31 March 2009


An Electronic Newsletter of Applied Plant Breeding


Clair H. Hershey, Editor


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


-To subscribe, see instructions here

-Archived issues available at: FAO Plant Breeding Newsletter



1.01  Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug calls for second ‘Green Revolution’, asks new generation to join fight against world hunger

1.02  A quarter of the world's population depends on degrading land

1.03  Funding for higher education: Facts and figures

1.04  Continued support of public seed research is essential

1.05  Four steps to national capacity building on climate change

1.06  Global crisis 'to strike by 2030

1.07  OECD opens Future of Agriculture symposium - Challenges to feeding growing population sustainably require coordinated, international response

1.08  50 years of rice research helps feed the world

1.09  Cowpea growers in sub-Saharan Africa see 55 per cent jump in incomes due to improved varieties

1.10  Pushkal, a new variety of pigeonpea, is the first commercially available hybrid legume in the world

1.11  DuPont and the International Rice Research Institute partner to boost rice yields

1.12  ICRISAT and the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) strengthen collaboration to improve crop diversity for farmers

1.13 China's "Green super rice for the resource poor of Asia and Africa" project receives financial support from the Gates Foundation

1.14  High beta-carotene tomatoes for West Africa are scoring high

1.15  AVRDC vegetable breeders in West Africa search for the perfect onion - Rouge Violet: A color for all seasons?

1.16  Critical gene for enhancing China's super rice yield identified

1.17  Climate change adaptation innovations bring hope to dryland farmers

1.18  New climate-ready maize varieties released in Malawi

1.19  West Africans hope to produce iron-tolerant rice

1.20  Do different production environments justify separate maize breeding programs?

1.21  Geographical information pinpoints climate change opportunities

1.22  Uganda to start biotech cotton trials

1.23  Climate change and agricultural biodiversity

1.24  Reporting biodiversity loss the world over

1.25  200,000 rice mutants available worldwide for scientific investigation

1.26  New research says corn was domesticated from teosinte 1,500 years earlier than previously documented

1.27  Agricultural technology could feed rising population, but who will own the crops?

1.28  Update on for stories about the Guardians of Diversity

1.29  New data offer important clues toward improving wheat

1.30  The quest for rust-proof wheat

1.31  West Africans hope to produce iron-tolerant rice

1.32  A new gene for resistance to stripe rust in wheat

1.33  Aluminum toxicity tolerance breeding in Indonesian soybeans

1.34  Wheat stem rust, strain Ug99: resistance breeding

1.35  Scientists identify rust resistance genes in soybeans

1.36  Scientists develop sugar-enriched corn

1.37  Doubling a gene in corn results in giant biomass

1.38  First SSR map for cultivated groundnut published

1.39  Mechanisms of heat tolerance in plants



2.01  New FAO book: "Socio-economic impacts of non-transgenic biotechnologies in developing countries: The case of plant micropropagation in Africa"

2.02  Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops

2.03  Call for papers for The Journal of Plant Breeding and Crop  Science   

2.04  Introducing ‘the African Journal of Biotechnology (AJB)’

2.05  Genetic Modification of Plants: Methods and Applications 2005-2009

2.06  A new book: Tropical Root and Tuber Crops: Cassava, Sweet Potato, Yams and Aroids

2.07  Drought Frontiers in Rice: Crop Improvement for Increased Rainfed Production



3.01  FAO Biotechnology Forum explores "Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years"

3.02  A new Crops for the Future website

3.03  Downloadable crop production and marketing datasets for Sub-Saharan Africa



4.01  USDA/CSREES announces agriculture and food research initiative funding opportunities

4.02  Request for applications under the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program

4.03  GIPB call for studies and analysis on state of knowledge on breeding for durable resistance to rust threatening crop production in the developing world

4.04  The Rothamsted International African Fellows Programme



5.01  Postdoctoral Positions at the University of Missouri

5.02  Post-doctoral positions are available at North Carolina State University








1.01  Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug calls for second ‘Green Revolution’, asks new generation to join fight against world hunger


College Station, Texas

Thomas Jefferson once said “every generation needs a new revolution.”


If that is so, then Dr. Norman Borlaug, father of the original Green Revolution, is inviting this generation to begin a second, more extensive, rebellion against world hunger.


“The Green Revolution hasn't been won yet,” said Borlaug, who will turn 95 later this month. “Developing nations need the help of agricultural scientists, researchers, administrators and others in finding ways to feed ever-growing populations."


A Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Congressional Gold Medal recipient, Borlaug has been credited with saving more lives than anyone in history. His work has led to breakthrough high-yield, disease-resistant wheat harvests in Mexico, India, Pakistan and countries throughout Latin America, Africa and the Near and Middle East. As a result, hundreds of millions of people have been provided with an otherwise unavailable food supply.


“The Food Security Act of 2009 can lead the way in starting a second Green Revolution by helping improve agriculture and food security in developing countries,” Borlaug said.


The Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act was recently introduced by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and was developed with bipartisan support from Sen. Robert Casey, D-Penn. Lugar described the bill as a “more focused effort on our part to join with other nations to increase yields, create economic opportunities for the rural poor and broaden agricultural knowledge ...” and said it could begin a new era in U.S. diplomacy.


Borlaug added that in a second Green Revolution U.S. land-grant institutions would play an important role in contributing to worldwide food security.


He noted that land-grant institutions, such as Texas A&M University, where he has been a distinguished professor since 1984, provide developing countries with technical assistance, educational outreach, improved technology and agricultural practices, scientific training and research, and hands-on instruction.


“The forgotten world is made up primarily of the developing nations, where most of the people, comprising more than 50 percent of the total world population, live in poverty, with hunger as a constant companion," Borlaug said. "Land-grant institute efforts are essential in helping people around the world achieve a more lasting food security.”


He added that, as global interdependence and the world food crisis continue to grow, so does the importance of these institutions in helping poor and developing countries gain better economic and social stability through agriculture and agribusiness.


“Even though my grandfather will be 95 years old later this month, his desire and effort toward resolving world food security issues and inspiring others to join him in that effort hasn’t diminished one bit over the years,” said Julie Borlaug, manager of external relations for the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University.


The Borlaug Institute currently leads or plays a significant role in international agriculture projects in Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Guatemala, El Salvador and other foreign countries. Many of these efforts are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


"Dr. Borlaug's agricultural achievements to combat hunger have saved countless lives and inspired others to follow in his footsteps," said U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, who supported a bill to award Borlaug the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the U.S. government.


When Borlaug was awarded the medal in 2007, he said he hoped it would “help inspire young professionals to get involved in helping solve the world food crisis.”


Borlaug remains active as an advocate for world food security. He continues to lecture at Texas A&M and serves as a mentor for participants in the Borlaug Fellows Program, established in his honor in 2004 by the USDA.


The Borlaug Fellows Program brings foreign students, scholars, scientists and policymakers to the U.S. to train and collaborate with American agricultural experts.


“The world owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Borlaug, and we at the institute that carries his name are glad to be involved in his efforts to help initiate a second Green Revolution to bring greater worldwide food security,” said Dr. Edwin Price, director of the Borlaug Institute.



9 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.02  A quarter of the world's population depends on degrading land


Productive cropland and forest most affected


A new study published in the journal Soil Use and Management attempts for the first time to measure the extent and severity of land degradation across the globe and concludes that 24% of the land area is degrading – often in very productive areas.


Land degradation - the decline in the quality of soil, water and vegetation – is of profound importance but until now there have been no consistent global data by which to assess its extent and severity. For nearly thirty years the world has depended on the Global Assessment of Soil Degradation (GLASOD) based on the subjective judgment of soil scientists who knew the conditions in their countries. GLASOD indicated that 15 per cent of the land area was degraded, but this was a map of perceptions, rather than measurement of land degradation.


The new study by Bai et al. measures global land degradation based on a clearly defined and consistent method using remotely sensed imagery. The results are startling. The new assessment indicates that 24 per cent of the land has been degraded over the period 1981-2003 - but there is hardly any overlap with the GLASOD area that recorded the cumulative effects of land degradation up to about 1990.


One of the authors, Dr David Dent of ISRIC - World Soil Information explains: "Degradation is primarily driven by land management and catastrophic natural phenomena.


Our study shows the extent and severity of land degradation measured in terms of loss of net primary productivity, making allowance for climatic variability. Overall, a quarter of the world's population depends directly on these degrading areas. The worst-hit areas are Africa south of the Equator, SE Asia and S China. The worst-affected countries, with more than 50 per cent of territory degrading are, in Africa, the Congo, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Zambia and the most affected (95 per cent degrading) Swaziland; in Asia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Korea and Indonesia. In terms of the rural population affected, the greatest numbers are in China, with nearly half a billion, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Brazil. The usual suspects, such as the African Sahel and around the Mediterranean are much less affected."


The resulting loss of carbon fixation from the atmosphere over the measured period amounts to a thousand million tonnes. At a shadow price of $50 per tonne, the loss of carbon fixed amounts to $50 billion – and the real cost is far greater in terms of emissions to the atmosphere through loss of soil organic carbon.


Comparison with land use reveals that 19% of the degrading area is cropland and 43% forest. Cropland occupies 12% of the land area and forest 28%, so both are affected disproportionately.


The study found only weak correlations between degrading land and rural population density and with biophysical factors such aridity. The researchers conclude that more detailed analysis of land use history is needed to uncover the underlying social and economic drivers of land degradation.


Contact: Samantha Holford


20 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.03  Funding for higher education: Facts and figures


Sian Lewis

(Selected excerpts by the editor, PBN-L)


The ups and downs in donor funding for higher education in developing countries over the last half century.


Higher education (HE), including research carried out in universities, has a crucial role in development. It helps generate the human capital needed in key areas such as health, agriculture and engineering, and builds a country's capability for self-reliance.

For example, some academics claim that one reason why the 'green revolution' of the 1960s and 1970s was more successful in Asia than Africa was because Asian countries had greater domestic technological capabilities. Local agricultural universities and research centres — many set up by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) — were able to adapt the new technology to local conditions.


The least developed countries have historically received significant foreign aid to help improve their weak HE systems, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s, when the developing world became a proxy battleground for the Cold War. The United States and other Western nations poured money into Latin America and Asia, hoping to promote capitalist economic models and reduce the threat of communism, while Russia targeted funds at Africa and Cuba in a bid to rival US influence. Each focused part of their funding on maintaining university systems in these countries.


The fall from grace

But a couple of decades later HE fell out of favour. This was partly because donors and recipient governments saw it as an expensive and inefficient public service, benefitting the wealthy and privileged and producing too many social science graduates with too few job prospects.


It was also because of problems with 'brain drain' — institutes in Africa and the Caribbean in particular still have a hard time retaining staff once they have been trained.


And it reflected a shift in donors' priorities, as attention turned towards short-term poverty alleviation efforts in food, medical care and emergency response. Many universities, especially in Africa, had become little more than prestige-seeking ivory towers, cut off from the real needs of the world around them, and were deemed unable to contribute to such efforts.


In the 1980s and 1990s 'return-on-investment' arguments became increasingly important to many large funding agencies. A much-cited 1986 World Bank study estimated that the social rate of return — the increase in national income resulting from an additional year of education — for HE was on average 13 per cent lower than returns from basic education in developing countries. [1] A later review of 98 countries from 1960–1997 found that the typical social rate of return from primary schooling was 18.9 per cent, compared to just 10.8 per cent from HE. [2]


In 1994, the World Bank stressed that HE should not be prioritised in development strategies [3] and cut its HE spending — from 17 per cent of its education funding in 1985–1989 to just seven per cent in 1995–1999.

Figure 1: World Bank lending to higher education dipped in 1994 and 2000

Source: World Bank education historical lending figures

Other donors followed suit. The 2000 World Education Forum in
Dakar, Senegal, confirmed the international community's neglect of HE in the developing world, advocating only primary education as a driver of broad social welfare imrovements.


The policies adopted by developing country governments reflected the big donors' disregard for HE. A 2005 review by Harvard University found HE was missing from most African countries' poverty reduction strategies.


And it has had other untoward effects. HE institutions in several African countries struggle to maintain even low student enrolment rates (which in 2003 stood at less than one per cent of school leavers for many countries). And countless HE facilities, including research laboratories and university libraries, fell into disrepair because of a lack of funding.


Research too was hard-hit. African research output declined in the 1990s — when the rest of the world was moving ahead — and remains among the world's lowest. 


The return of aid for HE

In the last five years, several factors have combined to get HE back on the agendas of major donors. A growing body of literature suggests conventional economic measures of returns on educational investment do not accurately reflect the social value added by HE, which includes job creation and enhanced entrepreneurship and mobility (the ability to move across job sectors). Moreover, they ignore the positive effects of research — a core HE activity — on countries' economies.


The development community is now more accepting of HE's economic benefits, realising that these include creating public knowledge, exchanging skills between industry and academia and better technology. Some academics attribute India's emergence on the world's economic stage to its decades-long efforts to provide high-quality, technically-oriented HE. This was largely achieved through the Indian Institutes of Technology, which were set up with donor money upon Indian independence in 1947.


And in a globalised world where knowledge equals power, 'falling behind the knowledge curve' can have severe consequences. In such a global knowledge economy, HE can help developing countries compete with more technologically-advanced societies. [4] And with intellectual property restrictions limiting technology transfer, developing countries can no longer rely on trickle-down effects to address their development problems.


In the face of modern threats such as climate change, changing disease patterns and food insecurity, producing the skilled labour needed to carry out and apply location-specific research becomes even more important.


Ideas about 'brain drain' have also changed. Developing countries see the potential of bringing 'brains' back once they've received further training overseas — so called 'brain circulation' (see 'Policy implications of the brain drain's changing face'). But achieving this relies on being able to offer good quality research facilities in universities at home.


The diaspora itself can lead to economic and private benefits at home — China and India both have strong ties with their diaspora and this is also beginning to happen in Africa. The Network of Ethiopian Scholars, for example, provides a forum for the Ethiopian diaspora and scientists working inside Ethiopia to exchange knowledge on local issues, including child health.


Changing minds

A 2000 report published by the World Bank and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), confirms the shift in thinking. It argued that HE in developing countries was in a "perilous" state and while HE couldn't guarantee rapid development, sustained progress would be impossible without it. [5]


In 2005 the Commission for Africa, set up by the UK government, clearly suggested that the international community should recognise the value of HE for development. It recommended donors increase investments in Africa's HE capacity and urged them to provide US$500 million a year (and up to US$3 billion over ten years) for centres of excellence in science and technology.


In 2008, the World Bank went further, acknowledging the need for "a more knowledge-intensive approach to development" in Africa and admitting that such an approach requires more focus on HE. [6] It already works with multiple partners in its HE development projects, lending an average of US$327 million per year — mostly to projects in Latin America and the Caribbean (43 per cent) and East Asia and the Pacific (21 per cent), including projects to increase access to, and management of, HE in Chile, Nepal and Vietnam.



Figure 2: ODA, in US$ millions, to higher education from top 10 donors

Source: OECD.StatExtracts


Common problems

It is clear that HE is back on the agenda for a wide range of influential donors, even though funding from the international community remains low.


Yet the situation in many countries remains dire. Poor infrastructure is often cited as a barrier to using HE for development. Other barriers include the cost of HE, school-leavers being ill-prepared for university, poor university management and overcrowding.

More worryingly, many developing country governments seem slow to support HE themselves and are failing to back rhetoric with action (the 2005 Harvard University review found only three governments considered HE in their poverty reduction strategies, and only two planned to increase funding for this purpose).


Encouraging local ownership is a major challenge for donors, partly because bilateral cooperation schemes tend to be centrally managed in rich countries. Receiving institutions often complain that donors set research agendas that match their own interests, rather than addressing local problems. The key lies in finding the right formula for a true partnership.


Partly, the problem arises from differences between allocating 'core' versus project-tied funding. From a demand-driven perspective, core funding, where local partners define priorities and projects, would arguably be better for capacity-building. But in reality, this demand-driven approach rarely exists. One exception is Sida, which funds the core facilities needed to improve research (including laboratories, libraries, infrastructure and research training) in at least one research-based university in each partner country (see 'Donors must fund the essential conditions for research').


