24 January 2006

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

Clair H. Hershey, Editor

Archived issues available at: (NOTE: cut and paste link if it does not work directly)


1.01  Crop researcher wins 2005 science awards
1.02  Ethiopia house tackles breeders’ rights, genetic resources
1.03  Global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops: 2005
1.04  Genetic research to rescue Mexico's tequila plant
1.05  Tomato trek yields Chilean treasure
1.06  Unlocking the genetic vault of the International Rice Genebank
1.07  Arctic cave to safeguard global crop diversity
1.08  Improved New Mexico cotton assessed
1.09  Growing crops to cope with climate change
1.10  USDA and DOE to coordinate research of plant and microbial genomics
1.11  New possibilities to fight pests with biological means
1.12  Cornell University geneticists improve methods for identifying what controls complex traits, from disease to crop yields
1.13  Advancements in interspecific hybridization of bromegrass
1.14  CIMMYT turns wheat genome back
1.15  ICARDA/CIMMYT wheat improvement program for dry areas
1.16  Modified wheat takes root with little protest in Saskatchewan - Different method used
1.17  New elite maize lines from CIMMYT offer enhanced nutrition and disease resistance
1.18  A heartier harvest from rigid rice plants
1.19  Bacterial protein mimics host to cripple defenses
1.20  Unique genes hold the secret to better grain yields
1.21  Sun protection for plants
1.22  New technique developed to analyze tomato genes
1.23  The evolution of food plants: genetic control of grass flower architecture

2.01  Call for papers for The Plant Genome

(None submitted)

4.01  USDA/CSREES Food and Agricultural Sciences National Needs Graduate and Postgraduate Fellowship Grants Program
4.02  Asian Rice Foundation USA scholarships

(None Submitted)





1.01  Crop researcher wins 2005 science awards

Ravi Singh of India won the "Science Award for Outstanding Scientist" for developing "slow rusting" wheat varieties with improved resistance to diseases such as leaf rust, yellow rust, powdery mildew, and spot blotch, among others. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) reports that these improved wheat varieties have saved poor farmers an estimated US$5 billion worth of production losses. The research is being conducted at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico.

Meanwhile, Shaobing Peng of China and his co-authors won the "Science Award for an Outstanding Scientific Article" for the research article "Rice yields decline with higher night temperature from global warming" published in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2004. The researchers provide the first direct evidence of decreased crop yields that result from increased night time temperatures associated with global warming. Findings indicate that climate change will have a negative impact on food production in some tropical areas. The research was done at the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Other winners are announced in

Source: CropBiotech Update 16 December 2005
Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding & Genetics
Cornell University

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1.02  Ethiopia house tackles breeders’ rights, genetic resources

Two bills, providing for Plant Breeders' Rights and Genetic Resources and Community Knowledge and Rights, were endorsed by Ethiopia's House of Peoples' Representatives in a recent regular session.

A report, presented by the Rural Development and the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Standing committees of the House, indicated that the proclamation providing for Plant Breeders' Rights would enable the private sector to play its role in releasing new plant varieties suitable for various ecosystems in the country.

Members of the Standing Committees also said the proclamation would encourage farmers to use their genetic resources. Moreover, the proclamation would encourage investment and pave the way for the utilization of new plant varieties released abroad.

The Committees also reported that the bill providing for Genetic Resources and Community Knowledge and Rights would have significant importance in the protection of the country's genetic resources, as well as the equitable distribution of the benefits of the resources.

For the full story, visit
You may also write to Margaret Karembu of the Kenya Biotechnology Information Center at

From CropBiotech Update 6 January 2006
Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding & Genetics
Cornell University

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1.03  Global status of commercialized biotech/GM crops: 2005

CropBiotech Update Special Edition: Highlights of ISAAA Brief No. 34-2005
by Clive James, Chair ISAAA Board of Directors

The Brief, the tenth in an annual series, was released on 11 January 2006. ISAAA Brief 34 characterizes the global status in 2005 of commercialized GM crops, now often called biotech crops, as referred to consistently in the Brief. The focus on developing countries is consistent with ISAAA's mission to assist developing countries in assessing the potential of biotech crops. The principal aim, is to present a consolidated set of data that will facilitate a knowledge-based discussion of the current global trends in biotech crops.

  2005 marked the tenth anniversary of the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) crops, now more often called biotech crops, as referred to consistently in these Highlights.

  In 2005, the global biotech crop area continued to soar as the billionth acre, equivalent to the 400 millionth hectare of a biotech crop, was planted by one of 8.5 million farmers, in one of 21 countries. This unprecedented high adoption rate reflects the trust and confidence of millions of farmers in crop biotechnology.

  Over the last decade, farmers have consistently increased their plantings of biotech crops by double-digit growth rates every single year since biotech crops were first commercialized in 1996. Remarkably, the global biotech crop area increased more than fifty-fold in the first decade of commercialization.

  The global area of approved biotech crops in 2005 was 90 million hectares, equivalent to 222 million acres, up from 81 million hectares or 200 million acres in 2004. The increase was 9 million hectares or 22 million acres, equivalent to an annual growth rate of 11% in 2005.

  A historic milestone was reached in 2005 when 21 countries grew biotech crops, up significantly from 17 countries in 2004. Notably, of the four new countries that grew biotech crops in 2005, compared with 2004, three were EU countries, Portugal, France, and the Czech Republic whilst the fourth was Iran. Portugal and France resumed the planting of Bt maize in 2005 after a gap of 5 and 4 years respectively, whilst the Czech Republic planted Bt maize for the first time in 2005, bringing the total number of EU countries now commercializing modest areas of Bt maize to five, viz: Spain, Germany, Portugal, France and the Czech Republic. In 2005, the 21 countries growing biotech crops included 11 developing countries and 10 industrial countries; they were, in order of hectarage, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Paraguay, India, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia, Mexico, Romania, the Philippines, Spain, Colombia, Iran, Honduras, Portugal, Germany, France and the Czech Republic.

  In 2005 biotech rice (Bt) was grown commercially for the first time on approximately four thousand hectares in Iran by several hundred farmers. Iran and China are the most advanced countries in the commercialization of biotech rice, which is the most important food crop in the world, grown by 250 million farmers, and the principal food of the world's 1.3 billion poorest people, mostly subsistence farmers. Thus, the commercialization of biotech rice has enormous implications for the alleviation of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, not only for the rice growing and consuming countries in Asia, but for all biotech crops and their acceptance on a global basis. China has already field tested biotech rice in pre-production trials and is expected to approve biotech rice in the near-term.

  In 2005, the US, followed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada and China continued to be the principal adopters of biotech crops globally, with 49.8 million hectares planted in the US (55% of global biotech area) of which approximately 20% were stacked products containing two or three genes, with the first triple gene product making its debut in maize in the US in 2005. The stacked products, currently deployed in the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and South Africa and approved in the Philippines, are an important and growing future trend which is more appropriate to quantify as "trait hectares" rather than hectares of adopted biotech crops. Number of "trait hectares" in US in 2005 was 59.4 million hectares compared with 49.8 million hectares of biotech crops, a 19% variance, and globally 100 million "trait hectares" versus 90 million hectares, a 10% variance.

  The largest increase in any country in 2005 was in Brazil, provisionally estimated at 4.4 million hectares (9.4 million hectares in 2005 compared with 5 million in 2004), followed by the US (2.2 million hectares), Argentina (0.9 million hectares) and India (0.8 million hectares). India had by far the largest year-on-year proportional increase, with almost a three-fold increase from 500,000 hectares in 2004 to 1.3 million hectares in 2005.

  Biotech soybean continued to be the principal biotech crop in 2005, occupying 54.4 million hectares (60% of global biotech area), followed by maize (21.2 million hectares at 24%), cotton (9.8 million hectares at 11%) and canola (4.6 million hectares at 5% of global biotech crop area).

  In 2005, herbicide tolerance, deployed in soybean, maize, canola and cotton continued to be the most dominant trait occupying 71% or 63.7 million hectares followed by Bt insect resistance at 6.2 million hectares (18%) and 10.1 million hectares (11%) to the stacked genes. The latter was the fastest growing trait group between 2004 and 2005 at 49% growth, compared with 9% for herbicide tolerance and 4% for insect resistance.

  Biotech crops were grown by approximately 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries in 2005, up from 8.25 million farmers in 17 countries in 2004. Notably, 90% of the beneficiary farmers were resource-poor farmers from developing countries, whose increased incomes from biotech crops contributed to the alleviation of their poverty. In 2005, approximately 7.7 million poor subsistence farmers (up from 7.5 million in 2004) benefited from biotech crops – the majority in China with 6.4 million, 1 million in India, thousands in South Africa including many women Bt cotton farmers, more than 50,000 in the Philippines, with the balance in the seven developing countries which grew biotech crops in 2005. This initial modest contribution of biotech crops to the Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty by 50% by 2015 is an important development which has enormous potential in the second decade of commercialization from 2006 to 2015.

