5 March 2007

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

Clair H. Hershey, Editor

Archived issues available at: FAO Plant Breeding Newsletter


1.01  Sustaining Plant Breeding: Report on a National Workshop
1.02  FAO e-mail conference: Water scarcity and agricultural biotechnologies
1.03  Agricultural scientist wins top award
1.04  Dr. Donald Floyd named “Breeder of the Year” by the U.S. Turfgrass Breeders Association
1.05  Groundbreaking ceremony for new crop research centre at the University of Nottingham
1.06  Nigeria initiates Africa's institute of science
1.07  Fighting Hunger in Africa: Pinpointing the Keys to
1.08  The CGIAR Challenge Programs: Gaining Momentum
1.09  Chinese farmers adopt ICRISAT pigeon pea
1.10  Cellulosic ethanol: Fuel of the future?
1.11  Investing in science: a cautionary tale
1.12  South Africa’s Minister for Agriculture underscores need for biofortification
1.13  Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology: studies on legislative initiatives
1.14  Thirty years of plant transformation technology development
1.15  Study confirms vulnerability of California export markets to genetically modified rice
1.16  Architectural plan revealed of doomsday arctic seed vault
1.17  U.S and Brazil sow seeds for germplasm exchange
1.18  High genetic diversity discovered in Eritrean barley
1.19  Colchicine induced variability: Impact on pollen grains and stomata of interspecific hybrid in Dianthus
1.20  Smithsonian scientists report ancient chili pepper history
1.21  Mummy's amazing American maize
1.22  New research highlights impact of climate on biodiversity
1.23  Asia sets its sight on high beta carotene tomatoes
1.24  Lettuce fights back arch-enemies
1.25  Long-term rust resistance closer for sunflowers
1.26  Natural enzyme deters fall armyworms and other corn-feeding insects
1.27  Maize seed leaves giant footprint in Nepal, Kenya and Zimbabwe
1.28  What recognizes what in plant disease resistance?
1.29  Genetic modification a tool for making vegetables and fruit (even) healthier
1.30  Genetic studies reveal QTL for onion pungency
1.31  Update 1-2007 of FAO-BiotechNews
1.32  Update 2-2007 of FAO-BiotechNews

2.01  Induced Resistance for Plant Defence: A Sustainable Approach to Crop Protection

(None submitted)

4.01  $100,000 soybean fellowship
4.02  Scholarships for students studying rice

(None submitted)





1.01  Sustaining Plant Breeding: Report on a National Workshop

Jim Hancock, Department of Horticulture, Michigan State University
Charles Stuber, CALS, Agriculture Research Service, North Carolina State University

A new national coordinating committee of US plant breeders (SCC-80) was recently established at a workshop hosted jointly by the Departments of Crop Science and Horticultural Sciences at North Carolina State University. The committee will actively work to raise awareness of what plant breeders have done for the nation and how they can contribute to the future vitality of the US economy. The group will also seek to strengthen US plant breeding capacity by encouraging improvements in infrastructure and education. The new committee was established as a Land Grant University Multistate Project. The first slate of officers is: Stephen Baenziger at the University of Nebraska (Chair,, Philipp Simon, USDA-ARS at the University of Wisconsin (Vice-chair, and Todd Wehner at North Carolina University (Secretary, Todd

The workshop was spearheaded by Ann Marie Thro, National Program Staff  of  USDA-CSREES, with the aid of a national steering committee of plant breeders. About 160 participants from all over the USA attended the meeting, representing both the public (140) and private (20) sector. The workshop came in response to concern about the steady decline in national plant breeding investment over the last 20 years, which has led to a significant reduction in the number of public plant breeders in the USA and a substantial weakening of University education programs. Several previous meetings have drawn attention to the decline in our nation’s plant breeding capacity, but their message was not nationally audible or sustained through the establishment of a permanent leadership group.

While the establishment of a coordinating committee was an important goal of the meeting, most of the workshop was devoted to discussing the critical role that plant breeders will play in our nation’s future. The overall tone for discussion was set by a group of leading experts who presented talks on how plant breeding fits into six categories  based on USDA Strategic Goals: 1) Excellence in science and technology (Stephen Baenziger and Fred Bliss), 2) A globally-competitive agricultural system (Ronnie Coffman, Robert Herdt and William Niebur), 3) Competitiveness, sustainability and quality of life in rural America (William Tracy, John Navazio and Marcelo Carena), 4) A safe and secure food and biomaterials system (James Holland and Thomas Isleib), 5) A healthy well-nourished population (Linda Pollak and Philipp Simon), and 6) Harmony between agriculture and environment (Charles Brummer and Stephen Jones).

All of the speakers began their presentations with examples of how plant breeders have already played a successful role in advancing national goals. They reviewed several long term studies that showed that most US crops have had steady, dramatic yield increases over the last 75 years that are due in a large part to cultivar enhancement and development.  These gains have come from genetic improvements in biotic and abiotic stress resistance, alterations in biomass partitioning patterns and improvements in plant architecture. In many instances, these cultivar improvements have resulted in reductions in pesticide use and the more efficient use of water and nutrients.

The speakers had many specific suggestions on how plant breeders can reframe themselves to more effectively capture public attention and contribute to the strength and stability of agriculture. Baenziger suggested that we need a better definition of plant breeding that emphasizes “science” rather than “art” if we want to achieve better recognition of our work. He also commented that it is critical that our university training programs are maintained and that we fully integrate the applied and basic approaches to plant improvement. Coffman felt that we need to more clearly define the role of plant breeders in generating global stability and world peace. Linda Pollak contended that plant breeders can describe themselves as food professionals, who can play a critical role in enhancing food quality, diversity, and nutrition. She also stressed that we can focus our breeding energies on consumers while not neglecting producers. Bill Tracy emphasized the need to focus more on value-added traits as an important way to enhance crop diversity and enhance rural life.  Jim Holland reminded plant breeders that among the major challenges facing them are keeping pace in the constant struggle against ever-evolving pathogens and enhancing the biofuel capacity of our crops. Charles Brummer stressed the need for more niche crops with local adaptations; he indicated that we should develop completely new agricultural paradigms like perennial polycultures and multilines.

After the presentations, the participants broke into six subcommittees to discuss how plant breeders fit into each of the national goals. They were asked to answer three questions: 1) How can plant breeding support the goals, 2) What is needed to assemble a factual and compelling case, and 3) What partnerships should plant breeding build with others. The subcommittees were then directed to develop an action plan for the next five years, as well as a two-year near term plan, which they presented to the whole group at the end of the meeting.

Out of the group deliberations, a number of common themes emerged. On the topic of how plant breeding can support national strategic goals, most groups felt that maintaining the genetic diversity of our crops is a critical goal, while continuing our efforts to develop well adapted varieties that are nutritious, productive, resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses, and that have a place in a value added economy. When asked to describe what is needed to assemble a factual and compelling case for plant breeding, the most common observation was that we need to more effectively communicate our numerous successes, the key being to let community leaders and decision makers know just what we can provide. On the topic of what partnerships plant breeders need to build, several groups felt that it will be important to more fully integrate food and health professionals into our breeding efforts. We also need to engage consumer groups and local agricultural communities much earlier in the research and development pathway.

In the action plans of the individual committees, there was a common call to accumulate success stories and make them available on a website that is attractive to students and the public at large. It was also felt that information about the role of plant breeders should be provided in pamphlet form to K-12, 4-H and Master Gardner Programs. It was suggested that plant breeders should develop symposia at cross-science meetings like AAAS, to more fully integrate our field into the scientific community and raise awareness of our contributions. A strong emphasis was focused on forming an international society of plant breeders, to put the interests of plant breeders at the fore. There was also a unified call to form partnerships with agricultural organizations that successfully lobby policy makers such as the Farm Bureau, American Seed Trade Association, Economic Developmental Councils and Commodity groups. It was pointed out by many groups that we must work harder to provide input when priorities are set for CSREES-NRI programs and the national initiative on specialty crops. We need to make ourselves heard on the type of products that will be of value to us and have an opportunity to share in the resources provided to develop them. A strong call was also made to strengthen the links between US plant breeders and the CGIAR Centers and International Programs, as a way to attract new international students to our programs and broaden the experiences of our domestic ones.

One of the last orders of business at the meeting, was the election of a chair and secretary  for each sub-committee.  These individuals will provide sub-committee resources to the executive committee and make sure that the action plans of the various committees are fulfilled. These officers  and their sub-committees were Excellence - David Stelly, Chair (Texas A&M University) and Craig Yencho, Secretary (North Carolina State University), Global - Robert Bertram, Chair (USAID) and Jim McFerson, Secretary (Washington Tree Fruit Commission), Rural America - Marcelo Carena, Chair (North Dakota State University) and Keith Woeste, Secretary (USDA Forest Service, Purdue University), Nutrition/Healthy - Linda Pollak, Chair (USDA-ARS, Iowa State University)  and Michael Havey, Secretary (USDA-ARS, University of Wisconsin), Environmental - Charlie Brummer, Chair (University of Georgia) and Richard Pratt, Secretary (Ohio State University), Safe and Secure Food -  Travis Frey, Chair (Monsanto Inc.) and James Holland, Secretary (North Carolina State University). A new committee for Education was also established by the executive group which will be chaired by Tom Stalker (North Carolina University), with David Knauft as sectretary (University of Georgia).

In addition to these officers, liaisons were elected to a number of  professional groups including, Ronnie Coffman, Cornell University (International Plant Breeding Centers); Bill Tracy, University of Wisconsin (Private Non-profit Breeders); Steve McKeand, North Carolina State University (Forestry Plant Breeders); Herb Ohm, Purdue University (CSSA Plant Breeders); Linda Wessel-Beaver, University of Puerto Rico (ASHS Plant Breeders) and Greg Tolla, Seminis Vegetable Seeds (NCCPB). Mark Hussey, Texas A&M University will be the Administrative Advisor of the Committee and Ann Marie Thro will be the CSREES  representative.

At the end of the meeting, the general consensus was that the future of plant breeding was brighter. US plant breeders now have an organized committee with a set of officers. A series of action plans have been developed that support the USDA goals and will elevate the public awareness of plant breeding. Clearly the success of the workshop will be measured by how well these plans are implemented, but for the first time plant breeders have a centralized and dedicated voice to support our science. 

