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


30 August 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

-To subscribe, see instructions here
-Archived issues available at: FAO Plant Breeding Newsletter

1.01  Highlights from the GIPB Knowledge Resource Center
1.02  AGRA’s Program for Africa’s Seed Systems
1.03  Conference report: Africa's farmers can ease food crisis
1.04  Molecular plant breeding as the foundation for 21st century crop improvement
1.05  International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research established at UWA
1.06  New DuPont laser technology speeds development of higher yielding corn and soybeans
1.07  Pigeonpea varieties developed by ICRISAT becoming popular in the hill of Uttarakhand, North India
1.08  Conservation Agriculture: overview of a course at CIMMYT
1.09  Biotechnology is not the only solution
1.10  Director of U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute highlights the genomics of plant-based biofuels in the journal Nature
1.11  ICRISAT and India's Department of Biotechnology to establish new facility for agribiotechnology research
1.12  GMO field trials in Australia: Promising results for drought-tolerant wheat
1.13  Diamond to open international symposium on agricultural biodiversity at the University of California, Davis
1.14  USDA germplasm center celebrates 50th anniversary
1.15  Tahitian vanilla originated in Maya forests, says UC Riverside botanist
1.16  International seed treaty’s goals of biodiversity and food security are tough to implement
1.17  AgriLife Research breeder develops drought-tolerant corn
1.18  Corn genetics may lead to next generation of plant-based biofuels
1.19  Herbicide tolerance sought for southern peas
1.20  New method discovered to make potatoes resistant to Phytophthora
1.21  New virus threatens High Plains wheat crop
1.22  African scientists reveal origins of maize streak virus
1.23  Scientists discover new plant hormone
1.24  Wheat genotyping: an invaluable service
1.25  Introducing a new high throughput and high content plant phenotyping platform

2.01  Seed wars: controversies and cases on plant genetic resources and intellectual property
2.02  Some wild growing fruits, nuts and edible plants of the western Himalayas

3.01  GIPB Knowledge Resource Center launches the Plant Breeding Electronic Journal Club
3.02  USDA/ARS produces online databases for maize, blueberries
3.03  Seed Info: an electronic newsletter of the Regional Seed Network

4.01  GIPB - Call for proposals: promoting the use of crop diversity to help address environmental and climate challenges (EXTENDED DEADLINE)
4.02  GCP Genotyping Support Service: 2nd call for proposals now open
4.03  The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) announces two new fellowship programmes

5.01  Research Geneticist (Plants), U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service





1.01  Highlights from the GIPB Knowledge Resource Center

1.  GIPB Strategic Planning 2009-2013

We just released the Report of a stakeholder consultation process that identified the challenges and opportunities for building and sustaining efficient plant breeding capacity in support to global food security and development. Visit the GIPB website or click here to access the document that describes the strategic priorities for operating GIPB in the next five years.
2.  Extension of Deadlines
- Calls for Proposals and Expressions of Interest
The deadline for submission of letters of intention to the call for expanded up-to-date information on selected potential bioenergy crops has been extended to 15 September, 2008. Click here for detailed information on this call. (See also item 4.01, this issue)

The deadline for submission of proposals to the call on "Promoting the Use of Crop Diversity to Help Address Environmental and Climate Challenges" has been extended to 30 September, 2008. Click here for detailed information on this call.

3. Plant Breeding Electronic Journal Club
The GIPB Knowledge Resource Center has launched the Plant Breeding Electronic Journal Club, a virtual place that allows communities to meet and critically evaluate plant breeding and related fields' articles in the scientific literature. In order to participate you just need to follow instructions available here.

Your comments and suggestions will be valuable to help us improve our services.

Best wishes,
The GIPB team.

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1.02  AGRA’s Program for Africa’s Seed Systems

Nairobi, Kenya
AGRA’s Program for Africa’s Seed Systems is a new venture in African agriculture whose mission is to increase income, improve food security, and reduce poverty by promoting the development of a seed system that delivers new crop technology to farmers in an efficient, equitable, and sustainable manner.

PASS prioritizes getting funds to key individuals and agencies working directly with Africa’s farmers on developing new crop varieties, producing new seeds, and developing new delivery systems for getting critical inputs to smallholder farmers.

PASS is funding the development of new varieties of beans, cassava, cowpea, maize, rice, sweet potato and sorghum in 12 countries. Our crop development uses conventional breeding, and relies upon close collaboration between plant breeders and farmers. It pays special attention to conserving the great diversity of Africa’s crop varieties and cropping systems, and in many cases makes use of this biodiversity in developing new, higher-yielding varieties.

Circulating widely and working with front-line practitioners across a 13-country program area, in 2007, PASS Program Officers developed 43 grants totaling US$36,801,778, all aimed at improving crop yields under Africa’s
challenging farming conditions. Grants made by PASS in 2007 will train 80 new African plant breeders to the PhD level and increase yields of eight important food crops in six African countries.

Already, PASS-funded activities have produced over 400 MT of improved seed and trained over 400 village-level
distributors of seed in professional business practices. Equally important, PASS activities have communicated an exciting message to a generation of agriculturalists working in both the public and private sectors in Africa that now is the time to bring forward new ideas for increasing food production­which until now have remained only dreams.

In its first year of operation, PASS has breathed new life into Africa’s hopes for a green revolution based on increased harvests among its millions of hard-working small-scale farmers. PASS works along a value chain that begins with newly-trained African crop scientists, continues with funds for breeding new crop varieties, and achieves impact in the lives of farmers through a vigorous campaign of seed production and supply of agricultural inputs at village level.

PASS makes carefully targeted grants along a “value chain” of interdependent activities which includes:

“Education for African Crop Improvement” (EACI), which targets funds for education and training, especially MSc and PhD fellowships for plant breeders and other crop scientists;

“Fund for Improvement and Adoption of African Crops” (FIAAC), which makes targeted grants to individual breeders and their support teams to develop and popularize improved crop varieties of Africa’s major food crops;

“Seed Production for Africa” (SEPA), which provides grant support and equity investments for the emergence of private, African seed companies and other seed dissemination activities;

“Agro-dealer Development Program” (ADP), which provides training and credit to establish and support the growth of private, village-based agrodealers who are a primary conduit of seeds, and other agricultural inputs plus knowledge directly to smallholder farmers to increase their productivity and incomes. It builds and develops networks of certified agro-dealers to enhance the quality, volume and range of seeds sold. This will result in a significant increase in adoption of improved crop varieties.

Complete newsletter:

Source: AGRA Update via
20 August 2008

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1.03  Conference report: Africa's farmers can ease food crisis

OSLO, Norway - A world food crisis may transform once altruistic efforts to help African feed itself into acts of self preservation, as the planet runs low on key agricultural projects, delegates to the Third African Green Revolution Conference said Thursday.

"Agriculture is key to getting Africa out of poverty," former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told about 250 delegates in Oslo. "Because of the food crisis, everybody now realizes we have ignored agriculture. ... We need to work to increase global food production."

The researchers, donors, and officials were meeting in Oslo on Thursday and Friday for the third in a series of gatherings that follow up a 2004 challenge from Annan to revolutionize African farming. The conferences are organized by Yara International ASA, a Norwegian fertilizer company.

In addition to focusing on how to help African farmers climb out of poverty, this conference also draws attention to the role increased African food production could play in countering soaring world food prices.

Annan, board chairman of the Alliance of a Green Revolution in Africa, said that requires a joint effort by Africa's subsistence farmers, government, private business, and scientists.

He said there are 200 million Africans who go hungry each day, while simple measures, such as fertilizers, better seeds and improved water management, could quadruple their agricultural output from existing farmland.

"Africa does not want to live on handouts," Annan said. "Africa wants to empower its farmers to produce."

Monty Patrick Jones, who leads the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, told The Associated Press that, "With proper planning, Africa can produce food for itself and for the world. Africa has more agricultural land than most places."

Florence Wambugu, founder and head of Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International, said "Africa has the greatest opportunity in the current (food) crisis because we are a farming continent. An African green revolution is very important to stabilizing the whole food supply system."

On Friday, the Kenyan woman will share the $100,000 Yara Prize with Tanzanian Victor Mfinanga for efforts in their home countries to help small farmers increase productivity and profits.

Yara and Annan's alliance are expected to announce a partnership to help Africa's farmers at the end of the conference Friday.
- Associated Press via Forbes, Aug. 28, 2008

Source: AgBioView from AgBioWorld
29 August 2008

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1.04  Molecular plant breeding as the foundation for 21st century crop improvement

The fundamental discoveries of Darwin and Mendel established the scientific basis for plant breeding and genetics at the turn of the 20th century. Similarly, the recent integration of advances in biotechnology, genomic research, and molecular marker applications with conventional plant breeding practices has created the foundation for molecular plant breeding, an interdisciplinary science that is revolutionizing 21st century crop improvement. Though the methods of molecular plant breeding continue to evolve and are a topic of intense interest among plant breeders and crop scientists (for review, see Cooper et al., 2004; Nelson et al., 2004; Lörz and Wenzel, 2005; Varshney et al., 2006; Eathington et al., 2007; Mumm, 2007), they have received relatively little attention from the majority of plant biologists engaged in basic scientific research. The objective of this article for an Editor's Choice series on future advances in crop biotechnology is to briefly review important historical developments in molecular plant breeding, key principles influencing the current practice of molecular plant breeding, and factors that influence the adoption of molecular plant breeding in crop improvement programs. Furthermore, we emphasize how the application of molecular plant breeding is now contributing to discoveries of genes and their functions that open new avenues for basic plant biology research.

Full article:
Stephen P. Moose and Rita H. Mumm
Department of Crop Sciences (S.P.M., R.H.M.) and Energy Biosciences Institute (S.P.M.), University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois 61801; and GeneMax Services, Savoy, Illinois 61874 (R.H.M.)
Plant Physiology 147:969-977 (2008)
© 2008 American Society of Plant Biologists

August 2008

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1.05  International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research established at UWA

The University of Western Australia (UWA) established an International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research. The centre was launched Friday 29 August.

UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Alan Robson said the centre would play a vital role in addressing the looming global shortage in plant breeding expertise.

“There is growing recognition that there is a need to develop rapid crop breeding skills to help us adapt to climate change and to secure the world’s food supplies,” he said.

“The new centre will provide much needed integrated expertise in genetics, biotechnology and plant breeding.  In effect, it will help provide the next generation of professional plant breeders for Australia, the Asia-Pacific region, and the Indian Ocean rim.

“The new centre will form part of the University’s Institute of Agriculture and will significantly strengthen UWA’s contributions to Australian and international agriculture.”