  During the period 1996 to 2005, the proportion of the global area of biotech crops grown by developing countries increased every year. More than one-third of the global biotech crop area in 2005, equivalent to 33.9 million hectares, was grown in developing countries where growth between 2004 and 2005 was substantially higher (6.3 million hectares or 23% growth) than industrial countries (2.7 million hectares or 5% growth). The increasing collective impact of the five principal developing countries (China, India, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa) is an important continuing trend with implications for the future adoption and acceptance of biotech crops worldwide.

  In the first decade, the accumulated global biotech crop area was 475 million hectares or 1.17 billion acres, equivalent to almost half of the total land area of the USA or China, or 20 times the total land area of the UK. The continuing rapid adoption of biotech crops reflects the substantial and consistent improvements in productivity, the environment, economics, and social benefits realized by both large and small farmers, consumers and society in both industrial and developing countries.

  There is cause for cautious optimism that the stellar growth in biotech crops, witnessed in the first decade of commercialization, 1996 to 2005, will continue and probably be surpassed in the second decade 2006-2015. Adherence to good farming practices with biotech crops will remain critical as it has been during the first decade and continued responsible stewardship must be practiced, particularly by the countries of the South, which will be the major deployers of biotech crops in the coming decade.

Reports available at:
ISAAA Briefs No. 34 - 2005
Briefs 34 Highlights.pdf

Submitted by Elcio Guimaraes

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1.04  Genetic research to rescue Mexico's tequila plant

For centuries, tequila has been made according to age-old Mexican tradition. The alcoholic drink is distilled from sweet juices that form when stems of a native cactus, the blue agave, are cooked.

But recently, tequila makers have had to turn to cutting-edge science to save their crop, reports Rex Dalton in this article.

Nearly a decade ago, disease and pests wiped out much of the country’s blue agave. The plants were highly susceptible because of their genetic uniformity, which stemmed from two factors.

First, the industrialisation of agave farming in the early 1980s created millions of genetically similar plants. Second, cross-pollination is usually impossible because farmers cut off the agave flowers to boost sugar content in the stem.

When a warmer, wetter climate led to more disease in the late 1990s, tequila producers took action.

They worked with academics to study the plant’s genetics and physiology, with a view to increasing its diversity and resilience to disease.

Some farmers fear, however, that cross-pollination could create lower-quality hybrid plants and lead to economic losses. Scientists say a better understanding of the plant's genetics could address these fears.

Either way, even these efforts might not prevent another agave crisis. As over-production causes prices to plunge, farmers are caring less for their plants ­ and unwittingly creating the conditions for disease to strike again.

Reference: Nature 438, 1070 (2005)

22 December 2005

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1.05  Tomato trek yields Chilean treasure

ARS News Service, Agricultural Research Service, USDA
 Hearty tomato soup, rich and piping hot, makes a cheery mid-afternoon snack on a cold winter's day. Tomorrow, superb tomatoes for full-bodied soups or perhaps for salads of crisp greens may owe some of their pedigree to the rarest of Chile's wild tomatoes.

Plant explorers funded by the Agricultural Research Service--the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency--collected seed from tomato relatives in a 14-day trek earlier this year through 2,379 miles of Chilean countryside.

The expedition, which took them from rugged coastal expanses to 12,000-foot-high reaches of the Andes, followed up on an equally arduous 2001 search. Both explorations yielded prized seed that will fill gaps in the C.M. Rick Tomato Genetics Resource Center's premier collection of the domesticated tomato's wild, rare and unusual relatives from Chile and elsewhere in South America--tomato's ancestral home.

Center director Roger T. Chetelat at the University of California-Davis organized the journey with colleagues from that campus and the University of Chile-Santiago.

The Davis center is part of a nationwide network of ARS-funded genebanks that safeguard relatives of crop plants, ensuring that the natural richness and diversity of their genetic makeup, or gene pool, isn't lost.

The Chilean specimens of Lycopersicon chilense, L. peruvianum, Solanum sitiens, and S. lycopersicoides that the scientists collected as seed bear bright-yellow or yellow-white flowers. The plants' petite green tomatoes, smaller than a typical cherry tomato, are unappetizing except to grazers like llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, guanacos, goats or sheep--or to certain insects.

The hardy plants may harbor valuable genes not found in other Chilean specimens at Davis. Those genes may enrich the nutritional value of tomorrow's supermarket and backyard garden tomatoes, L. esculentum, or perhaps boost resistance to its formidable insect and disease enemies.

Now, at Davis, plants are being grown from the wild tomato seed, so scientists can further investigate tomato's genetic diversity and can provide seed samples to other researchers and tomato breeders worldwide.
Marcia Wood,

30 December 2005

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1.06  Unlocking the genetic vault of the International Rice Genebank

Laguna, The Philippines
Imagine the diversity of rice that the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) conserves in the International Rice Genebank. The Philippines based repository, responsible for safekeeping all known types of rice, contains more than 100,000 strains and varieties (each is referred to as an "accession"). Many of these comprise a mixture of different genotypes. Each rice genotype - that is genetic makeup that defines each type of rice - has an estimated 50,000 genes. Every genes comes in an unknown number of different versions, known as alleles, and each allele may change the way the rice looks or grows or tastes. Consider the incalculable number of different possible combinations of all the different versions, and you begin to comprehend the diversity of rice.

Try a simple calculation, assuming that only two alleles of each gene actually work: write down the number "! 1" and then write 15,000 zeros after it. Equivalently, say "million" a thousand million times (it'll take you 12 years without sleeping). Give or take a few thousand zeros, that's approximately the number of combinations of alleles that might make a recognizable rice plant. Then consider the enormous complexity of interacting biochemical reactions that drive the life of any organism - each allele may have a different effect on any one of the thousands and thousands of biochemical steps. Changing one step produces a series of cumulative effects, altering each subsequent step and, ultimately, the overall biochemical process. The point is that a seemingly genetic difference can produce significant differences in the end product. Each gene affects many traits and each trait is controlled by many genes.

Rice agriculture depends on this diversity. If a new rice disease appears, researchers can search the genebank for resistant varieties. The knowledge required to make rice more t! olerant of drought, for example, exists within the alleles in the collection. The genebank contains the diversity of alleles we need to respond to changes in climate, consumer expectations, agricultural technologies and government priorities.

The entire genebank collection may contain samples of most working versions of each rice gene. The full value of the collection is being, and will be, realized through plant breeding - combining the best alleles from different accessions to create superior new combinations of the traits needed by farmers and consumers. In this way, researchers can breed nutritious, high-quality, high-yielding rice varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases and tolerate stresses such as drought, flooding, low or high temperatures and poor soils.

This seems simple enough in principle, but leaves us with some burning questions. How can we identify the "best" allele of each gene? When a new disease appears, how can we know which alleles offer resistance to that disease? And once we know which alleles, how can we find which of the genebank's more than 100,000 accessions contains them? The challenge is formidable. We are yet to discover the function of most rice genes, or which alleles are possible for most of the genes.

Compounding the difficulty, much of the genetic variation is "hidden" in two ways. First, the effect of an allele depends on the genetic background - the genetic composition of the rest of the genome - and may not be expressed in the accessions that contain it. (The rice genome is the complete set of genetic material contained in, and responsible for, a rice plant.) Second, even where an allele is expressed, it takes a lot of research to tease out its effect from the effects of all other genes in the genome. Finding the unknown valuable alleles in the collection is called allele mining. Discovering all there is to know about the genetic diversity of rice is way beyond the capacity of current technologies. The necessary first step to actually mining for new alleles in the genebank collection is to decide which part of the genome we should researchers look at? Discovering the important genes involves an intensive series of genetic analyses of a small, carefully selected set of genotypes. This area of functional genomics, or gene discovery, allows us to decide which parts of the genome determine agronomic traits of interest. The answer depends on which traits we are interested in - grain quality, nutritional value, disease resistance, tolerance of poor soils and so on. The output of this research is a set of "candidate genes" - genes that we believe may have a certain functional significance.

Having chosen the candidate genes for exploration, we can start the serious business of allele mining - discovering new alleles at the selected genes. This means working through the collection to find all the alleles of these selected genes. Researchers can't just star! t with the first accession and work through the collection. Such an approach would be inefficient, since the second accession, for example, might be similar to the first at the chosen genes, so analyzing that second accession wouldn't give us much additional information. Instead, we begin by choosing a subset of highly distinctive accessions. This subset i know as a "core collection".