More information about this meeting and plant breeding in general can be found on the Global Plant Breeding Website:

Contributed by P. Stephen Baenziger
University of Nebraska, Lincoln

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1.02  FAO e-mail conference: Water scarcity and agricultural biotechnologies

The FAO Biotechnology Forum is hosting an e-mail conference entitled "Coping with water scarcity in developing countries: What role for agricultural biotechnologies?". Organised in collaboration with colleagues in FAO's water programme (, it is one of the many activities planned to coincide with the World Water Day, which is celebrated each year on 22 March. This year its theme is "Coping with water scarcity" and FAO is the coordinating agency within the UN system for the theme. The primary focus of the conference will be on the use of biotechnology to increase the efficiency of water use in agriculture, while a secondary focus will be on two specific water-related applications of micro-organisms, in wastewater treatment and in inoculation of crops and forest trees with mycorrhizal fungi. To discuss and exchange experiences on this subject, we invite you to join the conference. The background document for the conference is available at The conference is open to everyone, is free and will be moderated. It begins on 5 March and finishes on 1 April 2007. All e-mail messages posted during the conference will also be placed on the Forum website ( To join the Forum (and also register for the conference), send an e-mail to leaving the subject blank and entering the following text on two lines:
subscribe BIOTECH-L
subscribe biotech-room2

Those who are already Forum members should leave out the first line of the above message, to register for the conference. For more information, contact

Contributed by John Ruane (SDRR)

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1.03  Agricultural scientist wins top award

By Jia Hepeng
When 76-year-old agricultural scientist Li Zhensheng decided to study wheat more than five decades ago, he did not expect it to be his life-long pursuit.

Li was yesterday presented with the 2006 National Supreme Scientific and Technological Award by President Hu Jintao for his achievements in wheat studies, which have helped feed millions of people.

Li, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), is the 10th Chinese scientist to win the top award 5 million yuan ($649,350) since it was established in 1999.

"But this award should not be given to me alone. It is an honour to be shared by a group of scientists who have worked to improve food safety for so many years," Li told China Daily.

Born in 1931 in East China's Shandong Province, Li is a CAS academician and a former vice-president of CAS.

After graduating from Shandong Agricultural University in 1951, Li faced a major challenge massive wheat strip rust disease caused by a fungus infection in northern China.

Called wheat cancer, the disease has a high infection rate and it could reduce wheat output by half. All types of fungicides were used but to no avail because of the rapid genetic mutation of the fungus.

After years of work in Northwest China, Li discovered that a herb grass called Yanmaicao (Elytrigia) with a remote genetic tie to wheat was free from strip rust disease.

He decided to use the grass and wheat to develop a hybrid that is resistant to fungus infection. But it was not easy.

After nearly 20 years of experimentation, Li finally developed the Xiaoyan series of wheat, which is made up of more than 70 hybrids.

In the past three decades, the Xiaoyan series have increased accumulative wheat output by 7.5 billion kilograms.

Contributed by Victoria Sekitoleko
FAOR in China
and Elcio Guimaraes

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1.04  Dr. Donald Floyd named “Breeder of the Year” by the U.S. Turfgrass Breeders Association

Dr. Floyd’s development of a unique turf-type ryegrass is also recognized with patents from the U.S. Patent Office.

The PICKSEED Companies Group is pleased to announce that Dr. Donald Floyd has been recognized as Breeder of the Year by the Turfgrass Breeders Association of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA). The recognition was conferred at the Society’s International Annual Meetings held November 13-16, 2006 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

This prestigious recognition of Dr. Donald Floyd cited his development of a new turf-type hybrid ryegrass for particular use on golf courses. As golf courses emerge from winter, their perennial ryegrass overseeded turf typically persists too long into the spring and summer which leads to blotching, inconsistency and poor transition to warm season grasses. Dr. Floyd has created a unique cross between perennial and annual ryegrass (L. perenne x L. multiflorum), which overcomes this problem. Unlike numerous other attempts at this type of cross, Dr. Floyd’s grasses have achieved stability throughout subsequent cycles of seed multiplication. His technique has been so successful, the first cycle of releases was recognized and granted patent by the U.S. Patent Office.

Dr. Floyd’s family of “Intermediate” ryegrass varieties moves transparently from its winter ryegrass cover to summer Bermudagrass turf. These varieties retain the desired dark color and density of the perennial ryegrass component, yet transition out, or exit, as quickly and smoothly as annual ryegrass thereby reducing excessive persistence blotching. These varieties have already proven successful through millions of pounds of use in golf course overseeding throughout the US southern areas.

Dr. Floyd completed his PhD studies in 2000 at Oregon State University, where he wrote an impressive thesis concerning ryegrass fluorescence. His experience working in that species is the basis of his expertise in developing the new perennial/annual ryegrass cross.

Jerry Pepin, Executive Vice-President, Research and Technical Sales, comments that “Don Floyd has an exceptional eye for the continually, shifting quality of turfgrass plants. Developing the best turfgrass varieties is critical to growing and maintaining market share in this highly competitive industry. The professional work of Dr. Floyd and his colleagues is crucial in maintaining Pickseed’s strong industry position”.

27 February 2007

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1.05  Groundbreaking ceremony for new crop research centre at the University of Nottingham

The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus is to collaborate on a new research centre that will focus on oil palm research using the latest molecular techniques.

The University is collaborating with a Malaysian company, Applied Agricultural Resources (AAR), to lead research into genetic improvements that could make the oil palm more resistant to disease, easier to harvest and more valuable to the producer.

Bill Rammell MP, Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, was at The University of Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus, at Semenyih near Kuala Lumpur, to perform the groundbreaking ceremony at an adjacent site where the AAR Research Centre will be based. Mr Rammell, visiting Semenyih with five Vice-Chancellors of other UK universities, was also briefed by Professor Brian Atkin, Vice-President at the campus, on other developments.

AAR is an internationally-recognised centre for plantation crop research and development. Among the areas that will be explored at the new AAR Research Centre are the use of DNA to detect illegitimate crosses, tissue culture mix-ups and other identity-related issues. DNA finger-printing technology will be utilised to authenticate the in-house breeds and clones for intellectual property rights.

The laboratory will also seek to hasten traditional breeding programmes through genetic relationship studies to determine desirable oil palm breeding partners. In order to speed up the breeding programmes, marker-assisted selection technology will be developed for early selection of wanted and unwanted traits at DNA level, rather than selection after the oil palm starts fruiting and yielding. Traits of interest include oil quality, tree height and fruit colour.

Construction will now start on the new facility, which is expected to open in October 2007. It will be located on a site adjacent to the Malaysia campus.

In the future, scientists envisage that genetic engineering technology could be used to overcome the barrier of introducing new traits into oil palm. This technology, together with marker-assisted selection and tissue culture, could speed up the production of new oil palm varieties with desirable traits ­ such as high value oil, disease resistance and amenability to mechanised harvesting.

Professor Brian Atkin, Vice-President at the Malaysia Campus, said: “Industry-academic collaboration is an important part of research and as a research-led university, we are pleased to collaborate with AAR.

“The centre will also provide facilities for high level biotechnology research for students from our undergraduate and postgraduate biotechnology programme.”

Dr Soh Aik Chin, Head of Agricultural Research at AAR, said: “The decision to locate the Research Centre at an adjacent lot to the Malaysia Campus is to enable us to leverage on the resources and facilities available at the School of Biosciences at the Malaysia Campus.

“We are pleased to be able to collaborate with an internationally acclaimed centre of excellence for teaching and fundamental research. I would like the AAR Research Centre to emulate Nottingham’s success and look forward to a successful and fruitful collaboration.”

The groundbreaking was performed by Bill Rammell MP. He was in Malaysia with a delegation of five vice-chancellors from UK universities, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in Education, in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education in Malaysia, and to meet policymakers and senior educationalists from both the public and private sectors.

The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus opened in September 2000 to become the first branch campus of a British university in Malaysia and the first anywhere in the world. The Malaysia Campus is a full and integral part of The University of Nottingham, UK, and students are awarded University of Nottingham degree certificates.

Led by senior academic staff seconded from Nottingham, UK, the Malaysia Campus offers students the Nottingham experience in a local setting and yet is firmly rooted in all that is distinctive about UK education ­ innovative teaching and assessment methods, which encourage independent, creative thinking.

13 February 2007

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1.06  Nigeria initiates Africa's institute of science

Design for the new Gulf of Guinea Institute
[LUSAKA] Nigeria has allocated US$25 million to fund the first site of the African Institute of Science and Technology (AIST).

Construction of the Gulf of Guinea Institute will begin this week (20 February) in Nigeria, after the government's Petroleum Technology Development Fund approved funding late last year, according to Desmond Akawor, minister of state for the country's Federal Capital Territory Administrator.

The institute, located in a 240-hectare site in Abuja, is due to open in September. Its research will centre on several different fields including biological, environmental and mathematical science.

It is one of three primary sites for the AIST centres for excellence, announced in 2005 (see 'Quest to fund African science institutions begins' ) and reiterated at the African Union summit last month (see 'African leaders set guidelines for scientific growth' ).

The other sites will be located in South Africa and Tanzania. AIST will also encompass smaller affiliated centres throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

AIST, also known as the Nelson Mandela Institute, is a public-private sector partnership aiming to produce more African scientists to help accelerate development in the continent.

According to Akawor, AIST will recruit Africa's best students and scholars to address the continent's problems including public policy, energy, water, and the environment through quality teaching and research.

He said it has the potential to be the scientific and technological engine of the Africa's economic growth, producing the continent's best scientists and researchers.

The Nigerian government has provided a governing council for the Gulf of Guinea Institute and is planning a fundraising dinner for the project, according to Akawor.

Brian Chituwo, Zambia's science and technology minister, said the initiation of the Nigerian institute was "a positive development in Africa's higher education system because it will concentrate much on research in various fields, which is currently lacking in most higher institutions of learning in Africa".

Michael Malakata

Source: SciDev.Net
21 February 2007

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1.07  Fighting Hunger in Africa: Pinpointing the Keys to Success

Eight European and African organizations have agreed to work together under the Agricultural Innovation in Dryland Africa (AIDA) project to achieve a clearer understanding of the conditions for sustainable agricultural development in African dryland areas. The AIDA project is funded by the EU and coordinated by the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development. The press release states that while the numbers of malnourished people has fallen in India and China, the numbers are continuing to grow in Africa, particularly in dryland zones. The AIDA project aims to pinpoint the determining factors in past failures and current successes. Very few studies are currently available on this issue, and a database of this type, backed up by recommendations, "could serve to support policy decision-making and fairer distribution of resources in favour of subsistence farming," the press release says. According to the press release, poverty, trade inequalities, and the difficulty of agricultural development are at the "top the list of causes" of persistent famine in dryland Africa, and for CIRAD and its African partners, traditional farming systems have been "overlooked." The press release can be viewed online at the link below.

Source: GCP Latest News Alerts, 6 February 2007

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1.08  The CGIAR Challenge Programs: Gaining Momentum

The three pilot Challenge Programs of the CGIAR will be externally reviewed this year, the CGIAR announced in its February story of the month on the CGIAR website. “We expect that the insights and recommendations gleaned from the reviews will prove useful not just to the current Programs but to the new ones” – for which concept notes were due February 5 – “as they decide how best to organize their research efforts, governance and collaborative arrangements,” says Manuel Lantin, scientific advisor in the CGIAR Secretariat. The Secretariat is jointly organizing with the CGIAR Science Council both the review of current Challenge Programs as well as the process for development of Cycle 2 Programs. Read more at:

Source: GCP Latest News Alerts, 6 February 2007

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1.09  Chinese farmers adopt ICRISAT pigeon pea

Pigeon pea or cajan is adapted to the tropics and subtropics where it is one of the most valuable legumes. It is cultivated for both forage and its edible beans, which are produced in abundance. The International Crops Research institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has bred pigeon pea varieties and reintroduced the cultivation of this perennial legume in China. From a cultivated area of 50 hectares in 1999 in two provinces, the area under pigeon pea increased to 100,000 ha in 12 provinces in 2006.