The International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research will offer a four-year undergraduate science degree in genetics and breeding – the only one of its kind at an Australian university – and an undergraduate degree in agricultural science, with a component of genetics and breeding.  Both degrees include training in crop agronomy, plant physiology, biometrics and related disciplines.  It will also offer post-graduate study in genetics and plant breeding, as well as in-service training for practising plant breeders or seeds industry personnel.

Contributed by Elcio Guimaraes

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1.06  New DuPont laser technology speeds development of higher yielding corn and soybeans

Boone, Iowa

Technology a big step in increasing corn and soybean yields 40 percent in 10 years

DuPont today unveiled an advanced technology that will transform seed research and considerably speed up the development of higher yielding corn and soybean varieties.

DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred introduced Laser-Assisted Seed Selection to farmers attending the Farm Progress Show here as the newest tool in its Accelerated Yield Technology (AYT) toolbox. The technology promises to increase the size and scope of the Pioneer breeding program five fold in the next three years.

Laser-Assisted Seed Selection uses a 120-watt carbon dioxide laser to score a small slice from a seed to capture its genetic information while maintaining the seed's viability for planting. Molecular breeding techniques are used to identify desirable genetic combinations within each individual scored seed slice. Seeds identified to have superior genetics are selected for planting and advancement through the Pioneer research program.

"Laser-Assisted Seed Selection transforms our research program because it intensifies the impact of other AYT technologies such as molecular breeding by enabling the rapid selection of the best genetics for advancement before they ever leave the lab," said William S. Niebur, vice resident - DuPont Crop Genetics Research and Development. "Our engineers and scientists have come up with a truly unique technology that will have a significant impact on the rate we bring higher yielding products to Pioneer customers."

Laser-Assisted Seed Selection is a key component in the Pioneer effort to increase the yields of its corn hybrids and soybean varieties by 40 percent within 10 years. Pioneer has numerous patents pending for the technology and will be using it on millions of corn and soybean seeds by the end of 2009. Laser-Assisted Seed Selection is a collection of proprietary processes that includes precise magnetic-based orientation of the seed, laser scoring, seed and slice collection, advanced seed selection and planting.

Transforming Pioneer Seed Research
Prior to molecular breeding and Laser-Assisted Seed Selection, research scientists had to evaluate plants in the field and select genetics based solely upon their physical characteristics or phenotype. Physical analysis of plants took years of field trials, thousands of hours and acre upon acre of land prior to development of a commercial hybrid.

"The millions of phenotypic points of data Pioneer researchers have collected over the years have made AYT a reality," Niebur said. "These data points are living within a supercomputer that has decoded much of the genetic code of our industry-leading germplasm. With this broad molecular insight and AYT tools like Laser-Assisted Seed Selection, we are able to breed higher yielding products much faster than ever before."

Improving Genetic Understanding
The development of molecular breeding techniques allowed scientists to evaluate plants based on their genes as well as phenotypic characteristics, but genetic samples had to be captured from green plant tissue in the field. Scientists recently discovered they could gather genetic samples from seeds prior to planting, but the methods of collection with a blade or clipper were rudimentary. Laser-Assisted Seed Selection perfects the technique because it eliminates contamination, ensures seed viability and has much higher throughput than other kernel chipping or clipping methods. Laser-Assisted Seed Selection equipment is also compact and mobile, allowing Pioneer to deploy the technology at research stations around the world.

"It's difficult to compare the two methods because it's like comparing a Model T car to a Lear Jet," Niebur said. "They can both get you to where you are going; one just does it more quickly and efficiently."

26 August 2008

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1.07  Pigeonpea varieties developed by ICRISAT becoming popular in the hill of Uttarakhand, North India

Pigeonpea (red gram, tuvar dal, arhar dal) varieties developed by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) are becoming popular over the hill slopes of Uttarakhand in North India, and providing an opportunity to the farmers to improve pulse production in the state.

The program is being implemented by ICRISAT in collaboration with Vivekananda Parvathiya Krishi Anusandhan Sansthan (VPKAS), Almora, and the Uttarakhand Department of Agriculture, Dehradun.

The annual demand for pulses in Uttarakhand is 0.3 million tons, but the present production is only 0.06 million tons, leading to a huge protein deficit among the poor of this state.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the successful effort of promoting the cultivation of pigeonpea in new niches such as Uttarakhand has once again highlighted the importance of the Institute's research in improving the agricultural productivity and farmers' incomes in tough terrains, where a large proportion of rich top soil has been washed away with heavy annual rains.

Dr KB Saxena, ICRISAT's Principal Pigeonpea Breeder and leader of the project, explained that the inspiration for promoting pigeonpea in Uttarakhand came from ICRISAT's success in spreading the cultivation of pigeonpea in the sloping hills of southern China. In Uttarakhand, the first success was registered when the experiments conducted by the VPKAS rigorously tested ICRISAT's short-duration pigeonpea ICPL 88039 in the hills, after which ICPL 88039 was released in 2007 under the popular name "VL Arhar 1". Dr Vinay Mahajan, Principal Scientist at VPKAS, believes that VL Arhar 1 will suit cropping systems of the hills and farmers will have a good choice for protein-rich food.

To undertake the promotion of this pigeonpea a special project was initiated in 2006. The first testing program was launched in the 2007 rainy season. A total of 375 on-farm demonstrations were conducted in 13 districts and 67,400 kg of seed was harvested from 112 ha. with mean productivity of 600 kg per hectare. In 2007-08 a total of 1183 farmers of 408 villages cultivated VL Arhar 1. Most farmers felt happy because they harvested encouraging yields and made good profits in the very first trial.

The most interesting observation was that elevations up to and above 2200 m also recorded high yields. Amazingly, most pigeonpea areas in Uttarakhand are waste and rocky lands where no food crop could be grown earlier. It can also be grown as an intercrop with mango and litchi. The crop sown between 15 May to 10 June produced good yields and also allowed farmers to plant a second crop in the same land.

With the farmers being satisfied with pigeonpea cultivation the total area in 2008 has increased 15-fold, from 112 ha to more than 2000 ha. Pigeonpea is a profitable crop with high yields and little inputs. However, the production constraints at different altitudes and important issues like seed availability, value addition and marketing need to be studied and addressed. Also elaborate programs have been made for large-scale quality seed production, training, and monitoring.

29 August 2008

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1.08  Conservation Agriculture: overview of a course at CIMMYT

From May 26th to July 27th, the Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) successfully hosted a five-week course in conservation agriculture (CA) for visiting scientists titled “Laying the ground for sustainable and productive cropping systems.”

Participants from China, Ethiopia and Romania learned about resource conserving technologies in irrigated and rainfed wheat and maize production systems, including reduced tillage and crop residue management strategies.

Tesfay Araya, who is expected to be the first conservation agriculture specialist in northern Ethiopia, commented on the interdisciplinary theme of the program:“It was a very holistic approach, with diverse content from a number of disciplines­from breeders, soil specialists, agronomists, crop protection people and so on.” 

With the chance to work directly with the Cropping Systems Management team at CIMMYT’s research stations and in nearby farmers’ fields, the visitors developed skills in trial planning, management and monitoring.  There was also first-hand opportunity to initiate individual research, as each participant had to define a clear research objective and draft a paper for future publication. “We learned skills in publishing, writing, reviewing data…we didn’t miss anything,” said Mr. Araya.

Participants took away with them lessons learned for application in their home countries. “I saw people here working together with good communication,” said Mr. Araya. “That’s the most important thing, and it’s very unique.”  For Zhang Bin, from China, implementation of CA was a consideration. “When I go back I will do research on conservation agriculture, and if I have good results I will demonstrate it to farmers and try to transfer the technology to them.”

Since 1996 CIMMYT has hosted over 86 course participants and 30 visiting scientists from 26 countries in its Conservation Agriculture research area.  Long-term courses and research are conducted at CIMMYT’s headquarters in El Batán and at its research station in Ciudad Obregon, Mexico.

The next course is scheduled for May 25th to June 26th in 2009. For more information, please contact Petr Kosina ( or visit

Contributed by Petr Kosina
Coordinator - Knowledge Sharing and Capacity Building, CIMMYT

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1.09  Biotechnology is not the only solution

Biotechnology has a role to play in alleviating hunger and disease and mitigating climate change, but it's not the only solution, says an editorial in Nature Biotechnology.

Claiming that biotechnology can "heal, fuel, feed the world" is unrealistic, the editorial says.

Genetically modified crops have yet to address the main problems facing farmers in developing countries; biotechnology is only one of the approaches needed to improve biofuels; and gene therapy has not yet delivered promised cures for diseases.

Biotechnology must be used in the context of all other technical and nontechnological solutions, and proponents must be careful about overhyping the discipline's current and potential applications.

Further still, pushing the idea of biotechnology as the 'solution' is unlikely to convince sceptics, and could even be counterproductive.

Biotechnology communications must be less one-dimensional and outline the problems accurately to allow people to come to their own conclusions about how best to solve the world's problems.

Link to full article in Nature Biotechnology

Source: Nature Biotechnology
19 August 2008

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1.10  Director of U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute highlights the genomics of plant-based biofuels in the journal Nature

Walnut Creek, California
Genomics is accelerating improvements for converting plant biomass into biofuel­as an alternative to fossil fuel for the nation's transportation needs, reports Eddy Rubin, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), in the August 14 edition of the journal Nature. In "Genomics of cellulosic biofuels," Rubin lays out a path forward for how emerging genomic technologies will contribute to a substantially different biofuels future as compared to the present corn-based ethanol industry­and in part mitigate the food-versus-fuel debate. The Nature Review is available for download (by subscription) at

"The Apollo moon shot and the Human Genome Project rallied support for massive R&D efforts that created the capabilities to overcome obstacles that were not contemplated at the outset of these initiatives," says Rubin. "Similarly, today's barriers to improving biofuels are significant, but genetics and genomics can catalyze progress towards delivering, in the not-too-distant future, economically-viable and more socially acceptable biofuels based on lignocellulose."

While Rubin acknowledges that this strategy is in its infancy, rapid progress is being made.

"Over the past 10,000 years, wild plant species were selected for their desirable traits resulting in today's highly productive food crops. We simply don't have thousands of years in the face of the energy and climate challenges, so by applying the power of genomics to these problems, we are seeking to speed up the domestication of energy crops and the technologies for converting them to suitable biofuels as a more carbon-neutral approach to meeting part of our transportation needs."

In the Nature Review, Rubin describes the processes entailed in biofuel production from lignocellulose: the harvesting of biomass, pretreatment and saccharification, which results in the deconstruction of cell wall polymers into component sugars, and then the conversion of those sugars into biofuels through fermentation. Each step, he says, offers an opportunity for genomics to play a significant role.

