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


20 May 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

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-Archived issues available at: FAO Plant Breeding Newsletter

1.01  High food prices are not just a threat but an opportunity, and we must seize the chance to boost agriculture, says FAO Director-General
1.02  University announces grant from Gates Foundation to boost incomes of poorest farmers in Africa
1.03  Major new partnership in rice research launched at IRRI headquarters
1.04  New rice varieties from the International Rice Research Institute can survive flooding, salinity and drought
1.05  Africa Rice Center (WARDA) actively assists African member states manage the rice crisis
1.06  New research techniques used by NIAB  scientists on rice products
1.07  Uganda sets up biotechnology centre to study cassava
1.08  Malting barley breeding program leads to better beer
1.09  Nepalese farmers to benefit from Crop & Food Research's oat varieties that can be grown in the Himalayan regions during winter
1.10  Golden wheat greens Kenya's drylands
1.11  Home-grown maize seed solutions in southern and central Africa
1.12  US Patent Office rejects US company’s patent protection for bean commonly grown by Latin American farmers
1.13  Companies have applied for patents on climate-tolerant crop genes
1.14  Let's focus on solutions to rice price crisis
1.15  NIAB scientists advise farmers on feeding “rocket fuel” to livestock
1.16  First field tests of Golden Rice in the Philippines
1.17  Cartagena Protocol on trade in GMOs: UN conference discusses liability rules
1.18  Food crop diversity is key to sustainability
1.19  Ancient sunflower fuels debate about agriculture in the Americas
1.20  Plant genetic resource of under-utilized crops: A case study of jackfruit from Bangladesh
1.21  Scientists find 'yield-improving rice gene'
1.22  Natural variation in Ghd7 is an important regulator of heading date and yield potential in rice
1.23  Tomato stands firm in face of fungus
1.24  Warning over virulent strain of late blight on potato in Scotland
1.25  UC Davis researchers discover genes for frost tolerance in wheat
1.26  Combining ability and heterosis under pest epidemics in a broad-based global wheat-breeding population
1.27  Australian germplasm could give U.S. sunflowers improved resistance to fungal diseases
1.28  Zinc link made in barley breeding
1.29  From the journal Science: Special Online Collection: Plant Genomes
1.30  Transcription regulators for second generation biotech crops
1.31  Researchers probe the secrets of how plants cope with water stress to improve crop yields
1.32  Selected Articles from CGIAR News - May 2008 issue
1.33  GCP (Generation Challenge Programme) News Issue 30, 16 May 2008
1.34  Update 2-2008 of FAO-BiotechNews

2.01  Plant Genetic Resources for Agriculture, Plant Breeding, and Biotechnology -
Experiences from Cameroon, Kenya, the Philippines, and Venezuela
2.02  Regional Seed Network Newsletter for the development of strong national seed programs
2.03  Agronomy for Sustainable Development, An International Journal in Agriculture & Environment
2.04  RevGenUK, A 'single-stop' shop for use in functional genomics
2.05  Introducing the Journal of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Ecology
2.06  Gamma Field Symposia Vol. 45: Recent Fruit and Potentiality of Mutation Breeding  now online

3.01  In search of plant breeding database applications
3.02  Request for information on Alectra vogelii on cowpea

4.01  Monsanto Fellows in Plant Breeding Fund

5.01  CSREES vacancy announcement for the position of Deputy Administrator for Competitive Programs
5.02  Plant Breeding R&D Senior Scientist Manager
5.03  National Program Leader (CSREES-Horticulture)
5.04  Monsanto plant breeding related career postings





1.01  High food prices are not just a threat but an opportunity, and we must seize the chance to boost agriculture, says FAO Director-General

Rome, Italy
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today called on the international community not only to take immediate action to de-fuse the current world food emergency but also to seize the opportunities offered by higher food prices and prevent similar dramatic situations occurring in the future.

In a statement published on the FAO website, Dr Diouf said, “The time for re-launching agriculture is now and the international community should not miss the opportunity.”

High food commodity prices called for a twin-track approach featuring policies and programmes to assist the millions of poor whose livelihoods were at risk, and steps to help farmers in the developing world take advantage of the new situation.

“We must produce more food where it is urgently needed to contain the impact of soaring prices on poor consumers, and simultaneously boost productivity and expand production to create more income and employment opportunities for the rural poor,” Dr Diouf said.

“We have to ensure that small holder farmers have proper access to land and water resources and essential inputs such as seeds and fertilisers. This will enable them to increase their supply response to higher prices, boosting their incomes, improving their livelihoods, and ultimately benefiting consumers as well,” Dr Diouf said.

June summit
The issue of food prices will be discussed on June 3-5 when world leaders meet in Rome at FAO’s invitation to attend a High Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy. Guests whose presence at the summit has already been confirmed include Presidents Sarkozy of France and Lula of Brazil, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

While high food prices exacerbate food insecurity and create social tensions there was a danger of the emergency overshadowing the longer-term aspects, Dr Diouf warned.

“To ensure that small farmers and rural households benefit from higher food prices, we need to create a favourable policy environment that relaxes the constraints facing the private sector, farmers and traders,” he added.

That would mean reversing the decline in the level of public resources spent on agriculture and rural development and investing more in agriculture, Dr Diouf said. Investments by the private sector in agriculture and related sectors would be forthcoming if appropriate investments in public goods were put in place

Constraints not just low prices
Besides historically low prices, farmers in the developing world have had to battle constraints including lack of infrastructure such as transport and communications, access to technology and extension services and well-functioning marketing and credit systems.

Lack of irrigation, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, was another major problem that must be resolved. When food prices soared in the 1970s many Asian governments chose to invest in irrigation and agricultural research, and this set the stage for rapid productivity growth that saved millions from poverty and hunger, Dr Diouf recalled.

“A similar response is urgently needed today – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,” he added.

Last December FAO launched an emergency Initiative on Soaring Food Prices (ISFP) to provide 37 Low-Income Food Deficit countries (LIFDCs) with the seeds and inputs to boost their domestic food production. FAO has called for 1.7 billion dollars of international financing to implement the plan

29 April 2008

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1.02  University announces grant from Gates Foundation to boost incomes of poorest farmers in Africa

Wednesday, April 30, 2008
An initiative led by the University of Greenwich's Natural Resources Institute in close partnership with organisations in five African countries - Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi - aims to significantly boost the incomes of small-scale African farmers by linking them to new markets.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has backed the initiative with a $13.1 million grant. This is one of two projects announced today that the foundation is funding to support cassava producers in Africa, most of whom are women.

The University of Greenwich project will link more than 90,000 smallholders to national and international markets by turning their main crop, cassava, into processed flour which can be sold at a premium price. Each household is expected to earn an additional $190 a year by 2012; currently they live on average incomes of less than a dollar a day.

Contributed by Andrew Westby

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1.03  Major new partnership in rice research launched at IRRI headquarters

A major new partnership between the public and private sectors was made official at the headquarters of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) last week with an aim to increase rice production across Asia via the accelerated development and introduction of hybrid rice technologies. The innovative new effort to increase rice production – and support for rice research – comes at a crucial time for Asia as the region struggles to deal with near record rice prices caused by stagnating yields.

Robert Zeigler, director general of IRRI, which convened and hosted this inaugural meeting of the Hybrid Rice Research and Development Consortium (HRDC), said during the opening session that there was no question the meeting represented the first pages of an entirely new chapter in the history of rice research. "Certainly, the success of hybrid rice in China is well known," added Dr. Zeigler, "and the potential for hybrid rice to have an impact across the rest of the rice-growing world is something that we all believe is real."

IRRI and its partners in the public and private sectors have led research, development, and use of hybrid rice technology in the tropics for almost 30 years. Hybrid rice varieties have the potential to raise the yield of rice and thus overall rice productivity and profitability in Asia. Successful deployment of hybrid rice, however, requires a more effective cooperation between public research institutions and private sector companies to study ways to overcome the current constraints.

Dr. Paresh Verma represented one of the 19 founding private-sector company members from seven countries of the HRDC who attended the inaugural meeting at IRRI. Verma, director for research at DCM Shiram Consolidated Ltd., Hy-derabad, India, said, "This is really a unique idea, which can strengthen public and private sector collaboration. In recent weeks, we have been noticing newspaper headlines around the world warning of a likely shortage of rice, the world's most important food crop. We know that, in the last 20-25 years, the productivity of rice has not increased despite continuous increase in the population. Increasing rice productivity is really the biggest challenge before us as researchers and policy makers."

Participants in the two-day gathering, which also included 15 public sector institutions from China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, considered it fortunate that this consortium is beginning now. "We have before us a world in which we see rice prices increasing dramatically," said Dr. Zeigler. "Since rice is the food of the world's poor, any increase in the price of rice has a serious impact on those poor. There is no question that we need technologies that will improve the productivity of rice and certainly hybrid rice is at or near the top of the list of technologies that will help us increase the availability of rice for the world."

The HRDC has the potential of being a trend-setting model on how the private and public sectors can amicably work together. This is an undertaking that will surely be watched very closely around the world.

Dr. Verma said his company joined the HRDC because he and his associates believe that, in the future, any significant increase in rice productivity will come through increased adoption of hybrid rice. "Hybrid rice adoption will increase when we have products that better meet customer requirements," he added. "This means that, in addition to high heterosis, new varieties must have better resistance to diseases and insects and, of course, the grain quality that farmers and consumers want."

During this first HRDC gathering, the participants learned about new plant genetic resources available or under development at IRRI, reviewed research on hybrid rice management, discussed new research priorities, and made decisions on other Consortium activities such as capacity building for both sectors.

Source: SEAMEO SEARCA (the Philippines) via
11 April 2008

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1.04  New rice varieties from the International Rice Research Institute can survive flooding, salinity and drought

Los Baños, Philippines
The miracle workers who sparked the Green Revolution of the 1960s in Asia are in the final stages of developing their next wonder -- rice varieties that can survive flooding, salinity and drought.

And the first to get a crack at the new rice hybrids will be the Philippines, says Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquartered in Los Baños, Laguna.

"The submergence-tolerant materials are just coming out. They haven't been released anywhere. They're just on the point of being ready for farmers now. Salinity, same way. And the Philippines will be the first to adopt this," says Zeigler.

"Drought is a tougher nut to crack, but again, we're doing work on that," he says.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute, or PhilRice, will receive the new breeds for propagation in the country. PhilRice is IRRI's local partner in the country, implementing the breakthroughs in research in the IRRI fields and laboratories.

"PhilRice takes the stuff up very quickly. It will get them up to the farmers," says Zeigler, whose agency produced the miracle rice seeds of the 1960s using the magic of genetic engineering, fertilizers and IRRIgation.

IRRI experts say rice prices have risen close to historical levels since 2005 because population growth has outpaced the dramatic yield growth produced by scientific breakthroughs.

" Since rice is the food of the world's poor, any increase in the price of rice has a serious impact on those poor," says Zeigler.

"There is no question that we need technologies that will improve the productivity of rice and certainly hybrid rice is at or near the top of the list of technologies," he says.

Pioneered by China, the world's top rice producer and consumer, hybrids are bred by crossing genetically different varieties to produce a rice plant that grows faster and produces yields of up to 20 percent higher.

The downside is that farmers need to buy new seeds to plant every year, which raises costs, because seeds saved from the previous hybrid crop have inconsistent yields. Traditional rice varieties by contrast are self-pollinating, so the seeds from each harvest can be used again in the next planting season.

With several dozen storms hitting the Philippines each year, the introduction of rice varieties that can withstand flooding and other adverse conditions could prove promising.

"Rice grows in standing water, but if it gets completely covered, like any other crop, it drowns and dies in three or four days," says Zeigler.

"We have developed, based on material in our gene bank, a line that would tolerate submergence for 17 days, completely under water. You drain it, looks like it's dead as a doornail, but it comes back. Other varieties don't," he says.

"Unfortunately, very poor yield, very poor grain quality, very long duration, and so we have to do a lot of basic research on the genetics and the physiology of it to identify where the gene was that conferred the tolerance to submergence and to flooding.

"Then using molecular tools, not GMO (genetically modified organism) but biotech tools, we move that gene into what we call background to the most popular variety that farmers would grow, that is, that are high yielding, that have good grain quality and grown in an acceptable period to the farmers, not too long a duration.
" We did that in record time," says Zeigler.

These new rice varieties are now in the final stages of evaluation in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia and India, and Zeigler says he expects that they will be released straight away.

One new rice variety, which Zeigler calls the "sub1" for submarine, is wedded to the IR 64, the world's most popular hybrid.

Another variety that can be grown in the mountainous areas of the Philippines is the so-called "aerobic rice." This can be planted in soils managed under a system requiring little water but can yield 4 to 6 metric tons per hectare. This variety is already being planted in China using only 50 percent of the water used in IRRIgated lowlands.

The aerobic rice could well be a savior in South Asia where it has been estimated that, by 2012, 12 million hectares of IRRIgated rice may suffer from severe water shortage, seriously affecting the region's food security and social stability.

Still another variety being tested for commercial development is one that can resist salinity in paddies close to the sea, under threat of tsunamis or rising sea levels like the coastal regions of Bangladesh.

IRRI has more than 100,000 rice seeds in its gene bank in Los Baños, allowing scientists to conduct experiments. Thanks to the bank, Cambodia was able to revive its traditional rice variety that was practically obliterated during the Khmer Rouge's genocidal regime that spawned massive starvation in the country in the 1970s.

"Our No. 1 challenge is to get the information to the farmers that there's a breakthrough," says Zeigler.

"This is not just in the Philippines. This is something we see over and over again. We still haven't been able to get the communication from the research and translate it as effectively as we should get it to the farmers. We get over that hump and we get another one or two tons per hectare," he says.

"It's just a question of getting information to the farmers in a way that they can understand and use and it's not just information but also the seeds."

Zeigler dismisses claims, mainly by those advocating organic farming led by leftist and peasant groups, that IRRI is simply a tool of multinational companies selling chemicals and that massive use of fertilizers and pesticides would poison the soil.

"Ask yourself this: If your plant is removing potassium, or phosphorous or nitrogen from the soil­I mean, you harvest it, you eat it, you take it away from the soil and you keep doing that, you don't put anything back­what's going to happen to the soil? You keep taking away money from the bank, you don't put anything in, what happens? It's gone," he says.

"If you want to sustain your agricultural system, you have to replace the nutrients that you take out. Now, how do you replace the nutrients? In the vast majority of cases, it doesn't matter.

"A plant can't tell the difference between the nitrogen atom or a nitrate molecule or ammonium molecule that comes from decomposing cattle manure or chicken manure or a bag of urea. Plants can't tell. Nitrogen is nitrogen. It's completely irrelevant where it comes from," Zeigler says.

Of course, if you put excessive amounts of fertilizer in the field, it can damage the soil. It can run off, and pollute the ground water and streams.

"But fertilizers that are managed in a way that only the amount of crop needs is put on is very beneficial for the environment," says Zeigler.

"It's one of the technologies that we need to get up to the farmers. We've worked on that a lot. We've taken very sophisticated principles and scientific knowledge that we generated 10 or 15 years ago and translated it down in ways that farmers can use it. So the idea that adding fertilizer to the fields will poison them is totally irresponsible," he says.

Other news from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
By Fernando del Mundo

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer via
6 May 2008

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1.05  Africa Rice Center (WARDA) actively assists African member states to manage the rice crisis

Cotonou, Benin
The Africa Rice Center (WARDA) is helping its member states manage the rice crisis through a combination of short-term actions reinforced by medium- to long-term strategies supporting their domestic rice sectors.
“The rice crisis is not really a surprise for WARDA and our member states,” said WARDA Director General Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck. “The Center had not only foreseen the crisis, but also taken concrete actions to help its member states manage it.”

