30 March 2006

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

Clair H. Hershey, Editor

Archived issues available at:


1.01  WARDA scientist Dr Moussa Sié wins 2006 Fukui International Koshihikari Rice Prize of Japan
1.02  Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa (ABNETA)
1.03  Asian Development Bank funded project to develop corn varieties suited for drought-prone areas
1.04  The Green Revolution comes to Laos
1.05  African dryland farmers benefit from improved crop varieties
1.06  Ethiopia enacts laws for plant breeders' rights and biodiversity
1.07  Spying in the fields
1.08  'Terminator' GM technology stays banned – for now
1.09  Slow progress at talks on access to biodiversity
1.10  Agricultural biotechnology critical for biodiversity protection
1.11  UCR researchers design chip that can improve citrus varieties
1.12  Rhizosphere interactions to influence variety selection
1.13  PhilRice researcher achieves breakthrough in bacterial leaf blight resistance research for hybrid rice
1.14  Translational fusion hybrid Bt genes confer resistance against yellow stem borer in transgenic elite Vietnamese rice cultivars
1.15  Lowland rice can only get better
1.16  Tamil Nadu Agricultural University develop rice cultivars with enhanced resistance to sheath blight
1.17  Scientists a step closer to protecting world's most important crop
1.18  Engineering tomato for resistance to tomato leaf curl disease using viral rep gene sequences
1.19  Novel approach integrates fruit and whole plant analysis in tomato
1.20  Tastier tomatoes in the future?
1.21  Using a mix of conventional breeding and biotechnology to address the tomato virus crisis in West Africa
1.22  Selection of potato lines resistant to multiple pathogens
1.23  Strawberries by design
1.24  Ozone-resistant crops 'may be needed by 2050'
1.25  Gene sequencing and the future of agriculture
1.26  Conceptual framework for the interpretation of the structure, function and evolution of genomes of economically important plants
1.27  New DNA 'fingerprinting' technique separates hemp from marijuana
1.28  Climate change: The rice genome to the rescue
1.29  Revealed: how rice's worst enemy invades its cells
1.30  ABC-transporters for horizontal gene transfer

2.01  How flowers changed the world – a new book by Field Museum scientist

3.01  A website ripe with data from ARS tomato studies

(None submitted)

(None submitted)





1.01  WARDA scientist Dr Moussa Sié wins 2006 Fukui International Koshihikari Rice Prize of Japan

Cotonou, Benin
Dr Moussa Sié, Lowland Rice Breeder from the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), has been chosen as one of the two laureates of the 2006 Fukui International Koshihikari Rice Prize of Japan in recognition of his significant contributions to rice production in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Sié, a Burkinabe national, is the first African to receive this important prize. He has over 20 years experience in the selection and improvement of rice varieties, with particular emphasis on rainfed systems.

Before joining WARDA, Dr Sié was long associated with rice R&D at the Institut de l’environnement et des recherches agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso and is credited with the development of several high-yielding and multiple stress-resistant rice varieties. He has been actively involved in the coordination of rice research and technology transfer at national and regional levels.

Dr Sié, in close association with WARDA’s Irrigated Rice Breeder Dr Kouamé Miézan and national programs of West African countries, was instrumental in extending WARDA’s upland NERICA rice breakthrough to lowlands­one of the most complex rice ecologies in the world.

NERICA refers to the successful crossing by WARDA researchers of the Asian and African species of cultivated rice to produce plants that combine the best traits of both parents. Dr Monty Jones, former senior scientist at WARDA won the 2004 World Food Prize for his pioneering work on NERICA. The NERICA name was trademarked by WARDA in 2004.

Dr Sié and his partners used the NERICA technology to go beyond the original NERICA product, which has been a remarkable breakthrough for upland rice ecologies, but has had little impact in the lowland ecologies.

Given the high potential of the lowlands for sustainably intensifying rice farming in Africa, the new rice varieties developed by Dr Sié and his partners are poised to have an even bigger impact than the original NERICAs, which unleashed the potential of the upland ecology in sub-Saharan Africa.

Key to Dr Sié’s success was the unique R&D partnership model forged between WARDA and the national programs of West African countries through the ROCARIZ rice network, which facilitated the shuttle-breeding approach to accelerate the selection process and achieve wide adaptability of the Lowland NERICAs.

"The development of Lowland NERICAs is another significant breakthrough from WARDA and its national partners. We are delighted that Moussa Sié has won this prestigious international award from Japan, which is one of the foremost NERICA champions," said Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, WARDA Director General.

“This recognition in addition to the World Food Prize for NERICA shows that WARDA, which is both a research Center and an Association for rice development in Africa, continues to deliver world-class products for the benefit of resource-poor farmers in the poorest region of the world,” Dr Nwanze added.

About 60 of the Lowland NERICA varieties, with yield potential of 6-7 tonnes per ha and good resistance to major lowland stresses, have already received the stamp of approval from farmers in several African countries through the participatory varietal selection (PVS) process. Four Lowland NERICA varieties were officially released in Burkina Faso and two in Mali in 2005.

Dr Sié shares the 2006 Fukui International Koshihikari Rice Prize of Japan with Dr Akihiiko Ando from Brazil, who has contributed to rice breeding by using radiation-induced mutations. The Prize was instituted in 1997 to commemorate the development of Koshihikari, one of the most popular Japanese rice varieties. The award ceremony will be held on 15 April 2006 in Fukui City, Japan.

Former awardees include the World Food Prize laureate Yuan Longping, Vu Tuyen Hoang, Choi Hae Chune, and two IRRI scientists: the late Dharmawansa Senadhira, and Sant Singh Virmani.

3 March 2006

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1.02  Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa (ABNETA)
Recognizing the enormous potential of biotechnology in plant breeding and therefore in food security, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF), is in the process of establishing an agricultural biotechnology network for professionals and stakeholders in Africa.  This network, titled Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa (ABNETA)[1] will build a knowledge base in plant breeding and associated biotechnology and facilitate accesses to authoritative data to empower professionals and stakeholders with reliable information enabling them to take advantage of the new technologies for agricultural production and conservation in their decision making processes.  Neither at the country level nor at the continent level in Africa is such a system available for exchanging information in plant breeding and associated biotechnology.

ABNETA was launched on the 21st of March 2006, followed by a coordinators meeting on the 22nd. FAO, through ABNETA, will enable the plant breeding and biotechnology community in Africa to discuss, learn, share and accept innovative views and concepts that would surely enhance the appreciation of biotechnology as a way to improve sustainable crop production in Africa. The two most novel features of ABNETA are the ability to collect and disseminate information regarding related scientific equipments and techniques as well the ability to converge all related websites, databases and networks through the roadmap to one interface to facilitate the discussions and decisions making processes. A range of partnerships needs to exist in order for ABNETA to build its capacity effectively, its knowledge base to be used efficiently and above all to assure its sustainability.  While professionals in plant breeding and biotechnology from universities and institutes within Africa contribute and share their experience to build the knowledge base in ABNETA, stakeholders from public and private sector also need to be involved in order to assure the best use of the ABNETA knowledge base.  Partnership with International Organizations, including donors, with goals to achieve hunger free Africa that would move towards food security and environmental safety is critical for ABNETA for its sustainability.

[1] Additional information about the Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa can be found at the website

Submitted by Dr. Roopa Rajah
UN consultant
Agricultural Science for Kids (ASK)
Food Safety and Biotechnology Essentials for Everyone (FSBEE)
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1.03  Asian Development Bank funded project to develop corn varieties suited for drought-prone areas

Los Banos, The Philippines
An Asian Development Bank (ADB)-funded project that aims to develop corn varieties suited for drought-prone areas is now being undertaken in five Asian countries, including the Philippines.

The project, titled "Improving farmers' income through enhanced maize productivities in drought-prone environments in East and South East Asia," is being implemented regionally by the Mexico-based Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maize y Trigo (CIMMYT) and in the Philippines by the University of the Philippines Los Baños - Farmers' Scientists Training Program (UPLB-FSTP).

The project's local component is being administered by the UPLB-based National Corn Research, Development and Extension (RDE) Network.

It is being supported by the Cebu provincial government headed by Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia and the local government units (LGU) of the Cebu towns of Dalaguete, Liloan, and Medellin, where the development component of the project has initially been launched.

The research component is being implemented by UPLB; the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in Kahacan, North Cotabato; and the Central Mindanao University (CMU) in Musuan, Bukidnon.

Aside from the Philippines, covered by the project are Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the People's Republic of China (southern part).

Dr. Artemio M. Salazar, team leader, said the project aims to enhance the capacity of national agriculture research systems (NARS) ! to develop and effectively deliver stress-tolerant, high-yielding varieties suitable for drought-prone areas.

It addresses the major factor in the stabilization of crop performance in water-stressed environments and involves activities on breeding of drought-resistant varieties, as well as effective distribution strategies of new varieties to the farmers.

Cebu City has been selected as the site for distribution because Central Visayas (Region 7) has the lowest rainfall in the country, as shown by 30-year rainfall data of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

In preparation for the implementation of the project, a refresher course concerning on-farm trial was held.

The course was attended by representatives of the Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Unit 7 (DA-RFU 7) and provincial and municipal agriculture offices of Cebu, particularly those of Dalaguete, Liloan, and Medellin.

Among the speakers at the course were Dr. Eduardo Lecciones Jr., DA-Region 7 executive director; Dr. Eduardo Alama, regional technical director for RDE; Dr. Necias Vicoy Jr., Cebu provincial agriculturist; Dr. Tomasita Cadungog, Central Visayas Integrated Agricultural Research Center (CENVIARC) manager; and Marina Hermosa, Regional GMA (Guinintuang Masaganang Ani) corn coordinator.

The UPLB researchers were led by Dr. Salazar and Dr. Romeo Labios, National Corn RDE Network assistant team leader.

"I am glad that FSTP is creating some waves in Cebu," Lecciones said.

He also thanked Dr. Salazar for his interest in trying out more drought-resistant corn varieties in the province. He stressed that application of research outputs that will benefit more farmers should be the project's focus.

"The donor (ADB) is interested in making a direct impact on the lives of small farmers," Lecciones said.
The resource speakers in the course included Dr. Labios, Guillerma Valencia of the UPLB College of Agriculture, CENVIARC assistant manager Dr. Fabio Enriquez, and other technical personnel members of DA-RFU 7.

Dr. Salazar said output of the project will be used not only in Cebu but also in other parts of the country where drought is a problem.

By Rudy A. Fernandez

Source: The Philippine STAR via
26 February 2006

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1.04  The Green Revolution comes to Laos

International Rice Research Institute
The Green Revolution has finally arrived in Laos, almost 20 years after benefiting the rest of Asia. It's provided the tiny nation – one of Asia's poorest – with the food security foundation it needs for future economic development

The Green Revolution has finally arrived in Laos, almost 20 years after benefiting the rest of Asia. It's provided the tiny nation – one of Asia's poorest – with the food security foundation it needs for future economic development.

