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28 February 2009

An Electronic Newsletter of Applied Plant Breeding

Clair H. Hershey, Editor

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

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-Archived issues available at: FAO Plant Breeding Newsletter

Crop genetic engineering under global climate change
Study suggests climate change could boost corn pests
The 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth
Identifying mega-targets for high-yield plant breeding
1.05  Research suggests public funding for specialty crops inadequate
University of Idaho breeders release improved varieties of potatoes, wheat, and beans
A new, improved, protein-rich pea called Pushkal, is the first commercially available hybrid legume in the world and is set to launch a new Green Revolution.
Promising selection HS2180-1-36-23-10-1 for roselle industry in Malaysia
Rise in global temperatures takes toll on tomato farmers and wholesale dealers in India
Making Sense of GM: What is the genetic modification of plants and why are scientists doing it?
ICRISAT and Government of India plan platform for translational research on transgenic crops
New generation of glyphosate resistance traits improves weed management
Tracing the evolution history of rice to improve future varieties
Natural selection of gene function drives retrotransposon evolution in rice
One of history’s biggest biological rescue efforts poised to save 100,000 critical crop varieties from certain extinction
New National Science Foundation grant focuses on resistance genes in soybean
Russian Wheat Aphids are no match for new barley
Indian scientists develop transgenic chickpea resistant to cowpea aphids
Maize varieties resistant to the widespread Striga plant parasite are a hit with Nigerian farmers
Scientists to breed maize types suitable for areas with poor rains
Drought resistant cereal plant
New disease-resistant apple variety from University of Illinois
1.23  Discovery may solve devastating rust fungus issue for bean growers
Genomic selection for crop improvement
Scientists identify a wheat gene sequence which provides protection against leaf rust, stripe rust and powdery mildew
Portable kit may one day detect plant disease before disastrous outbreak
Researchers identify gene to improve wheat frost tolerance
University of California, Berkeley researchers develop improved method for comparing whole genome sequences
Unraveling of the sorghum genome will help improve dryland crops
Hybrids and polyploids grow more in daytime
Epigenetics: forgetting might be as important as remembering
USDA-ARS researchers identify drought-hardy soybean line
Determining rice gene function: unlocking the secrets of the world's most important crop

PDAs to manage plant breeding data
Call for stories about the guardians of diversity
2.03  Seed Info -- bi-annual newsletter of the Regional Seed Network: Reader survey

FAO e-mail conference about successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries in the past
ISAAA New Video "Knowledge, Technology and Alleviation of Poverty"

ICGEB-TWAS-UNESCO/IBSP Joint Project on Capacity Building in Basic Molecular Biology
4.02  US Govt Funding Opportunities

5.01  Leafy vegetable breeder – Assistant/Associate Professor
Post-doctoral associate, Cornell University
Assistant Professor (tenure track), Specialty Crops Breeding and Genetics
5.04  Breeding and Genetic Scientific Positions
5.05  Post Doctoral Fellows in Potato Genetics and Genomics – Chile





Crop genetic engineering under global climate change

Annals of Arid Zone 47(3&4): 1-12, 2008
Rodomiro Ortiz
Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (CIMMYT), Km 45 Carretera
México-Veracruz, Col. El Batán, Texcoco,
Edo. de México, C.P. 56130, México

Abstract: Climate change may bring an increased intensity and frequency of storms, drought and flooding, weather extremes, altered hydrological cycles, and precipitation.Such climate vulnerability will threaten the sustainability of farming systems, particularlyin the developing world. Stress tolerant bred-germplasm, coupled with sustainable crop and natural resource management as well as sound policy interventions will provide means for farmers to cope with climate change and benefit consumers worldwide. This article reviews advances in genetic engineering for improving traits such as heat tolerance, water productivity, and better use of nutrients that may enhance crop adaptation to the changing climate of the twenty-first century.

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1.02  Study
suggests climate change could boost corn pests

Warmer growing seasons and milder winters, brought about by climate change, could boost populations of insects that feed on corn and other crops, according to a Purdue University study. Severe pest infestation may significantly decrease corn yield in the United States, the world's top corn producer and exporter. The study appears in the current issue of Environmental Research Letters.

Noah Diffenbaugh and his colleagues compared conservative climate change models to the temperature survival thresholds of four common corn pests found in the
U.S.: corn earworm, the European corn borer, northern corn rootworm and western corn rootworm. "Basically, we examined both the number of days warm enough for the pests to grow and the number of days cold enough to kill the pests, assuming the pests' documented climate tolerances remain the same," explained Purdue entomologist Christian Krupke, co-author of the paper. "This tells us what could happen in projected future climates."

The scientists predict that increases in temperatures could result to a substantial range expansion of each of the pests surveyed, especially in the case of corn earworm (Heliothis zea), a migratory, usually insecticide-resistant and cold-intolerant pest.

Read the full article at>

The paper published by Environmental Research

Letters is available to subscribers at

From CropBiotech Update
19 December 2008

Contributed by Margaret E. Smith, Cornell University

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The 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth

Oxford evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, makes the argument that were superior creatures from a distant galaxy to visit earth – just getting here would demonstrate that superiority – they would likely have little more than passing interest in our music, culture, literature, languages, economies, and history. Shakespeare, Freud, Marx,
Hollywood and the Pyramids might be no more than a curiosity.

Charles Darwin, however, would be another matter altogether.
Darwin’s explanation of how remarkably diverse and complicated life forms on Earth resulted from  “cumulative evolution by non-random survival of random hereditary changes” might well strike them as the most profound idea ever developed by one of our species.  And yet, at its heart, the insight is so simple. As T.H. Huxley famously lamented to himself at the time, “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that”.  

This year we observe two major anniversaries: on 12 February, the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, and in November, the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species.

Amateur plant and animal breeders have probably never had their accomplishments so profoundly appreciated since the 1800s when a quiet and modest man named Charles Darwin focused his curiosity on them. His correspondence with pigeon and dog breeders was extensive, his powers of observation extraordinary.
Darwin was keenly interested in the variability among individuals, whether pigeons or peas. He discerned that differences were heritable. Small, incremental improvements could be passed from generation to generation and changes could be accumulated, leaving the starting point far behind. This was nowhere more evident than with agricultural crops and farm animal breeds. Little wonder then, that the first chapter of his monumental On the Origin of Species was entitled, “Variation under Domestication”.

Darwin also realized that flora and fauna alike produced more offspring than could survive, and reasoned that the probability of survival favored those most fit, and that the resulting inheritance of qualities favoring fitness would produce gradual changes in the population – i.e., evolution. 

Darwin came to understand, evolution was the product of billions of tiny “experiments” in survival and fecundity, the outcome of which decided which individuals, with which traits, became parents to the next generation. Over time, the statistical odds favor the retention and spread of these adaptive differences and the loss of any that are counterproductive – an albino deer, for example.
(Figure 1can be found at:

In summary, the key ingredients in
Darwin’s schema were diversity, inheritance, selection, and time. It was the interaction and the impact of the combination of these (See Figure 1) that Darwin was the first to unveil.

Sir Ronald Fisher, an early and prominent geneticist, contended that the smaller the change, the more likely it would be positive. He used a microscope analogy. A tiny movement in the objective lens has a 50% chance of being in the right direction and improving focus. A large movement in the lens, whether in the right or wrong direction, is likely to worsen the focus.

So it is that dramatic changes in organisms from one generation to the next, as a result of a major mutation, rarely succeed. Huge random changes have the potential to take an organism in countless directions, many, indeed most of them probably unviable. The resulting organism simply is not adapted to the environment in which it was born. Changes of a more limited scope will be less dramatic, but will stand a better chance of building on an existing success – that of the parents. As Dawkins puts it, “However many ways there may be of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead”. The small steps, not the giant leaps, are the most likely to succeed.

And this brings us, finally, to the connection with crop diversity. Unlike wild species, crops are domesticated. Their fitness, their evolution is in our hands and as Sir Otto Frankel put it, “we have acquired evolutionary responsibility”.

Darwin understood that populations that made appropriate and successful adaptations survived and that those that didn’t perished, and that agricultural crops were not exempt. He noted, for example, that certain crop varieties “withstand certain climates better than others” and in Origin, outlined a screening and breeding experiment, suggesting that someone sow kidney beans,

“…so early that a very large proportion are destroyed by frost, and then collect seed from the few survivors, with care to prevent accidental crosses, and then again get seed from these seedlings, with the same precautions…”

Modern genebanks and plant breeders are essentially doing this today on a large scale and with many crops. Drawing on the huge diversity stored in genebanks, breeders expose samples to different conditions (heat, drought, a new disease) to find the adaptive traits for producing the new varieties that farmers will sow in the future. But if this genetic diversity is not conserved, if we lose the ability to make and accumulate those small changes so central to evolution, we will have removed one of
Darwin’s essential pillars of evolution – variation – and will have rendered selection impotent.

The diversity of our crops – what we have managed to save of it – is what humans will have to fashion those small incremental adaptive changes in crops necessary for their survival. Climate change, and other pressures on agricultural systems and crops intensify daily. Agriculture needs to respond, even now, with crop varieties adapted and ready to meet these challenges.  What better way to commemorate Charles Darwin’s life and work than guaranteeing that agriculture’s evolutionary process can continue.

America’s new President, Barack Obama, said in his inaugural address “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility… This is the price and promise of citizenship”. For the world’s food supply, good global citizenship requires us to embrace our “evolutionary responsibility”. It remains to be seen whether we are prepared to pay its price.

To learn more about the topic:
Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species. 1859. (various publishers)
The Complete Work of Charles Darwin, online and searchable at:
Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. Penguin. 1986.
Mayr, Ernst. One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought.
Harvard University Press. 1991.
Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. Basic Books. 2001.


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Identifying mega-targets for high-yield plant breeding

A recent study reported in Crop Science examines methods for facilitating genetic exchange in plant breeding programs

Madison, Wisconsin
Promoting genetic diversity in crops is traditional practice for agriculture professionals, and with today's technology, scientists are able to develop breeding programs with great care for the security of crops. This is particularly important due to the numerous risks the world's food supplies face with the changing climate. Genetic diversity in a breeding program is essential as an insurance against unforeseeable changes in the environment and to maintain genetic progress.

The incorporation of diversity into a breeding program, however, should be planned carefully. Without taking great care in the incorporation of diversity into a breeding program, poorly adapted genotypes may prevent genetic progress and may therefore have a short-term negative impact on the breeding program. On the other hand, the use of elite genotypes adapted to the local conditions could increase diversity while maintaining genetic gain.

Adapted genotypes can easily be obtained for any environment if the genotypes are evaluated in the target environment. However, it is not possible for a breeding program to evaluate every single candidate genotype. Predicting the performance of a genotype is difficult due to the multiple breeding objectives and the many environmental conditions of genotype evaluation. Therefore, finding adapted elite genotypes is challenging if the genotypes are not evaluated in the targeted environment.

A recent study conducted at
Iowa State University proposed data-driven methods to group breeding programs likely to be compatible for germplasm exchange. Specifically, the researchers characterized the genetic diversity of traits in advanced inbred lines of barley from 23 public and private barley breeding programs, which they analyzed to identify mega-targets of selection (i.e. groups of breeding programs likely to be compatible for germplasm exchange) among those breeding programs. Results from this research are published in the January 2009 issue of the journal Crop Science.

The researchers found that all phenotypic traits had significant genetic diversity, but only seven of the 20 traits evaluated showed differences in the amount of diversity among the breeding programs. Some breeding programs had high levels of diversity for most traits, while others had low levels of diversity.

The methodology proposed by the authors groups breeding programs by their performance and by their response to changes in the environment, resulting in sets of breeding programs with similar performance and similar adaptations. They call these sets mega-targets of selection. The authors identified three mega-targets of selection among the barley breeding programs. They hypothesize that exchange of germplasm within mega-targets of selection would produce adapted genotypes with high yields. Research is ongoing to develop larger data sets to evaluate this method.

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary.
View the abstract at

Source: Crop Science via
16 February 2009

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Research suggests public funding for specialty crops inadequate

More funding could make fruits, vegetables less expensiv

Davis, California
Specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and nursery crops, have become increasingly important compared to other categories of agriculture in the United States over the past 50 years. These crops have continued to grow in production value, but this growth has not been matched by growth in public agricultural research spending. In fact, spending on specialty crops research has remained constant during a time period when the value of production for these crops has increased significantly.

A recent article published in the August 2008 issue of HortScience reviewed trends in the economic importance of specialty crops and public funding for research on these crops. Researchers Julian M. Alston of the University of California, Davis, and Philip G. Pardey from the University of Minnesota, questioned the adequacy of funding for specialty crops and whether the share of funding allocated to research these crops should be increased.

Previous research has indicated that government involvement in agricultural research and development is justified, because the private sector typically invests too little in certain types of R&D. The rates of return to publicly funded agricultural research have been very high, suggesting that government intervention to date has been inadequate, and that the U.S. government could have profited from spending much more on agricultural R&D, especially in the area of specialty crops.

Agricultural research in the
United States is funded from a variety of sources. Historically, the majority of funding has come from the U.S Department of Agriculture. Other agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Agency for International Development have been increasing sources of funding over the last several years. Overall spending on R&D grew rapidly during the 1960s and 70s, but since then, growth has slowed and become erratic. In general, support has stagnated.

The growth in the value of production of specialty crops has not been matched by commensurate growth in public agricultural research spending. There could be many benefits to increasing funding in this area. One possible benefit is that there can be a much larger social rate of return if it makes fruit and vegetables less expensive and more available to more Americans, encouraging people to eat healthier diets.

The authors concluded that although the evidence is mixed, specialty crops research is underfunded and that a case can be made for increasing funding going for research of these crops. They suggest that a producer check-off program with a matching government grant could be one way to give incentives to both private industry and government agencies to enhance research funding. The Australian government has implemented such a program with much success. Another option would be to simply redirect funds that would otherwise be spent on other types of agricultural research.