Anticipating the crisis
Since 2006, WARDA has been systematically alerting the governments of its member states on a looming rice crisis in Africa. The most recent alarm was sounded at the WARDA Council of Ministers in September 2007 in Abuja, Nigeria.

As part of his high-level advocacy efforts using WARDA’s unique status as an Association of African countries, WARDA Director General Dr Seck met with policymakers in Benin in November 2006. During this meeting, a pan-African Presidential Rice Initiative under the aegis of President Yayi Boni of Benin was proposed and approved by His Excellency.

The Presidential Initiative, now scheduled for a November summit in Cotonou, Benin, will bring together Heads of States, Ministers of Agriculture, Finance and Trade of WARDA member states as well as donors, international and national rice researchers, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and farmers.

The objectives of the Presidential Initiative are to rally support for collective action by the member countries to boost the continent’s rice production and advocate for greater investment in the rice sector to avoid devastating breaks in supply.

The issue of the rice crisis was the focus of the 26th session of WARDA Council of Ministers in September 2007, where given the importance of the theme, the Council exceptionally allowed farmers’ organizations (ROPPA), regional and sub-regional organizations (FARA and CORAF) and regional economic communities (UEMOA) to attend as observers.

Dr Seck made a presentation to the Council on “Rice crisis: myth or reality,” which concluded that all the signs pointed to a looming rice crisis for Africa, while highlighting at the same time the tremendous potential of Africa for rice cultivation because of its vast stretches of uncultivated land, particularly inland valleys, as well as water resources, which are still untapped.

During his presentation, Dr Seck made a series of pragmatic recommendations to African governments to:

-Establish seed legislation and encourage the involvement of the private sector in seed supply and trade
-Reduce the import tax on small-scale farm and processing machinery which can increase rice farmers’ labor efficiency and improve grain quality 
-Work together to reduce fertilizer prices as fertilizers in Africa are 2 to 6 times more expensive than those in Asia and Europe 
-Improve the capacity at research, extension, processing, and marketing levels
-Promote large-scale use of upland and lowland NERICA® rice varieties
-Increase significantly the share of high-yielding irrigated and lowland rice farming

Convinced by this advocacy, member states have made strong commitments to rice research and development by increasing their contributions to WARDA; unanimously adopting the recommendations; and supporting strongly the President Yayi Boni Rice Initiative. Several member countries immediately sought WARDA’s assistance in developing national rice strategies and effective seed legislation.

Facing the crisis
To respond to the rice crisis in the short-run, WARDA has advised governments to reduce levies on imported rice and define mechanisms to avoid speculation in the rice markets, while keeping in mind the long-term strategy of vigorously supporting smallholder rice producers to raise their productivity and marketed surpluses.
WARDA is also developing with national programs and other partners an emergency initiative to significantly raise rice production in sub-Saharan Africa as of now.

Discussing the details of this initiative, which will be announced shortly, Dr Seck observed, “The rice crisis offers an opportunity for Africa to build a better future for its rice sector.”

Africa Rice Center (WARDA) is an autonomous inter-governmental research association of African member states. It is also one of the 15 international agricultural research Centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

The ‘New Rice for Africa’ (NERICA), which is bringing hope to millions of poor people in Africa, was developed by WARDA and its partners. The success of the NERICAs has helped shape the Center’s future direction, extending its horizon beyond West and Central Africa into Eastern and Southern Africa.

The Center hosts the African Rice Initiative (ARI), the Regional Rice Research and Development Network for West and Central Africa (ROCARIZ), and the Inland Valley Consortium (IVC). It also supports the Coordination Unit of the Eastern and Central African Rice Research Network (ECARRN), based in Tanzania.

Since January 2005, the Center has been working from Cotonou, Benin. It has regional research stations near St Louis, Senegal and at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria.

28 April 2008

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1.06  New research techniques used by NIAB  scientists on rice products

At a time when rice prices are hitting record highs, causing unprecedented tension in parts of the world, research scientists at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge are hoping their cutting edge projects will lead to the production of a new breed of rice seeds resilient to climate change.

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

Media reports are constantly highlighting the critical impact of rising food prices which recently led to two days of riots in Haiti when four people were killed. Food prices have risen 40% on average since the middle of last year, causing further rioting in other parts of the world too, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Egypt. Governments around the world are placing this crucial issue high on their agenda, recognising the urgent need to provide stable and sustainable food crops.

NIAB has forged a strong working partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the oldest and largest international agricultural research institute in Asia.

Chief Executive Prof Wayne Powell hopes their innovative collaborative project will contribute to a reduction in poverty and hunger in developing countries, and help ensure environmentally sustainable rice production. Their scientists are also working on a major collaborative pan-European research project to help improve rice crops in the Mediterranean where it forms the national dish in some countries, ie paella in Spain and risotto in Italy.

NIAB’s pioneering scientists were recently awarded a £733,000 grant by the government funded Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to work on a rice genetics research project with IRRI and help create climate resistant strains of rice for Africa and Asia.

This project will look at the genetic make up of rice, as well as its genetic expression, to identify genes which may be crucial in developing new types of rice resilient to drought and diseases. Researchers will use new techniques previously used only in human and animal studies to look at gene expression in rice in response to different conditions. By doing this, they hope to identify genes which are naturally tolerant to climate extremes and diseases and go on to use this knowledge to develop rice breeding programmes in Africa and Asia.

NIAB is further establishing its leading role in rice research by sending three scientists to the Philippines after being offered highly coveted places on a three-week IRRI training course, “Rice: Research to Production”. They will meet local farmers and learn first hand about the challenges they face in the cultivation of rice crops. The course is being sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the UK based Gatsby Charitable Foundation to provide  major support for young scientists from advanced laboratories in the West who wanted to work or do research in poor, developing nations.

This is the second of three years that the course has been held and is taking place run from 14 May - 1 June. The scientists attending are plant genetics breeder Dr Nick Gosman,  Phd students Ed Wilhelm, and Natalia Stawniak.

They are keen to learn about rice breeding, to network with the international community and understand the importance of innovative plant science in addressing global problems. 

Nick said,“What particularly excites me about attending the course is the opportunity to learn rice breeding strategy and husbandry from international experts. I am also looking forward to some productive networking meetings with IRRI scientists to discuss possible future collaborations.”

Ed added, “It will be an exciting opportunity to see first-hand how rice is produced and meet local farmers.  I will also learn about the genetic resources available in rice at a top research institute, and this trip gives me the chance to meet scientist from around the world studying this important topic.”

Three scientists from NIAB attended the rice training course last year, Dr Konstantina Stamati and PhD students Sabine Mameaux and Zoe Rutterford.  Dr Stamati said one of the valuable highlights was meeting local farmers and learning from them about their difficulties with rice production.

Dr Stamati said, “Rice is a major staple food crop that is critical for global food security. Diseases and water stress are two key constraints limiting rice production in developing countries such as Africa and south Asia. This course is valuable because it provides an understanding of rice as a crop, the different ways that it grows, its uses and constraints limiting its potential yield. This course enables scientists to work closely with scientist from developing countries, to raise awareness on the effects of climate change, the dangers of using excess of fertiliser and the importance of harvesting a good quality crop.

“We are trying to show farmers the advantages of using alternative rice varieties, such as hybrids that have better yields, and also educate them on the importance of diversification so they can grow more than one rice crop a year and increase their productivity. This is vital for developing countries as shortages in rice has led to increases in its price.”

NIAB’s pan-European collaborative research project will be looking at European rice genetic resources and enhancing competitiveness in rice production. The project, known as “EURIGEN”, includes scientists from Prof Powell’s Diversity Genomics Group, with partners from Italy, France, Greece and Portugal. The three year project is financed by the European Commission’s Agriculture Genetic Research Programme.

One of the genes which NIAB scientists are interested in studying is called Rc, which is found in red rice and regulates pigment production in the rice seed (the colour is visible when the grains are dehulled). Although most of the rice bought by consumers is white, red rice is available in some health shops for its reputed health benefits for cardiovascular disease and as an anti-oxidant.

The Cambridge scientists have already made an interesting discovery about the genetics of red rice. In collaboration with Dr Elisabetta Lupotto, (Unità di Ricerca per la Risicoltura, Vercelli, Italy) they identified the molecular mechanism responsible for a single change on the genetic make up of a white rice cultivar to the red pericarp wild phenotype.

Contributed by Ellee Seymour
16 May 2008

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1.07  Uganda sets up biotechnology centre to study cassava

- Africa Science News Service, 10 May 2008

Uganda's scientists have set up a biotechnology centre at the National Crops Resource Research Institute (NCRRI) for purposes of modifying cassava.

The scientists with the help of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (Asareca), launched its cassava biotech capacity project through its Agro-biodiversity and Biotechnology programme at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NCCRI) on April 30, 2008.

Dr Charles Mugoya, a senior scientist, Asareca, said the $110,000 project fund is part of the $320,000 about that was shared among three countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. 

Dr Anton Bua, an Agric-Economist and Team Leader for National Cassava Programme, said Uganda did not have facilities to undertake advanced science like biotechnology which is a world order. "Because of Asareca's support, we will now build capacity to perform very high and advanced science which we normally borrow from Europe and America," said Dr Bua.

Ugandan researchers are working to follow in the footsteps of researchers at the Donald Danforh Plant Science Centre (DDPSC) in the United States.

DDPSC introduced a genetically modified gene in a cassava plant to confer resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD), which research results proved successful.

This research has been carried out in several countries in Africa of which Uganda is now involved.

Cassava's ability to produce food under marginal conditions has made it a popular crop among Africa's poor. 

According to scientists, cassava is the most consumed crop in East and Central Africa with over 30 million tons of it being produced annually.

On average, the value of cassava production between 1961 and 1999 in Uganda amounted to$2 billion. 

The record indicates that Uganda is the third largest producer of cassava in the Asareca, with a total production of 5 million metric tons per year. 

But cassava mosaic, a viral disease and other pests have reduced Uganda's cassava production.

According to the scientists, cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak disease are the most important constraints affecting cassava production in Uganda and most parts of African countries. 

Other viruses include Africa Cassava Mosaic Virus (ACMV) and the East African Cassava Mosaic Virus (ECMV) which is transmitted by a pest called Whitefly Bemicia Tabaci.

Source: via Today in AgBioView from AgBioWorld
13 May 2008

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1.08  Malting barley breeding program leads to better beer

Fargo, North Dakota
An unfortunate truth that producers know all too well is that not all barley makes good malt and beer.

Although environment plays a large role in the production of high-quality barley, starting with a good variety is essential to producing a quality crop, barley breeders say. Producers depend on existing varieties, but new varieties are needed for various reasons: New diseases develop, environmental conditions change, growing areas shift and new products are developed as consumer habits change.

Yield is important to producers, while quality and homogeneity of supply are important to end users. Regardless of the reasons for developing new varieties, barley breeding is necessary to ensure quality grain, malt and beer, breeders say.

Malting barley is essential to the brewing industry and all stakeholders in the chain from barley to beer cooperate in the breeding and testing processes. In the U.S., most programs dealing with the development of malting barley are public and associated with state universities or the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS). However, Anheuser Busch and Coors do operate private programs.
The steps to develop a new malting barley variety can take up to 12 years to complete.

"Cooperation between stakeholder groups occurs in several ways," says Karen Hertsgaard, North Dakota State University Institute of Barley and Malt Sciences information specialist. "Financial support for breeding efforts comes from industry and grower organizations. Evaluation of field and processing performance is done by both public and private organizations. All provide input on the release of new malting barley varieties."

The federal government also supports aspects of barley breeding. Examples include the USDA -- Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service-funded barley Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) and the USDA-ARS- funded U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI).

The barley CAP seeks to integrate and utilize state-of-the-art genomic tools and approaches in 19 different plant breeding programs throughout the U.S. The focus of CAP research is the identification of molecular markers that will speed up barley breeding efforts dramatically.

The goal of the USWBSI is to develop as quickly as possible effective control measures that minimize the threat of wheat and barley fusarium head blight (scab), including the reduction of mycotoxins, through a national, multidisciplinary and multiinstitutional research system.

Another key group is the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA). It coordinates efforts between the malting and brewing industries and public breeding programs through the Quality Evaluation Program. The purpose of this program is to determine the suitability of new barley selections as malting barley varieties for production in the U.S. The AMBA supports an early generation malting quality evaluation program for barley breeders and basic malting quality research at the USDA-ARS Cereal Crops Research Unit (CCRU) in Madison, Wis.

Early generation testing at the CCRU is followed by pilot scale malting evaluations of more advanced lines by AMBA members. Selections that show promise after two or three years of pilot scale evaluation may be advanced to commercial evaluation. Satisfactory results from plant scale evaluations are required before a variety is recommended for malting and brewing by the AMBA.

"New breeding lines are tested for a number of important barley and malt quality factors," says Richard Horsley, NDSU barley breeder. "Barley factors include plump kernels, moderate protein levels and a high percentage of kernels that will germinate uniformly and quickly. There are wide ranges of malting quality traits that are tested. The ideal levels of many can vary, depending on the beer style or equipment used to process the beer."

"Barley malt for brewing needs to have the proper levels of enzymes that break down starch, other carbohydrates and proteins in the barley kernel," says Scott Heisel, American Malting Barley Association vice president and technical director. "The resulting sugars, peptides and amino acids become soluble in brewing and are collectively referred to as malt extract. The malt extract must have the proper color characteristics and lack factors that could cause hazes or filtration problems in the brewing process."

In final commercial or plant scale malting and brewing trials, close attention is paid to additional quality factors. The malt must have the proper quality attributes to move through the brewery without any processing problems. It needs to yield a beer with the desired color, foaming characteristics and alcohol content. The final hurdle for a new variety is flavor. Many of these brewing characteristics can't be adequately judged until commercial scale trials are conducted.

8 May 2008

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1.09  Nepalese farmers to benefit from Crop & Food Research's oat varieties that can be grown in the Himalayan regions during winter

New Zealand
Staff working within Crop & Food Research’s forage breeding programmes are spearheading a new and exciting project to alleviate poverty within farming communities in Nepal, and improving household incomes from milk sales.

NZAID, the New Zealand Government’s international aid and development agency, will contribute funding to the project, which is aimed at reducing the significant labour time that some Nepalese women spend in gathering and transporting fodder for livestock.

The goal is for farmers to produce their own higher quality fodder to improve milk yields, and free up significant time for farming families, which can then be re-directed into other income-generating activities.

Project leader in New Zealand, Keith Armstrong, says woman dairy farmers in Nepal have to go out and cut forage for the livestock from common lands, often at great distance, and often spending all day at the task. The inadequate levels of fodder that are able to be collected in winter and spring, lead to poor animal nutrition, and consequently poor milk productivity.

“At Crop & Food Research we have developed excellent oat varieties that can be grown in the Himalayan regions during winter when the need for fodder is greatest. An earlier project that we were involved with was able to test the ability of these crops to be grown, along with legumes, so we are confident that this new fodder programme can be rolled-out on a wider and more sustainable scale.”

Mr Armstrong says the Nepal Agricultural Research Council and Department of Livestock Services will oversee in-country implementation and will also provide financial and in-kind support. Importantly, the farmers are enormously supportive and will be strongly involved in this participatory project.

“We are delighted that NZAID has seen the worth of this project to poor farming communities within Nepal. Livestock contribute significantly to incomes through milk production, provision of food and as draught power for land cultivation. If we can ensure that the animals are fitter through provision of high-quality fodder, as well as reducing the need for women to go out and gather the fodder, often over large distances, then we can expect to see significant improvements in the overall well-being of these rural communities.”

5 May 2008

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1.10  Golden wheat greens Kenya's drylands

Scientists and farmers pioneer hardier, healthier wheat through IAEA partnerships

Nairobi, Kenya
Hot and barren, Kenya´s dry lands have long been unfit for agriculture, at best merely a grazing area for wild animals and livestock.