But the spark for this revolution came from half a world away, from the government of another small, mountainous land-locked country – Switzerland.

It was the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) that provided the financial resources needed for a 16-year effort – led jointly by the Lao national rice research system and the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The accomplishments of the project, which effectively closes in September, were celebrated during a completion workshop in Laos this week.

Between 1990 and 2004, rice production in Laos increased from 1.5 million to 2.5 million tons – an average annual growth rate of more than 5%, making the small underdeveloped nation one of Asia's star performers in rice research and development.

This increase in production – largely attributed to the adoption of Lao modern varieties – has been valued at $8 million to $19 million per year, with households adopting these varieties having more than triple the cash income of households growing traditional varieties. A third of Laos' lowland rice area is planted with these improved varieties today, pushing average rice yields up 35 percent from 2.3 tons/ha in 1989 to 3.1 tons/ha today – well above the average yields of bigger neighbors such as Thailand.

"What's particularly impressive about these achievements is the commitment of the SDC in providing such long-term support, and the hard work and dedication of Lao rice researchers and government officials," said Robert S. Zeigler, IRRI director general. "Seventeen of the 18 modern varieties now being used in Laos were developed inside the country."

Since 1990, more than 4,000 training opportunities involving Lao personnel have extensively boosted Laos's rice research and training capacity and played a key role in establishing a rice research network covering the entire nation. "IRRI is very proud of the role it has played in supporting this achievement, but the real credit must go the Lao rice research community and the Swiss government for providing the financial support," Dr. Zeigler added.

"Fifteen years ago, most Laotians were subsistence rice farmers and Laos was a net importer of rice," Dr. Zeigler said. "Now the country is in the second stage of rice-based economic development, where the intensification of production is enough to meet local market demands. With further research and development, Laos can move into the third stage, where lowland rice exports create a sustainable source of revenue and help fuel economic growth, as has happened already in Vietnam and Thailand."

Although the Swiss-financed Lao-IRRI Project is nearing its end, much work remains to be done. IRRI is to base its Greater Mekong Regional Office in Laos. "We foresee that Laos will reap substantial benefits from increased involvement in regional rice research initiatives, and will play an important role in the overall development of the Greater Mekong Region," Dr. Zeigler concluded.

Contact: Duncan Macintosh

15 March 2006

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1.05  African dryland farmers benefit from improved crop varieties

Many wonder if plant breeding can achieve much in the African drylands because the growing conditions there are so harsh. Historically, most breeding successes have occurred where water is ample, as for irrigated wheat and rice.

But too many lives are at stake to shun the challenge. In 1972 the CGIAR created the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which has since worked closely with national partners across the developing world to improve and disseminate the dryland cereal crops sorghum and millet and the legume crops chickpea, groundnut (also called peanut) and pigeonpea.

As a result, farmers now grow improved varieties on about a million hectares across Africa. Particularly remarkable are the adoption rates across southern Africa for improved millet (34%) and sorghum (23%). Also with high adoption rates are sorghum in southern Chad and adjacent parts of Cameroon (30%), millet in Namibia and Zimbabwe (50% or more), and pigeonpea in the Babati district of Tanzania (35% or more).

Seasonal hunger, as occurred in Niger in 2005, is a perennial plague of the drylands, which have only one short cropping season per year. Plant breeding has helped ease the hungry period by developing varieties that mature weeks or even months sooner than traditional varieties. Not only does this put food in hungry bellies, but farmers of early maturing varieties benefit by getting the year’s highest prices. Another crucial advantage of early maturity is that it reduces farmers’ risk in years when rains end early.

The millet variety Okashana 1 in Namibia, selected largely by farmers themselves, matures 4-6 weeks earlier than previous varieties. It was so popular that it spread in just a few years in the late 1990s to cover half of the country’s millet-growing area. The sorghum variety Macia is currently spreading across East Africa for the same reason.

Some of the largest dryland breeding gains have come from developing resistance to devastating diseases. The wilt-resistant pigeonpea variety Mali is now saving the livelihoods of East African dryland farmers, and resistance to groundnut rosette virus, a scourge that the native Hausa people of Nigeria tellingly call “groundnut leprosy,” is raising hopes for a revival of this huge income-earning crop.

Studies of return on investment suggest that the effort has been well worth it. The $3 million effort to create and disseminate Okashana 1, for example, is returning net annual benefits worth 50% of the investment year after year. This rate of return that far outstrips what can be earned from bank deposits or the stock market, while directly helping society’s poorest. Of course, cash value is only one measure of success, dwarfed by the priceless good of alleviating human suffering.

Source: CGIAR News
March 2006

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1.06  Ethiopia enacts laws for plant breeders' rights and biodiversity

Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s House of People’s Representatives endorsed two bills providing for the Plant Breeders' Right as well as Genetic Resources and Community Knowledge and Rights.

In its 11th regular session on Tuesday, the House endorsed the bills after deliberations on the report presented by the Rural Development and the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Standing committees of the House.

The report presented by the committees indicated that the proclamation providing for Plant Breeders' Rights would enable the private sector 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 and pastoralists use their genetic resources.

Moreover, the proclamation would encourage investment and paves the way for the utilization of new plant varieties released abroad.

As Ethiopia is on the way to be admitted as member of the World Trade Organization, the Standing Committees pointed out that it became necessary to issue the plant breeders' rights proclamation in tune with the existing realities in the country.

They said the proclamation, which conforms to the rural development policies and strategies as well as the free market policy of the country, would be instrumental to speed up development.

Following the deliberations, the house endorsed the bill with 368 votes and 22 abstentions.

Similarly, the House discussed on the Bill Providing for Genetic Resources and Community Knowledge and Rights after hearing the report presented by the Rural Development, Legal, Information and Cultural Affairs Standing Committees.

The committees indicated in their report that the bill will have a significant importance for the protection of the country's genetic resources as well as the equitable distribution of the benefits of the resources.

The bill would also facilitate the expansion of investment and the realization of the rural development strategy.

The standing committees said the proclamation is indicative of Ethiopia's commitment to implement international conventions signed on genetic resources.

It was indicated that community knowledge and recognition given for community resources would have immense contribution for the protection and preservation the genetic resources of the country.

The House endorsed the proclamation with 375 votes and 16 abstentions.

Some 365 members of the House attended the 11th Regular Session.

Original news release:

Source: Ethiopian News Agency via
1 March 2006

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1.07  Spying in the fields

Translated by Mark Hucko, Checkbiotech
Using genetic engineering, researchers at the Max Planck Institute have started to decipher the chemical vocabulary of inter-plant communication.

As an answer to an insect attack, plants release volatile scents. Scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany have been investigating chemical-scent exchange between neighboring plants.

Preliminary laboratory research hinted at the first evidence, however these lab results did not necessarily reflect field conditions. Thus, the Max-Planck researchers have investigated (with field trials as well) the defense reaction of the wild tobacco plant (Nicotiana attenuate) to an insect pest attack, after it had received scent-signals from a neighboring and wounded plant - the Great Basin Sage Brush (Artemisia tridentata).

They found that the tobacco plants that had the opportunity to eavesdrop on the Great Basin Sage Brush, could quickly and efficiently fight off the insects, when compared to other tobacco plants which did not have this opportunity (Oecologia, February 2006). This phenomena is called “priming.”

With the help of genetically modified plants, the Jena scientists have started to identify the scents that allow neighboring plants fight off an insect attack. With their studies, the researchers were able to show that tobacco plants were able to increase their defenses only after they had been actually attacked, and not right after they had received the signals from wounded, neighboring plants.

This behavior makes sense for the plant. If it had reacted to the scent-signal to convert its valuable resources into defense-molecules, this would put the plant at a disadvantage, because it would have invested energy into defense mechanisms that might not be needed since it had not actually been attacked.

One of the defense-substances are the so-called proteinase-inhibitors (TPIs), which hamper the digestion of caterpillars. One question that remains to be answered is to which extent does this communication between tobacco and sage brush play a role in the ecology of both species.

Scientists at the Max-Planck Institute in Jena now want to explain the details of inter-plant communication within one single species. A first interesting result materialized, when the researchers were able to demonstrate that wild tobacco plants (Nicotiana attenuate) could “smell” and recognize the entire scent-bouquet of other tobacco plants of the same species. These scents are made up of various volatile chemicals.

With the help of genetically altered plants (or a so-called “silent” plant), which could no longer produce selected scents, the researchers showed that the scent composition is very important. With the absence of certain substances in the scent of the silent, “broadcasting” plants, the neighboring receiver-plants reacted differently than if the scent-bouquet were complete.

During their investigation the biologists made an effort to combine laboratory and field experiments in order to make all laboratory experiments as realistic as possible. Traditionally, the plants were enclosed in relatively confined glass containers during the scent-analysis in the laboratory. This artificially increased the concentration of gas-forming molecules from the plants. In addition, after the plants had been enclosed in these glass containers, they suffered from CO2 deficiency.

“To compensate for this deficiency, the plant opens up its stomata, through which CO2 and more scent-molecules can pass into the interior of the plant. Due to this, the receiver-plant’s reaction can be artificially amplified or distorted,” explains Dr. Anja Paschold.

In her work, Dr. Paschold had researched the scent-communication between tobacco plants under “realistic” conditions on the one hand, and then she also used the help of “silent” transgenic plants as a contrast. She found that neither the complete scent-profile of wild-type plants, nor the partially reduced profile of genetically engineered plants influenced the defense mechanisms of the receiver-plants. She also noticed that nicotine, jasmonic-acid, and proteinase inhibitors were practically unchanged and that the priming effect could not be determined.

However an analysis of the gene expression showed that clearly more genes in the receiver-plants were turned on when the scent-bouquet lacked leaf-alcohols and aldehydes, which for example produce the well known scent of freshly mowed grass. When the partial scent-bouquet again was complemented with synthetic leaf-alcohols and leaf-aldehydes, then the genes were turned off.

Apparently, at least in one species, various groups of genes could be turned on and off as a result of inter-plant scent signals. The function of the majority of these genes is not yet clear, and is now being further investigated.

With the example of wild tobacco, the scientists under Dr. Ian Baldwin’s direction want to eventually systematically research the “chemical language” that plants use for communication. Beside using “silent” broadcasting-plants, further tests will look at “deaf” receiver-plants, which cannot recognize certain scent molecules, because they lack the corresponding receptor. The researchers note that this ground-breaking research would not be possible without biotechnology.

Source: Max-Planck Gesellschaft via
15 February 2006

Contributed by Robert Derham

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1.08  'Terminator' GM technology stays banned – for now

Opponents say terminator seeds could make farmers dependent on multinational companies

 Calls for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to end its six-year moratorium on the planting of infertile genetically modified (GM) crops have been rejected.

On Friday (24 March), a CBD working group rejected a proposal to allow field trials of the crops, which produce sterile seeds, on a "case-by-case" basis.

