2 July 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  Economists draw urgent attention to Africa’s looming rice crisis
1.02  Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa appoints former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as Chairman of the Board
1.03  Indonesia turns to hybrid varieties for self-sufficiency in rice production
1.04  Cheap, green, food-friendly biofuel produced in India
1.05  Joint Genome Institute of the U.S. Department of Energy announces 2008 genome sequencing targets
1.06  The Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) opens in July at The University of Nottingham
1.07  Maize as you like it – sweet, green, or as baby corn
1.08  Africa must create its own biotechnology agenda
1.09  Third generation GM crops: an opportunity for Africa
1.10  Agri-biotech in Africa: Safety first?
1.11  New study finds genetically engineered crops could play a role in sustainable agriculture
1.12  GM/GMO/Biotech crop containment strategy
1.13  Genes explain the amazing global spread of maize
1.14  Pollen and pollinators are vital for conservation
1.15  Pepper diversity on display
1.16  Scientists discover a gene that allows plants to grow better in low nutrient conditions
1.17  Sowing seed on salty ground
1.18  The CNAP Artemisia Research Project: how to subscribe to updates
1.19  International joint venture research project produces experimental wheat variety with 70 per cent amylose content
1.20  RNAi-mediated resistance to Bean golden mosaic virus in genetically engineered common bean
1.21  Researchers demonstrate way to control tree height
1.22  Discovery of what makes some cauliflower orange could lead to more nutritious staple crops
1.23  Bt tomato with CRY6A found to be resistant to root-knot nematodes
1.24  Rice with human proteins to take root in Kansas
1.25  Plants recognize their siblings, biologists discover
1.26  Long-sought plant flowering signal unmasked, again
1.27  Finding genes faster
1.28  Modified mushrooms may yield human drugs
1.29  Update 5-2007 of FAO-BiotechNews

2.01  Proceedings of the Gamma Field Symposia of the Institute of Radiation Breeding are available online
2.02  Marker-assisted selection: Current status and future perspectives in crops, livestock, forestry and fish
2.03  EMBRAPA publishes book on plant genetic resources (IN PORTUGUESE)

3.01  USDA/ERS Data set: Plant Breeding Research and Development
3.02  New online resource fromSciDev.Net: agri-biotech in sub-Saharan Africa

4.01  Request for assistance in diallel analysis

5.01  Postdoc Scientist at The Univ. of California in Salinas: Verticillium wilt resistance in lettuce
5.02  Plant Breeder positions available at the African Centre for Crop Improvement





1.01  Economists draw urgent attention to Africa’s looming rice crisis

Cotonou, Benin
Participants of the Third Annual Meeting of the Africa Policy Research and Advocacy Group at the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), 25-27 June, in Cotonou, Benin, expressed deep concern about the current world rice situation and its implications for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

World rice reserves, estimated at 80.6 million tonnes in 2005-06, are at the lowest level since 1983-84. These stocks represent less than 2 months of consumption and half of the stocks are being held by China. World rice consumption continues to outstrip rice production and rice prices are rising and are expected to double in the next couple of years.

According to the Director General of the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck, the current world rice situation has serious implications, particularly for SSA, because about 40% of the region’s demand for rice is being met by imports.

With only 13% of world population, Africa accounts for 32% of world rice imports, which makes it a big player in the international rice trade. In 2006, SSA imported more than 9 million tonnes of rice worth an estimated US$ 2 billion.

Explaining that only 7% of the total world rice production is traded, WARDA Economist Dr Aliou Diagne said that this supply was too limited for SSA to rely on for its growing rice demand. “SSA should urgently reconsider its rice import policy to avoid the looming crisis.”

“African national rice economies will increasingly become exposed to unpredictable external supply and price shocks,” Dr Diagne remarked, referring to the recent warning by the World Bank that the current rise in prices of cereals and the low level of global reserves could unleash widespread food riots in Africa. The prices of rice have already gone up in Thailand and Vietnam, the traditional rice exporters to Africa.

Africa has an immense untapped potential for rice production. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the paddy (unhulled rice) production in Africa has gone up for the sixth consecutive year, reaching 21.6 million tonnes in 2006.

But with rice consumption in West Africa – the rice belt of Africa – doubling every 9 years, the challenge of keeping up with it is immense.

Call for urgent government support to African rice farmers
The workshop participants emphasized that the African governments should give adequate support to small farmers who form the majority of rice producers in SSA. Smallholder rice farmers in the region have been facing unfair competition from subsidized rice imports.

Pascal Gbenou from the Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organizations of West Africa (ROPPA) said that rice continues to be one of the most protected commodities in every country except in West Africa.

Mr Gbenou urged the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) to adopt a higher level of the common import tariff (TEC) for agricultural products, because the current TEC level applied by UEMOA has a detrimental effect on the sub-region’s agricultural sector in general and on rice in particular.

In his response, Mr Kolado Bocoum from UEMOA stated that UEMOA was revisiting the TEC issue and that UEMOA’s agricultural policies would greatly benefit from inputs from specialized structures like WARDA.

Value of right policies to boost Africa’s rice sector
“Right policies are indeed essential to make African rice sector competitive,” said Dr Akande Oyetunji, Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER).

“We are witnessing how the recent rice policies adopted by Nigeria as part of the Presidential Rice Initiative have boosted the country’s rice sector,” Dr Oyetunji said. Nigeria’s rice production was nearly 4 million tonnes in 2006, 10% above the 2005 level.

Moreover, Nigeria was able to reduce its rice imports in 2005 by over 800,000 tonnes, thanks to the strong measures taken by the government to increase domestic rice production and decrease rice imports.

Opportunity for Africa
WARDA economists think that the availability of cheap imported rice has until now provided a ready excuse for many SSA governments to neglect the domestic rice production.

“In that sense, the rise in world rice prices is a golden opportunity for SSA, because this increases the competitiveness of the local rice sector,” stated Dr Diagne, explaining that this was one of the main issues discussed at the meeting by the Africa Policy Research and Advocacy Group.

The Group, which was established 3 years ago, serves as a channel for transmitting policies to promote the rice sector in West Africa and its goal is to improve the impact of policy research and institutional arrangements on the competitiveness of the rice sector in the region.

Highlighting the importance of this meeting, WARDA Assistant Director of Research Dr Shellemiah Keya said that the recommendations from the meeting would serve as valuable inputs for advocacy at the forthcoming session of the Council of Ministers of WARDA member countries scheduled for September 2007.

In addition to WARDA economists, the meeting was attended by experts in rice economics and policy from Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali as well as representatives from the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), Oxfam and farmers’ organizations.

28 June 2007

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1.02  Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa appoints former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as Chairman of the Board

Cape Town, South Africa
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa today announced the appointment of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as its first chairman.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum on Africa meeting in Cape Town, where he was due to deliver a keynote address on African agriculture, Mr. Annan said he was deeply honoured to be taking up the position and hoped to use it to help drive forward progress on an issue critical to wider African development.

“I am honoured today to take up this important post and join with my fellow Africans in a new effort to comprehensively tackle the challenges holding back hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers in Africa,” Annan said. “Africa is the only region where overall food security and livelihoods are deteriorating. We will reverse this trend by working to create an environmentally sustainable, uniquely African Green Revolution. When our poorest farmers finally prosper, all of Africa will benefit.”

The Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa, which was established last year with an initial US$150 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, seeks to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families across Africa to lift themselves and their families out of poverty and hunger through sustainable increases in farm productivity and incomes. It is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, and will be working throughout the continent on a wide range of interventions across the agricultural “value chain,” ranging from strengthening local and regional agricultural markets, to helping improve irrigation, soil health and training for farmers, to supporting the development of new seed systems better equipped to cope with the harsh African climate.

The Alliance is a response to recent calls by African leaders to chart a new path for prosperity by spurring the continent’s agricultural development and also seeks to help reverse decades of relative neglect in funding for agricultural development for Africa. It strongly endorses the vision laid out in the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which seeks a 6 percent annual growth in food production by 2015.

Dr. Monty Jones, head of Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, a leading African agricultural research organisation, and a board member of AGRA, warmly welcomed the appointment. “With Kofi Annan as our new chairman the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa will be much better placed to build broader political and economic support behind our vision of pro-poor, pro-environment partnerships needed to revitalise agriculture for Africa’s small-scale farmers, and replace widespread poverty with prosperity,” he said.

A New, Sustainable, Uniquely African Green Revolution
According to Dr. Akin Adesina, vice president of Policy and Partnership at AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa is inspired by the successes of the original Green Revolution that dramatically boosted agricultural productivity in Asia and Latin America but also seeks to learn lessons from some of its weaknesses.

“The first Green Revolution more than doubled cereal production and saved the lives of hundreds of millions of people,” said Dr. Adesina. “However, that experience also highlighted the critical importance of ensuring that small farmers are the primary beneficiaries of our efforts and consumer and environmental health considerations are made part and parcel of agricultural development process.”

Annan’s new position with the Alliance comes six months after his departure from the UN, where he served to two five-year terms as Secretary-General. During his tenure at the UN, Annan often drew attention to the link between Africa’s failing agriculture systems and its persistent hunger and poverty. Keenly aware that most of Africa’s poor, particularly its poor women, depend on farming for food and income, in 2004 Annan called for a “new uniquely African Green Revolution­a revolution that is long overdue, a revolution that will help the continent in its quest for dignity and peace.”

“We welcome Kofi Annan as chairman of the board,” said Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. “Kofi Annan keenly understands that meeting the biggest challenges facing our world today requires broad and inclusive coalitions. His leadership in coalition building is widely admired.”

In the past 15 years the number of Africans living below the poverty line ($1/day) has increased by 50 percent and per capita food production has declined. In the past five years alone, the number of underweight children in Africa has risen by about 12 percent.

A root cause of this entrenched and deepening poverty is the fact that millions of small-scale farmers­the majority of them women working farms smaller than one hectare­cannot grow enough food to sustain their families, their communities, or their countries.

“Kofi Annan brings not only a great breadth of experience and insight into the challenges facing African agriculture, but also the will and skill to help lead a wide range of partners to address those challenges,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation.

As Chairman of the Board of the Alliance, Annan plans to travel regularly throughout Africa to meet with African farmers, entrepreneurs, scientists and political leaders to discuss and promote the work of the Alliance. He will articulate the Alliance’s goal to dramatically boost farm productivity and incomes while at the same time safeguarding the environment and advancing equity.

“Kofi Annan’s vision and leadership will be a tremendous asset for the Alliance as it seeks to advance its vision of helping farmers and their families across Africa live healthier, more productive lives,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation.

Working through Partners across the Agricultural “Value Chain”
Today, with Annan as its chair, the Alliance is led by a board of prominent African leaders, and is establishing offices in Nairobi and Accra. The Alliance is also rapidly establishing partnerships with organizations and institutions throughout Africa. It has made more than 10 initial grants, establishing partnerships with several Ministries of Agriculture, as well as prominent African plant breeders, soil health experts, and leaders of agriculture extension programs.

The Alliance is committed to building on this foundation and developing an inclusive partnership of small farmers, scientists, national governments, foundations and other donors, civil society groups, and private sector entrepreneurs. It is already working with African crop scientists and small-scale farmers to use conventional breeding techniques to develop more productive and resilient varieties of Africa’s major food crops, as well as the means to distribute them. It’s also supporting programmes that will increase the number of African agricultural scientists and programmes to monitor and evaluate its work. It will soon launch an initiative to improve the health of Africa’s soils, which are the most depleted in the world.

Over the next two years, the Alliance will develop new partnerships focused on improving water management on often parched farmlands; building more efficient agricultural markets through better information, storage and transportation; and encouraging policy reforms that support small-scale farmers and promote rural development, environmental sustainability, and trading systems that favour poor farmers.

The African-led Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is a dynamic partnership working across the continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. Alliance programs develop practical solutions to dramatically boost farm productivity and incomes while safeguarding the environment and biodiversity. To achieve this goal, Alliance partnerships address all key aspects of African agriculture: from seeds, soil health and water to markets, agricultural education and policy.

14 June 2007

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1.03  Indonesia turns to hybrid varieties for self-sufficiency in rice production

“Indonesia should be able to achieve self-sufficiency in rice production in the next year.” This was stated by Jusuf Kalla, Vice President of Indonesia, after signing last week in China a collaboration agreement between PT. Penta Prima Pusaka, Sichuan Guohao Seed Industry, Indonesia, and the Rice Research Institute of Department of Agriculture, Chengdu, Sichuan, China, to build an Integrated Hybrid Centre in Indonesia. The Centre will count with the technical support of Chinese experts, and is expected to produce the qualified rice seed required by farmers in 2008.

“Hybrid seed varieties such as Bernas and Bernas Rokan will meet the target of increasing rice production by 2 million tons in 2007, and by 5% a year in the following years”, said Anton Apriyantono, Indonesian Minister of Agriculture. According to trial experiments, production could reach 10 tons of rice per hectare.

In a related development, Apriyantono announced the release of 14 superior hybrid rice seed varieties this year, with improved yields and higher tolerance to abiotic stresses. The new varieties are the result of a two-year collaboration between the Rice Research Institute of Thailand and the government of Indonesia.

For more information visit: and,20070612-101820,id.html , or contact the Indonesian Biotechnology Information Center (INDOBIC) at

Source: CropBiotech Update via
15 June 2007

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1.04  Cheap, green, food-friendly biofuel produced in India

T. V. Padma
[NEW DELHI] The first commercial batch of biofuel from the stalks of a new sweet sorghum hybrid has been produced this month (13 June) at a distillery in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India.

Ethanol is produced from the sweet juice in the stalk of the sweet sorghum. The researchers responsible for the hybrid say by using sorghum, resource-poor farmers will still be able to use the sorghum grain and protect food security, while earning an additional income from selling the stalks.