Today, the landscape is more picturesque and productive, lined with golden stalks of wheat yielding precious grain for Kenya´s farms and families. The wheat is a new variety, one that is high yielding and resistant to drought. As a result, small farming families are realizing harvests on farmlands once considered too poor to cultivate, to the country´s social and economic benefit.

The progress is life-saving at a time when wheat crops in Kenya and other African countries are plagued by a virulent new strain of fungus called "wheat rust" that threatens the region´s farmlands.

"The progress is crucial. This wheat is literally Kenya´s bread of life," says Martin Dyre, whose family owns one of Kenya´s largest wheat plantations. "The diet of this country is changing more and more towards wheat-based products, so the demand for wheat is growing."

Scientists and crop researchers at Kenya´s Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) developed the new wheat seeds over the past decade. Through a process called "mutation plant breeding", they applied radiation-based techniques to modify crop characteristics and traits. Kenya worked closely with the IAEA, through its technical cooperation arm and a regional programme called AFRA (African Co-operative Agreement for Research, Development and Training related to Nuclear Science and Technology). In August 2008, through its Joint Division with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the IAEA will host an International Conference on Plant Breeding that takes stock of the latest developments in Kenya and other countries.

KARI is the country´s premier institution for agricultural research and technology transfer. Its plant breeders successfully released their first mutant wheat variety in 2001. Called Njoro-BW1, it was bred to be tolerant to drought and use limited rainfall efficiently. Key side benefits include a moderate resistance to wheat rust; high yields, with grains valued for flour production of good baking quality.

Njoro-BW1 today is cultivated on more than 10,000 hectares in Narok, Nalvasha, Katumani and Mogotio. Its popularity among Kenyan wheat farmers is increasing steadily, so much so that KARI´s seed unit can barely keep up with farmer´s demand.

Professor Miriam Kinyua, now an Associate Professor at Moi University and KARI´s former Chief Plant Breeder and Center Director, is largely credited for developing Kenya´s mutant wheat varieties.

"Njoro-BW1 came out as a hit variety", she recalls. "The farmers liked it from the start. In dry areas, they can expect to harvest up to 20 bags an acre. It is now our most popular wheat variety for the drylands".

Peter Njau, KARI´s chief plant breeder, says Njoro-BW1´s value goes beyond drylands.

"Although we developed the Njoro-BW1 variety for dry lowlands, it is being widely adapted in other areas", he says. Farmers have reported successfully growing the wheat in the highlands and even in the acidic soils of the northern rift, where it is outperforming other wheat varieties developed for those conditions.

Kenya´s plant breeders soon will release a second mutant wheat variety, code-named DH4, which shares most of the same good qualities of Njoro-BW1.

"DH4 is high-yielding, and has a high grain quality. It is also hard and red, qualities that farmers ask for because of its high market value," Professor Kinyua explains. Hard red grains distinguish as some of the world´s best wheat, high in protein and valued for making flour used for baking high-quality breads.

All Bread Does Not Bake Equal
One of KARI´s objectives is to develop good quality wheat bread for the country´s consumers, says Mr. Njau. The institute has conducted a comparison study of the different wheat varieties available in Kenya for their quality of bread, including Njoro-BW1 and the new DH4 variety.

Among varieties tested, Njoro-BW1 came out on top in flour extraction. DH4 also scored high in bread quality overall.

"You can tell the quality of bread just by pressing it", Mr. Njau illustrates. "If you press good bread, it just swells back. If it´s bad, it just sinks."

The tests showed that mutant wheat varieties produce better bread, outperforming even the parent strain in quality and yield.

Multiplying the Seed
With every new crop variety comes the challenge of stocking up on seed to meet expected demand. For KARI, the biggest issue most often is availability of land. KARI has its own fields but they are not large enough to meet farming needs, especially for a high-demand variety like Njoro-BW1.

Fortunately, for Kenya´s plant breeders, the country´s Cereal Growers Association (CGA), has provided needed land and support particularly in the area of seed multiplication. In the highlands of Timau, by the northern slopes of Mount Kenya, several hectares of prime wheat land are being dedicated for field trials for future plantings of DH4.

In November 2007, DH4 was being grown on a small scale in trials on some 40 hectares of farmland.

"These are the straw qualities wheat farmers are looking for", says Martin Dyre as he cuts a length of leaf from one of the plants. His family owns the vast Kisima Farm in Timau, Kenya; and he occupies a seat on the CGA Board. Kisima Farms has provided land and logistical support to Professor Kinyua and her team at KARI, particularly in times when resources were scarce to help ensure continuity of research and trials.

"We are happy to continue to support plant breeding activities of this kind," he says. "Good wheat is, in the end, good for all of us."

Lower down at the Wangu Embori Farm, Crop Supervisor Steven Irungu points to 70 hectares being planted with the Njoro-BW1 seeds. He is impressed about the variety´s high yield and plans to increase the acreage. The Wangu Embori Farm is another farm contracted by KARI for seed multiplication.

Wheat for Food Security
Wheat is the second most important cereal crop in Kenya, after maize. But the country produces just a third and has to import two-thirds of its annual wheat demand, now at vastly higher prices. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that as of January 2008, the global prices of wheat were 83% higher than they were a year ago.

Alongside market forces stands the wheat rust plague that threatens Kenya and other countries. New crop varieties, such as wheat that is more resistant to drought conditions or to the rust fungus, are vital for Kenya´s food security.

Professor Miriam Kinyua believes mutation techniques are among the best options for Kenya to develop better wheat varieties and other vegetatively propagated crops.

"The fact that we can link up with the IAEA is a plus both for Kenya and for African scientific research," she says.

Worldwide, issues of food supply and availability are intensifying in their urgency, says IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei.

"Food security is among the most challenging problems facing poor countries," he says. "Boosting agricultural production requires enhanced crop varieties, effective pest control measures, increased soil fertility and better soil and water management."

Under national and regional projects, the IAEA helps local scientists and farmers with nuclear techniques that support each of these goals, working through channels of technical cooperation as well as scientific research of the Vienna-based Joint FAO/IAEA Division. In the past five years, in Africa alone, six new varieties of crops have been officially released - plants with higher yield, improved nutrition, and more hardy characteristics for harsh environments. This includes new varieties of sesame in Egypt, cassava in Ghana, wheat in Kenya, banana in Sudan and finger millet and cotton in Zambia.

The idea is not only to boost food production, Dr. ElBaradei says, but also to sustain it through greener, more productive fields.

Rodolfo Quevenco, IAEA Division of Public Information

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) via
30 April 2008

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1.11  Home-grown maize seed solutions in southern and central Africa

El Batán, Mexico
Million-dollar vote of confidence from Mexican farmers and state officials
Nobel Peace Laureate Norman E. Borlaug anchors the announcement of a global, Cornell-coordinated project to combat a deadly wheat disease, and a Mexican farmer organization and Sonora officials pledge a million dollars for CIMMYT's work to secure wheat harvests for developing country farmers.

Home-grown maize seed solutions in southern and central Africa
Not content to let the lack of maize seed from the large, commercial companies deter maize production by small-scale farmers, community-based seed producers are moving in to fill the gap in southern and central Africa.

Victor Mulongo Mukalay, a former member of parliament, is now emerging as a small-scale maize seed entrepreneur in his home region of Lubumbashi, in Katanga province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In a province with nearly 750,000 households of small-scale farmers planting an average of 530,000 hectares of maize, it is unusual that there is no commercial seed company. Mukalay is working with his neighbors on three hectares of land to produce maize seed to fill this gap, and is planning to acquire a maize seed processing machine to enable him expand the scale of his operations.

“Although this is our first season, I’m very optimistic we’ll meet our target of producing enough good seed for 300 farm households,” he says. “I’d like to contribute in my small way to increasing the availability of quality seed of improved maize varieties for small-scale farmers.” Mukalay and his neighbors are multiplying breeders’ seed they receive through CIMMYT’s New Seed Initiative for Maize in Southern Africa (NSIMA). They are using the open-pollinated varities ZM623 and ZM721­developed by CIMMYT in Zimbabwe but showing good adaptability in the DRC. Variety ZM623, developed through CIMMYT research on drought tolerant maize for sub-Saharan Africa, is particularly popular with farmers, who like its intermediate maturity, disease resistance, and grain type.

“We’re encouraged by this interest from community-based seed producers who are investing their own resources in maize seed multiplication,” says John MacRobert, CIMMYT Zimbabwe seed specialist and NSIMA coordinator. “This will surely increase the availability of improved varieties to small-scale growers.”

Empowering farmers through partnerships
Two years ago, a cooperative project between World Vision International (WVI), Swaziland’s national research and extension system, and CIMMYT began working with a farmers’ group in rural Swaziland, providing technical and financial support for community-based seed production. Today, 86 farmers are proud owners of Lesibovu Community Company, involved in the seed production and marketing of the popular, drought tolerant variety ZM521. This season they will start producing and marketing certified seed of the newly released variety ZM611.

“The training we received from CIMMYT in seed production, certification, and marketing aspects was very useful in helping us scale up our production from just 25 kilos to approximately 41,000 kilos of seed annually,” says John Mamba, the group’s chairman. “We now feel empowered to produce good quality seed.” The company has purchased a simple seed packaging machine and developed its own packaging label.

“It was necessary to build the group’s capacity in producing open-pollinated varieties and hybrids, seed inspection procedures, and maize seed standards,” says Peter Setimela, CIMMYT maize breeder. “This was the only way of ensuring that they supply high-quality seed and of making them competitive in the market.”

Home-grown seed is best
The South African government, through the Limpopo Province Department of Agriculture, is also supporting similar initiatives. Although they began just eight years ago, these production have taken root and today are supplying as much as 5,000 kilograms of improved maize seed to hundreds of small-scale farmers who previously had little access to improved maize varieties. The bigger seed companies did not consider it good business sense to supply thousands of widely-dispersed, small-scale farmers. Through strategies such as marketing the seed in smaller, more affordable packets and working with rural traders, the schemes have increased access to and uptake of varieties such as ZM421 and ZM521. Farmers prefer ZM421, another variety from CIMMYT’s work, because of its comparatively stable yield, drought tolerance, and early maturity. The latter was especially attractive, because it eases the burden of guarding the crop from marauding baboons, a major menace. Farmers have also found ZM521 to be high-yielding and early-maturing, with good milling properties.

The South African National Seed Organization (SANSOR) has been involved in the certification of seed from the small-scale production schemes since 2002. SANSOR works closely with farmer producers to ensure their seed is of the required quality. Producers must register seed plots within 28 days after sowing, have plots inspected at different plant growth stages, and present seed samples for certification.

Being in close contact with farmers makes it easier to include their feedback in varietal improvement research or in key aspects of seed production, meaning for example that the varieties developed can be better suited to farmers' cropping settings.

Maize is a major food staple not just in South Africa but in most of sub-Saharan Africa. Through NSIMA, the South African government is investing in training and extending financial and material assistance to community-based seed producers. This in turn helps ensure small-scale farmers access to affordable, quality seed of improved maize varieties, enhancing their food security and incomes.

For more information: John MacRobert, seed systems specialist.

Source: CIMMYT E-newsletter vol 5 no 4 - April 2008

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1.12  US Patent Office rejects US company’s patent protection for bean commonly grown by Latin American farmers

Washington, DC

Controversial court patent case for simple yellow legume has become rallying point for “biopiracy” concerns

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today rejected all of the patent claims for a common yellow bean that has been a familiar staple in Latin American diets for more than a century.

The bean was erroneously granted patent protection in 1999, as US Patent Number 5,894,079, in a move that raised profound concerns about biopiracy and the potential abuse of intellectual property (IP) claims on plant materials that originate in the developing world and remain as important dietary staples, particularly among the poor.

A research center, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (known by its Spanish acronym, CIAT), which is supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), led the legal challenge to the patent through the USPTO’s reexamination process.

“We are happy that the patent office has reached a final decision in this case but remain concerned that the ex partes patent reexamination procedure meant that these patent claims remained in force for such a long time,” said Geoffrey Hawtin, Director General of CIAT, which has been fighting the patent since 2001. “For several years now, farmers in Mexico, the USA and elsewhere have unnecessarily endured legal threats and intimidation for simply planting, selling or exporting a bean that they have been growing for generations.”

At issue is a hearty and nutritious yellow bean­similar to the pinto bean­that is known to plant breeders as Phaseolus vulgaris but is commonly called azufrado or Mayocoba bean by Latin American farmers and consumers. In the 1990s, a Colorado man, Larry Proctor, bought some beans in a market in Mexico and after a few years of plantings, claimed he had developed what he called “a new field bean variety that produces distinctly colored yellow seed which remains relatively unchanged by season.” He dubbed it the “Enola bean,” filed a patent application and obtained a 20-year patent that covered any beans and hybrids derived from crosses with even one of his seeds.

Under USPTO rules, material published before a patent application that was not brought to the attention of the patent examiner can be used to reverse a granted claim. CIAT sought a reexamination [1] of the Enola patent. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and ETC Group (formerly RAFI, the Rural Advancement Foundation International), a Canada-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, also denounced the Enola bean patent.

CIAT was able to dispute the inventor’s claims to a unique color by providing published evidence of 260 yellow beans among the almost 28,000 samples of Phaseolus in its crop “genebank.” At least six of the CIAT varieties were, to most observers, identical to the bean described in Proctor’s patent documents on the basis of color and genetic markers. CIAT also put forward publications to show that the claims in the patent application took credit for research already widely available in scientific literature and thus claims made regarding the breeding of the bean in his patent also failed to meet the patent office’s statutory requirements for “non-obviousness and novelty.”

In addition, CIAT pointed out that Proctor had not obtained a permit to export the beans from Mexico and that a version of the bean variety in question had been released to the public by the Mexican government in the 1970s.

Yet Proctor actively enforced his patent. At one point, the patent-holder’s US$0.6-claim on every pound of yellow beans sold in the United States caused a steep decline in exports of such beans from Mexico to the USA, according to Mexican government sources.

The patent office issued a preliminary decision in 2003 rejecting all the patent claims and gave a final rejection in December 2005. Proctor filed an appeal through the USPTO, and in accordance with USPTO rules, the patent remained in force while the appeal was being considered by the Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences (BPAI). Proctor can still appeal the USPTO decision in the US federal courts, all the way to the Supreme Court venue, a costly move; if he so chooses.

“We understand that individuals and companies have a right to patent what are clearly novel agriculture innovations,” said Hawtin. “But when food crops are involved, particularly crops that have been used for years, governments have a duty to ensure that they have been presented with a clearly distinct and novel discovery and that the plant material used in the research and development was lawfully obtained. Agricultural researchers have a responsibility to make sure that publications are easily available to patent examiners.”

CIAT officials said that, while they were concerned about the immediate economic impact of the Enola patent, more broadly, they worried that the patent would establish a precedent threatening public access to plant germplasm­the genetic material that comprises the inherited qualities of an organism­held in trust by CIAT and research centers worldwide.

The CIAT genebank is one of 11 maintained worldwide by the CGIAR, where crop materials such as seeds, stems and tubers are held in trust with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The genebanks house a total of about 600,000 plant varieties in publicly accessible collections, which are viewed as the pillar of global efforts to conserve agriculture biodiversity and maintain global food security. Plant breeders in both the public and private sectors are constantly seeking access to these resources to help them breed new types of crop varieties, particularly when existing varieties are threatened by pests or disease.

“Hopefully, this case can help guide future reviews of patent applications and future preventive actions on the part of the CGIAR Centers, so that farmers who have been growing a particular variety for over 100 years will not wake up one day to discover that their traditional crops have suddenly become someone else’s intellectual property,” said Victoria Henson-Apollonio, Manager of the CGIAR Central Advisory Service on Intellectual Property (CAS-IP), the CGIAR office charged with assisting the Centers on matters of IP.