Australia, Canada and New Zealand had backed the proposal, arguing that the so-called 'terminator' technology could be used to prevent genes from GM crops getting into non-GM plants growing nearby.

Companies behind terminator seeds say the approach is necessary to stop farmers using GM varieties that they have not paid for.

Opponents of the technology say, however, that it could make poor farmers in developing countries dependent on multinational companies for seed supplies. Their tradition of sharing seeds to improve crop varieties would also be impossible if they adopted the technology.

Tilahun Zeweldu, biotechnology advisor to Uganda's Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Programme, says a ban need not cover all terminator technologies.

Zeweldu told SciDev.Net that while it is too early to use terminator technologies in food crops, he would support their use in non-food GM crops used to make products such as vaccines, drugs and biofuels.

According to Sue Mayer, director of GeneWatch UK, a full ban on research and use of the technology is necessary, as case-by-case assessments are unable to take account of the technology's wider social and economic impacts.

She says that although terminator technology might look 'safe' in a small-scale field trial, it could jeopardise food security if it became widespread.

However, Monsanto representative Roger Krueger says a case-by-case assessment could include the potential impact on the environment, human health, and traditional agriculture and knowledge.

The decision to maintain the moratorium was made at the ongoing conference of parties to the CBD, taking place in Curitiba, Brazil. It will not be made final until it is adopted at the conference's plenary session on Friday.

The issue will be on the agenda again when the next conference of parties takes place in 2008.

Christine Gould of CropLife International, which represents major multinational seed companies, says an outright ban on the technology would "not serve the best interests of society or the environment".

"Discussions must be informed by science and should not create obstacles to important research activities under way," she says.

"Only then can we ensure continued innovation, development and capacity building for agricultural technologies that are necessary for achieving the dual goals of sustainable agriculture and biodiversity protection."

Ochieng' Ogodo and Wagdy Sawahel

Source: SciDev.Net
27 March 2006

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1.09  Slow progress at talks on access to biodiversity

[CURITIBA] Delegates at a major UN conference on biodiversity are struggling to reach a consensus on rules concerning access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge, and the sharing of any subsequent benefits.

Representatives of countries that are party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are meeting in Curitiba, Brazil, until 31 March to debate the issues.

On the table are proposals to set up an international certification scheme that would ensure that any genetic material used in research can be traced to its country of origin.

Also under discussion is the possibility of setting up a system through which countries would need to give their informed consent before allowing any exploitation of their genetic resources.

Australian delegate Tony Slatyer says it is too early to predict the debate's outcome.

"We want a realistic process allowing time for these issues to be discussed among parties," he says. "It is unrealistic to think that everything can be sorted out in Curitiba or that these issues are somehow just going to disappear."

A key point of disagreement is whether an international regime should include products derived from genetic resources in addition to unprocessed resources.

Tewolde Egziabher, representative of Ethiopia and the Africa group, says it should, and that benefits arising from the sale of products based on traditional knowledge should also be shared with the countries and communities of origin.

"If we have a contract, we can use it to ensure that no one is cheating," he says, though he accepts that it would not always be possible to know whether foreign companies broke the rules.

The text of a draft agreement on the issues ­ prepared by a CBD working group that met in Spain earlier this year ­ is set almost entirely in parentheses, indicating a lack of consensus.

According to Venezuelan delegate Cesar Molina Rodríguez, however,  "at least the Granada meeting provided a concrete document on which to work, instead of the messy storm that we had in Bangkok [in 2005], when negotiations began".

Representatives of 173 of the 187 countries that are party to the CBD are attending the ongoing meeting in Brazil.
Luisa Massarani

Rules on access and benefit-sharing drafted at CBD meeting in Spain (see annexe)

24 March 2006

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1.10  Agricultural biotechnology critical for biodiversity protection

Curitiba, Brazil
Agricultural biotechnology is necessary for the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity.  As officials from 132 nations meet in Brazil this week for a UN meeting under the Biosafety Protocol, the plant science industry reminds governments of the vital role biotech innovations play in achieving sustainable agriculture and development:

1.Biotech crops are essential to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity - the overall objective of the Biosafety Protocol.  They enable more efficient use of water in agriculture, reduce soil erosion, prevent loss of biodiversity, and increase air quality.  By making farming more efficient on limited land area, they are critical for preventing habitat destruction - the biggest single threat to biodiversity.

2. Biotechnology is an established technology, having been used in research for more than 30 years, and with biotech crops commercially available for more than 10 years.  In this time, there has been no proven harm to humans or the environment.

3. These crops are delivering major benefits to farmers and society, through increased yields, higher incomes, simplified crop management, and, in some cases, reductions in the use of pesticides.   

4. Global planted area of biotech crops has soared by more than fifty-fold from 1.7 million hectares in six countries in 1996 to 90 million hectares in 21 countries in 2005. Last year, some 8.5 million farmers planted biotech crops - mostly in developing countries.   This is because small scale farmers tend to benefit most from biotech crops, as insect and disease protected crops provide new and previously unavailable tools to combat pest problems.  

5. A study by PG Economics released last October showed that farmers using biotechnology increased their incomes by US$27 billion during the period 1996 to 2004 with significant environmental benefits delivered.  Importantly, the accumulative economic benefits during the nine years to developing countries ($15 billion), exceeded enefits to industrial countries ($12 billion).

As the biotech debate takes place in Curitiba, Brazilian farmers will be reaping their first legal harvest of biotech soybeans, having been given the green light from regulators in 2005.  Brazil is the third largest country user of biotech crops (behind the USA and Argentina) and the largest user of all Parties to the Biosafety Protocol.

"Given the important economic, environmental and human health benefits of biotechnology, we simply cannot understand why many activists are trying to use the Biosafety Protocol to deny farmers and consumers around the world the ability to use these products for years to come," stated Christian Verschueren, Director General, CropLife International

"Let's hope that farmers' voices, safety, and consumer interests will be taken into consideration this week so that decisions are taken on key issues - including documentation requirements, risk assessment and capacity building - that will ensure those who want to provide for the future sustainably, can continue to use this technology," he continued. 

CropLife International has recently made available an online database of peer-reviewed scientific studies on the benefits and safety of biotech crops.  This can be accessed at

Source:CropLife International via
14 March 2006

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1.11  UCR researchers design chip that can improve citrus varieties

University of California - Riverside
GeneChip Citrus Genome Array launched by Affymetrix, Inc.
UC Riverside researchers, in partnership with Affymetrix, Inc., have designed a chip – the GeneChip® Citrus Genome Array – that can improve citrus varieties and suggest ways to better manage them. By helping determine which genes are turned on in a tissue of citrus – genes that are associated with taste, acidic content and disease, for example – the chip provides information useful to researchers for rectifying existing problems and making improvements to the fruit.

The citrus array will be used to develop new diagnostic tools for the improvement of citrus agriculture and post-harvest fruit handling, as well as to understand mechanisms underlying citrus diseases. Researchers will study traits pertinent to the citrus industry such as easy peeling, seedlessness, flavor components, pest and disease control, nutritional characteristics, and reproductive development.

"The citrus array helps us quickly examine a certain trait in citrus," said Mikeal Roose, a professor of genetics in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UCR and a leader of the three-year research project. "For a trait posing a problem for the consumer, such as an undesirable flavor, we can identify genes associated with the trait and target these for correction to improve the flavor. The chip also helps us address citrus diseases by helping us see what happens in cells when a citrus plant is under attack from a virus. And with this chip we can better understand what happens at the cellular level when oranges are put in cold storage after they are harvested, leading eventually to better methods of storage that improve fruit flavor."

Manufactured by Affymetrix, Inc., the GeneChip® Citrus Genome Array is made up of a glass wafer on to which nearly one million different pieces of citrus DNA are deposited on a grid or microarray using methods similar to those used to produce computer chips. The glass wafer is encased in a plastic container somewhat smaller than the size of a credit card.

To use the chip, researchers purify total RNA (which reflects the genes expressed in the tissue) from plant tissue, make a copy of these molecules with a chemical tag added, and then "wash" the chip with the RNA sample. If a gene is being expressed in the tissue, its corresponding RNA will be present and bind to the complementary DNA sequences on the chip. The locations of the bound RNA have a visible signal because of the tag, rather like bright and dim pixels on a computer screen. Analysis of which pieces of DNA on the chip have signals indicates which genes are expressed in the tissue.

The chip is the first commercial citrus microarray and allows analysis of expression of more than 20,000 different genes. The array will also be used to develop a detailed genetic map of citrus that will help researchers locate many genes. The map location information will be used to make the development of new varieties more efficient.

"This industry-supported effort both added to and made use of publicly available citrus sequences to develop an entirely new tool that will benefit all citrus researchers and help sustain the citrus industry locally and worldwide," said Timothy Close, a professor of genetics at UCR and a co-leader of the project. "We owe a special thanks to colleagues in the citrus community: Abhaya Dandekar at UC Davis, Bob Shatters, Jose Chaparro and Greg McCollum at the USDA Horticultural Research Lab, and Avi Sadka at Volcani Institute in Israel for sharing the full content of their citrus sequence data.

"Other colleagues in the United States, Japan and Spain who deposited sequences to the public repository maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information also made valuable contributions. The use of all available public data resulted in very nice coverage of the citrus genome. We are pleased with the outcome – the initial data from the citrus GeneChip have fulfilled our highest expectations."

Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala

2 March 2006

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1.12  Rhizosphere interactions to influence variety selection

Australian scientists are only just coming to terms with what's going on under the ground or, more to the point, what's happening in that all important layer of soil in contact with plant roots - otherwise known as the rhizosphere.

It's been only a few years since scientists identified an interaction between bacteria and the roots and the soil structure as a reason for lack of vigour in direct drilled crops. Roots naturally tend to grow more slowly through compacted soil and the slower the growth, the greater the opportunity for microbes to gather around the root tips and slow the rate of root and shoot growth.

Minimum tillage is rapidly becoming the preferred farming system in cropping areas right across the country so it's important to understand more about the reactions going on in the rhizosphere and, if possible, get them working in our favour.

Reporting on GRDC-supported research over the past four years, CSIRO researcher Dr Michelle Watt says that it's now established that the seminal root - the first out of the seed - is the fastest growing but all roots play a role in shaping the environment around them. They exude sugars that feed the microbes in the rhizosphere and they send out chemical messages that influence the rate of development of particular microbes. There is variation between breeding lines in this level of interaction between roots and their environment. This is being exploited to develop more productive direct drilled crops.

It seems that the rhizosphere is anything but a passive, 'take it or leave it' zone. Dr Watt talks about signals initiated by the roots that can switch on particular types of bacteria and even produce a pathogenic response in some colonies. We're all familiar with the signals between the roots of legumes and the bacteria in the soil that lead to nodulation and the ability of those legumes to fix nitrogen. These are being used as a model to study the interaction between the roots of cereal crops and soil bacteria.

