30 November 2009


An Electronic Newsletter of Applied Plant Breeding


Clair H. Hershey, Editor


Sponsored by GIPB, FAO/AGP and Cornell University’s Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics


-To subscribe, see instructions here

-Archived issues available at: FAO Plant Breeding Newsletter



1.01  World's leading food security experts warn that failure to focus on agriculture will undermine the success of the next global climate agreement and worsen global hunger

1.02  How to feed the world

1.03  FAO World Summit on Food Security boosts agriculture to end hunger

1.04  Bracing for a ‘perfect storm’ that looms large over the poor

1.05  Variety choice critical with increased climate variability

1.06  Declaration from the Second World Seed Conference

1.07  The winners of African Crop Science Society AWARDS 2009

1.08  Africa Rice Center researcher wins the 2009 Japan International Award for Young Agricultural Researchers

1.09  The Philippines: 15 pilot areas in Eastern Visayas soon to harvest flood-resistant rice

1.10  US$300 million fund-raising campaign launched for rice food security in Asia

1.11  AGRA and NEPAD form historic partnership to rapidly increase food production and achieve food security in Africa

1.12  Gates Foundation makes $1 million contribution to Texas A&M Borlaug scholars fund

1.13  International plant breeding scientists from 13 countries descend upon the University of Western Australia

1.14  News from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI): 50 years of rice science for a better world – and it's just the start

1.15  Danforth Plant Science Center receives $2.5 million grant to improve food security in Africa

1.16  Cornell University receives nearly $850,000 to improve specialty crops

1.17  Defra Wheat Genetic Improvement

1.18  International Institute of Tropical Agriculture to establish a Global Research Park in Nigeria to boost agricultural research in Africa

1.19  University of Queensland researchers produce world’s first transgenic sweet sorghum

1.20  UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy programs

1.21  Intellectual property rights enforcement: panel calls for disclosure of industry methodology assessing losses to piracy

1.22  Genetically modified rice at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

1.23  Predicting the environmental effects of transgenic Bt crop lines

1.24  Human genome experts to help plant breeders feed the world

1.25  Resistance to Bt crops can be predicted, monitored, and managed, says new study

1.26  Modern molecular characterization tools protect traditional local cultivars in Europe

1.27  Buying seeds, saving seeds: Stokes Seeds matches its customers' donations to the Global Crop Diversity Trust

1.28  Rice research gets a leg up on understanding plant reactions to environment

1.29  North Dakota State University grades soybean varieties for iron deficiency chlorosis

1.30  Drought-tolerant cowpea can improve crop yield in arid West Africa

1.31  Scientists identify a gene in plants that is responsible for controlling the size of seeds

1.32  Scientists plot genetic ploy against grain pest the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum)

1.33  Plant experts unveil DNA barcode

1.34  Drought resistance explained - structural study at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory reveals how plants respond to water shortages

1.35  Drought tolerant plant gene discovered

1.36  University of California, Riverside plant scientist’s research spawns new discoveries showing how crops survive drought

1.37  Flemish researchers develop revolutionary technology for use in plant breeding

1.38  New map of variation in maize genetics holds promise for developing new varieties

1.39  Maize cell wall genes identified, giving boost to biofuel research

1.40  Governments of Canada and Saskatchewan support new DNA-based wheat identification technology

1.41  ARS scientist launches project to create a genomics "toolkit" to help plant breeders develop new varieties of sweetpotato

1.42  Protecting the future: how plant stem cells guard against genetic damage

1.43  Researchers complete draft genome sequence for cassava

1.44  Breeders can enhance nutritional value of pumpkins and squash using inexpensive colorimeter method

1.45  Cucumber genome published: guide to pumpkin, melon and plant vascular system



2.01  Creating Abundance: Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development




(None submitted)



4.01  Generation Challenge Programme, Genotyping Support Service (GSS): 3rd Call for proposals

4.02  Call for Proposals: Collecting Award Scheme of the Global Crop Diversity Trust

4.03  Graduate Assistantship, offered in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University



5.01  Maize Genetic Resources Specialist – Post-Doctoral Fellow or Scientist

5.02  Position available: Corn Commercial Breeder, Thailand

5.03  Position available:  Corn Commercial Breeder, Philippines

5.04  Position available:  Corn Line Development Breeders, Indonesia









1.01  World's leading food security experts warn that failure to focus on agriculture will undermine the success of the next global climate agreement and worsen global hunger


Rome, Italy

18 November 2009

Alarmed by a substantial oversight in the global climate talks leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next month, more than 60 of the world’s most prominent agricultural scientists and leaders underscored how the almost total absence of agriculture in the agreement could lead to widespread famine and food shortages in the years ahead.


Signatories of a statement issued by leading thinkers in development include five World Food Prize laureates, former heads of development agencies, former Ministers of Agriculture, and heads of the world's leading alliance of agricultural research centers.


“No credible or effective agreement to address the challenges of climate change can ignore agriculture and the need for crop adaptation to ensure the world’s future food supplies,” according to the statement.


Crop adaptation refers to agriculture’s ability to withstand climate change. Farmers will encounter problems they have never before experienced: much greater weather variability, higher average temperatures, increased numbers of extremely hot days, shorter growing seasons, higher solar radiation, much greater moisture stress, added salinity from salt water incursion and irrigation systems, and new combinations of pests and diseases.


“The negative impact of climate change on agriculture, and thus on the production of food, could well place at risk all other efforts to mitigate and adapt to new climate conditions,” the signatories said. “The magnitude of change now being forecast, even in relatively optimistic scenarios, is historically unprecedented, and our agricultural systems are still largely unprepared to face it.”


The group called on negotiators to recognize the importance of crop diversity conservation and use as an essential element in the commitments they will make for climate change adaptation.


"It may be becoming more widely understood that agriculture will have to adapt to climate change, but just because it has to adapt, it does not mean it will," said Gebisa Ejeta, winner of this year's World Food Prize and Distinguished Professor of Agronomy at Purdue University. "Adapting crops to unprecedented conditions cannot be taken for granted. It requires rigorous research and complex, painstaking work and a serious commitment of public funding. This needs to be made an urgent priority for the sake of the billions whose future depends upon it."


Studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) predict that climate change will have dramatic impacts on food production. Some estimate that crop yields in some regions could drop by as much as one third in just two decades without immediate investments in developing new crop varieties.


"Getting agriculture ready for such dramatically new growing environments is not a trivial matter," warned the signatories. "For agriculture to adapt, crops must adapt, but there is no 'climate change gene,' no single characteristic, that can ensure that they will retain, much less increase, their productivity in new climates. Concerted adaptation efforts will be required crop-by-crop, country-by-country, and internationally.”


The basis for crop adaptation is the genetic diversity found in more than 1500 seedbanks around the world. This irreplaceable resource is under threat due to poor funding and institutional politics around access to seed collections. The issue of crop diversity received worldwide attention in 2008 after the opening of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a fail-safe, safety back-up facility in the Arctic.


"Current institutional and financial arrangements, however, are inadequate to guarantee conservation of this priceless resource,” according to the statement. “Indeed, diversity is being lost—diversity that almost certainly holds the key to future crop adaptation. Moreover, the time required to integrate new traits into crop varieties can be a decade or more. We cannot wait for disaster before initiating action."


The group is calling for small investments now that could easily ensure the availability of crop diversity. “Billions of dollars were promised this year for food security. Billions will likely be promised for climate change at Copenhagen. We ask the negotiators at Copenhagen to recognise how interwoven these issues are. Without effective investment in agricultural adaptation right now, future food security will quickly fall victim to climate change,” said Cary Fowler, Executive Director, Global Crop Diversity Trust.


To view the full statement and list of signatories, please visit




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1.02 How to feed the world


Business as usual will not do it


19 November 2009


IN 1974 Henry Kissinger, then America’s secretary of state, told the first world food conference in Rome that no child would go to bed hungry within ten years. Just over 35 years later, in the week of another United Nations food summit in Rome, 1 billion people will go to bed hungry.


