10 September 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  Farmers and researchers: Annan urges stronger links
1.02  New reports examine corn-ethanol-food price connections
1.03  World Bank boosts Ugandan agricultural research
1.04  World rice research centres unite for Africa
1.05  Definition of basmati rice to be expanded
1.06  Funding Plant Breeding in Australia
1.07  China establishes national soybean engineering research center
1.08  The genetic revolution continues at CIMMYT
1.09  New maize and wheat varieties to fight hunger in Kenya
1.10  Texas Agricultural Experiment Station breeders are fortifying wheat with consumers in mind
1.11  Studying grass for energy needs
1.12  Translational Seed Biology: From Model Systems to Crop Improvement
1.13  Plant Variety Protection for Southern Africa: Progress and Pitfalls
1.14  Biotech crops safe and pro-poor say FAO economists
1.15  Zambia adamant: no GM
1.16  Wheat relatives harbour supply of resistance genes
1.17  Today's white rice is mutation spread by early farmers
1.18  Pride and pragmatism sustain a giant Mexican maize
1.19  Researchers looking for flood-tolerant soybeans
1.20  Molecular markers used to breed for high quality rice varieties
1.21  Cornell University researchers clone aluminum-tolerance gene in sorghum, promising boost to crop yields in developing world
1.22  Scientists seek new ways to control potato pests
1.23  Breeding citrus rootstocks: promising hybrids in Brazil
1.24  Two key findings steer cucumber disease research
1.25  Challenges remain in reintroducing American chestnut
1.26  Same gene protects from one disease, opens door to another
1.27  Partial sequencing of the barley genome planned
1.28  Eco-tilling detects resistance
1.29  Scientists harvest answers from genome of grain fungus
1.30  Future crops may hinge on gene rescue
1.31  Grain-based foods could soon have highly targeted nutritional roles through advances in gene technology
1.32  High-lysine corn generated by endosperm-specific suppression of lysine catabolism using RNAi
1.33  DuPont scientists identify and silence plant gene that controls phytic acid
1.34  Circadian clock controls plant growth hormone
1.35  OSU wheat breeder’s genetic code-breaking means dollars to Oklahoma and region

2.01  Special issue of Euphytica "Challenges to International Wheat Breeding" available in journal web site

3.01  From gene to green
3.02  GCP–IGD Interactive Resource Centre and Helpdesk

4.01  Bioversity International Vavilov–Frankel Fellowships 2008
4.02  Call for proposals: GCP Genotyping Support Service
4.03  Global Crop Diversity Trust announces the opening of three new windows of funding

(None posted)





1.01  Farmers and researchers: Annan urges stronger links

Kimani Chege
[NAIROBI] Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday (16 July) urged African farmers to build stronger links with scientists and research institutions as part of their efforts to boost food production on the continent.

He also said that, whatever the potential future benefits of genetically modified (GM) crops, conventional seed breeding currently represented an important path towards securing a 'green revolution' in Africa, and thus of decreasing Africa's dependence on food aid.

Annan made his comments after a meeting with the Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki in Nairobi, Kenya, as the new chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an organisation focusing on alleviating poverty and hunger in Africa.

"As we speak, many people in Africa are receiving food donations. This is however not sustainable," he said. "We need to get the right seeds into [the farmers] hands by strengthening research partnerships with local universities and other institutions."

Having recently toured Kenya, meeting some of Kenya's farmers and scientists, Annan announced that the alliance will be based in Nairobi, Kenya. President Kibaki ensured his country's support for the alliance and for the research community.

Annan announced that over the next four years the AGRA initiative will focus on developing hardier seeds, improving soil health and use of fertilizers, improving water management, and strengthening agricultural markets. The alliance will put special emphasis on problems specific to small-scale farmers.

He also said AGRA programmes will not involve GM seeds, but will instead focus on conventional seed breeding.

"Science is evolving. We do not know what science will offer us in ten or twenty years. However, our programmes will not involve GM seeds," he said.

Annan said science and technology are becoming increasingly important to small-scale farmers.

"The cell phone revolution has come to rural Africa, and farmers can now use their cell phones to get real-time market information," Annan said, referring to the Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange program.

"These are just a few of the many innovations bringing the benefits of technology and science to small-scale farmers so that they can improve their farm productivity and incomes and end the poverty that has become so entrenched in rural Africa," said Annan.

Annan said for Africa to achieve a green revolution as experienced in Asia in the 1960s, governments must provide policies that can support growth, but must be careful of obstructing progress.

Insufficient infrastructure, such as roads, poor storage facilities and weak market structures must also be addressed, he said.

Related links:
Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

17 July 2007

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1.02  New reports examine corn-ethanol-food price connections

St. Louis, Missouri
A trio of new studies is shattering the myths about the relationship between the price of corn, ethanol production and food prices. The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) sees the studies as proof that agriculture can continue to meet the nation’s growing demand for both food and fuel.

Taken together, the reports, from the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Houston Biofuels Consultants LLC, show that higher corn prices have little effect on either food or fuel prices.

NCGA did not participate in or provide funding for any of the studies.

“The CARD report repeats the conclusions it had reached in its study earlier this year,” said NCGA Vice President of Public Policy Jon Doggett. “However, some people misinterpreted that study’s findings, because it included a ‘worst-case scenario.’ This report is very clear – a 30 percent increase in corn prices would increase consumer food prices by only about 1.1 percent.”

The CFA study includes a stinging criticism of the oil industry for failing to use ethanol as a way to increase supplies of refined gasoline. The study notes increased use of ethanol could actually help reduce food price increases. “High energy prices cause higher food prices,” says CFA director of research Marc Cooper. “(T)he historic corn-crude price relationship will cushion the impact that ethanol production has on food prices.”

The report also said, “Based on the historical relationship between crude [oil] prices and corn prices, current prices for corn are lower than one would predict,”.

Houston Biofuels Consultants comes to much the same conclusion. “Historically, ethanol prices haven’t tracked corn prices,” it notes in the July issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine.
- Click here to read the CARD report.
- Click here to read the Consumers Federation of America Report.
- Click here to read the Houston Biofuels study in Ethanol Producer Magazine.

August 8, 2007

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1.03  World Bank boosts Ugandan agricultural research

Agricultural research in Uganda has received a US$12 million boost from the World Bank.

The bank's board of directors approved the loan for Uganda's Second Agricultural Research and Training Project (ARTP II) this month (2 August).

The International Development Association, the arm of the World Bank that helps the world's poorest countries by providing long-term, interest-free loans, is financing the scheme.

ARTP II is part of the World Bank's long-term assistance programme to agricultural research in Uganda. Its objectives are to generate new knowledge, strategies and technologies in support of the Ugandan government's Plan for the Modernisation of Agriculture.

The IDA financing, according to Madhur Gautam, ARTP II's task team leader, will help fund a stream of innovations to improve agricultural productivity and better utilise crop, livestock, fisheries and forestry resources for enhanced food security, improved livelihoods and increased income for Uganda's smallholder farmers.

"The specific focus is on building the capacity of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) to conduct high quality research," Taqi Sharif, from the World Bank's Agriculture and Rural Development Department, told SciDev.Net. The funding will be used for updating the NARO research facilities and for training staff to conduct quality and high impact research with direct impacts at the farm level, he said.

The project was initially financed with a US$26 million loan in 1999 and was scheduled to finish by 30 June 2007. But the new funding will now finance an additional two-year period.

"Raising agricultural productivity is a key area for the [Ugandan] government's Poverty Eradication Action Plan and a flagship operational area for the bank's Africa Action Plan," said John McIntire, the World Bank's country director for Tanzania and Uganda, in a press release.

"The importance of agricultural productivity for broad-based economic growth cannot be overemphasised."

Ochieng' Ogodo

15 August 2007

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1.04  World rice research centres unite for Africa

[LILONGWE] Sub-Saharan Africa could boost its rice production with the announcement of increased collaboration between three of the world's leading international rice research institutes.

The centres ­ the Africa Rice Center (WARDA) based in Benin, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) based in Colombia and the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) ­ announced their commitment to bring the best of science and experience in Africa, Latin America and Asia to address the major challenges faced by Africa's rice growers.

Africa currently imports about 40 per cent of its rice to satisfy local demand. With rice prices expected to double in the next couple years due to shrinking rice reserves, increasing African rice production is essential.

"By harmonising our activities we can cover the whole continent, have critical mass [of rice scientists], address most of the problems facing rice [in Africa], and at the end of the day we can have a very high impact," said Papa Abdoulaye Seck, WARDA's director general, in a press release.

"Some of the agro-ecologies in Asia, Latin America and Africa are similar and rice farmers in developing countries face similar challenges. Therefore, a successful programmatic alignment where the comparative advantages of these centres are combined can have a large-scale impact in Africa," Shellemiah Keya, director general for research at WARDA, told SciDev.Net. 

The centres have proposed creating an umbrella consortium ­ the sub-Saharan Africa Rice Consortium (SARC) ­ to bring together already existing research networks in Africa and include countries not covered by these networks.

SARC will address high priority issues for rice research and development in Africa, such as improving rice varieties and farmers' access to them, increasing the number of rice scientists in the region and improving collaboration.

The director generals of WARDA, CIAT and IRRI issued a joint statement saying that the initiative creates a united front for rice research and a way of channelling technology and information from international research to countries and farmers in the region.

Charles Mkoka

Source: SciDev.Net
9 August 2007

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1.05  Definition of basmati rice to be expanded

New Delhi, India
Lok Sabha

The Indian Government proposes to expand the definition of basmati.

In the proposed definition of the evolved basmati, the bar of having one of the two parents from among the traditional basmati varieties has been removed. Instead, it expands the definition by including in the family history (genealogy), a Basmati variety (Traditional or evolved) notified under Seed Act 1966, to pass the “basmati quality seeds” into the new evolved varieties.

Thus, it seeks to declare all varieties of Basmati Rice notified as Basmati Rice under the Seeds Act, 1966 (54 of 1966) and any future variety notified as Basmati under the same Act are construed as Basmati Rice.

The proposed revised definition will facilitate the development of new Basmati varieties and will promote the trade. This proposal has been sent to the Ministry of commerce for consideration.

This information was given by Shri Kanti Lal Bhuria, Minister of State for Agriculture in written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha today.


5 September 2007

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1.06  Funding Plant Breeding in Australia

SeedQuest Forum)

A Review of End Point Royalties and Future Funding Requirements

Presentation made by Donald J. Coles, Managing Director, Valley Seeds Pty Ltd., Australia at the Summer Meeting of the Canadian Seed Trade Association in Ottawa, Canada – July 2007

The process of funding plant breeding in Australia has undergone great change over the past 25 years.  The impact of a change in public policy where state governments have directed funds towards environmental, social and post farm gate issues and away from applied plant breeding has been significant.  This paper explores the development of alternative funding arrangements for plant breeding of major crop species and looks at factors affecting various stakeholders in the value chain as a result of these changes. 

End Point Royalties have been introduced as a potential alternative source of funding for plant breeding. All participants in the supply chain are evaluating its effectiveness and proposing changes to improve efficiency and effectiveness.  These issues are also raised along with the problems that they aim to overcome.

Advances in plant breeding technology and associated intellectual property frameworks have made plant breeding a new and potentially lucrative activity.  A gradual withdrawal of government and institutional support for this activity has created an unstable environment in an industry that needs long term funding stability.  The concepts of “market failure” (Grey 2003) and “public good” (Lindner 2004) investment have been used as reasons to slow the pace of change.

Some breeding organisations have embraced change and developed and promoted alternative forms of funding rather than wait for change to be forced upon them.  It is these dynamic organisations that have proven to be successful to date.  The grower levy manager and federal government agency Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) has been willing to stand in and take control of the agenda in many of the critical areas of applied breeding and breeding infrastructure. Coincidently an expansion of grain production has increased levy receipts and supported the interventionist plant breeding policies of GRDC.

Private breeders as represented by the Australian Seed Federation – Plant Breeders & Proprietary Marketers Group, have introduced and promoted the concept of End Point Royalties (EPR’s) as a potential method of supporting a shift towards private breeding.  The practice and implementation of EPR’s, however has not been without its problems.  Despite this, a chorus of support emanates from all segments of the supply chain and this is leading to shared and supported changes to make the system more efficient and affective. 

See full article at

July 2007

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1.07  China establishes national soybean engineering research center

China on Wednesday officially established a national soybean engineering research center in the northeastern province of Jilin in a move to promote its soybean technology.

The center, located in the Jilin Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS) based in Changchun, capital of Jilin, began construction in March 2005 with an investment of 20 million yuan (US$2.66 million).

Yue Derong, president of JAAS, said the center will focus on hybrid soybean research and development.

The center has currently a staff of 82 people, including 51 researchers. It aims to breed more than 20 species of hybrid and high-productive soybean by 2009.

Experts say the center will contribute to raising the production of soybean in China and enhancing its competitiveness in world market.

Source: Xinhua via
23 August 2007

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1.08  The genetic revolution continues at CIMMYT

Gift from DuPont helps CIMMYT scientists look for genes in wheat and maize, and gives breeders an affordable tool to help select the best

El Batán, Mexico
A quiet revolution is taking place in CIMMYT’s biotechnology labs. The team has just received a new generation of genotyping machines. These semi-automated work-horses will make it much easier to determine whether breeding lines contain specific useful genes. It is hoped that this will help maize and wheat breeders­through a process known as marker-assisted selection (MAS)­to make breeding more effective and get crop varieties with valuable traits to poor farmers more quickly.

Traditionally, the only way to find out whether the offspring from a particular cross have inherited useful characteristics, such as drought tolerance, disease resistance, or grain quality, has been to grow them in the field and evaluate the adult plants. MAS can speed up the breeding process, since it makes it possible to track the presence of desired genes in every generation. This does not bypass the need for field evaluation, but can greatly improve the efficiency of the process. “Field screening takes time, space, and resources, and our capacity is limited,” explains CIMMYT maize breeder Gary Atlin, “but with MAS we could use resources more effectively, zeroing in on the best lines to test in the field and filtering out those that haven’t inherited the characteristics we need.”

When researchers want to find out whether a particular line of wheat or maize has the useful version of a gene (for example, disease resistance rather than disease susceptibility), they use nearby, identifiable sections of DNA known as markers, labeled with a fluorescent dye. Different versions of markers and genes are called alleles. DNA that is close together on the chromosome tends to stay together over generations, so a specific allele of a marker will be routinely inherited alongside the desired allele of a nearby gene. Using the new capillary electrophoresis genotyping machines, the sample is forced along a narrow capillary tube under the influence of an electric current. A laser at the end of the tube detects the different alleles of the fluorescent markers, indicating to the scientist whether the sample contains the allele they want.