To choose the best core collection, researchers collect a wide range of evidence on diversity, then sample accessions representative of this diversity. One easy generic factor is geographic origin. Traditional varieties from different parts of the world have had an independent history of domestication for thousands of years, and are therefore likely to show differences across the whole genome. This way, researchers can discover at least the majority of new alleles in a relatively small number of accessions.

However, even a good core collection won't allow us to discover all possible all! eles. Plant breeders are familiar with the concept that breeding is a "numbers game". Breeders need to screen large numbers of plants in order to find the rare valuable genotypes. The same applies to allele mining - if a valuable allele is present in only one of the 100,000 plus accessions, we will miss it from a core, collection. Ultimately, we may have to screen the whole collection. With allelemining technologies rapidly becoming cheaper and faster, this will soon be within our grasp.

However, simply discovering the new alleles is not the end of the story. Each time we discover a new allele at a candidate gene, we then have to determine its agronomic significance. Here we go back to a new round of functional genomics research to assess the value of the new allele.

By discovering the full diversity of available alleles and their agronomic significance, we can finally look forward to genebanks achieving their full potential - contributing to sustainable development! by enabling us to deploy the right alleles in the right places at the right time.

The Network News, Vol. IX No. 11
30 November - 06 December 2005 issue
SEAMEO SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center

10 January 2006

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1.07  Arctic cave to safeguard global crop diversity

A Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean will soon be playing a key role in safeguarding global food production in the event of war or natural disasters.

The Norwegian government is going to dig an artificial cave deep inside a frozen mountain, and equip it with ventilation equipment to keep the temperature inside at minus 10-20 degrees Celsius.

Seeds from the world's crops will be collected by the Global Crop Diversity Trust and stored there.

Cary Fowler, the trust's executive secretary, told SciDev.Net that the seed bank will house about three million packages, each containing hundred of seeds from a different crop variety.

"It will have the capacity to store samples of every crop variety we think exists now, plus have room to add new collections," he says.

The facility on the island of Svalbard, to be completed in 2007, "will provide an extra and very robust layer of security in case the material in other seed banks is lost," says Fowler.

There are more than 1,500 seed banks worldwide but, according to Fowler, only 35-40 meet international standards and many are in areas of political upheaval, frequent natural disasters or other factors that leave them vulnerable to damage or loss.

In recent years, the national seed banks of Afghanistan and Iraq were destroyed during wars in those countries (see Seed bank raises hopes of Iraqi crop comeback).

The project is especially important for developing countries that lack the capacity to create effective seed banks.

"This provides a free service for developing countries and insurance that genetic diversity that matters to them will be preserved," says Fowler.

Duplicates of the Southern African Development Community's seed collections are already being stored in an existing facility on Svalbard and will be moved to the new one when it is completed.

The sub-zero conditions on Svalbard, which is covered in permafrost, mean it will be easier to store live seeds under optimal conditions.

"Even if the [ventilation] equipment failed, it would be months before the temperature inside rose even to the minus 3.5 degrees of permafrost," says Fowler.

Global Crop Diversity Trust

Source: SciDev.Net
13 January 2006

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1.08  Improved New Mexico cotton assessed

The cotton breeding program for New Mexico's cultivars has hitherto led to the release of over 30 Acala 1517 cotton cultivars, and a variety of germplasm lines with high fiber quality and tolerance to Verticillium wilt. By analyzing "Genetic Improvement of New Mexico Acala Cotton Germplasm and Their Genetic Diversity," J. F. Zhang of New Mexico State University and colleagues look at the products of the breeding program, and take a look at the cotton at both the molecular and macromolecular model.

By using such parameters as yield, boll size, and fiber strength; and measuring genetic divergence by molecular markers, researchers found, among others that: 1) lint yield and lint percentage have increased since the program's inception, while boll size and seed index have gradually decreased since the 1960s; 2) fiber strength has been enhanced, while fiber length has tended to shorten; and 3) there is substantial genetic diversity among the Acala 1517 cotton germplasm.

Researchers state that the Acala 1517 cultivars are "most genetically diverse from other current commercial cultivars and should be promising sources in breeding to be used as parental lines to broaden genetic variations within upland cotton."

Subscribers to Crop Science can access the complete article at Other readers may see the abstract at

From CropBiotech Update 21 December 2005
Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding & Genetics
Cornell University

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1.09  Growing crops to cope with climate change

Scientists at the UK's leading plant science centre have uncovered a gene that could help to develop new varieties of crop that will be able to cope with the changing world climate. Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have identified the gene in barley that controls how the plant responds to seasonal changes in the length of the day. This is key to understanding how plants have adapted their flowering behaviour to different environments.

The John Innes Centre researchers have discovered that the Ppd-H1 gene in barley controls the timing of the activity of another gene called CO. When the length of the day is long enough CO activates one of the key genes that triggers flowering. Naturally occurring variation in Ppd-H1 affects the time of day when CO is activated. This shifts the time of year that the plant flowers.

Dr David Laurie, the research leader at the John Innes Centre, said, "Growing crops will become more difficult as the global climate changes. The varieties of crops grown in the UK are suited to the soil, seasons and traditional cool, wet summers. Later flowering in barley means it has a longer growing period to amass yield. If British summers get hotter and drier we will need types of wheat, barley and other crops that flower earlier, like Mediterranean varieties, to beat summer droughts. However, new varieties will need to be adapted in all other ways to UK conditions. "

With the new knowledge about the workings of barley researchers and plant breeders will find it easier to select variations that will thrive in the UK environment but will also flower earlier, coping with hotter summers.

Dr Laurie commented, "Although our research has been on barley we know from observation that other crops show similar variation in the way they respond to the lengthening of the day in springtime. We are confident that we will find equivalent genes in other key crops."

Professor Julia Goodfellow, BBSRC Chief Executive, said, "Climate change presents a huge challenge for the world. Although every effort must be concentrated on reducing the impact of human activity on the environment, science should also be answering questions about how we can live in an altered climate. Research such as this helps to present answers to some of these problems."

Dr David Laurie, John Innes Centre:
Matt Goode, BBSRC Media Officer:

19 January 2006

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1.10  USDA and DOE to coordinate research of plant and microbial genomics

Soybean DNA to be sequenced
The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy announced Monday they will share resources and coordinate the study of plant and microbial genomics, and the Department of Energy will tackle the sequencing of the soybean genome as the first project resulting from the agreement.

"This agreement demonstrates a joint commitment to support high-quality genomics research and integrated projects to meet the nation's agriculture and energy challenges," said Dr. Colien Hefferan, administrator of USDA's Cooperative State Research, Extension and Economics Service (CSREES), who signed the agreement for USDA.

"Both agencies will leverage their expertise and synergize activities involving agricultural- and energy-related plants and microbes," said Dr. Ari Patrinos, Department of Energy Associate Director of Science for Biological and Environmental Research. "We will enhance coordination of proposed sequencing projects through the Biological and Environmental Research Microbial Sequencing Program or the Joint Genome Institute's Community Sequencing Program."

USDA and DOE will establish a framework to cooperate and coordinate agency-relevant plant and microbial genome sequencing and bioinformatics that can serve the needs of the broader scientific community and solve problems that are important to each agency's mission. This agreement could help speed the deployment of emerging technologies, such as improved methods of gene identification and sequence assembly.

The DOE Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) will sequence the genome (decode the DNA) of the soybean, Glycine max, the world's most valuable legume crop. Soybean is of particular interest to DOE because it is the principal source of biodiesel, a renewable, alternative fuel. Biodiesel has the highest energy content of any alternative fuel and is significantly more environmentally friendly than comparable petroleum-based fuels, since it degrades rapidly in the environment. It also burns more cleanly than conventional fuels, releasing only half of the pollutants and reducing the production of carcinogenic compounds by more than 80 percent. Over 3.1 billion bushels of soybeans were grown in the U.S. on nearly 75 million acres in 2004, with an estimated annual value exceeding $17 billion, second only to corn and approximately twice that of wheat. The soybean genome is about 1.1 billion base pairs in size, less than half the size of the maize or human genomes.

"The soybean represents an excellent example of how DOE JGI is playing a key role in 'translational genomics,' that is, applying the tools of DNA sequencing and molecular biology to contributing to the development of new avenues for clean energy generation and for crop improvement," said DOE JGI Director Dr. Eddy Rubin. "Effective application of translational genomics to soybean requires detailed knowledge of the plant's genetic code. With this starting material in hand, researchers in academia, industry and agriculture will be better positioned to optimize soybean for the broadest range of uses."