This failure, already dreadful, may soon get worse. None of the underlying agricultural problems which produced a spike in food prices in 2007-08 and increased the number of hungry people has gone away. Between now and 2050 the world’s population will rise by a third, but demand for agricultural goods will rise by 70% and demand for meat will double. These increases are in a sense good news in that they are a result of rising wealth in poor and middle-income countries. But they will have to happen without farmers clearing large amounts of new land (there is some scope for expansion, but not much) or using up lots more water (in parts of the world, water supplies are stretched to their limit or beyond). Moreover, they will take place while farmers also wrestle with the consequences of climate change, which, on balance, will do more harm than good to farmland round the world.


It may be too late to avoid another bout of price rises. Despite a global recession and the largest grain harvest on record in 2008, food prices are heading up again. Still, countries have a brief window of opportunity in which to set long-term policy goals without being distracted by panic measures. They need to do two things: invest in the productive capacity of agriculture and improve the operation of food markets.


Governments have done one but not the other. Over the past year investment has risen faster than anyone expected. But distrust of markets and a reaction against farm trade are growing. Unless governments restrain those impulses, they will undermine the gains from rising investment.


The quarter-century slumber

For most of the past 25 years, investment in agriculture has declined relentlessly. In 2005 most developing countries were investing only around 5% of public revenues in farming. The share of Western aid going to agriculture fell by around three-quarters between 1980 and 2006. This disinvestment laid waste to productivity. During the Green Revolution of the 1960s, staple-crop yields were rising by 3-6% a year. Now they are rising by only 1-2% a year; in poor countries, yields are flat.


Fortunately, the food-price spike of 2007-08 shocked governments out of their quarter-century of neglect. The World Bank and many rich countries have doubled the money they put into poor countries’ farming. In the poor countries themselves, agriculture has gone from being a sideshow for the government—something the minister of agriculture does—into its main event, which everyone needs to worry about. This is as it should be: farming is far and away the single most important economic activity in most poor places.


Some of the new splurge of public money is going on safety-net programmes for poor farmers, which are justified on anti-poverty grounds: three-quarters of the world’s poorest live in rural areas. But the money will pay dividends in the long run only if it improves farmers’ access to market. Lack of reliable markets is the biggest barrier to rural development, since without them farmers have little incentive to grow more. So the increase in rural road-building is welcome, as are measures to improve the operations of local markets by (for instance) spreading price information and building grain stores. There is also a case for temporarily subsidising better seeds and fertilisers in places where local markets are failing to provide them: this is an example of correcting market failure.


Boosting world food production without gobbling up land and water will also require technology to play a larger role in the next 40 years than it has in the past 40, when people have been more or less living off the gains of the Green Revolution. Technology means a lot of things: drip irrigation, no-till farming, more efficient ways to use fertilisers and kill pests. But one way of raising yields stands out: developing genetically modified (GM) crops that, for example, use less water. Here, too, public bodies can overcome resistance. GM crops may be more acceptable if they come from government institutes than big companies or if the seeds are given away, rather than sold (which may be why Monsanto is doing that; see article).


I’m not all right, Jack

There is, however, a danger inherent in all this government activity: the temptation of self-reliance. The food-price rise of 2007-08 made all countries worry about “food security”—quite rightly. But over the past year “food security” (ensuring everyone has enough to eat) has shaded into “food self-sufficiency” (growing it all yourself). Self-sufficiency has become a common policy goal in many countries (see article).


In itself, self-sufficiency is not bad. If poor countries have a comparative advantage in producing their own food, they should do so (and that will often be the case). The problem is that the new rhetoric of self-sufficiency coincides with a growing distrust of markets and trade. Grain importers no longer trust world markets to supply their needs. “Land grabbers” are snapping up land abroad to use for food production. Everywhere, governments are more involved in farming through input subsidies. In these conditions self-sufficiency could easily sprout protective walls.


That would be in nobody’s interest. As Europeans have demonstrated over decades, pursuing self-sufficiency above all else is extremely wasteful. Self-sufficiency would also lock in patterns of agricultural production just when climate change is affecting different parts of the world differently, making trade between them all the more important.

The food-price trauma of 2007-08 is persuading some countries to say that they need to divert part of their wealth to subsidise food so they can be self-sufficient and avoid future crises. But the demands of feeding 9 billion people in 2050 tell a different story: farming needs to be as efficient as possible. That requires markets and trade. Investing in agriculture is a boon; rejecting agricultural markets would be a disaster.


Source: The Economist, 19 November 2009

Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz


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1.03  FAO World Summit on Food Security boosts agriculture to end hunger


Rome, Italy

18 November 2009

The three-day World Summit on Food Security ended here today after committing the international community to investing more in agriculture and to eradicating hunger at the earliest date.


FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, who hosted the event, said the Summit marked "an important step towards the achievement of our common objective - a world free from hunger".


But, he declared "to my regret the official Declaration adopted by the Summit this past Monday contains neither measurable targets nor specific deadlines which would have made it easier to monitor implementation..."


FAO had proposed setting a target of 2025 for the total eradication of hunger from the face of the earth and increasing Official Development Assistance to agriculture to $44 billion per year for investment in developing-country agriculture and rural infrastructure.


Important commitments

At the same time, however, the Summit produced four important commitments, Diouf said.

1.      A firm pledge to renew efforts to achieve the First Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger by 2015, and eradicating hunger from the world at the earliest date.

2.      A pledge to improve international coordination and the governance of food security through a profound reform of FAO's Committee on World Food Security (CFS) which would become a central component of the Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition. Broadened to include stakeholders from both the public and private sector and non-governmental organizations, and elevated to ministerial level, the CFS would coordinate international efforts against hunger as well as take rapid and informed decisions on global food issues. It will be assisted in that task by an international high-level panel of experts.

3.      A promise to reverse the downward trend in domestic and international funding for agriculture, food security and rural development in developing countries and significantly increase their share in public development aid.

4.      A decision to promote new investments in agricultural production and productivity in developing countries in order to reduce poverty and achieve food security for all.


"I am convinced that together we can eradicate hunger from our planet," Diouf declared. "But we must move from words to actions."


"Let us do it for a more prosperous, more just, more equitable and more peaceful world. But above all, let us do it quickly because the poor and the hungry cannot wait," he added.


The Summit adopted Five Rome Principles for Sustainable Global Food Security including:

1.      invest in country-owned plans channeling resources to well-designed and results-based programmes and partnerships; 

2.      foster strategic coordination at all levels to improve governance, promote better allocation of resources and avoid duplication;

3.      strive for a twin-track approach to food security including both short-term emergency and long-term development measures;

4.      work to improve the efficiency, coordination and effectiveness of multilateral institutions; and

5.      ensure sustained and substantial commitment by all partners to investment in agriculture and food security and nutrition.


Climate change

The Summit also agreed to "proactively face the challenges of climate change to food security and the need for adaptation of, and mitigation in agriculture... with particular attention to small agricultural producers and vulnerable populations."


In addition to Member Nations and representatives of international and regional organizations, who all addressed the Plenary, meetings were held in the days preceding the Summit to ensure that all voices were heard. A Private-Sector Meeting was held on 12 and 13 November in Milan, a Parliamentary Day was organized on 13 November in Rome and a Civil Society Forum took place in Rome from 14 to 16 November. Statements from all three events were read to the Summit Plenary.


Sixty Heads of State and Government and 191 Ministers from 182 countries and the European Community attended the Summit. Personalities included Pope Benedict XVI who said in his address the rules governing international trade should be separated from "the logic of profit viewed as an end in itself".




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1.04 Bracing for a ‘perfect storm’ that looms large over the poor


In the run up to the world leaders meeting on climate change in Copenhagen, ICRISAT highlights solutions to global warming for poor farmers in semi-arid tropics


Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh, India

10 November 2009

The world must brace itself for a brewing ‘perfect storm’ – a confluence of crises brought about by climate change, desertification, high energy demand and an exploding population. This wake up call comes from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) which has a repository of crop varieties that could successfully grow in a warmer world.