Chinese farmers have found diverse uses from pigeon pea - prevention of soil erosion, crop diversification, fodder for cattle and feed for fishes, as a substrate for mushroom cultivation and lac production, as a vegetable, and for the preparation of food products. These uses have made pigeon pea into a multi-purpose crop with a large and diverse portfolio of uses in China.

Read the news release at

Source: CropBiotech Update 9 February 2007

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics
Cornell University

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1.10  Cellulosic ethanol: Fuel of the future?

In his Jan. 23 State of the Union address, President George Bush outlined his plan to reduce the nation's dependency on foreign oil by requiring the production of 35 billion gallons a year of renewable and alternative fuels by 2017, roughly five times the current target set by Congress of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.

Among the most promising alternatives are fuels derived from biological material. Currently, the main biofuel used in the United States is ethanol distilled from kernels of corn. There are about 140 corn ethanol refineries nationwide, which produce more than 5 billion gallons a year. But critics say that corn ethanol alone won't meet the president's goal of 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels in 10 years, because cultivating corn to use only its grain would take up too much land. According to the National Environmental Trust, producing 35 billion gallons of ethanol annually would require putting an additional 129,000 square miles of farmland-an area roughly the combined size of Kansas and Iowa-into corn production.

One way to reach the president's objective is offered by Chris Somerville, professor of biological sciences at Stanford University and director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Plant Biology. Somerville advocates increasing the production of cellulosic ethanol, which is distilled from the fermentation of sugars from the entire plant, not just the grains.

''To expand beyond 12 billion gallons, we need to use the body of the plants rather than use the seeds,'' Somerville said. He will discuss his research at 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.

The ideal plant: A perennial grass
The body of a plant is composed of polysaccharides, such as cellulose, which can be converted to ethanol by fermentation. Using the entire plant body as a starting raw material will result in a higher yield of fermentable sugar per unit of land, Somerville said.

The ideal plant for producing cellulosic ethanol, he added, is Miscanthus, a perennial grass native to subtropical and tropical regions of Africa and southern Asia, which is used as an ornamental plant in the United States.

What makes Miscanthus so special?
''It uses less water per gram of biomass produced than other plants,'' he said. ''For example, to make a pound of alfalfa or spinach requires about 600 pounds of water, while to grow a pound of Miscanthus requires only about 200 pounds of water.''

According to Somerville, Miscanthus produces about twice as much biomass per acre without irrigation than other grasses, and reaching the president's target of 35 billion gallons of biofuels annually would require putting far fewer acres of land into Miscanthus production.

The main reason behind the call for increased biofuel production is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, not because we are running out of fossil fuels, he added. ''There are reserves of coal for 200 years at least, and coal can be liquefied into fuel, but it produces an awful lot of CO2,'' he explained.

Biofuels, on the other hand, are carbon-neutral sources of energy, Somerville said, noting that plants absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, which compensates for the CO2 that is released when biofuels burn.

Environmental costs
Some environmentalists criticize the use of biofuels by arguing that planting large quantities of corn or grass to produce ethanol will require widespread deforestation, which threatens biodiversity. ''It depends on what acres of land one uses [to plant Miscanthus],'' said Somerville, who advocates growing biofuel crops on land currently used for food production.

''There's a lot of deforestation certainly going to take place in tropical regions, because those countries are going to develop biofuel businesses,'' he said. ''Already in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, the acreage of palm oil is extending very rapidly because palm oil can be converted to biodiesel with a quite high efficiency and very low capital investment. But is it worse for the environment than climate change? That's the question.''

According to Somerville, ''Climate change threatens biodiversity more than anything that I know. For example, in British Columbia they are losing each year forests the size of Rhode Island because of beetle infestation, because it is not cold enough in the winter to kill the beetles, and they are killing the forest.''

Achievable goals
The president's target of 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels by 2017 ''is very substantive, but Bush did not provide any insights into what he is going to do to make that happen,'' Somerville said, adding that it will take seven to 10 years to produce cellulosic ethanol at competitive prices.

''It is certainly possible to achieve Bush's goals technically,'' he said. ''The question in my mind is whether investors are ready to put up the money required to make it happen.''

Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University

16 February 2007

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1.11  Investing in science: a cautionary tale

Science for development will require more than just financial investment
A growing consensus on the need for more science and technology in development policies must not lead to excessive expectations.

Last week (13–15 February), a meeting hosted by the World Bank in Washington gathered over 300 government ministers, policy advisers, scientists and representatives of nongovernmental organisations from developing countries. They were there to discuss how science, technology and innovation can best be harnessed to support sustainable growth and reduce global poverty.

The meeting represented an important shift in the World Bank's lending priorities. For more than two decades, the need for developing countries to build their scientific and technological capacity remained overshadowed by other goals, including more direct attacks on poverty. But science is now returning to the fore.

The bank's new president, Paul Wolfowitz, said that science and technology (S&T) are essential to the UN Millennium Development Goals. He urged developing countries to include support for science, however modest, in their spending plans (see Invest in science, says World Bank president).

Wolfowitz's support for science is welcome. But his caution is also justified. For it would be dangerous to place expectations too high.

Rash investments could create a backlash similar to that which occurred 25 years ago, after the promises made for S&T during the 1960s and 1970s failed to materialise. The sight of expensive laboratories and equipment lying unused across the developing world led to disenchantment among donors, many of whom felt their investments had been wasted.

More than just investment
The current danger lies in promoting policies that see S&T as drivers of social progress and economic development, rather than components of innovation programmes in which other factors ­ from regulatory policy to education and training ­ are just as important.

The scientific community is particularly prone to this one-dimensional approach. Arguing that heavy investment in research and development is enough to promote economic growth naturally appeals to those keen to see scientific laboratories flourish across the developing world.

But experience has shown that such investment is only part of the solution. The real challenge lies in embedding science in all spheres of government policy, and introducing educational, regulatory and fiscal measures to enable innovation to flourish across the economy.

Until this happens, demands for more money for science will inevitably be seen as little more than self-interested pleading from the scientific community.

Venancio Massingue, a former university professor who is now Mozambique's S&T minister, admitted to feeling embarrassed during cabinet meetings because his bids for increased research funding had to compete with those seeking more money for social services such as food and basic medical care.

Attempts to secure support for S&T capacity building also risk separation from a country's main economic policies. Requests for greater support at the World Bank's meeting ­ like those at the African Union summit last month ­ came mostly from S&T ministers, rather than the finance ministers holding the purse-strings.

Scientific and political support
Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development at Harvard University, suggested that it was often lawyers who, given their role in designing governmental administrative arrangements, have had the biggest impact on innovation policies in recent years.

This is not to say that scientists should sit quietly on the sidelines. Their enthusiasm and commitment is essential for alerting politicians to the need for science in social and economic programmes. And their direct involvement, both as advisers and practitioners, is equally important in ensuring that this is done effectively.

But at the end of the day, as many speakers at the meeting emphasised, it is political will that counts most.

Some of this must come from the top. Countries whose leaders are committed to building science and technology capacity, and integrating it into effective innovation systems, are more likely to succeed than those with leaders who simply rely on importing foreign technology.

But equally important is a bottom-up approach that encourages, for example, the integration of scientific research into Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers ­ the documents required by funding agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for countries to receive debt relief. Some African countries, such as Mozambique, have begun to do this.

Without such an embedded commitment, as well as popular support, today's enthusiasm for science and technology investment risks becoming just another passing fashion.

David Dickson
Director, SciDev.Net

22 February 2007

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1.12  South Africa’s Minister for Agriculture underscores need for biofortification

South Africa
South Africa’s Minister for agriculture says food security is not possible without improved, appropriate, locally enhanced bred cultivars of some indigenous grain crops such as sorghum, millet and other staple food crops.

The Minister, Ms. Lulu Xingwana also said the South African government will support African Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project in conducting its research in South Africa and the continent.

Addressing the ABS Open Day Conference at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) headquarters in Pretoria, South Africa, the Minister said “The South African government supports the ABS project in its research and the hard work that it has put into this venture.”

Ms. Xingwana said in order to avoid food insecurity, it is important to explore various options that will enhance the micronutrient content of staple foods such as supplementing people’s diet.

Other dignitaries at the conference included; Dr. Florence Wambugu, CEO Africa Harvest, Dr. Gatsha Mazithulela, Executive Director CSIR Biosciences and Dr. Paul Anderson, International Grain End-Use Manager, Pioneer (a Dupont Company). The three are members of the ABS steering Committee.

Dr. Florence Wambugu applauded the involvement of the Government of South Africa in endorsing a 20-year biotechnology action plan by Africa’s Heads of State at the AU summit in Ethiopia.

She called on the South Africa government to use its influence as a leader on the continent to convince other African countries to enact laws that create enabling environment for biotechnology. “I call upon the government of South Africa to use its influence on the continent and help other African countries to enact laws that govern the biotechnology sector,” said Dr. Wambugu.

Dr. Wambugu noted that policies on the continent were not at the same level with new technologies. She urged African governments to keep on updating policies to meet the challenges of new technologies that are emerging.

Dr. Gatsha Mazithulela said the decision by the heads of state to endorse a 20-year biotechnology action plan enforces African governments’ position on the development of biotechnology on the continent.

“In the ABS project we, as Africans, have pooled our resources to address an African problem. Funding from primarily the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has put the objective of improving the nutritional value of an African crop, within our reach. Because we are realistic about the limitations of Africa’s infrastructure capacity and human resources capacity in the science domain, we have made it our mission to weave capacity building into every fibre of this project. In addition to our African partners, we are collaborating with some of the developed world’s leading scientists in this domain”, Dr. Mazithulela said.

Ms. Xingwana, the Minister for agriculture acknowledged that micro-nutrient malnutrition was a public health problem of considerable significance not only in South Africa but the continent at large. She said sustainable approach to enriching staple foods with micronutrients is to develop improved varieties or cultivars through research and development and applauded the ABS project for doing this.

“The goal of the ABS project is to develop transgenic sorghum varieties that will overcome most of the nutritional deficiencies affecting the continent. We hope to do this by substantially improving grain digestibility and making the vitamins and micro-nutrients more available,” Dr. Paul Anderson noted.

The minister encouraged the ARC and the ABS project to use the best that science has to offer in addressing agricultural problems unique to SA and Africa. “In particular, you should explore the possibilities of broadening the food base to reduce dependence on a small basket of foods, improving the inherent nutritional quality of food at source and identify integrated approaches to maximize impact and adoption of new technologies,” she noted.