The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site:

Source: American Society for Horticultural Science via
4 February 2009

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University of Idaho breeders release improved varieties of potatoes, wheat, and beans

With consumer tastes continually changing, with growers and processors squeezing every conceivable cent from input costs, and with pests evolving into ever-more-aggressive forms, plant breeding dare not stand still. At the University of Idaho
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), it doesn’t. CALS breeders have released six new varieties of potatoes, wheat, and beans since fall 2008. They include:
-Classic Russet: a high-yielding, early-maturing russet potato with attractive tubers and outstanding culinary qualities that could replace the Russet Norkotah
-Alpine Russet: a late-season russet potato that can be successfully processed out of long-term storage, like Russet Burbank, but that exceeds it in yields and fry quality
-Clearwater Russet: a late-maturing russet potato with a high percentage of U.S. No. 1s, resistance to low-temperature sweetening, and exceptional processing quality
-UICF-Lambert: a soft white winter wheat that performs much like Lambert—a UI variety released in the 1990s—and that offers the highest level of tolerance to imazamox currently available to wheat producers 
-VCW 54 and VCW 55: two dry beans derived from the scarlet runner bean that CALS breeder Shree Singh intends for worldwide use in transferring white mold resistance to different market classes

CALS agronomist Jeff Stark, who coordinates the Tri-State Potato Variety Program, calls the trio of new russets “definite improvements over what’s available.” All are joint releases with the USDA Agricultural Research Service,
Oregon State University, and Washington State University.

New Aberdeen-based wheat breeder Jianli Chen is focusing on heat-, drought-, and pest-resistant varieties as well as on varieties that tolerate herbicides and that meet the distinct demands of domestic, Asian, and biofuel markets. Topnotch varieties are essential to the profitability and sustainability of
Idaho grain growers, Chen says.

Wheat varieties on the docket for release later this year: two full-waxy wheats with potential for licensing as biofuel and blending wheats, a partial-waxy soft white spring wheat targeted to the Asian noodle market, three more imazamox-resistant varieties, and a soft white winter wheat with superior yield potential and end-use quality that veteran UI wheat breeder Bob Zemetra expects will excel in both domestic and foreign markets.

17 February 2009

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A new, improved, protein-rich pea called Pushkal, is the first commercially available hybrid legume in the world and is set to launch a new Green Revolution.

“With 40 percent higher yields than the best local varieties, Pushkal is truly the magic pea,” exclaims Dr. William Dar, Director General of the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

Pigeonpea is a high protein dietary staple in many semi-arid tropical countries of the world. It is especially important in
India, eastern and southern Africa, the Caribbean and Myanmar, areas where high protein foods are scarce.

Pigeonpea provides 20 to 22 percent of the protein in most of the countries where it is grown extensively (
India, Myanmar, Nepal, China, south-eastern Africa).

Globally, pigeonpea is cultivated on 4.92 million hectares (about 12 million acres), about the size of Texas or about 1/4 the area covered with corn) with a productivity of 898 kg (1975.6 lbs) per hectare (2.47 acres).ICRISAT researchers have taken a different approach on African pigeonpeas which were until recently not carefully studied.

Most of the research had been done in
India, where small brown, quick-cooking beans are preferred; in Africa, the preferred pigeonpeas are white, larger and the whole seeds are cooked.“Indian pigeonpea hybrids don’t adapt well to conditions in Africa, where altitude, climate, soil condition and rainfall are quite different,” says Dr. Said Silim, ICRISAT’s regional director for eastern and southern Africa.

For example,
Kenya, near the equator, has a natural increase in altitude from sea level to 5000 meters. The ICRISAT researchers charted the effects of temperature and day-length sensitivity at different altitudes, then duplicated conditions experimentally.

They discovered that plants mature in 180 days in warmer temperatures and 150 days in cooler, high altitudes in

Since wilt disease is a significant problem for African pigeonpea, various varieties were planted in local fields to find plants which were wilt resistant.

Thus, researchers, working with local farmers, were able to incorporate in the African pigeonpea adaptation to temperature, climate and light.

The pea had white grain and was wilt resistant. “We developed niche varieties, knowing what we were targeting,” Dr. Silim points out.In Tanzania, for instance, this meant finding high yield varieties that cook fast and have the taste and aroma favored by the local population; the pea is resistant to wilt; and  matures early.

Other varieties include bean varieties favored in
India, where crops are timed for export between May and October when the country faces a pigeonpea shortage.

This work has boosted income for local farmers and varieties that mature early give farmers two crops a year.

In addition to continuing its active research program, ICRISAT wants to spread the word about pigeonpeas, to target areas with mono-culture crops by showing that by intercropping with pigeonpeas, both crops are more productive.

ICRISAT also wants to encourage canning processed pigeonpeas, the way black-eyed peas are canned.In its pigeonpea research, ICRISAT works with national agricultural research systems, sharing germplasm, hybrid parents and breeding lines, as well as cutting edge knowledge and skills. 

National partners include
Australia, China, Fiji, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, and USA. Likewise, a  hybrid pigeonpea research consortium established by ICRISAT through its Agri-Science Park includes 22 private sector seed companies in India.

Partnerships with advanced research institutes led to the identification of the sterility mosaic virus, a major problem in India.Farmer and women’s groups have aided with variety selection, integrated pest management work and production of hybrid seeds.

On ICRISAT’s research anvil are transgenic pigeonpea varieties and hybrids resistant to the pod borer, Helicoverpa armigera.

These are currently undergoing contained field trials at its headquarters in Patancheru,
Hyderabad India.

ICRISAT is one of 15 allied Centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

India, dry, split pigeonpea often are cooked as dal, a traditional curry eaten with rice or bread. In addition, immature green seeds and pods are eaten as a green vegetable.

Also pigeonpea seeds are crushed to provide animal feed; in rural areas, its dry stems are used for fuel.The new hybrid thrives in drought conditions and has greater resistance to diseases than the best varieties.

It also creates a strong root system which aids greater nitrogen fixation to keep soils fertile.The new variety which is very affordable for poor farmers comes during a global pigeonpea shortage which has caused prices to soar, creating misery among millions of poor people who cannot afford them. 

Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, the agricultural scientist considered as the father of
India’s Green Revolution, compares ICRISAT’s breakthrough in developing a hybrid pigeonpea to the development of wheat and rice with dwarfing genes that launched the global Green Revolution for cereals in the 1960s.

Pigeonpea research is also being done in other parts of the world. “Our efforts in eastern and southern
Africa have established an active pigeonpea research program that has already resulted in the release and adoption of improved varieties.

African farmers are reaping the benefits from improved food security and enhanced incomes from the new varieties,” Dr. Dar says.Internationally, over a dozen legumes are cultivated by farmers but due to their self-pollinating nature, no commercial hybrids are available.

At ICRISAT, scientists have used the partial natural out-crossing of pigeonpea to breeding hybrids. For this it was essential to develop a stable
CMS line.

This was accomplished after 30 years of dedicated research, a great achievement from the plant breeding point of view. Male-sterile plants are those that do not have functional male sex organs. Hybrid production requires a female plant in which no viable pollen grains are borne.

The expensive and labor-intensive method is to remove the male organs (anthers) from the plants.

The other simple way to establish a female line for hybrid seed production is to identify or create a line that is unable to produce viable pollen.

This male-sterile line is therefore unable to self-pollinate, and seed formation is dependent upon pollen from the other male fertile line. By developing a parental line that has the trait for male-sterility in the cytoplasm (or the cell fluid) it could be ensured that all progeny from this line were male-sterile.

“This new technology helped us break the yield barrier that has plagued Indian agriculture for the past five decades,” says Dr. K.B. Saxena, ICRISAT’s principal pigeonpea breeder. After successful testing by poor farmers in
India, Pravardhan Seeds and other private and public seed companies began producing large quantities of Pushkal seeds.

To date, seeds for the new pigeonpea hybrid have been planted on some 5,000 hectares (12,500 acres), but Dr. Saxena predicts that the hybrid will be widely planted in the next few years as the low cost seed becomes more readily available. “Because
India has many private seed companies, we went through the private sector for production and marketing,” explains Dr. Saxena.

“That’s how we distribute the new seeds quickly.” Plants and seeds developed by ICRISAT are not patented and remain in the public domain for use by public and private institutions.

The new hybrid technology has generated interest from a number of other countries, including
Myanmar, Brazil, the Philippines and China.

In southern
China, pigeonpea hybrids, because they have strong root systems, will be useful to preventing soil erosion, a huge problem in the hilly areas.

Although the new Pushkal hybrid has received the most attention, three new hybrid varieties developed at ICRISAT are under final testing.

Source: Africa Science News Service - Nairobi,Kenya

Contributed by Aluizio Borem

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Promising selection HS2180-1-36-23-10-1 for roselle industry in Malaysia

Mohamad,O1., Ramadan, G1., Halimaton Saadiah, O2., Noor Baiti, A. A1.,  Ahmad Bachtiar, B3., Zainal, M1., Mamot, S1., and Aminah, A1.

1 Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi
2 Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, Nilai
3 Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur

Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.) is a relatively new crop in
Malaysia. It was introduced into the country in early 1990s. Its commercial planting was first promoted by the Department of  Agriculture in Terengganu in 1993, and has now spread to other states. Roselle comes from the family Malvaceae, with more than 300 species. The origin is believed to be from West Africa. A handful of small companies are now involved in processing, product development and marketing, mainly for local market.

Antioxidant and Anti-obesity Properties
Roselle is well known for its rich contents of vitamin C and anthocyanins. It is mainly used to produce pro-health juice due to its high contents of vitamin C and anthocyanins. To a small extent, the calyces are also processed into sweet pickle, jelly and jam, and are also used for making tea. Recent findings have shown that roselle produce relatively high contents of hydroxycitric acid (HCA). HCA is widely used as a potent body weight controlling ingredient in many commercially available products.

Development of New Varieties Through Mutation Breeding

Conventional hybridization is difficult to carry out in roselle due to its cleistogamous nature of reproduction. At present, two introduced varieties are available to local growers and these are named “Terengganu” and “Arab”. Variety Arab is more recently introduced compared to variety Terengganu. The variety Arab is known to yield higher both in terms of fruits and calyces. However, variety Terengganu possesses better quality characteristics such as higher vitamin C content. A mutation breeding programme was conducted on variety Arab which resulted in six promising mutant lines. One of the selections, HS2180-1-36-49-4-1, was highlighted recently.

Promising Selections
Evaluation and selection were done in every generation starting from M1 through M6 at TFirdauce, Tasek Gelugor,
Penang and also in UKM, Bangi. Initially, mutants were recovered from 967 plants in M3.   A total of  75 M5 plants were eventually evaluated at UKM Experimental Plot. Evaluation was done based on their morpho-agronomic and also physico-chemical characteristics (vitamin C content, anthocyanins and % HCA-containing extract). At present, three promising selections are being tested for field performance in both locations (Table 1).

This research innovation highlights the promising selection HS2180-1-36-23-10-1,  currently propagated at M6 generation. Morpho-agronomic characteristics of selection HS2180-1-36-23-10-1 recorded include plant height (107.2 cm), canopy diameter (105.4 cm), number of branches per plant (7.5), number of fruits per plant (114.8), weight of fruits per plant (1,227 g), capsule weight per plant (362.9 g), calyx weight per plant (851.9 g), calyx weight per fruit (7.38 g) and capsule weight per fruit (3.16 g) (Table 1).  In terms of physico-chemical characteristics, this selection has vitamin C content of 15.2 mg/100g fresh weight, anthocyanins content of 230.9 mg/100g dry weight and 9-24% of
HCA-containing extract (with and without charcoal treatment) (Table 2). This selection shows fruit characteristics almost similar to that of  its parent variety Arab.  It has a shorter plant stature with pronounced red-pigmented leaves.  It also has early maturation and high calyx yield. Thus, this selection holds excellent promise to be promoted as a new variety for roselle industry in Malaysia.

AcknowledgementsThis research is funded by ScienceFund Project No:05-01-02-F0057 to UKM from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation,
Malaysia. The authors wish to express their gratitude to UKM, UM, MARDI, DOA, MyAgri Sdn. Bhd., and other agencies and individuals for their support.  Also to Prof. Dr Zainal Abidin Aziz of TFIRDAUCe; Dr. Abdul Rahman Milan, Mohd Zulkifly Zainuddin and Rasli of MARDI; Marlina, Kamaliah, Elfi, Rani, Zainal Mohamad and staff of UKM, and other individuals for their assistance.

(References available on request)

Note: This article is extracted from a Malaysia Technology Expo 2009 (MTE09) poster sent by the first author. MTE09 is currently being held on 19-21 February 2009 in
Kuala Lumpur.  For a complete copy of the poster, including photos and figures, please contact Dr. Mohamad bin Osman, below.

Contributed by Dr. Mohamad bin Osman
School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences
Faculty of Science and Technology
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
43600 UKM Bangi, Selangor

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Rise in global temperatures takes toll on tomato farmers and wholesale dealers in India

Tainan, Taiwan
The poorest populations of the poorest countries face the concentrated challenge of tackling the worst impacts of climate change with the least capacity. The rise in global temperatures now has started to take a toll on tomato
farmers and wholesale dealers in the Indian states of Ishwariganj and Pratapur. More than 25,000 tomato farmers have incurred severe losses due to the premature ripening of the fruit, as the early massive output peak affects markets. The sudden overabundance of ripe tomatoes lowers the revenues of farmers and
retailers alike. Tomato brought in more than Rs 1,200 (ca. 24.50
US $) per quintal (100 kg) last year; it is now
sold for less than Rs 50/quintal. Under normal conditions, a mere 30-40 percent of the total crop is ready to enter the market at the same time of the year. This year, around 80 percent of the produce already has been sold to avoid rotting.

Early ripening was caused by the unusual weather conditions during the last several months, with extreme heat during the day and cold temperatures at night. If the weather persists, the entire local harvest may be exhausted in 15 days, leading to shortages thereafter.

The early ripening has another side effect: Shorter shelf life. In previous years a significant portion of the
tomato harvest was sold to neighboring states. Now, the majority is consumed locally. “In our view, there is a need to adjust the package of practices to cope with global warming, the impact of which we are already witnessing,” says Dr. Madan Chadha, director of the
Regional Center for South Asia (AVRDC-RCSA) in Hyderabad.