The poorest of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are particularly vulnerable to the perils of climate change. Dr William Dar Director General of ICRISAT says, “The world is facing a perfect storm, with a number of huge problems converging around us. At the center of this storm are the poor people, who depend on agriculture for survival.”


According to Dr Dar, warmer temperatures, persistent droughts and erratic rainfall could send poor farmers right back to the bottom of the development ladder. Increasing population and poverty would intensify this perfect storm, and the suffering that it causes.


Scientists predict that climate change will adversely affect agricultural productivity and human well-being. Crop yields are expected to decline, particularly at lower latitudes in the dry and tropical regions, increasing the risk of hunger.


On the other hand, agriculture releases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, amounting to around 10 to12% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually. The challenge is therefore to design an agriculture that adapts to the changes in climate, as well as reduces greenhouse emissions.


Banking on its scientific work, ICRISAT has solutions that could help reduce the vulnerability of dryland farmers, and increase their resilience to the perfect storm.


To begin with, ICRISAT works on crops (pearl millet, sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut) that have several natural advantages in a changing climate. For example, pearl millet and sorghum have high salinity tolerance.


Moreover, ICRISAT has pearl millet hybrids that can flower and produce seeds even in hot weather and improved sorghum lines capable of producing good yields in warmer temperatures. ICRISAT’s short-duration groundnut varieties have good drought tolerance. Likewise, ICRISAT has developed extra-early (maturing in 85 to 90 days) and super-early (maturing in 75 to 80 days) chickpea varieties that can escape terminal drought.


Climate change is expected to expand drylands by 11 percent, and scientists predict this will increase the frequency and severity of droughts across the globe. While fighting the spread of deserts, ICRISAT’s integrated natural resource management strategy also benefits dryland farmers, as pursued through conservation agriculture in Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Sahelian Eco-farm in West and Central Africa.


In the nutrient-starved soils of sub-Saharan Africa, ICRISAT is increasing agricultural productivity with fertilizer microdosing, which ensures that the right quantity of scarce fertilizer is given to the crop at the right time.


With better crop varieties and agricultural practices, ICRISAT helps dryland farmers cope well with climate change. Above all, ICRISAT has signed the Copenhagen Communiqué for a globally equitable deal on climate change.


ICRISAT agrees with the University of Cambridge, the force behind the Communiqué: “The problem of climate change is solvable – many of the technologies required are available today while others can be developed if the right incentives are in place. The policies needed are relatively clear, and the costs of transition are manageable, even in the current economic climate. The one thing we do not have is time. Delay is not an option.”


Source: SeedQuest .com


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1.05  Variety choice critical with increased climate variability



24 November 2009

GRDC, The Crop Doctor

This harvest, growers around Australia will spend time critically evaluating the performance of grain varieties in terms of yield, disease resistance and seasonal performance.


While there have been many new varieties on display during recent spring field days, it can often be hard to decipher which cultivars are going to be best suited to particular regions and more importantly, will boost yields and income.


Because of this difficulty, some grain growers may be reluctant to take up these new options, even though they may outperform more popular older varieties.


The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) has invested heavily in national variety trials aimed at providing robust and independent information about the potential future value of emerging cultivars.


NSW Industry and Investment cereal specialist Frank McRae says there are several key characteristics that growers can consider in evaluating variety performance for next year’s cropping program. These include:

·         Grain quality

·         This is a key factor in variety performance because of the direct link to a grower’s ability to achieve premiums for grain in the market place. When choosing varieties, growers should consider the latest quality classifications for their region and the ability of the chosen variety to consistently meet quality targets. A variety may produce high screenings in one region but meet receival standards elsewhere.

·         Disease resistance

·         Growers need to decide on the level of disease resistance and tolerances required and identify their strategies to manage major diseases. This is important because disease conditions change every year depending on the previous year’s climate and rotations. The main issue is to consider whether resistance or tolerance is needed for one major disease in the region, or whether resistance/tolerance to a combination of diseases is required.

·         Maturity suited to sowing time

·         Recent warmer and drier winters has increased growers’ focus on shorter quicker maturing varieties. A range of maturities are needed in a cropping program to take advantage of early sowing opportunities as well as late seasonal breaks.

·         Seedling vigour and coleoptile length

·         Understanding which varieties have longer coleoptile length is becoming increasingly important, particularly as farming systems evolve and use of moisture-seeking seeding technologies increase. Considering the seed source in variety selection is also important. Seed from irrigated plants generally has longer coleoptile length than seed of the same variety grown in a dryland environment. Dwarfing genes in certain varieties have the disadvantage of short coleoptile length.


Franks says other elements growers can consider on a region-by-region basis are resistance to lodging, shattering and pre-harvest sprouting, threshability and tolerance to soil acidity, herbicides and frost.


Franks says getting the variety selection process right can enhance changes growers are already making to their farming systems, such as changing to wider row sowing and improving crop establishment. Improved agronomic management combined with variety selection is part of the package.


He warned growers to not rely on variety trial results of only one season but rather to persevere with potential options because of the major impacts the environment and climatic conditions can have on emerging varieties. Giving varieties a chance to perform over successive years will give a more accurate picture of performance.


Due to recent dry seasons, trials in the past few years have not tested the extent of yield gains possible. While new varieties have higher potential, this potential may not have been expressed because of the seasons.


Peter Reading is the Managing Director of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).


More news from: GRDC (Grains Research & Development Corporation)




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1.06  Declaration from the Second World Seed Conference


Responding to the challenges of a changing world: the role of new plant varieties and high quality seed in agriculture


4 November 2009

Urgent government measures and increased public and private investment in the seed sector are required for the long term if agriculture is to meet the challenge of food security in the context of population growth and climate change.


Governments are strongly encouraged to implement a predictable, reliable, user friendly and affordable regulatory environment to ensure that farmers have access to high quality seed at a fair price. In particular, FAO member countries are urged to participate in the internationally harmonized systems of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), the International Treaty on Plant and Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA). Participation in those systems will facilitate the availability of germplasm, new plant varieties and high quality seed for the benefit of their farmers, without which their ability to respond to the challenges ahead will be substantially impaired. The conference emphasized the important role of both the public and the private sectors to meet the challenges ahead and the benefits when the two work together. The Second World Seed Conference emphasized that agriculture needs to provide sustainable food security and economic development in the context of current and future global challenges. The Conference highlighted the critical role of new plant varieties and high quality seed in providing a dynamic and sustainable agriculture that can meet those challenges. It concluded that governments need to develop and maintain an enabling environment to encourage plant breeding and the production and distribution of high quality seed.The  global seed market has grown rapidly in recent years and is currently worth around US$37 billion. Cross border seed trade was estimated to be worth around US$6.4 billion in 2007. The Second World Seed Conference was held at FAO headquarters from September 8-10 and organized in collaboration with the OECD, UPOV, ITPGRFA, ISTA, ISF.


Conference conclusions:

·         Plant breeding has significantly contributed and will continue to be a major contributor to increased food security whilst reducing input costs, greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. With that, plant breeding significantly mitigates the effects of population growth, climate change and other social and physical challenges.

·         ITPGRFA is an innovative instrument that aims at providing food security through conservation, as well as facilitated access to genetic resources under its multilateral system of access and benefit-sharing. The multilateral system represents a reservoir of genetic traits, and therefore constitutes a central element for the achievement of global food security.

·         Intellectual property protection is crucial for a sustainable contribution of plant breeding and seed supply. An effective system of plant variety protection is a key enabler for investment in breeding and the development of new varieties of plants. A country’s membership of UPOV is an important global signal for breeders to have the confidence to introduce their new varieties in that country.

·         Seed quality determination, as established by ISTA, on seed to be supplied to farmers is an important measure for achieving successful agricultural production. The establishment or maintenance of an appropriate infrastructure on the scientific as well as technical level in developed and developing countries is highly recommended.

·         The development of reliable and internationally acceptable certificates, through close collaboration between all stakeholders along the supply chain for varietal certification, phyto-sanitary measures and laboratory testing, contributes substantially to the strong growth in international trade and development of seed markets to the benefit of farmers.

