17 March 2008

An Electronic Newsletter of Applied Plant Breeding

Clair H. Hershey, Editor

Sponsored by FAO/AGPC and Cornell University, Dept. of Plant Breeding and Genetics

Archived issues available at: FAO Plant Breeding Newsletter

1.01  Major scientific push to tackle agricultural productivity and food security in developing world
1.02  The issues at stake for biofuels – food security, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability
1.03  University of Illinois study challenges assumption that improved technology has caused corn trend yields to increase at a faster rate
1.04  Reforming the approach to 'demand-driven' research
1.05  University of Wisconsin-Madison plant breeders contribute to newly awarded DOE bioenergy grant
1.06  Getting quality seed to maize farmers in eastern and southern Africa
1.07  North Africa to develop drought-resistant barley
1.08  Rice R&D confab to highlight poverty and malnutrition
1.09  Ug99 wheat killer detected in Iran - Dangerous fungus on the move from East Africa to the Middle East
1.10  NIAB announces major new research initiative to tackle rice productivity in the developing world
1.11  Iowa State University awarded $450,000 to enhance nutritional value and marketability of common beans in Uganda and Rwanda
1.12  Wheat breeding, Western Australian style
1.13  Scientists meet to launch a multi-million dollar project  to step up rice production in Africa and Asia
1.14  North Africa Biosciences Network (NABNet) to improve barley varieties for North Africa
1.15  The groundnut breeding program in the sudano-sahelian region of North Cameroon. Research activities, constraints and challenges
1.16  Government of the Philippines to test GM rice rich in pro-Vitamin A
1.17  Amflora potato: not this year
1.18  New CAST paper addresses gene flow from biotech plants
1.19  What role can agricultural biotechnologies play in helping developing countries cope with growing water scarcity?
1.20  Arctic seed vault opens doors for 100 million seeds
1.21  Svalbard not the only safe haven for crop diversity
1.22  Completely revised set of descriptors for wild and cultivated rice published
1.23  Genetic mapping and marker-assisted breeding of pearl millet for drought prone regions
1.24  Use of molecular markers to breed for high quality rices
1.25  Promising mutant lines of Roselle Variety Arab (Acc. 21)
1.26  Tearless onion discovery hits the headlines
1.27  Commercial production of GM eggplant in The Philippines within two years
1.28  Crop scientists discover gene that controls fruit shape
1.29  Gene that controls ozone resistance of plants could lead to drought-resistant crops
1.30  Completion of a draft sequence of the corn genome
1.31  Evolution of root nodule symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria
1.32  Mechanisms of plant-fungi symbiosis characterized by DOE Joint Genome Institute
1.33  Syngenta corn genetic stocks donation will accelerate research from genome map to advanced corn seed
1.34  Scientists unravel the genetic coding of the pea
1.35  Toward sequencing cotton (Gossypium) genomes
1.36  Diversity in conserved genes in tomato
1.37  Molecular tools to identify resistance sources to wheat yellow rust
1.38  Monsanto and Divergence sequence soybean cyst nematode genome

2.01  CIMMYT Science Week 2008 Program and Book of Abstracts

3.01  Interviews with pioneers of rice research from Rice Today: Peter Jennings
3.02  Latest News from John Innes Centre – Advances
3.03  Cornucopia's Challenge

4.01  SEARCA Seed Fund for Research and Training

5.01  NCGRP Research Leader vacancy announcement
5.02  Position Announcement : Leader for Subprogramme 4 -- Bioinformatics and Crop Information Systems, Generation Challenge Programme





1.01  Major scientific push to tackle agricultural productivity and food security in developing world

United Kingdom
£7M of new research is being launched today to tackle some of the most damaging and widespread pests, diseases and harsh environmental conditions which can devastate crop yields across the developing world. Three out of four poor people in developing countries live in rural areas and most depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Increasing agricultural productivity will benefit millions through higher incomes, more and cheaper food, and more jobs in both rural and urban areas.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID) are unveiling 12 new projects as part of their flagship initiative – Sustainable Agriculture Research for International Development (SARID) - to harness the UK’s world class bioscience research base to address the challenges of agriculture and food security in developing countries.

The new projects will look at how a variety of crops – from maize to coconuts, rice to bananas – respond at a molecular level to hostile factors including attack by pests and diseases as well as inclement conditions. Their findings will offer new and exciting opportunities to develop crops better able to survive and thrive in their changing environments. Such advances in crop science could revolutionise the way farmers are able to farm across the developing world and have a significant impact on reducing poverty.

Commenting on the new research, Gareth Thomas, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development and Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, said: "Investing in science and research is essential to provide poor farmers with the seeds, knowledge and tools they need to make a better life for themselves. This research, bringing together UK, African and Asian scientists, has the potential to revolutionise farming in the developing world and reduce global poverty. The UK is delighted to support this initiative."

Welcoming the new research, Ian Pearson, Minister for Science and Innovation, said: "This is a true demonstration of how scientific research can help find solutions to the major challenges facing the world and improve the quality of life for millions in developing countries."

BBSRC Interim Chief Executive, Steve Visscher, said: “Bioscience research can make a vital contribution to improving sustainable agriculture across the globe. These projects will build on the world-leading research on fundamental plant science and plant disease in the UK and apply this to crops of importance in the developing world, increasing yields and helping to alleviate the suffering of millions living in poverty.”

All of the projects unveiled today involve unique partnerships between UK scientists and researchers from institutions in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.

Download a media briefing (PDF 616KB) containing details of all the projects being funded by the new initiative.

Examples include:
Halting armyworm rampage with biological pesticide - the African armyworm is a major migratory insect pest, which feeds voraciously on cereal crops. Using a radical new solution, researchers from the UK, Canada and Tanzania will investigate the use of a naturally occurring virus in armyworms with a view to using it as a biological pesticide.

Defeating witchweed famine threat - subsistence crops relied on by billions are at constant risk of attack by the noxious parasitic plant witchweed. Researchers the UK, India and Senegal are identifying ways to protect the livelihoods of some of the world's poorest farmers by developing resistant crops.

Improving food security for 500M people - Pearl millet provides food security for half a billion people in Africa and Asia. The crop is well adapted to harsh environments but climate change is threatening the predictable yields that subsistence farmers rely on. Scientists from the UK, India and Ghana will work to improve pearl millet’s genetic tolerance to drought.

Fighting nematode worms with fungus - Root-knot nematodes are microscopic worms that feed on plant roots, stunting their growth and causing yield losses of US$70 billion each year. UK scientists and their Kenyan colleagues are harnessing a natural soil fungus to destroy the worms' eggs reducing damage to crops.

Reducing arsenic levels in rice - arsenic contamination of rice paddies is a major problem in many parts of Asia, caused by irrigation with arsenic contaminated groundwater, pollution resulting from base and precious metal mining and the use of municipal solid waste as fertilizer. Researchers from the UK, India, Bangladesh and China will look at types of rice which have lower take-up levels of inorganic arsenic to unravel the genetic basis for this desirable characteristic.

BBSRC and DFID announced the SARID initiative in 2006 to foster high-quality research that will contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals for combating the eight major problems faced by the developing world including poverty and starvation.

The research announced today is the first from this initiative. A second grant round, focussing on animal health will be announced later in 2008.

21 February 2008

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1.02  The issues at stake for biofuels – food security, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability

The emerging revolution in biofuels has opened up new prospects for developing countries – stronger energy security, new sources of wealth and reduced greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from fossil fuels – which, even a few years ago, seemed almost unimaginable.

While generating much enthusiasm, though, the rapid rise of the biofuel industry is also raising difficult questions about its development impacts. Who will benefit from the biofuel revolution? Will it bypass large numbers of marginalized people in developing countries, like other booms and revolutions before, or perhaps even worsen their lot? What will be its impact on agriculture’s natural resource base? Is there some economically viable way to ensure that biofuel development benefits the poor and does not harm the environment?

A coordinated search for answers
Among the experts posing those questions, and seeking answers, are scientists supported by the CGIAR. The issues at stake – food security, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability – lie at the heart of their humanitarian mission. For that reason, 9 of the Centers are already working on different aspects of the biofuel conundrum.

To give this work greater cohesion, they recently formed the Bioenergy Platform of the Alliance of the CGIAR Centers. Through collaborative research on crops and cropping systems as well as land management and policy options, the Centers will help developing countries ensure that biofuels turn out to be a boon for the developing world’s poor and not the bane of their already precarious existence.

Following the leader
In recent years, Brazil has demonstrated impressively – through a pioneering program to promote production of sugarcane-derived ethanol – how agriculture can generate a resource that possesses strategic value in the global economy. Ethanol has displaced 40 percent of gasoline use in Brazil. And this has created large economic benefits by permitting savings on petroleum imports and by bringing more jobs and income to rural areas.

Rather than envy Brazil, some developing countries, particularly China and India, are starting to follow its example. According to a recent report from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), both of those countries have set ambitious goals for domestic production of biofuels, which in China currently depends on maize and in India on sugarcane.

China aims to increase its biofuel output fourfold, from the 2002 level of 3.6 billion liters of ethanol to around 15 billion liters by 2020. This increase would displace about 9 percent of the country’s projected gasoline demand. India is pursuing a similarly aggressive strategy. To meet their biofuel targets, China would need to produce 26 percent more maize and India 16 percent more sugarcane. These plans form part of a larger effort to curb sharp increases in petroleum imports, driven by rapid economic growth. Together, China and India account for nearly 70 percent of projected worldwide growth in oil demand between now and 2030.

Others are likely to pursue a similar path, since biofuels, unlike fossil fuels, can be produced in practically any country. In fact, some tropical nations may find that they have a particular advantage as producers and exporters of biofuels or biomass.

How biofuels can backfire for the poor
Strategies for aggressive development of biofuels may backfire, however, creating greater hardship for the poor. One of the principal concerns, voiced repeatedly in recent reports from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is that the biofuels boom will drive up the prices of basic cereals.

Cereal prices have already risen drastically in recent years, and according to IFPRI economists, they are not likely to fall in the foreseeable future because of low world grain stocks, rapidly growing demand for feed (the result of rising consumption of meat and milk) and slow growth in agricultural productivity. Increased production of biofuels has intensified competition for grain supplies, contributing to higher prices and greater price volatility.

This marks a radical departure from the world food situation of the 1970s through the turn of the century. It was characterized by steadily lower food prices, made possible by technology-based growth in agricultural productivity within key food-growing regions.

Poor consumers were the main beneficiaries of the long-term price decline, because they spend such a large proportion of their income on food. By the same token, they will be hurt most by rising food prices, because this will prompt them to reduce food purchases and shift to cheaper foods, with dire consequences for family nutrition.

The environmental price of biofuels
Development experts are also worried that there will be a high environmental price to pay for the biofuel boom. Increased production of biomass might, in many ways, worsen the already serious fraying of tropical agroecosystems. Particularly alarming is the possibility of biodiversity-rich tropical forests being destroyed to make way for more sugarcane and oil palm plantations.

A further concern is the likely impact of biofuel production on water, particularly in China and India. The above-mentioned IWMI report warns that current plans to increase biofuel production in these countries will put greater stress on already strained water supplies, seriously jeopardizing their ability to satisfy future food and feed demand.

China and India merit special concern, the report notes, because in both countries the production of biomass is highly dependent on irrigation. Moreover, the amount of irrigation water needed to produce ethanol there is high, compared with water requirements for this purpose elsewhere. In Brazil, for example, where rainfed sugarcane serves as the main source of biomass, it takes, on average, just about 90 liters of water to produce 1 liter of ethanol. But in the dry agricultural lands of northern China, producing a liter of maize-based ethanol consumes 2,400 liters of irrigation water. In India, the requirement is even higher at 3,500 liters for irrigated sugarcane.

Dryland solutions
The outlook for biofuels in China, India and other countries could change radically if they take advantage of alternative crops and technologies now under investigation. One potentially revolutionary option involves the use of enzymes to convert plant cellulose into biofuel. But this technology is years away from being ready for commercial use.

A nearer term alternative is to invest in the development of crop and agroforestry species that are highly suitable for biofuel production and thrive in drylands. Several dryland species are at the center of a new pro-poor biofuel initiative, called BioPower, which is coordinated by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

One dryland crop that shows much promise for ethanol production is sweet sorghum. It is similar to normal sorghum (which is grown widely in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, mainly by poor farmers) but stores large quantities of sugar in its stalks, in addition to producing reasonable grain yields. Two other hardy dryland options are the tree species, Pongamia pinnata, and the shrub, Jatropha curcas, both of which produce fruits with a high content of oil suitable for biodiesel.

Pro-poor private-public partnerships
In conjunction with research on alternative crops and cropping systems, ICRISAT is helping devise an innovative model for private-public partnerships. Their aim is to develop biofuel industries that are highly competitive but also beneficial for the rural poor as well as environmentally sustainable. Through an agribusiness incubator at its headquarters in Hyderabad, India, ICRISAT is already working with several young biofuel companies (Rusni Distilleries Ltd. and Nandan BioMatrix Ltd., for example) as well as government agencies and civil society organizations.

In the production of both ethanol and biodiesel, a key challenge for these partnerships is to capture economies of scale, that is, maintain a steady and massive supply of biomass, so that processing facilities can be kept running at full capacity, keeping the production costs per liter of biofuel as low as possible. The conventional approach for achieving this end is through large-scale farming under a corporate model like that prevailing in Brazil and the USA. But in most developing countries, this approach would exclude the poor, even pushing them off their land and driving up the prices of staple foods.

In contrast, the private-public partnerships supported by ICRISAT are testing new varieties of sweet sorghum with thousands of small farmers. The distilleries provide them with improved seed and technical advice, offer them a guaranteed price for their crops and transport the harvested stalks for processing. These efforts are particularly advanced in India; but a new partnership has been formed in the Philippines, and the groundwork is being laid in sub-Saharan Africa.

A partnership has also been formed to provide the landless poor, especially women, in tribal areas of India with access to wastelands for planting biodiesel species in ways that do not threaten native biodiversity or wildlife habitats. Once the trees mature, women will collect the seeds and press out the oil in their villages for local use or sale or market the seeds to large-scale processors for much-needed cash.

A telling feature of these partnerships is that the rural poor, far from being marginalized, are chief protagonists in biofuel development. Their active participation through strong producer organizations is the best guarantee that biofuels will be boon rather than a bane for the world’s poor.

A longer version of this story was written by Nathan C. Russell, Senior Communications Officer at the CGIAR Secretariat , for Upsides, a magazine published in The Netherlands and focused on development and banking.

Source: CGIAR via
March , 2008

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1.03  University of Illinois study challenges assumption that improved technology has caused corn trend yields to increase at a faster rate

Urbana, Illinois
A new study by University of Illinois agricultural economists challenges the assumption that improved technology has recently caused corn trend yields to increase at a faster rate.

"There has been considerable discussion in the agricultural community that improved technology has caused corn trend yields to increase at an increasing rate in recent years," said Scott Irwin, who prepared the study with former graduate student Mike Tannura and Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics colleague Darrel Good. "There has been a fairly widespread acceptance that a new and higher trend began in the mid-1990s, and it should be used as a starting point for estimating future yields."

Their full report, "Are Corn Trend Yields Increasing at a Faster Rate?" ( ) is available in the Marketing and Outlook Briefs section of U of I Extension's farmdoc website.

The authors investigated whether trend yields in the U.S. Corn Belt have actually accelerated since the mid-1990s. They examined the impact of weather and technology on corn yields from 1960 to 2007 in three states--Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana.

"We did not find evidence of a noticeable increase in the trend rate of yield growth for corn in Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana through 2007," said Irwin. "Much of the increase in observed yields since 1996 has been the result of generally more favorable weather than experienced in the prior two decades.

"At the same time, there is some experimental evidence from university trials and anecdotal evidence from producers that stacked trait corn hybrids may be increasing corn yields."

The authors, however, urged caution in assuming that there has been a biotechnology-driven jump in corn trend yields until the increase is confirmed in large-scale yield data.

If there is an escalating upswing in corn trend yields, how should producers and policymakers respond?

"This question is important not only to individual producers, but also to current policy debates about the amount of additional acreage that will be needed for corn production in the future to meet ethanol-driven demand growth," Irwin said.

The authors' comparison of the trend yield projections to the historical record of Illinois corn yields suggests two important conclusions.

