8 October 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 (now with Google® search)


1.01  FAO declares International Year of the Potato
1.02  Economic returns to public agricultural research
1.03  New breeding technologies: a good investment or not?
1.04  Cornell University will support the University of Ghana to train African plant breeders to confront indigenous problems
1.05  New rice variety from International Rice Research Institute proves to be flood-resistant in Bangladesh trials
1.06  ICRISAT scientists work to breed crop varieties and hybrids that are more drought, pest and disease tolerant
1.07  CSIRO Plant Industry and Cotton Seed Distributors Ltd form the Cotton Breeding Australia joint venture
1.08  US scientists breed disease-resistant plant for Africa
1.09  IITA/Gatsby on cowpea production benefits farmers in Nigeria
1.10  University of Delaware leads $5.3-million research project on rice epigenetics
1.11  Australia examines the enforcement of plant breeder's rights
1.12  Scientists are making Brazil's savannah bloom
1.13  UK body to coordinate climate change teamwork
1.14  Court halts introduction of GM rice in the Philippines
1.15  The economic impact and the distribution of benefits and risk from the adoption of insect resistant (Bt) cotton in West Africa
1.16  USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service concludes genetically engineered rice investigation
1.17  GM corn 'improves animal feed, cuts pollution'
1.18  Developing nations 'need genetic resources rules'
1.19  'Biopiracy' requires reasoned treatment
1.20  Urgent need to conserve vanilla genetic resources
1.21  Two new varieties of southernpeas developed by USDA/ARS and cooperators
1.22  New high-yielding edible bean resists bacterial disease
1.23  Cornell University helps develop pest-resistant eggplant, the first genetically modified food crop in South Asia
1.24  Estimating the adoption of Bt eggplant in India: Who benefits from public–private partnership?
1.25  Tough sunflower lines produce high oleic oil
1.26  Release of onion germplasm
1.27  New type of rice grows better and uses water more efficiently than other rice crops
1.28  Towards the development of salt-tolerant wheat
1.29  Peanuts as new source of biodiesel fuel?
1.30  Pioneer Hi-Bred launches breakthrough technology that significantly increases soybean yields
1.31  Marker free GM soybean produced by gene excision
1.32  Agent that triggers immune response in plants is uncovered
1.33  Exposing wheat's genetic secrets
1.34  Monsanto and Evogene collaborate on nitrogen use efficiency research

(None submitted)

3.01  Coconut Genetic Resources Network has a new website

4.01  Grants program: International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups

5.01  Post-Doctoral positions in vegetable improvement





1.01  FAO declares International Year of the Potato

The potato (Solanum tuberosum) originated some 8 000 years ago in the Andes of South America. It was appropriate, therefore, that the initial impetus for declaring 2008 as the International Year of the Potato came from the Government of Peru.

At the biennial Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in November 2005, the Permanent Representative of Peru proposed - and the Conference adopted - a resolution that sought to focus world attention on the importance of the potato in providing food security and alleviating poverty. The resolution was transmitted to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, with the aim of having the UN General Assembly declare the year 2008 as the International Year of the Potato.

The Sixtieth Session of the General Assembly accepted the draft resolution in December 2005, and invited FAO to facilitate the implementation of IYP 2008. The resolution noted that the potato is a staple food in the diet of the world's population and affirmed the role that the potato could play in achieving internationally agreed development objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals.

The observance of IYP 2008 will provide an opportunity to raise awareness - among policy-makers, donors and the general public, especially young people and school children - of the importance of the potato in particular, and of agriculture in general, in addressing issues of global concern, such as food insecurity, malnutrition, poverty and threats to the environment.

Contributed by NeBambi Lutaladio, AGP/FAO

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1.02  Economic returns to public agricultural research

Over the last several decades, the U.S. agricultural sector has sustained impressive productivity growth. The Nation’s agricultural research system, including Federal-State public research as well as private-sector research, has been a key driver of this growth. Economic analysis finds strong and consistent evidence that investment in agricultural research has yielded high returns per dollar spent. These returns include benefits not only to the farm sector but also to the food industry and consumers in the form of more abundant commodities at lower prices. While studies using different methods and coverage give a range of estimates of returns to agricultural research, there is a consensus that the payoff from the government’s investment in agricultural research has been high.

Keith O. Fuglie and Paul W. Heisey
USDA Economic Research Service (ERS)
Economic Brief No. (EB-10) 9 pp, September 2007

Contributed by Ann Marie Thro

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1.03  New breeding technologies: a good investment or not?

Many technologies are available to breeders to help them improve the efficiency of their selection programs. Among the newer technologies are marker assisted selection, genomics, and physiological selection. But does the investment on these technologies pay off in the end? Researchers John Brennan and Peter Martin at the Australian Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute say it does.

Brennan and Martin presented comparative economic analyses between conventional breeding and that which uses new technologies in their paper published in Euphytica. They presented cases where the use of new technologies can help increase the returns on investment in breeding programs by reducing associated costs during varietal development, such as labor cost or direct inputs.

The researchers cited the potential benefits that breeding programs can gain from molecular markers as well as from adopting an indirect selection system using physiological indices. An economic assessment of phenotypic evaluation versus the use of molecular markers showed that the latter can offer lower costs especially under high-throughput systems. Their estimates on the cost of line evaluation range from $8 to $16 when using molecular markers and $2 to $163 when phenotypic evaluation is employed.

For more information, the paper can be accessed by subscribers at

From CropBiotech Update
20 July 2007:

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

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1.04  Cornell University will support the University of Ghana to train African plant breeders to confront indigenous problems

Ithaca, New York
In its latest venture in Africa, Cornell University will support a new doctoral program at the University of Ghana to train African plant breeders to tackle issues relating to maize, cassava, sorghum, millet, tomato, cowpea and other crops vital to Africans' diet.

Funded by a $4.9 million grant from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a partnership between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, the program aims to address the serious shortage of professional African plant breeders skilled in breeding indigenous plants. Cornell will receive an additional $1.7 million from AGRA to provide academic and technical support.

This is the second announcement in recent days of a Cornell-supported program in Africa. Earlier this month Cornell signed a memorandum of understanding with Bahir Dar University in Ethiopia to offer its Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree in international agriculture and rural development, to be taught as a pilot by Cornell faculty who will travel to Ethiopia. It will be Cornell's first degree program in Africa.

In Ghana, starting in January 2008, the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) program, located at the University of Ghana in Legon and supported by Cornell, will train 40 Ph.D. students from West African countries in plant breeding and genetics, with eight students admitted each year for the next five years.

"When Africans come to study in the United States, they are drawn to the problems that their supervising faculty have, which may be unrelated to the challenges at home. So they graduate with an education that is out of context, and they may have relatively little incentive to return home," said Ronnie Coffman, international professor of plant breeding and genetics and director of International Programs in Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "African donors are tired of supporting this kind of training because they feel they are not getting sufficient return on their investments. This is an effort to train plant breeders in the African context."

Cornell plant breeding professor Vernon Gracen, who is also associate director of WACCI, will spend six months in Ghana annually to help upgrade the curriculum, supervise student thesis research and help in management of the center. Plant breeding and genetics professor Margaret Smith, who serves as principal investigator of the project for Cornell, will provide leadership in planning and evaluating thesis research, through electronic communication with the University of Ghana.

Stefan Einarson, director of the Transnational Learning Program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will travel frequently to Ghana to provide technical assistance to WACCI. Resources from Cornell's Mann Library will be available to students electronically.

Also, all of Cornell's plant breeding courses, which are available on video, will be either streamed over the Internet or provided on DVD for use in Ghana. Ghanaian faculty and students and Cornell faculty also will be in contact via video conferencing to review student proposals and theses.

Students will devote the first two years of study to gaining a standardized foundation in genetics related to plant breeding, biotechnology, plant microbial interactions and disease control, plant stress physiology and more. As students move on to years three to five, they will conduct thesis research projects based in the students' home countries, aimed at solving problems faced by local farmers.

"This collaboration with WACCI provides engagement for our faculty and gives us experience in the challenging problems of Africa, some of which could become global problems," said Smith. For example, she said, "Many plant diseases and pests are worldwide problems as exemplified currently by the new race of wheat stem rust fungus that recently originated in East Africa and is spreading around the world."

By Krishna Ramanujan

19 September 2007

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1.05  New rice variety from International Rice Research Institute proves to be flood-resistant in Bangladesh trials

Dhaka, Bangladesh
A new strain of rice may be able to resist floods that destroy vast tracts of paddy fields in Bangladesh each year, offering hope to millions of poor farmers, researchers say.

The farmers lose their rice crops when fields are submerged by annual floods triggered when rivers, fed by heavy monsoon rains and melting Himalayan glaciers, burst their banks.

The rice type, called Swarna Submergence 1, developed by the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), proved to be flood-resistant in trials this year in northern Bangladesh, researchers said.

Normal rice varieties cannot survive being submerged by flood water for more than three days, resulting in huge losses for farmers.

But "last month when the floodwater receded from two farms in which Swarna Sub-1 was planted, we saw the rice paddy 'stand up' again. [This was] 10 days after it was completely submerged," said senior researcher Abdul Mazid.

"It was simply amazing. It means the variety has [proven to be] flood-resistant. It could be a huge step towards helping millions of rice farmers who are made paupers by floods," said Mr. Mazid of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI).

Low-lying Bangladesh, crisscrossed by 230 rivers, experiences flooding every year. Experts say the floods are one of the main reasons why 40% of the country's 140 million population live in dire poverty.

Rice production accounts for 14% of Bangladesh's gross domestic product. Two-thirds of Bangladesh's 144 million population ­ directly or indirectly ­ derives their living from rice farming.

"If the flood water stays two to three days, it is a blessing. It nourishes the soils. But if it stays longer, it destroys the crops," said IRRI liaison scientist Hamid Mia.

This year alone rice worth $290 million was damaged in one of the worst floods in nearly a decade in July, according to preliminary estimates.

The government said the losses would climb following a second spell of flooding in early September that has submerged more than a third of the country.

Swarna Sub-1 was invented in 2004 after IRRI researchers implanted a submergence-resistant gene in a massively popular high-yielding Indian rice variety through conventional breeding.

"The idea was to give the farmers a variety that can survive flood water for 10 to 17 days while at the same time ensuring them a more than average yield," Mr. Mia said.

With support from Swiss charity Inter Corp., BRRI distributed seeds and seedlings of the rice variety to 114 farmers across nine districts in the country.

"The field tests have so far yielded very good results. The farmers are excited and want more seeds and seedlings," Mr. Mazid said.