"With the data that we are generating from plant genomes we can home in on relevant agronomic traits such as rapid growth, drought resistance, and pest tolerance, as well as those that define the basic building blocks of the plants cell wall­cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Biofuels researchers are able to take this information and design strategies to optimize the plants themselves as biofuels feedstocks­altering, for example, branching habit, stem thickness, and cell wall chemistry resulting in plants that are less rigid and more easily broken down."

For microbial biomass breakdown, Rubin says that many candidates have already been identified. These include Clostridia species for their ability to degrade cellulose, and fungi that express genes associated with the decomposition of the most recalcitrant features of the plant cell wall, lignin, the phenolic "glue" that imbues the plant with structural integrity and pest resistance. The white rot fungus Phanerochaete chrysosporium produces unique extracellular oxidative enzymes that effectively degrade lignin by gaining access through the protective matrix surrounding the cellulose microfibrils of plant cell walls.

Another fungus, the yeast Pichia stipitis, ferments the five-carbon "wood sugar" xylose abundant in hardwoods and agricultural harvest residue. Rubin says that Pichia's recently sequenced genome has revealed insights into the metabolic pathways responsible for this process, guiding efforts to optimize this capability in commercial production strains. Pathway engineering promises to produce a wider variety of organisms able to ferment the full repertoire of sugars derived from cellulose and hemicellulose and tolerate higher ethanol concentrations to optimize fuel yields.

Rubin also touches on the emerging technology of metagenomics­characterizing, without the need for laboratory culture, the metabolic profile of organisms residing in an environmental sample­for the identification of enzymes suitable for industrial-scale biofuel production.

"Using this prospecting technique, we can survey the vast microbial biodiversity to gain a better picture of the metabolic potential of genes and how they can be enlisted for the enzymatic deconstruction of biomass and subsequent conversion to high energy value fuels."

As an example, Rubin cites an analysis of the hindgut contents of nature's own bioreactor, the termite, (published in Nature (450, 560-565 [22 November 2007]), which has yielded more than 500 genes related to the enzymatic deconstruction of cellulose and hemicellulose.

The Nature Review goes on to list the feedstock genomes, microbial "biomass degraders," and "fuel producers" completed or in progress. These include the first tree genome completed­that of the poplar Populus trichocarpa and other plants in the sequencing queue, such as soybean, switchgrass, sorghum, eucalyptus, cassava, and foxtail millet. In addition, Rubin points to oil-producing algae as an alternative source for biodiesel production­with the alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, as just one of several algal species that has been characterized for their ability to efficiently capture and convert sunlight into energy.

"Given the daunting magnitude of fossil fuel used for transportation, we will likely have to draw from several different sources to make an appreciable impact with cellulosic biofuels, all of which will in some significant way will be informed by genomics," says Rubin.

"Toward this end, rapid new sequencing methods and the large-scale genomics previously applied to sequencing the human genome are being exploited by bioenergy researchers to design next-generation biofuels, higher-chain alcohols and alkanes, with higher energy content than petroleum and more adaptable to existing infrastructure."

13 August 2008

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1.11  ICRISAT and India's Department of Biotechnology to establish new facility for agribiotechnology research

Patancheru, India
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is collaborating with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, to establish a DBT-ICRISAT Platform for Translational Research on Transgenic Crops (PTTC) at ICRISAT's global headquarters at Patancheru, near Hyderabad in India.

The proposed project was recently approved by the DBT. The approval comes with a funding commitment of Rs 248.79 million (US$ 6.25 million) for five years (2008-2013).

According to the Director General of ICRISAT, Dr William Dar, the PTTC will strengthen transgenic research for crop improvement by providing a platform, building synergies among institutions. ICRISAT will continue to harness transgenic research to solve problems that cannot be solved through conventional breeding.

The mission of PTTC will be to "translate transgenic technology and harness its products to meet the needs of agricultural growth". Transgenic technology, also known as genetic modification or engineering, involves the import of genes from another organism to improve the resistance to disease or pest, or to improve productivity in agricultural crops.

The aim of establishing PTTC is to facilitate a coordinated approach for the translation of existing genetic engineering technologies in developing transgenic crop varieties for product development and commercialization. Under this, priority crops and constraints will be identified and a well-coordinated approach set in place.

PTTC will evaluate and advance the potential of new genetic engineering options to enhance agricultural productivity. PTTC will also provide expertise and facilities for the production and assessment of transgenic crop plants developed through collaborative projects.

This platform will serve as a facility of reference to strengthen national, regional and international linkages and collaboration in transgenic research and development, exchange of materials and information, as well as support training, consultation and technology commercialization. This platform is expected to generate research products that are national and international public goods.

14 August 2008

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1.12  GMO field trials in Australia: "Promising results" for drought-tolerant wheat

Release trials with drought-tolerant wheat are being conducted again in Australia. The German scientist Prof. Dr. Spangenberg examines genetically modified wheat lines. The project is testing various candidate genes for drought resistance. First results show that these plants have an increased yield of about 20 per cent. GMO Safety spoke to the research director about the impacts of climate change on global cereal production and the need for innovative agricultural research.

Read the whole interview:
Drought-tolerant wheat: "Promising results"

Contributed by Gabriele Völcker Team

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1.13  Diamond to open international symposium on agricultural biodiversity at the University of California, Davis

Davis, California
Evolutionary biologist and author Jared Diamond will present the opening keynote address for an international symposium on agricultural biodiversity, to be held Sept. 14-18 at the University of California, Davis.

The Harlan II International Symposium, the successor to a program held 11 years ago in Syria, is dedicated to the late crop evolutionist Jack R. Harlan. It will focus on the importance of using and conserving not just a diversity of species, but also genetic diversity within species.

In opening the symposium, Diamond will discuss whether environmental factors, rather than pure chance, led to the uneven distribution around the world of plant and animal species suitable for domestication and agricultural use. His public presentation on Sunday, Sept. 14, will begin at 6:15 p.m. in 123 Science Lecture Hall at UC Davis. Admission to the talk and the preceding reception will cost $50 per person.

Diamond maintains that the adoption of agriculture was "the most important event in the last 50,000 years of human history." As people developed the ability to cultivate crops and raise animals, they were able to produce a surplus of food, which fueled population growth and led to settled living, technology, social stratification and political centralization, he notes.

He points out that the societies with the greatest variety of plant species suitable for farming expanded earlier and farther than did societies in areas with the fewest farmable plant species -- and no animal species -- that were easily domesticated. For example, cultures in the Fertile Crescent, China, the Andes, and Meso-America
-- the land between central Mexico and Nicaragua -- flourished, while cultures in areas such as Eastern North America and Highland New Guinea did not.

Diamond will question whether environmental factors in different regions predisposed wild animal and plant species in those areas to develop traits conducive to domestication.

A complete program for the Harlan II symposium is available online
at: <>.
For fee information and a list of talks and tours, click on "registration" at the left of this page.

Among the speakers during the three-day symposium will be:
Monday, Sept. 15, 9 a.m. -- Robert Wayne, a UCLA biology professor and expert on canine genetics, will discuss what the analysis of the dog genome -- the entire collection of genes for the animal family that includes domestic dogs, wolves, foxes and coyotes -- tells about the evolutionary history of these animals and how the various species are related.

Monday, Sept. 15, 1:30 p.m. -- Doyle McKey, Universite de Montpellier II and the Center of Evolutionary and Functional Ecology, Montpellier, France, will discuss ecological approaches to crop domestication, using manioc, or cassava, as an example of how ecology can be integrated with genetics and ethnobiology -- the study of how people interact with the living environment -- to test plant-domestication scenarios.

Tuesday, Sept. 16, 9:30 a.m. -- Anthropologist Melinda Zeder, director of the archaeobiology program for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, will discuss her latest research on when and where in the world animals were first domesticated.

Tuesday, Sept. 16, 6 p.m. -- Keynote speaker Gary Nabhan, an ecologist and pioneer in the local-food movement from the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona, will compare the crop diversity found by plant explorer N.I. Vavilov between 1916 and 1936, with the remaining diversity that Nabhan found in the same areas in nine countries on five continents three quarters of a century later.
Nabhan says that an understanding of how biodiversity in local agricultural systems has changed may help predict how well farmers may be able to adapt to rapid climate change, globalization, water scarcity, and weed or pest invasions.

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 8 a.m. -- M. Kat Andersen, a plant ecologist in UC Davis' Department of Plant Sciences and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, will discuss how Native Californians cultivated naturally occurring plants as sources of food even before the first Europeans arrived and how some of those practices are being applied in certain sectors of modern agriculture today.

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 9 a.m. -- Dennis Hedgecock, a fisheries ecologist at the University of Southern California, will discuss the importance of conserving genetic resources in aquaculture, which he says is now the fastest-growing sector of global food production. He will discuss the challenges in both conserving and utilizing the planet's imperiled aquatic biodiversity, when faced with the threat of overfishing, species introductions, interactions of wild and farmed stocks, ocean warming and ocean acidification.

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 11 a.m. -- Charles Bamforth, the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science at UC Davis, will discuss genetic resources of brewing yeast, which he says is the best example of the major advances that have been made in just a few decades in understanding the physiology, biochemistry and genetics of yeasts and other microorganisms.

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 11:30 a.m., -- James Lapsley, adjunct associate professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology and chair of the Department of Science, Agriculture, and Natural Resources in UC Davis Extension, will talk about the introduction to California of Vitis vinifera, the grape species that includes most traditional European wine grapes. Lapsley is author of the book "Bottled Poetry," a history of California winemaking.

27 August 2008

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1.14  USDA germplasm center celebrates 50th anniversary

Fort Collins, Colorado
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's premier genebank is celebrating its 50th anniversary here today. The National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP), part of USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), maintains the genetic diversity of the world's crops and livestock as living germplasm that is distributed nationally and internationally to improve agricultural productivity, fight hunger, improve nutrition, reduce pesticide use and restore ecosystems.

"In 50 years, the NCGRP has made invaluable contributions to the preservation of precious genetic resources," said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling. "These efforts continue to benefit the United States and the world by ensuring that diverse animal and crop germplasm is available to breeders and researchers."

More than 1 million samples of plants, animals, insects and microbes are housed at NCGRP.

The germplasm that is preserved at NCGRP is an irreplaceable natural resource that underpins U.S. food security and the global supply of food, fiber and biofuels. These samples carry genes vital for combating emerging pest and disease problems and environmental threats. Variation within the collection is used to develop new products and specialty crops. Rapidly advancing research in genomics and gene discovery make daily use of the huge collections at NCGRP.

During the 50 years of the center's existence, NCGRP research has made major strides in the technology that keeps germplasm alive for decades or centuries. NCGRP scientists introduced freezer and cryogenic storage of plant germplasm to the world, and found new ways to capture and preserve genetic diversity of crops and livestock. Managing large collections requires advanced data systems and tools to identify and efficiently collect essential genetic variation. NCGRP scientists are world leaders in developing and implementing these state-of-art tools.