Complete declaration (PDF)


The conference was held at the FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy, September 8-10, 2009 and was organised by ISTA together with the other main international bodies involved with seed - FAO, OECD, UPOV and ISF.


The presentations and speeches given during the Conference are still available for download from the Conference website.


The Conference Proceedings will be available at the beginning of December.

Conference website




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1.07 The winners of African Crop Science Society AWARDS 2009


At the 9th African Crop Science Society conference, Cape Town, South Africa (Sept 28 – Oct 01, 2009), the LOC proved that each paper and poster can be evaluated. The awards consist of a certificate and a cash amount. At the same time two ACSS Council Awards were presented to outstanding scientists: Below a list of winners of prizes this year, who received their awards during the conference, South Africa, in the first of October 2009, a great congratulations to all of them:



NAME (Presenting author)


Best Paper

Mr Silvano Assanga

Combining ability of early quality protein maize (QPM) inbred lines adapted to the mid-altitude ecology of East Africa.

2nd Best Paper

Mrs Annette Collett

The protection of agricultural land through the use of supporting information systems.

Best Poster

Mrs Jeannie van Biljon

The effect of rotational crops on different nematode species in an organic cotton farming system.

2nd Best Poster

Ms Rhoda Nungo

Promoting finger millet by partners along the value chain in Western Kenya.

Cassava Research

(Nassar Prize)

Ms Teddy Amuge

Genotyping Ugandan Cassava breeding populations using SSR markers associated with resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease.

Resource Poor

Ms C M Onyango

Feasibility of commercial production of Amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus) leaf vegetable by small-scale farmers in Kenya.



1-To a woman researcher for outstanding contributions to crop production in Africa.

Prof. Agnes  Wakesho Mwang`ombe, Kenya

2-To a scientist for outstanding contribution to crop production in Africa.

Prof. Kallunde Pilly Sibugo, Tanzania


Contributed by Kasem Zaki Ahmed

Faculty of Agriculture, Minia University, El-Minia, Egypt 


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1.08  Africa Rice Center researcher wins the 2009 Japan International Award for Young Agricultural Researchers


Cotonou, Bénin

9 November 2009

Amos Onasanya, a Nigerian national from the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), has just received the 2009 Japan International Award for Young Agricultural Researchers, for his contribution to the molecular and pathotyping characterization of major rice diseases and insect pests in Africa.


He is one of the three recipients of this prestigious award this year, according to the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS).


The Japan International Award for Young Agricultural Researchers is given by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Government of Japan, in recognition of the contribution of young agricultural researchers to technological development for the improvement of food security and the environment for developing countries.


“This is a tribute to our Crop Protection Unit,” said AfricaRice Director Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck, thanking MAFF and JIRCAS for the recognition. “We are immensely proud of Amos Onasanya’ achievement, particularly his excellent publication record in refereed journals.”


In Africa, highly destructive diseases and insect pests, such as blast, rice yellow mottle virus, bacterial leaf blight and African rice gall midge, severely affect rice production in rainfed and irrigated ecologies. The use of resistant varieties is the most economical and effective way of addressing these constraints in resource-poor farmers’ fields.


As part of the overall effort of the AfricaRice Crop Protection Unit carried out with financial and technical support from Japan (MAFF and JIRCAS), Germany (BMZ/GTZ), United Kingdom (DFID) and France (Agropolis), Amos Onasanya helped characterize the population structures of these diseases and pests, which is a prerequisite for the development of rice varieties with efficient and durable resistance.


The Award ceremony was held on 4 November at the University of Tokyo, Japan, with presentations by the award winners on their work.



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1.09  The Philippines: 15 pilot areas in Eastern Visayas soon to harvest flood-resistant rice


Tacloban City, The Philippines

9 November 2009

Farmers in the 15 flood prone pilot areas in Eastern Visayas will soon reap the first harvest in their first attempt to plant submergence tolerant rice genotypes, Department of Agriculture Region 8 Executive Director Leo Caneda informed.


Director Caneda said that the Department of Agriculture has chosen 15 flood-prone rice farms in Region 8 for propagation and cultivation of 16 submergence tolerant rice genotypes.


The 16 submergence tolerant rice genotypes can withstand a two-week flood unlike the usual varieties that are damaged after only three days of being submerged in floodwaters, RED Caneda disclosed.


Of the 15 pilot areas, about 12 are farmer-managed. These include 6 farm-lands in Palo; 3 in Sta. Fe, 1 in Pastrana; 1 in Tacloban City; and 1 in Babatngon, all in the province of Leyte.


Three pilot areas are researcher-managed, RED Caneda added. These are in Sacme, Tanauan, Leyte; 1 in Dolores, Eastern Samar and 1 in Northern Samar.


Last week, a Field Day was conducted at Barangay Sacme, Tanauan, Leyte which was attended by representative from DA Region 8. The highlight of the Field Day is the report of the farmer that stated which of the varieties well thriving so far and what methods he used in propagating the varieties.


God-willing, the farmers in the pilot areas will have their first harvest of submergence tolerant rice before the end of November or early December.


Based on the experiences of the pilot areas, the Department of Agriculture will be able to determine which of the 16 genotypes is best for the Eastern Visayas Region, Director Caneda said.


RED Caneda disclosed that 11 % of the Regions total farm lands or about 16,720 hectares of rice land in Eastern Visayas are vulnerable to flooding.


These vulnerable rice lands in the Region are being targeted for cultivation of 16 submergence tolerant rice genotypes, the good Director added.


"Most of the farmers in these areas depend on rice farming for their livelihood and majority of them do not have access to up-to-date information,' he said.


Director Caneda stressed that by planting the new genotypes of rice will reduce production cost and income losses of farmers due to frequent to frequent devastating typhoons and flooding.


Director Cañeda disclosed that in June to November 2008, a study was conducted by DA at Brgy. Cangumbang, Palo, Leyte and Brgy. Buntay, Oras, Eastern Samar to find out which among of the 16 varieties are tallest, matures early and highest yield.


Participatory varietal selection-researcher managed was conducted in farmer's fields. Called as "mother trial,' the activity evaluates in detail the adaptability of the different rice genotypes.


Three to four genotypes were found to be promising in the region are now being tested by the farmer themselves in their respective fields, Director Caneda said.


Eastern Visayas, along with Bicol and Caraga regions, has been identified by the Department of Agriculture (DA) as area most prone to flashfloods.


The first submergence-tolerant rice variety in the Philippines was released during the 27th Council Secretariat Meeting on July 7 this year.


The "Submarino 1' variety is a non-genetically engineered rice plant that can survive, grow and develop even after 10 days under water, The variety was infused with submergence tolerance gene (Sub1), which was discovered by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the University of California-Davis from an Indian rice variety FR13A.


"We are talking here of a potential near zero harvest to a harvest of three to four tons per hectare when farmers use this variety. This is a big bonanza for farmers and for additional rice supply in the market," RED Caneda said.


Farmers using this variety would spend less for fertilizer because farmlands would have more nutrients because of the "banlik (silt)' brought by floods, he said.


Source: Philippine Information Agency via


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1.10  US$300 million fund-raising campaign launched for rice food security in Asia



25 November 2009

News from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).


In the face of unrelenting pressure on Asian rice production, a US$300 million fund-raising campaign has been launched in Singapore to support rice research to help find sustainable solutions.


Organized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to mark its 50th anniversary in 2010, the five-year campaign has already raised $59 million, with just over $50 million being provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Although we obviously have a long way to go, we are very grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for giving the campaign such a strong philanthropic start,” said IRRI Director General Dr. Robert Zeigler.


He noted that already the campaign was developing a wide range of support from personal donations of $1,000 to larger gifts from big companies. “Rice is fundamental not just to Asian economies but also to Asian culture, so the people we are meeting are very motivated to provide support – I believe we already have another $20 to $25 million in the pipeline,” Dr. Zeigler said.


The campaign’s launch comes at a key time for rice production and food security in Asia and around the world. Rice prices are again approaching last year’s historic highs that caused social upheaval in some nations. A range of factors, including extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, put increasing pressure on production in countries such as India and the Philippines.


