6 July 2005

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

Clair H. Hershey, Editor


1.01  Who is afraid of GMOs?
1.02  Small farmers are key to easing poverty - G8 advised
1.03  New outlook good for plants as fuel
1.04  126 superior varieties of 33 crops bred in the last 30 years by University of the Philippines Los Baños-Institute of Plant Breeding
1.05  International Center for Underutilized Crops (ICUC) moves to Sri Lanka
1.06  A new study reports on the extensive use and benefits of CIMMYT wheat
1.07  IRRI-CIMMYT alliance agree on initiatives
1.08  European Union accedes to International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants
1.09  WHO says GM food may benefit health and environment
1.10  Climate change 'threatens to evict African plants'
1.11  Global effort pushes for gene bank fund
1.12  A better understanding of gene flow
1.13  Norwegian Government to establish a global seed depository in Svalbard
1.14  Study shows climate change effect on plant species
1.15  Marker-assisted selection has revolutionized how scientists increase crop performance with native crop genes
1.16  Insects develop resistance to engineered crops when single- and double-gene altered plants are in proximity, Cornell University researchers say
1.17  USDA/ARS researchers find resistance to soybean fungus
1.18  Endemic Australian grass could provide answer in quest to find – or breed – frost tolerant wheat
1.19  Tsunami-surviving rice may have salt-tolerance genes
1.20  Study finds 'genetic shortcut to high-yielding rice'
1.21  Purdue researchers find key to rice blast fungus
1.22  Research Team Receives $7.5 million to study cassava
1.23  Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International offered US$16.9 million Grand Challenges in Global Health Grant to improve Africa's health through a full range of nutrients in sorghum
1.24  CIMMYT Trustee wins a prize for his work improving yields and zinc concentration in wheat
1.25  Sweet corn that creates its own shade, suppresses weeds naturally
1.26  New hybrid corn rejects pollen from all strains of corn except its own
1.27  Genome study of beneficial microbe may help boost plant health
1.28  UNC plant researchers discover proteins interact to form hair-trigger protection against invaders
1.29  International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium off to a great start

2.01  The Way Forward to Strengthen National Plant Breeding and Biotechnology Capacity

3.01 Web SciDev.Net launches Chinese language section of website

(None submitted)

(None submitted)





1.01  Who is afraid of GMOs?

It is a perversion of the 21st century that while affluent societies continue the quest to slice the fat from their increasingly obese populations, five million children die from hunger each year, and more than 850m people go chronically hungry.

And the irony is, in their superior knowledge, the fatties have put the brakes on possibly one of the greatest hopes to alleviate hunger: genetically modified crops.

Proponents of biotech foods claim tinkering with the genetic make-up of food crops boosts yields: by improving productivity and survival in drought regions; and producing pest-resistant and stress-tolerant crops.

Not only this, biotech could breed much-needed nutrients and vitamins into plants.

In short, crops could be made to grow on poor soil in marginal lands, increasing overall food production, reducing pesticide use and improving the nutritional value to populations.

But while private companies and academics are pushing the boundaries of this particular strand of biotechnology, for consumers and governments, notably in Europe, GMOs have become a byword for bad.

The fatties fear that genetically modified foods, or Frankenstein foods as they are darkly termed, can harm human health. And anyway, theyre fat, their crops are bountiful and they absolutely have no need for biotech food crops modified to cope with drought.

In the 1990s, campaigners like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth succeeded in propagating the line that GM foods should be banned from the food chain because they posed a potential risk to health.

The European media, especially the UK press, sucked the issue up, giving wide coverage to this paper-selling subject. Their column inches often played to a set of reader prejudices: fear of scientific progress; the powerful food industry somehow trying to hoodwink us into consuming risky foods; lack of trust in, and massive suspicion of, an industry that fed BSE contaminated meat into the food chain.

Yet, to date, proof that GM foods could harm human health is absent. There is no evidence that they are bad for consumers, confirms Greenpeace.

This confirmation comes despite recent media reports suggesting that the dark king of biotechnology, US firm Monsanto, is involved in a cover-up of key evidence on GM risks.

A Monsanto report is alleged to show that rats fed with Monsantos GM MON 863 corn developed internal abnormalities, but the health problems were absent from the non-GM rat eaters. The food safety authorities, with the full report before them, have classified the corn as safe for consumption.

But Monsantos poor handling of this latest controversy, and its absolute refusal to make the report public despite calls across the globe, simply serves to fuel consumer suspicion.

Indeed, over the years, the media unfriendly Monsanto has provided ample fodder for anti-GM campaigners. What irony that the key proponent of GM foods should have done most of all to feed opposition to the technology.

And yet, while the passionate opposition to GM foods has settled around unsubstantiated health issues, the real equation of costs and benefits looks to be an environmental one. And this the rich world should be heeding.

There is now accumulating evidence that GM crops such as corn, soy, cotton and wheat may be detrimental to ecosystems. This is clearly an issue that must be addressed by governments and industry, through painstaking trials.

Yet at the same time, GM technology may also benefit the environment, by slicing away toxic agricultural pesticides, fertilizer and other soil treatments. As example, recent GM rice trials in China found an 80 per cent reduction in pesticide use by the farmers of GM crops, compared with those using conventional rice varieties.

This flips back to human health. Many farmers suffer through the mishandling of such chemicals, and consumers imbibe the residues.

Thus, while it would be naive and simplistic to suggest that GM foods alone can solve the problem of world hunger, it is more than naive and simplistic to reject this technology so lightly.

In the next 30 years an additional 2bn people will need food, as agricultural resources are increasingly threatened by depletion, water scarcity and global warming.

What we need are rafts of long-term studies, run independently from industry, to guarantee that GM foods are safe for human consumption, and to investigate the pluses and minuses of their environmental impact.

And for as long as current data suggests there is no apparent risk to health, and world hunger inches close to the one billion mark, the technology is far too valuable to abandon.

The duty of the fatties is to weigh the evidence: before they sign-off crops that can feed more people, in the harshest environments, with scant chemical input.

 Lindsey Partos is the editor of and a winner of journalism awards for both the publication and her editorship. A long-time food writer, and the founder of the Novis Group editorial operation, she is oft-interviewed by other media, and widely cited as an expert in her field.
If you would like to comment on the article, please contact Lindsey Partos.

Submitted by Rodomiro Ortiz, CIMMYT
6 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.02  Small farmers are key to easing poverty - G8 advised

Small farmers can be a driving force in cutting hunger and poverty worldwide. This was the key message to G8 leaders from an international gathering of leading development specialists this week.

70% of the world's poor live in rural areas and the vast majority of these depend on agriculture as their main income source. Investment in small farm agriculture can help to raise them out of poverty and catalyse wider economic growth, participants at "The Future of Small Farms" research workshop concluded.

The workshop was organised jointly by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington DC, the Overseas Development Institute in London and Imperial College London. It was convened to consider the prospects for small farmers in developing countries and the numerous challenges they currently face.

These challenges include globalisation (especially the dramatic rise of supermarkets even in poor countries), low world market prices for major agricultural commodities and the expected negative impact of climate change. In Africa, these challenges are compounded by the spread of HIV/AIDS and by continuing population growth that is making small farms smaller than ever. In addition, dispersed poor farmers rarely have an effective political voice, so are often short-changed in government spending priorities.

Nevertheless, according to Dr.Peter Hazell, Director of the Development Strategy and Governance Division of IFPRI and one of the workshop organisers, "The difficulties facing small farmers and those who would assist them are not good reasons for giving up on the task, as some have suggested. The possibilities of creating sufficient alternative livelihoods in the non-farm sector within the next decade or two remain bleak in most poor countries, and there are plenty of good investment opportunities in small farms that are win-win for growth and poverty reduction."

The workshop participants agreed that:
* Major public investments in rural infrastructure (such as roads, irrigation and electrification), agricultural research and support services are needed to unleash the inherent power of small farmers.

*In many African countries, however, delivery of such investment is constrained by the capacity and quality of state institutions through which the investment would be channelled. These institutions have to be reinvigorated by reforms that increase their accountability to civil society actors such as farmer organisations and the private sector.

*Donors must think carefully about how aid can be used to encourage such reform programmes. The danger is that large increases in aid could remove incentives for recipient governments to undertake real reform.

*There is a need to redefine the role of the state in the provision of key support services for small farmers. Structural adjustment programmes have led to state withdrawal from ensuring that small farmers have fair access to high quality seeds, fertilisers, technical advice, credit and marketing services, and a crucial vacuum has been created that in most poor African countries has not been filled by the private sector. The state should play a pro-active role, in collaboration with farmer organisations and private sector representatives, to "kick start" markets and attract greater private sector involvement.

"The Future of Small Farms" research workshop took place at Imperial College London's Wye Campus from 26-29 June and was attended by 65 invited researchers, farmer representatives, NGO representatives and policy makers from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and the US.

Further information, including copies of key papers, is available at
1 July 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.03  New outlook good for plants as fuel

Two recent studies in the journal Science report that plant-derived hydrocarbons may one day be used to fuel cars, replacing fossil fuels which cause air pollution.

Work on using plants for fuel has hitherto focused on burning them, then converting the heat to electricity - a method unsuitable for long-haul trips, since electric cars have to be recharged constantly. Since then, scientists have focused on converting plant material into fuel that vehicles can use directly. In the newest study, researchers have found a way to harness the power of plant carbohydrates, which make up about 75% of a plant's dried weight.

In one study, scientists used a platinum catalyst to facilitate the reaction between plant carbohydrates and hydrogen gas, producing short carbon chains. In the next step, they used a magnesium based catalyst, this time to link the products from the first step together, to produce the longer carbon chains required for fuel. With more pressurized hydrogen and another platinum catalyst, scientists succeeded in delivering a finished fuel similar to conventional diesel.