Like its germplasm, the technology developed at NCGRP is freely shared with genebanks everywhere. NCGRP facilities, operations and research are the model used to develop genebanks globally. NCGRP partners with other ARS facilities, governmental agencies, industry and international collaborators to support global efforts to improve human health and guide sustainable use and management of the Earth's biodiversity.

Formerly known as the National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL), the Center changed its name in 2001 to reflect the diverse array of plant materials it stores, and to acknowledge the addition of the National Animal Germplasm Program (NAGP) and initiatives to preserve genetic diversity of agronomically important insects and microbes.

In recognition of the NCGRP's 50th anniversary, the Colorado Senate passed a joint resolution earlier this year, recognizing the center for "globally renowned scientific research, preservation efforts and service."

ARS News Service
By Laura McGinnis

19 August 2008

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1.15  Tahitian vanilla originated in Maya forests, says UC Riverside botanist

Team led by Pesach Lubinsky identifies enigmatic orchid’s origins; traces its Pacific voyage via Spanish and French trading ships

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The origin of the Tahitian vanilla orchid, whose cured fruit is the source of the rare and highly esteemed gourmet French Polynesian spice, has long eluded botanists. Known by the scientific name Vanilla tahitensis, Tahitian vanilla is found to exist only in cultivation; natural, wild populations of the orchid have never been encountered.

Now, a team of investigators led by Pesach Lubinsky, a postdoctoral researcher with Norman Ellstrand, a professor of genetics in UC Riverside's Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, claims to have traced Tahitian vanilla back to its true origins.

In the August issue of the American Journal of Botany, Lubinsky and colleagues use genetic and ethnohistoric analysis to argue that Tahitian vanilla began its evolutionary journey as a pre-Columbian Maya cultivar inside the tropical forests of Guatemala.

"All the evidence points in the same direction," Lubinsky said. "Our DNA analysis corroborates what the historical sources say, namely, that vanilla was a trade item brought to Tahiti by French sailors in the mid-19th century. The French Admiral responsible for introducing vanilla to Tahiti, Alphonse Hamelin, used vanilla cuttings from the Philippines. The historical record tells us that vanilla – which isn't native to the Philippines – was previously introduced to the region via the Manila Galleon trade from the New World, and specifically from Guatemala."

The Manila galleons (1565-1815) were Spanish trading ships that sailed once or twice each year across the Pacific Ocean between Manila in the Philippines and Acapulco, Mexico. The ships brought Chinese porcelain, silk, ivory, spices, and other exotic goods to Mexico in exchange for New World silver.

The genetic data Lubinsky and his colleagues obtained confirmed that the closest relatives to Tahitian vanilla, from among 40 different Vanilla species they analyzed from across the world, were two species that grow naturally only in the tropical forests of Central America: Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla odorata. V. planifolia is also the primary species cultivated for commercial vanilla, and is grown principally in Madagascar and Indonesia. V. odorata has never been cultivated.

Yet, even with this initial genetic data, the researchers faced a conundrum. They could find no Tahitian vanilla growing wild in Guatemala, which is where its closest relatives grew. The researchers decided to give their genetic data a second look. This time, by comparing patterns of relatedness in DNA sequences from both the nucleus and the chloroplast (a plant cell's photosynthetic factory), they discovered that Tahitian vanilla fit the pattern of being a hybrid offspring between V. planifolia and V. odorata.

"And that's where the Maya cultivators come in," Lubinsky explained. "The pre-Columbian Maya had been managing their forests for millennia to cultivate cacao and to make chocolate, and we know they were also cultivating vanilla to use it as a chocolate spice. The Maya created these forest gardens by introducing different types of species of wild cacao and vanilla from the surrounding forests, which meant that species that had previously been geographically separated were then able to hybridize because they were in the same place. That's the scenario we present in our research paper for how Tahitian vanilla got started. It is an evolutionary product, but also a Maya artifact."

Seung-Chul Kim, an assistant professor of systematics in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences and a coauthor on the research paper, served as an advisor to Lubinsky on the project.

"Pesach has demonstrated that Vanilla species can exchange genes quite frequently across species barriers," Kim said. "This provides an opportunity to breed new commercial varieties of vanilla through hybridization in the future."

Lubinsky, Kim and their colleagues plan to do further research on vanilla. In January 2009, they will begin mapping cacao-vanilla forest gardens in Belize, southern Mexico and Guatemala. They also are actively advising on sustainable agricultural development projects using vanilla in Mexico and Belize, and have plans to assemble a vanilla germplasm collection.
Lubinsky and Kim were joined in the research by Kenneth M. Cameron of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis.; María Carmen Molina of Escuela Superior de Ciencias Experimentales y Tecnología, Móstoles, Spain; Maurice Wong and Sandra Lepers-Andrzejewski of the Etablissement Vanille de Tahiti, French Polynesia; and Arturo Gómez-Pompa of the Universidad Veracruzana, Veracruz, Mexico. A UCR professor emeritus of botany who was named a University Professor, Gómez-Pompa is now the director of the Universidad Veracruzana's Centro de Investigaciones Tropicales (Center of Tropical Research or CITRO). He also served as Lubinsky's advisor on the research project.

The research was funded by the Graduate Research Fellowship Program of the National Science Foundation; the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS); a University of California Office of the President Pacific Rim mini-grant; and UCR's Department of Botany and Plant Sciences.
Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
University of California - Riverside

21 August 2008

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1.16  International seed treaty’s goals of biodiversity and food security are tough to implement

As the world struggles with a global food crisis, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) is working to support biodiversity as a way to contribute to food security.

To that end, the FAO has launched an initiative to ensure that this global genetic diversity is accessible, in the hopes that this will promote sustainable agriculture and increased food security.

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which addresses the need for diversity by promoting conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use, was adopted by the FAO Conference in November 2001 and it came into force in June 2004. As of mid-July, 118 countries, or contracting parties, had signed the accord, according to the website.

The treaty aims at collecting and sharing global plant genetic resources to sponsor genetic diversity and ensure food security. Its main components are: farmers’ rights, the multilateral system of access and benefit sharing, and a funding strategy.

Farmers’ Rights and Benefit Sharing
The treaty recognises the contribution of farmers to the diversity of crops. In Article 9, it describes a global system to provide farmers, plant breeders and scientists with access to plant genetic material and ensures that recipients share benefits they derive from the use of these genetic materials.

This also ensures that diverse genetic resources are not merely conserved, but also used to “improve yields and quality… to face plant diseases and climate change and meet evolving human needs.”

The treaty encourages contracting party governments to “as appropriate… take measures to protect and promote farmers’ rights,” including the right to participate in decision-making on plant genetic resources at the national level, the right to the protection of traditional knowledge, and the right to participate equitably in benefit-sharing. It also recognises that farmers may have the right to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed, although this depends on action by national legislations, according to Shakeel Bhatti, executive secretary of the treaty.

The Multilateral System and Transfer of Genetic Resources
Under the treaty, contracting parties agree to make their genetic diversity and related information about the crops stored in their gene banks available to all. The tool for this is a multilateral system of access and benefit-sharing, which was implemented in 2007. During the first eight months of its existence, it was used to make 89,000 transfers of material, said Bhatti.

The system creates an online, searchable database of genetic resources contained in signatory countries’ gene banks. It applies to 64 major crops and forages (food crops for grazing animals, such as cattle), including rice, wheat, lentils, apples, sorghum and yams.

Materials included in the multilateral system are under the management and control of the contracting parties and mostly are in the public domain. However, some IP rights could remain on material voluntarily included in the system by their holders at the invitation of contracting parties.

According to the treaty, recipients of genetic materials shall not claim IP rights on plant genetic resources or their genetic parts, in the form they received them from the multilateral system. The treaty also makes allowances for access to genetic material still protected by IP laws, saying international IP regulations must be followed but that developing and least developed countries should be given favourable terms for access to sustainable technologies.

Should a recipient create another plant with some of the genetic materials obtained through the multilateral system, the contracting parties agree that benefits arising from its use must be shared fairly and equitably, especially those arising from commercialisation.

“The funds will go exclusively to the benefit of farmers in developing countries,” said Bhatti. Benefit sharing also is achieved through facilitated access to genetic material for all users, technology transfer for conservation, characterisation, evaluation and use of genetic resources, and capacity-building through scientific and technical education, and training in conservation and sustainable use.

Transfers of genetic materials are done through standard material transfer agreements (SMTAs) between providers and recipients. Access to genetic materials is only allowed for utilisation and conservation for research, breeding and training for food and agriculture. Neither chemical nor pharmaceutical uses are possible.

Breeders Reluctant to Use Multilateral System
The conditions under which materials are obtained through the multilateral system do not seem to meet breeders’ expectations, according to the International Seed Federation (ISF). With members in over 70 developed and developing countries, ISF says they represent a large majority of the world seed trade and plant breeders’ community.

Although the ISF said it “strongly supports the multilateral system and the principle of the standard material transfer” in a 2007 position paper, Bernard Le Buanec, senior advisor and secretary general of the organisation until December 2007, expressed concerned at the absence of a threshold of the level of incorporation of accessed material in the final product.

“When we integrate a genetic material in a research programme, we would like to pay royalties only from a certain percentage of the material used. If we fall below this percentage, we should be exempt of royalties,” Le Buanec said.

Another major problem, according to Le Buanec, is that there is no time limit on SMTAs. “Very few corporations are willing to commit for an infinite period of time,” he said, adding that there needs to be a clause in the SMTA allowing for termination of the contract. “The governing body will have to review it in future years,” he said, as private companies will not likely use the system as it is. To his knowledge, most SMTAs have been signed by universities or public corporations.

Breeders can share benefits arising from use of the multilateral system in two ways. If they choose not to patent a new seed variety they have created, then it is accessible to all, said Le Buanec, and represents a benefit in kind. “For us, this is benefit-sharing,” said Pierre Roger, senior IP attorney for Groupe Limagrain. If they patent their creation, then there will be a sharing of the commercial benefits.

NGOs Question Treaty Efficacy For Farmers’ Rights
For Philippe Cullet from the International Environmental Law Research Centre, the treaty does not fulfil the goal of strengthening farmers’ rights. The right to save, use and exchange stated in the treaty is “basically restating things which are so obvious that they should make policy makers blush,” he said. “It is a bit like saying that farmers have a right over the crops they have grown over their own land.”

According to Cullet, the problem is that the treaty does not preclude the introduction of “technology-use” agreements that would prevent, as a condition of sale, farmers from replanting second-generation seeds from a purchase.