The two ABI 3700 machines have been generously donated to CIMMYT by DuPont through its Pioneer Hi-Bred seed business, reflecting a fruitful collaborative relationship of more than a decade’s standing. Until now, CIMMYT has run most of its marker-assisted selection work on manual, gel-based electrophoresis apparatuses. In addition, analyses of genetic relationships between different wheat or maize lines have been run on older ABI genotyping machines, including two based on the previous, much slower generation of gel-based machines. The new machines can handle many more samples­96 each at a time­but it’s the savings in hands-on time that makes the real difference. “There’s no comparison,” says Marilyn Warburton, Head of CIMMYT’s Applied Biotechnology Center. “It will take us ten minutes to load one of these new machines, whereas it takes about four hours to make and load a manual electrophoresis gel.”

As well as being much quicker and less labor-intensive, capillary electrophoresis makes it possible to test for more than one marker and run more than one sample at once in each tube. By using different colors of fluorescent dye for each sample, markers for each can be distinguished, like teams of runners wearing different-colored jerseys. For maximum efficiency, scientists can also set up groups of samples to run at slightly different times, like runners set off in a staggered start. CIMMYT will even be able to develop a new type of marker, known as SNPs, which allow numerous traits to be tested simultaneously, providing more information per sample.

All of this means that the new machines have a much higher throughput capacity, and can process many more samples for the same labor input, drastically reducing the per-sample cost­currently the major constraint on use of MAS. “If MAS were significantly cheaper, I would certainly use it in maize breeding,” says Atlin. “Effectively, it lets you quickly transfer the genes you want into improved varieties. If you’re doing a backcross between a donor with a desired trait and an improved parent with good agronomic performance, you’re trying to select for one characteristic from the donor, but against all its other genes. With a number of markers, MAS makes it possible to determine exactly which progeny combine the desired gene from the donor with the good genes from the other parent. You can get results in two generations, compared to four or five normally.”

The challenge for MAS is finding genes with substantial effects, especially for complex traits such as drought tolerance in maize. Atlin believes such genes are still to be found. “In the past, donors with a single useful gene or trait but otherwise poor agronomic qualities were very difficult to use in breeding, as they introduced so much bad material. We can get rid of that useless material through MAS. That opens up the field to look for useful genes in a wider range of parents. And genotyping technology is getting cheaper and better at finding genes all the time.”

In wheat, the hunt for useful markers at CIMMYT is more advanced. “We’re working with new markers to select for nematode resistance, leaf and stem rust resistance, boron tolerance, Fusarium resistance, and grain quality,” says Susanne Dreisigacker, CIMMYT wheat molecular biologist. “Our current work is all gel-based, which means running tests sample by sample and marker by marker. Being able to run many samples at the same time will make a huge difference.”

Source: CIMMYT E-News, vol 4 no. 8, August 2007 via
3 September 2007

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1.09  New maize and wheat varieties to fight hunger in Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya
Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture recently launched high-yielding and drought and disease resistant varieties of maize, sugarcane and wheat to enhance the country’s food security. The seeds, developed by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) are being marketed by 53 seed companies in Kenya, as well as in Uganda, Tanzania, Congo and Sudan.

Poor rains in parts of pastoral and agricultural marginal areas could precipitate food shortage this year and Agriculture Minister, Kipruto Kirwa, urged the farmers to use the new seed varieties if the country is to improve its strategic food reserve. However, because of the exorbitant prices of the new varieties, many small scale farmers in Kenya still rely on their own traditional seeds. Kirwa encouraged the seed distributors to lower their prices and expand their limited investment retail networks. Sufficient food supply for Kenya can only be attained through a joint effort of the government and private companies.

Source: CropBiotech Update
31 August 2007

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1.10  Texas Agricultural Experiment Station breeders are fortifying wheat with consumers in mind

Amarillo, Texas
Wheat breeders are working to put a a "little muscle" into bread, in addition to helping producers get better yields, said a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station researcher.

Bread producers need stronger gluten flours, said Dr. Jackie Rudd, Experiment Station state wheat breeder in Amarillo. Gluten is the protein in wheat that allows bread to expand and hold the shape.

At a meeting of the Wheat Quality Council, Hayden Wands, director of procurement for Sara Lee Corp. said flours with a stronger gluten are needed for breads to ensure they will not squash during stacking on the grocery shelves, Rudd said.
Wands also talked about the many new bread products the company offers with ingredients such as blueberries, which further accentuate the need for stronger flours, Rudd said.

In recent tests across the state, Experiment Station wheats have ranked among the top performers when tested for protein content (gluten), seed size and test weight (milling attributes), dough strength (baking), and disease resistance and yields, he said.
In addition, Texas Cooperative Extension wheat variety trials across the state have as many as five Texas A&M University system wheats ranked in the top 10. For complete results of the variety trials, go to .

Rodney Mosier, Texas Wheat Producers Board executive vice president, said the board's priorities for their research dollars used to be focused mainly on developing wheats that were higher yielding, drought-tolerant
varieties. These wheats had average baking qualities and disease resistance.

In recent years, the board's priorities have changed, Mosier said. Funding now includes a priority for higher milling and baking qualities with improved disease and insect resistance.

"The board has been very pleased with the funding it has provided for ongoing research with Texas A&M, which has provided excellent results," he said. "Just this past year, the Wheat Quality Council recognized Texas A&M
for producing wheats with excellence in milling and baking qualities."

These wheat lines are now being marketed to producers, Rudd said. Newly released are TAM 304, a good disease resistant irrigated variety has been licensed to Scott Seed Co. of Hereford; and TAM 203, showing
disease resistance and excellence statewide, has been licensed to AgriPro Wheat in Vernon, he said.

The Experiment Station has had two other recent releases that are topping experiment trial data, Rudd said. TAM 111, the leading grown variety in the High Plains for both dryland and irrigated wheat, is licensed to AgriPro; and TAM 112, with excellent dryland yields and greenbug resistance, is licensed to Watley Seed Co. of Spearman.
Experiment Station wheat varieties have long been known for excellence in dryland yields, he said. However, in the past five or six years, a concentrated effort of increased testing and quality monitoring by Dr. Lloyd Rooney at the Wheat Quality Lab in College Station has improved the baking and milling quality.

"Our reputation for good dryland yields has been maintained, but now we are recognized for excellent bread-baking quality," Rudd said.

That doesn't mean the producer's needs for high yields, disease resistance and pest resistance are taking a back seat, though, he said.

Rudd said the newest Texas varieties were discussed at this year's field day for Great Plains wheat breeders in Fort Collins as being the best in leaf rust and stripe rust resistance.

That is due in part, he said, to the dedicated work of Dr. Ravindra Devkota, a research scientist from Bushland, who has spent significant time making wheat selections in South Texas where these rusts start. 

"That's why our material is not just good across the High Plains, but also the rest of the state," Rudd said. "Texas A&M varieties are grown on more than 50 percent of the High Plains, but much less in the rest of the
With the increased disease resistance, though, that figure will go up, he said, because the new experimental lines in the breeding plots are looking even better than what is now in the field.

"We have more good material than we can put into the marketplace," Rudd said. "It's an excellent problem to have. It's been nice to be able to discard some lines that are better than wheat we currently have, because we know what we have in the pipeline is even better.

"We hope this will lead to increased exports for Texas wheat," he said. "The idea is that importers of U.S. wheat will select Texas wheat based on quality rather than cheap price. The U.S. has consistently been the least-cost provider of wheat, but we want Texas wheats to be sought out for their milling and baking quality."
by Kay Ledbetter

29 August 2007

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1.11  Studying grass for energy needs

Ithaca, New York
By Lauren Chambliss

Watching grass grow is not normally the most exciting activity -- unless the future of New York's energy needs, rural economic development and reducing the human contribution to global climate change depend on it.

From the lab to the field, Cornell University researchers are analyzing every aspect of some field grasses in a multidisciplinary, high-octane search for the next generation of biofuels from such cellulose feedstocks as grasses and willow trees, which can be converted to ethanol and other products.

Nationally, corn is the leading source of biofuel, but in the long run, researchers say, New York will be better off developing alternative renewable sources of cellulosic ethanol that will be healthier for the environment, address energy needs and potentially create new business for rural farmers and landowners.

In the past few years, Cornell researchers have planted trial plots of field grasses -- cellulosic ethanol feedstocks -- in six sites across the state. Along with dozens of other renewable-energy research projects at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering, the grass trials hold an important key to the future of New York's energy strategy for the 21st century.

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's new energy initiative calls for the state to obtain 25 percent of its energy needs from renewable resources, including biofuels, by 2013. Rising concern about global climate change is also pushing the biofuels train as a renewable "clean" energy source that could reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

If all goes well, the grass trials, funded by the federal government through the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, with additional support from the New York Farm Viability Institute and the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, will provide development tools to create a viable industry. The ultimate goal of Cornell biofuels research is to discover the best sustainable bioenergy crops for diverse bioregions and provide businesses and entrepreneurs with new technologies and systems to convert grasses, wood and other biomass to usable, renewable energy with minimal environmental impact.

"Because New York contains and is near other major population centers and has a large amount of agricultural land that could be used for producing feedstocks, it is uniquely situated to be a major player in the biofuels industry," says Donald Viands, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics and a lead principal investigator on the project. Cornell, with scientists from multiple disciplines, is partnering with others to provide cutting-edge research and extension activities necessary "to realize the potential of biofuels in a safe and sustainable manner," says Viands.

Interest in biofuels is so high that at a recent demonstration of grass trials at an experiment site in Big Flats in Chemung County, more than 100 people, including farmers, policy-makers and researchers, showed up on a 100-degree day for a tour of fields of big bluestem, switchgrass, coastal panic grass and other species grown in partnership with Cornell researchers.

Adding urgency to the so-called "green energy revolution" is the fact that 90 percent of New York energy needs are currently met by imported oil and natural gas, which is higher than the national average, says Joseph Laquatra, professor of design and environmental analysis. To reduce its vulnerability to high oil prices and potential supply disruptions, the state needs to develop more indigenous sources of energy.

In the long term, cellulosic ethanol and other forms of bioenergy from grasses, legumes and wood products are expected to play a significant role in energy supplies, especially in New York, where some portion of 1.5 million acres of idle and underused agricultural lands could be turned into fuel-generating crops.

Source: Cornell University ChronicleOnline via
5 September 2007

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1.12  Translational Seed Biology: From Model Systems to Crop Improvement

Leading plant scientists from around the world will gather Sept. 17-20 at the University of California, Davis, to explore how research discoveries in seed biology can be parlayed into practical solutions for global agriculture

Davis, California
Seeds and global agriculture are focus on international symposium

The four-day symposium, "Translational Seed Biology: From Model Systems to Crop Improvement," is hosted by the UC Davis Plant Sciences Department. It will be held on campus in Freeborn Hall, with a tour of Sacramento Valley seed-production operations planned for Sept. 20.

"This international symposium will focus on how fundamental knowledge of seed biology can be transferred into practical use to improve the agricultural and nutritional value of crops," said Kent Bradford, conference coordinator and director of UC Davis' Seed Biotechnology Center.

"The ability to modify seeds with specific changes provides enormous potential to meet the growing global demand for food and improved nutrition, but only if research discoveries can be adapted to the biological requirements of seeds and to the practical economic demands of the marketplace," Bradford said.

The symposium will bring together scientists who study fundamental aspects of seed biology as well as crop scientists and breeders who use that knowledge to develop new crop varieties. The meeting coordinators anticipate that this broad range of symposium participants will identify high-priority challenges and opportunities for future crop research and development.

Keynote speaker for the conference's opening evening session on Sept.
17 will be Rob Horsch, director of agricultural programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Horsch will discuss the critical role of seed improvement in global agriculture.

Other conference speakers will include:

-Robert Goldberg, a professor and plant scientist at UCLA. Goldberg is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher. He developed a hybridization system that works universally in major crop plants. (Tuesday morning)
-Jorge Dubcovsky, a UC Davis wheat geneticist and breeder. He recently identified a gene that can increase the protein and micronutrient content of wheat grains, and is studying the evolution of wheat during its domestication. (Tuesday afternoon)
-Christina Walters of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Ft. Collins, Colo. She studies the mechanisms by which seeds age and die during storage. The center, known as the "Fort Knox of seeds," is the primary repository in the United States for plant seeds and other plant hereditary material. (Wednesday morning)
--Maarten Koornneef, director of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, Germany. He is internationally recognized for developing the small, rapidly growing Arabidopsis thaliana plant as a model genetic system for plant research. Koornneef, a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences, has identified a number of specific genes that regulate seed germination and dormancy. (Wednesday afternoon)
-Yuji Kamiya, director of the growth regulation research group at the RIKEN Plant Science Center, a major Japanese research center in Yokohama, Japan. He is an international leader in identifying the natural plant hormones that regulate the development and germination of seeds. (Wednesday afternoon)
-Jorge Mayer, a biochemist and manager of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Foundation in Freiburg, Germany, which seeks to commercialize rice that is biofortified with beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. (Wednesday evening banquet)
-T.J. Higgins, Deputy Chief of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Canberra, Australia. He has developed cowpea seeds that are resistant to insects that consume them during storage and seeds that have increased nutritional content. (Thursday morning)
-Roger Beachy, a distinguished plant scientist who led the research team that developed the world's first genetically modified food crop, a tomato variety modified for resistance to viral disease. Beachy, an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, is the founding president of the not-for-profit Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo. (Thursday morning)

A complete conference program and list of speakers is available online at

4September 2007

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1.13  Plant Variety Protection for Southern Africa: Progress and Pitfalls

Editorial views by Dr. Wynand J. van der Walt, PhD, Senior Partner: Agricultural Biotechnologies, FoodNCropBio facilitation and consulting services, Pretoria, South Africa, retired General Manager of SANSOR, former Board member of the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) and AfricaBio

Neither plant variety protection (PVP) systems nor modern biotechnology offer miracle solutions to food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa; yet, they offer meaningful tools for enhancing food production and alleviating poverty. Most of Africa, excluding South Africa, missed out on the green revolution of the sixties and remain sluggish in adopting biotech crops, thereby running the risk of losing out on the gene revolution. On the positive side, considerable efforts over the past decade have now approached the point of implementation of wider adoption of breeders’ rights and biotech crops.

UPOV membership presently stands at 63 plus the European Union (EU) with 27 and the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) with 16, making a total of 106. Apart from the OAPI group as one member, Africa has only four members out of some 54 countries: South Africa, the 10th member in 1978, and Kenya, Tunisia and Morocco that joined very recently, compared to Latin America with nine members. The recent UPOV Model serves to accommodate new applicants in several ways. PVP has proven benefits: stimulating plant breeding, private seed enterprise development, access to new varieties, and reducing piracy, as confirmed again in the 2005 UPOV impact study in five target developing countries. The delay in African adoption of PVP, therefore, remains a cause for concern.

Plant variety protection can only operate adequately in an enabling environment that facilitates seed trade, variety registration and adherence to quality standards. It is a positive sign that the many cycles of interaction between stakeholders and regulators have now resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in the 14-country Southern African Development Community (SADC). An MOU means different things to different people, but, in this case, it provides a framework for a harmonized approach in variety testing, tests for agricultural value, a regional variety catalogue, seed certification, and a reduced quarantine pest list. GM biotech varieties are presently not eligible until SADC reaches a common position on crop biotechnology. The MOU will now move to Permanent Secretaries for signing, submission to national Parliaments for approval, development of action plans, implementation, and consolidation. It will enter into force when two-thirds of SADC member states have approved the MOU (one can assume that it should take the form of a harmonized set of seed legislation before approval).