CIAT’s patent challenge is part of the CGIAR’s ongoing effort to ensure that intellectual property claims regarding plant materials do not falsely seek to privatize materials already in widespread use. The challenge was endorsed by the FAO and the Genetic Resource Policy Committee of the CGIAR.

30 April 2008

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1.13  Companies have applied for patents on climate-tolerant crop genes

Some of the world's major agri-biotech companies are applying for hundreds of patents on genetically engineered 'climate crops', carrying out what amounts to an "intellectual property grab" in the lucrative market, according to a recent report.

BASF, Monsanto and Syngenta have applied for patents to control almost two-thirds of gene families resistant to environmental stresses that will increase with climate change, according to the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) Group, a Canada-based civil society organisation.

About 530 patents have been applied for worldwide, with a few dozen granted and hundreds pending. They include traits such as drought, flooding, high salt level, high temperatures and ultraviolet radiation ­ all of which endanger food security.

The report says that this move could hinder farmers in the developing world. Patents demand that farmers purchase new seeds every year, rather than saving seeds for subsequent re-plantation.

Control of the seed industry by only a few multinationals may undermine publicly- funded creation of freely available crop varieties, the report says, as well as using the dominance of the crops to tap into previously resistant markets.

Spokespeople from the companies said that they should be acknowledged for developing climate-change resistant crop varieties ­ which would not have occurred without patent protections.

But others say that both sides have oversimplified the argument. Richard Jefferson, from Cambia, an organisation that helps companies work together on patents, says it's not patents but the lack of competition that is the problem.

"We don't have the economic ecology that lets other companies compete with [the large multinationals]… the big guys end up in a place like a cartel".

Link to full article in The Washington Post

Source: The Washington Post via
16 May 2008

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1.14  Let's focus on solutions to 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.”

Contact: Adam Barclay
International Rice Research Institute

11 April 2008

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1.15  NIAB scientists advise farmers on feeding “rocket fuel” to livestock

13 May 2008
Innovative research scientists at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany are evaluating new forage crops to provide “rocket fuel” for livestock.

They will share their skills and expertise at Grassland & Muck 2008 and showcase the latest in crop technology. A high ranking NIAB team will attend the event at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire next Wednesday and Thursday, 21 and 22 May, led by Forage Manager, Don Pendergrast. Grassland is aimed at challenging producers to plan grass and muck as an essential asset for profitable meat and milk production.

Mr Pendergrast believes that the doubling of wheat prices, once a cheap source of energy to feed livestock, means that producers must consider alternative feed for livestock so they can remain profitable. A new booklet is to be launched at Grassland advising on this.  The list compares new varietal developments with the current best.

Mr Pendergrast said:
“Producers need to reduce the cost of feed, but maintain or even improve productivity, and this is a huge challenge for them with today’s escalating prices, which are ultimately passed on to the consumer. For many years livestock producers have selected their pedigree animals carefully, always looking for better genetics to improve yield, as well as improve ruminant efficiency. Today we have a highly tuned animal capable of producing 10,000L of milk a year, but in many cases they have not given this animal the best fuel, but instead fed it the cheapest fuel source.

“At NIAB we have been working for over 50 years to give growers the best chance of giving their animal rocket fuel, be it beef, dairy, pig or poultry production. And today, more than ever, this work is critically important so that producers can implement the best crop technology solutions to ensure they are improving their productivity. This will help ensure a better future for UK farming.

“I hope farmers and producers will study our free booklet closely, the NIAB Descriptive and Recommended Lists. It is an important evaluating tool to help them decide on the most suited forage crop. Good grassland production will mean improved productivity and profits. Over the last 12 years, the recommended lists have seen average increases of 5% in yield and over 2% in digestibility, equating to 10% in animal output. It is a win-win situation.”

Good grassland also means having varieties which stay free from foliar diseases. There are many diseases which occur on grasses and resistance to them is a valuable trait. NIAB pathologists evaluate resistance in the national trials programme and the NIAB/BSPB testing system provides the only comprehensive source of information on resistance to grass diseases.

Plant breeders are also studying the impact that different animal feed and forage types have on the environment once it has been excreted, in view of new stricter legislation covering environmental pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorus are present in large quantities in animal excrement and levels discharged on to the land and water courses must be restricted to meet new set levels. NIAB has been studying the genetics and agronomy of feed and forage crops in order to overcome these difficulties and maintain economic returns of livestock farmers.  From: "E

Contributed by Ellee Seymour

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1.16  First field tests of Golden Rice in the Philippines

The Philippines
In the Philippines, the variety of grain known as “Golden Rice” has been subject to field trials since the beginning of April. Genetically modified to contain higher quantities of pro-vitamin A, this rice may be available to farmers as early as 2011. Information on the status of its field trials has been provided by Mr Gerard Barry, coordinator of the Golden Rice Network and staff member of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

By nature, vitamin A is almost completely absent from rice. Diseases caused by this deficiency are widespread in many Asian countries in which the grain serves as a dietary staple. Through the use of gene technology, researchers have developed a variety of the plant that produces greater proportions of beta-carotene, a compound which may be processed by the human body into vitamin A. The rice also displays an enhanced iron content and, in the grains, the presence of such enhanced levels of beta-carotene results in a yellow tint that has prompted the name of “Golden Rice”.

Original field trials with Golden Rice already took place in Louisiana, USA, in 2004. The grain was crossed with other rice types that were adapted to local conditions in developing countries and which are to be distributed free of cost to small farmers.

Globally, the Philippines is one of the most important importers of rice. Representing six per cent of the national land area, only 1.9 million hectares of irrigated fields are available for local rice production. In comparison, Thailand and Vietnam cultivate rice on 9.9 and 7.5 million hectares respectively, representing nineteen and twenty-three per cent of their land areas.

Genetically modified rice has played no role to date in the production of nutrition. Nonetheless, in China, India and Indonesia, as well as in the Philippines, its commercial cultivation may be expected in the near future.

Source: GMO Compass via
19 April 2008

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1.17  Cartagena Protocol on trade in GMOs: UN conference discusses liability rules
On Monday, the fourth UN conference on biological safety (MOP 4) began in Bonn, Germany. Representatives from 147 nations that have ratified the Cartagena Protocol will be discussing the implementation of this international agreement on the cross-border movement of living modified organisms (LMOs) until Friday. The main aim is to expand the scope of the agreement to include binding rules on liability and redress.

Cartagena Protocol on trade in GMOs: UN conference discusses liability rules - Biosafety research made transparent
The internet portal provides up-to-date, clear information about the research projects funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) on the biological safety of genetically modified plants. A comprehensive database with summaries of the research topics, methods and results is supplemented by background reports and interviews and insights into the day-to-day work of researchers. The portal makes the findings of biological safety research accessible to the general public and is intended to help people form an informed opinion. It is produced on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research by the project partners Genius GmbH, Darmstadt; TransGen, Aachen and the TÜV Nord Group.
Copyright notice:
All articles and reports on are protected by copyright. The rights are held by the project network partners concerned or by the named authors. However, the editorial team grants press organs and journalists the right to use, save and duplicate, in whole or in part, the texts displayed on this website, for journalistic purposes within the applicable press and copyright law and with an acknowledgement of the source Printouts and online publication are free of charge. However, we would be pleased to receive a voucher copy.

Contributed Sandra Wilcken,

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1.18  Food crop diversity is key to sustainability

Thousands of traditional crop species could help break dependence on a few global food crops, and offer valuable environmental services, says Monty Jones

Only 150 crop species are grown commercially on a global scale, with wheat and maize alone providing over half of the world's protein and calorie needs. Another 7,000 species play crucial roles in poor people's livelihoods but are otherwise underutilised.

These underutilised species have important traditional uses for food, fibre, fodder, vegetable oil and medicines. But they also have unexploited commercial potential and, if used more widely, could provide important environmental services.

They could be developed to improve food security, alleviate poverty, improve nutrition, raise incomes, and sustain critical and fragile ecosystems.

Growing them commercially could make a vital contribution to halting and indeed reversing the loss of biodiversity in farming systems ­ which will be the inevitable result of continued reliance on a narrow portfolio of crops.

Irreplaceable resources
A variety of factors work against maintaining agricultural biodiversity. But among the most important is a lack of knowledge and awareness of agricultural diversity's intrinsic value to society, and its potential for development. Sustainable agricultural systems depend on a diversity of species to withstand attacks ­ from present and future diseases, pests, climate and other environmental changes ­ as well as unpredictable social, economic and market demands.

This lack of awareness means inadequate attention and insufficient investment has been given to conserving biodiversity by actually using it. And this is contributing to the loss of irreplaceable genetic resources that are endemic to Africa. The seriousness of this situation has spurred the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA, an umbrella organisation for organisations engaged in agricultural research and development in Africa) to support Biodiversity International's Agricultural Biodiversity Initiative for Africa.

The initiative aims to conserve and sustainably use agricultural biodiversity by galvanising countries and institutions to work together on the problem and give it greater importance. This will be pursued in the preparations for the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn, Germany, in May 2008.

Future food and environmental security must not be sacrificed for short-term financial gains. Protecting against this requires a concerted and holistic approach. For example, gene banks need to be responsive to both the farming and the scientific communities. They also need support from policies that attract scientists to work on underutilised crops and encourage farmers to commercialise them.

Reviving a rice cultivar
The revival of the African rice cultivar Oryza glaberrima is a good example of the potential benefits to be derived from making better use of non-commercial crops.

In the 1990s, researchers at WARDA (the African rice centre) began to screen their holdings of African rice cultivars. They had discovered that O. glaberrima had a number of agronomic properties that are valued by farmers who have limited access to agricultural inputs. Yet O. glaberrima was underutilised and endangered. This influenced the decision to hybridise O. glaberrima with Asian rice O. sativa. The aim was to capture the high yields of O. sativa but reduce unwanted characteristics like lodging and shattering while gaining the high stress-resistance of African glaberrima. The successful hybrids were released as NERICA (new rices for Africa) types.

Today, the NERICAs are being widely adopted by Africa's rice farmers. They are opening new opportunities for sustainable agricultural development, especially in rainfed environments.

Heeding calls to action
Rwandan President Paul Kagame signalled another potentially crucial shift in approach when he called for conservation to be seen not only as a government responsibility, but also as a business opportunity for both mainstream enterprises and small business.

Speaking at the First International Research Conference on Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Natural Resource Management in Kigali in 2007, he also made it clear that the only sustainable way of guaranteeing the success of a biodiversity agenda ­ and indeed of conserving any natural resources ­ is to ensure that policy actions lead to socioeconomic transformation and improved livelihoods.

FARA is following up President Kagame's comments. The organisation is making biodiversity conservation central to its efforts to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals of eliminating hunger and poverty by using natural resources sustainably.

Africa is fortunate to have a wealth of underutilised species. They can help achieve these goals. But it will not happen by chance. FARA is committed to raising awareness and improving understanding of what needs to be done to use and conserve Africa's diverse crop species.

M. P. Jones is executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, Ghana

M. P. Jones

17 April 2008

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1.19  Ancient sunflower fuels debate about agriculture in the Americas

Researchers confirm evidence of domesticated sunflower in Mexico ­ 4,000 years earlier than previously believed

Cincinnati, Ohio
“People sometimes ask “What is the big deal about sunflower?” says David Lentz, professor of biological sciences and executive director of the Center for Field Studies in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Cincinnati (UC). Lentz worked with Mary Pohl from Florida State University, José Luis Alvarado from Mexico’s Institute of Anthropology and History, and Robert Bye from the Independent National University of Mexico.

“First of all, sunflower is one of the world's major oil seed crops and understanding its ancestry is important for modern crop-breeding purposes," Lentz says. "For a long time, we thought that sunflower was domesticated only in eastern North America, in the middle Mississippi valley ­ Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois. This is what traditional textbooks say. Now it appears that sunflower was domesticated independently in Mexico."

"The Mexican sunflower discovery suggests that there may have been some cultural exchange between eastern North America and Mesoamerica at a very early time,” Lentz adds. “Now the textbooks need to be rewritten.”

More than just a matter of pride over which part of America can claim a flower, the debate centers on when sunflower was domesticated and which civilization first cultivated it. Now there is solid evidence that two similar events took place thousands of years and hundreds of miles apart.

Lentz and his fellow researchers have documented archaeological, linguistic, ethnographic and ethnohistoric data demonstrating that the sunflower had entered the repertoire of Mexican domesticates by 2600 B.C., that its cultivation was widespread in Mexico and extended as far south as El Salvador by the first millennium B.C., that it was well known to the Aztecs, and that it is still in use by traditional Mesoamerican cultures today. (People of the Americas made huge contributions to today’s society in terms of agriculture, including the development of a number of valuable crops such as corn, peppers, beans, cotton, squash, chocolate, tomatoes and avocadoes, as well as sunflower.)

But it is unknown if the Mexican domestication and North American domestication are related. So is it coincidence? Did one cause the other? Or did they both happen because of some other common outside factor?

“Whatever conclusions we draw, the evidence clearly shows that sunflower as a Mexican crop goes back far into antiquity,” says Lentz.

In addition to the biogeographic study of sunflower, the researchers conducted archaeological, linguistic, ethnographic and ethnohistorical research, collecting data from many fields of study.

Archaeological evidence of sunflower in Mexico has been rare, probably for a number of reasons. First, the way it was used may not have been conducive to deposition in archaeological sites. Second, climatic conditions, especially in the Neotropics, have bad properties of preservation for plant parts so most things just rot away. Finally, archaeological research strategies in many areas of Mesoamerica focus more on monumental architecture and less on agricultural developments. That is, you are unlikely to find something if you are not looking for it.

Nevertheless, sunflower achenes (this is what most of us call the seed, but it is actually the fruit of the sunflower, containing the seed) were found in Mexico in situations where the preservation was especially good. Cueva del Gallo was a dry cave and the sunflower achenes there were in pristine condition. San Andrés was a waterlogged site and the sunflower remains from that site were also well preserved. Using accelerator mass spectrometry, the sunflowers at San Andrés were found to be older than 2600 B.C.

The researchers also asked indigenous people in Mexico what terms they used for the sunflower.

“They described how they used sunflower and told us the name in their native language,” says Lentz. “The names they used for sunflower were all unique, not related to Spanish. That tells us the use of sunflower is older than the Spanish expeditions of the 15th and 16th centuries." 

The Otomi, one of the Mexican indigenous groups interviewed, use the name “dä nukhä,” which translates to “big flower that looks at the sun god,” a reference to pre-Columbian solar worship. The sunflower is commonly still used as an ornament in their churches.

“When asked about sunflowers, people of the Nahua culture in Mexico, descendants of the Aztecs gave us a clue to help interpret early historic texts,” describes Lentz. “The modern Nahua use two words for sunflower: ‘chimalxochitl,’ which means ‘shield flower,’ or ‘chimalacatl,’ which means ‘shield reed,’ which is also a reference to its hollow stem and large,  disk-like head (that resembles an Aztec shield). These terms led us to sunflower references to listed in early chronicles of 16th century Aztec society, including ‘The Florentine Codex,’ written by Fray Bernardino de Sahagun. In the Florentine Codex, the sunflower is described as part of an offering to the Sun God, 'Huitzilopochtli.'"

The researchers point out, the sunflower’s association with solar worship and warfare in Mexico may have led to its suppression after the Spanish Conquest.

“Sunflower was believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac, which could have also contributed to its being banned by the Spanish priests,” Lentz says with a smile. “Of course, it is not but this belief was probably part of the case against sunflowers.”

“Mesoamerica had a thriving culture, a grand civilization,” Lentz notes. “They had irrigation systems, monumental construction, agriculture and a complex society.