Access the article at

Source: CropBiotech Update
10 June 2005:

Submitted by Margaret E. Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding & Genetics
Cornell University

(Return to Contents)


1.04  126 superior varieties of 33 crops bred in the last 30 years by University of the Philippines Los Baños-Institute of Plant Breeding

As IPB's current director, Dr. Desiree Hautea, said: "The institute in its 30 years of glory has developed and bred outstanding varieties of major agricultural crops such as corn, peanut, mungbean, sweet potato, cassava, tomato, eggpalnt, papaya, and many others. During this special day we will recognize the contributions of our scientists and the varieties that they have developed which has brought fame and honor to the institute."

The Pagasa Series of 12 mungbean varieties, bred by scientists led by IPB's second director, Dr. Ricardo Lantican, are now widely grown in the Philippines and in other neighboring countries. These were also used as parental sources in Taiwan and South Korea.

The many IPB crop varieties can be aptly called products of the scientists "labor of love".

A remarkable example is Sinta, the first Philippine papaya hybrid with moderate tolerance to the dread papaya ringspot virus (PRSV), which has decimated papaya farms in Luzon and Visayas over the past two decades.

Bred by IPB researchers led by the institute's seventh director, Dr. Violeta Villegas, Sinta is now reviving the country's papaya industry from the ravages of PRSV.

Maria Makiling is the creamy white variety of Mussaen das (ornamental plants), whose beeding was initiated in collaboration with the UPLB College of Agriculture-Department of Horticulture.

Diwata is the pure white Mussaenda released together with Lakambini (red and pink), Paraluman (rose and pink), and Ming Ramos (named after the former First Lady).

Celebrity Stars are Hibiscus (gumamela) hybrids named after movie superstars. Other IPB-bred gumamela now immortalize Filipino heroines in the revolution and Filipino women of science and the arts.

The other crops bred by IPB have also been interestingly named:

DLU Pearl Sweet, named after the late National Scientist and UPLB-CA dean Dr. Dioscoro L. Umali, is the country's first double mutant corn variety with excellent eating quality. It is now grown in 15 provinces.

EQJ White, the first white full-season three-way cross hybrid, was christened after Dr. Emil Q. Javier, IPB's founding director who later became UPLB chancellor an UP president.

Tiwala 6 is the most widely planted soybean in Cagayan Valley and still unsurpassed in performance. Tiwala 10 is recommended for Mindanao.

Biyaya is the tag name of peanut varieties that are high-yielding and resistant to peanut pests and diseases and acceptable as boiling type groundnut.

Ara and Assunta (remember those sexy movie stars?) are the first tomato hybrids while Rica and Rosanna (again, those voluptuous actresses) are also high-yielding open-pollinated varieties.

These are but among the prolific, good-quality, and sturdy varieties that are now widely planted by Filipino and other Southeast Asian farmers.

By the way, others who had served as IPB director included R. Ruben Villareal, Dr. Eufemio Rasco Jr., and Dr. Randy Hautea.

Summing up, IPB has impacted national and international programs in agriculture, contributing to the economy, nutrition, and food security of nations.

Source: The Philippine STAR via
12 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.05  International Center for Underutilized Crops (ICUC) moves to Sri Lanka

Colombo, Sri Lanka
The International Center for Underutilized Crops (ICUC) has relocated its headquarters from the U.K. to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where it is now co-located and hosted by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

The ICUC, established in 1992, is an autonomous, nonprofit, scientific research and training center with regional offices in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The Center provides expertise and acts as a collaborative institute for tropical, sub-tropical and temperate crop development. It addresses ways of increasing the use of underutilized crops for food, medicinal and industrial products, and also for environmental conservation.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is a Future Harvest Center of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). IWMI focuses on the sustainable use of water and land resources in agriculture and on the water needs of developing countries.

The press release says ICUC and IWMI will be working in close collaboration in developing a partnership for mutual cooperation. It says both institutions will greatly benefit by working together on research projects of mutual interest such as "The potential of underutilized crops to contribute to the drought coping strategies of the poor" and "The potential of underutilized crops to grow under wastewater reuse conditions."

8 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.06  A new study reports on the extensive use and benefits of CIMMYT wheat

El Batán, Mexico
The advantage is clear: the use of CIMMYT wheat creates enormous benefits for those who grow them. Even by conservative estimates, every US $1 invested in wheat research by CIMMYT generates at least US $50 for those involved in growing CIMMYT-related wheats. According to the publication, Impacts of International Wheat Breeding Research in the Developing World, 1988-2002, farmers sowed CIMMYT-improved varieties on 62 million hectares in 2002.

“This report reaffirms the major contributions of CIMMYT wheat around the world, including areas of smallholder, resource-poor farmers,” says John Dixon, director of CIMMYT’s Impacts Targeting and Assessment Program. Farmers in developing countries yield 14 million more tons of wheat per year because of international wheat breeding research. In addition, 80% of wheat grown in developing countries has CIMMYT wheat in its family tree.

Because this report documents the successful adoption of modern wheat lines, policy-makers will be able to assess progress and set priorities for future research investment. Its conclusions support those found in two earlier studies, and the coverage extends to include many countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

In countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, more than 75% of wheat marketed by private companies has CIMMYT ancestry. Widespread adoption of CIMMYT lines reflects the extensive use of partnerships and networks with other breeding programs to reach farmers with relevant varieties. This adoption and the subsequent higher on-farm yields generate enormous benefits for farmers, enhancing their food security and livelihoods (see box)­a central part of CIMMYT’s mission.

Research summary of this report in PDFformat:

1 July 2005

 (Return to Contents)


1.07  IRRI-CIMMYT alliance agree on initiatives

An Alliance formed between the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have agreed on three important new initiatives. These include:

*A joint program for intensive farming systems in Asia

*The program will focus on complete agricultural systems such as rice-rice, rice-wheat, or rice-maize cropping combinations. It will address a range of cross-cutting issues - from diversification beyond rice, wheat and maize, and breeding for specific farming system needs, to the development of resource-conserving technologies.

*A single unified crop information system for rice, wheat, and maize, as well as a new integrated cereal informatics center

The new unified system will permit new kinds of comparative biology research to be conducted.

An integrated cereal systems knowledge-sharing portal for extension workers and national programs

The Alliance's new interactive knowledge bank for rice, wheat, and maize will let extension workers and national programs working on the three crops share practical information, best practices, and ideas across a common platform.

Contact Duncan Macintosh, spokesperson of IRRI for more information on the Alliance at

Source: CropBiotech Update
17 June 2005:

Submitted by Margaret E. Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding & Genetics
Cornell University

(Return to Contents)


1.08  European Union accedes to International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants

Brussels, Belgium
The EU today became a full member of the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) by depositing the instruments of accession at the General Secretariat of the UPOV in Geneva.

Accession to the UPOV Convention will allow the EU to fully benefit from the rights conferred by the Convention, and to be recognised as a full member of this international group with clear-cut obligations and rules when it comes to plant variety rights.

The UPOV Convention aims to ensure a harmonised international system for the protection of plant varieties and encourage the development of new varieties of plants. It was adopted in 1961, and has been revised three times, the most recent being in 1991.

As a consequence of EU membership, all plant breeders of the European Community will enjoy the same rights as other UPOV members when it comes to the protection of plant varieties.

The EU also has its own Regulation on Community Plant Variety Rights, based on UPOV recommendations, which allows breeders with a distinctive plant variety that fulfils certain criteria to be granted intellectual property rights at EU level.

For more information on EU protection of plant variety rights, see:

29 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.09  WHO says GM food may benefit health and environment

A report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), yesterday (23 June), acknowledges the potential of genetically modified (GM) food to enhance human health and development.

The report, Modern Food Biotechnology, Human health and Development, notes that pre-market assessments done so far have not found any negative health effects from consuming GM foods.

But the report cautions that “some of the genes used to manufacture GM foods have not been in the food chain before", adding that new genes could interact with a crop's existing genetic make-up in unpredictable ways.

To prevent risks that could result from such genetic changes, the report proposes that the potential effects of such foods on human health should always be assessed before the crops are grown and marketed.

There should also be long-term monitoring to catch any possible adverse effects early, it adds.

Future evaluation of GM foods, the report proposes, should be widened to include social, cultural and ethical considerations. These include potential social costs of unregulated biotechnology, and the impact that modern food biotechnology could have on societies' health and welfare.

Taking these factors into account would help "ensure there is no 'genetic divide' between groups of countries which do and do not allow the growth, cultivation and marketing of GM products," it says.

The need for broader evaluation was illustrated in 2002 when several southern Africa countries facing food shortages did not permit GM food aid, citing socio-economic, ownership and ethical concerns rather than health or environmental ones, the report notes (see As drought takes hold, Zambia's door stays shut to GM).

Launching the report, the director of WHO's Food Safety Department, Jorgen Schlundt, called for efforts to help poor countries research how they can control the introduction of GM products.

By doing so, he said, countries could gain the health and nutritional improvements of GM foods "for the benefit of their people".

The report also calls for improved communication between scientists and society about the benefits and risks associated with technologies such as genetic modification.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) estimates that 81 million hectares of land are currently planted with biotech crops globally.

Source: SciDev.Net
24 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.10  Climate change 'threatens to evict African plants'

[ACCRA] Climate change could drastically alter the distribution of thousands of plant species across Africa, say scientists.

The researchers, led by Jon Lovett of the University of York in the United Kingdom, looked at 5,197 species of African plants ­ about 10-15 per cent of the continent's plant species.

Using computer models that predict future climate, the researchers concluded that by 2085, the habitats in which nearly all of these plants can live would either shrink or shift, often to higher altitudes, as a result of anticipated changes in Africa's climate.

Lovett says the team did not look explicitly at the risk of species extinction, but at the loss of areas with a suitable climate for the plant species studied.

They say that for between one-quarter and one-half of the species they studied, there will be no part of Africa with a suitable climate by 2085.