“There is no doubt that rice research can help,” Dr. Zeigler said. “For more than four decades, rice production has steadily increased in Asia, pushed ahead by new varieties developed through research that has helped ensure enough rice for all Asians. We have the knowledge. What we need more than anything is to make the necessary investments, especially with the looming threat of climate change.”


Although the campaign has received some government support, such as a seed grant from Singapore’s Economic Development Board, its main focus is on philanthropy in Asia and support from individuals, organizations, and companies from around the region.


“IRRI was founded by the philanthropy of the U.S.-based Rockefeller and Ford Foundations in 1960,” said Dr. Zeigler. “We would now like to urge the great philanthropists of Asia – of which there are many – to look at these examples and realize that rice is fundamental to the future of not only their families but also their nations and the entire region.”


To support the campaign, IRRI has established The IRRI Fund in Singapore as an international charitable organization and will also be active in Hong Kong. “We want to reach out to all Asians and ask for their support as rice research touches the lives of all rice consumers,” Dr. Zeigler added. ”After all, in Asia, rice is life.”




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1.11  AGRA and NEPAD form historic partnership to rapidly increase food production and achieve food security in Africa


Africa's two leading farmer-focused initiatives join forces to unlock the potential of African agriculture as engine of economic growth


Abuja, Nigeria

9 November 2009

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) today announced a groundbreaking partnership that will link African government commitments to agricultural development with concrete programs in seeds, soil health, policy, and markets.


“This partnership will enable African countries to close the gap between intention and action on behalf of smallholder farmers,” said Mr Kofi A Annan, Chairman of AGRA and former Secretary-General of the United Nations. “NEPAD has mobilized public support among African governments to prioritize and invest in agriculture. AGRA develops and disseminates the technologies farmers need; bolsters policy reform; builds markets and involves the private sector. Our combined efforts will be a strong force for change across Africa.”


Based on the Memorandum of Understanding, the two organizations will join forces to work directly with national governments and partners across the agricultural value chain in a comprehensive effort to increase the productivity of smallholder farmers growing Africa’s staple food crops. They will focus particularly on plans to develop high potential breadbasket areas of African countries.


"An African strategy that increases the productivity of smallholder farmers is crucial to reaching our goal of 6 percent annual agricultural growth," said Dr Ibrahim Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of NEPAD, who signed the Memorandum with AGRA.


NEPAD works closely with African governments to implement the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), a framework to accelerate economic growth and boost food security through greater investments in agriculture. Endorsed by African leaders, CAADP calls on African governments to allocate 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture, in order to achieve 6 percent annual agricultural growth.


AGRA is a partnership-based organization whose integrated programs in seeds, soil health, market access and policy work to increase the productivity of smallholder farmers and transform African agriculture into a highly productive, efficient, and sustainable system.


"African leaders have unified behind the CAADP vision and have taken bold steps to put agriculture at the center of the development agenda," said Dr Namanga Ngongi, President of AGRA. "This vision has galvanized partners around the world to support agriculture. Our partnership will accelerate CAADP’s implementation at the country level."


The new partners will work together through CAADP’s national Roundtable processes, which will direct investments toward implementing policies and programs that strengthen smallholder farmers’ access better soil management techniques and improved seeds and fertilizers, increase their access to markets, and build the capacity of African institutions to advance agricultural research and to develop home-grown, evidence-based agricultural policies.


Building on Progress

“We see CAADP as a historic development in charting new agricultural pathways for Africa”, said Prof. Richard Mkandawire, Agriculture Adviser at NEPAD and Head of CAADP. “We are therefore delighted that AGRA is joining forces with NEPAD to work hand-in-hand in enhancing agricultural productivity and food security at the country-level”.


Since CAADP’s establishment in 2003, some African countries have moved to honor their CAADP commitments by providing at least 10 percent of their budgetary allocations towards agriculture. These countries include Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Mali, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria.


"It is no surprise that countries that have met their CAADP commitments are also showing signs of greater food security and stronger economic growth," said Dr Akinwumi Adesina, Vice President of Policy and Partnerships at AGRA.


For example, government policies, including seed and fertilizer vouchers for poor farmers, have helped transform Malawi from a net importer to a net exporter of maize over the last four years, and fueled a national economic growth rate of seven percent. In Rwanda, food production grew by 15% in 2007 and 16% in 2008, as the country embarked on an ambitious green revolution program that has increased farmers' access to quality seed and fertilizers.


Africa must lead its own development through home-grown policies that correspond to its priorities. Such policies will help to achieve economic growth needed to lift millions out of poverty," said Adesina. "This new partnership will build on successes and support new efforts in other breadbasket regions of Africa. Now it is time for our words to match up with our deeds.”


Since 2006, AGRA’s work in 14 African countries has already benefited hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers, who now have better access to improved seeds of staple crops, to fertilizers, to markets, to finance, and to improved soil and water management. In Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, for example, 295,000 farmers are being trained in fertilizer micro-dosing, and efficient and sustainable way to improve the soil and the yield of food staples such as sorghum. At the same time, AGRA efforts have led to the release of three high-yielding sorghum varieties in Mali, and networks of village-based agro-dealers are reaching farmers throughout the area.


To evaluate such efforts and scale up an ever-growing number of successes, AGRA and NEPAD announced that they will co-convene an African Green Revolution Forum in 2010. It will bring together all partners to assess progress and determine the investments needed to strengthen the value chain and support smallholder farmers.


“We welcome this partnership which will better coordinate and enhance development efforts in Africa,” said Gareth Thomas MP, the United Kingdom’s Minister of State for International Development. “This collaboration will make an important contribution to the achievement of Africa’s Green Revolution, food security and prosperity."


More news from: AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa)




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1.12  Gates Foundation makes $1 million contribution to Texas A&M Borlaug scholars fund


Contribution will support training of future international ag leaders


College Station, Texas, USA

5 November 2009

An endowment contribution from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to honor Dr. Norman Borlaug, “the father of the Green Revolution,” will help the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences train future international agricultural leaders.

The foundation’s $1 million endowment contribution to the memorial Borlaug International Scholars fund will be used to build productive partnerships between students, scientists and farmers in developing countries and U.S. land-grant universities. This gift was the first major donation to the memorial fund, which was established through the nonprofit Texas A&M Foundation.


"The grant to the Borlaug International Scholars Fund will allow students with demonstrated commitment to fighting global hunger further their educations,” said Dr. Don Doering, a program officer in the Agricultural Development initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Training future generations of scientists is crucial to helping millions of small farmers and their families lift themselves out of hunger and poverty with new knowledge and tools.”


Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who launched the Green Revolution in the 1960s, was a distinguished professor at Texas A&M from 1984 until his death Sept. 12 at age 95. He also was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work, and has been credited with saving more lives than anyone in history.


“Developing nations need the help of agricultural scientists, researchers, administrators and others in finding ways to feed ever-growing populations," Borlaug stated earlier this year when calling for a second Green Revolution. "... Land-grant universities help achieve a more lasting worldwide food security by providing technical assistance, educational outreach, improved technology and agricultural practices, scientific training and research, and hands-on instruction.”


Prior to his death, Borlaug and his family worked with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Texas A&M Foundation to create the fund as a means to help fulfill his vision of ending world hunger.


“This generous gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will honor Dr. Borlaug’s memory by training the next generation of agricultural leaders who will work to fight hunger worldwide,” said Dr. Mark Hussey, vice chancellor and dean for agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M.


Distributions from the fund’s endowment will be used to provide awards to international students, giving them opportunities to study agriculture, rural development and related fields at Texas A&M and other U.S. land-grant universities.


“This gift demonstrates a commitment to fighting hunger and bringing greater food security to the world,” said Dr. Ed Davis, president of the Texas A&M Foundation. “It will give promising students the tools and motivation to be leaders in worldwide agricultural development. It honors a great visionary and ensures his critical work will continue. We’re honored to manage this endowment on behalf of Dr. Borlaug and his family.”