“There is a challenge to develop varieties suited to such conditions, including strengthening the market chain, and introducing postharvest handling and processing technologies.”

Smallholder farmers have been severely hit by the lowest prices in the last five years, and are unable to
recover even 25 percent of their investments. Farmers are calling for government initiatives, and have announced that they will shift to other crops such as wheat as an alternative. While producers face a severe threat to their livelihoods, the middlemen seem to be riding out the rough weather quite well: Market prices are hovering around Rs 6-8/kg for tomato, but middlemen are fetching prices unchanged, at Rs 12/kg.

Further reading:
“Early ripening leaves tomato farmer redfaced,
Business Standard,
29 Jan 2009

Source: AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center Newsletter via
13 February 2009

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Making Sense of GM: What is the genetic modification of plants and why are scientists doing it?

London, United Kingdom
In Making Sense of GM, scientists and agriculturalists are launching a fresh public discussion about GM: one that puts GM back into the context of developing plant breeding and that responds to the public’s questions and misconceptions. Publicly funded work in particular has struggled against misconceptions about Frankenstein foods, vandalism and a costly regulatory burden.

There have been more Google searches on genetically modified crops in the past two years in the
UK than anywhere else in the world. While there have been over a trillion GM meals consumed and nearly 120 million hectares of GM crops grown, hardly any of that was in Europe, still less in the UK. It’s not surprising that people have questions about why that is, what GM is, what it does, whether they are eating it and what would happen if they did.

The guide examines the way GM has been debated in the past, and presents commentary from scientists, who say a new perspective needs to take into account:
-The limitations of older selective breeding techniques that GM was developed to overcome.
-Advances in molecular breeding since 2000, which mean GM is even less of a distinct area of plant breeding than before and it makes little sense to talk about it separately.
-Society’s requirements for improvement in plants, ranging from the main commercial crops, where yields must increase to feed people but with less environmental impact, to localised issues such as combating the fungal destruction of banana and plantain crops in Uganda and improving the shelf-life of Kentish apples to reduce imports.
-The importance of assessing a new plant - GM or not - according to what farmers need, where it is to be grown and its likely impact, rather than according to how it was developed.

In the guide, the heads of the independent, public-sector research centres in the
UK call for a discussion about GM that helps the public and policy makers to judge what crop technologies could contribute to global food supply and to the management of natural resource and changes in climate. They and other scientists explain what GM is and the research that uses it.

The guide Making Sense of GM is published by Sense About Science with the kind assistance of the BBSRC, Genetics Society, Institute of Biology, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and The Lawes Agricultural Trust

For hard copies of the guide please fill in this form or email

Source: Sense about Science via
11 February 2009

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ICRISAT and Government of India plan platform for translational research on transgenic crops

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, have together launched the project for establishing a Platform for Translational Research on Transgenic Crops (PTTC). The foundation stone for the PTTC was laid by Dr MK Bhan, Secretary, DBT, and Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, at the Patancheru campus of ICRISAT, near
Hyderabad, today.

The DBT-funded Platform is a US$ 6.2 million project that will translate transgenic technology and harness its products to meet the needs of agricultural growth and serve as a facility of reference to strengthen national, regional and international linkages in transgenic R&D, exchange of materials and information, as well as support training, consultation and technology commercialization.

The PTTC will provide an opportunity for public sector research institutes and private sector biotechnology companies to work together for translating transgenic research into products.

Speaking at the foundation stone laying function, Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, said that research breakthroughs in agri-biotechnology hold the potential for increasing crop productivity and the resistance of food crops to pests and diseases, thereby helping solve the food crisis. The future food demand cannot be met merely from incremental gains from conventional plant breeding. A quantum change in yield improvement is needed, such as that which occurred during the Green Revolution.

Finding solutions to major crop productivity constraints, developing new technologies that raise yields in low-potential areas and creating opportunities for diversification in agricultural value chains are some of the major present day agricultural challenges, Dr Dar added.

Agri-biotechnologies are a further step in an evolution that extends from the dawn of agriculture. These technologies offer a new set of tools to enhance crop productivity and profitability.

In 2008, another 40 million people were pushed into hunger due to high food prices! A majority of the world’s undernourished, over 900 million, live in developing countries alone! The world hunger crisis may further deteriorate as the financial crisis combined with the energy crisis, and emerging climate change issues threaten livelihoods. Hence combating the food crisis will require much greater investments in agriculture.

ICRISAT believes that biotechnology can contribute to global food, feed and fiber security; improve health and nutrition; use less external inputs for a more sustainable agriculture and environment; conserve biodiversity and help improve economic and social status and alleviate poverty in poor countries, Dr Dar said.

Transgenics offers a powerful tool for nutritional enhancement that may save lives or help farmers adapt to climate change through faster integration of genes for drought and flood tolerance, in the process generating social, economic and environmental benefits for resource-poor farmers.

According to Dr Bhan, the PTTC will bring together the expertise of DBT and ICRISAT and build partnerships to strengthen the conceptualization, development and delivery of agri-biotechnological research products that will ultimately benefit the Indian farmers in improving their incomes.

By financially supporting the PTTC, the DBT wants to fund research and provide infrastructure for innovation, so that transgenic technology can strengthen agricultural productivity, Dr Bhan said. The PTTC will add value to research by strengthening trust and reliability. The Platform will also bring together the unlimited creative strength of partnerships for strengthening agricultural research.

9 February 2009

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New generation of glyphosate resistance traits improves weed management

The discovery of new glyphosate and other herbicide resistance transgenes is providing more weed management options to growers of crops, according to a report published in Weed Science.

Glyphosate-resistant crops are grown worldwide and have been associated with effective weed control, increased profits, and less need for tillage. Low prices for glyphosate have further encouraged its use.

Soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola are some of the glyphosate-resistant crops that have been grown commercially.

Glyphosate has a long history of helping crop growers manage weeds. This herbicide kills weeds but not crops that are resistant to it. Over time, however, weeds have evolved to develop their own resistance to glyphosate. To ensure the continued use of glyphosate and to broaden the scope of weed management techniques, researchers are using new transgenes to create crops that are resistant to multiple herbicides.

The author presents an extensive historical review of glyphosate-resistant crops and explains current efforts focusing on the development of new glyphosate transgenic traits. In addition, the author discusses how resistance traits in other herbicides are being combined with those of glyphosate to provide growers with more diverse weed management systems. The idea is to combine resistance genes of various herbicides in molecular stacks and use them to develop more resilient crops.

Researchers are confident that the evolution of glyphosate-resistant crop technology will meet grower demands for more diverse weed management systems and that this technology will lead to the commercialization of more herbicide-resistant crops.

To read the entire study, Evolution of Glyphosate-Resistant Crop Technology, (Vol. 57, Issue 1:108-117, 2009); visit

10 February 2009

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Tracing the evolution history of rice to improve future varieties

By comparing the sequences of a single gene in fourteen rice species, an international team of researchers has successfully traced the evolutionary history of the world's most important crop. Scott Jackson from
Purdue University and colleagues from the University of Arizona and the Chinese Academy of Sciences focused their attention on moc1, a gene that decides how many shoots will form on a rice plant. The team said that understanding the variations of moc1 could lead to the development of domesticated rice varieties with more branching, increased plant size or other favorable characteristics.

Jackson said that the comparison revealed how rice has changed from as far back as 14 million years ago. The scientists found that differences in the current sizes of rice genomes resulted from differences in the amplification of jumping genes. As rice adapted to climate changes and other natural circumstances, its genetic structure changed, keeping some genes and losing others. Scientists are now on a hunt for wild rice genes that can be used to breed better rice varieties.

For more information, read>

The open access paper published by PNAS is available at>

From CropBiotech
Update 30 January 2009

Contributed by Margaret E. Smith, Cornell University

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Natural selection of gene function drives retrotransposon evolution in rice

Transposons are small stretches of
DNA that can move around to different positions in the genome of a single cell, and in the process dramatically increasing a genome's size. For years, researchers thought that most of this DNA was passive "junk" and knew little about it. New findings, however, are peeling back the odd and baffling world of transposons. Scientists at the University of Georgia found that natural selection on gene function is driving the evolution of one kind of transposable element called the LTR retrotransposon (LTR-R). LTR-R are a subclass of transposons particularly abundant in plants that replicate by reverse transcription (using an RNA intermediate in replication).

The researchers analyzed the patterns of genetic variation among
LTR-R in rice "to investigate the type of selective forces that potentially limit their amplification and subsequent population of a nuclear genome." They found that LTR-R are under significant evolutionary constraint, by finding strong purifying selection on genes involved in their replication and life-cycle. They also discovered that, regardless of the family that any of the LTR-R sequences might belong to, they show similar "life-histories."

"What the scientists found helps explain why these elements can, while lying quiet for millions of years, suddenly amplify within genomes while not causing more long-term harm than to take up space," noted lead researcher

Regina Baucom

Read the paper at>

From CropBiotech Update
12 December 2008

Contributed by Margaret E. Smith, Cornell University

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One of history’s biggest biological rescue efforts poised to save 100,000 critical crop varieties from certain extinction

Push by Global Crop Diversity Trust is rapidly reviving ailing seed samples from 46 countries that could provide genetic traits vital to maintaining global food security

Chicago, Illinois
Only two years after launching an ambitious effort to save endangered crop species, the Global Crop Diversity Trust announced today it is on track to save from extinction 100,000 different varieties of food crops from 46 countries, making it one of the largest and most successful biological rescue efforts ever undertaken.

“We are moving quickly to regenerate and preserve seed samples representing thousands of distinct varieties of critical food crops like rice, maize, and wheat in 46 countries that were well on their way to total extinction,” said Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Trust. “I think it is fair to say that without this effort, many of them would
have been lost forever.”

In many countries, stresses as mundane as poor refrigeration and inadequate funding and as dramatic as war and economic collapse threaten seed collections of crop varieties that do not exist anywhere else in the world. The imperiled seeds targeted for rescue by the Trust are samples of staple crops stored in crop gene banks in
Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, and Central and South America. They include rare varieties of barley, wheat, rice, banana/plantain, potato, cassava, chickpea, maize, lentil, bean, sorghum, millet, coconut, breadfruit, cowpea and yam.

Fowler said the Trust already has agreements in place with 49 institutes in 46 countries to rescue some 53,000 of the 100,000 crop samples identified as endangered. Agreements for preserving the remaining varieties are expected to be completed soon.

The initiative is one of the biggest rescue efforts ever of any threatened biological species and by far the largest rescue of endangered domesticated crop varieties. The main funding for the project was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with additional support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation, an
Australian farmers’ organization.

While many of the imperilled varieties may no longer be growing in farmer’s fields—and exist only in seed collections— they could be critically important to the future of global food production. For example, farmers in the developing world desperately need new crop varieties that can help them overcome pests and diseases, poor soils, and rapidly changing climate conditions while keeping pace with the food demands of a growing population. The plant breeders they turn to for help depend on publicly-accessible national, regional and international crop gene banks to provide them with the widest variety of genetic traits that can allow farmers to overcome these challenges.

“Growing conditions and food demands change rapidly and breeders never know which variety stored in a crop gene bank somewhere in the world is going to be that proverbial needle in the haystack that will provide the critical trait that can literally make the difference between abundance and starvation,” said Fowler. “So while these seeds being saved represent crop varieties from the past, they could easily play a role in the crops of the future.”

In fact, most of the food crops widely planted today are the products of breeding efforts that owe their success to the genetic wealth stored in crop gene banks. For example, to create Sonalika, an incredibly successful variety of wheat widely planted in the developing world, breeders used traits from varieties of wheat collected from 17 countries.

The Trust identified seed samples in need of rescue by first consulting scientific experts who specialize in particular crop species and could identify the most important collections. The Trust then asked individual crop gene banks maintaining those collections to identify and regenerate the most threatened of their unique samples.

Generally, a sample of a particular variety is considered healthy if the number of living, viable seeds does not drop below 85 percent of the sample’s original germination rate. Declines greater than this imply loss of diversity, and a threat to the very existence of the sample. Some of the samples of the varieties that became the focus of the rescue effort had fallen to below 50 percent germination rate, which means they must be quickly
regenerated or they will be lost forever.

After the seeds have been regenerated, three sample lots are prepared. One remains in the genebank carrying out the regeneration. Another is sent to a gene bank meeting international standards for seed preservation as a safety duplicate. A third copy is sent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built by the government of
Norway, operated by Nordgen and supported financially and technically by the Trust. The so-called Doomsday Vault is amassing a comprehensive fail-safe collection of the world’s agricultural biodiversity.

Fowler said one benefit of the rescue initiative is that producing new seeds requires growing the plant. This provides an opportunity to gather and record information on its appearance and performance that could help breeders and others determine whether the sample may be of use to them in their work.

“We’re not preserving these samples to be museum pieces,” he said. “Even when we are regenerating a variety ostensibly to produce new seeds, breeders are looking at that plant for certain qualities, such as heat resistance, drought tolerance, weed or pest resistance, that could improve food production right now.”

The mission of the Trust is to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide. Although crop diversity is fundamental to fighting hunger and to the very future of agriculture, funding is unreliable and diversity is being lost. The Trust is the only organization working worldwide to solve this problem, and has already raised over $140 million. For further information, please visit:

15 February 15, 2009

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New National Science Foundation grant focuses on resistance genes in soybean

Columbia, Missouri
In Missouri, where soybeans reign as the number one cash crop, soybean pathogens can cut yields and impact the state's economy. A research effort to identify the genes essential for a strong plant defense against three diseases got a boost recently with a new $2.1 million grant by the National Science Foundation to Iowa State University and the University of Missouri.

The project, led by
Iowa State, will focus on genetic resistance against three important soybean pathogens: soybean mosaic virus, Asian soybean rust and soybean cyst nematode. Melissa Mitchum, assistant professor of plant sciences at CAFNR and member of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group, will help lead the research on the soybean cyst nematode.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 4.6 million acres of land in
Missouri were planted with soybean in 2007, yielding approximately 1.8 tons of soybean and $1.7 billion in production. Although no statistics exist on the impact of the cyst nematode on soybean yield in Missouri, yield losses linked to the cyst nematode have been estimated to cost U.S. soybean producers $750 million annually.