A plant breeders’ rights protocol for the SADC region has now reached a semi-final stage. It has been drafted in accordance with the new model developed by UPOV and incorporates UPOV 1991 provisions of 25 years’ protection for trees and vines, and 20 years for others, essential derivation, etc. It also accommodates eligibility for protection of existing varieties not conforming to novelty, subject to application within one year of entering into force of the PBR Protocol. Such known varieties must have been registered on an official variety list or enjoy current breeders’ protection under an acceptable system or in the process of application. The period of protection will be 20 years minus the time that the variety has been officially listed or awarded breeders’ protection. The privilege of using harvested material as plant propagating material is extended only to “subsistence” farmers and no mention is made of exclusion of ornamentals, trees or vines. These uncertainties need to be clarified as is omission of requirements for entry into force for the region and for a member state.

Both the seed legislation MOU and the PBR protocol will be handled administratively at the SADC Secretariat level but details have not yet been finalized These two regional developments are to be welcomed but possible pitfalls should be kept in mind:

-Continued bureaucratic delays in approving and implementing the MOU and PBR protocol
-Putting GM crops on the back-burner until biosafety and policy issues are cleared up
-Farmers getting restless about lack of access to new conventional and biotech varieties, obtaining such seeds without approval and proceeding to plant them
-Some member states adding additional requirements, as they are doing to draft biosafety frameworks, thereby negating a harmonized approach
-Inadequate capacity at member states and SADC Secretariat level to administer the systems and enforce them
-Considering the inability to regulate farmers’ privilege in most countries where 50 to 90 per cent of seed comes from informal systems and where farm-saved seed is rampant
-Seed companies focusing on hybrids and holding back improved open-pollinated varieties

Lack of accepting that comprehensive IPR systems – PBR, patents, trade marks, geographic indicators-- are required to protect novel plants, failing which, African plant breeding and innovation will remain exposed to piracy.

The hard work put in by stakeholders and regulators should be applauded but success will require expedited approval and implementation. Time is not on the side of Africa.

Dr Wynand van der Walt can be reached at

Editorial, August 2007

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1.14  Biotech crops safe and pro-poor say FAO economists

Two U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization economists, Terri Raney and Prabhu Pingali write a sharp article in the September issue of Scientific American (sub required) on how genetically enhanced crops can and do help poor farmers in developing countries. I can't quote everything, but one particularly good point the FAO economists make is that scientific evidence shows that currently available biotech crops are not harming either people or the natural environment. To wit:

The chief food-safety concerns are are fears that allergens or toxins may be present and that other unintentional changes in the food composition may occur. Yet to date no verifiable toxic or nutritionally deleterious effects resulting from the consumption of transgenic foods have been discovered anywhere in the world (emphasis mine). National food safety authorities of several countries have evaluated the transgenic crops currently being grown commercially and the foods derived from them, using procedures based on internationally agreed upon principles, and have judged them all safe to eat.

Environmental concerns center on the spread of transgenes to related crops or weeds ("gene flow"), the development of herbicide-resistant weeds, the development of insect pests resistant to the Bt toxin (which has long been used as a pesticide, particularly by organic farmers), harm by insect-resistant crops to nontarget organisms, and indirect environmental effects that come about because transgenic crops lead to different cropping practices.

Scientists disagree about the likelihood and potential consequences of these hazards. Gene flow, for example, is acknowledged to be possible when transgenic crops are grown close to related plants, but the transgene will persist and spread only if they give the recipient plant a competitive advantage. Such gene flow could inflict economic harm by, for instance, making a product ineligible for a status such as "organic." What would suffice to constitute ecological harm is more controversial.

Thus far, none of the major environmental hazards potentially associated with transgenic crops has developed in commercial fields. Herbicide-resistant weeds have been observed--although not necessarily caused by growing transgenic crops--and so far they can be managed by alternative herbicides. The lack of negative impacts so far does not mean they cannot occur, of course. Scientific understanding of ecological and food-safety processes is incomplete, but many of the risks highlighted for transgenics are similar to risks inherent in conventional agriculture as well.

Raney elsewhere argues that biotech crops can be pro-poor.

The economic evidence available to date does not support rhe widely held perception that transgenic crops benefit only large farms; on the contrary, the technology may be pro-poor. Nor does the available evidence support the fear that multinational biotechnology firms are capturing all of the economic value created by transgenic crops. On the contrary, the benefits are shared by consumers, technology suppliers and adopting farmers, although non-adopting farmers are penalized as their competitors achieve efficiency gains they are denied.

Her whole article on the pro-poor potential of biotech crops here.

With regard to gene flow, researchers have long recognized that the issue is not confined to genetically enhanced crops; it occurs between conventional crops and other plants as well. For more on gene flow see my column "Transgenics Gone Wild!"

For another report on the pro-poor nature of genetically enhanced crops take a look at this 2006 one by the Union of German Academies of Sciences and Humanities.

Ronald Bailey

Source: AgBioView & Reason Online
23 August 2007

Contributed by Elcio Guimaraes

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1.15  Zambia adamant: no GM

[LUSAKA] The Zambian government has rejected a call made this week (30 July) by a group of scientific, agricultural and nongovernmental organisations to use genetically modified (GM) crops to reduce poverty and hunger.

The group ­ consisting of AfricaBio, the Africa Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International, Biotechnology-Ecology Research and Outreach Consortium (BioEROC) and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Application (ISAAA) ­ released a joint press statement endorsing the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which was published in the Times of Zambia on 30 July.

Responding to the statement, Zambian minister of agriculture and cooperatives, Ben Kapita, told SciDev.Net, "We have always said that Zambia will not be used as a dumping place for GMO products." 

Earlier this year (3 April), the Zambian parliament adopted a biosafety bill aimed at preventing the entry of GMOs in to the country (see Zambia takes steps towards biosafety law).

But Wisdom Changadeya, executive director of BioEROC in Malawi said in a press release that nobody could deny Africa its right to a technology that would help its farmers solve some of its most serious and urgent problems.

Margaret Karembu, a researcher at the Kenya-based AfriCenter, run by the ISAAA, warned that African agricultural productivity could drop while the rest of the global community embraced new tools such as GM technology.

She said that African farmers should not be restricted to traditional methods of agriculture.

The same group of five organisations also welcomed a clarification from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) about its stance on GM technology.

Last month, many media outlets reported that AGRA and its president the former UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, had rejected the use of GMOs completely.

The reports came after a speech by Annan in Nairobi last month (16 July), in which he said that whatever the future potential of GM crops might be, conventional breeding represented an important path to food security (see Farmers and researchers: Annan urges stronger links).

AGRA has since clarified their position on GM technology, stating that although they are not currently funding research into GMOs, they support the use of science and technology ­ including GM ­ to aid African smallholder farmers.

Norah Olembo, chief executive officer of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International in Nairobi, Kenya, welcomed AGRA's clarification that GM technology has an important role to play in fighting poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

But others believe that not researching GM technology at this stage could undermine the future of biotechnology in Africa.

This week (27 July) the Netherlands-based Public Research and Regulation Initiative wrote to Annan, saying they were concerned about AGRA's focus on conventional plant breeding methods.

Michael Malakata

Source: SciDev.Net
3 August 2007

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1.16  Wheat relatives harbour supply of resistance genes

Scientists could transfer new genes into cultivated wheat crops

Researchers have shown that wild relatives of cultivated wheat exhibit resistance to a number of fungal diseases, and could provide a source of resistance genes to introduce into cultivated wheat.

They published their findings in August issue of the journal Plant Disease.

Lead researcher Brian Steffenson, plant pathologist at the US-based University of Minnesota, and colleagues have shown that there is a high level of disease resistance in samples of Sharon goatgrass (Aegilops sharonensis) collected from southern Lebanon and the Israeli Coastal Plain. 

For example, they found that around 70 per cent of the goatgrass samples were resistant to a certain type of stem rust, a fungal disease that threatens much of the world's wheat crops (see Deadly wheat disease 'a threat to world food security').

Four out of 107 samples were highly resistant to most of the wheat fungal diseases tested for ­ powdery mildew, leaf rust, stem rust, stripe rust, tan spot and spot blotch.

Co-author of the paper, Yehoshua Aniksterat, of the Israel-based Institute for Cereal Crops Improvement at Tel Aviv University, told SciDev.Net that although it could be difficult ­ and take up to five years or more ­ they may be able to transfer genes from wild to cultivated wheat.

Steffenson told SciDev.Net that wild ancestors of cultivated plants often carry resistance to disease organisms.

He said the research project will continue to evaluate wild wheat and barley species for useful genes, not only for disease resistance but also those contributing to higher yield, nutritional quality and adaptation to harsh environments. 

Rodomiro Ortiz, director of resource mobilisation at Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, told SciDev.Net the research reveals the genetic wealth available in wild relatives of important crops such as wheat and is useful for creating new cultivated crops.

But more research will be needed to confirm that these wild samples have broad-spectrum resistance and resistance to the most virulent forms of the pathogens, he said.

Link to abstract of plant disease journal
Reference:  Plant Disease 91, 942  (2007)

Wagdy Sawahel

13 August 2007

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1.17  Today's white rice is mutation spread by early farmers

By Krishna Ramanujan
Some 10,000 years ago white rice evolved from wild red rice and began spreading around the globe. But how did this happen?

Researchers at Cornell and elsewhere have determined that 97.9 percent of all white rice is derived from a mutation (a deletion of DNA) in a single gene originating in the Japonica subspecies of rice. Their report, published online in the journal PloS (Public Library of Science) Genetics, suggests that early farmers favored, bred and spread white rice around the world.

The researchers report that this predominant mutation is also found in the Indica subspecies of white rice. They have found a second independent mutation (a single DNA substitution) in the same gene in several Aus varieties of rice in Bangladesh, accounting for the remaining 2.1 percent of white rice varieties. Neither of these two mutations is found in any wild red rice species.

Both mutations produce shortened versions of the same protein in which the missing part is responsible for activating the molecular pathway leading to grain color in rice.

"We think that other domains of this protein are critical for other functions in the plant, because we never see the protein entirely deleted, just the part of the molecule that affects the pathway for grain color," said Susan McCouch, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics and the paper's senior author. Megan Sweeney, Cornell Ph.D. '06 and postdoctoral associate, was the paper's lead author.

The researchers speculate that ancient farmers actively bred and spread white rice varieties first throughout the Himalayan region and then the rest of the world because the varieties cooked faster (requiring less fuel), their hulls were easier to remove compared with red rice, and disease and insects were easier to see amid the white grains. The farmers also may have favored one mutation over the other because it may have produced favorable grains more consistently, the researchers say.

In 2006 the researchers first identified the gene that makes the rice seed's bran layer, or pericarp, white. This gave rice breeders and engineers a genetic marker to help develop new breeds. The Cornell researchers regularly introduce favorable genes from wild red rices into elite white cultivars to improve yields and provide better responses to stress, but they generally select against the gene for red pericarp because it is associated with such unfavorable "weedy" linked traits as seed dormancy and "shattering" (where seeds fall easily from the stalk).

"Breeders can now begin to screen for the red pericarp gene while selecting against closely linked traits like shattering and dormancy," said McCouch. The new tools may lead to more diverse domestic rice varieties.

Also, breeders are interested in using the marker to predict whether new generations will contain white or red grains, using DNA from young seedlings, long before the plants set seed.

McCouch noted that due to the genetics of pericarp color in rice (white grain is recessive and maternally inherited), when white grains appear in the panicle (the grain clusters on the stems), it is an indication that all seeds in the clusters will be white -- and offspring from these seeds will continue to produce white-grain plants. The researchers theorize that women who shucked rice for cooking thousands of years ago would have recognized the value of the white seeds and may have set aside selected panicles for breeding and planting.

Scott Williamson and Carlos Bustamante, both researchers in Cornell's Department of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology, were also co-authors on this paper. The research was supported by the Plant Genome Program of the National Science Foundation, the Generation Challenge Program, Chengbuk National University and Korea's National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology.

16August 2007

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1.18  Pride and pragmatism sustain a giant Mexican maize

El Batán, Mexico
Long as a man’s forearm, the biggest maize ears in the world are found in Jala, in the state of Nayarit, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The traditional variety of this community is at risk, but a maize festival and the variety’s value in local culture and dishes keep farmers growing it, while researchers work to restore and improve its potential.

At the annual competition for the longest maize ear in the world, beauty queens and dignitaries wait in obscurity at the back of the stage, while the spotlight is on the bundles of ears lined up at the front. As darkness falls over the main square of the Mexican village of Jala on the evening of August 14, 2007, the 30 participating farmers are called onto the stage one by one, carrying their precious ears of maize. Each ear is systematically stripped of its husks and measured, and the data are recorded under the watchful eye of its grower. Many reach more than 30 cm (12 inches), and the first place goes to an ear 36 cm long.

At the height of the rainy season, lush, green fields and mountains surround Jala. The valley is overlooked by the active volcano Ceboruco, which last erupted in the 1870s and whose mineral-rich ash is believed by locals to make the giant Jala maize grow so well­indeed, it does not reach its full size when grown outside the valley. The variety is intimately adapted to its environment and an integral part of the identity and traditions of the people who grow it. Despite this, like many traditional varieties throughout Mexico, the Jala maize and the genetic diversity it carries are under threat of extinction, as improved varieties take over and young people leave the land looking for a better life. The competition for the biggest ear was established in 1981 in an attempt to ensure the preservation of Jala maize by encouraging farmers to grow it. It is held every year as part of the village’s two-week Feria del Elote, or green maize ear festival.

The Jala maize is a landrace­a traditional variety specific to a particular place that has been grown by farmers over generations. A number of other, regular-sized, landraces originating from other parts of Mexico are also grown in Jala. Collectively they are known as maíz de húmedo, as they have long growing seasons of around seven to eight months and are planted in April to take advantage of residual soil moisture before the summer rains begin.

Key ingredient in rich traditions and dishes
Jala maize grains contain a lot of flour. They are therefore prized for making boiled or roasted green ears, the Mexican flat-bread tortilla, pozole (a kind of pork and maize stew), gorditas (a sweet breadcake), and many other traditional dishes. But their flouriness also means the kernels are less dense and thus fetch a lower price on external markets, where maize is sold by weight.

Improved varieties of maize are inexorably supplanting the Jala landrace. They are shorter, which makes them easier to manage and less prone to falling over (lodging) in high winds, and yield much more (around 7-8 tons of grain per hectare, compared to around 3 tons per hectare for maíz de húmedo). Even more importantly, the improved varieties grown in Jala give relatively high yields of husks, which are exported to the USA and the rest of Mexico for wrapping tamales, a popular Mexican dish. The valley’s climate is changing, and the reduced rainfall also favors improved varieties, which reach maturity in around four to five months and thus can be sown in drier soils, after the rains begin. As a result less than 5% of the Jala’s maize-growing area is currently sown to the landrace. Furthermore, maize itself is being replaced by cash crops, predominantly blue agave for tequila and tobacco.