Contact: Jeff Sherwood:
DOE/US Department of Energy

17 January 2006

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1.11  New possibilities to fight pests with biological means

Max Planck researchers in Jena, Germany have identified a gene which produces a chemical 'cry for help' that attracts beneficial insects to damaged plants
Corn plants emit a cocktail of scents when they are attacked by certain pests, such as a caterpillar known as the Egyptian cotton leaf worm. Parasitic wasps use these plant scents to localize the caterpillar and deposit their eggs on it, so that their offspring can feed on the caterpillar. Soon after, the caterpillar dies and the plant is relieved from its attacker. In the case of corn, only one gene, TPS10, has to be activated to attract the parasitic wasps. This gene carries information for a terpene synthase, an enzyme forming the sesquiterpene scent compounds that are released by the plant and attract wasps toward the damaged corn plant. Since this mechanism is based only on a single gene, it might be useful for the development of crop plants with a better resistance to pests (PNAS, Early Edition, January 16-20, 2006).

At least 15 species of plants are known to release scents after insect damage, thus attracting the enemies of their enemies. Scientists term this mechanism "indirect defence". A previous cooperation by the scientists in Neuchatel and Jena showed that indirect defence functions not only above ground, but also below the earth's surface [1].

To understand the biochemistry behind this plant defence, biologists of the Max Planck institute studied corn plants, caterpillars of the species Spodoptera littoralis (Egyptian cotton leaf worm) and parasitic wasps of the species Cotesia marginiventris. Deciphering the complex mix of scents that the plants release after damage offered clues as to which classes of enzymes might be important for scent production.

The researchers isolated various genes encoding terpene synthases, the enzymes that produce these scents. One of these genes, TPS10, produced the exact bouquet of nine scent compounds that was released by the damaged corn plant. To demonstrate that TPS10 is indeed the important gene, the scientists introduced TPS10 into another plant, called Arabidopsis thaliana, which then released the same scents that have been observed in corn. To test whether these scents do attract the parasitic wasps, these plants were tested in an olfactometer, a device to study insect behaviour.

The researchers placed scent-producing as well as unmodified plants in the six arms of the olfactometer. When the predatory wasps were set free in the central cylinder of the olfactometer, they flew towards the scent-producing plants. The experiments led to an additional, surprising result: in order to react this way, the wasps needed a first exposure to both the corn scent and the caterpillar which led them to associate the two. Young, "naive" wasps without this experience could not distinguish between scent-producing plants and control plants, or failed to move at all.

Contact: Dr. Jörg Degenhardt:

17 January 2006

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1.12  Cornell University geneticists improve methods for identifying what controls complex traits, from disease to crop yields

Ithaca, New York
Cornell University researchers have improved a technique called association mapping that identifies the genetic origins of complex traits, from disease to crop yields to milk yields, controlled by multiple genes.

Geneticists can now more accurately determine which genes control these complex traits by eliminating false positives (significant results produced by chance) that result when individuals are related (from familial to population levels) and share genetic variations.

"The new method will be very useful for a variety of applications, from plant and animal breeding in identifying genomic regions that are responsible for higher nutritional value to human genetics in pinpointing genetic causes of human diseases," said Jianming Yu, a postdoctoral researcher in Cornell's Institute for Genomic Diversity. He is a lead author of a paper published in Nature Genetics online on Dec. 25 and appearing in a forthcoming print issue.

One of the big challenges geneticists face in accurately determining relationships between genes and the traits they control is how to rule out factors that lead to false positives. One such factor is population structure -- how populations are subdivided or isolated and how geographical or environmental selection pressures alter genetic variation over time.

Familial relatedness, found naturally in populations, is the other major factor that determines how genetic variation is shared. While population structures account for coarse genetic changes that occurred over very long time scales, genes altered by family relatedness are finer and more recent -- perhaps occurring within the most recent 10 generations.

A hypothetical "chopstick" gene provides a simple example of how spurious associations might occur. Geneticists searching for such a gene might notice that Asians are far better at using chopsticks than Westerners. By comparing the genomes of people from the East and West, the researchers might find many genetic markers in Asians that correlate with chopstick use. But in truth, the phenotype (ability to use chopsticks) and a gene that frequently appears in Asians are not related at all, since the ability to use chopsticks is cultural rather than genetic. The false positive occurs simply because these two populations show different genetic variation.

The new method uses statistical techniques to rule out such false positives. Researchers can tell that the method is accurate because the results behave according to the rules of a good statistical test.

"If you are not controlling for population structure and familial relatedness, you would have more positive correlations than you would expect by chance alone," said Gael Pressoir, a postdoctoral researcher in Cornell's Institute for Genomic Diversity and a lead author of the Nature Genetics paper.

The research combines statistical and molecular genetic trends from plant, human and cattle genetics. In plant genetics, researchers focus on markers -- random mutations in a DNA sequence that act as genetic milestones -- to estimate genetic relationships; in human genetics, they focus on models of population differences; and in cattle genetics, they focus on statistical analyses of complex pedigrees. However, the researchers found that using genetic markers with these statistical trends is the best way to account for the effects of population structure and familial relatedness.

"The method performs better than other approaches as it fully utilizes genomic information in defining relationships among individuals rather than known records, such as demography or pedigree ancestry, which can be unreliable and incomplete," said the paper's senior author, Ed Buckler, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Station (USDA-ARS) research geneticist in Cornell's Institute for Genomic Diversity and an adjunct associate professor in Cornell's Department of Plant Breeding.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the USDA-ARS.
By Krishna Ramanujan

16 January 2006

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1.13  Advancements in interspecific hybridization of bromegrass

Aumsville, Oregon
In recent years, two forage breeding programs have introduced their first examples of a new wave of bromegrass options.  These new ‘Hybrid’ Bromegrasses are interspecific hybridizations, mainly between Meadow bromegrass (Bromus riparius or beibersteinii) and Smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermis).  Improved varieties or strains of these two species have been used extensively throughout the mid-Western and upper mid-Western U.S., western Plains, Canada, Northern and Eastern Europe, and Northern Asia for centuries. 

Both species, alone, have many excellent characteristics as a forage crop.  At the same time breeders are trying to accentuate and increase certain capabilities, they are also working to reduce specific negative or undesirable qualities that, to date, have been inherent within each species.

“Hybrids between the two species are now unlocking, or expanding, the parameters of potential improvements made by varietal research and development, says Plant Breeder Chad Miebach, Radix Research.  “To date, we have seen radical improvements in forage production.  Improving Forage production involves the balance and manipulation of many characteristics and concepts:  cold tolerance, vegetative re-growth, seasonal and yearly activity patterns, drought tolerance, forage quality, mixed-crop equilibrium and seed yield capabilities to name a few.” 

The first hybrid brome variety developed and released with commercial production in the U.S. was ‘Big Foot’.  A second variety will produce commercial seed in 2008.  These varieties have focused development on improved re-growth and expanded seasonal activity for the U.S. producers.  Likewise, two hybrid brome varieties have been released in Canada since 2000, ‘AC Knowles’ and ‘AC Success’.  One with commercial seed available, the other will show commercial seed in 2007.  “They are dual purpose types; that is they have a high yielding first cut hay yield like smooth bromegrass, and then have rapid re-growth for grazing following the hay cutting, more like meadow bromegrass”, says Dr. Bruce Coulman, Plant Breeder at the Saskatoon Research Centre and Department Head of Plant Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan.

Although there are currently few ‘Hybrid’ brome varieties available to the end-user thus far, the initial genetic enhancements have been dramatic and product development continues, warranting

20 January 2006

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1.14  CIMMYT turns wheat genome back

Today's bread wheat is the product of a 30,000 year old series of hybridization events. First, wild wheat mated with a species of goat grass, and their offspring - a primitive wheat called emmer - crossed with another wild goat grass 21,000 years later to produce the modern day Triticum aestivum. This wheat has been so popular, it, and its descendants have been the only kinds of wheat planted for centuries.

This wide planting of the crop has led to low genetic diversity in wheat. To counter this, researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico have turned back the clock to bring wheat to its original form.

CIMMYT researchers collected wild goat grass from the Middle East, crossed it with modern emmer, and created different varieties of bread wheat all over again. The new wheats, however, are still not suitable for farming, but the experiments have hitherto been promising: one strain produces 20-40% more grain under dry conditions, as compared with conventional varieties.

Read the complete article at For more information on wheat's gene pool, as well as other research activities of the institute, visit CIMMYT at

From CropBiotech Update 6 January 2006
Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding & Genetics
Cornell University

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1.15  ICARDA/CIMMYT wheat improvement program for dry areas

El Batan, Mexico and Aleppo, Syria
During the meeting of the Board of Trustees of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) at International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the two centers agreed to the joint implementation of the ICARDA/CIMMYT Wheat Improvement Program (ICWIP) in the Central and West Asia and North Africa (CWANA) region. ICWIP will be hosted in CWANA by ICARDA and include all research undertaken on wheat improvement in CWANA by both centers, including spring, facultative, and winter bread wheat and durum wheat.