An increasing pressure on researchers and HE institutes to produce socially-useful results is also reflected in how donors distribute aid. They often favour applied research in key areas such as health and agriculture, with universities needing to demonstrate concrete results in order to secure funding. Many would argue this is a positive characteristic, although some researchers see it as restrictive.


And a lack of cohesion among donors, who tend to run independent programmes, has led to a scatter-gun approach to strengthening HE in developing countries that many argue results in a waste of resources.


In for the long haul

Jos Walenkamp, director for knowledge and innovation at the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education, and his colleague Ad Boeren, have suggested that donors should coordinate their programmes to boost impact and sustainability, and should fine-tune capacity building and sector-specific programmes to target specific policy goals. [7] They have also called for better monitoring and evaluation by recipient governments, and more active promotion of 'brain circulation'.


Equally important, according to other researchers, is committing to long-term support. Whatever the model for delivery, it is clear that a scale-up of donor support for HE in least developed countries will be needed — if only to meet the growing demand for HE across some parts of the developing world. Several countries are straining under this pressure, leading to 'mega-universities' like the National University of Mexico, which enrols more than 200,000 students each year — still just a fraction of students seeking admission.


Sian Lewis is SciDev.Net's commissioning editor.


See complete article at



11 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.04  Continued support of public seed research is essential


Great Falls, Montana

Our Views


A concern over consolidation in the seed industry was raised at the recent North Dakota Grain Dealers Association convention. The worry is that as more seed research falls to private companies, with much of that work being done in the biotech area, those growers who opt for non-GMO crops will soon see a disadvantage in seed potential.

Leland “Judge” Barth, speaking on behalf of the non-GMO growers and producers who grow crops where biotech properties aren
't allowed, voiced concern that as seed breeding research becomes more concentrated in fewer private companies conventional seed varieties could have limited access to some of the traits developed for genetically modified varieties.

Hundreds of growers across the region are currently producing non-GMO crops to fill the needs of customers around the world that stipulate their products are free from any biotech traits. In addition, thousands are dependent upon cash crops such as small grains, where biotech traits are not now permitted in a breeding program.

Such concerns are unfounded, according to
Monsanto's Jeremy Frie, who told those attending the convention, that at the present time all research work being done by most private companies, such as Monsanto, is being done on a two-pronged approach. New germplasm is being developed using conventional breeding practices and through biotech, and that these programs are basically running side-by-side.

USDA National Agricultural Statistics report from May of last year indicates that 93 percent of North Dakota's soybean acreage in 2006 had a glyphosate application. That was up from 88 percent in 2004. This means well over 90 percent of the soybean acreage back in 2006 was seeded to a Roundup Ready variety of soybeans.

Private companies must be profitable to remain operational. So, with an eye on profit, how many research dollars will private companies be willing to invest in a program that involves only seven percent of the crop? How long will private companies continue to be interested in non-biotech crops?

At the present time, private companies claim to be dedicated to funding non-GMO research, and we take them at their word. But with profits being the main focus, and the economy struggling as it is, can we really expect that enthusiasm to continue long term?

At the present time public breeding programs are finding themselves strapped for cash, Barth noted. He pointed out that the dollars coming to Midwestern land grant universities for research are becoming tighter and tighter as lawmakers are becoming more and more urban, and fighting for those dollars becomes more and more difficult.

In order for the land grant universities to maintain strong public seed breeding programs, there must be an effort to fund those programs and explain to the general population why such an emphasis is important to the ag industry.

We cannot let a lag in seed breeding research hamper those farmers who are working to fill the needs of the non-GMO markets around the world. And research on crops, such as small grains, that haven
't embraced the GMO technology, can't take a backseat to research on those crops where biotechnology is readily accepted.

We encourage the legislative sessions that are under way in
Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota to give careful consideration to continued support to the public breeding programs currently in place at their universities. They have outstanding public breeding programs that have served the farmers in the region well for many decades, and we need to keep both a strong force in the plant breeding business for future years.

As populations in both states become more removed from the farm, it
's necessary that we convey to our urban brethren the importance of public seed research; after all, good seed varieties provide the foundation upon which a profitable crop is built. To remain competitive in this global world of agriculture, our farmers need the best seed traits available for both non-GMO and biotech crops and a strong public seed breeding program is an important part of making that a reality.

Source: The Prairie Star, Great Falls, Montana


Source: The Prairie Star, Great Falls, Montana, via

March 16, 2009


(Return to Contents)



1.05  Four steps to national capacity building on climate change


This policy brief, published by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), outlines a four-step plan for "mainstreaming" climate change — integrating adaptation efforts into development planning and policy.


It highlights the links between climate change and development, claiming that several Millennium Development Goals are directly affected by climate change. For example, the growth in drought-affected areas caused by climate change will affect our ability to tackle hunger.


The World Bank estimates that up to 40 per cent of development funded by overseas donors is sensitive to climate risk. Mainstreaming climate change is thus critical to minimising vulnerability.


The brief proposes a four-step process for achieving this.


Step one: Raise awareness and build basic scientific capacity. Activities at this stage include highlighting the relevance of climate change to development; improving the tools for analysing climate data; building local and regional climate observation networks; and communicating data to decision-makers.


Step two: Target information towards key stakeholders in a format they can understand. Governments must also open communication channels and provide forums to support information and skills transfer to these stakeholders, say the authors.


Step three: Introduce activities on adaptation and mitigation involving governments, the private sector and nongovernmental organisations, to demonstrate good practice and convince policymakers of the relevance of climate change to their work.


Step four: Integrate the lessons learnt from the previous steps to make adaptation part of the normal policymaking process. This should start at the national level, say the authors, to ensure that activities at sectoral and local levels tie in with national development priorities.


Link to full article from IIED


This policy brief was prepared by the head of the climate change group at IIED, Saleemul Huq, and PhD student Jessica Ayers.



March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.06  Global crisis 'to strike by 2030'


By Christine McGourty
Science correspondent,
BBC News

Water shortages are predicted across large parts of Africa, Europe and Asia

Growing world population will cause a "perfect storm" of food, energy and water shortages by 2030, the UK government chief scientist has warned. By 2030 the demand for resources will create a crisis with dire consequences, Prof John Beddington said. Demand for food and energy will jump 50% by 2030 and for fresh water by 30%, as the population tops 8.3 billion, he told a conference in London. Climate change will exacerbate matters in unpredictable ways, he added

"It's a perfect storm," Prof Beddington told the Sustainable Development UK 09 conference.


"There's not going to be a complete collapse, but things will start getting really worrying if we don't tackle these problems." Prof Beddington said the looming crisis would match the current one in the banking sector. "My main concern is what will happen internationally, there will be food and water shortages," he said. "We're relatively fortunate in the UK; there may not be shortages here, but we can expect prices of food and energy to rise." The United Nations Environment Programme predicts widespread water shortages across Africa, Europe and Asia by 2025. The amount of fresh water available per head of the population is expected to decline sharply in that time. The issue of food and energy security rose high on the political agenda last year during a spike in oil and commodity prices.


Prof Beddington said the concern now - when prices have dropped once again - was that the issues would slip back down the domestic and international agenda. "We can't afford to be complacent. Just because the high prices have dropped doesn't mean we can relax," he said. Improving agricultural productivity globally was one way to tackle the problem, he added. At present, 30-40% of all crops are lost due to pest and disease before they are harvested. Professor Beddington said: "We have to address that. We need more disease-resistant and pest-resistant plants and better practices, better harvesting procedures. "Genetically-modified food could also be part of the solution. We need plants that are resistant to drought and salinity - a mixture of genetic modification and conventional plant breeding. Better water storage and cleaner energy supplies are also essential, he added. Prof Beddington is chairing a subgroup of a new Cabinet Office task force set up to tackle food security. But he said the problem could not be tackled in isolation. He wants policy-makers in the European Commission to receive the same high level of scientific advice as the new US president, Barack Obama. One solution would be to create a new post of chief science adviser to the European Commission, he suggested.


Contributed by Neil Hershey


(Return to Contents)




1.07 OECD opens Future of Agriculture symposium - Challenges to feeding growing population sustainably require coordinated, international response


Brussels, Belgium
As the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) prepares to open its Future of Agriculture symposium, CropLife International highlights the need to maintain agriculture at the forefront of the international agenda in order to ensure a sustainable, socially-responsible and effective response to the challenges that we face in feeding the world. Plant science technology offers innovative tools that can help meet these challenges as part of a broader, sustained international response framework.


Global challenges

We collectively face a number of pressing issues in ensuring a sustainable future for agriculture, including rapid population growth, diminishing natural resources, and climate change.


By 2030, the world population is expected to grow by a further 1.7 billion. By this same date, the ratio of arable land to population is expected to have declined by 40-55%. Further challenges are posed as water becomes an increasingly contested resource and climate change threatens to render swathes of land uncultivable. To cope with these effects, the world’s farmers need to double, or even treble food production by 2050.


Innovative, effective tools

The plant science industry invests considerable resources in developing innovative solutions that can help to feed the world sustainably and adapt to these challenges. For example, drought and heat tolerant seeds are being developed and will be on the market in the coming years, which will help grow food in more extreme climates resulting from climate change and water scarcity. Pesticide use helps fight against pests and disease that plague crops and reduce yields, both during cultivation and following harvest. Biotech crops can also raise yields, thus improving productivity and ensuring less land is used in agriculture. This ensures that the encroachment of agriculture onto non-agricultural land is limited, thus preserving biodiversity and wildlife.


Need for a coordinated, international response

These benefits can only be fully brought to bear if part of a coordinated, sustained international response to the challenges and global issues that will be discussed at the Symposium. CropLife therefore calls for a policy framework to be implemented at the international level, which addresses the challenges that we face in feeding the world in a sustainable manner, and recognises the variety of solutions that are required to help meet these challenges.


The OECD symposium on the Future of Agriculture will run from March 30-31, 2009. The symposium gathers policy makers and business figures to address global economic developments shaping the future of agri-food; competing claims with regards to resources and climate change; the contribution of innovation and technology; links with non-agricultural sectors; and what the future holds in store for agro-food. The symposium takes place in Paris.


Source: CropLife International via

27 March, 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.08  50 years of rice research helps feed the world


Los Baños, Philippines

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Asia’s largest and oldest international agricultural research institute, will mark its 50th anniversary in 2010.


In 50 years, IRRI’s high-yielding rice varieties have helped significantly increase world rice production, especially in Asia, saving millions from famine while protecting the environment and training thousands of researchers.


“We look forward to celebrating this achievement and many others with all our partners,” said IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler.


“We also want to thank our host nation, the Philippines, and recognize the hard work and commitment of the thousands of scientists and collaborators who have worked with IRRI,” he added.


IRRI’s Golden Jubilee comes as Asian and world food security face unprecedented challenges, but it also comes at a revolutionary time for rice research. The sequencing of the rice genome is providing researchers with new knowledge that is allowing them to attack many old problems with new solutions.


Dr. Zeigler said IRRI’s 50th anniversary celebrations would place special emphasis on the enormous challenges faced by poor rice farmers and consumers. “We can never forget the struggles of the poor farmers,” he said.


Several major events are planned for the anniversary, including

  • The launch of IRRI’s 50th anniversary by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, 17 November 2009, at IRRI in Los Baños, Philippines.
  • HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will also open the 6th International Rice Genetics Symposium, 16-19 November 2009, in Manila
  • The 50th annual meeting of the Institute’s Board of Trustees, 12-17 April 2010, followed by an alumni homecoming for all former IRRI staff and scholars, both in Los Baños. 
  • The 3rd International Rice Congress (IRC2010), 9-12 November 2010, Hanoi, Vietnam. The IRC2010, the world's largest gathering of the rice industry, has the theme Rice for Future Generations, and will include the 28th International Rice Research Conference, 3rd World Rice Commerce Conference, 3rd International Rice Technology and Cultural Expo, and other 50th anniversary activities of IRRI.

Other events are expected to be held around Asia in 2010 as each rice-producing nation celebrates its research and production achievements.



12 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.09  Cowpea growers in sub-Saharan Africa see 55 per cent jump in incomes due to improved varieties


Ibadan, Nigeria

Resource-poor cowpea farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have seen their profits jump by 55 per cent, thanks to improved dual-purpose cowpea varieties developed and introduced by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and its national partners in Nigeria.


Paul Amaza, IITA Agricultural Economist, says today that farmers who use traditional varieties earn about US$ 251 per hectare, while those who are growing the improved cowpea with proper crop management are getting US$390, or US$139 more, per hectare.


The improved varieties – IT89KD-288, IT89KD-391, IT97K-499-35, and IT93K-452-1— produce high-quality grains for use as food and fodder and are also resistant to Striga, a parasitic weed that reduces yields in susceptible local cowpeas by as much as 80 per cent.


Alpha Yaya Kamara, IITA's Savannah Systems Agronomist, says over 100,000 farmers in Borno and Kano states in northern Nigeria and in the Niger Republic are currently using the improved varieties, where their adoption rate is conservatively estimated at 65 per cent.


He explains that farmers in the savannah region view cowpea as both food and cash crop. “Therefore, when the varieties were introduced, farmers took to them quickly since they serve both ends well. "Those who cultivate it are basically better off than those who do not", Kamara adds.


The improved cowpea varieties were developed and deployed in partnership with the Borno State Agricultural Development Project, Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority, Kaduna State Agricultural Development Project, the Institute of Agricultural Research - Zaria and the University of Maiduguri. Other local development partners are also promoting the improved varieties by organizing farmers' field days, exchange visits, training and farmer-to-farmer diffusion.


Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) is a grain legume grown mainly in the savanna regions of the tropics and subtropics in Africa, Asia, and South America. The grain contains about 25 per cent protein, making it extremely valuable to those who cannot afford animal-derived protein foods such as meat and fish. It is tolerant to drought, fixes atmospheric nitrogen and improves poor soils.


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, about 7.56 million tons of cowpea are produced worldwide annually, with sub-Saharan Africa accounting for 70% or about 5.3 million tons.



6 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.10  Pushkal, a new variety of pigeonpea, is the first commercially available hybrid legume in the world


Patancheru, India

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


“With 40 percent higher yields than the best local varieties, Pushkal is truly the magic pea,” exclaims Dr William Dar, Director General of the 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).


In 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 MS 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.


In eastern and southern Africa, ICRISAT scientists have taken an entirely different approach to improving pigeonpea, using conventional cross breeding techniques to identify varieties that are disease resistant (Fusarium wilt) and specifically tailored to the temperature, altitude and soil conditions of a given area.


Breaking the yield barrier
ICRISAT scientists have been working with national programs in India since 1974, but was not able to develop new high yielding varieties before turning to a new breeding technology leading to the development of Pushkal (ICPH 2671), the world’s first cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) based pigeonpea hybrid. The new hybrid technology provides the opportunity of achieving the long-cherished goal of breaking the yield barrier in pigeonpea.


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 KB 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.


Hybrid due for wide planting

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.


A different approach for Africa

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 Africa.


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.


Spreading the word
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).



2 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.11  DuPont and the International Rice Research Institute partner to boost rice yields


With yield growth rates under 1 percent since 2000, partnership will target acceleration and commercialization to meet growing global demand


Los Baños, The Philippines

DuPont and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) today announced a partnership to boost rice yields. The Scientific Know-How and Exchange Program (SKEP) establishes a new model for public-private sector collaboration that can benefit farmers and consumers while stimulating commercial innovation.


“This innovative and novel partnership will enable the leading public research institution in rice breeding and genetics to collaborate with the global leader in advanced plant genetics, breeding and product development to increase global rice productivity,” said William S. Niebur, vice president – DuPont Crop Genetics Research and Development. “By partnering with IRRI to strengthen and accelerate hybrid rice breeding efforts, we will enhance commercialization of higher yielding hybrids in Asia to help meet global demand.”