The African Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project is part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, a major effort to achieve scientific breakthroughs against diseases that kill millions of people each year in the world’s poorest countries. Announced in mid 2005, the grants totaling US$436.6 million covered a broad range of innovative research projects involving scientists in 33 countries. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to create “deliverable technologies” – health tools that are not only effective, but also inexpensive to produce, easy to distribute, and simple to use in developing countries.
The news item on this page is copyright by the organization where it originated - Fair use notice

22 February 2007

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1.13  Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology: studies on legislative initiatives

Final analysis of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology finds that U.S. state legislatures continue to focus on agricultural biotechnology: regulating GMOs and support of biotechnology are most popular topics of legislation introduced in 2005-2006 session

Washington, DC
A new fact sheet and web database released today by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology reveals that agricultural biotechnology continues to be of interest to state legislatures, particularly with respect to concerns about marketing, economics and liability – issues that historically have not been the focus of federal regulatory efforts. During the 2005-2006 legislative session, 134 pieces of legislation related to agricultural biotechnology were introduced in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

The announcement of findings marks the fifth time that the Pew Initiative has monitored state legislative efforts in the area of agricultural biotechnology. As the PIFB project will be ending in March 2007, this is the final state legislation report.

This most recent analysis identified legislative engagement on issues identified in prior fact sheets, such as liability and contracts, but also highlighted some new areas of action, such as coexistence between GE, conventional and organic farmers and producers.

"In the 2005-2006 legislative session, states continued to balance a diverse set of interests – from capturing the economic value of agricultural biotechnology to weighing potential conflicts with existing conventional and organic producers," said Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. "As states grapple with these issues, some stakeholders may also consider the broader existing regulatory framework and assess specific state responsibilities as they encounter situations where regulatory gaps appear to exist."

Twenty-nine percent of introduced legislation addressed the regulation of seeds and crops; 22 percent of introduced bills were in support of agricultural biotechnology; 16 percent of introduced bills sought to impose moratoria on GM crops and animals and 15 percent of legislation addressed rights and responsibilities of farmers and biotech seed producers by establishing liability for damages caused by genetically modified crops.

The fact sheet, entitled "State Legislative Activity Related to Agricultural Biotechnology in 2005-2006," chronicles and catalogues state and federal legislative activity relating to agricultural biotechnology in 2005 and 2006. It is accompanied by Legislation Tracker, a database that archives legislation. These items update a similar fact sheet and database prepared last year on legislative activity in 2005.

Highlights of the research include:
-Of the 134 pieces of legislation introduced in state legislatures, 27 were adopted (20 percent of introduced bills), compared with 37 bills (22 percent of introduced bills) in 2003-2004 and 45 (28 percent of introduced bills) in 2001-2002. 
-A new development emerged in 2005-2006 that focused on local lawmaking with 16 bills introduced to preempt (disallow) local and county regulations on GM seeds and crops. 
-Hawaii and New York introduced the most bills respectively generating 44 and 13 pieces, with Hawaii adopting the most bills (7 pieces). 

Fact sheet:


13 February 2007

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1.14  Thirty years of plant transformation technology development

Technology development is seminal to many aspects of basic and applied plant transgenic science. Through the development and commercialization of genetically modified crops, the evolution of plant transgenic technologies is also relevant to society as a whole. In this study, literature statistics were used to uncover trends in the development of these technologies. Publication volume and impact (citation) over the past 30 years were analysed with respect to economic zones, countries, species and DNA delivery method. This revealed that, following a dramatic expansion in the 1980s, publications focusing on the development of transgenic technology have been slowing down worldwide since the early mid-1990s, except in a few leading Asian countries. The implications of these trends on the future of plant transgenic science as a whole are discussed.

Full article for subscribers:

Plant Biotechnology Journal
Volume 5 Issue 2 Page 221 - March 2007

Philippe Vain
John Innes Centre, Crop Genetics Department

March, 2007

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1.15  Study confirms vulnerability of California export markets to genetically modified rice

Colusa, California
A newly released study* finds that California’s rice industry faces the loss of export markets worth over $200 million dollars in the event that genetically modified (GM) rice is produced commercially.

The report makes the following conclusion: “It would appear that the rice trade in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and to a lesser extent Turkey has little interest in importing GM rice at this time…Due to the risks involved, we recommend that the U.S. industry not seek commercialization of GM rice in the near term [next 3 to 5 years].”

The study commissioned by the Rice Producers of California (RPC) was conducted by the international affairs and market research firm Bryant Christie Inc. and has been formally endorsed by the US Rice Producers Association (USRPA). Bryant Christie evaluated the potential for market acceptance of GM rice in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Turkey. These markets, which account for approximately 40% of California’s annual rice crop, have a value of over $200 million dollars.

The report also states that even if GM rice were cheaper, and even if the rice industry conducted an extensive educational campaign, “there should be a full understanding that the pursuit of [GM Rice] commercialization could jeopardize existing U.S. rice exports to Japan.” It goes on to state “Considering that Japan accounts for roughly half of all California rice export sales, or the equivalent of between 20% and 25% of California’s annual rice production, loss of the Japanese market could significantly impact the California rice industry.”

The report comes on the heels of the August 2006 disclosure that Bayer CropScience’s experimental Liberty Link GM rice had contaminated the Southern U.S. long grain rice supply. The incident led to plummeting rice prices (an estimated $150 million within a matter of days), the closure of several European and Asian markets, and costly testing and cleanup attempts.

According to Dwight Roberts, USRPA President and CEO, “California has an opportunity to be proactive and adopt strong measures to protect itself from the market disruptions and rejection experienced in the South. This incident is your wake-up call.”

RPC is calling for a moratorium on all open-air GM rice production, laws giving farmers compensation if they suffer economic damages due to GM contamination, and extensive seed testing to assure GM-free seed supplies. “The potential long-term benefits of GM rice have yet to be proven to California growers, and the risks to our markets are simply too great,” stated Chris Capaul, a California rice farmer from Sutter County.

Full report:

Rice Producers of California, founded in 1997, represents and advocates for the interests of California rice producers, and promotes the economic viability of rice farming in California. RPC is the only organization that speaks solely for the interests of California’s rice producers.

Source: Rice Producers of California via
20 February 2007

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1.16  Architectural plan revealed of doomsday arctic seed vault

'Noah’s Ark' for seeds designed to outlast major rise in sea level and warming of permafrost
OSLO, NORWAY.  The Norwegian government has revealed the architectural design for the Svalbard International Seed Vault, to be carved deep into frozen rock on an island not far from the North Pole. The entrance to the "fail-safe" seed vault will "gleam like a gem in the midnight sun," signaling a priceless treasure within: seed samples of nearly every food crop of every country. The vault is designed to protect the agricultural heritage of humankind­the seeds essential to agriculture of every nation.

"This design takes us one step closer to guaranteeing the safety of the world's most important natural resource," said Dr. Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which will co-fund the vault's operations and pay for the preparation and transport of seeds from all developing nations to the Arctic island of Svalbard. "Every day that passes we lose crop biodiversity. We must conserve the seeds that will allow agriculture to adapt to challenges such as climate change and crop disease. This design is as awesome physically as it is attractive aesthetically, and both are fitting tributes to the importance of the biological treasure to be stored there."

Construction is slated to begin in March 2007 and to be completed in September 2007. The vault will officially open in late winter 2008.

"By investing in a global permafrost safety facility for seeds, the Norwegian Government hopes to contribute to combating the loss of biological diversity, to reduce our vulnerability to climatic changes, and to enhance our ability to secure future food production," said Mr. Terje Riis-Johansen, Minister of Agriculture and Food, Norway.

The site was chosen, in part, because the ground is perpetually frozen, providing natural back-up refrigeration that would preserve the seeds should electricity fail. Yet, even here, project architects had to consider how to offset the potential impacts of climate change.

The design will accommodate even worst-case scenarios of global warming in two main ways. For one, the vault will be located high above any possible rise in sea level caused by global warming: the vault will be located some 130 metres above current sea level, ensuring that it will not be flooded. This puts it well above a seven metre rise that would accompany the melting of Greenland's ice sheet, or even a 61 metre rise that could accompany an unlikely total meltdown of Antarctica.

Secondly, scientists determined the impact of rising air temperatures on the permafrost, which is normally between -4°C and -6°C (24.8°F and 21.2°F). They found that the permafrost would warm much more slowly than the air. In addition, the deeper into the mountain, the colder it will remain. Therefore, the vault will be located an extraordinary 120 metres into the rock, ensuring that rising external air temperatures will have no influence on the surrounding permafrost.

"Even climate change over the next 200 years will not significantly affect the permafrost temperature," says project manager Magnus Bredeli Tveiten, with Statsbygg, the Norwegian government's Directorate of Public Construction and Property.

To accomplish this, the 120-metre entry tunnel will penetrate through the permafrost, opening to two large chambers capable of holding three million seed samples. The tunnel and vaults will be excavated by means of well-known boring and blasting techniques, with the rock walls sprayed with concrete.

In contrast to this utilitarian interior, "the exterior structure shoots out of the mountainside," Tveiten said. The entrance portal will be a narrow triangular structure of cement and metal, illuminated with artwork which changes according to the special lighting conditions of the Arctic. In the summer months, the entrance "will gleam like a gem in the midnight sun," Tveiten says. Throughout the dark winter, when the sun never rises, it will glow with gently changing lights.

The design also reflects of the project's approach to security.

"We decided early on that there is no point in trying to hide this facility from the public," Tveiten said. "Instead we will rely on its presence being well-known in the local community, so if the public sees something suspicious, they will react to it."

Other security measures include several sets of reinforced doors between the entrance and the chambers, the absence of windows, and a video monitoring system.

Riis-Johansen emphasized the vault's importance to the world community. "From a global perspective the emphasis is on assisting developing countries by offering a safe haven for their valuable biological material. I also hope that the interest that is shown in the Svalbard Arctic Seed Vault will create increased awareness for the need for conservation and sustainable use of our genetic resources."

The Arctic seed vault is part of a comprehensive global strategy being implemented by the Global Crop Diversity Trust to protect collections of crop genetic diversity around the world.
For more information on the architectural design contact: Magnus Bredeli Tveiten, Project Manager, Statsbygg: + 47 22 95 42 22 (o) + 47 91 17 94 41 (m).
The Global Crop Diversity Trust (

The mission of the Trust is to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide. Although crop diversity is fundamental to fighting hunger and to the very future of agriculture, funding is unreliable and diversity is being lost. The Trust is the only organization working worldwide to solve this problem. The Trust is finalizing an agreement with the Royal Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Norway and the Nordic Gene Bank to provide for the long-term funding, management and operation of the vault.

Contact: Jeff Haskins
Burness Communications

8 February 2007

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1.17  U.S and Brazil sow seeds for germplasm exchange

A collaborative effort between U.S. and Brazilian scientists is setting the stage for significant international exchange of germplasm.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), is helping its Brazilian counterpart EMBRAPA develop a new animal genome database. This effort is part of an ongoing collaboration between the two countries, called "Labex," through which the United States and Brazil share agricultural equipment, scientists and expertise.

This is the first Labex effort to deal with genetic resources. As part of the project, Brazilian visiting scientists Arthur Mariante and Luciano Nass worked with ARS scientists at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) in Fort Collins, Colo. They collaborated with ARS scientists on their research, analyzed germplasm storage techniques and compared genebank management practices.