Despite the heavy reliance on host plant resistance to manage this nematode, scientists know little about the specific genes responsible for defending the soybean plant against the cyst nematode or against any diseases for that matter. Mitchum, along with her colleagues at
Iowa State University, hope to close this knowledge gap by identifying the defense signaling pathways in soybean.

"Currently, more than 95 percent of soybean cultivars in the field derive their resistance from a single source of resistance, a plant introduction called 88788," explains Mitchum, who is also an investigator in MU's
Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center. "The problem with having a single source of resistance is that we end up selecting for populations of the nematode that can grow on that type of resistance. We can deploy new types of resistance using natural resistant cultivars, but the same thing is going to happen: the nematode is going to adapt."

To overcome this cyclical problem, Mitchum and her colleagues will use a new approach in soybean, called virus-induced gene silencing, to identify the genes that provide the underlying basis of resistance in the soybean plant.

"Once we understand the genetic mechanism for resistance in the plant, we can then use that information to assist breeders in developing soybean cyst nematode resistant cultivars as well as design novel transgenic resistance," said Mitchum.

Additional benefits of the project include training of MU undergraduates and K-12 teachers, which may encourage students to consider careers in the plant and biological sciences.

Mitchum said the success of the NSF grant application was rooted in results of earlier studies supported by Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council.

28 January 2009

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Russian Wheat Aphids are no match for new barley

Troublesome Russian wheat aphids hoping to feed and live comfortably on barley plants are in for bad news. Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) developed a new barley variety that is highly resistant to the insect pest. Russian wheat aphids, or Diuraphis noxia, are major pests of cereal crops. In the first 20 years after its introduction into the
US, the pest has caused wheat and barley farmers billions of dollars in losses.

Phil Bregitzer and his colleagues invested more than 10 years in developing the superior barley RWA-1758. The new variety offers barley growers in states such as
Montana, Colorado, and Nebraska—where infestations of the insect can be severe—an effective, economical and environmentally sound way to quell the aphid. Bregitzer noted that cost-effective chemical controls are still not available for combating the insect. RWA-1758’s yields are on par with those of popular barley varieties.

Read the article at>

From CropBiotech Update
12 December 2008

Contributed by Margaret E. Smith, Cornell University

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Indian scientists develop transgenic chickpea resistant to cowpea aphids

Chickpea is an important food legume currently grown on 12 million hectares in more than 40 countries. India is the world's top producer of chickpea. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the country produces some 5 million tons annually. Chickpea production in India, however, is severely threatened by difficulties in managing several insect pests. These pests include the lepidopteran pod borer, pea leaf weevil and the sap-sucking cowpea aphid (Aphis craccivora).

Researchers at the Bose Institute in Kolkata have successfully developed transgenic chickpea plants resistant to cowpea aphids. The transgenic plants express a garlic lectin gene (asal) which encodes a mannose binding homodimeric protein. Lectins are sugar-binding proteins that mediate numerous biological processes, such as cell-cell and host-pathogen interactions. The insecticidal activity of some lectins involves the binding of the protein to the gut surface, leading to fatal abrasion in the insect's gut lining.

The level of recombinant protein in transgenic lines, as measure by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), varied between 0.08 percent and 0.38 percent of the total soluble proteins. In planta bioassay revealed significant decreases in the survival and fecundity of cowpea aphids. The scientists will next study the resistance of the transgenic cowpea lines to other sap-sucking insects.

The paper published by Transgenic Research is available for download at 

Source:CropBiotech Update

6 February 2009

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1.19 Maize varieties resistant to the widespread Striga plant parasite are a hit with Nigerian farmers

Lagos, Nigeria
by Abiose Adelaja, SciDev.Net

Nigerian farmers who tested new maize crops resistant to the widespread Striga plant parasite are so enthusiastic about their increased crop yields that they are selling more seeds than the official distribution channels.

The crops were developed in the Nigerian laboratories of the International Institute for Agricultural Research (IITA). They dramatically cut maize losses from the root-infecting Striga, or witchweed, during two years of trial cultivation by farmers in Borno State in northern Nigeria.

Nigeria's Institute for Agricultural Research began distributing the new parasite-resistant maize seeds in December 2008.

Abebe Menkir, the lead scientist on the research project at IITA, told SciDev.Net that some farmers in Borno state were already producing large quantities of resistant seeds and selling them on to farmers in and outside the region. He was unable to say how many seeds are being — and will be — distributed through official channels.

"The farmers say they couldn't wait for the official release of seedlings because the variety is successful, cutting losses," says Menkir.

Menkir said the next step was to distribute the parasite-resistant maize in other countries in West and Central Africa.

The varieties, known as Sammaz 15 and 16 contain genes that diminish the growth of parasitic flowering plants such as Striga, which attaches to the maize root. Both Sammaz varieties tolerate heavy Striga infestations without suffering crop losses.

"A normal maize variety without resistance to Striga can sustain from 60 per cent to 100 per cent grain yield loss in farmers' fields that are severely infested," Menkir told SciDev.Net. Sammaz 16 loses just ten per cent of yield in an extreme invasion.

Sammaz 16 is a late-maturing variety requiring 110 to 120 days of growth, whereas Sammaz 15 can often be harvested at 100 days and is more suitable for regions with short growing periods or unpredictable water supplies.

Agronomy researcher Michael Aken'Ova from the faculty of agriculture at the University of Ibadan, said that producing resistant and tolerant cultivars such as Sammaz is the most economically feasible, easily accessible, safe and sustainable approach to combat losses due to Striga, particularly compared to labour-intensive methods such as weeding.

He added that he is sure that the resistant crops will soon make it to the farmers who need them, with the aid of leaflets, radio magazine programmes and messages in local languages.
Other news from the International Institute for Agricultural Research (IITA)

13 February 2009

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1.20  Scientists to breed maize types suitable for areas with poor rains

A Quarterly newsletter of the African Agricultural Technology FoundationSince its inception in 2004, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation has been taking part in publicprivate partnerships that seek to address key problems facing smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project (see main story) is one of two new projects that AATF and its partners are implementing.The other new initiative is the Nitrogen Use Efficiency and Salt Tolerance Rice Project, which seeks to develop varieties that can grow well in saline soils and those low nitrogen levels. Other ongoing projects focus on the control of the destructive weed Striga in maize, control of the legume pod borer in cowpeas, and on checking the spread of the banana bacterial wilt disease. All these projects are based on priorities identified by national and regional research and development organisations. For more information visit: Many areas of Africa frequently experience drought, making farming risky for millions of small-scale farmers who rely on rainfall to grow their crops. Climate change will worsen the effects of drought in many parts of the continent, which has been steadily warming over the past two decades. The reality of climate change calls for urgent action to prepare communities to cope with persistent drought in the long run. One way to help farmers maintain and increase farm yields is to introduce improved crop varieties that can grow well in conditions of poor rains. A new public-private partnership being implemented by AATF and partners aims to develop droughttolerant maize varieties that will produce more reliable harvests for small-scale farmers. Known as the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, this partnership brings together leading researchers from national agricultural research institutes in eastern and southern Africa, the International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and Monsanto to develop improved drought-tolerant maize for the continent. The project, launched in 2008, will incorporate the best technology available internationally into highperforming maize varieties that have been adapted to local conditions. Its long-term goal is to make droughttolerant maize available royaltyfree to small-scale farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. WEMA will combinethe benefits of CIMMYT’s maize breeding programme and Monsanto’s molecular breeding, genomics and biotechnology platforms with AATF’s capacity for project management and deployment to fast-track delivery of drought-tolerant maize to farmers.CIMMYT will provide conventionally bred drought tolerant, high-yielding maize varieties that are adapted to African conditions. The research centre will also bring into the project expertise in breeding and testing for drought tolerance. Monsanto will donate patented germplasm, advanced breeding tools and expertise as well as drought tolerance genes developed jointly with the chemical company BASF. The national agricultural research systems, farmers’ groups and seed companies taking part in the project will contribute their skills and knowledge in breeding and regulatory issues. These partners will be responsible for governance, testing, germplasm evaluation, seed production and distribution. WEMA is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation. Project activities will initially be carried out in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa.
Contact: G. Wachoro (

Source: Partnerships: A Quarterly newsletter of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, Jan. – March 2009, via

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1.21  Drought resistant cereal plant
Neuherberg, Germany
The global climate is changing, and this change is already impacting food supply and security. People living in regions already affected by aridity need plants that can thrive / grow under dry conditions.

One example is sorghum: Also known as milo, durra, or broomcorn, sorghum is a grass species that can grow up to five meters in height and is extremely resistant to aridity and hot conditions. The grass, which originates from Africa, can thrive under conditions and locations where other cereal plants cannot survive due to lack of water. In arid-warm and moderate regions of the Americas, Asia and Europe it is mainly utilized for food and fodder and is also gaining in significance as a basis for bio-fuel. The plant also provides fibers as well as combustible material for heating and cooking.

As part of an international consortium of scientists, researchers at Helmholtz Zentrum München are analyzing the genes of sorghum, the first plant of African origin whose genome has been sequenced.

Dr. Klaus Mayer of the Institute of Bioinformatics and Systems Biology of the Helmholtz Zentrum München described the scientists’ research goal: ”We want to elucidate the functional and structural genomics of sorghum.“ He went on to explain: ”That is the prerequisite for making this important grain even more productive through targeted breeding strategies. As German Research Center for Environmental Health, sustaining the food supply is one of our most important research topics. That is why we are trying to learn something about the molecular basis of the plant’s pronounced drought tolerance in order to apply this knowledge to other crop plants in our latitude zone as well. “The first results of the study have been published in the current issue of Nature.

What makes sorghum interesting as a model system is that it is more closely related to the predominant grains of tropical origin, for example maize, than it is to rice. Moreover, sorghum, unlike many other crop plants, has not undergone genome enlargement in the past millions of years. Its rather small genome – about one-fourth as large as the human genome – is a good starting point for investigating the more complex genomes of important crop plants such as maize or sugarcane, especially since sorghum - like these two plants –is a ”C4 plant“.

Due to biochemical and morphological specialization, such plants use a special kind of photosynthesis (in which first a molecule with four carbon atoms is formed, thus the name). They can assimilate carbon at higher temperatures and more efficiently than ”C3 plants“ and are especially suitable for the production of biomass for energy. Sorghum is the first cereal plant with C4 photosynthesis whose genome has been completely sequenced. The analysis of its functional genomics provides new insights into the molecular differences between C3 and C4 plants.

Furthermore, the comparison with the C3 plant rice - likewise completely sequenced – gives us information about how these cereals became more divergent in the course of evolution.The data of the Munich scientists also allow a comparative analysis of sorghum, rice and maize. This analysis yields information about the evolution of the genome size, distribution and amplification of genes or recombination processes.

Last but not least, the researchers have validated a method in their study - whole genome shotgun sequencing – which is an especially fast and inexpensive method of sequencing complete chromosomes and genomes. In this method, the DNA is copied multiple times and then shredded into many small fragments by squeezing the DNA through a pressurized syringe. Finally the fragments are sequenced from both ends ans subsequentially the millions of small DNA fragments are assembled by elaborate computational methods into complete chromosomes.

Read more:
The Sorghum bicolor genome and the diversification of grasses.
Andrew H. Paterson et al., Nature 457, p551-556; doi:10.1038/nature07723

30 January 2009

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1.22  New disease-resistant apple variety from University of Illinois

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a late-ripening, disease-resistant apple variety. The new variety, which they named WineCrisp, carries the Vf gene for scab resistance. WineCrisp was developed over the past 20 plus years through classical breeding techniques.

Why does it take over 20 years to make an apple? The researchers explained that it has taken them a long time because they want to test the apple variety in different locations and observe it over a number of years. The original cross in the breeding process was done at Rutgers in 1989. The University of Illinois has also collaborated with Purdue University on the project. U of I geneticist Schuyler Korban noted that it takes time for a new orchard or even for an existing orchard to plant new apple varieties. But when WineCrisp cuttings are grafted into a fast-growing root stock, Korban says there could be fruit on the tree in as little as three years. Read the press release at>

From CropBiotech Update
23 January 2009

Contributed by Margaret E. Smith
Cornell University

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1.23  Discovery may solve devastating rust fungus issue for bean growers

By Alfredo Flores
The detection of 3,000 proteins produced in plants of common beans could help breeders develop resistance against the bean rust fungus, Uromyces appendiculatus, a major concern for domestic dry bean and snap bean growers. This rust is prevalent throughout the continental
United States, according to research by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and cooperators.

Plant pathologist Bret Cooper, at the ARS Soybean Genomics and Improvement Laboratory (SGIL) in Beltsville, Md., leads the research, which could help scientists determine which proteins produced in bean plants are involved in providing resistance to rust fungus.

The symptoms of this rust initially appear as small white flecks on the upper leaf surface, then develop into reddish-brown pustules (small eruptions on the leaf surface). When severe infections occur, the leaves curl upward, dry, turn brown, and drop prematurely, and pod set, pod fill and seed size are reduced.

To make matters worse, in 2004, a separate rust fungus that causes Asian soybean rust—which infects soybeans, but not common beans—arrived in the United States. Domestic soybean cultivars have little resistance to soybean rust, and now America's second largest crop is severely threatened by this new disease. It is hoped that the discovery of the dry bean rust disease resistance proteins will help identify similar proteins in soybeans and advance soybean breeding efforts as well.

Until recently, disease resistance genes and the proteins they produce were studied one at a time, but Cooper and his team used a process called high-throughput mass spectrometry to identify, at a much faster rate, proteins by their unique molecular mass. With this technology, they evaluated more than 3,000 rust resistance proteins in bean over the course of two-and-a-half years, and measured how protein levels change in plants, and which ones provide disease resistance.

This study revealed more than 1,500 “molecular battles”— interactions between the fungus and the plant—and led to the identification of a potential set of proteins thought to be master regulators of a strong resistance response in the plant. This new information may help breeders improve bean varieties that are currently threatened by rust.

The scientific team also includes molecular biologist Mark Tucker, plant physiologist Kimberly Campbell, and bean breeder Talo Pastor-Corrales at SGIL, as well as molecular biologist Brian Scheffler at the Mid South Area Genomics Laboratory in Stoneville, Miss. Other collaborators include scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the University of Missouri in Columbia.