The goal of the collaboration is to increase the rate of yield gains and to boost the quality and diversity of hybrid rice. Collaborating scientists will further develop the understanding of hybrid vigor in rice and will work to develop hybrids with better resistance to brown planthopper, a key insect pest. Aspects of this work will be shared publicly and will contribute to making better advanced breeding lines and hybrids available to rice breeders and farmers in Asia. The project will complement the IRRI-led Hybrid Rice Research and Development Consortium.


“Yield growth rates have slowed to less than 1 percent per year since 2000. If this trend isn’t reversed soon, future rice supplies will tighten and prices will rise,” said Achim Dobermann, IRRI deputy director general for research. “A turnaround can only come through accelerated investment in rice research, including new, innovative public-private sector partnerships such as this one between IRRI and DuPont.”


The new program also establishes a scholarship program to support continued interest in agricultural research. DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred will fund a doctorate scholarship to educate a new generation of highly qualified rice scientists for the public and private sectors in Asia.


Both partners will benefit from SKEP through sharing facilities and germplasm as well as through interaction among scientists. The research collaboration builds on the strengths of both partners. IRRI has a large and diverse germplasm pool for hybrid development. Pioneer will provide critical capabilities for molecular analysis, expertise in developing commercial-scale breeding strategy, and field locations for wider testing of IRRI and Pioneer hybrids.



3 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.12 ICRISAT and the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) strengthen collaboration to improve crop diversity for farmers


Patancheru, India and Tainan, Taiwan

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) are strengthening research collaboration to diversify the food basket for the farmers from the developing countries of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.


Combining the strengths of ICRISAT’s research on dryland cereals and legumes, and of the World Vegetable Center on vegetables, the two Institutes aim to provide resource poor farmers a larger basket of opportunities to improve their agricultural productivity and income.


According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, many farmers neither have the ability to withstand risks nor the resources to seek technical help from multiple sources. By combining the strengths of ICRISAT and the World Vegetable Center, farmers will be able to choose more crops to grow during different seasons to reduce the risk impact and increase the productivity of their land.


Dr Dyno Keatinge, Director General of the World Vegetable Center, said that vegetables are higher value crops that not only improve the nutrition of farm families but also give them a more sustained income throughout the year.


Collaboration in Asia

In Asia, the collaboration between ICRISAT and the World Vegetable Center was cemented with the establishment of their South Asian Regional Office within the Patancheru campus of ICRISAT. The first joint activity undertaken by the two research Institutes was the successful organization of the International Conference on Indigenous Vegetables and Legumes in December 2006.


ICRISAT and AVRDC are also collaborating in the integrated watershed management program, which aims at providing a package of scientific interventions for farmers working the land within a micro watershed. Both Institutes are working on one project each in Jharkhand state of India, with funding from the Tata Trusts, where both would support and supplement each other’s activities. Building on this collaboration, new joint proposals will be developed on high value crops for the watershed areas in the coming years, as a way of diversifying income sources.


Since January 2008, ICRISAT and AVRDC are working together on a project to improve the heat and drought tolerance in tropical tomato using genetic, physiological and molecular approaches. This project is funded by the German funders GTZ and BMZ.


ICRISAT and AVRDC are also building synergies in their research to overcome pest and diseases in the crops that they work with. This is through collaborative research in Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which uses appropriate combination of weapons in the arsenal to deal with pest and disease attacks. Breeding crops to develop host plant resistance; using natural plant products, bio-pesticides and natural enemies; and developing appropriate agronomic practices offer a potentially viable option for integrated pest management (IPM).


Collaboration in sub-Saharan Africa


There are two ongoing initiatives between ICRISAT and AVRDC in sub-Saharan Africa.


The first initiative is AVRDC’s project on vegetable breeding for poverty reduction in Africa. This project began in December 2006, and aims to alleviate constraints to the availability of quality seeds of vegetable crop species through a combination of breeding research and advocacy for conducive regulatory systems using platforms of public-private partnerships. ICRISAT is contributing its expertise in developing seed systems in Africa to strengthen this project.


The second initiative is the Canadian-funded breeding program for the Sudano-Sahelian Zone. This joint ICRISAT-AVRDC project operating out of Niamey in Niger is helping develop vegetable varieties that will fit into the cropping schemes of the Sudano-Sahelian zone. O kra (ladies finger) was chosen as the best-bet species, and subsequent work resulted in the assembly of 145 accessions, and development of improved varieties.


Way ahead

ICRISAT and AVRDC will work together to strengthen crop breeding through the use of agri-biotechnological tools. The two Institutes will also strengthen agricultural systems in the semi-arid tropics in which vegetables are grown along with cereals and legumes by farmers.


Other news from the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC)


12 March 2009 


(Return to Contents)




1.13  China's "Green super rice for the resource poor of Asia and Africa" project receives financial support from the Gates Foundation


Beijing, China

China started an international collaboration project on green super rice in Sanya, Hainan Province on March 23, 2009. The project received 18 million U.S. dollars of fund from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


The project, titled "Green super rice for the resource poor of Asia and Africa", aims to develop new varieties of rice that can stand drought, flooding, cold weather, and toxic minerals such as salt and iron.


The overall goal is to breed at least 15 rice varieties and deliver these new, high-yielding varieties to small farmers in Asia (8 countries including China) and Africa (7 countries), along with training, said Dr. Li Zhikang, chief scientist of the project, and researcher from Chinese Academy of Agriculture (CCA).


Li said they will also seek to build a platform of analysis on different rice genotypes for molecular breeding currently conducted in African countries located to the south of Sahara, and Asia.


This project is the largest joint research program in China in terms of the amount of input and number of participating organizations. CCA will be mainly responsible for its implementation. Its partners include International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Africa Rice Center (WARDA), Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai Agrobiological Gene Center (SAGC) and etc.


The project is fully supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and it will be carried out in three years.


It is estimated that the rice production in these countries could be increased by 20%, and 20 million poverty-stricken farmers will benefit from the project, Li said.


Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences via

27 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.14  High beta-carotene tomatoes for West Africa are scoring high


An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight (WHO). Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in more than half of all countries, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia, hitting hardest young children and pregnant women in low-income countries.


High beta-carotene tomatoes could be a principal crop in the battle to fight vitamin A deficiency in sub-Saharan Africa. Beta-carotene is converted by the human body into vitamin A.


Two high beta-carotene lines from AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center, CLN2366A and CLN2366B, recently have been evaluated for adaptation to the semi-arid conditions in West Africa. The testing was part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project “Vegetable Breeding and Seed Systems for Poverty Alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa (vBSS).”


“The successful inclusion of a crop into agricultural production systems requires that the new varieties must be tested and shown to be adapted to farmer practices and local climatic conditions,” says Dr. Peter Hanson, tomato breeder and Global Theme Leader: Breeding at AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center.


Testing at the Samanko station in Mali consisted of 20 tomato entries: the two high betacarotene tomatoes (CLN2366A and CLN2366B), 13 redfruited standard tomato lines from the Center, and five well-adapted checks. The results were promising for the two healthy, high betacarotene candidates. They yielded 23 and 28 t/ha, respectively under hot-wet conditions. CLN2366B yielded significantly more than most red-fruited tomatoes, but significantly less than the welladapted checks.


The fruit of both lines is orange in color, an indication of their high beta-carotene content. Testing in the laboratory proves that they contain 10 to 12 times more betacarotene than normal red-fruited tomato. “In addition, they flower early and have determinate vines,” says Sokona Dagnoko, a vegetable breeder from the Center’s Subregional Office for West and Central Africa in Bamako, Mali. “Both CLN2366A and CLN2366B have qualities favored by West African farmers and seem to be rather well adapted to the hotwet season in the region.”


Year-round production and consumption of high beta-carotene tomatoes like CLN 2366 and CLN2366B would help fight vitamin A deficiency in West Africa.


Source: AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center Newsletter via

6 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.15  AVRDC vegetable breeders in West Africa search for the perfect onion - Rouge Violet: A color for all seasons?


Onion (Allium cepa L.) is one of the most important vegetable crops in the world. Although onion is a popular crop in rural and urban Africa, yields are relatively low: 5 million tonnes on 312,840 hectares, compared with global production of 64,475 million tonnes on 3,451,455 hectares. Widespread reliance on old varieties and imported seed often poorly adapted to local conditions constrain yield. One major factor limiting the availability of onion in the region is poor shelf life. Good storage qualities are critical for a crop that produces only one harvest a year.


“The major factors affecting onion production in Africa include diseases and pests, and the lack of high-yielding, disease- and pestresistant varieties with long shelf life, but long shelf life clearly begins with high quality seed,” says Dr. Albert Rouamba, vegetable breeder and onion specialist of AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center’s office in Bamako, Mali. His work on improving the performance of onion in West Africa is part of the Center’s Vegetable Breeding and Seed Systems for Poverty Reduction in sub-Saharan Africa (vBSS) project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. vBSS builds on the Center’s long record of developing improved vegetable varieties, and its experience in working with national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) and the private sector.


To assess the performance and potential of improved onion varieties under West African climate and soil conditions, the team conducted field trials at the Center’s Samanko station during Mali’s cool and dry winter season. “We were especially interested in short-day varieties for adaptability, yield, and storage, and chose eight onion varieties from seed companies and NARES,” says Dr. Rouamba. ‘Violet de Galmi,’ currently the best onion variety cultivated in West Africa, was used as a check.


Field trial yields ranged between 11 and 30 t/ha. ‘Rouge Violet de Tarna’, a line of ‘Violet de Galmi’ from a small village in Niger, yielded highest, with 30 t/ha. Unlike the other high-yielding varieties, ‘Rouge Violet de Tarna’ also stored very well: Around 90 percent of commercial bulbs were marketable after six months’ storage. “In all our trials we found that ‘Rouge Violet de Tarna’ and ‘Red Bone’ were the best varieties in terms of production and storage,” Dr. Rouamba noted. “However, we will continue our evaluations of short-day onion varieties, and we will intercross productive varieties with varieties that demonstrate good storage qualities to develop composite populations for further tests.” ‘Rouge Violet de Tarna’ has large, dark violet bulbs. Violet could become a color for all seasons.


Source: AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center Newsletter via

27 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.16 Critical gene for enhancing China's super rice yield identified


Beijing, China

Chinese scientists announced on Monday that they have identified a gene that has played a key role in increasing the yield of China's high-yielding super rice.


The gene is known as DEP1, but its mutant is called dep1, which can accelerate the division of rice cells and produce more grains per panicle. The mutant will become an important tool for rice breeding.


Researcher Fu Xiangdong, from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said his team has found the gene dep1 in high-yielding rice varieties grown in vast quantities in the Yangtze Plains and northeastern China.


Fu also said the gene can have a similar function in other crops such as wheat and barley, raising hopes of breeding high-yielding cereal varieties.


A research paper has been accepted by the journal Nature Genetics and already appears in its Advance Online Publication.


China's Ministry of Agriculture launched the project of super rice strains in 1996, which has brought about many high-yielding rice varieties since then. The yields of some varieties now could exceed 12,000 kilograms per hectare.


Source: Xinhua and Chinese Academy of Sciences via

24 March 2009 


(Return to Contents)




1.17  Climate change adaptation innovations bring hope to dryland farmers


Patancheru, India
Modeling studies undertaken by the
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) on the potential impact of climate change on dryland crops show that the drop in yields can be minimized through the use of adapted and improved crop varieties plus soil and water management innovations. The interventions can be further strengthened through developing improved varieties and hybrids that are better targeted for climate change adaptation including enhancing capacities of the farming communities.


ICRISAT studies show that climate change will modify the length of the growing period across the semi-arid tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, but this can be dealt with by re-targeting and re-deploying the existing crop varieties.


The impact of climate change on dryland crops is expected to be two-fold – there would be an increase in temperature, and there would be increased frequency of droughts and floods. ICRISAT studies show that predicted temperature increases have greater negative impacts on crop production than relatively small (plus or minus 10%) changes in rainfall.


According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, better formulated and targeted policies that facilitate and support the conduct and adoption of agricultural innovation today assume even greater urgency. Not only will they improve the welfare of rural population today but will do a great deal to cope with the impacts of future climate change.


Allocation of improved financial resources and policy support to agricultural research to enable dryland crops to overcome the adverse impacts of climate change will help the poor farmers of the semi-arid tropics to sustain their productivity and their incomes in the medium- and long-term, Dr Dar said.


ICRISAT studies have generated a “hypothesis of hope”, which states:

  • The impact of climate change on the yields under low input agriculture is likely to be minimal as other factors will continue to provide the overriding constraints to crop growth and yield.
  • The adoption of currently recommended improved crop, soil and water management practices, even under climate change, will result in substantially higher yields than farmers are currently obtaining in their low input systems.
  • The adaptation of better ‘temperature-adapted’ varieties could result in the almost complete mitigation of climate change effects that result from temperature increases.

ICRISAT’s Operational Research Plan (ORP) to deal with climate change adaptation in the semi-arid tropics is based on a two-fold objective:

  • Unless risk averse and vulnerable farming communities in the semi-arid tropics are empowered to cope better with current season-to-season rainfall variability through improved climate risk management, adapting to future climate change will be a daunting challenge for most and perhaps impossible for many.
  • Since a lead time of many years is required to produce ‘finished products’ of adapted germplasm, ICRISAT’s research is combining ex ante (before the event) assessments of the impacts from climate change scenarios on the performance of the Institute’s mandate crops. These assessments will project what are the required crop characteristics that will reduce the negative and exploit the positive impacts of climate change. 


The crops on which ICRISAT works – pearl millet, sorghum, chickpea, groundnut and pigeonpea – are by themselves hardy and drought tolerant. By strengthening these crops to be resilient to withstand the negative impacts of climate change, ICRISAT is ensuring that the poor dryland farmer copes with it and sustains his/her agricultural productivity and income.



25 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.18  New climate-ready maize varieties released in Malawi


Lilongwe, Malawi
The Government of Malawi Friday launched two new drought tolerant varieties in Balaka District, developed through joint efforts by
Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).


One of the varieties, an early maturing and dwarf variety with good pounding qualities will be included in the country’s national agricultural input subsidy program – credited with being the force behind the nation’s food self-sufficiency and Green Revolution.


The varieties will help farmers to increase and stabilize maize production, safeguarding their livelihoods, food security, and economic development despite rising food and fuel prices and climate change effects.


The varieties – ZM 309 and ZM 523 – were developed for drought-prone areas with infertile soils in eastern and southern Africa . They are also resistant to maize streak virus, gray leaf spot, and other diseases.


The new varieties were launched yesterday (20 March 2009) by Dr. Andrew Daudi, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security at a field day in Balaka District – one of the target areas.


Maize is the most important cereal in Malawi, accounting for 70 percent of all the area planted to grain crops.


In Malawi, as in most of sub-Saharan Africa, it is the most important staple food crop – integral to food security, and the nationals typically say "when there is no maize, there is no food."


The annual per capita maize consumption of in Malawi is 300 kilos: the largest in the world. Maize production is mostly rainfed and threatened by frequent periods of poor rainfall.


Climate change experts are predicting more frequent and severe droughts for the region with an estimated annual decline of 0.4 percent in maize productivity.


Malawi's Chitedze Research Station developed the varieties using seed and technical support from the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT, by its Spanish acronym), through the center's "Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA)" project .


The varieties were tested in farmers’ fields and approved for release by Malawi's Agricultural Technology Clearing Committee.


“The farmers liked ZM 309 because of its early maturity," says Kesbell Kaonga, who heads the Maize Program at Chitedze Research Station in Lilongwe. "In fact, farmers compare the yield of both varieties to some commercial hybrids available on the market.”


ZM 309 has a potential yield of 5 tons per hectare; while that of ZM 523 is 6 tons per hectare. Both are open pollinated varieties (OPV), meaning that farmers can save and re-use the seed optimally for up to 3 subsequent seasons; compared to hybrids which typically yield more than OPVs in the first season but cannot be recycled as they have a steeper decline in productivity.


