome. The inserted segment, referred to as T-DNA, is present in At as part of a larger circular DNA fragment known as the Ti plasmid. Until now it has not been conclusively shown that the Ti plasmid can be used in other bacteria for gene transfer to plants.

The team at CAMBIA introduced a specially modified Ti plasmid into three different types of bacteria, Rhizobium, Sinorhizobium and Mesorhizobium, that are closely related to At, to test whether these bacteria would allow gene transfer to plants. Another fragment of DNA or vector was also introduced into the bacteria. It contained several components including the transferring T-DNA, as well as a gene for GUSPlus" that allows a colour test in plant material to ensure that gene transfer has occurred.

The altered bacteria were grown on leaf pieces of tobacco and tested for gene transfer by the use of the GUSPlus activity colour test, which clearly showed the characteristics associated with successful gene transfer. As expected, GUSPlus activity was not observed in control experiments where the bacteria contained the vector but not the Ti plasmid. Once the tobacco plants were regenerated from the leaf discs, further tests also confirmed that the T-DNA had integrated into sites within the plant genome.

Sinorhizobium was also able to mediate gene transfer in other plants such as rice and the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, while Rhizobium allowed gene transfer to Arabidopsis. All regenerated plants from these experiments were conclusively shown to have T-DNA integrated into their genomes.

It is extremely useful that Sinorhizobium is able transfer genes to a range of plant tissues in both broad-leafed dicotyledonous and narrow-leafed monocotyledonous plants. Many important crops have been resistant to gene transfer by At and this new technology may provide the answer.

CAMBIA has applied for a patent on this technology and offers TransBacter", the collective name it has given these bacteria, as an open-sourcealternative to the international community. This will be achieved through an innovative license concept, called BIOS Biological Innovation for Open Society which is based on precedents in computer software, but has been adapted for patented technology to ensure sharing of improvements.

NATURE summary
Open-source gene transfer
Control of the biotechnology involved in producing genetically modified crops is concentrated in the hands of a few multinational companies, in part because of the complex web of patents involved. A group at CAMBIA, the Center for the Application of Molecular Biology for International Agriculture in
Australia, set out to untangle this web and make the technology more widely available by developing a work-around for a key enabling technology in plant biotechnology, Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. They found that other species of benign bacteria can be modified in a surprisingly simple way to do the same job, and the resulting gene transfer technology is to be made available on an 'open source' basis as part of the recently launched BIOS initiative (Nature 431, 494; 2004).

Read the Nature paper
Read the accompanying News and View paper by Stanton B. Gelvin

February 10, 2005

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1.25 Heterosis in populations in nature of a domesticated plant

Few studies quantify evolutionary processes in populations of domesticated plants in traditional farming systems. In February's Ecology Letters, Pujol, David and McKey show that these systems offer unusual opportunities for studying microevolution. Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is clonally propagated, but Amerindian cassava farmers also regularly incorporate volunteer plants from sexually produced seeds into their clonal stocks (cuttings) at harvest time.

These new genotypes renew diversity lost under clonal propagation. However, whereas multiplied clones are highly heterozygous, many of the volunteer plants are inbred. How does high heterozygosity persist despite their incorporation? The authors demonstrate a novel case of selection for heterozygosity that explains this paradox, showing that humans inadvertently favour heterozygous volunteers.

When farmers weeded fields, they killed small volunteers, but retained large ones, which were also the most heterozygous. Demonstrating heterosis in nature usually requires large samples, but novel features of this system allowed escape of this constraint.

Source:Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

9 February 2005

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1.26  Results of the FAO e-mail conference entitled "Public participation in decision-making regarding GMOs in developing countries: How to effectively involve rural people"

The conference began on 17 January and finished on
13 February 2005. Over 500 people subscribed to this moderated conference and 116 messages were posted, from 70 people living in 35 different countries. Half of the messages posted were from people in developing countries.