The research was published recently in Molecular and Cellular Proteomics.

ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Source: USDA News and Events
27 February 2009

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1.24  Genomic selection for crop improvement

Elliot L. Heffnera, Mark E. Sorrellsa
Dep. of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Cornell Univ., Bradfield Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853
and Jean-Luc Jannink
USDA-ARS, R.W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY 14853

January, 2009
Despite important strides in marker technologies, the use of marker-assisted selection has stagnated for the improvement of quantitative traits. Biparental mating designs for the detection of loci affecting these traits (quantitative trait loci [QTL]) impede their application, and the statistical methods used are ill-suited to the traits' polygenic nature. Genomic selection (GS) has been proposed to address these deficiencies. Genomic selection predicts the breeding values of lines in a population by analyzing their phenotypes and high-density marker scores. A key to the success of GS is that it incorporates all marker information in the prediction model, thereby avoiding biased marker effect estimates and capturing more of the variation due to small-effect QTL. In simulations, the correlation between true breeding value and the genomic estimated breeding value has reached levels of 0.85 even for polygenic low heritability traits. This level of accuracy is sufficient to consider selecting for agronomic performance using marker information alone. Such selection would substantially accelerate the breeding cycle, enhancing gains per unit time. It would dramatically change the role of phenotyping, which would then serve to update prediction models and no longer to select lines. While research to date shows the exceptional promise of GS, work remains to be done to validate it empirically and to incorporate it into breeding schemes.

Source: Crop Science via
19 February 2009

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1.25  Scientists identify a wheat gene sequence which provides protection against leaf rust, stripe rust and powdery mildew

CSIRO Plant Industry scientists and international collaborators have discovered the key to overcoming three major cereal diseases, which in epidemic years cost wheat growers worldwide in excess of AUS$7.8 billion.

In a paper published today in the prestigious journal Science, scientists from CSIRO Plant Industry, the University of Zurich and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center have identified a wheat gene sequence which provides protection against leaf rust, stripe rust and powdery mildew.

"Genetic disease resistance is highly desirable in plants as it is more environmentally friendly and profitable than strategies like spraying pesticides," says a senior principal research scientist at CSIRO Plant Industry, Dr Evans Lagudah. "The newly identified resistance gene product – known as Lr34 transporter protein – is the first of its kind to be found in a commercial crop that is capable of delivering broad-spectrum control of multiple pathogens."

Lr34 has two extremely valuable characteristics. Whereas one gene usually only protects against a single disease for a limited time under commercial production, Lr34 provides long lasting disease resistance and acts against multiple diseases.

"The fungi that cause rust diseases are very adaptable and can rapidly evolve to overcome resistant cereal varieties," Dr Lagudah says. "Scientists and farmers can commonly only respond to a rust outbreak after it has passed, but tests conducted after identifying the Lr34 gene sequence show it has provided partial but constant protection against leaf rust for over 80 years."

Understanding the molecular nature of this type of resistance has important implications for long-term control of rust diseases.

CSIRO Plant Industry's Dr Wolfgang Spielmeyer says an immediate application is the use of the gene sequence to directly select and breed wheat plants that carry the resistance against multiple pathogens.

"The Lr34 gene can now be combined with other disease resistance genes into single cultivars faster and with greater confidence providing even more durable resistance," he says.

This work was supported in Australia by the Grains Research and Development Corporation

24 February 2009

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1.26  Portable kit may one day detect plant disease before disastrous outbreak

College Station, Texas
This science may literally be outside the box: A briefcase-sized kit is carried to a field where thousands of tons of food are growing. The search is for microorganisms that could infect and kill the plants, wreaking havoc on the food supply and market.

If the equipment in the box finds the pathogen, experts can tell farmers how to prevent the devastation. Quick and accurate are key.

That’s what scientists plan to do within three years, according to Dr. Won-Bo Shim, Texas AgriLife Research plant pathologist. He’s lead investigator on a $1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that takes aim at protecting the nation’s food and agriculture from bacterial, fungal and viral agents on the homeland security select list.

PADLOC is what they have already named the futuristic kit – Pathogen Detection Lab-On-a-Chip.

“It’s a portable system,” Shim said. “The idea is to shorten the current detection process to a few hours so that a plan could be set up to minimize impact from such plant diseases.”

Currently, if a new plant disease appears on a farm, it could take days to find, sample, ship to a lab and run tests to verify, Shim explained, and that time increases the chance for irreversible damage to the food supply and marketplace.

One of the novel approaches to creating a faster system, Shim explained, is collaboration between the experts in plant pathology and his co-investigator Dr. Arum Han, a Texas A&M University electrical engineer who specializes in nanotechnology where things are measured in billionths.

The two met almost accidentally at a social for professors. Shim recalls that as each asked the other about their research efforts, the notion clicked that one’s skill could supplement the other to develop a better detection system.

“There’s a need for a system that is not only portable but rapid, accurate and ‘dummy proof’ so that someone with no background in the science could use it,” Shim said. “The technology we need is already available to both plant pathology and engineering. We’re just putting them together.”

But the nature of diseases in plants presents the challenge. Humans and other animals have an immune system, so researchers predict the strains of flu that might be present in a given year and make a vaccine against that, he explained.

Because plants do not have immune systems, breeders are constantly trying to stay ahead of disease outbreaks by breeding new varieties – a process that can take years, Shim said. If a new or foreign plant pathogen is introduced to an area, susceptible plants are not able to defend themselves. If farmers knew about the presence of such a disease early enough, the infected portion of the crop could be eradicated to prevent disease from spreading to the remaining fields.

“One thing about plant diseases is that there are so many,” Shim explained. “There are bacteria, fungi and viruses that cause plant diseases, and the symptoms are also quite diverse. Even the experts when they see a disease on a plant will scratch their heads about the cause, especially if it is a newly introduced microorganism.”
In the 1980s and 90s, plant pathologists relied on visual inspections to determine diseases, he said. More recently, technology emerged to allow labs to detect pathogens at the molecular level with high precision and accuracy. However, this diagnostic process requires a lab equipped with bulky instruments.

With Han’s expertise in nanotechnology, the team plans to cram this “lab” into a “box." And that means packing the sophisticated measuring devices, reagents, power supply and other features that now take up lab space into a parcel no bigger or heavier than a briefcase.

The kit, he said, would be “a library to target the plant diseases of national interest.”

The first goal is to make a kit to test in the field. Shim expects that to be accomplished within the first two years of the three-year project. He and plant pathology colleague Dr. Dennis Gross will then do field testing for accuracy.

Next, a team of Texas AgriLife Extension Service agents will test the user-friendliness of the kit around the state from the rice fields in the southeast to the ornamental crops in the northeast and the field crops in the west.
Shim acknowledges that the project is high risk. The team promises USDA a prototype in three years. But he said the proposal made for the grant was already so detailed in its design that the two are confident enough to speak of PADLOC as if it is already a product.

“It’s a new tool from existing technology,” Shim said. “But we hope that it can make recommendations in real-time for farmers so that we would be able to stop a local problem from becoming a regional or national one.”

23 February 2009

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1.27  Researchers identify gene to improve wheat frost tolerance

Washington, DC
The United States, the world’s leading exporter of wheat, is struggling to keep pace with demand, and a decline in grain available is causing a worldwide crisis. Improving the performance of winter wheat is crucial to keeping pace with worldwide demand.

With funding from USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), scientists in California have identified the genes in wheat that are responsible for the plant’s tolerance to freezing temperatures. This discovery may lead to improved crop production.

The tolerance for freezing temperatures varies in different winter wheat varieties, ranging from 1 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures fall below this range, wheat is either injured or it dies. Reduced grain production presents serious economic implications.

Wheat breeders have long recognized the need to produce cultivars with greater resistance to freezing temperatures, but have had limited success at developing cultivars that exhibit improved freezing tolerance. This may be due in part to the regulation of temperature tolerance by multiple genes as well as the variable nature of freeze injury in fields where snow and sloped ground create microclimates.

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

Dubcovsky led an international team of scientists from the University of California–Davis (UCD) and European institutions to identify the genes that regulate temperature tolerance in wheat and to identify frost-susceptible varieties.

The research team had previously identified a compact group of 11 genes on wheat chromosome 5AL. These genes play key roles in regulating a large number of other genes that confer tolerance to cold temperatures.

The team demonstrated that the frost-tolerant variety activated two of these genes earlier than the frost-susceptible varieties when exposed to decreasing temperatures. This earlier response helped to better prepare the plants for freezing temperatures.

“This research has great potential to be directly incorporated into winter wheat breeding programs where improved winter survival is a goal,” said project collaborator Dr. Kim Garland-Campbell. “The research to date has focused on differences between spring habit, cold-sensitive wheat and winter habit, winter-tolerant wheat. Our next step is to further examine differences in freezing tolerance among winter wheat varieties to determine which genes are present and active in the hardiest varieties, such as from Russia, the Ukraine, Canada, western Nebraska, and other locations with extremely severe winters.”

The project team will use these discoveries to screen wheat varieties for the best combinations of frost tolerance genes and then develop genetic markers to accelerate the selection of hardier wheat cultivars.

"The identification of these optimum gene combinations will enable breeders to develop hardier winter wheat, which is of vital importance in light of growing pressures to increase global food production," Dubcovsky said.

The United States annually produces more than 50 million metric tons of wheat, which is used to make a broad spectrum of food products ranging from breads to pastas. The results of this research will enhance wheat sustainability and production.

This project is part of the CSREES National Research Initiative (NRI) Plant Genome program and included participants from UCD, USDA’s Agriculture Research Service, Washington State University, the Ohio Plant Biotechnology Consortium, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, CSREES focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues affecting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. For more information, visit
By Stacy Kish

9 February 2009

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1.28  University of California, Berkeley researchers develop improved method for comparing whole genome sequences

Berkeley, California
 Taking a hint from the text comparison methods used to detect plagiarism in books, college papers and computer programs, University of California, Berkeley researchers have developed an improved method for comparing whole genome sequences.

With nearly a thousand genomes partly or fully sequenced, scientists are jumping on comparative genomics as a way to construct evolutionary trees, trace disease susceptibility in populations, and even track down people's ancestry.

To date, the most common techniques have relied on comparing a limited number of highly conserved genes - no more than a couple dozen - in organisms that have all these genes in common.

The new method can be used to compare even distantly related organisms or organisms with genomes of vastly different sizes and diversity, and can compare the entire genome, not just a selected small fraction of the gene-containing portion known to code for proteins, which in the human genome is only 1 percent of the DNA.

The technique produces groupings of organisms largely consistent with current groupings, but with some interesting discrepancies, according to Sung-Hou Kim, professor of chemistry at UC Berkeley and faculty researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. However, the relative positions of the groups in the family tree - that is, how recently these groups evolved - are quite different from those based on conventional gene alignment methods.

The computational results have surprised scientists in being able to classify some bacteria and viruses that until now were enigmatic.

The technique, which employs feature frequency profiles (FFP), is described in a paper to appear this week in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Whole-genome vs. gene-centric methods

Current methods for comparing the genomes of different organisms focus on a small set of genes that the organisms being compared have in common. The genomes are then lined up in order to count the sequence similarities and differences, from which a computer program constructs a family tree, with near relatives assumed to have more similar sequences than distant relatives.

This technique assumes organisms have genes in common, however, or that these "homologous" genes can be identified. When comparing distantly related species - such as bacteria that live in vastly different environments - this gene-centric method may not work, Kim said.

"What do you do when one gene tells you the organisms are closely related, and another gene tells you they're distantly related?" he asked. "It happens."

Kim, who in the past focused on creating three-dimensional demographic maps of all known protein structures, wanted a technique that could be used to compare genomes of all sizes, and even genomes only partially sequenced. He also wanted a method that would compare all regions of the genome, not just the exons - that is, the DNA transcribed into mRNA, the blueprint for proteins. Exons make up only 1 percent of the human genome, with the remainder being non-coding "introns," regulatory DNA, duplicate or redundant DNA and transposons - genes that have jumped from other places in the genome.

Kim thought that traditional text comparison - used, for example, to assess the authorship of a work of literature or to identify plagiarized text - might provide a model for whole genome comparison and a way to test comparison methods. But while text comparison involves looking at word frequency; genomes cannot be broken down into words.

"I can compare two books in two different ways. I can pick a few sentences, say a hundred that I subjectively decided are important, and compare them, but some are very similar and some very different in the two books," he explained. "So, how can I decide? I need a second method to compare some features representing one whole book to those of the other whole book."

29 January 2009

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1.29  Unraveling of the sorghum genome will help improve dryland crops

Patancheru, India
The announcement of the unraveling of the genome of sorghum, one of the mandate crops of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), will strengthen the Institute’s research for the improvement of sorghum and other food crops.

The sequencing of the sorghum genome was announced in a scientific article published on 29 January 2009 in the journal Nature. The global team of scientists that reported the genome sequencing was led by Prof Andrew Paterson of the University of Georgia, USA, and included ICRISAT’s Cereal Breeder, Dr C Tom Hash.

Sorghum is the second food crop from the grass family to have its genome fully sequenced. The first one was rice. Sorghum is the first crop with the more efficient C4 photosynthesis system to be sequenced. Sugarcane, maize and pearl millet are other grasses with the C4 photosynthesis system that should benefit from this.
Plants that have a C4 photosynthesis system have a competitive advantage over plants possessing the more common C3 carbon fixation pathway under conditions of drought and high temperatures. While a significant portion of the water taken up by C3 plants is lost through transpiration, this loss is much lower for C4 plants, demonstrating their advantage in a dry environment.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the unraveling of the sorghum genome is the first such breakthrough for a dryland agricultural crop that is adapted to drought. “The sequence of sorghum genome will provide us a better understanding on genes that make sorghum, as compared to other cereals, more drought tolerant.”

ICRISAT will combine the new knowledge on the sorghum genome sequence with its expertise on molecular-marker assisted crop selection and breeding to develop improved sorghum varieties and hybrids for desirable traits, say with improved drought tolerance or improved disease resistance.