The study will be published this month in the Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, a leading journal for research on African vegetation.

The researchers say changes will be particularly drastic in the forests of West Africa, stretching from Guinea to the Congo basin.

They believe the predicted changes in plant distribution could mirror the large-scale decline in West African forests that occurred 2,500 years ago during the last Ice Age.

Other areas expected to be hard hit are eastern Africa and the continent's south-west coast.

Climate change is a factor that needs to be taken into account when identifying areas in Africa that are important to plant conservation, say the researchers. 

Lovett told SciDev.Net that his research suggests climate change could greatly reduce the availability of medicinal plants in Africa. According to the World Health Organization, nearly three-quarters of Africans rely on traditional medicines derived from local plants.

"This is an important piece of work, providing a more comprehensive picture of the threats to African plants from climate change than has previously been available," says Chris Thomas, also at the University of York, though not part of Lovett's team.

He says Lovett's team estimates are based on conservative estimates of future climate change.

Last year, Thomas and colleagues published research in Nature that claimed that a substantial proportion of the world's biodiversity was under threat of extinction from climate change (see Climate change 'threatens one million species').

The study came under fire from researchers at the University of Oxford who doubted the possibility of predicting with accuracy the fate of global biodiversity using a computer model of just 1,103 species, as the authors had done. 

They also criticised the press announcement issued to the media, which claimed that a quarter of land animals and plants could eventually go extinct if climate change was left unchecked (see Inaccurate media reports hinder conservation efforts).

The changes predicted by Lovett's team do not necessarily imply that the species will go extinct, but ecologists tend to agree that significant reductions in the area a species can inhabit will reduce their likelihood of survival.

"The percentage of species at risk of extinction is expected to increase with atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations," says Thomas. "These emissions are changing the climate, and effectively exporting extinction to other parts of the world, including Africa. Therefore, the obvious answer is to take action to minimise atmospheric carbon dioxide levels."

Lovett's team compared the climate in 1975 to future scenarios predicted for 2025, 2055 and 2085 using climate models created by the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre.

They used three distinct computer models to predict which plants would be affected by changing climate. Although the models disagreed on the exact extent of the problem, they each suggested that changes to Africa's vegetation would be profound.

1 July 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.11  Global effort pushes for gene bank fund

A new international effort is underway to set up a US$260-million fund to maintain the agricultural gene banks that are essential to conserving crop diversity.

The money ­ which will be sought from private companies, among others ­ would help ease the financial strain on the world's 1,300 agricultural gene banks, which are considered vital for food security.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Italy-based International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) announced the proposal yesterday (13 June) at the World Food Summit follow-up meeting in Rome.

"It is proving more and more difficult to secure the level of funding needed each year to ensure long-term conservation" of plant genetic resources, said Geoffrey Hawtin IPGRI Director General.

Gene banks are generally maintained by annual funding, but this has declined dramatically over the last decade, he said. And many gene banks are located in developing countries, which struggle to cover the costs of their upkeep.

"We have the technical knowledge at our disposal to make an enormous breakthrough in the world against hunger," Hawtin said. " We have the plant diversity collections to serve us as a virtually inexhaustible source of genes for crop improvement. What we do not have are the funds to properly exploit the collections."

In an attempt to raise money for the new fund, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) ­ which supports a global network of agricultural research centres, including the IPGRI ­ and the FAO are now in consultations with a range of multilateral and bilateral agencies, corporations and governments in both the North and the South.

An initial endowment of US$260 million ­ which represented new funding, rather than the reallocation of existing resources ­ would be enough to maintain banks of major crops, but not all of the world's gene banks, Hawtin said.

Gene banks are a "critical weapon in the fight against poverty and starvation" he said, because they preserve the genetic diversity that is needed for crop improvement, whether through conventional plant breeding or genetic engineering.

"With support from partners and friends, we can assure that these collections remain available for all who need them today and tomorrow throughout the world."

Hawtin hopes to formally announce the launch of the fund later this year.

Source: via
13 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.12  A better understanding of gene flow

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Scientists will today explain to a meeting in London how their research has greatly improved our understanding of the flow of genetic material between organisms in the environment. Outcomes from the Gene Flow in Plants and Microorganisms Initiative, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), will be valuable in informing the future of both conventional and GM crops.

The outcomes of the initiative include the finding that separation distances of around 100m between GM and conventional crops can meet most impurity thresholds and restrict the transfer of genetic material into the environment. Researchers also found that gene transfer from GM organisms to soil bacteria is vanishingly small and highly unlikely.

However, scientists examining the likelihood of gene transfer from conventionally-bred commercial oil seed rape to its waterside wild relative, Bargeman's Cabbage, Brassica rapa, found that transfer was not rare. In fact, they estimated that around 32,000 oil seed/B. rapa hybrids are produced in the UK every year.

Another project explored how the activity of genes transferred into plants could be made more predictable. The researchers found that introducing traits by GM methods can have less impact on overall gene expression than conventional plant breeding.

The findings are the result of a five-year £4.5M initiative to increase knowledge of what happens when new or 'foreign' genes are inserted into an organism's genome, what mechanisms control the insertion, whether inserted genetic material can transfer between organisms, and if so what the consequences of gene flow would be.

Professor Phil Dale, Chair of the Initiative Steering Group, said, "The findings of the Gene Flow Initiative are not just important in informing policy on GM crops but for conventional farming and plant breeding as well. Before research under this initiative began we had very little idea of how genetic material flowed in the environment but we are now much better placed for the future."

Scientists involved in the initiative will be explaining the research and its outcomes at a Media Briefing on at 10am BST, June 23 at Copthorne Tara Hotel, Scarsdale Place, Kensington, London, W8 5SR, UK.

23 Juns 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.13  Norwegian Government to establish a global seed depository in Svalbard

Oslo, Norway
The Norwegian Government decided today to start plans to establish a global safety depository in Svalbard. The seed depository will be the only one of its kind in the world. The objective is to protect valuable food resources against plant diseases and the effects of climate change, wars and natural disasters.

The seed depository will store seeds of the crop plants that are most important for food security. Svalbard is an ideal location for this purpose. Owing to the permafrost, the seeds will retain their ability to germinate for a long time, even if electricity supplies fail. The depository will store genetic copies of seeds that are already being stored in gene depositories elsewhere in the world, thus providing an additional safety net for the world’s food supply.

Seeds contain the genetic blueprints that determine plant characteristics. Wide genetic variation makes it possible to grow crops under different climatic conditions and to provide a broad selection of foods all over the world. Biological diversity provides an insurance against climate change, plant diseases and pests.

The Svalbard Arctic seed depository initiative has been well received in the international community. The ownership and distribution of the gains from genetic plant material have long been a sensitive issue. However international agreements have been signed that will ensure proper management of the Arctic seed depository.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food will co-operate on the establishment of the depository. The facilities in Svalbard are scheduled to be opened in 2006.

24 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.14  Study shows climate change effect on plant species

The fate of plant species in Europe takes center stage in a study by Wilfried Thuiller, of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique-Unite Mixte de Recherche, in Montpellier, France, and colleagues. Their work, Climate Change Threats To Plant Diversity In Europe, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Using climate data obtained from the Climatic Research Unit of the United Kingdom, researchers projected future climate scenarios, and consequently, distributions for 1,350 European plants in the late 21st century. They found that more than half of the species studied could be vulnerable to or threatened by extinction by the year 2080, with species loss and turnover found to depend strongly on the degrees of change in temperature and moisture.
Researchers also expected the greatest changes in plant species populations in the transition between the Mediterranean and Euro-Siberian regions. The southern Mediterranean, in contrast, with its hot and dry summers, is home to species tolerant to heat and drought, making the plant species hardier and better adapted to future climate conditions.
For more information, download the article at cgi/content/full/102/23/8245

Submitted by Margaret E. Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding & Genetics
Cornell University

(Return to Contents)


1.15  Marker-assisted selection has revolutionized how scientists increase crop performance with native crop genes

Key agricultural productivity technology arrives at 10-year milestone.

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of scientists' ability to identify plant gene functions and track them through the breeding process.  The technology has already delivered dramatic improvements for farmers using genes native to the crops.

Marker-assisted selection (MAS), a leading technology for more efficiently advancing desirable soybean traits, is celebrating a decade of progress.

"MAS has made a remarkable difference in ensuring the products we release have the attributes our growers expect," says John Soper, director of soybean research, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.  "It allows us to more quickly zero in on sought-after traits and bring the best possible lines to market."

MAS is the process of using genetic markers to identify the presence of a specific gene that carries a given trait.  For example, MAS allows researchers to identify a marker associated with a positive trait, such as soybean cyst nematode (SCN) resistance, then track the presence of the marker -- and the particular trait it represents -- in each new variety.

"Pioneer has led the development of patented processes for using MAS in soybeans," says Soper.  "The technology has allowed researchers to see things that were not possible to see and capitalize on a decade ago.  Before MAS, breeders were limited to using visual observations and yield data to evaluate varieties and make selections.  With MAS, Pioneer scientists now are able to understand the genetic basis for what they are seeing and use this knowledge to design and select better varieties.

"For growers, this means access to varieties that deliver the most profit, most often," he adds.

Specifically, MAS has had significant influence on developing varieties with enhanced disease and pest resistance/tolerance, including SCN, brown stem rot (BSR) and Phytophthora.

In addition to the progress made toward combating specific agronomic challenges, Pioneer has dramatically expanded the overall capacity of MAS by combining automation, computer robotics and extensive information management systems with the biotechnology.

"When we first began using MAS, we were pleased to analyze 10,000 plants per year.  Today, we analyze more than 1 million plants annually," says Soper. "Additionally, since we have largely addressed the key problems of SCN and BSR resistance, we now can focus on other areas of progress."

Yield: The Next Frontier in MAS Technology
Yield improvement is the next developmental milestone for MAS. "We have come a long way in using MAS to couple high-yielding varieties with strong defensive packages," says Soper.

