The Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (GIPB) brings you:


14 April 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.
See Instructions for Submitting Newsletter Items

1.01  New limits to growth revive Malthusian fears
1.02  Rising food prices: what should be done? - An IFPRI policy brief
1.03  Chinese biofuel 'could endanger biodiversity'
1.04  Let's focus on solutions to the rice price crisis
1.05  South Asian nations team up for food security
1.06  Wania Fukuda, Embrapa cassava breeder, wins Brazil’s prestigious Frederico de Menezes Veiga prize
1.07  GIPB Knowledge Resource Center releases online Plant Breeding and Related Biotechnology Capacity Assessment (PBBC) database
1.08  African branch of rice initiative launched
1.09  North Africa to develop drought-resistant barley
1.10  Tanzania to develop drought tolerant maize
1.11  French bean breeding in Kenya
1.12  China to launch large research programme on GM crops
1.13  ICRISAT launches Center of Excellence in Genomics and Bio-Food Knowledge Center
1.14  New maize and new friendships to beat Thai drought
1.15  Philippine Rice Research Institute pushes high-yielding rice varieties to raise production
1.16  Long-term goal of public-private partnership is to reduce crop failure, alleviate hunger and poverty
1.17  Developing field pea varieties with resistance to black spot caused by Mycosphaerella pinodes
1.18  Looming threat to plant breeding future in Canada
1.19  Cornell University to lead broad global partnership to combat wheat rust disease and protect resource-poor farmers
1.20  Less can be more, for plant breeders too
1.21  Wild barley can help improve cultivated varieties
1.22  Preserving a unique collection of Carolina collards
1.23  Corn's roots dig deeper into South America
1.24  Scientists develop transgenic tomatoes with increased resistance to the common cutworm
1.25  NC State researchers identify genes key to hormone production in plants
1.26  Cellular mechanism that controls salt tolerance has been found in the arabidopsis plant
1.27  Useful sources of resistance to white rust disease, caused by Albugo candida, identified in Brassica juncea germplasm from Australia, China and India
1.28  New method 'prevents spread of GM plants'
1.29  Soy scientists to fill "library" with genetic bookmarks
1.30  DuPont donates sequences from corn disease agent to advance research
1.31  UD researchers discover novel 'gene toggles' in world’s top food crop
1.32  Automating the search for new genes in the wheat genome
1.33  Barley genome sequencing expected to complete by 2012

2.01  Report from the 8th annual congress of the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA)
2.02  Seed orchards: Proceedings from a conference at Umeå, Sweden, September 26-28, 2007
2.03  Plant Genotyping II: SNP Technology

(None submitted)

4.01  OECD Travel Fellowships
4.02  Higher Education Multicultural Scholars Program Grants (CREES, USDA)

5.01  Senior Research Associate, Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project, Cornell University
5.02  Plant Molecular Biologist, University of Idaho





1.01  New limits to growth revive Malthusian fears

Spread of Prosperity Brings Supply Woes; Slaking China's Thirst

(See Corrections & Amplifications item below.)
Now and then across the centuries, powerful voices have warned that human activity would overwhelm the earth's resources. The Cassandras always proved wrong. Each time, there were new resources to discover, new technologies to propel growth.

Today the old fears are back.
Although a Malthusian catastrophe is not at hand, the resource constraints foreseen by the Club of Rome are more evident today than at any time since the 1972 publication of the think tank's famous book, "The Limits of Growth." Steady increases in the prices for oil, ñwheat, copper and other commodities -- some of which have set record highs this month -- are signs of a lasting shift in demand as yet unmatched by rising supply.

As the world grows more populous -- the United Nations projects eight billion people by 2025, up from 6.6 billion today -- it also is growing more prosperous. The average person is consuming more food, water, metal and power. Growing numbers of China's 1.3 billion people and India's 1.1 billion are stepping up to the middle class, adopting the high-protein diets, gasoline-fueled transport and electric gadgets that developed nations enjoy.

The result is that demand for resources has soared. If supplies don't keep pace, prices are likely to climb further, economic growth in rich and poor nations alike could suffer, and some fear violent conflicts could ensue.

Some of the resources now in great demand have no substitutes. In the 18th century, England responded to dwindling timber supplies by shifting to abundant coal. But there can be no such replacement for arable land and fresh water.

The need to curb global warming limits the usefulness of some resources -- coal, for one, which emits greenhouse gases that most scientists say contribute to climate change. Soaring food consumption stresses the existing stock of arable land and fresh water.

"We're living in an era where the technologies that have empowered high living standards and 80-year life expectancies in the rich world are now for almost everybody," says economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, which focuses on sustainable development with an emphasis on the world's poor. "What this means is that not only do we have a very large amount of economic activity right now, but we have pent-up potential for vast increases [in economic activity] as well." The world cannot sustain that level of growth, he contends, without new technologies.

Americans already are grappling with higher energy and food prices. Although crude prices have dropped in recent days, there's a growing consensus among policy makers and industry executives that this isn't just a temporary surge in prices. Some of these experts, but not all of them, foresee a long-term upward shift in prices for oil and other commodities.

Today's dire predictions could prove just as misguided as yesteryear's.
"Clearly we'll have more and more problems, as more and more [people] are going to be richer and richer, using more and more stuff," says Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician who argues that the global-warming problem is overblown. "But smartness will outweigh the extra resource use."

Some constraints might disappear with greater global cooperation. Where some countries face scarcity, others have bountiful supplies of resources. New seed varieties and better irrigation techniques could open up arid regions to cultivation that today are only suitable as hardscrabble pasture; technological breakthroughs, like cheaper desalination or efficient ways to transmit electricity from unpopulated areas rich with sunlight or wind, could brighten the outlook.

In the past, economic forces spurred solutions. Scarcity of resource led to higher prices, and higher prices eventually led to conservation and innovation. Whale oil was a popular source of lighting in the 19th century. Prices soared in the middle of the century, and people sought other ways to fuel lamps. In 1846, Abraham Gesner began developing kerosene, a cleaner-burning alternative. By the end of the century, whale oil cost less than it did in 1831.

A similar pattern could unfold again. But economic forces alone may not be able to fix the problems this time around. Societies as different as the U.S. and China face stiff political resistance to boosting water prices to encourage efficient use, particularly from farmers. When resources such as water are shared across borders, establishing a pricing framework can be thorny. And in many developing nations, food-subsidy programs make it less likely that rising prices will spur change.

This troubles some economists who used to be skeptical of the premise of "The Limits to Growth." As a young economist 30 years ago, Joseph Stiglitz said flatly: "There is not a persuasive case to be made that we face a problem from the exhaustion of our resources in the short or medium run."

Today, the Nobel laureate is concerned that oil is underpriced relative to the cost of carbon emissions, and that key resources such as water are often provided free. "In the absence of market signals, there's no way the market will solve these problems," he says. "How do we make people who have gotten something for free start paying for it? That's really hard. If our patterns of living, our patterns of consumption are imitated, as others are striving to do, the world probably is not viable."

Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of "The Limits to Growth," says the book was too optimistic in one respect. The authors assumed that if humans stopped harming the environment, it would recover slowly. Today, he says, some climate-change models suggest that once tipping points are passed, environmental catastrophe may be inevitable even "if you quit damaging the environment."

One danger is that governments, rather than searching for global solutions to resource constraints, will concentrate on grabbing share.

China has been funding development in Africa, a move some U.S. officials see as a way for it to gain access to timber, oil and other resources. India, once a staunch supporter of the democracy movement in military-run Myanmar, has inked trade agreements with the natural-resource rich country. The U.S., European Union, Russia and China are all vying for the favor of natural-gas-abundant countries in politically unstable Central Asia.

Competition for resources can get ugly. A record drought in the Southeast intensified a dispute between Alabama, Georgia and Florida over water from a federal reservoir outside Atlanta. A long-running fight over rights to the Cauvery River between the Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu led to 25 deaths in 1991.

Economists Edward Miguel of the University of California at Berkeley and Shanker Satyanath and Ernest Sergenti of New York University have found that declines in rainfall are associated with civil conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. Sierra Leone, for example, which saw a sharp drop in rainfall in 1990, plunged into civil war in 1991.

A Car for Every Household
The rise of China and India already has changed the world economy in lasting ways, from the flows of global capital to the location of manufacturing. But they remain poor societies with growing appetites.

Nagpur in central India once was known as one of the greenest metropolises in the country. Over the past decade, Nagpur, now one of at least 40 Indian cities with more than a million people, has grown to roughly 2.5 million from 1.7 million. Local roads have turned into a mess of honking cars, motorbikes and wandering livestock under a thick soup of foul air.

"Sometimes if I see something I like, I just buy it," says Sapan Gajbe, 32 years old, a dentist shopping for an air conditioner at Nagpur's Big Bazaar mall. A month earlier, he bought his first car, a $9,000 Maruti Zen compact.

In 2005, China had 15 passenger cars for every 1,000 people, close to the 13 cars per 1,000 that Japan had in 1963. Today, Japan has 447 passenger cars per 1,000 residents, 57 million in all. If China ever reaches that point, it would have 572 million cars -- 70 million shy of the number of cars in the entire world today.

China consumes 7.9 million barrels of oil a day. The U.S., with less than one quarter as many people, consumes 20.7 million barrels. "Demand will be going up, but it will be constrained by supply," ConocoPhillips Chief Executive Officer James Mulva has told analysts. "I don't think we are going to see the supply going over 100 million barrels a day, and the reason is: Where is all that going to come from?"

Says Harvard economist Jeffrey Frankel: "The idea that we might have to move on to other sources of energy -- you don't have to buy into the Club of Rome agenda for that." The world can adjust to dwindling oil production by becoming more energy efficient and by moving to nuclear, wind and solar power, he says, although such transitions can be slow and costly.

Global Thirst
There are no substitutes for water, no easy alternatives to simple conservation. Despite advances, desalination remains costly and energy intensive. Throughout the world, water is often priced too low. Farmers, the biggest users, pay less than others, if they pay at all.

In California, the subsidized rates for farmers have become a contentious political issue. Chinese farmers receive water at next to no cost, accounting for 65% of all water used in the country.

In Pondhe, an Indian village of about 1,000 on a barren plateau east of Mumbai, water wasn't a problem until the 1970s, when farmers began using diesel-powered pumps to transport water farther and faster. Local wells used to overflow during the monsoon season, recalls Vasantrao Wagle, who has farmed in the area for four decades. Today, they top off about 10 feet below the surface, and drop even lower during the dry season. "Even when it rains a lot, we aren't getting enough water," he says.

Parched northern China has been drawing down groundwater supplies. In Beijing, water tables have dropped hundreds of feet. In nearby Hebei province, once large Baiyangdian Lake has shrunk, and survives mainly because the government has diverted water into it from the Yellow River.

Climate change is likely to intensify water woes. Shifting weather patterns will be felt "most strongly through changes in the distribution of water around the world and its seasonal and annual variability," according to the British government report on global warming led by Nicholas Stern. Water shortages could be severe in parts Africa, the Middle East, southern Europe and Latin America, the report said.

Feeding the Hungry
China's farmers need water because China needs food. Production of rice, wheat and corn topped out at 441.4 million tons in 1998 and hasn't hit that level since. Sea water has leaked into depleted aquifers in the north, threatening to turn land barren. Illegal seizures of farmland by developers are widespread. The government last year declared that it would not permit arable land to drop below 120 million hectares (296 million acres), and said it would beef up enforcement of land-use rules.

The farmland squeeze is forcing difficult choices. After disastrous floods in 1998, China started paying some farmers to abandon marginal farmland and plant trees. That "grain-to-green" program was intended to reverse the deforestation and erosion that exacerbated the floods. Last August, the government stopped expanding the program, citing the need for farmland and the cost.

A growing taste for meat and other higher-protein food in the developing world is boosting demand and prices for feed grains. "There are literally hundreds of millions of people...who are making the shift to protein, and competition for food world-wide is a new reality," says William Doyle, chief executive officer of fertilizer-maker Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan.

It takes nearly 10 pounds of grain to produce one pound of pork -- the staple meat in China -- and more than double that to produce a pound of beef, according to Vaclav Smil, a University of Manitoba geographer who studies food, energy and environment trends. The number of calories in the Chinese diet from meat and other animal products has more than doubled since 1990, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. But China still lags Taiwan when it comes to per-capita pork consumption. Matching Taiwan would increase China's annual pork consumption by 11 billion pounds -- as much pork as Americans eat in six or seven months.