"Next year, we will quadruple the number of testing farms. And hopefully, by 2009-2010, we can start commercial production of the flood-resistant rice," he added.

Source: BusinessMirror
20 September 2007

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1.06  ICRISAT scientists work to breed crop varieties and hybrids that are more drought, pest and disease tolerant

Climate change and desertification put one billion poor people at risk

There are one billion poor people in the world who are vulnerable to climate change, desertification, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and shortage of fossil fuels. India alone accounts for 25.93% of this population and China 16.66%. The remaining part of Asia and Pacific accounts for 18.30%. In short, Asia is a hub where the poor, undernourished and the vulnerable live. This is followed by sub-Saharan Africa , which accounts for 23.94% of the one billion.

The other parts of the world are not far behind, with Latin America and the Caribbean accounting for 6.22% and the North East and North Africa 4.57%.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Chair of the Committee for Science and Technology of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the poor can be made less vulnerable with greater science and knowledge-based interventions, and more importantly significant donor support from the developed and developing countries to support this research.

“Business as usual will not help us meet the Millennium Development Goals and much more the goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015,” Dr Dar said.

Many parts of the world are already showing signs of physical water scarcity – India , eastern Australia, Pakistan, China, Central Asia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, North Africa, parts of southern Africa, southern USA and northern Mexico. With greater demands from other sectors, the water availability for agriculture is getting limited.

“The nexus of climate change and desertification, combined with land degradation, biodiversity loss, water shortage and fossil fuel shortage, will make it even more riskier for the farmers to farm in the drylands of the world. They will find it more difficult to invest in farming, and there could be more diseases and death” said Dr Dar.

ICRISAT believes that unless the livelihoods and resource base of such vulnerable rural communities can be made more resilient, coping with climate change and desertification may be next to impossible for poor dryland farming communities. Working over decades with poor farmers in the drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa , ICRISAT's research shows that a combined effort to deal with current climate uncertainty, land degradation and water scarcity is the only way by which the resilience of these communities can be brought about.

ICRISAT's research is achieving this through improved climate variability analysis, projects to overcome land degradation and water scarcity, use of improved crop management options, improved crop breeding, and a pro-poor BioPower strategy.

With improved tools becoming available in studying climate uncertainty, it has now become possible for decision-makers and investors to formulate a development agenda integrating short-, medium- and long-term timeframes. ICRISAT's integrated climate risk assessment and management framework enables investors (governments, donors, researchers or farmers) to understand better the risks and opportunities and get greater returns from more diversified and targeted investments.

Land degradation, which is a persistent problem in the drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa , can be further worsened by climate change and desertification. ICRISAT has been working with partners for years on combating land degradation in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa .

ICRISAT has been working on programs such as the Desert Margins Program, fertilizer microdosing and Drylands Eco-Farm to help fight land degradation in the sub-Saharan Africa . These projects diversify the basket of crops and livestock systems, and provide appropriate dosage of fertilizers to crops, to strengthen the resilience of the agro-ecosystems.

In Asia , ICRISAT's watershed development program overcomes both land degradation and water scarcity through judicious soil and management practices. This when supported by improved agronomic practices and integration with livestock systems, it enables the farmers to overcome the immediate problems of climate uncertainty and desertification.

Based on our work in the drylands we have proved that farmers can increase their productivity four-fold and profits three-fold, using improved management options including use of water efficient crops. There is also high carbon sequestration as a result of improving dryland systems with technologies.

All these activities are strengthened with ICRISAT's crop improvement research through which scientists continuously work to breed crop varieties and hybrids that are more drought, pest and disease tolerant. These new varieties strengthen the hands of farmers to deal with climate change and desertification.

ICRISAT released the world's first pigeonpea hybrids based on the cytoplasmic male sterility system. The hybrids developed at ICRISAT have shown 30 to 150% yield advantage. The hybrids also produce 30-40% more root mass that makes them more drought resistant. The adoption of hybrid technology has been rapid. The yield advantages of hybrids and the ease in their seed production have convinced the seed producers and at present 22 private and 3 public seed companies have adopted the technology. In 2007, a total of 250,000 kg of hybrid seed is being produced. This will bring about 50,000 ha land under hybrid cultivation.

Using the molecular-marker assisted selection and breeding method ICRISAT developed the HHB 67-2 pearl millet hybrid, which can withstand downy mildew disease, which devastates pearl millet crops in the Northern Indian states of Haryana and Rajasthan.

When there is no natural resistance in crops to pests or diseases, ICRISAT has been developing transgenic crops with genes for resistance from outside the crops gene pool. Under contained field trials are ICRISAT-bred transgenic groundnut for resistance to the Indian Peanut Clump Virus, transgenic pigeonpea and transgenic chickpea with resistance to Helicoverpa armigera.

With the skyrocketing of fossil fuel prices, ICRISAT has initiated a pro-poor BioPower strategy. Through this BioPower strategy ICRISAT works on generating biodiesel from jatropha and pongamia in the wastelands of the villages. ICRISAT and GTZ have has also initiated a public-private partnership with Southern Online Biotech and farmers.

ICRISAT scientists bred sweet sorghum varieties and hybrids that have higher sugar content in the juice in their stalks. Through the Agri-Business Incubator ICRISAT partnered with Rusni Distilleries who established a distillery to convert sweet sorghum juice to ethanol. In June 2007 the plant produced world's first ethanol from sweet sorghum. The beauty of ICRISAT-bred sweet sorghum is that while farmers get additional income from the juice in the stalk, they still continue to get the sorghum grains.

ICRISAT's package empowers the farmers to meet the present day uncertainties, so that they can meet the future climate change and also reverse desertification as it happens.

19 September 2007

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1.07  CSIRO Plant Industry and Cotton Seed Distributors Ltd form the Cotton Breeding Australia joint venture

CSIRO Plant Industry and Cotton Seed Distributors Ltd (CSD) today announced the Cotton Breeding Australia joint venture, to fund cotton breeding and targeted research for a 10-year initial term

Both parties will contribute A$2 million per annum for research, with CSD also co-funding the cotton breeding work previously co-funded by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC).

The first stage of Cotton Breeding Australia has already commenced with CSD funding the addition of a new breeder to CSIRO’s Narrabri breeding team.

“Cotton Breeding Australia will see an increase in investment in cotton breeding and research, of approximately A$40 million over the 10-year period,” says CSIRO Plant Industry Chief, Dr Jeremy Burdon.

“It’s a great example of the RDC model developing research to a point where it can be more directly funded by industry without an additional grower levy or government funding.”

CSD is a grower-based company and has worked with CSIRO Plant Industry since the 1980s to develop and deliver high quality cotton varieties for the industry.

“Cotton Breeding Australia will see an increase in investment in cotton breeding and research, of approximately A$40 million over the 10-year period,” says CSIRO Plant Industry Chief, Dr Jeremy Burdon.“The company has reached a point where it’s able to reinvest into cotton specific projects and research,” says CSD Managing Director, Peter Graham.

CSIRO-bred cotton varieties are world-leading, and the increased research spend this initiative will introduce, will keep them there,” Mr Graham says.

CSIRO and CSD recognise the very important contribution that CRDC and the Australian Cotton Growers Research Association (ACGRA) have made to the Australian cotton breeding program to date, and look forward to the continuation of this contribution.

CSIRO-bred cotton varieties currently represent over 90 per cent of the Australian market and are well represented around the world.

Key areas for the breeding and research program include yield/quality improvements, drought and climate change tolerance, water use efficiency and disease tolerance.

CSD will also be funding additional capital expenditure to ensure that the increased breeding and research work has adequate resources to effectively bring the outcomes to the market.

Other news from Cotton Seed Distributors Ltd.

26 September 2007

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1.08  US scientists breed disease-resistant plant for Africa

Michael Timko, a Professor of Biology in the University of Virginia, is helping African breeders to develop the resistance of cowpea to the weed Striga in West Africa. He and other scientists have sequenced the cowpea genome and are using this information to speed up and improve the breeding process by modern molecular-based technologies.

Cowpea is a primary protein source for millions of people. About 80 percent of the world's cowpea crop is grown in Africa, mostly by subsistence farmers. The entire plant is used for food, and for hay and fodder for cattle. However, the Striga gesnerioides, or “witchweed,” is so virulent that farmers must relocate their cowpea crop to new soil every few years. Timko’s approach is to improve the performance of plants by identifying genes that control key characteristics, and then use this knowledge in selective breeding programs that emphasize those traits using associated genetic markers. The resulting product is the delivery of improved parasite-resistant hybrids to the farmer in shorter amounts of time.

Read the full press release at

From CropBiotech Update
27 July 2007:

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

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1.09  IITA/Gatsby on cowpea production benefits farmers in Nigeria

In the International Improvement of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)/Gatsby crop-livestock project, farmers are taking advantage of extra early varieties of cowpea to double their production and increase their income. The rainy season in the Guinea savanna in northern Nigeria normally starts in June and ends in September. With such a short rainy season, cowpeas can be planted only once.Under the project, extra early cowpea varieties are harvested by August, and a second batch is planted in September. The grain yields from extra early cowpea varieties were estimated at about 700 to 1100 kg/ha, a record high.

The full article is available at .

From CropBiotech Update
3 August 2007

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

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1.10  University of Delaware leads $5.3-million research project on rice epigenetics

Newark, Delaware
Using a novel “deep sequencing” technology that can in one fell swoop decode 50 million sequences representing well over a billion bases of DNA, a research team led by University of Delaware scientists is working to unmask where, why and how certain genes are switched on or off in rice--a crop vital to the world's food supply.

The goal of the four-year project, which is supported by a $5.3-million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), is to advance scientific understanding of the rice epigenome--the series of biochemical modifications of the rice DNA that can toggle a gene on or, conversely, silence it. Ultimately, the research may lead to the development of hardier strains of rice, as well as shed light on similar mechanisms at work in corn and other important cereal grains that are closely related to rice.

Blake Meyers, associate professor of plant and soil sciences at UD, is the principal investigator on the project, which also involves Guo-Liang Wang, a rice biologist from Ohio State University; Steven Jacobsen, an expert in epigenetics, and computer scientist Matteo Pellegrini, both from the University of California at Los Angeles; and Yulin Jia, a plant pathologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Ark.

The effort builds on Meyers' previous awards from the NSF Plant Genome Research Program, as well as ongoing investigations of small RNAs--short lengths of ribonucleic acids that act as gene regulators--performed in collaboration with Pamela Green, the Crawford H. Greenewalt Endowed Chair in Plant Molecular Biology at UD, whose lab is next door to Meyers' in the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. These projects have now propelled the research in a new direction, to new frontiers in the field of epigenetics.