For instance, a decade ago SCN-resistant varieties were at the lower end of Pioneer research trials for yield performance.  Today, they are competitive for yield compared to varieties lacking SCN resistance, he says.

"MAS has allowed Pioneer scientists to double the rate of genetic improvement for yield among Pioneer's SCN-resistant varieties," says Soper.

Continuing to enhance yield improvement is a constant goal.

"During the past 20 years, U.S. soybean breeders have averaged yield improvements of approximately one-half bushel/acre/year improvement," says Soper.  "Our goal is to double that rate of yield improvement, achieving a full bushel/acre/year gain.  MAS is one of the tools that will allow this goal to become a reality.  These yield advancements will translate into breakthrough performance for growers," he adds.

Expanding the Vision of MAS
"While significant progress has been made, we must remember MAS is a relatively new technology and far greater advances lie ahead," says Soper.

"The research conducted to support MAS technology will provide us with a deeper understanding -- in a way we cannot fathom right now -- of how genes work together."

For instance, marker-assisted backcrossing is gaining in use and will continue to deliver on the promise of MAS.  Marker-assisted backcrossing is a process that allows researchers to select one highly desirable gene from an otherwise undesirable line and add that particular gene to an elite variety. Backcrossing technology then allows the specific, highly sought-after trait to express while selecting against all other traits of the less desirable line.

Likewise, looking ahead from a defensive trait standpoint, Pioneer intends to expand its use of MAS to address tolerance and/or resistance to additional diseases, pests and environmental stresses including sudden death syndrome, white mold, frogeye leaf spot, Chinese soybean aphid, Asian soybean rust and iron deficiency chlorosis, says Soper.

"We have seen only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits MAS will provide," says Soper.  "To be sure, Pioneer is investing heavily in the use of MAS technologies to help growers improve their productivity and performance.  We look forward to continuing to do so and delivering on the benefits of MAS in the next 10 years and beyond."

21 June  2005

(Return to Contents)


1.16 Insects develop resistance to engineered crops when single- and double-gene altered plants are in proximity, Cornell University researchers say

Ithaca, New York
Genetically modified crops containing two insecticidal proteins in a single plant efficiently kill insects. But when crops engineered with just one of those toxins grow nearby, insects may more rapidly develop resistance to all the insect-killing plants, report Cornell University researchers.

A soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), whose genes are inserted into crop plants, such as maize and cotton, creates these toxins that are deadly to insects but harmless to humans.

Bt crops were first commercialized in 1996, and scientists, critics and others have been concerned that widespread use of Bt crops would create conditions for insects to evolve and develop resistance to the toxins.

Until now, it has not been shown if neighboring plants producing a single Bt toxic protein might play a role in insect resistance to transgenic crops expressing two insecticidal proteins.

"Our findings suggest that concurrent use of single- and dual-gene Bt plants can put the dual-gene plants at risk if single-gene plants are deployed in the same area simultaneously," said Anthony Shelton, professor of entomology at Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and an author of the study, which was posted online June 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and is in the June 14 print edition of the journal. "Single-gene plants really function as a steppingstone in resistance of two-gene plants if the single gene plants contain one of the same Bt proteins as in the two-gene plant."

Cotton and maize are the only commercial crops engineered with Bt genes. In 2004 these crops were grown on more than 13 million hectares (about 32 million acres) domestically and 22.4 million hectares (more than 55 million acres) worldwide. After eight years of extensive use, there have been no reports of crop failure or insect resistance in the field to genetically modified Bt crops, Shelton said. Still, several insects have developed resistance to Bt toxins in the lab, and recently, cabbage loopers (a moth whose larvae feed on plants in the cabbage family) have shown resistance to Bt sprays in commercial greenhouses.

So far, only diamondback moths, which were used in this study, have developed resistance to Bt toxins in the field. The resistance resulted from farmers and gardeners spraying Bt toxin on plants for insect control, a long-standing practice. While Bt toxin sprayed on leaves quickly degrades in sunlight and often does not reach the insect, genetically modified (GM) Bt plants express the bacterium in the plant tissue, which makes Bt plants especially effective against insects that bore into stems, such as the European corn borer, which causes more than $1 billion in damage annually in the United States.

In greenhouses at the New York State Agriculture Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y., the researchers used three types of GM broccoli plants: two types of plants each expressed a different Bt toxin, and a third -- known as a pyramided plant -- expressed both toxins. Elizabeth Earle and Jun Cao, co-authors of the PNAS paper and members of the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell created the plants.

For their studies, the researchers employed strains of diamondback moth that were resistant to each of the Bt proteins. The combination of Bt plants and Bt-resistant insects allowed them to explore the concurrent use of single- and dual-gene Bt plants in a way that could not be done with cotton or maize, although their results are relevant to these widely grown plants.

First, the researchers bred moth populations in which a low percent of the moths were resistant to a single Bt toxin. The insects were then released into caged growing areas with either single-gene plants, dual-gene plants or mixed populations and allowed to reproduce for two years.

The researchers found that after 26 generations of the insect living in the greenhouse with single-gene and dual-gene plants housed together, all the plants were eventually damaged by the insects, because over time, greater numbers of insects developed resistance to the plants' toxins. However, in the same two-year time frame, all or almost all of the insects died when exposed to pyramided plants alone.

"It's easier for an insect to develop resistance to a single toxin," said Shelton. "If an insect gets a jump on one toxin, then it becomes more rapidly resistant to that same toxin in a dual-gene plant. And when one line of defense starts to fail, it puts more pressure on the second toxin in a pyramided plant to control the insect," Shelton added.

While single-gene Bt plants are most prevalent, industry trends suggest that pyramided plants may be favored in the future. In Australia, the use of single-gene Bt cotton was discontinued two years after farmers began planting dual-gene cotton in 2002. In the United States, companies introduced dual-gene cotton in 2003, but single-gene varieties remain on the market.

"Single-gene Bt plants have provided good economic and environmental benefits, but from a resistance management standpoint they are inferior to dual-gene plants. U.S. regulatory agencies should consider discontinuing the use of those single-gene plants as soon as dual-gene plants become available," Shelton said. "And industries should be encouraged to create more dual-gene plants."

Along with effective insect control, pyramided plants have an added advantage of requiring a smaller refuge -- a part of the field where non-Bt plants are grown. Refuges create opportunities for Bt-resistant insects to mate with other insects that do not have resistance. The offspring of such a mating will be susceptible to the toxins.

"Having a refuge is a good management strategy, but it is not suitable for small farmers in China and India," said lead author Jian-Zhou Zhao, a senior research associate in entomology at Cornell. "The two-gene strategy is more suitable in developing countries like China where farmers have an average of half a hectare (1.2 acres) of
land, much less land than American farmers, and not enough to spare for refuges."

A U.S. Department of Agriculture Biotechnology Risk Assessment Program grant supported the study.

17 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.17 USDA/ARS researchers find resistance to soybean fungus

The first soybean line with genetic resistance to charcoal rot has been released by Agricultural Research Service scientists in Mississippi.

Charcoal rot, caused by the soilborne fungus Macrophomina phaseolina, is a major yield-limiting disease of the Mid-South and other soybean-producing regions throughout the world.

The new line, DT97-4290, developed by scientists in the ARS Crop Genetics and Production Research Unit at Stoneville, is a potentially valuable source of resistance to charcoal rot for soybean breeders and producers in areas experiencing yield losses due to the disease.

Charcoal rot symptoms usually appear when weather conditions are hot and dry, causing the soybean plant to lose vigor. In more advanced stages, petioles and leaves may turn yellow and wilt, while remaining attached to the plant. No chemical controls currently exist for charcoal rot, and resistance has been hard to identify.

Field studies were conducted at Stoneville to find charcoal rot resistance among 24 selected soybean genotypes. The researchers identified three breeding lines with genetic resistance, according to Bob Paris, the research geneticist who developed the line with Alemu Mengistu, a soybean pathologist.

The new line was selected for its adaptation to the clay soils of the lower Mississippi River valley, and for its field resistance to charcoal rot, soybean mosaic virus and stem canker, and moderate resistance to frogeye leafspot.

Genetic material of this release will be deposited in the National Plant Germplasm System, where it will be available for soybean researchers and breeders.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.
By Jim Core, USDA

13 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.18 Endemic Australian grass could provide answer in quest to find – or breed – frost tolerant wheat

An endemic Australian grass, found as far north as Townsville and as far south as Tasmania, could provide the answer to the half century quest by scientists to find – or breed – frost tolerant wheat.

An improvement of two degrees in wheat’s frost tolerance after head emergence – from around minus four degrees Celsius to minus six – could mean up to 50 per cent more grain being harvested in some regions of northern New South Wales and Queensland.

In other Australian grain areas, where damaging frosts at or after ear emergence occur once in eight or 10 years, that two degree increase in frost tolerance would slash the frequency of damage to once in more than 50 years.

More than five years ago, Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (QDPI&F) plant physiologist Troy Frederiks and his highly regarded, now-retired mentor David Woodruff identified frost tolerance after head emergence of more than minus 12 degrees in the novel grass species under study.

The grass – its identity not revealed for commercial reasons – is from the same family as wheat and barley and scientists hope they can identify the mechanisms it uses to escape frost damage and use this knowledge to improve winter cereals. 

Mr Frederiks, whose frost research with QDPI&F is supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), says that, despite decades of intensive screening, scientists have been unable to identify useful levels of frost tolerance after head emergence in winter cereals.

“Yet minimisation of frost damage is of paramount importance to growers and a major objective of the GRDC,” Mr Frederiks said.

“The direct yield loss from frosting of winter cereals in Queensland and northern New South Wales runs into millions of dollars annually.

“Strategies farmers have adopted to minimise the risk of frost – planting later and so losing early planting opportunities and using longer season varieties – also reduce yields.”