Searching for Solutions
The 1972 warnings by the Club of Rome -- a nongovernmental think tank now based in Hamburg that brings together academics, business executives, civil servants and politicians to grapple with a wide range of global issues -- struck a chord because they came as oil prices were rising sharply. Oil production in the continental U.S. had peaked, sparking fears that energy demand had outstripped supply. Over time, America became more energy efficient, overseas oil production rose and prices fell.

The dynamic today appears different. So far, the oil industry has failed to find major new sources of crude. Absent major finds, prices are likely to keep rising, unless consumers cut back. Taxes are one way to curb their appetites. In Western Europe and Japan, for example, where gas taxes are higher than in the U.S., per capita consumption is much lower.

New technology could help ease the resource crunch. Advances in agriculture, desalination and the clean production of electricity, among other things, would help.

But Mr. Stiglitz, the economist, contends that consumers eventually will have to change their behavior even more than then did after the 1970s oil shock. He says the world's traditional definitions and measures of economic progress -- based on producing and consuming ever more -- may have to be rethought.

In years past, the U.S., Europe and Japan have proven adept at adjusting to resource constraints. But history is littered with examples of societies believed to have suffered Malthusian crises: the Mayans of Central America, the Anasazi of the U.S. Southwest, and the people of Easter Island.

Those societies, of course, lacked modern science and technology. Still, their inability to overcome resource challenges demonstrates the perils of blithely believing things will work out, says economist James Brander at the University of British Columbia, who has studied Easter Island.

"We need to look seriously at the numbers and say: Look, given what we're consuming now, given what we know about economic incentives, given what we know about price signals, what is actually plausible?" says Mr. Brander.

Indeed, the true lesson of Thomas Malthus, an English economist who died in 1834, isn't that the world is doomed, but that preservation of human life requires analysis and then tough action. Given the history of England, with its plagues and famines, Malthus had good cause to wonder if society was "condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery." That he was able to analyze that "perpetual oscillation" set him and his time apart from England's past. And that capacity to understand and respond meant that the world was less Malthusian thereafter.


Write to Justin Lahart at, Patrick Barta at and Andrew Batson at

Corrections & Amplifications:
China's annual pork consumption would increase by 11 billion pounds if China matched Taiwan's per-capita consumption rate. A previous version of this article incorrectly gave the figure as 11 million pounds.

Source: Wall Street Journal
March 24, 2008; Page A1

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1.02  Rising Food Prices: What Should Be Done? - An IFPRI policy brief

Income growth, climate change, high energy prices, globalization, and urbanization are transforming the world food situation. Food prices are rising and are becoming increasingly linked with energy prices. Why are food prices are rising? What are the implications for food production, markets, trade, and consumption? What are the consequences for the livelihoods of the poor and food-insecure?
Full report:

Note from the Editor, Plant Breeding News: The following recommended policy action is included here, as the one most relevant to plant breeding interests.

Sound Policy Actions for the Short and Long Term
Fourth, to achieve long-term agricultural growth, developing-country governments should increase their medium- and long-term investments in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure, and market access for small farmers. Rural investments have been sorely neglected in recent decades, and now is the time to reverse this trend. Farmers in many developing countries are operating in an environment of inadequate infrastructure like roads, electricity, and communications; poor soils; lack of storage and processing capacity; and little or no access to agricultural technologies that could increase their profits and improve their livelihoods. Recent unrest over food prices in a number of countries may tempt policymakers to put the interests of urban consumers over those of rural people, including farmers, but this approach would be shortsighted and counterproductive. Given the scale of investment needed, aid donors should also expand development assistance to agriculture, rural services, and science and technology.

by Joachim von Braun

April 2008

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1.03  Chinese biofuel 'could endanger biodiversity'

[BEIJING] Using China's forests and 'idle land' to produce biofuels could pose a threat to biodiversity, warned experts at an international meeting.

Spike Millington, chief technical advisor to the European Union-China Biodiversity Programme, raised the problem earlier this month (7 March) at the International Workshop on Biodiversity and Climate Change, held in Beijing, China.

In July 2007, China released its middle- and long-term plan for renewable energy. While shunning corn or soya-based biofuel production to avoid endangering food security, the plan encourages the development of non-grain biofuels, including cassava- and sorghum-based ethanol in northeast and south China, and jatropha-based biodiesel in southwest China's Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.

In line with the national plan, companies and government agencies including PetroChina, the State Forestry Administration and local governments in Sichuan and Yunnan have revealed ambitious plans to develop jatropha-based biodiesel projects.

But Millington said, "The region of southwest China targeted for biofuels coincides with the home of the last remaining intact natural forests in China." He added that the degraded forests in the area also play an important role in biodiversity.

Millington is echoed by Chen Shengliang, a biologist at Chongqing Environmental Protection Bureau in southwest China.

"The rapid growth of single species of jatropha trees could inhibit other plants such as grasses," Chen told SciDev.Net.

Liu Xuehua, an associate professor of environment at Tsinghua University, adds that land classed as idle is often not empty land, and can be home to diverse undomesticated species.

To cope with potential risks, Millington recommends that environmental assessment is carried out to distinguish high biodiversity areas from low biodiversity areas that are suitable for jatropha trees or other biofuel plants.

The workshop organiser, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) ­ which became the Ministry of Environment this week (15 March) at the annual plenary meeting of the National People’s Congress ­ announced earlier this month (6 March) that it is initiating a major research programme to evaluate the impacts of climate change on national biodiversity.

In addition, according to a paper published by scientists at the University of California in Berkeley in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management last week (10 March), China's carbon dioxide emissions are growing faster than previously estimated.

The country's annual growth rate of carbon emissions between 2004 and 2010 could be more than 11 per cent, instead of the 2.5–5 per cent growth predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

by Jia Hepeng

18 March 2008

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1.04  Let's focus on solutions to the rice price crisis

Philippines calls for regional meeting
Los Baños, Philippines – The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is calling on the international community – with particular emphasis on donors - to start focusing on solutions to what’s being described as a “rice price crisis” in Asia and elsewhere.

The Institute’s Board of Trustees met this week at IRRI’s headquarters in the Philippine city of Los Baños, and looked at six key issues seen as vital to increasing rice production in Asia. Increased production is needed to ease the sharp rise in rice prices that has swept across the region causing uncertainty and concern

“The problems related to rice production and supply in Asia over the past year or more are cause for serious concern, but not for panic,” said Prof. Elizabeth Woods, the newly appointed chair of IRRI’s Board of Trustees. “IRRI and its partners solved similar rice production problems in Asia in the 1960s and 70s and we can do it again – what we need is the committed support of donors and policy makers as well as better awareness among the media and general public of the problems we face.”

The Institute is calling for increased focus – from both the public and private sectors - on the following six key areas:

1. An agronomic revolution in Asian rice production to reduce existing yield gaps. Farmers have struggled to maximize the production potential of the rice varieties they are growing, so there is a gap between the potential yield and the actual yield. Farmers must improve their crop management skills so they can better deal with higher input prices.

2. Accelerate the delivery of new post-harvest technologies. Post harvest includes the storage, drying and processing of rice. Exciting new technologies exist for on-farm storage and drying that are not being widely used. The use of old, inadequate technologies causes major post-harvest losses in rice.

3. Accelerate the introduction of higher yielding rice varieties. New varieties exist that could increase production, but farmers are not using them mainly because the system(s) that develop and introduce new varieties to farmers are under-resourced.

4. Strengthen and upgrade the rice breeding and research pipelines. Funding for the development of new rice varieties has steadily been reduced over the past decade or more – this must be reversed. Likewise, record high fertilizer prices and new pest outbreaks demand that rice crop and resource management research need urgent revitalization.

5. Accelerate research on the world’s thousands of rice varieties so scientists can tap the vast reservoir of untapped knowledge they contain. Working with IRRI, the nations of Asia have spent decades carefully collecting the region’s thousand of rice varieties. There are now more than 100,000 rice varieties being carefully managed and utilized at IRRI and in the nations around Asia. However, scientists have only studied in detail about 10 per cent of these varieties. We need to urgently learn more about the other 90 per cent so they can be used in the development of new rice varieties.

6. Develop a new generation of rice scientists and researchers for the public and private sectors. Another vital concern for the Asian rice industry is the education and training of young scientists and researchers from each rice-producing country. Asia urgently needs to train a new generation of rice scientists and researchers before the present generation retires.

IRRI Board member and Philippine Secretary of Agriculture, Arthur C. Yap used the meeting at IRRI to call for a ministerial level meeting of Asian nations to discuss the global rice situation. He said the meeting should include developed and developing countries and focus on increased collaboration to deal with the problems facing rice production and the need for increased food aid in the interim.

“We must address the plight of food poor families in the countries most affected by the rice price crisis,” Secretary Yap said.

Prof Woods said: “The problems facing rice production in Asia are not unique to one country; they are shared by nearly all the rice consuming nations of Asia. We need to work together to find the right solutions.”

“We must also recognize the global scale of the problem, especially the fact that many African nations depend on Asian rice production for their food security.”
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is the world’s leading rice research and training center. Based in the Philippines, with offices in 13 other countries, IRRI is an autonomous, nonprofit institution focused on improving the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, particularly those with low incomes, while preserving natural resources. IRRI is one of 15 centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of public and private donor agencies (

Contact: Adam Barclay
International Rice Research Institute

April 2008

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1.05  South Asian nations team up for food security

[NEW DELHI] Eight South Asian countries have launched a regional food security programme, pooling together scientific and natural resources to improve crop production and nutrition in the region.

The 'South Asia Food Security Programme' will receive an estimated US$25 million for ten projects addressing South Asia's food security.

The announcement was made by Ram Badan Singh ­ secretary general of the Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperatives Limited ­ at a meeting of South Asian agriculture ministers, crop scientists and farmers' cooperatives in Delhi, India, last week (5 March).

The donors include the Asian Development Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The programme was approved at a meeting organised by the FAO and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, last month (27–29 February) and will begin in 2009.

Key regional issues discussed at the Colombo meeting included low crop yields, high pre-harvest losses due to sudden rains or winds and post-harvest losses due to poor storage conditions. Degradation of land resources, the absence of biosecurity measures to prevent disease outbreaks in plants and animals, and inadequately trained staff were also discussed.

At the Delhi meeting, the eight South Asian countries ­ Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka ­ emphasised the key role of science in transforming the region's agriculture and fighting poverty and hunger.

Regional cooperation in research to develop interventions at all stages of the agricultural chain should be top of the agenda, said India's agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. "There is potential to turn agriculture in the SAARC region into a dynamic sector with rapid technological innovation accelerating growth and reducing poverty."

A serious concern, crop scientists said, is the huge gaps in yield between crops grown in experimental fields and in farmers' fields, suggesting that potential yields are not realised due to inadequate crop management practices.

The projected impact of climate change on South Asia's crop production is also causing concern. Delayed rains, unexpected temperature surges and frost due to climate change are changing when crops can be harvested.

South Asian countries should work together on science and technology interventions, ranging from nanotechnology to genetic markers for selecting crops with useful traits, scientists said at the meeting.

by T. V. Padma

11 March 2008

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1.06  Wania Fukuda, Embrapa cassava breeder, wins Brazil’s prestigious Frederico de Menezes Veiga prize

Winners of the 30th edition of the Frederico de Menezes Veiga Prize (2008) have been announced. Chosen by the selection commission were Wania Maria Gonçalves Fukuda of Embrapa Cassava and Tropical Fruits (CNPMF), Cruz das Almas, Bahia, and the agronomist Glauco Olinger of the Agricultural Research and Rural Extension Center of Santa Catarina (Epagri/SC). The theme for this year was: “Integration of Research and Extension: Factor for Success in Modern Brazilian Agriculture.”

Wania Fukuda has developed work based on the active inclusion of farmers and extensionists in the process of cassava breeding. The application of this participatory model facilitated an understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the products of research, and aided in the adoption of new varieties by farmers. The work began in 1993, and has now been adopted by a large number of municipalities in Brazil’s Northeast.

Now 96 years of age,  Glauco Olinger dedicated a large part of his life to agricultural research and rural extension in Santa Catarina state.

The prize is promoted by the Brazilian Institute for Agricultural Research – Embrapa, with the support of the magazine Globo Rural a publication of Editora Globo. Awards are presented for agricultural research that represents outstanding research that has contributed to sustainable rural development, in the area of rural agrobusiness, and especially related to the theme chosen for each edition of the prize. The prize is named in honor of Frederico de Menezes Veiga, the research scientist from the Amazon region who developed new varieties of sugarcane, which placed Brazil as a world leader of cane production. The prize was first created in 1974. Two scientists are chosen each year to be honored with the prize – one from Embrapa and another from the national system of agricultural research (SNPA). The prize includes a cash award of 77,810 Brazilian reals (about US$46,000).