The centers also agreed that the ICARDA/CIMMYT Wheat Improvement Program should be managed by a jointly appointed Director. As the first major outcome of the new agreement, which was signed officially at the annual general meeting of the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) in December 2005, the two centers have named Dr Sanjaya Rajaram director of the new program.

Dr Rajaram joined ICARDA, based in Aleppo, Syria, in early 2005 as Director of the newly-formed Megaproject, “Integrated Gene Management” (MP2), which includes wheat improvement, after having worked as a wheat scientist at CIMMYT for 34 years. His association with ICARDA, however, goes back to the 1980s, when a joint
CIMMYT/ICARDA program was established at ICARDA and, while still serving at CIMMYT in Mexico, he directed the CIMMYT staff posted at ICARDA in the joint program.

ICARDA and CIMMYT wish Dr Rajaram every success in his new appointment. Both centers are confident that his efforts will promote effective delivery of useful products to partners and, given his experience in wheat research and familiarity with both centers, will foster and take advantage of the many synergies between the ICARDA and CIMMYT research teams.

ICARDA serves the entire developing world for the improvement of barley, lentil, and faba bean; and dry-area developing countries for the on-farm management of water, improvement of nutrition and productivity of small ruminants (sheep and goats), and rehabilitation and management of rangelands. In the Central and West Asia and North Africa (CWANA) region, ICARDA is responsible for the improvement of durum and bread wheats, chickpea, pasture and forage legumes and farming systems; and for the protection and enhancement of the natural resource base of water, land, and biodiversity.

18 January 2006

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1.16  Modified wheat takes root with little protest in Saskatchewan - Different method used

Saskatchewan farmer Michael Kirk has, according to this story, a virtually invincible variety of wheat stashed in his bins ready for planting next spring.

The wheat, known by the name CDC Imagine, stands straight even in high winds and unlike many varieties is not prone to losing its seeds in bad weather.

The story says that CDC Imagine has been genetically altered so it keeps growing when sprayed with herbicides that normally make wheat shrivel up and die, the first herbicide-tolerant wheat in Canada.

Perhaps even more remarkable, the story says, this high-tech wheat has avoided the wrath of farmers, environmentalists, consumers and marketers who drove Monsanto's herbicide-tolerant wheat out of Canada in 2004. The opposition was based on fears about possible human health hazards, increased weed resistance and fears of corporate control over important crops.

CDC Imagine has taken root on the Prairies with little protest. More than 200,000 acres of the wheat were grown in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in 2005. And BASF Canada, which produces CDC Imagine, has now applied to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for permission to grow three more types of herbicide tolerant wheat.

Stephen Yarrow, director of CFIA's plant biosafety office, was cited as saying they all have the same "novel trait," but protests are "not even on the radar scree."

The reason is that BASF -- the world's largest chemical company, based in Germany -- created its wheat using a gene-altering process called mutagenesis, which is much more palatable to foreign markets and the Canadian Wheat Board than Monsanto's genetically modified creation.

The story explains that mutagenesis entails blasting seeds or cells with radiation or bathing them in chemicals to cause mutations in a plant's existing genes. Plant breeders have used the process for decades to create new flower colours or better barley for beer making. BASF used chemicals to create the mutation that protects CDC Imagine from herbicides.

Some say it doesn't really matter whether the plants are created through genetic engineering and mutagenesis.
Mr. Yarrow was quoted as saying, "The risks to the environment are exactly the same."

But the distinction has given BASF free rein to market CDC Imagine as "the first and only non-genetically modified" herbicide-tolerant wheat in Canada.

The wheat has been embraced by the Canadian Wheat Board, which led the protests against Monsanto wheat out of a fear the GM wheat might end up co-mingling or contaminating regular wheat, and prompt offshore customers to boycott all Canadian wheat.

Maureen Fitzhenry, media relations manager at the Canadian Wheat Board, was quoted as saying, "We have no concern with the BASF wheat, because it's not GM," (yes it is -- dp) adding that the board's job is to market wheat and it must respond to consumers in many parts of Asia and Europe who are anti-GM food products.

Kent Jennings, manager of biotechnology and toxicology at BASF Canada, was cited as saying that to create herbicide tolerant wheat, BASF scientists bathe seeds in a chemical that induces change in gene sequences, and they then grow the wheat and spray it with herbicide. The survivors have the desired mutation.

A single genetic change or mutation is all it takes to create imidazolinone tolerance.

CFIA has ruled that the gene change poses "no significant" risk to the environment or to animal or human health and approved its use in spring wheat, such as CDC-Imagine, which is used to make bread.

Margaret Munro, National Post via Agnet

29 December 2005

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1.17  New elite maize lines from CIMMYT offer enhanced nutrition and disease resistance

El Batán, Mexico
CIMMYT has just released two unique maize lines that will interest breeders in developing countries. One is the first to combine maize streak virus resistance in a quality protein maize and the other is a quality protein version of one of CIMMYTs most popular maize lines. Made available every few years to partners, CIMMYT maize lines (CMLs) are among the most prized products of the Center’s maize breeding program.

“These are truly elite maize lines,” says Kevin Pixley, the Director of the Center’s Tropical Ecosystems Program. “They represent a distillation of maize genetic resources from around the world to which CIMMYT, as a global center, has privileged access. Only one of 10,000 lines might become a CML. Breeders in national programs in many developing countries look forward to new sets of these lines.”

The lines are inbred and possess excellent combining ability, which means they can be used to form either hybrids or open pollinated varieties, and so are versatile parent materials for breeders in national programs.

The new quality protein and maize streak resistant line will serve as a natural replacement for a parent in the popular Ethiopian maize hybrid, Gabisa. Maize streak virus is endemic in Africa. Severely infected plants do not produce proper cobs and nor grow to full height. Farmers will have the chance to use a hybrid with the enhanced nutritional characteristics of quality protein maize, plus built-in disease resistance.

The quality protein version of one of CIMMYT’s most successful maize lines­CML264­is virtually indistinguishable from the original parent, which is found in the pedigrees of more than a dozen commercial hybrids in Central America, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela. Farmers using varieties derived from it will obtain the same high yields as always, while enjoying the higher levels of grain lysine and tryptophan­two essential amino acids that improve nutrition for both humans and farm animals.

A description of the complete set of new CMLs can be found at:

Source: CIMMYT E-News, vol 2 no. 12, via
December 2005

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1.18  A heartier harvest from rigid rice plants

Tokyo, Japan
By David Biello, Scientific American via Checkbiotech
Rice feeds more than half the world's people. The long-leaved grass, which thrives in shallow wetlands, produces edible seeds that have sustained humans for generations. In the 1960s researchers bred rice plants to respond favorably to fertilizer, which helped prevent famine by allowing farmers to grow more rice per acre than ever before. Now scientists have improved rice once again, this time by stiffening the plant.

Tomoaki Sakamoto of the University of Tokyo and his colleagues tested 34 different varieties of rice plants in which individual genes had been removed--specifically avoiding an approach in which genetically desirable traits are imported from other plants. One such plant lacked the OsDWARF4 gene, which governs production of a steroid involved in growth. Eliminating this particular gene created a plant with stiff but normal leaves, yet the removal had no impact on flowering or the eventual grain, the researchers report in a paper that will be published online tomorrow in Nature Biotechnology.

Scientists have long sought such a stiff-leafed rice plant, believing that it would raise grain yields. A rigid rice plant allows sunlight to reach leaves on even the lowest parts of the plant, improving photosynthesis and therefore grain production; it also allows plants to be placed in closer proximity without interfering with each other's growth. But previous attempts to produce such strength by knocking out specific genes had stunted the plants or produced bad seeds.

The new rice also remedies one of the problematic legacies of the original "green revolution": over-use of fertilizer. The new plant produced more than 30 percent more grain than regular rice plants without the generous helpings of fertilizer commonly used today.

Copyright © 2005 Scientific American

19 December 2005

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1.19  Bacterial protein mimics host to cripple defenses

Ithaca, New York
The leaf on the right shows a patch of cells killed off by programmed cell death in response to a threat. Both leaves were bleached to better visualize this effect.

Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a protein from a disease-causing bacterium slips into plant cells and imitates a key host protein in order to cripple the plant’s defenses. This discovery, reported in this week’s Science Express by researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI), advances the understanding of a disease mechanism common to plants, animals, and people.