Mr Frederiks said yield increases of 0.8 tonnes to the hectare were common when earlier flowering varieties had been planted in Central Queensland and escaped frost.

Significant yield improvements were possible right across the northern region by earlier crop flowering, if frost tolerance after head emergence could be increased by just a couple of degrees Celsius. 

It could mean around 50 per cent more wheat production in parts of Queensland, almost one million tonnes, worth more than $170 million, a year, in a normal season in the north.

Mr Frederiks said his research was concentrating on identifying the mechanisms used by the novel grass to achieve its frost tolerance.

One interesting and complicating reality was the lack of variation in the degree of frost tolerance in the grass, even though accessions had been drawn from areas as climatically diverse as North Queensland and the Australian Alps.

9 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.19 Tsunami-surviving rice may have salt-tolerance genes

[NEW DELHI] Nine varieties of rice that survived in fields flooded by seawater when last year's Indian Ocean tsunami struck are the subject of a hunt for salt-tolerance genes.

Indian scientists ­ from the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University and the Indian Agriculture Research Institute in Delhi ­ said in a press conference on 27 June that they would look for genes that helped the rice plants survive the salty conditions

When the tsunami struck on 26 December last year, seawater intruded three kilometres into the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, depositing 30-centimetre thick sediments and damaging rice, groundnut, onion and other crops.

"We found a series of lines of rice standing when all others had died," said M. S. Swaminathan, a crop scientist and chair of the foundation that bears his name.

The surviving rice plants are tall, have red kernels and low yields. They are known by local names such as kundhali, kallurundai and soorakuvai.

Swaminathan says these native varieties can serve as an important source of genetic material to help rehabilitate areas struck by similar coastal disasters.

Their seeds have been collected and are being multiplied so the researchers can conduct trials in experimental plots, he told SciDev.Net.

The scientists plan to artificially create conditions where soils are inundated with seawater and study the plants' survival.

In laboratories, the scientists will look at whether and how much the plants are genetically distinct from other varieties that do not tolerate salt, and whether they use different genes to help them survive in salty conditions.

Salt-tolerant varieties of rice have already been used to restore agriculture to lands that were destroyed by the tsunami (see Tsunami-hit farmers to grow salt-tolerant rice).

They are also the focus of research to help coastal farmers adapt to climate change by providing them with rice plants that can cope with the effects of rising sea levels.

1 July 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.20 Study finds 'genetic shortcut to high-yielding rice'

Researchers in China and Japan have combined molecular genetics with traditional plant breeding to create high-yielding rice plants.

They say their approach, which greatly reduces the time needed to develop new crop varieties, could be applied to a range of cereal crops and trigger "a new green revolution".

The original green revolution of the 1960s developed high-yielding varieties of crops such as rice and wheat by crossing existing strains to find hybrid offspring with desirable traits. It is credited with saving millions of people from starvation.

But the success relied on years of painstaking work.

"Usually, it takes more than ten years to produce a new variety," says Moto Ashikari, one of the authors of the new study, published online last week by Science.

Ashikari and colleagues wanted to develop a large number of seeds per plant. The researchers wanted their new variety to be short because tall plants with heavy seed heads tend to fall over in strong wind and rain. Short rice plants also invest more of their energy into producing seeds rather than growing taller.

The researchers began by selecting two varieties with desirable traits. One is Japan's most popular rice, Koshihikari; the other, a shorter, more productive variant called Habataki.

They identified regions of the plants' genetic code that had to be present to increase plant yields.

One DNA region was a gene that makes an enzyme called cytokinin oxidase, which breaks down a hormone cytokinin that affects plant reproduction and growth.

Habataki plants, which make less of the enzyme, produce more seeds; 306 per branch compared with Koshihikari's 164.

Using a form of cloning, the researchers produced Habataki plants containing only the DNA region of interest. They then used conventional plant breeding to create hybrids with Koshikari plants. These hybrids had 45 per cent more rice grains the normal Koshikari plants.

But they were too tall. So using another set of clones, whose Habataki genes make plants shorter than Koshikari, the researchers used conventional methods to breed a new, stout variety with 26 per cent more seeds than normal Koshikari and short enough to resist bad weather.

The researchers believe that wild varieties of rice and other crops could have particular DNA regions "not only for yield, but also for disease resistance, stress tolerance and other desired traits".

Ashikari told SciDev.Net that identifying the regions that affect important agricultural traits is difficult because environmental conditions have a big effect on how plants develop.

"Strict control of growth and climatic conditions is necessary," says the researcher. "Molecular biologists tend not to do such research, so it is essential to collaborate with excellent agronomists."

Ashikari and colleagues at Nagoya University, Japan, worked together on the research with Japanese scientists at the RIKEN Plant Science Center in Yokohama and the Honda Research Institute in Chiba, and with researchers at the China National Rice Research Institute, in Hangzhou, China.
Link to full paper by Ashikari et al.

28 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.21  Purdue researchers find key to rice blast fungus

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Efforts to halt a fungus that deprives about 60 million people a year of food have led Purdue University scientists to discover the molecular machinery that enables the pathogen to blast its way into rice plants.

The fungus, Magnaporthe grisea, which is known as rice blast fungus, is the most deadly of the pathogens that attack rice, reducing yields by as much as 75 percent in infected areas. Learning how the fungus tricks rice's natural defenses against pathogens to penetrate the plant is an important part of controlling the disease, said Jin-Rong Xu, a Purdue molecular biologist.

Xu, Xinhua Zhao, Yangseon Kim and Gyungsoon Park, all of Purdue's Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, found that an enzyme is a key player in coordinating the fungus' attack. The enzyme, called a pathogenicity mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase, flips the switch that starts the cellular communication necessary to launch the fungal invasion that kills rice plants or causes loss of grain.

"We found that this MAP kinase controls the penetration process, which is the beginning of a signal transduction pathway," said Xu, who also was a member of an international research team that published the rice blast fungus genome in the April 21 issue of Nature. This pathway is the communications highway that passes information and instructions from one molecule to another to cause biochemical changes.

The fungus spreads when its spores are blown to rice plants and stick on the leaves. Once on the plant, the spore forms a structure called an appressorium. This bubble-like structure grows until it has so much pressure inside that it blasts through the plant's surface.

"The penetration structure has enormous force, called turgor pressure, that is 40 times the pressure found in a bicycle tire," Xu said. "It's like driving nails through the plant surface."

The researchers found that a pathway, which includes three genes that form a cascade of communication events, drives the infection process. Xu and his team reported that when they blocked the genes, the fungus couldn't develop appressoria and infect the plant.

The pathway holds enormous potential of being used to produce new fungicides or new resistant rice plants to hold this pathogen at bay. However, rice blast fungus is able to quickly evolve new tricks to tackle rice plants, apparently because the fungus and the grain developed side by side over centuries, according to genetic experts. To overcome the fungus' wiles, researchers need to know more than just the one pathway.

"We want to know how the plant and the fungus talk," Xu said. "We need to know the signal, or ligand, the rice plant gives to the receptor on the fungus that allows the penetration process to proceed. We need to understand the whole communication among all the genes in the rice blast penetration pathway before we can design a rice plant that resists this fungus."

Researchers already have some additional pieces of the puzzle gleaned from sequencing the rice blast genome. They learned that the pathogen has a unique family of proteins that acts as feelers to tell the fungus when it has a good host plant and how the plant might fight a fungal invasion. These feelers are called G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCR). In humans, GPCRs are found on the tongue and in the nose and are part of what makes foods taste different.

The scientists discovered that rice blast fungus has more than 40 GPCRs that probably are regulating the signals at the beginning of the penetration pathway.

"We are working on the basic infection process," Xu said. "We want to know what genetic mechanisms regulate this process, how the fungus spores recognize the plant surface, and how they know to penetrate it."

Once the fungus enters the rice leaf cells, the infected cells attempt to defend the plant by dying. This means death for young plants, while in older plants, rice grain is lost.

The biggest rice blast problem is in Asia and Latin America where rice is an important food staple. About two-thirds of the people in the world rely on the grain, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service. Rice supplies 23 percent of the total calories that the world's population consumes, according to the International Rice Research Institute.

In addition to the countries that rely on rice for food, the pathogen also is found in the United States, especially in Arkansas, Louisiana and California, where rice blast recently evolved in order to foil a rice blast resistance gene, according to the USDA. Resistance in rice plants varies in different regions due to climate variation and in strains of the pathogen.

Xu said that an important area of his future research will be to learn the interaction among several signaling pathways in rice blast fungus that allows the pathogen to communicate with the plant.

Grants from the USDA Agriculture National Research Initiative and the National Science Foundation supported this study, which was published in the May issue of Plant Cell.

Writer: Susan A. Steeves, (765) 496-7481,
Source: Jin-Rong Xu, (765) 496-6918,
Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes,
Agriculture News Page

30 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.22  Research Team Receives $7.5 million to study cassava

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State University will lead an interdisciplinary team of scientists in a multi-million dollar project to help improve one of the most important food crops in Africa, cassava.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation selected the BioCassava Plus project as a recipient of one of the foundation's “Grand Challenges in Global Health” program grants. Created two years ago, the goal of the $450 million program is to fund innovative solutions to global health problems.

Leading the $7.5 million, 11-institution cassava project is Richard Sayre, a professor of plant cellular and molecular biology at Ohio State . The grant runs for five years.

Cassava (Manihot esculenta) is the primary food source for more than 250 million Africans – about 40 percent of the continent's population, Sayre said. And the plant's starchy root is a substantial portion of the diet of nearly 600 million people worldwide.

Cassava is the fourth-most-important crop in the tropics, and it's relatively easy to grow in drought conditions. Fully grown cassava roots can stay in the ground for up to two years and needs relatively little water to survive. The roots are a key source of carbohydrates for subsistence farmers in Africa .