Source: Globo Rural (excerpted and translated by the editor, Plant Breeding News)
4 April 2008

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1.07  GIPB Knowledge Resource Center releases online Plant Breeding and Related Biotechnology Capacity Assessment (PBBC) database

Rome, Italy
The GIPB Knowledge Resource Center has released the online Plant Breeding and Related Biotechnology Capacity Assessment (PBBC) Database.

This is the result of an effort initiated in 2002 by FAO and its partners to help countries acquire information to implement comprehensive national strategies towards better crop breeding and delivery systems.

We invite you to visit and review the information so far available in the PBBC Database by accessing the link located in the front page of the GIPB Knowledge Resource Center.

Source: GIPB
3 April 2008

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1.08  African branch of rice initiative launched

The African component of a research initiative aiming to provide smallholder farmers with new rice varieties has been launched in Benin.

The project, led by the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Africa Rice Center, was launched at a meeting at the Africa Rice Center laboratories in Cotonou, Benin, earlier this month (5–8 March).

It is part of a larger scheme for IRRI, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to improve rice varieties in Africa and Asia (see Gates Foundation boost for climate-hardy rice).

The project aims to provide smallholder farmers who rely on rain-fed agriculture ­ and are therefore vulnerable to drought, flooding and high salinity ­ with improved rice varieties and farm management practices to increase yields by 50 per cent over the next ten years.

"In these regions, farmers are always getting yields which are only one or two tons per hectare, when normally they could get up to five tons per hectare or even more," plant breeder Baboucarr Manneh of the Biotechnology Unit at the Africa Rice Center, told SciDev.Net.

"The idea is to develop rice varieties, distribute the seeds of these varieties and make sure they're available to all farmers."

Work will be carried out in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Tanzania to design rice varieties best-suited to each country.

"We need to work with each country's national and agricultural research systems to develop varieties and test them with the farmers," Manneh told SciDev.Net.

Some stress-tolerant rice breeds are already being tested. "A breed which tolerates completely submerged conditions for up to two weeks was found in a traditional rice variety in India," explains plant breeder David Mackill from IRRI. "We were able to transfer this gene from the traditional variety."

by Esther Tola

17 March 2008

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1.09  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.

11 March 2008

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1.10  Tanzania to develop drought tolerant maize

A ten-year public private partnership on drought tolerant maize varieties for small scale farmers will be launched in Kampala, Tanzania to address food shortage and alleviate hunger and poverty.

Dr. Alais Kullaya, researcher at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, says that new drought tolerant technologies will be developed, tested, and eventually distributed to African seed companies without royalty and made available to smallholder farmers.

The project will involve local public and private institutions. The synergy among the institutions are expected to enhance capacity and experience in crop breeding, biotechnology, and biosafety.

Read more about this partnership at

Source: CropBiotech Update via
11 April 2008

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1.11  French bean breeding in Kenya

French bean is an important crop in Kenya. Its annual production is about 37,000 tons at a value of US$ 98,556,437. Most of the produce is exported to Europe as fresh pods but also in cans.

Seed for growing French beans is almost all imported from Europe, from where often certified seed is first dispatched to eastern Africa; next, a crop is grown there and the seed yield transported to Europe. After sorting, treating and packaging, the seed is forwarded to customers, for instance those in eastern Africa, Kenya included.

Moi University at Eldoret, Kenya initiated a new French bean breeding program in 2004. The aim was to develop in a participatory fashion varieties with high and stable pod yields and pod qualities. The demand is mainly for fine and extra-fine pods.

As from 2006 the program was supported by Kirhouse Trust at the Institute of Advanced Technology, Oxford University, Kidlington, England.

Four parent varieties were selected to form a population from a four-way cross. Generations were advanced by using a rapid screening technique in mini-pots at relatively high temperatures. A replicated trial was conducted during 2007 at four locations, which ranged in altitude from 1000 – 2000 m above sea level. Encouraging results were obtained, both yield-wise (11.121 t ha-1) and quality-wise (86.25 % fine and extra-fine pods); the location x variety interaction effect was statistically significant, while stability parameters varied.

Developing a suitable variety locally has obvious advantages for local employment, reduction of fuel consumption for transportation, which in turn will contribute to sustain a healthy environment and climate.

The corresponding author will appreciate comments from readers of Plant Breeding Newsletter, who are interested in the described field of work.

Contributed by Esther Edith Arunga (corresponding author)
and Henk A. van Rheenen
Department of Biotechnology
Moi University, P.O. Box 1125, Eldoret, Kenya.

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1.12  China to launch large research programme on GM crops

Beijing, China
China is to launch a huge research programme on genetically modified (GM) crops by the end of the year, according to top agricultural biotechnology advisors.

Huang Dafang, former director of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences' (CAAS) Institute of Biotechnologies, says the programme could receive as much as 10 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion) over the next five years - five times more than the country spent on GM research in the preceding five years.

A member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's upper house, and a key government advisor on biotechnology policies, Huang revealed the news at a briefing on the annual report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit organisation promoting agricultural biotechnology.

The ISAAA report indicates in 2007 a total of 114.3 million hectares of GM crops were cultivated worldwide - an increase of 18.3 per cent from 2006.

The most widely adopted GM crop is Bt cotton, engineered to produce a toxin from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to fight bollworm. China has developed GM petunias, tomatoes, sweet peppers, poplar and papaya, and several varieties of rice but to date policymakers have only allowed GM cotton to be marketed.

Huang says that yield, quality, nutritional value and drought resistance will be major targets of the new research programme. As well as rice and cotton - which have been the focus of GM technology research in the past - corn and wheat will also now be priority crops for research.

Hu Jifa is chief research fellow at the the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP), China's chief think tank on food policy issues.

He confirms the programme is set to go ahead and says that funding for research on safety and environmental monitoring will be included in the programme.

The GM seeding programme was mentioned in China's 11th Five-year science and technology development plan (2006-2010) but decisions on the funding and scope of the programme have been delayed for two years due to the sensitivity of the area, Hu says.

But policymakers are now more receptive to GM technologies, says Hu, and that could lead to more GM crops getting the go-ahead for commercialisation.

Judy Wang of Croplife China, an organisation representing agricultural biotech firms, welcomes the news, and says that the research programme could help make GM crops more acceptable to Chinese farmers.

Liu Xuehua, an associate professor of environment planning at Tsinghua University, says that while she is not opposed to GM technologies, policymaking in the area should be more cautious and transparent.

'Stakeholders, rather than scientists alone, should be involved in the policy-making process concerning GM commercialisation so that more potential risks can be identified,' Liu says. 'The decision to commercialise them should not be based simply on the fact that there is now big government funding for the area,' she adds.

© Royal Society of Chemistry 2008

Source: Royal Society of Chemistry via
27 March 2008

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1.13  ICRISAT launches Center of Excellence in Genomics and Bio-Food Knowledge Center

Patancheru, India
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has launched a Center of Excellence in Genomics (CEG) at its global headquarters at Patancheru, India, in partnership with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India. ICRISAT is also announcing the launch of a Bio-Food Knowledge Center (BFKC) in its Agri-Science Park with financial support from the Government of Andhra Pradesh.

The CEG, through the financial support of DBT, strengthens the existing molecular breeding facilities at ICRISAT to a high throughput, cost-effective facility, which can be used for crop improvement research. The facility, which is fully operational, is available for researchers from agricultural research institutes throughout India and globally via ICRISAT’s network of partners.

The BFKC, for which the Andhra Pradesh Government made the first tranche of funding available, will be a platform for R&D and innovation in food processing with focus on cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and medicinal and aromatic plants.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the collaboration with the Indian Government for the CEG and the Andhra Pradesh Government for the BFKC are examples of ICRISAT’s strengthening relationship with the national and the state governments in India and in other countries. “Though these projects are funded by national and state governments, their impacts will flow to all the 55 countries that ICRISAT works in.”

Center of Excellence in Genomics
The CEG is a result of a Memorandum of Agreement signed by Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, and Dr MK Bhan, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of the Government of India, in December 2006. The DBT has financially provided US$ 1 million for establishing the CEG.

The CEG has started providing the following services:

-High-throughput, low-cost, allele detection platforms, to help with molecular-marker assisted breeding.
-Access to large-scale field screening for abiotic stresses, such as drought and salinity.
-Biometrics (agricultural statistics) and bioinformatics (information management and analysis) support.
-Training courses for scientists and students from Indian institutes in the use of high-throughput methods in breeding and research. 

According to Dr William Dar, in addition to having state-of-the-art equipment, the CEG will also provide training for building the capacity of national scientists from India and other countries. As the CEG was launched, 19 scientists from the Indian Council for Agricultural Research institutes started their training on molecular breeding techniques at the CEG.

“The CEG will provide new technological options, build capacity of scientists and also accelerate crop improvement by reducing the time required to develop new varieties by half,” Dr Dar said.

Dr Simon Best, Chair of the ICRISAT Governing Board, said that the CEG illustrates the cutting-edge science and technology research that ICRISAT is doing to improve crop productivity in the drylands. Ultimately its research products will benefit the poor farmers of the drylands.

Dr Mangala Rai, Vice-Chair of ICRISAT Governing Board and Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, said that the premier facility on agri-biotechnology has the potential for improving natural resources management through genetic improvement of crops.

Bio-Food Knowledge Center
The BFKC is a public-private partnership venture in the Agri-Science Park at ICRISAT. The Government of Andhra Pradesh has provided financial support of US$ 500,000 for the establishment of the BFKC at ICRISAT.

Dr Barry I Shapiro, Managing Director, Agri-Science Park @ICRISAT, said: “ Food biotechnology interventions play a major role in adding value to the food processing industry. This added value can be realized if a conducive research platform is available, which is capital and knowledge intensive. Given ICRISAT’s strengths as a world-class research center, the Government of Andhra Pradesh has sanctioned financial support for the establishment of the BFKC.”

The BFKC will develop a platform for R&D, innovation, technology transfer, and commercialization in food processing focusing on cereals, legumes, fruits and vegetables. It will be developed as a public-private partnership model and also backstop food processing related research requirements for ICRISAT mandate crops.

The objectives of the BFKC include:

-Pool available technologies for commercialization and transfer;
-Align strategically with food research Institutions ( India and Abroad);
-Provide infrastructure and platform for innovation and research for the private sector;
-Take up collaborative and contract research;
-Provide knowledge support to the private sector;
-Undertake trainings and capacity building programs for the Industry; and
-Offer food safety testing and services.

The knowledge center will be completely developed over a period of 5 years with a total outlay of approximately US$ 5.25 million. It will also collaborate with several central and state government organizations, IITs and agricultural research universities.

The collaborations are also from countries outside India. In January 2008, ICRISAT and Crop and Food Research, a Crown Research Institute of New Zealand, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in Lincoln, New Zealand. Through the MOU, both organizations will work together to develop the proposed Bio Food Knowledge Center (BFKC) at the Agri-Science Park within ICRISAT. Early discussions have identified many opportunities to leverage New Zealand’s world-class agri science for the benefit of progressing ICRISAT’s mission and goals and significantly accelerate the commissioning of the BFKC.

26 March 2008

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1.14  New maize and new friendships to beat Thai drought

CIMMYT fosters regional partnerships and provides seed to help researchers in Thailand get drought resistant maize to farmers.

“We are very, very dry,” says farmer Yupin Ruanpeth. “Last year we had a drought at flowering time and we lost a lot of yield.” In fact, she explains, during the last five years, her family’s farm has suffered from severe drought three times in a row. The soil is good and in a year with no drought they can harvest five tons of maize per hectare, but last year they could only harvest three tons per hectare.

Geographically, the Thai province of Nakhon Sawan lies only a short drive from lush lowland paddy fields, but it seems a world away. In this region the rainy season (between May and September) brings enough water for a single crop, usually of maize or cassava, and in the dry season the fields lie fallow. Almost all maize in Thailand is rainfed, grown under similar conditions.