This first batch marks a major success for the research consortium that developed the new hybrid, says Belum V. S. Reddy, principal sorghum breeder at the India-based International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

Sweet sorghum is a cheap biofuel crop to grow, costing about a fifth of that of sugarcane. It also requires half the water needed to grow maize and about an eighth of that required for sugarcane.

It is also carbon neutral, according to the Latin American Thematic Network on Bioenergy ­ a project promoting the sustainable use of bioenergy. Sweet sorghum takes in the same of amount of carbon dioxide during its growth that it emits during growth and its later conversion to ethanol and the eventual ethanol combustion.

When sweet sorghum biofuel is blended with petrol it also emits less polluting sulphur and nitrous oxide compared to sugarcane biofuel, according to Reddy.

A major problem for ICRISAT was ensuring availability of sweet sorghum stalks throughout the year. "Different plant types produce different amounts of juice at different times of the year and it is important to have genetic stocks that can produce the same amount of juice throughout the year," says Reddy.

ICRISAT solved the problem by developing hybrids that can be planted at any time of the year.

The team intend to plant at least 4000 acres of the new crop during the next rainy season, according to G. Subba Rao, director of Aakrithi Agricultural Associates of India, a partner in the project.

Clusters of villages have been identified for the planting, and seeds distributed to the farmers. A method has also been designed to collect the stalks from the farmers, which will then be crushed at cluster centres and the syrup transported to the main distillery.

19 June 2007

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1.05  Joint Genome Institute of the U.S. Department of Energy announces 2008 genome sequencing targets

Walnut Creek, California
Toward the goal of harnessing the power of nature through DNA sequencing, the DOE Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) has announced the latest Community Sequencing Program (CSP) portfolio. These plant and microbial targets--most with implications for helping wean the nation's dependence on fossil fuel--total some 21 billion nucleotides of DNA sequence capacity allocated to public projects submitted through the CSP for fiscal year 2008.

"This year's selections are completely aligned with the CSP mission, that is, selecting DOE-relevant organisms with the large and diverse communities of investigators," said Jim Bristow, DOE JGI Deputy Director and manager of the CSP. "The response to this year's program, with over 120 submissions, demonstrations an increasing desire to fuel discovery with DNA sequence information--which DOE JGI makes freely available through its web portals and the public databases."

Among the highest profile of these projects, and largest, with a 600-million-nucleotide genome, is the eucalyptus tree genome--geared to the generation of resources for renewable energy--led by Alexander Myburg of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, with Gerald Tuskan of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (and DOE JGI), and Dario Grattapaglia, of EMBRAPA Genetic Resources and Biotechnology (Brazil).

"The biomass production and carbon sequestration capacities of eucalyptus trees match DOE's and the nation's interests in alternative energy production and global carbon cycling," said Bristow. "The consortium of eucalyptus draws upon the expertise from dozens of institutions and hundreds of researchers worldwide."

"A major challenge for the achievement of a sustainable energy future is our understanding of the molecular basis of superior growth and adaptation in woody plants suitable for biomass production," said CSP project proposer Myburg. Eucalyptus species are among the fastest growing woody plants in the world and, at approximately 18 million hectares in 90 countries, the most widely planted genus of plantation forest trees in the world. Eucalyptus is also listed as one of the U.S. Department of Energy's candidate biomass energy crops.

"Genome sequencing is essential for understanding the basis of eucalyptus's superior properties and to compare and contrast them with other species," said Myburg. "The unique evolutionary history, keystone ecological status, and adaptation to marginal sites make eucalyptus an excellent focus for expanding our knowledge of the evolution and adaptive biology of perennial plants." The eucalyptus genome, the second tree to be sequenced, will also provide extraordinary opportunities for comparative genomic analysis with the poplar, the first tree sequenced, published in the journal Science by DOE JGI and collaborators in 2006.

The second largest CSP project selected for 2008 is foxtail millet (Setaria italica), led by researchers at the University of Georgia, the University of Florida, the University of Missouri, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service - Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and the University of Tennessee.

Foxtail millet, a forage crop, is a close relative of several prospective biofuel crops, including switchgrass, napiergrass, and pearl millet. In the U.S., pearl millet is grown on some 1.5 million acres. It is envisioned that pearl millet would be useful as a supplement or replacement for corn in ethanol plants in regions that suffer from drought and low-fertility soils.

The third largest genome project to be taken on by DOE JGI in 2008 is the marine red alga Porphyra purpurea. The ocean plays a key role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with the help of marine photosynthetic organisms like Porphyra consuming the carbon and releasing oxygen. Porphyra species are among the most common algae in the intertidal and subtidal zones of temperate rocky shores in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Understanding the effects of elevated climatic stresses on photosynthetic organisms would benefit from genome-enabled studies of carbon fixation in Porphyra, because of this organism's great diversity of light-harvesting and photo-protective strategies.

The CSP will pursue eight smaller eukaryotic projects in 2008, using both traditional Sanger sequencing and next-generation pyrosequencing technology. These projects include the following:

Paxillus involutus: Over 75 percent of the carbon in terrestrial ecosystems is stored in forests. More than half of this carbon is found in soil organic matter (SOM). Recent studies have indicated that ectomycorrhizal fungi like Paxillus provide the dominant pathway through which carbon enters the SOM. These fungi are also known to protect plants from toxic metals. Thus, the development of metal-tolerant fungal associations would provide a strategy for active remediation of metal-contaminated soils.

Two species of Phaeocystis phytoplankton: The Phaeocystis genus contributes approximately 10 percent of annual global marine primary photosynthetic production, equivalent to four billion metric tons of carbon dioxide captured or "fixed" annually--reinforcing its importance for the study of the global carbon cycle and carbon sequestration.

The leaf-degrading fungus Agaricus bisporus: Genomic studies of A. bisporus target enhanced understanding of the mechanisms employed for efficient conversion of lignocellulose--crucial for the production of fuels and products from renewable biomass.

The first ciliated protozoan genome, Tetrahymena thermophila: A microbial model organism for discovering fundamental principles of eukaryotic biology, it will allow improved construction and stability of cell lines for the over-expression of proteins, including cellulase enzymes to overcome the limiting hurdle of biomass-to-biofuel production and metal-chelating proteins to enhance the already superior capacity of ciliates for bioremediation of toxic heavy metals in industrial effluents.

Pine and Conifer EST resource: expressed sequence tags (ESTs) are fragments of DNA sequence that serve as a tool for the identification of genes and prediction of their protein products and their function. Conifer forests are among the most productive in terms of annual lignocellulosic biomass generation, and coniferous trees are the preferred feedstock for much of the forest products industry. Climate change and exotic forest pests are threatening conifer populations. Breeding programs to improve conifers will benefit from access to this genomic resource.

The soybean pathogen Heterodera glycines: Soybean is a major oil, feed, and export crop, with $17 billion annually in unprocessed crop value in the U.S. alone. Soy biodiesel is a leading contender for a renewable, alternative vehicle fuel with a high energy density. Soybean has the environmental and energy advantage of not requiring the use of nitrogen fertilizer. H. glycines is the most significant pathogen of soybean in the U.S.; thus, sequencing its genome would aid in the development of control strategies and directly contribute to soybean yield enhancement.

The liverwort, Marchantia polymorpha: The origin of land plants is acknowledged as one of the major evolutionary events in the earth's history. Experimental, paleontological, morphological, and molecular systematic data all point to the liverworts as being among the first plants to evolve and colonize the landscape. Thus, liverworts are a key group to include in any comparative study aimed at understanding the origin and evolution of organisms that now cover much of terrestrial earth.

DOE JGI and its collaborators have pioneered the emerging discipline of metagenomics--isolating, sequencing, and characterizing DNA extracted directly from environmental samples--to obtain a genomic and metabolic profile of the microbial community residing in a particular environment. In addition to adding 54 different microbial isolate genomes to the production sequencing queue in 2008, DOE JGI will work with large communities of collaborators to take on four important metagenomic projects.

Anammox bacteria: Anammox bacteria are able to synthesize the rocket fuel hydrazine from ammonia and hydroxylamine. Insight into the genes and proteins involved in this reaction may be the basis for further optimization of the production of this potent fuel in a suitable biological system. Also, anammox bacteria are responsible for about 50 percent of the processing of ammonia to nitrogen gas in the ocean. In marine ecosystems, the carbon and nitrogen cycles are closely connected. More information about the regulation and mechanism of CO2 sequestration by anammox bacteria in the ocean will contribute to our understanding of the global biogeochemical cycles and their impact on climate change.

Biogas-degrading community: It is estimated that 236 million tons of municipal solid waste is produced annually in the U.S., 50 percent of which is biomass. Converting organic waste to renewable biofuel represents an appealing option to exploit this potential resource. In California alone, it is estimated that 22 million tons of organic waste is generated annually, which if converted by microbial digestion, could produce biogas equivalent to 1.3 million gallons of gasoline per day. Yet little is known about the microorganisms involved and their biology. This study aims to optimize the anaerobic digestion process and promote conversion of biomass into biofuel.

Accumulibacter population genomics: Enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) is a wastewater treatment process used throughout the world to protect surface waters from accelerated stagnation and depletion of oxygen. EBPR can be unreliable and often requires expensive backup chemical treatments to protect sensitive receiving waters. This project will shed light on the microbial population dynamics leading to better use and management of these important environmental systems.

Genomics of Yellowstone geothermal environments: The hot pools of Yellowstone National Park harbor a mostly unexplored treasure-trove of extremeophiles, microbes that thrive in extreme conditions. These communities represent a rich opportunity to identify enzymes or processes that promise to advance biofuels and nanomaterial science applications.

Established in 2005, the Community Sequencing Program (CSP) provides the scientific community at large with access to high-throughput sequencing by DOE JGI for projects of relevance to DOE missions. Sequencing projects are chosen based on scientific merit--judged through independent peer review--and relevance to issues in bioenergy, global carbon cycling, and bioremediation.

For a full list of the CSP 2008 sequencing projects, see

15 June 2007

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1.06  The Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) opens in July at The University of Nottingham

A research centre at The University of Nottingham will break new ground in our understanding of plant growth and could lead to the development of drought-resistant crops for developing countries.

The Centre for Plant Integrative Biology (CPIB) will focus on cutting-edge research into plant biology ­ particularly the little-studied area of root growth, function and response to environmental cues.

A greater understanding of plant roots, particularly how they respond to different levels of moisture, nutrients and salt in the soil, could pave the way for the development of new drought-resistant crops that can thrive in arid areas and coastal margins of the developing world.

Because it is difficult to study roots ­ as all their growth occurs below ground level ­ scientists will develop a 'virtual root' using the latest mathematical modelling techniques. By developing computer models of the root that exactly mimic biological processes, they will be able to observe what is happening at every stage from the molecular scale upwards.

Research in this area is crucial because the roots dictate life or death for a plant through uptake of water and nutrients, and response to environmental factors.

The CPIB, which is based at The University of Nottingham's Sutton Bonington Campus, has its official opening on July 2, 2007.

Professor Charlie Hodgman, Principal Director of the CPIB, said: “CPIB aims to set a prime example of how multidisciplinary teams can bring novel ideas to and discoveries in crucial aspects of plant science.”

CPIB brings together experts from four different Schools at the University ­ Biosciences, Computer Science & IT, Mathematical Sciences, and Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering.

They will create a 'virtual root' of the simple weed Arabidopsis, a species of the Brassica family routinely used for molecular genetic studies. Expertise in Arabidopsis research is already well developed at the Nottingham Arabidopsis Stock Centre, which integrally linked with CPIB.

This expertise will then be broadened into crop species. CPIB researchers ultimately aim to integrate their 'virtual root' with those of other international projects that model shoot and leaf development, leading to a generic computer model of a whole plant which will again be used to advance crop and plant science.

Representatives from UK research councils, industry, publishers, and external academics will gather at the opening event on July 2 with University of Nottingham staff from the four academic schools involved. The event will feature talks by members of the CPIB and invited speakers, including:

-Professor Philip Benfey, Duke University, USA
-Professor Jonathan Lynch, Penn State University, USA
-Professor Peter Hunter, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

CPIB is funded by the Systems Biology joint initiative of BBSRC and EPSRC, which has provided £27M for six specialised centres across the UK.

More details of the CPIB and its official opening are available from Dr Susannah Lydon on

June 2007

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1.07  Maize as you like it – sweet, green, or as baby corn

The growth in high-value agriculture world-wide is driven partly by rising incomes, urbanization, and perhaps changing preferences. As income rises, the share of the food budget allocated to starchy staples declines relative to more expensive food. High value agricultural products, with a high price per kilogram, per hectare, or per calorie, include fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, milk, fish and non-timber forest products. Can commodities, such as maize, be considered high value agricultural products? Maize is truly a crop for all seasons, producing multiple products. Most people value maize for its dry grain, which figures in the staple foods of millions of the poor. However, a wide range of vegetable maize products are harvested before the crop reaches maturity, the most important being baby corn, sweet corn, and green ears. These products are sometimes traded internationally. Initial estimates of the global value of sweet corn, baby corn and green maize suggest that maize is one of the five most profitable vegetables in the world. The “big five” producers of vegetable maize are China, the USA, Mexico, Peru, and Thailand. The global retail value of vegetable maize is estimated to be in the range US$ 13-32 billion. For comparison, the commercial value of tomatoes is US$ 56 billion and around 18 billion worth of watermelon, onions and brassicas. Vegetable maize is grown on all continents except the Antarctic.