"First, reaching a trend yield of 300 bushels per acre in Illinois in 2030 would require a rate of growth that is unprecedented--six bushels per year," said Irwin. "Second, a jump in the current trend yield growth rate from 1.7 bushels to three bushels per year is within the range of historical experience since 1940."

The authors also raise the possibility that something of a historical cycle may be at work. In 1969, Louis Thompson looked at the impact of weather and technology on corn production and concluded a prolonged cool period between periods of warmer than normal weather had led to an increase in production.

In 1975, Thompson again noted the importance of weather and questioned whether technological advances could ever overcome its influence.

"More unfavorable weather for the development of corn followed in 1980, 1983, and 1988," Irwin noted. "This further identified the 1960s through the early 1970s--the period that Thompson first studied--as a favorable weather period.

"The obvious question is whether a parallel should be drawn between the weather patterns over 1960-1972 versus 1973-1995 and 1996-2007 versus future years. Without taking a position on the existence of long-term weather cycles or the potential impacts of global warming, history certainly suggests a good deal of caution in projecting recent and favorable weather patterns into the future."

20 February  2008

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1.04  Reforming the approach to 'demand-driven' research

An evaluation of Dutch-funded research programmes in developing countries raises questions about the concept of local "ownership".

Anyone interested in learning more about the possibilities and limitations of demand-driven research ­ in which research programmes are determined by those who will benefit from their results ­ should look at the recent experience of Dutch organisations that fund research in developing countries.

In particular, they should read the report of an evaluation carried out by the Policy and Operations Evaluation Division of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, set up to look at the Dutch experience of providing funds during 1992–2005.

The report is based on detailed interviews in six of the countries where the projects were carried out ­ Bolivia, Ghana, Mali, South Africa, Tanzania and Vietnam.

It highlights several projects where having potential users of research results in the driving seat undoubtedly had a beneficial effect. Projects in Bolivia, South Africa and Tanzania, for example, proved to be highly successful, notably because they included a strong focus on research capacity building.

But the evaluation also identifies cases where projects failed. Understanding the reasons for this failure provides important indicators to the components of success. It is dangerous to ignore capacity building or to run projects isolated from other research communities, particularly those in the developed world.

Identifying operational flaws
As the evaluators point out, part of the problem lies in the relatively rigid way in which demand-driven policy was implemented. The approach was introduced in the early 1990s as part of a broader strategy designed to ensure that development projects in general were properly 'owned' by the community or country intended to benefit from them.

For example, Dutch researchers ­ many of whom had a strong reputation for working on problems relevant to the needs of developing countries ­ were explicitly excluded from participation in the design of research projects, and responsibility was passed to project teams within the developing country itself.

The overall situation was not helped by the fact that the Dutch government in the 1990s abandoned the priority it had previously given to research, focusing its efforts instead on the social sector. This led to the termination of many research projects in areas such as food security and agriculture.

But even taking these external factors into account, the report's conclusions make sobering reading.

Flaws in the demand-driven approach
The evaluators identify three particular problems with the demand-driven approach.

First, there may be situations in which such an approach is not necessarily the best or even the more appropriate solution. This can happen, for example, where the broad socio-political context is unfavourable ­ as the Dutch discovered in Vietnam and Mali.

Second, rigid adherence to the belief that all significant input should be bottom-up can result in individual programmes becoming isolated from the broader experience of the research community. A lack of dialogue with scientific peers, in both developed and other developing countries, can be damaging.

Third, the evaluators emphasise that the large amount of time required to start research programmes from scratch can hinder the growth of a more strategic and broad-based approach to research support.

"Participatory agenda-setting generated a fragmented programme, with many small-scale research activities," said one of the evaluators at a conference held in the Hague last week (26 February), organised jointly by the Institute of Social Studies, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, and the Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education.

"These indeed responded to individual researchers' interests, but they did not lead to knowledge accumulation."

Adopting a broader perspective
None of this throws into doubt the essential value of community participation. Nor should it undermine a basic commitment to ensure that research claimed to be in the interests of the developing world must be seen as both valuable and relevant to its intended beneficiaries.

But it does strengthen the case for shifting away from the simplistic insistence that research be entirely demand-driven, and indeed from the concept that research results should ­ or even can ­ be 'owned' by the communities concerned. Rather, it points to a broader approach that seeks to achieve its objectives by focusing on social need, capacity building and empowerment.

In other words, development research programmes should seek to achieve relevance not merely through specifying who defines the research agenda ­ or even who carries out the research ­ but also by shifting emphasis to the way in which research fits into the broad patterns of national innovation. This can of course include consideration of how innovation policies can themselves be politically determined.

The Dutch development community has learnt the hard way. A new policy is now being implemented that seeks to learn from these lessons. It is to be hoped that others will do the same, without having to undergo experiences that are quite so disruptive or painful.

David Dickson
Director, SciDev.Net

7 March 2008

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1.05  University of Wisconsin-Madison plant breeders contribute to newly awarded DOE bioenergy grant

The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in close partnership with Michigan State University, was recently selected by the DOE as one of three research centers for bioenergy.  With an award of $125 million in funding over five years, the new GLBRC facility is part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and involves more than 50 UW-Madison researchers.  The mission of the GLBRC is to explore scientifically diverse approaches for converting sunlight and various plant feedstocks­agricultural residues, wood chips, and grasses­into biofuels.  In addition to its broad range of scientific research projects, the GLBRC is collaborating with agricultural researchers and producers to help develop the most economically viable and environmentally sustainable practices for bioenergy production.

GLBRC scientific research is organized into five focus areas:
1.  Improving Plant Biomass
2.  Improving Biomass Processing
3.  Improving Biomass Conversion
4.  Fostering Sustainable Bioenergy Practices
5.  Creating Technologies to Enable More Advanced Bioenergy Research

As part of the GLBRC, three faculty members from the Department of Agronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are working to increase maize biomass accumulation and improve digestibility for bioenergy conversion.  As members of the interdepartmental Plant Breeding & Plant Genetics program, Natalia de Leon, Shawn Kaeppler and Heidi Kaeppler are expanding upon previous efforts of the UW corn research program (developed by retired professor James Coors).  The UW corn research program represents the only public improvement effort for silage breeding in the U.S. and has traditionally studied the breeding and genetics of maize germplasm for ruminant nutrition.  The researchers have found that similar traits may be important for improving feedstock for energy bioconversion.

The research of de Leon and Kaeppler aims to use association analysis to identify natural quantitative variation for composition and digestibility of cellulosic biomass.  Complementing their traditional field breeding programs, the researchers also intend to develop rapid-flowering, small-statured maize varieties for high-throughput genetic and molecular analysis of biomass related traits.  This “mini-maize” would be of particular importance for other researchers in GLBRC who do not have access to agronomic production fields.  Through the creation of dominant-negative mutations for genes involved in lignin and cell wall synthesis, they will also identify loci which modify or interact with these genes, leading to a better understanding of the metabolic networks involved.  This research will lead to improved maize germplasm for bioenergy conversion and develop maize as a model system for future advances in other closely related biomass crops.

More information about the GLBRC can be found at

Contributed by Chad Kramer ( and Margaret Broeren (

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1.06  Getting quality seed to maize farmers in eastern and southern Africa

El Batán, Mexico
Despite strong growth in the private seed sector in eastern and southern Africa over the last decade, most of region’s millions of small-scale farmers lack easy access to affordable, quality seed of maize, the number-one food staple. A major study by CIMMYT shows the need for active investments in the region’s seed sector and for policies to support its development.

Since the mid-1990s, when many countries in eastern and southern Africa opened maize seed markets to private enterprise, registered seed companies have proliferated­now numbering almost 80­along with other types of seed producers. Previously, improved maize seed was produced chiefly by public organizations or parastatal companies. In the 2006-07 cropping season, registered companies produced the bulk of just-over 100,000 tons of improved maize seed that were marketed in the region­enough to sow 35% of the region’s maize lands.

“This implies a significant, unmet demand for seed,” says CIMMYT economist Augustine Langyintuo. “The farmers who don’t purchase fresh seed are recycling from the previous harvest, meaning they are losing out on potential yield, or sowing unimproved, low-yielding local varieties.” Experts cite average yield losses of 5% for recycled seed of open-pollinated varieties, and more than 30% in the case of hybrids. In addition, more than half the maize area in the region is still under low-yielding traditional cultivars, partly because farmers lack knowledge of or access to affordable, quality seed of improved maize varieties.

Finding bottlenecks in seed supplies

As part of research by CIMMYT and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) on drought tolerant maize for African farmers, Langyintuo led a joint study to characterize seed providers and bottlenecks to seed supplies in eastern and southern Africa. A total of 116 representatives from 73 seed companies and 35 national agricultural research systems (NARS) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participated, and information was gathered on the seed sectors in Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. “There was an extraordinary 100% return on questionnaires sent, evidence of partners’ trust in CIMMYT and interest in addressing the problem,” says Langyintuo.

The main finding was that investment capital requirements and a shortage of qualified staff hinder the growth of small, local seed companies that have emerged on the continent over the past decade, according to Langyintuo. “The costs of setting up and running an office, recruiting and retaining qualified personnel, and procuring and operating production, processing, and storage facilities are beyond what many local businesses can afford, and access to operational credit is limited or nil,” he says.

One operating expense that virtually no companies in the region have been able to take on is that of marketing seed. “Most companies rely on third-party agents such as agro-dealers, large retail stores, NGOs, or the government to retail most their seed,” says Langyintuo. “The bulk of the agro-dealers in turn lack funds to purchase seed, and so must take it on consignment, forcing companies to retrieve unsold seed at cost. The dealers are normally not knowledgeable enough about the seed they sell to promote it effectively, and have also been known to adulterate seed with mere grain.”

Other hurdles include poor infrastructure (bad roads and storage facilities), cumbersome varietal registration and seed certification regulations, restrictions on foreign trade or investment in seed, and low adoption rates of improved varieties.

Getting farmers the seed they want

Langyintuo suggests that governments, development investors, international centers like CIMMYT and IITA, and the region’s universities need to assist and support current seed companies to improve their seed outputs and profits. “They would benefit from access to credit, improved experimental maize, good seed production sites and affordable inputs, and training in effective business practices,” he explains. CIMMYT normally distributes its germplasm freely to everyone, but Langyintuo says that granting companies some degree of exclusivity in the use of CIMMYT inbred lines would facilitate branding and promote sales.

“Moreover, as long as seed companies are reluctant to invest in retail networks, agro-dealers need support with targeted loans from governments and development investors to buy and sell seed and maintain good storage facilities,” he says. “Farmers’ awareness of useful new varieties can be raised through extension messages, better retail networks, and access to credit.”

Sharpening business acumen

As part of its support to the seed sector, CIMMYT organized a course in the region in 2007 on good business practices for maize seed companies. As part of this, representatives from leading companies in Zimbabwe allowed participants to visit their facilities and learn how they operated. “We essentially asked them to show key parts of their business to 25 future competitors, and they agreed to it,” says CIMMYT maize seed systems specialist, John MacRobert, who organized the course. “Strengthening internal seed laws and regulations to police fake seeds, policies that stimulate the private seed trade, and avoiding undue delays in the release of cultivars could benefit the seed industry tremendously,” says MacRobert.

Where applicable, carrying out the distinctiveness, uniformity and stability (DUS) tests alongside national performance trials (NPT) could speed up the release to farmers of new, improved varieties, according to Langyintuo. “For rapid spillovers of cultivars released in one country to similar agro-ecologies in different countries, the regional harmonization of seed laws and regulations initiated by the sub-regional organizations, CGIAR centers, development investors, and other relevant stakeholders should be expedited.”

For more information: Augustine Langyintuo, economist (

Source: CIMMYT e-newsletter vol 5 no 2 via
29 February 2008

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1.07  North Africa to develop drought-resistant barley

Agricultural researchers in Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia have teamed up to create drought-resistant and salt-tolerant varieties of barley better suited to the North African region.

The project, funded by the Canadian International Development Research Centre and overseen by the New Partnership for Africa's Development North Africa Biosciences Network, will see thirty scientists from five organisations spending the next two years developing the barley varieties.

Barley is traditionally used as animal feed in much of North Africa, but lack of alternative food sources is leading to human consumption.

Algeria's National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRAA), Egypt's National Research Centre and Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute, and Tunisia's Centre of Biotechnology and National Institute of Agriculture Research will be involved in the project.

The researchers met in Borj Essedria in southern Tunisia last month (10–11 February) to discuss genetic techniques ­ including genetic modification ­ that could be used to increase barley's nutritional quality, as well as make it drought- and saltwater-tolerant.

"We want to develop two varieties of barley in each country, making a total of six varieties expected to be resistant to drought and high salinity," says Hussein Irikti, coordinator of scientific activities and research for INRAA, which is overseeing Algeria's role in the project.

"If we succeed in achieving the goal, we will launch another programme bigger and broader than this," he adds.

Irikti says they are focusing on barley because it is "exceptional, very adaptable to different climates, resisting drought and high temperature compared to other cereals ­ in addition to containing vitamins that are not found in other grains. It is a strategic challenge for North Africa, which suffers from drought and high degree of salinity."

Skander Mekersi, deputy director of INRAA, said researchers would share skills and equipment, adding that INRAA has invested equipment worth US$20,000 into the project.

by Hichem Boum

11 March 2008

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1.08  Rice R&D confab to highlight poverty and malnutrition

Manila, The Philippines
The 21st National Rice Research and Development (R&D) Conference is set next week March 11-13 at the PhilRice Central Experiment Station in Maligaya, Science City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija. This year’s conference theme is “Addressing poverty and malnutrition through rice R&D.”

The three-day event held annually by PhilRice will bring together updates and developments on rice R&D conducted by the rice R&D network members nationwide. More than 500 rice scientists, R&D workers from agencies under the Department of Agriculture, state universities and colleges, local government units, non-government and people’s organizations, and farmer-leaders are expected to attend the scientific meeting.

This year’s theme will focus on the technologies and strategies that enhance productivity and sustainability of the rice industry. It will also highlight the models being used to efficiently promote new technologies for better adoption.

During the conference, PhilRice’s economic impact on its stakeholders and to the country as a whole will also be presented.

PhilRice relentlessly strives to live up to the expectations of the Filipino farmers. Many accounts say that PhilRice has revolutionized the Philippine farming systems and has contributed to the country’s development in general especially in the agriculture sector. With the country’s gruesome poverty and malnutrition situation, PhilRice aligns its efforts to conceptualizing and implementing more comprehensive programs that would answer these pressing issues.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) noted that protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies remain the leading nutritional problems in the Philippines. In addition, FAO confirmed that about 12 million Filipinos are underweight while about 28 million are unable to buy food to meet their nutritional requirements and other basic needs. The Social Weather Stations’ (SWS) December 2007 report noted that about 2.9M Filipino families suffered from involuntary hunger (no food to eat) for the last three months.

To address this, recent PhilRice researches are geared toward the development of locally adapted technologies that will provide consumers with higher yield and more nutritional values. These include breeding of varieties that are vitamin-enriched and resistant to major diseases.

In addition, the conference will also showcase research presentations on rice technology generation and promotion, scientific poster viewing, launching of new knowledge products, and exhibit of rice technologies.

Farmers’ Field Days, which will showcase the experiments on the 100-hectare experimental farm of PhilRice, will be held on the first two days (March 11-12) of the event. PhilRice's Technology Management and Services Division is expecting more than 2,000 farmers who will witness the PhilRice-generated technologies on rice and rice-based farming systems.

“Technologies generated from rice R&D so far address poverty and malnutrition. Rice R&D can contribute to the improvement of the possible productivity and sustainability options that farmers can employ in alleviating their poverty conditions,” says PhilRice Executive Director Leocadio S. Sebastian.

“We need to enhance the transfer of results of R&D whether it be knowledge or technologies so that farmers can benefit from them,” Dr. Sebastian adds.

With the members of the National Rice R&D Network during the conference, PhilRice hopes to identify concrete pathways that will unshackle policy and institutional bottlenecks and push the full potentials of rice R&D to address poverty among rice farmers.

Source: PhilRice via
7 March 2008

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1.09  Ug99 wheat killer detected in Iran - Dangerous fungus on the move from East Africa to the Middle East

Rome, Italy
A new and virulent wheat fungus, previously found in East Africa and Yemen, has moved to major wheat growing areas in Iran, FAO reported today. The fungus is capable of wreaking havoc to wheat production by destroying entire fields.