Recovering lost length
Because it has outcrossed with improved varieties, Jala maize’s prodigious height, ear length, ear thickness, and growing season have all diminished over the last century. In 1907 a visiting scientist recorded ears 60 cm long, whereas the longest in recent times have measured a mere 45 cm. Working to reverse these trends is J. Aharón Hernández Guzmán, research professor at the Colegio de Postgraduados, a Mexican agricultural institution. Hernández is growing landrace seed from 22 farmers in a plot in the valley to recombine the genetic variation. The seed will be redistributed to interested farmers, safeguarded in CIMMYT’s germplasm bank, and re-sown next year to begin selection for longer ears. He is also growing out Jala landrace samples from CIMMYT’s bank for selection and combination with current landrace materials. In addition to recovery and conservation, Hernández aims to develop varieties with added value; for example, dual-purpose maize providing good grain and husk yields, as well as specialized varieties for green ears or pozole. “This is important for me because, as a genetic resource, it’s unique in the world,” he says. “Not only that: if we lose this maize we lose our traditions, culture, and identity.”

Suketoshi Taba, Head of CIMMYT’s Maize Germplasm Collection, agrees the landrace is a unique expression of Jala’s culture, and will have value as long as people there choose to grow it. “CIMMYT holds Jala maize seed in trust, not just as a genetic resource for the world, but also for the people of Jala,” he says. “It’s important for us to preserve it on a permanent basis ex situ in the CIMMYT germplasm bank, and this complements its conservation in the field.” The Center holds 22,600 unique collections of Mexican and other maize landraces, and has provided seed and technical support to numerous researchers and farmers interested in their conservation and use.

Many reasons to grow Jala maize
But even if Jala maize can be restored and improved, will farmers continue growing it? Looking to stem the massive yearly flow of migrants out of the valley, local officials are tending to support the use of other, more profitable varieties and crops. “Maize is economically not very important,” says Jala mayor, Juan José Jacobo Solis.

Jala farmers talk of why they grow the landrace with a mixture of pride and pragmatism. They take pride in growing the biggest maize in the world, but also in their long tradition of caring for the seed. Pragmatically, they grow Jala maize for its high quality, because they enjoy eating it and because it can fetch high prices locally. The competition offers both­prizes and prestige.

Farmers will continue to grow more profitable and reliable improved varieties to sell the husks and grain. However, particularly with improved seed and supportive policies, it is likely that farmers will also continue to grow small plots of Jala maize for their own consumption and local sale, and for the competition. Their different purposes are complementary. Ultimately, the conservation of Jala maize in farmers’ fields is in the hands of farmers, and depends on the value they place on it.

As such, Jala is relevant to the conservation of other maize landraces: where people take pride in their local maize and value it for local needs such as traditional foods, it will be preserved. “I will always grow it,” says farmer José Elias Partida, “and now my son grows it too, and participates in the competition.”

Source: CIMMYT E-News, vol 4 no. 8, August 2007 via
3 September 2007

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1.19  Researchers looking for flood-tolerant soybeans

Columbus, Ohio
Little can be done to prevent soybean injury due to flooding, but the future is bright for farmers to grow varieties tolerant to the effects of standing water.

Ohio State University researchers, collaborating with the University of Missouri-Delta Center, are studying the effects of flooding on soybean lines in the hopes of identifying tolerance genes that can be bred into existing susceptible varieties. After one year of research, results look promising.

“Things so far look good,” said Tara VanToai, an Ohio State University plant scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service. “We can tell just by looking at the soybean lines which ones are exhibiting flood tolerance.”

VanToai and her colleagues are analyzing 220 soybean lines that carry the genes of a tolerant Asian variety and a flood-prone variety. The lines, grown in Missouri and at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio, are being evaluated for yield, plant height, leaf greenness, and level of survival after fields are flooded.

“We flood the fields until the plants start to show symptoms. Then we quantify the tolerance of each line under those field conditions,” said VanToai. “Our hope is that when we compare the data between Wooster and Missouri, we find lines grown in both locations that are flood tolerant.”

The research, partly funded by USDA-ARS, stemmed from earlier work conducted by VanToai that found that carbon dioxide buildup in flooded fields is a major cause of injury and death to soybean plants.

“It was previously suspected that lack of oxygen was the main problem with damaged or dying soybeans associated with flooding. But what we found was that, although lack of oxygen played a small part, carbon dioxide build-up was the biggest factor,” said VanToai. “Carbon dioxide is toxic to plants, causing them to turn yellow, become stunted and drop leaves, resulting in yield reductions, and, in some cases, death.”

Researchers discovered that soybean plants adapt to low or no oxygen by producing additional roots and modifying the stem to help transport oxygen from the shoot to the roots. Soybeans, however, are susceptible to carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide concentration of non-flooded soybean fields is about 1 percent, but increases to 30 to 35 percent after two weeks of flooding. Soybeans growing under that situation face yield reductions as high as 60 percent.

“Based on these findings, we were very interested in improving the tolerance of soybeans to flooding, from the standpoint of saying, ‘Well, if beans lose 60 percent of their yields after seven days of flooding, then varieties we develop that lose only 20 percent of their yields would help farmers.’”

Identifying varieties tolerant to carbon dioxide levels in flooded fields or prolonged standing water is only a piece of soybean research puzzle. Researchers also recognize the importance of identifying varieties that exhibit resistance to diseases associated with flooded soil, such as Phytophthora root rot.

OARDC plant pathologist Anne Dorrance is collaborating with VanToai to identify the genes of flood-tolerance and Phytophthora resistance that can be used to develop future varieties.

“The cross research is very exciting because it is helping us better understand the relationship between flooding and diseases, and what it takes to keep soybean plants alive and grow in flooded soil,” said VanToai.

Other researchers collaborating on the project include Rouf Mian, an OARDC researcher with USDA-ARS, and Grover Shannon and Henry Nguyen of the University of Missouri.

The soybean is Ohio’s No. 1 field crop commodity, generating over $1 billion to the agricultural industry, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Soybeans are grown in Ohio for a wide variety of uses -- from grain to food to renewable energy production.

August 30, 2007

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1.20  Molecular markers used to breed for high quality rice varieties

Mohamad, O., Hadzim, K., Azlan, S., Abdullah, M. Z., Zainah, M., Salwa, A. S., Amiran, N. & Nur Samahah, M. Z.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia & Malaysian Agricultural Research & Development Institute

Rice production in Malaysia is focused in major irrigated areas to sustain the overall targeted self-sufficiency level of 90%, and rice breeding remains pivotal for developing improved varieties.  Grain elongation on cooking and aroma are major characteristic of high quality rices, such as Basmati from India and Pakistan [13].  There is an increasing demand for quality rice in domestic markets.  In 2002, total consumption of specialty rice was 116,930 metric tons, equivalent to 6% of total national consumption of 1.9 million tons with retail market value of RM 292.3 million.  Almost all aromatic rices are imported, of which the majority are from Thailand and India [14]. 

Quality Rice
Due to such demands, MARDI had initiated a special breeding programme to breed for high quality rices, alongside of the mainstream breeding programme. As a result, the special programme successfully released two new high quality varieties, namely MRQ50 (aka Puteri) [19] and MRQ74 (aka Mas Wangi) [14].  Two additional special quality traits present in these varieties, but not present in previously released varieties, are grain elongation and aroma of cooked rice.

Grain elongation characteristic is derived from is a mutant line named “Mahsuri Mutant”, a product of the  collaborative research initiated by UKM and MARDI in 1979 to use induced mutations in rice breeding [2, 17, 18]. Mahsuri mutant possesses the elongation characteristic very much akin to that found in Basmati [11, 22], and is found to be controlled by one or two major genes [10].  This is the only known local source of grain elongation characteristic. Consequently, breeders have targeted the grain elongation of Mahsuri Mutant as one of the invaluable quality traits.  Since then, efforts have been stepped up to transfer this special trait into elite breeding lines through conventional methods [11, 12].  The internal anatomical structure of grain, cell shape and arrangement might have influence on the water uptake and the nature of swelling after cooking [21].  Preliminary studies indicated that, the internal cracks for Mahsuri Mutant was substantially increased when it was artificially aged [10].

The aroma of Basmati and Jasmine rices has been associated with increased levels of 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, the key aroma constituent of aromatic rice [3]. The aroma gene is reported to be located on chromosome 8.  Many of our traditional varieties have aroma, and there was only little effort to utilize the trait from such varieties [1, 16].

Conventional breeding
In rice improvement, breeding lines are rigorously evaluated for many desirable morpho-agronomic and quality traits before they are released as new varieties to growers.  Screening and evaluation procedures for these traits are usually laborious and expensive, particularly so when grain elongation and aroma are further included.  These two traits are difficult and tedious to assay using the present method of assessment.  Furthermore, both have additional problems; they are strongly influenced by the environmental factors, and this could lead to misevaluation during selection and evaluation.  Rice breeders in Malaysia have already started to breed for high quality rices, where aroma and kernel elongation are major components in the high quality breeding programme. Thus far MARDI has released MRQ50 which has kernel elongation and MRQ74 which has aroma. 

Molecular breeding
Molecular marker technology provides new opportunities for innovative use in rice breeding.  To date, a range of genes controlling quality characteristics in rice have been tagged. In spite of the fact that some technical constraints and high costs are still prevalent, the use of molecular markers in our rice breeding programme has been increasing [15].  Rapid detection methods for grain elongation and for aroma are needed to supplement the present methods which are difficult and tedious, e.g. sensory method may be used to assist breeders in establishing the presence of aroma volatiles in rice, but there are limitations when processing large numbers of samples.  Molecular breeding requires small amounts of tissues and allows a more accurate analysis of greater sample numbers in less time. Plants from breeding programs could be assessed in the early stages of cultivar development, thus offering additional advantage of early screening of breeding populations compared to other methods.

Materials and Methods
To assess the effectiveness of the PCR-based markers within the Malaysian rice varieties, the marker alleles were characterised for 40 samples including Mahsuri mutant, MRQ 50 and MRQ 74. The rice samples analysed included 38 Malaysian breeding lines and released varieties, and Basmati 370 and Khao Dawk Mali as control varieties. The usual assessment methods employed to determine grain elongation and aroma were as described by Sood et al. [20], Golam et al. [10] and Berner & Hoff [4].  Primer sequences for selected markers are available [5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 23].

Results and Discussion
Three sets of primer for grain elongation and 10 sets of primer for aroma were used. PCR amplifications analysis showed that all the selected and synthesised primers were functional and useful as a selection tool to identify the rice varieties for grain elongation and aroma. As for grain elongation, the expected fragment size between grain elongation and non-grain elongation could not be discriminated by agarose gel electrophoresis. As for aroma, the most suitable marker which allows discrimination between aromatic and non-aromatic rice varieties, and also identifies homozygous aromatic, homozygous non-aromatic and heterozygous non-aromatic varieties are EAP, ESP, INSP and IFAP primer [6]. The PCR product of approximately 580 bp serves as a positive control amplified by both external primers (EAP and ESP). Aromatic varieties have a second product of 257 bp in size while non-aromatic varieties give a product of 355 bp on size, and heterozygotes can also be discriminated by the presence of all three PCR products (Fig. 1). The 355 bp band corresponds to a PCR product amplified from the non-aromatic allele by the internal non-fragrant sense primer (INSP) and the external antisense primer (EAP). The 257 bp band corresponds to a PCR product amplified from the aroma allele by the internal fragrant antisense primer (IFAP) and the external sense primer (ESP).

In this analysis, about 17 Malaysian rice varieties over 38 Malaysian rice varieties tested i.e. Pongsu Seribu II, Biris, Pongsu Seribu Mutant PS 1297; Padi Wangi 6893, Padi Wangi 9285, Champa, Kuku Belang, Anak Cina, Dang Laka, MRQ 50, MRQ 70, MRQ 72, MRQ 74, Coreng, Siam Pilihan, IR841-85B and Padi Wangi 9366 could be identified as aromatic varieties. Whereas about 15% typical aromatic/non-aromatic individuals were inconsistent between genotypes and phenotypes. It is speculated that some aromatic individuals might have been mistakenly classified into non-aromatic group or vice-versa due to subjective assay of aroma through sensory analysis.

Rice breeders have already started to breed for high quality rice, where grain elongation and aroma are major components in the special high quality breeding programme.  The use of molecular markers for aroma has shown excellent results.  However, for grain elongation, results are still inconclusive since intensified work is currently being undertaken.  Molecular markers closely linked to aroma have now been identified, and these can be readily used and applied as a new tool in our local breeding programme.  This will enable rice breeders to select for aroma rapidly and involving larger populations, and perhaps, will also mark the dawn of the era of molecular rice breeding in Malaysia.

The research is funded by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), Malaysia under ScienceFund Grant No: 02-01-02-SF0056. The authors wish to express their gratitude to UKM, MARDI, Bioversity International, International Rice Research Institute and other agencies and individuals for their support and assistance.

Note: This article is extracted from a PECIPTA 2007 poster sent by the first author. PECIPTA 2007 Exhibition was held on 10-12 August 2007 in Kuala Lumpur.  For a complete copy of the poster, including photos, figures and references, please contact Dr. Mohamad bin Osman, below.

Dr. Mohamad bin Osman
School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences
Faculty of Science and Technology
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi

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1.21  Cornell University researchers clone aluminum-tolerance gene in sorghum, promising boost to crop yields in developing world

By Krishna Ramanujan
When soils are too acidic, aluminum that is locked up in clay minerals dissolves into the soil as toxic, electrically charged particles called ions, making it hard for most plants to grow. In fact, aluminum toxicity in acidic soils limits crop production in as much as half the world's arable land, mostly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America.

Now, Cornell University researchers have cloned a novel aluminum-tolerant gene in sorghum and expect to have new genetically-engineered aluminum-tolerant sorghum lines by next year.

The research, to be published in the September issue of Nature Genetics, provides insights into how specialized proteins in the root tips of some cultivars of sorghum and such related species as wheat and maize can boost aluminum tolerance in crops.

Sorghum is an important food crop in Africa, Central America and South Asia and is the world's fifth most important cereal crop.

"My lab has been working to identify the physiological mechanisms of plant aluminum tolerance as well as its molecular basis," said Leon Kochian, the paper's senior author, a Cornell adjunct professor of plant biology and director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture--Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory at Cornell. "The reason this is significant is there are extensive areas of the earth's lands that are highly acidic, with pH of 5 or below [pH below 7 is considered acidic]. Most of these areas are in the tropics or subtropics, where many developing countries are located."

Kochian's research shows that in aluminum-tolerant sorghum varieties, special proteins in the root tip release citric acid into the soil in response to aluminum exposure. Citric acid binds aluminum ions very effectively, preventing the toxic metal from entering the roots.