Green maize
Green maize is eaten in more than half the world’s maize producing countries. As a source of food, it provides relief during the “hungry season” for millions of farm households in sub-Saharan Africa and other resource-poor areas where maize is the main food source and farmers often fail to produce enough grain for an entire year. “Elote” and “choclo” are the green maize types of Mesoamerica and the Andes. Immature ears are harvested and the soft, naturally humid grain eaten directly on the cob after boiling, steaming, or roasting. Green maize ears may also be shelled and used in soups or to accompany main dishes. Specialty types used this way include “Blanco Urubamba,” which is exported by Peru at US$ 700 per ton, or “Cacahuacintle” from Mexico, which has large, white, floury kernels favored for a dish known as “pozole.” Those maize races are among the few horticultural genotypes included in the “multilateral system” of the 2004 International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which facilitates access to crop genetic resources and provides a benefit sharing mechanism intended to help farmers.

Socioeconomic studies needed
Further assessment is needed to understand better the value of maize as a vegetable for the livelihoods of the very poor. In addition to providing food calories, vegetable maize provides protein and minerals. For maize and other high-value crops to contribute to poverty reduction, the performance of value chains needs to be improved. An organizational and institutional analysis of the governance and coordination these chains could provide policy and other solutions to improve benefits to farmers, without penalizing other actors. These chains could also be made to work more effectively and efficiently through participatory approaches, such as learning alliances. Githeri, a mix of maize and beans, is a dietary staple in Kenya. Quality protein maize (QPM) and maize with enhanced levels of vitamin A-, iron, or zinc can improve nutrition in areas where maize is a major staple and farmers cannot afford balanced diets or purchase supplements. These large, purple maize grains are used to make a popular drink in Peru.
June 2007

For more information: Rodomiro Ortiz

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1.08  Africa must create its own biotechnology agenda

Building public support for genetically modified crops in sub-Saharan Africa means developing a homegrown solution to the region's own needs.

This week representatives from African countries will gather in Johannesburg, South Africa, for Agricultural Science Week. Many will be asking how their governments can respond to the pressure from large parts of their agricultural communities to commercialise genetically modified (GM) crops on one side, and the large sectors of their voting publics against GM on the other.

At one level, the decision seems straightforward. Scientific achievements in GM plant breeding over the past two decades have produced a range of new crops that can increase farmers' productivity while reducing their production costs ­ for example, by substantially lessening the needs for fertilisers and insecticides.

But at the same time, GM technology has not been around long enough for all its side effects to be understood. For critics of the technology, the worrying possibilities of what might happen were the technology to get out of control ­ however remote ­ is sufficient reason to halt development until more is known.

Put in these terms, the political challenge is familiar. A new technology needs an effective regulatory regime that allows its potential to be harnessed safely, while potential side effects are closely monitored.

Indeed, as highlighted in our regional spotlight on agricultural technology published this week, implementing such biosafety regimes is now a priority across Africa (see Agri-biotech in sub-Saharan Africa).

A groundswell of opposition
But if the challenge is familiar, why has it taken so long to put solutions into place? Partly this is because scientific uncertainty remains over what the side effects are likely to be. But, more importantly, a groundswell of opposition from vocal critics has exploited this uncertainty to place governments on the defensive, reluctant to move forward for fear of alienating voters.

Such opposition needs to be taken seriously. One response is to demonstrate that governments are adequately informed about the potential risks of GM technologies before making decisions on biosafety regulations. Here the scientific community ­ both individual scientists and institutions such as scientific academies ­ can help.

Governments must also ensure that their electorates are sufficiently informed about both the potential benefits and risks of GM technologies. Information campaigns ­ in which journalists have a role to play through sound reporting ­ will not necessarily endorse GM crops. They will, however, increase the chances that political decisions come out of scientifically-based arguments, rather than unfounded speculation.

A political agenda?
Yet as European governments have discovered, neither a pledge to evidence-based decision making, nor the organisation of campaigns promoting public understanding of biotechnology are sufficient. Both ignore the extent to which many critics have a political agenda ­ namely a desire to oppose not so much GM technology itself but the multinational corporations promoting it.

To this, there is no straightforward reply. The critics legitimately argue that corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta control many key GM technologies. Such corporations' primary loyalty is to their shareholders, not their customers.

But a large proportion of work on GM crops also comes from the public sector, through international agricultural research centres, for example.

Still, this has done little to soothe the public perception ­ which some politicians have been quick to seize on ­ that commercialising GM crops in a country opens up its farmers to exploitation by foreign interests.

A homegrown industry
There is only one appropriate long-term response to this argument. African countries ­ like others in the developing world ­ must develop the scientific and technological capacity to ensure that biotechnology meets their own needs, on their own terms.

This means building programmes that address the potential of GM technology to enhance the 'orphan crops' often neglected by foreign corporations. Such crops, including cassava, pigeon pea and sorghum are already under development, but more support is needed, particularly in the regulatory arena.

Political leaders must acknowledge that biotechnology can become a homegrown industry in Africa ­ and they must be willing to commit the necessary resources. This should include fewer incentives for foreign companies to set up shop, and greater investment in scientific infrastructure and capacity building efforts including support for universities and regional research networks.

A step in this direction was taken in January when African Union leaders endorsed a 20-year 'Freedom to Innovate' biotechnology plan. But endorsing a plan is one thing, putting it into effect is another. Until that happens, genetic modification will continue to be seen as a Northern technology meeting predominantly Northern interests ­ and opposition will continue to flourish.

David Dickson
Director, SciDev.Net

12 June 2007

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1.09  Third generation GM crops: an opportunity for Africa

Engineered plants can produce pharmaceuticals and industrial products

Idah Sithole-Niang
Growing pharmaceuticals and industrial products in plants through genetic engineering presents an important opportunity that Africa should grasp now.

Such crops include plants engineered to produce biodegradable plastics, fibrous proteins, adhesives and synthetic proteins. For example, tobacco and potato plants have been engineered to produce spider silks.

'Pharmacrops' are plants genetically modified to produce pharmaceuticals, for example vaccines, antibodies and proteins to treat human or animal diseases. Maize engineered to express human gastric lipase, used to treat cystic fibrosis, is already in advanced clinical trials.

So Africa must move quickly to get ahead and realise the real economic gains these 'third generation' genetically modified (GM) crops offer. This will mean building regulatory capacity and investing in key products. But perhaps most importantly, all African countries must ensure public support for the technology.

Various fungal, bacterial and transgenic animal systems already exist to produce third generation GM products, but plant systems have the greatest potential for economic benefits. They offer low production costs, improved safety, purity, ease of storage and consistent and scalable production ­ all of which can be exploited to meet diverse demands and applications.

Changing attitudes
Although 'third generation' crops are only grown on small scales, their 'first generation' counterparts (plants modified to improve the original crop) are rapidly being adopted across the world. But sub-Saharan Africa has been slow to take them up, apart from South Africa, where poor farmers grow pest-resistant Bt cotton.

Fears about food safety, environmental safety, and loss of overseas sales have hindered GM crops. But studies show such fears are largely unfounded. For example, in 2004, the Food and Agriculture Organization concluded that there was no evidence anywhere in the world that GM foods were toxic or harmed nutrition.

Attitudes to GM crops may now be changing, as policymakers recognise that science, technology and innovation can drive economic development. For example, the African Union now has both a High Level Panel on Biotechnology and a fund to support research and development. This is a resounding acknowledgement that African economies should, in part, be bio-economies.

Once African governments accept that biotechnology can boost their economies, they will be more willing to finance local research to address local problems out of their own national budgets. Researchers and industry should take full advantage of these changing attitudes to secure investment in research and technologies for producing plant-made pharmaceuticals and industrial products.

Tackling safety concerns
Cultivating third generation crops commercially can raise legitimate biosafety concerns.

Using food crops, such as maize, can provoke fears of the health risks if such crops entered food or animal feed supplies. Cross-contamination has already occurred in the United States. In 2002 inspectors from the US Department for Agriculture found 550 000 bushels of soybean were contaminated with maize genetically engineered to produce a vaccine for pigs. The maize had not been completely removed after an earlier GM crop. Such instances fuel worries that regulators will not ­ or cannot ­ effectively segregating food and pharmacrops.

But this is not sufficient reason to abandon the technology altogether. Rather, regulators must improve biosafety and mitigate such risks. They will need comprehensive biosafety regulations on transporting and trading GM crops now being developed across most of Africa (see Harmonising biosafety regulations within Africa) ­ as well as measures to minimise contamination and gene flow during production.

These include cultivation in high security greenhouses, isolation distances increased beyond current recommendations, strict monitoring and good record keeping. Such measures suit sparsely populated areas of Africa, where third generation GM crops can be more easily kept apart from food crops.

Effective segregation will inevitably increase production costs, but the economic gains of supplying global markets for pharmaceutical and industrial products will vastly outweigh these.

Other ways of improving the biosafety of third generation GM crops include knowing the biology of the crop, taking advantage of flowering times and using sterile host plants. Genetic modifications can also use genes expressed in the chloroplast. This minimises gene flow as chloroplasts are maternally inherited and has the added advantage of increasing yields.

The right crops for Africa
First generation GM crops have largely been a response to demand in temperate zones. The future is still open for third generation GM crops. Africa needs to act now to become a key player while this technology is still being developed.

Individual African countries must concentrate their efforts on crops relevant to their own environments and needs ­ for example cassava, cowpea, banana, millet or yams.

Africa needs an integrated approach, pooling scientific expertise and resources. The common goal is to identify key pharmaceutical and industrial products, develop appropriate crops, and use combined capacity to regulate production and distribution.

Public support is crucial
Perhaps most importantly, all African countries must engage public support for third generation GM crops. Raising awareness and educating the public must be made as much of a priority as developing the technology itself.

The first step is convincing policy and decision makers of the potential social and economic benefits. Study tours organised specifically for such people are already having a huge effect on the acceptance of the technology, but it is public acceptance that will carry the day.

Idah Sithole-Niang is a professor in the department of biochemistry at the University of Zimbabwe.

12 June 2007

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1.10  Agri-biotech in Africa: Safety first?

Maryke Steffens reports on the influences behind Africa's diverse attitudes to transgenic crops, and the need for a unified agenda.

Africa embraces a range of attitudes towards agricultural biotechnology, particularly transgenic crops. While genetically modified (GM) crops are commercially farmed in South Africa, an informal ban is in place in Zambia.

Biotechnology promises to solve many of Africa's problems, including an insecure food supply from a dry, harsh and unpredictable land. But the African Union (AU) believes that if Africa is to pursue biotechnology's promise it is going to have to do so as a cohesive whole.

Too many outsiders are pushing biotechnology agendas in Africa, says John Mugabe, science and technology advisor to the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

Mugabe believes that foreign interests, imposed on Africa, are creating a continent with no clear strategy.

He says the time has come for Africa to take back control of its biotech future.

Risk assessment
David Duthie, from the biosafety unit at the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), says the problem is that many countries are confused about how to approach GM.

"African countries are really struggling with this," says Duthie. "They don't have access to [scientific] literature, they don't have scientific and technical elites to talk about the subjects. But they do have a lot of newspapers and a lot of media."

The chief concern of many countries is the safety of the environment and people's health. In accordance with the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, UNEP has been setting up procedures to help sub-Saharan African countries decide whether or not to import GM crops.

Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia and Uganda are working with UNEP to make their biosafety policies operational, while almost all other African states plan to have draft policies by December 2007, when the UNEP project is scheduled to end.

According to Duthie, UNEP has stayed clear of the pro- versus anti-GM fray.

"As a UN agency, we take a policy-neutral approach. We don't prescribe any particular policy or approach to safe use of modern biotechnology."

Caught between transatlantic differences
How a country defines 'safe' in the context of biotechnology forms the cornerstone of the debate. Germany and the United States ­ both actively implementing biosafety policy and research programmes in Africa ­ are in disagreement.

In the United States a transgenic product is considered to pose no new health risks if it can be assessed as 'substantially equivalent' to its unmodified counterpart.

But in Germany, which had led the formation of EU policy in Europe, the 'precautionary principle' is used. In the face of uncertainty, a defensive approach is taken even when causal links have not been scientifically established.

"From the EU standpoint, there is this question of 'what if?'" says José Falck-Zepeda, a research fellow at the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute.

Falck-Zepeda says there is no clear endpoint in that decision making process, whereas the United States is willing to live with a system that considers "safety as a matter of degree".

There are nations in Africa willing to live with this system too. The US-funded Program for Biosafety Systems has trained scientists in countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda to run field trials for GM crops in line with its own approach to biosafety.

Germany has directed its efforts toward persuading the AU, rather than individual countries, to adopt new biosafety regulations. Though the AU has no authority over its member states, it advises them on biosafety regulations.

Germany has, for example, funded an AU biosafety project, now in its second year, that focuses on building an Africa-wide biological safety system where member states are guided by a regional model law ­ the African Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology.

The proposed law, which some say derives from the idea that the Cartagena Protocol cannot sufficiently safeguard human health and the environment in an African context, is conservative in its approach to biosafety. It puts the onus on exporting countries to pay compensation if any harm or loss of livelihood occurs as a result of introducing GM products.

A combined approach
Although a great deal of money has been invested in Africa through these projects, some think African nations have not benefited as much as they should have.

"The different projects may have resulted in more fragmentation," says Julius Mugwagwa, a researcher from the UK-based Open University and a former biotechnologist at the Biotechnology Trust of Zimbabwe, where he assisted in setting up a regional initiative (RAEIN-Africa) implementing a Southern African biosafety and environment programme from Namibia.

The Freedom to Innovate report, jointly published by NEPAD and the AU and put together by the High-Level African Panel on Modern Biotechnology, tries to reconcile these competing interests.

NEPAD's John Mugabe says it is about Africa taking back control of biotechnology and expanding scientific capacity ­ laboratories, scientists, field trials ­ beyond biosafety frameworks.