The wide range of issues raised included e.g. the need for relevant and reliable information; whether and why the public (rural or not) should be involved in decision-making regarding GMOs and, assuming they should, how they could be effectively involved (including topics such as appropriate media and communication strategies, local languages, who should pay, indigenous peoples, international agreements/guidelines etc.).

The messages are available at or can be requested as a single e-mail (size 200 KB) from

February 17, 2005

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1.27  Update 3-2005 of FAO-BiotechNews (Excerpts).

Contributed by John Ruane
The Coordinator of FAO-BiotechNews, 21-2-2005

3) Update on the AGORA initiative

Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA), an initiative to provide free or low-cost access to major scientific journals in agriculture and related biological, environmental and social sciences to public institutions in developing countries, was launched in October 2003. Currently, 69 countries (generally with an annual gross national income per capita of US$1,000 or less) are eligible to participate and access to 708 journals is provided. To date, 405 institutions in 55 countries have registered while 14 new publishers have recently joined the initiative. FAO and its partners are seeking to increase participation from users and publishers even further, and are reaching out to those countries that, as yet, have no subscribers. The journals cover subjects such as animal science, fisheries/aquatic science, forestry and plant science/soil science and include 23 journals in the biotechnology/applied microbiology category. See (in Arabic, English, French or Spanish) or contact for further details.

4) Cartagena Protocol - First meeting of expert group on identification requirements of LMOs-FFP

At the 1st meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP-MOP 1), a decision was made to establish an Open-ended Technical Expert Group on Identification Requirements of Living Modified Organisms intended for direct use as Food or Feed, or for Processing (LMOs-FFP). The 1st meeting of the expert group takes place on 16-18 March 2005 in
Montreal, Canada. Documents for the meeting (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) are available at or contact for more information.

Cartagena Protocol - Reports of recent capacity-building meetings

Reports are now available from three meetings held recently regarding capacity-building for the effective implementation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. They are from the 1st Coordination Meeting of Institutions offering Biosafety-Related Training and Education Programs, held on 4-6 October 2004 in Geneva, Switzerland; the 1st Coordination Meeting for Governments and Organizations Implementing or Funding Biosafety Capacity-Building Activities, held on 26-27 January 2005 in Montreal, Canada; and the meeting of the Liaison Group on Capacity-Building for Biosafety, held on 27-28 January 2005 in Montreal, Canada. See or contact for more information.

6) ECOSOC adopts science and technology resolution

Resuming its 2004 substantive session on
5 November 2004, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) adopted resolution 2004/68 on "Promoting the application of science and technology to meet the development goals contained in the United Nations Millennium Declaration". ECOSOC coordinates the work of the 14 UN specialized agencies, 10 functional commissions and five regional commissions; receives reports from 11 UN funds and programmes; and issues policy recommendations to the UN system and to Member States. See the resolution (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) by searching on "e/2004/inf/2/add.3" at or contact for more information.

7) NEPAD-IFPRI African Policy Dialogues on Biotechnology

As part of the NEPAD-IFPRI African Policy Dialogues on Biotechnology, launched by the Science and Technology Forum of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), two multiple stakeholder sessions have been held so far, on 25-26 April 2003 in Johannesburg, South Africa and on 20-21 September 2004 in Harare, Zimbabwe. The report and "Statement of Commitments" from the 2nd session are now available on the web. See or contact to request a copy of either document. A 3rd session is planned for 2005.

8) Workshop on Alleviating micronutrient malnutrition in Bangladesh -Biofortification

A workshop on "Alleviating micronutrient malnutrition through agriculture in Bangladesh: Biofortification and diversification as long-term, sustainable solutions" was held on 22-24 April 2002 in Gazipur and Dhaka, Bangladesh, organised by the International Food Policy Research Institute, the University of Dhaka and the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Gazipur. The workshop, which aimed to improve the dialogue between agriculturists and nutritionists, involved a technical working session and a discussion working session on 22-23 April in Gazipur, followed by a closing session in
Dhaka on 24 April.