Dr Watt says that in the past four years well over 100 conventional wheat varieties and breeding lines have been screened for fast early root growth and selections are still being made. Those roots even have differing reactions to gravity - it's obvious when you think about it that gravity would have an impact on root growth, but she says the team is now working with some Japanese material that's sensitive to gravitational effects.

It's not simply a matter of giving a plant a good start. Growers who've survived four drought years and watched potentially good crops hay-off and fail to finish would like to know the varieties they're sowing have the ability to chase moisture down into the soil.

However Dr Watt says that while it's relatively easy to study roots in hydroponic systems or in sand in the glasshouse, it's a very different matter in the paddock. Only recently the CSIRO group found that the first out, fast growing seminal roots end up the deepest.

Dr Watt says researchers are still not sure how shoot characteristics affect the root system. Conventional wisdom has it that the time of flowering influences root growth and that early flowering varieties don't put their roots down as deeply as later flowering varieties but that, she suggests, is being revisited.

Acknowledging that minimum or no till systems are the way of the future, Dr Watt says that the good news is that there is significant variation in the way different cultivars and breeding lines handle the environment and that selections of more vigorous lines with faster, deeper roots is underway.

The Crop Doctor is GRDC Managing Director, Peter Reading
The Crop Doctor, GRDC

3 March 2006

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1.13  PhilRice researcher achieves breakthrough in bacterial leaf blight resistance research for hybrid rice

Manila, The Philippines
Better and more productive times now await the country's fast-expanding hybrid rice industry.

Auguring well for this optimistic outlook is a headway achieved in hybrid rice research chalked up by a scientific study done with the support of the Department of Agriculture - Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice), DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The study, titled "Marker-aided selection for bacterial blight resistance genes and against fertility restoring genes in Mestizo hybrid rice (Oryzae sativa L.) maintainer and cytoplasmic male sterile lines", was conducted by Joan Marie Agarcio, PhilRice senior science research specialist.

The study was Agarcio's thesis for her Master of Science in Genetics at UP Los Baños where she earned her MS degree in 2005 as a DA-BAR scholar.

For some time, PhilRice and IRRI have faced some challenges in promoting the Mestizo hybrid variety because of its susceptibility to bacterial leaf blight (BLB), a destructive rice disease caused by a bacteria (Xanthomonas oryzae pv. Oryxae (Xoo).

Bacterial leaf blight has hitherto posed threats to the success of hybrid rice seed production.

But Agarcio's research work could change this as she was able to introduce genes into Mestizo parentals that confer resistance on bacterial plant.

The study earned for the young and promising researcher the 2005 Best Master of Science Thesis Award (Biotechnology category) given by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCASTRD).

PCASTRD has cited the thesis for its "imminent impact on ! hybrid rice farmers."

Results of the ongoing research have been discussed in international, regional, and national conferences where Agarcio was invited to present her study's findings.

Agarcio told this writer that the study is expected to be completed this year.

By Rudy A. Fernandez
Source: The Philippine STAR via
February 26, 2006

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1.14  Translational fusion hybrid Bt genes confer resistance against yellow stem borer in transgenic elite Vietnamese rice cultivars

Rice is an important cereal grain crop worldwide. In Vietnam, it is cultivated on 5.9 million hectares, and provides 80% of the carbohydrate and 40% of the protein intake of the average Vietnamese. Rice production has increased in the country, but insect pests, such as the yellow stem borer, lead to severe crop losses. Pest control measures using pesticides are largely ineffective, since the insect larvae feed inside the rice stem. Attempts to incorporate resistance to yellow stem borer to rice by conventional breeding methods have failed due to lack of suitable genes in the rice gene pool. The transfer by genetic engineering of the Bt toxin gene (cry) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis offers therefore an alternative solution. Bt toxins are highly specific to certain insect species larvae.

Scientists are now developing two-toxin Bt crops to slow down any resistance insects may have to the Bt toxin. This “pyramiding” technique also results in hybrid toxins with increased potency.

In the latest issue of Crop Science, researchers find out that “Translational Fusion Hybrid Bt Genes Confer Resistance against Yellow Stem Borer in Transgenic Elite Vietnamese Rice (Oryza sativa L.) Cultivars.”

The group, led by N.H. Ho, is composed of scientists from Vietnam’s Institute of Tropical Biology, the Louisiana State University AgCenter, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and INRA's Campus International de Baillarguet, France.

Scientists used a Bt fusion gene, which translates a single Cry1Ab-Cry1B fusion protein, and they introduced the transgene into cells of Vietnamese rice cultivars. They then confirmed the presence of the fusion protein in transgenic plants, analyzed the progenies for the presence and stability of the transgene; and assessed the efficacy of the transgenic plants against yellow and striped stem borers. The authors report that the Bt fusion gene confers 100% mortality of yellow and striped stem borer larvae within one week of infestation with no negative effects on yield.

Subscribers to Crop Science can read the complete article at

Source: CropBiotech Update via
17 March 2006

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1.15  Lowland rice can only get better

Cotonou, Benin
When are we going to get the lowland NERICAs? That was the question on everyones lips as the success of the original NERICA varieties for the uplands grew to take in country after country in sub-Saharan Africa, and word spread to the lowlands of how yields were being transformed. Even with the startling success of the upland NERICAs as proof of what sceptics said could not be done, Africa Rice Centers breeders still wanted to deploy the traditional caution of the scientist before unveiling the new generation of rice varieties that could bring hope to resource-poor farmers cultivating in the lowland ecology.

Of course, WARDAs insistence in involving the NARS and other partners in research projects meant that the word was already out that lowland types were already under development long before the first official lowland NERICAs were released in Mali (2) and Burkina Faso (4) in 2005.

In fact, about 60 of the new varieties for the lowlands have already received the stamp of approval from farmers in several African countries through the participatory varietal selection (PVS) process an approach that was used successfully in accelerating the dissemination of the upland NERICAs. Scaling-up took place in both 2004 and 2005 to ensure that farmers get the seeds for which they have been clamoring since Dr Monty Jones first NERICAs unleashed the potential of the uplands five years earlier.

Another scientific breakthrough for the Africa Rice Center, with yield potential of 6-7 tonnes per ha and good resistance to major lowland stresses, the lowland NERICA varieties have been developed for the African lowlands, one of the most complex rice ecologies in the world. Eventual impact is expected to be even greater than for the upland NERICA varieties that are vastly outyielding the disease- and pest-susceptible local varieties previously grown.

From the outset, the scientists involved including Sahel Station team leader Dr Kouamé Miézan and Dr Moussa Sié (then a visiting scientist with WARDA in St-Louis but now WARDAs lowland rice breeder) wanted to ensure selections were carried out in countries other than Senegal where many of the early crosses were made.

The search for new varieties of rice adapted to the lowland ecology is necessary because of the multiple constraints that slow down the development of rice cultivation in this environment, says Dr Sié. To get suitable varieties quickly, a program of varietal selection was initiated with intra- and interspecific crosses available in the WARDA germplasm collection. Initial NARS partners were INERA in Burkina Faso for early identification of promising material, then Togos ITRA, with Malis IER and the ARI coordinator coming on-board for collaborative selection of promising lines in visits to each others countries.

A study at the Banfora Research Station in Burkina Faso to which Dr Sié had returned as head of INERAs rice improvement division identified ideotypes suitable for lowland conditions, starting with the agromorphological characterization of more than 400 interspecific lines (O. glaberrima x O. sativa) or NERICAs. They were tested in valley bottom conditions in the Banfora lowland during the 2000 and 2001 wet seasons. From the first year trial, 96 lines were retained (14 intraspecifics and 77 interspecifics) for assessment under the same conditions in the 2001 wet season. Actual selection was carried out over two years following a collaborative approach in the first year and a multi-site approach in the second year in the Plateau area in the west of Togo and in Burkina Faso.

In Togo, we started in 2002 with 205 descendants and selected 29 lines with characteristics of interest for lowland rice cultivation, adds Dr Sié.

PCR analysis with 10 variables gave an agromorphological evaluation of the material. Two types of lines were identified: the strictly upland type (O. glaberrima x O. sativa japonica or upland NERICA) and the rainfed lowland type (O. glaberrima x O. sativa indica or lowland NERICA and O. sativa x O. sativa).

The lines showed the low susceptibility to disease and insect attack, which is vital if they are to succeed in the hard-pressed lowland ecology. The scores obtained in the 2000 wet season at Banfora for the lines were mostly lower than 5 for leaf blast and yellow mottle virus on a 19 scale.

The new NERICAs exhibited less than 2% damage from insects (onion tubes, dead hearts and white panicles) for the two sites (valley fringe and valley bottom). Although the interspecific O. glaberrima x O. sativa indica crosses proved to provide the best Lowland NERICAs suited to irrigated or lowland conditions, they also seemed to be more susceptible to some pest attacks (more than 2% of attack for silver shoot) but still at much improved levels over varieties currently in use in these environments.

The potential of these new crosses was not lost on the NARS partners, whose breeders took part in the selections that led to the official release of two lowland varieties (WAS 161-IDSA-1-WAS-B-FKR-B-IER-2-4 as N1, WAS 122-IDSA-1-WAS-B-FKR-B-IER-18-B as N2) in Mali, and four varieties in Burkina Faso (WAS 122-IDSA-1-WAS-B-FKR-1 as FKR 60N2, WAS 122-IDSA-1-WAS-6-1-FKR-B-1 as FKR 62N3, WAS 161-B-9-3 as FKR 56N4, and WAS-191-9-3-FKR-1 as FKR 58N0).

Of course, this is only the beginning of the Lowland NERICA story, says Dr Sié whose detailed studies into what makes the Lowland NERICAs tick are continuing at the same time as PVS involving farmers speeds the introduction of the new types in a number of countries. The typology of the new lines was examined in 2003 and 2004 with a study of 61 interspecific (O. sativa glaberrima x O. sativa indica) and nine intraspecific (O. sativa indica x O. sativa indica) lines. All were multiplied in the 2003 wet season at Banfora and planted in the 2004 wet season in nine countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte dIvoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo). Depending on the country, the lines were planted in a range of environments (valley slope, valley bottom and irrigated).

In the analysis of the results from this study, the varieties were placed in three groups according to their performance. This demonstrated clearly that the interspecific crosses of the African glaberrima rice with Asian japonica rice far outstripped the intraspecifics in their earliness, tillering, yield and better height characteristics.
Dr Sié explains there is much more to do as the Lowland NERICAs extend into WARDA member countries and others in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa. This includes evaluating the interspecifics for different water regimes, in different integrated crop management scenarios, characterizing more glaberrima germplasm in lowland ecosystems to allow better targeted crosses, and molecular characterization of elite and promising characteristics.

We must place the accent on quality traits because we should never forget that glaberrima is an African rice, appreciated for its quality, and no progress can be made if we lose that quality as a result of our varietal creations, he adds. Concentrating on post-harvest quality for the new rices will direct the benefits of improved varieties towards women who are key participants in the post-harvest markets. It is also important to enlarge the genetic base of new varieties by using more glaberrima and sativa parents and by bringing in other African rice species such as O. barthii and O. longistaminata.