The group's research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) as “Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) as a Pre-Columbian Domesticate in Mexico” with UC’s David Lentz as lead author and co-authors Mary Pohl from Florida State, José Luis Alvarado from Mexico’s Institute of Anthropology and History and Robert Bye from the Independent National University of Mexico. (Lentz’s student, Somayeh Tarighat, is also a co-author on the paper.)

“The discovery of ancient sunflower in Mexico refines our knowledge of domesticated Mesoamerican plants and adds complexity to our understanding of cultural evolution,” the authors state in the paper.

Lentz’s research on the biogeography of sunflower is also being published at the same time as the cover story for the International Journal of Plant Sciences, “Ecological Niche Modeling and Distribution of Wild Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) in Mexico,” with co-authors Robert Bye and Victor Sánchez-Cordero from the Independent National University of Mexico (UNAM).

“Beyond the recognition of the great cultures due these early peoples, there are very real lessons that we can learn from them. As we deal with our modern-day issues of global warming and as we evaluate and examine what crops will survive and thrive in warmer climates, the ancient Aztecs might have some valuable lessons to teach us ­ and the descendants of the Aztecs may have valuable sunflower seed stocks to help improve our modern agricultural capability.”

This research was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society.

By: Wendy Beckman

29 April 2008

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1.20  Plant genetic resource of under-utilized crops: A case study of jackfruit from Bangladesh

A field study has been carried out in several villages of Bangladesh on the changes in characters of Jackfruit in response to human selection. Jackfruit, Artocarpus heterophyllus (Moraceae) is one of the major member of phytodiversity of biodiversity rich Southeast Asia.  No one knows the jackfruit’s accurate place of origin but it is believed indigenous to the rainforests of the Western Ghats and the Andaman Islands (India).The jackfruit tree is monoecious, male and female flowers appear on same tree. But male and female flowers are born in separate flower heads.  A wide and undocumented diversity of this species has been observed all over the Bangladesh and India. This being a multipurpose tree  yielding food, fodder, timber and fuel, has played an important role in the rural economy of Bangladesh. As a cross pollinated and seed propagated species, the diversity in jackfruit population results from the breeding system, natural and human selection associated with the local environmental differences (evolution) or preferences of the local community cultivating these (domestication). As an under-utilized species, jackfruit has, till recently, escaped intensive selection and cultivation, as wide variety of trees observed in numerous villages of Bangladesh and India exhibiting a wide range of variation in vegetative and reproductive characters. A survey has been made to document the diversity of jackfruit trees within a region where a rich variability of the species is expected which will shed light  on the change in characteristics of the plant due to the pressure of cultivation and selection in the villages. Three categories were considered: (a) plants in the homesteads and planted by inhabitants ( ‘cultivated’),  (b) plants near homesteads in public places might or might not be planted  ( ‘semi-wild’) and  (c) plants away from homestead, definitely not planted by villagers  (‘wild’). In all 300 plants from each of the three habitats e.g. a total of 900 plants were sampled, within each habitat types included randomly. Measurements for characters which were both quasi-qualitative and quantitative were taken following standard description of the IPGRI Descriptor Book (2000). All the seven tree characters (Tree vigor, Age of tree, Canopy structure, Branching density, Branching type, Trunk surface and Branching pattern) exhibited wide variation, similarly, the five leaf characters scored (Leaf blade shape, Leaf apex shape, Leaf base shape, Texture of leaf and Leaf color) exhibited large range of character differences, so were the eight qualitative reproductive characters ( Fruit bearing position, Fruit shape, Stalk attachment to fruit, Fruit rind color, Shape of spine, Fruit attraction) exhibited wide range of variation except fruit surface and spine density. The results from other reproductive and fruit characters strongly indicate a developing pattern to the hypothesized habitat difference. The qualitative, quasi-qualitative characters show more differences between “Planted” with “Not Planted”/ “‘Undetermined” categories. Thus, an indication of genetic differentiation among the jackfruit populations is clear, also that this species has not undergone rigorous domestication has been confirmed. The pattern of changes in the quantitative characters due to cultivation and domestication, and the morphological and fruit characters indicated a trend; wider leaf and larger fruit have been selected.

Plant Genetic Resources  are crucial in feeding the worlds population. They are the raw material that farmers and plant breeders use to improve the quality and productivity of our crops. The future of agriculture depends on conservation, sustainable use and the open exchange of the crops, trees and their genes that are present in the farmers’ fields and lands. On-farm conservation of plants genetic resource is the continued cultivation and management of a diverse set of crop populations by farmers in the agroecosystems where crop has evolved. It is dynamic and is aimed at maintaining the evolutionary processes that continue to shape this diversity. The conservation of cultigens, wild genotypes and existing trees scattered all over Bangladesh have also to be identified for genetic diversity and ensured for on-farm conservation for long term sustainable use and conservation. Several reports indicated a moderate level of erosion of genetic diversity of jackfruit has already taken place due to human selection,  cutting down of mature trees for timber and cleaning of land for agriculture, flooding in recent years also resulted in deaths of jackfruit trees. Many villagers expressed their willingness to participate in any plant conservation program but they emphasized on a well defined long term program with government or NGO  involvement for sustainability of the attempt.

The survey was carried out by researchers (M.I.Zuberi and R. Khan) of the Department of Botany, University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh during the Summer of 2007’, for more information please contact: or

Contributed by Iqbal Zuberi

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1.21  Scientists find 'yield-improving rice gene'

The newly discovered gene may help improve rice yields

[BEIJING] Chinese scientists have identified a rice gene that could simultaneously control the crop's yield, plant height, and number of days to flowering.

Publishing their study in Nature Genetics online this month (4 May), researchers from Wuhan-based Huazhong Agricultural University (HZAU) say the gene could play a role in improving rice productivity.

The scientists found that in individual rice breeds, the three traits appear strong –– or weak –– simultaneously.

"This fact makes us infer that the three traits were controlled by a single gene," says Xing Yongzhong, one of the lead authors and a professor at HZAU.

Previous studies have found that a region on chromosome seven of rice can regulate all three traits but the specific gene involved had not been discovered.

The HZAU scientists mapped the relevant gene site on chromosome seven and located the specific gene named Ghd7. They discovered that shorter rice plants with fewer grains per cluster of flowers and earlier flowering do not have the gene Ghd7.

When they transferred Ghd7 into Ghd7-free varieties of rice, they found that time to flowering was increased by 105 per cent, they grew around 70 per cent taller, and the plants had more rice grains per cluster of flowers.

Numerous rice genes have been reported to control such traits alone, but Ghd7 is notable because of its large, multiple effects on an array of traits, write the authors.

Xing told SciDev.Net that the gene could be incorporated into varieties with traditional breeding. "Although we have used the genetically modified method in the study, we need not adopt this method in the practical seeding because the gene is identified from the rice itself."

The team of scientists also studied the status of Ghd7 in 19 rice varieties from rice growing in a wide geographic range in Asia and found five different versions of the gene.

"We are exploring the subtypes of Ghd7-containing rice that are most suitable to their growing regions, so as to cultivate the most appropriate high-output rice varieties," Xing adds.

Huang Dafang, former director of the Institute of Biotechnologies of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, welcomes the study as a major scientific breakthrough.

But he says that usually, multiple genes regulate the traits related to rice yields, and whether the Ghd7 could play its claimed role in promoting yields needs further research and seeding tests.
Jia Hepeng

Link to full paper in Nature Genetics
Nature Genetics
doi 10.1038/ng.143 (2008)

14 May 2008

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1.22  Natural variation in Ghd7 is an important regulator of heading date and yield potential in rice

Natural genetic variant regulates yield potential in rice

Researchers have identified a gene that has significant effects on yield potential in rice, as well as adaptability of rice to temperate climates. The study, published online this week in Nature Genetics, has implications for rice productivity.
The productivity of many crop plants, including rice, is determined by yield potential, plant height and flowering time. Previous studies have identified a region on chromosome 7 that affected all three traits, but the specific gene involved has not yet been pinpointed.

Qifa Zhang and colleagues found that rice plants that are shorter, have fewer grains per cluster of flowers, and flower earlier - all traits that reduce yield - have a complete deletion of the gene Ghd7. The restoration of Ghd7 expression in plants with the deletion had considerable effects on yield-related traits, including a doubling of the time to flowering and a 67% increase in height.

The authors also determined the status of Ghd7 in 19 rice varieties from rice growing in a wide geographic range in Asia. Five different versions of Ghd7 were found. The most highly active versions were present in warmer regions, allowing rice plants to fully exploit light and temperature by delaying flowering and increasing yield. Less active or inactive versions were found in cooler regions, enabling rice to be cultivated in areas where the growing season is shorter.

Source: Checkbiotech and Nature Genetics via
4 May 2008

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1.23  Tomato stands firm in face of fungus

Tomato stands firm in face of fungus; molecular study provides the key

Scientists at the University of Amsterdam have discovered how to keep one’s tomatoes from wilting – the answer lies at the molecular level. The story of how the plant beat the pathogen, and what it means for combating other plant diseases, is published May 9th in the open-access journal PLoS Pathogens.

Farmers and fellow agriculturalists are continuously battling the ability of plant pathogens to co-evolve alongside their host’s immune system. In agriculture, the most environmentally friendly way to combat the evolutionary change in plant diseases is to make use of the innate immune system of plants. Growers can cross into targeted plant varieties certain polymorphic resistance genes that occur in related plants, thereby naturally boosting the plant’s immune system.

In this study, Dr. Martijn Rep and his team explored the molecular basis of this previously established concept of crossing in resistance genes. The authors considered the interaction between a fungal pathogen, Fusarium oxysporum, and the tomato plant in which the fungus causes Fusarium wilt disease.

The group found that a small protein secreted by some strains of the fungus causes it to overcome two of the tomato’s disease resistance genes. However, a third resistance gene was shown to specifically target this suppressor protein, rendering the plant fully immune to any fungal strain that produces the protein. Thus, with the right set of resistance genes, tomatoes can beat the fungus despite the latter’s “molecular tricks.”

“This molecular analysis has revealed a hitherto unpredicted strategy for durable disease control based on resistance gene combinations,” say the authors.

Contact: Mary Kohut
Public Library of Science

8 May 2008

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1.24  Warning over virulent strain of late blight on potato in Scotland

Farmers have learned how to deal with potato blight in the 160 years since Ireland's great famine, and the advent of modern agro-chemicals has done much to cut crop losses. However, the disease, which is caused by the fungus _Phytophthora infestans_, has mutated over the years and the current strain is especially virulent.

Rob Clayton of the Potato Council, the organisation funded by growers, said: "We're now dealing with a different type of blight. We are expecting an early start to the season and control measures may have to remain tight. Growers should be deciding their control strategy around how this type behaves in the field. This year [2008], more than ever, best practice really does mean best practice."

Blight is the number-one potato disease, and while Scottish crops tend to be less susceptible because of a generally cooler and less humid climate than in England, losses can still be considerable.
Growers throughout the UK are estimated to spend at least GBP 20 million (about USD 39.6 million) each year on blight control.

Clayton recommends constant vigilance of all potato crops from emergence early next month [May 2008] and advises growers to discuss spraying programmes with an agronomist. Growers might be well advised to vary the mix of chemicals throughout the season. The Potato Council runs a combined "Fight Against Blight" and "Blightwatch"
service to provide early warnings of disease outbreaks. Clayton said:
"It is vital that growers make good use of these services. This is now an integral part of Britain's defence in the battle against blight, and the 350 'blight scouts' play a crucial role in supplying samples and identifying actual outbreaks."

Source: The Scotsman [edited] via
29 April 2008

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1.25  UC Davis researchers discover genes for frost tolerance in wheat

Davis, California
The genes responsible for the wide range of freezing temperatures that can be tolerated by different wheat varieties have been identified by a team of U.S. and European scientists, led by a plant scientist at the University of California, Davis.

The study results suggest that the genes that regulate frost-tolerance are activated at milder temperatures (53-59 degrees F) in frost-tolerant wheat varieties than in frost-susceptible varieties.

The findings, reported in the March issue of the journal Plant Molecular Biology, are important for better understanding winter injury, a major economic risk factor in producing wheat.

"It has been difficult for wheat breeders to develop more winter-hardy varieties because frost tolerance in wheat is a complex trait that is regulated by many genes," said Professor Jorge Dubcovsky, a wheat breeder and geneticist.

"The identification of these genes will enable breeders to develop hardier, more productive wheat varieties, which is of vital importance in light of growing pressures to increase global food production," he said.

As the world's leading exporter of wheat, the United States annually produces more than 50 million metric tons of wheat, which is used to make a broad spectrum of food products ranging from breads to pastas.

This study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, the Hungarian Wheat Spike Consortia, the Hungarian National Research Fund, the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Program and the Ohio Plant Biotechnology Consortium.

The study is part of an ongoing research program by Dubcovsky and colleagues to uncover the genetic basis of important wheat traits.

More information on this research is available at

28 April 2008

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1.26  Combining ability and heterosis under pest epidemics in a broad-based global wheat-breeding population


1 International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Apdo. Postal 6-641, Mexico, DF, Mexico, 2 National Agricultural Research Organization, PO Box 421, Kabale, Uganda; 3 Planteforsk, Njøs, 6861,Leikanger, Norway

Wheat breeders rarely apply population improvement schemes or select parental sources according to combining ability and heterotic patterns. They rely on pedigree selection methods for breeding new cultivars. This experiment was undertaken to assess the advantages of using diallel crosses to define combining ability and understand heterosis in a broad-based wheat-breeding population across different environments affected by yellow rust. Sixty-four genotypes derived from a full diallel mating scheme were assessed for grain yield in two contrasting growing seasons at two locations for two consecutive years. Parental genotypes showed significant combining ability for grain yield that was affected by yellow rust and genotype-byenvironment (GE) interactions, both of which affected heterosis for grain yield. Significant GE interactions suggested that decentralized selection for specific environments could maximize the use of this wheat germplasm. Cultivar effects and specific heterosis were the most important factors influencing grain yield. Some crosses capitalized on additive genetic variation for grain yield. This research shows the power of available quantitative breeding tools to help breeders choose parental sources in a population improvement programme.

Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz (CIMMYT\)

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1.27  Australian germplasm could give U.S. sunflowers improved resistance to fungal diseases

Washington, DC
Improved disease resistance could be in store for tomorrow's sunflower hybrids, thanks to plants that Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists collected in Australia last year and are now evaluating in greenhouse trials in Fargo, N.D.

ARS plant pathologist Tom Gulya and botanist Gerald Seiler traveled to Australia in early 2007 in hopes of identifying new genes that could be incorporated into American sunflower hybrids for improved resistance to fungal diseases including downy mildew, rust and Sclerotinia stalk rot.

Gulya considers stalk rot enough of an economic threat to the U.S. sunflower crop that incorporating even partial resistance from the Aussie plants would be worthwhile. He and Seiler, who are both in the ARS Sunflower Research Unit at Fargo, made the trip with funding from the ARS Plant Exchange Office. With the assistance of a team from the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPIF) in Queensland, Australia, Gulya and Seiler collected 59 populations of the wild sunflower species Helianthus annuus and H. debilis.

In the fall of 2007, they began greenhouse trials to evaluate the plants' fungal disease resistance, as well as to analyze their seed oil content and fatty acid composition. A University of British Columbia collaborator will compare the plants' genetic profiles to those of American wild sunflowers. This could reveal whether the Aussie sunflowers have undergone significant genetic changes since arriving in the Land Down Under more than 100 years ago from America.

Gulya and Seiler estimate their sunflower expedition took them on a journey of more than 6,200 miles through Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. On average, they and the DPIF team gathered 6,000 sunflower seeds per collection. This included plants from yards, hedgerows, municipal garbage dumps and other sites.

Read more about the research in the May/June 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
By Jan Suszkiw

Source :
13 May 2008

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1.28  Zinc link made in barley breeding

Western Australia
Chromosomal regions conferring zinc efficiency in barley, recently identified by three WA researchers, could have important implications for improving the zinc status of the human diet.