The report involved an all-African panel of experts, including Calestous Juma from Harvard University, the director general of Ethiopia's Environmental Protection Authority Tewolde Egziabher and representatives from the German-funded AU biosafety project, as well as scientists and representatives of nongovernmental organisations. They were charged with charting a strategy based on consensus.

Ismail Serageldin, director of the Library of Alexandria and co-chair of the panel, says the report offers "an alternative way forward from the paralysis that has characterised much of the work in Africa".

According to co-chair Calestous Juma, it is about developing long-term strategies that will give biotechnology efforts "a more pragmatic focus".

The Freedom to Innovate report emphasises the need for countries across Africa to unify their approach to biotechnology and regulation of risk.

Julius Mugwagwa says if countries don't work collaboratively as regional economic communities they will lose out.

He says regions want to be seen as one big market, so that investors won't have any problems with different systems in different countries. According to Mugwagwa, there will be economic losses if they don't harmonise.

He says the report reflects the continent's current enthusiasm for science, technology and innovation to "propel economies to a greater level".

But, he adds, whether this can be translated from an expert-driven report into sustained action at the implementation level is another question.

"A critical issue is how prepared are the regional economic communities at the policy, infrastructural, human resources and other levels to handle these responsibilities?"

Mugwagwa also questions the potential commitment of individual countries to the Freedom to Innovate report, especially those without the technical or policy capacity to contribute to regional biotechnology activities.

Some countries have been reluctant to let go of their sovereignty, but this may be changing. In March, West African states adopted a regional five-year plan of action for increasing food production through biotechnology.

Saving the orphans
The risk associated with incompatible biosafety requirements across the continent goes far beyond economic loss.

Small public-sector projects aimed at developing 'orphan' crops such as sorghum, cassava and pigeon pea ­ largely ignored by big biotechnology companies ­ may struggle to move forward through the sheer number of regulatory hurdles. These projects' limited financial resources would stretch further under one common testing and approval process.

Supporting these projects is vital, according to Frank Shotkoski from USAID (US Agency for International Development) who is currently involved in a Ugandan project on transgenic pest-resistant bananas.

Although agricultural biotechnology can't be a "silver bullet" solution for Africa, he believes it has "the potential to do more to bring Africa up to speed on the ability to produce food for its people than any other technology out there".

Field trials
Several countries in sub-Saharan Africa are already running or planning GM field trials of both orphan and commercial crops.

Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda are preparing for trials with Bt cotton ­ engineered to carry the insect-killing Bt toxin. Kenya is pursuing transgenic maize, sweet potato and cassava. Nigeria is looking into Bt cowpea, and virus-resistant cassava is in the pipeline in Nigeria and Uganda.

There are other projects planned. The Harvest Plus project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, is fighting malnutrition with GM technology by fortifying the nutrient content of key crops such as sorghum, banana and cassava.

If Africa can forge a common path to protecting itself from any unseen consequences of GM technology without smothering innovation, it could find a pot of gold at the end of the transgenic rainbow.

According to Ismail Serageldin, Africa must look to the success stories and get inspiration. "These should not be the exception and they can be the norm," he says.

12 June 2007

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1.11  New study finds genetically engineered crops could play a role in sustainable agriculture

Possible benefits include reduced use of chemicals in crops modified with insecticidal gene
(Santa Barbara, California) – Genetically modified (GM) crops may contribute to increased productivity in sustainable agriculture, according to a groundbreaking study published in the June 8 issue of the journal Science. The study analyzes, for the first time, environmental impact data from field experiments all over the world, involving corn and cotton plants with a Bt gene inserted for its insecticidal properties. The research was conducted by scientists at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, The Nature Conservancy, and Santa Clara University. The study is accompanied by a searchable global database for agricultural and environmental scientists studying the effects of genetically engineered crops.

Biotechnology and genetic engineering are controversial because of concerns about risks to human health and biodiversity, but few analyses exist that reveal the actual effects genetically modified plants have on other non-modified species. In an analysis of 42 field experiments, scientists found that this particular modification, which causes the plant to produce an insecticide internally, can have an environmental benefit because large-scale insecticide spraying can be avoided. Organisms such as ladybird beetles, earthworms, and bees in locales with “Bt crops” fared better in field trials than those within locales treated with chemical insecticides.

“This is a groundbreaking study and the first of its kind to evaluate the current science surrounding genetically modified crops. The results are significant for how we think about technology and the future of sustainable agriculture,” said Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy.

According to lead author, Michele Marvier, of Santa Clara University, “We can now answer the question: Do Bt crops have effects on beneficial insects and worms" The answer is that it depends to a large degree upon the type of comparison one makes. When Bt crops are compared to crops sprayed with insecticides, the Bt crops come out looking quite good. But when Bt crops are compared to crops without insecticides, there are reductions of certain animal groups that warrant further investigation.” What is clear is that the advantages or disadvantages of GM crops depend on the specific goals and vision for agroecosystems.

As NCEAS Director, Jim Reichman explains, “This important study by an interdisciplinary research team reveals how an in-depth analysis of large quantities of existing data from many individual experiments can provide a greater understanding of a complex issue. The project is enhanced by the creation of a public database, Nontarget Effects of Bt Crops, developed by NCEAS ecoinformatics expert, Jim Regetz, that will allow other scientists to conduct congruent analyses.”

Contact: Margaret Connors
National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis/UCSB

7 June 2007

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1.12  GM/GMO/Biotech crop containment strategy

New Brunswick, N.J. – Plant geneticists at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, may have solved one of the fundamental problems in genetically engineered or modified (GM or GMO) crop agriculture: genes leaking into the environment.

In a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Rutgers Professor Pal Maliga and research associate Zora Svab advocate an alternative and more secure means of introducing genetic material into a plant. In GM crops today, novel genes are inserted into a cell nucleus but can eventually wind up in pollen grains or seeds that make their way out into the environment.

The two researchers at Rutgers’ Waksman Institute of Microbiology argue for implanting the genes into another component of the cell – the plastid – where the risk of escape is minimized. Plastids, rarely found in pollen, are small bodies inside the cell that facilitate photosynthesis, the basic life process in plants.

“Our work with a tobacco plant model is breathing new life into an approach that had been dismissed out-of-hand for all the wrong reasons,” said Maliga. “Introducing new agriculturally useful genes through the plastid may prove the most effective means for engineering the next generation of GM crops.”

Skeptics had claimed that the approach was ineffective, based on 20-year-old genetic data showing that 2 percent of the pollen carried plastids. In the new study, Svab and Maliga found plastids in pollen 100- to 1000-times less frequently. This is well below the threshold generally accepted for additional containment measures.

The agricultural community worldwide seems to be embracing GM crops because the technology has the potential to deliver more healthful and nutritious crops, and increase crop yields with less use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

A “News Focus” story in the May 25 issue of the journal Science reported that genetically modified crops are flourishing worldwide, including in six European Union countries. “Last year (2006), 10 million farmers in 22 countries planted more than 100 million hectares with GM crops,” it said.

There has been serious opposition to genetically modified agriculture both in the United States and abroad, coming from concerns about “foreign genes” escaping from GM crops, crossing with and contaminating other crops and wild species, and disrupting the ecosystem.

Pursuing the approach elucidated and advocated by the Rutgers researchers’ findings may allay some of these fears and deflate the more vociferous arguments.

Svab and Maliga acknowledge that different strains of tobacco may produce plastid-carrying pollen at different frequencies, possibly accounting for some of the discrepancy between the old genetic data and the new. They emphasize that it will be important that any new crops that are developed be selected for low plastid pollen.

“We expect that there are nuclear genes which control the probability of plastids finding their way into pollen, but we have the tools that can be used to identify those genetic lines in every crop that will transmit plastids only at a low frequency,” Maliga said.

Contact: Joseph Blumberg
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

6 June 2007

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1.13  Genes explain the amazing global spread of maize

No need to dig for ancient seeds to discover how and when maize moved from its ancestral home in Mesoamerica to become one of the world’s most widely-sown and popular food crops. New work by gene sleuths from CIMMYT and numerous maize growing countries solves the puzzle using DNA of present-day maize.

How did a crop domesticated some 7,000 years ago from a humble Mexican grass called teosinte become the number-one food crop in Africa and Latin America, and a major food, feed, and industrial crop just about everywhere else?

The incredible story of maize has been told in books, but there have always been lingering doubts, unanswered questions. If, for example, as records show, in 1493 Columbus brought maize to Spain from his visit to the warm climes and long days of the Caribbean, how is it that reliable accounts have the crop being grown in 1539 in the cold, short daylengths of Germany? That’s only 46 years later, and far too soon for such a radical adaptation in tropical maize. In another case, maize was supposedly brought to African countries like Nigeria by Portuguese colonists, but the local names for maize in that country are of Arabic derivation, suggesting that the crop likely arrived via Arabic-speaking traders.

Deciphering the history in genes
Recent work by CIMMYT and partners sheds new light on maize’s global migration. With support from Generation, a Challenge Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and in collaboration with nine research institutes on four continents, scientists have used DNA markers­molecular signposts for genes of interest­and new approaches to analyze nearly 900 populations of maize and teosinte from around the world. “What is emerging is a far clearer picture of the crop’s global diversity and the pathways that led to it,” says CIMMYT molecular geneticist and leader of the effort, Marilyn Warburton.

Phase I of the work was funded by PROMAIS, a European maize consortium, and focused on North America and Europe. The Generation Challenge Program commissioned Phase II, which featured global coverage and brought the number of maize populations studied to 580. In Phase III, partners are adding another 300 populations of maize and teosinte, to fill any geographical gaps. A primary objective is to gather samples of landraces­local varieties developed through centuries of farmer selection­and ensure their conservation in germplasm banks. The diversity studies apply a method developed by Warburton for using DNA markers on bulk samples of individuals from large, heterogeneous populations like those typical for maize.

The great divide: Temperate vs tropical maize

Among other things, the studies corroborate the notion that northern European maize originates from North American varieties brought to the continent several decades after Columbus’ returned, and definitely not from tropical genotypes. “The two main modern divisions of maize arose about 3,000 years ago,” says Warburton, “as maize arrived in what is now the southwestern US and, at about the same time, on the islands of the Caribbean. Temperate maize spread further north and east across North America, while tropical maize spread south. The temperate-tropical division remains today. What maintains it are differences in disease susceptibility and photosensitivity­essentially, how daylength affects flowering time. The two maize types are now so different from each other that they do not cross well, and their hybrids are not well adapted anywhere.”

The work continues and, in addition to elucidating the epic journey of maize, will help breeders to home in on and more effectively use traits like drought tolerance from the vast gene pool of maize.

The above report is largely based on a longer description of this work, “Tracing history’s maize,” that appears in Generation’s “Partner and Product Highlights 2006.”

June 1, 2007
Source: CIMMYT E-News, vol 4 no. 5, May 2007

Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz

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1.14  Pollen and pollinators are vital for conservation

Rome, Italy
Pollen and pollinators could play a much more important role in the conservation of crop diversity, Dr Jan Engels, a senior scientist at Bioversity International, today told the 9th International Pollination Symposium in Ames, Iowa, USA.

"People are used to the idea of long-term storage of seeds in genebanks," Engels said, "but we could also store pollen, and that would be very useful."

At present pollen is sometimes stored for relatively short periods so that researchers can make use of it in breeding programmes. It is also a good form in which safely to transport genetic diversity around the world, because few diseases are transmitted through pollen. Engels and co-author Dr Ehsan Dulloo, suggest that it would be ideal to store pollen as well as seeds.

Dulloo, an expert on genebank storage, explains that not all plants have seeds that can be dried and cooled for storage "Some are recalcitrant," he said, "meaning we have to find other ways to store them. Some pollen is recalcitrant too and cannot be stored. But there is no correlation between recalcitrant seeds and recalcitrant pollen, so long-term storage of pollen offers a complementary approach to the conservation of plants with recalcitrant seeds."

Of course there are disadvantages; pollen carries only the male part of the genome, and it can be difficult to collect. But the benefits for rational conservation of crop diversity are great.

"The other area where we really need pollen is in-situ conservation and the conservation of crop wild relatives," adds Engels. “But really, it is the pollinators we need.”

In-situ conservation takes place in farmers' fields and surrounding areas and complements ex-situ storage in genebanks. It allows plants to continue to interact with their environment and thus allows their genes to continue evolving and adapting to changed circumstances.

"Without the right pollinators, crops and wild relatives are not going to make nearly as many seeds, threatening their survival," Engels said. “We have to maintain a diversity of other plants in the vicinity to provide pollinators with alternative food sources and other requirements.” Because it supports pollinators, high local diversity has also been shown to improve the productivity of agricultural crops, such as coffee in Costa Rica and papaya in Kenya.

Pollinators are also vitally important for ex-situ collections. When genebank managers need to regenerate samples in store they rely on pollinators to maintain the genetic diversity of cross-pollinated species.

Engels is hopeful that researchers will respond to the interdisciplinary challenge of investigating and making more use of pollen and pollinators to improve long-term conservation of useful plant diversity.

26 June 2007

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1.15  Pepper diversity on display

Washington, DC
Peppers don't have to be just green and bell shaped and relegated to the supermarket shelf or home garden plot. This genus of plants has the genetic potential to provide a wide array of possibilities for the kitchen and the ornamental garden and sometimes both at once.

Research on peppers from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is being featured from June to November in an exhibit called “A Pepper for Every Pot” at the U.S. Botanic Gardens in Washington, D.C. This exhibit explores the diversity of peppers, including recently introduced varieties, and celebrates peppers’ beauty, flavors and nutritional benefits.

Among new pepper varieties that ARS has already developed are Tangerine Dream and Black Pearl. Tangerine Dream is a sweet, edible ornamental pepper that produces small orange banana-shaped fruit on a prostrate plant. Black Pearl, an All America Selections award winner, offers gardeners a new dark choice: black leaves and shiny black fruit that ripen to bright scarlet. Both varieties are commercially available.