Countries east of Iran, like Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, all major wheat producers, are most threatened by the fungus and should be on high alert, FAO said.

It is estimated that as much as 80 percent of all wheat varieties planted in Asia and Africa are susceptible to the wheat stem rust (Puccinia graminis). The spores of wheat rust are mostly carried by wind over long distances and across continents.

“The detection of the wheat rust fungus in Iran is very worrisome,” said Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division.

“The fungus is spreading rapidly and could seriously lower wheat production in countries at direct risk. Affected countries and the international community have to ensure that the spread of the disease gets under control in order to reduce the risk to countries that are already hit by high food prices.”

The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has informed FAO that the fungus has been detected in some localities in Broujerd and Hamedan in western Iran. Laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of the fungus. Iran said it will enhance its research capacity to face the new infection and develop new wheat varieties resistant to the disease.


The wheat fungus first emerged in Uganda in 1999 and is therefore called Ug99. The wind-borne transboundary pest subsequently spread to Kenya and Ethiopia. In 2007, an FAO mission confirmed for the first time that Ug99 has affected wheat fields in Yemen. The Ug99 strain found in Yemen was already more virulent than the one found in East Africa.

Ethiopia and Kenya had serious wheat rust epidemics in 2007 with considerable yield losses.

The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), established to combat wheat rusts around the world, will support countries in developing resistant varieties, producing their clean quality seeds, upgrading national plant protection and plant breeding services and developing contingency plans. The BGRI was founded by Norman Borlaug (known as "the father of the Green Revolution"), Cornell University, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry areas (ICARDA), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and FAO.

Disease surveillance and wheat breeding is already underway to monitor the fungus and to develop Ug99 resistant varieties. However, more efforts are required to develop long term durable resistant varieties that can be made available to farmers in affected countries and countries at risk. FAO urged countries to increase disease surveillance and intensify efforts to control the disease.

5 March 2008

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1.10  NIAB announces major new research initiative to tackle rice productivity in the developing world

Advances in crop science can contribute to global food security and mitigate the risks associated with climate change.  Today (21 February 2008) NIAB announced major new funding for research on rice genetics that will lead to the creation of climate resistant strains of rice for Africa and Asia.

It was one of 12 new research projects launched by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID) at Westminster as part of their joint initiative, Sustainable Agriculture Research for International Development (SARID).  There were 250 applications for the 12 awards.

NIAB has been awarded a total of £733,000 for their three year rice research project. It will be led by NIAB in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute, based in the Philippines.

Prof Wayne Powell, CEO of the Cambridge-based plant research organisation, said :

“This is the most wonderful time to be a crop scientist.  The opportunity to exploit our cutting edge science for developing world agriculture is very exciting and will help deliver solutions to the major challenges facing society.”

Rice is the staple food for over two billion people, but lack of water and disease limit its production across the developing world. There is an urgent need for new breeds of rice that can cope with changing climatic conditions and to improve food security across the developing world.

Researchers at NIAB will work collaboratively with the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. They will look at the genetic make up of rice as well as its genetic expression to identify genes which may be crucial in developing new types of rice resilient to climate change and diseases.

The inherited make-up of rice is well understood, but using their SARID grant, the researchers will use new techniques, usually used in human and animal studies, to look at gene expression in rice in response to different conditions. By doing this they hope to identify genes which are naturally tolerant to climate extremes and diseases and go on to use this knowledge to develop rice breeding programmes in Africa and Asia.

Welcoming the new research, Ian Pearson, Minister for Science and Innovation, said:

"This is a true demonstration of how scientific research can help find solutions to the major challenges facing the world and improve the quality of life for millions in developing countries."

BBSRC Interim Chief Executive, Steve Visscher, said:

"Bioscience research can make a vital contribution to improving sustainable agriculture across the globe. These projects will build on the world-leading research on fundamental plant science and plant disease in the UK and apply this to crops of importance in the developing world, increasing yields and helping to alleviate the suffering of millions living in poverty."

Contributed by Ellee Seymour

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1.11  Iowa State University awarded $450,000 to enhance nutritional value and marketability of common beans in Uganda and Rwanda

Ames, Iowa

Iowa State University’s Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods has been awarded a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to enhance nutritional value and marketability of common beans in Uganda and Rwanda.

“Testing whether yield improving technologies result in beans with better nutritive value or processing characteristics is an important under-researched issue in this region,” said Robert Mazur, director of the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods and lead investigator of the project, which begins this year and ends in 2010. “Activities will contribute to sustainable livelihoods of small scale farmers and their families, providing food security and income to the most vulnerable group, the women and children.”

Results of the research are expected to significantly improve yields and quality of beans varieties, enhance nutritional value and marketability of beans and increase marketing and consumption of beans and value-added bean products. Funding for the project comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Dry Grain Pulses Collaborative Research Support Program.

Since 2004, ongoing collaboration of the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and a nongovernmental organization in Uganda have worked to improve food security and market readiness among 800 farm households in Uganda. “Our research approach is seen as a potential model for other parts of sub-Saharan African where beans, or pulses, are an integral part of traditional cropping systems,” said Mazur.

Mazur said the research will help meet the international community’s Millennium Development Goals of reducing hunger and poverty, since improved bean production, processing and consumption in Uganda and Rwanda can help address deteriorating food security there and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

Other researchers in the project include Iowa State faculty in food science and human nutrition, agronomy and economics, and scientists at Makerere University in Uganda, the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda, Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns in Uganda and Kigali Institute of Science and Technology in Rwanda.

22 February 2008

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1.12  Wheat breeding, Western Australian style

Western Australia
Wheat, Australia’s major grain crop, is the product of thousands of years of human intervention in the form of selection and breeding.

Western Australia (WA) typically produces 40 per cent of the national wheat crop and of this approximately 95 per cent is sold overseas, mostly to the Asian and Middle Eastern markets, so it’s important to determine and meet market needs.

Last year InterGrain, the new WA wheat breeding company, released two promising varieties, the high yielding Australian Premium White (APW) variety Magenta and the premium quality udon noodle grade variety Yandanooka. Both are expected to have major market impact in WA and, in the case of Magenta, also in SA and Victoria.

The same wheat breeding team which produced high performing varieties such as Wyalkatchem , Carnamah , Calingiri, Arrino and Westonia has now produced Yandanooka and Magenta.

Average annual growth in wheat productivity in Australia has been about one per cent for the 20th century, until the 1980s, with the agronomic breakthrough associated with minimum tillage, when it became closer to four per cent, of which a quarter is attributed to better cultivars developed by wheat breeders.

While the systematic approach to wheat breeding began a century ago, the last decade has seen the emergence of a whole new toolkit for breeders associated with new discoveries in molecular biology. Plant breeders still work with the basics of crossing two plants with useful and contrasting characteristics to produce progeny with improved performance.

One particular application of the new techniques is to use molecular markers to complement traditional field and laboratory trials in the selection of the elite progeny with the desired combination of traits.

Senior InterGrain Wheat Breeder, Robin Wilson, says that the blend of traditional breeding with molecular marker techniques provides advantage in that breeders can better target genetic combinations they need to deliver simultaneously on yield, disease resistance, stress tolerance and quality.

InterGrain will work hard to speed up its processes, but farmers can already see benefits in the better varieties coming forward, according to Mr Wilson.

Source: GRDC's The Crop Doctor  via
March 5, 2008

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1.13  Scientists meet to launch a multi-million dollar project  to step up rice production in Africa and Asia

Cotonou, Benin
National and international rice specialists are taking part in a meeting to launch a multi-million dollar project on “Stress-tolerant rice for poor farmers in Africa and South Asia” at the Africa Rice Center (WARDA), Cotonou, Benin, 5–7 March 2008.

The project, which will be carried out by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and its partners, has been approved for funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through a grant to IRRI for US$19.9 million over three years.

The Africa component of this project proposal was developed by IRRI in partnership with the Africa Rice Center, which will be its main partner in implementing this component. Both IRRI and the Africa Rice Center are supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

The project targets resource-poor rice farmers in Africa and Asia, who produce their crop under rainfed conditions, in which drought, flooding, and salinity reduce yields and harm their livelihoods.

The project aims to make available to such farmers improved, stress-tolerant rice varieties, which in complement with improved management practices, is expected to bring about a 50% increase in yield in farmers’ fields within the next 10 years.

The project is expected to benefit at least 400,000 households in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa in the short term and 18 million households in the long term. In addition, the project aims to build the capacity of researchers and seed producers and promote the exchange of seed of stress-tolerant rice varieties.

The project member countries in Africa comprise Benin, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal in West Africa as well as Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda in eastern and southern Africa.

National program scientists from all the project member countries have been invited to the launching meeting, which will be inaugurated by His Excellency, Minister of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, Government of Benin.

The scientists and the Directors General of the Africa Rice Center and IRRI are attending. IRRI’s delegation includes about 20 participants from its headquarters in the Philippines and its representatives from eastern and southern Africa.

Dr David Bergvinson, a program officer in Agricultural Development for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is also taking part in this meeting. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) will be represented by Dr Issoufou Kapran, Program Officer for Seed Production and Dissemination.

Other special invitees include:

-The Directors General of national programs in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo; 
-Key development partners from non-governmental and private sector organizations (SG 2000 from Ethiopia, African Seed Trade Association, Songhai Center and Tunde from Benin); and 

-Local and regional farmers’ associations in West Africa (ROPPA)

The first day of the meeting (5 March) will be devoted to the project launching ceremony, overviews and visits to the research facilities of the Africa Rice Center.

The second and third days (6-7 March) will be used to develop work-plans. A field visit to the non-governmental organization “Songhai Center” in Benin is scheduled for 8 March.

Link :

3 March 2008

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1.14  North Africa Biosciences Network (NABNet) to improve barley varieties for North Africa

The North Africa Biosciences Network (NABNet), one of the four networks of NEPAD/Biosciences Initiative, has started a project aimed at improving barley production in North Africa.

Poor yield of barley in the area has been attributed to lack of drought and salinity tolerant cultivars. Although the available varieties in North Africa are mainly suitable for livestock consumption, people are increasingly eating them due to lack of better alternatives, the director of NABNet Prof Mohamed Elarbi noted. I

t was with this in mind that WABNet organized a meeting of experts in Tunisia recently to review progress of the project titled "Genetic improvement of nutritional quality and drought and salinity tolerance of North African barley germplasm" aimed at improving the crop.

With funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, the NABNet Barley team agreed to seek collaboration from relevant regional and international organizations to undertake comprehensive genetic resources evaluation, physiological and biochemical characterization, biotechnological improvement and field assessment.

Institutions involved in the project include Egypt's National Research Centre (NRC) and Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI); Tunisia's Centre de Biotechnology de Borj Cedria (CBBC) and Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INERA) and Algeria's Institut National de La Recherche Agronomique (INRAA).

For more information contact Prof Elarbi ( or Daniel Otunge of ISAAA AfriCenter (

Source: CropBiotech Update via
22 February 2008

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1.15  The groundnut breeding program in the sudano-sahelian region of North Cameroon. Research activities, constraints and challenges

Prior to the introduction of cotton in 1951, groundnut was the major export crop in North Cameroon. Since 1976, groundnut is no longer exported due to high local demand and the strong competition of cotton . Nevertheless, groundnut remains an important cash and food crop which is planted over 140,000 ha of land. The annual production is up to 120,000 tons of pods and the corresponding yield is 800 kg/ha.

In order to improve groundnut production in quantity and quality, a breeding programme was established in 1982 at the Regional Centre of Agricultural Research for Development (RCARD), Maroua. The goal of the programme was to increase groundnut yield through cultivar introduction and selection.

Research activities were conducted on-station and on-farm during the past two years. On- station activities include groundnut collection, breeder and foundation seed production, confectionary and drought resistant variety trials. On-farm activities consisted of community-based seed production to facilitate uptake of the two new improved varieties, BIRMAR 6 and BIRMAR 7.

The major constraints are the lack of research funding and the scientific isolation of the programme. Since 2002, the end of the Groundnut Germplasm Project (GGP), the programme is running at a very low pace, using the low income obtained from the sale of seeds to carry out research activities.

With the current crisis of the cotton sector and the devaluation of the CFA francs, groundnut production is receiving more and more attention from farmers. The programme is requested to establish a groundnut variety map and revamp the seed sector through on-farm trials and farmer training. However, it is not possible to take up these challenges due to lack of research funding.

In spite of current interesting research activities, the programme is facing the major problem of research funding and scientific isolation that could lead to the interruption of the programme in few years.

Contributed by A.Hamasselbé
Groundnut Breeder, Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD

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1.16  Government of the Philippines to test GM rice rich in pro-Vitamin A

Manila, The Philippines
The government is set to conduct a multi-locational testing of the genetically modified (GM) pro-Vitamin A-rich rice which should benefit in about three years nutrition-poor, rice-eating rural families.

Dr. Leocadio S. Sebastian, Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) director, said may start in September the first multi-locational field testing of the Vitamin A-rich rice, also known as "Golden Rice," at 's Muñoz, Nueva Ecija experimental station.

Another site may be at the International Rice Research Institute's (IRRI) testing fields in Los Banos, Laguna. Each site will have a 500-square meter area.

At least two seasons of testing will be conducted to comply with the requirements of the National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines' (NCBP) on the propagation of GM crops.

has transferred to local rice varieties the desired trait, Vitamin A-enrichment through beta-carotene availability, in order to make its nutrition advantages benefit more people. Foreign rice varieties cannot be commercialized viably in the local rice fields.

The trait has been transferred to NSIC 128 and PSB RC 82, two of the most popular rice varieties in the Philippines that are extensively consumed particularly by government's targeted consumers.

Moreover, the varieties are inbred so that the trait is expected to be passed on to next generation seeds even after repeated planting unlike in expensive hybrid seeds which lose their hybrid vigor or traits after one cropping.

While certain groups contest the value of government's development of Golden Rice and question its benefits against the huge investment in its development, believes there can be no better alternative to developing a Vitamin A-enrichment in the country's staple food­rice.

"This has something to do with people's preference. There are other crops rich in Vitamin A like mungbean and malunggay. But most of the poor eat only the staple. Forty percent of the calorie intake of Filipinos comes from rice," said Sebastian in an interview.

While field testing of the rice variety's suitability and other agronomic considerations are on-going here, studies on bioavailability of the Vitamin A enrichment are being carried out in other countries. This will determine if Vitamin A from its source, corn into rice, can be made available for use of the human body.

And there are strong possibilities of efficient bioavailibity due to the trait's origin.

"The gene (carrying the Vitamin A-rich trait) came from yellow corn. There has been trials conducted on this showing high potential for bioavailability," Sebastian said.

The development of Golden Rice has been prompted by the infliction of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) of millions of people in developing countries particularly by children and pregnant women. VAD can lead to total or partial blindness while its less serious form can weaken the immune system.

This raises risks of infection of measles and malaria on immune system-weak people. It was reported that this nutrient deficiency causes blindness on 350,000 pre-school age children yearly and the same deficiency is associated with one million deaths annually.
By Melody M. Aguiba

Source: Manila Bulletin via
29 February 2008

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1.17  Amflora potato: not this year

Genetically modified potatoes will not be cultivated commercially in the European Union this season. Voting members of the EU Commission have delayed approval of the "Amflora" variety. Effectively, this results in the prohibition of its planting in 2008.

Intended for industrial uses, e.g., the manufacture of paper and adhesives, the Amflora potato has been genetically modified to produce amylopectin starch exclusively.

The Amflora potato was developed by BASF and an application for its approval for cultivation was submitted in 2003. Subsequently, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducted a scientific safety assessment. Upon the conclusion of tests in 2005, the EFSA declared the Amflora line to be identical to conventional potatoes with regard to its effect on the environment.

On the basis of this declaration, the EU Commission recommended the approval of Amflora for cultivation within the Union. However, this recommendation was unable in 2007 to find support from a qualified majority of ministerial representatives of Member States in the European Council. As foreseen by EU law, ultimate responsibility for approval then was conferred to the Commission. This decision now has been delayed.

Spokespeople for BASF had expressed hope for cultivation in 2008. However, due to various factors which include yearly planning of crops and the early registration of the intention to plant genetically modified lines, approval would have been needed in February at the latest.