Program leaders have also arranged for a Brazilian computer programmer to work with U.S. programmers in Beltsville, Md., to develop a new version of the animal germplasm component of the ARS Genetic Resources Information Network.

Once the database is completed, people from both countries will be able to query it to obtain information on the breeds and individual animals whose germplasm is contained in the nations' repositories. In the future, this information could facilitate the international exchange of germplasm or tissues for genomic studies.

Read more about the research in the February 2007 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at:

ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Laura McGinnis
5 February 2007

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1.18  High genetic diversity discovered in Eritrean barley

The newly discovered barley may help breeders select for drought and disease tolerance

Researchers have discovered varieties of barley with a surprisingly high level of genetic diversity in Eritrea, which could be useful for researchers trying to breed drought and disease resistant barley.

But the scientists warn that the resource could be lost if seed conservation measures are not improved.

The barley, found in farmer's fields surrounding the capital city Asmara in Eritrea, has the highest level of genetic diversity ever discovered. Lead researcher Ahmed Jahoor, of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, says he observed that the barley grows under diverse levels of drought severity, which could be useful to plant breeders wishing to select the level of drought tolerance needed. He expects to find genetic variability for disease resistance as well.

Jahoor says the seeds will be invaluable for improving barley "not only in Eritrea but elsewhere in tropical highland where barley is grown".

They could be used as a new source of useful genes that have not previously been used in barley breeding programmes, and will be available for research purposes through common material transfer agreement procedures.

However, Jahoor told SciDev.Net that the new gene pool is under threat due to poor seed conservation facilities in Eritrea. He urged the scientific community to establish a seed bank to conserve the genetic resource before it is lost forever.

Jahoor says he has had difficulties obtaining funding for a seed bank because the Danish government has stopped supporting Eritrea for political reasons, and other funding agencies have not committed any funds.

Mike Gale, emeritus research fellow at the UK-based John Innes Centre, says the levels of genetic diversity that the researchers found clearly demonstrates the value of international genebanks.

The research was part of the Integrated Cereal Disease Management programme that aims to enhance research collaboration between Danish research institutes, National Agricultural Research Institutes in developing countries and centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

It was published online in Theoretical & Applied Genetics last week (6 February).
Link to abstract in Theoretical and Applied Genetics

Wagdy Sawahel

Source: SciDev.Net
15 February 2007

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1.19  Colchicine induced variability: Impact on pollen grains and stomata of interspecific hybrid in Dianthus

Tejaswini1, Neeraj Tripathi and Paramesh H.
Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, Bangalore 560 089, India; 1Corresponding author, E-mail:

In an effort to restore reproductive ability and to improve ornamental characteristics, in vitro colchicine treatment was attempted in a selected interspecific hybrid of Dianthus.  Protocols of soaking explant in colchicine prior to tissue culture as well as culturing the explant on media incorporated with the colchicine were tried to optimize the concentration for creating maximum variability and to enhance pollen viability.  Explants were soaked in various concentration of colchicine in combination with varying treatment duration. The resulting in vitro plantlets were hardened and were observed for pollen and stomatal characters. Attempt was made for rapid and early detection of variability by screening pollen and stomata size. Pollen grain size and percentage of viable pollen grains increased with increased colchicine concentration and treatment duration. Concentration of colchicine significantly influenced the pollen viability as well as size of viable pollen grains. Significant impact of colchicine concentration was also noticed for stomatal number and size on both upper and lower surface of leaf.

For additional information, or a copy of the complete paper, contact Dr. Tejaswini at :

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1.20  Smithsonian scientists report ancient chili pepper history

Americans Cultivated and Traded Chili Peppers 6,000 Years Ago
Smithsonian researchers and colleagues report that across the Americas, chili peppers (Capsicum species) were cultivated and traded as early as 6,000 years ago­predating the invention of pottery in some areas of the Americas. The researchers analyzed starch grains to trace the history of chili peppers in the Americas.

Their findings contribute significantly to the current understanding of ancient agricultural practices in the Americas. The report is published in the Feb. 16 issue of the journal Science.

When Europeans arrived in the Americas, chili peppers were among the most widespread of the plants domesticated in the New World. However, the chronology and precise geography of their origins and early dispersals had been very poorly understood. Tropical environments, where many chili varieties were first domesticated and then incorporated into prehistoric farming systems, degrade most organic archaeological remains, washing away and decomposing all but the most durable evidence of ancient human activities. Lead author Linda Perry, of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and colleagues overcame this obstacle by identifying chili pepper starch grains. The starch microfossils were found at seven sites dating from 6,000 years ago to European contact and ranging from the Bahamas to southern Peru.

The Smithsonian holds the most extensive reference collection of microscopic plant remains available to archaeologists­starch, pollen grains and microfossils called phytoliths. The team of researchers adding to this collection discovered that starch grains from chili peppers, members of the genus Capsicum, are shaped like red blood cells, with a strong, central line or split on the side.

"Sorting through microscopic particles and finding a type that distinguishes such an important plant group is like opening a window to the past," Perry said. "While we once based our understanding of chili peppers on rare sites with exceptionally good preservation, suddenly we are able to gain incredible insight into ancient agriculture, trade and cuisine by making these plants visible nearly everywhere they occurred."

Cultivated chili starch grains are discernible from those of wild chilies. The remains of these domesticated chili peppers were often found with corn, forming part of a major, ancient food complex that predates pottery in some regions.

The oldest Capsicum starch grains were found in southwestern Ecuador at two sites dating to 6,100 years ago. The chili remains were associated with previously identified corn, achira, arrowroot, leren, yuca, squash, beans and palm fruit, adding to the picture of an early, complex agricultural system in that region. Ecuador is not considered to be the center of domestication for any of the five domesticated chili species. A more ancient record of the domestication and spread of chili peppers awaits investigators working in other regions where wild chilies were first brought into cultivation.

In Panama, chilies occurred with corn and domesticated yams that dated 5,600 years before present (ybp). Chilies were found at a site occupied 4,000 ybp in the Peruvian Andes, with microscopic remains of corn, arrowroot and possibly potato. In this case, the chilies were identified as the species C. pubescens. The rocoto pepper, a cultivar of this species, is still a staple in the Peruvian diet. Newer sites in the Bahamas (1,000 ybp) and in Venezuela (500-1,000 ybp) also yielded remains of both corn and chilies.

"It's hard to imagine modern Latin American cuisine without chili peppers," said co-author Dolores Piperno, Smithsonian scientist at the National Museum of Natural History and at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. "We demonstrate that prehistoric people from the Bahamas to Peru were using chilies in a variety of foods a long time ago. The peppers would have enhanced the flavor of early cultivars such as maize and manioc and may have contributed to their rapid spread after they were domesticated."
The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., is the most visited natural history museum in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world's most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. It also fosters critical scientific research as well as educational programs and exhibitions that present the work of its scientists and curators to the public.

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare; trains students to conduct research in the tropics; and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems.

Authors: Linda Perry, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH); Ruth Dickau and Sonia Zarillo, University of Calgary; Irene Holst, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI); University of Calgary; Deborah Pearsall, University of Missouri; Dolores Piperno, NMNH/STRI; Mary Jane Berman, Miami University; Richard G. Cooke, STRI; Kurt Rademacher, University of Maine; Anthony J. Ranere, Temple University; J. Scott Raymond, University of Calgary; Daniel H. Sandweiss, University of Maine; Franz Scaramelli, Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientificas; Kay Tarble, University Central de Venezuela, Caracas; and James A. Zeidler, Colorado State University.

Funded by: American Philosophical Society; the Concejo de Desarollo Cientifico y Humanistico de la Universidad Central de Venezuela; the Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral; the Foundation for Exploration and Research on Cultural Origins; the Heinz Charitable Trust Latin American Archaeology Program; the National Science Foundation; the Office of the Provost at Ithaca College; the Programa de Anthropologia para el Ecuador; the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History; the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada; Temple University; the University of Missouri Research Board; and Wenner-Gren.

Contact: Randall Kremer
Linda Perry
15 February 2007

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1.21  Mummy's amazing American maize

The far-reaching influence of Spanish and Portuguese colonisers appears not to have extended to South American agriculture, scientists studying Andean mummies up to 1,400 years old have found.

The University of Manchester researchers, working with colleagues in Buenos Aires, compared the DNA of ancient maize found in the funerary offerings of the mummy and at other sites in northwest Argentina with that grown in the same region today.

Surprisingly, they found both ancient and modern samples of the crop were genetically almost identical indicating that modern European influence has not been as great as previously thought.

"The entire culture of South America changed when the Europeans arrived in the 15th century - everything from the language to the whole way of life," explained Professor Terry Brown, who headed the research in the Faculty of Life Sciences.

"Maize is the staple food crop of the region but prior to colonisation it also had a ritual significance - the indigenous people were amazed by maize and even worshipped it.

"Given the immense changes that took place in South America following the arrival of the Europeans it is surprising that this crop has remained unaltered for hundreds of years."

Professor Brown's research partner, Dr Veronica Lia from the Universidad de Buenos Aires, added: This is the first time that archaeological remains from Argentina have been used in ancient DNA studies. As the southernmost extreme of the spread of maize cultivation before the Europeans arrived, this region of the Andes offers exciting possibilities in terms of the genetic diversity it may harbour.

"Our findings reflect the perpetuation, generation after generation, of the traditions of the native farmers that inhabit this area."

Using the new facilities in the Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre - a cross-faculty institute at the University - Professor Brown is now examining the DNA of ancient maize from Peru, up to 6,000 years old, to determine if these much older specimens are also similar to modern crops.
The research was published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Link to paper:
For further details contact:
Aeron Haworth
Media Officer
Faculty of Life Sciences
The University of Manchester

14 February 2007

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1.22  New research highlights impact of climate on biodiversity

New research by the Grain Foods CRC showing a direct link between climate and genetic diversity in wild barley provides new evidence of the risks associated with climate change and water availability.

Grain Foods CRC researchers at the Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics at Southern Cross University and at the Institute of Evolution in Israel have identified associations between genetic diversity and climate in wild populations of barley – the first plant domesticated by humans.

The results of the research are reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, one of the world’s leading science journals.

“This research is timely in that it gives us insights into ways in which biodiversity might be influenced by climate change,” said Professor Robert Henry, Director of the Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics.

“The diversity and distribution of plant populations is likely to be altered dramatically by changes in temperature or the availability of water in the environment.” 

Professor Henry said the research found, unexpectedly, that diversity of a defence gene in the wild barley was greater in drier environments.

“Populations from wetter environments displayed less diversity.  This may be due to the influence of the climate on the diversity of pathogenic micro-organisms in the soil,” he said.

“The populations in wetter environments face strong but uniform pest pressures while in the dryer sites in the desert the pathogens are not as abundant but are more diverse.

“This finding illustrates the risks of loss or extinction of populations from more favourable environments if rapid climate change results in their exposure to more stressful environments for which they are not adapted.