GRAIN, an NGO promoting the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity reported in November 2007 that some 30 farmers’ and other civil society organisations formally asked that the exchange of crop genetic materials be halted at a United Nations meeting on the treaty because they felt that governments were not meeting their obligations. Some farmers said that the treaty favoured multinational seed companies in giving them access to farmers’ seeds without reciprocal benefits, according to GRAIN.

Many unresolved tensions surround the treaty, according to Hope Shand from the nongovernmental ETC Group, which was involved in the seven-year negotiations leading to the treaty.

“ETC Group believes that the treaty’s interpretation of farmers’ rights must be strengthened within the context of food sovereignty. Governments must commit money and energy into a long-term strategy for on-farm conservation and breeding,” she said.

The right to save, use and exchange seeds is a complex ground. In a declaration of civil society organisations present at the second meeting of the governing body of the treaty in November 2007, farmers tied their rights on reusing, conserving, protecting, exchanging and selling their seeds to their rights to freely access genetic resources to their contribution to the conservation and renewal of biodiversity, reported GRAIN. However, seed saving, conserving, and selling are forbidden in a number of countries that are signatories to the treaty. The civil society organisations said that it was the treaty’s responsibility to assist states to implement legislation that upholds these rights.

Noting in 2007 that “there is uncertainty in many countries as to how farmers’ rights can be implemented,” the governing body has adopted a resolution on farmers’ rights and initiated an information gathering exercise said Bhatti. A request has been issued to provide information on how farmers’ rights are implemented in individual countries and how those countries plan to proceed, he said.

Funding Strategy: the Norwegian Initiative
The funding of the treaty appears to be a trying operation, with monetary benefits from commercialisation of new varieties not expected for years, due to lengthy research processes and the apparent lack of government funding.

In March 2008, Norway announced that it intends to make an annual contribution to the benefit-sharing fund of the treaty. The contribution will amount to 0.1 percent of the value of all seeds that are sold through Norwegian agribusiness and bought by Norwegian farmers. Norway says that it is challenging other countries to make similar contributions.

Steve Suppan, from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said that judging from listserv reports, the implementation of the treaty has been difficult partly due to lack of funding by the contracting parties.

By Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch

August 13, 2008

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1.17  AgriLife Research breeder develops drought-tolerant corn

ETTER – At the end of the day, drought tolerance in corn has to equate to good yields and good quality, not just good looks, said a Texas AgriLife Research scientist.

Dr. Wenwei Xu, AgriLife Research corn breeder from Lubbock, is working with crosses between temperate and tropically adapted varieties of corn to find a drought-tolerant plant that performs well under reduced irrigation.

"With the continuing decline of the Ogallala Aquifer water level and increasing cost of pumping water, the use of drought-tolerant and high-yield corn hybrids is a key for sustainable corn production under limited irrigation," Xu said.

A field day was held recently at the North Plains AgriLife Research Station near Etter to demonstrate the differences between the parent plants and the offspring, or crosses.
"We hope to reduce the amount of water required for corn by at least 10 percent," Xu said.

Already the AgriLife Research program out of Lubbock has released four inbred lines of corn and numerous others are in the process for release, he said.

"The new multiple-stress-tolerant corn lines can be used to produce corn hybrids adapted to Texas and other southern states," Xu said. "They can be a powerful tool to save water and produce crops with yield and grain quality under stressful environments."

The research station at Etter is one of three test sites in Xu's program. The others are located at Halfway and Lubbock.

About 500 hybrids are being evaluated this year for either grain yield or silage yield and quality, he said.

Xu said there has been an increasing demand for silage corn in the Texas High Plains, and producers need new hybrids adapted to the local environment. Corn produced in the U.S. is primarily based on two races of maize, but there are more than 250 races identified around the world, Xu said.

"Most of our breeding efforts start by crossing tropical corn with temperate elite lines," he said. "Then we select for desirable traits to broaden genetic diversity and introduce useful genes from exotic corn to improve stress tolerance, agronomic productivity, disease resistance, insect resistance and value-added grain characteristics."

Xu said some of the experimental hybrids they are working with have produced the same silage yield under irrigation equaling 75 percent evapotranspiration as with 100 percent evapotranspiration irrigation.

Evapotranspiration is the loss of water from the soil both by evaporation and by transpiration from the plants, and is reported on a daily basis through the Texas High Plains Evapotranspiration Network ( ).

Bruce Spinhirne, AgriLife Research associate based in Lubbock, said they reduced the irrigation on a few hybrids by 50 percent and had a severe yield and quality limitation, so they followed that by the 75 percent water application.

Those results are due in part to the use of stored moisture in the soil profile, Spinhirne said.

"At 75 percent (evapotranspiration), you have 3 to 4 inches of available moisture that is used, where if you are watering at 100 percent, it is wasted," he said.

The average silage yield of 20 corn hybrids at two locations (Etter and Halfway) was 26.84 tons per acre under 75 percent evapotranspiration irrigation, just slightly lower than the 27.49 tons per acre under 100 percent evapotranpiration irrigation, Spinhirne said.

However, he said, there were significant differences among hybrids in each environment.

"One of our experimental hybrids produced the same amount of silage in both locations when irrigation was reduced from 100 percent to 75 percent," Spinhirne said.

"Developing and using new corn hybrids with improved tolerance to drought and other stresses is important and a viable water-saving approach," he said.
More information on the corn and silage trials can be found at .

Contact: Dr. Wenwei Xu
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications

25 August 2008

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1.18  Corn genetics may lead to next generation of plant-based biofuels

West Lafayette, Indiana
Identifying the corn genes involved with plant cell wall generation and learning their function will help develop new, more productive sources of transportation biofuel, according to two Purdue University researchers.

Nick Carpita and Maureen McCann will study genes involved in the formation of cell walls in the group of plants known as grasses, which includes corn. The goal is to find ways to produce more biomass containing more sugars that can be efficiently processed into biofuel.

"The close evolutionary and genomic relationships of maize or corn to other grasses will take us one step closer to some new, good sources of bioenergy," said Carpita, a geneticist in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology. "Maize cell walls and the genes responsible for wall formation are characteristic of all grasses."

The research team will analyze the genes in both maize and switchgrass. Switchgrass is another plant investigated for biofuel production, but it also needs modification to increase yields.

Researchers already know that most plants use about 10 percent of their entire genome for cell wall construction, but very little is known about the specific functions of those genes.

"Maize has the same genes arranged in the same order and on the same chromosomes as the other grasses," said McCann, an associate professor of biological science. "We'll switch genes on and off as we identify them to see what they do. Once we know the genes and their functions, then we can assess which ones might make good targets for modification for enhanced biomass and sugars for processing into biofuel."

In the United States, ethanol is mainly made from corn because starch in the kernels is easily converted to sugar for fermentation to the alternative fuel. Scientists are studying ways to more easily produce fuel from plant biomass, which is composed of cell walls.

Identifying and classifying the genes for cell wall building and regulation in maize also will help determine how grasses grow and develop.
A U.S. Department of Energy/U.S. Department of Agriculture research program to accelerate development of biofuels from plants funds Carpita and McCann's genomic plant cell wall construction study with a $1.2 million grant.

27 August 2008

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1.19  Herbicide tolerance sought for southern peas

Alma, Arkansas
Scientists at the University of Arkansas System's Division of Agriculture are working toward developing southern pea varieties with herbicide tolerance that could bring a new weapon to the battle to control weeds.

Graduate student Vinod Shivrain told visitors to a field day Aug. 22 at the Division's Vegetable Research Station near Kibler that weed scientist Nilda Burgos is working with vegetable breeder Teddy Morelock to select breeding lines for tolerance to several commercial herbicides.

In test plots, Shivrain said, various breeding lines are sprayed with herbicides. Then seed is selected from the plants that survive. Those seeds are planted the following year and the process is repeated. Similar work is being done for spinach and other vegetable crops, Shivrain said.

Morelock said building herbicide tolerance in southern peas is an exciting move for the breeding program. Since the program began about 60 years ago, he said, breeders have developed improved varieties for both commercial processors and home gardens.

"One of the things we worked to accomplish," Morelock said, "was to get the pods on top of the plant, where they would be easier to harvest, rather than on runners on the ground."

Morelock said there are about 7,500 breeding lines in the program, a massive number to keep track of. The latest varieties to be released, in 2008, are Ebony, a black pea with a white eye, and Envoy, a red "Holstein" with a reddish brown and tan mottling.

"These are both good eating peas," Morelock said. "Envoy had the top yields in trials for three years in a row, so it's a novelty variety with high yields."

In another presentation, division entomologist Paul McLeod told the pea growers, processors and seed dealers in attendance that entomologists love working with southern peas.

"Insects love southern peas," McLeod said. "They go after them from planting right through storage."

The main culprits, he said, are thrips and aphids. But treating pea fields against insect pests can be expensive for a crop with a narrow profit margin.

"We've been looking at seed treatments as a means of lowering costs," McLeod said. "Seed treatments are relatively cheap to put on and the good news is that it looks like it's working."

So far, tests have shown seed treatments can give good control for both thrips and aphids, McLeod said.

25 August 2008

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1.20  New method discovered to make potatoes resistant to Phytophthora

Wageningen, The Netherlands
Dutch, British and American scientists have developed a method to more quickly identify and isolate genes that can be used to make potatoes resistant to Phytophthora infestans, the dreaded potato blight. With this method, multiple resistance genes from different species of potatoes can be isolated and possibly used simultaneously. This offers the prospect of achieving sustainable resistance against the pathogen because it is less capable of breaking the resistance of the potato when multiple genes are involved.

According to researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre in the UK and Ohio State University in the USA, the best strategy to make potatoes resistant to the stubborn fungal pathogen Phytophthora is to develop so-called broad spectrum resistance. In their article, published on 6 August in the journal PLoS One, they explained that the current methods to discover resistance genes are too slow. Moreover, because they often concern only a single gene, these methods do not lead to sustainable resistance because Phytophthora can break single-gene resistance relatively quickly and easily.


The newly developed method is based on the interaction of genes of the pathogen and genes of the potato. The response of the potato involves resistance genes in the plant, and the response of P. infestans involves so-called avirulence genes. The avirulence gene produces proteins (effectors) that are recognised by the resistance gene proteins of the potato; an interaction then takes place. By using effectors (proteins that are secreted by Phytophthora into the plant after infection takes place), researchers can relatively quickly identify and isolate the genes that are crucial to the interaction. Because the pathogen (Phytophthora) cannot switch off these proteins, but produces them constantly, genes that can recognise these proteins can potentially serve as resistance genes.