“Epigenetics refers to a heritable change that is not a result of a change in DNA sequence, but rather a chemical modification of nucleotides in the DNA or its associated proteins,” Meyers said. “That means that these changes can be reversible, and it's easier to switch them on or off. Small RNAs are one of the key 'control switches,' directing these modifications,” Meyers noted.

State-of-the-art sequencing by synthesis (SBS) technology developed by Solexa Inc., in Hayward, Calif., will provide the data essential to the project. This novel “deep sequencing” tool, which can decode tens of millions of sequences during a single run, has become available over the last year. The application of SBS to epigenetics research was demonstrated in the human genome only within the past few months. The UD-led effort will be one of the first large-scale projects to use this approach in crop plants.

“If you think of a gene as part of a set of chromosomes, a gene is just a small fraction of a percent of a complete genome,” Meyers said. “If we learn about that gene by random sampling, by using 50 million total sequences, which is what SBS provides, we can characterize that gene at depth,” he noted. “Using this method, we can obtain statistically robust data for nearly all genomic regions in a single experiment.”

The scientists will use the technology to look for chemical modifications in chromatin, the building-block material of chromosomes, consisting of DNA and the proteins that interact with it. The scientists want to know how the chromatin is configured and what role changes in the material play in plant development.

“Formerly, we had a very narrow picture of a plant's genome; with these new sequencing technologies, we now have the opportunity to acquire a comprehensive picture at fine detail,” Meyers said. “It's like looking through a high-powered telescope--but now we have a wide-angle lens on that telescope to take in a view with both breadth and depth.”

Besides studying the state of the genome using a variety of different strains of rice plants, the research team will develop new bioinformatics methods to process the vast amounts of data and mine new discoveries.

“The project is part biology and part technology,” Meyers said. “Developing the bioinformatics to handle the data is critical. You have to know what to do with it. As our bioinformatics capabilities have grown, so have the resources available to the public through our web sites,” he noted. “And these online resources have led to important new collaborations.”

The data from the current project will be accessible through web sites at UD and UCLA--[] and [].

The research project also includes an innovative education and outreach component targeting graduate students in plant science. Students will write, submit and exchange research proposals with students from different universities. They will then serve on a panel to critique and rank the proposals, modeled after the National Science Foundation's own proposal review process.

“Since planning experiments and justifying these through writing proposals is such an integral part of what a scientist does, I thought this would be a good experience for our students,” Meyers said. “This way, they can also see what their advisers go through,” he added, grinning.

Meyers developed the educational project several years ago in the advanced plant genetics course (PL636) he teaches in the UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Since then, several colleagues and their classes at Iowa State and Penn State have participated in the program, exchanging proposals with UD, and UCLA and Ohio State are planning to join the program during the current four-year grant.

“My hope is that this program and its proposal exchange system can be used broadly by plant genetics and genomics courses at universities to build writing, communication and critical thinking skills among graduate students,” Meyers said.

Article by Tracey Bryant

10 September 2007

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1.11  Australia examines the enforcement of plant breeder's rights

The Advisory Council on Intellectual Property (ACIP) is undertaking a review on the enforcement of Plant Breeder's Rights in Australia. ACIP is an independent body appointed by the Australian Government to advise government on matters relating to intellectual property including patents, trade mark, design and, more recently, Plant Breeder's Rights.

ACIP has developed an Issues Paper which can be viewed on Issues Paper was distributed to over 100 entities that advised ACIP of their interest in enforcement of PBR. ACIP received submissions from about 40 of these groups and has recently completed comprehensive consultations with many of the authors of these submissions.

ACIP is now developing an Options Paper which will canvas a range of strategies for addressing the issues previously identified. This will also be made available for comment to interested entities and through the web site,

Any questions/comments on this study should be directed to Cameron Stack by email:"

Contributed by Paul Brennan
CropGen International

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1.12  Scientists are making Brazil's savannah bloom

PLANALTINA, Brazil ­ Anyone curious to know how Brazil has become what the former secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, calls an “agricultural superpower” ­ poised to overtake the United States as the world’s leading exporter of foodstuffs ­ would do well to start here in this busy network of government laboratories.

The sprawling labs and experimental fields are operated by Embrapa, Brazil’s agricultural and livestock research agency, and have become an obligatory stop for any third world leader visiting Brazil.

Although little known in North America, Embrapa has in three decades become a world research leader in tropical agriculture and is moving aggressively into areas like biotechnology and bio-energy.

“Embrapa is a model, not just for the so-called developing world, but for all countries,” said Mark Cackler, manager and acting director of the Agricultural and Rural Development Department of the World Bank. “A key reason that Brazil has done so well with its agricultural economy is that it has invested heavily and intelligently in front-end agricultural research, and Embrapa has been at the forefront of that effort.”

Embrapa owes much of its reputation to its pioneering work here in the cerrado, the vast savannah that stretches for more than 1,000 miles across central Brazil. Written off as useless for centuries, the region has been transformed in less than a generation into Brazil’s grain belt, thanks to the discovery that soils could be made fertile by dousing them with phosphorus and lime, whose optimum mixture was established by Embrapa scientists.

When the annual World Food Prize was awarded last year to two Brazilians affiliated with Embrapa, the citation called the emergence of the cerrado “one of the greatest achievements of agricultural science in the 20th century.”

Embrapa also championed the main crop for the region by developing more than 40 tropical varieties of soybeans, which had been thought of as only a temperate zone crop.

“When I was working in India and Pakistan and the Near East countries in the 1960s and 1970s, nobody thought these soils were ever going to be productive,” Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist who won the Nobel Peace Prize for work that earned him the title “father of the Green Revolution,” said in a telephone interview from Iowa. “But Embrapa was able to put all the pieces together.”

As a result, Brazil is today the world’s top exporter of soybeans and beef and a fast-rising exporter of cotton, three-quarters of which it produces here in the cerrado. Encouraged by that success, Embrapa scientists have turned their attention to wheat. Brazil now imports most of its wheat from nearby countries with temperate climates.

“We think the potential is enormous,” said Roberto Teixeira Alves, general director of the cerrado research center at Embrapa. “We launched two new varieties of wheat with good yields just last year, and believe there is also a strong possibility of adapting barley to the region.”

Embrapa’s laboratory in Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon, has also been studying ways to make carbon sequestration more efficient. Scientists have been examining what are known as “Amazonian dark earth soils,” small, fertile islands that were built up by pre-Columbian Indian tribes and that have especially high concentrations of phosphorous.

“We don’t know why that should be, but we are trying to understand and reproduce that phenomenon so that we can benefit from it now,” said Wenceslau Teixeira, a soil scientist who is in charge of the effort. “These islands have especially stable levels of carbon, which helps retain nutrients and is thus both quite useful and hard to find in tropical soils.”

And although Brazil’s sugar-based ethanol program is largely focused elsewhere, Embrapa has an agro-energy division that is concentrating on ways to grow diesel fuel. Embrapa scientists have identified some 30 plants that could be used in such programs and are focusing on palm oil.

“Palm oil’s composition is one of the best for production of bio-fuels,” said Maria do Rosario Lobato Rodrigues, the director of the Manaus laboratory, where the research is based. “It has a high capacity to fix carbon, doesn’t require the use of chemical products to produce, and no part of the plant is ever wasted.”

Under Embrapa’s newly broadened definition of agriculture, nothing seems off limits, from a tropical hog that is lower in fat and cholesterol than its American counterpart and has a higher yield of loin and ham, to the extraction of bio-polymers from spiders. At the Embrapa executive dining room in Brasilia, there are even place mats made with varieties of natural cotton fibers, which, because they grow in shades of green and tan, could cut costs of dye stocks for textile manufacturers.

Source: The New York Times online:

Contributed by Luigi Guarino
Global Crop Diversity Trust
via Elcio Guimaraes

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1.13  UK body to coordinate climate change teamwork

Agencies will share information about climate-tolerant crops
Maryke Steffens
The recently formed UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UK-CDS) announced last week (28 September) that climate change will be its major focus over the next year.

Formed in December 2006, the UK-CDS coordinates the science and technology projects of its eight UK-based members ­ including the Wellcome Trust, the Department of Health and the Department for International Development ­ that are in or affect the developing world.

Projects range from medical and social research to agricultural and environmental projects.

The UK-CDS will look at projects examining "the impact of climate change on developing countries, what adaptation might be necessary and what the science and technology needs might be," UK-CDS director Andree Carter told SciDev.Net.

For example, an adaptation project might investigate which new crops or agricultural practices are required in areas of increased flooding, she said.

"What we're finding is that our members support activities in a range of countries, particularly Sub-Saharan African countries, but they have very little knowledge of what each other are doing," says Carter. "If we could bring some of those activities together, simply from an information and 'lessons learned' point of view, it would add value."

UK-CDS hopes to have an initial report ready by the end of 2007.

The collaborative will map out current funding initiatives and activities and identify opportunities for collaboration.

It will assist projects in the developing world in building capacity in science and technology by helping identify research priorities, manage research budgets and day-to-day running of research organisations, and build technical skills and infrastructure.

Part of UK-CDS's remit is to also guide capacity building in UK-based organisations and match up the skills and capabilities of organisations to the needs of developing countries.

It also plans to work with the UK Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills to try and predict future science and technology needs of developing countries.

"Think about how the mobile phone has had a massive impact on developing countries, how they've cut out a whole raft of infrastructure just by using mobile phones. What other electronic or other technology might make a big difference in terms of life?" Carter adds.

Source: SciDev.Net
5 October 2007

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1.14  Court halts introduction of GM rice in the Philippines

A Philippine court has temporarily halted an application to bring genetically modified (GM) rice to the country, pending a study of possible health and environmental effects.

A temporary restraining order was issued yesterday (18 September) after Greenpeace, together with other nongovernmental organisations, challenged the Philippine government's right to approve Bayer Crop Science's LL62, a herbicide-tolerant type of hybrid rice.

The order prohibits the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) from approving Bayer's application to introduce LL62 for food, animal feed and the manufacture of other products.

A statement from the court said the order would "preserve the status quo until the merits of the case can be heard". No date has yet been set for the a new hearing.

Bayer submitted its application to BPI in August 2006. If eventually approved, it will be the first GM rice in the Philippines.

Environmental group Greenpeace filed its injunction on 23 August this year, citing several concerns over LL62, particularly the absence of public consultations, as required by the Philippine law. The injunction also pushes for a review of the approval process for GM plants in the country.

"It will be a big mistake to allow GM rice to enter our food supply.  It has never been proven safe for human consumption and poses grave risks to the environment and to our health," said Daniel Ocampo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Genetic Engineering Campaigner.