Source: GMO Compass via
12 March 2008

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1.18  New CAST paper addresses gene flow from biotech plants

The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) released an Issue Paper, Implications of Gene Flow in the Scale-up and Commercial Use of Biotechnology-derived Crops: Economic and Policy Considerations.  According to Task Force Chair David Gealy, USDA–ARS, “Humans have selected, adapted, and improved crops from diverse species for numerous purposes.  Many useful traits are being imparted into biotech and nonbiotech crops, most of which are likely to impact the dynamics of gene flow very little, especially outside of agricultural fields. Precommercialization procedures that take into account the specific trait being introduced will help to insure that impacts of gene flow remain low.” The paper (Issue Paper No. 37) may be accessed on the CAST website at

Contributed by Catherine Glaeser

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1.19  What role can agricultural biotechnologies play in helping developing countries cope with growing water scarcity?

Summary document of an FAO e-mail conference, on biotechnology and drought and water scarcity.

The summary document of the FAO e-mail conference entitled "Coping with water scarcity in developing countries: What role for agricultural biotechnologies?" has now been published. It provides a summary of the main issues discussed during this moderated e-mail conference, hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum from 5 March to 1 April 2007, based on the messages posted by the participants, 75% of which came from people in developing countries. The major topics discussed were the application of biotechnologies (mainly genetic modification and marker-assisted selection) to develop crops with improved drought resistance or water use efficiency; the use of bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi in water-limited conditions; and the use of biotechnology in wastewater treatment. See the Executive Summary below. The full document is available at or can be requested via e-mail from

Executive Summary
The availability of water is a challenge for all countries, but especially for those with scarce water resources and where the livelihoods of its people depend heavily on agriculture. The term 'biotechnology' includes a broad suite of tools that present varying degrees of technical sophistication and require different levels of capital input. A number of them can be used to mitigate water scarcity in agriculture, including a variety of plant biotechnologies, e.g. marker-assisted selection (MAS), and microbial biotechnologies, e.g. use of mycorrhizal fungi as a biofertiliser. Many examples of applications of biotechnology in developing countries were cited during this FAO e-mail conference. There was a general consensus that biotechnology has a valuable role to play in addressing the challenge of water scarcity in developing countries, although opinions differed on the relevance of different biotechnology tools. Despite much promising research and significant possibilities, the conference also indicated that many applications of biotechnology in this area have not yet met their full potential to deliver practical solutions to the end-user in developing countries.

Among the different plant biotechnologies, MAS and genetic modification elicited most discussion. Although the general opinion of participants was that MAS had significant potential, some underlined the obstacles to its practical application in developing countries, such as the relatively high costs of breeding using molecular markers and the complexity of traits involved in drought resistance and water use efficiency in plants. For genetic modification, promising research results were reported but many participants expressed doubts about the role of genetically modified crops in helping developing countries to cope with water scarcity, referring to the kinds of obstacles also relevant to MAS (costs, complexity of the traits to be improved etc.) as well as to a number of additional concerns, such as intellectual property rights issues and potential environmental impacts.

To ensure that research initiatives to develop drought resistant crops are successful and that the resulting products actually reach the farmers, participants called for increased collaboration between researchers in different disciplines and for all relevant stakeholders to be involved in the design of solutions to the problems of water scarcity in agriculture. Research should not neglect dryland (non-irrigated) agriculture. The role of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a strategic partnership supporting the work of 15 international centres, in developing drought resistance crops was emphasised.

A positive outlook was foreseen for microbial biotechnologies in managing water scarcity. Participants described the potential of applying mycorrhizal fungi and certain bacteria as a biofertiliser to assist plants to cope with water stress, calling for greater research in this area. Several applications of biotechnology were reported as playing a useful role in treating wastewater, mainly on a small scale, involving the use of plants and microbes, so that it could be re-used for agricultural purposes. Participants also discussed the potential to design biotechnology-based wastewater treatment systems in such a way that they yield co-products (e.g. biogas) that could be used to generate income locally.

Contributed by John Ruane

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1.20  Arctic seed vault opens doors for 100 million seeds

Ceremony marking unprecedented effort to protect global agriculture draws world leaders and seeds from over 100 countries

Longyearbyen, Norway
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened today on a remote island in the Arctic Circle, receiving inaugural shipments of 100 million seeds that originated in over 100 countries. With the deposits ranging from unique varieties of major African and Asian food staples such as maize, rice, wheat, cowpea, and sorghum to European and South American varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley, and potato, the first deposits into the seed vault represent the most comprehensive and diverse collection of food crop seeds being held anywhere in the world.

At the opening ceremony, the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, unlocked the vault and, together with the African Nobel Peace Prize-winning environmentalist Wangari Maathai, he placed the first seeds in the vault. The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and a host of dignitaries and agriculture experts from around the globe deposited seeds during the ceremony. A variety of Norwegian musicians and choirs also performed in the opening ceremony held 130 metres deep inside the frozen mountain.

Built near the village of Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen, the vault at its inception contains 268,000 distinct samples of seeds­each one originating from a different farm or field in the world. Each sample may contain hundreds of seeds or more. In all, the shipments of seeds secured in the vault today weighed approximately 10 tonnes, filling 676 boxes.

The opening of the seed vault is part of an unprecedented effort to protect the planet’s rapidly diminishing biodiversity. The diversity of our crops is essential for food production, yet it is being lost. This “fail-safe” facility, dug deep into the frozen rock of an Arctic mountain, will secure for centuries, or longer, hundreds of millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today. As well as protecting against the daily loss of diversity, the vault could also prove indispensable for restarting agricultural production at the regional or global level in the wake of a natural or man-made disaster. Contingencies for climate change have been worked into the plan. Even in the worst-case scenarios of global warming, the vault rooms will remain naturally frozen for up to 200 years.

“With climate change and other forces threatening the diversity of life that sustains our planet, Norway is proud to be playing a central role in creating a facility capable of protecting what are not just seeds, but the fundamental building blocks of human civilization,” said Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

“Crop diversity will soon prove to be our most potent and indispensable resource for addressing climate change, water and energy supply constraints, and for meeting the food needs of a growing population,” said Cary Fowler (photo*), Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is funded and established by Norway as a service to the world. The Global Crop Diversity Trust is providing support for the ongoing operations of the seed vault, as well as organizing and funding the preparation and shipment of seeds from developing countries to the facility. NordGen will manage the facility and maintain a public on-line database of samples stored in the seed vault, which has the capacity to house 4.5 million samples­some 2 billion seeds.

Prime Minister Stoltenberg and Wangari Maathai, founder of the African Green Belt Movement and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, delivered together the first box of seeds to the vault. It contained rice seeds specially prepared with varieties originating from 104 countries. The box was opened during the ceremony, and then resealed before being placed in the vault.

“The significant public interest in the seed vault project indicates that collectively we are changing the way we think about environmental conservation. We now understand that along with international movements to save endangered species and the rainforests of the world, it is just as important for us to conserve the diversity of the world’s crops for future generations,” Maathai said.

“The opening of the seed vault marks a historic turning point in safeguarding the world’s crop diversity,’’ said Fowler. “But about 50 percent of the unique diversity stored in seed banks still is endangered. We are in the midst of trying to rescue these varieties. Our success means we will guarantee the conservation and availability of these wildly diverse crops. Forever.”

Unique Building

The building of the vault itself has attracted much outside interest due to its location and its unusual engineering, security, and aesthetic features. Its engineering allows it to stay cool with only a single 10-kilowatt compressor, which is powered by locally generated electricity.

The vault consists of three highly secure rooms sitting at the end of a 125-metre tunnel blasted out of a mountain on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. The seeds will be stored at minus 18 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and sealed in specially-designed four-ply foil packages. The packages are sealed inside boxes and stored on shelves inside the vault. Each vault is surrounded by frozen arctic permafrost, ensuring the continued viability of the seeds should the electricity supply fail. The low temperature and moisture level inside the vaults will ensure low metabolic activity, keeping the seeds viable. If properly stored and maintained at minus 20 degrees Celsius (about minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit), some seeds in the vault will be viable for a millennium or more. For example, barley can last 2000 years, wheat 1700 years, and sorghum almost 20,000 years.

Anyone seeking access to the seeds themselves will have to pass through four locked doors: the heavy steel entrance doors, a second door approximately 115 metres down the tunnel and finally the two keyed air-locked doors. Keys are coded to allow access to different levels of the facility. Not all keys will unlock all doors. Motion detectors are set up around the site. Boxes of seeds inside the rooms are scanned before entering the seed vault.

A work of art also will make the vault visible for miles around. Artist Dyveke Sanne and KORO, the Norwegian agency overseeing art in public spaces, have worked together to fill the roof and vault entrance with highly reflective steel, mirrors, and prisms. The installation acts as a beacon, reflecting polar light in the summer months, while in the winter, a network of 200 fibre-optic cables will give the piece a muted greenish-turquoise and white light.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault (
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is designed to store duplicates of seeds from seed collections from around the globe. If seeds are lost, e.g. as a result of natural disasters, war or simply a lack of resources, the seed collections may be reestablished using seeds from Svalbard. The seed vault is owned by the Norwegian government which has also financed the construction work, costing nearly NOK 50 million.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust (
The mission of the Trust is to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide. Although crop diversity is fundamental to fighting hunger and to the very future of agriculture, funding is unreliable and diversity is being lost. The Trust is the only organization working worldwide to solve this problem.

26 February 2008

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1.21  Svalbard not the only safe haven for crop diversity

As the sun finally clears the horizon, signaling an end to the long winter night, the eyes of the world will be on the Global Seed Vault, dug into the mountainside above the town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway. The first boxes of 12 tonnes - a hundred million seeds - will be carried down the long tunnel to the deep freezers within, there to be kept in safety just in case. The specimens will all be what scientists call orthodox seeds, those that can be dried and stored at low temperatures without harm. Ironically, species that cannot be dried and stored have no place in the frozen Svalbard vault. They need cold, but they also need regular human attention. Where will they be secure? For some, in the sunny south of France.

The first few hundred samples of banana and plantain from the International Musa Germplasm Collection, managed by Bioversity International and supported by the Belgian government, have been safely delivered from the International Transit Centre (ITC) at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium to the French Research Institute for Development (IRD) in Montpellier, France.

The "black box" collection at IRD - in reality a large vat kept at an extremely chilly -196°C by liquid nitrogen - represents the same kind of safety backup that Svalbard offers for orthodox seeds. Should anything happen to the samples at Leuven, like the typhoon that damaged the Philippine rice genebank or the looters who wiped out the genebank at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, duplicates will be available at IRD.

"It's a mirror of the need for crop diversity itself," said Emile Frison, Director General of Bioversity International, which is working closely with the Global Crop Diversity Trust to secure important collections of agricultural biodiversity. "Just as humanity needs different varieties of different crops, so different crops need different kinds of long-term storage."

Like bananas and plantains, crops such as coconut, cassava, yam, potato, sweet potato and taro are vitally important foods that are best conserved in field genebanks and tissue culture. But those methods are expensive, so scientists are working to develop protocols for cryopreservation, long-term storage at very low temperatures. KULeuven is a leader in this area and has been designated a Global Centre of Excellence on Plant Cryobiology. The experts there have been working with the genebanks of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and others to develop cryopreservation protocols and safety duplicates of important collections.

"The safety duplicates are at KULeuven in Belgium," Frison said. "But because the primary banana collection is already there, we had to put the safety duplicate somewhere else."

"We chose IRD to house the black box collection because of the expertise of their scientists in cryopreservation," said Professor Rony Swennen, Honorary Research Fellow at Bioversity and Director of the ITC. IRD researchers made an important contribution to cryopreservation by working out how many samples of each variety should be conserved.

"There is no guarantee that a thawed piece of plant tissue will regenerate into a fully viable plant," Swennen explained. "IRD scientists solved that problem by developing a method to calculate the number of samples needed to ensure a 95% chance that at least one of them will produce a plant."

The method is based on the survival rate of the accession, the risk level the genebank manager is willing to accept, and the time between regenerations. Armed with this information Bart Piette and Bart Panis, Belgian scientists at KULeuven, cryopreserved a batch of accessions three separate times, to minimise the risk that all might be contaminated. One of each repetition has gone to France while the other two remain in Belgium.

Just as the Trust is supporting the ongoing operations of the Global Seed Vault and the preparation and shipping of seeds to Svalbard, it is also supporting research into cryopreservation and safety backups for crops that need it. Tissue culture is expensive and time-consuming because fresh cultures must frequently be made, while field collections are vulnerable to environmental disasters. Research at the Global Centre of Excellence on Plant Cryobiology at KULeuven and elsewhere is delivering improved cryopreservation protocols that enable much longer storage without the need for human interference.

"The Trust's support in making sure that crops such as banana are safely stored for the global community is very much appreciated," said Frison. "But I think it is also important to recognize Belgium's contributions. The government has been a long-term supporter of research on the banana, from laboratory studies at KULeuven to field deployment of improved varieties and growing techniques. Without that, we might not have had any cryopreserved specimens to send to France."

26 February 2008

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1.22  Completely revised set of descriptors for wild and cultivated rice published

Bioversity International, with the International Rice Research Institute and the Africa Rice Centre, has just published a completely revised set of descriptors for wild and cultivated rice. Descriptor Lists are a vital tool for researchers interested in diversity to ensure that they have standardized metrics for describing varieties under study.

"The original list of descriptors for rice was published in 1980," said Adriana Alercia, who is responsible for descriptors at Bioversity. "It was in wide use and was considered the most valid system for rice." The new set of descriptors has been expanded to include wild relatives of the genus Oryza and to harmonize the descriptors as far as possible with those of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, which are geared to new commercial varieties. The list also highlights a set of minimum descriptors which can be used to discriminate among varieties with a high degree of certainty.

The new descriptor list has been drawn up in close consultation with experts at IRRI and the African Rice Centre and has been reviewed by 22 experts in the field.

Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton, who heads IRRI's rice genebank, welcomed the new descriptor list. "The descriptor list offers a universal language for describing rice diversity," he said. "If all rice researchers adopt this scheme it will produce a rapid, reliable and efficient means to store, retrieve and communicate information about rice diversity. And that is essential to make better use of the genebanks."

Also published recently by Bioversity International, a translation into Portuguese of the descriptors for cowpea.

A technical brief on how to develop crop descriptor lists is also available.

For further information, contact Adriana Alercia

19 February 2008

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1.23  Genetic mapping and marker-assisted breeding of pearl millet for drought prone regions

Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research  research into the genetic mapping and marker-assisted breeding of pearl millet to benefit subsistence farmers in drought prone regions of the world

Aberystwyth, Wales
Poor subsistence farmers in areas of Africa and Asia will be the direct beneficiaries of important research into the genetic mapping and marker-assisted breeding of pearl millet carried out by scientists at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER), Aberystwyth, Wales.

The four year project has received a substantial £700,000 Special Initiative Grant on Sustainable Agriculture for International Development from the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council (BBSRC) and Department for International Development (DfID) and will allow the research team led by Dr Rattan Yadav to research the genetic potential for improving pearl millet productivity in drought prone regions of Africa and Asia.

“Key segments of pearl millet DNA are already known to IGER scientists and plant breeders in India have already made use of fundamental genetic research carried out at IGER over the years, but declining water resources and unpredictable rainfall now call for further research into efficient breeding for drought-prone environments,” said Dr Rattan Yadav , Principal Investigator at IGER.

Pearl millet is the staple crop grown by subsistence farmers in the hottest driest regions of sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent but declining water resources and unpredictable rainfall pose serious threats to crop productivity. Climate change scenarios indicate that water shortage and shortening of the effective growing season will be increasingly likely in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia , increasing the need for short-duration cereals such as pearl millet with enhanced drought tolerance.

“The ultimate goal of this project is to improve food security and farmers' livelihoods in the most vulnerable zones of the Semi-Arid Tropics which are dependent on rain-fed crop production by improving the drought tolerance of otherwise acceptable and adapted pearl millet plants cultivars,” added Dr Yadav.

Although pearl millet is better adapted to water stress compared to other cereals, drought remains one of the most important factors in reducing yield and yield stability of this staple food grain crop of the world's poorest people. In the marginal crop-livestock production systems of these regions, food security is a very big issue for most rural households. Improving pearl millet's tolerance to drought by genetic mapping and efficient plant breeding offers a sustainable route to alleviate poverty and food security of pearl millet farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia .

“Marker–assisted breeding methods have the potential to dramatically improve the efficiency of breeding pearl millet hybrids that have improved drought tolerance, together with local adaptation requirements combined with locally-preferred grain quality and improved yield attributes,” said Dr Yadav.