Kochian and colleagues, including the paper's first author, Jurandir Magalhaes, who received his Ph.D. from Cornell in Kochian's lab and now directs his own lab at the Embrapa Maize and Sorghum Research Center in Brazil, used genetic mapping to identify a single gene that encodes a novel membrane-transporter protein responsible for the citric acid release. The gene, they discovered, is only turned on to express the protein and transport citric acid when aluminum ions are present in the surrounding soil.

The researchers have now used the sorghum gene to engineer transgenic aluminum-tolerant Arabidopsis thaliana (a small mustard plant used in plant research because of its small genome and short life cycle) and wheat plants. Sorghum is harder to genetically transform, Kochian said.

The map-based cloning of this agronomically important gene in sorghum is helping advance this species as a model for further exploring the mechanisms of aluminum tolerance and discovering new molecular genetic solutions to improving crop yields, Kochian said.

"This research also has environmental implications for badly needed increases in food production on marginal soils in developing countries," said Kochian. "For example, if we can increase food production on existing lands, it could limit encroachment into other areas for agriculture."

The research is supported in part by the McKnight Foundation Collaborative Crop Research Program, the Generation Challenge Program, the National Science Foundation and the USDA-ARS.

28 August 2007

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1.22  Scientists seek new ways to control potato pests

Washington, DC
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Ann Perry, (301) 504-1628,
New and more virulent forms of two scourges that rampaged through potato fields in the past--the golden nematode (Globodera rostochiensis) and potato virus Y (PVY)--are making a comeback. But Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are catching up to them.

Twenty years ago, stringent controls eventually confined the golden nematode--also called the potato cyst nematode--to several counties in New York, where it was first discovered. However, more than 30 varieties of potatoes that were previously nematode-resistant are now vulnerable to attack from a new race of the golden nematode, dubbed "Ro2."

Xiaohong Wang, a molecular biologist in the Plant Protection Research Unit (PPRU) at Ithaca, N.Y., is using molecular biology techniques to study specific parts of Ro2 DNA. This will help speed its field identification. She is also looking for ways to increase potato resistance to Ro2 using a method called RNA interference (RNAi), which interferes with gene expression.

A pathogen of potatoes as well as tomatoes, peppers and tobacco, PVY dramatically affects produce yield and quality. Although seed potatoes are screened for PVY, its resurgence is due in part to varieties that are symptomless carriers of the virus. Some PVY strains have also become more virulent over time.

Plant pathologist Stewart Gray, also at the PPRU, is coordinating a survey of all U.S. potato seed-production areas to determine PVY's genetic diversity and distribution in the United States. This is one part of a plan developed by an international team of scientists, regulatory personnel and industry representatives to manage potato viruses that result in tuber necrosis. These strategies will help stem the spread of PVY, and should help prevent necrotic PVY strains from becoming predominant in North America.

ARS research on these pathogens will help the potato industry remain viable and boost producer efforts to expand their markets.

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

Read more about this research in the August issue of Agricultural Research magazine, online at:

29 August 2007

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1.23  Breeding citrus rootstocks: promising hybrids in Brazil

Citrus rootstocks
- At the start of citrus cropping only plants derived from seeds were used. This was attractive because it was easy, produced long-lived plants and excluded viruses. However, the advantages of standardization, start of early bearing yield and dissemination of Phytophthora in the world made bud grafting on rootstocks derived from seeds the universal method of propagating commercial citrus plants. Biologically speaking, the rootstock and scion are symbiotic entities artificially formed by two botanical species, often from different genus, that have to interact harmoniously and efficiently through the grafting region. It is interesting to note that in spite of the coexistence in the plants of such extraordinary genetic and physiological divergence the citrus orchard thus formed is genetically uniform, because the canopies are, via bud grafting, vegetative propagations of a single clone as the rootstocks since they are apogamic reproductions of the mother tree by seed nucellar embryony. As a result of complex interactions, rootstocks affect dozens of industrial, agronomic and plant health traits related to the fruits and plants of the canopy cultivars grafted on them. Its importance was expressively stated by the knowledgeable USDA scientist Heinz K. Wutscher “… rootstocks have contributed perhaps more than any other factor to the success or failure of the citrus industries in the world”. Indeed, the history of rootstocks in Brazil and elsewhere is mixed with the feasibility of the crop, industry implantation and with the dynamics of its progress. Substitution of the Caipira sweet orange, Sour orange, Rangpur lime and the Volkamer lemon rootstocks became classic because of trunk gummosis , CTV incidence, decline and sudden-death.

The breeding work - In the face of the biological vulnerability of the Brazilian world’s leading citrus cropping largely based on Rangpur lime and few other rootstock types, a breeding program has been carried out since 1990 at the Instituto Agronômico de Campinas ( to obtain, via hybridization and selection, rootstocks that associate favorable traits of the commercial clones Trifoliata orange ‘Davis A’ (Poncirus trifoliata) (T), Sunki mandarin ‘200’ (Citrus sunki) (S), Rangpur lime ‘Limeira’ (Citrus limonia) (C) and Sour orange ‘São Paulo’ (Citrus aurantium) (A). The study comprised the parents represented by 138 nucellar clones and 534 hybrids of them identified by seven isoenzymatic and two morphological markers, forming seven groups of crosses (TxS, SxT, SxC, SxA, CxA, TxA and CxS). During the execution of the breeding program the technique of controlled hybridizations has been improved, electrophoresis isoenzymatic marker methodologies developed, petiole wing marker used with the trifoliolate leaf marker to identify the hybrids produced. Because of the importance and implications in citrus rootstock breeding in Brazil, the genetic mechanism conditioning tolerance to citrus tristeza virus (CTV) was investigated, as well as the effect of CTV on canopy agronomic and industrial traits, resistance to trunk gummosis and root tolerance to Phytophthora nicotianae. Parents and hybrids bud grafted with Valencia orange were studied for the yield of the first seven harvests, plant traits at eight years of age and the implications on productivity per area, crop efficiency of canopy, volume and theoretical tonnage. Preliminary tests were carried out to ascertain the induced industrial quality on the canopy. Fruits, seeds and descents of some hybrids were observed. Tolerance to citrus tristeza virus (CTV), trunk gummosis and Phytophthora root rot were also considered for selection purposes. Their selection potential was assessed based on the above considerations prioritizing however total yield, CTV, trunk gummosis and Phytophthora tolerance.

The potential of selected hybrids - It is evident that no rootstock will be ideal for all situations, considering the large number of agroindustrial requirements and the biological and edafo-climatic diversities that interact with the canopy/ rootstock combinations. However, some general criteria are necessary to estimate the potential of hybrids for selection purposes. For use in Brazil, any rootstock for sweet oranges and most other citrus must necessarily be CTV tolerant and give high yields and/or productivity per area. Based on the existence of genetic variability visually observed and detected by genetic parameters and taking as reference the confidence interval of the mean of the T, S and C parents with t at 95% probability, the potential as rootstock of the different genotypes was assessed. Of the 534 hybrids studied, 394 were CTV tolerant, of which 173 (44%) induced accumulated yield (kg) greater than Trifoliate orange, 119 (30%) greater than Sunki mandarin, 75 (19%) greater than Rangpur lime; 76 (19%) presented higher productivity (kg/m2) than Trifoliate orange, 149 (38%) higher than Sunki mandarin and 65 (16%) higher than Rangpur lime; 166 (42%) greater yield efficiency (kg/m3) than Sunki mandarin, 81 (21%) greater than Rangpur lime and 54 (14%) were more efficient than Trifoliate orange. These results are in line with the levels of the three parameters of these parents, because, Trifoliate orange and Rangpur lime induce, respectively, the smallest and greatest canopy yield, and greater productivity per area than Sunki mandarin. Trifoliate orange further presented greater efficiency than Rangpur lime. The Trifoliate orange high productivity and efficiency traits were transmitted to its hybrids. Ninety (23%) of the 394 CTV tolerant hybrids were selected jointly by the criteria trunk gummosis and Phytophthora root rot resistance, accumulated yield in seven years, productivity and production efficiency of Valência orange grafted on them. The hybrids in the TxS and SxT groups are specially outstanding and were selected in proportionally greater percentages due to good yield performances and to their general reaction to Phytophthora. Whether by the results from trunk inoculation or from root infection, they formed a group of individuals generally superior to the Rangpur lime and some presented tolerance levels similar to Trifoliate orange. Altogether 90 hybrids were selected for future research and trials as potential rootstocks: 12 TxS, 29 SxT, 23 SxC, 13 SxA, 7 CxA, 5 TxA and 1 CxS. For better characterization and use as minimum descriptors it is indicated, for each selected hybrid, the genotypes of seven isoenzymatic loci, two loci that govern CTV tolerance and the leaf phenotype in addition to their yield potentials, production efficiency, theoretical tonnage, trunk gummosis and Phytophthora root rot tolerances.

General remarks - The investigations indicated that the agroindustrial traits and performance induced by the Trifoliate orange, Sunki mandarin, Rangpur lime and Sour orange parents, ascertained by use and extensive experimentation as rootstocks in Brazilian citrus cropping, were widely corroborated by the data obtained. The study of the hybrids per se, their nucellar progenies and the Valencia orange canopies grafted on them showed, compared to the parents the existence of considerable genetic variability, not only among the seven groups of hybrids analyzed, but also among the representatives of each group. This variability suggests the correctness in the choice of the crosses carried out and the relevance of selecting hybrids that associate combinations of favorable traits present in the different parents. In November 2003, the plants were cut back to soil level and from the sprouting of these rootstocks five buds from each one of the 90 selected hybrids were grafted on Rangpur lime, introduced as new accessions in the Germplasm Collection of the Centro de Citricultura Sylvio Moreira ( of the Instituto Agronômico, Brazil, and field transplanted at Cordeirópolis in November 2005. The potential of the hybrids should be considered as a reference, since their nucellar progenies need to be assessed as rootstocks in extensive tests and under several plant health conditions. Because Sunki mandarin is tolerant to decline, sudden-death and to the Capão Bonito CTV strain, it would be strategic that such investigations be also conducted in situations that permit assessment of these hybrids for tolerance to these factors. It would be important for citrus producers themselves, and of great value to citrus cropping science, if these investigations were carried out with representative participation of main producing regions. Recently ( ), an interesting modality of seedling has been experimented where nursery inarch is performed with an alternative rootstock for possible complementation of attributes of the two different rootstocks. By confirming the superiority of these plants, the advantages could be further extended using a combination of two hybrids of different species. Thus, up to four different rootstock species could participate simultaneously in each plant of the orchard, supposedly decreasing the biological vulnerability that results from the use of a single rootstock.

Abridged by Rita Bordignon and Herculano P. Medina Filho from the original article “SELECTED CITRUS ROOTSTOCK HYBRIDS INTRODUCED INTO THE GERMPLASM COLLECTION OF THE INSTITUTO AGRONÔMICO” (R. Bordignon; H. P. Medina Filho; W. J. Siqueira; L. A. Ambrósio; A. Conagin; R. M. Pio; J. Pompeu Junior; J. Teófilo Sobrinho; M. A. Machado) available at

Contributed by H. P.Medina Filho / Rita Bordignon
Centro de Café Alcides Carvalho
Instituto Agronômico
Campinas, SP, Brazil

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1.24  Two key findings steer cucumber disease research

Michigan is still the No. 1 state in pickling cucumber production, but a readily spread disease infecting up to 50 percent of the state’s cucumber acreage threatens to put an end to that claim and jeopardizes the future of several other important vegetable crops.

The culprit is Phytophthora capsici, a funguslike organism that infects plant roots, fruits and foliage and causes a blight, or rot, to appear on the infected parts of plants in several families of crops: the cucurbits (cucumber, pumpkin, gourd, watermelon, cantaloupe, and summer and winter squash) and solanaceous (tomato, eggplant and pepper) families, as well as lima, wax and snap beans. Infection reduces yields and can kill plants outright within a few days. In 2006, Michigan growers produced $132 million worth of these vegetables on more than 83,000 acres. When weather conditions are favorable for Phytophthora (warm with rain), crop losses can reach 25 percent or higher.

“The economic losses from Phytophthora can be devastating,” says Mary Hausbeck, Michigan State University (MSU) professor of plant pathology and lead researcher on the Phytophthora project. “When a farm in southern Michigan was unable to harvest 300 acres of diseased pickling cucumbers because of Phytophthora, an estimated $300,000 was lost. This was in addition to a $40,000 loss on approximately 100 acres of processing tomatoes.”

Because of the economic importance of these vegetable commodities to Michigan and the threat that the disease presents to the state’s growers, plant pathology researchers at MSU are seeking to identify strategies for understanding and controlling Phytophthora, which can persist in soils in the absence of a host for more than 10 years. They cite two findings as key.

The first discovery dates back to 1999, when they learned that Phytophthora had become highly resistant to the primary fungicide that growers had been using to control it.

“This meant that growers were spending a lot of money on a product that could not help them,” Hausbeck says. “This finding caused the pickle industry to shift to using alternative products that did work and helped Michigan acquire a Section 18 registration that some other states did not have.”

The second key finding, from research conducted between 2002 and 2005, is that some of the water sources that farmers were using to irrigate their crops were contaminated with the Phytophthora pathogen. In standing water, Phytophthora produces swimming spores that can be spread through moving water. The pathogen can survive and cause infection for 8 to 10 hours, long enough to be spread over many acres through irrigation.

“The significance of this finding is huge because large parcels of farmland can become infected with Phytophthora after just two waterings with contaminated water,” Hausbeck says. “That land is infected forever, so growing vegetables there ever again is risky.”

Hausbeck says that, prior to this project, little was known about how Phytophthora spread so quickly and why it was a particular problem in fields where vegetables had never been grown in the past. For example, nearly 4,000 acres of vegetable crops were affected when P. capsici was discovered in the Pentwater River, a major waterway used as an irrigation source. In response to this finding, six wells were drilled to provide supplies of clean irrigation water for these farms.

“Discovering that this pathogen can be spread through irrigation water has been the hardest one for growers to resolve,” she says. “Irrigating with well water is safe, but using surface water from ponds, rivers, creeks or ditches is not, especially if there is a history of Phytophthora in the region. Phytophthora is not visible to the naked eye, and the cleanest-appearing ponds can be contaminated with it, so it can be difficult for growers to understand why they must shoulder the expense of digging a well.”

And what messages should growers take to heart?

“If irrigation is necessary, refrain from using surface water sources,” Hausbeck says. “Instead, use drip irrigation from well water or ponds fed by well water to reduce the risk of spreading Phytophthora.”

It’s also recommended that growers irrigate conservatively and limit irrigation close to harvest time.

MSU researchers are continuing to evaluate new products with potential for managing Phytophthora. Monitoring of irrigation water sources for Phytophthora continues, and scientists are initiating research to determine the role that water temperature plays in the pathogen’s survival. Project GREEEN, Michigan’s plant agriculture initiative at MSU, continues to provide funding in support of this work.

“Project GREEEN has been there since the beginning, and it was key to helping us secure the funds necessary to acquire the technical expertise needed to identify the fungicide resistance problem,” Hausbeck says. “Phytophthora research and the grower recommendations resulting from it would not have been possible without funding from Project GREEEN.”