The pretty Black Pearl pepper can also serve as a hot pepper for the kitchen, making it a dual purpose pepper for today's smaller urban gardens.

The pod-type pepper genus--Capsicum--is native to the Western hemisphere and figured strongly in the Aztec, Mayan and Incan cultures, second only in importance to maize. Today, peppers are just as likely to show off in flower gardens as in vegetable gardens. Ornamental peppers have become a profitable crop for commercial growers and retailers. The ornamental plant market is worth nearly $5 billion in the United States each year and specialty peppers could capture a larger portion of those dollars.

ARS plant geneticists John Stommel and Robert Griesbach were drawn to the idea of developing new colorful ornamentals for the garden and the kitchen because considerable diversity exists in the Capsicum genus for fruit and leaf shape, size and color as well as plant habit.

Stommel is with the Genetic Improvement of Fruits and Vegetables Laboratory and Griesbach is with the Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit, both part of the ARS Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, MD.

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

Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Kim Kaplan

Source: ARS News Service via
28 June 2007

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1.16  Scientists discover a gene that allows plants to grow better in low nutrient conditions

Scientists have discovered a gene that allows plants to grow better in low nutrient conditions and even enhance their growth through sodium uptake, according to a report published online this week in The EMBO Journal.

Salty soil caused by irrigation practices in arid regions has become a major agricultural problem – not only in India, China and African countries, but also around the Mediterranean and in dry regions of the USA, such as California. This is only expected to get worse in forthcoming years, as climate change leads to desertification.

Julian Schroeder and coworkers investigated a sodium transporter called OsHKT2;1 in the roots of rice plants. Their results provide evidence that this transporter has capabilities previously thought to exist but not genetically validated in plants before. Under salt stress, when sodium levels are too high, OsHKT2;1 transport is quickly shut off, protecting the plant from accumulating too much sodium before it can become toxic.

In addition, the authors found that sodium can also have beneficial effects under nutrient poor conditions. On soils where little nutritional potassium is available, a common problem after many years of agricultural production, plants can take up sodium through the OsHKT2;1 transporter to replace some of the functions of potassium and actually enhance growth. This improvement of our understanding of how plants regulate salt uptake in their roots may help to eventually find a solution to reducing the impact of soil salinity on agricultural productivity.

Source: The EMBO Journal via
June 2007

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1.17  Sowing seed on salty ground

Scientists have discovered a gene that allows plants to grow better in low nutrient conditions

Scientists have discovered a gene that allows plants to grow better in low nutrient conditions and even enhance their growth through sodium uptake, according to a report published online this week in The EMBO Journal.

Salty soil caused by irrigation practices in arid regions has become a major agricultural problem – not only in India, China and African countries, but also around the Mediterranean and in dry regions of the USA, such as California. This is only expected to get worse in forthcoming years, as climate change leads to desertification.

Julian Schroeder and coworkers investigated a sodium transporter called OsHKT2;1 in the roots of rice plants. Their results provide evidence that this transporter has capabilities previously thought to exist but not genetically validated in plants before. Under salt stress, when sodium levels are too high, OsHKT2;1 transport is quickly shut off, protecting the plant from accumulating too much sodium before it can become toxic.

In addition, the authors found that sodium can also have beneficial effects under nutrient poor conditions. On soils where little nutritional potassium is available, a common problem after many years of agricultural production, plants can take up sodium through the OsHKT2;1 transporter to replace some of the functions of potassium and actually enhance growth. This improvement of our understanding of how plants regulate salt uptake in their roots may help to eventually find a solution to reducing the impact of soil salinity on agricultural productivity.

Contact: Julian Schroeder
European Molecular Biology Organization

6 June 2007

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1.18  The CNAP Artemisia Research Project: how to subscribe to updates

The last edition of the Plant Breeding Newsletter (Edition 179, Item 1.03) carried a copy of the first E-update on the CNAP Artemisia Research Project. This project was launched last year with the aim of using fast-track breeding technologies to create, non-GM artemisia cultivars with increased artemisinin yields. If you would like to receive further updates, please reply to with the word subscribe in the subject line.

Contributed by Elspeth Bartlet
External Communications Manager
The CNAP Artemisia Research Project

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1.19  International joint venture research project produces experimental wheat variety with 70 per cent amylose content

International collaboration between the GRDC, CSIRO and French farmer-owned company, Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients, has produced an experimental wheat variety with a 70 per cent amylose content, the major component of starch.

CSIRO grains researcher, Dr Matthew Morell discussed the $A12.5 million joint venture research project into high amylose wheat (HAW) at the BIO 07 conference in Boston, USA.

"Using RNAi gene silencing techniques, researchers can define the genetic changes required to generate HAW, which will help develop conventionally bred and GM wheat varieties," Dr Morell said.

"Increasing wheat's resistant starch levels could lead to reduced colorectal cancer risk and improved blood glucose control.

"New high fibre barleys, high amylose wheat varieties and oilseeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids are part of the suite of new grains being developed in the CSIRO Food Futures Flagship program that will produce grain based foods to help improve bowel and heart health," he said.

6 June 2007

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1.20  RNAi-mediated resistance to Bean golden mosaic virus in genetically engineered common bean

RNA interference (RNAi) was used to obtain a common bean line resistant to bean golden mosaic virus (BGMV), the virus responsible for golden mosaic disease in the crop. The research, conducted in Brazil, reports that 93% of the plants from the transgenic resistant line were free of symptoms upon high pressure inoculation.

BGMV is a major constraint in bean production that causes yield losses between 40 to 100%. The virus is transmitted by the whitefly Bemisia tabaci. The RNAi approach uses an RNA interference construct to silence the sequence region of the AC1 viral gene, producing resistant common bean. Compared to the non-transgenic control with 100% golden mosaic incidence after 38 days of inoculation, the transgenic line has only 7.8% disease incidence.

For details the complete paper published in Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions can be accessed by subscribers at

RNAi-Mediated Resistance to Bean golden mosaic virus in Genetically Engineered Common Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris).
K. Bonfim, J. C. Faria, E. O. P. L. Nogueira, É. A. Mendes, and F. J. L. Aragão. Pages 717-726.

Source: Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions June 2007, via
15 June 2007

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1.21  Researchers demonstrate way to control tree height

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Forest scientists at Oregon State University have used genetic modification to successfully manipulate the growth in height of trees, showing that it’s possible to create miniature trees that look similar to normal trees – but after several years of growth may range anywhere from 50 feet tall to a few inches.

This is a “proof of concept” that tree height can be readily controlled by genetic engineering techniques. It opens the door to a wide variety of new products for the ornamental and nursery industries, experts say, if regulatory hurdles can be overcome – a big “if.”

The findings were recently published in the journal Landscape Plant News.

“From a science perspective, this is a very interesting accomplishment and there’s no doubt it could be made to work,” said Steven Strauss, a professor of forest science at OSU.

“But further development may be precluded by social, legal and regulatory obstacles,” he said. “Clearly there would be concerns whether the market for specialty tree products such as this would be strong enough to make it worth the large investments of time, money and testing that current regulation of genetically modified organisms would require, at least in the U.S.”

That aside, he said, it appears that with further research and development programs, it would indeed be possible to create an elm tree – which ordinarily would grow to 100 feet or more – that is only five feet tall at maturity, a charming addition that would fit nicely on a backyard deck. Or a 30-foot version that might be a better fit on urban streets. Or, in fact, just about any height in between. Other changes can also affect foliage shapes or color in very attractive ways, and some might have value in cleaning up environmental pollution.

In their studies, OSU scientists were able to create young poplar trees, which grow rapidly and can reach a mature height of 150 feet or more, that were anywhere from about 15 feet to a few inches tall after two years of growth. The smallest of them could be difficult to even find, tiny little “shrublets” among the flowers in the field site.

The manipulation of height growth was achieved by insertion of certain genes, mostly taken from the model plant Arabidopsis, which inhibited the action of a class of plant-specific hormones known as gibberellic acids. These compounds are also used as sprays to control the size and fruiting of orchard trees. In trees, the compounds promote the elongation of plant cells – when they are inhibited, the cells do not fully elongate, and plants remain short and stocky.

“It’s really interesting that these genes from Arabidopsis, which is a small plant in the mustard family, have been conserved through 50-100 million years of evolution and can perform more or less the same function in poplar trees,” Strauss said. “The modified trees themselves look pretty much normal, just a lot smaller, and a little more compact or bushy.”

Altogether, the researchers used seven distinct kinds of genes and more than 160 different types of genetic insertions to create about 600 genetically modified trees. All caused decreased signaling by gibberellic acids. They were grown in the field with USDA approval, and assessed several times for variation in size and appearance.

Other than reduced size, there appeared to be striking variation in foliage color and leaf shape, some of which might have significant ornamental value. Root development also appeared to be very strong, which might provide increased stress tolerance and have value where extensive root development is needed, such as in bioremediation of polluted soils or in very windy, limited soil moisture situations.

From an environmental viewpoint, the researchers said, dwarfed trees such as this are unlikely to be any kind of threat to spread, because they would compete very poorly with normal or wild trees. In virtually all tree species, low height is a disadvantage as trees compete for sunshine. Another possible value, from that perspective, is that this trait might be used to help control the spread of exotic and potentially invasive trees that are commonly sold by nurseries.

The initial studies were done with poplar, Strauss said. Similar results should be possible in any tree species, but are limited by the lack of research into gene transfer methods for most ornamental and forest trees. However, usable methods are already available for sweet gum, elm, black locust and pines. The current successful modification with poplar could be just “the tip of the iceberg,” the researchers said in their report.

Dwarf trees and crop plants created with traditional cross-breeding or horticultural techniques are already widely used in fruit trees, the ornamental tree industry and agriculture.

The advances for cereals have been part of the “Green Revolution,” in which plants such as rice or wheat were created that directed less energy to height growth and more to development of stout stems and plentiful seed. In orchards, semi-dwarf fruit trees produce more fruit that is easier to harvest. The improvements in cereal yields have been credited with preventing the starvation of millions.
The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A digital photo to illustrate this story, showing genetically modified trees of the same age but very different heights, can be obtained from the web site of OSU News and Communication Services, at

Contact: Steven Strauss
Oregon State University

18 June 2007

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1.22  Discovery of what makes some cauliflower orange could lead to more nutritious staple crops

By Krishna Ramanujan
While orange cauliflower may seem unappealing to some, it has distinct nutritional advantages. Now, Cornell University researchers have identified the genetic mutation behind the unusual hue. The finding may lead to more nutritious staple crops, including maize, potato, rice, sorghum and wheat.

The genetic mutation recently isolated by Cornell plant geneticist Li Li and colleagues -- and described in the December issue of the journal Plant Cell -- allows the vegetable to hold more beta-carotene, which causes the orange color and is a precursor to the essential nutrient vitamin A. While cauliflower and many staple crops have the ability to synthesize beta-carotene, they are limited partially because they lack a "metabolic sink," or a place to store the compound.

Developing staple crops with more vitamin A is important because vitamin A deficiency, common in developing countries, leads to compromised immune systems and is the leading cause of blindness in children.

"A large percentage of the human population depends on staple crops for nutrition," said Li, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics and a scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- Agricultural Research Service's U.S. Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory at Cornell. "The research provides a possible new technique for genetically modifying staple crops to increase their ability to store beta-carotene and increase nutritional content in staple crops."

Other researchers have created "golden rice" by inserting several genes that increases the synthesis of beta-carotene. But this technique has proved less effective in many plants. Li's research, which increases a plant's ability to store beta-carotene, may offer an alternate and complementary technique for making staple crops more nutritious.

Li, in collaboration with Joyce Van Eck from the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research at Cornell, is currently working on transgenic potatoes, altering genes to increase both the metabolic sink and beta-carotene synthesis.

Orange cauliflower was first discovered in a farmer's white cauliflower field in Canada about 30 years ago and is now available at supermarkets

Search Chronicle Online

Source: ChronicleOnline via
June 1, 2007

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1.23  Bt tomato with CRY6A found to be resistant to root-knot nematodes

Transgenic tomato plants expressing modified Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cry6A genes were found to have increased resistance to the root-knot nematode Meloidogyne incognita. This is the first time that a Bt Cry protein was demonstrated to confer plant resistance to an endoparasitic nematode, and that Cry proteins are reported to have the potential to control plant-parasitic nematodes in transgenic plants.

Researchers at the University of California tested two cry6A genes – one was modified not to have codons (sets of three DNA bases that code for an amino acid) uncommon in plants, and the other altered to include only optimal codons for each amino acid based on studies in Arabidopsis. The researchers report that there was a fourfold decrease in progeny production of the nematode pest brought about by cry6A expression in the plants. They recommend that cry6A be ‘stacked’ in crop varieties with other nematode-resistant traits.

The paper, published by the Plant Biotechnology Journal, can be accessed at .

Source: CropBiotech Update via
June 2007

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1.24  Rice with human proteins to take root in Kansas

Pharmed food crop approved for growth despite controversy

Emma Marris
Rice modified to express proteins often found in breast milk will be planted in Kansas. The go-ahead for the planting came on 16 May from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

It's certainly not the first crop designed to produce pharmaceutical proteins given the go-ahead in the United States or elsewhere (see ' Turning plants into protein factories'). But this is among the first food crops containing genes that produce human proteins to gain approval for large-scale planting. Many other pharmaceutical genetically-modified (GM) crops are grown indoors or in inedible plants such as tobacco.

The rice strains, made by Ventria Bioscience in Sacramento, California, produce lysozyme, lactoferrin and human serum albumin in their seeds. All three are commonly found in breast milk. Lysozyme and lactoferrin are proteins with antibacterial, viral and fungal properties, according to the company.