In the study, a set of 54 effectors (of an estimated 500 effectors in total) were tested on a large set of wild potato species. In many cases, this led to reactions from the wild potato species (the hypersensitivity response: the location where the effector protein was applied begins die off) and in one case to the actual identification of the effector protein – known as IPiO. This effector turned out to be directly correlated with the resistance of three wild species, S. stoloniferum, S. papita and S. bulbocastanum. This means that a positive response against the effector always occurred in plants that had the resistance gene. In additional studies, the researchers were able to show that the effector in this case was the avirulence gene of the resistance gene. Because the researchers realised that the resistance genes from the three species had to be very similar, they were quickly able to isolate the resistance genes in S. papita and S. stoloniferum by using their knowledge of the previously isolated resistance gene from S. bulbocastanum.

Permanent threat

Since Phytophthora first ravaged the potato – an event epitomised by the notorious Irish Potato Famine in the 19th century – this pathogen has been a permanent threat, and has repeatedly led to disastrous crop damage and high production costs. Until now, a very labour-intensive process of searching for sustainable resistance has yielded few or no results, and the use of fungicides has been essentially the only way to control the disease in modern agriculture.

The methods described in the article make it possible – relatively quickly – to acquire an impression of the prevalence and nature of resistance genes that would be very difficult or even impossible for the pathogen to break. By combining several of these potentially hard-to-break resistance genes, sustainable resistance will come within reach.

7 August 2008

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1.21  New virus threatens High Plains wheat crop

Early identification could save producers millions

AMARILLO – Triticum mosaic virus poses a new threat to Texas wheat, according to Texas AgriLife Research scientists in Amarillo.

The disease was discovered in 2006 by Dr. Dallas Seifers, a Kansas State University researcher, said Jacob Price, AgriLife Research associate researcher.

Price is working with Dr. Charlie Rush, AgriLife Research plant pathologist, and Dr. Ron French, Texas AgriLife Extension Service plant pathologist, on a variety of studies to determine how big of a role it plays in the disease pressure put on area wheat.

The virus is difficult to detect and contain because it is carried by the same mite and exhibits many of the same symptoms as several other diseases already attacking wheat, Price said. It is in the same family of diseases as wheat streak mosaic.

Triticum mosaic virus is carried by the wheat curl mite, he said, which is the same vector that spreads/transmits wheat streak mosaic virus and High Plains virus.

Symptoms of each of the diseases are generally yellowing and stunted plants, Price said. While they all look the same, he said he is studying yield reduction, root development and water uptake to see if they vary between the diseases.

"Right now, there's not much you can do about the vector, so it is all a matter of management," he said. That includes both prevention and reduction of inputs once a field is infected.

Destroying volunteer wheat and reducing natural prairie grasses around wheat fields are the key control methods at this time, Price said. This is especially important for dryland producers who plant early, because the grasses act as a "green bridge" to the wheat.

"The wheat curl mite is found on volunteer wheat and many different grasses, and is blown in the air by winds," he said.

Also, because the symptoms of all these viruses are indistinguishable in the field, producers will need to get any sick wheat tested, Price said.

"Bring it to us or mail it to us," he said. If a sample is mailed, it needs to be packed with a cold pack. Sample submission forms can be found at .

Price said it is hard to know how much yield loss has been caused by the triticum mosaic virus alone, because no one knew it existed and therefor did not test for it until last year's crop.

From March 14-June 6, Price received 309 wheat samples. Of the samples, he said, 72 percent tested positive for wheat streak mosaic, 51 percent for triticum mosaic virus, 34 percent for High Plains virus and 14 percent for barley yellow dwarf virus.

"Very rarely did you find triticum without wheat streak mosaic," Price said.

Of the samples containing triticum mosaic virus, he said 47 percent also had wheat streak mosaic and 4 percent also had High Plains virus, but the other 49 percent had all three viruses.

Price worked to find out how widespread the triticum virus was and found it throughout the entire west side of the Texas Panhandle.

"I really need to survey everywhere I can this year," he said. He wants to try to determine where the diseases cross, transmissibility by vectors, host ranges such as native grasses and conservation reserve program grasses, yield loss due to single and dual infections and distribution for multiple viruses.

In a previous study, Price has determined wheat streak mosaic virus reduces water uptake. With early diagnosis of the problem and thus irrigation reduction, a producer with a 540-acre center pivot can eliminate two irrigations totaling 4 inches, at $11 per thousand cubic feet, and save approximately $24,000, he said.

"In calculating the counties with wheat acreage infected in the northern Panhandle, early diagnosis could save as much as $9 million for producers by eliminating wasted irrigations," he said. "We weren't testing for triticum at that time, so it is also a factor to be investigated."

Price said they are using satellite imagery early in the season to identify suspect fields and then will go out and test the field.

"We have the potential to save producers billions of dollars in wasted irrigation and fertilizer costs," he said.

While some detection of the disease can be made during warm falls and in early planted wheat, the typical time it will start showing up is during February and March when things start greening up and coming out of dormancy, Price said.

"The main time people irrigate in this area is in the late spring and summer during grain fill and heading," he said. "We want to catch it before then, if not in the fall."

Contact: Dr. Charlie Rush
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications

21 August 2008

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1.22  African scientists reveal origins of maize streak virus

August 26, 2008
Carol Campbell, SciDev.Net

African scientists have uncovered how one of the world's most economically devastating crop diseases emerged, and hope to genetically engineer disease resistant crops using the information.

Researchers compared the genetic sequence of the virulent maize streak virus (MSV) with ten less harmful strains of the virus from across the continent, which infect other grass food crops such as wheat and oats.

"We found that two relatively mild grass viruses had merged through genetic recombination," says researcher Arvind Varsani, from the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa.

This merger resulted in an ancestral MSV far more potent than its parents, which moved into maize before spreading rapidly across the continent.

The researchers think that this occurred about a century ago, just when commercial agriculture was replacing subsistence farming and maize started to overshadow indigenous crops in Africa.

The findings, published in the September issue of the Journal of General Virology, highlight the importance of research into plant diseases.

"Our results mean that DNA viruses are evolving faster than was thought. This rapid mutation increases the possibility of new plant viruses emerging," Varsani told SciDev.Net.

"While plant diseases do not feature very highly in the public's consciousness, their impact on food production causes more suffering in the developing world than many high profile human diseases," says lead researcher Darren Martin of South Africa's Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine.

Studying plant diseases can provide information about pathogens that can be used to develop resistant crops.

Each year, at least two hundred samples of infected maize are analysed by the UCT team. An analysis of virus-infected maize from Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Namibia and Zambia will begin this month and be placed in a database.

Dionne Shepherd of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UCT is leading efforts to genetically engineer a type of maize resistant to the streak virus.

"We have developed maize that is resistant to the streak virus. Now we need to prove that it will hold up under different conditions throughout sub-Saharan Africa," Shepherd told SciDev.Net.


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1.23  Scientists discover new plant hormone

Wageningen, The Netherlands
Scientists from the Wageningen University Laboratory of Plant Physiology and an international team of scientists have discovered a new group of plant hormones, the so-called strigolactones. This group of chemicals is known to be involved in the interaction between plants and their environment. The scientists have now proven that strigolactones, as hormones, are also crucial for the branching of plants. The discovery will soon be published in Nature and is of great importance for innovations in agriculture. Examples include the development of cut flowers or tomato plants with more or fewer branches. These crops are of major economic and social importance worldwide.

The growth and development of plants is largely controlled by plant hormones. Plants produce these chemicals themselves, thus controlling the growth and development of roots and stems, for example. A number of plant hormones, such as auxins, giberellins and cytokinins, were discovered by scientists decades ago. Now a new group of hormones has been found: The so-called strigolactones.
Previous research by institutes including Wageningen UR has shown that strigolactones plays a major part in the interaction between plants and their environment. As plants cannot move, they commonly use their own chemicals to control the environment as best as they can.

Strigolactones are of major importance to the interaction between plants and symbiotic fungi, for example. These fungi live in a symbiotic relationship with plants, lthat is mutually beneficial. They transport minerals from the soil to the plant, while the plant gives the fungi sugars ‘in return’.

Unfortunately, the strigolactones have also been “hijacked” by harmful organisms: They help seeds of parasitic plants to germinate when plant roots are in the vicinity. The seedlings of the parasite attach to the root of the plant and use the plant’s nutrients for their own growth and reproduction. Unlike the symbiotic fungi, however, they do not give anything in return. On the contrary, the parasitism often causes the host plant to die, eventually.

The international research team consisting of French, Australian and Dutch scientists, coordinated in France, found mutants of pea that were branching without restraint. It turned out that these pea plants were not capable of producing strigolactones. When the plants were administered strigolactones, the unrestrained branching stopped. The same effect occurred in an entirely different plant, thale cress. The mutant plants also caused a significant lower germination of the parasitic plant seeds and induced less interaction with symbiotic fungi.

The scientists also showed that a specific ‘receptor reaction’ for the strigolactones occurs in plants, a phenomenon that is characteristic for plant hormones. Although some previously discovered plants with unrestrained branching turned out to be producing strigolactones themselves, their receptor connection was disturbed: Strigolactones administered from the outside could not stop the uncontrolled branching.

It has also been shown that the plants are capable of transporting strigolactones internally and that the chemicals work at very low concentrations, two other typical characteristics of plant hormones.

The importance of this discovery of a new group of plant hormones is emphasised by the fact that Nature is publishing an article by a Japanese team in the same issue in which similar results are presented. It is expected that this new knowledge will be applied in agriculture and horticulture, for example in breeding and the development of branching regulators.

Cut flower varieties and potted plants with either more or less branching may have special ornamental value, while crops with more or less branching may be beneficial in cultivation. Tomato plants in which less branching occurs can benefit the greenhouse horticulture, for instance.

Plant breeding and greenhouse horticulture are key agricultural industries in the Netherlands and strongly focussed on innovation.

12 August 2008

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1.24  Wheat genotyping: an invaluable service

Washington, DC
Helping plant breeders develop new wheat varieties with improved disease resistance, stress tolerance and other desirable traits is the goal of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists based at four regional small-grains genotyping centers.

Ranked third behind corn and soybeans in planted acreage and gross receipts, wheat is a major crop used in everything from flour and baked goods to crackers and pancakes. Yet insects and diseases pose a constant threat to the crop's productivity. Fortunately, new advances in the field of genomics are speeding scientists' identification of new traits to keep wheat healthy and productive in the face of these and other threats.

For example, at the ARS Western Regional Small Grains Genotyping Laboratory in Pullman, Wash., geneticist Deven See leads a team tasked with furnishing wheat and barley breeders in five states--Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana--with genetic profiles of their germplasm materials. See estimates at least 60 percent of genotyping requests received from breeders there are for genes conferring resistance to a fungal disease called stripe rust.

In Pacific Northwest production areas, stripe rust can inflict yield losses of up to 40 percent. Conventional methods of screening germplasm for resistance genes can take months to complete. Now, thanks to the genotypic services offered by See's group, coupled with the use of a technique called marker-assisted selection, breeders can identify resistant germplasm within a few days.