Link to complete Annual Report:
Africa Rice Center (WARDA) Annual Report 2004-2005
Source: Africa Rice Center (WARDA) Annual Report 2004-2005 via
March 2006

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1.16  Tamil Nadu Agricultural University develops rice cultivars with enhanced resistance to sheath blight

Tamil Nadu, India
Sheath blight is a disease of rice that afflicts the crop in most rice-growing areas of the world. Caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia solani, sheath blight is controlled by fungicides, a practice which is neither practical nor sustainable, and causes damage to both human health and the environment. Genetically engineering R. solani resistance into rice is thus a promising approach for the management of sheath blight disease.

Krishnan Kalpana and colleagues of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India, take the steps toward this goal as they undertake “Engineering sheath blight resistance in elite indica rice cultivars using genes encoding defense proteins.” Their work appears in a recent issue of Plant Science. The authors aimed to develop rice cultivars with enhanced resistance to sheath blight by genetically transforming high yielding indica rice cultivars, ADT38, ASD16, IR50, and Pusa Basmati1 (PB1), with the rice tlp gene, which encodes a pathogenesis-related (PR) protein. PR proteins can enhance plant resistance to pathogens when over-expressed.

The researchers report that the engineered rice had increased resistance to R. solani when compared with non-transformed plants; and that resistance was enhanced when tlp was co-transformed with rice chi11, a gene encoding a chitinase, another anti-fungal protein. In addition to sheath blight resistance, the tlp or chi11 transgenic lines were also resistant to the rice sheath rot pathogen, Sarocladium oryzae.

Subscribers to Plant Science can read the complete article at

Source: CropBiotech Update via
10 March 2006

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1.17  Scientists a step closer to protecting world's most important crop

Fighting the fungus that wipes out rice - scientists a step closer to protecting world's most important crop

Rice is the globe's most important crop but its production is constantly threatened by disease. Now scientists at the University of Exeter have shown for the first time, in a paper in the prestigious journal Nature, how the world's most destructive rice-killer hijacks its plant prey.

In order to infect plants the fungus has to inject its proteins into the plant's own cells where they overcome the plant's defences allowing a full scale invasion by the fungus.

Until now it's not been known how the fungus delivers that weaponry, but researchers from the School of Biosciences have identified a single gene that appears to be important in the process.

Professor Nick Talbot, who led the research, said: "We have identified a secretion system that we think is responsible for delivering the fungal weaponry that causes rice-blast disease. We were able to generate a strain of the rice blast fungus which lacks this secretion system and it was completely unable to cause disease. The discovery is significant because it will allow us to identify the fungal proteins which bring about this devastating disease and cause rice plants to die."

He continues: "It's estimated that half of the World's population relies on rice to survive and in one year alone this disease kills enough rice to feed 60 million people, so we hope this discovery will help develop chemicals to inhibit the disease. It's possible that more specific, environmentally friendly, compounds to combat rice diseases could result from this research."

Last year scientists from The University of Exeter helped to complete the sequence of the rice blast fungus genome, which has aided the current research.

Contact: Rachel Hoad-Robson
University of Exeter

22 March 2006

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1.18  Engineering tomato for resistance to tomato leaf curl disease using viral rep gene sequences

Tamil Nadu, India
Tomato is an important vegetable crop to many countries, but is plagued by a variety of viral diseases. One of the most devastating viruses is a group with the generic name Tomato Leaf Curl Virus (ToLCV), which are transmitted by whiteflies, and which cause tomato leaf curl disease (ToLCD). Efforts to breed tomato varieties resistant to the disease have hitherto been unsuccessful, since natural sources of resistance are not available.

Genetically engineering resistance remains a viable alternative to equipping tomato with protection against ToLCV. One method is introducing pathogen-derived resistance (PDR), by either allowing transgenic tomato to produce a shorter version of the viral protein (protein-mediated resistance) or RNA (RNA-mediated resistance). Shelly Praveen and colleagues of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute investigate the possibility of “Engineering tomato for resistance to tomato leaf curl disease using viral rep gene sequences” in a recent issue of the Plant Cell, Tissue, and Organ Culture journal.

Scientists transformed, via Agrobacterium¸ tomato cells with replicase (rep) gene sequences of ToLCV. Transgenic plants were tested for disease resistance by exposing them to a high population of whiteflies reared on virus-infected plants. Researchers recorded a high level of resistance to ToLCV and inheritability of the transgene, up to the T2 stage following challenge inoculation with the virus. The mechanism of resistance, according to researchers, appears to be RNA-mediated, since plants carried the untranslatable anti-sense rep gene.

Subscribers to the journal can read the complete article at

 Source: CropBiotech Update via
10 March 2006

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1.19  Novel approach integrates fruit and whole plant analysis in tomato

Tomato is an important food crop world-wide, with over 120000 metric tonnes produced in 2004. As with most other crops, the bulk of the genetic variation lies within related wild relatives and landraces of cultivated tomato varieties. The screening of genetic resources of wild relatives for the introgression of desirable traits for crop improvement is therefore an important goal of modern plant breeding. Although some agronomic traits are controlled by a single gene and fall into discrete phenotypic classes, most natural variation, including that underlying many important agronomic traits, is continuous rather than discreet. Continuous variation is regulated by multiple genes, known as Quantitative Trait Loci (QTLs). QTLs differentially influence the expression of a phenotypic trait, and each segregates according to Mendel's laws.

Researchers at the Max-Planck-Institute in Germany and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, describe in the latest issue of Nature Biotechnology a novel approach that integrates data from high throughput metabolic screening with data derived from whole plant phenotype analysis. For the analysis the authors used lines of the wild species Solanum penellii in which chromosomal regions defined by genetic markers had been replaced by homologous regions of the cultivated variety of Solanum lycopersicum. The approach identified novel and previously known QTLs important for fruit metabolite production, and allowed to determine associations between these QTLs and whole plant phenotype.

As many biotechnology applications altering fruit composition also negatively affect plant yield and reproductive fitness, an integrated analysis that allows the selection of improved lines without compromising yield is of great agronomical significance.

To view the abstract of: “Comprehensive metabolic profiling and phenotyping of interspecific introgression lines for tomato improvement” visit:

Source: CropBiotech Update via
17 March 2006

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1.20  Tastier tomatoes in the future?

German-Israeli research team discovers DNA fragments in wild tomatoes which could allow the development of better cultured tomatoes

Tomatoes are good for you. They strengthen the immune system and can prevent heart and circulatory disease. Now, researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, in co-operation with Israeli scientists, have identified DNA fragments in tomatoes that make their contents both healthy and tasty. The researchers crossed wild tomatoes with cultured ones, then investigated the contents and genetic make-up of the hybrid. The results could allow tomato growers to use wild tomatoes to produce cultured tomatoes with the characteristics they desire (Nature Biotechnology, March 12, 2006).

Tomatoes are a major nutrient for humans. In 2004, 120,000 tonnes of tomatoes were harvested worldwide - and every year this number increases. Numerous medical studies have shown the health value of tomatoes. Lycopen, the pigment that makes tomatoes red, can for example prevent heart disease. Tomatoes furthermore contain a lot of vitamins C and E, indispensable for human nourishment. But after centuries of cultivation for shape, colour, and other useful qualities, our cultured tomatoes today are of small genetic diversity, in comparison with wild types. This has affected the taste and health value of the fruits.

To cultivate tomato strains with particular characteristics, researchers have to increase the genetic diversity of cultured tomatoes. This can be done either by cross-breeding them with wild tomatoes, or changing their genetic make-up technologically. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology in Golm, and their Israeli colleagues at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, chose the second option. They investigated strains of tomatoes created from the crossing of cultured and wild types. Their goal was to identify the biochemical composition of fruits and determine which factors control their development. The German-Israeli research team used a method of analysis developed at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology. The technique - a combination of mass spectrometry and gas chromatography - analyzes the composition of biological samples. It can be used to quickly and simultaneously look into a fruit’s amino acids, organic acids, sugar and vitamins.

Dr. Alisdair Fernie, head of the Institute’s "Central Metabolism" research group, discovered that there were 880 variations in the content composition of descendants produced by crossing cultured tomatoes and wild tomatoes. "On one hand, we measured higher amounts of essential amino acids and vitamins, on the other hand the fruits showed an altered combination of various sugars and organic acids," Fernie says. These contents have a great influence on the taste of tomatoes.

The scientists used molecular biological methods to identify parts of the tomato genomes responsible for biochemical changes. The researchers’ findings could make it possible in the future to cross-breed wild tomatoes with cultured tomatoes in a targeted way to make them more nutritious.

This research was supported by the Max Planck Society under the Agreement on German-Israeli Project Cooperation (DIP).

Original work:
Nicolas Schauer, Yaniv Semel, Ute Roessner, Amit Gur, Ilse Balso, Fernando Carrari, Tzili Pleban, Alicia Perez-Melis, Claudia Bruedigam, Joachim Kopka, Lothar Willmitzer, Dani Zamir & Alisdair Fernie
Comprehensive metabolic profiling and phenotyping of interspecific introgression lines for tomato improvement
Nature biotechnology, March 12, 2006

Contact:Dr. Alisdair R. Fernie or Nicolas Schauer
Max-Planck-Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology
Max Planck Society
for the Advancement of Science
Press and Public Relations Department
12 March 2006

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1.21  Using a mix of conventional breeding and biotechnology to address the tomato virus crisis in West Africa

There are several viral diseases that seriously limit tomato production in West Africa but the spectrum of viral disease pathogens in the region is complex and poorly described.  A consortium of partners funded by USAID and led by the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII) at Cornell University is working to identify viruses that affect tomato production in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. Researchers from Dr. Molly Jahn’s lab at Cornell University and Dr. Robert Gilbertson’s lab at UC-Davis are currently screening West African tomato varieties for resistance to West African strains of the Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus (TYLCV). They are supported in their work by AVRDC-Mali and local teams of scientists in each participating country. Under this project, African researchers have received training and gained experience in screening tomato germplasm and local lines for resistance to viruses.