“My grandfather would be honored by this gift, which will help ensure there is a next generation of ‘hunger fighters’ who will be trained through the land-grant system,” said Julie Borlaug Larson, Borlaug’s granddaughter. “He was a product of the land-grant system and was a life-long supporter of that system and its ability to help feed the world.”


To donate to the Borlaug International Scholars Fund, contact the Texas A&M Foundation at 800-392-3310 or visit . Click the “Give Now” button and then select “College of Agriculture & Life Sciences” and “Borlaug International Scholars” from the drop-down menus.


The Texas A&M Foundation is a nonprofit organization that solicits and manages investments in Texas A&M academics and student leadership programs.




(See also Item 4.3: Graduate Assistantship, offered in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University)


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1.13  International plant breeding scientists from 13 countries descend upon the University of Western Australia


Western Australia

5 November 2009

The University of Western Australia will next week host 80 scientists from 13 countries whose skills will help revolutionise plant breeding over the coming decade.


The event OECD Genome Association OZ09 will take place at The University Club from Monday to Thursday November 9-12.


It is the first time that an OECD-sponsored conference has been staged in WA - a highly competitive process that has resulted in the OECD Co-operative Research Programme’s Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, funding 16 invited international speakers to travel to Perth for the occasion.


UWA joins with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) in co-sponsoring this event, the combined impact of which has led to what is arguably the most significant gathering of plant breeding specialists and those with related expertise, yet seen in Perth.


The conference keynote speaker is Prof Bruce Weir, Chair and Professor of Biostatistics, and Adjunct Professor of Genome Sciences, at the University of Washington, USA. Prof Weir is director of the GENEVA project, a consortium of 14 whole-genome studies in humans.


Conference convener Prof Wallace Cowling, UWA, said the invitation to Bruce Weir to spearhead this conference was motivated by his bio-statistical experience – considered to be invaluable in guiding plant scientists in the area of association genetics, which while highly developed in humans, is just starting in plants.


“One of the unique aspects of this conference is the link that is made between practical plant breeding and association genetics. Issues relating to GxE (genotype by environment) in plant breeding must be linked to association genetics to have a serious impact on plant breeding – and once these issues are resolved, I am convinced that a new revolution in plant breeding will quickly spread throughout the world of crop breeding.”


A full program is available at 


UWA is a research-based university of international standing, and promotes international collaboration of the type that will develop from this conference. UWA has recently started a new centre – the UWA International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research (ICPBER) – because we believe this area is immensely important for the future of agriculture and world prosperity. ICPBER offers training at MSc and PhD level in plant breeding, and promotes research in the area of association genetics and plant breeding. UWA offers international scholarships for PhD students, including special PhD scholarships in collaboration with India and China.




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1.14  News from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI): 50 years of rice science for a better world – and it's just the start


Los Baños, The Philippines

17 November 2009


Today the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) embarks on its 50th anniversary celebrations to acknowledge how rice science has helped address food security, and to emphasize the ongoing need for rice science to tackle the challenges of poverty and climate change.


Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand formally launched IRRI's 50th anniversary at IRRI’s headquarters in the Philippines, which will include 12 months of special activities to draw the world’s attention to rice – the crop that feeds half the world – and opportunities to achieve global food security.


“The plight of over 1 billion people stricken with poverty, 70% of whom live in Asia and depend on rice as their staple food, is our driving force for our research,” said IRRI’s Director General Dr. Robert Zeigler.


“We must find solutions to help increase rice yields and improve the sustainability of rice production because as rice yields increase the incidence of poverty decreases,” he added.


In fifty years, IRRI’s high-yielding rice varieties and other technologies, plus extensive training, have contributed to the doubling of average world rice yields. This has averted famine and prevented millions of hectares of natural ecosystems from being converted to farmland.


Since 1960, IRRI has also

·         Developed more than 457 rice breeding lines between 1966 and 2009 that have been released as 864 varieties in 78 countries.

·         Conserved and shared the genetic diversity of rice in the International Rice Genebank, which contains over 109,000 different types.

·         Managed pests and diseases through ecology, genetics, and education.

·         Shared our rice knowledge with our international rice research and extension partners.

·         Trained rice scientists at our training center and through our in-country training programs.

·         Promoted sustainable soil and nutrient management, and worked to counteract water scarcity.


“We are honored to have Princess Sirindhorn launch our 50th anniversary celebrations,” said Dr. Zeigler. “IRRI’s achievements would never have been possible without our many partners and donors from all over the world and we look forward to celebrating with them.”


“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 over the last 50 years,” he added.


Several major events are planned for the anniversary, including

·         The 50th annual meeting of IRRI’s Board of Trustees, 12-17 April 2010, followed by an alumni homecoming for all former IRRI staff and scholars, both in Los Baños, Philippines.

·         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.




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1.15  Danforth Plant Science Center receives $2.5 million grant to improve food security in Africa


St. Louis, Missouri, USA

17 November 2009

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center was recently awarded a five year $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development from the American people (USAID) to support the product development phase of virus resistant cassava research currently underway at the Center. The research is focused on developing virus resistant cassava varieties for East Africa, where the yearly harvest has been critically affected by infections spread by whiteflies and by cuttings—which is how cassava is commonly propagated by farmers.


Cassava is a starchy root crop that is a primary source of calories for more than 250 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa. Cassava has the ability to grow on marginal land where cereals and other crops do not grow well because it can tolerate periods of drought and can grow in low-nutrient soils. Roots are processed into a wide variety of pastes or flours or consumed freshly boiled.


Each year, cassava farmers lose at least 30 percent of their crop to cassava mosaic disease (CMD) alone. Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) can be responsible for a complete loss of the harvest. In the Lake Victoria area, more than seven million people are at risk of famine because of plant disease threats.


In a humanitarian project aimed at enhancing food security in Africa, researchers at the Danforth Center have teamed up with partners in Kenya and Uganda under the umbrella of VIRCA, which stands for “Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa”. Project partners are working to develop farmer-preferred cassava varieties with enhanced resistance to CMD and CBSD and deliver them to African smallholder farmers.


Researchers are evaluating different techniques that rely on enhancing the plant’s natural ability to defend itself against infection. One approach is to ‘teach’ the plant to recognize the virus when it first enters the plant, and destroy it before it can get established. A second technique depends on a naturally-occurring protein that can disable the virus.


At the appropriate time, all technologies developed by VIRCA and used to produce these plants will be freely transferred to African partners, so that they will be in a position to repeat the work if they wish to do so. No royalties or licensing fees will be paid to the research team or institutions that provided the new varieties.


“We are very grateful for this support from U.S.A.I.D. as the project moves from the laboratory and greenhouse stages to field trial evaluations in Africa,” said Paul Anderson, executive director, Office of International Programs, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.


More news from: Donald Danforth Plant Science Center




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1.16  Cornell University receives nearly $850,000 to improve specialty crops


Ithaca, New York

2 November 2009

For many of New York's 3,200 vegetable farmers, the risk of Phytophthora blight, a disease that attacks peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, snap beans and gourds, looms large.


A team of five researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), working on the world's only farm facility dedicated solely to the study of the pathogen, aims to arm farmers with blight-resistant varieties and crop management strategies to beat the disease.


The project is one of nine in CALS funded Oct. 15 with nearly $850,000 from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. With the grants, researchers will examine pest and disease management techniques, crop productivity and plant health in New York's specialty crops sector, which ranges from fruits and vegetables to honey, wine and maple products and generates $1.3 billion annually.


Cornell's Phytophthora team, led by Chris Smart, associate professor at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, plans to use the funds to share prevention tactics with growers through a new Web site, demonstration trials and other forms of outreach. On a nine-acre farm in Geneva, they will also test the use of cover crops and various techniques to limit the disease's severity, along with experiments on breeding blight-tolerant varieties.


"Our goal is to combat the disease by combining the most effective cultural practices and control strategies with the most tolerant vegetable varieties," said Smart.