Agnes Lintao, policy officer for Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (Searice), another of the petitioners, said approval of LL62 would open the floodgates to further GM rice contamination in the Philippines and that the government should abandon all applications for GM organisms.

Bayer say the LL62 rice variety is safe for human consumption, and produces a protein conferring herbicide tolerance that is commercially available in Canada, the European Union, Japan, Mexico, Russia and the United States.

"Bayer Crop Science believes that this rice poses no harm on human health, food or feed. It has also been confirmed in many trials that it did not exhibit weedy characteristics, or negatively affect other organisms," said the company's communications manager, Reynaldo Cutanda.

Imelda Abano

Source: SciDev.Net
20 September 2007

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1.15  The economic impact and the distribution of benefits and risk from the adoption of insect resistant (Bt) cotton in West Africa

Washington, DC
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) discussion paper 00718

The Economic Impact and the Distribution of Benefits and Risk from the Adoption of Insect Full paper: (Bt) Cotton in West Africa

September, 2007

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1.16  USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service concludes genetically engineered rice investigation

Washington, DC
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Bruce Knight today announced the conclusion of the genetically engineered rice (GE) investigation. The investigation, which was conducted by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Investigative and Enforcement Services in coordination with USDA's Office of the Inspector General, focused on the unintentional release of trace amounts of regulated genetically engineered rice detected in two commercial varieties of long-grain rice.

"USDA conducted an extensive investigation that involved more than 8,500 staff hours and site visits to more than 45 locations in 11 states and Puerto Rico," said Knight. "Based on our findings, we are considering a number of actions to strengthen our enforcement and investigation capabilities and to foster better quality management practices."

Bayer CropScience developed and field tested the regulated GE rice lines known as LLRICE601 and LLRICE604, which were designed for herbicide tolerance. Both GE rice lines have the same added protein, commonly referred to as the PAT protein, which has been safely used in other deregulated products for more than ten years.

The investigation was initiated on Aug. 1, 2006, after Bayer CropScience reported that regulated LLRICE601 had been detected in the long-grain rice variety Cheniere. LLRICE601, which is similar to two previously deregulated lines, was subsequently deregulated in November 2006. The investigation was expanded on Feb. 16, 2007 to include the discovery of regulated GE rice, later identified as LLRICE604, in the long-grain rice variety Clearfield 131 (CL131).

To assist investigators, USDA officials tested 396 samples from 57 rice varieties that had been harvested between 2002 and 2006. Other USDA agencies instrumental in this effort were the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Economic Research Service.

As a result of this extensive sampling, investigators were able to determine that the presence of LLRICE601 was limited to Cheniere and that the presence of LLRICE604 was limited to CL131. In both cases, only trace amounts of GE material were present. No short- or medium-grain rice varieties tested positive for either LLRICE601 or LLRICE604.

Investigators had hoped to identify how each GE rice line entered the commercial rice supply, but the exact mechanism for introduction could not be determined in either instance. Investigators found that from 1999 to 2001, LLRICE601 and Cheniere were both grown at the same time at the Rice Research Station in Crowley, La which was operated by Louisiana State University. The Crowley research station was working under a Bayer CropScience contract. LLRICE604 and CL131 also were grown at the Crowley research station, but the planting of LLRICE604 and CL131 did not occur at the same time. This means that the most likely entry point for LLRICE604 into CL131 was through a means other than direct cross-pollination.

Based upon the findings of the investigation, APHIS will not be pursuing enforcement against Bayer CropScience. Given the lack of available information and evidence, USDA was unable to make any definitive determinations that could have resulted in enforcement action.

APHIS is releasing a report of the findings as well as lessons learned from this and other investigations and from its experience as regulators. For example, APHIS is considering establishing retention requirements for records. APHIS also is considering greater isolation distances between seed breeding fields and GE varieties in order to reduce the likelihood of pollen flow.

The new Biotechnology Quality Management System, announced in September, will help industry to establish best management practices. APHIS will encourage universities, small businesses and large companies to participate. The goal of the voluntary program is to help developers establish policies and quality control practices that proactively address potential issues before they materialize.


Lessons learned:

5 October 2007

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1.17  GM corn 'improves animal feed, cuts pollution'

[BEIJING] Chinese scientists have developed a genetically modified (GM) corn that could help improve the nutritional value of livestock feed and reduce pollution.

The research was announced by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) this week (10 September). The corn has now entered pre-production field trials.

The GM corn produces seeds containing high levels of an enzyme called phytase. The enzyme helps livestock to digest phosphorus, an important nutritional element found in corn and soy feeds.

Cereal grains and oilseeds, the main ingredients of feeds, contain large quantities of phytic acid, which has adequate phosphorus content, but livestock such as pigs lack sufficient phytase in their digestive tract to absorb enough phosphorus. This means large amounts of phosphorus are released into the environment through animal waste. 

As a result, farmers add phytase to animal feed to help livestock digest phosphorus. The enzyme is a product of fermentation by microorganisms, a process which has high production costs.

The CAAS scientists ­ funded by the state ­ isolated the gene that produces phytase from a species of the fungus Aspergillus, and inserted it into corn.

Chen Rumei, of the Institute of Biotechnology under CAAS and a member of the research team, said that when compared to other corn varieties, the rate of seed germination, growth speed and yield of the GM corn were no different.

She told SciDev.Net that, under current industry criteria for feed additives, adding just a few grams of the GM corn seed per kilogram of animal feed would be enough to satisfy livestock's nutritional demand for phosphorus.

"If this technology is commercialised, we can save up to 450 million yuan (US$60 million) per year in energy costs used to produce industrial phytase enzyme additives," Chen adds.

"This could be translated into saved costs for farmers in purchasing additives," she says. And farmers who plant the GM corn rather than common corn varieties could increase their income by about 1500 yuan (US$200) per hectare.

Li Zhensheng, former vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the chair of the Ministry of Agriculture team who evaluated the project, says phosphorus pollution caused by animal waste has been a serious problem, resulting in widespread algal blooms in the Chinese lakes (see Pollution control key to beating China's algal blooms).

"If the phytase enzyme-rich feed produced from the GM corn is widely applied, phosphorus pollution caused by animal waste will be significantly reduced, and the ecology could be largely improved," Li says. 

China has not yet approved any GM corn for commercial sale.

Jia Hepeng

Source: SciDev.Net
13 September 2007

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1.18  Developing nations 'need genetic resources rules'

[BEIJING] To benefit from genetic resources, developing countries need to improve their governance, a meeting in Beijing was told this week (4 September).

Developing countries are losing out because their laws do not specify which resources should be paid for and how, said Gurdial Singh Nijar, a law professor at the University of Malaya in Malaysia.

He made his remarks at an international workshop on genetic resources and indigenous knowledge, supported by the UN Convention of Biological Diversity.

The Access and Benefit Sharing of Genetic Resources (ABS) mechanism calls for developed countries to pay for the collection and use of plant or animal species that they obtain for commercial use from the developing world.

But, said Nijar, the resource users ­ mostly developed country companies and institutions ­ can easily overcome international legal duties on benefit-sharing by paying minimal money to local communities.

This is due to the lack of a legal definition of what constitutes payable genetic resources, and clarity on who owns these resources: national governments or local communities of origin.

Chee Yoke Ling, legal advisor to the Third World Network, an international network of development organisations, agreed, saying developing countries need to adjust their patent systems.

Many systems favour the knowledge and expertise of developed countries, rather than supporting the indigenous knowledge of genetic resources in the developing world, she said.

Nijar said that implementing genetic resource legislation would strengthen developing world countries' status in international negotiations.

But Wang Canfa, from China Politics and Law University ­ and the major drafter of China's biosafety and biodiversity regulations ­ says attempts to legislate on biodiversity use in China have been suspended since 2006 because government departments are arguing over who should govern the area.

Seizo Sumida, from Japan's Bioindustry Association, says in the absence of genetic resource legislation, the best option is to set up international partnerships.

Japan has formed a collaborative consortium with 11 Asian countries, including China, Mongolia, Myanmar and Vietnam, to research their natural genetic resources and share the benefits, Sumida says (see Scientists search for new microbes in Mongolia).

Hepeng Jia

Source: SciDev.Net
6 September 2007

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1.19  'Biopiracy' requires reasoned treatment

The fight against biopiracy must embrace both legitimate science and social justice if biodiversity itself is not to suffer.

Scientists have long been implicated, whether actively or tacitly, in developed countries' campaigns to seek out and secure natural resources to fuel industrialisation and maintain their own living standards.

This was the motive behind many 'scientific' expeditions to explore and map out the centre of Africa in the nineteenth century. More recently, studying indigenous medicine has become a cost-effective way of identifying active chemical ingredients from plants that might be valuable in modern medicine.

Inevitably, as the commercial and economic motivations behind such 'scientific' enterprises emerge, resentment grows at the perceived one-way flow of benefits. In response, strongly-worded commitments to enforcing greater social justice are developed. The most influential of these is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which came into force in 1993, giving states ownership, and thus control, over the plants and animals within their borders.

Equally inevitably, efforts to implement such commitments have frequently generated protest from scientists. They miss their previous freedom to collect, transport and disseminate research samples virtually at will, and view the requirements for permits and prior approval as a mire of red tape that frequently delays projects.

Wave of protest
The recent imprisonment of a Dutch-born researcher, Marc van Roosmalen, who has been working in the Brazilian rainforest for more than 20 years and whose work has helped name several newly identified species of primates, has been a focus for scientists' anger (see Scientists threaten strike over jailing of primatologist).

Van Roosmalen previously worked for the National Institute for Research in the Amazon in Manaus, in the heart of Amazonia, but now runs his own private research institution. In June he was sentenced to almost 16 years in prison for infringing laws introduced to protect Brazil's treasure trove of natural resources.

His treatment triggered a wave of protest from scientists, both in Brazil and, eventually, internationally. For many scientists the case symbolises what they see as the unfair victimisation of the scientific community by those seeking to preserve natural environments at any cost.

The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation Scientists, for example, officially described van Roosmalen's treatment as a government-backed "attack on the practice and profession of biological scientists", and called for his immediate release. The Supreme Court did provisionally release van Roosmalen from prison last month.

The rights and wrongs
However, van Roosmalen's case is more complex than it might initially appear. Firstly, he has faced charges of "improper appropriation" relating to the decision to offer sponsors the opportunity to have their name attached to newly discovered species – a practice which, although widely adopted in the past, now raises eyebrows in the research community itself.

And it is clear that under Brazilian law, van Roosmalen should have sought permission to capture and keep some of the animals he used for research. His frustration at the lengthy procedure this involves is understandable, but without permission, his experiments were illegal.