Proceedings of the workshop, edited by N. Roos, H.E. Bouis, N. Hassan and K.A. Kabir, are now available on the web. See or contact for more information.

9) Workshop on developing resilient crops for drought-prone areas

On 27-30 May 2002, an international workshop on "Progress toward developing resilient crops for drought-prone areas" was held at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters,
Philippines, co-sponsored by IRRI and the Rockefeller Foundation. Extended abstracts of papers presented as well as poster abstracts from the workshop are available on the web. Themes covered in the nine sessions of the workshop include detection and use of molecular markers; genetic dissection of traits related to drought tolerance; breeding and distribution of drought-tolerant maize varieties; application of genomics and proteomics to drought research; and screening protocols for effective selection of drought-tolerant rice. See or contact for more information.

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2.01  Nutritional studies of opaque-2 and quality protein maize (QPM)

Editor's note: This request was sent to PBN-L subscribers as a separate item on
22 February 2005)

Dear colleagues:
We are seeking information and collaborators for a project that would consolidate and interpret information on the nutritional value of opaque-2 maize.  There is a need to better and more credibly document the available information on the nutritional impact of opaque-2, including modified-endosperm opaque-2 (QPM, or quality protein maize).  All who have or currently work with o2 maize are aware that many in the nutrition community question its nutritional benefits.  We suspect that there is a wealth of information on the nutritional importance of o2 maize but that this information is largely "lost" in grey literature (non-refereed journals).  Compiling this information and statistically considering the aggregate strength of these data could result in a strong statement about the nutritional importance of o2 maize.

The success of such an integrated analysis will depend on the amount and quality of data that can be assembled. And this is why we will need the collaboration of numerous colleagues, including you and others you may contact on our behalf. What is needed?

1. Description of relevant research studies

2. The raw data for each study, whenever available

Willingness of the owner(s) of this information to share and discuss it.

Relevant research studies will ideally involve work in which nutrition and/or health parameters were measured on humans who ate o2 maize, compared with those who ate non-o2 maize or another protein source.  Secondly, it will also be useful to evaluate data on pig, chicken, or other models fed diets with o2 maize.

Please note that all raw data used in this study will be kept confidential and that inclusion of your data in this study will not affect your rights to independently publish your research results.

This study is being conducted by CIMMYT and the Department of Statistics at
Purdue University.  Our first step is to identify relevant published and unpublished nutritional studies on o2 maize.  If you have been involved in such studies or have suggestions of others to contact, please email Nilupa Gunaratna ( and Kevin Pixley (

Your comments and suggestions are enthusiastically invited!

Kevin Pixley
Director, Tropical Ecosystems Program

Nilupa Gunaratna
Department of Statistics
Purdue University

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2.02  Courses covering non-food crop/product/processing topics

Editor's note: This request was sent to PBN-L subscribers as a separate item on 22 February 2005)

IENICA (International Expert Network for Industrial Crop Applications) would like to list educational courses covering non-food crop/product/processing topics in various countries. We're attempting to compile this data for the

To this end, I'm asking that a list of any such courses, giving the following information for each be sent to me.  It will then be sent to the IENICA website.

Course Title:
Length of Course:
Academic Establishment:
Contact Name and Details:
Website Link:
Please send the information, in Excel format to

Dr. David A. Dierig
Research Geneticist
New Crops, Environmental Plant Dynamics
USDA, ARS, U.S. Water Conservation Lab
4331 E. 
Broadway Road
Phoenix, AZ 85040

Phone: 602 437-1702 ext. 265
Fax: 602 437-5291

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3.01  Historical publications of USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service now available on the web

USDAs National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) announced that full text scans of selected historical publications dating to the 1960s are now available on-line on the USDAs Economics, Statistics and Market Information System. The system, maintained by the Cornell University Albert R. Mann Library, already contains over 125 USDA-NASS reports and datasets from 1995 to the present and is accessible at

USDA-NASS is working with the World Agricultural Outlook Board and
Cornell University to increase the amount of historical data available on the Web site. Motivated by increased demand for electronic and on-line access to historical NASS publications, NASS engaged in this project to better serve the needs of our data user community,said Ron Bosecker, NASS Administrator. Our mission at NASS is to provide timely, accurate and useful statistics - both current and historical.