Generic knowledge and technologies developed in this Aberystwyth-led project will contribute to the global pool of knowledge in the important research area of drought tolerance across species and facilitate increased crop production in water-limited environments globally.

Commenting on the new research, Gareth Thomas, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development and Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, said “Investing in science and research is essential to provide poor farmers with the seeds, knowledge and tools they need to make a better life for themselves. This research, bringing together UK , African and Asian scientists, has the potential to revolutionise farming in the developing world and reduce global poverty. The UK is delighted to support this initiative.”

While immediately applicable to pearl millet, much of the information generated for this important agricultural trait will have benefits to other cereals and forage grasses due to the close genomic relationships among these species and also indirectly benefit other agricultural crops.

The research is an international collaboration between IGER Aberystwyth, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Patancheru, India, the All India Co-ordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet, Mandore, India, and the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

27 February 2008

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1.24  Use of molecular markers to breed for high quality rices

Grain elongation on cooking and aroma are two major characteristics of high quality rices. Elongation of the grain after cooking without appreciable increase in width is a desired property for some fine-grained and aromatic rice such as Basmati from India and Pakistan. Grain elongation, like aroma, is a major component of the grain quality characteristics of Basmati types. This type of rice is an important commercial commodity for the economies like India, Pakistan and Thailand [2]. In Malaysia, there is an increasing demand for quality rice in domestic markets.

Quality Rice
Due to such demands, MARDI had initiated a special breeding programme to breed for high quality rices, alongside of the mainstream breeding programme. As a result, the special programme had successfully released two new high quality varieties, namely MRQ 50 (aka Puteri) [11] and MRQ 74 (aka Mas Wangi) [6]. Two special quality traits present in these varieties, but not present in previously released varieties, are grain elongation and aroma of cooked rice.

Grain elongation characteristic is derived from is a mutant line named “Mahsuri Mutant”, a product of the collaborative research initiated by UKM and MARDI in 1979 to use induced mutations in rice breeding [1, 9, 10]. Mahsuri Mutant possesses the grain elongation characteristic very much akin to that found in Basmati [4, 13], and is found to be controlled by one or two major genes [3]. This is the only known local source of grain elongation characteristic. Consequently, breeders have targeted the grain elongation of Mahsuri Mutant as one of the invaluable quality traits. Since then, efforts have been stepped up to transfer this special trait into elite breeding lines through conventional methods [4, 5]. The internal anatomical structure of grain, cell shape and arrangement might have influence on the water uptake and the nature of swelling on cooking [12]. Preliminary studies indicated that, the internal cracks for Mahsuri Mutant was substantially increased when it was artificially aged [3].

Results and Discussion
Seven sets of primer for grain elongation were used and tested in PCR amplification analyses. The results obtained showed that six sets out of seven selected and synthesised primers were functional. However, the expected fragment size between grain elongation and non-grain elongation could not be discriminated by agarose gel electrophoresis. Therefore, the amplicons were sequenced.

The sequenced regions of chromosome(s) were analysed using BLAST programme to identify their identity so that these could be used to generate new and better molecular markers that would tag closer to the gene of interest, i. e. the grain elongation gene in our rices.

In the sequence analyses, it was found that 93% (Mahsuri Mutant) were identical to Oryza sativa microsatellite MRG4671 containing (AAT)X12, closest to marker C1338 Oryza sativa chromosome 10 sequence (GenBank Accession No: AY022346; nt. 50-196), whereas 96% (Basmati 370) and 96% (MRQ 50) were both identical to certain region of Oryza sativa chromosome 10 BAC OSJNBa0015J15 genomic sequence (GenBank Accession No: AC026758; nt. 87205-87229) which is referred to Oryza longistaminata receptor-like kinase protein (Xa21). From the genetic map of rice chromosomes [2], grain elongation marker is close to rice blast disease marker (Xa21). Based on the present results, only Mahsuri Mutant’s nucleotide sequence would be used in adopting genome walking method to generate novel molecular markers. Subsequently, these new markers would be tested for their utility for marker-assisted selection in our rice breeding programme

Mohamad, O.(1), Hadzim, K.(3), Azlan, S.(3), Abdullah, M. Z.(4), Zainah, M.(2), Salwa, A. S.(1), Nur Samahah, M. Z.(1) & Amiran, N.(1)

1 Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi
2 Malaysian Agricultural Research & Development Institute (MARDI)
3 Formerly with Malaysian Agricultural Research & Development Institute (MARDI)
4 Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, Kuala Terengganu

Source: Poster exhibition at Malaysia Technology Expo (MTE 2008) held at Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC), Kuala Lumpur on 21-23 February 2008.

For the complete paper please contact the main author:

Contibuted by Dr. Mohamad bin Osman
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

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1.25  Promising mutant lines of Roselle Variety Arab (Acc. 21)

Roselle is well known for its rich contents of vitamin C and anthocyanins. At present, two introduced varieties are available to growers, and these varieties are called “Terengganu” and “Arab”. Growers predominantly plant the Terengganu variety.  The Arab variety has higher productivity compared to variety Terengganu, but the former could be further improved for its quality.  A mutation breeding programme based on the Arab variety was initiated to generate new genetic variation, and has successfully yielded several promising mutant lines.  These selections have been evaluated for their morpho-agronomic traits and physico-chemical characteristics until M4 generation, and they show promise to be used as new varieties to increase productivity of our roselle industry.  In addition, these selections provide opportunity to diversify its product development activities.

Genus  Hibiscus , which belongs to Malvaceae family, has more than 300 known species which are used as ornamental plants.  Many species are believed to have useful properties, among them is roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.), a tetraploid plant species.  Its origin is believed to be from West Africa.

Roselle is a relatively a new crop in Malaysia (Mohamad et al., 2002). It is well known  for its rich contents of vitamin C and anthocyanins. It was introduced into Malaysia in early 1990s, and its commercial planting was first promoted by DOA in Terengganu in 1993. In 2000, the planted area peaked at 506 ha. Today, the planted area is ca. 150 ha annually.  Only a handful of small companies are involved in processing, product development and marketing, largely for local market. DOA is presently making efforts to promote roselle, and is working closely with FAMA, entrepreneurs and growers.

Roselle has achieved as an important position as a pro-health drink in Malaysia due to its high contents of vitamin C and anthocyanins. To a small extent, the calyces are also processed into sweet pickle, jelly and jam, and are also used for making tea.

At present, two introduced varieties are available to growers, and these varieties are called “Terengganu” and “Arab”. Growers predominantly plant the Terengganu variety.  The variety Arab is considered a more recent introduction. Present varieties are reported to yield up to 8t/ha of fruits, or up to 4t/ha of calyces.  With good crop care, some growers have reported yields of some individual plants to exceed 4 kg of fruits per plant.

The Arab variety yields higher than Terengganu variety, both in terms of fruits and calyces, but the latter is better in terms of quality characteristics. The Arab variety, therefore, could be further improved for its quality.

Promising Selections
This paper highlights several promising mutant lines which had been developed using the Arab variety in a mutation breeding programme.  The selections include mutant lines HS2180-1-23-1-9-1, HS2180-1-31-20-17-1, HS2180-1-31-20-17-2, HS2180-1-31-20-3-1, HS2180-1-36-28-8-1, HS2180-1-36-34-16-1, and HS2180-1-36-49-4-1.  They have been evaluated for their morpho-agronomic traits and physico-chemical  characteristics until M4 generation. To date, they show good promise to be used as new varieties to increase productivity of our roselle industry.  In addition, these selections provide opportunity to diversify product development activities of roselle.

O. Mohamad(1), G. Ramadan(1), S. Herman1, A. A. Noor Baiti(1), O. Halimaton Saadiah(3), M.  M. Marlina(1), A. S. Kamaliah(1), K. Elfi(1), A. Rani(1), Jaswar(1), B. Ahmad Bachtiar(4), M. Ahmed Mahir(3), S. Mamot(2), A. L. Jalifah(2), A. Aminah(2),  H. Md. Rasli(5), M. Z. Mohd. Zulkifli(5), M. Abdul Rahman(5) dan A. Zainal Abidin(6)

1 PPSSSA, FST, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi
2 PPSKTM, FST, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi
3 Universiti Islam Sains Malaysia, Nilai
4 Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur
5 Insitut Penyelidikan dan Kemajuan Pertanian Malaysia
6 Universiti Malaysia Perlis

Source: Poster exhibition at Malaysia Technology Expo (MTE 2008) held at Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC), Kuala Lumpur on 21-23 February 2008.

Email of main author:

For the complete paper please contact the main author:

Contibuted by Dr. Mohamad bin Osman
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

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1.26  Tearless onion discovery hits the headlines

New Zealand
A scientific breakthrough which puts ‘tearless’ onions within reach of consumers within a decade has put New Zealand research on the international media map this year.

Crop & Food Research senior scientist Dr Colin Eady and his collaborators in Japan have been testing tearless onions in the laboratory and last year presented their results to the 5th International Symposium on Edible Alliaceae, in the Netherlands.

Dr Eady describes ‘tearless’ onions as being in the developmental stages but if the research progresses well, would like to see them become the household and industry norm within the next decade.
It’s a story which has piqued the interest of media around the globe, with strong international coverage in major newspapers and broadcast media.

Dr Eady says the research is based on a gene-silencing technology, called RNAi, developed by Dr Peter Waterhouse at CSIRO in Australia. “This allows us to retarget the plant’s own natural regulation system without expressing foreign proteins in the plant,” Dr Eady says.

“Through RNAi, genes can be specifically shut down or turned off. By shutting down the lachrymatory factor synthase gene, we have stopped valuable sulphur compounds being converted to the tearing agent, and instead made them available for redirection into compounds, some of which are known for their flavour and health properties.”

Dr Eady says the research team has been unable to induce tearing by crushing their model tearless onions.

“What we have now is unique germplasm with a unique trait. We can home in and study what the consequences of this one effect are. We can detect differences in sulphur compounds known to be involved in flavour and health and actually measure them and assign a role to them.”

International onion trade journal Onion World featured Dr Eady’s work on the front cover of its final issue for 2007. The magazine quotes Dr Michael J. Havey, Professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin and USDA research geneticist, as well as a world-renowned onion scientist, as predicting that tearless onions will become a mainstay in household kitchens around the world. He said Dr Eady’s work was “clearly the No. 1 topic of discussion at the 5th International Symposium”.

Dr Eady says although the “tearless onion” is an exciting project, he is most interested in sustainable and efficient production and will want to be sure that the onions he is working on are also capable of being grown in an efficient manner. “We have a burgeoning population to feed, and with climate change and other challenges, available resources are being reduced. The gene silencing system can also be used to combat viruses, diseases and biotechnology in general can help us produce more robust crops.”

Dr Eady says in many countries onions already contribute a significant proportion of daily fibre requirements. “They are such a versatile and nutritious vegetable, so if we can manage to get more people cooking and eating fresh onions, then that has got to be a positive outcome.”

Source: Crop & Food Research Digest, Issue 60 – 2008 via
4 March 2008

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1.27  Commercial production of GM eggplant in The Philippines within two years

Los Banos, Laguna, The Philippines

Within two years, the Philippines will be a commercial producer of genetically modified (GM) eggplant and papaya.

This is the timetable of studies being done at the University of the Philippines Los Baños - Institute of Plant Breeding (UPLB-IPB).

In a 1.5-hectare fenced field experimental area within the sprawling UPLB complex, GM eggplants are lushly growing while biotech papaya plants have just been transplanted.

The progress of the project was assessed during a recent field day by representatives of international and national agencies supporting it, members of the research sector, and journalists, including this writer.

Among those present were Dr. Clive James, chairman of the New York-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA); Dr. Randy Hautea, ISAAA global coordinator; Dr. Frank Shotkoski, director of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP) II-Southeast Asia; Executive Director Patricio Faylon of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD); UPLB vice chancellor Enrico Supangco; and UPLB-IPB officials led by Director Jose Hernandez.

The research on eggplant is being undertaken by UPLB-IPB in partnership with the Indian Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Ltd. (Mahyco). It is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through ABSP II, EMERGE, and ISAAA.

Mahyco has developed a high-resistant biotech eggplant with help from Monsanto Co. These eggplant lines have been used as source of the protection of biotech eggplants in India, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.

Dr. Desiree Hautea of UPLB-IPB told this writer in an interview that the eggplants were transplanted inside the fenced field last Dec. 21.

The seeds from the eggplants to be harvested will be used in the subsequent multi-location trials, which constitute the next phase of the multi-stage research process.

The first phase was the seedling establishment inside a greenhouse.

The first trial in the two-season multi-location experiments will be done in three to four selected areas in Luzon. The second will be conducted in about 10 sites in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The GM eggplant is expected to be commercialized by 2010 upon approval by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI).

The new plant type is projected to be the answer to the fruit and shoot borer (FSB), the most destructive pest attacking eggplant in Asia. In the Philippines, for instance, losses from FSB range from 51 to 73 percent. To date, there is no FSB-resistant commercial eggplant variety.

Eggplant is now the country's top vegetable crop, covering about 20,000 hectares and yielding annually 179,000 tons valued at about P2 billion.

The same process will be followed for the biotech papaya.

The papaya plants were transplanted last Feb. 8 and are expected to be harvested by November or December 2008, Dr. Pablito Magdalita told this writer.

This will be followed by the multi-location trials in Luzon and in the Visayas, and eventually the commercialization.

The new plant type is resistant to papaya ringspot virus (PRSV), which has been the scourge of the papaya industry since it was first discovered in Silang, Cavite, in 1982. It has since spread to other parts of the country, except Mindanao.

Infected papaya plants have stunted growth and produced deformed fruits with concentric rings on the skin surface. Eventually, the plants die.

A flagship biotech program of PCARRD, the papaya research is a collaborative effort with ISAAA, ABSP II, USAID, the UPLB-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), and Program for Biosafety Systems.
By Rudy A. Fernandez

Source: The Philippine STAR via
2 March 2008

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1.28  Crop scientists discover gene that controls fruit shape

WOOSTER, Ohio ­ Crop scientists have cloned a gene that controls the shape of tomatoes, a discovery that could help unravel the mystery behind the huge morphological differences among edible fruits and vegetables, as well as provide new insight into mechanisms of plant development.

The gene, dubbed SUN, is only the second ever found to play a significant role in the elongated shape of various tomato varieties, said Esther van der Knaap, lead researcher in the study and assistant professor of horticulture and crop science at Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster.

The discovery was reported, as the cover article, in the March 14 issue of the journal Science.

One of the most diverse vegetable crops in terms of shape and size variations, tomatoes have evolved from a very small, round wild ancestor into the wide array of cultivated varieties ­ some large and segmented, some pear-shaped, some oval, some resembling chili peppers ­ available through most seed catalogs and for sale in supermarkets. However, very little is known about the genetic basis for such transformations in tomatoes, and virtually nothing has been discerned about morphological changes in other fruits and vegetables.

“Tomatoes are the model in this emerging field of fruit morphology studies,” van der Knaap pointed out. “We are trying to understand what kind of genes caused the enormous increase in fruit size and variation in fruit shape as tomatoes were domesticated. Once we know all the genes that were selected during that process, we will be able to piece together how domestication shaped the tomato fruit ­ and gain a better understanding of what controls the shape of other very diverse crops, such as peppers, cucumbers and gourds.”

One of the first pieces in van der Knaap’s fruit-development puzzle is SUN, which takes its name from the “Sun 1642” cultivated variety where it was found ­ an oval-shaped, roma-type tomato with a pointy end. The gene also turned out to be very common in elongated heirloom varieties, such as the Poblano pepper-like “Howard German” tomato.

“After looking at the entire collection of tomato germplasm we could find, we noticed that there were some varieties that had very elongated fruit shape,” van der Knaap explained. “By genetic analysis, we narrowed down the region of the genome that controls this very elongated fruit shape, and eventually narrowed down that region to a smaller section that we could sequence to find what kind of genes were present at that location.

“In doing that,” van der Knaap continued, “we identified one key candidate gene that was turned on at high levels in the tomato varieties carrying the elongated fruit type, while the gene was turned off in round fruit. And after we confirmed that observation in several other varieties, we found that this gene was always very highly expressed in varieties that carry very elongated fruit.”

Once SUN was identified, the next step involved proving whether this gene was actually responsible for causing changes in fruit shape. To do so, van der Knaap and her team conducted several plant-transformation experiments. When the SUN gene was introduced into wild, round fruit-bearing tomato plants, they ended up producing extremely elongated fruit. And when the gene was “knocked out” of elongated fruit-bearing plants, they produced round fruit similar to the wild tomatoes.