That mechanism, called programmed cell death (PCD), causes a cell to commit suicide. PCD helps organisms contain infections, nip potential cancers in the bud, and get rid of old or unneeded cells. However, runaway PCD leads to everything from unseemly spots on tomatoes to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

BTI Scientist and Cornell University Professor of Plant Pathology Gregory Martin studies the interaction of Pseudomonas syringae bacteria with plants to find what determines whether a host succumbs to disease. Martin and graduate student Robert Abramovitch previously found that AvrPtoB, a protein Pseudomonas injects into plants, disables PCD in a variety of susceptible plants and in yeast (a single-celled ancestor of both plants and animals). Abramovitch and Martin compared AvrPtoB’s amino acid sequence to known proteins in other microbes and in higher organisms, but found no matches that might hint at how the protein works at the molecular level.

“We had some biochemical clues to what AvrPtoB was doing, but getting the three-dimensional crystal structure was really key,” Martin explained. To find that structure, Martin and Abramovitch worked with collaborators at Rockefeller University. The structure of AvrPtoB revealed that the protein looks very much like a ubiquitin ligase, an enzyme plant and animal cells use to attach the small protein ubiquitin to unneeded or defective proteins. Other enzymes then chew up and “recycle” the ubiquitin-tagged proteins.

To confirm that AvrPtoB was a molecular mimic, Martin and Abramovitch altered parts of the protein that correspond to crucial sites on ubiquitin ligase. These changes rendered Pseudomonas harmless to susceptible tomato plants, and made the purified protein inactive. AvrPtoB’s function is remarkable not only because its amino acid sequence is so different from other ubiquitin ligases, but also because bacteria don’t use ubiquitin to recycle their own proteins.

“An interesting question is where this protein came from,” Martin noted. “Did the bacteria steal it from a host and modify it over time, or did it evolve independently? We don’t know.”

Regardless, the discovery “helps us understand how organisms regulate cell death on a fundamental level,” Martin said. AvrPtoB provides a sophisticated tool researchers can use to knock out PCD brought on by a variety of conditions, shedding light on immunity. The protein itself or a derivative might one day be applied to control disease in crops or in people. For now, Martin and Abramovitch are working to find which proteins AvrPtoB acts on, and what role those proteins play in host PCD.

26 December 2005

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1.20  Unique genes hold the secret to better grain yields

Basel Switzerland
 The world's population is growing rapidly and is estimated to reach 8.9 billions by 2025. But alone today there are approximately 852 million undernourished people. So one of the most important goals for society is to provide enough food for all. By 2025 the global crop yield needs to increase by 25 percent.

Cereals are an important nutrition source for humans and livestock. The three main cereals are rice (23 percent), wheat (17 percent) and maize (10 percent).

However, rice is not only of great global importance, but it also is a model organism for cereals. It has the smallest genome of the main cereals, it shares many similar genomic regions with other cereals and it can be easily transformed. Therefore there are many genetic markers known and different mutants available.

In 2002, the rice genome was completely mapped. This makes rice an interesting object for research and resulted in the further development of products such as Golden Rice, a rice species that is genetically modified to produce vitamin A.

A group of Japanese and Chinese researchers, headed by Dr. Motoyuki Ashikari from the Bioscience and Biotechnology Center of Nagoya University and Dr. Hitoshi Sakakibara of the Plant Science Center in Yokohama, searched for means to increase the yield of rice.

The research group also included scientists from the Honda Research Institute and the China National Rice Research Institute. They recently published their results in Science under the title "Cytokinin Oxidase Regulates Rice Grain Production."

Agriculturally important traits such as growth height or grain number are often ruled by a number of genes located on quantitative trait loci (QTLs). A bigger yield can be achieved by increasing number of the grains or by producing taller plants. Taller plants, however, are more sensitive to weather. Therefore economically desirable plants are small and have many grains.

The group led by Dr. Ashikari and Dr. Sakakibara focused on the QTLs for plant growth and grain number. To run a QTL analysis, the researchers used two rice varieties. One was short with many grains and one was tall with few grains. By crossing those two varieties they managed to identify five QTLs concerning grain number (Gn) and four concerning plant height (Ph).

Next, the most effective QTLs - Gn1 and Ph1 - were chosen for further research. From their work, the group succeeded in identifying the two main genes of these QTLs, a gene called semi-dwarf 1 (sd1) and another called OxCKX2.

When inactivated sd1 decreases the plant height about 20 percent. OsCKX2 encodes the enzyme Cytokinin Oxidase. If this enzyme loses its function the grain yield is increased by about 44 percent. Comparisons with today's rice varieties helped to verify those discoveries. If both genes are shut down, the rice variety produces 23 percent more grains than a normal plant. The increase of grain yield caused by the inactivation of OsCKX2 compensates for the loss of yield due to a smaller plant from the inactivation of sd1.

Dr. Ashikari's laboratory hopes the results of their research will contribute to breeding. Their study helps to understand the function of some important rice genes, while also shedding light on some basic mechanisms of rice metabolism. Other researchers will be able to use this information.

Dr. Ashikari told Checkbiotech, "This time, we are trying to clarify the mechanism of grain yielding. Thanks to progress of genomics with rice, many important genes will appear soon. We hope our results apply to other cereals as well."

At the moment, the group is cloning many other important agricultural traits. They are specially focusing on yield traits, such as grain number and panicle length. They are also checking the field traits including taste or negative side effects. This will take some time, however.

Now the scientists and their sponsor (Honda) are breeding rice using these results. "We are thinking both, traditional breeding and a genetic engineering approach are necessary, because Golden Rice could not have been produced by traditional approach," Dr. Ashikari told Checkbiotech about their breeding project.

"We are not concerned about GMO [genetically modified organisms]. It will be definitely necessary in the future. But scientists have to explain that it is safe to use."

Cytokinin Oxidase Regulates Rice Grain Production
Motoyuki Ashikari et al.
Science, Vol. 309, 29 July 2005

by Mirjam Marti
Source:, Checkbiotech, via
11 January 2006

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1.21  Sun protection for plants

Scientists in Sheffield working on the fundamental biological processes of plants could make significant difference to the lives of farmers in many parts of the world. Using model plant species, such as the tiny weed Arabidopsis, the researchers have uncovered one of the processes used by the plants to protect themselves from potentially lethal environmental conditions. Their discoveries are now being applied to improve the productivity of bean farmers in South America and rice producers in Asia.

Very high levels of sunlight can be hazardous to plants, overwhelming their ability to photosynthesise. This effect is exaggerated when there is a shortage of water or extreme temperatures. The resulting damage to the delicate photosynthetic membranes in the plant leads to impaired growth, cell destruction and, eventually, plant death. The scientists, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), have found that plants are able to turn unwanted absorbed light into heat by altering the structure of one of the proteins in these membranes. This unique nanoscale safety valve prevents plant damage by harmlessly dissipating the lethal excess radiation. This photoprotective process was found to be aided by a special carotenoid molecule called zeaxanthin and plants with higher levels of this molecule appear to be better protected.

Professor Peter Horton, research leader at the University of Sheffield, said, "Plants use a range of processes to adapt to harsh and potentially damaging environmental conditions. We are beginning to understand the mechanisms plants have at a molecular level to prevent damage from excess sunlight. We hope that this knowledge could be used to improve photosynthesis rates, and therefore productivity, in staple crops that feed millions in parts of the world where environmental conditions can be particularly harsh."

Professor Horton continued, "To fully apply this research to improving the productivity of crops we need to understand how these processes relate to plant growth and development in field conditions. Processes that may appear important in the laboratory may not be in the varied conditions of the field."

The researchers have been working with agricultural institutes in South America and the Asia to start to work out how their knowledge of the defence mechanisms in model plants such as Arabidopsis could be used to improve the photosynthesis rates of staple crops such as rice and the common bean.

Professor Julia Goodfellow, BBSRC Chief Executive, commented, "This demonstrates how research into fundamental biological processes has the potential to have a big impact on people's lives around the world. Many research projects supported by BBSRC provide fundamental information that can underpin improvements in staple crops both in the UK, as we face the effects of climate change, and overseas, where it can aid sustainable agriculture and improve food security."

Professor Peter Horton, University of Sheffield
Matt Goode, BBSRC Media Officer

12 January 2006

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1.22  New technique developed to analyze tomato genes

Agrobacterium-mediated gene transfer has long been the tool of choice by scientists interested in the function of genes. The technique, however, takes a long time to perform. With this in mind, Diego Orases, of the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, and colleagues carry out “Agroinjection of Tomato Fruits: A Tool for Rapid Functional Analysis of Transgenes Directly in Fruit.” Their article appears in the latest issue of Plant Physiology.