This first collection of scanned historical publications from the past 40 years includes, but is not limited to, annual summaries of Agricultural Prices, Crop Production, Cold Storage and Livestock Slaughter, as well as reports on Chicken and Eggs, Citrus Fruits, Crop Values, Farm Labor, Grain Stocks, Milk Production, Peanut Stocks and Processing, Rice Stocks,
Turkeys and Vegetables. Gradually, other reports and additional years will be made available on-line by the Mann Library.

To view the historical data and reports, click on the Earlier Yearsicon at the bottom of each report index page. The full text scans of the historical publications are available only in PDF format. Although this is not a comprehensive electronic collection of NASS publications prior to 1995, inquires for publications not available on the Web may be submitted via e-mail to

February 15, 2005

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3.02 Syngenta releases important plant disease genome data for public use

Syngenta announced today the donation of important genetic information on Phytophthora infestans or Potato Late Blight, one of the most devastating plant diseases in global agriculture, to an international scientific gene database.

Syngenta is donating sequence information on nearly 18,000 individual genes expressed at key stages in the life-cycle of Phytophthora infestans as well as most of its genomic sequence to GenBank, a publicly available DNA database. Syngenta has worked for five years within the Syngenta Phytophthora Consortium, an international panel of academic institutions, to analyse these genes and develop a partial genomic sequence.

Late Blight was the cause of the Irish Potato Famine (18451850) and continues to cause billions of dollars worth of losses to potato and tomato crops each year. The Phytophthora infestans family also includes the pathogen causing the emergent Sudden Oak Death disease recently recognized in

We are very pleased to announce this significant contribution to the scientific community's understanding of this plant pathogen, said David Lawrence, Head of Research and Technology at Syngenta. These data-sets will be a unique tool for scientists investigating and seeking novel control strategies for Late Blight and related plant diseases.

Later this year Syngenta also plans to make available genomic data for three other important plant pathogens, the fungi: Botrytis cinerea, Fusarium graminearum and Fusarium verticilliodes.

February 15, 2005

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4.01  Fellowship opportunity for PhD study in the U.S. - plant breeding and genetics

Supported by gifts from Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. to the Generation Challenge Program, the fellowship aims to attract the highest quality students from developing countries whose careers will continue to advance the science of plant improvement, with an emphasis on international agriculture. DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS: 1 May 2005.

Details at

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4.02  Generation Challenge Program travel grants for non-GCP member NARS

Eight travel grants available for up to US $5,000 for non-GCP NARS scientists. Awards must be used to travel to a GCP workshop, or to visit a GCP member institute.

Application criteria at

30 April 2005. Contact Ibti Vincent, GCP communications assistant (, for more information.

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* 5-7 March 2005: The Role of Biotechnology for the Characterisation and Conservation of Crop, Forestry, Animal and Fishery Genetic Resources, International Workshop, Villa Gualino, Turin, Italy.
The workshop includes three sessions on the status of the world's agro-biodiversity; the use of biotechnology for conservation of genetic resources; and genetic characterisation of populations and its use in conservation decision-making. There is also a poster session and a session on the final results from the ECONOGENE project.
For more information:
Contact: Organising Secretariat
Organized by: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Fondazione per le Biotecnologie, the ECONOGENE project and the Società Italiana di Genetica Agraria.