But there are downsides to cassava – its roots are low in protein and also deficient in several micronutrients, such as iron, zinc and vitamin A. And once the roots are harvested, certain strains of cassava can produce potentially toxic levels of cyanogens – substances that induce poisonous cyanide production.

“In Africa , improperly processed cassava is a major problem,” Sayre said. “It's associated with a number of cyanide-related health disorders, particularly among people who are already malnourished.”

Sayre's laboratory focuses on ways to decrease or eliminate cyanogens in cassava roots. Through the BioCassava Plus project, he will work with other experts to increase the root's nutritional value, its shelf life once harvested (cassava roots deteriorate in about two days unless they are properly processed after harvesting) and its resistance to geminivirus, a particularly devastating plant virus that can destroy up to 60 percent of a cassava crop.

The researchers will work on developing new types of cassava plants that have increased levels of zinc, iron, protein and vitamins A and E, and that can also withstand post-harvest deterioration.

“The Gates Foundation mandated that we provide complete nutrition in a single crop species,” Sayre said. “We hope to achieve each individual goal – to reduce cyanide content, reduce deterioration after harvesting and increase virus resistance.

“Eventually, we'd like to bring all of these traits together into one variety of cassava,” he said.

Sayre's colleagues include 18 scientists from 10 research institutions including Ohio State: the U.S. Department of Agriculture in St. Louis; the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis; Washington University Medical School, St. Louis; the University of Bath, United Kingdom; the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), headquartered in Colombia; the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), headquartered in Nigeria; ETH Zurich in Switzerland; Washington State University; and the University of Puerto Rico.

Contact: Richard Sayre, 614-292-9030;
Written by Holly Wagner, 614-292-8310;

29 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.23  Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International offered US$16.9 million Grand Challenges in Global Health Grant to improve Africa's health through a full range of nutrients in sorghum

Nairobi, Kenya
Five-year $16.9 million project to develop more nutritious, easily digestible sorghum with increased levels of pro-vitamin A and E, iron, zinc, essential amino acids and protein prototype with increased lysine

Africa's leading non-profit agricultural and scientific organization, Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International (Africa Harvest), leads a nine-member consortium that has been offered a Grand Challenges in Global Health grant of US$16.9 million, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The consortium is called the African Biofortified Sorghum Project.

"This grant represents a major paradigm shift in agricultural research in Africa," stated Africa Harvest CEO, Dr. Florence Wambugu. "It is refreshing to note that the project proposal was put together by African scientists for the African continent."

The consortium will develop a new variety of sorghum for the more than 300 million people in arid regions of Africa who rely on this grain as their primary source of food. Sorghum is one of the few crops that grow well in arid climates, but it is deficient in most essential nutrients, and is difficult to digest when cooked.

The project seeks to develop a more nutritious and easily digestible sorghum that contains increased levels of pro-vitamin A, vitamin E, iron, zinc, amino acids, and protein. A prototype, containing increased levels of the amino acid lysine, has already been successfully developed.

The African organization is partnering with scientific teams from agricultural company Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a subsidiary of DuPont, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa. Other Consortium Members include the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Universities of Pretoria (South Africa) and Missouri-Columbia (USA).

"In the past, we have been told that there is no scientific or infrastructural capacity in Africa. This has always meant that Africa- targeted research was often done outside Africa, or with minimal African scientists' involvement," said Wambugu. "In our project design, we proceeded from the premise that Africa has scientific capacity -- human and infrastructural -- but this is limited to achieve desired goals. We then went in search of organizations that were genuinely interested in helping Africa and asked them to work with us."

The consortium has nine members, of these, seven are African. "Furthermore, 80% of the grant will be spent in Africa," says Dr. Wambugu. "Even the remaining 20%, spent outside Africa, will primarily be to build African capacity."

"Our Consortium is not looking at short-term solutions, we are harnessing Africa's, and the world's, best scientific brains and technologies to fight malnutrition, which is a major African health problem," Dr. Wambugu said.

"On behalf of the African people, we are grateful to the Grand Challenges initiative. We know that currently, less than 10% of health research funding is targeted to diseases that account for 90% of the global disease burden. Through this grant, we will begin to see a fresh focus on Africa and the developing world."

About Africa Harvest
Africa Harvest Biotechnology Foundation International (Africa Harvest) is incorporated in the USA as a non-profit foundation. Its headquarters are in Nairobi, Kenya and it has regional offices in Johannesburg, South Africa and Washington D.C., USA.

The Foundation's mission is to promote the use of science and technology, including biotechnology, to fight hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Africa by increasing agricultural yields and incomes.

Although science is important, it isn't everything. Africa's agricultural development must be approached holistically, so that technological solutions are supported through appropriate policies and institutions. The Foundation believes that biotechnology is not a panacea for Africa's agricultural challenges, but it can act as a catalyst for much needed change, not only in agriculture, but many other areas.

Source: SeedQuest com
1 July 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.24  CIMMYT Trustee wins a prize for his work improving yields and zinc concentration in wheat

Dr. Ismail Cakmak, recently appointed to the CIMMYT Board of Trustees, accepted the International Crop Nutrition Award from the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) this month for his work in Turkish agriculture to improve the grain yield and amount of zinc in wheat. In addition to the potential health benefits, his work has allowed farmers to reap an economic benefit of US $100 million each year.

In a NATO-Science for Stability program, Cakmak, a longtime CIMMYT partner, and colleagues from the University of Cukurova in Adana and National Research Institutions of the Ministry of Agriculture in Konya and Eskisehir, found that wheat harvests in Turkey were limited by a lack of zinc in the soil. When the plants were fed zinc-fortified fertilizer, researchers noticed spectacular increases in wheat yields. Ten years after the problem was diagnosed, Turkish farmers now apply 300,000 tons of the zinc-fortified fertilizers per year and harvest wheat with twice the amount of zinc.

HarvestPlus, a CGIAR Challenge Program, estimates that over 1.3 billion South Asians are at risk for zinc deficiency. Finding a more sustainable way to enrich the level of zinc in wheat is a goal for Cakmak, his CIMMYT colleagues, and HarvestPlus, which breeds crops for better nutrition. “Providing grain with high zinc content to people in Turkey should lead to significant improvements in their health and productivity. One can achieve this goal by applying fertilizers, a short-term answer, or through a more cost-effective and sustainable solution­breeding,” Cakmak says.

CIMMYT and HarvestPlus are set to do this and have already bred high-yielding wheat varieties with 100% more zinc than other modern varieties. CIMMYT agronomist and HarvestPlus Wheat Crop Leader Ivan Ortiz-Monasterio says, “We intend to have modern, disease resistant varieties be the vehicle for getting more micronutrients into people’s diets.” Further research this year involves testing the bioavailability of the grain’s doubled zinc content to see if it can improve human health in Pakistan.

“Today, a large number of the world’s peoples rely on wheat as a major source of dietary energy and protein. For example in Turkey, on average, wheat alone provides nearly 45% of the daily calorie intake, it is estimated that this ratio is much higher in rural regions,” Cakmak says. It is hoped that this project, which uses agricultural practices to address public health while improving crop production, can be extrapolated to other zinc-deficient areas of the world.

4 July 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.25 Sweet corn that creates its own shade, suppresses weeds naturally

Urbana, Illinois
It makes sense that if weeds can't get a lot of sun, they won't be able to grow as well. Marty Williams, an ecologist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, used this premise as he began his search for sweet corn hybrids that have the ability to naturally suppress weeds.

"There aren't a lot of tools for weed management in sweet corn, so I decided to look at the inherent characteristics in different hybrids that might help reduce some weeds naturally," Williams said. "Using a more competitive hybrid -- one that naturally suppresses weeds - means farmers can use less herbicide and get more consistent crop yields."

For his study, Williams chose three commercially available sweet corn hybrids that have different canopies in order to determine how the density of the canopy might affect weed growth. He chose Spirit, WH2801 and GH2547. "Unfortunately, it's not practical to do this study for every hybrid. There are just too many," said Williams. "But what we hope to do is eventually get enough information to classify hybrids as competitive or not competitive in weeds."

Wild pros millet was grown at low, medium, and high weed densities within the sweet corn hybrids. This particular weed was chosen because it is one of the fastest-spreading annual grass weeds in the cornbelt and it's a significant problem because few herbicides are effective against it in sweet corn.

Last year's results showed that Spirit, a hybrid with little canopy, had a 70 percent yield loss at high weed pressure. It didn't tolerate weeds very well at all. WH2801, which was taller, faired better in its ability to suppress weeds while maintaining a high yield. GH2547, which had the largest canopy, did even better at both. "And, since it managed to suppress weed seed production better, there would be fewer weeds emerging next year in that field," said Williams.

The same experiment is being conducted now to see if the results are consistent under drier conditions observed this year.

In Illinois, processed sweet corn sold in cans or frozen in bags or on the cob is a significant commodity. Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota supply about half of the sweet corn for processing in the United States. Washington State provides the other half. Rick Boydston, with USDA-ARS at Prosser, Washington is duplicating Williams' canopy experiment. "The results from Dr. Boydston's first year were similar but not as dramatic as ours here in Illinois. Any differences in the ability of hybrids to suppress weeds are important, since every bit helps," said Williams.

This study is focusing on yield and weed suppression, but yield isn't the only consideration. What about the sweet corn sugar content, taste, and appearance? In another one of Williams' research projects, he is looking at about a dozen different quality traits and determining how they are affected by the weeds. "For example, the number of ears is important for fresh market sweet corn - what you find in the produce aisle - whereas kernel weight is extremely important for sweet corn grown for processing - what you buy in the can," said Williams. "Since eradicating every weed in sweet corn is impractical, we need to know exactly how weeds - particularly at low densities - influence these traits." Author: Debra Levey Larson

30 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.26  New hybrid corn rejects pollen from all strains of corn except its own

Hooper, Nebraska
By Joy Powell, Star Tribune via Checkbiotech
Since most Minnesota corn farmers have turned to biotech seeds, others who want to grow non-biotech corn sometimes encounter a costly problem: The biotech pollen can drift from neighboring fields.