But it is widely believed that many other, equally frustrated, scientists collect samples without authorisation and without facing legal action. Indeed, some of van Roosmalen's supporters blamed his conviction on his high profile clashes with politically-influential landowners over campaigns to save the Amazonian rainforest, rather than regulators' zeal to protect local biodiversity.

Whether or not there has been undue political influence, it is clear than regulators in Brazil and elsewhere do not get the financial and human resources needed to carry out their tasks efficiently. The most obvious result has been the long delays in granting permissions for experiments, which has left all sides frustrated.

Arguing it out
Scientists can legitimately argue that delays are costly for their research, and that they themselves could usefully contribute to formulating national policies, laws and regulations that implement CBD commitments.

But when they defend their own interests in the name of freedom for scientific inquiry, their case is weakened by the misdeeds of their predecessors, and occasionally their peers, whose abuse of such freedoms contributed to the current situation (see Developing nations 'need genetic resources rules').

Conservationists also have a case when they defend the CBD, and the regulations flowing from it, as essential weapons in the fight to conserve native fauna and flora. But claims on who rightfully 'owns' this material are often more complex than activists acknowledge. Activists also need to acknowledge that a healthy science base is essential to their own cause (see Ownership squabbles 'hindering' conservation).

Avoiding lose-lose situations
Fortunately, the situation has improved significantly since the mid-1990s when, after the CBD was signed, there was a virtual freeze on collaboration between biologists in developed countries and those in countries such as Brazil. Careful negotiation has led to effective guidelines – for example on sharing samples – that show accommodation is possible.

But tensions and distrust remain high, as the intense feelings aroused by the van Roosmalen affair demonstrate. So scientists and conservationists alike, particularly the more 'activist' of the latter, must remember that they share a common long-term interest in sensibly designed and effectively implemented mechanisms that protect biodiversity.

Nobody wins when regulations are either ignored or overzealously applied, whatever the supposed justification.

David Dickson
Director, SciDev.Net

Source: (excerpts by the editor, PBN-L)
14 September 2007

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1.20  Urgent need to conserve vanilla genetic resources

A comprehensive review on the worldwide efforts for the ex-situ preservation (for example in botanical gardens and seed banks) of vanilla genetic resources was recently presented by researchers in France. Vanilla is a member of the orchid plant family. According to authors Severine Bory and colleagues, results of studies dealing with the taxonomy, reproductive biology and diversity of vanilla, specifically Vanilla planifolia, suggest the urgent need for conserving the genetic resources of the species.

Commercial vanilla flavoring is extracted from the vanilla species V. planifolia. Various factors, which include over-collection in the wild and deforestation, led to the extinction of wild populations of the species. Bory’s group recommends that maintenance of germplasm in field or in vitro collections in genebanks is essential in perpetuating the existing genotypes to make them available for vanilla breeding and production. They added that collaborative international efforts should help protect vanilla in its area of origin, where it is highly endangered.

For more information, subscribers may access the review article published in Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution at

From CropBiotech Update
27 July 2007

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

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1.21  Two new varieties of southernpeas developed by USDA/ARS and cooperators

Two new varieties of southernpeas, WhipperSnapper and GreenPack-DG, boast attractive colors, pleasing textures and flavors, plus nutrients like protein and folate, a B vitamin. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) research leader Richard L. Fery co-developed these superior southernpeas with Blair Buckley from Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge and Dyremple Marsh, from Lincoln University, Jefferson City, Mo.

Fery described the research that led to the rich green color of GreenPack-DG in the June issue of HortScience. WhipperSnapper is featured in the August issue of HortScience, according to Fery. He's based at ARS' U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, S.C., where he also develops new and improved bell and habańero peppers.

Both southernpeas were offered to seed producers and researchers for the first time in 2006, after years of laboratory, greenhouse and field tests, Fery noted.

Southernpeas technically are beans, not peas. They are sometimes called cowpeas, black-eyed peas, field peas or crowders. Southernpeas appear in traditional southern cuisine in soups, salads, casseroles and fritters, a fried quick-bread.

GreenPack-DG forms long, slightly curved pods that hold 12 plump, olive-green peas, each with a pink eye. It is the only pink-eyed southernpea that has two genes for greenness, not just one. Its "DG" initials stand for "double green."

The double-green feature is the work of genes called green cotyledon and green testa. The genes ensure that the peas won't lose some of their green color while growers are waiting for the pods to become dry enough to machine-harvest and to shell the peas from the pods.

Double-greenness gives GreenPack-DG a significant advantage over Charleston Greenpack, an earlier southernpea from Fery's laboratory that has only one greenness gene. In fact, Fery expects GreenPack-DG to replace the earlier southernpea as a favorite for processing into frozen pea products.

GreenPack-DG resulted from cooperative research conducted by ARS and Western Seed Multiplication, Inc., Wadmalaw Island, S.C.

WhipperSnapper yields pods packed with 14 creamy-white, kidney-shaped peas. It can be picked when the pods are still immature, tender and edible, then sold as fresh snaps. The pods also can be left on the vine until ready to sell with full-sized peas either within the pods, or shelled.

This southernpea flourishes in weather that's too hot for some other beans. Also, it is extremely easy to shell, a feature that should make it especially popular with home gardeners, who typically shell by hand. Larger-scale growers will find the southernpea suitable for mechanical harvesting.

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

Source: American Society for Horticultural Science via
27 September 2007

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1.22  New high-yielding edible bean resists bacterial disease

There is a new northern bean made available to farmers and breeders that can resist common bacterial blight - and it is high-yielding too. Named "ABC-Weihing", the bean cultivar was developed by University of Nebraska bean breeder Carlos Urrea, and Phil Miklas, a geneticist at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) using marker-assisted selection. The new bean variety resisted eight strains of bean rust and all non-necrotic strains of bean common mosaic in greenhouse tests, and also had an average seed yield of 1,869 pounds per acre.

Read the news article at

Source: CropBiotech Update
6 July 2007:

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

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1.23  Cornell University helps develop pest-resistant eggplant, the first genetically modified food crop in South Asia

Ithaca, New York
Cornell University researchers and Sathguru Management Consultants of India have successfully led an international consortium through the first phase of developing a pest-resistant eggplant. By about 2009 this eggplant is expected to be the first genetically engineered food crop in South Asia. Farmers have grown genetically altered cotton in India since 2002.

The engineered eggplant expresses a natural insecticide derived from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), making it resistant to the fruit and shoot borer (FSB), a highly destructive pest. The tiny larvae account for up to 40 percent of eggplant crop losses each year in India, Bangladesh and the Philippines, and other areas of South and Southeast Asia.

The work on the resistant eggplant is part of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP) II, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and administered by Cornell in partnership with Sathguru, a firm associated with Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

Cornell researchers from plant breeding, entomology, molecular biology, applied economics, communication, international programs and the Cornell Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialization began collaborating on the development of the Bt eggplant in 2002. Another partner, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds, is on schedule to commercialize the genetically modified fruit by 2009.

"Cornell has worked effectively to facilitate a productive partnership between the public and private sectors that will make this technology available to eggplant producers at every economic level," said Ronnie Coffman, international professor of plant breeding and genetics and director of International Programs in CALS.

"In five years, with support from Sathguru and Cornell, our partners were able to bring this flagship program to field trials and get food, feed and environmental safety approvals," said K.V. Raman, Cornell professor of plant breeding.

All the safety tests for the Bt eggplant have been conducted in India, starting in greenhouses and now moving to large-scale field trials. The eggplant has been found to be nontoxic to fish, chickens, rabbits, goats, rats and cattle as well as nonallergenic. Ongoing tests will examine such questions as whether the plant will continue to resist FSB in the field and for how long; whether the Bt eggplant cross pollinates with other eggplants in the field and how far the Bt plants should be from other eggplant fields; whether nontarget insect populations are affected in the long term; and how yields compare with those of other eggplant varieties.

It is estimated that the Bt eggplant will reduce insecticide use by 30 percent while doubling the yield of marketable fruit (although eggplant is eaten as a vegetable).

Eggplant is a popular crop in the subtropics and tropics, especially in India and Bangladesh, where it is grown on about 1.5 million acres.

India and Bangladesh together expect to plant 110,000 acres of the FSB-resistant eggplant commercially by the end of 2010 and 650,000 acres by 2015. Economists from Cornell and other institutions report that the Bt eggplant would result in lower prices for consumers, higher yields for farmers and, by 2015, boost the Indian economy by $411 million and the Bangladeshi economy by $37 million.

"In spite of the green revolution in India, agricultural growth has stagnated there to less than 2 percent per year," said Raman. "It is important for a land-grant university like Cornell to be engaged in the improvement of technologies and help create a road map that leads to agricultural and economic growth in places like South and Southeast Asia and Africa."

By Krishna Ramanujan

19 September 2007

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1.24  Estimating the adoption of Bt eggplant in India: Who benefits from public–private partnership?

The study analyzes ex ante the adoption of insect-resistant Bt eggplant technology in India. Farmers’ willingness to pay (WTP) is estimated using the contingent valuation method. Given the economic importance of insect pests in eggplant cultivation, the average WTP for Bt hybrids is more than four times the current price of conventional hybrid seeds. Since the private innovating firm has also shared its technology with the public sector, proprietary hybrids will likely get competition through public open-pollinated Bt varieties after a small time lag. This will reduce farmers’ WTP for Bt hybrids by about 35%, thus decreasing the scope for corporate pricing policies. Nonetheless, ample private profit potential remains. Analysis of factors influencing farmers’ adoption decisions demonstrates that public Bt varieties will particularly improve technology access for resource-poor eggplant producers. The results suggest that public–private partnership can be beneficial for all parties involved.

Food Policy
Volume 32, Issues 5-6, October-December 2007, Pages 523-543
Vijesh V. Krishna and Matin Qaima

7 September 2007

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1.25  Tough sunflower lines produce high oleic oil

Here is a bit of good news for sunflower breeders and growers. The United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station (NDAES) have released three new sunflower lines that have built-in resistance to downy mildew and which produce oil rich in oleic acid.

In repeated field and greenhouse tests at NDAES in Fargo, all three lines resisted the most virulent races of downy mildew fungus found in North America. Two of the lines also withstood a French race not yet found in America. On the average, oil extracted from the three sunflower lines was found to be more than 85% in oleic acid.

These sunflower lines will prove to be invaluable because the fungus which causes downy mildew has become resistant to common fungicides such as metalaxyl. In addition, high levels of oleic fatty acid imparts desirable flavor, frying characteristics and other traits to sunflower oil, which makes it more attractive to consumers.