Candidate genes identified for drought tolerance or pest resistance can be used to understand natural variation in ICRISAT’s sorghum germplasm collection comprising of more than 36,000 accessions with a final objective to identify superior variants for using in breeding crops.

The genome sequence is already contributing to development of additional molecular markers for economically important sorghum traits, and for identification of specific genes that control them. This in turn is leading to more efficient crop breeding methods – particularly those based on marker-assisted selection for naturally occurring genetic variation – which will reduce the time required to develop grain, forage, and sweet sorghum varieties and hybrids having improved agronomic performance, stress tolerance, pest resistance and product quality.

The availability of genome sequence data should enhance genomics-assisted breeding in sorghum. For instance, a few hundred molecular markers, genomics tools that are used in marker-assisted selection, were available in sorghum until 2 to 3 years ago; genome sequence data has now provided more than 71,000 microsatellite marker candidates.

“We believe that availability of genome sequence combined with modern genomics approaches should boost our breeding activities to develop the desirable breeding lines. Genes identified in sorghum would not be useful only for sorghum but other cereal/plant species as well, especially for enhancing drought tolerance,” Dr Dar said.
The paper published in Nature shows that different cereals such as rice, wheat, barley, maize, sorghum and pearl millet show similarities in gene number and gene order, since they derived from a common ancestor. This allows the use of genomic resources from one cereal species to improve another species. For instance, based on the sequence data of sorghum and rice, molecular markers have been developed and are being used in pearl millet, another mandate crop for ICRISAT.

Sorghum, a mandate crop of ICRISAT, is the fifth most important and relatively drought tolerant cereal crop that is the dietary staple of more than 500 million people in more than 30 countries of semi-arid tropics. It is grown on 42 m ha in 98 countries of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.

ICRISAT has been working for more than three decades for improving sorghum for food and feed proposes. Furthermore, sweet sorghum has emerged as a feedstock for ethanol production. It gives food/feed, fodder and fuel, without significant trade-offs in any of these uses in a production cycle. ICRISAT has pioneered the sweet sorghum ethanol production technology, and its commercialization.

Having the genome sequence of sorghum is significant landmark of genomics research for sorghum community in particular and biofuel community in general.

2 February 2009

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1.30  Hybrids and polyploids grow more in daytime

Hybrid plants tend to grow faster, bear more flowers and fruit, or be more adaptable than their parents. The same holds true for polyploid plants, those that have two or more sets of chromosomes. Many important agricultural crops such as wheat, banana, cotton and canola, are polyploid in nature. Scientists at the University of Texas found that hybrids and polyploids grow bigger and better because many of their genes for photosynthesis and starch metabolism are more active during the day. Their work appears in the current issue of Nature." Before this discovery, no one really knew how hybridization and polyploidy led to increased vigor," says lead author Dr. Jeffrey Chen. "This is certainly not the only mechanism behind this phenomenon, but it is a big step forward." The research team discovered a direct connection between circadian clock regulators and growth vigor in both hybrids and polyploids. Repressors of circadian clock genes were found to be more active during the day in the hybrids and polyploids, leading to increases in their photosynthesis and starch accumulation.

With this knowledge, scientists can now develop genomic and biotechnological tools to find and make better hybrids and polyploids. Read the full article at>

The paper published by Nature is available at>

From CropBiotech Update
28 November 2008

Contributed by Margaret E. Smith, Cornell University

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1.31  Epigenetics: forgetting might be as important as remembering

Expression of a gene depends as much on its location as its primary DNA sequence. Epigenetic modifications, or the changes to the protein around which DNA is wound, can also alter gene expression patterns. Epigenetic changes can be passed on from parent cell to daughter cell, ensuring each cell line has the proper characteristics consistently over many generations. Transposons or jumping genes are quite distinct from other genes, because they are nearly always epigenetically inactivated. Silencing transposons is important to retain the integrity of the genome, since these mobile genetic elements can insert themselves randomly, causing deleterious mutations and gene silencing. Scientists have known that once triggered, the maize plant "remembers," and keeps the transposons "silenced" generation after generation, even after the trigger is lost. Researchers at the McGill University and University of California, Berkeley, found that this is not always the case. At certain positions in the genome, the transposon reawakens when the trigger is lost. The discovery suggests that the epigenetic landscape of plant genomes may be more subtle and interesting than previously thought, with the ability to remember epigenetic silencing varying depending on position. Erasure of heritable information might prove to be an important component of the epigenetic machinery.

Read the complete article at>

Download the paper published by PLoS Genetics at>

From CropBiotech Update 5 December 2008

Contributed by Margaret E. Smith, Cornell University

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1.32  USDA-ARS researchers identify drought-hardy soybean line

St. Louis, Missouri
USDA scientist expresses appreciation for Soybean Checkoff’s consistent funding

The United Soybean Board (USB) and soybean checkoff are pleased to congratulate Tommy Carter, PhD., and his team of researchers as they prepare to release a line of drought-tolerant soybeans. In addition, the soybean checkoff is proud to have played such a major role in helping fund the project in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS).

“In 1980, when I started this type of research, we all knew drought-tolerance was important to farmers. But from the research side, we didn’t know anything about drought-tolerance or if we could do anything about it genetically,” Carter said. “Because of climate change, there’s been more awareness recently in the scientific community that drought research is a priority. The United Soybean Board [through soybean checkoff research programs] has been the one who was there the whole time, starting in 1998.”

Carter, a plant geneticist with USDA-ARS located at North Carolina State University, began his quest for drought-tolerant soybeans some 25 years ago. Over the past 11 years, the soybean checkoff has expanded this work, providing Carter and his team a total of over $7 million. Over that time, the project has utilized an average of just under $650,000 per year in checkoff funding, which is used strictly as funding for research. Checkoff funds do not compensate researchers.

“In the 1990s, USB asked farmers what was important and they said drought tolerance, so the soybean checkoff began the funding,” Carter said. “It’s been hard to get much support from other sources because studying drought-tolerance in soybeans is so risky. But USB stuck with it through thick and thin because it’s so important.”
Drought awareness is just as important for farmers now as it was then, says Rick Stern, USB Production Program Chair and a soybean farmer from Cream Ridge, N.J.

“There is somebody on our committee every year who is hit by drought,” Stern said. “Drought doesn’t care about whom it picks on; it hits somebody new every year.”

Carter combed the thousands of exotic soybean lines that are housed at the USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection in Urbana, Ill. Finally, he identified a rare drought-tolerant trait, thereby narrowing down the field to five that could pass the drought-resistance test consistently.

“One day, we went out to the field, which contained plots of all these different types of soybeans, after it hadn’t rained in about two weeks and five of the plots hadn’t wilted,” Carter said. “So over the next five years, we investigated what made those specific types not wilt. We’re looking for those rare exceptions in soybean traits that are slow-wilting.”

Carter then faced the problem of getting them to yield acceptably. After one final round of trials, Carter says he’ll release the winner this year. Carter says that under drought conditions, where conventional soybeans may yield only about 30 bushels per acre, his line will yield four to eight bushels per acre better, depending on the region. At the same time, this line produces well under wet conditions.

“Tommy Carter has had great success with this project,” Stern said. “He’s constantly hitting the goals that he tells us he’s going to meet every year.”

According to Carter, drought is the top environmental limitation to soybean yield. His team, he says, is trying to become the first to demonstrate progress in soybean performance under drought conditions.

Carter’s team of researchers consists of eight scientists from six state universities. Tom Rufty and Tom Sinclair both represent North Carolina State; Larry Purcell and Pengyin Chen are from the University of Arkansas. Then there is Felix Fritschi, University of Missouri; Jim Specht, University of Nebraska; Jim Orf, University of Minnesota; and Roger Boerma, University of Georgia. Carter also enlisted the help of collaborators Randy Nelson, who is the curator of the USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection, and USDA geneticists Perry Cregan and David Hyten.

USB is made up of 68 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.

29 January 2009

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1.33  Determining rice gene function: unlocking the secrets of the world's most important crop

Washington, DC
In 2008, headlines of real world events read like the script of a bad science fiction movie – the main food source of half the world was in short supply, sparking riots around the globe. But new research may help shield rice crops from future attacks.

Rice is a tiny cereal grain that is the primary source of food for more than 50 percent of the world’s human population. It is the second most consumed cereal grain and provides more than one-fifth of the caloric intake of people around the world. Fearing a global shortage, many governments and retailers began rationing rice supplies, which led to the events in the headlines.

The importance of this grain to the world community is clear. It is also important to science; the rice genome was one of the first cereal crops sequenced.

Scientists use rice as a model for research of other cereals because it has a relatively small genome compared to other cereals. The diminutive rice genome is one-sixth the size of the maize genome and 40 times smaller than the wheat genome. The complete sequence of the domesticated rice variety, Oryza sativa spp. japonica, was finished in 2004.

Despite all of the progress in mapping the rice genome, the function of individual rice genes lags far behind the same studies in other cereal crops. Now, with funding from USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), scientists in California have cataloged the different techniques available to determine the function of genes in rice.

Pamela Ronald and colleagues at the University of California–Davis and Postech, Korea, provide a complete analysis of all of the tools and publically available collections for this important agricultural crop to the scientific community. These tools will help scientists delve into the rice genome and discover the function of the estimated 41,000 rice genes.

“[The] tools include rice lines that are lacking function of one or more genes, methods for assaying the expression of genes in different environments, and databases to catalog rice gene function,” Ronald said.

A genome, the total of all genes that make up the genetic code of an individual, is like a brick building where genes are the individual bricks in the building. A gene is the basic unit of inheritance.

Currently, the scientific community has identified forms of genes that confer fungal and bacterial resistance, as well as genes that make the grain tolerant of submergence and other stresses. Genes responsible for flowering, nutrient transport, and biochemical pathways play a critical role in plant growth and development, as well as establish the environmental parameters under which the crop thrives.

Research on gene function may provide additional protection to the rice crop from attack from bacterial, fungal, and insect pests. Deciphering gene function may also increase plant growth, crop production. and expand the plant’s environmental tolerance, allowing it to thrive under a new set of conditions dictated by changing climate, including drought, flood, and increased carbon dioxide concentrations.

For example, a gene called Sub1 has already been used to develop new rice varieties that are tolerant to submergence, a problem that affects 75 million poor farmers in south and southeast Asia. These Sub1 varieties, developed in collaboration with breeders at the International Rice Research Institute, are now showing dramatic gain yields in farmers’ fields in Bangladesh.

Deciphering the function of genes in the rice plant will ensure the supply remains bountiful in the future. The knowledge gained from these studies can be transferred to other important cereal crops as well as bioenergy crops, such as switchgrass.

CSREES funded this research project through the National Research Initiative Plant Genome program. Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, CSREES focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues affecting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. For more information, visit

By Stacy Kish

17 February 2009

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2.01  PDAs to manage plant breeding data

Editor’s note: Please respond directly to Dr Banks, with copy to me at, and I will distribute comments in the next newsletter.

There was a discussion in newsletter 143 (Dec 2003) on using PDAs to manage plant breeding data.  The electronic world has changed since then, and I was wondering if you thought it would be worthwhile to reopen the discussion. I have to replace a cell phone because the battery is not recharging properly, and I would be interested in knowing if anyone has tried using smart phones for datalogging in the field.  How good are the screens in bright light?  Are the touch screen models more convenient than the Blackberries with thumbpads?

Paul R Banks

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2.02  Call for stories about the guardians of diversity

Dear Recipients of GFU for Underutilized Species and Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research News,

our next regular Newsletters are still to come but upon the special request of our Bioversity International colleagues we would like to share the following call with you:

In 2008, Bioversity International launched a global campaign - Diversity for Life. The campaign has the goal of making people around the world understand and appreciate that diversity in all of its forms - human, plant, animal - is a critical part of the fabric of life. Agricultural biodiversity in particular is vital for our nutrition, our health and our livelihoods.

The campaign targets policymakers, the media and schools. As part of the campaign, an oral history project targeting schools will involve students in Italy, France, the UK, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria, Peru, and the US.

In connection with the campaign, we are looking for stories about the guardians of diversity--individuals who have devoted their lives to protecting and promoting plant and animal diversity, including safeguarding the diversity of individual species. We are particularly interested in stories about farmers and community organizations in Kenya, Peru, Armenia, the UK and around the Mediterranean. Can you help? If so, please contact Ruth Raymond at Bioversity ( and we will follow up. Thanks!

Some additional information can be found in the Bioversity International News Section

Best regards
Paul Bordoni & Carolin Bothe-Tews

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2.03  Seed Info -- bi-annual newsletter of the Regional Seed Network

Please kindly find a link to the electronic version of Seed Info No. 36 which is now available at the ICARDA  website. Seed Info started in 1991 as bi-annual newsletter of the Regional Seed Network and has now reached a total of 36 issues. To date Seed Info is the only newsletter reporting on seed issues in the region and distributed to over 2000 people in over 100 countries (over 3000 electronic subscribers). In this issue we once again included an on-line ICARDA Seed Info User Survey

We appreciate if you take few minutes of your time and tell us what you think of the newsletter to help us improve the content and the readership. We apologize for any cross-listing.

We look forward to receive your comments and/or contributions to the newsletter.

Contributed by Zewdie Bishaw
Head, Seed Unit, ICARDA

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3.01  FAO e-mail conference about successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries in the past

The FAO Biotechnology Forum ( wishes to announce that it will host its next e-mail conference from 20 April to 17 May 2009 and that its provisional title is "Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years".

Biotechnology represents a broad collection of tools that can be used for a variety of purposes, such as the genetic improvement of plant varieties and animal populations to increase their yields or the genetic characterisation and conservation of genetic resources for food and agriculture. Some of them have already been used for many years in a wide range of developing countries. For example, a survey carried out by FAO nearly 20 years ago on the use of artificial insemination indicated that over 16 million cattle were inseminated in developing countries in 1990/1991.

The aim of the e-mail conference is to analyse past experiences of applying different agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries, to document and discuss what has succeeded or failed and to determine and evaluate the key factors that were responsible for their success or failure.