The resulting "contamination" has been a bane for farmers who want to grow non-biotech corn for export as well as for niche domestic markets that would pay a premium, from organic food companies to baby-food makers.

Now, a small Nebraska firm called Hoegemeyer Hybrids has patented a breed of non-biotech corn that the company says is resistant to such contamination.

That's of interest to many Minnesota farmers, where 63 percent of the $2 billion corn crop last year was of biotech varieties - the second-highest use of biotech corn seeds nationwide, behind South Dakota.

Raised through conventional breeding, the new hybrid corn, called PuraMaize, rejects pollen from all other strains of corn except its own - meaning that any biotech pollen that happened to drift by could not contaminate it, said inventor Tom Hoegemeyer, a nationally known corn breeder.

His company intends to complete licensing arrangements and have the commercial hybrid seed available for the 2006 growing season in Minnesota and other parts of the Corn Belt. They'll sell it through their own company to farmers, as well as through major seed companies.

"That's pretty cool, if it works," said Mark Hamerlinck, a spokesman for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

Hoegemeyer said his "completely natural system" will allow biotech and non-biotech cornfields to grow side by side - while also ensuring that corn grown for specialty starches, corn flakes, tacos and other corn-based products stays free of contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

"It looks like something promising for the future," especially as more biotech varieties hit the market, said Craig Williams of Stauffer Seeds, which is based in Carroll, Iowa, and sells seed in southwest and south-central Minnesota.

The PuraMaize system will enable U.S. corn growers and processors to export their corn to markets where consumers have shied away from GMOs, such as Japan and the European Union, without the expensive isolation of their non-GMO fields, Hoegemeyer said. Hoegemeyer is chief technology officer of his regional seed distributorship in Nebraska and past president of the American Seed Association's corn and sorghum division.

This week, demand for corn from Japanese importers remained weak, in part because of high prices but also because of the discovery in Japan last week of a third U.S. cargo tainted with an unapproved biotech strain.

Japanese buyers have been spooked since March, when Syngenta AG said that some of its corn seeds in the United States had been contaminated between 2001 and 2004 with its insect-resistant strain called Bt-10. That strain, which produces a toxin that kills the corn borer, has not been approved for distribution by regulators.

Hoegemeyer said he sees the value of GMO traits that improve corn yields by providing resistance to insects and certain herbicides. But for years, he also has recognized the reluctance of some consumers, particularly in Europe, Japan and Australia, to consume biotech foods.

That led him to use an "exotic" variety of corn to develop PuraMaize, which blocks pollination from external pollen sources, he said. In field tests using both purple-seeded corn and commercial biotech varieties, the contamination was either eliminated or reduced to an extremely low level that meet thresholds for non-GMO classification, he said.

"It could be a boon for export," said agronomy professor Rex Bernardo of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at the University of Minnesota campus in St. Paul.

Like others, he's still learning about the science behind the new process, but Bernardo cautions that it's not a complete solution. Much of the contamination of non-biotech corn with biotech corn comes from mechanical equipment, from combines to grain bins to local elevators, said Bernardo, who specializes in corn breeding and genetics.

Hoegemeyer also cautions that to ensure a crop's purity, careful identity-preservation techniques still must be used as the corn is harvested, stored and shipped.

The ability to carefully trace the origin of its raw materials is critical for companies such as National Starch, a New Jersey-based food ingredient company that does not use genetically modified corn. Joseph Emling, manager of grain quality and traceability for National Starch, said he has been watching the development of PuraMaize technology.

"It'll become increasingly complex to procure non-GM corn in the future because GM adoption by farmers around the country is increasing quite quickly," Emling said. "So any kind of technology such as PuraMaize that would make it easier and less complex to procure non-GM corn for our system would certainly be something we'd be interested in."

Nationwide, the amount of biotech corn planted is expected to jump 55 percent in 2005 compared with 48 percent in 2004, said Tom Gahm, spokesman for Golden Valley-based Syngenta Seeds Inc., one of Minnesota's largest seed sellers.

Hoegemeyer, who separately conducts corn research for Syngenta, said his PuraMaize process will bring conveniences and cost savings not only to farmers but to foodmakers.

"If you are a food manufacturing company and you're needing an emulsifier starch to make baby food, for instance, you probably don't want to make separate lots of baby food for export versus domestic production," Hoegemeyer said. "It's just a lot easier to adopt something in your process that would work all over."

The PuraMaize variety, which could be planted alongside biotech crops, could be for either human food or animal feed. "We believe that there's no impact at all on taste or functional properties such as starch content or protein or those sorts of things," Hoegemeyer said.

He developed the idea after seeing the skepticism around the globe toward biotech crops in the mid-1990s. Hoegemeyer researched races of exotic corn used hundreds and thousands of years ago and, after obtaining the gene materials he needed, began tests in 2000, along with developmental breeding and research.

"This has largely been a traditional breeding process," Hoegemeyer said. "Genes exist and have been known about since the '30s that have impact on the pollination process. It was a matter of going out and getting the right materials working together."

Source: adapted from
29 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.27  Genome study of beneficial microbe may help boost plant health

The Institute for Genomic Research, ROCKVILLE, Md.
In a study expected to greatly benefit crop plants, scientists have deciphered the genome of a root- and seed-dwelling bacterium that protects plants from diseases.

The research provides clues to better explain how the helpful microbe, Pseudomonas fluorescens Pf-5, naturally safeguards roots and seeds from infection by harmful microbes that cause plant diseases. The genome paper will be published in Nature Biotechnology and was scheduled to be posted online on June 26.

"The genome sequence has helped us identify new chemical pathways that the microbe apparently uses to create what are known as 'secondary metabolites' – possibly including new antibiotic compounds," says Ian Paulsen. He led the sequencing at The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), Rockville, Md., and is the study's first author.

The use of naturally-occurring, beneficial microbes such as P. fluorescens to control plant pathogens is called "biological control." That method is gaining momentum as a way to grow healthy plants without using synthetic fungicides. In all, about three dozen beneficial microbes are currently used as an environmentally-friendly way to fight plant diseases.

Joyce E. Loper, senior author of the genome paper and an expert on P. fluorescens Pf-5, predicts that the new genomic data will help scientists more quickly develop new ways to boost the effectiveness of beneficial microbes in fighting plant diseases.

"This genomic sequence reveals previously unknown traits of P. fluorescens that increase its potential for biological control," says Loper. She is a plant pathologist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and is based at Oregon State University, Corvallis. The P. fluorescens genome was sequenced at TIGR and analyzed by scientists there and at ARS and Oregon State University, with contributions by researchers at Rutgers, Washington State University and the University of Arizona. The project was funded by a grant from the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

The article in Nature Biotechnology presents the first complete genome sequence of a biological control agent for combating plant diseases.

P. fluorescens Pf-5 was discovered two decades ago by Charles R. Howell, a plant pathologist with the ARS in Texas, who showed that the microbe suppressed two major cotton diseases. Since then, plant pathologists around the world have used this strain as a laboratory model to study beneficial microbes.

Paulsen says the P. fluorescens project also pioneered a new methodology. This novel approach relies on the analysis of repeated regions of the DNA sequence to help identify segments of the genome that appear to have been transferred from other microbes or viruses, known as phages, that infect bacteria.

Says Paulsen: "We found exciting evidence that P. fluorescens may have acquired new clusters of genes, called genomic islands, by means of lateral transfer from phages or other microbes."

26 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.28  UNC plant researchers discover proteins interact to form hair-trigger protection against invaders

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CHAPEL HILL
Experimenting with Arabidopsis, a fast-growing cousin of the humble mustard plant, scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill got a big surprise while investigating how plants respond to attacks from disease organisms such as bacteria and viruses.

"Contrary to what we thought we'd find, our experiments showed that at least three different proteins work in concert with one another in tug-of war or teeter totter-fashion to keep plant defenses in a state of constant readiness," said Dr. Jeffrey L. Dangl, John N. Couch professor of biology in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences.

Previously, he and others believed that the proteins -- RAR1, SGT1 and HSP90 -- were required for what is called signal transduction -- relaying like Paul Revere the message that an enemy had arrived, Dangl said. Instead, they are needed to form an even earlier disease surveillance antenna or hair trigger. When disease invaders pull that trigger, infected plants cells quickly commit suicide, often preventing the invader from destroying the entire plant.

The new discovery appears to be a universal mechanism for defense by all plants against not only bacteria and viruses, but also parasitic fungi, insects and worms, he said.

"This work is important because every year, these organisms cause us to lose some 30 percent of our grain, fruit and vegetable crops after all the human, water and soil energy has already gone into producing them," Dangl said. "The hope is that we might be able to manipulate plants' immune systems to make them more resistant to pathogens using fewer expensive and polluting chemicals."

A report on the findings appears in this week's edition (June 24) of Science Express, the online, early-release version of the journal Science. Other authors are postdoctoral fellow Dr. Ben F. Holt III and Ph.D. student Youssef Belkhadir, both in biology.

"Plants use resistance proteins to defend themselves against pathogen attack by initiating a defense response," Holt said. "The proteins RAR1, HSP90 and SGT1 were previously thought to work together to help resistance proteins in this function. To our surprise, we found that SGT1 can actually work against, or antagonize, the other two proteins to disable resistance protein function."

The researchers also showed why they antagonized each other, he said. RAR1 and HSP90 can prevent resistance proteins from disappearing, while SGT1 helps them disappear. The result is that the system remains poised for an immediate response to bacteria and other attackers.

"By controlling disappearance of resisting proteins, RAR1, HSP90 and SGT1 control whether or not the plant is about to recognize that it is under pathogen attack," Holt said. "So the emerging story is that RAR1 and HSP90 keep resistance proteins ready to perceive pathogen signals, and SGT1 probably pulls against these two to send resistance proteins to their destruction."