At the Thai Department of Agriculture’s Nakhon Sawan Field Crops Research Center, Pichet Grudloyma, senior maize breeder, shows off the drought screening facilities. Screening is carried out in the dry season, so that water availability can be carefully controlled in two comparison plots: one well-watered and one “drought” plot, where watering is stopped for two weeks before and two weeks after flowering. Many of the experimental lines and varieties being tested this year are here as the result of the Asian Maize Network (AMNET). Funded by the Asian Development Bank, this CIMMYT-led project has brought together scientists from the national maize programs of five South East Asian countries to develop drought tolerant maize varieties and deliver them to farmers.

AMNET achievements
“We already have two releases under AMNET,” explains Grudloyma. These are varieties produced by the national maize program, focusing prior to AMNET on resistance to the disease downy mildew, which have also proved themselves under drought screening. The first, Nakhon Sawan 2, was released in 2006. The second, experimental hybrid NSX 042029, has been popular in farmer participatory trials and with local seed companies, and is slated for release in 2008. “This is the best hybrid we have,” says Grudloyma with pride. “It's drought tolerant, disease resistant, and easy to harvest by hand.” The two hybrids incorporate both CIMMYT and Thai breeding materials, a legacy of Thailand’s long relationship with the Center.

In current work under AMNET, the Thai breeders are crossing lines from the national breeding program with new drought tolerant materials provided each year by CIMMYT. “We screen for drought tolerance in the dry season and downy mildew resistance in the rainy season, and take the best materials forward each year,” explains Grudloyma. “We now have many promising hybrids coming though.”

Funding from the project has also had a big impact on the team’s capacity to screen those hybrids. “We had a small one to two hectare facility before; now we have four hectares with a perfect controlled-irrigation system. Because we’ve been in AMNET, we have good varieties and good fieldwork and screening capacity. This is leading to other projects, for example we’re currently working with GCP [the Generation Challenge Program].” Thailand has also taken on a role in seed distribution, receiving and sharing seed from the AMNET member countries, and testing the varieties on the drought screening plots at the Research Center.

Sharing knowledge across borders
For Grudloyma, this collaborative approach is a big change. “We’ve learned a lot and gained a lot from our friends in different countries. We each have different experiences, and when we share problems we can adapt knowledge from others to our own situations.”

The Thai researchers can come up with many examples of things they have learned from their AMNET partners. “We saw the very friendly relationships between a number of seed companies and the Vietnam team, and we tried to modify the way we worked in Thailand,” says Grudloyma. “This year we shared promising hybrids with seed companies before release. Before that we just worked with farmers and small seed producers, and the seed companies could buy seed after varieties were released.” The result has been wider distribution of new drought tolerant varieties: this year the group received orders for enough parental materials for NSX 042029 to produce 300 tons of seed.

“We learned how to evaluate farmer preferences better from the Philippines team,” adds Amara Traisiri, an entomologist working on responding to these preferences. “We now use their method in all our field trials with farmers and we’re getting a more accurate picture of what farmers want.” This information caused the group to include ease of hand harvest as another trait to consider in their breeding program, after realizing how important it is to farmers. And the learning continued at this month’s annual regional training meeting. “Today, we learned a system for farmer participatory trials,” says Grudloyma, referring to a session on planning and analyzing trial data from CIMMYT maize breeder Gary Atlin. “With these new ideas to direct us we’ll be able to get better results.”

Almost all Thai maize farmers grow improved hybrid varieties, and for Ruanpeth, her priorities are clear. “Drought tolerance is very important”, she says, and dismisses other traits, such as yellow color. “No, I want varieties that are drought tolerant.” She likes to try the latest hybrids and has grown more than 10 commercial varieties. She eagerly accepts the suggestion from Grudloyma’s team to try their new hybrids on a small area this year.

The project has built capacity and relationships that will endure, according to Grudloyma. “Our station is now very good at working with drought,” he says, “and we’ll continue cooperation and providing germplasm. We already have plans for collaboration with China and Vietnam.” CIMMYT’s role in providing germplasm and access to new knowledge and technologies has been vital, as has its leadership. “It’s very hard to get hold of germplasm from anywhere except CIMMYT,” says Grudloyma. “It’s also difficult to come together: we needed an international organization to coordinate and facilitate regional interaction. With CIMMYT everything is easier.”

Source: CIMMYT E-News, vol 5 no. 3, March 2008 via
1 April 2008

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1.15  Philippine Rice Research Institute pushes high-yielding rice varieties to raise production

Manila, The Philippines
The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is pushing for the use of rainfed-land-suitable high-yielding, disease-resistant rice varieties that can significantly contribute to the country's effort to reduce rice import-dependence.

"The country must be able to increase productivity tremendously if it wants to achieve a semblance of food security and end the dependence on imported rice," said PhilRice Director Leocadio S. Sebastian in a statement.

Two bacterial leaf blight (BLB) resistant varieties are being pushed for a more massive commercial propagation by PhilRice, the Tubigan 7 and Tubigan 11.

With resistance to BLB, a disease manifested by leaf wilting, Tubigan 7 can escape damage (which can reach to 40-50 percent of harvest) and retain yield of five to six metric tons per hectare which is already a high yield for inbred rice varieties.

Rice authorities believe that the use of these high yielding varieties has become imperative in the country's aim to cut rice import which can reach to 2.7 to three million MT this year, according to estimates.

Tubigan 7 is a recommended variety specially in light of the present rainy season planting.

Biotechnology advocates have been pushing for the use of new rice varieties since this is now an important factor in raising the country's rice production with limited land much of which is also now being converted to other crops like corn that requires less water.

PhilRice noted that compared to world's biggest rice producers-exporters­Thailand which has 9.9 million hectares of rice fields and Vietnam which has 7.5 million hectares of rice land­ the Philippines only has 1.9 million hectares of rainfed rice farms.

"In 2004, the Philippines only harvested from 4.12 million hectares of land while Vietnam profited from 9.82 million hectares of land that grew rice."

Farmers should take advantage of the fact that government has been able to develop better inbred varieties faster through more advanced biotechnology techniques like molecular marker-assisted breeding.

"While the development of conventional rice takes between eight and 10 years, genetically enhanced varieties using the tools of biotechnology would take only five years to develop. While the initial cost of cultivating biotech rice is higher, the long-term benefit is positive since the gross income of individual farmers would rise by at least 26 percent," Sebastian said.

By Melody M. Aguiba
Manila Bulletin via SEAMEO SEARCA

11 April 2008

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1.16  Long-term goal of public-private partnership is to reduce crop failure, alleviate hunger and poverty

Kampala, Uganda
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) today announced a public-private partnership to develop drought-tolerant maize varieties for Africa. The partnership, known as Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), was formed in response to a growing call by African farmers, leaders, and scientists to address the devastating effects of drought on small-scale farmers and their families. Frequent drought leads to crop failure, hunger, and poverty. Climate change will only worsen the problem.

AATF announced the effort at the end of a two-day planning meeting that included representatives from each of the countries participating in the project: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa. The partners will use marker-assisted breeding and biotechnology to develop African maize varieties with the long-term goal of making drought-tolerant maize available royalty-free to African small-scale farmers. The benefits and safety of these maize varieties will be assessed by national authorities according to the regulatory requirements in each country.

‘This partnership fits well with the AATF mandate of facilitating innovative public/private partnerships that bring to smallholder farmers in Africa the tools needed to increase productivity for better food and income security,’ Said Mpoko Bokanga, Executive Director AATF.

AATF will work with the non-profit International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT); the private agricultural company, Monsanto; and the national agricultural research systems in the participating countries. The new drought-tolerance technologies have already been licensed without charge to AATF so they can be developed, tested, and eventually distributed to African seed companies through AATF without royalty and made available to smallholder farmers.

Bokanga added that the project will involve local institutions, both public and private, and in the process expand their capacity and experience in crop breeding, biotechnology, and biosafety.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation contributed a total of $47 million to this effort.

The Director General of the National Agricultural Research Organisation of Uganda Dr. Dennis Kyetere presided over the official announcement of the initiative and said that the project will help address drought and contribute to food security in Africa.

‘Drought is a source of suffering and food insecurity for many people in Uganda and it is recognised as a challenge by the government. Drought causes up to 100 percent crop failure in Uganda in some instances’, said Dr. Kyetere.

Africa is a drought-prone continent, making farming risky for millions of small-scale farmers who rely on rainfall to water their crops. Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa: more than 300 million Africans depend on it as their main food source. It is severely affected by frequent drought.

In the next five years, the partnership will develop the new maize varieties, incorporating the best drought-tolerance technologies available internationally. CIMMYT will provide conventionally developed drought tolerant high-yielding maize varieties that are adapted to African conditions and expertise in conventional breeding and testing for drought tolerance. Monsanto will provide proprietary germplasm, advanced breeding tools and expertise. Additionally, Monsanto and BASF will provide drought-tolerance transgenes that they have developed through their collaboration. These contributions will be provided without royalty. The national agricultural research systems, farmers’ groups, and seed companies participating in the project will contribute their expertise in breeding, regulatory issues and will be responsible for country-specific implementation including project governance, testing, germplasm evaluation, seed production and distribution.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded an independent program at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health (University of Toronto) to assess and monitor social, cultural, ethical and commercial issues related to the WEMA Project. The independent organization will conduct annual audits of WEMA and serve as an additional communication channel for stakeholders.

According to eminent scientist Professor Calestous Juma, who is the Director of the Science, Technology and Globalisation Project at Harvard University, the WEMA project is a powerful signal of the relevance of biotechnology to African agriculture.

The collaboration between CIMMYT and national agricultural research systems has already yielded excellent gains in drought tolerance through conventional breeding. The partners in the WEMA project expect the combination of advanced breeding and biotechnology to bring even greater gains. The partners estimate that the maize products developed over the next 10 years could increase yields by 20 to 35 percent under moderate drought, compared to current varieties. This increase would translate into about two million additional tons of food during drought years in the participating countries, meaning 14 to 21 million people would have more to eat and sell.

The first conventional varieties developed by WEMA could be available after six to seven years of research and development. The transgenic drought-tolerant maize hybrids will be available in about ten years.

Risk of crop failure from drought is one of the primary reasons why small-scale farmers in Africa do not adopt improved farming practices. A more reliable harvest could give farmers the confidence to improve their techniques. Good soil health, improved training and support, pest and disease management, and access to markets to sell their surplus are all necessary for small-scale farmers to boost their yields and incomes. To date, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested more than $660 million as part of a broad agricultural development strategy that includes efforts in all of these areas so small-scale farmers could have access to the tools and opportunities they need to build better lives.

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) is an African-led charity designed to facilitate and promote public/private partnerships for the access and delivery of appropriate proprietary technologies with potential to increase the productivity of resource-poor smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. (

19 March 2008

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1.17  Developing field pea varieties with resistance to black spot caused by Mycosphaerella pinodes

Western Australia
According to GRDC-supported DAFWA researcher, Dr Tanveer Khan, black spot caused by Mycosphaerella pinodes is the most important disease of field pea in southern Australia.

Dr Khan says attempts to develop black spot resistance have been frustrated due to low levels of naturally available resistance and the reliability of screening methods.

He said that more than a decade of work in WA with a module of the National Pea Breeding Program has provided a "glimmer of hope."

Although new lines with moderate resistance and agronomically desirable traits are emerging,
the breeding line WAPEA2211 is still a leader in terms of resistance and agronomic characteristics.

Breeding lines showing promising resistance at early stages of the breeding cycle will go to yield trials in 2008.

2 April 2008

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1.18  Looming threat to plant breeding future in Canada

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
Student symposium looks to the future of plant research
There is a looming threat across Canada in the Plant Sciences sector as researchers in the baby boomer generation near retirement and a lack of workers are available to fill their roles. This is an issue that is of huge concern to the Western Grains Research Foundation, particularly when it comes to plant breeders.

This last weekend (March 14 & 15, 2008) a Plant Science Grad Student Symposium was held in Saskatoon with the goal of bringing students from western Canada and across the border to learn about the opportunities that exist within this important field in general and specifically within Saskatchewan.

“WGRF is heavily involved in funding public wheat and barley breeding programs on behalf of farmers with check-off dollars, and because of this we want to do anything we can to encourage upcoming students to consider plant breeding as a career path. That is why we found it so important to get involved in supporting the symposium,” says Lanette Kuchenski, Executive Director of the Western Grains Research Foundation.

“Students are the future,” adds Kuchenski. “Without these dedicated individuals to take over the public breeding programs and continue the development of strong varieties, Canada will face the threat of falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to research.”

There were a total of 75 attendees, with students from North Dakota State University, University of Manitoba, University of Alberta, University of Saskatchewan and even a representative from Mexico. The symposium location rotates annually with the University of Saskatchewan hosting this year’s event.