The researchers found that injection of Agrobacterium cultures through the fruit stylar apex of tomatoes resulted in complete fruit infiltration, and allowed tomato cells to express a foreign gene. The method, named fruit agroinjection, was efficient when used in heat-shock regulation of an Arabidopsis promoter, production of recombinant antibodies for molecular farming, and virus-induced gene silencing of the carotene biosynthesis pathway.

With the appropriate controls, researchers surmise that the technique will be a useful tool in fruit biology, as it may be helpful when assaying fruit gene constructs that may interfere with plant developmental processes.

Subscribers to Plant Physiology can access the complete article at

Source: CropBiotech Update via
January 13, 2006

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1.23  The evolution of food plants: genetic control of grass flower architecture

Ramosa2 determines cell fate in branch meristems of maize
Scientists are interested in understanding genetic control of grass inflorescence architecture because seeds of cereal grasses (e.g. rice, wheat, maize) provide most of the world's food. Grass seeds are borne on axillary branches, whose branching patterns dictate most of the variation in form seen in the grasses. Maize produces two types of inflorescence; the tassel (male pollen-bearing flowers) and the ear (female flowers and site of seed or kernel development). The tassel forms from the shoot apical meristem after the production of a defined number of leaves, whereas ears form at the tips of compact axillary branches. Normal maize ears are unbranched, and tassels have long branches only at their base.

Many different genes control the architecture as well as the nutrient content in cereal grasses. The ramosa2 (ra2) mutant of maize has increased branching of inflorescences relative to wild type plants, with short branches replaced by long, indeterminate ones, suggesting that the ra2 gene plays an important role in controlling inflorescence architecture. A recent publication in The Plant Cell (Bortiri et al.) reports that ra2 encodes a putative transcription factor, or protein that controls the expression of other genes. Scientists involved in the study were Esteban Bortiri, George Chuck, and Sarah Hake of the USDA Plant Gene Expression Center and University of California at Berkeley and colleagues Erik Vollbrecht of Iowa State University, Torbert Rocheford of the University of Illinois, and Rob Martienssen of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

The group found that the ra2 gene is transiently expressed early in development of the maize inflorescence. Analysis of gene expression in a number of different mutant backgrounds placed ra2 function upstream of other genes that regulate branch formation. The early expression of ra2 suggests that it functions in regulating the patterning of stem cells in axillary meristems.

Said Dr. Hake, "we think that ra2 is critical for shaping the initial steps of inflorescence architecture in the grass family, because the ra2 expression pattern is conserved in other grasses including rice, barley, and sorghum".

Perspective: In an accompanying Current Perspective Essay, Paula McSteen of The Pennsylvania State University discusses the ramosa pathway in the context of the evolution of plant development.

"The grasses are a premier model system for evolution of development studies in higher plants: there is tremendous diversity in inflorescence morphology, the phylogeny is well understood and many species are genetically transformable so hypotheses can be tested. Maize in particular is an excellent model system for studying selection as it was domesticated from its wild ancestor teosinte a mere 10,000 years ago. Because transcription factors control many developmental processes, it is common to find that diversification of morphology between closely related organisms has involved changes in how transcription factors are regulated or how transcription factors interact with their target genes. An understanding of the ramosa pathway in the grass family will be important in understanding the evolution of the grasses and furthermore will provide an understanding of the mechanisms of evolution of development."

Dr. McSteen commented "because ra2 has increased branching it might have the potential to lead to increased seed number and yield in some cereal grasses. This might not be true for maize because of the structure of the ear, but one can imagine that a ra2 mutant of barley, rice or sorghum might have more branches, and thus produce more seed".
The research paper cited in this report is available at the following link: The accompanying Perspective Essay will be published in the March issue of The Plant Cell. ( For preprints contact Nancy Eckardt

19 January 2006

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2.01  Call for papers for The Plant Genome

In the December issue of CSA News, the Crop Science Society of America announced the launch of The Plant Genome, a new quarterly publication of its flagship journal, Crop Science. The goal of the journal is to provide an outlet for the publication of applied plant-genomics research, a short submission-to-print timeline, and the readership with the latest original research in the application of genomics to the improvement of crops.

The first issue is scheduled for publication in May 2006. Manuscripts to be considered for publication in The Plant Genome can be submitted directly by email to the founding Technical Editor, Randy Shoemaker ( Manuscripts will be reviewed by Dr. Shoemaker and his newly assembled editorial board, which includes leading scientists in plant genomics. The editors are Dr. William D. Beavis, Dr. Katrien Devos, Dr. Michael Fromm, Dr. Scott Jackson, Dr. Patricia Klein, Dr. Stephen Moose, and Dr. Antoni Rafalski.

As stated in the December announcement, The Plant Genome will publish original research that shows clear potential for translating genomic technology into agronomic advancement. The editorial board will give preference to novel reports that use innovative genomic applications that advance our understanding of plant biology and have demonstrative application to crop improvement. The quarterly will also publish invited review articles and perspectives that offer insight and commentary on recent advances in genomics and their potential for agronomic improvement. The inaugural article will be written by Dr. Roger Beachy of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis, MO.

Source:CSA News, January 2006 V51 No. 1.

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4.01  USDA/CSREES Food and Agricultural Sciences National Needs Graduate and Postgraduate Fellowship Grants Program

USDA/CSREES administers a federal assistance grant program specifically designated for graduate degree programs and postgraduate training of the next generation of policy makers, researchers, and educators in the Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources domain. This program works collaboratively with eligible higher education institutions to develop intellectual capital and to ensure the preeminence of U.S. food and agricultural systems.

The Food and Agricultural Sciences National Needs Graduate and Postgraduate Fellowship Grants Program (NNF) was initiated in 1984. The fellowships are intended to encourage outstanding students to pursue and complete graduate degrees in critical areas of national need. Through a competitive grants process, the NNF program provides funding to support graduate training through a student stipend and a cost-of-education allowance to the institution. There have been 425 graduate fellows since the inception of the program. Fellows from the NNF program are employed by the USDA (ARS/FS/NRCS); private sector (CH2M HILL; ConAgra Foods; FMC FoodTech; National Dairy Council; Institute of Food Technologies; M&M Mars; Wal-Mart; and others); and academia. In FY 2005, CSREES received 73 applications, requesting $15.2 million, to support training at the master’s and doctoral degree levels. CSREES made 39 awards totaling $5,672,000 to support the training of 22 Master’s and 75 fellows at the doctoral level.

For more information contact:
Audrey A. Trotman, Ph.D.
National Education Program Leader
Food and Agricultural Sciences National Needs Graduate and Postgraduate Fellowship Grants
Higher Education Multicultural Scholars Program

Contributed by Anne Marie Thro

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4.02  Asian Rice Foundation USA scholarships

The Asian Rice Foundation USA is offering $3,500 scholarships for students studying rice. Applicants must be students -- American or Asian - below the age of 35, registered at an accredited institution of higher education, and have a supporting letter from their national rice foundation associated with Asia Rice Foundation, Inc or a faculty member of a United States university. Applications that involve travel and study of US-based students at an Asian location are encouraged.

We support research and education to improve understanding of:
·[] the role of rice in Asian farming,
·[] rice as an element in the art and culture of Asia, and
·[] rice as a food with a unique role in Asia.

More information at  Applications due June 1, 2006.

Contributed by Russell Freed
Dept. Crop and Soil Sciences
Michigan State University

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Note: New announcements are listed at the beginning of this section, and may include some program details, while repeat announcements will include only basic information. Visit web sites for additional details


*  8-9 February 2006. Breeding with molecular markers, UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center

Enroll now to ensure your reservation for the upcoming course which focuses on strategies for using molecular tools in different breeding schemes and crops.  Leading industry and university experts will guide participants on how, when and what types of molecular markers should be used in breeding programs, including marker-assisted selection, accelerated backcrossing, and quantitative trait loci.  It is aimed at professionals who are directly or indirectly involved in plant breeding and germplasm improvement.  The course will be held in Davis, California.  For more information or to enroll go to Breeding with Molecular Markers

For information on the Plant Breeding Academy go to Plant Breeding Academy

Contributed by Susan C. Webster
Program Representative
Seed Biotechnology Center
University of California


*  27 to 30 April 2006. Breeding for inducible resistance against pests and diseases, Heraklio, Crete, Greece.

The two IOBC working groups “Breeding for resistance against insects and diseases“ and “Induced resistance in plants against insects and diseases“ will hold a joint conference in 2006 in Heraklio, Crete, Greece under the title “Breeding for inducible resistance against pests and diseases”. The conference will cover the following sessions: Final dates will be advertised in due timethe IOBC homepage

- ‘Mechanisms involved in inducible and constitutive resistance to pests and diseases’
-‘Evolutionary aspects of plant resistance’
- ‘Chemical ecology / Trophic interactions; associations of phenotypes and genotypes’
-‘Types of resistance important for plant breeders and possible contribution of inducible resistance’
- ‘Biotechnology approaches to breeding for (inducible) resistance’
-Tools for biotechnology’
-‘Deployment strategies for durable resistance within Integrated Crop Management’

Experts in the different fields (from fundamental molecular biology to applied plant breeding) are invited as keynote speakers to be followed by oral and poster presentations from the participants. 