Founded in 1997, Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Environmental and Economic Needs) is a cooperative effort between plant-based commodities and businesses together with the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, MSU Extension and the Michigan Department of Agriculture to advance Michigan’s economy through its plant-based agriculture. Its mission is to develop research and educational programs in response to industry needs, ensure and improve food safety, and protect and preserve the quality of the environment.

To learn more about the state’s plant agriculture initiative at MSU, visit

17 August 2007

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1.25  Challenges remain in reintroducing American chestnut

Researchers have developed a breed of American chestnut that is resistant to the fungal blight that decimated its population in the early 1900s.

But the return of this "king of trees," so-called for its picturesque form and towering height of more than 100 feet, remains hampered by a slew of obstacles, said a Purdue University researcher."We are on the verge of overcoming chestnut blight, but there is a whole new set of obstacles to get past yet," said Douglass Jacobs, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources who is helping develop the blight-resistant chestnut.

To reintroduce the American chestnut, he said, researchers must get past several policy limitations, gather new data, educate the public about the species and address new threats posed by exotic pests. He details these and other challenges in a paper published in July's issue of the journal Biological Conservation.

Once a dominant forest species throughout much of the Eastern United States, ranging from Maine to Mississippi and concentrated in the Appalachian regions, the American chestnut was known for its annual largesse of nuts, rot-resistant wood and sheer size. An introduced Asian fungus nearly eliminated the tree.

A breeding program begun by the American Chestnut Foundation recently produced a blight-resistant hybrid tree that derives its resistance from the Asian chestnut and contains 94 percent of the American chestnut's genetic material, Jacobs said.

Nevertheless, the supply of blight-resistant trees remains low, and the tree isn't likely to be available to the public for about a decade. More resources need to be directed toward breeding programs, he said.

More existing trees also need to be included in breeding programs as soon as possible to produce a genetically diverse population, Jacobs said. Although few adult chestnuts remain throughout the tree's native territory, a significant number of sprouts persist from old tree roots, which grow for years before becoming reinfected. These sprouts comprise a level of genetic diversity that is vital for widespread reintroduction and need to be included before they die out altogether, Jacobs said.

One of the biggest obstacles is the host of laws and regulations that now govern the forests - or former forests - in the chestnut's original range, Jacobs said. In many public lands where the chestnut used to thrive, such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, human interference is strongly discouraged and often illegal. But Jacobs said some interference and harvesting will be necessary to reintroduce the chestnut, calling for a unified and proactive approach and exceptions to certain laws that govern public lands.

Jacobs said that some might consider the blight-resistant chestnut hybrid as a cultivar or new species, which could hamper reintroduction to public lands. However, he stressed that just because the tree is crossed with the Asian chestnut to attain resistance, its physical traits and appearance should be indistinguishable from a pure American chestnut.

"This is as close to the real thing as it gets," Jacobs said. "Any closer and it wouldn't be blight-resistant."

Further breeding should produce even higher quality trees, he said.

In the early 1900s, the blight hit so fast that researchers didn't have time to study the American chestnut's ecology or interactions with its environment, Jacobs said. Thus, more research is needed to better understand the species and determine how to best reintroduce it into existing forests.

Jacobs recently conducted a study in Wisconsin where the fungus hadn't yet spread, demonstrating that the chestnut grew extremely fast, outcompeting native black walnut and red oak trees. The average chestnut grew to 23 feet by age 8.

"This confirmed what we had thought," Jacobs said. "The American chestnut is very fast-growing and competitive, has excellent timber and has great wildlife properties, all which make it a desirable species for reintroduction."

However, new exotic pests also threaten the chestnut. Blight-resistant hybrids have already proven susceptible to Phytophthora cinnamomi, or root rot, which preys upon tree roots in mostly wet, southern soils.

"This threatens to be almost as bad as the fungal blight," Jacobs said. "In the future, we may need to select for this resistance in new hybrids. Luckily, the Asian chestnut shows some resistance to this fungus as well, although the breeding process would take a long time."

Jacobs said the tree could be ecologically less desirable in some areas.

"It's a natural choice for hardwood plantations in the Midwest and Mississippi Valley, but these areas are largely outside its native range," he said.

The chestnut could threaten native species outside its range since it is competitive and quick-growing, he said.

If individuals or groups decided not to accept the hybrid American chestnut as a native species, and this in turn impeded its reintroduction, it would likely encourage more research into ways to genetically engineer the tree, especially since it has potential as a profitable species, Jacobs said.

"This would likely be less acceptable to those who would think twice about reintroducing a hybrid of a native tree, and it would be difficult to prevent without a better alternative," he said.

Writer: Douglas M. Main
Source: Douglass Jacobs
Ag Communications;
Beth Forbes,
Agriculture News Page

21 August 2007

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1.26  Same gene protects from one disease, opens door to another

Corvallis, Oregon
Botanists at Oregon State University (OSU) have discovered that a single plant gene can cause resistance to one disease at the same time it produces susceptibility to a different disease – the first time this unusual phenomenon has ever been observed in plants.

The finding, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help scientists better understand the pathways that genetic disease resistance can take. Plant diseases are a multi-billion dollar problem in agriculture, and scientists for decades have been trying to develop new varieties of plants with resistance to one disease or another.

The research also explains why an epidemic of “Victoria blight,” a fungal disease, occurred in the United States in the 1940s. The Pc-2 gene in a widely-planted, imported variety of oats provided good resistance to oat rust, which is a costly crop disease – but the same gene also caused susceptibility to Victoria blight, and its use had to be discontinued as a result.

“The blight fungus makes a toxin that causes disease in susceptible plants – that is, only plants that carry this gene,” said Jennifer Lorang, an OSU research associate. “But it also turned out that the same gene can provide disease protection. This is very unusual, and should provide insight into genetic influences on disease resistance and susceptibility.”

Most work that has been done on plant diseases is focused on disease resistance, the researchers said, and less has been done on the genetic basis for disease susceptibility.

Among other things, the study suggests that plants bred for resistance to one disease may inadvertently be changed in ways that make them susceptible to a different disease. It also indicates that the physiological basis for disease resistance and susceptibility may have some similarities.

The actual plant used to identify these genetic pathways was Arabidopsis, a small plant in the mustard family, which is frequently used for genetic research. The scientists put the Pc-2-like gene in Arabidopsis, which has a similar function in oats, and were able to determine that it causes disease susceptibility, although it looks like a resistance gene.

Co-authors on the study were Tom Wolpert, a professor of botany and plant pathology, and Teresa Sweat, a doctoral student. The research was supported by the National Research Initiative of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

28 August 2007

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1.27  Partial sequencing of the barley genome planned

Farmers, biofuel enthusiasts, and, yes, brewmasters could soon get a little enlightenment from German plant geneticists. Last week, the German government put up $8 million to more fully map and partially sequence the genome of barley, a key crop used worldwide in animal feed, human food, and beer.

Funding agencies have been slow to tackle crops such as wheat and barley because of the daunting size of their genomes. At 5 billion bases, barley’s genome is nearly double the size of the human genome. But it is only one-third wheat’s size and lacks that genome’s multiple copies, so it should be easier to sequence, says plant geneticist Nils Stein of the Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Gatersleben, Germany, whose team will create a draft sequence of 10% of the genome. Stein hopes the work, along with a British-led barley sequencing pilot, will set the table for a large-scale sequencing project.

Elizabeth Pennisi

Source: Science, 24 August 2007, Vol 317

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1.28  Eco-tilling detects resistance

DPI molecular biologist, Dr Mui-Keng Tan, together with a team of researchers from Japan, has developed ‘ecotilling’ - a quick, cheap and reliable means of detecting early signs of herbicide resistance in weeds.

A new molecular tool developedby Australian and Japanese researchers is expected to help farmers address what has become one of the major threats to conventional agricultural practices - herbicide resistance.

More than 305 types of weed in more than 50 countries have been reported to be resistant to at least one herbicide, and an increasing number of weeds owe their success to their genetic diversity.

Scientists say techniques are needed to detect mutations when they first occur, so farmers can test for herbicide resistance in the field and manage weeds accordingly.

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) molecular biologist,Dr Mui-Keng Tan, together with a team of researchers from Japan, investigated a technique called ecotilling and found it offers a quick, cheap and reliable means of detecting early signs of herbicide resistance in weeds.

Unlike the traditional molecular approach, eco-tilling uses reverse genetics. Genes are not fully sequenced; instead, mutations in single molecules that make up genes are identified purely on the basis of their position in the genome.

Dr Tan said new mutations can be detected and known ones can be screened for a fraction of the cost of alternative genetic methods.

This makes it a powerful, low cost and high throughput alternative to full sequencing.

Dr Tan has been investigating the technique with Dr Guang-Xi Wang from Kyoto University, who was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation to collaborate with Dr Tan at DPI’s Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute at Camden.

She says the use of the eco-tilling technique to test for resistance could help farmers to manage herbicide use in crop rotations more economically and effectively.

Dr Tan’s research has focused on herbicide resistance in two oft he most significant weeds affecting Australian cropping systems -wild oats and rye grass - and to together with Dr Wang she also examined weeds in rice fields inJapan.

Dr Tan said the every weed-herbicide system is specific.

"The ecotilling technique can beapplied on any particular system, pending availability of molecular data on the target genes of theherbicides," she said.

An article on the research in Japan was published recently in the international journal Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology.
Contact Mui-Keng Tan, Camden
- Joanne Finlay

August 2007

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1.29  Scientists harvest answers from genome of grain fungus

EAST LANSING, Mich. ­ Evil forces thrive in an unstable environment.

At least, that’s the picture being painted in the first waves of data being reaped from the genome sequence of the fungal plant pathogen, Fusarium graminearum. The sequencing has provided scientists a road map to someday combat a fungus that infects wheat and barley crops, rendering them unusable.

In the Sept. 7 edition of the journal Science, Frances Trail, Michigan State University associate professor of plant biology and of plant pathology, and Jonathan Walton, professor in the MSU-Department of Energy (DOE) Plant Research Laboratory, joined scientists around the world in picking over the inner workings of the fungus. The discovery: The real estate in some parts of the chromosomes, where many switches of disease and toxins reside, is unstable. Other areas of the chromosomes, where basic metabolism and other vital functions dwell, are stable.

“Those unstable areas are places where the organism is ready to evolve,” Trail said. “In those genes there’s a lot of mutation. They can change a lot without killing the fungus. The genes that are involved in basic metabolism can’t change without killing the fungus.

“We’re starting to see this kind of a pattern as genomes have been looked at. It tells us something about what makes a pathogen a pathogen.”

Understanding the layout of the genome is a high-stakes proposition. This fungus is a serious pathogen of wheat and barley in Michigan and throughout the Midwest. It causes Fusarium head blight, which reduces grain yields, and taints grain with mycotoxins that have been found to be detrimental to human and animal health.

Fusarium begins its blighting ways as pinprick-sized pods that spit spores into the air. The spores float over grain fields, landing on flowering wheat and barley. The spores colonize the wheat flowers. The often cool, wet weather of the Midwest provides an ideal environment for the fungus to take hold.

The result: fields of blight, identified by withered, bleached heads of grain. At harvest, many of the grains are shrunken and white, and harbor the mycotoxins.

The fungal plant pathogen has some 14,000 genes sequenced. Trail said the roles of some of them are understood, including which ones help form the spores or help produce toxins. Trail’s team figures that there are 2,000 genes dedicated to making the spores.

“Those spores have to get out to cause the new disease cycle,” she said. “If we can figure out that whole mechanism, it’s likely that we can figure out a way to control it.”

Understanding the sequence is the first step in the process. From there, the task is understanding the makeup of the genes – where they’re strong and organized, where they’re unstable and ready to change strategy. For instance, Trail wonders if that flexibility in the pathogenic-holding parts of the chromosome is the reason this fungus can produce so many different mycotoxins – including zearalenone, which can mimic sex hormones in mammals, including possibly people, and potentially cause developmental and reproductive problems.

The research was funded by a joint program between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation and the DOE as well as supported by the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station. The sequencing was performed at the Broad Institute at MIT.

Walton’s lab helped annotate the completed genome – that is, inspect a subset of the 14,000 gene sequences for accuracy and then compare them to genes in other organisms. In this way, they identified genes that Fusarium has that are lacking in related fungi that aren’t pathogenic on plants.

“This gives us additional clues as to what Fusarium needs to be a pathogen, which we hope will lead to new strategies to control the disease”.
Contact: Sue Nichols

6 September 2007

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1.30  Future crops may hinge on gene rescue

GRDC investment is helping to save important crop species in Central Asia – the birthplace of many grain crops – and forging research relationships that will have a long-term benefit for Australian growers, writes Brad Collis.

Access to potentially vital genetic traits – including increased tolerance to extreme weather events and resistance to disease such as rusts – should be the pay-off for Australian growers’ contribution to an international effort to conserve Central Asia’s genetic resources.

Australia’s Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) has been one of the first international crop research bodies to contribute to the new Global Crop Diversity Trust, recognising that access to germplasm in the region where many crops, particularly cereals and legumes, originated will have long-term value.

The Trust is an instrument of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, established in 2004 to try to arrest the alarming erosion of plant genetic resources.

The GRDC’s contribution is $1 million a year for five years, part of which has been earmarked specifically for Central Asia and the Caucasus (CAC). This is where valuable genetic resource collections in countries like Armenia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are suffering severe deterioration.

An ICARDA-based Western Australian researcher, Dr Ken Street, who is playing a key role in administering the Trust’s activities in CAC, says there is considerable genetic material in the region that would be of immediate relevance to the Australian grains sector.

He says this genetic resource includes seed from wild relatives, progenitors (more advanced relatives), landraces, and modern varieties developed under the former USSR crop improvement programs.

“Despite Central Asia being the centre-of-origin for cereals, and for most food grains, there is little genetic material from here in Australian wheat genealogy,” he explains.

“The genetic base of Australian wheat is comparatively narrow, coming from a Western European lineage. However, this is the obvious place to look for genes that can confer traits like frost and drought tolerance, and resistance to diseases such as stripe and yellow rust,” he says. “In screening Central Asian material we have found resistance to all rusts – leaf, yellow and stripe – in wild relatives and landraces.”

Dr Street says Australian help in securing these resources puts representative bodies such as the GRDC in a prime position for ongoing access to genetic resources from the region.

“The world is losing irreplaceable seed from these collections simply because the local people can’t afford to replace water pumps, or stored seed is being eaten by
mice. This is an absolute tragedy; doubly so because it is avoidable.”
Dr Street says some of the initial GRDC funding is being used to secure the world heritage apple and horticultural collections in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

“These fruit tree gene banks are important to Australian horticulture, and although they are not grain collections, our support and involvement becomes important strategically in terms of our access to other collections.”

He says that regional tensions and politics are an ever-present backdrop, making relationships such as that being built by GRDC vital for long-term, mutual benefits.

“In another project, we are making a full inventory of seed collections throughout Central Asia, and building a database linked to all the host institutes. When it is finished, plant breeders in Australia will be able to hook into a central data hub and find out what genetic resources are available.