Dr Andrew Daudi, said: “We are grateful to CIMMYT for technical, financial and scientific support in developing these new varieties that are suitable for the drought prone areas and will help the people of Malawi to alleviate poverty and hunger and cope with climate change; which these days is becoming a reality. These varieties are drought tolerant, high yielding and resistant to diseases.”


He said farmers have embraced these new varieties and have even given them local names, meaning that they appreciate them, especially ZM 309, which is early maturing, resistant to leafy diseases and are dwarf – even children can harvest them. “ZM 309 is going to be included in the national subsidy program next year.”


These developments come at a time when Malawi is being looked to as an African success story due to its food self-sufficiency. It is also now a net exporter of maize to the region.


According to Wilfred Mwangi, Program Leader, Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Project, the CIMMYT-Malawi projects will provide important lessonf to the rest of Africa.


This success is owed to the country’s agricultural input subsidy program, initiated by the government in 2005 after Malawi experienced one of its worst harvests in years.


Farmers are supplied with improved maize seed and fertilizer at subsidized prices and can choose either hybrid or OPV seed.


Use of improved maize seed and fertilizer has been responsible for the remarkable increase in agricultural productivity and associated bumper maize harvests, dubbed Malawi’s Green Revolution. Farmers are free to choose any suitable seed and with the encouraging preliminary results of ZM 309 and ZM 523 trials with farmers, it is only a matter of time before they will be demanding seed of these new varieties.


The DTMA Project is implementing an Innovation Learning Platform (ILeP) to address these challenges.


Currently being piloted in Malawi’s Balaka District and led by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, with support from CIMMYT, the ILeP is a multi-stakeholder partnership that aims to ensure that smallholder farmers have access to agro-inputs, drought tolerant maize varieties, credit facilities and output markets to increase food security and improve productivity.


Through the ILeP seed companies, agro-dealers and micro-financial institutions will benefit by marketing their products to farmers. It involves researchers, extension agents, seed producers, agro-dealers, grain marketing companies, non-governmental organizations and micro-financial institutions.


Says Wilfred Mwangi, DTMA Project Leader: “We are grateful for the support that the ILeP has received from the Malawi government and encouraged by the progress made in bringing drought tolerant maize varieties closer to farmers.”


“CIMMYT has been working with Malawian scientists to develop maize varieties that can cope with climate change and to because maize is life we want to make a difference in the lives of Africa’s farmers.”


by Henry Neondo, Africa Science News Service



21 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.19  West Africans hope to produce iron-tolerant rice


by Esther Tola, SciDevNet

Agricultural researchers in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria and are preparing field tests on some 80 varieties of rice designed to survive — and even thrive — in the iron-rich soils of West Africa.


Beginning in May, studies in three regions of each country will test the plants’ abilities to tolerate levels of iron that would kill most high-yielding rice, said Senegalese molecular biologist Khady Nani Dramé, from the African Rice Centre in Benin.


Local farmers are participating in the trials, which will be directed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Ghana, Guinea's Agronomic Research Institute, the National Cereals Research Institute in Nigeria and the Environment and Agricultural Research Institute in Burkina Faso.


"Once each of the institutes has planted the varieties, the farmers from each site will be invited to select the five best varieties and the five worst," Dramé told SciDevNet.


Ten high-performing varieties will then be sent to the farmers, who will use their own traditional tilling techniques to see if the iron-tolerant rice gives better results than the breeds they normally use.


Until now, only low-yielding rice has survived in such iron-rich soil.


"That's why we first need to find the varieties tolerant to iron toxicity and then create new ones by breeding these tolerant varieties with high-yielding varieties — so that we can get stress-tolerant rice with a good yield," explained Dramé.


Her team has already narrowed down the potential candidates in field tests on 300 different rice strains.


Plant breeder Alhassan Maji, from Nigeria's National Cereals Research Institute explained he would be investigating the level of iron in the test rice's leaves, the height of the rice plants and the amount of grain produced


The first results will be ready by December 2009, he said.


The research is part of the Stress Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project, run in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The project also designs plants which can survive drought, salty water and cold.



18 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.20  Do different production environments justify separate maize breeding programs?


via Euphytica on 3/20/09

Abstract  Different production environments are being adopted by farmers. Therefore, allocation of resources to breeding research that targets different production environments should be continuously assessed. Agronomists should conduct extensive hybrid × production environment interaction research before recommending breeders to conduct separate breeding programs for each production environment. The lack of interactions between genotypes and production environments (e.g., tillage) would not justify conducting separate breeding programs and duplicating breeding resources. On the other hand, separate breeding programs would be necessary if cultivar rankings differ. The purpose of this paper is to review the available literature on experiments designed to test genotype × tillage interactions (GT) in maize (Zea mays L.). No-till system (NT) and conventional till system (CT) were utilized as examples of different production environments. The majority of experiments reviewed showed that there is no need to develop cultivars specific to NT because the cultivars that were developed under CT systems performed relatively the same under NT. The magnitude of GT interactions found was very small to expect better cultivars from breeding under NT. Additional research is needed to confirm these conclusions, especially when applied to other production environments (e.g., development of cultivars under organic conditions). Scientists should evaluate genotype by tillage interactions before investing additional resources in breeding for those specific target environments. Top yielding genotypes seem be consistent across years, locations, inputs; and most of the present evidence suggests that breeding for specific till systems is not necessary.


  • DOI 10.1007/s10681-009-9908-5
  • Authors
    • M. J. Carena, North Dakota State University Fargo ND USA
    • J. Yang, North Dakota State University Fargo ND USA
    • J. C. Caffarel, North Dakota State University Fargo ND USA
    • M. Mergoum, North Dakota State University Fargo ND USA
    • A. R. Hallauer, Iowa State University Ames IA USA


Contributed by Luigi Guarino


(Return to Contents)




1.21  Geographical information pinpoints climate change opportunities


Copenhagen, Denmark
Scientists and policymakers at the Climate Change Conference in
Copenhagen today heard from CGIAR scientists about research that can help poor farmers to adapt to, and possibly even profit from, climate change. Andy Jarvis, senior scientist at Bioversity International and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, showed how geographical information systems can pinpoint opportunities.


Jarvis, an expert on the use of geographical information systems to interrogate large datasets, asked three related questions. What, broadly, is going to happen to agriculture? How can we best help in the search for sustainable solutions? And how will climate change affect the wild relatives on which many crops depend for their future?


A lot is known about how changing climate will affect the productivity of the main staple crops, precisely because they are the main staples. There are detailed models about how the physiology of those species responds to changes in temperature, water, seasonality and so on.


“The top ten crops account for a lot of calories,” Jarvis said, “But real food and nutrition security depends on far more species.”


Jarvis and his colleagues used a simpler model, Ecocrop, to ask what climate change will do to the 50 most important food crops, from alfalfa to yams, defined by total area planted.


While it does not capture detailed yield forecasts, Ecocrop does reveal a broad picture of the suitability for different crops under different climatic conditions. Overall, global suitability for the top 50 crops rises: the area suitable for growing them increases.


“But agricultural geography changes,” Jarvis said. Latin America will see a drop of 2.5% while Europe's suitable area expands by almost 18%.


Looking in more detail at the number of species, the overall diversity, that will be suitable in each area, there are, Jarvis says, “clear areas of concern”.


Eastern Brazil, the Sahel, south Asia and the Mediterranean could lose up to half of their crop species.


“The challenge will be greatest where a major staple becomes unsuitable, but alternatives exist and we need policies to change now in order to capitalise on the opportunities and minimize the negatives,” Jarvis said.
This is the core of another CGIAR scientist
's conference paper on Thursday, which will ask how farmers can be helped to adapt their farming systems.


Homing in on just one species, the common bean (Phaseolous vulgaris) all analyses show clearly that most areas of Africa will experience a severe drop in the area suitable for the crop, largely as a result of lower rainfall. But the climate models also indicate that if farmers in Malawi, Mozambique and the Sahel had access to varieties with a little more drought resistance, their future would be much more secure.


There are about 268,000 accessions of common beans in genebanks. Many don't have data about their drought resistance. Where are breeders or farmers supposed to start looking? Jarvis and his colleagues believe they have an answer.


About one third of all the beans in genebanks can also be found in the datasets made available by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). These records reveal where the samples were collected. “The geographic information gives us the climate,” Jarvis explained.


The researchers looked specifically for varieties that had been collected in places where the rainfall over the three month growing season was less than 300 millimetres, well below the average needed for a good bean crop. There were 3608 accessions that had been collected in drier areas, mostly in Central Europe but with some representatives from the Sahel and dry parts of the southern Andes.


“Those are the best candidates for a breeding programme,” said Jarvis, “and our models also show that drought resistant beans would have a huge impact in parts of Africa.”


Quite apart from direct effects of climate change, shifting patterns of pests and diseases also threaten future agriculture. Already the world is seeing new disease patterns, for example UG99 rust disease of wheat and Asian soybean rust in North America. An invaluable source of solutions in the past has always been wild relatives, which have supplied plant breeders with resistance to various challenges. But the crop wild relatives are themselves threatened by climate change. Jarvis and his colleagues have previously looked at the potential impact on target species such as peanut, potato and cowpea. In the latest study they have used information gathered through GBIF to paint a broad-brush picture of the impact on a pool of 343 species relevant to 11 different crops.


Knowing where the specimens were collected makes it possible to calculate all the places that share a similar climate, and that therefore could host those species. The climate change models then show how the areas with those specific climates shrink or grow, which in turn shows which areas are at greatest risk of losing crop wild relatives, and therefore where efforts to save them should be concentrated.


“Sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Turkey, the Mediterranean and parts of Mexico,” summarised Jarvis. “Those are the priority places to collect crop wild relatives.”


New datasets and new computing methods, along with more widely available data, have enabled scientists like Jarvis to be a lot more precise about their predictions for the impact of climate change on agriculture. And that, in turn, has enabled them to identify the places and actions that are most likely to have a positive impact, which should be good news for policy-makers struggling to make the most of limited resources.


Source: Bioversity International via

11 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.22  Uganda to start biotech cotton trials


Uganda's National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO) will soon start testing bollworm resistant cotton (BGII) and herbicide tolerant cotton, known as Roundup Ready Flex (RRF), in two major cotton growing regions of Uganda, one in the East and another in the West.


NARO, a public research institution, is partnering with the private company Monsanto to access state of the art cotton biotechnologies.


With assistance from the Agricultural Biotech Support Project (ABSPII), NARO negotiated an agreement under which it has gained access to privately-developed biotech cotton lines for testing under local conditions. The tests will evaluate the technology for its performance and environmental effects.


Effects on social and economic factors will also be undertaken in later periods. All necessary regulatory and safety procedures have been observed and, in February 2009, NARO received an import permit for both the BGII and RRF transgenic cotton technologies.


For further information contact Dr. Tilahun Zeweldu (ABSPII Regional Advisor for Eastern Africa) at or


Source: CropBiotech Update via

6 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.23  Climate change and agricultural biodiversity


Copenhagen, Denmark
Changes to agricultural geography – brought about by climate change – require us to change our approach to the use and conservation of agricultural biodiversity. Toby Hodgkin, Principal Scientist and Director of the Global Partnership Programme at
Bioversity International, told the Climate Congress in Copenhagen that four areas needed to be re-examined.

  • Ex-situ conservation in genebanks must expand dramatically.
  • Diverse farming systems do adapt and help poor farmers to survive change; more use should be made of biodiversity as an adaptive strategy.
  • The relationship between on-farm conservation and genebanks must change.
  • Access to genetic diversity, by farmers and by breeders, becomes of paramount importance.

“Increasing, or even maintaining, food production to meet expected demand will require greater use of genetic resources, the diversity present within the plants we depend on,” Hodgkin said. Much of that diversity resides within the varieties grown by poor rural farmers and the wild relatives of crop plants.


Much agricultural biodiversity is stored ex-situ. Over the past 60 years some 6.5 million accessions have been stored in genebanks worldwide. And more recently efforts have been made to promote the wider use and conservation of diversity by farmers in-situ in their fields. Climate change raises the stakes.


“It adds to the forces already threatening farmers' varieties and it puts new pressures on crop wild relatives,” Hodgkin said. He urged a massive increase in collecting, targeted to those areas and those crops and wild relatives that geographical information systems identify as most in danger.


But at a lower level – what precisely to collect in the target areas and of the target crops – Hodgkin urged no targets.


“What you need to collect is diversity,” he said, “precisely because you can't predict what you will need in future.”


One reason to collect diversity now is that diverse agricultural systems have been shown to buffer farmers against changing circumstances. Hodgkin pointed to a study by colleagues who have looked at how farmers in the Sahel belt of Niger use pearl millet. The number of different named varieties more than doubled from 1976 to 2003 as farmers selected plant types that performed better under lower rainfall.


“This is something we need to recognize and promote. Diverse crops and diverse systems allow farmers to adapt and to meet their own needs often more rapidly than more specific scientific breeding programmes.” Hodgkin said.


This changes the way scientists should view the relationships between genebanks and in-situ or on farm conservation, according to Hodgkin. In the past, researchers have tended to focus on the genetic identity of the entities being grown in farmer's fields, concerned with questions such as whether the same name always refers to the same genetic population, or how much diversity is present in a variety.


More important is that being in fields exposes diverse systems to changing conditions and selection by farmers.


“It allows them to evolve, that's the crucial point,” said Hodgkin. Genebank samples remain important, but if conditions have changed then they may well no longer be relevant in the specific places where they were collected. Diversity that remains in the open and shifted around by farmers in response to shifting growing conditions will be crucial in adapting to climate change.


“And that makes access absolutely vital,” said Hodgkin. Access, in this sense, ranges from the international flows to local informal seed systems. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is beginning to ease the movement of material among genebanks and breeders, but far more robust national and regional systems are needed. The informal systems that enable farmers to exchange material and knowledge are also important to allow them to adapt to climate change, and national policies must recognise this.


“As climate change continues to change the geography of agriculture, we have to mimic natural systems ourselves and use a diversity of approaches to ensure that farmers and breeders have the ability to get hold of and make use of as much diversity as possible,” said Hodgkin. “That way, we might stand a chance of creating secure food systems.”



12 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.24  Reporting biodiversity loss the world over


This guide, published by the International Institute for Environment and Development, offers journalists — particularly those in developing countries — pointers on how to report biodiversity loss and its implications.


Biodiversity loss is a local story the world over and biodiversity is a major topic for science writers, especially in the developing world, says the author. But the issue is currently under-reported, partly because scientists and policymakers haven't communicated the issues in relevant ways.


Better, more meaningful stories can be told by showing people that they are part of biodiversity and by demonstrating how biodiversity loss will affect them.


There are many stories on the horizon in biodiversity reporting, from cataloguing the economic value of biodiversity to whether governments can agree on how the world can best share the benefits of biological diversity. Journalists should prepare for the challenge of reporting these issues, says the author.


Journalists, the author says, should also avoid disaster narratives and "flat, one-sided" stories. Instead balanced appraisals, probing different angles and asking hard questions are key to good biodiversity reporting. And a number of angles can make biodiversity relevant — for example how it links with health, money, politics and more.


Link to full guide from IIED

This practical guide was written by Mike Shanahan at the International Institute for Environment and Development.


Source: Source: IIED via

27 February 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.25  200,000 rice mutants available worldwide for scientific investigation


Blacksburg, Virginia

Scientists across the world are building an extensive repository of genetically modified rice plants in the hope of understanding the function of the approximately 57,000 genes that make up the genome of Oryza sativa. The International Rice Functional Genomics Consortium recently announced the public availability of more than 200,000 rice mutant lines, which represent mutations in about half of the known functional genes mapped for rice to date.


Researchers have estimated the number of different rice mutants needed to have a mutant for every gene as somewhere between 180,698 and 460,000. Two hundred thousand rice mutants are now available and have been mapped by the insertion of what are known as flanking sequence tags – small pieces of DNA or molecular tags that integrate into the rice genome. This approach is useful because it allows scientists to link a physical location on the genome to a specific gene and its visible feature or phenotype.