Important dates
Hotel booking deadline :28 February 2006
Abstract submission deadline: 03 March 2006
Early registration deadline (reduced rate): 31 March 2006

For further information see: or contact either convenor: Annegret Schmitt ( or Nick Birch (

Contributed by Dr. Annegret Schmitt
Institut für biologischen Pflanzenschutz


* 28 to 30 June 2006. EUCARPIA Meeting on Rye Genetics and Breeding, Rostock, Germany.

We are currently organising this EUCARPIA meeting. The 1st circular has been launched middle of November, with deadline for response by 31st January, 2006. The topic areas that will be covered are:

1.      Breeding and Breeding Methods
2.      General and Molecular Genetics
3.      Genetic Resources and Diversity
4.      Molecular Breeding
5.      Comparative Genome Analysis
6.      Disease Resistance and Stress Tolerance
7.      Cytogenetics
8.      Nutritional and Technological Quality

The invited speakers are:

Aman, P. (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden)
Aniol, A. (IHAR, Radzikow, Poland)
Boros, Danuta (IHAR, Radzikow, Poland)
Geiger, H.H. (Univ. of Hohenheim, Hohenheim, Germany)
Goncharenko, A.A. (Agricultural Research Institute of Non-Chernozem Zone, Nemchinowka-1, Russia)
Gustafson, P. (USDA-ARS, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia, USA)
Jouve, N. (Univ. Alcala, Alcala de Henares, Spain)
Madej, L. (IHAR, Radzikow, Poland)
Miedaner, T. (State Plant Breeding Institute, Univ. of Hohenheim, Hohenheim, Germany)
Podyma, W. (IHAR, Radzikow, Poland)
Stein, N. (Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Gatersleben, Germany)
Wilde, P. (Lochow-Petkus GmbH, Einbeck, Germany)

Further information about the meeting can be found at

Contributed by Dr. Peter Wehling
Institute of Agricultural Crops
Federal Centre for Breeding Research on Cultivated Plants (BAZ), Germany


* 17-21 September 2006. Cucurbitaceae 2006, Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa in Asheville, North Carolina, USA (in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains).

This meeting continues the tradition of Cucurbitaceae conferences held every four years in the USA.  It will include meetings of associated groups including the Cucurbit Crop Genetics Committee, the Cucurbit Genetics Cooperative, the National Melon Research Group, the National Watermelon Research Group, the Pickling Cucumber Improvement Committee, and the Squash Research Group.

Topics to be presented:
- Biotechnology and physiology
- Breeding and genetics
- Culture and management
- Entomology
- Germplasm
- Plant pathology
- Postharvest handling, fruit quality, human nutrition

Who should attend:
Those interested in cucurbits (cucumber, melon, pumpkin, gourd, squash, watermelon, or exotic species) should attend this conference.  We are expecting 150 to 200 attendees, comprised of academicians, students, plant breeders, growers, scientists, pathologists, entomologists, researchers, extensionists, from the public and private sectors.

Field tour:
One day will include a tour of the Mountain Horticultural Crops research station, the Asheville farmer's market, and other local attractions, finishing with dinner in the local style.

Dr. Gerald Holmes, Department of Plant Pathology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7616, 919-515-9779 (

Please visit the website for the conference at Please circulate this message to anyone you think would be interested.

Contributed by Todd C. Wehner
Department of Horticultural Science
North Carolina State University


14 – 18 October 2006. The 6th New Crops Symposium: Creating Markets for Economic Development of New Crops and New Uses, University Center for New Crops and Plant Products,The Hilton Gaslamp Quarter Hotel, San Diego, CA

Sponsored by: Association for the Advancement of Industrial Crops and Purdue or

Contributed by David A. Dierig
New Crops, Environmental Plant Dynamics
USDA, ARS, U.S. Water Conservation Lab
Phoenix, AZ



* 2006-2008.  Plant Breeding Academy, University of California, Davis.

The University of California Seed Biotechnology Center would like to inform you of an exciting new course we are offering to teach the principles of plant breeding to seed industry personnel.

This two-year course addresses the reduced numbers of plant breeders being trained in academic programs. It is an opportunity for companies to invest in dedicated personnel who are currently involved in their own breeding programs, but lack the genetics and plant breeding background to direct a breeding program. Participants will meet at UC Davis for one week per quarter over two years (eight sessions) to allow participants to maintain their current positions while being involved in the course. 

Instruction begins Fall 2006 and runs through Summer 2008 (actual dates to be determined)

For more information: (530) 754-7333, email,

* 19-21 February 2006. The 3rd International Conference on Date Palm , Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The conference covers a wide range of topics including molecular and genetic engineering and post harvest and processing technologies. See or contact for more information.

* 21-24 February 2006. Third General Assembly of the West Africa Seed and Planting Material Network (WASNET), Palm Beach Hotel, Accra, Ghana. For more details contact the Coordinator of WASNET by email  at or or send your request through the website

*  6-7 March 2006. 42nd Annual Illinois Corn Breeder’s School, Urbana, Illinois, Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center in Urbana, IL.

A registration fee of $95.00 per person includes a copy of the proceedings and meals on Monday, March 6. Further details about the meeting, lodging, and registration forms can be found at

* 6-10 March 2006. Introduction to biosafety and risk assessment for the environmental release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs): Theoretical approach and scientific background, Treviso, Italy. Workshop organised by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in collaboration with the Istituto Agronomico per l'Oltremare. Closing date for applications is 30 November 2005. See or contact for more information.

* 14 -17 March  2006 CIMMYT Fusarium head blight workshop on Global Fusarium Initiative for International Collaboration, CIMMYT Headquarters, El Batan, Mexico.

For more information and to confirm your participation, please contact me by email ( Also, for your reference, CIMMYT will convene an International Workshop on Increasing Wheat Yield Potential in CIMMYT-Obregon, Mexico on the next week March 20 to 24.

* 22-24 March 2006. Detection of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically modified food (GMF), Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. Regional practical training programme organised by the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. See or contact for more information.

* 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

* 27-29 April 2006. Joint IOBC Working Group conference "Breeding for inducible resistance against pests and diseases," Heraklio, Crete, Greece. Register and find additional information at If there are questions, please contact: or

* 15-19 May 2006. Biosafety II: Practical course in evaluation of field releases of genetically modified plants,, Florence, Italy. Organised by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in collaboration with the Istituto Agronomico per l'Oltremare. Closing date for applications is 30 January 2006. See or contact for more information.

* 2-6 July 2006. IX International Conference on Grape Genetics and Breeding, Udine (Italy), under the auspices of the ISHS Section Viticulture and the OIV. Info: Prof. Enrico Peterlunger, University of 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, Iowa State University. The official theme is: "Host-Pollinator Biology Relationships - Diversity in Action." For more information please visit

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

* 20-25 August 2006. The International Plant Breeding Symposium, Sheraton “Centro Historico” Hotel, Mexico City.

Presentations by invited speakers will be published in a proceedings by Crop Science. More information is available at If you are unable to register online please send an e-mail to:

* 9-14 September 2007. The World Cotton Research Conference-4, Lubbock, Texas, USA ( There is no cost of pre-registration and if you pre-register you will receive all the up-coming information on WCRC-4.171 researchers from over 20 countries have pre-registered as of today.

* 10-14 September 2006. First Symposium on Sunflower Industrial Uses. Udine University, Udine Province, Friuli Venezia Giulia Region, Italy.
Sponsored by the International Sunflower Association (ISA)
* 11-15 September 2006. XXII International EUCARPIA Symposium - Section Ornamentals: Breeding for Beauty, San Remo (Italy). 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:

* 18-20 September 2006.The International Cotton Genome Initiative (ICGI) 2006 Research Conference, Blue Tree Park Hotel ( Brasília, D.F., Brazil. Details of the ICGI 2006 Research Conference will be posted on the ICGI website ( as they become available.

* 9-12 November 2006. 7th Australasian Plant Virology Workshop. Rottnest Island, Perth, Western Australia.

For further information contact: Prof Mike Jones, Murdoch University, Perth

* 1-5 December 2006: The First International Meeting on Cassava Plant Breeding and Biotechnology, to be held in Brasilia, Brazil. For more details, email Dr. Nagib Nassar of the University of Brasilia at or visit the meeting website at

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

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

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