Potyvirus is another major family of viruses that negatively impacts the vegetable industry in West Africa and it is anticipated that the TYLCV-resistant varieties will be vulnerable to potyvirus infections. In the second phase of this project, ABSPII plans to apply biotechnology to address this problem. Researchers from Dr. Molly Jahn’s laboratory at Cornell University have introduced into tomato a gene from pepper known to confer resistance to potyvirus via genetic engineering.  Expression of this gene in the GE tomatoes prevents potyvirus infection and promises to be a valuable tool for controlling the anticipated potyvirus infections.  Locally acceptable TYLCV-resistant tomato varieties identified from the screen described above will be rendered resistant to potyvirus by backcrossing the GE tomatoes with the TYLCV-resistant varieties.  The end result of this project will be the development of locally adapted tomato varieties with the necessary suite of virus resistance genes and processing qualities for the food and processing industry.  For more information on this and other ABSPII projects, visit

Contributed by Andrea Marshall Besley
Communication Coordinator
Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII)
Cornell University

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1.22  Selection of potato lines resistant to multiple pathogens

Potatoes rank number four in the list of world food crops (after rice, wheat and maize), and are grown worldwide. Potatoes are however affected by numerous diseases, which threaten potato crop production, in particular by small-scale, resource-poor farmers in developing countries who lack access to chemical controls and certified disease-free seeds. Classical breeding for resistance to pathogens involves the identification of resistance genes, often harboured by wild relatives of cultivated species. These genes are introgressed into cultivars by crossing the “donor parent”, which carries the resistance gene, to the “recipient parent” to be improved. The resulting progeny is then repeatedly backcrossed to the “recipient parent” to remove unwanted genes carried by the “donor parent”. Knowledge of the genetic position of the desirable traits and of closely linked DNA-based markers allows the targeting of specific genes for introgression, and provides a fast track to increase genetic gain in crop breeding programs. This technique is known as marker assisted selection.

Researchers at the Max-Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research have developed potato lines that harbor multiple resistance genes by marker assisted selection, described in the report “Marker-assisted combination of major genes for pathogen resistance”. The article is published in the Online First section of the journal Theoretical Applied Genetics. The lines generated are resistant to four important potato pathogens: the Potato Virus Y, the soilborne fungus Synchytrium endobioticum (responsible for potato wart), and the root cyst nematodes Globodera rostochiensis and Globodera pallida. The selected plants can be used as sources of multiple resistance, and they are available from the IPK (Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung) potato germplasm bank maintained at 18190 Groß-Lüsewitz, Germany.

Subscribers to Theoretical and Applied Genetics may access the PDF file of the article
“Marker-assisted combination of major genes for pathogen resistance” at:

Source: CropBiotech Update via
24 March 2006

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1.23  Strawberries by design

Researchers at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) and the Department of Horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech have developed a new procedure for the efficient transfer of specific DNA sequences into the genome of strawberry. The scientists have used Agrobacterium tumefaciens, nature's genetic engineer, to introduce DNA into the woodland or alpine strawberry Fragaria vesca.

The method takes advantage of Agrobacterium's circular DNA molecule (T-DNA) to deliver DNA to the plant. By helping researchers establish the function of large numbers of strawberry genes, this method could, in the long term, be extremely useful in enhancing the nutritional value of these plants as well as the amount of health-enhancing antioxidants that they may contain.

Jerzy Nowak, professor and head of the Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech, commented: "Over the years, scientists have worked hard to find a system that would enable the efficient transformation of strawberry. However, these efforts have fallen short of the requirements to support large-scale studies of gene function in fruit crops." He added: "What sets this work apart is the concerted approach adopted by the researchers to combine different parameters that boost the efficiency by which foreign DNA is introduced into this economically important crop."

Herb S. Aldwinckle, professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at Cornell University, Geneva, New York, who has developed highly efficient techniques for transforming apple, remarked: "The commercial strawberry familiar to most consumers is octoploid, which means that it contains eight sets of chromosomes. By using a close relative that has two sets of chromosomes and a significantly smaller genome, the researchers have found a particular type of alpine strawberry that is very amenable to transformation." He added: "The transformation rate achieved is the result of innovation and great attention to experimental detail."

Due to the small size of its genome, short reproductive cycle and small plant size, F. vesca is an ideal model system for genomics in commercial strawberry. The rapid growth of new shoots, the high number of seeds generated and the ease in which new plants may be established, make this plant an ideal candidate as a platform for large-scale studies to elucidate gene function.

The new protocol involves taking strawberry plant tissue from its original site and transferring it to an artificial medium for growth or maintenance. Here unfolded leaves, known as trifoliate leaves, are able to grow. When collected at 6-7 weeks after seed germination, these leaves are highly amenable to gene transfer using A. tumefaciens. Since they glow green under fluorescent light due to the presence of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), transformed strawberry plants may be easily identified by visual inspection. This is the first time that GFP has been used in strawberry as a visually selectable marker.

Commenting on the research, VBI Professor Vladimir Shulaev, one of the authors of the study, remarked: "The development of this protocol for strawberry represents a key milestone for researchers interested in improving strawberry and other fruit crops through genomics." He added: "We are now in a position to generate a collection of mutants that will serve as an invaluable tool not only for discovering new genes in the Rosaceae family but also for establishing the functions of these genes through high-throughput screening methods."
The electronic preprint of this article entitled "High-efficiency transformation of the diploid strawberry (Fragaria vesca) for functional genomics" (Planta, 2005, Dec 1:1-12) is available online at
Contact: Barry Whyte

13 March 2006

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1.24  Ozone-resistant crops 'may be needed by 2050'

Soybeans are particularly susceptible to high levels of ozone

Wagdy Sawahel
Research published this week suggests that rising levels of ozone at the Earth's surface could reduce soybean harvests.

However, independent researchers say the findings should be treated with caution, as new crop varieties that tolerate higher levels of ozone could be available by then.

Ozone forms when gases produced by cars and industrial processes react with sunlight. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a 23 per cent increase in surface ozone by 2050.

Stephen Long of the University of Illinois, United States, and colleagues used an approach called FACE (free-air gas concentration enrichment) to simulate this increase for the first time in open soybean fields.

They found that yields fell by 20 per cent over two growing seasons.

Previously, similar studies on plants grown in artificial environments, such as greenhouses, suggested a smaller role for rising ozone levels.

FACE technology allows plants to be grown under more life-like conditions, preserving the natural interactions between soil, plants and the atmosphere.

Alan Davison of the University of Newcastle, United Kingdom, is critical of the study's long-term predictions, however.

He points out that crop varieties grown in 2050 will have been developed under the prevailing conditions of the previous decade, making it likely that they would have some degree of resistance to high ozone levels.

Crop varieties are known to vary greatly in their response to ozone. Some are unaffected by high concentrations of the gas.

Plant breeders developing ozone-resistant crops should consider "both yield and nutritional quality, which can also be affected by exposure to ozone", says Lisa Emberson of the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Soybean is one of the world's main crops, is grown widely in Latin America as well as in China and India, and is particularly susceptible to ozone.

"Long's study highlights the need for more rigorous air quality standards as well as more fuel efficient automobiles," says Evan De Lucia, head of the department of plant biology at the University of Illinois.

The study was published online by the journal New Phytologist on 14 March.
Link to abstract of the paper in New Phytologist
Reference: New Phytologist doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2006.01679.x (2005)

Source: SciDev.Net
16 March 2006

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1.25  Gene sequencing and the future of agriculture

On April 3 through 5 the National Academy of Sciences will hold a colloquium on the fundamental breakthroughs in the sequencing of certain plants that could affect the future of food and agriculture. They will also discuss the challenges involved in bringing these discoveries to the consumer. U.S. Senator Kit Bond, R-Mo., will open the colloquium by giving the 2006 Arthur M. Sackler Lecture at 7 p.m. on April 3.

The program, part of the Sackler Colloquium series, will be held in the auditorium of the National Academies building at 2100 C St., N.W., Washington, D.C,

A program, list of speakers, and registration information is available online at Reporters who wish to attend must register in advance.
Contact: Marty Perrault
The National Academies

6 March 2006

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1.26  Conceptual framework for the interpretation of the structure, function and evolution of genomes of economically important plants

U.S. National Science Foundation's Plant Genome Research Program announces its intention to support development of sequence resources that would contribute to a conceptual framework for the interpretation of the structure, function and evolution of genomes of economically important plants

The Plant Genome Research Program announces its intention to support development of sequence resources that would contribute to a conceptual framework for the interpretation of the structure, function and evolution of genomes of economically important plants. The Plant Genome Comparative Sequencing Program (PGCSP) is specifically soliciting proposals that focus on biological questions that would be enabled by a particular sequence or sequences. Sequence resources may include, but are not limited to, whole genome sequences, survey sequences, and physical maps.

1. Anticipated Type of Award: Standard or Continuing Grant or Cooperative Agreement 2. Estimated Number of Awards: 5 to 10 - Up to 10 awards of up to $2,000,000 per year for up to 2 years, pending availability of funds.
3. Anticipated Funding Amount: $10,000,000 Up to $5,000,000 in FY 2006 and up to $5,000,000 in FY 2007 will be allocated to this program, pending availability of funds.

Full document at
National Science Foundation

March 20, 2006
Source: National Science Foundation via

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1.27  New DNA 'fingerprinting' technique separates hemp from marijuana

Using new DNA "fingerprinting" techniques, two University of Minnesota researchers have become the first to unequivocally separate hemp plants from marijuana plants with genetic markers. Hemp, a crop grown for durable fiber and nutritious seed, and marijuana, the most abundant illegal drug of abuse in the United States, both belong to the species Cannabis sativa. They differ in levels of the psychoactive drug tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but are otherwise difficult to tell apart. The technique holds promise for distinguishing different cultivars (domesticated plant lines) in U.S. criminal cases. It may also prove useful in countries where the cultivation of hemp is permitted but marijuana is illegal, as in Canada and Europe. The work appears in the March issue (volume 51, No. 2) of the Journal of Forensic Science.

The new technique is an improvement on previous means of separating the two types of Cannabis, said author George Weiblen, an assistant professor of plant biology in the university's College of Biological Sciences and College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. For decades it has been possible to identify THC chemically, but the drug is not present in all plant tissues or throughout a plant's life cycle. And other researchers have found that genetic markers known as "short tandem repeats," which are used to identify individuals in paternity and criminal cases, lack the power to distinguish Cannabis cultivars unequivocally.

In tests with three different cultivars of hemp and one of marijuana, the DNA fingerprints of all the cultivars were distinct and nonoverlapping. Weiblen and Shannon L. Datwyler, a postdoctoral associate who is now on the faculty of California State University, Sacramento, found that the AFLP (amplified fragment length polymorphism) technique generated hundreds of genetic markers that together established separate identities for each of the four cultivars.

"We think this technique has the potential to distinguish marijuana varieties as well," said Weiblen. "It has implications not just for separating hemp from marijuana in countries where hemp cultivation is permitted, but in establishing origins of seized drugs and, therefore, conspiracy in drug distribution networks. It also could be used in criminal defenses against claims of conspiracy."

The technique chops up DNA and generates numerous fragments of DNA, each defined by particular "marker" DNA sequences that act like bookends. The lengths of the fragments within the bookends were found to vary according to the cultivar. Thus, the pattern of fragment lengths adds up to a composite picture of each cultivar.

"With this technique, we find hundreds of markers scattered across the genome," said Weiblen. "The larger number of markers, compared to other techniques, gives us the power to separate the cultivars."