Ventria says that they aim to use the rice to create drinks that can combat diarrhoea, and dietary supplements to help reverse anaemia 1. Diarrhoea, which often stems from gastrointestinal infection, is a major killer of children worldwide.

Many further regulatory hurdles involving other agencies would need to be passed before products made from this rice could be sold to consumers.

Public comment
The crop, which has been tested in Peru, was given preliminary approval in March, and the USDA then opened the proposal up for public comment. Of the more than 20,000 comments they received, only 29 were positive, although many of the negative comments consisted of form letters.

Published online: 18 May 2007; | doi:10.1038/news070514-17

Contributed by Elcio Gumaraes

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1.25  Plants recognize their siblings, biologists discover

HAMILTON, ON. The next time you venture into your garden armed with plants, consider who you place next to whom. It turns out that the docile garden plant isn’t as passive as widely assumed, at least not with strangers. Researchers at McMaster University have found that plants get fiercely competitive when forced to share their pot with strangers of the same species, but they’re accommodating when potted with their siblings.

The study appears today in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

“The ability to recognize and favour kin is common in animals, but this is the first time it has been shown in plants” said Susan Dudley, associate professor of biology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. “When plants share their pots, they get competitive and start growing more roots, which allows them to grab water and mineral nutrients before their neighbours get them. It appears, though, that they only do this when sharing a pot with unrelated plants; when they share a pot with family they don’t increase their root growth. Because differences between groups of strangers and groups of siblings only occurred when they shared a pot, the root interactions may provide a cue for kin recognition.”

Though they lack cognition and memory, the study shows plants are capable of complex social behaviours such as altruism towards relatives, says Dudley. Like humans, the most interesting behaviours occur beneath the surface.

Dudley and her student, Amanda File, observed the behavior in sea rocket (Cakile edentula), a member of the mustard family native to beaches throughout North America, including the Great Lakes.

So should gardeners arrange their plants like they would plan the seating at a dinner party"

“Gardeners have known for a long time that some pairs of species get along better than others, and scientists are starting to catch up with why that happens,” says Dudley. “What I’ve found is that plants from the same mother may be more compatible with each other than with plants of the same species that had different mothers. The more we know about plants, the more complex their interactions seem to be, so it may be as hard to predict the outcome as when you mix different people at a party.”

The study was made possible by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

McMaster University, a world-renowned, research-intensive university, fosters a culture of innovation, and a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University, one of only four Canadian universities to be listed on the Top 100 universities in the world, has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 125,000 in 125 countries.

Contact: Susan Dudley
Associate Professor
McMaster University

13 June 2007

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1.26  Long-sought plant flowering signal unmasked, again

Elizabeth Pennisi
As elusive as the top quark, the signal that tells plants to flower has befuddled plant biologists for more than a century with many false leads to its identity. Two years ago, researchers created quite a stir with data indicating that this signal was messenger RNA (mRNA) that traveled from the so-called flowering locus T (FT) gene in plant leaves to the growth tip where flowering takes place. But those authors are now retracting that finding (p. 367 ). Instead, two new reports, published online by Science this week ( and, have fingered the FT protein itself.

"This is something we have been waiting for a long time," says J. A. D. Zeevaart, an emeritus plant physiologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing. "These two papers will be classics in the field for years to come," adds Philip Wigge, a plant biologist at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, U.K. Others, however, think the evidence is not yet conclusive. "They haven't taken the story any further," says William Lucas, a plant cell biologist at the University of California, Davis.

This story has its roots in a 1930s study by Russian plant physiologist Mikhail Chailakhyan. Based on grafting experiments, Chailakhyan proposed that when leaves sense the appropriate day length, they send a mobile signal called florigen to the plant's growing tip to initiate flowering. But promising leads led to dead ends, and "florigen [became] the pariah of botany, [akin to] Big Foot or intelligent extraterrestrial life," says Brian Ayre, a plant biologist at the University of North Texas in Denton.

In the past decade, researchers armed with molecular tools for manipulating genes and visualizing proteins in live tissue have revived the quest. They pinned down the FT gene, the leaf protein that turns FT on, and a flowering gene that the FT protein controls. Then, in 2005, Tao Huang, a postdoc at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Umeå, and his colleagues proposed that mRNA was the mobile signal in Arabidopsis, as they saw mRNA from FT build up in both the leaf and the growing tip. They concluded that FT mRNA was produced in the leaf and traveled to the growing tip, where it was translated into the FT protein, which then kicked off flowering (Science, 9 September 2005, p. 1694). This report seemed "an enormously exciting breakthrough," recalls Colin Turnbull, a plant biologist at Imperial College in Wye, U.K.

But it has not held up. In the 18 April 2006 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Eliezer Lifschitz of Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa reported no sign of mRNA from the FT-equivalent gene in the flowering shoots of tomatoes. And in their retraction notice, Huang's collaborators report that their initial analysis excluded some data and gave extra weight to other data. When they redid the experiments, "we could not detect movement of the transgenic FT mRNA," says Ove Nillson, in whose lab Huang did this work. Huang, now at Xiamen University in China, has not agreed to the retraction.

Turnbull and George Coupland of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, Germany, working with Arabidopsis, and another team studying rice, have now proposed that the mobile signal is the FT protein itself rather than mRNA.

In rice, the equivalent of the FT gene is called Hd3a. Ko Shimamoto of the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, his student Shojiro Tamaki, and their colleagues first measured Hd3a mRNA in various tissues. They found that in rice grown with short days (rice requires short days to develop flowers), the mRNA increased in leaves but was present only in very low amounts in the shoot apical meristem, the growing tip. Next, they made a transgenic rice strain by joining the gene for green fluorescent protein (GFP) with that for Hd3a, which made any Hd3a protein visible under a confocal laser scanning microscope. They saw the protein in the vascular tissue of the leaf and the upper stem as well as in the core of the growing tip.

They then attached promoters to the combination GFP/Hd3a gene that caused the genes to turn on in the leaf but not in the growing tip. Flowering still occurred, they report. "The only way [FT] could get there was if it moved," explains Zeevaart.

Like Shimamoto, Coupland and Turnbull focused on the FT protein and used GFP to track its fate, this time in Arabidopsis. Laurent Corbesier, a postdoc in Coupland's lab, added the fused FT/GFP gene to a mutant Arabidopsis strain that lacked the FT gene. They observed the protein first in the vascular tissue of the stem, and 4 days later, at the base of the growing tip.

In another experiment, the team grafted plants carrying the fused gene to mutant plants that could not make FT at all. The FT/GFP protein, but no mRNA, moved across the graft junction and through the mutant plant, they report.

Finally, when they attached two GFP genes to the FT gene, the resulting protein was too big to travel beyond the leaf--and in those plants, no flowers formed. Thus, the researchers could rule out both RNA and the existence of a signal activated by FT.

"The evidence is convincing, especially the grafting experiments," says Ayre. And, strengthening the case, several other researchers are preparing to publish similar results.

But not everyone agrees. Lifschitz calls the evidence in both reports "circumstantial." He, Nilsson, and Miguel Blázquez of the Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain, point out that neither group tested whether GFP moves through the plant on its own accord. And Lucas doesn't think the authors adequately demonstrated that FT gets into the growing tip from the leaf. For example, in Arabidopsis, one leaf promoter used turns on genes elsewhere in the plant, so it could have turned on FT outside the leaf, Lucas points out. Even Ayre is still cautious. "Florigen has a long history of disappointing people," he says. "We're getting there, but the race is intense, and we need to keep cool heads."

Source: Science 20 April 2007:
Vol. 316. no. 5823, pp. 350 - 351
DOI: 10.1126/science.316.5823.350

Contributed by Elcio Gumaraes

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1.27  Finding genes faster

A CIMMYT research group in China has developed a better way to identify the locations of genes that contribute to quantitative traits important for breeding. It could open the way to improved crops faster for the world’s rural poor.

It’s not easy to make the connection between resource-poor farmers of the developing world and “biometricians,” as biological statisticians are known. But a new statistical methodology developed by CIMMYT and published in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals may help plant breeders to work more efficiently and­more importantly­to breed better crops for those farmers.

Science, art, and quantitative traits
Traditional crop breeding has been regarded almost as much as an art as a science. This is because breeders use their long, accumulated (and largely undocumented) experience to select parental plants most likely to give offspring the desired traits. But the process can be hit and miss and take many years and much expense. This is partly because breeders select simultaneously for many key traits­yield potential, disease resistance, drought tolerance, to name a few. Under those circumstance, and lacking scientific methods to choose precisely the right parental plants and progeny based on their actual genetic makeup, breeders must try to cover all bases by planting many crosses among many parents and evaluating physiological traits, either visually, through chemical analyses, or by measuring plant performance in the field.

Biotechnology has long promised to facilitate breeders’ work, specifically through methods that provide breeders with information about the crop genes associated with physiological traits of importance. That has worked fairly well to date for simple traits­say, resistance to a particular pathogen, when such resistance is governed by only one or two genes in the plant. But, as it turns out, simply-governed traits are also generally easy for breeders to select for and improve in their plots. What they really need help on are the traits that have a more complex genetic basis, such as yield potential or drought tolerance, because those traits are governed by multiple genes or because the associated genes may express themselves in many ways, depending on the environment in which the plant is grown. These are known as “quantitative traits,” and the classical Mendelian rules of inheritance, which constitute the basis of modern genetics, simply do not apply very well to them. “The fact is, after 20 years of work, breeders and molecular geneticists are still struggling with quantitative traits,” says Jonathan Crouch, Director of Genetic Resources Enhancement at CIMMYT.

Locating the genome regions that really count
Genetic researchers seek out segments of a plant’s DNA that are associated with quantitative traits; areas where there may be one important gene or a concentration of several genes that contribute to physiological traits of interest. These segments are called quantitative trait loci (QTL). Identifying QTL by a molecular signature in the DNA has been an important goal over the last two decades, to help breeders more accurately select plants likely to have the genes for desirable traits.

The most commonly used technique to identify QTL is called composite interval mapping (CIM), but it has not proven as efficient or effective a methodology as breeders had hoped. That is where CIMMYT quantitative geneticist Jiankang Wang, along with colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), have stepped in. In a recent paper published in the journal “Genetics”, they presented details of a way to vastly improve the CIM technique. “The newly-developed QTL mapping method and software will help breeders use genetic data from CGIAR centers and national agricultural research systems to mine novel genes, acquire more complete genetic knowledge for quantitative traits of interest, and conduct efficient genotypic selection,” says Wang. “Farmers will benefit from having higher yielding, more disease resistant, and more drought tolerant rice, maize, and wheat varieties with better grain quality.” He says the improved technique, which was tested extensively through computer simulations, outperforms CIM in accuracy and speed. This is good news to plant breeders, for whom the promise of modern genetic technologies to enhance breeding for quantitative traits has taken a long time to be fulfilled.

In fact, the CIMMYT team has written a special computer program that plant genetics specialists anywhere in the world can download and use to apply their new technique ( The Crop Research Informatics Laboratory (CRIL), one of the joint programs between CIMMYT and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), will be one of the first facilities in the world to use the new tool. For breeders and geneticists at CIMMYT, the real impact of the effectiveness of the new techniques will come when seeds of better crops are in the hands of the farmers who need them most.

Source: CIMMYT E-News, vol 4 no. 5, May 2007 via
1 June 2007

Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz

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1.28  Modified mushrooms may yield human drugs

Mushrooms might serve as biofactories for the production of various beneficial human drugs, according to plant pathologists who have inserted new genes into mushrooms.

"There has always been a recognized potential of the mushroom as being a choice platform for the mass production of commercially valuable proteins," said Charles Peter Romaine, who holds the John B. Swayne Chair in spawn science and professor of plant pathology at Penn State. "Mushrooms could make the ideal vehicle for the manufacture of biopharmaceuticals to treat a broad array of human illnesses. But nobody has been able to come up with a feasible way of doing that."

Dr. Romaine and his colleague, Xi Chen, then a post-doctoral scholar at Penn State and now a Syngenta Biotechnology Inc. research scientist, have developed a technique to genetically modify Agaricus bisporus -- the button variety of mushroom, which is the predominant edible species worldwide. One application of their technology is the use of transgenic mushrooms as factories for producing therapeutic proteins, such as vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and hormones like insulin, or commercial enzymes, such as cellulase for biofuels.

"Right now medical treatment exists for about 500 diseases and genetic disorders, but thanks to the human genome project, before long, new drugs will be available for thousands of other diseases," Dr. Romaine said. "We need a new way of mass-producing protein-based drugs, which is economical, safe, and fast. We believe mushrooms are going to be the platform of the future."

To create transgenic mushrooms, researchers attached a gene that confers resistance to hygromycin, an antibiotic, to circular pieces of bacterial DNA called plasmids, which have the ability to multiply within a bacterium known as Agrobacterium.

The hygromycin resistance gene is a marker gene to help sort out the transgenic mushroom cells from the non-transgenic cells, Dr. Romaine explained. "What we are doing is taking a gene, as for example a drug gene, that is not part of the mushroom, and camouflaging it with regulatory elements from a mushroom gene. We then patch these genetic elements in the plasmid and insert it back into the bacterium," he added.

The researchers then snipped small pieces off the mushroom's gill tissue and added it to a flask containing the altered bacterium.

Over the course of several days, as the bacterium goes through its lifecycle, it transfers a portion of its plasmid out of its cell right into the mushroom cell, and integrates the introduced gene into the chromosome of the mushroom.

Next, the researchers exposed the mushroom cells to hygromycin. The antibiotic kills all the normal cells, separating out those that have been genetically altered for resistance.

The test demonstrates that if a second gene, insulin for example, were to be patched in the plasmid, that gene would be expressed as well.