Contributed by Elcio Guimaraes

* 7-8 March 2005. The 41st Illinois Corn Breeders School will be held March 7-8 at the Holiday Inn in
Urbana, IL 

This school is designed for commercial corn breeders.  Details can be found at:
Contributed by John Dudley,
Department of Crop Sciences,
University of IllinoisUC

(New) 14-18 March 2005. Identification and pyramiding of mutated genes: novel approaches for improving crop tolerance to salinity and drought. The first Research Coordination Meeting (RCM) on our new Coordinated Research Project (CRP).
Vienna- AUSTRIA.

Contributed by
Shri Mohan Jain,

17-19 March 2005.
GMOs worldwide: science and its public perception,
 to be held at BOKU - University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Austria

The workshop aims to assess the current basis for the society's perceptions of the value of GMOs to the public, taking account of the opportunities and threats posed by their introduction. Thus the workshop will highlight the challenge in taking the issue of the introduction of GMOs to society at large on a global basis, with special consideration of the position in
Europe and the US . The approach to regulation will be evaluated as a means for gaining the public's confidence in the introduction of GMOs. At the same time the Workshop will examine how society can be better informed about the regulation process so as to have confidence in newly introduced products. Taking account of these discussions, the Workshop will assess how higher education should address the introduction of GMOs in their degree programmes.

Contributed by Margit Laimer)
(Chair of the Organising Committee)
Institut fr Angewandte Mikrobiologie
Tel: +43 1 36006 6560
Fax: +43 1 36 97 615

* 29 March -
1 April 2005. Plant genetic resources of geographical and 'other' islands. Conservation, evaluation and use for plant breeding (Meeting of the EUCARPIA Section Genetic Resources), Castelsardo (North Sardinia), Italy
Info: S. Bullitta
Via Enrico de Nicola
07100 Sassari, Italy
Tel.: ++39 079 229332 Fax: ++39 079 229354
Download: First Announcement (MS Word)

2-5 May 2005. 2nd ISTA Moisture Workshop
Location: Seed Center No. 7, Chiang Mai, Hang Dong District,
Chiang Mai Province, Thailand

Contributed by Michelle Jenni Nietlispach
Head of Marketing and Communications

* 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.

9-13 May 2005. 6th ISTA/FAO workshop on electrophoretic methods and PCR-techniques for variety verification and GMO detection
Location: University of
West Indies (UWI), Kingston, Jamaica

Contributed by Michelle Jenni Nietlispach
Head of Marketing and Communications

* 6-10 June 2005. 5th International Triticeae Symposium held in
Prague, Czech Republic ( Contacts: Vojtech Holubec and Frantisek Hnilicka

*(NEW) 09-11 June 2005. The Second European Workshop on National Plant Genetic Resources Programmes, Belgrade, Serbia,

Following one of the most important gatherings of European experts in plant genetic resources at the Alnarp Workshop in Sweden, in April 2003, a survey of participants revealed a widespread desire across the region to organize a follow-up Workshop in 2005.

The Belgrade Workshop is set to follow in the footsteps of Alnarp, where around 100 participants from 39 countries gathered with the objective of exchanging experiences in designing and implementing National Programmes (NP). A host of ideas and proposals for further action were developed during the Alnarp Workshop synthesizing the views and concerns of the different national stakeholders from all across

The basic idea of the Second Workshop in
Belgrade is to seize on the valuable momentum built in Alnarp, and to facilitate a creative discussion that will increase the understanding of different approaches, limitations and needs relative to NP by applying a broad participatory approach. The discussion will help to mobilize resources and further strengthen collaborative work at the national, sub-regional and regional levels. The broad participation from different stakeholder groups will be essential for the success of the Workshop.

The general objectives of the Belgrade Workshop include:

1. Exchange information and experiences
2. Discuss opportunities and benefits of networking at different levels (national, sub-regional, regional and interregional)
3. Discuss opportunities for sharing conservation responsibilities in
4. Discuss progress made in the region after the Alnarp Workshop
5. Learn from case studies

If you are interested in participating, please fill in the preliminary registration on the following website NO LATER THAN 15 MARCH 2005.  We strongly encourage you to help distribute this announcement to all potential participants from different stakeholder groups.  It is essential that we receive your response by this date as it will help the organizers to proceed with arrangements for the Workshop.