The National Science Foundation supported the research through its Arabidopsis 20-10 Project, which aims to describe the functions of all 28,000 genes in the model plant.

Scientists study Arabidopsis, also known as thale cress or mouse-eared cress, because it is small and can produce five to six generations a year rather than just one or two like most crop plants. That rapid reproduction allows them to study the plant's genetics faster than they could with other species.

Understanding Arabidopsis completely will teach scientists an enormous amount about all other flowering plants, which are closely related genetically, Dangl said. The new genomics technology, developed by Patrick Brown and David Botstein at Stanford University, has been applied to yeast, fruit flies and humans but not to plants in a large, systematic way. Arabidopsis was the first plant for which scientists succeeded in mapping its entire genetic composition.

Dangl is also with UNC's Curriculum in Genetics, Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Carolina Center for Genome Sciences.

26 June 2005

(Return to Contents)


1.29  International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium off to a great start

Bozeman, Montana
The first meeting of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (WGSC) took place last week in Bozeman, Montana. Rudi Appels, Australian co-chair of the WGSC, said that the meeting was an excellent opportunity for the wheat community to take ownership of the consortium. He noted as well that it was particularly exciting to have representation from the National Association of Wheat Growers.

Dale Schuler, first vice-president of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), stated that NAWG is fully supportive of mapping the wheat genome and believes it is critical technology in support of breeding, developing new uses, improving yields and quality, competing with other crops, and ensuring a viable U.S. wheat industry.

“Wheat has been under-researched significantly when compared to crops like corn, soybeans, and cotton. The effect of this can be seen in the advances made in yield, quality, agronomic and end-use characteristics that have not yet been realized by wheat," Schuler said.

Bikram Gill, the U.S. co-chair for WGSC, said that the meeting was a significant landmark event in delineating the roadmap for wheat genome physical mapping and sequencing. “We had excellent participation from international scientists who expressed great enthusiasm for the project,” said Gill from Kansas State University.

“The meeting was the occasion of very fruitful discussions on the strategies to follow for reaching the short and mid term goals of the consortium,” stated Catherine Feuillet, the European co-chair for the WGSC. “The meeting confirmed the commitment that we have in Europe to the WGSC and provided exciting insights into ongoing research in Europe.”

Some think it is a daunting prospect to sequence the wheat genome because it is so large. The exciting progress reported at the meeting by Drs. Dolezal and Feuillet has made the members of the consortium much more confident that it can be done.

“The description of progress in Europe in building and exploiting chromosome specific libraries raised our confidence levels tremendously,” said Forrest Chumley, a member of the WGSC Coordinating Committee. He noted that this progress would ensure that we have more effective international cooperation and coordination and would allow the early efforts to be focused on the chromosome regions that will produce the most useful results.

Efforts of the WGSC will focus initially on sequencing a region of wheat that is especially rich in agronomically important traits, including genes for fusarium head blight, glume blotch and rust resistances. Additional physical maps to the 3B map are also in focus.

The international WGSC is a collaboration of scientists, industry, and governmental entities dedicated to expediting the development of a physical map anchored to the genetic map and sequencing of the wheat genome for global benefits. Membership in the WSGC is open to any individual or organization that supports the organization’s goals and objectives.

Wheat is the staple food for 40% of the world’s population, providing 20% of the calories and 55% of the carbohydrates consumed. The sequence of the wheat genome will result ultimately in healthier and more nutritious food that could lead to vast improvements in human and animal health.

According to Kellye Eversole, the group’s executive director, there were over 50 scientists representing 8 countries at the first meeting. “Over the next few months, we will continue to build support for and participation in the WGSC,” she said.

Organizational materials, membership forms, and other information about the consortium are available on the International WGSC website at

9 June 2005

(Return to Contents)



2.01  The Way Forward to Strengthen National Plant Breeding and Biotechnology Capacity

This report represents a summary of discussions that took place during a meeting held at FAO headquarters between 9th and 11th February 2005. The meeting addressed issues in connection with strengthening national plant breeding and biotechnology capacity. Over twenty representatives of agencies and institutions involved in genetic resource use and plant breeding, including an observer from the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties (UPOV) and about ten representatives from FAO attended the meeting. The participants came from approximately twenty countries.

The address of the report is:
Then click on the link "Workshop-Strengthen Plant Breeding and Biotechnology Capacity" at the right side of the page.

Contributed by Elcio Guimaraes

(Return to Contents)



3.01  SciDev.Net launches Chinese language section of website

[BEIJING] Senior members of China's scientific community welcomed the launch yesterday (21 June) of SciDev.Net China, a section of the SciDev.Net website providing Chinese language news and other information about science and development.

Speaking at the launch in Beijing, Cheng Donghong, first secretary of the Secretariat of the China Association for Science and Technology, said SciDev.Net China would contribute to the country's development by improving knowledge of science.

Cheng said the Internet was playing an increasing role in science communication in China.

"SciDev.Net has done excellent work in communicating science and technology to promote the development of developing countries," said Cheng. "Its Chinese version will definitely contribute to the rising role of science and technology in the development in China."

The website's director, David Dickson, said SciDev.Net China will provide regular Chinese news and other items about science and development issues in China, as well as translations into Chinese of relevant articles from the main website.

SciDev.Net would also contribute to capacity-building activities in the field of science communication in China, said Dickson.

Most of SciDev.Net's recent news and feature articles relating to China have been translated in Chinese and can be viewed online at:

In addition, SciDev.Net China has translations of information aimed at policymakers such as policy briefs from SciDev.Net's dossiers on biodiversity, indigenous knowledge, genetically modified crops and climate change, among others.

To coincide with the launch, SciDev.Net also published a special 'spotlight' on China and climate change.

"The information SciDev.Net offers has made it an important source of science and development news for Chinese media," says Liu Honghai, editor-in-chief of Science Times, a Chinese newspaper.

Zhang Jiang'an, secretary general of the Ministry of Science and Technology, and editor-in-chief of Science and Technology Daily, the China's main science newspaper, echoes Liu's comments.

Zhang says the launch of SciDev.Net China is good news for China's science community, as it will let them share their research findings to help speed the country's development.

An advisory committee of senior Chinese scientists and science policy specialists will guide the website's activities.

Lan Xue, a SciDev.Net trustee and director of Tsinghua University's Development Research Academy Institute for the 21st Century will chair the committee.

SciDev.Net was launched in 2001 to provide reliable and authoritative information on issues related to science and science-based technology that affect economic and social development, to help individuals and organisations in the developing world.

Source: SciDev.Net
22 June 2005

(Return to Contents)



* 17-20 August, 2005 Workshop Announcement: Plant Genomics in China VI
The 6th Conference of Plant Genomics in China will be held from in Kunming. This symposium will emphasize new progress in plant genomics

* 20 August-4 September 2005. GCP Training Program: Diversity/Breeding Course - in Thailand, Kamphaeng Saen Campus of the Kasetsart University. The GCP will continue its Training Program with the second of its courses in Analysis of Diversity and Molecular Breeding for NARS scientists.

Course Objectives:
1. Develop conceptual and practical skills in state-of-the-art tools for genetic diversity analysis, linkage mapping, QTL analysis and association mapping to facilitate marker-assisted breeding

2. Empower practitioners in Asia region to use GCP knowledge, services and products.

3. Foster collaborations among participating scientists, the CGIAR, and other GCP Consortium members, including mechanisms for technical backstopping, re-training and problem solving in the region and establishment of a regional network.

* 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

* 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:

*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 recherch0our 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

*24-28 September 2005. Interdrought-II, Rome. This is the 2nd International Conference on Integrated Approaches to Sustain and Improve Plant Production Under Drought Stress. This meeting contains an important component of genetics and breeding. Full information is now available on the conference web site at

Contributed by A. Blum
Chair, Interdrought-II

*18-22 October 2005. Fourth International Food Legume Research Conference (IFLRC-IV) New Delhi.“Food Legumes for Nutritional Security and Sustainable Agriculture,” Indian Society of Genetics and Plant. Dr. M. C. KHARKWAL, Organising Secretary.

Contributed byFred J. Muehlbauer
Washington State University

*(NEW) 28 October – 3 November 2005. The 23rd Biennial Meeting of the Bean Improvement Cooperative (BIC) will be held in conjunction with the North American Pulse Improvement Cooperative Meeting at the University of Delaware, Newark, DE. Local host Dr. Ed. Kee.  For more details, visit

Contributed by James D. Kelly, Michigan State University

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

* 2-6 July 2006, Udine (Italy): IX International Conference on Grape Genetics and Breeding. Info: Prof. Enrico Peterlunger, Universit i Udine, Dip. di Scienze Agrarie e Ambientale, Via delle Scienze 208, 33100 Udine, Italy. Phone: (39)0432558629, Fax: (39)0432558603, email:

* 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"
For more information please visit

Submitted by Jody Larson, symposium committee
Iowa State University

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

* 11-15 September  2006, San Remo (Italy): XXII International EUCARPIA Symposium - Section Ornamentals: Breeding for Beauty. Info: Dr. Tito Shiva or Dr. Antonio Mercuri, CRA Istituto Sperimentale per la Floricoltura, Corso degli Inglesi 508, 18038 San Remo (IM), Italy. Phone: (39)0184694846, Fax: (39)0184694856, email: 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

(Return to Contents)



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

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

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

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

Messages with attached files are not distributed on PBN-L for two important reasons. The first is that computer viruses and worms can be distributed in this manner. The second reason is that attached files cause problems for some e-mail systems.

PLEASE NOTE: Every month many newsletters are returned because they are undeliverable, for any one of a number of reasons. We try to keep the mailing list up to date, and also to avoid deleting addresses that are only temporarily inaccessible. If you miss a newsletter, write to me at and I will re-send it.

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

(Return to Contents)