Arjun Krishnan, first author on the paper and a graduate student in Andy Pereira's laboratory at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, stated: "Bioinformatics is making it possible to visualize the vast amounts of sequence information available to researchers. The resources described in this paper, which are the combined output of many leading international rice research laboratories, mean that researchers can see and explore on their computers the precise positions of mutations in the rice genome sequence, for each rice mutant plant. About 50 percent of the protein-coding genes have knockout mutations, which probably abolish their expression and can provide valuable information on the genes by virtue of their loss of function. This is a significant milestone for the project and the availability of these rice plants represents a powerful resource for the rice genomics community."


More than 2 million rice mutants were generated in this project and the diversity of the available plants suits many of the experimental objectives of researchers looking at rice and other commercially important grasses. Mapping of the remaining genes from this population will be required to complete the resource. Many of them will be smaller genes less amenable to mutation that will pose significant challenges for researchers as they continue their work.


Dr. Andy Pereira, Professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, stated: "The Oryza sativa genome was sequenced in 2002 and researchers have come a long way since. Advances in technologies such as high-throughput sequencing and RNA interference gene silencing methods should help to accelerate the process of identifying the functions of the remaining genes in the rice genome." He added: "The availability of the rice mutant resource is already helping researchers in their quest to gain insights into the biology of this commercially important crop. These efforts are critical to understand gene function and, ultimately, the many biological processes that take place in rice and other grasses, including maize and wheat, which collectively produce our staple food."


* Krishnan A, Guiderdoni E, An G, Hsing YI, Han CD, Lee MC, Yu SM, Upadhyaya N, Ramachandran S, Zhang Q, Sundaresan V, Hirochika H, Leung H, Pereira A (2009) Plant Physiology 149(1): 165-170.


The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech has a research platform centered on understanding the "disease triangle" of host-pathogen-environment interactions in plants, humans and other animals. By successfully channeling innovation into transdisciplinary approaches that combine information technology and biology, researchers at VBI are addressing some of today's key challenges in the biomedical, environmental and plant sciences.



4 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.26  New research says corn was domesticated from teosinte 1,500 years earlier than previously documented


- Wild grass became maize crop more than 8,700 years ago

- Probably domesticated in the Mexican tropical forest


Washington, DC

The earliest physical evidence for domesticated maize, what some cultures call corn, dates to at least 8,700 calendar years ago, and it was probably domesticated by indigenous peoples in the lowland areas of southwestern Mexico, not the highland areas.


This new evidence comes from an international team of researchers, who report the findings in two companion papers in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They place maize domestication in Mexico about 1,500 years earlier than previously documented there and 1,200 years earlier than the next earliest dated evidence for maize in Panama.


"Our primary goal was to document the early history of maize domestication in the homeland of its wild ancestor," said Anthony Ranere, Department of Anthropology at Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He acknowledged the timelines make a good deal of sense because the wild ancestor of maize is native to the regions of southwestern Mexico where the team worked, and these regions had not been previously explored by archaeologists.


Researchers focused on the Xihuatoxtla Shelter in an area of the Balsas Valley that is home to a large, wild grass called Balsas teosinte that molecular biologists recently identified as the ancestor of maize. The shelter contained early maize and squash remains as well as ancient stone tools used to grind and mill the plants.


"We found the remains of maize and squash in many contexts from the earliest occupation levels," said Dolores Piperno, senior scientist and curator of archaeobotany and South American archaeology for the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. "This indicates these two crops were being routinely consumed nearly 9,000 years ago."


Ranere and Piperno discuss both the archaeological context and botanical evidence for maize and squash domestication in the papers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Ranere is the first author of the archaeological paper, while Piperno is the first author of the botanical paper. Both papers result from work by the same five investigators, including Irene Holst, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama; Jose Iriarte, University of Exeter, U.K.; and Ruth Dickau, Temple University. The research is partially funded by the National Science Foundation.


"Finding early human settlements in this part of Mexico is also very important, as it shows people were becoming well-adapted to tropical forest settings early on," said Piperno. The findings suggest domestication of maize in Mexico's lowland areas as opposed to highland areas as has long been thought.


The search for maize origins in the 1950s through the 1970s focused on arid or semi-arid regions in the Mexican highlands where preservation of dried out plant remains was common. Not surprisingly, the earliest maize remains in the form of maize cobs and kernels came from highland caves and rock shelters.


But search locations shifted when molecular biologists began to study where the ancestor of maize, teosinte, grows today and when researchers began using phytoliths and starch grains to identify maize and other plant species, both domesticated and wild, in the 1990s. Starch grains and phytoliths are microscopic particles that occur in leafs, stems and roots of many plants, and unlike whole seeds and roots are well-preserved in tropical forest environments, such as those in lowland areas of Mexico and Panama.


Even more, phytolith and starch grain evidence allowed researchers to trace the dispersal of maize as a domesticated crop from its origin in or around the Balsas Valley to Panama by 7,600 years ago and shortly thereafter to Colombia and Ecuador, and to Uruguay by 4,600 years ago.


The researchers acknowledge, however, that maize already appears to have been domesticated in the earliest occupation of the Xihuatoxtla Shelter. "We did not find evidence for the earliest stages in the domestication process," said Ranere. "We need to find more ancient deposits in order to document the beginning of the process."


Source: The National Academy of Sciences via

23 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.27  Agricultural technology could feed rising population, but who will own the crops?


The genetic revolution has come to food, as debates over how to deal with future pressures of population and climate change look to agricultural technology in hope of answers. But questions still remain over who owns the technology, who will do the research, and what forms of - and even whether - biotechnology is appropriate to human needs and the needs of smallholding farmers.


“Agriculture has to stop being a problem; it has to become a solution,” said Ioan Negrutiu, biology professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon, France.


Solutions will rely on industry, said Jérome Péribère, President of DowAgroSciences US. “Science is going to make it happen, or it won’t happen.”


These questions were discussed at two sessions of the 8-11 March BioVision life sciences conference in Lyon.


“There are two forms of regulation” on this type of science: biosafety, and IP rights, said Piet van der Meer of the Public Research and Regulation Initiative, a foundation which attempts to bring public researchers into regulatory debates relevant to biotechnology development.


Of course in agriculture, “it’s a bit more complex than just IPRs” he added. The Geneva-based International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), access and benefit-sharing frameworks such as under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, and farmers’ rights also play a role.


There are serious questions over “who then owns these new varieties” of plants, said Janet Cotter, senior scientist at the Greenpeace International Science Unit at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.


The Need For Seeds and the Role of IP

“We need to double global food production in about 40 years,” said Willy de Greef, secretary general of Europabio, an association of European biotechnology firms. “We need crops … [that can] adapt to suboptimal, unpredictable climactic conditions.”


IPR is crucial for innovation, [and] for protecting and advancing crop genetics,” said Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, head of research of Bayer CropScience’s BioScience Business Unit, saying “in countries such as Argentina, which has a poor IP regime, companies like ours are placing very little emphasis. It is hard for them to get modern agricultural technology” as a result.


Others had more mixed views. Van der Meer said that on the issue that “you ask one public researcher and he loves it [IP] and another hates it because it impedes her research.” His Public Research and Regulation Initiative has recently begun a working group on IP rights and plant genetic resources.


Where intellectual property may play a key role is in determining what kind of agricultural solutions get explored and promoted.


Organic farming, and other forms of low-input agriculture, could help increase food security, said Cotter. However, she later told Intellectual Property Watch, “the business model is lacking there.”


Van Lookeren Campagne explained “we don’t breed for organic farmers because we can only sell that seed once.” And “businesses will invest in R&D if there’s added value in that R&D.”


The difficulty, said Cotter, is that “you want incentives for innovation. But you also want farmers to save seed.” Many basic patents are in public hands, said de Greef, so it could be possible to carve out rights from that intellectual property for humanitarian causes.


Picking The Right IP

Plant variety protection is a more variegated than just patent protection. Two major international agreements - the UPOV agreement, the World Trade Organization Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement - regulate a series of IP rights for plant varieties, including plant breeders’ rights, patent protection and the poorly-defined sui generis (or in-kind) proposals for protection (see the 2004 Food and Agriculture Organization report “Intellectual Property Rights In Plant Varieties” for more detail).


“Diversity is key” in crop technology, said Marion Guillou, CEO of public agricultural research centre Institut National de Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in France. “But you need to know what you have and what your freedom is to use it.” There are special rights on plant varieties, she explained.


Seed breeders in the US use patents to protect their innovations, but European seed breeders rely more on plant breeders’ rights (a type of IP protection that notably exempts those who wish to use a protected variety for further research), Guillou said. INRA prefers this approach as it does not restrict use of genetic resources for further breeding. INRA does use patents but never on a gene sequences, she said.


INRA also is coordinating a patent pooling project. Launched in 2006, it aiming at setting up a collective network for the management of patents and other exploitable assets held by European public research organisations in the field of agricultural biotechnologies, Guillou said.


Technology, Tradition, Or Both For Agricultural Future?

“No single technology can solve these complex issues by itself, neither organic nor biotech,” said van der Meer. “Biotechnology alone cannot build the future of all agricultures,” added Negrutiu.


But to the extent that biotechnology is part of the future, there are different forms it might take.


“Our planet needs GMOs [Genetically Modified Organisms] urgently,” said Marc Van Montagu, chairman of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries in Belgium. He discovered with his colleague Jeff Schell the gene transfer mechanism between agrobacterium and plants, which resulted in the creation of transgenic (or, genetically modified) plants. The increase of global meat consumption will bring the need for more crops, he said.


“With GMOs we can grow plants organically, with less fertiliser, less pesticides … they are very ecological plants,” he said, adding they could provide sustainability and support biodiversity.


Patents are the only way to get the industry’s interest, he added, but the fact that there are so many patents is leading to a setback for research.


INRA does not work on GMO innovations any longer due to the public perception of this technology in Europe, Guillou said. They are working more on genomics (the study of the genomes of organisms) and gene markers. “There are other ways for innovation than GMOs,” she said.


Marker-assisted selection - which uses knowledge of genetics to improve on traditional plant breeding - is one such area. Marker-assisted selection is “more of a grey area” for patenting, said Cotter, but its ability to work with the complexity of a genome - in which a gene’s position might be just as important as the trait expressed in isolation - is more applicable to modern agricultural needs. “GM crops aren’t part of the future,” she added.


It is not about being for or against GMOs, “we have to get out of the extremes,” said Timothy Hall, acting director for biotechnologies, agriculture and food research at the European Commission. A package of technologies should be used, including traditional agriculture


By Kaitlin Mara and Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch



20 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.28  Update on for stories about the Guardians of Diversity


Dear GFU and PAR members,

I have been thrilled by the great response to our request for stories about the Guardians of Diversity. I've had a lot of questions about what exactly we need and  how the material will be used and I thought it more efficient to answer those questions here.


To remind you, Diversity for Life is a global campaign to raise awareness of the value of agricultural biodiversity for people's lives. It targets schools, the media and policymakers. The campaign has a very human face. It concentrates on the relationship between people and plants, culture and agriculture all around the world. We want to hear people's stories in their own words about their relationships with plants. We want to see their faces. The Guardians of Diversity include Doña Adeleiva Castillo who conserves 120 varieties of quinoa on their farm in the Peruvian Andes in memory of her son who died tragically in a motorbike accident a few years ago. They include well-known Japanese artist Mitsuaki Tanabe who uses his art to communicate the urgent need for conserving wild rice and protecting the habitats in which it grows. They include Patrick Maundu who has spent his life promoting traditional African leafy vegetables in his home country of Kenya. Sharing the stories of these unsung heroes of diversity is a key element of Diversity for Life


So we are looking for stories about individuals who are devoting their lives to ensuring that agricultural biodiversity is being conserved and used. We are more interested in grassroots stories than in institutions. We want stories about people. The individuals need to have faces and names and voices. Right now we are just gathering ideas. Later on, we might want to follow up on these in more detail.


We will be promoting the stories of the Guardins of Diversity on our website for sure. We are trying to negotiate at large scale, highly illustrated coffee table book about the Guardians as well. We are also in discussion with the BBC to do a documentary or a series of documentaries on selected Guardians.


I don't need a lot of documentation right now, just your story ideas. They can consist of a few bullet points on an email. Photos would be good if you have them. As I said, we will follow up and let you know if and how we plan to use your ideas.


Thanks to those who have sent me stories so far.

Ruth D. Raymond

Head, Public Awareness Unit

Bioversity International


(Return to Contents)




1.29  New data offer important clues toward improving wheat


Manhattan, Kansas
Breed a better crop of wheat? That
's exactly what a team of researchers from Kansas State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture hope their research will lead to.

In their study, appearing in the March 2009 issue of the journal
GENETICS, the team, which includes Bikram Gill, Kansas State University scientist and leader of the Wheat Genetic and Genomic Resource Center, analyzed the type of wheat commonly used to make bread in an effort to understand why it is versatile enough to be used around the world and across different climates. This analysis provides important insights into why its genetic structure gives it a tremendous advantage over other competing species. Further, their analysis provides an important first step toward improving wheat crop yields to levels that can support ever-growing populations of people.

Unlike people, who have only two copies of each gene—one from each parent—plants used for bread wheat have six copies of each gene—three copies are inherited from each "parent." Just as is the case with people, these gene copies work in concert to produce characteristics and traits that allow the plant to survive and thrive. Understanding gene expression in wheat is complex, not only because there are so many variants of each gene which could be active at different times, but as the study shows, combinations of different genes may be active to produce entirely different plant characteristics than what each individual gene could on its own.

The researchers found that more than 1 in every 10 genes may be affected by the phenomenon, and that this is likely to be the cause of why the wheat used for bread is remarkably hearty. Furthermore, they found that a relatively high percentage (1.7%) of genes may be candidates for further study and selective breeding when trying to develop new strains of wheat with higher yields or more resistant to the environmental strain brought about by global warming.

"With the human population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, we must increase wheat yield at the rate of 2% per year per unit area," said K-State’s Gill, the senior scientist involved in the study. "Wheat is a human staple that holds the key for better quality of life for billions."

To conduct this analysis, the authors attempted to recreate the evolutionary events leading to the spontaneous origin of bread wheat in nature. To do this, they crossed a diploid and tetraploid progenitor species and formed a synthetic strain of wheat in the laboratory. Then they simultaneously measured genetic expression of thousands of genes in the parent strains and the synthetic wheat offspring using a gene chip. The data then was used to test the commonly held notion that all wheat characteristics are simply different genes expressing themselves rather than some characteristics coming from a complex series of gene interactions.

"This paper is a beautiful example of yet another source of genetic variation that has led to the astounding diversity of life," says Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of the journal GENETICS. "The authors show that our ancestors, in their quest to feed themselves, exploited variation in the expression of genes in hybrid wheat. The need to foster sustainable agriculture remains unabated, and the authors here make an important contribution toward understanding a crop critical to our existence. This research gives entirely new meaning to
'wonder bread.'"

Kansas Wheat Commission has been a major financial supporter of Gill’s research for several years


Source: Kansas Wheat via

19 March 2009


Return to Contents)




1.30  The quest for rust-proof wheat


An international team of researchers have pinpointed a wheat gene that provides resistance to stripe rust, a fungal disease that causes millions of dollars of yield losses annually. The gene Yr36, which was identified in a wild wheat strain collected from Israel, was transferred to modern pasta and bread wheat varieties. Tests showed that the transformed plants were resistant to at least eight races of the stripe rust-causing fungus, Puccinia striiformis.


For more information on the research, visit



On a separate study, researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Australia and the University of Zurich in Switzerland have identified a wheat gene sequence which provides protection against leaf rust, stripe rust and powdery mildew. The rust-resistance wheat gene Lr34 encodes a type of transmembrane transport protein called an ATP-binding cassette (ABC transporter). 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 complete paper published by Science is available to subscribers at


For more information, read


Source: CropBiotech Update via

27 February 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.31  West Africans hope to produce iron-tolerant rice


Rice poisoned with iron is less productive


Esther Tola, IRRI

Beginning in May, studies in three regions of each country will test the plants’ abilities to tolerate levels of iron that would kill most high-yielding rice, said Senegalese molecular biologist Khady Nani Dramé, from the African Rice Centre in Benin.