To read the complete article, visit

From CropBiotech Update
10 August 2007

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

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1.26  Release of onion germplasm

Inbred line B8667 A&B
The United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, announces the release of onion inbred B8667 A&B, for the production of red, long-day, well-storing hybrids.  This inbred line was developed by Dr. M.J. Havey and is round in shape, dark red with color extending through the internal rings of the bulb, firm, with good scale retention and excellent storage quality when produced on muck soils.  B8667B is a F1MSMS2M3 from USDA Plant Introduction 262985 (‘Noord Holland Bloodred’) crossed with B5361B (a red inbred developed by the late Dr. C.E. Peterson, but never released).  This inbred has a soluble-solids content of 13.4% and is relatively pungent at 10.7 mM pyruvate per ml.  The cytoplasmic male-sterile A line is a BC7.  Testcrosses of B8667B to a series of male-sterile F1 lines (MSU611-1A×MSU611B, MSU5718A×MSU8155B, B3350A×B2352B, B1731A×MSU5785B, and B1750A×B1794B) produced only red bulbs and yielded in the top one-third of commercial and experimental hybrids evaluated over years at the Kincaid Farm, Palmyra, WI.

Synthetic population‘Onion Haploid (OH)-1’
The Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture and the University of Ljubljana announce the release of the long-day onion synthetic population ‘Onion Haploid (OH) -1’.  The purpose of this population is to serve as a responsive control for extraction of gynogenic haploids of onion.  Random plants from the relatively responsive inbreds B2923B and B0223B were evaluated for gynogenic haploid production as described by Bohanec and Jakse (1999).  Plants that produced relatively high numbers of gynogenic haploids were self-pollinated (Bohanec et al. 2003).  Five S1 bulbs from each of 10 families (nine from B2923B and one from B0223B) were caged, allowed to flower, and intercrossed using flies.  Plants in this synthetic produced on average 12 gynogenic haploids for every 100 flowers plated.  Bulbs of this synthetic population are yellow with good storage quality.  All plants in OH-1 should be homozygous recessive at the Ms locus, although this has not been evaluated. 

Bohanec, B., and M. Jakše.  1999.  Variations in gynogenic response among long-day onion (Allium cepa L.) accessions.  Plant Cell Rep. 18:737-742.
Bohanec, B., M. Jakše, and M.J. Havey.  2003.  Genetic analyses of gynogenetic haploid production in onion.  J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 128:571-574

Onion Synthetic Population Sapporo-KI (SKI) -1 A&B
The Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture announces the release of the long-day onion synthetic population ‘Sapporo-Ki (SKI) -1’ A&B.  Sapporo-Ki is an open-pollinated population grown on the Japanese island of Hoikkaido and has relatively high frequencies of both S cytoplasm and the dominant allele at the male-fertility restoration locus (Ms) (Havey 1995).  This synthetic combines the earliness of Sapporo-Ki with maintenance of cytoplasmic-male sterility.  Random plants from Sapporo-Ki were self-pollinated and testcrossed to male-sterile plants of MSU611-1A×MSU611B or MSU5718A×MSU8155B.  The S1 families were evaluated for their cytoplasm using the molecular markers as described by Havey (1993).  Testcross families from these N-cytoplasmic plants were scored for male-fertility restoration (Gokce and Havey 2002).  S1 families that were N-cytoplasmic and homozygous recessive at Ms were selected.  Five S1 bulbs from each of eight families were caged, allowed to flower, and intercrossed using flies, followed by three generations of seed increases.  The cytoplasmic male-sterile A line is a BC5.  Bulbs of this synthetic population are yellow, very early maturing in Wisconsin, and have good storage ability. 

Havey, M.J.  1993.  A putative donor of S-cytoplasm and its distribution among open-pollinated populations of onion.  Theor. Appl. Genet. 86:128-134.
Havey, M.J.  1995.  Cytoplasmic determinations using the polymerase chain reaction to aid in the extraction of maintainer lines from open-pollinated populations of onion.  Theor. Appl. Genet. 90:263-268. 
Gokce, A.F., and M.J. Havey.  2002.  Linkage equilibrium among tightly linked RFLPs and the Ms locus in open-pollinated onion populations.  J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 127:944-946.

Contributed by Michael J. Havey
University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI  USA  53706

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1.27  New type of rice grows better and uses water more efficiently than other rice crops

Blacksburg, Virginia
An international team of scientists has produced a new type of rice that grows better and uses water more efficiently than other rice crops. Professor Andy Pereira at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) has been working with colleagues in India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Mexico and The Netherlands to identify, characterize and make use of a gene known as HARDY that improves key features of this important grain crop.

The research, which was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that HARDY contributes to more efficient water use in rice, a primary source of food for more than half of the world’s population. *

Rice (Oryza sativa) is a water guzzler when compared to other crops. It typically uses up to three times more water than other food crops such as maize or wheat and consumes around 30% of the fresh water used for crops worldwide. In conditions where water is scarce, it is important to have crops that can efficiently generate biomass (plant tissue) using limited amounts of water. HARDY rice shows a significant increase in biomass under both drought and non-drought conditions. The researchers found that the biomass of HARDY rice increased by around 50% under conditions of water deprivation (drought) compared to the unmodified version of the same type of rice.

Dr. Andy Pereira, Professor at VBI, stated: “This transdisciplinary research project involved the study of two plants. First we used a powerful gain-of-function screening technique to look at a large number of Arabidopsis plants that might have features favorable to water and drought resistance. We were able to identify the HARDY mutant due to its considerable reluctance to be pulled from the soil and its smaller, darker green leaves. Molecular and physiological characterization showed that the improved water usage efficiency was linked to the HARDY gene.”

Dr. Aarati Karaba, who worked on the project as a graduate student jointly at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India, and at Plant Research International, Wageningen, The Netherlands, commented: “The next step was to introduce the HARDY gene into rice and examine the features arising from this transformation. In rice, HARDY seems to work in a slightly different way than Arabidopsis but it still leads to improved water-use efficiency and higher biomass. Further studies showed that HARDY significantly enhances the capacity of rice to photosynthesize while at the same time reducing water loss from the crop.”

Dr. Andy Pereira, added: “DNA microarray analysis allowed us to look at gene expression patterns regulated by HARDY. We specifically focused on genes that have gene ontology (GO) terms, namely genes that have been assigned by the scientific community to specific biological processes or functions. Using this approach we were able to identify clusters of known genes regulated by HARDY whose levels changed under conditions of plant water deprivation. We also saw distinct changes of gene clusters linked to the metabolism of key proteins and carbohydrates, which probably explains some of the feature differences we have detected in Arabidopsis and rice.”

The scientists have been able to track down these improvements in water-use efficiency to a specific type of molecule known as AP2/ERF-like transcription factor. Transcription factors are proteins that bind to DNA and control gene expression and the HARDY gene encodes a protein that belongs to a specific class of AP2/ERF-like transcription factors. Shital Dixit, Graduate student at Plant Research International, Wageningen, The Netherlands, commented: “At this point in time, we do not know the exact function of this transcription factor although we suspect that it impacts maturation processes linked to tissue desiccation. More work remains to be done to elucidate the precise function of this protein as well as the processes on which it has a major impact. What is clear is that HARDY rice offers the exciting prospect of improved water-use efficiency and drought resistance in rice and perhaps other grain or seed crops. This should contribute in a sustainable way to maintaining high crop yields under conditions of limited water availability.”

* Improvement of water use efficiency in rice by expression of HARDY an Arabidopsis drought and salt tolerance gene
Karaba A, Dixit S, Greco R, Aharoni A, Trijatmiko KR, Marsch-Martinez N, Krishnan A, Nataraja KN, Udayakumar M, Pereira A (2007)
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in press.

11 September 2007

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1.28  Towards the development of salt-tolerant wheat

Scientists at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO) are challenged to develop salt-tolerant wheat varieties that can withstand the saline conditions of Australia’s vast dryland cropping belt. The scientists have discovered two genes, known as Nax1 and Nax2, that exclude salt from different parts of the plant – one from the roots, the other from the leaves. The two genes originated from Einkorn (Triticum monococcum), a Persian ancestor of wheat, and are not normally present in modern wheat varieties. However, they were unintentionally bred into a durum wheat line about 35 years ago during a stem rust research project. Initial paddock trials showed that the varieties containing the “ancient wheat genes” had improved tolerance to salt, but were not as productive as other durum varieties. CSIRO researchers have overcome this problem and the latest varieties now perform well both in yield and salt-tolerance.

Read the complete article at

From CropBiotech Update
20 July 2007:

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

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1.29  Peanuts as new source of biodiesel fuel?

Peanut is slowly grabbing the spotlight as a biodiesel crop. Researchers at the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the University of Georgia, are testing a peanut called Georganic. It is not suited to current commercial edible standards for peanuts, but is high in oil and has low production input costs. Georganic can be planted and grown with just one herbicide application for weed control, and without the need for fungicides.

Many old and new peanut varieties are being tested for field performance, and their oils are being analyzed for diesel performance characteristics. It has been found that high-oleic-acid peanuts-a quality desired for extended shelf life of food products, also make the best biodiesel fuel.

Read the news article at

From CropBiotech Update
3 August 2007

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

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1.30  Pioneer Hi-Bred launches breakthrough technology that significantly increases soybean yields

Proprietary innovation increases yields up to 12 percent

Des Moines, Iowa
Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, announces it is commercializing soybean varieties developed using a technology that increases yields by as much as 12 percent per acre. Pioneer is introducing five varieties with the technology for 2008 planting, pending wide-area product advancement trial results.

This announcement officially launches one of the company's three soybean yield traits from its pipeline to commercial status. It will be commercially known as Accelerated Yield TechnologyTM (AYTTM). AYTTM uses proprietary molecular breeding techniques to rapidly scan and identify genes that increase yield then incorporate them into elite soybean genetics.

"AYTTM allows us to take a giant step forward on our promise to deliver industry-leading improvements in soybeans. Our customers are seeing dramatic increases in Pioneer® soybean variety yields that have never been seen in such a short period of time," says William S. Niebur, vice president DuPont Crop Genetics Research and Development. "This technology embodies our business philosophy to increase the productivity and profitability of our customers to help them meet the rising demand for food, feed, fuel and materials."

Until now, molecular breeding techniques used by the seed industry have only produced single-gene defensive traits in commercial varieties. There are multiple genes in complex networks that determine the final yield level achieved. AYTTM builds on Pioneer industry-leading molecular breeding techniques by allowing researchers to simultaneously select multiple genes to significantly boost yields. AYTTM is not transgenic, so soybeans developed from this process are not subject to additional regulatory approvals.