The Cannabis plant has been cultivated for millennia and is important in the global economy as both a licit and an illicit crop, said Weiblen. Hemp is a source of durable fiber that provides an alternative to cotton fabric, among other uses. Cotton requires pesticide application and a hot climate, whereas hemp does not, which makes it suitable for local Minnesota agriculture. Weiblen seeks to screen a wider range of Cannabis cultivars to refine the technique. He is also working to identify regions of the Cannabis genome responsible for drug content in marijuana. If enough can be learned about the genome, it may one day be possible to produce an entirely drug-free hemp plant that looks different from marijuana. Currently, all hemp products are imported into the United States. Developing a new variety that could be cultivated in the United States would reduce American dependence on foreign products while creating a new alternative crop for American farmers.

Contact: Mark Cassutt
University of Minnesota

22 March 2006

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1.28  Climate change: The rice genome to the rescue

The sequencing of the rice genome could help mitigate the impact of climate change on the world's poor

Los Baños, Philippines – New evidence is emerging that climate change could reduce not only the world's ability to produce food but also international efforts to cut poverty. However, the recent sequencing of the rice genome is already providing researchers with some of the tools they need to help poor rice farmers and consumers avoid the worst effects of the problem.

The new knowledge generated by the sequencing effort is allowing scientists to both develop new rice varieties faster and with the specific characteristics needed to deal with climate change, such as tolerance of higher temperatures. However, scientists are calling for more research to fully understand the impact of climate change – especially the extreme weather it may cause – on international efforts to reduce poverty and ensure food security.

A "Climate Change and Rice" planning workshop this month at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines was told that climate change is already affecting Asia's ability to produce rice, and that this could eventually slow efforts to reduce poverty in the region, where most of the world's poor live.

The workshop was informed that, to overcome many of the climate change–related problems facing rice production in Asia – and continue to meet the demand for rice in the region – yields will have to double over the next 50 years. Research has confirmed that global warming will make rice crops less productive with increasing temperatures decreasing yields.

"Clearly, climate change is going to have a major impact on our ability to grow rice," Robert S. Zeigler, IRRI director general, said. "We can't afford to sit back and be complacent about this because rice production feeds almost half the world's population while providing vital employment to millions as well, with most of them being very poor and vulnerable."

For these reasons, Dr. Zeigler announced at the workshop that IRRI – in an unprecedented move – was ready to put up US$2 million of its own research funds as part of an effort to raise $20–25 million for a major five-year project to mitigate the effects of climate change on rice production. "We need to start developing rice varieties that can tolerate higher temperatures and other aspects of climate change right now," he said.

"Fortunately, the recent sequencing of the rice genome will allow us to do this much faster than we could have in the past," Dr. Zeigler added. "But, in addition to new rice varieties, we must develop other technologies that will help poor rice farmers deal with climate change."

In one of several examples presented to last week's climate workshop, researchers mentioned El Niño weather phenomena that hit the Philippines in 1996-97 and caused a severe drought, resulting in a sharp drop in national rice production. Other examples focused on the impact of climate change and variability on gross domestic product, generally causing it to slip by several percentage points.

"One of the main problems with climate change is that the effects are felt mostly in poor, underdeveloped countries because of their reliance on agriculture as one of the main drivers for national development," Dr. Zeigler said. "In turn, agriculture is very dependent on climate.

"Another more insidious effect may be more frequent extreme weather events such as typhoons, floods and droughts," Dr. Zeigler warned. "IRRI's research has shown that even one drought year can push millions of rice farmers back below the poverty line. This affects the whole family for many years after the drought year, as they will have sold their livestock and withdrawn their children from school just to survive."

IRRI's senior climate change researcher, John Sheehy, told the workshop that poor farmers need help in several challenging new areas. "We need to develop rice varieties tolerant of higher temperatures that can maintain yield and quality when extreme temperatures occur," Dr. Sheehy said. "We also need rice varieties that can take advantage of higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, rice that is vigorous enough to recover quickly from extreme weather events and disasters, and very high yielding rice that will provide a supply buffer for poor communities during periods of change.

"We need to be able to protect poor people from the harmful effects of climate change, and rice is especially important because most of the world's poor depend on it," he added. "We also need to ensure that the world community is not adversely affected by greenhouse gas emissions from rice production systems."

Dr. Sheehy said researchers need to acquire knowledge and develop technologies critical to ensuring that rice production systems are sustainable in the face of climate change and do not adversely contribute to climate change.

Contact: Duncan Macintosh
International Rice Research Institute

27 March 2006

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1.29  Revealed: how rice's worst enemy invades its cells

Scientists have discovered how a fungus manages to invade rice plants, causing a disease that destroys enough rice each year to feed 60 million people.

The discovery could help researchers develop specific, environmentally friendly chemicals to fight the fungus, says lead researcher Nick Talbot of the University of Exeter, United Kingdom.

In a paper published 23 March in Nature, Talbot's team show that the fungus, Magnaporthe grisea, uses a single protein called MgAPT2 to gain entry into rice leaves or roots.

This allows the fungus to deliver a series of additional proteins that suppress the plant's defences and cause rice blast disease, the most destructive and costly disease of rice.

When the researchers blocked the gene that makes MgAPT2, they found that the fungus was no longer able to cause disease.

In 2002, researchers led by Ralph Dean of North Carolina State University, United States mapped the fungus's genetic code (see Genetic secrets of rice's worst fungal pest unveiled).

Dean told SciDev.Net that to cause disease the fungus must first detect its host, and that proteins it secretes play a major role in this process.

Of Talbot's research, Dean says "it is very exciting and rewarding to identify a major component of the [fungus's] machinery that directs ... proteins out of the fungal cell to attack the plant." Link to full paper in Nature Reference: Nature 440, 535 (2006)

Wagdy Sawahel

22 March 2006

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1.30  ABC-transporters for horizontal gene transfer

By Angelika Kren, CheckBiotech Science Journalist
By identifying a novel function for the ABC transporter, Atwbc19, a research team from the University of Tennessee provides an alternative and safer method for the production of transgenic plants.

The advent of genetically modified plants has opened up a vast spectrum for their potential use in fighting global problems such as hunger and malnourishment, while also creating new or inexpensive health care solutions. Yet, despite the benefits, there are concerns as well.

One of the most interesting concerns has been the potential for Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT). HGT describes any process in which an organism transfers genetic material (i.e. DNA) into another cell that is not its offspring. This process occurs naturally among different strains of bacteria, as well as with bacteria to plants or to other higher organisms. In fact, there are examples of bacteria-like genes found in a plant genomes. However, it is the inverse route of HGT - the transfer of genes from plants to bacteria - that have raised some concern.

It was only last fall when the group of Dr. Neal Stewart form the University of Tennessee made an immense step forward in solving this problem. In their article published in Nature Biotechnology they describe a novel and unexpected function of Atwbc19.

Atwbc19 is a gene originating from the weed, Arabidopsis thaliana, and belongs to the large family of ATB-binding cassette transporters (ABC-transporters). These genes are found in all organisms, but plants have the largest number of ABC proteins encoded in their genome. Generalized, these proteins function as transporters in different cell components, selectively pumping a large variety of substrates against a concentration gradient.

A Safer Selection Marker

An important aspect of genetic engineering is that, when a gene is introduced to a plant, it will not always be accepted. So, researchers need to have a way to ensure that their gene of interest is actually incorporated by the plant.

A trick that scientists use is they couple the gene with a so-called selection marker. These selection markers give the plant the ability to survive when they are grown with a toxic substance. The gene-selection marker combination is then delivered into plant cells.

Since not all plants will accept the new DNA, plant researchers can then apply the toxin to the plants. If the plant took up the DNA, then if will survive because the selection marker gives the plant the ability to detoxify the toxin, whereas other plants that did not accept the new DNA will die.

However, many are concerned that such selection markers could be passed to bacteria. Due to this concern, Dr. Stewart’s research becomes all the more important as the research community looks for safer selection markers.

To find out the function of the so far uncharacterized Atwbc19 transporter, Dr. Stewart removed the Atwbc19 gene from A. thaliana. It turned out that plants lacking this gene were not able to grow on medium containing the antibiotic, kanamycin. They therefore hypothesized that this protein might be involved in resistance to kanamycin, and thus useful as a selection marker – one that could replace existing antibiotic or pesticide selection markers.

To test this hypothesis, they compared how well tobacco took up new DNA coupled with either nptII or Atwbc19. Using Atwbc19 alone turned out to take up DNA just as well as when the researchers used nptII. In contrast to nptII, though, Atbwc19 only conferred resistance to kanamycin.

“In addition to tobacco, we also tested Canola, obtaining similar results, and are farther along with transforming other mustard varieties,” Dr. Stewart told Checkbiotech. “We have sent the constructs out to collaborators, who are testing it in various crops, vegetable, and tree species.”

When asked if the new selection marker was ready for use, Dr. Stewart replied, “I think it can be routinely used now since it basically replaces the bacterial nptII gene in established kanamycin selection regimes.”

In respect to HGT, using Atwbc19 provides even more advantages besides the specificity for kanamycin. The Atwbc19 gene is larger than nptII, which decreases the chances of it being integrated into a bacterial recipient. Since it is of plant origin, it has plant codon usage. Thus, if it were to be transformed into the bacterial genome, it would not likely be expressed like a bacterial gene.

When Checkbiotech asked about what would happen if a bacterium was able to incorporate Atwbc19 into its genome, Dr. Stewart said, “We are testing that now. We have placed the Atwbc19 gene under the control of a bacterial promoter and introduced it into bacteria via transformation. Preliminary, unpublished results show that it does not confer antibiotic resistance back to bacteria, presumably because of the sub-cellular targeting differences between plant and bacterial cells.”

To ensure the technology reaches its final stage, Dr. Stewart and his team have already discussed licensing agreements with some companies. “We would welcome other conversations. Non-exclusive licenses are our goal, since we think this could help public perception and be practiced broadly.”

Angelika Kren is a Science Journalist for Checkbiotech and is currently finishing her doctorate degree in Biochemistry at the University of Basel, Switzerland. Contact her at

Original article:
Mentewab A. et al. Overexpression of an Arabidopsis thaliana ABC transporter confers kanamycin resistance to transgenic plants. Nat Biotechnol. 2005 Sep; 23(9): 1177-80.

Corresponding author:
Dr. C Neal Stewart Jr.

University of Tennessee, USA
Department of Plant Sciences

Further reading:
IBS (Information systems for biotechnology) news report:
Copyright Nature

Source: Nature via
28 February 2006

Contributed by Robert Derham

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2.01  How flowers changed the world – a new book by Field Museum scientist

Compact book targets general audience – just in time for spring

CHICAGO--Stop. Smell the roses. And the daisies, petunias and orchids. Also, stop to consider sugar, potatoes and wheat; cotton, corn and coffee.

All of these are flowering plants, which completely transformed the world by providing rich biological diversity, propelling primate evolution, spurring evolution, allowing for agriculture, and ushering in civilization – not to mention beautifying the world.