“SUN doesn’t tell us exactly how the fruit-shape phenotype is altered, but what we do know is that turning the gene on is very critical to result in elongated fruit,” van der Knaap said. “We can now move forward and ask the question: Does this same gene, or a gene that is closely related in sequence, control fruit morphology in other vegetables and fruit crops?”

Something else van der Knaap and her team found out is that SUN encodes a member of the IQ67 domain of plant proteins, called IQD12, which they determined to be sufficient ­ on its own ­ to make tomatoes elongated instead of round during the plant transformation experiments.

IQD12 belongs to a family of proteins whose discovery is relatively new in the world of biology. So new that IQD12 is only the second IQ67 protein-containing domain whose function in plants has been identified. The other one is AtIQD1, discovered in the plant model Arabidopsis thaliana, which belongs to the same family as broccoli and cabbage. In Arabidopsis, AtIQD1 increases levels of glucosinolate, a metabolite that Ohio State researchers are studying in broccoli for its possible role in inhibiting cancer (

“Unlike AtIQD1, SUN doesn’t seem to be affecting glucosinolate levels in tomato, since these metabolites are not produced in plants of the Solanaceous family (which includes tomato, peppers, eggplant and other popular crops),” van der Knaap explained. “But there appears to be a common link between the two genes, which is that they may be regulating tryptophan levels in the plant. Thus, SUN may be telling us more about the whole process of diversification in fruits and across plant species, perhaps through its impact on plant hormones and/or secondary metabolites levels.”

In the process of identifying and cloning SUN, van der Knaap’s team was also able to trace the origin of this gene and the process by which it came to reside in the tomato genome.

Another unique characteristic of the SUN gene is that it affects fruit shape after pollination and fertilization, with the most significant morphological differences found in developing fruit five days after plant flowering. The only other fruit-shape gene previously identified ­ OVATE, a discovery by Cornell University plant breeder Steven Tanksley, van der Knaap’s advisor while she was a post-doctoral associate there ­ influences the future look of a fruit before flowering, early in the ovary development.
Co-authors in the Science paper include Eric Stockinger, associate professor of horticulture and crop science at OARDC; Han Xiao, a postdoctoral researcher in horticulture and crop science at Ohio State; Ning Jiang, assistant professor of horticulture at Michigan State University; and Erin Schaffner, a former undergraduate student from the College of Wooster who conducted her independent study in van der Knaap’s lab.
Funding for this research came from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Contact: Esther van der Knaap, (330) 263-3822,
Written by Mauricio Espinoza, (330) 202-3550,

13 March 2008

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1.29  Gene that controls ozone resistance of plants could lead to drought-resistant crops

Breakthrough in plant research - Gene discovery provides new tool to develop drought-tolerant crops

San Diego, California and Helsinki, Finland

Biologists at the University of California, San Diego, working with collaborators at the University of Helsinki in Finland and two other European institutions, have elucidated the mechanism of a plant gene that controls the amount of atmospheric ozone entering a plant’s leaves.

Their finding helps explain why rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may not necessarily lead to greater photosynthetic activity and carbon sequestration by plants as atmospheric ozone pollutants increase. And it provides a new tool for geneticists to design plants with an ability to resist droughts by regulating the opening and closing of their stomata­the tiny breathing pores in leaves through which gases and water vapor flow during photosynthesis and respiration.

“Droughts, elevated ozone levels and other environmental stresses can impact crop yields,” said Jean Chin, who oversees membrane protein grants at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which partially funded the research. “This work gives us a clearer picture of how plants respond to these kinds of stresses and could lead to new ways to increase their resistance.”

The discovery is detailed in this week’s advance online publication of the journal Nature by biologists at UCSD, University of Helsinki in Finland, University of Tartu in Estonia and the University of the West of England. Last year, the journal published another study by British researchers that found that ozone generated from the nitrogen oxides of vehicle emissions would significantly reduce the ability of plants to increase photosynthesis and store the excess carbon in the atmosphere projected from rising levels of carbon dioxide.

“When ozone enters the leaf through the stomatal pores, it damages the plants photosynthetic machinery and basically causes green leaves to lose their color, a process called chlorosis,” said Julian Schroeder, a professor of biological sciences at UC San Diego and one of the principal authors of the recent study. “Plants have a way to protect themselves and they do that by closing the stomatal pores when concentrations of ozone increase.”

While this protective mechanism minimizes the damage to plants, he adds, it also minimizes their ability to photosynthesize when ozone levels are high, because the stomatal pores are also the breathing holes in leaves through which carbon dioxide enters leaves. The result is diminished plant growth or at least less than one might expect given the rising levels of carbon dioxide.

Some scientists assessing the impacts of rising greenhouse gases had initially estimated that increased plant growth generated from extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could sequester much of the excess atmospheric carbon in plant material. But in a paper published last July in Nature, researchers from Britain’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research concluded that the damage done to plants by increasing ozone pollution would actually reduce the ability of plants to soak up carbon from the atmosphere by 15 percent which corresponds to about 30 billion tons of carbon per year on a global scale---a dire prediction given that humans are already putting more carbon into the atmosphere than plants can soak up.

The discovery of the ozone-responsive plant gene was made when Jaakko Kangasjarvi and his collaborators at the University of Helsinki in Finland found a mutant form of the common mustard plant, Arabidopsis, that was extremely sensitive to ozone. They next found that this mutant does not close its stomatal pores in response to ozone stress.

“When the mutant plant is exposed to ozone, the leaves lose their dark green color and eventually become white,” said Kangasjarvi, who is also one of the principal authors of the study. “This is because the stomatal pores in the leaves stay open even in the presence of high ozone and are unable to protect the plant.”

The scientists found that the gene responsible for the mutation is essential for the function of what they called a “slow or S-type anion channel.” Anions are negatively charged ions and these particular anion channels are located within specialized cells called guard cells that surround the stomatal pores. The gene was therefore named SLAC1 for “slow anion channel 1.”

Guard cells close stomatal pores in the event of excess ozone or drought. When this gene is absent or defective, the mutant plant fails to close its stomatal pores.

In 1989, Schroeder discovered these slow anion channels in guard cells by electrical recordings from guard cells using tiny micro-electrodes. He predicted that these anion channels would be important for closing the stomatal breathing pores in leaves under drought stress.

“The model we proposed back then was that the anion channels are a kind of electrical tire valve in guard cells, because our studies suggested that closing stomatal pores requires a type of electrically controlled deflation of the guard cells,” he said. “But finding the gene responsible for the anion channels has eluded many researchers since then.”

The latest study shows that the SLAC1 gene encodes a membrane protein that is essential for the function of these anion channels. “We analyzed a lot of mechanisms in the guard cells and, in the end, the slow anion channels were what was missing in the mutant,” said Yongfei Wang, a post doctoral associate in Schroeder’s lab and co-first author of the paper.

The scientists showed that the SLAC1 gene is required for stomatal closing to various stresses, including ozone and the plant hormone abscisic acid, which controls stomatal closing in response to drought stress. Elevated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also causes a partial closing of stomatal pores in leaves. By contrast, the scientists found, the mutant gene does not close the plants’ stomatal pores when carbon dioxide levels are elevated.

“We now finally have genetic evidence for the electric tire valve model and the gene to work with,” said Schroeder.

Because the opening and closing of stomatal pores also regulates water loss from plants, Schroeder said, understanding the genetic and biochemical mechanisms that control the guard cells during closing of the stomatal pores in response to stress can have important applications for agricultural scientists seeking to genetically engineer crops and other plants capable of withstanding severe droughts.

“Plants under drought stress will lose 95 percent of their water through evaporation through stomatal pores, and the anion channel is a central control mechanism that mediates stomatal closing, which reduces plant water loss,” he said.

The study was financed by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Other news from the University of Helsinki
By Kim McDonald

27 February 2008

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1.30  Completion of a draft sequence of the corn genome

A consortium of researchers led by the Genome Sequencing Center (GSC) at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., announced today the completion of a draft sequence of the corn genome.

In the fall of 2005 the NSF, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), awarded $32 million to two projects to sequence the corn genome. The goal of the project led by the Washington University GSC is to develop a map-based genome sequence for the B73 inbred line of corn.

This groundbreaking sequencing project was funded by the NSF under the auspices of the National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI). The initiative, which began in 1998, is an ongoing effort to understand the structure and function of all plant genes at levels from the molecular and organismal, to interactions within ecosystems. NPGI's focus is on plants of economic importance and plant processes of potential economic value. Sequencing the corn genome is one of the major goals of the current initiative.

"Corn is one of the most economically important crops for our nation," said NSF Director, Arden L. Bement, Jr. "Completing this draft sequence of the corn genome constitutes a significant scientific advance and will foster growth for the agricultural community and the economy as a whole."

According to the USDA, more than 80 million acres of land in the United States is devoted to growing corn, accounting for more than 90 percent of the total value of feed grain.

"Corn is a vitally important crop," said Rick Wilson, lead investigator and director of the GSC. "Scientists will now be able to accurately and efficiently probe the genome to develop new varieties of corn that increase crop yields and resist drought and disease. The information we glean from the corn genome is also likely to be applicable to other grains, such as rice, wheat and barley."

Sequencing the corn genome has been an immense and daunting task. At 2.5 billion base pairs covering 10 chromosomes, this genome's size is comparable to that of the human genome. Corn also has one of the most complex genomes of any known organism and is one of the most challenging genomes sequenced to date. The draft sequence will allow researchers to begin to uncover the functional components of individual genes as well as develop an overall picture of the genome organization. Completing the draft sequence, which covers about 95 percent of the genome, is an important milestone on the way to refining the complete genome sequence.

"Creating a completed draft of the corn genome brings us one step closer to our goal of understanding the functional genetic components that influence hybrid vigor, drought and pest resistance, and asexual plant reproduction or apomixis - all special traits that make corn valuable," said James Collins, head of the Biological Sciences Directorate at the NSF.

The National Corn Growers Association, a strong supporter of the sequencing project and an advocate of the NPGI, notes that elucidating the complete sequence and structure of all corn genes, associated functional sequences and their locations on corn's genetic and physical map, has many potential benefits. These include: creating a model for other major genome sequencing projects, enhancing the efficiency of modern corn breeding programs, increasing understanding of corn's important agronomic traits, and strengthening the physical and intellectual scientific processes of the genetic research community.

Pam Johnson, chairman of the Research and Business Development Action Team for the National Corn Growers Association, adds, "This effort is especially critical at this time in history, when the growing global population looks to corn and other plants to supply food, feed, bioenergy and biobased materials. It is time to learn the language of corn as a model that has great potential and economic significance."

Collaborators contributing to the GSC corn genome research include: Rod Wing from the University of Arizona; W. Richard McCombie, Robert Martienssen, Doreen Ware, and Lincoln Stein from Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory; Patrick Schnable and Srinivas Aluru from Iowa State University; and Richard Wilson and Sandy Clifton from Washington University.

Useful NSF Web Sites:
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28 February 2008

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1.31  Evolution of root nodule symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria

Nitrogen is essential for all plants and animals, but despite being surrounded by it­the element constitutes 79% of air on earth­only a few bacteria can absorb it directly from the environment. All other species are ultimately dependent on these microbes as a source. A new paper published this week in the open-access journal PLoS Biology investigates the genetics behind the symbiotic relationship between these nitrogen-fixing bacteria and plants, and presents evidence of specific genetic changes that might have led to the evolution of symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria from a more ancient form of symbiosis.

About 80% of all land plants have a symbiotic relationship with fungi of the phylum Glomeromycota. The fungus penetrates cells in the plant’s roots, and provides the plant with phosphates and other nutrients from the soil. This kind of symbiosis is called an arbuscular mycorrhiza, and evolved more than 400 million years ago. Professor Martin Parniske and colleagues started their study by looking at genes known to be involved in arbuscular mycorrhiza, to see whether they could find evidence of any specific genetic differences in plants that form symbioses also with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

“In this so-called root nodule symbiosis bacteria live in the root cells of the host plants, where they bind elementary nitrogen from the air in special organs, the nodules,” says Parniske. In return, the microbes get high-energy carbohydrates produced by photosynthesis in the host plant.

It had already been speculated that genes involved in the arbuscular mycorrhiza symbiosis might have been recruited for nodulation, as these symbioses both involve intracellular relationships. One clue was that several genes, including the so-called “symbiosis-receptor-kinase-gene” (SYMRK), are involved in a genetic program that links arbuscular mycorrhiza and one form of bacterial nodule symbiosis. And the analysis of SYMRK in several species of plant provided the striking evidence that Parniske and his colleagues had been hoping for.

“Our results reveal that an expansion of the functions of SYMRK constituted an important step in the evolution of intracellular nodule symbiosis,” reports Parniske. Most plants have a short version of SMYRK, which is required for AM symbiosis. A longer variant of SMYRK was found only in plants involved in the symbiotic relationships with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Importantly, the longer version was found in both legumes (which form symbioses with rhizobia – the textbook nitrogen-fixing symbiosis) and in actinorhiza (such as alder) which form symbiotic relationships with frankia bacteria, about which there is little genetic information. The results therefore suggest “a common evolutionary origin of intracellular root symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.”

This work is an important step towards understanding the evolution of nitrogen-fixation in plants, and even whether plants that don’t form symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria could be engineered to do so, thus increasing their nutritional value.
Citation: Markmann K, Giczey G, Parniske M (2008) Functional adaptation of a plant receptor-kinase paved the way for the evolution of intracellular root symbioses with bacteria. PLoS Biol 6(3): e68. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060068

Contact: Martin Parniske
University of Munich

Contact: Natalie Bouaravong
Public Library of Science

Source: PLoS Biology ( via
3 March 2008

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1.32  Mechanisms of plant-fungi symbiosis characterized by DOE Joint Genome Institute

WALNUT CREEK, CA, Plants gained their ancestral toehold on dry land with considerable help from their fungal friends. Now, millennia later, that partnership is being exploited as a strategy to bolster biomass production for next generation biofuels. The genetic mechanism of this kind of symbiosis, which contributes to the delicate ecological balance in healthy forests, also provides insights into plant health that may enable more efficient carbon sequestration and enhanced phytoremediation, using plants to clean up environmental contaminants. These prospects stem from the genome analysis of the symbiotic fungus Laccaria bicolor, generated by the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) and collaborators from INRA, the National Institute for Agricultural Research in Nancy, France, and published March 6 in the journal Nature. This international team effort also involved contributions from 16 institutions, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Ghent University, Belgium; Lund University, Sweden; Goettingen University, Germany; CNRS-Aix-Marseille University, France; Nancy University, France; and the University of Alabama, Huntsville.

Trees' ability to generate large amounts of biomass or store carbon is underpinned by their interactions with soil microbes known as mycorrhizal fungi, which excel at procuring necessary, but scarce, nutrients such as phosphate and nitrogen. Most of these nutrients are transferred to the growing tree. When Laccaria bicolor establishes a partnership with plant roots, a mycorrhizal root is created. The fungus within the root is protected from competition with other soil microbes and gains preferential access to carbohydrates within the plant. Thus, the mutualistic relationship is established.

"Forests around the world rely on the partnership between plant roots and soil fungi and the environment they create, the rhizosphere," said Eddy Rubin, DOE JGI Director. "The Laccaria genome represents a valuable resource, the first of a series of tree community genomics projects to have passed through our production sequencing line. These community resources promise to advance a systems approach to forest genomics."

Rubin indicates that by using DNA sequence to survey the forest ecosystem, from the plants to symbiotic and pathogenic fungi, researchers can ultimately optimize the conditions under which a biomass plantation would thrive. "We now have the opportunity to gain fundamental insights into plant development and growth as related to their intimate interaction which symbiotic fungi. These insights will lead to bolstered biomass productivity and improved forests."

Laccaria bicolor occurs frequently in the birch, fir, and pine forests of North America and is a common symbiont of Populus, the poplar tree whose genome was determined by the JGI in 2006 The analysis of the 65-million-base Laccaria genome, the largest fungal genome sequenced to date, yielded 20,000 predicted protein-encoding genes, almost as many as in the human genome. In sifting through these data, researchers have discovered many unexpected features, including an arsenal of small secreted proteins (SSPs), several of which are only expressed in tissues associated with symbiosis. The most prominent SSP accumulates in the extending hyphae, the tips of the fungus that colonize the roots of the host plant.