The conference will cover the different food and agricultural sectors -crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries/aquaculture and agro-industry - as well as the wide range of biotechnologies normally covered in conferences of this FAO Biotechnology Forum i.e. including some biotechnologies that may be applied to all of the sectors, such as the use of genomics, molecular DNA markers or genetic modification, and some others that are more sector-specific, such as micropropagation (in crops and forest trees), embryo transfer (livestock), or triploidisation and sex-reversal (fish).

As usual, the conference is open to everyone, is free and will be moderated.

To join the Forum (and also register for the conference), send an e-mail to leaving the subject blank and entering the following text on two lines
subscribe BIOTECH-L
subscribe biotech-room4

People who are already Forum members should leave out the first line of the above message, to register for the conference. For more information, contact

A background document for the conference is being finalised and will be sent to the Forum Members before the conference begins. As usual it is planned that a document will be prepared after the e-mail conference is finished summarising the main issues that were discussed.

FAO Biotechnology Forum website

Contributed byJohn Ruane
Forum Administrator

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3.02  ISAAA New Video "Knowledge, Technology and Alleviation of Poverty"

Major findings of the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2008

This ISAAA video presents the major findings of the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops in 2008 and addresses the growing interest biotech crops have experienced in the past years, including substantial advances in Africa. The Video discusses in detail the three questions global society has begun to ask about biotech crops. First, can they contribute to more affordable food? Second, can they help mitigate climate change and contribute to sustainability? And finally, can they contribute to global food security and the alleviation of poverty? ISAAA believes that answer to each of these questions is unequivocally yes. &Control=V009-GS2008-DVD

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4.01  ICGEB-TWAS-UNESCO/IBSP Joint Project on Capacity Building in Basic Molecular Biology

Expression of Interest in Research Grant Applications
Deadline for Phase 1 is 31 March 2009.

ICGEB, TWAS and UNESCO/IBSP are pleased to announce the launch of a new funding opportunity through the implementation of the "Joint Project on Capacity Building in Basic Molecular Biology".

The programme aims to create a network of laboratories involved in research on plant and animal pathogens that affect agricultural productivity in developing regions, and that could stimulate South- South and North-South co-operation, thus building research capacity in scientifically lagging countries and in the developing world at large. The programme will be implemented in four individual and consecutive phases:

     * Phase 1: Call for Letter of Intent (submission deadline: 31/03/2009)
     * Phase 2: Coordinating Workshop organized by ICGEB, TWAS and 
UNESCO/IBSP during 2009 (dates to be decided)
     * Phase 3: Call for fully developed applications (forms to be circulated after the Workshop)
     * Phase 4: Final meeting

More information on the four phases as well as the application form to submit the Letters of Intent to ICGEB are provided in the file to be downloaded from the ICGEB website at:

For any queries or additional information on this new programme, please contact Ms. Barbara Argenti at ICGEB (

Contributed by Peter McGrath
TWAS acting programme officer

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4.02  US Govt Funding Opportunities

The FY 2009 SCRI is now available for public viewing and download. See the links to the CSREES website and the Announcement Synopsis and Download pages.

Grants.Gov Alert: A substantial increase in submissions is causing system slowness. Submission processing times may take longer than usual, thank you for your patience.  Please encourage applicants to start filing early enough to avoid submission errors.

CSREES Funding Opportunity Synopsis;jsessionid=JHKBJKF62WffH1yl4nTyd0m21pv7XyxhKW5GZhJKTnH6nxGG7hWb!994572762?oppId=45127&flag2006=false&mode=VIEW

Grants.Gov Application Package

Contributed by Ann Marie Thro

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5.01  Leafy vegetable breeder – Assistant/Associate Professor

Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University, 12 month appointment, tenure track, 100% Research.  The position is located at the Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) on the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis and tenured in the Department of Horticultural Science at NC State University in Raleigh. The candidate will be responsible for the development of superior leafy vegetable cultivars adapted to NC production systems. New cultivars will have enhanced nutritional and nutraceutical properties, resistance to major production constraints, high yields, and extended post-harvest shelf-life. The candidate will work as part of a team of investigators at the PHHI ranging from breeders to molecular geneticists, and establish collaborative partnerships with other faculty on campus, other universities and the private sector. For successful promotion/tenure, the candidate will be expected to establish a rigorous, nationally- and internationally-recognized, and externally funded research program; publish in relevant peer reviewed publications; and chair and serve on graduate student committees. The candidate will also be expected to provide input to NC commodity industries on promising new breeding lines and cultivars, and participate in annual field days and commodity meetings.  Qualifications:  PhD degree in Horticulture, Crop Science, Agronomy, Plant Genetics or related discipline with experience in applied plant breeding and cultivar development. Applicants should apply online at (reference position number 01-10-0715).  Attach a cover letter and CV to the online applicant profile, and include the names and contact information for at least three references.  For more information, contact Dr. Julia Kornegay, Professor and Head, Department of Horticultural Science, Box 7609, NC State University, Raleigh, NC  27695-7609; Phone:  919-515-3131; Fax:  919-513-3191;  Email:  Review of applications will begin April 30, 2009 and close when an acceptable candidate is identified.  Minority candidates are encouraged to apply.  NCSU is an EEO/AA employer.

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5.02  Post-doctoral associate, Cornell University

New York State Agricultural Experiment Station
Geneva, New York
Department of Horticultural Sciences

AVAILABLE: Position is available immediately, and will remain open until filled.

A postdoctoral research associate position is available in the Department of Horticultural Sciences, Cornell University, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva, NY. The major responsibility of this position is to conduct research to understand the genetic and molecular basis of apple fruit quality traits, such as fruit texture, juiciness and sugar and acid content. Research activities will involve optimizing of fruit quality evaluation methods, development of DNA markers, genotyping of pedigreed breeding populations and identification of QTL, genes and/or gene networks of significant influence on fruit quality traits. Additional responsibilities include lab management and supervising undergraduate students working in the lab.

Applicants should have a Ph.D. degree in plant genetics, plant biology or closely related field. Experience and skills in molecular biology techniques and knowledge in latest genome technologies and analytical tools are required. Ability to communicate in English and good interpersonal skills are essential. The successful candidate is expected to be strongly self-motivated and work independently.

Salary is commensurate with qualifications and experience. An excellent benefits package is included.

Interested candidates should submit a letter of interest, curriculum vitae and contact information for three professional references to:

Dr. Kenong Xu
New York State Agricultural Experiment Station
Department of Horticultural Sciences
Cornell University
630 W. North Street
Geneva, NY 14456>
Phone: 315-787-2496

Contributed by Lou Ann Rago
Cornell University

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5.03  Assistant Professor (tenure track), Specialty Crops Breeding and Genetics

College of Agriculture
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana

The College of Agriculture, Purdue University, announces an academic year, tenure-track assistant professor research / teaching position in the breeding and genetics of specialty crops.  This position is part of a cluster-hire in the College of Agriculture focused on understanding and enhancing sustainable production of specialty crops of state and regional importance as outlined in the USDA 2008 Farm Bill.  Other faculty positions to be filled in this cluster are in the areas of specialty crop production systems and specialty crops entomology. Indiana and the North Central region rank highly in the production of a number of important specialty crops. The successful candidate will establish a competitive, externally-funded research program utilizing modern genetics research tools to improve specialty crops of economic importance to Indiana and the North Central region of the U.S.  Focus areas of research might include, but are not limited to, modern genetic and breeding techniques for improved post-harvest quality and storage, disease resistance, abiotic stress tolerance, enhanced flavor, nutritional quality, and / or other traits of importance to specialty crops. The incumbent will be expected to develop an internationally recognized scholarly program, to provide genetic expertise and resources to the specialty crops initiative, and forge multidisciplinary, multi-institutional collaborations. Although the primary scholarly focus of this appointment is research, the incumbent is expected to participate fully in both the undergraduate and graduate programs, including teaching at the undergraduate and / or graduate level, and mentoring graduate students and postdoctoral research associates.  This position is being advertised jointly between the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology and the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. The departmental home for the successful candidate will depend on their specific research and teaching interests.  Further information about the position may be obtained from the co-chairs of the search committee: Dr. Ray Martyn, Department of Botany and Plant Pathology (Email: and Dr. Cary Mitchell, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture (Email:

Qualifications:  A Ph.D. degree in plant genetics, plant breeding, or related plant science discipline.  Excellent oral and written communication skills are essential.  Post-doctoral or equivalent professional experience is highly desirable, as is field experience in breeding and selection for crop improvement, and a demonstrated ability to collaborate and develop multidisciplinary team approaches to solve research problems.

Compensation:  Salary will be competitive and commensurate with professional experience.  Academic year appointment with excellent fringe benefits that include employer contributions to the individual’s retirement program, medical, life & disability insurance, and sabbatical-leave opportunities.

Application:  Screening of applicants will begin March 15, 2009 and will continue until the position is filled.  Expected appointment will be July 1, 2009.  Applications should include a cover letter that includes a statement of professional goals for research and teaching, the candidate’s curriculum vitae with full list of publications, and the names and contact information, including email address, for four references.  All application material should be sent electronically as .pdf files to:

Ms. Colleen Martin
Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture
Purdue University
625 Agriculture Mall Drive
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2010
Phone: 1-765-494-1306
Fax: 1-765-494-0391

Purdue University is an Equal Opportunity/Equal Access/Affirmative Action Employer fully committed to achieving a diverse workforce.

Contributed by Ann Marie Thro

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5.04  Monsanto Breeding and Genetic Scientific Positions

Posted at
(Use Req. Number to locate and see more detailed posting)

Position/Location/Req. Number
Research Scientist; Mode of Action Lead/Chesterfield, MO/mons-00010191
Senior Research Geneticist/Chesterfield/MO/mons-00009468
Corn Transformation Lead/Mystic, CT/mons-00010231
Data Curator/St. Louis, MO/mons-00010229
Bioinformatics Scientist/St. Louis, MO/mons-00009844
Research Scientist/Middleton, WI/mons-00010217
Sequencing and Bioinformatics Lead/St. Louis, MO/mons-00010215
Breeding Statistics Lead/St. Louis, MO/mons-00010203
Statistical Geneticist/St. Louis/MO/mons-00010202
Statistical Genetics Lead/Ankeny, IA/mons-00010204
Trait-Marker Discovery: Scientist Lead (Cucurbits)/California/mons-00009586
Research Scientist/Felda, FL/mons-00009815
GET Dicot Lead/Middleton, WI/mons-00010177
Marker-Assisted Breeding Coordinator/Woodland, CA/mons-00010020
Trait Strategy Lead/Woodland, CA/mons-00010019
Post Doctoral Researcher - Fruit Quality/Woodland, CA/mons-00009996
Pathology, Disease Resistance Testing Lead, NAFTA/Woodland, CA/mons-00009708
Discovery Corn Breeder/Huxley, IA/mons-00007679
Cotton Breeding Western Regional Lead/Haskell, TX/mons-00010055
Cotton Breeding Delta Regional Lead/Scott, MS/mons-00010070
Patent Scientist/Mystic, CT/mons-00010075
Central Nursery Manager/Scott, MS/mons-00009940
Soy Discovery Breeding Lead/Ankeny, IA/mons-00009860
Trait Integration Breeder/Arlington, WI/mons-00009613
Breeding Application Developer/Williamsburg, IA/mons-00009476
Cotton Discovery Breeder/St. Louis, MO/mons-00009436
Double Haploid Optimization - Disease Scientist/Huxley, IA/mons-00009183
Breeding Modeling Scientist/ St. Louis, MO/mons-00009170
Double Haploid Optimization Research Scientist/St. Louis, MO/mons-00009121

Contributed by Donn Cummings
Monsanto Global Breeder Sourcing Lead

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5.05  Post Doctoral Fellows in Potato Genetics and Genomics – Chile

The Institute of Agriculture Research of Chile (INIA) is seeking two Potato Genetics/Genomics Post-doctoral Fellows (PDF) for the Potato Breeding Program of INIA. The PDFs will seek to enhance the understanding of the potato genome and diversity, in order to facilitate the development of molecular tools applied to potato breeding. The PDFs will, thereby, help identify specific genes associated to productivity and stress resistance (biotic and abiotic) in potato. The PDFs will be posted at the Regional Center of Research in Remehue at Osorno, and will be expected to work in coordination with the other INIA Regional Centers. The appointment will be for a period of three years.  Longer contracts may be possible conditioned to the performance and scientific productivity demonstrated during the initial period.

The primary responsibilities will include
Characterization of potato germplasm to identify the extent of genetic diversity within the potato species and its wild relatives

Conduct experiments to identify QTLs and genes associated to productivity and stress resistance/tolerance.

Genome annotation and active participation in the Chilean compromises within the International Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium

Collaborate with the INIA’s efforts to strengthen the establishment of a crop bioinformatics platform.

Contribute to develop a molecular assisted breeding method (MAB) to facilitate the creation of new potato varieties    

We are seeking candidates with the following qualifications
-Recently earned PhD in plant genetics or other related discipline
-Strong genetics and bioinformatics analytical skills
-Experience in designing and implementing laboratory and field work
-Capacity to communicate well in written and spoken Spanish and/or English, proficiency in both languages will be much appreciated
-Ability to work effectively in a interdisciplinary team

INIA’s mission is to create, adapt and transfer technologies to ensure that the Chilean agricultural sector will continue to produce food of high safety and quality standards.  In addition, INIA strives to provide a competitive and sustainable response to the challenges of rural development.

Please download application guidelines from INIA’s web site ( go to reference “CODIGO16”, and send via e-mail your application no later than March 16, 2009, CV/Resume (including full contact information), and names and contact information of three references to:
Paulina Macaya
Human Resources Manager, INIA
(Reference: CODIGO16)

For further information contact Dr. Boris Sagredo,

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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.

International conference on Heterosis in Plants

The international conference on *Heterosis in Plants* is the first scientific meeting on this topic since the last 12 years. Well-known scientists from top-ranking universities and institutes present their latest achievements on heterosis research.

(NEW) 7-9 September 2009. International Conference on Heterosis in Plants: Genetics and molecular causes and optimal exploitation in breeding, University of Hohenheim. Stuttgart, Germany

A.E. Melchinger, Chair
Brigitte Kranz, Coordinator

Seed Biology, Production & Quality Course

16 - 27 March 2009
. Quantitative Genetics in Plant Breeding, NIAB, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

The National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) is to repeat its two-week intensive training course in Quantitative Genetics in Plant Breeding, after the first session held earlier this year was heavily over-subscribed.