“It’s a massive task, logistically and politically, because data sharing has traditionally been a ‘no-no’ among many countries. However, it also helps to rationalise genetic resources and eliminate duplication.

“The benefit to Australia is access to genes that could solve many current production constraints.”

As part of the overall effort to either rebuild, or add to, gene banks in Central Asia, Dr Street has in recent years undertaken a number of cereal and legume seed collection expeditions looking for ancient relatives, or lost landraces, that are growing in harsh conditions and which have obvious genetic strengths.

These expeditions, such as a recent mission in Armenia, are also used to set up small genetic resource units which provide an opportunity to train and equip local expertise, and create an opportunity for young agricultural graduates to begin careers in genetic resource management. Some of this work has been funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Dr Street says that while the diminution of crop genetic resources is a global issue, there is an opportunity to derive from Australia’s participation some competitive advantages in its own trading arena.

“A four-year head-start, for example, with a trait that gives us sustainable yields through drought periods or frost episodes, has huge economic impact,” he points out. “It is also putting genetic resources firmly on the research and political agenda and that alone is a significant achievement.”

Dr Ken Street is profiled in FutureCrop, published by the GRDC to inform debate surrounding the use of biotechnology to deliver higher-value crops.

FutureCrop can be downloaded from the GRDC website at
- Future Crop - Biotechnology and the Grains Industry Section 1
- Future Crop - Biotechnology and the Grains Industry Section 2
- Future Crop - Biotechnology and the Grains Industry Section 3
- Future Crop - Biotechnology and the Grains Industry Section 4
- Future Crop - Biotechnology and the Grains Industry Section 5

- The Grains Research and Development Corporation, Australia's peak grains body, informs the GM debate

7 August 2007

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1.31  Grain-based foods could soon have highly targeted nutritional roles through advances in gene technology

Grains research is exploring the use of various biotechnological innovations to provide cereals, pastas and breads that have added nutritional benefits.

Under a tripartite research project involving the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), Australian scientists are working with both genetically modified (GM) and conventional wheat varieties tailored to provide specific health advantages.

The research into consumer-targeted ‘healthier’ wheats is a move away from purely agronomic applications for GM technology, such as herbicide resistance, and is being undertaken through a joint venture between the CSIRO, the French farmer-owned company Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients and the GRDC.

The research could lead to wheat varieties that have a high amylose content, a trait that is expected to deliver health benefits to consumers and economic gains to growers. The first commercial wheat varieties expressing this trait are expected within five to six years.

Amylose is a type of starch that is more resistant to digestion than others, meaning it releases sugars more slowly. Research suggests that high amylose levels can improve bowel health, reduce colorectal cancer risk and improve blood glucose control, which is vital to managing type II diabetes and may help lower the risk of obesity.

The High Amylose Wheat (HAW) joint venture* will build on core technology developed by CSIRO Plant Industry and Biogemma (Limagrain’s biotech subsidiary), which has produced an experimental wheat variety with an amylose content of 70 per cent.

Using CSIRO-developed RNAi gene-silencing techniques, researchers have substantially altered starch composition, increasing wheat’s amylose content.

Dr Matthew Morell, Advanced Genetics theme leader at the Food Futures Flagship, says the technology has proved exceptionally useful in defining the genetic changes required to generate HAW. “The current team’s task is to breed the wheat using conventional methods,” he says. “By using molecular-marker technology we are now able to identify the genetic diversity necessary to conventionally breed HAWs.”

While the team could proceed more quickly with a GM variety if regulatory conditions changed, it is also looking into the non-GM route, which Dr Morell says will take longer because of the breeding complexities involved.

GRDC chairman Terry Enright says new value-added varieties, such as HAWs, will provide the Australian grains industry with the opportunity to market differentiated, high-value niche grains. “There is a clear opportunity for the industry to provide higher-margin specialised grain products that will enable us to expand our markets,” he says.

Mr Enright says food processors may also benefit, with the use of HAW varieties potentially eliminating the need to add extra fibre to boost products’ nutritional properties.

The Food Futures director, CSIRO’s Dr Bruce Lee, says incorporating new HAW varieties as wholegrains into breads, cereals and other foods could increase the intake of resistant starch to combat diet-related, non-infectious diseases such as colorectal cancer.

“This disease represents one of the most serious health problems in the developed world, causing premature death and disability, and posing a serious economic and social burden,” he says. “High levels of resistant starch give grain the potential to help tackle this problem.”

So far, animal trials have shown that HAW produced by GM technology improves important measures of bowel health. The next step is a progression to large-animal trials and then controlled trials in humans.

Plant agronomy is also being tested in field trials that have taken place under Office of Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) conditions at CSIRO’s trial site in Canberra, and also in the US. The trials were conducted to ensure the harvested wheat retained its high amylose content.

In related studies, researchers are assessing how the wheat performs when processed into different types of cereal-based consumer foods.

This is an abridged version of an article that appears in FutureCrop, published by the GRDC to inform debate surrounding the use of biotechnology to deliver higher value crops.

FutureCrop can be downloaded from the GRDC website at
- Future Crop - Biotechnology and the Grains Industry Section 1
- Future Crop - Biotechnology and the Grains Industry Section 2
- Future Crop - Biotechnology and the Grains Industry Section 3
- Future Crop - Biotechnology and the Grains Industry Section 4
- Future Crop - Biotechnology and the Grains Industry Section 5

7August 2007

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1.32  High-lysine corn generated by endosperm-specific suppression of lysine catabolism using RNAi

Nancy M. Houmard, Jonnelle L. Mainville, Christopher P. Bonin, Shihshieh Huang, Michael H. Luethy and Thomas M. Malvar (2007)
Mystic Research, Monsanto Company, 62 Maritime Drive, Mystic, CT 06355, USA
Plant Biotechnology Journal 5 (5), 605–614.
Volume 5 Issue 5 Page 605-614, September 2007

Because of the limited lysine content in corn grain, synthetic lysine supplements are added to corn meal-based rations for animal feed. The development of biotechnology, combined with the understanding of plant lysine metabolism, provides an alternative solution for increasing corn lysine content through genetic engineering. Here, we report that by suppressing lysine catabolism, transgenic maize kernels accumulated a significant amount of lysine. This was achieved by RNA interference (RNAi) through the endosperm-specific expression of an inverted-repeat (IR) sequence targeting the maize bifunctional lysine degradation enzyme, lysine-ketoglutarate reductase/saccharopine dehydrogenase (ZLKR/SDH). Although plant-short interfering RNA (siRNA) were reported to lack tissue specificity due to systemic spreading, we confirmed that the suppression of ZLKR/SDH in developing transgenic kernels was restricted to endosperm tissue. Furthermore, results from our cloning and sequencing of siRNA suggested the absence of transitive RNAi. These results support the practical use of RNAi for plant genetic engineering to specifically target gene suppression in desired tissues without eliciting systemic spreading and the transitive nature of plant RNAi silencing.

Source: Plant Biotechnology Journal via
August 2007

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1.33  DuPont scientists identify and silence plant gene that controls phytic acid

Discovery improves livestock feed, environmental quality

Des Moines, Iowa
A team of DuPont scientists has identified a gene that, when silenced, can help increase the feed value of grain, improve breeding programs for corn and other crops and reduce phosphorous in animal waste. Results of this research were published online in Nature Biotechnology on August 5.

The gene controls production of phytic acid, a compound in grain and oilseeds that is not digestible by monogastric animals, such as swine and poultry, and reduces the availability of essential minerals. Through genetic manipulation, researchers at DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred were able to silence the gene in corn, greatly reducing the amount of phytic acid in the seed.

“This research is a major advancement in our effort to improve the quality of grain used for animal feed and brings more value to producers,” said Jinrui Shi, research scientist at Pioneer. “For years, seed and biotech companies have been trying, with little success, to bring a low-phytic acid offering to market. This is the first time an institution has successfully produced a transgenic low-phytic acid trait without impacting germination or plant growth. In the past, this has precluded successful commercialization of this trait.”

Low-phytic acid seed is beneficial because it increases the amount of nutritionally available phosphorus and the bioavailability of essential minerals, which reduces the need for producers to add more costly feed supplements. In addition, lowering the amount of phosphorus from undigested phytic acid in manure can help reduce the environmental impacts of livestock production.

“Pioneer has developed a great example of a technology application that will directly benefit pork producers,” said Jill Appell, president of the National Pork Producers Council and a pork producer from Altona, Ill. “Low-phytic acid grains will not only allow pigs to better digest feed grains, which comprise 75 percent of their diets, and absorb nutrients, but they’ll also reduce the phosphorus content of manure. That’s good for the environment.”

“The low-phytic acid trait will become part of our portfolio of traits to be integrated into our high-yielding, agronomically superior corn hybrids over a wide range of maturities,” Shi said. “We have also demonstrated that this can be used in other crops such as soybeans.”

Pioneer plans to introduce low-phytic acid seed during the next decade with a package of traits for improved feed quality. It is part of the DuPont strategy to improve the productivity of grain and livestock producers to meet the growing demand for feed, fuel, food and materials.

DuPont – one of the first companies to publicly establish environmental goals 16 years ago – has broadened its sustainability commitments beyond internal footprint reduction to include marketdriven targets for both revenue and research and development investment like low-phytic acid seed. The goals are tied directly to business growth, specifically to the development of safer and environmentally improved new products for key global markets.

An abstract of the paper, “Embryo-specific silencing of a transporter reduces phytic acid content of maize and soybean seeds”, is available through Advance Online Publication on the Nature Biotechnology

6 August 2007

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1.34  Circadian clock controls plant growth hormone

The plant growth hormone auxin is controlled by circadian rhythms within the plant, UC Davis researchers have found. The discovery explains how plants can time their growth to take advantage of resources such as light and water, and suggests that many other processes may be influenced by circadian rhythms.

Auxin tells shoots to grow away from the ground and toward light and water. Charles Darwin conducted early experiments that showed how auxin affects plant growth. Most plants and animals have an internal clock that allows them to match their activities to the time of day or season of the year.

The circadian rhythms appear to act by "gating" the effect of auxin, the researchers said. In other words, the plant becomes more responsive to auxin at a certain time of day.

Postdoctoral researcher Michael Covington and Stacey Harmer, professor in the Section of Plant Biology at UC Davis, used microarray chips to look at thousands of genes from the laboratory plant Arabidopsis at the same time. About 10 percent showed some regulation by time of day.

In the auxin signaling pathway, nearly every step in the chain of events from the production of auxin through to the final growth response showed some regulation by the clock.

Covington and Harmer made plants that would glow when the auxin signaling was active. They found a natural rhythm of activity, peaking late in the night when water is most available and the plants are preparing for daylight.

A circadian response to auxin was actually observed in 1937 but then forgotten for 70 years, Harmer said. The researchers hope to understand exactly why having a functional internal clock is important for plant health.
The work was published Aug. 7 in the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology. It was supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.


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1.35  OSU wheat breeder’s genetic code-breaking means dollars to Oklahoma and region

Liuling Yan only joined Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources last year, but that move is already helping the southern Great Plains states make major breakthroughs in wheat improvement.

Yan is a world-class scientist with impressive accomplishments in the development and application of molecular genetics tools and techniques, said David R. Porter, head of OSU’s department of plant and soil sciences.

“Dr. Yan takes genetic improvement to a new level to produce improved wheat varieties, and that is certain to help Oklahoma producers be competitive in the world market,” Porter said. “We’re very pleased that he is a member of our department and the Division’s Wheat Improvement Team.”

Yan and his research group, working in collaboration with Brett Carver, OSU Regents professor of wheat genetics and breeding, recently discovered a genome region that has a significant effect on the development process of winter wheat.

A DNA marker for this genomic region has been developed to select lines for biomass production that can be utilized as forage or as a supplemental biofuel feedstock.

“This exciting find was achieved based on the genetic segregation of flowering time in a population generated from a cross between two winter cultivars, Jagger – a typical early flowering wheat variety – and 2174, a late-flowering wheat variety,” Porter said.

The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology recently awarded $90,000 for two years to support Yan’s work in the cloning of this gene that is so beneficial to the dual purpose wheat in Oklahoma.

Yan is recognized worldwide in the scientific plant community as a leader in the cloning of genes from the large and complex genome of wheat.

The wheat genome contains 16 billion base pairs, the DNA building block: That is five times the size of the human genome and approximately 120 times the genome size of Arabidopsis, the first plant to have its entire genome sequenced and a baseline model used for studying plant biology.

“Throw in the fact that wheat is a hexaploid species having three similar genomes and most people get lost in the science fairly quickly,” said Mark Hodges, Oklahoma Wheat Commission executive director. “The bottom line is that what Dr. Yan does is not easy, and Oklahoma is very fortunate to have him working on improvement of the state’s wheat crop.”

And by “Oklahoma” Hodges means all of Oklahoma is benefiting from Yan’s work, not just the state’s agricultural industry.

“At Aug. 15 prices, the cash price of an average crop in Oklahoma would be more than $900 million if we would have harvested a normal crop, which, of course, we weren’t able to manage this year because of the weather and other factors,” Hodges said.

Hodges added that figure does not take into account the livestock or pounds-of-beef-produced aspects of wheat production and use.

“In a normal year, wheat can easily account for more than $1.5 billion to the rural parts of the state, and eventually affects the entire state’s economic well-being,” Hodges said.

USDA data – backed up by OSU research conducted by Division scientists – indicate the average increase of yield attributed to variety research is a half bushel per acre per year.

“If you figure 30 bushels per acre in average yield and we increase that by a half bushel every year, at current prices that would be an increase of $3 per acre a year in return to the producer just in terms of the genetics,” Hodges said. “Talk about providing a benefit.”

It is little wonder that the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences featured Yan on its cover when he cloned the third vernalization gene from wheat in 2006: The cover and companion article reporting Yan’s findings made him the subject of considerable scientific attention.

“PNAS is the premier science journal in the nation, actually the world,” Porter said.

Vernalization requirement, long-term exposure to low temperatures to flower, is a common phenomenon in Oklahoma winter wheat varieties.

“Revealing the vernalization genes in varieties would provide valuable information vital to our efforts to improve Oklahoma wheat, which in turn would provide direct and indirect benefits to Oklahoma’s agricultural industry and the state economy,” Porter said.

Since Yan’s arrival in Oklahoma, he has taken his PNAS-published research one step further, by discovering key minute differences in the DNA of winter wheat varieties and their initiation of reproductive development.

“What this means to our wheat breeding program, and to the Oklahoma wheat producer, is that we’ll be able to tell with much greater confidence if a new variety can be grazed one to two weeks longer without sacrificing grain yield,” Carver said.

Just one more week of grazing could put an additional $3 per acre to $4 per acre in the producer's pocket.

“Yan’s our man,” Carver said. “Yan’s type of research fits Oklahoma’s way of producing beef and wheat from one crop like a golf club fits Tiger Woods’ hands.”