“We were very excited to host the 24th year of the Plant Science Grad Student Symposium,” said Leah Fedoruk, co-organizing chair and U of S Plant Science grad student. “Bringing students together from all over to exchange ideas and learn about the research other students are conducting is important to the future of this sector. It is also a great opportunity to learn about the job opportunities within Plant Sciences.”

”This event takes a lot of work to put together, but is definitely worth it in the end. Sponsors like the Western Grains Research Foundation are imperative to make this event happen annually,” comments Fedoruk.

20 March 2008

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1.19  Cornell University to lead broad global partnership to combat wheat rust disease and protect resource-poor farmers

ITHACA, N.Y. ­Cornell University today announced a $26.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a broad-based global partnership to combat a deadly wheat disease that poses an enormous threat to global food security. The Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project will bring together 15 partner institutions to combat the emergence of deadly new variants of stem rust that can spread quickly, reducing healthy wheat to broken, shriveled stems. The partners will focus on developing improved rust-resistant wheat varieties to protect resource-poor farmers and consumers from catastrophic crop losses in vulnerable regions, particularly India, but also Pakistan, East Africa, China, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Ronnie Coffman, director of international programs at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, made the announcement in northwest Mexico at wheat research facilities near Cd. Obregón that are owned by a union of Sonoran farmers and used by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Nobel Laureate Norman E. Borlaug, who spoke at the event, developed the “green revolution” wheats at the facilities beginning in the 1940s.

“The rust pathogens recognize no political boundaries and their spores need no passport to travel thousands of miles in the jet streams. Containing these deadly enemies of the wheat crop requires alert and active scientists, strong international research networks, and effective seed supply programs,” said the 94-year-old Borlaug, who is credited with bringing radical change to world agriculture and saving hundreds of millions of lives. “The new Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project led by Cornell University is a critical component in building an effective research and development response to the current stem rust threat, and can help avert a global rust pandemic that can rob tens of millions of tons from production.”

Wheat is among the world’s most important primary staple food crops, representing approximately 30 percent of the world’s production of grain crops. In the last year, global wheat stocks have plummeted and the price for wheat quadrupled.

The virulent new wheat stem rust type identified in Uganda, called Ug99, has now escaped Africa and is spreading across the Middle East.  Scientists estimate that 90% of all wheat varieties planted around the globe are susceptible to Ug99. More than 50 million small-scale farmers in India rely on wheat for their food and income.

World awareness of the highly feared wheat disease is largely due to Dr. Borlaug’s tireless advocacy, most recently through the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative. The Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project will work closely with this existing initiative.

The project will enlist the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) to be key research sites to develop new resistant varieties, in collaboration with scientists at three international agricultural research centers, including CIMMYT, in Mexico; the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), in Syria; and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and advanced research laboratories in the United States, Canada, China, Australia and South Africa will also collaborate on the project.

Coffman will direct the consortium of global partners. Rick Ward, previously a wheat breeder with CIMMYT and Michigan State University, has been hired as the project coordinator.

“Resource-poor farmers are particularly vulnerable to wheat stem disease, which has the potential to wipe out entire crops,” said Dr. Rajiv Shah, director of agricultural development for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program. “We’re excited about the potential of this partnership to catalyze the increased global investments necessary to fight this powerful disease.”

David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University, noting the importance of this project, said: “Global problems require a coordinated global response. With its long-standing commitment to international outreach, research and teaching, Cornell is pleased to join with our partners worldwide to safeguard the food supply, particularly for the rural and urban poor for whom bread is a dietary staple.”

“Farmers need access to wheat varieties that can resist the new type of wheat stem rust, especially in developing nations where reliance on wheat is high and budgets for fungicides almost nonexistent,” said Coffman, the project’s director and Cornell professor of plant breeding. “Our goals are to coordinate an international effort to combat the threat of emerging wheat rust diseases, develop improved wheat varieties that protect resource-poor farmers in vulnerable regions, foster global awareness of Ug99, and track the spread of the wheat rust pathogens.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has to date committed over $700 million in grants as part of a broad agricultural development strategy aimed at providing millions of small farmers in the developing world with tools and opportunities to boost their productivity, increase their incomes, and build better lives.

For more information about the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project, see 

(Editor’s note: see related item in Positions Available section)

Contributed by Linda McCandless

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1.20  Less can be more, for plant breeders too

San Francisco, California
Imagine you are a rice breeder and one day within a large field you discover a plant that has just the characteristics you have been looking for. You happily take your special plant to the laboratory where you find out that the spontaneous, beneficial event was due to inactivation of a single gene. This is a great observation; however, there are many different strains grown in different parts of the world, well adapted to the particular region they grow in. How can you now transfer the inactivated gene to other strains of rice? Conventionally, you would have to go through years and years of breeding, until you have successfully transferred that single gene, without affecting all the other genes that are responsible for the target strains being so well adapted to their local environment. Would it not be great, if one could do this faster?

Using inactivated genes for rice breeding might sound far-fetched, but is not unusual. For example, the main change enabling the green revolution in rice resulted from loss of a gene that normally makes rice grow tall (and hence prone to toppling over if a plant makes many heavy rice grains). Thus, transferring inactivated genes is something rice breeders are indeed very much interested in.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, have now generated a tool that should greatly speed up this particular aspect of rice breeding: According to a study published in PLoS ONE this week, a team led by Norman Warthmann (MPI) successfully demonstrated highly specific gene silencing using so-called artificial miRNAs in rice (Oryza sativa).

MicroRNAs are 20-22 bp long RNA molecules. In animals as well as in plants they have important functions in regulating gene activity. In plants, they cause highly specific degradation of sequence-matched messenger RNAs, which encode enzymes, regulatory factors or other proteins. The end effect is that the corresponding gene is silenced. With artificial miRNAs (amiRNAs), this natural silencing pathway can be harnessed to inactivate genes of interest to the breeder, with unprecedented specificity.

Detlef Weigel’s research group at the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen had initially pioneered this technique in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. The plethora of potential applications in agriculture now motivated them to try the method in rice. One of the rice genes they targeted is called Eui1. When Eui1 is inactive, flowers tend to be fertilized by pollen from other plants, rather than being self-fertilized. While this trait would be harmful to a wild rice plant, breeders use this genetic trick for hybrid seed production. Originally identified as a spontaneous mutant in a japonica rice variety, the eui1 mutation was introduced into indica varieties by several years of breeding. With an artificial miRNA targeting the Eui1 messenger RNA, the researchers at the International Rice Research Institute obtained within weeks plants with the desired property in two different rice varieties, including the agronomically important indica variety IR64, the most commonly grown strain in South-East Asia. Similarly, the researchers also report successful silencing of two other genes, Pds and SPl11.

Besides allowing the quick transfer of reduced gene function between different varieties, artificial miRNAs also accelerate the initial identification of important genes and the discovery of functions of genes that have not been studied before. Potential applications in rice breeding are manifold and they don’t stop at rice genes. By targeting pathogen-derived genes, for example, it should be possible to enhance virus and insect resistance. In addition, because they act dominantly, they are also perfectly suited for hybrid breeding.

MiRNAs have been found in all plant species examined so far. It should hence be possible to adapt the technique of gene silencing by artificial miRNAs to other crops and it may provide an important new avenue to enhance agronomic performance and nutritional value. Computer software to design the required oligonucleotide sequences and detailed protocols to produce amiRNAs are provided free of charge on the authors’ web site, at Similarly, the artificial miRNA vector is provided free of charge to colleagues.

Highly Specific Gene Silencing by Artificial miRNAs in Rice
Warthmann N, Chen H, Ossowski S, Weigel D, Hervé P (2008)
Co-authors on the study include: Norman Warthmann, Stephan Ossowski, Detlef Weigel (Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen, Germany) and Hao Chen, Philippe Hervé (International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines).
PLoS ONE 3(3): e1829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001829

This press release refers to an upcoming article in PLoS ONE. The release has been provided by the article authors and/or their institutions. Any opinions expressed in this are the personal views of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLoS. PLoS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the release and article and your use of such information.

PLoS is a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource.

Source: Public Library of Science (PLoS) via
19 March 2008

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1.21  Wild barley can help improve cultivated varieties

Alexandria, Egypt
Scientists say that wild species of barley can help improve cultivated barley as the wild species are a treasure trove of useful genes.

Prof Brian Steffenson, Professor and Lieberman-Okinow Endowed Chair of Cereal Disease Resistance at the University of Minnesota, says that incorporating some of the genes from the wild varieties into the domesticated barley could increase the range of environments in which the crop can be cultivated.

"Wild species are a treasure trove of useful genes for improving cultivated crop," said Prof Steffenson, who is here attending the 10th International Barley Genetics Symposium, organized by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and Bibilotheca Alexandrina.

"Cultivated barley came from wild varieties. When barely was first domesticated some 10,000 years ago the farmers chose a variety in which seeds were non shattering type so that harvesting was easy. So the genetic diversity narrowed down leading to dramatic loss of it," he pointed out.

Prof Steffenson is working on evaluating traits in wild varieties collected from nature and gene banks to look for diversity that has been left behind since first domestication.

Genebanks like that of ICARDA are extremely important to have because they preserve the biodiversity and germplasm of varieties whose habitat has now been destroyed, he said

"Cultivated barely is extremely vulnerable to some diseases and epidemics of pathogens and pests," Prof Steffenson said. "Some of the wild barley varieties when characterized have been found resistant to Ug99. The Ug99 race of the stem rust has not arrived in America but when it does, it can be devastating."

Agriculture scientists are endeavoring to stop the spread of the devastating fungus, which has now been found in Iran. Historically, sporadic epidemics of stem rust, also known as black rust, have plagued wheat production. An outbreak of the disease in North America in the 1950s destroyed up to 40% of the spring wheat crop. The fungus also infects barley.

Stem rust is once again on the move. In 1999, scientists discovered a new strain of the fungus in Uganda, now known as Ug99 that has defeated the resistance in varieties that were resistant to stem rust in the past. Over the past few years, Ug99 has infected crops in North and East African countries and in early 2006 it was found in Yemen.

Prof Steffension said about 30 varieties of wild barley have been identified as having resistance to stem rust, including the Ug99 strain, and all are from ICARDA.

Also, some of the accessions of wild barley collection from ICARDA planted in Minnesota have survived extremely cold temperatures, which at times goes down to –35 degrees. "It means that we can put a new gene that can extend the range of environments in which barley can be grown as a winter crop," Prof Steffenson said.

10 April 2008

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1.22  Preserving a unique collection of Carolina collards

Washingotn, DC
Some people comb through neighborhood yard sales and secondhand stores to find that one-of-a-kind treasure. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant geneticist Mark Farnham used similar tactics­but on a much larger scale­in his search for distinctive varieties of Carolina collards.

Collard, a cole crop related to broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, has always been a local staple in the South. But its commercial cultivation expanded dramatically in the 20th century, and is now dominated by a few hybrid varieties.

Farnham, at the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, S.C., teamed up with Clemson University entomologist Powell Smith and Emory & Henry College geographers John T. Morgan and Edward Davis to look for unique collard varieties in the Carolina coastal plains.

The team of collectors wanted to find and preserve "heirloom" collards, local varieties of the leafy vegetable that had been cultivated from seeds passed down through generations. So for several years, they traveled through North Carolina and South Carolina in the late winter looking for signs of local collard production: dark green collard leaves or bright yellow blossoms.

If Farnham and his colleagues found a field where heirloom collards were being cultivated, they asked the owner if they could collect some of its seeds. During their travels, most of the growers they met­people who grew collard in garden plots for their own use, or to sell at local markets­were at least 70 years old.

The research team collected 87 distinctive collard seed samples from these small gardens­varieties that might otherwise have disappeared in the near future. Additional research is needed to see if these finds contain genetic material that plant breeders could use to enhance popular commercial collard hybrids and other cole crops.

The collard seeds are now kept in the U.S. Plant Introduction Collection of vegetable Brassicas in Geneva, N.Y., where scientists maintain facilities for the preservation of plant germplasm.

Read more about this research in the April 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

By Ann Perry

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

10 April 2008

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1.23  Corn's roots dig deeper into South America

Earliest signs of maize as staple food found after spreading south from Mexican homeland

Corn has long been known as the primary food crop in prehistoric North and Central America. Now it appears it may have been an important part of the South American diet for much longer than previously thought, according to new research by University of Calgary archaeologists who are cobbling together the ancient history of plant domestication in the New World.