Further details available from Chris Dixon (

17 – 20 March 2009.
The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) 2009 Technical Workshop,  Ciudad Obregón, Mexico

Initiative homepage: We will be accepting posters. See the Call for Posters tab on the registration website for information.

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

25 – 26 March 2009.
Seed Biology, Production & Quality Course. Offered by The Seed Biotechnology Center, together with UC Davis Extension.

Watch for more information and registration details at

16 to 18 April 2009. Progeny Trial Analysis with ASReml International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research (ICPBER) at the University of Western Australia

The final date for registering is 16 March 2009 and numbers are limited. Please contact Sarah Mawson at ICPBER for any information and registration documents.

21-22 April 2009. Measures of Hope and Promises Delivered: An International Conference on Socioeconomic and Environmental Impact Assessment of Genetically Modified (GM) Crops, Bangkok, Thailand.

SEARCA, in collaboration with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, Washington DC), will conduct the international conference.

The conference aims to provide a better understanding of the methodologies, tools, insights, and experiences in examining the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of adopting biotechnology applications, particularly GM crops. It will also examine the factors that encourage or hinder the development and diffusion of new agricultural biotechnologies, and the institutional arrangements and/or policy environment influencing them.

For more details, contact:
Arnulfo G. Garcia
Research and Development Department
SEARCA, College, Los Baños, Laguna 4031 Philippines

Roberta V. Gerpacio
Project Development Specialist

20 – 24 April 2009. VII National Symposium of Biotechnology REDBIO-ARGENTINA: "BIOTECHNOLOGY and FUTURE GLOBAL SCENARIO" , Venue: Bolsa de Comercio de la Ciudad de Rosario, Provincia de Santa Fe

3-5  May 2009. International Plant Breeding Conference, Egyptian Society of plant breeding, Suez Canal University,Faculty of Agriculture, Agronomy Department

Second Announcement and Call for Abstracts

Theme: Crop research, technology dissemination and adoption to increase food supply, reducing hunger and poverty in Egypt
- Ismailia, Egypt
Organizers: Faculty of Agriculture, Suez Canal University (SCU)
and Egyptian Society of Plant Breeding Society (EPBS)
Conference Topics and Symposia
The general topics to be covered at the conference include: plant breeding for abiotic and biotic stresses, horticulture, crop improvement and physiology, crop genetics and biotechnology, analysis and experimental design, integration of livestock in crop production, soils and agricultural engineering sciences, water sciences, environmental sciences, biodiversity and natural resources management.

Correspondence concerning general matters of the conference should be addressed to the Local Organizing Committee:. The Dean Faculty of Agriculture, Suez Canal University, Ismailia, Egypt

Contact with: Tarek Youssef Bayoumi:
Mohamed Abed El Hameed El Baramawy:

UPOV schedules two 2009 sessions of its distance learning course
Introduction to the UPOV System of Plant Variety Protection under the UPOV Convention

Geneva, Switzerland
The UPOV Distance Learning course (DL-205 - Introduction to the UPOV System of Plant Variety Protection under the UPOV Convention) has been followed by some 400 students in 2008, in English, French, German and Spanish.
Two sessions of the DL-205 Course are scheduled for 2009:

Session I
May 4 to June 7, 2009
(On-line registration: February 1 to 28, 2009)

Session II
November 2 to December 6, 2009
(On-line registration: July 1 to 31, 2009)
In total, over 1100 students have participated in the UPOV Distance learning course (DL 205).

(NEW) 11-12 May 2009. SBC’s 10th Anniversary Symposium:Seed Biotechnologies: Filling the Gap between the Public and Private Sector, UC Davis, Davis, CA, USA

This event will include an evening social on May 11th with a keynote address by Rob Dirks of Rijk Zwaan.  A full day of talks will be held on May 12th, with confirmed speakers including Mathilde Causse (INRA, France), Molly Jahn (University of Wisconsin), Jean Kridl (Arcadia), and Pam Ronald (UC Davis).  This event will be open to the public and we hope you will be able to join us.  For more information or to register for this event, go to SBC or contact Jamie Miller at 530-752-9985 or

Contact Sue DiTomaso at 530-754-7333 or

14-17 May 2009.Plant Abiotic Stress ­ from signaling to development, Tartu, Estonia. Please visit the conference web site for more information, including the list of the invited plenary speakers. The registration and abstract submission is now open. Deadlines for reduced registration fee (only 120 EUR) and early abstract submission (to be considered for selection of oral presentations) is up to 17th of March. To receive updated information about the meeting in the future, please reply to this mail - after this further information about the meeting will be sent only to those who send us an email.

Contributed by Hannes Kollist
of Tartu
and Helmut Knüpffer
Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK)

(NEW) 18-29 May 2009. Fifth training course of ICRISAT-CEG, ICRISAT Campus at Patancheru, Greater Hyderabad, India.

ICRISAT's Center of Excellence in Genomics (CEG,, supported by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, is pleased to announce its Fifth Training Course entitled " Molecular Marker Technology for Crop Improvement " to be held 18-29 May 2009 at the 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), gene/QTL mapping and marker-assisted breeding. The course will focus on the experimental design and data analysis components of molecular markers, rather than the actual marker data generation technology. Special attention will be given on the requirements to utilize a high-throughput marker service facility such as the one being established at the CEG. Since the establishment in 2007, the CEG has already trained >80 scientists from India and other developing countries in the area of application of marker technology in crop improvement.

The Fifth Training course is open to mainly Indian scientists but few scientists from developing countries who have a demonstrable ability to use the techniques taught and the CEG marker services. Selected Indian participants will be provided 2nd class AC train fare by the shortest route to/from ICRISAT, boarding and lodging at ICRISAT. Candidates selected from other developing countries will need to get the sponsorship from either their organization or some other funding agencies for their travel expenses and the ICRISAT-CEG will be taking care of their boarding and lodging at ICRISAT. Last date Last date for submitting on line application is 31 March 2009 (
For details contact: Rajeev Varshney, Leader- Centre of Excellence in Genomics and

Principal Scientist (Applied Genomics), ICRISAT, Patancheru, India (e-mail:

25 May – 26 June 2009. Conservation agriculture: Laying the groundwork for sustainable and productive cropping systems. CIMMYT El Batan.

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

(NEW) 31 May 2009. 6th International Triticeae Symposium, Kyoto, Japan

Please note deadlines for abstracts and early registration
 Call for abstracts
1. Web registration of 6ITS is now on progress.

2. Deadline of early registration is end of  March but deadline for abstracts is one month earlier, ie. end of February.

Contributed by Helmut Knüpffer and Taihachi KAWAHARA

June 2009 (6-8 weeks).
Wheat Chemistry and Quality Improvement Course, CIMMYT El Batan (

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

(NEW) 3-5 August 2009.
3rd Annual Plant Breeding Workshop, National Association of Plant Breeders,  Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

An Initiative of the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee (SCC-080)

: The annual meeting of the National Association of Plant Breeders, an initiative of the Plant Breeding coordinating committee
Who: All those interested in plant breeding are invited to attend; there are no annual dues; attendees will include public and private sector scientists and graduate students
Host: Bill Tracy, University of Wisconsin
Objective: The plant breeding coordinating committee serves as a forum regarding issues and opportunities of national and global importance to the public and private sectors of the U.S. national plant breeding effort. The workshop will include invited speakers, discussion sessions, and focus groups.
Organized by: the Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee (SCC-080)
Registration Fee: $235
Information and on-line registration:

Background:   The PBCC is a national coordinating committee of U.S. plant breeders (SCC-080) established in 2007 at a workshop co-organized by USDA-CSREES and the Departments of Crop Science and Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University. The committee works to raise awareness of what plant breeders have done for the nation and how they can contribute to the future of the United States. The group seeks to strengthen U.S. plant breeding capacity by encouraging improvements in infrastructure and education. The PBCC was established as a Land-Grant University Multistate Research Coordinating Committee.

According to guidelines of USDA-CSREES (United States Department of Agriculture – Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service) and ESCOP (Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy), a Coordinating Committee (CC) provides opportunities for scientists, specialists and others to work cooperatively and coordinate activities to solve problems that concern more than one state. The Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee (PBCC) is administered by the Southern Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors (SAAESD) and has been assigned the number "SCC-080". However, participants in SCC-080 can be from any state. Experiment Station directors of each state are encouraged to name an official representative to the SCC-080. Anyone from either the public or private sector interested in the future of plant breeding is encouraged to participate in the PBCC (SCC-080). The PBCC is organized into an executive committee and seven subcommittees.

10-14 August 2009. 14th Australasian Plant Breeding & 11th Society for the Advancement of Breeding Research in Asia & Oceania Conference, being held at the Cairns Convention Centre, Tropical North Queensland, Australia

(NEW) 2-4 September 2009. Meeting of the Biometrics in Plant Breeding section of Eucarpia, Dundee, Scotland UK.

Please click on for more details and a link to the online forms mentioned below

Five topic areas will be covered:
*             Systems Biology
*             Association Mapping
*             Selection Responses
*             Developments in Design and Analysis
*             Statistical Methods

The meeting will be held as a tribute to the career of Prof Mike Kearsey of the University of Birmingham, who will be one of the keynote speakers. Other speakers include:
*             Marc Cooper
*             Brian Cullis
*             Dirk Husmeier
*             Sue Welham

Please complete the online form to register your interest in attending. The scientific committee will select a number of papers as oral presentations, in addition to the main speakers. If you would like your research to be considered for presentation, please submit a short abstract. Research posters will also be considered for presentation.

A small workshop featuring the Biometris QTL Procedure library for Genstat will be held at SCRI in Dundee on the afternoon of Spetember 1st, immediately prior to the meeting. Please also indicate on the online form if you are interested in participating in this workshop.

Contributed by Bill Thomas

 8 – 10 September 2009.
2nd World Seed Conference: Responding to the challenges of a changing world, FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy
Visit the 2nd World Seed Conference website for more information.
To register
Registration is required (cost € 125). In order to participate, please register on-line at
Registration will be open from March 16, 2009.

 9 September 2009. Registrations open for the first of the John Innes Centenary Events

We are launching the John Innes Centenary Year with a Centenary Symposium ‘Genetics 100 Years On’ which will begin with a prestigious History of Genetics Day on Wednesday 9th September. ‘JI Alumni Day’ will follow on Saturday 12th September, bringing together former staff to share their memories, catch up with what goes on today, and of course to have some fun. A ‘Discovery Day’ on Sunday 13th September will complete the launch celebrations. More»

Advances is available in both PDF and HTML format at

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

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 deadline for abstract submission is March 31, 2009. For further details, please go to our website:

For more information, Kindly contact : Dr. G.D. Joubert

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

 9-12 November 2009.
Exploiting genome-wide association in oilseed Brassicas: a model for genetic improvement of major OECD crops for sustainable  future farming, The International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research (ICPBER), University of Western Australia.

The International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research (ICPBER) was launched at the University of Western Australia (UWA) in August 2008 and aspires to “train professional plant breeders for tomorrow”. ICPBER seeks to attract international students into plant breeding and genetics, at BSc, MSc and PhD levels. We also offer in-service training by way of short courses/Master Classes for practising plant breeders or those in the seeds industry.

We at ICPBER are very excited at the opportunity to host this international conference, “Exploiting genome-wide association in oilseed Brassicas: a model for genetic improvement of major OECD crops for sustainable future farming.” The conference will be held at UWA, on the 9-12 November 2009.  This conference is sponsored by the International Organisation for Economics Co-operation and Development (OECD) Co-operative Research Programme on Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, whose financial support makes it possible for many of the invited speakers from many OECD countries to participate in the conference. The keynote speaker is Professor Carlos Bustamante, from Cornell University, USA, speaking on “Association mapping – from humans to Arabidopsis and rice.” This conference promises to be of great value to those in this field.

To be included in the next announcement regarding this conference, please send your contact details to     or     Facsimile +61 8 6488 1140

Submitted by Sarah Mawson, Project Officer, ICPBER, School of Plant Biology M084, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia 6009

2-5 August 2010. 10th International Conference on Grapevine Breeding and Genetics, Geneva, New York, USA.

This conference is sponsored by the International Society for Horticultural Science.  The first announcement is now available at:

 2010. Hanoi, Vietnam to host 3rd International Rice Congress in 2010

The 3rd International Rice Congress (IRC2010) will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2010, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

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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.

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

Subscribers are encouraged to take an active part in making the newsletter a useful communications tool. Contributions may be in such areas as: technical communications on key plant breeding issues; announcements of meetings, courses and electronic conferences; book announcements and reviews; web sites of special relevance to plant breeding; announcements of funding opportunities; requests to other readers for information and collaboration; and feature articles or discussion issues brought by subscribers. Suggestions on format and content are always welcome by the editor, at We would especially like to see a broad participation from developing country programs and from those working on species outside the major food crops.

Apart from the newsletter itself, sent as a PDF attachment, messages with attached files are not distributed on PBN-L for two important reasons. The first is that computer viruses and worms can be distributed in this manner. The second reason is that attached files cause problems for some e-mail systems.

PLEASE NOTE: Every month many newsletters are returned because they are undeliverable, for any one of a number of reasons. We try to keep the mailing list up to date, and also to avoid deleting addresses that are only temporarily inaccessible. If you miss a newsletter, write to me at and I will re-send it.

REVIEW PAST NEWSLETTERS ON THE WEB: Past issues of the Plant Breeding Newsletter are on the web at:  Please note that you may have to copy and paste this address to your web browser, since the link can be corrupted in some e-mail applications. Readers who have suggestions about features they wish to see should contact the editor at

To subscribe to PBN-L
: Send an e-mail message to: Leave the subject line blank and write SUBSCRIBE PBN-L (Important: use ALL CAPS). To unsubscribe: Send an e-mail message as above with the message UNSUBSCRIBE PBN-L. Lists of potential new subscribers are welcome. The editor will contact these persons; no one will be subscribed without their explicit permission.

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