Smart is joined by Helene Dillard, professor of plant pathology and director of Cornell Cooperative Extension; Bill Fry, professor of plant pathology and dean of the university faculty; Michael Mazourek, assistant professor of plant breeding and genetics; and Steve Reiners, associate professor of horticultural sciences in Geneva.


The other CALS-projects funded are to:

·         develop a strategy to reduce fire blight infection in apples (Herb Aldwinckle);

·         improve forecasting and management of strawberry powdery mildew (David Gadoury and Robert Seem);

·         improve the competitiveness of the snap bean industry in New York through resistance to aphid-transmitted viruses (Phil Griffiths);

·         increase use of integrated pest management tools in New York's Christmas tree industry (Elizabeth Margaret Lamb and Brian Eshenaur);

·         identify the health benefits of New York peaches and apricots (Olga Padilla-Zakour);

·         test new botrytis leaf blight onion lines and hybrids to better control disease on conventional and organic farms (Martha Mutschler and James Lorbeer);

·         advance adoption of reduced tillage systems in conventional and organic vegetables in New York (Anu Rangarajan); and

·         reduce production costs and improve wine quality through root zone management (Taryn Bauerle, Anna Katherine Mansfield and Jusine Vanden Heuvel).


"Specialty crops are incredibly valuable to the state's economy, environment and quality of life," said New York Commissioner of Agriculture Patrick Hooker. "These federal funds will allow some of the best and brightest in New York state to research new varieties, learn new techniques to control proven pests and share their newly acquired information with the rest of the industry so that all can benefit and prosper from these grants."


More news from: Cornell University




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1.17  Defra Wheat Genetic Improvement


Improving the environmental footprint of farming through crop genetics and targeted traits analysis


3 November 2009

United Kingdom



The UK government is committed to more sustainable agriculture but this vision is facing an ever expanding range of environmental, energy and climate change challenges. Wheat is grown on a larger area and is more valuable than any other arable crop in the UK. Established in 2003, the Wheat Genetic Improvement Network (WGIN) arose directly from a realisation in the early 2000s that over the preceding two decades there had been a widening disconnection between commercial plant breeding activities and publicly funded plant and crop research. The overall aim of WGIN is to generate pre-breeding material carrying novel traits for the UK breeding companies and to deliver accessible technologies, thereby ensuring the means are available to produce new, improved varieties. An integrated scientific 'core' which combines underpinning work on molecular markers, genetic and genomic research, together with novel trait identification, are being pursued to achieve this goal. The programme is managed by a team including representatives of the key UK research groups and breeders. They ensure the programme and its outputs are communicated to the wider scientific and end user communities, via a web site, a stakeholder forum, focused meetings and peer reviewed publications. WGIN liaises with equivalent operations overseas to ensure the programme is internationally competitive.


The initial WGIN project ran for five years (2003-2008) and achieved considerable scientific success. In addition, the sustained networking activities and the availability of datasets generated by the project led to the establishment of many new wheat genetic improvement projects, including some funded jointly by the public sector and industry. Those funded by early 2008 were summarised in the May 2008 Stakeholders Newsletter and since then two additional projects have been agreed. There is no doubt that WGIN has a direct and significant impact on re-establishing the relationship between commercial plant breeding activities and public funded plant and crop research. However significant hurdles remain which currently prevent commercial implementation of much new research which should help to reduce the energy requirement and environmental impact of the UK wheat crop.


This project

The new WGIN Core Project started in 2008 to provide genetic and molecular resources for research in other defra projects and for a wide range of wheat research projects in the UK. The resources under development include wheat genetic stocks, mapping populations, molecular markers and marker technologies, trait identification and evaluation, genomics and bioinformatics. The initially funded partners are the John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research and The University of Nottingham but support has been allocated for sub-contracted projects which will be awarded in open competition during 2009 (see website for details on the project –


Full newsletter:


Source: Source: WGIN stakeholder newsletter - October 2009


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1.18  International Institute of Tropical Agriculture to establish a Global Research Park in Nigeria to boost agricultural research in Africa


Ibadan, Nigeria

8 November 2009

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture on Saturday unveiled a strategy to boost agricultural research in Africa with plans to establish a Global Research Park in Nigeria.


The plan which has been approved by the institute will attract big international private sector research companies to the institute’s headquarters in Ibadan,” according to the Director General of IITA, Dr. Peter Hartmann, during IITA Open Day on Saturday in Ibadan.


“Already we have three international research centers working with us here, now we want to get the biggest private sector research companies to come here so that we make this place a Global Research Park,” he explains.


The park will create additional jobs for Africans and more importantly it will help improve crop productivity on the continent, improve livelihoods, boost food security, generate wealth and help fight poverty.


Some of the reasons which made Nigeria a destination of choice are the rich and vast agroecologies and its population of over 140 million people.


Hartmann says, “Nigeria allows IITA to work in the dry lands, forest lands and the wet lands. It has all the agro ecologies.”


While restating IITA plans to remain in Nigeria, the director-general says the institute has enjoyed a good relationship with the government of Nigeria.


“We have been here for almost 50 years and hope to be here in the years ahead. We have no intention of going anywhere,” he says.


Established in 1967, IITA has remained committed to providing solutions to Africa’s problems in eradicating hunger and poverty, thereby generating income and creating wealth for resource-poor farmers.


Besides, the institute has over the years provided jobs to hundreds of graduates across its stations in Nigeria.


Hartmann cited the revolution of cassava and soybeans in Nigeria as part of the achievements of the 42-year-old institute.


“Our research with Nigerian farmers has made Nigeria the number one producer of cassava in the world. Before that, Thailand was leading for over 25 years. To me, it is possible and that has been my message. When IITA introduced soybeans in Nigeria, people laughed at us but today, Nigeria is the number one producer of soybean in Africa, overtaking South Africa,” he says.


He commended the government of Nigeria for the efforts so far made in addressing epileptic power supply and poor infrastructure.


Africa has complex problems that plague agriculture and people's lives. We develop agricultural solutions with our partners to tackle hunger and poverty. Our award winning research for development (R4D) is based on focused, authoritative thinking anchored on the development needs of sub-Saharan Africa. We work with partners in Africa and beyond to reduce producer and consumer risks, enhance crop quality and productivity, and generate wealth from agriculture. IITA is an international non-profit R4D organization since 1967, governed by a Board of Trustees, and supported primarily by the CGIAR.


More news from: IITA (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture)




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1.19  University of Queensland researchers produce world’s first transgenic sweet sorghum


Queensland, Australia

9 November 2009

University of Queensland (UQ) researchers are leading green energy technology with confirmation of the world's first transgenic sweet sorghum plants.


Dr Anshu Raghuwanshi, a Research Fellow in UQ's School of Biological Sciences, said sorghum had advantages as a biofuel crop, but until now, tissue culture steps in the gene transfer process had proven difficult, despite international efforts in recent years.


Dr Raghuwanshi leads a research team that developed the gene transfer system for sweet sorghum, within an industry-collaborative R&D program led by UQ's Professor Robert Birch.


"Sweet sorghum is a promising biofuel crop with potential for cultivation on marginal lands due to relatively high drought tolerance, low water requirement, short growing season and easy propagation by seed," Dr Raghuwanshi said.


"The ability to use gene transfer to help produce improved varieties has significant commercial and industrial potential."


Professor Birch said that development of a transformation system opened up new avenues to tailor sweet sorghum varieties for optimum use in green energy, biofuel and biomaterial production.


"I expect it to be a part of the sustainable ‘green carbon' economy on a global scale into the future," Professor Birch said.


The work to develop the gene transfer system was undertaken in collaboration with CSR Sugar.


Sorghum was highly complementary to sugarcane in the expanding global need for renewable biofuel systems, Dr Raghuwanshi said.


The UQ team is now interested in further development with Australian and international sorghum industry participants.






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1.20  UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy programs


Shortage of qualified plant breeders has reached an alarming level of concern” said Mike Campbell, Executive Director, of the Seed Biotechnology Center of the University of California Davis, and we (SBC) continue to respond to this growing concern. As the Seed Biotechnology Center launches its first European class they are also preparing for the September 2010 Plant Breeding Academy Class III, at the University of California Davis.