The first AYTTM varieties are higher yielding versions of the newest Pioneer elite soybean genetics. Pending final trial results this fall, Pioneer hopes to introduce an AYTTM version of Pioneer® brand 94M80, which set the world record soybean yield of 139 bushels per acre in 2006. New unique genetics also are being developed using AYTTM and other molecular breeding techniques.

"Full implementation of AYTTM combined with molecular breeding technologies will enable Pioneer to make a new class of soybeans that has unprecedented yield potential relative to anything we have ever seen," Niebur says. "These technologies allow us to incorporate a complete package of offensive and defensive characteristics that could make 100-plus bushel soybean yields a common occurrence in the very near future."

26 September 2007

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1.31  Marker free GM soybean produced by gene excision

Marker genes, usually for antibiotic resistance, have always been the focus of criticisms in genetic improvement of crops. Various selectable marker genes are used in plant transformation systems to select transgenic events, but often the marker gene is no longer needed after the transgenic plants are regenerated. A group of researchers from DuPont recently produced marker-gene-free glyphosate-tolerant transgenic soybean lines through a self –activating gene excision system.

Unlike other approaches to produce marker-free plants, the gene excision system employed by the researchers delivers precise outcomes and does not require additional manipulations of the transformation and regeneration process. The glyphosate tolerance and marker genes were introduced together with a gene coding for the enzyme, Cre recombinase, which will instantly remove itself and the marker gene upon induction. This self-activating gene excision strategy is currently being applied to numerous plants like maize, cotton, peanut, and many coniferous trees.

Click HERE to read the abstract.

Source : CropBiotech Update via
14 September 2007

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1.32  Agent that triggers immune response in plants is uncovered

Although plants lack humans' T cells and other immune-function cells to signal and fight infection, scientists have known for more than 100 years that plants still somehow signal that they have been attacked in order to trigger a plantwide resistance. Now, researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI) on the Cornell campus have identified the elusive signal in the process: methyl salicylate, an aspirin-like compound that alerts a plant's immune system to shift into high gear.

This phenomenon is called systemic acquired resistance and is known to require movement of a signal from the site of infection to uninfected parts of the plant.

The findings are published in the Oct. 5 issue of Science.

"By finally identifying a signal that moves from an infection site to activate defenses throughout the plant, as well as the enzymes that regulate the level of this signal, we may be in a position to alter the signal in a way that enhances a plant's ability to defend itself," said BTI senior scientist Daniel F. Klessig, an adjunct professor in plant pathology at Cornell, who conducted the work with Sang-Wook Park and other BTI colleagues.

Their approach, using gene technology to enhance plant immunity, could have wide consequences, boosting crop production and reducing pesticide use.

Methyl salicylate is a modified form of salicylic acid (SA), which has been used for centuries to relieve fever, pain and inflammation, first through the use of willow bark and, since 1889, with aspirin, still the most widely used drug worldwide.

In the 1990s, Klessig's research group reported that SA and nitric oxide are two critical defense-signaling molecules in plants, as well as playing important roles in human health. Then, in 2003 and 2005, the group reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that an enzyme, salicylic acid-binding protein 2 (SABP2), is required for systemic acquired resistance and converts methyl salicylate (which is biologically inactive as it fails to induce immune responses) into SA, which is biologically active.

After plants are attacked by a pathogen, the researchers had previously found, they produce SA at the infection site to activate their defenses. Some of the SA is converted into methyl salicylate, which can be converted back into SA by SABP2.

Using plants in which SABP2 function was either normal, turned off or mutated in the infected leaves or the upper, uninfected leaves, Klessig's group showed that SABP2 must be active in the upper, uninfected leaves for systemic acquired resistance to develop properly. By contrast, SABP2 must be inactivated in the infected leaves by binding to SA.

"This inactivation allows methyl salicylate to build up," explained Klessig. "It then flows through the phloem (or food-conducting "tubes") to the uninfected tissue, where SABP2 converts it back into active SA, which can now turn on the plant's defenses."

Klessig said that it is unclear why plants send this hormone to uninfected tissue in an inactive form, which then must be activated by removal of the methyl group.

"This research also provides insight into how a hormone like SA can actively regulate its own structure -- and thereby determine its own activity -- by controlling the responsible enzyme," noted Park, the lead author of the paper.


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1.33  Exposing wheat's genetic secrets

Washington, DC

Every day, bakers from coast to coast make fresh, fragrant loaves of bread for us to enjoy. Wheat flour, of course, is a star ingredient in many of the most popular breads.

The work of tomorrow's millers and bakers might be made much easier by studies under way at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif. There, scientists like plant geneticists Olin D. Anderson and Yong Q. Gu are tackling some of the mysteries surrounding wheat's genetic makeup.

Their discoveries may one day help millers provide bakers with flour that is both consistent and predictable--two highly prized traits. These superior flours would consistently make doughs that have the optimal balance of strength and elasticity. That could, according to Gu, take away the need to blend various different flours--a costly, sometimes frustrating task for today's millers.

Gu, Anderson and others in the Genomics and Gene Discovery Research Unit at Albany are exploring wheat's remarkably complicated, mostly undeciphered genetic makeup, or genome. Wheat is a complex union of three ancestral grass genomes that together make the wheat genome huge--about 10 times the size of the human genome, according to Anderson.

The Albany researchers are hunting for naturally occurring differences in the order of appearance, or sequence, of the infinitesimally small units--called "nucleotides--that make up genes. The differences that they're interested in are known as "single nucleotide polymorphisms," or "SNPs" (pronounced "snips") for short.

Though tiny, SNPs are not trivial. In wheat plants, a SNP might mean the difference between having high amounts of a protein important in breadmaking--or very low amounts of it. Single-nucleotide variations could affect genes for many other key wheat-plant traits, such as resistance to insects or diseases.

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

ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Marcia Wood, (301) 504-1662,  
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

21 September 2007

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1.34  Monsanto and Evogene collaborate on nitrogen use efficiency research

St. Louis, Missouri and Rehovot, Israel
Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON) and Evogene Ltd. (TASE: EVGN) today announced a collaboration to improve nitrogen use efficiency in corn, soybeans, canola and cotton. Under the agreement, Monsanto gains exclusive rights to a number of genes discovered by Evogene that help plants maintain yield with lower applications of nitrogen. Monsanto will work to evaluate the use of those genes in its research and development pipeline. The potential candidates from Evogene are complementary to the nitrogen utilization genes already in testing in Monsanto's pipeline and could provide the opportunity to further a series of upgrades for this key target area. The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Nitrogen fertilizer represents one of the largest input costs in agriculture; it accounts for approximately one-fifth of the operating costs for a corn producer. In the US alone, farmers spend more than $3 billion annually on nitrogen fertilizer application of corn fields, with plants typically absorbing less than half of the nitrogen fertilizer applied.

"Improving nitrogen use efficiency in crops has immense value not only for farmers but also for our environment," said Fred Below, professor of crop physiology at the University of Illinois. "These improvements provide the greatest opportunity for increased profitability, while also offering a new way to reduce the environmental impact of corn production."

"Monsanto is continually innovating new technologies to help farmers get more out of every seed and to do more with less, including maximizing the nitrogen efficiency of crops," said Steve Padgette, Monsanto's vice president of biotechnology. "We look forward to working with Evogene to continue delivering valuable products to farmers' fields that reduce agriculture's impact on the environment."

"Monsanto is acknowledged worldwide for its excellent capabilities in delivering innovative technology to farmers," said Mr. Ofer Haviv, Evogene's President and CEO. "Therefore we are obviously delighted Monsanto has chosen our computational gene discovery technology for the development of its next generation of improved crop traits."

25 September 2007

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3.01  Coconut Genetic Resources Network has a new website

We designed this website not only to show COGENT to the world but also
to enable COGENT members and our partners to share files and
collaborate, and engage in discussions in the special access pages. We
hope that this website will be useful to COGENT members and the coconut
community, to people who are interested in our work and those who have
yet to discover this very special genetic resource.

This website was built with the assistance of Yeow Giap Seng, Zinneerah
Binti Ahmad Zamil and Jayashree Kanniah (COGENT) who assembled the
content, and student volunteer Michael C. George (International School
of Kuala Lumpur) who designed the layout and did the scripting.  We
sincerely thank Joanna Kane-Potaka (Bioversity-Information Marketing and
Management), Jeremy Cherfas (Bioversity-Public Relations), Hugh Harries
and many colleagues in the Google Coconut Group for giving feedback to
improve the website.

This website is a work in progress; we hope that you will let us know
what you think of it, and suggest ways to make it better.

Contributed by  Maria Luz C. George
Coordinator, International Coconut Genetic Resources Network (COGENT)

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4.01  Grants program: International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups

The International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG) Program is a unique effort that addresses the interdependent issues of drug discovery, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable economic growth. Funding for this program has been provided by nine components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Biological Sciences Directorate of the National Science Foundation and the Foreign Agriculture Service and Forest Service of the USDA. The cooperating NIH components are the Fogarty International Center (FIC), National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Office of Dietary Supplements, and National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Efforts to examine the medicinal potential of the earth's plants, animals and microorganisms are urgently needed, since enduring habitat destruction and the resulting diminishment of biodiversity will make it increasingly difficult to do so in the future. 40-50% of currently used drugs have an origin in natural products. The FIC-managed Biodiversity Program is designed to guide natural products drug discovery in such a way that local communities and other source country organizations can derive direct benefits from their diverse biological resources. Benefit-sharing may provide clear incentives for preservation and sustainable use of that biodiversity.

There are currently seven awards of approximately $600,000 per year. Total inter-agency funding for the program in FY 05 was $6 million, of which $2 million derives from FIC appropriations. The ICBGs are currently working in nine countries in Latin America, Africa, Southeast and Central Asia, and the Pacific Islands, building research capacity in more than 20 different institutions and training hundreds of individuals. To date, more than 5,000 species of plants, animals, and fungi have been collected to examine biological activity in 19 different therapeutic areas. Numerous publications in chemistry, biodiversity policy, conservation and ethnobiology have emerged from the funded investigators. Broad public attention to the program and its timing relative to international developments associated with the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity have allowed the ICBG program to offer useful working models for national and international policy discussions related to biodiversity conservation incentive measures, technology transfer, intellectual property and benefit-sharing.

Contributed by Ann Marie Thro

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5.01  Post-Doctoral positions in vegetable improvement:

Are you interested in becoming a member of a diverse team of researchers utilizing natural genetic variation to improve valuable traits in vegetable crops?  Seminis is the world’s largest developer, grower and marketer of fruit and vegetable seeds.  Our hybrids improve nutrition, boost crop yields, limit spoilage and reduce the need for chemicals.  We currently have four post-doctoral opportunities available within our Research and Development team .