At the ARS Cereal Crops Research Unit in Fargo, N.D., molecular geneticist Shiaoman Chao is building a database to store genotypic information generated at her location as well as Pullman and two other regional small-grain genotyping centers: the ARS Plant Science Research Unit in Raleigh, N.C., and the ARS Plant Science and Entomology Research Unit in Manhattan, Kan.

Among their accomplishments, Chao and colleagues have genotyped 400 single nucleotide polymorphism DNA sequence variations in a selection of elite U.S. wheat cultivars that can be linked to desirable traits in the crop, expediting breeding efforts.

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

ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
By Jan Suzskiw

6 August 2008

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1.25  Introducing a new high throughput and high content plant phenotyping platform

Würselen, Germany
Following the huge accomplishments in plant genetics, the subsequent challenge is the mapping of large populations for a better understanding of plant phenomics and integrated plant performance, thus achieving fast targeted breeding. Introducing the new high throughput and high content plant phenotyping platform LemnaTec provides the technology to answer this new challenge

This Scanalyzer platform is based on the advanced technology of highly efficient production systems used for example in the automotive industry , though specifically adapted to the rough greenhouse conditions and further developed to meet the particular needs of advanced science-directed breeding.

Plants are phenotyped continuously with the so-called “moving field concept” enhancing the statistical power of the greenhouse trials.

The automatic greenhouse logistic management system moves plants in different greenhouses and from the greenhouses area to the scanning area. The core technology of the system is the LemnaTec Scanalyzer 3D phenotyping platform.

By using latest RFID Technology each plant can be automatically identified and tracked throughout its whole lifecycle in the greenhouse.

Based on multiple wavelength imaging plants are imaged under highly defined conditions in specific chambers. Each single plant can be automatically imaged on a daily basis. Plant specific imaging protocols lift the plants and define camera magnification in order to achieve optimized imaging of all growth stages.

Download videos
Scanalyzer 3D Demo high resolution
Scanalyzer 3D Film low resolution

Download PDF documents
High throughput screening plants 3D
Morphological Arabidopsis Phenotyping

Arabidopssis assessment in time
Phenotyping Corn
e-gfp in Arabidopsis
Bio volume and alignment of plants

29 August 2008

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2.01  Seed wars: controversies and cases on plant genetic resources and intellectual property

Davis, California
A new book written by UC Davis law professor Keith Aoki chronicles the expansion of intellectual property protection for plants throughout the past several decades and speculates on possible ways to ensure that plant genetic resources remain freely available across national borders to farmers, plant breeders and researchers.

"Seed Wars" is published by the Carolina Academic Press
Seed Wars is a comprehensive overview of the current domestic and international legal controversies regarding intellectual property protections for plant genetic resources (PGRs) over the past three decades. This book examines these controversies on three fronts:
(1) the rise of intellectual property protections for plant varieties and the enclosure of the “genetic” commons;
(2) the subsequent move of the agro-chemical industry from manufacturing fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to “manufacturing” seeds in the context of industrial agriculture; and
(3) the emergence of overlapping regimes of domestic and multilateral treaties such as the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS, 1994), the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD, 1992) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGR, 2004) from the 1990s on.

Finally, this book speculates on possible directions that intellectual property protection for PGRs may take in the 21st century.

While intellectual property protection for plants has been available in the United States since 1930, the decade of the 1960s saw the rise of Plant Variety Protections in Europe and by 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court embraced the idea that living organisms could be patented, paving the way for new plant varieties to receive utility patent protection in the U.S.

Source: Carolina Academic Press website via
11 August 2008

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2.02  Some wild growing fruits, nuts and edible plants of the western Himalayas

I am pleased inform you that I have brought out a CD,  Some Wild Growing Fruits; Nuts and Edible Plants of the Western Himalayas.  This CD has basic information about 30 wild growing fruits, 11 wild growing nuts and 10 wild growing edible plants.  The information has been given in 203 Power Point slides.  The CD also has 153 pictures (89 of fruits, 22 of nuts and 36 of wild edible plants).

The CD is in PDF format.  The information in CD is in the form of Power Point presentations.

My book, Wild Fruits of the sub Himalayan Region, was published in 1982.  The had information about 26 wild fruits only.  It had only 25 B & W plates, which were of just ordinary quality.  I continued working on these plants after 1982 too and the CD is the outcome of that work.

The CD has recently been reviewed in Summer 2007 issue of Pomona.

The CD is priced only US$15. Contact the author for order information.

Dr. Chiranjit Parmar
186/3 Jail Road
Mandi  HP  175001, INDIA
Phone: 01905-222810, 94181 - 81323

About the author
Wild fruits
1. Wild Pear Shiara – Pyrus serotina
2. Kaphal – Myrica nagi
3. Lassora – Cordia oblique
4. Dheu – Artocarpus lakoocha
5. Wild Date – Phoenix sylvestris
6. Taryambal – Ficus roxburghii
7. Bael – Aegle marmelos
8. Wild sour pomegranate
9. Kashmal – Berberis aristata
10. Ghain – Eleagnus umbellate
11. Aakhe – Rubus ellipticus
12. Wild Apricot – Zardalu
13. Wild pear –Kainth – Pyrus pashia
14. Himalayan wild amla
15. Fegra – Ficus palmate
16. Wild Apricot – Chulli
17. Amlook – Diospyros tomentosa
18. Nalakhe – Rubus niveus
19. Wild Peach – Kateru
20. Karondu – Carissa spinarum
21. Wild Grape – Bhambti
22. Wild Peach – Aran
23. Wild Grape – Bhambay
24. Curry leaf plant – Himalayan strain
25. Prickly pear – Opuntia dillenii
26. Wild strawberry
27. Wild cape gooseberry
28. Hill banana
29. Kangu – Flacourtia sapida
30. Wild Apricot – Sarha

Wild Nuts
1. Pine nut – Pinus gerardiana
2. Thangi – Corylus jaquemonti
3. Horse chestnut – Aesculus indicus
4. Wild Walnut
5. Bahera – Terminalia
6. Bitter almond
7. Behmi – Prunus mira

Wild Growing Edible Plants:
1. Fegri – Ficus palmate
2. Lingad – Pteridium aquililium
3. Taradi – Dioscorea spp.
4. Chhoochh ka saag – Water hyacinth
5. Bathu – Chenopodium spp.
6. Lassora – Cordia oblique
7. Chooda ka saag -
8. Karyale – Bauhinia variegate
9. Chulai – Amaranthus spp.
10. Brawah – Rhododendron arboretum

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3.01  GIPB Knowledge Resource Center launches the Plant Breeding Electronic Journal Club

Rome, Italy
The GIPB Knowledge Resource Center is launching the Plant Breeding Electronic Journal Club, a virtual place that allows communities to meet and critically evaluate plant breeding and related fields' articles in the scientific literature.

This e-Journal Club is directed to professionals and students interested in discussing relevant plant breeding themes and issues. Its majors objectives are to help improve skills of understanding and debating current topics of interest to plant breeding and to promote intellectually stimulating and professionally rewarding exchange with colleagues from around the world.

This e-Journal Club will use Fireboard, a forum component fully integrated to the GIPB website, which allows implementation of many e-Journal Club groups simultaneously. Dr. Fred Bliss kindly agreed to serve as the convener of this first GIPB e-Journal Club, which will discuss the article “Quantitative Genetics, Genomics, and the Future of Plant Breeding” by Dr. Bruce Walsh.

In order to participate you just need to follow the instructions in the front page of the GIPB website. Registration is now opened and the e-Journal Club will start on Wednesday, 6 August 2008.

Please, note that discussion in this first e-Journal Club will be held in English, but proposals of conveners willing to start e-Journal Clubs in other languages can be sent to

The GIPB Knowledge Resource Center provides a wide array of plant breeding and related information, tools and resources, such as:
-A worldwide assessment of plant breeding capacity;
-Newly published plant breeding and related literature;
-Opportunities in training and capacity building;
-Links to plant breeding news in the world media;
-Announcements of important events related to plant breeding;
-Links to organizations and networks that have direct connections with plant breeding;

Click HERE to see these and other features.

We look forward to your participation.

Elcio Guimarães, Maurício Lopes and Michela Paganini, E-Journal Club Facilitators

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3.02  USDA/ARS produces online databases for maize, blueberries

Washington, DC
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and colleagues have produced several online bioinformatics resources to support plant breeders and other scientists who research genetic traits among plant species. Bioinformatics is a field of science in which biology, computer science and information technology merge to form a single discipline.

ARS investigators Doreen Ware, Edward Buckler, Michael McMullen, James Holland and university colleagues produced Panzea, an online bioinformatics resource on maize diversity with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Science Foundation. Buckler and Ware are with ARS units in Ithaca, N.Y; McMullen in Columbia, Mo.; and Holland in Raleigh, N.C. Panzea contains millions of data points, providing access to genotype, phenotype and polymorphism data.

Maize is a diverse crop species. On average, two different maize lines can be as genetically different as a human and a chimpanzee. A key aspect of the program is identifying chromosomal regions at which exotic maize lines possess genes with agronomic effects superior to those carried in Corn Belt lines.

Panzea is available at:

Another genomics database supports blueberry breeders who are generating plants that can adapt to a wide range of soils, climates and harvests. Blueberry is now a major berry crop and sales are rising quickly, according to industry experts.

ARS plant geneticist Jeannine Rowland and colleagues produced the online blueberry genomics database, which is called the BBGD.

The researchers are with the ARS Genetic Improvement of Fruits and Vegetables Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. They have identified gene sequences and molecular markers of horticultural significance in blueberry. That information is available through the BBGD for marker-assisted breeding and transformation.

The database provides key information on gene expression related to a cultivar's ability to acclimate and survive during cold winters--a critical step to good summer yields. The BBGD is available at:

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

ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
By Rosalie Marion Bliss
ARS is a scientific research agency of the USDA.

7 August 2008

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3.03  Seed Info: an electronic newsletter of the Regional Seed Network

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, Aleppo, Syria; E-mail:

General information about the mailing list is at:

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4.01  GIPB - Call for proposals: promoting the use of crop diversity to help address environmental and climate challenges (EXTENDED DEADLINE)

Food and energy prices are soaring, changes in environmental and climatic conditions are bringing new challenges to food production, and crops for bio-energy generation are conveying new opportunities as well as challenges to the agricultural sector.  This new scenario being faced by today’s world is calling the attention to crop diversity management and use, areas of applied science that have been neglected in the recent decades.  Better use of genetic diversity through pre-breeding and breeding, in association with improved production systems are being highlighted as the best ways to tackle the huge challenge of widening the genetic and adaptability base of cropping systems, especially in developing countries.