Local farmers are participating in the trials, which will be directed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Ghana, Guinea's Agronomic Research Institute, the National Cereals Research Institute in Nigeria and the Environment and Agricultural Research Institutte in Burkina Faso.


"Once each of the institutes has planted the varieties, the farmers from each site will be invited to select the five best varieties and the five worst," Dramé told SciDev.Net.


Ten high-performing varieties will then be sent to the farmers, who will use their own traditional tilling techniques to see if the iron-tolerant rice gives better results than the breeds they normally use.


Until now, only low-yielding rice has survived in such iron-rich soil.


"That's why we first need to find the varieties tolerant to iron toxicity and then create new ones by breeding these tolerant varieties with high-yielding varieties — so that we can get stress-tolerant rice with a good yield," explained Dramé.


Her team has already narrowed down the potential candidates in field tests on 300 different rice strains.


Plant breeder Alhassan Maji, from Nigeria's National Cereals Research Institute explained he would be investigating the level of iron in the test rice's leaves, the height of the rice plants and the amount of grain produced


The first results will be ready by December 2009, he said.


The research is part of the Stress Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project, run in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The project also designs plants which can survive drought, salty water and cold.



18 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.32 A new gene for resistance to stripe rust in wheat
A new gene that provides resistance to a fungal disease responsible for millions of hectares of lost wheat yield has been discovered by scientists from the US and Israel.
"This is the first step to achieving more durable resistance to a devastating disease in wheat," said Dr Cristobal Uauy, co-author of the report, recently appointed to the John Innes Centre in Norwich.
Resistance to stripe rust has previously been achieved using genes that are specific to single races of the disease. Unfortunately, each of these genes has had limited durability in the field because the pathogen has mutated to overcome them.
In the paper to be published in Science Express tomorrow, the international team of scientists report finding a novel type of gene in wild wheat that is absent in modern pasta and bread wheat varieties.
"This gene makes wheat more resistant to all stripe rust fungus races tested so far," said Dr Uauy.
The gene confers resistance at relatively high temperatures, and a focus of Dr Cristobal Uauy's research at JIC will be to test how effective it is in UK-adapted varieties. 
Bread wheat provides about 20 per cent of the calories eaten by humankind and is the UK's biggest crop export.
Dr Uauy has recently been appointed at JIC. He will lead a research collaboration with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) designed to deliver practical benefits to agriculture. Research results will be made available to breeders, so they can be deployed into modern varieties for farmers.  
Dr Uauy will use the latest genomic techniques to find genes in wheat that directly affect yield and nutritional content.
Yield is a complex trait influenced by many environmental and genetic factors. It was thought that the genetic component determining yield was made up of many different genes each exerting a small influence, but recent work led by the John Innes Centre has challenged this view. Several stretches of the genome, known as quantitative trail loci (QTLs) have been identified that exert large effects on yield, in different environments. Dr Uauy will lead the effort to find the precise genetic basis for their effect on yield.  
The John Innes Centre is an institute of the BBSRC.
Contributed by Andrew Chapple
Norwich BioScience Institutes


(Return to Contents)




1.33 Aluminum toxicity tolerance breeding in Indonesian soybeans


Aluminum toxicity limits crop production in Indonesia. At soil pH below 5, predominance of Al3+ causes inhibition of root cell division and root penetration ability thus decreasing plant productivity. Soybean, an important crop in Indonesia is severely affected by aluminum toxicity.


Development of soybean with tolerance to aluminum toxicity is being studied at the Indonesian Center for Agricultural Biotechnology and Genetic Resources Research and Development.


Using DNA markers (SSRs), tolerant lines selected from the F1s of crosses between tolerant and sensitive plants were identified.


Continued selection and breeding resulted in the development of four F2 populations, where two selected populations demonstrated high transgresiveness to three agronomically important traits.


This molecular breeding strategy is thus very useful for soybean breeders and can be applied to other agronomic characters as well.


For more details of the research visit

For information on biotechnology in Indonesia contact Dewi Suryani at


Source: CropBiotech Update via

27 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.34  Wheat stem rust, strain Ug99: resistance breeding


The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative 2009 Technical Workshop (Mexico) confirmed that the dangerous and newly-emerged stem rust race known as Ug99 is now in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen and Iran, and is on the march toward South Asia. According to scientists, longer distance movement to other regions cannot be excluded. They estimate that 90 percent of the varieties planted in farmers' fields around the world lack resistance to the pathogen.


In a new study released at the event, researchers described a breakthrough in their efforts to develop new varieties of wheat that are not only resistant to Ug99 but also produce more grain than today's most popular varieties. Scientists have produced new types of high-yield wheat that contain what plant breeders call "multiple minor genes" that have resistance to Ug99. Though this strategy may not provide the same level of protection as that provided by one or 2 major genes, it is high enough to be effective, and the researchers believe that by forcing the fungus to overcome a larger array of genetic barriers, these new wheat varieties could provide long-term protection against future stem rust mutations.


There are numerous examples in the last century of stem rust mutating and "defeating" wheat plants that have contained single major resistance genes. One of the alarming hallmarks of Ug99 is that in Kenya it has mutated and overcome 2 additional major stem rust resistance genes called Sr24 and Sr36 that had been effective against the original form of Ug99.


The response on all fronts has been swift and is producing results far faster than anyone had expected. For example, researchers in Iran noted they have begun producing seed of the new varieties for testing in more extensive field trials. And scientists from India reported the results of an intensive campaign underway in different regions to convince farmers that they will need to switch to Ug99-resistant wheat before the disease arrives in the country. Other efforts are underway to spur testing and seed production in Egypt, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan.


Many people involved in the conference said that the unprecedented effort to combat Ug99 has resulted in a new level of international scientific collaboration that could provide a range of benefits for global food production.


[Wheat stem rust is caused by the fungus _Puccinia graminis_ f. sp._tritici_. Overall yield losses of up to 80 percent are reported, but some fields are totally destroyed. New races are emerging, and the most dangerous at present is strain Ug99, which has overcome the major resistance gene Sr31 used in our current wheat varieties. As reported above, an even more virulent variant able to overcome 2 additional resistance genes has recently emerged in Kenya. Rust spores are carried eastwards on prevailing winds, and regions at high risk of a Ug99 incursion have been identified accordingly.


It is estimated that Ug99 could reduce world wheat production by 60 million tons (for more information on stem rust and Ug99, please see previous ProMED-mail posts and links listed below). The apparent good progress with resistance breeding reported above is largely due to efficient international cooperation, which has not been achieved before on this scale and, as such, is a very positive outcome of the Ug99 global threat.



Middle East, including Ug99 alert area:






Pictures of stem rust symptoms on wheat:

<>  and <>



Additional news story:



and <>


Information on wheat stem rust:



Information on Ug99:



<>  and <>


_P. graminis_ f.sp. _tritici_ taxonomy:



Delhi Declaration on Ug99:



Global Rust Initiative:



Source: Global Rust Initiative Press Release [edited] <> via

Communicated by: ProMED-mail <>
17 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.35  Scientists identify rust resistance genes in soybeans


Washington, DC

Agricultural Research Service, USDA

By Jan Suszkiw

Using state-of-the-art genomics techniques, a team of scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Iowa State University (ISU) and Brazil have identified a cluster of soybean genes that provide resistance to the fungus Phakopsora pachyrhizi, which causes Asian soybean rust (ASR). The discovery will help defend the $27 billion U.S. soybean crop against ASR, through conventional breeding or biotechnological means.


ASR was first detected in the continental United States in 2004. Although fungicide use is effective against ASR, providing farmers with resistant cultivars is more sustainable, according to geneticist Michelle Graham. She's with the ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit in Ames, Iowa.


Genetic mapping previously linked ASR resistance to five DNA regions, or "loci," within the soybean genome, named Rpp1 through Rpp5. Screening of 15,000 accessions in the ARS soybean germplasm collection revealed how uncommon resistance is: Less than 5 percent of the accessions are resistant.


Graham’s group sequenced the Rpp4 locus and identified a cluster of candidate genes that confer ASR resistance. Comparisons of susceptible and resistant cultivars identified a single candidate gene, Rpp4C4, thought to bestow resistance. Rpp4C4 is one of five nearly identical genes in the Rpp4 locus. Frequent "shuffling" or recombination within the cluster allowed new disease resistance genes to be formed.


For example, soybean cultivar Williams82 has three resistance genes in the cluster and lacks Rpp4C4, making it vulnerable to ASR. However, line PI459025B, the source of Rpp4 resistance, has five candidate genes. “Virus-induced gene silencing" studies were used to turn off the Rpp4 candidate genes in PI459025B, making it susceptible to ASR and confirming the genes’ importance.


Graham, together with Jenelle Meyer, Kerry Pedley and Randy Shoemaker of ARS; Chunling Yang, Chunquan Zhang, Martijn van de Mortel, John Hill and Steve Whitham of ISU; and Ricardo Abdelnoor and Danielle Silva of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) in Brazil, published their findings recently in the online edition of Plant Physiology.


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



26 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.36  Scientists develop sugar-enriched corn


By enhancing the expression of the Glossy 15 gene, scientists at the University of Illinois developed transgenic corn plants that produce more biomass. The gene was originally identified for its roles in giving corn seedlings a waxy coating that acts like a sun screen to protect the young plant. The gene is also responsible for slowing down shoot maturation.


Stephen Moose and colleagues observed that amplification of Glossy 15 in corn resulted to bigger plants. Although there is less grain, the transgenic plants produce more sugar in the stalks. This makes the corn suitable as biofuel feedstock and livestock feed.


One advantage of growing the sugar-enriched corn rather than switchgrass or miscanthus is that sugar corn is an annual. Moose said that if it would attract a pest or develop a disease, farmers could rotate a different crop the next year. Moose also noted that the GM corn is as safe as its non-transgenic counterparts. "It's a gene that's already in the corn - all we did was to put an extra copy in that amps it up," Moose said.


The original article is available at


Source: CropBiotech Update

6 March 2009


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Dept. of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell U.


(Return to Contents)




1.37  Doubling a gene in corn results in giant biomass


Urbana, Illinois
University of Illinois plant geneticist Stephen Moose has developed a corn plant with enormous potential for biomass, literally. It yields corn that would make good silage, Moose said, due to a greater number of leaves and larger stalk, which could also make it a good energy crop.


The gene known as Glossy 15 was originally described for its role in giving corn seedlings a waxy coating that acts like a sun screen for the young plant. Without Glossy 15, seedling leaves instead appear shiny and glossy in sunlight. Further studies have shown that the main function of Glossy15 is to slow down shoot maturation. Moose wondered what would happen if they turned up the action of this gene. “What happens is that you get bigger plants, possibly because they’re more sensitive to the longer days of summer. We put a corn gene back in the corn and increased its activity. So, it makes the plant slow down and gets much bigger at the end of the season.”


The ears of corn have fewer seeds compared to the normal corn plant and could be a good feed for livestock. “Although there is less grain there is more sugar in the stalks, so we know the animal can eat it and they’ll probably like it.” This type of corn plant may fit the grass-fed beef standard, Moose said.


“The first time I did this, I thought, well, maybe the seeds just didn’t get pollinated very well, so I hand pollinated these ears to make sure. I found that just like the shoot, seed development is also slower and they just don’t make it all the way to the end with a plump kernel,” Moose said.


He explained that the energy to make the seed goes instead into the stalk and leaves. “We had been working with this gene for awhile. We thought there would be more wax on the leaves and there was. But we also got this other benefit, that it’s a lot bigger.”


Moose tested his hypothesis with other corn lines and the effect was the same. “We essentially can make any corn variety bigger with this gene. And it can be done in one cross and we know exactly which gene does it.”


He noted that if you put too much of the Glossy 15 gene in, it slows down the growth too much and the frost kills the plant before it can grow.


One advantage to growing sugar corn for biomass rather than switchgrass or miscanthus is that sugar corn is an annual. Moose said that if it would attract a pest or develop a disease, farmers could rotate a different crop the next year.


Moose said that sugar corn might make a good transition crop.


“We think it might take off as a livestock feed, because it’s immediate,” Moose said. “This would be most useful for on-farm feeding. So a farmer who has 50 steers, could grow this and use the corn as feed and sell the stalks and sugar. It could be an alternative silage, because it has a longer harvest window than regular silage.”


For this sugar corn plant to become commercialized, it would have to get government approval, but Moose said that this is about as safe a gene as you can get. “It’s a gene that’s already in the corn – all we did was to put an extra copy in that amps it up.”


Findings from this research were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.



2 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




1.38  First SSR map for cultivated groundnut published


Cultivated peanut or groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L.) is the fourth most important oilseed crop in the world, grown mainly in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate climates. The crop production in marginal environment of Africa and Asia is seriously challenged by several biotic and abiotic stress constraints. Molecular markers and genetic maps are the pre-requisites for undertaking molecular breeding to combat such abiotic/biotic stress constraints. In case of groundnut, though several hundred molecular markers (such as microsatellite or simple sequence repeat/SSR markers) have been developed and genetic maps have been developed based on mapping populations derived from diploid Arachis species or synthetic tetraploids, not a single genetic was available until recently for cultivated groundnut. Team of scientists from ICRISAT in collaboration with colleagues from EMBRAPA/ Catholic University in Brazil, University of Georgia and Tuskegee University in USA has developed the first SSR based genetic linkage map for cultivated groundnut. This map has a total of 135 SSR loci mapped onto 22 linkage groups. Team has demonstrated the utility of this genetic map for trait mapping in cultivated groundnut and comparative mapping in legumes. Details about this map are available in the recent paper published as an Open Access in Theoretical and Applied Genetics ( or from Rajeev Varshney (


Contributed by Rajeev Varshney


(Return to Contents)




1.39  Mechanisms of heat tolerance in plants-


by Sameena Sheikh, plant breeding, CCSHAU, Hisar, India

The IPCC report, The Regional Impacts of Climate Change: An Assessment of Vulnerability argues that the vulnerability of a region depends to a great extent on its wealth, and that poverty limits adaptive capabilities. According to the Second Assessment Report, vulnerability depends on the level of economic development and institutions. The report argues that socio-economic systems “typical are more vulnerable in developing countries where economic and institutional circumstances are less favorable”. The report continues that vulnerability is highest where there is “the greatest sensitivity to climate change and the least adaptability”. Looking at vulnerability from the food security point of view, the FAO publication The State of Food Insecurity in the World defines vulnerability as “the presence of factors that place people at risk of becoming food insecure or malnourished” Clearly this definition encompasses causes of food insecurity other than climate change (e.g., armed conflict, landlessness, etc.). Nevertheless, the concept of vulnerability includes hunger vulnerability which refers to the vulnerability of individuals or households rather than that of regions or economic sectors. The following observations highlight the seriousness of the potential impacts of climate change on food security. In the tropics and subtropics, where some crops are near their maximum temperature tolerance and where dry land, non-irrigated agriculture dominates, yields are likely to decrease for even small changes in climate, especially in Africa and Latin America, where decreases in overall agricultural productivity of up to thirty per cent are projected during the next century. Therefore, there may be increased risk of hunger in some locations in the tropics and subtropics where many of the world poorest live.Heat tolerance are a complex phenomenon. The screening techniques must satisfy the criteria viz genetic variation among germplasm, high habitability, positive association with yield under stress and easy and quickly measurable. In India, incidences of high temperatures at the time of grain filling are more pronounced when sowing of wheat is delayed due to delay in harvest of highly remunerative preceding crops such as scented rice (Nagarajan and Rane, 1997; Rane et al., 2000; Joshi et al., 2002). Intensity of high temperature is likely to become much larger if current trends and future predictions about global warming continue.


The adverse effects on plants of temperatures higher than the optimal is considered as heat stress. Heat would affect (1) survival (2) growth and development and (3) the physiological processes, the nature and extent of the effects would depend mainly on the temperature, the plant species and the process in question.