Behzad Sadeghzadeh, PhD student and Professor Zed Rengel, both of the School of Earth and Geographical Sciences, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (FNAS) at The University of Western Australia (UWA), worked with Dr Chengdao Li from the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) on the project.

Professor Rengel said the discovery of genetic markers contributing to improved barley productivity and nutritional quality in zinc-deficient environments is promising because as an essential trace element for humans, zinc has a crucial role in more than 300 enzymes in the human body.
According to Professor Rengel, zinc is vital for physical and mental development, fertility, vision and resistance to infections, yet many of the world’s soils and therefore foods are zinc-deficient.
“Zinc deficiency is a problem in many developing countries and is the fifth leading cause of diseases, especially diarrhoea and pneumonia in children.”

Mr Sadeghzadeh, whose PhD is supported by the Government of Iran, discovered that some barleys grow and yield well, even in zinc-deficient soils, because they are zinc efficient and have zinc-dense seed.
A doubled-haploid population of 150 barley lines derived from a cross between a zinc-inefficient Australian cultivar, ‘Clipper’ and a zinc-efficient Algerian wild barley, ‘Sahara 3771’, were screened for seed zinc content under field conditions at UWA’s Shenton Park Field Research Station.

Comprehensive molecular mapping of doubled-haploid populations, using 302 markers, enabled Mr Sadeghzadeh to identify quantitative trait loci for zinc accumulation in barley seed.

“Two regions on chromosome 2H in barley associated with zinc concentration and content in seed could explain 45 per cent and 59 per cent of the total variation in the seed zinc concentration and content, respectively,” he said.

“Identifying molecular markers linked to genetic loci controlling seed zinc will allow more rapid and efficient screening of barley lines than traditional techniques.

“By selecting lines with zinc-dense seed, barley breeders will be able to produce cultivars that yield better in zinc-deficient soils and also contribute required amounts of zinc to the human diet,” Mr Sadeghzadeh said.

16 April 2008

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1.29  From the journal Science: Special Online Collection: Plant Genomes

(Note: full access requires subscription or payment per article)

In the 25 April 2008 issue, Science explores how current knowledge of plant genomes is lending insights to investigations from biochemistry to ecosystems. Perspectives discuss a range of topics including plant genome structure and organization, the effects of natural variation on phenotype, and plant metabolism, while articles in the News section highlight some of the successes and challenges facing genetically modified plants. Online, an interactive feature including informational graphics, video clips, and more, as well as accompanying Web resources, explore how plant genome research is contributing to our understanding of plant biology and evolution and leading to tangible benefits for society. And takes a look at the variety of research experiences and opportunities afforded by plant genomics.

Green Genes
Laura M. Zahn, Pamela J. Hines, Elizabeth Pennisi, John Travis
Multimedia Feature: Plant Genomes

GM Crops: A World View
Science maps where genetically modified crops are grown and imported, as well as which countries avoid them.
Tough Lessons From Golden Rice
Martin Enserink
Papaya Takes on Ringspot Virus and Wins
Erik Stokstad
Is the Drought Over for Pharming?
Jocelyn Kaiser
Uncorking the Grape Genome
John Travis
A Life With Grapes
John Travis
Sowing the Seeds for High-Energy Plants
Eli Kintisch

Genome-Enabled Approaches Shed New Light on Plant Metabolism
Dean DellaPenna, Robert L. Last
Genomic Plasticity and the Diversity of Polyploid Plants
A. R. Leitch, I. J. Leitch
Selection on Major Components of Angiosperm Genomes
Brandon S. Gaut, Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra
Synteny and Collinearity in Plant Genomes
Haibao Tang, John E. Bowers, Xiyin Wang, Ray Ming, Maqsudul Alam, Andrew H. Paterson
Extending Genomics to Natural Communities and Ecosystems
Thomas G. Whitham, Stephen P. DiFazio, Jennifer A. Schweitzer, Stephen M. Shuster, Gery J. Allan, Joseph K. Bailey, Scott A. Woolbright
From Genotype to Phenotype: Systems Biology Meets Natural Variation
Philip N. Benfey, Thomas Mitchell-Olds

In Science Careers
Plumbing the Green Genome
Shawna Williams

Online Extras
Interactive Presentation
An interactive feature, including information graphics, video interviews, text, and images, explores how advances in plant genome research are contributing to our understanding of plant biology and evolution and translating into tangible benefits for society such as improved crop varieties

Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz (CIMMYT\)

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1.30  Transcription regulators for second generation biotech crops

There has been a growing expectation that the biotech industry will deliver ‘second generation’ transgenic crops in the near future. Unlike first generation GM crops which involves manipulation of monogenic traits, such as herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, second generation crops will involve modification of traits under the control of multiple genes such as stress resistance and yield stability. Scientists involved in efforts to produce these crops will greatly benefit from recent discoveries in the field of genomics, including the availability of complete plant genome sequences. Transcription factors (TFs), proteins that regulate gene expression, are expected to be excellent candidates for modifying complex traits in crop plants. A new article published by the journal Plant Physiology reviews the prospects for modification of crops by regulating these transcription regulators.

Modifying the activity of TFs involved in photosynthesis may lead to crops with increased yield. The same approach might be exploited to develop plants that are disease tolerant, stress resistant and nitrogen-use efficient. For instance, the HARDY gene has recently been shown to enhance drought tolerance and photosynthetic efficiency in transgenic rice. TF technologies, however, often require optimization, either to reduce unwanted side effects such as growth retardation or to enhance the desired trait to the level at which it is of commercial value.

Read the article at

Source: CropBiotech Update via
2 May 2008

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1.31  Researchers probe the secrets of how plants cope with water stress to improve crop yields

The Blue Revolution, Drop by Drop, Gene by Gene

Elizabeth Pennisi
Science 11 April 2008:
Vol. 320. no. 5873, pp. 171 - 173
DOI: 10.1126/science.320.5873.171

This article discusses efforts to develop new crop varieties with enhances drought tolerance. "Drought and tolerance to water stress are very hot topics at this moment," says Roberto Tuberosa of the University of Bologna in Italy, and there's been "a constant increase in interest, particularly from the private sector." According to the article, companies and governments are evaluating "promising" new varieties of corn, rice, and other crops -- some genetically modified (GM) and some the products of conventional breeding --in the field. Australian farmers, for example, are "eagerly awaiting" results of a field trial of GM drought-tolerant wheat that has just been harvested. The latest sequencing and gene-expression technologies are being used to make progress in identifying genes that can help plants withstand dry conditions, according to the article. "We do know a bit more about what the effects [of stress] are in biochemical detail," says Hans Bohnert, a biochemist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. But the article notes that some skeptics doubt that it will be possible to manipulate one or a few genes to get hardier varieties. "There isn't a single, magical drought-tolerance trait," cautions Mark Tester, a plant physiologist at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics

Subscribers to the journal Science can view the article online at:;320/5873/171

Source:  Science via
May, 2008

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1.32  Selected Articles from CGIAR News - May 2008 issue

(Selections by the editor, Plant Breeding News)

Conservation Crossroads
A rational global system for conserving and using crop diversity would restore scientists' access to genetic material without compromising national sovereignty.

David E. Williams, Coordinator of the CGIAR Systemwide Genetic Resources Program, comments on progress and possibilities in collaborative efforts to safeguard and use plant genetic diversity.

Amazingly Mobile Maize
A global partnership of gene sleuths analyze the DNA of maize to puzzle out how a humble Mexican grass spread to become the world’s most widely grown crop.

Vitamin A Breakthrough
A new discovery will accelerate maize biofortification and help ensure the early release of provitamin A varieties in Africa, where maize is the preferred staple.

Help at Hand
Researchers combine farmers’ existing knowledge with advanced analysis to manage pests and diseases using crop genetic diversity.

Seasoned for Salt
Rice farmers hampered by saline soils and water in Bangladesh are set for relief as researchers breed salinity tolerance into locally popular cultivars.

Cold Feat
New chickpea lines that tolerate cold allow farmers to boost yields by growing the traditional spring crop over the rainy months of the Mediterranean winter.

Source: CGIAR News May 2008

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1.33  GCP (Generation Challenge Programme) News Issue 30, 16 May 2008

This issue focuses on resources and helpdesks for researchers, from both GCP and the wider scientific community (Excerpts by the Editor, Plant Breeding News)

1) Product Development Guide (PDG)
This latest resource from GCP is an online tool for each and every step in the project cycle from project design, to project implementation and management. Primarily developed as an aide for Principal Investigators in GCP projects, it is however useful to any researcher, as well as for science managers and reviewers of scientific projects, and scientists seeking GCP funding, among others. The PDG is sculpted around eight well-developed key project management themes. To navigate through the PDG, you can either take the guided tour theme by theme, or, if you prefer, take a rapid overview tour and zoom in on what the PDG can do for you. Your feedback on this new tool is warmly invited: every page in the PDG has an inbuilt feedback form for this purpose.
View the PDG

2) Learning materials
This year, GCP’s Subprogramme 5 (SP5) is working on several sets of learning materials directly linked to the work of the other four technical Subprogrammes. Two sets are already online and ready for your use:

a. Distant policies course material: Developed in collaboration with Wageningen University and Research Centre, this is a distance learning module for scientists, cov ering genetic resource policies and implications on freedom to operate (CD version will be available shortly).

b. The McClintock Crop Bioinformatics Course: Named in honour of Nobel prize-winning crop geneticist, Barbara McClintock, this self-study introductory course targets scientists with a reasonable background in germplasm, biology and genetics, and the application of these disciplines in plant and agricultural sciences. It is a joint project between IRRI and the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme.

Please note that additional learning materials are under development covering genomics and comparative genomics; genetic diversity; marker-assisted selection; phenotyping; and association genetics. All the learning materials will be accessible through SP5’s Capacity-Building Corner.

1) Bioinformatics and Biometrics (BB) Helpdesk from SP4
This new GCP helpdesk provides personal support to GCP scientists on data handling, storage and analysis. The helpdesk makes available resources and expertise in the fields of biometry, bioinformatics and software engineering to optimise the use of Subprogramme 4 (SP4) expertise and products.
Visit the BB Helpdesk
View other GCP helpdesks

2) New addition to the Interactive Resource Center
In direct response to user needs, the Interactive Resource Center (IRC) has been updated to include a section on troubleshooting DNA extractions. The IRC is a joint Cornell–GCP initiative to provide personalised, interactive support to address specific needs from researchers.

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1.34  Update 2-2008 of FAO-BiotechNews

*** NEWS *** ( (Articles selected by the editor, PBN-L)

4) Biotechnology and genetic resources
On 22 February 2008, the FAO Working Group on Biotechnology organised a side event to the 13th meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), entitled "Biotechnology as a toolbox to study and monitor agricultural genetic resources". Summaries and presentations from the event are now available on the web, covering the application of molecular markers to conservation biology of fishes or to monitoring adaptation and migration of forest tree species, as well as FAO's work in the field of biotechnology. See or contact for more information.

8) NERICA compendium
The Africa Rice Center (WARDA), FAO and the Sasakawa Africa Association have just published "NERICA: the New Rice for Africa - a Compendium", edited by E.A. Somado, R.G. Guei and S.O. Keya. The 210-page document brings together the results of scientific research on NERICA rice varieties, ranging from the choice of land to planting, integrated crop and pest management, harvest and post-harvest operations, agro-processing technologies and nutritional quality, and adoption impact on rice farmers' livelihoods. It is split into 17 modules, one of which is dedicated to molecular characterisation of NERICA lines. NERICA rice varieties are derived from the crossing of two species of cultivated rice, the African rice and the Asian rice, using embryo rescue and anther culture techniques, combining the high yields from the Asian rice with the ability of the African rice to thrive in harsh environments. See or contact for more information.

10) Cartagena Protocol: COP-MOP 4 documents
The 4th meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP-MOP  4) took place on 12-16 May 2008 in Bonn, Germany, back-to-back withthe 9th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention onBiological Diversity, on 19-30 May. The meeting addressed a number of standing issues on the COP-MOP agenda (i.e. compliance; operation and activities of the Biosafety Clearing-House; capacity building; financial mechanisms and resources; cooperation with other organizations, conventionsand initiatives; and administration and budgetary matters). It also addressed a number of substantive issues arising from the medium-term programme of work and previous COP-MOP decisions (i.e. handling, transport, packaging and identification of living modified organisms; risk assessment and risk management; liability and redress; subsidiary bodies; monitoring and reporting; assessment and review; socio-economic considerations; public awareness and participation; and notification requirements). See for background and access to official documents (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) and information documents (in English) or contact for more information.

20-31 October 2008, Maracay, Venezuela. Curso internacional de pre-mejoramiento genetico de plantas. An international course, in Spanish, that takes place at the Universidade Central de Venezuela and is sponsored, among others, by FAO. It includes both theoretical and practical exercises, including e.g. laboratory applications of biochemical and molecular markers, and its objective is to strengthen plant breeding in Latin America and the Caribbean by training young researchers in strategies to use plant germplasm, with an emphasis in pre-breeding. There are places for 25 national and 25 international participants. See 3 or contact for more information. The Coordinator of FAO-BiotechNews, 15-5-2008.

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

Copyright FAO 2008

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2.01  Plant Genetic Resources for Agriculture, Plant Breeding, and Biotechnology - Experiences from Cameroon, Kenya, the Philippines, and Venezuela

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Discussion Paper No. 762

José Falck-Zepeda, Patricia Zambrano, Joel I. Cohen, Orangel Borges, Elcio P. Guimarães, Desiree Hautea, Joseph Kengue, and Josephine Songa
April 2008

Local farming communities throughout the world face binding productivity constraints, diverse nutritional needs, environmental concerns, and significant economic and financial pressures. Developing countries address these challenges in different ways, including public and private sector investments in plant breeding and other modern tools for genetic crop improvement. In order to measure the impact of any technology and prioritize investments, we must assess the relevant resources, human capacity, clusters, networks and linkages, as well as the institutions performing technological research and development, and the rate of farmer adoption.

However, such measures have not been recently assessed, in part due to the lack of complete standardized information on public plant breeding and biotechnology research in developing countries. To tackle this void, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in consultation with the International Food Policy Institute (IFPRI) and other organizations, designed a plant breeding and biotechnology capacity survey for implementation by FAO consultants in 100 developing countries.

IFPRI, in collaboration with FAO and national experts contracted by FAO to complete in-country surveys, identified and analyzed plant breeding and biotechnology programs in four developing countries: Cameroon, Kenya, the Philippines, and Venezuela. Here, we use an innovation systems framework to examine the investments in human and financial resources and the distribution of resources among the different programs, as well as the capacity and policy development for agricultural research in the four selected countries. Based on our findings, we present recommendations to help sustain and increase the efficiency of publicly- and privately-funded plant breeding programs, while maximizing the use of genetic resources and developing opportunities for GM crop production. Policy makers, private sector breeders, and other stakeholders can use this information to prioritize investments, consider product advancement, and assess the relative magnitude of the potential risks and benefits of their investments.
Full text: Color: (PDF 478K)  |  Black & White: (PDF 541K)

24 April 2008

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2.02  Regional Seed Network Newsletter for the development of strong national seed programs


Seed Info is a newsletter of the Regional Seed Network and aims to facilitate information exchange and communication among stakeholders in the Central and West Asia and North Africa (CWANA) region and beyond. The purpose is to contribute towards the development of stronger national seed programs which supply quality seed to farmers.

Seed Info covers a broad range of issues including:
1.     WANA Seed Network News: It provides updates on the progress of Network activities and reports on the meetings of the Steering Committee, WANA Seed Council, etc.

2.       News and Views: Presents general news, views, comments and suggestions on issues related to varieties and seeds. It is also serves as a forum for discussion among professionals in the seed sector.