"We believe that the proteins specific to this host/fungus interface play a decisive role in the establishment of symbiosis," said Francis Martin, the Nature study's lead author. This genome exploration led Martin and his CNRS-Marseille University and DOE JGI colleagues to the unexpected observation that the genome of Laccaria lacks the enzymes involved in degradation of the carbohydrate polymers of plant cell walls but maintains the ability to degrade non-plant cell walls, which may account for Laccaria's protective capacity. These observations point towards the dual life that mycorrhizal fungi like Laccaria possess, that is, the ability to grow in soil fending off pathogens and using decaying organic matter while serving as a custodian of living plant roots.

The genome, Martin said, shows a large number of new and expanded gene families compared with other fungi. Many of these families are involved in signaling and other processes that drive the complex transition between two distinct lifestyles of Laccaria: the benign saprotroph, able to use decaying matter of animal and bacterial origins, versus the symbiont, living in mutually profitable harmony with plant roots.

The team also discovered new classes of genes that may be candidates for the complex communication that must occur between the players in the host/plant subsoil arena during fungal development. They report that fungi play a critical role in plant nutrient use efficiency by translocating nutrients and water captured in soil pores inaccessible to roots of the host plant.

"The Laccaria genome sequence, its analysis, associated genomics, and bioinformatics tools provide an unprecedented opportunity to identify the key components of organism-environment interactions that modulate ecosystem responses to global change and increased nutrient input needed for faster growth, said Martin. "By examining and manipulating patterns of gene expression, we can identify the genetic control points that regulate plant growth and plant-mutualist response in an effort to better understand how these interactions control ecosystem function."

Mycorrhizae are critical elements of the terrestrial ecosystems, Martin said, since approximately 85 percent of all plant species, including trees, are dependent on such interactions to thrive. Mycorrhizae significantly improve photosynthetic carbon assimilation by plants.

"Host trees like Populus are able to harness this formidable web of mycorrhizal hyphae that permeates the soil and leaf litter and coax a relationship for their mutual nutritional benefit," said co-author DOE JGI and Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher Jerry Tuskan. "This process is absolutely critical to the success of the interactions between the fungi and the roots of the host plant so that an equitable exchange of nutrients can be achieved." The DOE JGI and its collaborators have now embarked on characterizing several other poplar community symbionts that will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the biological community of the poplar forest. These include Glomus, a second plant symbiotic fungus, Melampsora, a leaf pathogen, and several plant endophytes, bacteria and fungi that live inside the poplar tree.

"DOE JGI's expanding portfolio of community genomes provides the researchers with a set of resources that can be used to map out the processes by which fungi colonize wood and soil litter. These fungi interact with living plants within their ecosystem in order to perform vital functions in the carbon and nitrogen cycles that are so fundamental to sustainable plant growth," said Tuskan.
The DOE JGI Laccaria effort was led by Igor Grigoriev. Other authors include Andrea Aerts, Erika Lindquist, Asaf Salamov, Harris Shapiro, Peter Brokstein, Chris Detter (Los Alamos National Laboratory), the DOE JGI Production Genomics Facility sequencing team led by Susan Lucas, and partners at the Stanford Human Genome Center, Jane Grimwood and Jeremy Schmutz.

Projects are submitted to DOE JGI through the Community Sequencing Program ( Additional information about DOE JGI can be found at:

Contact: David Gilbert
DOE/Joint Genome Institute

5 March 2008

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1.33  Syngenta corn genetic stocks donation will accelerate research from genome map to advanced corn seed

Washington, DC
Syngenta announced today it will donate a portion of its Allelic Diversity platform to the Maize Functional Diversity Group who, with other researchers, will use it to help accelerate the global knowledge of corn genetics for the ultimate benefit of growers worldwide. The donation was announced at the 50th Annual Maize Genetics Conference in Washington, DC.

The Maize Functional Diversity Group is a consortium of leading senior researchers at universities and other research centers devoted to improving knowledge of corn genetics. Syngenta will donate approximately 7500 corn genetic stocks that contain segments of ancestral DNA and the marker data associated with the lines for public research. This will help the Group and other researchers make concrete use of knowledge of the corn genome to improve delivery of complex corn traits.

Current breeding methods have enabled continued increases in corn yields, driving it to become the largest crop in the Americas, with an annual production of approximately 600 million tons. However, emerging science is opening new avenues to help researchers understand and improve crops.

“Our ability to rapidly and efficiently leverage allelic diversity is key to a future of improved corn harvests,” said Ray Riley, Head Corn and Soybean Product Development at Syngenta. “This contribution is part of Syngenta’s ongoing commitment to advance the science needed to bring more valuable and yield-enhancing products for benefit of growers and consumers.”

"Maize is the most diverse crop in the world, and this donation in conjunction with other recently developed germplasm provides unparalleled opportunities to use natural variation to improve agriculture,” said Ed Buckler, USDA-ARS Scientist with Cornell University. “Additionally, it helps make maize the premier model for understanding complex trait variation."

Explicit in the Syngenta donation is enablement and encouragement of unencumbered reporting of scientific findings related to the use of the donated materials. Those who access the genetic resources donated by Syngenta will agree not to obtain intellectual property rights on the material or knowledge gained through their use of the donated materials. In partnership with the GENERATION Challenge Programme, (GCP) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), Syngenta will also aid in the dissemination of the nearly isogenic line populations to researchers worldwide.

“This donation is very opportune for public research as this plant material will boost the identification of new alleles relevant to maize breeding,” commented Jean-Marcel Ribaut, GCP Director. “Our broad network of partners, such as the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), should ensure wide distribution of this genetic resource and meaningful impact, in particular to the global South.”

28 February 2008

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1.34  Scientists unravel the genetic coding of the pea

The pea is one of many important crop species that is unsuited to the Agrobacterium-based genetic modification techniques that are commonly used to work with crops. Researchers, reporting in the open access journal Genome Biology have now discovered the first high-throughput forward and reverse genetics tool for the pea (Pisum sativum), could have major benefits for crop breeders around the world..

Researchers from the INRA Plant Genomics Research Unit at Evry, and the INRA Grain Legumes Research Unit at Bretenières, both in France, both in France developed a high-quality genetic reference collection of Pisum sativum mutants within the European Grain Legumes Integrated Project. Abdelhafid Bendahmane and colleagues used plants from an early-flowering garden pea cultivar, Caméor, to create a mutant population, which they then systematically phenotyped for use in both forward and reverse genetics studies.

The team set up a pea TILLING (Targeting Induced Local Lesions IN Genomes) platform with DNA samples from 4,704} plants. The TILLING technique overcomes the pea’s natural unsuitability to genetic modification techniques, and provides a powerful tool for investigating the role of essential genes. This new tool has implications for both basic science and for crop improvement. TILLING is an alternative to Agrobacterium-based techniques, and uses EMS (ethane methyl sulfonate) mutagenesis coupled with a gene-specific detection of single-nucleotide mutations. This reverse genetic strategy can be applied to all types of organisms and can be automated for high-throughput approaches. Following this study, the researchers created a database called UTILLdb, which described each mutant plant at different developmental stages, (from seedling through to fruit maturation), and also incorporates digital images of the plants. UTILLdb contains phenotypic as well as sequence information on mutant genes, and can be searched for TILLING alleles of genes of interest, using the ‘BLAST’ tool, and for plant traits of interest, using keyword searches.

“By opening UTILLdb to the community, we hope to fulfil the expectations of both crop breeders and scientists who are using the pea as their model of study,” said research coordinator Abdelhafid Bendahmane.
UTILLdb, a Pisum sativum in silico forward and reverse genetics tool

Marion Dalmais, Julien Schmidt, Christine Le Signor, Francoise Moussy, Judith Burstin, Vincent Savois, Gregoire Aubert, Veronique Brunaud, Yannick de Oliveira, Cecile Guichard, Richard Thompson and Abdelhafid Bendahmane
Genome Biology (in press)
Article available at the journal website:

ABSTRACT (provisional)
The systematic characterisation of gene functions in species recalcitrant to Agrobacterium-based transformation, like Pisum sativum, remains a challenge. To develop a high throughput forward and reverse genetics tool in pea, we have constructed a reference EMS-mutant population and developed a database, UTILLdb, which contains phenotypic as well as sequence information on mutant genes. UTILLdb can be searched online for TILLING alleles, through the BLAST tool, or for phenotypic information about mutants by keywords.

The complete article is available as a provisional PDF.

Source: Genome Biology via
25 February 2008

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1.35  Toward sequencing cotton (Gossypium) genomes

This paper is about research by a coalition of cotton genome scientists that developed a strategy for sequencing the cotton genomes, which will vastly expand opportunities for cotton research and improvement worldwide. Chen, J.,.. Van Deynze, A, et al. 2007.  For more information see Toward Sequencing Cotton (Gossypium) Genomes or Plant Physiology 2007 Volume 145, 1303-1310.

Source: Seed Biotechnology Center E-News: February 2008
Contributed by Catherine Glaeser

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1.36  Diversity in conserved genes in tomato

This paper describes the results of a study to identify nucleotide variation within tomato breeding germplasm and mapping parents for a set of conserved single-copy ESTs that are orthologous between tomato and Arabidopsis. Van Deynze, A., Stoffel, K., Buell, C.R., Kozik, A., Liu, J., van der Knaap, E. And Francis, D. 2007. For complete information go to: BMM Genomics 2007, 8:465

Source: Seed Biotechnology Center E-News: February 2008
Contributed by Catherine Glaeser

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1.37  Molecular tools to identify resistance sources to wheat yellow rust

Among the many fungal pathogens that infect wheat, yellow rust is a serious disease in temperate and maritime regions of the world. In the UK and Northern Europe yellow rust is an annual disease and without the necessary control measures would produce devastating epidemic year after year. Many sources of yellow rust resistance deployed in wheat cultivars have proven short lived. Within a short period from release of a new yellow rust resistant cultivar, resistance has become ineffective, new pathogenic isolates of the pathogen having evolved within the pathogen population. Strategies of resistance breeding are required to overcome this short term Boom and Bust cycle of resistance gene deployment. One such strategy is to stack effective resistance genes with different modes of action within the same wheat genotype. This can only be achieved with the use of molecular tools that independently identify each resistance source.

During the last few years, these molecular tools have been developed at the John Innes Centre for two sources of wheat yellow rust resistance, Yr5 and Yr10. Both Yr5 and Yr10 remain effective against yellow rust in the UK and Europe and therefore represent potentially useful sources of resistance. As part of an EU Framework 6 Integrated Programme – BioExploit these molecular tools are being used to stack Yr5 and Yr10 in the development of new wheat cultivars by the breeding company, Bioplante-Florimond Desprez, France.

Lesley Boyd of the John Innes Centre has been successful in a bid for funding to look at genetic diversity and develop molecular markers for novel sources of resistance to the diseases of yellow rust and stem rust in African wheat genotypes. Her research is in collaboration with colleagues at the University of the Free State, South Africa and the National Agricultural Research Centres in Kenya. The outputs from their 4 year programme will feed into the Global Rust Initiative -, which was set up after the appearance of the new, virulent stem rust isolate Ug99 in East Africa in 1999.

The funding comes from the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)’s new joint funding scheme for research on sustainable agriculture for international development.

Contributed by Andrew Chapple
Assistant Press Officer
Norwich BioScience Institutes

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1.38  Monsanto and Divergence sequence soybean cyst nematode genome

St. Louis, Missouri
Monsanto Company and Divergence announced today they have completed the most comprehensive sequence of the soybean cyst nematode (SCN) genome to date, making it the first available draft of this organism's genome. Today's announcement by the companies represents a major advancement in the available research data on this crop pest.

Certain nematode species severely limit crop yields around the world, including in crops such as soybeans, corn, cotton and vegetables. SCN attacks roots of soybeans during the growing season and today represents the most economically significant pest for U.S. soybean production. It is estimated that SCN annually causes approximately $1 billion of yield loss to the U.S. soybean crop.

"Sequencing the SCN genome is a tremendous step forward in our process of developing a product to help farmers protect their soybean crops against a devastating pest," said Steve Padgette, Monsanto vice president of biotechnology. "As global demand for soy protein increases, it is critical that companies evaluate and invest in novel approaches to combat this yield-robbing pest so farmers can get more yield out of every acre."

The companies announced that the genome sequence will be made available to the public via the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website. Interested parties can access this information at

NCBI creates public databases that house information like genome sequences to facilitate better understanding of molecular processes. The companies believe the sharing of this data, subject to Monsanto and Divergence intellectual property rights, will be an important step forward in research on this parasite.

"We anticipate that sharing this sequence on the NCBI database will spur additional innovation in the scientific community to develop tools to help farmers manage this pest on their farm," said Padgette.

"The SCN genome is the first available for any plant parasitic nematode," said James McCarter, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Divergence. "This draft assembly, based on 3-fold sequence coverage of the genome, provides key insights into the molecular mechanisms that enable SCN to invade and drain nutrients from soybean roots."

Monsanto and Divergence entered into a collaborative relationship in 2004 to discover novel approaches for controlling SCN, and extended the relationship in 2007. Monsanto scientists worked together with Divergence to sequence the SCN genome as part of this collaboration.

6 March 2008

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2.01  CIMMYT Science Week 2008 Program and Book of Abstracts

CIMMYT Science Week 2008 Book of Abstracts.pdf

Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz(CIMMYT)

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3.01  Interviews with pioneers of rice research from Rice Today: Peter Jennings

Rice Today is publishing edited excerpts in the magazine from selected interviews with the pioneers of rice research. As one of the activities to commemorate IRRI’s 50th, we have already logged around 70 hours in conversation with 35 pioneers (with many more planned), ranging from those who first roamed the rice plots with IRRI’s first director general Robert F. Chandler, Jr., to others recently retired. Through 2010, Rice Today will be featuring some interview excerpts with occasional full transcripts (see example below) and video highlights (see below for Parts 1 and 2 of the Jennings interview) on the Rice Today Web site.

Dr. Jennings is the only one of these three still with us, so we cannot think of a more fitting choice than IRRI's first rice breeder. He talks about predestination, fate, and luck and just how was a young breeder to increase Asian rice yields back in 1961.
Download Pdf  of transcript (1.3 meg)

Part 1: Download streaming video; 53 minutes

Part 2: Download streaming video; 45 minutes

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3.02  Latest News from John Innes Centre – Advances

The John Innes Centre (JIC) is Europe 's premier independent research centre for the study of plant science and microbiology.

Our 800 staff are predominantly scientists and research students, but running a large and complex research centre requires a significant number (around 150) of specialist support staff.

The Centre's main site is at Colney on the outskirts of Norwich, although we also occupy a small farm in Colney and the 200 acre Church Farm, in Bawburgh (a nearby village). Our main site includes several large laboratory buildings, extensive glasshouses, a conference centre, library and various ancillary buildings - including a recreation centre. Also on the site are the Sainsbury Laboratory, Plant Bioscience Ltd and the Norwich Bio-Incubator.

Contributed by Dawn Barrett

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3.03  Cornucopia's Challenge

This 30-minute peer-reviewed documentary follows the journey of three crops ­ corn, rice, and cotton ­ from seed to market. It looks at the variety of methods used by farmers to meet the challenges of growing, segregating, and marketing these crops to meet differing market requirements and consumer preferences.  The DVD was produced by Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam and Dr. Peggy Lemaux.  It can be purchased at: ANR Communications or viewed via streaming video at

Source: Seed Biotechnology Center E-News: February 2008
Contributed by Catherine Glaeser

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4.01  SEARCA Seed Fund for Research and Training

Southeast Asia Regional Center for Graduate Studies and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA)

The Southeast Asian region has a number of promising researchers and scientists those desire to contribute to the region's development through research and knowledge dissemination initiatives is hindered by lack of funds. This situation serves as a barrier to translating promising research and training into scientific outputs that could be applied to promote development.

To address this concern and in line with the Center's thrusts of promoting, undertaking and coordinating research programs relevant to the agriculture and rural development needs of the region, SEARCA had allocated funds for the SEARCA Seed Fund for Research and Training (SFRT).

The SFRT is envisaged to provide chosen research and training project proposals with limited start-up funds intended to enhance chances of securing long-term support from donor agencies. The SFRT will provide a maximum of $15,000.

All project proposals should be received by SEARCA on or before 01 August 2008.