“The impact of climate change is not as simple as we thought.”

Professor Henry said wild relatives of domesticated plants, especially major crops, were key resources ensuring global food security.

“These wild plant populations may be essential to developing strains of our food crops that can be produced in a changing environment,” he said.

The researchers involved in the project were Honours student James Cronin, Dr Peter Bundock, from the Grain Foods CRC, and Professor Eviatar Nevo, from the Institute of Evolution in Israel.

The work was supported by the Grain Foods CRC (Contact David Lind, Commercialisation Manager, Grain Foods CRC, Phone 02 8877 7876) because of the potential influence of the genes on the nutritional and functional value of grain in human diets.

The next phase of the research will look at genetic diversity in wild rices in northern Australia. 

Media contact:
Emma Evans, Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics, Southern Cross University
Jane Gilmour (Thurs - Fri Jobshare partner)
Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics
Southern Cross University

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1.23  Asia sets its sight on high beta carotene tomatoes

Tomato is an integral part of Asian and African cuisines. Only a few dishes are not without tomatoes. Because of its fame as a source of beta-carotene and lycopene, the World Vegetable Center has designed a new variety of tomato to contain three to five times more beta-carotene than regular red tomatoes. With the recent release of high beta-carotene cherry tomatoes in Taiwan, the World Vegetable Center has secured a steady supply of Vitamin A especially in deficient areas in Asia and Africa. Vitamin A deficiency is one of the scourges of the developing world, and about 25 million have become blind from preventable diseases due to lack of Vitamin A in the diet.

Aside from its nutritional and health benefits, the high beta-carotene tomato hybrid has also shown high resistance to Gemini virus and tomato mosaic virus, two of the most destructive viruses that affect tomato crops. The Center is also developing heat tolerant, disease resistant varieties that can be grown during the wetter, warmer periods without catching widespread microbial diseases.

Read the news release at

Source: CropBiotech Update 9 February 2007

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics
Cornell University

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1.24  Lettuce fights back arch-enemies

Iceberg lettuce is the unfortunate target of barrage of an impressive array of microbes. Some of these microbes are transmitted to lettuce fields by piercing and sucking insects such as aphids and whiteflies, while others team up microbes in invading susceptible lettuces. To help iceberg lettuce and its relatives counter the attacks of stealthy microbes, scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have developed parent lettuces with resistance to two major diseases - lettuce mosaic and big vein.

Lettuce big vein gets its name from the unhealthy, enlarged appearance of veins in infected lettuce leaves. It is caused by the Mirafiori lettuce big vein virus, which makes its way to lettuce roots via a soil-dwelling, fungus-like microbe. Lettuce mosaic, on the other hand, is caused by a virus of the same name. Green peach aphids can spread the virus from an infected plant to an uninfected one as they move about a lettuce field. The scientists are expanding on this work by pursuing other genes that would provide superior resistance to these diseases or to any of about a half-dozen other microbes that the researchers are scrutinizing.

The complete article can be accessed at

Source: CropBiotech Update 9 February 2007

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics
Cornell University

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1.25  Long-term rust resistance closer for sunflowers

The disease rust has always been a serious issue for the sunflower industry, and researchers now believe they may have found a way to beat it.

The issue has been that rust undergoes a sexual cycle to produce new strains that combine the virulences of the parental strains. The new recombined strains may then attack newly developed resistant varieties.

But Gary Kong from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) says that a new management strategy might prolong the useful life of resistant varieties.

"The situation with rust at the moment is similar to the one doctors face with the common cold. They have to keep coming up with new vaccinations as last year's is out of date.

"Our strategy is called gene-pyramiding and relies on an analysis of strains of the rust pathogen collected over a thirty-year period. This analysis attempts to predict which strains the pathogen may or may not be able to recombine into a new strain.

"Resistance genes that correspond to an unlikely strain combination are identified and combined in a single hybrid.

"Combining resistance genes however, is not as simple as it sounds and we've had to identify molecular markers for resistance genes so that we can track the genes through the successive generations required for hybrid development.

"Hybrids using pyramided genes are now being developed for commercial use. These will have durable resistance to rust - delaying the need to constantly renew varieties," Dr Kong said.

The research is being carried out by the DPI&F with support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and in close collaboration with Pacific Seeds.

DPI&F will continue to monitor and collect different rust strains to build on and refine understanding of how the rust pathogen is evolving.

This vigilance is providing assistance to the industry in itself, helping to ensure varieties are removed from commercial sale as soon as their resistance breaks down.

"It's hard to tell how much rust costs growers, because outbreaks are immediately detected and susceptible varieties withdrawn.

"There is a significant cost to the seed companies in having to regularly replace hybrids whose resistance has broken down.

"There is however no doubt, that without rust resistant varieties, the sunflower industry would not be viable," Dr Kong said.

"Once we develop varieties that stay resistant for longer - say 10-15 years rather than the current 3-5 years - it will cut the costs involved in breeding programs.

"We should have the new durable varieties available for commercial sale in around three years."

25 January 2007

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1.26  Natural enzyme deters fall armyworms and other corn-feeding insects

Washington, DC
Furnishing corn plants with genes for producing the enzyme ß-N-acetyl hexosaminidase (NAHA) may offer a way to fend off mold-spreading caterpillars and beetles, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) studies suggest.

After hatching from eggs, fall armyworm caterpillars feed on corn plant leaves before advancing on the ears, where succulent kernels await. Other caterpillars and beetle pests feed there, too. When husks are chewed open, kernels can become exposed to mycotoxin-producing fungi. Insecticide spraying within label recommendations helps prevent such feeding and contamination. But the practice can be costly to use and harmful to beneficial insects.

As a possible alternative, ARS scientists Pat Dowd, Eric Johnson and Scott Pinkerton are testing modified strains of corn that produce NAHA throughout the crop plant's tissues. In laboratory trials at the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., 100 percent of newly hatched fall armyworms that ingested NAHA-containing leaf tissue from some of the modified corn plants being studied died within three days.

The degree to which the caterpillars stopped feeding on all of the modified corn plants depended on how much NAHA the plants actually produced, the scientists observed. Corn earworm caterpillars, another pest they tested, were also adversely affected by NAHA-containing plants.

The team's examination of NAHA and other enzymes like it is part of a broader effort at the ARS center to develop novel ways of shielding corn from mycotoxin contamination, which costs farmers and processors millions of dollars annually in losses. Of particular interest is determining effective combinations of corn-derived genes that confer insect-resistance levels equal to those in corn containing the biopesticide Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), but that act against a wider range of pests.

Before studying NAHA-modified corn plants, the scientists used a purified form of the enzyme derived from jack beans, Canavalia ensiformis. They consider NAHA a promising defense for corn because it occurs in foods eaten by humans, such as cabbage and apple, and it targets chitin, a key component of insects but not of humans or other animals.

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

Jan Suszkiw

22 February 2007

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1.27  Maize seed leaves giant footprint in Nepal, Kenya and Zimbabwe

Through the seeds that the Technology Adoption through Research Organizations (TATRO) has been producing, farmers in Africa have more reasons to smile. The maize seed, which looks small, proved to be prolific. Small-scale maize farmers of the Regional Agricultural Association Group (RAAG) in Western Kenya now obtain more than 2 tons of maize grain per hectare.

The variety that TATRO grows is called Kakamega Synthetic-I. It is open-pollinated, drought tolerant and matures earlier than other local varieties. Kakamega Synthetic-I was released by the KARI research station in Kakamega, Kenya. Its pedigree can be traced back to the work of CIMMYT and many partners in southern and eastern Africa to develop stress tolerant maize for the region's smallholders. The variety has also been released in Nepal, after small-scale farmers from the mid-hills chose it as one of their favorites in participatory varietal trials.

The readers can access the complete news release at

Source: CropBiotech Update 16 February 2007

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics
Cornell University

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1.28  What recognizes what in plant disease resistance?

Plants have an immune system that resists infection, yet 10% of the world's agricultural production is lost annually to diseases caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Understanding how disease resistance works may help combat this scourge.

In a new study published online this week in the open-access journal PLoS Biology, Tessa Burch-Smith, Savithramma Dinesh-Kumar, and colleagues show how one aspect of the plant immune system is defined by the gene-for-gene hypothesis: a plant Resistance (R) gene encodes a protein that specifically recognizes and protects against one pathogen or strain of a pathogen carrying a corresponding Avirulence (Avr) gene.

In tobacco and its relatives, the N resistance protein confers resistance to infection by the Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV). The authors used N, and the TMV Avirulence gene, p50, to investigate the mechanism of gene-for-gene resistance. Contrary to current models, which propose that recognition of resistance genes occurs solely through their leucine-rich repeat domain, the authors show that association is mediated by a completely different region on N's Toll-interleukin-1 receptor homology domain, which is structurally similar to animal innate immunity molecules. These findings provide novel insights into how R proteins recognize pathogen Avr proteins and should help in long-term efforts to enhance crop yield.

Citation: Burch-Smith TM, Schiff M, Caplan JL, Tsao J, Czymmek K, et al. (2007) A novel role for the TIR domain in association with pathogen-derived elicitors. PLoS Biol 5(3): e68. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050068.
Contac: Savithramma Dinesh-Kumar
Yale University

Contact: Natalie Bouaravong
Public Library of Science

All works published in PLoS Biology are open access. Everything is immediately available­to read, download, redistribute, include in databases, and otherwise use­without cost to anyone, anywhere, subject only to the condition that the original authorship and source are properly attributed. Copyright is retained by the authors. The Public Library of Science uses the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Source: PLoS BIOLOGY ( via
12 February 2007

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1.29  Genetic modification a tool for making vegetables and fruit (even) healthier

It is possible to improve the antioxidant action of tomatoes by a directed change in the production of flavonoids by means of genetic modification. This has been shown in doctoral research by Elio Schijlen on the basis of which he hopes to take his degree on Thursday 8 February at the University of Amsterdam. Schijlen demonstrated that this approach enables tomatoes to produce larger amounts of specific flavonoids and to let tomatoes produce flavonoids they cannot produce by nature. The results show that genetic modification is a possible approach to further increase the health promoting value of vegetables and fruit.

Flavonoids are frequently occurring and important metabolites in plants. About 6000 different flavonoids are known to be involved in various natural processes. The colour of flowers and ripe fruits, e.g., are often caused by flavonoids. But flavonoids also play an important role in other plant processes such as pollen production, disease resistance, and protection against UV radiation.

Because flavonoids are so frequently occurring in plants, they are a permanent component of our food. Part of the health promoting effects of vegetables and fruit is attributed to flavonoids. It may therefore be attractive to increase the amount of flavonoids and/or change their composition.

This was why Schijlen, working at Plant Research International of Wageningen UR, studied the possibilities of steering the production of flavonoids by a directed change of the biosynthesis route via genetic modification. He followed various approaches to achieve this. One approach was to investigate the possibility of increasing the amount of flavonoids in tomato by means of so-called transcription factors, proteins involved in regulating gene activity.