3.       Contributions from National Seed Programs: National seed programs, projects, universities, regional or international organizations provide news about their seed related activities.

4.      HOW TO: It provides simple technical/practical guidelines or instructions that seed sector staff may find useful.

5.       Research Notes: Short communications on adaptive research, methodologies or  experiences relevant to agriculture and/or seed technology are presented for the general audience.

6.      Meetings and Courses: Announcements of meetings, seminars, workshops and training courses appear in this section.

7.      LITERATURE: Books and journal articles of interest to readers are presented here.

You can send your comments, suggestions and contributions (in English, French and Arabic) to the Editor. Send us national, regional or international announcements for workshops, seminars and training courses organized in your country or by your organization for inclusion in the next issue. You can also send us lists of seed publications on policy, regulation and technology to the Editor for inclusion in Seed Info.

Anyone wanting to subscribe to the newsletter should contact Zewdie Bishaw at the Seed Unit, ICARDA,

To post to this list, send your email to:

General information about the mailing list is at:

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2.03  Agronomy for Sustainable Development, An International Journal in Agriculture & Environment

Please find here some information about a scientific journal that could be of interest for  Plant Breeding News readers, and also about  a paper  from this journal.
Agronomy for Sustainable Development is an international journal for scientific research on the interactions between cropping systems and other activities in the context of sustainable development. The Editors welcome monodisciplinary contributions in agronomy that will constitute the grounds of sustainability from environmental, economical or social viewpoints. The Editors also welcome multidisciplinary articles that bridge agronomy with ecology, environmental and social sciences. Many papers deal with plant breeding issues in a broad sense:

Please find here also an annoucement of a recent paper from this Journal:
"Genetically modified glyphosate-tolerant soybean in the USA: adoption factors, impacts and prospects. A review"
SOURCE: Agronomy for Sustainable Development  28 (2008) 21-32 ,  DOI: 10.1051/agro:2007044
Abstract - Transgenic crops are the subject of lively debate and controversy, particularly in Europe. Despite such controversy, transgenic soybean has undergone a rapid expansion and herbicide-tolerant crops are the most widely spread in the world. In the USA 91% of soybean was transgenic in 2007. How can this particularly significant diffusion in the USA be explained, and what are its impacts? Such issues are addressed in this article, using surveys, studies of numerous statistical data and literature analysis. A first section underlines the importance of soybean in the current development of transgenic crops in the world, and the favourable context for their expansion in the USA. Then follows an analysis of the advantages and drawbacks of transgenic soybean for American farmers. Factors explaining the rapid diffusion of transgenic soybean are also analysed. A comparison of transgenic versus conventional soybean reveals that transgenic glyphosate-tolerant soybean allows both the simplification of weed control and greater work flexibility. Cropping transgenic soybean also fits well with conservation tillage. Transgenic soybean has an economic margin similar to conventional soybean, despite a higher seed cost. The next section describes the evolution of the use of herbicides with transgenic soybean, and some issues linked to the rapid increase in the use of glyphosate. At the beginning a smaller amount of herbicides was used, but this amount increased from 2002, though not steadily. Nonetheless, the environmental and toxicological impacts of pesticides do not only depend on the amounts applied. They also depend on the conditions of use and the levels of toxicity and ecotoxicity. The levels of ecotoxicity seem to have somewhat decreased. The success of transgenic soybeans for farmers has led to a higher use of glyphosate as a replacement for other herbicides, which has in turn led to a decline in its effectiveness. However, the issue here is not only genetic engineering in itself, but rather the management and governance of this innovation. Finally, the prospects of transgenic soybean are addressed. Transgenic soybean with new traits should be placed on the market. The conclusion describes economic context of the development of the first transgenic crops.

Contributed by Sylvie Bonny

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2.04  RevGenUK, A 'single-stop' shop for use in functional genomics

A new project (RevGenUK) is being launched at the John Innes Centre in Norwich to help geneticists understand how plants grow.

This knowledge can be used to improve the ability of crops to grow in adverse conditions or to grow more sustainably with reduced nitrogen fertilisers. 

Supported by a grant of £1 million from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the project builds on the JIC’s expertise in TILLING, a technique to detect mutant genes. Researchers can work out a gene’s function by studying a defective copy of the gene and seeing how this affects the plant. This is known as reverse genetics. 

To celebrate the launch of RevGenUK, a one-day mini-symposium is being held at the John Innes Centre on May 15th.

RevGenUK will maintain large populations of mutated plants with thousands of defective genes. Specialised technology is then used to find a gene of interest and seeds from the plant carrying that gene can be ordered by researchers for their own studies. 

RevGenUK will initially include only model plants.  Lotus japonicus and Medicago trunculata are model legumes, used to study the interactions between plants and symbiotic microorganisms, especially nitrogen-fixing bacteria.  This area is of great interest because it may lead to reduced requirements for artificial nitrogen fertilisers.  Brassica rapa is a model brassica and is closely related to Arabidopsis, a cress-like plant studied in many laboratories around the world. Brassica rapa is useful for translating knowledge learnt in Arabidopsis to economically relevant crop species such as oilseed rape.

JIC has been at the forefront of reverse genetics in legumes and brassicas. The RevGenUK project will bring this expertise together into a single platform, adapting the techniques for use in high-throughput sequencing machines, so greatly increasing the efficiency of the process.  The service will be based at the John Innes Centre Genome Laboratory and can in the future be extended to include other plant species, to fully exploit the wealth of data being produced by plant genome sequencing projects.

Contributed by Andrew Chapple

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2.05  Introducing the Journal of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Ecology

Invitation to submit manuscripts for publication in: Journal of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Ecology

Managing Consultant:A. Egrinya Eneji, Ph.D; Dr.Agr.

Executive Editors: Benjamin Ubi, Ph.D and Mohammad Irshad, Ph.D

Instructions for authors
Aims and scope:
The Journal of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Ecology publishes papers in all aspects of agriculture, biotechnology and ecology with emphasis on tropical, subtropical regions. The journal provides a platform for rapid and timely dissemination of the most recent and significant information on all aspects of agriculture and forestry, including crop production, soil management, animal science, agricultural economics and extension, agricultural and environmental biotechnology and ecosystems. Papers arising from original research (experimental or descriptive) or forming significant reviews will be considered for publication.

Manuscript submission: Submission of a paper will be considered to imply that:
1) the material in the manuscript has not been published, is not being published or considered for publication elsewhere, and will not be submitted for publication elsewhere unless rejected by the journal editor or withdrawn by the author(s);

2) to the best of the author’s(s’) knowledge, the material in the manuscript does not infringe upon other published material covered by copyright;

Authors should document their data sources, models, and estimation procedures as thoroughly as possible, and make the data used available to others for replication purposes.

What and where to submit: Please send the manuscript including tables and figures as email attachment to the Editor-in-chief, Dr. Benjamin E. Ubi. Email: or

Manuscript Format: All parts of the manuscript should be typewritten, double-spaced, with margins of one inch on all sides.Number manuscript pages consecutively throughout the paper. Avoid abbreviations, diagrams, and reference to the text within the abstract.

Affiliation: On the title page include full names of authors, academic and/or other professional affiliations and the complete mailing address of the author to whom proofs and correspondence should be sent. Do not submit position titles.

References: Include only references to books, articles, and bulletins actually cited in the text. Cite references in the text by author and date (Smith, 1983) (Smith et al., 1983). Prepare a reference list in accordance with the Chicago Manual of Style. Examples:

Book Chapter: Eneji, A. E. 2007. Status of desertification and drought in Nigeria. In Principles and practices of desertification, eds. Y. Hu, G. Huang and Z. Li, 99-143. Beijing Meteorological Press, Beijing, PR China.

Journal Article: Hattori, T. K. Sonobe, S. Inanaga, P. An, W. Tsuji, H. Araki, A. E. Eneji and Shigenori Morita (2007). Short term stomatal responses to light intensity changes and osmotic stress in sorghum seedlings raised with and without silicon. Environmental & Exerimental Botany 60 (2): 177-182.

Book: New, T. R. 1991. Insects as predators. Kensington, Australia: New South Wales University Press.

Authors are responsible for obtaining permission to reproduce copyrighted material from other sources and are required to sign an agreement for the transfer of copyright to the publisher. All accepted manuscripts, artwork, and photographs become the property of the publisher.

Manuscript Submission: The Journal of Tropical Agriculture, Biotechnology and Ecology receives all manuscript submissions electronically as email attachment to the Editor-in-chief through the following addresses: or After submission, you will receive a confirmation via e-mail. You will also receive an e-mail once a decision has been made on your manuscript.

Manuscript Preparation: Manuscripts are to be submitted to the Journal of Tropical Agriculture, Biotechnology and Ecology making sure that they are formatted according to the guidelines outlined above.

Illustrations: Illustrations submitted (line drawings, halftones, photos, photomicrographs, etc.) should be clean originals or digital files. Digital files are recommended for highest quality reproduction and should follow these guidelines:
· 300 dpi or higher
· sized to fit on journal page
· EPS, TIFF, or PSD format only
· submitted as separate files, not embedded in text files

Color illustrations will be considered for publication; however, the author will be required to bear the full cost involved in their printing and publication. A custom quote will be provided for color art totaling more than 4 journal pages. Good-quality color prints or files should be provided in their final size. The publisher reserves the right to refuse publication of color prints deemed unacceptable.

Tables and Figures: Tables and figures should be embedded in the electronic text. A short descriptive title should appear above each table with a clear legend and any footnotes suitably identified below. All units must be included. Figures should be completely labeled, taking into account necessary size reduction.

Proofs: All proofs must be corrected and returned to the publisher within 48 hours of receipt. If the manuscript is not returned within the allotted time, the editor will proofread the article and it will be printed per his instruction. Only correction of typographical errors is permitted at the proof stage.

Publication fees: A publication fee of $350 will be billed to the authors for each manuscript accepted for publication. These fees are to cover publishing of the manuscript, peer-reviewing, copy editing, design and correspondence. A 50 % discount applies to developing country Scientists.

Offprints: The corresponding author of an article will receive one complete copy of the issue in which the article appears. Reprints of an individual article may be ordered for a fee.

Contributed by Benjamin Ubi,
Biotechnology and Ecology

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2.06  Gamma Field Symposia Vol. 45: Recent Fruit and Potentiality of Mutation Breeding  now online

The Gamma Field Symposia Vol. 45 has been placed online and can be accessed at the link The 45th Gamma Field symposium entitled Recent Fruit and Potentiality of Mutation Breeding ( mainly focused on the development of mutant varieties of various crops) was held on July 12-13, 2005 in Mito, Ibaraki, Japan.  The keynote address, Effectiveness and efficiency of mutagenic treatment, was presented by Dr. Yasuo Ukai, who is a former Professor, University of Tokyo and one of the most renowned scientists on mutation breeding in Japan. Seven lecturers were also invited to present results of their research: Dr. H. Kitano (Nagoya University: Functional analysis of induced semi-dwarf mutants and application to rice breeding), Dr. K. Kato (Okayama University: Allelic variation of heading-trait-related genes, essential for wide adaptability of wheat, and its application to wheat breeding), Dr. S. Kobayashi (National Institute of Fruit Tree Science, NARO: Molecular basis of berry skin-color mutations in grapes), Dr. M. Masuda (Okayama University: Induced mutagenesis as a breeding strategy for improvement of Solanaceous vegetables), Dr. M. Nishimura (NIAS: Utilization of seed protein composition mutants in rice breeding), Dr. K. Takahashi (National Institute of Crop Science, NARO: The Glycinin-rich soybean), and Dr. M. Okamura (Kirin Agribio Company, Limited: Flower breeding by quantum beam technology, and its commercialization).

This English publication includes the contributed papers from the invited lecturers written above and the questions and discussions (in Japanese) addressed following the presentations during the symposium. In Japan, about 200 direct-use mutant varieties generated by using irradiation, chemical mutagenesis and in vitro culture, have been registered and released.  Nearly 70 % of these were induced by gamma ray irradiation. This high percentage of gamma ray irradiated mutants indicates that mutation breeding via gamma ray irradiation is an effective and highly successful approach for the generation of commercial cultivars.  In addition, about 200 indirect-use (hybrid) mutant varieties primarily generated in rice and soybean have found value as parental breeding germplasm resources in Japan.

In Japan, the contribution of direct- and indirect-use mutants generated through gamma ray irradiation is significant.  In 2005, two direct-use cultivars and 97 indirect-use cultivars contribute approximately 12.4% of the total area (1,702,000 ha) for rice cultivation in Japan.  The semi-dwarf gene (sd-1) generated in rice is perhaps one of the most significant contribution to the breeding of rice in Japan and much of the world.  For soybean, similar gamma-ray induced mutants (4 direct-use cultivars and 4 indirect-use cultivars) cover nearly 9.4 % out of the total cultivation area (ca. 142,000 ha) of soybean.  These results indicate that agronomically useful mutations, induced by irradiation mutagenesis, have contributed directly and significantly to food production in Japan.

The 1st Gamma Field symposium was held in 1962. During its 45-year history, we have selected various themes related to mutation and breeding, and have invited leading scientists with expertise in these areas as lecturers to provide information on a wide variety of related topics. It is our sincere hope that the series of Gamma Field Symposia series, including this issue, will help plant breeders and researchers to realize the contribution that mutation breeding has made to the plant sciences.

Contributed by Hitoshi Nakagawa
Director, Institute of Radiation Breeding

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3.01  In search of plant breeding database applications

I am a plant breeder working for a New Zealand government company called HortResearch ( We are looking for database applications that we can purchase to store and retrieve our plant breeding data (pedigree data, images, documents, phenotypic data, genomics data, selection flags, generate maps, reporting ability).  Currently our data is stored in various Excel spreadsheets, MS Access databases and other file formats and we are looking to store the data in one database to speed up data access. The database needs to be able to cope with more than one breeding programme, multiple crop types, multiple sites (nationally) with secure web or intraweb access. We use specialist software for statistcal analysis so we are not looking for statistical analysis functionality.
Within the last few years there seems to be an increasing number of database applications released. Some of the applications I am aware of includes:
Can  readers of Plant Breeding News add to the list and can they provide any feedback on any of them?

Please reply to:
Dr Alastair Currie
Scientist - Plant breeding
HortResearch Kerikeri
New Zealand

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Copy of responses to would also be appreciated, for possible inclusion in a future edition of the newsletter

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3.02  Request for information on Alectra vogelii on cowpea

My name is ROSE WANGARI from KENYA. My area of interest is plant breeding in cowpea. I am requesting if you could send me any information on cowpea parasitic weed the Alectra vogelii which is very common in our country.


Rose Wangari

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4.01  Monsanto Fellows in Plant Breeding Fund

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Monsanto have established the Monsanto Fellows in Plant Breeding Fund. The new fund will finance graduate fellowship students pursuing doctoral degrees in plant breeding at the U of I's Plant Breeding Center. The fellowships will be awarded to eight PhD students conducting research projects developed jointly with Monsanto in the area of germplasm enhancement of agronomic and horticultural crops. As part of the agreement, Monsanto may offer students accepting fellowships the opportunity to interact directly with Monsanto scientists and gain valuable experience in a corporate research environment through internship programs. For more information, click here .

Contributed by Ann Marie Thro

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5.01  CSREES vacancy announcement for the position of Deputy Administrator for Competitive Programs

Announcement number CSREES:SES:08-10

The deputy administrator position for Competitive Programs (CSREES vacancy announcement number CSREES:SES:08-10) is now open. Application and supplemental information must arrive at the address shown in the announcement by the June 10, 2008, closing date. A copy of the vacancy announcement is available on the Office of Personnel Management Web site. Contact Betty Lou Gilliland for more information about the position. For information on the application process, contact Deborah Crump on 301-504-1448 or by e-mail.