Please also look for more information on the
Belgrade workshop web page that will be continuously updated over the following weeks:

Contributed by Vladimir Pekic

* 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:

June 14-17, 2005, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia): II International Symposium on Sweetpotato and Cassava - 2ISSC. Info: Dr. Tan Swee Lian, MARDI, Rice & Industrial Crops Research Centre, PO Box 12301, 50774 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Phone: (60)389437516, Fax: (60)389425786, email: web:

* 16-19 June 2005: XI International Asparagus Symposium. Horst/Venlo (
Netherlands Info: Ir. Pierre Lavrijsen, Asparagus bv, PO Box 6219, 5960 AE Horst, Netherlands. Phone: (31)773979900, Fax: (31)773979909, email: or, web:

* 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   The contact person is Laura Lauffer, 919 542 6067
Please share this information with other plant breeders

* 12-16 September 2005: III International Symposium on Cucurbits. Townsville,
North QLD (Australia): Info: Dr. Gordon Rogers, Horticultural Research and Development, PO Box 552 Sutherland NSW 2232, Australia. Phone: (61)295270826, Fax: (61)295443782, email:

*(NEW) September and October 2005. Workshops on cryopreservation in support of conservation of European plant genetic resources. Organized by IPGRI (
Rome, Italy) in collaboration with the partners of the CRYMCEPT project. Sponsored by the European Union Project mission.

The First Workshop will be hosted by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (
Leuven, Belgium), 12-22 September 2005.

The Second Workshop will be hosted by the Institut de recherché pour le developpement (
Montpellier, France), 10-21 October 2005.

Application forms may be obtained from: Dr Ehsan Dulloo at, or at Applications must be received by
31 March 2005.

Contributed by Kakoli Ghosh

* 18-21 April 2006: The 13th Australian Plant Breeding Conference -- Breeding for Success: Diversity in Action,
Christchurch Convention Center in Christchurch, New Zealand.
For more details, visit

*23-28 July 2006. The 9th International Pollination Symposium will be hosted at
Iowa State University, in the Scheman Building, part of the Iowa State Center of the Iowa State University campus.  The Hotel at Gateway Center in Ames, Iowa will be the headquarter hotel for conference attendees. The official theme of the 2006 International Pollination Symposium in cooperation with Iowa State University and the United States Department of Agriculture  Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) is: "Host-Pollinator Biology Relationships - Diversity in Action"

1-Pollinator Attraction & Rewards - Biology to Biotechnology
2-Pollinators in Plant Genetic Resource Conservation
3-Pollinator Protection Challenges
4- Impacts of insect or animal-mediated pollination on gene flow.
5- Use of pollinators in landscape management and sustainable
agricultural practices.

For more information please visit

Submitted by Jody Larson, symposium committee
Iowa State University

* August 2006: IX International Conference on Grape Genetics and Breeding,
Udine (Italy): Info: Prof. Enrico Peterlunger, Università di Udine, Dip. di Produzione Vegetale e Tecnologie Agrarie, Via delle Scienze 208, 33100 Udine, Italy. Phone: (39)0432558601, Fax: (39)0432558603, email:

* 13-19 August 2006: XXVII International Horticultural Congress,
Seoul (Korea) web:

* 1-5 December 2006: Brazilian Cassava Conference,
Brasilia, Brazil. An International Conference on Cassava Plant Breeding, organized by Professors Nagib Nassar and Rodomiro Ortiz. The conference will discuss cassava breeding and food security in Sub-Saharan Africa, management of cassava reproduction systems, cassava polyploidization and chimera production, cassava genetic resources, and enriching cassava contents.
For more information, contact Prof. Nagib Nassar at or Dr. Rodomiro Ortiz at

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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.

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