In a paper published in the March 24 advanced online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), U of C PhD student Sonia Zarrillo and archaeology professor Dr. Scott Raymond report that a new technique for examining ancient cooking pots has produced the earliest directly dated examples of domesticated corn (maize) being consumed on the South American continent. Their discovery shows the spread of maize out of Mexico more than 9,000 years ago occurred much faster than previously believed and provides evidence that corn was likely a vital food crop for villages in tropical Ecuador at least 5,000 years ago.

“The domestication and dispersal of maize has been a hot topic in archaeology for decades and these are the earliest indisputable dates for its presence in South America,” Raymond said. “It has long been thought that maize may have been used south of Panama at this time for ritual purposes but this shows it was also being consumed as food.”

Raymond led the excavation of tropical village sites in western Ecuador in the early 1980s, which are the oldest known villages in the Americas. Using pottery fragments recovered from the sites, Zarrillo obtained the charred remnants of prehistoric meals and found they contained starch granules from domesticated corn.

“Plant material typically does not preserve very well in tropical sites but it turns out that microscopic starch grains do survive very well over the years and can be used to identify exact species of plants,” Zarrillo said. “Analyzing starch from charred food residues is a new technique in archaeology and it is exciting because it will stimulate research around the world when people realize they can recover starch from cooking pots and use it to date and identify what people were using as food.”

Starch analysis was also used by Zarrillo and Raymond for a study published in Science last year that traced the domestication and spread of chili peppers throughout South America, Central America and the Caribbean more than 6,000 years ago.
The paper “Directly dated starch residues document early formative maize (Zea mays L.) in tropical Ecuador” by Sonia Zarrillo, Deborah M. Pearsall (University of Missouri), J. Scott Raymond, Mary Ann Tisdale (Canadian Heritage, Government of Canada) and Dugane Quon (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) will be available in the March 24 online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at: at 3 pm (MDT).

24 March 2008

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1.24  Scientists develop transgenic tomatoes with increased resistance to the common cutworm

Scientists from the Suranaree University of Technology in Thailand and Louisiana State University have developed transgenic tomato lines with increased resistance to the common cutworm. The transgenic lines were modified to express a potato gene coding for the enzyme polyphenol oxidase (PPO). Polyphenol oxidase, which has also been implicated for plant resistance to the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae catalyzes the conversion of phenolics to quinones, plant secondary metabolites that are involved in pathogen defense.

Growth rates of cutworm in the PPO-expressing lines were up to three times lower compared to their non-transgenic counterparts. Higher levels of PPO also resulted to increased larval mortality, with the cutworm third instar consuming less foliage. The results suggest a critical role for PPO-mediated phenolic oxidation in pest resistance.

Article published by the Plant Journal at

Source: Plant Science via
Volume 174, Issue 4, April 2008, Pages 456-466

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1.25  NC State researchers identify genes key to hormone production in plants

Researchers at North Carolina State University have pinpointed a small group of genes responsible for “telling” plants when, where and how to produce a hormone that is key to their development. Their findings shed light on the ways in which hormone production in plants affects both a plant’s growth and its ability to adapt to changing environments.

Dr. Jose Alonso, assistant professor of genetics, and a team of geneticists and plant biologists from NC State, Germany and the Czech Republic conducted the research. Their findings are published in the April 4 edition of the journal Cell.

Plant growth and development are regulated by a small number of hormones, which plants combine in various ways so that they can adapt to and thrive in changing environmental conditions. Auxin and ethylene are two of the most important of these growth-regulating hormones.

Scientists had previously established that plants respond differently to ethylene depending upon the type of plant tissue it is applied to, the developmental stage of the plant, and the surrounding environmental conditions. They also knew that the presence of auxin, another key growth-regulator, often served as a “trigger” for a plant to produce more ethylene, but were unsure of the ways in which auxin was synthesized.

“Auxin controls almost every process in a plant,” Alonso says, “and so it’s very important to understand how and why auxin is produced within the plant.”

In order to find out more about how auxin production is triggered, the NC State team identified a mutant strain of Arabidopsis – or mustard weed – that had a root system insensitive to the growth inhibitory effect of ethylene.

When the team looked at the genome of this mutant strain of mustard weed, they discovered that its lack of response to ethylene was due to the changes in a gene that they named TAA1. This gene produces a protein that is necessary for auxin synthesis. In a normal plant, the TAA1 gene recognizes the presence of ethylene as its signal to make proteins that in turn synthesize auxin, which controls growth.

The researchers found that if the TAA1 gene and two other related genes were “knocked out” or inactive, the plant had 50 percent less auxin than normal.

Their findings are the first to definitively establish a relationship between a particular family of genes, tissue-specific ethylene response, and auxin production in plants.

“If we want to do intelligent manipulation of plants, to breed them so that they ripen at a certain rate, or so that they’re well-adapted to particular environments, then we need to understand more about the ways that these hormones interact or ‘talk’ to each other,” Alonso says. “This research gives us concrete evidence for at least one way in which this happens.”
“TAA1-mediated Auxin Biosynthesis is Essential for Hormone Crosstalk and Plant Development”
Authors: Anna N. Stepanova, Joyce Robertson-Hoyt, Jeonga Yun, Larissa M. Benavente, De-Yu Xie, and Jose M. Alonso, NC State University; et al
Published: April 3, 2008, in Cell
Plants have evolved a tremendous ability to respond to environmental changes by adapting their growth and development. The interaction between hormonal and developmental signals is a critical mechanism in the generation of this enormous plasticity. A good example is the response to the hormone ethylene that depends on tissue type, developmental stage, and environmental conditions. By characterizing the Arabidopsis wei8 mutant we have found that a small family of genes mediates tissue-specific responses to ethylene. Biochemical studies revealed that WEI8 encodes a long anticipated tryptophan aminotransferase, TAA1, in the essential, yet genetically uncharacterized, indole-3-pyruvic acid (IPA) branch of the auxin biosynthetic pathway. Analysis of TAA1 and its paralogues reveals a link between local auxin production, tissue-specific ethylene effects, and organ development. Thus, the IPA route of auxin production is key to generating robust auxin gradients in response to environmental and developmental cues.

Contact: Tracey Peake
North Carolina State University

3 April 2008

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1.26  Cellular mechanism that controls salt tolerance has been found in the arabidopsis plant

College Station, Texas
Whether a plant withers unproductively or thrives in salty conditions may now be better understood by biologists.

The cellular mechanism that controls salt tolerance has been found in the arabidopsis plant by a Texas AgriLife Research scientist collaborating with an international team.

Complex-N-glycan, a carbohydrate linked to a protein in plant cells, was previously thought to have no helpful function for plant growth and to cause certain allergies in humans, according to Dr. Hisashi Koiwa, lead author of the study in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

“This gene has been considered non-essential or even a nuisance,” Koiwa said. “People thought it was an allergen and couldn’t find anything good it was doing in plants. So, it was thought of as not necessary for the growth or development of a plant.”

However, the team discovered that this carbohydrate may, in fact, be responsible for a plants’ ability to contend with salt water. The team’s finding “significantly clarifies” the role of the gene and could lead to the development of food crops and other plants capable of producing well in areas with salty water, according to the science academy’s journal reviewers.

Almost one-third of nation’s irrigated land and half of the world’s land is salt-affected, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Agriculture Research Service. Salt left in the soil after the water evaporates, the research service notes, means plants don’t grow as well and, therefore, yield less.

The study used arabidopsis, a plant commonly used in labs because it grows quickly and has a relatively simple, well-known genome.

The researchers applied salt to the growing plants and then examined sick plants, or those that appeared salt sensitive.

“We had to study the diseased status of the plant to understand its health,” Koiwa said. “We looked for sick plants in the lab to find out why they were that way.”

He said the finding may help plant breeders look for this gene as they cross plants in order to develop varieties less affected by salt.

8 April 2008

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1.27  Useful sources of resistance to white rust disease, caused by Albugo candida, identified in Brassica juncea germplasm from Australia, China and India

Researchers from the School of Plant Biology at University of Western Australia and Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia have identified useful sources of resistance to white rust disease, caused by the fungus Albugo candida, in Brassica juncea germplasm from Australia, China and India.

Members of a research team funded through an ACIAR and GRDC project, Associate Professor Martin Barbetti and Dr Caixia Li, said yield losses of up to 20 per cent can occur in Australia in B. juncea and B. rapa due to white rust.

Genotypes from China showed the best resistance, followed by those from Australia and India.

The research identified genotypes with very high levels of resistance to strains of A. candida present in WA and a much more rapid method of screening seedlings for resistance under controlled environments, compared with more expensive, more time consuming field screening.

This is the first time very high levels of resistance, or a reliable method of rapid characterisation of genotype responses to A. candida, has been made available for Australian mustard breeders.

26 March 2008

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1.28  New method 'prevents spread of GM plants'

[BEIJING] Chinese scientists have developed a strategy to identify and contain the potential release of genetically modified (GM) crops into conventional plant populations.

Shen Zhicheng and colleagues from Hangzhou-based Zhejiang University modified a strain of rice to be susceptible to a common herbicide used to kill unwanted GM plants in non-GM fields. Their method was published in PLoS ONE last week (19 March).

Genetic modification can improve plant traits such as resistance to pests and tolerance to harsh environments. But there are worries that modified genes could leak into the wider environment and enter the food chain.

Researchers and farmers have guarded against this by using GM-free sections in fields, or engineering plants so that any seeds produced from breeding are sterile.

But according to Shen and colleagues, these methods are not enough to prevent contamination, particularly that caused by human error ­ such as the planting of GM seeds in the incorrect field.

The researchers used bentazon, a conventional, low-cost herbicide to which rice and other crops, including cotton, have natural resistance.

They blocked the expression of the enzyme that confers this resistance, rendering the rice strain susceptible to the herbicide. As a result, a single spray of bentazon at a regular dose will kill any genetically modified rice plants.

"When we use this technique to target GM plants, we can simply identify and kill the accidentally released GM strains without hurting conventional plants," Shen told SciDev.Net.

Shen says these genes can be added to GM plants at the same time as those added to improve specific traits, and so will not significantly increase the cost of producing these plants commercially.

But he adds that more work is needed to determine the proper dosage of bentazon and evaluate the environmental impacts of increased use of the pesticides.

Huang Dafang, former director of the Institute of Biotechnologies of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, says the method offers a creative scientific approach to GM plant containment.

"But, in practice, better field management and pollination control could be more easily operable and economically more advantageous," says Huang, adding that studies are also needed to identify the possible interaction between modified genes in the GM containment strategy.

Link to the full paper in PLoS ONE
by Jia Hepeng

26 March 2008

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1.29  Soy scientists to fill "library" with genetic bookmarks

Washington, DC
Soybean varieties with improved yield, pest resistance, protein and oil quality and quantity and other traits are among the benefits expected of a new project in which Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists will create a "library" of 50,000 DNA markers called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).

Geneticists David Hyten and Perry Cregan will "stock" the library as part of their ongoing studies with SNP DNA markers at ARS' Soybean Genomics and Improvement Research Unit in Beltsville, Md. The United Soybean Board (USB) is funding the $2.9 million, three-year project from the organization's soybean checkoff program.

The library's completion will provide soybean researchers and breeders with a valuable resource to use in characterizing the genetic variation available for soybean improvement. For example, they'll be able to determine the position and characteristics of alleles, or alternate forms of genes, within the oilseed crop's 20 chromosomes.

A goal is to genotype nearly 20,000 lines, called accessions, in the USDA soybean germplasm collection, which ARS curator and collaborator Randall Nelson maintains on the University of Illinois campus at Urbana-Champaign. The library's anticipated 50,000 SNPs will help researchers to take the next step in applying the soybean whole genome-sequence data­released by the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute­to make soybean breeding more efficient and precise. Of particular interest is using SNP marker technology to rapidly identify plants that carry important traits like high-quality oil and resistance to pests including soybean cyst nematodes.

The SNPs themselves are small changes, or variations, in the sequence of four biochemical "letters"­A (adenine), C (cytosine), T (thymine) and G (guanine)­that make up an organism's DNA "alphabet." Cregan and Hyten, together with their ARS and university colleagues, have so far identified 43,000 SNPs in soybean and mapped the genome locations of 15,000 of them.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.
The USB is made up of 68 farmer-directors who oversee investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers.