General effect of high temperature: Faster rate of grain development, Decrease kernel wt, Shriveled seed, Reduced starch accumulation, Alternation o polypeptide and lipid composition, Lower seed germination, Delay germination, Loss of seed vigor,4% average yield reduction/10c above optimum temperature, Heat wave (35-360c, 3-4 days) modifies grain morphology and reduce grain size, Shortening Grain Filling Period ,and Effect on grain quality: Due to reduced starch accumulation decreased kernel wt there is relative quantitative and qualitative changes in protein complement i.e. change in proportion of gluten in (high molecular weight polymer,) and gliadins (low molecular weight polymer)  that result in  deterioration  of end product quality.


Physiological and morphological traits closely associated with heat tolerance: Early vigor, Flag leaf photosynthesis, Chlorophyll fluorescence, Membrane thermo stability, Canopy temperature depression, Stem sugar mobilizations, Biomass accumulation, Days to anthesis and days to maturity (grain filling period),and Yield and yield components.


Mechanism of heat tolerance

 Four major aspects of thermo tolerance are thermal dependence at biochemical and metabolic level, in relation to membrane thermo stability; through gradual temperature increase vis a vis heat shock protein production and photosynthesis and productivity.


Different mechanism of heat stress resistance in plants

Heat avoidance

Transpiration processes


Heat avoidance


Leaf reflectance due to

  1  Pubescence

  2  Glaucososbness 

  3   Insulation by bark



Reduces light interception by leaves

Reduces heating

Associated with heat hardening and possibly Hsp synthesis  

Heat tolerance

Membrane stability

Stability of phosytem II


Photosynthate translocation

Stem-reserve mobilization




Efficiency of physiological traits for selection: Three groups of factors are important to test the Efficiency of physiological traits for selection involves (i) Macro environment-temperature, irrigation, nutritional status and soil type ;(ii)Micro environment-Small daily fluctuation in temperature radiation, soil heterogeneity, weeds and pests and (iii)Physiological –Plant age, diurnal rhythm of plants and genetic diversity.


Contributed by sameena sheikh


(Return to Contents)






2.01  New FAO book: "Socio-economic impacts of non-transgenic biotechnologies in developing countries: The case of plant micropropagation in Africa"


Rome, Italy

FAO has just published a 75-page book entitled "Socio-economic impacts of non-transgenic biotechnologies in developing countries: The case of plant micropropagation in Africa".


The first of the three chapters is by A. Sonnino and co-authors, and it discusses some approaches used in impact assessment of innovations and presents a general overview of the literature about the impacts of non-transgenic biotechnologies.


The second, by Z. Dhlamini and co-authors, surveys the extent of micropropagation application in Gabon, Mali, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe.


The third, by P. Warren and co-authors, reports the findings of two field studies, on micropropagation of banana in Uganda and of sweetpotato in Zimbabwe, aimed at better understanding the process of adoption of micropropagated planting materials and its impacts on livelihoods.


The book can be downloaded from the web at or contact to request a copy, providing your full postal address.



17 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




2.02  Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops


United Kingdom
Edited by N. Ferry, University of Newcastle and A. Gatehouse, University of Newcastle
CABI Publishing

Main Description

The genetic modification of crops continues to be the subject of intense debate, and opinions are often strongly polarised. Environmental Impact of Genetically Modified Crops addresses the major concerns of scientists, policy makers, environmental lobby groups and the general public regarding this controversial issue, from an editorially neutral standpoint. While the main focus is on environmental impact, food safety issues, for both humans and animals are also considered. The book concludes with a discussion on the future of agricultural biotechnology in the context of sustainability, natural resource management and future global population and food supply.


Students and researchers in crop sciences and environmental studies.

Main Contents

Chapter 1: Agriculture, Ecosystem, and Environment. N Ferry and A MR Gatehouse

Chapter 2: Transgenic Technology. P Christou

Chapter 3: Novel Crops and Biofuels.

Chapter 4: Environmental Risk Assessment F Tencalla

Chapter 5: Insect Resistant GM Crops; Pest Resistance. B Tabashnik

Chapter 6: Integrated Resistance Management, how can we prevent pest resistance in the future? D Wright and N Crickmore

Chapter 7: Herbicide Tolerant GM Crops; Resistance and Management M Owen

Chapter 8: Impact of GM Crops on non-target organisms J Romeis

Chapter 9: Impact of GM Crops on Pollinators L. Malone and E P J Burgess

Chapter 10: Impact of GM crops on soil and water ecology R Wheatley

Chapter 11: Biodiversity. K Ammann

Chapter 12: Potential Wider Impact: Farmland Birds. M Whittingham

Chapter 13: Environmental Benefits of GM Crops M Edwards and G M Poppy

Chapter 14: Safety for Human Consumption R Phipps

Chapter 15: Post Commercialization testing and monitoring B Ohen

Chapter 17: Monitoring Bt Resistance in the field, China as a case study K He

Chapter 18: GM crops in Least Economically Developed Countries (LEDC) (Africa as a case study) .D George, S Mugo and H De Groote

Chapter 19: Developing a 21st century virew of Agriculture and the Environment D Pimentel

Chapter 20: Conclusions N Ferry and A Gatehouse


Source: via

4 March 2009


(Return to Contents)




2.03  Call for papers for The Journal of Plant Breeding and Crop  Science   


The Journal of Plant Breeding and Crop  Science   (JPBCS) is a multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journal published monthly by Academic Journals ( dedicated to increasing the depth of Crop Science across disciplines with the ultimate aim of improving plant research.


JPBCS will cover all areas of plant breeding and crop science. The journal welcomes he submission of manuscripts that meet the general criteria of significance and scientific excellence, and will publish:


·       Original articles in basic and applied research

·       Case studies

·       Critical reviews, surveys, opinions, commentaries and essays


We invite you to submit your manuscript(s) to for publication in the Maiden Issue (January 2009). Our objective is to inform authors of the decision on their manuscript(s) within four weeks of submission. Following acceptance, a paper will normally be published in the next issue. Instruction for authors and other details

are available on our website;


JPBCS is an Open Access Journal

One key request of researchers across the world is unrestricted access to research publications. Open access gives a worldwide audience larger than that of any subscription-based journal ad thus increases the visibility and impact of published work. It also enhances indexing, retrieval power and eliminates the need for permissions to reproduce and distribute content. JPBCS is fully committed to the Open Access Initiative and will provide free access to all articles as soon as they are published.


Contributed by Anighoro Clementina

Editorial Assistant

Journal of Plant Breeding and Crop Science (JPBCS)


(Return to Contents)




2.04 Introducing ‘the African Journal of Biotechnology (AJB)’
The African Journal of Biotechnology (AJB), a broad-based journal, was founded on two key tenets: To publish the most exciting research in all areas of applied biochemistry, industrial microbiology, molecular biology, genomics and proteomics, food and agricultural technologies, and metabolic engineering. Secondly, to provide the most rapid turn-around time possible for reviewing and publishing, and to disseminate the articles freely for teaching and reference purposes. All articles published in AJB are peer-reviewed.  The following types of papers are considered for publication:
·         Original articles in basic and applied research. 
·         Critical reviews, surveys, opinions, commentaries and essays.
Our objective is to inform authors of the decision on their manuscript(s) within four weeks of submission. Following acceptance, a paper will normally be published in the next issue. 
Instruction for authors and other details are available on our website Prospective authors should send their manuscript(s) to
Open Access
One key request of researchers across the world is unrestricted access to research publications. AJB is fully committed Open Access Initiative by providing free access to all articles (both abstract and full PDF text) as soon as they are published. We ask you to support this initiative by publishing your papers in this journal.
Invitation to Review
AJB is seeking for qualified reviewers as members of the review board team. AJB serves as a great resource for researchers and students across the globe. We ask you to support this initiative by joining our reviewer’s team. If you are interested in serving as a reviewer, kindly send us your resume to
Publication Alert
We will be glad to send you a publication alert showing the table of content with link to the various abstracts and full PDF text of articles published in each issue. Kindly send us an email if you will like to receive publication alert.
Contributed by Precious Ejegi
Editorial Assistant
African Journal of Biotechnology


(Return to Contents)




2.05  Genetic Modification of Plants: Methods and Applications 2005-2009


by Edwin B. Herman, Editor, Agricell Report

Publication: April, 2009. Approximately Approximately 150 pp. Spiralbound.

Price: $129.00 (Shipping and handling: $8.00 for U.S. delivery, $15.00 elsewhere).













DIRECTORY OF RESEARCH: Includes email and/or fax addresses of all authors


This notice distributed on 18/3/2009


(Return to Contents)




2.06  A new book: Tropical Root and Tuber Crops: Cassava, Sweet Potato, Yams and Aroids


Crop Production Science in Horticulture Series No. 17

V Lebot, CIRAD, France

December 2008 432 pages PB 978 1 84593 424 8


Subject Classification: TVS

Territorial Market Rights: World


Most of the world's poorest smallholders depend on tropical roots and tuber crops as their principal source of food and nutrition. These species produce large quantities of dietary energy and have stable yields under difficult environmental conditions. The most important crops are cassava, sweet potato, yam and the aroids, sharing important common traits such as bulkiness, post-harvest perishability and vegetative propagation. This book compiles the most up to date information on the origin, genetics, physiology, agronomy, pests and diseases and post harvest processing of these crops, while providing ideas for further research and development.



Students and researchers in horticulture and botany.


CABI Head Office




Section 1 - Cassava

1. Origin and History

2. Taxonomy and botany

3. Breeding and genetics

4. Developmental physiology

5. Agronomy

6. Pests and diseases

7. Post Harvest Quality and Marketing


Section 2 - Sweet Potato

8. Origin and History

9. Taxonomy and botany

10. Breeding and genetics

11. Developmental physiology

12. Agronomy

13. Pests and diseases

14. Post Harvest Quality and Marketing


Section 3 - Yams

15. Origin and History

16. Taxonomy and botany

17. Breeding and genetics

18. Developmental physiology

19. Agronomy

20. Pests and diseases

21. Post Harvest Quality and Marketing


Section 4 - Aroids

22. Origin and History

23. Taxonomy and botany

24. Breeding and genetics

25. Developmental physiology

26. Agronomy

27. Pests and diseases

28. Post Harvest Quality and Marketing


More information at


Contributed by Vincent Lebot



(Return to Contents)




2.07 Drought Frontiers in Rice: Crop Improvement for Increased Rainfed Production


Worldwide, drought affects approximately 23 million hectares of rainfed rice. Varieties combining improved drought resistance with high yield under favorable conditions and quality characteristics preferred by farmers are the most promising and deliverable technologies for alleviating poverty in communities dependent on rainfed rice production.


The book describes some of the recent advances in the genetics and physiology of drought resistance and the integration of highly efficient breeding and genetic analysis techniques with functional genomics, for launching a Drought Frontiers project ( <> ), as a major assault on the problem of improving drought resistance in rice. Featuring contributions from leading international experts, case studies are used to present perspectives on the various multidisciplinary facets of drought resistance in rice, along with the natural resource management practices it involves and socioeconomic implications that it entails. The readers will be better informed about this highly relevant and complex topic of improving rice drought resistance in a global environment characterized by increased water scarcities.


The book is edited by IRRI senior scientist (crop physiology) Rachid Serraj, retired IRRI senior scientist (molecular biology) John Bennett, and IRRI science editor Bill Hardy.


Please contact World Scientific Publishing at for more information.


Contributed by Maria Leah J. Baroña-Cruz

Specialist-writer/editor, IRRI


 (Return to Contents)





3.01  FAO Biotechnology Forum explores "Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years"


Rome, Italy

Conference 16 of the FAO Biotechnology Forum takes place from 20 April to 17 May 2009 and 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 is being prepared and will be put on the Forum website before the conference begins. Its aim is to provide some brief background to the subject as well as to mention the issues to be considered in the conference. 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. 


Source: FAO - Biotechnology in food and agriculture

March, 2009


(Return to Contents)




3.02  A new Crops for the Future website


We are pleased to announce that a new Crops for the Future website is now live, at It is only in an interim form at present, however, and it is expected to evolve in the coming months.


The latest news, funding and job opportunities, publications and interesting websites related to underutilised species will continue to be posted to this new site as we obtain them. You may also wish to post information yourselves.


For the time being we only will send out mailings to you if there is something extremely important or time-constrained. For this reason we encourage you to make use of our "rss feed". You will find the clickable rss logo in the top right corner, and the following links offer help on how to use rss feeds (rss help at cnet and at bbc).


We hope our interim service is of use for you while we work our way towards a more integrated communication tool that will make Crops for the Future web site the one stop shop on underutilised plant species. We have finished analysing the survey results and are now turning your wants into reality. Thanks to all of you who responded to our questionnaire - and have so helped develop our new platform. Your requirements and ideas regarding this subject are precious to us and all, please feel  free to let us know about your concerns any time.


Contributed by the Crops for the Future Team
Hannah Jaenicke & Paul Bordoni

March 2009


(Return to Contents)




3.03  Downloadable crop production and marketing datasets for Sub-Saharan Africa


The HarvestChoice initiative has launched a comprehensive collection of data products designed to better inform strategic policy and investment decisions aimed at improving farm productivity and profitability, and market development. The website is intended to be the 'go-to' resource for analysts and decision-makers seeking integrated, consistent and spatially-referenced information, provided in an interactive portal.


The data collection focuses on factors relevant to crop production and marketing in Sub-Saharan African (SSA) agriculture, such as climate, soil and pest conditions and constraints, current and future cropping systems geography and performance and access to markets. Recognising the site-specific nature of many interventions designed to boost productivity, especially in the rainfed systems common throughout SSA, HarvestChoice takes a spatial approach, using interfaces built around open-source platforms such as Google Maps.


By providing both public and private investors with an increasingly broad and in-depth understanding of major production and marketing challenges and opportunities, HarvestChoice hopes to shed light on the potential payoffs to productivity-enhancing innovations for smallholder farmers, as well as how to promote the commercialisation of smallholder agriculture.


The HarvestChoice website will be continuously updated and improved over time.


HarvestChoice was launched in October 2006 and is jointly led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the University of Minnesota’s International Science and Technology Practice and Policy (INSTePP) programme. 


View the website and download these early data offerings


(Return to Contents)





4.01  USDA/CSREES announces agriculture and food research initiative funding opportunities


Washington, DC

USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) announced the availability of approximately $200 million in funds available through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).


AFRI is the new core competitive grant program to provide funding for fundamental and applied research, extension, and education to address food and agricultural sciences. As mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill, AFRI replaces the former National Research Initiative and the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems programs and addresses six priority areas:

1) plant health and production and plant products;

2) animal health and production and animal products;

3) food safety, nutrition and health;

4) renewable energy, natural resources and environment;

5) agriculture systems and technology; and

6) agriculture economics and rural communities.