"There is a high probability that if the mushroom cell has the hygromycin resistance gene, it will also have the partner gene," Dr. Romaine added.

The degree of gene expression ultimately depends on where exactly the imported gene lands in the mushroom chromosome, among a complexity of other factors, but researchers point out that the process of producing biopharmaceuticals is potentially faster and cheaper with mushrooms than conventional technologies. Unlike plants that have long growth cycles, "with mushrooms, we can use commercial technology to convert the vegetative tissue from mushroom strains stored in the freezer into vegetative seed. A crop from which drugs may be extracted could be ready in weeks," Dr. Romaine said. A mushroom-based biofactory also would not require expensive infrastructure set up by major drug companies, he added.
The technology is patented by Penn State and Agarigen, Inc. has an exclusive license to develop the technology. Dr. Romaine is a co-founder of the company.

Contact: Amitabh Avasthi
Penn State

22 June 2007

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1.29  Update 5-2007 of FAO-BiotechNews

(Selected articles by the Editor, Plant Breeding News)

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) E-mail address: FAO website FAO Biotechnology website (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish)

1) Marker-assisted selection in crops, livestock, forestry and fish The FAO Working Group on Biotechnology has just published "Marker-assisted selection: Current status and future perspectives in crops, livestock, forestry and fish", edited by E.P. Guimarces, J. Ruane, B.D. Scherf, A. Sonnino and J.D. Dargie. (see PUBLICATIONS section for further details).

2) Launch of FAO-BiotechNews-Cn FAO is happy to announce the launching of FAO-BiotechNews-Cn, an e-mail newsletter providing updates of news and event items in Chinese that are relevant to applications of biotechnology in food and agriculture in developing countries. It is the Chinese version of the English-language newsletter FAO-BiotechNews. The main focus of its news and event items is on the activities of FAO, of other United Nations (UN) agencies/bodies and of the 15 research centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), in addition to activities of a few major non-UN inter-governmental organizations. See more details about FAO-BiotechNews-Cn at (in Chinese). To subscribe, send an e-mail to with the subject blank and the following one-line text message: subscribe FAO-BiotechNews-Cn-L

3) Genomics and genetic resources As part of its Background Study Paper series (number 34), the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has just published "Genomics and genetic resources for food and agriculture" by R. Fears. The 51-page study is organised into five main sections: introduction to the role of the biosciences in the use of genetic resources; current status of genomics and functional genomics; capitalising on advances in genomics; trends in investment; and facing the challenges to achieve food security and sustainable development. See or contact for more information.

4) Transgene flow and genetic resources As part of its Background Study Paper series (number 35), the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has just published "A typology of the effects of (trans)gene flow on the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources" by J.A. Heinemann. The 100-page paper is organised into 5 chapters: gene flow - what is it?; possible effects of (trans)gene flow on agriculture, plant and animal biodiversity and human and animal health; legal, social and economic effects of gene flow; managing gene flow; and is co-existence sustainable?. See or contact for more information.

5) Agricultural microbial genetic resources - Technical issues A paper prepared for the Genetic Resources Policy Committee of the CGIAR, entitled "Technical issues relating to agricultural microbial genetic resources (AMiGRs), including their characteristics, utilization, preservation and distribution" was distributed as a draft information paper to the 11th Regular Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, held at FAO Headquarters, Rome on 11-15 June 2007. Examples of some agricultural microbial genetic resources (AMiGRs, defined as "microbes that assist the production of plants or animals, either directly or indirectly, in agricultural settings") described in the paper include root nodule bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi, rumen microbes, biocontrol agents and AMiGRs facilitating DNA or gene transfer. See the 46-page paper, based on an information document prepared by J.G. Howieson, at or contact for more information.

7) Codex Committee on Food Labelling - 35th session report The report of the 35th Session of the Codex Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL), that took place from 30 April to 4 May 2007 in Ottawa, Canada, is now available. Agenda Item 5, on "Labelling of foods and food ingredients obtained through certain techniques of genetic modification / genetic engineering", is covered in paragraphs 98-123 of the report. See (491 KB) or contact for further information. For some background on the CCFL's work in this area, see (in English, French and Spanish).

8) Codex Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology - 7th Session On 24-28 September 2007, the 7th Session of the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology takes place in Chiba, Japan. The provisional agenda, with links to relevant documents, is now available. See (in English, French and Spanish) or contact for further information. For more on this Task Force, including reports of its previous six sessions, see (in English, French and Spanish).

9) FAO Biotechnology Glossary - Serbian translation The FAO Glossary of Biotechnology for Food and Agriculture has now been translated into Serbian (published by Partenon, Belgrade). The 351-page book provides in English the same terms and definitions contained in the original glossary as well as their Serbian translation. The glossary provides consolidated, comprehensive and accessible definitions of over 3,000 terms and acronyms that are used regularly in biotechnology, including genetic engineering, and closely allied fields. The original English version of the glossary was written by A. Zaid, H.G. Hughes, E. Porceddu and F. Nicholas and the Serbian translation was carried out by M. Plavsic, T. Cobic and S. Stojanovic, with Z. Stojanovic as the technical secretary and M. Kraljevic-Balalic as the reviewer. The publication (3 MB) can be downloaded from the multi-lingual biotechnology glossary website, Contact for more information.

11) Reporting on agricultural biotechnologies The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) have just published "Genes are gems: Reporting agri-biotechnology", by R.L Navarro, S.G. Warrier and C.C Maslog. The 139-page book has been prepared for science communicators who want to report on agricultural biotechnology. It synthesises the presentations, discussions and outputs from a series of seminar-workshops on agri-biotechnology for the mass media organised by ICRISAT in Asia and West Africa between 2004 and 2006, in cooperation with ISAAA and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). See or contact for more information.

12) Labelling of GM foods in India As part of its IFPRI Discussion Papers series, the International Food Policy Research Institute has recently published "The economics of GM food labels: An evaluation of mandatory labeling proposals in India" by S. Bansal and B. Ramaswami. The 35-page paper evaluates the optimal regulatory approach to labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods. See or contact for more information. IFPRI Discussion Papers contain preliminary material and research results and are circulated to stimulate discussion and critical comment. *** EVENTS *** ( 22-26 October 2007, Viqa del Mar, Chile. VI Encuentro Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Biotecnologma Agropecuaria (REDBIO 2007). This 6th Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on Agricultural Biotechnology is organised by the Foundation for Agrarian Innovation, REDBIO and FAO. The main topics of the meeting include genomics, abiotic/biotic stress, plant breeding, bio-business, gene flow, bioethics and intellectual property. See (in English and Spanish) or contact for more information. REDBIO is the Technical Co-operation Network on Plant Biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean, based at the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean in Santiago, Chile. ***************************
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. Items from the newsletter may be reproduced, provided that the source (FAO-BiotechNews, is given. 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) 6. To join FAO-BiotechNews-Cn (the Chinese language version of FAO-BiotechNews), do the same as for FAO-BiotechNews-Fr except the message should read: subscribe FAO-BiotechNews-Cn-L More information on FAO-BiotechNews-Cn is available at (in Chinese) Copyright FAO 2007

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2.01  Proceedings of the Gamma Field Symposia of the Institute of Radiation Breeding are available online

"Institute of Radiation Breeding was established in 1960 and the activities are focused on the development of new strains of seed-propagated, vegetatively-propagated and woody crops through mutation by gamma ray irradiation in the Gamma Field, the Gamma Greenhouse and the Gamma Room in Japan.  Gamma Field Symposium, a symposium for mutation breeding, has been held every year since 1962.  We invited leading scientists with expertise in the area as lecturers who would provide information on a wide variety of related topics.  After the symposium, a booklet of proceedings "Gamma Field Symposia" was published in English.

  Now, vol. 44 "Genome and Post-genome Researches in Crops and Mutation" of the Gamma Field Symposia (Vol. 1 - 44) are newly placed on the Website of National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (

  This issue includes a Keynote lecture, "Impact of the complete rice genome sequence information on future basic and applied plant science research" by T. Sasaki, "Genome and post-genome researches in Lotus japonica" by M. Kawaguchi, "Genome analysis and breeding in Citrus" by M. Omura, "Functional genomics based on the integration of metabolomics with transcriptomics" by M. Yokota et al., "Advanced utilization of biological information" by Y. Yamazaki, "Natural variation and the study for enhancing genetic diversity in rice" by S. Fukuoka et al., "Reverse genetics for functional genomics of rice" by A. Miyao, "Development and utilization of genome information in vegetable crops" by H. Fukuoka, and "Use of gamma-ray-induced mutations in the genome era in rice" by M. Kusaba".

Contribued by Hitoshi Nakagawa
Director, Institute of Radiation Breeding
National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences
P.O. Box 3, Kami-Murata, Hitachi-Ohmiya,
Ibaraki, 319-2293 JAPAN

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2.02  Marker-assisted selection: Current status and future perspectives in crops, livestock, forestry and fish

The FAO Working Group on Biotechnology has just published "Marker-assisted selection: Current status and future perspectives in crops, livestock, forestry and fish", edited by E.P. Guimarães, J. Ruane, B.D. Scherf, A. Sonnino and J.D. Dargie. The 494-page book is organised into six sections, with an introduction to marker-assisted selection (MAS) in Section I, a series of case studies of MAS in crops, livestock, forestry and fish in Sections II to V respectively while Section VI is devoted to a selection of non-technical issues relevant to applications of MAS in developing countries, such as national research capacities and international partnerships, economic considerations, the impacts of intellectual property rights, and policy considerations.

The titles and authors of the 7 chapters with case studies of MAS in crops are as follows:

- Molecular markers for use in plant molecular breeding and germplasm
evaluation, by Jeremy D. Edwards and Susan R. McCouch
- Marker-assisted selection in wheat: evolution, not revolution, by Robert Koebner and Richard Summers
- Marker-assisted selection for improving quantitative traits of forage crops, by Oene Dolstra, Christel Denneboom, Ab L.F. de Vos and E.N. van Loo
- Targeted introgression of cotton fibre quality quantitative trait loci using molecular markers, by Jean-Marc Lacape, Trung-Bieu Nguyen, Bernard Hau and Marc Giband
- Marker-assisted selection in common beans and cassava, by Mathew W. Blair, Martin A. Fregene, Steve E. Beebe and Hernán Ceballos
- Marker-assisted selection in maize: current status, potential, limitations and perspectives from the private and public sectors, by Michel Ragot and Michael Lee
- Molecular marker-assisted selection for resistance to pathogens in tomato, by Amalia Barone and Luigi Frusciante

See or contact to request a copy, providing your full postal address.

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2.03  EMBRAPA publishes book on plant genetic resources (IN PORTUGUESE)

Brasília, Brasil
Publicação reúne 56 cientistas e congrega informações resultantes de mais de 30 anos de pesquisas desenvolvidas no Brasil

A Embrapa Recursos Genéticos e Biotecnologia e a Embrapa Informação Tecnológica, duas das 41 unidades da Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária - Embrapa, estão lançando o livro “Recursos Genéticos Vegetais”, que tem como editor técnico o pesquisador Luciano Lourenço Nass. O livro reúne artigos de 56 pesquisadores de várias instituições brasileiras, incluindo outras unidades da Embrapa, universidades, institutos de pesquisa, fundações e empresas públicas e privadas sobre assuntos relacionados à importância da conservação e uso dos recursos genéticos vegetais para os programas de melhoramento genético e desenvolvimento de variedades mais produtivas para a agricultura e alimentação.

Recursos genéticos podem ser entendidos como “materiais genéticos que contêm elementos funcionais de hereditariedade, de valor real ou potencial para a humanidade”. O domínio e a preservação desses recursos são fundamentais para o desenvolvimento de variedades vegetais com características adequadas aos diferentes mercados, além de serem elementos importantes para a soberania e segurança alimentar das nações. A sua importância no cenário internacional levou ao estabelecimento de vários tratados, como: a Convenção da Diversidade Biológica, em 1992, e o Tratado Internacional de Recursos Fitogenéticos, em 2001, dos quais o Brasil é signatário.

A Embrapa investe na conservação de recursos genéticos vegetais desde a sua criação na década de 70. O conhecimento desses recursos é fundamental para os programas de melhoramento genético, pois neles se encontra a base genética para o desenvolvimento de variedades mais produtivas e adaptadas às condições brasileiras, seja por melhoramento genético clássico, a partir de cruzamentos, ou de técnicas de engenharia genética. Por isso, são de grande valor para a pesquisa agropecuária e o agronegócio brasileiro.

Ao longo de mais de 30 anos de pesquisas desenvolvidas nessa área, muita informação foi adquirida nas instituições de pesquisa e universidades públicas e privadas no Brasil e, por isso, o maior objetivo do livro, como explica o editor técnico Luciano Nass: “foi reunir esses dados e disponibilizá-los aos cientistas, professores e estudantes, especialmente porque essa é uma área extremamente carente de informações em nosso país”.

Segundo o Chefe-Geral da Embrapa Recursos Genéticos e Biotecnologia, José Manuel Cabral, “a obra sintetiza grande parte da experiência acumulada ao longo de mais de 30 anos de trabalhos com recursos genéticos vegetais”. Em seus 25 capítulos, apresenta informações sobre: a história dos recursos genéticos vegetais; os esforços realizados para o enriquecimento das coleções de germoplasma; além de técnicas de coleta, caracterização e conservação in situ (no local de origem das espécies vegetais) e ex situ (fora de seu habitat, em bancos de germoplasma, por exemplo).

O livro traz ainda dados sobre o modelo de gestão da informação dos bancos genéticos; acesso a recursos genéticos e outros relacionados à proteção da propriedade intelectual sobre a pesquisa, o desenvolvimento e a utilização desses materiais para o agronegócio brasileiro. Por isso, de acordo com Cabral será “uma obra referencial para estudantes, professores, pesquisadores e para o público em geral que, a partir de agora, poderão aprofundar os estudos e melhorar a compreensão acerca dos recursos genéticos vegetais”.