Contributed by Betty Lou Gilliland through Ann Marie Thro,

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5.02  Plant Breeding R&D Senior Scientist Manager

Naure of Position:
This position in the Plant Breeding Group is responsible for developing commercial tomato and jalapeno pepper hybrid varieties that are relevant to the firm's manufactured products. The successful candidate should have working knowledge of general combining ability, genetic gain and heritability of desired traits, and a good understanding of molecular testing methods and/or knowledge in molecular biology is a plus. This is a team environment. The person in this position is also expected to interact with seed dealers, growers, and other processors to promote the new tomato/pepper varieties.

Principal Accountabilities:
1. Tomato/Jalapeno Pepper Hybrid Development (50%) for commercialization into established varieties with desired characteristics.
2. Commercial Variety Evaluation (30%): Commercial variety evaluation includes testing of proprietary varieties to determine their suitability for use in manufacturing and consumer useage;
3. Molecular testing (10%): Provide leadership in using molecular markers as a tool to identify traits both in tomato and Jalapeno pepper germplasm to be incorporated into elite CSC varieties;
4. Customer Relations (10%): Maintain/enhance relationship with agricultural operations, and the supply Chain personnel nationally as well as internationally.

Job Complexity:
• Developing a new hybrid tomato/Jalapeno pepper variety is part art, and part science. It requires selection of the right inbreds to be used in hybrid development, which must have high yields, high solids, disease resistance, field horticultural characteristics, plus others.
• After the hybrid is made, it requires field evaluation to determine if the new hybrid carries the desired traits. Generally, 300 to 600 new crosses are made annually which need to be evaluated and tested individually to identify the best variety for our products, for the processors, and for the growers. Tomato germplasm has many traits, but it is the selection of the correct traits combined into one variety that makes a successful variety.

This is a West Coast based opportunity                                                                                                                                      
• Minimum of a M.S. degree in Plant Breeding with minimum of 5 years experience;
• Knowledge in experimental design and statistical analysis;
• Experience in tomato and/or peppers or in vegetable breeding is a plus;
• Good understanding of molecular testing methods is a plus;
• Good oral and written communication skills, and management skills are required;
• Computer skills are required.

Candidates must be eligible to work in the U.S now, without employer sponsorship.

first, address the above Nature of Position, Expertise, and education factors (do not say, "see resume");
secondly, define your current employment situation, and your most recent compensation, and how it is currently, was structured previously;
thirdly, paste resume, and the other information as a new E-mail message page (and not as an attached document) to:  KHEDMAN@SBCGLOBAL.NET

NOTE: We do not open attached documents. We are a search firm;  all referrals are on an E.E.O. basis;  our service fees are paid by our Clients.  We never charge Candidates for any services.

Kent Hedman,  817 277-0888 (direct dial #)


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5.03  National Program Leader (CREES - Horticulture)

Promotion potential: GS-15
Closing date: July 7, 2008
Who may apply: All US Citizens
Announcement Number: CSREES-2008-0043

You may use the following link to view and/or apply for this position:
In the key word search, type in the vacancy announcement number: CSREES-2008-0043

Scroll down the page and select “yes” under Applicant Eligibility.  You will then click on “search for jobs” at the bottom of the page.  Clicking on the position title will launch the vacancy announcement.  You can select “apply online” at the bottom of the page to apply for the position.  You will then be taken to a screen that will allow you to either set up an account or input your account information if you have already registered.

Please note that even if you registered previously through the USDA QuickHire website, you will need to re-register through USAJobs. 

Please contact me if you encounter any problems or have questions.

Thank you,
Vivian Brooks
Human Resources Specialist
USDA/ARS/Human Resources Division
Metropolitan Services Branch
P: (202) 720-6087
F: (202) 690-1726

Contributed by Vivian Brooks ( Vivian.Brooks@ARS.USDA.GOV) via Ann Marie Thro

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5.04  Monsanto Plant Breeding Related Career Postings

14 May 2008
Below is a list of Monsanto Related Plant Breeding Careers that are currently listed on web at under Careers.  Interested parties can apply on line for these jobs.  More detailed descriptions, including applicant requirements, are available by searching using the Req# (listed at the end of each position, after the location)..

Advanced Testing Program Coordinator Various; mons-00008623
Assistant Breeder Beijing, China; mons-00008069
Bioinformatics Programmer St. Louis - Creve Coeur; mons-00008487
Corn Drought RSA Testing Lead Lichtenberg, South Africa; mons-00008523
Corn Drought Stress Breeding: SSA Testing Lead Nairobi, Kenya; mons-00008525
Costa Rica DNA Laboratory Manager Canas, CR; mons-00008521
Data Analysis & Marker Based Breeding Coordinator Tlajomulco, MX; mons-00006159
Discovery Corn Breeder Huxley, IA; mons-00007679
DNA Analysis Laboratory Manager Winterville, MS; mons-00007994
Drought Stress Breeder Lichtenberg, South Africa; mons-00008522
Functional Lead for Computational Biology at Monsanto Research Center, Bangalore, India Bangalore, IN; mons-00006977
INTL Corn Germplasm Center Lead San Juan de Abajo, MX; mons-00007856
Kunia Corn Program Manager Kunia, HI; mons-00008279
Kunia Farm MSP Nursery Lead Kunia, HI; mons-00008172
Line Development Breeder Independence, IA; mons-00007161
Line Development Breeder Phitsanulok, TH ;mons-00008394
Line Development Breeder Spencer, IA; mons-00006436
Maize Drought Testing Associate Eastern and Southern Africa; mons-00008526
Marker Development Scientist St. Louis - Creve Coeur; mons-00008409
Northern Entomology Manager Waterman, IL; mons-00006909
OSR Technical Lead Ukraine Uman, Ukraine; mons-00008033
Postdoctoral Researcher Huxley, IA; mons-00008645
Process Development Scientist Ankeny, IA; mons-00008425
Purification Southern Region Lead Stonington, IL; mons-00008047
Research Manager cum Commercial Breeder
Scientist, Technology Development
Lahore, Pakistan St. Louis - Creve Coeur; mons-00007237
Senior Biostatistician St. Louis - Chesterfield mons-00007721; mons-00008152
Southern Corn Pathology Team Manager Evansville, Indiana; mons-00008427
Soybean Breeder I York, NE; mons-00008597
Soybean Breeding Operations Lead Janesville, WI; mons-00007947
Testing and Operations Manager Arlington, WI; mons-00008557
Testing Operations Manager - AZ Cotton Breeding Site Maricopa, AZ; mons-00008528
Trait Integration Testing and Operations Manager Thomasboro, IL; mons-00008308
Vegetable Assistant Breeder, Brassicas, China Beijing, CN; mons-00007789
Northern Entomology Manager Waterman, IL; mons-00006909
OSR Technical Lead Ukraine Uman, Ukraine; mons-00008033
Postdoctoral Researcher Huxley, IA; mons-00008645
Process Development Scientist Ankeny, IA; mons-00008425
Purification Southern Region Lead Stonington, IL; mons-00008047
Research Manager cum Commercial Breeder Lahore, Pakistan; mons-00007237
Scientist, Technology Development St. Louis - Creve Coeur; mons-00007721
Senior Biostatistician St. Louis – Chesterfield; mons-00008152
Southern Corn Pathology Team Manager Evansville, Indiana; mons-00008427
Soybean Breeder I York, NE; mons-00008597
Soybean Breeding Operations Lead Janesville, WI; mons-00007947
Testing and Operations Manager Arlington, WI; mons-00008557
Testing Operations Manager - AZ Cotton Breeding Site Maricopa, AZ; mons-00008528
Trait Integration Testing and Operations Manager Thomasboro, IL; mons-00008308
Vegetable Assistant Breeder, Brassicas, China Beijing, CN; mons-00007789

Contributed by Donn Cummings, Global Breeder Sourcing Lead, Monsanto
Ph. 765-482-2962, ext. 23

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New listings. May include some program details, while repeat listings will include only basic information. Visit web sites for additional details.

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

The PBCC serves as a forum regarding issues and opportunities of national and global importance to the public and private sectors of the U.S. national plant breeding effort.

The 2008 workshop will focus on building partnerships between society and the global community of plant breeders. The workshop will include a visit to Monsanto’s facilities at Huxley, Iowa, as well as invited speakers and discussion sessions.

The workshop will include a visit to Monsanto’s facilities at Huxley, Iowa, as well as invited speakers and discussion sessions (Registration:$250 after April 15 for professionals; $100 for graduate students). For more information, see:

Hotel: we need everyone to make their hotel reservations as quickly as possible to use our block of rooms for the meeting.

Posters: space is still available for poster presentations by post-docs and graduate students (contact: or

Postdocs: special call for participation of post-docs at the meeting. Funding has been provided by USDA, ARS to support post-doc participation in the Workshop.  If you are a post-doc in need of financial support to participate in the Workshop, or know of post-docs either already registered for the meeting, or yet to register, please identify yourself by contacting any of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee officers:
- Stephen Baenziger, Chair (Email:
- Phil Simon, Vice chair (Email:
- Todd Wehner, Secretary (Email:

We anticipate that $300 to $500 will be available for each post-doc, depending on the number needing assistance. We encourage all post-docs attending to present a poster describing your research at the meeting. Please share information of this funding opportunity to all post-docs working in plant breeding, genetics and genomics.

For more information, contact Kay Simmons ( ).

Contributed by Todd C. Wehner


* 18 - 20 June 2008. Soybean Breeders Strategic Planning Meeting, St. Louis Airport Hilton

The meeting is Open Invitation to Public & Private Breeders, Genomicists, Physiologists, and Pathologists.
However, space is limited. Registration will be accepted on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis.
Please contact Ann Chase with USB (

This meeting is a follow up to the ‘town hall’ meeting about the future of soybean breeding that was held at the Soybean Breeders’ Workshop in February. The objective of this meeting is to develop a Soybean Breeding Strategic Plan to share with public and private administrators to influence hiring and funding priorities. This meeting directly follows the national plant breeder meeting in Des Moines. We will have a report on the national meeting at our soybean meeting.

The Executive Committee for the meeting:

Contributed by Roy Scott Roy.Scott@SDSTATE.EDU


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

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

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

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.

13 – 17 July 2008. 44th Annual Caribbean Food Crops Society Meeting, Miami, FL.

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.


* 27 July 2008. Applying Modern Genomic Tools to the Management and Characterization of Plant Genetic Resources, Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia, CANADA (A workshop at the BOTANY 2008 conference. It is possible to register only for the workshop or alternatively for the full conference).

As new sequencing technologies become rapidly available, the price for sequencing is predicted to drop continuously. The human genomics community in particular is pressing hard for cheaper and faster sequencing methods as they promise new and improved treatments in the area of medicine. The great potential of these technologies for the field of plant genetic resource management have so far remained largely untapped. However, sequencing large areas of the genome in order to obtain information about inter- and intra-specific variability is about to become a reality due to the ever decreasing cost of sequencing technologies. Soon, germplasm will become distinguishable on the level of varieties and land races with standardized methods that are fast, reliable and affordable. Such methods could include the use of massively parallel sequencing to decipher the genetic code of whole plastids and/or chip based approaches that could survey SNP variation at many nuclear loci for many individuals. This will allow researchers to tackle problems such as landrace genotyping, species level identification of wild relatives in a genebank setting, the detection of duplicate accessions, greater efficiency of germplasm management and a standardized molecular characterization protocol between different genebanks across the globe.

The great opportunities for plant genetic resource management that arrive with these new technologies need to be explored. Challenges of already established methods, such as plant DNA-barcoding, should be addressed and limitations of such techniques should be discussed in the context of plant genetic resource management. The diversity of crops regarding their reproductive biology, agricultural management and genetic make-up, poses a particular challenge that needs special consideration for the development of global standards. Furthermore, the generation of tools, such as a centralized database where standardized methods can be documented and characterization results can be submitted, ought to be a topic of discussion.

At this workshop, we aim to discuss how best to make use of these emerging possibilities and how to actively influence the development of accompanying bioinformatics methods as to adapt them to suit the plant genetic resource community’s needs. The debate about the usefulness of many of these methods needs to be moved from the informal setting of ‘institutional hallways’ to an inter-institutional level in order to work on a common strategy to capitalize on these rapidly emerging opportunities for the management of plant genetic resources.

The workshop will consist of a series of lectures, ranging from technical and theoretical viewpoints to more applied aspects. We are also planning several ‘breakout sessions’, in which the participants will be able to get first-hand experience with some of the new methods and analysis techniques under the guidance of experts in the field. Furthermore a mediated discussion forum is envisioned, where scientists can freely exchange their ideas on this topic and debate controversial issues.

The preliminary program so far includes talks on the following issues:
Population genetic challenges and the potential of modern genomics technologies for the management and characterization of plant genetic resources (Dr. Loren H. Rieseberg)

The management and characterization of plant genetic resources in the age of genomics ­ chances and challenges [Provisional title] (Dr. Christopher M. Richards)

Towards a rational, secure and effective long-term conservation strategy (Dr. Johannes M.M. Engels)

DNA barcoding: An oversimplified solution to a complex problem (Dr. David M. Spooner)

Challenges of applying molecular techniques to PGR management ­ a Canadian perspective (Dr. Ken Richards)

Prospects and challenges of Illumina and SOLiD sequencing for PGR characterization [Provisional title] (Dr. Nolan Kane)

Prospects and challenges of 454 sequencing for PGR characterization [Provisional title] (Dr. Katrina Dlugosch)

Presentations by representatives of the private sector

For more information, please contact one of the organizers:
Hannes Dempewolf -
Quentin Cronk -
Jan Engels -

Contributed by Hannes Dempewolf


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.

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

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, .

22 – 26 September 2008. All Africa Congress on Biotechnology, Nairobi, Kenya. The theme of the Congress will be ‘Harnessing the Potential of Agricultural Biotechnology for Food Security and Socio-Economic Development in Africa’. and and 

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


* 6 – 31 October 2008. Regional training programme on Plant Genetic Resources and Seeds: Policies, Conservation and Use, Ethiopia.

Wageningen International ( and the Centre for Genetic Resources, the Netherlands (CGN,, in cooperation with the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in India (, the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas in Syria (ICARDA,, the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation, Ethiopia (, the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR,, the Ethio-Organic Seed Action (EOSA), the Tigray Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) and Mekelle University ( are organizing a regional four-week training programme in Ethiopia on Plant Genetic Resources and Seeds: Policies, Conservation and Use, from October 6 – 31.

The training programme is designed for project co-ordinators, senior staff, managers, trainers, programme leaders and other professionals who aim to promote the conservation and use of PGR for agriculture from a policy, research, education or development perspective. The programme addresses: (i) local management of plant genetic resources, (ii) genetic resource policies, (iii) advanced approaches in participatory plant breeding, and (iv) integrated seed sector development. For more details on course content, fellowships and application you may visit the website of Wageningen International at the following address:

Fellowships and application
Fellowships are available from the Netherlands Fellowship Programme (NFP) for nationals of the following countries: Afghanistan, Autonomous Palestinian Territories, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India (only arid and semi-arid areas), Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria (North semi dry only), Pakistan (only arid/ semi-arid areas), Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. Applications for NFP fellowships should first be submitted to Wageningen International, by sending a completed application form, before June 9, 2008. The application procedure has to be completed at the Netherlands Embassy or Consulate in the participant’s own country before July 1, 2008.

The admission deadline for application directly to Wageningen International, with funding other than an NFP fellowship, is 4 weeks before the start of the training. Application forms can be downloaded from the website of Wageningen International, and should be submitted by e-mail to:

Contributed by Marja Thijssen,
Wageningen International


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.

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

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.

24 – 26 March 2009. Sixth International Integrated Pest Management Symposium. Transcending Boundaries, Portland, Oregon.

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 a component of the Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (GIPB), and is published monthly throughout the year.

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