Flowers: How They Changed the World, a new book for a general audience, describes the fascinating role flowering plants have played in the story of life on Earth. It is written by popular author William C. Burger, PhD, Curator Emeritus of Botany at Chicago's Field Museum. He also wrote the highly acclaimed Perfect Planet, Clever Species.

Flowers (210 pages with drawings and color illustrations) is available from Prometheus Books starting this spring – just in time for the blooming of flowering plants, grasses and trees.

"Burger takes us on a wide-ranging romp through the world of flowers – from their most intimate secrets to their global significance," says Sir Peter Crane, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, in London. "This is a wonderful book for any naturalist or gardener who wants not only to see but also to understand."

There were no flowers of any kind on Earth until about 100 million years ago during the late Jurassic, which was the middle of the Dinosaur Age. It's hard to imagine what such a flowerless world would have been like. Not only was it drab, but food for birds and mammals and other living creatures would have been far more difficult to find and far less nutritious.

But flowers, in all there myriad variations, did not evolve for our eating or viewing pleasure. They evolved as they did for survival. Their bright colors, attractive fragrances, and alluring shapes were designed to induce insects and other animals to do their bidding: help them pollinate and assure their continued existence.

"Flowers are the supreme example of nature's reproductive exuberance, ensuring the persistence of life against an onslaught of destructive forces, constantly evolving pathogens, and unpredictable environmental changes," Dr. Burger says.

Even more important, he adds, flowers are the fundamental energy resource for most of life on Earth. "Since they energize themselves by capturing the energy of sunlight, flowers provide a vital link in the chain of life. Even today in our complex technological world, it is the flowering plants that provide us, directly or indirectly, with nearly all the energy that sustains life."

Today there are 260,000 unique species of flowering plants known to science, with more being discovered almost every day. Given a total of about 300,000 species of land plants, the vast majority of land plants produce flowers.

"Without flowers, we humans simply wouldn't be here, whether as primates, two-legged omnivores, or grand civilizations!" Dr. Burger says.

This easy-to-understand book discusses many aspects of flowers including the evolution of flowers and how flowers created a world richer than any that had come before in the 4 billion year history of the Earth. There's a lot of discussion about sex since flowers are the reproductive organs of flowering plants.

"It is truly botany made interesting and accessible," says David Lentz, vice president of the Chicago Botanic Garden. "Anyone who ever thought they would like to learn more about flowers and their mysterious habits should read this wonderful book."

Chapter titles:
1. What, exactly, is a flower?
2. What are flowers for?
3. Flowers and their friends.
4. Flowers and their enemies
5. How are the flowering plants distinguished?
6. What makes the flowering plants so special?
7. Primates, people and the flowering plants.
8. How flowers changed the world.

Contact: Greg Borzo
Field Museum

17 March 2006

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3.01  A website ripe with data from ARS tomato studies

Washington, DC
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Luis Pons,

Landmark Agricultural Research Service (ARS) work on genes governing tomato ripening and nutritional content are the cornerstone of the Tomato Expression Database (TED), a Cornell University website funded by ARS and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The site, part of the NSF's ongoing Tomato Genomics Project, gives researchers worldwide access to data they can use to develop new theories on tomato genetics--and to expand upon what's already known about this popular food.

The site comprises four sections created and maintained by molecular biologist James Giovannoni of ARS' U.S. Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y., in collaboration with Cornell, the University of Florida, and Virginia Tech University's Virginia Bioinformatics Institute.

Giovannoni has led breakthrough research by ARS and other institutions that identified key genes that control the ripening of tomatoes. The TED website provides large-scale tomato gene expression data generated from "microarrays" - collections of microscopic DNA samples on glass chips that allow scientists to assess thousands of genes in an organism.

One section within TED is a tomato microarray data-storage "warehouse," which serves as a source of downloadable raw research information.

TED's microarray expression database, meanwhile, offers information analyzed in Giovannoni's laboratory on gene expression related to fruit development and ripening. It also contains data that allows for genetic comparisons between normal and mutant tomatoes.

The site's digital expression database presents information that's similar, but based upon expressed tag sequences. These sequences identify genes through expression in RNA that's reflected in DNA. A fourth database, the tomato metabolite database, has information on the chemical composition of tomatoes, along with comparative gene-expression data. It's designed to help researchers develop and test hypotheses on how flavor and texture attributes of tomato fruit are regulated.

The TED site also allows users with a login ID and password to submit new data.

According to Giovannoni, a recent NSF grant will allow for an expansion of the TED site, which is accessible online at

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

16 March 2006

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Note: New announcements may include some program details, while repeat announcements will include only basic information. Visit web sites for additional details


27 – 29 May 2006.Incentives for supporting on-farm conservation, and augmentation of agro-biodiversity through farmers’ innovations and community participation:  An international consultation for learning from grassroots initiatives and institutional interventions, Indian Institute of Management, KLMDC, IIM, Ahmedabad, India.

To identify the feasibility of using various market and non-market based incentives for promoting on farm conservation of agrobiodiversity research programme was undertaken in collaboration with IFPRI, University of Guelph, SRISTI and IIMA, for last three years.   Several innovative attempts have been made to explore the viability of both the demand and supply side incentives for conservation. The proposed international consultation aims to provide platform to share the findings of such research projects being implemented in different parts of India and elsewhere.

Objectives of the international consultation:
1. To share the findings of the three year long action research and identify agenda for follow up action.
2. To identify the best practices around the world for providing market and non market based incentives for on farm conservation and augmentation.
3. To explore the policy and procedural changes required at the level of National Biodiversity Authority, Plant Variety and Farmers’ Rights Act Authority and at other levels to encourage crop varietal diversity in farmers’ fields.
4. To explore opportunities for dissemination of existing traditional as well as new varieties developed by farmers (for  lateral exploration of existing farmers’ varieties but also of  new varieties developed by farmers).
5. To create an international knowledge network and an informal alliance among industrialists, policy makers, researchers and others committed to the cause of conservation, augmentation and innovations.  

Conceptual Themes and Organization
1. Socio-cultural, economic factors affecting current state of on farm agro biodiversity and triggering of innovative spirit.
2. Current policy environment influencing agrobiodiversity and required policy changes.
3. Complimentarily of formal and informal seed development and supply systems for ensuring availability of crop varietal diversity.
4. Incentives for enhancing demand of locally adapted crop varieties in household as well as industrial sectors.
5. Monetary and non-monetary incentives for encouraging farmers to innovate, improve, exchange  and conserve agrobiodiversity.
6. Market research on channels of procurement and preferences of industrial and individual consumers of agrobiodiversity in local as well as distant markets.
7. Scientific basis of on farm conservation and exploring the role of agricultural research, conservation and development institutions particularly in characterization and value addition of local crop and varietal biodiversity.
8. Methodological approaches and tools for monitoring state of agrobiodiversity and bringing awareness among different stakeholders.
9. Farmers’ perspectives and role in influencing the policy environment and institutional changes expected.

Interested colleagues are encouraged to send abstract of their presentation related to any of the themes listed above. The themes would be deliberated in different technical sessions and panel discussions. The manuscripts of the presentations should not exceed four pages (A4 size) typed in double space with adequate margins on all sides ( though full papers can be of ten to fifteen pages). The deadline for sending manuscripts is April 30, 2006

Who can participate?
The consultation will invite leading scholars, senior policy makers and analysts to present their perspectives on the subject and discuss opportunities for bringing policy change to encourage diversity. The participation of farmer breeders and conservators, food processing and other industrial consumers of agrobiodiversity, and NGO involved in supporting on farm diversity will be encouraged to share their experiences in the conference. Young scholars pursuing graduate studies, activists involved in conservation and NGOs as well as private sector entrepreneurs involved in any aspect of the value chain are particularly invited. In selected cases, the organizers will bear all the costs for a small a group of participants.  

Registration fees
o charges for invited speakers, panelists and participants. Others will pay Rs.10,000/= to cover the cost of boarding and lodging for three days and other expenses. The fee should be sent through crossed Demand Draft drawn in favour of IIM, Ahmedabad. 

Professor Anil K Gupta
Indian Institute of Management, Vastrapura
Ahmedabad – 380 015
Ph +91 79 26324927
Fax 91 79 2630 73 41


*1-2 June 2006.:Patent protection of plant-related innovations:facts and issues (ISF International Seminar), Copenhagen.
For programme see

Contributed by Tim Roberts


*31 July – 4 August 2006. African Rice Congress, WARDA , Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Contact: Lawrence Narteh


*8 – 10 August 2006. 7th Plant Genomics Conference, Heilongjiang University , Harbin, China
Contact: Rongtian Li, Zhenqiang Lu, Chunquan Ma


*16 - 19 August 2006.Tropical Crop Biotechnology Conference 2006, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

The Conference will address two critical research issues in the future development of tropical crops:
1. The potential for tropical crops as biofactories in the production of industrial biomaterials, renewable energy, functional foods and pharmaceuticals.
2. Developing and using functional genomics in tropical crops to facilitate a quantum leap in the performance of tropical crop plants.

The earlybird registration and abstract submission deadline is Friday 28 April 2006. For more information: Contact: CSIRO Plant Industry
Website: Organized by: CSIRO Plant Industry


*30 August – 1 September 2006. XIII EUCARPIA Biometrics in Plant Breeding Section Meeting, EUCARPIA , Zagreb, Croatia

Contact EUCARPIA SecretariatEvent Website
  Meeting Announcement (PDF)
Pre-registration Form (Word Document)


*11-14 October 2006 Plant Genomics European Meetings, Venice, Italy.
Contact person:



* 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,

* 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

*  27 – 30 April 2006. Breeding for inducible resistance against pests and diseases, Heraklio, Crete, Greece.
For further information see: or contact either convenor: Annegret Schmitt ( or Nick Birch (

* 29 April - 4 May 2007 I  International Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Conference on Culinary Herbs (organized by ISHS) will be held in Antalya (Turkey) on . Conference web page adress is  Further info can be obtained from congress scientific secretary Assoc. Prof. Dr. A. Naci Onus,

* 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.

* 19-23 June 2006. Training course on biotech crop commercialization, Manila, The Philippines The all-inclusive course fee is US$2,500.00  per participant, and will cover material and six nights of accommodation (including five days of specially catered meals). Cost of travel to and from the course venue in Manila, Philippines is not included. Full details and the pre-registration form to be emailed to <> are available at (<>). Closing date for pre-registration is March 31, 2006. Registrants paying the registration fee by 31st April, 2006 will receive a discount of $150.

* 28 to 30 June 2006. EUCARPIA Meeting on Rye Genetics and Breeding, Rostock, Germany.
 Further information about the meeting can be found at

* 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:

* 17-21 September 2006. Cucurbitaceae 2006, Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa in Asheville, North Carolina, USA (in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains).
Contact: Dr. Gerald Holmes, Department of Plant Pathology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7616, 919-515-9779 (
Conference website:

* 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.

*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

* 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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