Para Ernesto Paterniani, da Escola Superior de Agricultura “Luiz de Queiroz” (ESALQ/USP), o livro “Recursos Genéticos Vegetais” atende ao anseio de pesquisadores de plantas em geral que agora podem contar com textos de fácil compreensão contendo referências técnico-científicas aplicáveis aos recursos genéticos. “A obra vai suprir a carência de publicações sobre esse tema no Brasil”, completa.

O livro “Recursos Genéticos Vegetais” pode ser adquirido na Livraria Virtual da Embrapa, pelo endereço:

Fernanda Diniz, Jornalista
Embrapa Recursos Genéticos e Biotecnologia

22 June 2007

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3.01  USDA/ERS Data set: Plant Breeding Research and Development

Washington, DC
Based on a 1994 national plant breeding study conducted by Dr. Ken Frey of Iowa State University, this data product provides the level of plant breeding effort (in terms of staff years and estimated expenditures) in the U.S. by academia and the public and private sector. The study is a comprehensive accounting of national plant breeding efforts, and provides the only national benchmark to compare current and/or future efforts and developments in this critically important area of research. In an effort to compare and update the information in the 1994 study, a follow-up study was done to describe U.S. plant breeding investment in 2001.

Plant breeding activity has significantly changed since the 1970s. In the U.S. and elsewhere, laws have been written and refined to protect through patenting intellectual property embodied in biological material. Patent protection has led to more formal protocols for interactions among plant breeders employed in both the public and private sectors. Research in molecular biology has resulted in biotechnology techniques that expand the array of genes available in plant breeding programs and make plant breeding a more precise science.

These factors have resulted in a vast increase in plant breeding by private companies. According to a 1994 national survey, 2,241 scientist years (SYs) were devoted to plant breeding research and development in U.S. public and private sectors that year­1,499 SYs in private companies, 529 in state and territorial agricultural experiment stations (SAES), and 213 associated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During 1990-94, SAES experienced a net loss of 12.5 plant breeding SYs, while private industry showed a net growth of 160 SYs.

Full document:

Source: Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture via
22 June 2007

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3.02  New online resource fromSciDev.Net: agri-biotech in sub-Saharan Africa

New online resource: Agri-biotech in sub-Saharan Africa

Read SciDev.Net's latest spotlight on the current status and future prospects for agricultural biotechnology in sub-Saharan Africa. The collection includes a review of the changing attitudes to biotechnology in the region and facts and figures outlining existing initiatives.

Changing attitudes to biotechnology
Facts and figures
Key stakeholders also debate controversial issues including:
how best to achieve unified regulation in the region
what hopes there are for establishing a biosafety law in Kenya
whether Africa is ready for pharmaceutical crops
The spotlight also introduces a selection of the Internet's most relevant and useful documents and websites.
For more information on GM and non-GM advances in agricultural biotechnology visit our agri-biotech dossier:

12 June 2007

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4.01  Request for assistance in diallel analysis

I am a plant breeding Ph.D. Student. I am looking for guidance with software for Diallel Analysis (Griffings, Hayman & Jinks Analysis) and Diallel data biplot  I have 14 * 14 Diallel Design in Corn (Zea mays). I have 14 parents, 91 F1, no reciprocal crosses. I have evaluated my materials in RCB design with 3 replication.  Please contact me if you have programs available.

Also I have a SAS-macro  for  HAYMAN  Diallel  analysis  but  I  dont  know  how  can  I use from this program, i.e. I don’t know where I should insert my data. If you can, please guide me. I can send you a copy of this macro in MS Word format.

Your sincerely Khodadad Mostafavi

14 June 2007

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5.01  Postdoc Scientist at The Univ. of California in Salinas: Verticillium wilt resistance in lettuce

The Univ. of California in Salinas, CA has an opening for a postdoctoral scientist to develop and/or use modern approaches to research Verticillium wilt resistance in lettuce. A Ph.D. in Plant Breeding, Genetics, Molecular Biology, or a closely related field is required. Knowledge of contemporary approaches to gene identification, mapping, sequencing, experimental design, and statistical analyses are required. The candidate must demonstrate proficiency of oral and written English. Submit a letter of application, official transcripts, 3 reference letters, and cv to Dr. Ryan J. Hayes, Agricultural Research Station,1636 E. Alisal St. Salinas, CA 93960. For more information, contact Dr. Krishna V. Subbarao ( or Dr. Ryan J. Hayes (

Contributed by Ryan Hayes

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5.02  Plant Breeder positions available at the African Centre for Crop Improvement

Legume Breeder (1 post) and African Cereals Breeder (1 post)

Associate Professor/Senior Lecturer/Lecturer
(5 year fixed-term appointment)

African Centre for Crop Improvement
School of Biochemistry, Genetics, Microbiology and Plant Pathology
Faculty of Science and Agriculture
(Pietermaritzburg Campus)
Reference no: SA32/2007

The African Centre for Crop Improvement (ACCI) is an externally funded centre, training plant breeders at the PhD level, from 15 African countries. Students undertake two years of academic study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, followed by three years of field research in their home countries, working in their national research programmes.  The students work on African food security crops.

The successful candidates will typically be plant breeders who have experience in Africa, conducting practical plant breeding on legumes or African cereals.  They will teach postgraduate modules in Plant Breeding and supervise students breeding either legumes or African cereals in their PhD research. The post will require visiting students in the field, requiring extensive travel in Africa. They will undertake independent research in breeding legumes or African cereals at the University farm.

Minimum Requirements:
For all levels:
A PhD or equivalent degree in an appropriate field of plant breeding;
-Experience of supervision of postgraduate students or mentoring of junior staff;
-Experience in breeding either legumes or African cereals.

Associate Professor:
Five years work experience at a tertiary institution(s) OR five years in an appropriate industry(ies) OR  a research institute(s);
-Independent research competence as demonstrated by international peer-reviewed publications, with a sustained publication record in the field of plant breeding;
-Successful supervision of masters’ and doctoral students.

Senior Lecturer:
Evidence of current research activity and a record of several publications in the field of plant breeding.

Evidence of current research activity and publication in the field of plant breeding (published or in press).

A current rating by the National Research Foundation for South African candidates;
-Evidence of sourcing and management of research funding.
-Experience of working in Africa

Applicants at all levels will be considered, and the most appropriate candidate will be chosen for each of the two posts, at whatever level of appointment is most appropriate to their curriculum vitae.

For further information about the ACCI kindly contact the Director, Professor M.D. Laing, on +27 (0)33 260 5524, via e-mail at or visit the website at

The remuneration package offered includes benefits and will be dependent on the qualifications and/or experience of the successful applicant. The selection process will commence on …………..2007 and will continue until a suitable candidate is appointed or a decision is taken not to fill the post.

Applicants are required to submit a covering letter highlighting their experience in, and providing evidence for, each of the minimum requirements and advantages as listed above, together with a detailed CV including the names, full addresses, fax numbers and e-mail addresses of three referees, to Mrs. S. Baker, Human Resources Administration, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville, 3209, Fax. No. +27 (0)33 260 5356 or e-mail

All appointments will be in terms of the prevailing University Employment Equity Policy and the Employment Equity Plan of the faculty/division (available at ). The University reserves the right not to make an appointment or to stop the process at any stage to headhunt or re-advertise the post to meet its equity goals. Candidates who do not meet the minimum criteria will not be considered.
Contributed by Mark Laing
Director, African Centre for Crop Improvement
Professor and Chair of Plant Pathology
School of Biochemistry, Genetics, Microbiology and Plant Pathology
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Pietermaritzburg 3209
South Africa
Marker-assisted selection in crops, livestock, forestry and fish

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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.


10-12 September 2007. Convergence of Genomics and the Land Grant Mission: Emerging Trends in the Application of Genomics in Agricultural Research,
Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
Second Conference Announcement

You are invited to attend this national conference on agricultural genomics.  The conference will feature invited presentations by recognized leaders in agricultural genomics from across the Land Grant University landscape and beyond.  Topics focused on microbes, arthropods, plants, animals and ecological systems will be blended into sessions that address the following themes:

*Transition from Model to Agricultural Species
*Integrating Information Across Databases
*Translational Challenges and Successes

Speakers will address emerging trends, opportunities for interactions with other genomics research groups, collaborations with applied researchers, and priorities for the future address.  The meeting will conclude with a roundtable discussion and recommendations led by a distinguished panel. The conference is modeled after the Gordon Research conferences where all speakers are invited and the number of talks is limited to maximize interactions among participants. Poster presentations will be available to those interested.

This conference promises to be a rare opportunity to exchange scientific expertise and experiences among genomics researchers and stimulate new discussions with applied researchers, stakeholders, and decision makers who do not normally interact with the genomics community.  The goal of the conference is to promote synergisms across disciplines, commodities, and species.  A committee of recognized national leaders in molecular biology and genomics helped develop the program.

The final list of topics and speakers is now set (see the website below for details).  Registration and requests to submit poster presentations are now being accepted.  To learn more about the program, the organizing committee and other meeting logistics, go to the conference website at:

Contributed by Anne Marie Thro


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

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

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

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

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

*19-20 July 2007. Native Wildflower Seed Production Research Symposium
For information about this symposium hosted by the University of Florida on July 19-20, 2007 go to:  Topics to be addressed include: genetics, production practices, pollination, harvesting, conditioning, storage, and wild-collected seed.

*30 July – 24 August 2007. Wheat Chemistry and Quality Improvement, CIMMYT headquarters in Mexico. For more details visit: or contact Petr Kosina p.kosina@CGIAR.ORG

*12-14 August 2008. International symposium on induced mutations in higher plants, Vienna, Austria. Organised by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear or contact for more information.

*12 – 16 August 2007. The Potato Association of America 91st Annual Meeting, Shilo Inn Conference Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho. or contact:

*14 – 23 August 2007. Advanced Course in Modern Breeding Techniques. Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries in collaboration with the Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (GIPB), Ghent University, Belgium A course for students, scientists, industry, involved in breeding. REGISTRATION DEADLINE : JUNE 15, 2007

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

For additional information, contact
Dr. Edilberto D. Redoña
Course Coordinator, Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology Division
Dr. Noel P. Magor
Head, Training Center

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

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

* 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.

*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. Visit website:
Plant genetic resources and seeds Policies, conservation and use - Ethiopia, September 17 – October 12, 2007

*17 – 19 September 2007. First International Symposium on Chili Anthracnose, Convention Center, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea.

Contacts: Paul Gniffke, and Dae-Geun Oh,

*17-20  September 2007. Translational Seed Biology: From Model Systems to Crop Improvement Symposium, UC Davis.
An international symposium focusing on the transfer of knowledge of seed biology developed through studies of model systems to improve the agricultural and nutritional value of crops will be held on September 17-20, 2007 at UC Davis.  This exciting symposium will include more than 35 distinguished speakers.  For more information, including registration, go to: Seed Symposium

Please contact Sue at: for questions and comments.

*19-21 September 2007. New Approaches to Plant Breeding of Orphan Crops in Africa, Bern, Switzerland. Registration: until the end of April 2007 by email or fax to one of the organizers.
Dr. Zerihun Tadele
Prof. Dr. Cris Kuhlemeier

*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 - 12 October 2007. The 10th Triennial Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Cops - Africa Branch (ISTRC-AB) will take place from in Maputo, Mozambique. The theme will be “Root and Tuber Crops for Poverty Alleviation through Science and Technology for Sustainable Development."
Pre-registration is avilable until 30 April 2007, abstracts are due on 1 May 2007, and full papers must be submitted by 31 July 2007.
Download the announcement and application here.

*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 - 12 October, 2007. IV Baltic Genetical Congress, to be held in the Daugavpils University, Latvia. Sponsored by The Federation of Genetical Societies of the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the Latvian Society of Geneticists and Breeders and the Daugavpils University.

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

*15–19 October 2007. 10th International Plant Virus Epidemiology Symposium: Controlling Epidemics of Emerging and Established Plant Virus Diseases - The Way Forward, Hyderabad, India.Organized by: ICRISAT and International Society for Plant Pathology

*22-26 October 2007. VI LatinAmerican and Caribbean Meeting on Ag Biotechnology, REDBIO2007-CHILE, [VI Encuentro LatinaAmericano y del Caribe de Biotecnologia Agropecuaria], Vina del Mar, Chile. and

*26-30 November 2007. II International Vavilov Conference. Crop Genetic Resources in the 21st Century: Current Status, Problems and Prospects, to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia. (N.I. Vavilov’s 120th Anniversary). Organized by The Scientific Council of the N. I. Vavilov All-Russian Research Institute of Plant Industry (VIR)

* 27-31 October 2007. 8th African Crop Science Society Conference, El Minia, Egypt.
Sponsored by The African Crop Science Society (ACSS) and Minia University. (The deadline for registration was 30 April 2007). For more complete information visit http://www.acss2007org/.

*3-7 March 2008. International Symposium “Underutilized Plants for food, nutrition, income and sustainable development,” Arusha, Tanzania.

*21-24 July 2008. Cassava: meeting the challenges of the new millennium. First scientific meeting of the Global Cassava Partnership – GCP-I, Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, Ghent University, Belgium.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW PAST NEWSLETTERS ON THE WEB: Past issues of the Plant Breeding Newsletter are now available on the web. The address is:   Please note that you may have to copy and paste this address to your web browser, since the link can be corrupted in some e-mail applications. We will continue to improve the organization of archival issues of the newsletter. Readers who have suggestions about features they wish to see should contact the editor at

If you prefer to receive the newsletter as an MS Word attachment instead of an e-mail text, please write the editor at and request this option.

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

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