Schijlen also investigated the possibility to produce new flavonoids in tomatoes which might increase the health promoting properties of tomatoes. For this purpose he used genes form other crops such as grape and alfalfa, genes that are involved in certain steps in the biosynthesis of flavonoids in these crops.

Both approaches were found to be successful. Through genetic modification Schijlen succeeded in developing tomatoes not only with more flavonoids but also with new flavonoids.

Via biochemical analysis Schijlen demonstrated an increased antioxidant action of tomatoes with flavones and more flavonoles, two specific groups of flavonoids. In cooperation with scientists of BASF Plant Science and TNO, the potential health promoting effects of these tomatoes were tested in feeding studies with mice. Blood analyses showed that that the tomatoes with increased flavonoids had a stronger positive effect on blood properties that are characteristic of a reduced risk of cardiovascular disorders.

With his results, Schijlen has shown that genetic modification can further increase the health promoting effects of vegetables and fruit.

8 February 2007

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1.30  Genetic studies reveal QTL for onion pungency

Candidate genes for onion pungency have been reportedly identified by researchers in New Zealand and the United States. The pungent flavor and aroma of onions have long been attributed to organosulfur compounds, but this is the first report of the identification of genomic regions affecting the trait that have no pleiotropic effects on bulb solids content.

The group of John McCallum analyzed progenies from a cross between onion varieties 'W202A' and 'Texas Grano 438'. The researchers have identified a major quantitative trait locus (QTL) within two closely linked sulfur assimilation genes, named ferredoxin-sulfate reductase (SiR) and plastidic ATP sulfurylase (ATPS). These genes were found to control 30-50% of genetic variation in the storage and sweet onion pedigrees that they have analyzed.

McCallum and colleagues stated that the association of the two genes with pungency suggests that mutations in one of these genes may influence the observed variation. They further recommend that molecular markers within these pungency loci may provide a practical means to select for onions with lower pungency.

The abstract, with links to the full paper for subscribers, can be accessed at .

Source: CropBiotech Update 2 March 2007

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics
Cornell University

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1.31  Update 1-2007 of FAO-BiotechNews

(Selected articles by the editor, PBN-L)

1) New book from the FAO Biotechnology Forum FAO Research and Technology Paper 11, entitled "Results from the FAO Biotechnology Forum: Background and dialogue on selected issues", by J. Ruane and A. Sonnino, has now been published. The 152-page book presents the background and summary documents from a series of six moderated e-mail conferences hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum from 2002 to 2005, relating to agricultural biotechnology for the crop, forestry, animal, fisheries and agro-industry sectors in developing countries. Three of the six conferences focused on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), dealing with gene flow from GM to non-GM populations; regulation of GMOs; and participation of the rural people in decision-making regarding GMOs. Two conferences covered the entire range of biotechnology tools (including GMOs), dealing with the role and focus of biotechnology in the agricultural research agenda and, secondly, applications of biotechnology in food processing. The remaining conference dealt with molecular marker-assisted selection. See (917 KB) or contact to request a copy.

3) Safety assessment of foods derived from modern biotechnology - Workshop report On 31 October and 1 November 2006, a training workshop on "Safety assessment of foods derived from modern biotechnology - Biosafety within a Biosecurity framework" was held in Ottawa, Canada, organized by FAO in collaboration with the Government of Canada. The summary report of the workshop is now available. The workshop was held as one of a series of biosafety-related activities within a Biosecurity framework. The overall objective of the project is to provide a standardized training package to assist countries in implementing international texts related to the food safety assessment of products derived from modern biotechnology. The purpose of the workshop was to pilot test the training package. See or contact for more information.

7) Reviewing existing regulatory frameworks on plant protection, As part of its FAO Legal Papers Online series, the FAO Legal Office has recently published "Guidelines for the revision of national phytosanitary legislation" by J. Vapnek and D. Manzella. The guidelines attempt to distil the experience gained and lessons learned during the implementation of FAO legal assistance activities in the phytosanitary field in recent years, carried out in close collaboration with the Plant Protection Division of FAO's Agriculture Department. The publication also takes into account the issue of plants, or plant products, that are living modified organisms (LMOs) when drafting or amending phytosanitary legislation. See or contact to request a copy.

11) UN General Assembly resolution on the CBD At its 61st session, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted resolution 61/204 on the Convention on Biological Diversity, including its Cartagena Protocol. See document A/RES/61/204 at or contact for more information.

12) Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety - Meetings documents Official and information documents are now available on the web for a number of upcoming meetings to be held under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The 3rd meeting of the ad hoc Open-ended Working Group on Liability and Redress in the Context of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety takes place on 19-23 February 2007 in Montreal, Canada - The 3rd Coordination Meeting for Governments and Organizations implementing and/or funding Biosafety Capacity-building Activities takes place on 26-28 February 2007 in Lusaka, Zambia - The 4th meeting of the Liaison Group on Capacity-Building for Biosafety takes place on 1-2 March 2007 in Lusaka, Zambia - The 3rd meeting of the Compliance Committee under the Protocol on Biosafety takes place on 5-7 March 2007 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Some of the documents from these meetings are available in English only and others are provided in all UN languages (i.e. Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). Contact for any further information.

14) OECD workshop on impacts of biotechnology On 11 December 2006, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development held a workshop in Paris, France, on "Measuring the impacts of biotechnology" that was divided into four sessions: general issues of the impacts of biotechnology applications; the economic and non-economic impacts; user needs; and methodological issues and next steps. A preliminary workshop summary plus papers and presentations from the workshop, including one from FAO on the socio-economic impact of non-transgenic crop biotechnologies in developing countries, are now available on the web. See,2340,en_2649_37437_37727259_1_1_1_37437,00 . html or contact for more information.

(See end of Update 2-2007 (following) for subscription and other information about FAO BiotechNews)

Contributed by John Ruane, editor

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1.32  Update 2-2007 of FAO-BiotechNews

(Selected articles by the editor, PBN-L)

4) Two new UNEP-GEF biosafety publications The UNEP-GEF Biosafety Unit has just released two new publications on the web. The first, entitled "A comparative analysis of experiences and lessons from the UNEP-GEF biosafety projects", is a study looking at the 124 countries that participated in the UNEP-GEF Project for Development of National Biosafety Frameworks (NBF), which began in June 2001, as well as the 8 countries that participated in the UNEP-GEF demonstration projects for the implementation of the NBFs. These projects were implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Initial Strategy for assisting countries to prepare for entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The 49-page study focuses on a comparative analysis of their experiences in order to draw out lessons and best practices applicable to other global initiatives for implementation of multilateral environmental agreements. See nalysisDec2006.pdf (1.1 MB). The second publication is a 4-page brief entitled "Building biosafety capacity: The role of UNEP and the Biosafety Unit". See reDec2006.pdf or contact for more information about either publication.

5) OIE Ad Hoc Group on Biotechnology The report of the meeting of the OIE Biological Standards Commission (BSC) that took place on 13-15 September 2006 in Paris, France is now available on the web. The BSC is one of the four Specialist Commissions of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the role of the Specialist Commissions is to use current scientific information to study problems of epidemiology and the prevention and control of animal diseases, to develop and revise OIE's international standards and to address scientific and technical issues raised by Member Countries. A number of Ad Hoc Groups, including one on biotechnology, work under the auspices of the BSC and their reports are included as Appendices to the BSC meeting reports. The OIE Ad Hoc Group on Biotechnology held its first meeting on 3-5 April 2006 in Paris, France and its report is included in this BSC meeting report (pages 19-33). See (562 KB) or contact for more information. The OIE is an inter-governmental organisation with 167 Member Countries.

6) Africa Rice Congress presentations The first Africa Rice Congress was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from 31 July to 4 August 2006. Organised by the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), papers at the congress considered the issues of integrated pest management; socio-economics; natural resource management; technology transfer; and rice breeding and crop improvement (covering e.g. genomics and use of genetic markers). Presentations from the congress are now available on the web. See or contact for more information.

This newsletter contains news and event items that are relevant to applications of biotechnology in food and agriculture in developing countries. Its main focus is on the activities of FAO, of other United Nations agencies/bodies and of the 15 CGIAR research centres. 1. If you wish to unsubscribe from FAO-BiotechNews, send an e-mail message to leaving the subject blank and entering the one-line text message as follows: unsubscribe FAO-BiotechNews-L 2. Do not hesitate to tell other colleagues/contacts about FAO-BiotechNews. If they wish to join, they should send an e-mail message to leaving the subject blank and entering the one-line text message as follows: subscribe FAO-BiotechNews-L 3. To join FAO-BiotechNews-Fr (the French language version of FAO-BiotechNews), send an e-mail to leaving the subject blank and entering the following one-line text message: subscribe FAO-BiotechNews-Fr-L The Welcome Text that subscribers receive on joining the e-mail list, describing its aims and scope and how it works, is available at (in French) 4. To join FAO-BiotechNews-Esp (the Spanish language version of FAO-BiotechNews), do the same as for FAO-BiotechNews-Fr except the message should read: subscribe FAO-BiotechNews-Esp-L The Welcome Text is available at (in Spanish) 5. To join FAO-BiotechNews-Ru (the Russian language version of FAO-BiotechNews), do the same as for FAO-BiotechNews-Fr except the message should read: subscribe FAO-BiotechNews-Ru-L More information on FAO-BiotechNews-Ru is available at (in Russian)

Contributed by John Ruane, editor

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2.01  Induced Resistance for Plant Defence: A Sustainable Approach to Crop Protection

Published by Blackwell Publishing
Edited by Dale Walters (Scottish Agricultural College), Adrian Newton and Gary Lyon (both Scottish Crop Research Institute).

Plant diseases worldwide are responsible for billions of dollars worth of crop losses every year. With less agrochemicals being used and less new fungicides coming on the market due to environmental concerns, more effort is now being put into the use of genetic potential of plants for pathogen resistance and the development of induced or acquired resistance as an environmentally safe means of disease control.

This comprehensive book examines in depth the development and exploitation of induced resistance. Chapters review current knowledge of the agents that can elicit induced resistance, genomics, signalling cascades, mechanisms of defence to pests and pathogens and molecular tools. Further chapters consider the topical application of inducers for disease control, microbial induction of pathogen resistance, transgenic approaches, pathogen population biology, trade offs associated with induced resistance and integration of induced resistance in crop protection. The book concludes with a consideration of socio-economic drivers determining the use of induced resistance, and the future of induced resistance in crop protection.

Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Introduction (Ray Hammerschmidt)
Chapter 2: Agents that can elicit induced resistance (Gary D Lyon)
Chapter 3: Genomics in induced resistance (Kemal Kazan and Peer Schenk)
Chapter 4: Signalling cascades involved in induced resistance (Corne MJ Pieterse and LC Van Loon)
Chapter 5: Types and mechanisms of rapidly-induced plant resistance to herbivorous arthropods (Michael J Stout)
Chapter 6: Mechanisms of defence to pathogens: biochemistry and physiology (Christophe Garcion, Olivier Lamotte and Jean-Pierre Metraux)
Chapter 7: Induced resistance in natural ecosystems and pathogen population biology: exploiting interactions (Adrian Newton and Joern Pons)
Chapter 8: Microbial induction of resistance to pathogens (Dale Walters and Tim Daniell)
Chapter 9: Trade-offs associated with induced resistance (Martin Heil)
Chapter 10: Topical induction of inducers for disease control (Philippe Reignault and Dale Walters)
Chapter 11: Integration of induced resistance in crop production (Tony Reglinski, Elizabeth Dann and Brian Deverall)
Chapter 12: Exploitation of induced resistance: a commercial perspective (Andy Leadbeater and Theo Staub)
Chapter 13: Induced resistance in crop protection: the future, drivers and
barriers (Gary Lyon, Adrian Newton and Dale Walters)

Additional details can be found on the Blackwell Publishing website:

Contributed by Simon Joyce
Blackwell Publishing

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4.01  $100,000 soybean fellowship

The United Soybean Board, together with ASA, announces the United Soybean Board Fellowship to promote graduate education in plant sciences with an emphasis on soybeans. The fellowship provides a $25,000 annual stipend for up to four years of graduate school. Applications are due March 27; Reference letters are due April 3.

Learn about this and dozens of awards and scholarships at:
ASA Scholarships & Awards
CSSA Scholarships & Awards
SSSA Scholarships & Awards

Source: Societies News Flash (ASA, CSSA, SSSA)
1 March 2007

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4.02  Scholarships for students studying rice

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

We support research and education to improve understanding of:the role of rice in Asian farming, rice as an element in the art and culture of Asia, and rice as a food with a unique role in Asia. More information at  Applications due June 1, 2007.

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

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New announcements (listed first) may include some program details, while repeat announcements will include only basic information. Visit web sites for additional details.


14 May - 1 June 2007. Rice: Research to production. A training course, Los Banos, Philippines, organised by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Cornell University that, among other things, provides participants with hands-on skills relating to rice breeding, molecular genetics and genomics. See (67 KB) or contact for more information.


*21 May – 1 June 2007. Enhancing agrobiodiversity use: markets and chains, Wageningen International The Netherlands.

Aims and objectives:
-To facilitate greater use of agrobiodiversity, including underused diversity of major crops and underutilized plant species and breeds
-To create awareness around economic values derived from the use of agrobiodiversity
-To prepare participants for sustainable management of agrobiodiversity by providing insights into different strategic approaches


*21 May – 29 June 2007. Conservation & sustainable use of plant genetic resources in agriculture. Wageningen International, The Netherlands.

The overall objective of the training programme is to enhance participants’ capabilities to deal with contemporary issues in genetic resource management. Relevant policies, participatory and market-oriented approaches receive special attention. The programme aims for participants and facilitators to exchange experiences and to explore practical applications for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in agriculture.


*31 May – 3 June 2007. Symposium on Epistasis: Predicting Phenotypes and Evolutionary Trajectories. Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. Iowa's Annual Plant Sciences Institute Symposium will focus on Epistasis and Gene Interaction.

Along with epistatic interactions, various topics in plant genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry will be discussed. For more information about the symposium please contact the symposium office at (Phone: 1-515-294-7978) or visit

Source: CropBiotech Update 16 February 2007

Contributed by Margaret Smith
Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics
Cornell University


*12 – 16 August 2007. The Potato Association of America 91st Annual Meeting, Shilo Inn Conference Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Potato Association of America is the official professional society for those interested inadvancing the potato industry. Section topics include breeding and genetics, pathology, production management, physiology, and utilization.  Abstract submissions are due March 16, 2007. For more information visit the website: or contact:

Contributed by Rich Novy
Potato Breeding and Genetics
University of Idaho R&E Center


*20-31 August 2007. Laying the Foundation for the Second Green Revolution, 2007 Rice Breeding Course, IRRI, the Philippines.

This training course aims to
-provide the participants with the theoretical knowledge on modern plant breeding methods and techniques;
-teach them planning and information management tools and experimental techniques and software for developing an efficient rice breeding program;
-give the participants the opportunity to share experiences and lessons with breeders from other programs;  and
-share to the participants the information on the latest developments relevant to modern rice breeding and the worldwide exchange of rice genetic resources.

Target Audience
The course is targeted at breeders and agronomists working on variety development or cultivar testing, and at research managers with responsibility for rice breeding programs in the public, private, and NGO sectors.

Course Content
-Introduction to breeding program planning exercise;
-Setting goals and identifying the target environment;
-Information management for pedigree breeding programs;
-Factors affecting the adoption of improved varieties;
-Factors affecting selection response;
-Choosing parents;
-Efficient approaches to pedigree and bulk selection;
-Managing plant breeding data with the International Rice Information System (IRIS);
-Quality evaluation;
-Screening for biotic stress tolerance;
-Screening for abiotic stress tolerance;
-Experimental designs for controlling field variability;
-Multi-environment trials – design and analysis;
-Participatory varietal selection and participatory plant breeding;
-Optimizing resource allocation in breeding and testing programs;
-QTL analysis and molecular marker-aided selection;
-International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and worldwide exchange and utilization of rice genetic resources;
-Intellectual property rights/plant variety protection; and
-Development and presentation of action plans for increasing the impact of participants’ programs.

For additional information, contact
Dr. Edilberto D. Redoña
Course Coordinator, Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology Division
Dr. Noel P. Magor
Head, Training Center
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

Contributed by Edilberto D. Redoña


*3-4 September 2007. 5th International Symposium on New Crops and Uses: their role in a rapidly changing world, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK.

1. The context, justification and application of underutilized crops in a rapidly changing world (Climate change perspective, Food & nutrition perspective, The regulatory environment for commercialization of new/ucs)
2. The need for underutilized crops in a changing world (A view from the market - A subsistence farmer’s perspective - underutilized crops within farming systems - Commercial farmer’s perspective - An industry perspective - A supermarket view on underutilised crops marketing - A donor’s perspective)
3. Success, failures and lessons learned- food & nutritional crops: Case
4. Success, failures and lessons learned- non-food crops: Case studies (Pharmaceuticals. Bio-energy, Fibre etc and Added value products)
5. Discussion for a) regulatory and b) technical papers

For further information please contact:
Nikkie Hancock (E-mail:
Colm Bowe (E-mail:
Please downlowd the registration form


*17 Sept. – 12 Oct. 2007. Plant genetic resources and seeds: Policies conservation and use. Awassa, Ethiopia, 17-28 September; Debre Zeit, Ethiopia, 1-12 October 2007

The overall objective of the training programme is to enhance the participants' capabilities to deal with contemporary issues in the management of genetic resources and seeds. The programme pays special attention to relevant policies and participatory and market.oriented approaches. It aims for the participants and facilitators to exchange experiences and work together to explore practical applications for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in agriculture


*8-12 October 2007, Ca' Tron di Roncade, Italy. Evaluation of risk assessment dossiers for the deliberate release of genetically modified crops. A practical course organised by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in collaboration with the Istituto Agronomico per l'Oltremare. Closing date for applications is 27 April 2007. See or contact for more information.


*8-19 October 2007. Molecular approaches in gene expression analysis for crop improvement, New Delhi, India. A theoretical and practical course organised by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. Closing date for applications is 15 May 2007. See or contact for more information.


*9-14 October 2007. 4th International Rice Blast Conference, Hunan, China.

Rice blast, caused by the fungal pathogen Magnaporthe grisea, is one of the most destructive rice diseases worldwide. The scheduled conference will review the recent progress and discuss future research directions aiming at better control of this rice disease. More information at
From CropBiotech Update 2 March 2007:


*22-26 October 2007. VI Encuentro Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Biotecnologma Agropecuaria (REDBIO 2007), Viqa del Mar and Valparamso, Chile.. This 6th Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on Agricultural Biotechnology, organised by the REDBIO/FAO network, takes place every three years. The main themes of REDBIO 2007 include, among others, genomics, marker assisted selection and tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses. See or contact for more information.


*12-14 August 2008. International symposium on induced mutations in higher plants, Vienna, Austria. Organised by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, this will be the 8th in its symposium series dedicated to harnessing and disseminating information on current trends in induced mutagenesis in higher plants. The first and last symposia were held in 1969 and 1995 respectively. Topics to be addressed in the symposium include 'Induced mutations in crop breeding programs: integration with molecular, bio- and other relevant technologies' and 'Mutation induction, targeted selection and mutated genes in functional genomics'. See or contact for more information.


*7-12 December 2008. International Conference on Legume Genomics and Genetics IV Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.




* 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,

* 23-27 March 2007. 2nd International Conference on Plant Molecular Breeding (ICPMB), Sanya, Hainan, China.

* 26-29 March 2007. Biotechnology, Breeding, and Seed Systems for African Crops, Maputo, Mozambique. Co-hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Instituto de Investigação Agrária de Moçambique (IIAM). More information at: .

* 1-3 April 2007. Course on Molecular Characterization of Inbred Lines and Populations in Maize, New Delhi, India. View this announcement in PDF.... Visit Here

*23-25 April 2007. Targeting Science to Real Needs, a workshop of the GL-TTP ( Grain Legumes Technology Transfer Platform). Paris, France.
From Catherine Golstein

* 21 May – 1 June 2007. Training course on "Promoting agrobiodiversity use: markets and chains" (Wageningen International)  Information and the application form can be found here " Enhancing agrobiodiversity use: markets and chains"
Application deadline is 21 April 2007.
Source: Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) Latest News Alerts GCP Home Page

*10-16 June 2007. 7th International Symposium in the Series: Recent Advances in Plant Biotechnology (First Announcement),Stara Lesna, High Tatras, Slovak Republic; The Symposium Secretary Handles all queries regarding abstract submission, registration, accommodation and booking of air tickets for invited speakers:
Alena Gajdosova,  Institute of Plant Genetics and Biotechnology
Nitra, Slovak Republic
Phone:  + 421/37 73 36659
Fax:      + 421/37 73 36660

* 24-28 June 2007. The 9th International Pollination Symposium on Plant-Pollinator Relationships­Diversity in Action. Scheman Center, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. The official theme is: "Host-Pollinator Biology Relationships - Diversity in Action."
The Symposium organizers are accepting poster submissions online at the website linked above until 1 March 2007.
Contributed by Jennifer J. Tabke

*1-6 July 2007.  The 5th International Symposium on Molecular Breeding of Forage and Turf (MBFT2007), Sapporo, Japan. Register for the meeting and call for abstracts following the instruction available at
For further information, please contact: Prof. Toshihiko YAMADA,
Contributed by Prof. Toshihiko YAMADA

* 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.

* 27-31 October 2007. 8th African Crop Science Society Conference, El Minia, Egypt--First Announcement and Call for Abstracts. The African Crop Science Society (ACSS) and Minia University announce the first call for abstracts for the 8th African Crop Science Society Conference, which will take place from 27-31 October 2007 in El-Minia, Egypt. The deadline for registration is 30 April 2007. For more complete information on registration and abstract submission, visit

* 14-18 September 2008. The 12th International Lupin Conference, Fremantle, Western Australia

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

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