By Jan Suszkiw

21 March 2008

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1.30  DuPont donates sequences from corn disease agent to advance research

Des Moines, Iowa
DuPont, through its Pioneer Hi-Bred business, today announced that it is making publicly available genomic sequences of a major fungal pathogen of corn plants to enable scientists worldwide to more quickly complete the sequence of this pathogen and to accelerate disease-resistance studies. Pioneer is donating the sequences to GenBank®, the publicly available genetic sequence database of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Colletotrichum graminicola is a fungal pathogen that causes Anthracnose Leaf Blight and Stalk Rot, which lead to corn yield losses worldwide due to premature death and weakened stalk strength. Pioneer has commercialized
Anthracnose-resistant corn hybrids in Latin America and is planning to incorporate an Anthracnose-resistant gene into corn hybrids that will grow in the Northern Hemisphere.

"Defining and donating the gene sequences of C. graminicola will accelerate the scientific community's study of this important corn pathogen, creating knowledge that universities and ultimately companies can use to protect corn yields around the world," said William S. Niebur, vice president, DuPont Crop Genetics Research and Development.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) is currently supporting the mapping and sequencing of a different strain of the fungal pathogen through the Broad
Institute's Fungal Genome Initiative. Pioneer's donation will accelerate the progress of the CSREES initiative. These research efforts represent the first time any groups have sequenced strains of this key pathogen.

GenBank® is a registered trademark of the National Institutes of Health.

31 March 2008

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1.31  UD researchers discover novel 'gene toggles' in world’s top food crop

In laboratory research at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, Pamela Green, the Crawford Greenewalt Chair of Plant Sciences at UD, led the discovery of a new type of molecule--a kind of”micro-switch”--that can turn off genes in rice.

4:18 p.m., April 9, 2008--University of Delaware researchers, in collaboration with U.S. and international colleagues, have found a new type of molecule--a kind of “micro-switch”--that can turn off genes in rice, which is the primary source of food for more than half the world's population. The discovery is reported in the March 25 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Composed of short lengths of ribonucleic acids (RNAs), on the order of about 20 nucleotides long, these novel molecules, called natural antisense microRNAs (nat-miRNAs), target the genes sitting directly across from them on the opposite strand of DNA in a rice cell.

In addition to uncovering a new genetic switch and gaining insight about its pathways and evolution, which are important to the health of a grain that feeds most of the world, the research also may help scientists locate this type of novel gene regulator in other organisms, including humans. MicroRNAs regulate 30 percent of human genes and thus are critical to human health and development.

The research was led by Pamela Green, the Crawford Greenewalt Chair of Plant Sciences at UD, and Blake Meyers, associate professor of plant and soil sciences, and their laboratory groups at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, including associate scientist Cheng Lu, postdoctoral researchers Dong-Hoon Jeong and Kan Nobuta, graduate students Karthik Kulkarni, Manoj Pillay, and Shawn Thatcher and research associate Rana German.

Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and at the Chinese Academy of Sciences collaborated on the project.

MicroRNAs are small RNA molecules that play a key role in regulating cellular processes, including a cell's development and its responses to stress. These micro-molecules bind to specific messenger RNA molecules, which carry instructions to the cells to make particular proteins. This binding typically causes the messenger RNAs to be degraded in plant cells.

“We were using a deep-sequencing approach to identify new microRNAs when we found these novel examples,” said Green. “These tiny RNA molecules are a special type of microRNA that have an antisense configuration relative to their targets. It's an exciting finding. We believe they could be present in many organisms,” she noted.

Some 240 microRNAs previously had been annotated in rice. Using a high-throughput gene-sequencing technique known as Massively Parallel Signature Sequencing (MPSS), the UD research team analyzed over 4 million small RNAs from 6 rice samples, which yielded 24 new microRNAs, including the unique new group of molecules called natural antisense microRNAs.

When a gene is ready to produce a protein, its two strands of DNA unravel. The first strand, called the “sense” transcript, produces messenger RNA, which carries the recipe for making a specific protein. However, the other strand of DNA may produce a complementary antisense RNA molecule, which sometimes can block production of the protein, thus turning off, or “silencing,” the gene.

Blake Meyers, associate professor of plant and soil sciences at UD, a collaborator on the research, is working to determine when the newly discovered microRNA in rice first evolved.

In the newly discovered case, the sense messenger RNA and antisense RNA operate differently, and different pieces are spliced out of each. These splicing differences limit the pairing ability between the sense and the antisense to a small region that includes the microRNA. In addition, splicing of the precursor of natural antisense microRNAs allows a hairpin to form, and hairpins are a requirement for any microRNA to be made.  Green noted that such microRNAs are not present in the common research plant Arabidopsis, which is a dicotyledon, a plant group that has two seed leaves (cotyledons) when it first sprouts. However, the UD team has identified the novel microRNAs in monocotyledons--plants that have solitary seed leaves--such as rice, corn and other grains.

“The novel microRNAs, target sites, and sense-antisense transcript arrangement that we discovered are conserved among monocots, indicating that this pathway is at least 50 million years old,” Meyers noted.

The next step in the research, Green said, will be to try to understand how microRNAs help rice plants respond to adverse environmental conditions, such as drought or limited nutrient availability.

In addition, the UD group currently is analyzing small RNAs in a diverse set of plant species to determine if this new class of microRNA may be present in a broader set of monocots or other plants.

“Comparative genomics is an important method for understanding microRNA evolution and diversity and has the potential to tell us when this type of natural antisense-microRNA might have first evolved,” Meyers said.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Additionally, UD postdoctoral researcher Dong-Hoon Jeong was partially supported by a Korean Research Foundation Fellowship funded by the Korean government, and doctoral student Shawn Thatcher was supported by a training grant awarded to UD's multidisciplinary Chemistry/Biology Interface Program from the National Institutes of Health. Article by Tracey Bryant

April 2008

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1.32  Automating the search for new genes in the wheat genome

Providing vital food for billions of people, wheat cannot afford a sick-day off. It must resist new diseases, adapt to environmental change and flourish in the face of viruses, bacteria, insects and fungi.

Cultivated since the dawn of civilization, wheat must now enter the 21st century.

The race for survival
The keys to flourishing wheat fields are diverse and effective genes, found in wheat’s gargantuan genetic toolbox: a DNA collection containing an astounding 17 billion base pairs.

“If you can find the right genes and the right alleles for a given genome, you can select the qualities you want in a new wheat variety,” says Philippe Leroy of Génétique Diversité & Ecophysiologie des Céréales in Clermont-Ferrand, France.

“You don’t cultivate the same type of wheat in the North of Europe as the South of Europe or as in China,” Leroy explains. “Each area has its own strains, its own diseases and climate, and therefore each needs its own wheat varieties.” 

Hunting for the right stuff
To streamline the gene selection process, Leroy and his colleagues, Matthieu Reichstadt and Franck Giacomoni, are developing a system that automates the hunt for new genes in the wheat genome.

Called the TriAnnotPipeline, the project is part of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, which aims to accelerate the creation of new wheat varieties.

These new varieties can be engineered to be more resilient to environmental change or better suited to other uses, such as bio-fuel, Leroy says.

After sequencing, the TriAnnotPipeline automatically searches databases for genes common to other crops, and also notes sequences that look like new genes. Researchers can then isolate these areas of interest for further study.

A lengthy process, Leroy admits, but worth it to help ensure our grandchildren can enjoy their bread and pasta as much as we do.

The TriAnnotPipeline project began in 2002 and is available on several computing platforms, including the AuverGrid, in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Since 2006 the TriAnnotPipeline has been supported by a European grant called LifeGrid, coordinated by the Conseil Regional d’Auvergne in France.

TriAnnotPipeline recently presented at the EGEE User Forum in France.

Danielle Venton, EGEE

9 April 2008
Source: iSGTW - International Science Grid This Week via

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1.33  Barley genome sequencing expected to complete by 2012

Alexandria, Egypt
Scientists working on barley genome sequencing are aiming to complete it by 2012.

Prof Andreas Graner, Acting Director of the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Germany, said that the International Barley Sequencing Consortium (IBSC) consisting of eight member laboratories in Australia, Japan, Finland, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States is currently working on sequencing the barley genome.

The consortium was set up in 2006 with the objective to physically map and sequence the barley gene space, with the near-term need being the identification of the remainder of about 30,000 genes, including the 5’ and 3’ regulatory regions, and the longer-term goal an ordered physical map linked to the genetic map to accelerate crop improvement.

‘’Partners are providing active contribution toward sequencing the barley genome, which is aimed to be completed by 2012,’’ said Prof Graner, who is attending the 10th International Barley Genetics Symposium, organized by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and Bibilotheca Alexandrina.

The barley genome - with 5.3 billion letters of genetic code - is one of the largest in cereal crops and twice the size of the human genome. Barley is a true diploid, thus, it is a natural archetype for genetics and genomics for the Triticeae tribe, including rye and polyploid wheat. Highly collaborative international efforts have produced a substantial body of genetic and genomic resources in the past several years.

Prof Graner said sequencing the barley genome is important to understand the genetic architecture of the plant. ‘’The better we have deciphered the genome of the plant, the better will be our understanding of its ability to produce more and its resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

Barley is cultivated in over 56 million hectares of land the world over and is the fourth most planted cereal crop. Over the last few years there has been a steady increase in barley and scientists believe that with the increasing global temperatures and the challenges posed by climate change, barley cultivation would expand even more, as this crop grows in harsh climatic conditions.

Besides being the staple food for the poor in parts of North Africa, Central and South Asia, Barley is grown as a cash crop in many developing countries and is used for malt production all over the world.

‘’There is a demand for further increase in food, feed and renewable energy sources. Our abilities to meet this demand depend on how best we can make use of our biodiversity, which is locked up in the genes. In this way genebanks like the one at ICARDA will be able to further improve their contribution to the world-wide utilization of the genetic resources by both scientists and farmers, ‘’ said Prof Graner.

Prof Graner said that sequencing the barley genome would enhance the use of biodiversity to meet the future needs of mankind. ’’Farmers will benefit by having improved varieties that can produce more yield. It would also help reduce input of fertilizers and chemical plant protection to facilitate more sustainable agriculture,’’ he added.

Dr Udda Lundqvist of the Nordic Genetic Resource Center in Alnarp, Sweden, and has been working on barley for nearly 59 years said that sequencing the genome would help develop varieties that will have more resistance to salinity, drought and diseases.

9 April 2008

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2.01  Report from the 8th annual congress of the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA)

The eighth annual AFSTA Congress was held in the beautiful city of Casablanca from the 26 – 29 February 2008. The Opening Ceremony was graced by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Maritime Fisheries.

AFSTA Congress 2008 Opening ceremony officiated by the PS Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries
of Morocco The congress 2008 drew the highest number of participants with 250 delegates from 35 countries, including representatives from regional and international bodies. The mood at the congress was that of great
satisfaction and the quality of presentations and level of participation of the delegates were regarded as excellent.

It was an excellent opportunity for the delegates to discuss and exchange information and views amongst themselves. All the technical sessions on important topics such as:

-overview of seed regulation in the Northern African countries and its impact on seed trade: analysis and way forward,
-the African seed industry facing the challenges of globalization: analysis and way forward,
-milestones reached in harmonization of seed regulations,
-latest development in plant variety protection,
-seed alliances and the role of AFSTA,

The congress was preceded by two half-day workshops:
-One on “Seed Certification” facilitated by the ISTA and OECD and
-the other workshop on “Seed Care” facilitated by Syngenta.

Objectives for AFSTA continue to be the organization of technical training related to seeds to build capacity of its members in 2008/2009 among others, strengthening the knowledge of its membership about latest in technology developments as concerns seeds and seed marketing. It will continue to actively support the seed legislation harmonization process in the sub-regions.

The AFSTA annual congress is surely establishing itself as an event to look forward to and eyes are now cast at the next congress 2009 to be held at the Cape Sun International Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa from 2 – 6 March 2009. The National Organizing Committee for AFSTA Congress 2009 is working hard to ensure
that the Congress will meet your expectations in every aspect.
View the full AFSTA newsletter:

By Susan Miyengi, Assistant to the Secretary General

Source Electronic newsletter of the African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) via
April 2008

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2.02  Seed orchards: Proceedings from a conference at Umeå, Sweden, September 26-28, 2007

Editor: Dag Lindgren
Proceedings from a conference on forest seed orchards is available at:
The main purpose of forest seed orchards is mass-propagation of seeds for the nurseries supplying plants for forest plantations. Some forest trees are among the most important planted crops and are subject to plant breeding.