CSREES published a Program Announcement on December 17, 2008, providing an initial announcement about the administration of AFRI for FY 2009. The individual opportunity descriptions in the AFRI RFAs are consistent with those in the AFRI Program Announcement. Although no Letter of Intent deadlines have changed, some application deadlines have been modified to allow for the preparation and submission of applications. Additional AFRI information is available at


Applicants and other parties interested in the AFRI funding opportunity are encouraged to contact CSREES at (202) 401-5022 or Specific program information and application deadlines are available at


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



16 March 2009-03-28


(Return to Contents)




4.02  Request for applications under the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program
Closing Date and Time for Application Submission: May 18, 2009, 12:00 p.m.
Washington, DC Time
Subject: Request for Applications (RFA) Number: M-OAA-EGAT-PEP-09-706
Title: Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) seeks applications from eligible universities or colleges to serve as the lead university for a Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP) entitled: Horticulture. The authority for this RFA is found in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended. This CRSP activity will be a Leader with Associates (LWA) assistance award. The successful applicant will be awarded a five-year Cooperative Agreement Leader Award with responsibility for managing a worldwide program of research and outreach activities intended to provide results in multiple countries and/or regions. A five-year extension may be provided, subject to the following three evaluation criteria: (1) a record of good performance during the first five-year period; (2) availability of Agency funding; and (3) continued relevance of the CRSP to the overall Agency portfolio and development priorities. The applicant is required to submit a technical and cost application as detailed in Section IV. The Recepient will be responsible for ensuring achievement of the program objectives of this CRSP. Please refer to the Program Description (Section I) for a complete statement of goals and expected results.
Additional related activities may be awarded by USAID missions or other USAID offices as Associate Awards. These Associate Awards are not competed, but rather are awarded under the Leader agreemment and are subject to the provisions of the Leader award. Associate awards may be either cooperative agreements or grants. The types of organizations eligible to apply include US Land Grant Universities and Colleges and other universities having: “(1) demonstrable capacity in teaching, research, and extension (including outreach) activities in the agricultural sciences; and (2) can contribute effectively to the attainment of the objectives” of Title XII legislation. Additionally, to be eligible, applicants must: (1) demonstrate an established capacity to provide the technical services and expertise described; (2) have a proven track record in managing applied research and outreach programs and promoting agricultural and rural development; (3) be legally registered in the United States; and (4) be able to manage USA1D financial management standards to ensure funds accountability. Pursuant to 22 CFR 226.81, it is USAID policy not to award profit under assistance instruments such as cooperative agreements. However, all reasonable, allocable, and allowable expenses, both direct and indirect, which are related to the grant program and are in accordance with applicable cost standards (22 CFR 226, OMB Circular A-122 for non-profit organizations, OMB Circular A-21 for universities, and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 31 for-profit organizations), may be paid under the Cooperative Agreement.
Applicants under consideration for an award that have never received funding from USAID will be subject to a pre-award audit to determine fiscal responsibility, ensure adequacy of financial controls, and establish an indirect cost rate.
Subject to the availability of funds, USAID intends to award a five-year Leader Award for up to $15,000,000. A buy-in ceiling of $50,000,000 will be available and accessible through Associate awards. Considering current budgetary constraints, however, the CRSP should use an annual Leader Award funding level not to exceed $3,000,000 for planning purposes. The Leader and Associate awards shall specify the Total Estimated Award (TEA) amount for the Cooperative Agreement allocated over the five (5) year period. USAID reserves the right to fund any or none of the applications submitted. There is no guarantee regarding the magnitude of Asssociate Awards in dollars or the number of awards. For the purposes of this program, this RFA is being issued and consists of this cover letter and the following: 
SECTION I -Funding Opportunity Description
SECTION II -Award Information
SECTION III -Eligibility Information
SECTION IV -Application and Submission Information
SECTION V -Application Review Information
SECTION VI -Award and Administration Information
SECTION VII -Agency Contacts
SECTION VIII -Other Information
(Additional Annexes available)
Kenneth E. Stein
USAID Agreement Officer
Office of Acquisition and Assistance
Contributed by Ann Marie Thro


(Return to Contents)




4.03  GIPB call for studies and analysis on state of knowledge on breeding for durable resistance to rust threatening crop production in the developing world
We are pleased to inform you that GIPB is launching a Call for studies and analysis on State of knowledge on breeding for durable resistance to rust threatening crop production in the developing world. Please, read information and download the call at
The GIPB Team


(Return to Contents)




4.04  The Rothamsted International African Fellows Programme


The Rothamsted International African Fellows Programme is now inviting scientists and researchers working on agriculture in Africa to submit pre-proposals under its 9th African Fellows Programme Call.   


The aim of the African Fellows Programme (AFP) is to support sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa by catalysing innovative solutions needed to achieve food security. Projects should focus on specific problems in agriculture with a researchable constraint. They should also aim to develop lasting partnerships and strategic alliances that will help in developing local scientific capacity relevant to sustainable agricultural production. The potential impact of the project on small-holder farmers will be a major consideration during proposal assessment. African scientists will carry out research projects at a partner European research institute, or university, for a maximum period of 6 months. Fellowships are awarded on a competitive basis in a two-stage assessment process.


Research projects must:

·         focus on solving an agricultural problem with a researchable constraint

·         demonstrate how the knowledge gained will be applied to benefit small-holder African farmers

·         be of high quality science


Examples of potential project areas include crop nutrition, soil fertility, post-harvest technology, alternative crops, livestock management and plant protection.


The programme cannot support field work in Africa.  Projects focusing on food processing and socio-economic research are not within the remit of the programme. Equally, MSc and PhD studies will not be funded.


Deadline for submission of pre-proposals: 17:00 hours (GMT) on  Friday 19th June 2009. Submissions should be sent by email.

Application documents:

·         Programme guidelines 

·         Programme guidelines and criteria summary

·         Pre-proposal application form

·         Rothamsted International newsletter

More details and guidelines on how to apply

Contact: Please send any queries to the AFP Coordinator by email or by post to Rothamsted International, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, AL5 2JQ, UK


(Return to Contents)





5.01  Postdoctoral Positions at the University of Missouri


One or two postdoctoral positions are anticipated at the Division of Plant Sciences, University of Missouri to work on the “Genetic Architecture of Maize and Teosinte” project.  Positions will be focused on defining the genes underlying agronomic traits of maize by use of the Nested Association Mapping (NAM) population and maize teosinte introgression libraries.  The gene characterization will include fine-mapping QTL discovered in NAM and the maize teosinte libraries to the gene level and characterization of the phenotypic variation of maize and teosinte alleles.  At least one of the positions will focus on kernel quality traits in maize.  Candidate must have Ph.D. in Genetics or Plant Breeding and have experience with gene mapping, quantitative trait analysis, and use of bioinformatic resources. 


If interested please contact Sherry Flint-Garcia ( or Michael McMullen (


(Return to Contents)




5.02 Post-doctoral positions are available at North Carolina State University


Two post-doctoral positions are available at North Carolina State University to work on maize quantitative genetics. One will involve QTL fine-mapping and cloning, the second will involve statistical genetic analysis. Information on the two positions and on web-based application process is below:




APPOINTMENT:     100% Research 


LOCATION:            Crop Science Department, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC


SALARY:                 $35,000-38,000


PROPOSED HIRE DATE:      May 1, 2009




BASIC QUALIFICATIONS:  A Ph.D. in plant genetics or closely related field is required.  Experience with maize genetics, high resolution genetic mapping or map-based gene cloning, and fieldwork is preferred.


POSITION RESPONSIBILITIES: A postdoctoral research associate position is immediately available at North Carolina State University in the Crop Science Department.  The researcher will conduct research on maize genetics.  Quantitative trait loci controlling flowering time, height, and seed quality have been mapped in the maize Nested Association Mapping platform. The researcher will be responsible for fine-mapping to gene-level resolution several QTL using resources including near-isogenic lines, heterogeneous inbred families, and dense SNP marker maps. Post-doctoral researcher duties will include developing SNP assays, developing high-throughput genotyping assays, selecting appropriate stocks using SNP genotype information, planting selected stocks and pollinating them in field nurseries to develop homozygous recombinant progenies, designing field experiments, planting experiments and maintaining them during growing season, phenotypic data collection, harvest, data analysis, and molecular characterization of genes underlying QTL.  Travel to winter nursery in Florida will be required. 


HOW TO APPLY:  Applicants should apply online at for position number 01-06-0903.


Documentation of identity and employability of the applicant will be required before the hiring process can be finalized.  NC State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.  All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, national origin, religion sex, age, veteran status, disability, or sexual orientation.  Individuals with disabilities desiring accommodations during the application process should contact Joyce Elias at 919-515-2648.


TITLE:                                     RESEARCH ASSOCIATE (POST DOC)


APPOINTMENT:                    100% Research 


LOCATION:                           Crop Science Department, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC


SALARY:                                $35,000-38,000


PROPOSED HIRE DATE:      May 1, 2009




BASIC QUALIFICATIONS:  A Ph.D. in statistical genetics, quantitative genetics, or closely related field is required. Proficiency with SAS programming is required. Knowledge of R and ASREML programming is desirable. Experience with maize genetics and bioinformatics is preferred.


POSITION RESPONSIBILITIES: A postdoctoral research associate position is immediately available at North Carolina State University in the Crop Science Department.  The researcher will conduct research on maize genetics.  Quantitative trait loci controlling flowering time, height, and seed quality have been mapped in the maize Nested Association Mapping platform. The researcher will be responsible for analysis of QTL-by-environment interactions, development and testing of phenotype prediction based on QTL models. The researcher will be responsible for planting, maintaining, and phenotyping experiments in the field required to validate statistical models.  Travel to winter nursery in Florida will be required. 


HOW TO APPLY:  Applicants should apply online at for position number 01-06-0902.


Documentation of identity and employability of the applicant will be required before the hiring process can be finalized.  NC State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.  All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, national origin, religion sex, age, veteran status, disability, or sexual orientation.  Individuals with disabilities desiring accommodations during the application process should contact Joyce Elias at 919-515-2648.


Contributed by Jim Holland

Department of Crop Science

North Carolina State University


 (Return to Contents)





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


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 was 16 March 2009 and numbers are limited. Please contact Sarah Mawson at ICPBER for any information


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.


For more details, contact:

Arnulfo G. Garcia


Research and Development Department
SEARCA, College, Los Baños, Laguna 4031


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

Theme: Crop research, technology dissemination and adoption to increase food supply, reducing hunger and poverty in
Egypt- Ismailia, Egypt


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:


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

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


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

For details contact: Rajeev Varshney,


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.


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


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 June 2009. The Co-Extra International Conference , "Coexistence and traceability of GM and  non-GM products in food and feed supply chains" , AgroParistech, 16 rue Claude  Bernard, 75231 Paris cedex  05, France


Conference registration is now open at


This two-day scientific conference and  one-day stakeholders' workshop will run from 3 to 5 June 2009 in Paris, France  and will present the results of four years of scientific research showing how these integrate with other EU and international studies to provide information  for the management of GMOs and their products from farm to  fork.


The stakeholders' workshop will take  place on Day 3 (Friday, 5 June 2009) and will enable discussion of coexistence  and traceability issues, taking into account the demands, needs and practical experiences of stakeholders.

Presentations on the results of related  EU research projects - SIGMEA* and Transcontainer* - and also from invited  representatives of non-EU countries will provide a broader picture of current knowledge both within and outside Europe.


Discussions based on the outcome of these  projects, on international experiences and contributions of Co-Extra will cover the management of GM and non-GM production and supply chains for suiting  European and international requirements.


The conference will be of particular  interest to scientists, policy makers, operators in food and feed chains,  regulators, the media and consumer organisations. The Stakeholders' Workshop will also be  of major interest to the general public.


For more information on the Co-Extra  International Conference, please visit

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

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


(NEW) 1 - 16 September 2009. Rice Breeding Course: Laying the Foundation for the Second Green Revolution. International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines


Short description

The course aims to develop the next generation of rice breeders adept in using modern tools for enhancing the precision and efficiency of their breeding programs. It shall provide the: (a) theoretical background on modern breeding methods and techniques including use of biotechnology; (b) planning and information management tools and experimental techniques and software; (c) opportunity to share experiences with other rice breeders; and (d) latest updates on areas relevant to rice breeding and the worldwide exchange of rice genetic resources. The course is for breeders and agronomists working on variety development or testing in the public and private sectors.


Cost of Training

Course fee is US$2,800 per participant, which includes pre-/post-travel allowance, board and lodging in IRRI Residence Halls, local medical insurance while in the course, stipend for miscellaneous expenses, airport pick-up and send off and course fee (includes a long trip to the major rice growing areas of the Philippines). The course fee does not include air fare which should be provided directly to the  participant by his sponsor.


Email/web contact information

Dr. Edilberto D. Redoña

Course Coordinator


Dr. Noel P. Magor

Head, Training Center

Contributed by Maria Angeli G. Maghuyop
Training Specialist, Training Center


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


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


 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.


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


(NEW) 24-27 September 2009. Grape breeding meeting in central Virginia, USA


Foundations Centennial Meeting: A celebration of 100 years of private grape breeding with North American Vitis

The Foundations Centennial Meeting will be held in central Virginia from the evening of Thursday, September 24, through Sunday, September 27, 2009. The meeting is being hosted and organized by private grape breeder Clifford P. Ambers of Chateau Z Vineyard in Monroe, Virginia. Presentations for the meeting will be held at nearby Sweet Briar College thanks to cooperation with the Environmental Studies Department at the college. There is no registration fee to attend, however, registration is required (see included form). Attendees are encouraged to present their breeding work at the meeting and to write a contribution for the proceedings volume to be published afterward. The vineyard tour at Chateau Z Vineyard will include a lunch and experimental wines from the vineyard. Participants are strongly encouraged to bring their own experimental wines to share and discuss. There will also be a grape tasting following the featured speaker’s presentation at Sweet Briar College. Participants are also strongly encouraged to bring grapes they would like to share at the tasting. Anyone wishing to contribute funds to help support the vineyard activities should contact the organizer via the contact information on the back of this announcement. Our featured speaker for the meeting will be Sherrie S. McLeRoy (Sweet Briar ‘74), first author of the biography of Thomas Volney Munson entitled, “Grape Man of Texas - The Life of T. V. Munson.” Co-authored with Roy E. Renfro of the T. V. Munson Viticulture and Enology Center at Grayson County College in Denison, Texas (Munson’s home town), Grape Man of Texas is an extensive study into Munson’s life, his work and his philosophy of existence. Copies of the new Wine Appreciation Guild edition will be available for purchase and signing by Sherrie. Cash and checks only.


Contributed by Cliff Ambers

Chateau Z Vineyard

Monroe, VA


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.


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


(NEW) 13-16 October 2009. 12th International Cereal Rusts and Powdery Mildew Conference, Antalya, Turkey


Further details and procedures for the submission of abstracts will be posted on our web site 12th ICRPMC-2009, Antalya ( and  Please bring this notice to the attention of any of your colleagues who may be interested.


Mahinur S. Akkaya
Local Organizer

Middle East Technical University

Ankara, Turkey


2 November – 6 December 2009. UPOV distance learning course

Introduction to the UPOV System of Plant Variety Protection under the UPOV Convention

The UPOV Distance Learning course (DL-205 - Introduction to the UPOV System of Plant Variety Protection under the UPOV Convention)


(NEW) 6 to 9 November, 2009, Lima Peru. 15th Triennial Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops: Tropical Roots and Tubers in a Changing Climate: A convenient opportunity for the World, The International Potato Center, Lima, Peru.


The Symposium will cover research and technical assistance on Tropical roots and tubers (Sweetpotato, Cassava, Potato, Andean roots and tubers, Yams and Aroids) are the third most important food crops in the world. These crops make significant contribution to income generation, sustainable development and household food security. Strategies need to be developed to address key issues in productivity, crop plant-soil/water/energy  resources management, post harvest utilization as food and feed, nutritional and health value addition, and trade and commercialization, so that the role of tropical roots in ensuring sustainable development can be enhanced. The symposium provides an opportunity for experts from around the world to meet and address this agenda. The symposium will be jointly organized by the International Society of Tropical Root Crops (ISTRC), the International Potato Center (CIP) and the La Molina Agrarian University of Peru (UNALM). The ISTRC was established in 1967. The Society’s triennial symposia serve as a unique platform form interaction among scientists working on all tropical root and tuber crops from various backgrounds from around the world to share experiences, build collaborations and develop strategies to contribute to sustainable development. The Society is delighted that CIP and the UNALM in Peru have agreed to co-host this Symposium. Because Peru is a major center of origin and domestication of many root and tuber crop species, and is hosting CIP, a CGIAR center, the 15th ISTRC symposium will also deal with potatoes. Additional information and details can be obtained at Symposium’s Web Page: . For any comments please communicate to   or to the International Potato Center (CIP) Apartado 1558. La Molina, Lima 12, Perú.


Contributed by Oscar A. Hidalgo

Organizing Committee

International Potato Center


 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.


To be included in the next announcement regarding this conference, please send your contact details to


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).


(Return to Contents)





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.


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 now available on the web. The address is:  We will continue to improve the organization of archival issues of the newsletter. 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.


(Return to Contents)