Recognizing these challenges, the Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (GIPB), in coordination with the Global Crop Diversity Trust (The Trust) and the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP), lauches its first call for proposals on "Promoting the Use of Crop Diversity to Help Address Environmental and Climate Challenges".  All interested parties are invited to submit proposals, which are going to be considered, based on their synergy and complementarity, for award in early 2009.


See below more information on the three calls:

The Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building Call. GIPB operates a pilot program to support plant breeders dedicated to widening the genetic and adaptability base of improved cultivars in developing countries.  The call for proposals by GIPB targets pre-breeding programmes in national agricultural research systems (NARS), academia, and civil society organisations.  See below the announcement for the submission of proposals under this award scheme.  Please, note that applications must be made in English, on an official proposal template, also available below.
Announcement: English    Español    Français
Proposal Template:   English

The Global Crop Diversity Trust Call.
  Recognising the bottleneck in the use of germplasm collections, the Global Crop Diversity Trust initiated in 2007 a competitive grants scheme to support the evaluation of crop genetic resources. The grants will enable breeders and others to screen germplasm collections for phenotypic characteristics of particular importance in adaptation to climate change, and to make the information generated publicly available. Click here for more information.

The CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme: Genotyping Support Services (GSS) promotes the use of molecular markers to assess the potential value of germplasm by linking grantees with genotyping facilities they may not otherwise have access to. The call for proposals by GSS targets breeding programmes and/or germplasm collections in national agricultural research systems (NARS), academia, and civil society organisations in developing countries.  Click here for more information. (see also 4.02, below).

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4.02  GCP Genotyping Support Service: 2nd call for proposals now open

The CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP), in coordination and collaboration with the Global Crop Diversity Trust (the Trust) and the the Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (GIPB) announces its second call for proposals for the Genotyping Support Service (GSS).

The call from the Trust focuses on phenotyping, the GCP call on genotyping and the GIPB call on capacity-building. Together, these coordinated and complementary calls widen the scope for applicants, by offering an all-round comprehensive programme.

Due dates for submitting proposals are in 2008 and 2009, depending on the call.

For the GCP call, proposal submission is between July 1 2008 and September 30th 2008. Applicants who will have submitted GSS proposals by this date will have up to Wednesday 8th October 2008 to revise and polish their proposals. Please note that this proposal editing window (30th Septemeber to 8th October) will only apply to proposals already registered by 30th September. New proposals submitted after 30th September will not be accepted. These new deadlines supersede both the original 31st August deadline announced in GCP News Issue 32, and the former extended deadline of 10th September 2008. (see also 4.01 above)

Applications are invited from eligible developing country research programmes working on any of the crops listed within the Call.

Contributed by Antonia N N Okono
Communications Manager
CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP)

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4.03  The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) announces two new fellowship programmes

TWAS has entered into agreements with national organizations in Malaysia and Mexico to offer 45 new fellowships each year. Postgraduate fellowships will provide the opportunity for 30 young scientists from developing countries to undertake a full 4-year PhD programme in either Malaysia or Mexico, while 15 postdoctoral fellowships offer the opportunity to study for 6-12 months in the participating countries. Under the agreements, TWAS will provide the cost of travel while the partner organizations -- the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and the National Council on Science and Technology (CONACYT), Mexico -- will cover local expenses. These new fellowships, added to those already provided through agreements with organizations in Brazil, China, India and Pakistan, consolidate the TWAS South-South Fellowships Programme as the largest of its kind in the world.

Issues 1 and 2 of this year's TWAS Newsletter are now online.

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5.01  Research Geneticist (Plants), U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service

The USDA-ARS Crop Genetics and Breeding Research Unit in Tifton, Georgia is seeking a permanent full-time scientist to conduct research requiring the application of molecular and conventional technologies in order to develop germplasm and cultivars of adapted, warm-season grasses.  The primary focus will be on turfgrasses.  Specific objectives include: 1) identification and characterization of traits important in developing germplasm suitable for turf; 2) development and use of marker assisted selection to accelerate development of improved warm-season grass germplasm; 3) development and evaluation of new genetic resources using traditional and molecular approaches; 4) technology transfer of research results to customers, including other public and private industry researchers.  Team research will include the development of warm-season grasses for bioenergy and forage purposes.  Candidate will responsible for reporting research results and for providing general supervision to one technician and students. 

For details and application directions, a full text vacancy announcement may be obtained via the Internet at  Announcement number ARS-X8S-0177 or call Debbie Padgett, 229-386-3504.  U.S. Citizenship is required.  A Federal benefits package is available.  Applications must be postmarked by October 10, 2008.  USDA-ARS is an equal opportunity employer and provider.

Contributed by Waldene Barnhill

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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.

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. (For additional information on this year’s session, see also article 1.13, this issue.)

8-9 September 2008. Course on cassava genetic resources and their manipulation for crop improvement, offered by prof. Nagib Nassar at  ESALQ, USP, Piracicaba, Sao Paulo, Brazil

For inscription, kindly contact prof. Paulo Kageyama, email,  Dept. Florestal, ESALQ.

10-12 September 2008. National Seminar on Recent Trends in Research on Spices and Aromatic Plants, Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar – 125 004 (HARYANA)
Correspondence Addresses:
1. For Spice Crops:
S.K. Arora, Department of Vegetable Science, CCS Haryana Agricultural University,;

2. For Aromatic Crops:
P. K. Verma, Medicinal, Aromatic & Under-Utilized Plants Section, Department of Plant Breeding, CCS Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar-125 004 (Haryana).;

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. (note: see also article 1.13, this issue)

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.
Application forms can be downloaded from the website of Wageningen International, and should be submitted by e-mail to:

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.

3-5 November 2008. Workshop: "Mixed Models in Plant Improvement".The University of Western Australia, International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research.

Register your interest to receive more information with Assoc Prof Wallace Cowling (

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

4-8 November 2008. 3rd International Conference for Peanut Genomics and Biotechnology on Advances in Arachis through Genomics and Biotechnology (AAGB-2008), ICRISAT, Hyderabad, India. For further details, please visit /  or contact Rajeev Varshney ( for further details

3-7 November 2008. 7th International Safflower Conference, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.

9-14 November 2008. 5th International Symposium of the European Amaranth Association. Institute of Plant Genetics and Biotechnology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Nitra, Slovak Republic. Organized by the Institute of Plant Genetics and Biotechnology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Nitra, Slovak Republic and AMR AMARANTH a.s., Blansko, Czech Republic.
Note from the organizers, 19 August 2008: “I would like to remind you the new deadlines for Amaranth conference.

New deadlines:
Registration form and abstract submission   -  August 31, 2008.
Payment (we will confirm before Sept.15)  -  September 15, 2008

IMPORTANT: The organizing committee decided to include besides of amaranth also contributions on other neglected and underutilized crops to the conference programme. Please, inform your colleagues and potential participants about this fact.”
Alena Gajdosova

17-28 November 2008. Molecular methodologies for assessing and applying genetic diversity in crop breeding, ICRISAT Campus at Patancheru, Greater Hyderabad, India.
 The course will provide participants a hands-on opportunity to gain expertise in the use of molecular markers (SSRs, SNPs and DArTs) in diversity analysis, gene/QTL mapping and marker-assisted breeding.   . For questions, please contact Rajeev Varshney (

24 – 27 November 2008. Conventional and Molecular Breeding of Field and Vegetable Crops. Novi Sad, Serbia. For more information contact:

*(NEW) 25 – 28 Nov. 2008. Simpósio Brasileiro de Recursos Genéticos, Hotel Nacional, Brasília, DF, Brazil. More information at

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. Global Potato Conference 2008. NASC Complex, New Delhi, India. For registration inquiries, contact Dr JS Minhas at

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

8-11 February 2009. International Conference on “Plant Abiotic Stress Tolerance,”  Vienna, Austria

*(NEW) 17 – 19 March 2009. Technical workshop of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, Cd. Obregón, Sonora, Mexico

Information about the workshop can be found online at: Please circulate this to your colleagues and partners, as we aim to encourage a broad spectrum of participation across countries, research disciplines, and sectors.

Dr. Borlaug will be one of the keynote speakers, and the meeting program will cover numerous topics of pressing importance: tracking wheat rust pathogens, breeding for rust resistance, impact projections, and many others. Scientists and policymakers are invited to attend.

To insure adequate accommodation for all interested people, please inform us of your intention to participate in the 2009 Technical Workshop by 1 October 2008, by sending an email message to

Online registration will be available on the BGRI website ( in September 2008. Please note there is a registration fee of $300.

We hope to see you there!
Ronnie Coffman, Vice Chairman, BGRI Executive Committee

Workshop Topics
• International collaboration
• Tracking wheat rust pathogens
• Breeding to produce rust resistant varieties
• Developing and optimizing markers for rust resistance
• Reducing linkage drag associated with rust resistance genes
• New sources of rust resistance in wild wheat and barley
• Exploring rice immunity to rust
• Seed systems
• Impact projections and decision support systems
• Country status reports on stem rust, yellow rust, and leaf rust pathogens

To receive subsequent notices about the meeting, including registration and accommodation details, please send contact information to

The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative is a continuation of the Global Rust Initiative (GRI) established in 2005. The GRI has been discontinued and its activities have been incorporated into the BGRI. More information can be found at The Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project (DRRW),, coordinated by Cornell University with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, serves as the secretariat for the BGRI.

Contributed by Jennifer Nelson
Assistant Coordinator, Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project

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

26-29 May 2009. 19th EUCARPIA Conference, Genetic Resources Section, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Early registration and abstract submission: February 2009.

1-5 June 2009. 6th International Triticeae Symposium. Kyoto University Conference Hall, Kyoto, Japan
Taihachi Kawahara
Kazuhiro Sato

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

*(NEW) 28 Sept. – 1 Oct. 2009. 9th African Crop Science Society Conference, Cape Town, South Africa. Conference theme: Science and technology supporting food security in Africa.

The registration fee will be $300 (US) for early registration and $320 (US) for late registration.   The registration fee for the conference will include a conference bag, luncheons, teas, field trips, the gala dinner and transport (to and from the airport).

The Scientific Committee will be responsible to select and evaluate all abstracts presented and to maintain the high standard of the ACSS Conferences.  Abstracts must reach the scientific committee by 31 March 2009. More details will be available in the second announcement.

More information on the programme, accommodation, excursions and guidelines for abstracts, etc. will be posted on the conference web page as it become available.

Dr. G.D. Joubert, Chairman LOC, South Africajoub

Contributed by Prof. Kasem Zaki Ahmed
African Crop Science Society,

11-16 October 2009. Interdrought-III, The 3rd international conference on integrated approaches to improve crop production under drought-prone environments; Shanghai, China. Conference web site: Previous Interdrought conferences at

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

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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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