A native of China, Yan spent six years at the University of California-Davis prior to joining the OSU faculty. He was educated mainly in his native country but earned his doctoral degree in plant genetics in Australia.
Donald Stotts
News and Media Relations Manager


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2.01  Special issue of Euphytica "Challenges to International Wheat Breeding" available in journal web site

Note: full articles available only to subscribers of Euphytica

Challenges to international wheat breeding
Matthew P. Reynolds, Hans-Joachim Braun, Julian Pietragalla and Rodomiro Ortiz

Sixty-two years of fighting hunger: personal recollections
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9480-9
Norman E. Borlaug

Application of new knowledge, technologies, and strategies to wheat improvement
Mark E. Sorrells

Wheat breeding assisted by markers: CIMMYT’s experience
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9405-7
H. M. William, R. Trethowan and E. M. Crosby-Galvan

Yield of synthetic backcross-derived lines in rainfed environments of Australia
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9381-y
Francis C. Ogbonnaya, Gouyou Ye, Richard Trethowan, Fernanda Dreccer, Douglas Lush, John Shepperd and Maarten van Ginkel

Returns to investment in new breeding technologies
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9378-6

High yielding spring bread wheat germplasm for global irrigated and rainfed production systems
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-006-9346-6
R. P. Singh, J. Huerta-Espino, R. Sharma, A. K. Joshi and R. Trethowan

High yield potential, shuttle breeding, genetic diversity, and a new international wheat improvement strategy
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9375-9
Rodomiro Ortiz, Richard Trethowan, Guillermo Ortiz Ferrara, Masa Iwanaga, John H. Dodds, Jonathan H. Crouch, Jose Crossa and Hans-Joachim Braun

Lessons learnt from forty years of international spring bread wheat trials
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-006-9330-1
Richard Trethowan and Jose Crossa

Relationships between height and yield in near-isogenic spring wheats that contrast for major reduced height genes
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-006-9304-3
S. C. Chapman, K. L. Mathews, R. M. Trethowan and R. P. Singh

Partnering with farmers to accelerate adoption of new technologies in South Asia to improve wheat productivity
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9353-2
G. Ortiz-Ferrara, A. K. Joshi, R. Chand, M. R. Bhatta, A. Mudwari, D. B. Thapa, M. A. Sufian, T. P. Saikia, R. Chatrath, J. R. Witcombe, D. S. Virk and R. C. Sharma

Shifting undesirable correlations
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9379-5
R. M. DePauw, R. E. Knox, F. R. Clarke, H. Wang, M. R. Fernandez, J. M. Clarke and T. N. McCaig

The challenges of maintaining wheat productivity: pests, diseases, and potential epidemics
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9380-z
Etienne Duveiller, Ravi P. Singh and Julie M. Nicol

Wheat improvement in India: present status, emerging challenges and future prospects
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9385-7
A. K. Joshi, B. Mishra, R. Chatrath, G. Ortiz Ferrara and Ravi P. Singh

Challenges to wheat production in South Asia
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9515-2
R. Chatrath, B. Mishra, G. Ortiz Ferrara, S. K. Singh and A. K. Joshi

Wheat grain yield and stability assessed through regional trials in the Eastern Gangetic Plains of South Asia
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9470-y
Ram C. Sharma, G. Ortiz-Ferrara, J. Crossa, M. R. Bhatta, M. A. Sufian, J. Shoran, A. K. Joshi, R. Chand, Gyanendra Singh and R. Ortiz

Genetic improvement of grain yield and associated traits in the southern China winter wheat region: 1949 to 2000
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9376-8
Y. Zhou, H. Z. Zhu, S. B. Cai, Z. H. He, X. K. Zhang, X. C. Xia and G. S. Zhang

Stakeholder perception of wheat production constraints, capacity building needs, and research partnerships in developing countries
DOI: 10.1007/s10681-007-9529-9
P. Kosina, M. Reynolds, J. Dixon and A. Joshi

Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz,\(CIMMYT\)

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3.01  From gene to green
I t took a century to go from Mendel’s plant breeding experiments to the genetic code. The Molecular Genetics Explorer can help biology students make the same intellectual journey by connecting changes in an organism’s DNA to alterations in its appearance.

The free virtual lab comes from Brian White and Ethan Bolker of the University of Massachussetts, Boston. Students begin by setting up plant crosses and gene mutations to decipher the inheritance of color in fictional flowers. They then move to the protein level, tinkering with amino acid sequences to see how changes alter a protein’s shape and the flower color it produces. The final exercises let users determine the consequences of manipulating DNA.

Source: Science Vol 317:433

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3.02  GCP–IGD Interactive Resource Centre and Helpdesk

Please visit the Interactive Resource Centre (IRC) which has two brand new features on the home page: 1) a news section which will carry two research articles each month, and 2) a ‘What’s New?’ section to help you easily find new material. The IRC is intended to be both informative as well as interactive. It provides protocols, tutorials, literature and news, and also interactive services. Scientists are encouraged to submit questions through the Helpdesk on issues such as laboratory protocols, technical problems, data management and funding and training opportunities

Source: GCP News
Issue 22August 2007

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4.01  Bioversity International Vavilov–Frankel Fellowships 2008

Areas of focus: Conservation and use of Plant Genetic Resources
Eligibility: Applicants must be nationals of developing countries, aged 35 or under, and hold a masters degree (or equivalent) and/or doctorate in a relevant subject area.
Application deadline: 5 November 2007
Contact person: Elisabetta Rossetti  -
Website for further details on topics, criteria and application procedures: Bioversity website

Source: GCP News
Issue 22August 2007

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4.02  Call for proposals: GCP Genotyping Support Service

In this special issue of GCP News, we present our latest offer­an exciting service of direct relevance to plant breeding programmes, especially in the global South.

GCP is delighted to announce a call for proposals for the GCP Genotyping Support Service (GSS). Launched by Subprogramme 5 in collaboration with other SPs, this service promotes using molecular markers to assess the potential value of germplasm and breeding materials for relevant agronomic traits.

“I believe GSS will prove a vital tool in reaching more national research programmes in the South, helping to bridge the gap between molecular laboratories and field practitioners,” observes Humberto Gomez, Coordinator of the support service.

He continues, “While many plant breeding programmes in industrialised countries are now reaping the benefits of the molecular marker technology developed over the last decade or so, GCP recognises that our partners in the South are lagging behind due to many constraints­be it unreliable power supply, difficulties in obtaining lab supplies, lack of appropriate expertise and training, among other factors. These constraints prevent them from taking advantage of molecular genetic tools accessible to their counterparts in developed countries. While setting up labs in developing countries could be a step in the right direction, this alone is far from enough to promote the dissemination of molecular marker technology at the pace needed for adoption and meaningful impact.”

Stepping in to help fill the gap is the Genotyping Support Service. What will GSS do for you? Here’s a sample of what our latest service offers: assessing proposals, hiring genotyping services from the best providers, taking care of the administrative hassles, ensuring the generation of high-quality data and training participating researchers to interpret and work with the data to optimise outputs. In this way, researchers get to use the technology right away, while also learning how to get the greatest mileage out of the technology, thus creating local capacity. As such, GSS contributes to GCP’s effort to support and motivate plant breeding ‘champions’ in developing regions.

For more information on this exciting new service, including details on the GSS call for proposals such as eligibility, application, selection and implementation, please visit

Antonia N N Okono
Communications Manager
Generation Challenge Programme

Contributed by Humberto Gomez (GCP)

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4.03  Global Crop Diversity Trust announces the opening of three new windows of funding

The Global Crop Diversity Trust wishes to announce the opening of three new windows of funding as part of our mission to ensure the conservation and availability of unique plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) in a rational, efficient, effective and sustainable global system.

1. Regeneration of Threatened, Globally-Important Crop Diversity

What we will do: The Trust anticipates providing financial support to regenerate more than 100,000 distinct and threatened samples now held in some 120 collections in developing countries. In identifying specific collections for support, the Trust has relied on the global crop strategies which have been formulated by crop experts over the past couple of years, as well as other consultations. More than 500 experts from over 150 countries were involved in this process and, among other things, identified which collections collectively would provide the best coverage of the genepool of each crop. Funding will support regeneration of threatened samples in relevant collections. At this time, the Trust is focusing its efforts on 22 crops listed in Annex I of the International Treaty (banana, barley, bean, breadfruit, cassava, chickpea, coconut, cowpea, fababean, finger millet, grass pea, maize, major aroids, lentil, pearl millet, pigeon pea, potato, rice, sorghum, sweet potato, wheat, yam). We expect to invest more than USD 2.5 million in the process over the course of three years.

How we will do it: The Trust will soon be contacting holders of the identified priority collections. We are not in a position to provide support to collections not identified as globally unique by crop experts. Financial support will be provided exclusively to such high priority collections held in developing countries.

2. Regeneration of Crop Diversity through PGRFA Networks

What we will do: As with the first opportunity, the focus will be on rescuing and safeguarding unique samples, globally considered, of PGRFA of the 22 Annex I crops listed above held in developing countries. This window, however, will target generally smaller collections of regional or national importance. The Trust will provide support for the regeneration of such materials, working through the 15 regional networks for PGRFA that cover the whole of the developing world. We expect to invest more than USD 1 million in the process over the course of four years.

How we will do it: The Trust will soon contact the Regional Networks to initiate the process.

3. Award Scheme for Enhancing the Value of Crop Diversity

What we will do: The Trust is initiating a competitive grants scheme to support evaluation of genetic resources of 22 Annex 1 crops. We will provide approximately 20-25 grants annually to enable researchers and other users to screen collections for important characteristics and to make the information generated publicly available. Priority will be given to screening for characters of greatest importance to the poor, and especially those relevant in the context of climate change. We anticipate providing approximately USD 1.5 million in grants for this purpose during the next four years.

How we will do it: The 2008 Call for Proposals will shortly be issued by email, and posted on our website ( )

In Conclusion
The first two programmes outlined above will, by our calculations, rescue over 90% of the globally unique samples of the crops concerned that are currently deteriorating and in urgent need of regeneration before being lost completely. The third programme will add considerably to our knowledge about these and other collections and thus to their value and use.  While the role of the Trust is not to provide funding to national programmes for exclusively national purposes - that is the responsibility of national governments - these initiatives will strengthen and benefit national programmes as they contribute to building an efficient and effective global system to ensure conservation and availability of PGRFA. In all cases, the Trust will be looking towards building partnerships in which all parties bring resources to the table to accomplish a goal that both are interested in achieving. Cost-sharing, therefore, will be our model, not fee-for-service.

Due to funding limitations, staffing constraints, and our own very tight focus on specific goal-oriented initiatives such as those outlined above, we are not in a position at this time to consider unsolicited funding proposals for other PGRFA-related work. We trust you will understand. Our approach aims to produce the maximum amount of real and lasting global benefit, and to do so in a manner that we and our partners can sustain over time.

The Role of the Trust is outlined in more detail in a document with this title that can be found at: This document contains a "decision-tree" that we use as a general guide for funding decisions. We believe the paper will be of interest to anyone concerned with the complexities of and the strategic options involved in creating a rational global system.

Prof. Cary Fowler 
Executive Director, Global Crop Diversity Trust
c/o Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00100 Rome, Italy

Forwarded by Anne Marie Thro

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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.


1-12 October 2007 Rice Breeding Course: Laying the Foundation for the Second Green Revolution (2nd offering), IRRI, Los Banos, the Philippines.

Below is a link to a news article regarding a GIPB-supported training course currently underway at IRRI for everybody's info/use in the PBN-L/RiceCAP NL.  Due to very high demand, a second course is slated this October.
[view PDF] [ view DOC]

Contributed by Edilberto Redoña (IRRI)


*29 November 2007. 'Restoring Ancient Wheat’ Seminar,  to be held at The Israel Genebank, Machon Volcani, Beit Dagan, Israel,
See the website: for details.

If you have any questions, please contact: Dr. Rivka Hadas, director, Israel Genebank,
Eli Rogosa
Heritage Wheat Conservancy

Contributed by Elisheva Kaufman

Forwarded by Anne Marie Thro


*9-13 December 2007. The 3rd Sunflower Symposium for Developing Countries, Imperial Resort Beach Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda

The symposium has a wide scope of presentations by a number of key note speakers, oral and poster presentations on important aspects of Sunflower Research and Development, and elaborate exhibitions and tours in major sunflower growing areas and industries. For more information about the symposium please log on to or Forms for expression of interest, registration and guidelines for papers can also be downloaded from any of these sites.

Participants willing to present a communication are invited to submit their full papers by 30th September, 2007.  You should also indicate whether you want to present orally or by poster.

The scientific program will consist of several thematic sessions each having a keynote speaker, a poster session, and exhibitions and guided tours.

Emily Kabushenga Twinamasiko
Director, Research Co-ordination
National Agricultural Research Council Secretariat
P.O. Box 295, Entebbe

Forwarded by Anne Marie Thro


*September 2008.UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center announces second session of the Plant Breeding Academy

Davis, California
The UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy is pleased to be accepting applications for its second class, starting in September 2008.

The Plant Breeding Academy (PBA) is a two year professional development course teaching the principles of plant breeding. It is targeted toward people who are currently involved in plant breeding or wish to become plant breeders, and desire a greater knowledge of genetics, statistics, and breeding methodology. The program allows participants to maintain their current working positions.

Visit the Plant Breeding Academy website for more information and to apply for the 2008-2010 Academy.

You may also contact Cathy Glaeser, Program Representative, at, with any questions.

*17 September 2007. Biotechnology regulation: provide your opinion. The meeting will be held in conjunction with the Symposium on 17-20 September 2007.  For more information go to: and choose “Biotechnology Regulatory Meeting.”
Please contact Susan DiTomaso at: for questions or comments.

*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.
31 July: deadline for abstract submission (contact organizers to request an exception)
25 August: deadline for early registration at a reduced rate

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

*24–28 September 2007. Third Research Coordination Meeting on Effects of Mutagenic Agents on the DNA Sequence in Plants, Stellenbosch, South Africa,

*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

*15-17 October 2007. 5th International Symposium of Rice Functional Genomics, Tsukuba, Japan on. Online registration for the meeting is now open. Appicants should submit an abstract for oral and poster presentation. The deadline for submission is August 15, 2007. More information visit

*15–19 October 2007. Third Research Coordination Meeting on Pyramiding of Mutated Genes Contributing to Crop Quality and Resistance to Stress Affecting Quality, South Perth, Australia,

*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/.

*28 October–1 November 2007. Second Coordinators Meeting on Mutation Induction and Supportive Breeding and Biotechnologies for Improving Crop Productivity in ARASIA Member States, RAS/5/048, Damascus and Aleppo (tentative), Syrian Arab Republic.

*14-17 November 2007. 20th Annual Conference of the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria, Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, Nigeria.
Theme of Conference is "Biotechnology: key to achieving the millenium Development Goals in Nigeria. Abstracts and/or full papers to be published in the proceedings should be sent to the Conference Secretariat below.
Dr. Ben Ewa Ubi

*19-21 November 2007. 2nd International Seed Trade Conference in CWANA Region, Historical Palace of Mena House Oberoi Hotel Cairo, Egypt

For more information regarding the conference, please contact the conference secretariat:
Ms. Sarah Yehia - General Manager
Or visit the website:

*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.

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