For more information contact
The Manager
Research and Development Department

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5.01  NCGRP Research Leader vacancy announcement

JOB SUMMARY: Find Solutions to Agricultural Problems that Affect Americans Every Day, From Field to Table

Serves as Senior Scientific Research Service (SSRS) Scientist and Research Leader of the Plant and Animal Genetic Resources Preservation Research Unit (PAGRPRU) located at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) on the campus of Colorado State University (CSU), Fort Collins, Colorado.  The research unit is in the Northern Plains Area of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.  As Research Leader, the incumbent conducts research in plant physiology or plant genetics and is responsible for leading a multi-disciplinary team of seven research scientists and 35 support employees.  The research unit’s mission is to acquire, preserve, and evaluate genetic resources from plants, animals, microbes, aquatic organisms and insects; coordinate their availability, conservation, and utilization; and to provide optimum access to desirable genes and gene complexes. In addition to storing and maintaining seeds, NCGRP is a repository for animal genetic resources in the form of semen, embryos, and animal tissues, plant genetic resources in the form of graftable buds or in vitro plantlets, and serves as a backup site for long term storage of microbial resources.  Research emphasizes developing tools to enhance genebank capacities to assess and efficiently capture genetic diversity, enhance longevity of stored germplasm, and improve tools that validate and predict viability and genetic integrity of accessions.

Contributed by David Ellis (David.Ellis@ARS.USDA.GOV) via Ann Marie Thro

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5.02  Position Announcement : Leader for Subprogramme 4 -- Bioinformatics and Crop Information Systems, Generation Challenge Programme

The Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is seeking a highly innovative and self-motivated candidate as a full-time Subprogramme Leader (SPL) for Subprogramme 4: Bioinformatics and Crop Information Systems.

This Subprogramme facilitates storage, retrieval and analysis of GCP research data. Responsibilities include supporting GCP scientists in assuring the quality of their data, making their data accessible to other scientists and analysing the data in the best possible way by developing biometric and bioinformatic methodologies, databases and software tools. The Subprogramme 4 Leader also takes the initiative to conduct further analysis that can complement or add value to existing datasets.

The SPL will be part of the GCP Management Team and as such will participate in developing GCP strategies and research priorities, and will work with the GCP Director and other SPLs to ensure that the combined information and outputs from each SP meet GCP’s objectives. The position is for an initial fixed-term contract of three years, after which there should be a high possibility for renewal subject to performance and availability of GCP funds. The SPLs report directly to the GCP Director.

We are seeking candidates with the following qualifications:
1. Ph.D. in plant biology, quantitative genetics, biometrics and/or bioinformatics.
2. Experience in scientific leadership and capacity to coordinate and manage a broad set of research projects.
3. At least five years of practical experience in developing and applying biometric and/or bioinformatic methods related to genetic analysis and/or plant breeding.
4. Knowledge of marker technologies, marker-assisted selection pipelines and gene discovery approaches.
5. Knowledge of the principles of software architecture and hardware platforms.
6. Affinity for international agricultural research and development.
7. Ability to work well as part of a multidisciplinary and decentralised team.
8. Excellent communications skills in written and spoken English, and working knowledge of a second major language.

Experience in the following areas would also be considered a major asset:
1. Experience in crop breeding programmes in a research environment, especially in the private sector.
2. Appreciation of intellectual property management.
3. Ability to present the Subprogramme or the Programme to different stakeholders, including funders.

The Generation Challenge Programme ( ) is an internationally funded, non-profit research and training programme. GCP was created by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to bring together research efforts at public and private research institutions in developed and developing countries, and in this way build a platform of publicly available genetic and genomic resources and tools that can be used to deliver the fruits of the Genomics Revolution to resource-poor farmers. GCP has an annual budget of USD$14 million and is hosted by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT ); at the main campus 45 km northeast of Mexico City, Mexico. Ideally the Subprogramme 4 Leader will have CIMMYT as his/her headquarters, but location is negotiable as may be appropriate.

CIMMYT offers an attractive remuneration package paid in US dollars, with a range of benefits including housing allowance, life and health insurance, education allowance (to Grade 12), home leave, retirement fund, and relocation shipping allowance.

More details on the job are available on our website at:

GCP is hosted by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). GCP/CIMMYT is an equal-opportunity employer and strives for staff diversity in gender and nationality.

Source: GCP News Issue 29 11th March  2008

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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.


* 12 – 22 May 2008. Workshop on plant pre-breeding, The Center for Agricultural Biotechnology, Kamphaengsaen Campus, Kasetsart University, Thailand

The genomics tools that are being developed will enable plant breeders to increase breeding efficiency and shorten breeding cycles by using molecular markers. To be able to harness the potential benefits from genomics information, it is necessary to improve our understanding of the breeding materials. Correct interpretation of the phenotype and its relationship with the underlying genotype and proper establishment of relationships in the breeding population will become even more important than they have been in the past. The course aims to provide training in population genetics, quantitative genetics, bioinformatics and related subjects focusing on germplasm evaluation enabling breeding programs to obtain information necessary to take full advantage of the genomics tools that will be available in the near future.Throughout the different course subject, pre-breeding strategies will be demonstrated using practical examples.

Topics will include:
-General genetics: Principles of genetics and molecular genetics
-Statistics: Multivariate analysis, variety trial design
-Computation/data handling: Database structure, web resources for pre-breeding
-Molecular genetics: Strengths and weaknesses of alternative marker systems
-Population genetics: Single- and multi- locus analysis
-Quantitative genetics: Quantitative trait loci, selection theory

The course is organised by the Center for Agricultural Biotechnology (CAB),
Kasetsart University. The course fee is 30,000 Thai baht (approx US$950).

Thanks to financial support of the Global Partnership Initiative on Plant Breeding Capacity Building (GIPB), 20 scholarships are available for plant breeding researchers from the Asia Pacific region. The scholarships cover travel expenses, course participation and lodging.

All details of the course can be downloaded from

Contributed by Hugo Volkaert
Center for Agricultural Biotechnology
Kasetsart University Kamphaengsaen Campus
Kamphaengsaen, NakhornPathom
Thailand 73140

* 16 – 18 June 2008. 2nd National Plant Breeding Workshop, Des Moines, Iowa. Sponsored by SCC080 - Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee.  The Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee serves as a forum regarding issues and opportunities of national and global importance to the public- and private-sectors of the U.S. national plant breeding effort.  The workshop will focus on building partnerships between society and the global community of plant breeders. 

The workshop will include a visit to Monsanto’s facilities at Ankeny, Iowa, invited speakers, and discussion sessions. (Early Registration [April 15]: $200 professionals; $100 graduate students) For more information go to

Please send this announcement to public and private sector scientists and graduate students you think would be interested.

Contributed by Linda Wessel Beaver
Department of Agronomy and Soils
University of Puerto Rico


*24 – 29 August 2008. International IUFRO-CTIA 2008 Joint Conference: Adaptation, Breeding and Conservation in the Era of Forest Tree Genomics and Environmental Change, Loews Le Concorde, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
Confirmed keynote speakers include David Neale (USA) and Antoine Kremer (France); other confirmed invited speakers are Thomas Byram (USA), Yousry El-Kassaby (Canada), Matias Kirst (USA), and Antje Rohde (Belgium). More to come...

-The IUFRO-CTIA main conference event will be held from Monday, August 25 to Thursday, August 28.
-The CTIA Working Groups on Tree Seeds and Wood Quality will hold their workshops on Monday, August 25.
-The first Arborea-Treenomix Joint Workshop on spruce genomics will be held on Monday, August 25.
-The 2nd CONFORGEN Conference will be held on Friday, August 29.


The site also provides additional information on accommodation, on-line room booking, main conference program, workshops and field trips.


The Executive Committee,
Jean BOUSQUET, Laval University
Jean BEAULIEU, Canadian Forest Service
Andre RAINVILLE, Ministere des Ressources Naturelles et de la Faune du Quebec
John MACKAY, Laval University

Contributed by Jean Beaulieu


* 14 – 18 September 2008. Harlan II: An International Symposium – Biodiversity in Agriculture: Domestication, Evolution, & Sustainability

“Conserving and utilizing agricultural biodiversity is an integral part of the sustainable management of agricultural and natural ecosystems”

Organized by the UC Davis Departments of Animal Science, Human and Community Development, and Plant Sciences of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the UC Genetic Resources Conservation Program, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources with guidance from an international advisory committee.

Source: February 2008 - Update from the GFU


17-20 September 2008. 19th New Phytologist Symposium -- Physiological Sculpture of Plants: new visions and capabilities for crop development, Mount Hood, Oregon, USA.

In recent years there has been a great expansion of knowledge of genes that influence the regulatory pathways that control organismal properties of adaptive and economic importance, such as vegetative architecture; flowering and fruit characteristics; and tolerance of stresses. The goal of this meeting is to discuss this rapidly moving body of knowledge with an eye to future translation, i.e.,how the knowledge might be used to create major advances in breeding, biotechnology, and genetic engineering. By ‘physiological sculpture’ we connote a primary interest in designed modifications to plant properties using knowledge of molecular plant physiology and recombinant DNA methods, rather than importation of simple gene functions or novel pathways from distantly related organisms (i.e., not “GMOs” in the popular sense). It will consider how to improve efficiency, or extend the limits, for phenotype- or marker-based breeding, not to duplicate what breeding can already do well.  The Symposium will be held September 17-20, 2008 in Mount Hood, Oregon, USA.  See leaflet for information.  For complete details and registration at

Please contact Susan DiTomaso at

Source: Seed Biotechnology Center E-News: February 2008
Contributed by Catherine Glaeser


* 21 – 25 September 2009. 1st International Jujube Symposium, Agricultural University of Hebei, Baoding (First Announcement).

The 1st International Jujube Symposium (IJS) aims at providing a forum for exchanging information among researchers and academicians as well as related businessman and officials. I sincerely invite you to attend the symposium. Let’s try together to make it a great and historic gathering on jujube (Ziziphus).

This symposium is to provide an international forum for exchanging of information on jujube among researchers and academicians as well as related businessman and officials.

Scientific Program-Main Topics
1.General information (Present status, problem, advances, prospect, economy, market and etc.)
2.Germplasm and breeding
3.Molecular biology and biotechnology
4.Biology and physiology
5.Propagation and rootstocks
6.Orchard management and harvest
7.Plant protection
8.Posthavest treatment and processing
9.Nutrition and utilization
10.Science and technology extension

1.Taxonomy and nomenclature of jujube (genus and important species)
2. International cooperation on jujube
3. The next symposium on jujube

Important dates
Deadline for abstract submission: 30 March 2008
Deadline for submission of full paper: 10 August 2008
Conference secretariat
Research Center of Chinese Jujube
Agricultural University of Hebei
Baoding, Hebei, 071001
Dr. Zhihui Zhao

Source: February 2008 - Update from the GFU


*29 September 2008 – 5 June 2009.International Master in Plant Breeding (17th edition), Zaragoza (Spain),

Contributed by Elcio Guimaraes


* 20 – 31 October 2008. International Course on Crop Prebreeding, Maracay, Venezuela.

The course has the objective to strengthen plant breeding in Latin-America and the Caribbean by training young researchers in strategies to use plant germoplasm with emphasis in pre-breeding.  The course is promoted by the Cooperative Program on Agricultural Research, Development and Innovation for the South American Tropics - PROCITROPICOS and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – FAO, and organized by the "Universidade Central de Venezuela", "Sociedad Venezolana de Mejoramiento Genético y Biotecnología Agrícola", "Fundación para la Investigación Agrícola Danac" and "Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agrícolas (INIA)".  Click here to learn more (in Spanish).
( ).

Contributed by Elcio Guimaraes


* 26 – 31 October 2008. 4th International Silicon in Agriculture Conference, Wild Coast Sun Resort, Port Edward, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Dissolved silicon in the cytoplasm of most plants has a profound effect on their physiology, including : rnhanced abiotic stress tolerance, pest and disease resistance expression, and extended postharvest shelf life.

At the conference, we expect to attract the leading silicon researchers from around the world to present their latest findings.  It makes for an interesting conference because it covers so many crops, and from genomics to soil science analytic techniques.

We hope you will be able to attend the conference.

For details of the conference, you can log onto our website

For those of you in business: you may well be interested in being a sponsor of our congress, and using one of our exhibition areas to market your products.

Contact person for Sponsorship and Commercial Stand :
Dr Jan Meyer
IV Silicon in Agriculture Conference Organising Committee
Cell 0847020649

Contributed by Professor Mark Laing
Director, African Centre for Crop Improvement
Professor and Chair of Plant Pathology
School of Biochemistry, Genetics, Microbiology and Plant Pathology
University of KwaZulu-Natal Skype name: marklaing2005


* 3 – 7 November 2008. 7th International Safflower Conference, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia.

The program for the Conference will include themes related to Breeding/genetics Biotechnology, Germplasm, Agronomy, Production issues, Quality and Safflower products (including cut flowers and biodiesel).

The Conference Social Program has been specifically designed to allow delegates time away from the formalities of the conference sessions to network and exchange ideas with colleagues and friends from around the world.

Wagga Wagga is a vibrant and accessible regional Australian city. Delegates and their partners will have the opportunity to experience a unique social and tour program showcasing the highlight's of the city and its region.

Sue Knights, Chair
7th International Safflower Conference

Sponsorship Opportunities Available
 There are a range of sponsorship opportunities available for the International Safflower Conference.  This is an ideal way of bringing your products to a targeted and global audience.  For further details, download the Sponsorship Prospectus.

Source: February 2008 - Update from the GFU


* 9-12 December, 2008. Second International Symposium on Papaya, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India.

Papaya, a native of tropical America, is grown in almost all tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Papaya fruits are valued for its high nutritive and medicinal value. Papaya also yields a valuable proteolytic enzyme ‘papain’, which has valuable industrial applications. This important fruit ranks fifth in global production next to citrus, banana, pineapple and mango. Quite extensive research on papaya covering development of new varieties, production technologies, crop protection measures and post harvest handling etc is being carried out in many parts of the world in the recent years. Most of these findings remain at regional level and in order to bring limelight to these findings at global level, a common platform is required

The theme of this symposium ‘Papayas for Nutritional Security’ appropriately addresses the need for cultivating papaya from traditional small holdings to commercial orchards to alleviate the problem of malnutrition especially Vitamin A deficiency in many developing countries.

The symposium will consist of three days of technical proceedings with a one-day mid symposium tour. A strong scientific programme will be presented with invited speakers / several high-quality oral presentations to address the latest progress made in research on papaya. In addition, a comprehensive poster session will allow delegates to present their own research results.

Symposium topics
-International trade and marketing
-Breeding and genetics
-Cultural practices and cropping systems
-Pest and disease management
-Post harvest handling and storage
-Product development and processing

Source: February 2008 - Update from the GFU


* 5-10 April 2008. The 10th International Barley Genetics Symposium, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Egypt.

(Editor’s note: The December 2007 issue of Plant Breeding News incorrectly identified Dr. Helmut Knüpffer as Conference Manager. Please see the symposium website for correct information.)

*7-18 April 2008. Quantitative Methods in Plant Breeding, The National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NAIB), Cambridge, UK.

An application form is available on this pdf link:
Further information is available by contacting the course director by email at or by calling the course administrator on 01223 342269.

* 16-18 June 2008. 2nd National Plant Breeding Workshop, Des Moines, Iowa. Sponsored by SCC080 - Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee

* 8-11 July 2008. International Cotton Genome Initiative (ICGI) Research Conference, Conference Center of the Anyang Hotel, Anyang, China.

* 16-18 July 2008. Development of plant breeding and crop management in time and space. Priekuli, Cesis district, Latvia
Contacts: Dace Piliksere: (registration, abstracts, questions). Register until 1 December 2007

* 21-25 July 2008. First Scientific meeting of the Global Cassava Partnership - GCP-I, , Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, Ghent University, Belgium.

The deadline to file an abstract is May 15, 2008. Registration will be open until June 15, 2008 without a surcharge.

* 2-5 August 2010. 10th International Conference on Grapevine Breeding and Genetics.  Updates will be available at  Bruce Reisch, Chair of the Organizing Committee.

* 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.

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

* 7-11 December 2008. Vth International Symposium on Horticultural Research, Teaching and Extension, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Further information can be obtained from the website:

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

* 9-12 December 2008. Second International Symposium on Papaya Madurai, India.
Organized by the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) in collaboration with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, India and other scientific organizations

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

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

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