Contributed by Dag Lindgren

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2.03  Plant Genotyping II: SNP Technology

A new book from CABI

R J Henry, Southern Cross University, Australia
April 2008 c. 272 pages Paperback 978 1 84593 382 1
£65.00 / US$130.00 / €105.00
Subject Codes: PST, TCB
Territorial Market Rights: World

Since the publication of Plant Genotyping: the DNA Fingerprinting of Plants in 2001, the techniques available for plant DNA analysis have advanced considerably. Recent developments focus on high throughput methods, and generally target single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) discovery and analysis. SNPs represent the most common form of genetic variation in both plants and animals, and play a key role in revealing the molecular mechanisms underlying traits.

Plant Genotyping II: SNP Technology describes some of the import recent developments in this field, with the main focus on SNPs. Contributions cover the discovery, analysis and uses of SNPs, while also examining other approaches to plant genotyping.

This book will be essential reading for researchers in plant genetics, molecular biology, breeding and biotechnology.

1. SNP Discovery in Plants, K J Edwards, R L Poole and G L Barker, all University of Bristol, UK
2. SNPs and Their Use in Maize, A Rafalski and S Tingey, both DuPont Crop Genetics Research, USA
3. Rare SNP Discovery with Endonucleases, M J Cross, Southern Cross University, Australia
4. Sequence Polymorphisms in the Flanking Regions of Microsatellite Markers, G Ablett and R Henry, both Southern Cross University, Australia
5. SNP Discovery by Ecotilling Using Capillary Electrophoresis, F Eliott, G Cordeiro, P C Bundock and R J Henry, both Southern Cross University, Australia
6. Genotyping by Allele Specific PCR, D L E Waters, P C Bundock and R J Henry, Southern Cross University, Australia
7. The MassARRAY® System for Plant Genetics, D Irwin, Sequenom, Australia
8. Mutation Screening, L Izquierdo, Griffith University, Australia

CABI improves people’s lives worldwide by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment.

CABI Head Office,
Nosworthy Way,
OX10 8DE, UK

Contributed by: Kylie-Anne Lindner
Administration Officer
Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics
Southern Cross University

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4.01  OECD Travel Fellowships

Please be advised that the Organization for Economic and Cooperation Development (OECD) is once again sponsoring travel fellowships between member countries. Fellowships are awarded under the “Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems” program. Details of the program are available at Briefly, OECD sponsors travel fellowships for Ph.D. scientists (or equivalent) between 26 member countries (see web site for list of member countries). The average fellowship is for about ten weeks, but the range is from 2 to 26 weeks. The individuals must have a permanent position or similar post in a home laboratory to return to after the fellowship (i.e., this is not a post-doc program). It is worth noting that the program is generally intended to help younger scientists gain international experience. Senior scientists are not discouraged from applying, but should recognize the need to prepare a strong application in that the program has been sponsoring fellowships for over 25 years. Scientists holding a position in a foreign laboratory (i.e., post doctorate) will not be eligible to apply for a grant to remain in that laboratory. However, a scientist working in a foreign laboratory with a grant from another source may apply for a fellowship to remain in that laboratory to complete work under way (i.e., sabbatical leave). OECD pays for transportation to the host laboratory and per diem at EUR 400 to 450/wk directly to ARS through a Specific Cooperative Agreement and then the scientist is reimbursed through standard Agency travel procedures.  OECD directly deposits reimbursements to non-federal government employees. The approval rate in the past has been ~50%. Approval is based on the scientific merit of the proposal. A letter of invitation from the host country must accompany applications. Fellowships will be awarded annually through 2009. Please note that the deadline for 2009 fellowships is September 15, 2008. Individuals receiving OECD fellowships within the past five years are not eligible. Travel for 2009 fellowship recipients cannot begin until February 15 and must be initiated by December 15, 2009 at the latest. Discussions are underway to request extension of the program for another five years (FYI - This fellowship program has been ongoing since 1979).

For questions, contact Dr. Jim Schepers ( ), who is the national correspondent for the U.S. and was one of the Theme scientific coordinators from 1995-2007. Dr. John Sadler ( will now represent the U.S on the Management Committee. OECD also sponsors four to six workshops annually on topics related to the Themes. Information about the workshops can be obtained from the internet or Drs. Sadler or Schepers.

Suggestions for preparing a strong application.
1. Excellent justification is required if the traveler has already published with the host or obtained advanced degrees at the host institution.
2. Develop some clearly defined objectives that are achievable within the time requested.
3. Communicate your objectives to the host and seek their involvement and suggestions (something more than a blanket invitation).
4. Review the evaluation criteria and make a special effort to address opportunities for cross-discipline research.

Contributed by Ann Marie Thro

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4.02  Higher Education Multicultural Scholars Program Grants (CREES, USDA)

CSREES Announces the Availability of Grant Funds and Requests Applications for the Higher Education Multicultural Scholars Program (MSP) Grants

NEW in 2008: Changes have been made when compared with the FY 2007 MSP announcement.  The changes enhance the potential for attaining program goals through use of six (6) Program Areas of Emphasis.  Students pursuing undergraduate level training in the food and agricultural sciences and/or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degrees will be aligned with the emerging workforce needs.  Ultimately, the announcement seeks to allow applicants to plan for the impact of the proposed D.V.M./baccalaureate training program on development of scientific expertise and functional competence in food and agricultural sciences.  Included are award categories that take account of a training option that involves multi-institutional collaboration to enhance the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and/or baccalaureate degree training programs addressing USDA REE priority areas of bioenergy, agrosecurity; specialty crops; and environmental sustainability to find solutions for real world issues relating to water, energy, land use management and agricultural biotechnology.

Closing Date: July 28, 2008
Proposed Award Date:  January 30, 2009
CFDA Number: 10.220
Cost Sharing Requirement: 25% from non-federal funds
Funding Opportunity Number:  USDA-CSREES-HEMS-001486
Funding Opportunity Page:
Program Code: KF
Funds Available: $0.981 million
More information about the MSP funding opportunity Program will be found at -


Soliciting applications for: 
(1) Scholarships to train students for baccalaureate degrees in disciplines within the food and agricultural sciences and/or the first professional degree in Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, and
(2) for Special E Learning (SEL) funding for eligible USDA MSP Scholars.

See MSP Grants Brochure on the Internet at

The RFA will be accessible from

Agency Website  

Contributed by Audry Trotman, National Education Program Leader
via Ann Marie Thro

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5.01  Senior Research Associate, Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project, Cornell University

Located in Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University is a bold, innovative, inclusive and dynamic teaching and research university where staff, faculty, and students alike are challenged to make an enduring contribution to the betterment of humanity.

Reporting to the project coordinator, assist with programmatic coordination for the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project, an outcome-driven worldwide research project with the goal of reducing the developing world's vulnerability to wheat rust diseases through deployment of resistant varieties. Assist with programmatic leadership for the multi-institutional and multi-discipline research team including over 30 scientists based in wheat-growing countries throughout the world. Contribute to advocacy efforts to mobilize and coordinate additional financial and scientific resources with the goal of increasing the global commitment to combating wheat rusts. Support the establishment of a global virtual community of wheat and rust scientists, and help with efforts to create web-based inventories of ongoing and potential global activities that can contribute to the goal of minimizing the effects of wheat rusts on the livelihood and food securities of the world's poor. Through the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, facilitate linkages and synergies among existing rust-focused wheat research efforts throughout the world. Help to plan and develop follow-on proposals that extend the scope and impact of the current Project. Contribute to specialized modules, seminars, and team-taught courses and to graduate training. Information on International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences can be viewed at

Qualifications: Ph.D. in plant breeding, plant pathology, or related fields; experience in wheat improvement including variety release and seed multiplication preferred; proven ability to coordinate multi-faceted research programs in crop improvement; successful experience in mobilizing resources for multi-institutional international agriculture research from development assistance agencies preferred; knowledge of the global wheat improvement community; international experience and proven ability to work in developing country agriculture research circumstances preferred; superior communications, computing, organizational, and leadership skills; knowledge of foreign languages desirable.

Salary: Competitive and commensurate with background and experience.  An attractive fringe benefits package is available.

Application Procedure: Nominations, expressions of interest, or direct applications are welcome. To apply, send a letter of application and complete resume to: Tammy Thomas, International Programs, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, 238a Emerson Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 and have three letters of reference sent to the same address. Inquiries about the position may be directed to the same individual, Ph 607 255-7719; FAX 607 255-6683. Review of applications will begin in April, 2008 and continue until a suitable candidate is identified.

Cornell University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer and Educator.

Contributed by:

Linda Reed
Graystone Group Advertising
Bridgeport, CT 06604

Ronnie Coffman
Dept of Plant Breeding and Genetics
Cornell University

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5.02  Plant Molecular Biologist, University of Idaho

The University of Idaho invites applications for a faculty position in Plant Molecular Biology located on the main campus in Moscow, Idaho.  This is a 12-month tenure track position with responsibilities allocated as 80% research and 20% teaching.

The successful applicant will have an appointment in the Department of Plant, Soil and Entomological Sciences (PSES) and will be part of the multi-disciplinary Idaho Center for Potato Research and Education, and the Cereals Team.  Excellent opportunities exist for collaboration with faculty in agronomy, horticulture, plant breeding, plant physiology, plant pathology and entomology. Salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience.

Develop an innovative, internationally recognized, externally funded research program focusing on improving potato and cereal agronomic and value-added traits.  Potential research areas may include, but are not limited to improved resistance to diseases and pests, improved agronomic traits that enhance production and sustainability, and development of traits that enhance crop value.  Teaching responsibilities include an undergraduate course in Plant Growth and Development and an alternate year graduate course in plant molecular biology.  Participation in graduate student education and mentoring will be required.  The successful candidate will collaborate with other faculty members in PSES and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, present research seminars, participate in professional meetings and publish in refereed journals.

Required qualifications include an earned Ph.D. in plant molecular biology/plant physiology, plant genetics, or closely related field by July 1, 2008, and training and interest in fundamental and applied plant molecular biology research.  The successful applicant will demonstrate the ability to initiate, complete and publish research, work cooperatively and effectively with colleagues and clientele, and must possess excellent written and oral communication skills.  Desirable qualifications include demonstrated experience with an agronomically important crop, experience in teaching at the undergraduate or graduate level, successful grantsmanship and effective collaboration in team-based research programs.

Application Procedures:
To be considered, interested persons MUST complete the online application (which can be accessed at including a letter of application addressing each required and desired qualification, curriculum vitae, official academic transcripts, three letters of reference and contact information for references.  Any required documentation which cannot be submitted online, i.e., official academic transcripts and three letters of reference, should be sent to:

Dr. Robert Zemetra, Plant Molecular Biologist Search, Department of Plant, Soil and Entomological Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, Id 83844-2339; phone 208-995-7810, FAX 208-885-7760, email

Closing date for applications is May 15, 2008 or until a suitable candidate is identified.

To enrich education through diversity, the University of Idaho is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educational institution.

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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.


* 28 June – 2 July 2008. 8th International Oat Conference. Minneapolis, MN.

* 30 June – 3 July 2008. International Durum Wheat Symposium. Bologna, Italy.

* 10-11 July 2008. Course on cassava genetic resources and their manipulation
for crop improvement,
University Estadual de Feira Santana, Brazil. Open to scientists from Central and South America and the Caribbean. The closing date for applications is the 30 June 2008.

Contact details: Prof. Nagib Nassar, Department of Genetics, Universidade
de Brasilia, Brasilia, Brazil. Email:
Link to audiovisual on the course

Contributed by Leonardo Valentini Gorgen
Laboratorio da Mandioca, UnB

* 11- 15 September 2008. 5th International Hybrid Rice Symposium. Changsha, China.

* 22 – 26 September 2008. All Africa Congress on Biotechnology, Nairobi, Kenya. Announcement by: The African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum (ABSF) through its sister network, the Agricultural Biotechnology Network in Africa (ABNETA) and the African Union’s (AU) Division of Agriculture and Food Security. The theme of the Congress will be ‘Harnessing the Potential of Agricultural Biotechnology for Food Security and Socio-Economic Development in Africa’.

For detailed information on Congress event, please visit: and and 

* 24 – 27 November. Conventional and Molecular Breeding of Field and Vegetable Crops. Novi Sad, Serbia. For more information contact:


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

* 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.

* 2-5 August 2010. 10th International Conference on Grapevine Breeding and Genetics.

* 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* 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, Tamil Nadu, India.

* 21–25 September 2009. 1st International Jujube Symposium, Agricultural University of Hebei, Baoding, China.

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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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