As a post-doctoral scientist, you will work with multidisciplinary teams to deliver basic information and applied methods to support commercial product development pipelines. Preferred candidates will have experience with field, greenhouse, and laboratory work; skill in collecting and analyzing experimental data; and ability to track and manage complex projects. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills for operating in a diverse team-oriented environment are essential. Experience with vegetable crops is desirable, but not required.

Candidates should have a Ph.D. (or be near completion) in a field that matches one of the four positions described below.

Vegetable Fruit Quality:
This position is part of a multidisciplinary team that focuses on the genetic regulation of vegetable fruit quality traits. Requires a Ph.D. in plant physiology, biochemistry or genetics; in depth understanding of fruit physiology and biochemical pathways affecting fruit quality; experience with experimental protocols in biochemistry and molecular biology; and basic knowledge of plant genetics, QTL mapping, statistics, and experimental design. 

Statistical Genetics:
This position provides data analysis support for trait development, including in-house high density genetic linkage maps, QTL analyses, and marker applications in breeding. The position also provides advice on experimental design for QTL detection, validation, and fine mapping. Requires a Ph.D. in statistics, genetics, or related field; strong knowledge of genetic statistical theory and experimental design, quantitative genetics applied to plant breeding, genetic linkage, QTL and association mapping analyses and genetic diversity analyses; experience with statistical software (R and SAS); and familiarity with computer languages (Perl/CGI, Python, Java, HTML and SQL). 

Physiological Stress in Vegetable Crops
This position is part of a multidisciplinary team investigating responses of vegetable crops to physiological stress during fruit set. Requires a Ph.D. in Plant Physiology/Crop Science or related field; in-depth knowledge of plant physiology, biochemistry and molecular biology; skill in experimental design and statistical analysis; and theoretical knowledge in plant genetics, QTL mapping, and/or functional genomics.

Plant-Virus Interactions
This position is part of a multidisciplinary team investigating key challenges to identifying and mapping virus resistance in vegetable crops. Requires a Ph.D. in plant pathology/virology, genetics, plant biology or related field, and strong understanding of virus symptomology and plant genetic resistance. Desired skills include bioinformatics and virology and use of molecular techniques and inoculation methods to diagnose and investigate plant disease. Experience with geminiviruses, tospoviruses, or potyviruses in Solanaceae or Cucurbitaceae crops is preferred.

We maintain a drug-free environment. EOE/AAP.

Please apply online at or

Contributed by Joe King
New Trait Development – Cucurbits
Seminis Vegetable Seeds
Woodland, CA 95695  USA

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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.


*15-19 October 2007. Controlling Epidemics of Emerging and Established Plant Virus Diseases - The Way Forward (10th International Plant Virus Epidemiology Symposium.  ICRISAT, Hyderabad, India.;

Leading plant virologists from around the world will converge from 15 - 19 October 2007 at ICRISAT, Hyderabad, India, to discuss about the (i) causes for the emergence of several unknown viruses in new niches and resurgence of several established viruses, (ii) advances made in plant virus epidemiology and effective management of numerous plant virus diseases during the past two decades. This 10th IPVE symposium, first time to be held in Asia, will bring together over 200 scientists, who study fundamental aspects of plant viruses and use that knowledge to develop effective control strategies including development of new disease resistant varieties. Broad range of symposium participants will touch upon several pertinent issues related to plant virus disease control, and will identify the high-priority challenges and opportunities for collaboration for future research.

Complete symposium program is available online at:

Contributed by: P Lava Kumar
Convener, 10th IPVE Symposium


*13-16 November, 2007. Conference on Native Breeds and Varieties as part of natural and cultural heritage with international participation. Hotel Ivan - Solaris Holiday Resort (, Šibenik, Croatia.

About Conference [] Conference Topics [] Preliminarny Programme and Abstract Preparation [] Participation Fee and Accomodation [] Registration [] Contacts

The basic purpose of the Conference is to analyse the current state of native breeds of domestic animals and plant varieties, as well as the state of habitats they used to inhabit and in which they used to grow. The Conference also aims to analyse the role of native breeds and varieties in protection of biodiversity, with a view to preserve biological diversity of Croatia in accordance with the National Programme for EU accession and NATURA 2000 programme. 

The Conference will focus on presenting the state of indigenous forms of domestic animals and plants in Croatia and its neighbouring environment, including the state of habitats, in a multidisciplinary, systematic and integral manner. The goal is to determine the form and degree of threat posed to indigenous domestic animals and plants as well as the state of their neglect and to identify the existing and future modalities of their protection and utilisation. Special attention will be paid to international experiences. The Conference will provide information on how the habitats of native breeds and varieties used to be maintained in the past while, at the same time, it will offer contemporary solutions which will take into account the impact native animal breeds and plant varieties have on biodiversity.

The multidisciplinary format of the Conference is expected to encourage the Conference participants to address the issues of habitats, native breeds and varieties in a creative way, through an innovative approach that differs from approaches typically used in valorisation of unutilised natural and cultural heritage.

A three-day work of the Conference will be composed of plenary presentations and thematic discussions focused on three thematic areas:

Native breeds of domestic animals and their permanent or temporary habitats,
-Native plant varieties,
-Cultural and social capital of native domestic animals and plant varieties.

The official language of the Conference is Croatian, but English translation will be provided.

Conference Topics:
-Native varieties and breeds as part of genetic and cultural heritage
-Determining and preserving biological (genetic) originality of native varieties and breeds)
-Legislation and native varieties and breeds
-Inventorying of native varieties and breeds as part of overall biodiversity
-Native varieties and breeds within the market economy environment
-Native varieties and breeds and rural development
-Landscapes as units of social and natural components (the result of traditional breeding of native breeds and varieties)
-Traditional breeding of domestic breeds and varieties and its impact on new habitats' status and maintenance of existing ones (biotops)
-General biodiversity related to native breeds and varieties (fungi, insects, birds, water flora and fauna, pasture flora, parasites)
-Integration of native varieties and breeds into protected areas and habitats
-National strategy for the conservation of native varieties and breeds
-Conservation models and management plans for native breeds and varieties
-Native breeds and varieties as part of cultural heritage (beliefs and customs, art, symbolics)
-Gastronomy and native varieties and breeds
-Native breeds and varieties as tourist attraction

Source: September 2007 - Update from the GFU


15-16 December 2007. Plant Molecular Farming: From Biodiversity to Bioindustry. 1st Sudan- Egypt Workshop, National Centre for Research, Khartoum, Sudan

Deadline for submission of abstracts: 15 November, 2007   

- Effective and better utilization of native medicinal plants
- Molecular farming technology
- Molecular fingerprinting
- In Vitro production of bioactive pharmaceuticals
- Genetic transformation
- Plants as factories for pharmaceuticals
- Regulatory directives (domestic and international) governing production of   pharmaceuticals in Sudan and Egypt
- Product safety trials & active engagement of the regulatory agencies
- Risk Assessment
- Consumer and Market acceptability
- Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) related to plant molecular farming

Workshop organizer
Dr. Nada Babiker Hamza (Sudan)
Head- Department of Molecular Biology,
Commission for Biotechnology & Genetic Engineering,
National Centre for Research,
P.O.Box: 2404, Khartoum, Sudan

Prof. Mahmoud Saker (Egypt)
National Research Center, El Behoose St., Dokki,
E-mail:     -

Contributed by Dr.Nada Babiker Hamza
National Centre for Research
Khartoum, Sudan


*3-6 February 2008 International Conference “Molecular Mapping & Marker Assisted Selection in Plants, Vienna. (Early-bird registration ends 18 November 2007.

Rates will increase significantly as of. 19 November.)

To register:

Submit abstracts for poster or oral presentations by 12 November:

View all meeting information online at

“Molecular Mapping & Marker Assisted Selection in Plants” will cover the following topics:
-  Plant Genome Organisation
-  Plant Genome Analysis and Mapping
-  Molecular Markers for Genetic Mapping of Plant Genome
-  Marker-assisted Selection 
-  Mapping of Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) 
-  Map-based Cloning & Chromosome Mapping. 

Amongst the invited speakers are internationally known names such as M. Freeling, S. Briggs, D. Zamir, J. Snape, P. Langridge, W. Powell, G. Copenhaver, R. Dirks, and others.  The program combines plenary lectures, poster sessions, and sightseeing tours of the beautiful city of Vienna.

Approximately 300 participants are expected including almost 40 speakers and many presentations selected from abstracts, which can be submitted to the organisers until November 12th, 2007.

The conference webpage ( offers additional information about the city of Vienna, travel arrangements, the conference venue, registration and accommodation.

Alisher Touraev, Chair of the organizing committee

For any further questions please contact the conference organisers: 

Contributed by Patrick Barabas

*16-18 July 2008. Development of plant breeding and crop management in time and space. Priekuli, Cesis district, Latvia

To mark 95th anniversary of State Priekuli Plant Breeding Institute and 50th anniversary of the Long-term Experiments in Priekuli State.

Priekuli Plant Breeding Institute ( was founded in 1913 and is the oldest plant breeding and agricultural research institution in Baltic countries. It is located 90 km NE from the capital Riga in Priekuli village near town Cesis. Currently the work in the Institute is aimed on breeding of potato, winter rye, winter triticale, spring barley and pea, research in crop management, organic farming and seed production. There are continued the investigations on different agroecological factors in the long-term crop-rotation and fertilization system experimental field, established in 1958.

Participants: field crop breeders and seed producers, geneticists, scientists in field crop management and all interested persons from Baltic countries as well as other neighbours and friends

Main topics:
-Crop breeding:
 -improvement in methodology;
-implementation of biotechnological methods;
-new directions, e.g. breeding for organic farming;
-latest achievements and success stories
Crop management and, long term experiments:
-weed management;
-soil quality;
-field crop yield and quality

Registration and Abstracts: 1 December 2007
Full-length paper submission: 10 February 2008
Transfer of registration fee: 1 March 2008

Accepted papers will be published in special edition of Latvian Journal of Agronomy, which will be available during the conference.

Second announcement with more detailed information and instructions to authors for papers will be distributed in January 2008.

Contacts: Dace Piliksere: (registration, abstracts, questions)

Register until 1 December 2007:
e-mail to;
or fax to +371 4107217;
or mail to postal address: Zinatnes st. 1a, Priekuli, Cesis district LV-4126, Latvia

Contributed by Dr. Helmut Knüpffer
Genebank Department, Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK)
Gatersleben, Germany,


*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:

*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

*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.

*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.

*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.

* 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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