This unique program builds on the success of the first two classes where 38 agricultural professionals—working in plant breeding and seed technology came together from 12 countries for 6 one-week sessions, held over the course of two years. Meeting daily during the one-week sessions students are able to share industry experience with each other and learn about the basics of plant breeding, as well as, latest research and advancements in public and private breeding programs. The program format is structured to allow working professionals to retain their jobs, participate in this program, and immediately apply the skills and knowledge gained when they return to work.


Anthony Tse, Owner, Clover Seed Co., Ltd., Hong Kong stated “The PBA is the perfect program for those already doing conventional breeding; but lack the academic background and training. This is why I sent Ruby over without hesitation. After two years she is working independently and progressing very well with our breeding work. The best part of the program is that the participants apply what they learn directly to their breeding careers.”


Adam Dick, Tomato Solutions, “A very…rigorous foundational course in plant breeding. All aspects of the discipline are given deep coverage, with professors providing additional personal insight. A small class size ensures every student is given tutor-like attention when needed. The Plant Breeding Academy has, without a doubt, given me powerful tools to tackle virtually any problem I might encounter in my career as a professional plant breeder.”


Applications are currently being accepted for the PBA Class III course that starts September 13, 2010.  Due to limited space, interested parties are encouraged to contact the Seed Biotechnology Center regarding application criteria and deadlines.


For more information on the UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy programs visit or contact Joy Patterson, 


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1.21 Intellectual property rights enforcement: panel calls for disclosure of industry methodology assessing losses to piracy


Geneva, Switzerland

9 November 2009

By Catherine Saez

Intellectual property rights enforcement has risen on the global trade and IP agenda, but greater transparency in the evaluation of piracy and assessments of broader social implications may be needed, according to speakers at a side event last week.


Co-organised by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the event presented the findings of recent research on piracy and IP enforcement in developing countries. The event was held during the 2-4 November World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Advisory Committee on Enforcement.


SSRC presented a research project focused on copyright piracy involving 25 researchers in seven countries and aimed at providing empirical research on piracy.


Industry research has “owned” the debate for a number of years, said Joe Karaganis, program director for media and democracy at SSRC. In the field of copyright, research is difficult and requires a global network, which is accessible by the copyright industry.


The research project seeks to bring the developing country perspective into a serious debate on developed country losses, primarily losses in the United States due to piracy outside the US.


Karaganis noted that piracy also has obvious social benefits, which explains its persistence. In developing countries, piracy is often the primary means to access media goods.


SSRC has concerns about the integrity of industry research, said Karaganis, although there are genuine and valuable research projects in the industry. There is a need for industry research to be documented, to know the inputs used by industry and its methodology, he said, as more transparency in the process would add credibility to the results. SSRC recommended that WIPO put pressure on industry to display their research methodology.


In Brazil, patents, trademarks and copyright violations might be perceived as piracy from the way they are presented in the media, said Pedro Mizukami of the Fundação GetulioVargas in Brazil, and little work is being done to differentiate them.


The foundation is collaborating on the SSRC report. One of the concerns of the foundation is that there has been increased activities on IP enforcement in recent years and an increase in the media exposure. Public discourse on IP enforcement and IP rights in general could be improved, according to Mizukami, especially in a time of intense public consultations when the public needs access to information that is up to date and offers multiple points of views.


The report found that both the public and private sector are interested with the quality of research on piracy and counterfeiting but this does not necessarily translate into actual reporting of numbers, Mizukami said.


For Oona Castro of the Instituto Overmundo in Brazil, the main concerns are the access to knowledge and culture, and a balanced public debate on these issues.


The Brazilian government needs to be firm against piracy and should be concerned about international trade policy and relations but the awareness campaign and public debate should not be contaminated by numbers, Castro said.


Judges are not equipped to deal with IP issues and most government public servants are trained mainly by industry on these issues, said Castro, who called for multiple perspectives and a balanced view.


Rodrigo Araujo, of the Ministry of External Relations of Brazil said that availability of data is important, and that Brazil sent a paper asking for WIPO to develop a new and reliable methodology to assess counterfeiting policy during the Advisory Committee on Enforcement (IPW, WIPO, 6 November 2009).


In organising this event, ICTSD said it considered Recommendation 45 of the WIPO Development Agenda, which calls for members “to approach intellectual property enforcement in the context of broader societal interests and especially development oriented concerns,” in accordance with Article 7 of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.


More news from: Intellectual Property Watch



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1.22  Genetically modified rice at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)


Los Banos, The Philppines

16 November 2009


Currently no varieties of genetically modified (GM) rice are grown commercially in the world, although several have been approved for commercialization. Many organizations around the world, including the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), are using genetic modification as a research tool and in developing potential GM rice varieties.

IRRI’s guiding principles in researching GM rice

The International Rice Research Institute believes that genetic modification and genetically modified rice have the potential to safely deliver unique benefits to rice farmers and consumers that cannot be achieved through other breeding methods.


Many technologies and rice breeding techniques are needed to develop and deliver solutions to meet the challenges of food security, poverty, climate change, and resource availability that rice producers and consumers face. IRRI believes that responsible and ethical research and development of GM rice present another opportunity that should be explored to help meet these challenges.


IRRI conducts GM rice research where it helps us achieve our aims to:

·         reduce poverty and hunger;

·         improve the health of rice farmers and consumers; and

·         ensure that rice production is environmentally sustainable.


In undertaking our GM rice research, we:

·         Adhere to the national biosafety regulations pertaining to GM plants of the country within which we are operating, comply with all relevant international biosafety regulations, and uphold our own high internal biosafety standards.

·         Commit to researching both the advantages and disadvantages of any GM rice that we are developing, or GM rice research we are engaged in.

·         Ensure our GM rice research is scientifically rigorous and independently assessed.

·         Are open and transparent about the GM rice research we are doing, communicate our scientific findings accurately, and provide only scientifically sound information and advice on GM rice.

·         Recognize the diversity of opinion about GM rice and that concerns exist about its development and use.

·         Consult with and seek input from the people, communities, industries, and governments that have an interest in our GM rice research and use their views and ideas to help guide our GM rice research and development.

·         Respect intellectual property rights and ensure our research is lawful.


GM rice research at IRRI

Since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have been developing new crop varieties. By selecting the best performing rice plants and using them to breed new rice varieties, rice farmers, and more recently rice breeders, have been changing the genetic composition of rice to generate new and improved rice varieties for thousands of years.


Breeding methods have been continually evolving, becoming more sophisticated and accurate at incorporating useful genes and traits into new crop varieties. Genetic modification is a modern breeding method that is used at IRRI to investigate and understand the diversity and function of rice genes and to develop and deliver GM rice varieties.


Genetic modification to understand gene function

Genetic modification is a valuable research tool that helps rice breeders understand gene function and identify genes of interest.

IRRI has discovered regions of DNA that help rice:

·         tolerate early submergence, drought, heat, and salinity;

·         resist tungro, bacterial leaf blight, and blast disease; and

·         improve phosphorus-use efficiency.


IRRI is using genetic modification to help identify specific genes within these DNA regions that are responsible for these traits. Once specific genes associated with beneficial traits are identified, they can be more efficiently transferred into new rice varieties using other breeding methods.


Using genetic modification in this way can improve the accuracy of identifying genes of interest and speed up the breeding process, even though the end-product is not GM rice.


This approach has been successfully used to identify submergence tolerance genes. As a result, IRRI has recently released submergence-tolerant rice – non-GM rice that can tolerate and produce good yields after two weeks under water, conditions that would decimate most other rice.


Genetic modification to develop GM rice

Genetic modification is also used to actually develop GM rice. It greatly increases the accuracy of incorporating only the gene of interest, and its associated trait, into a new rice variety. Unlike conventional breeding, it can entirely prevent the inclusion of unwanted genes and associated traits.


Beyond this, the unique power of GM lies in its ability to incorporate novel genes with useful traits for rice, including genes from plants and organisms unrelated to rice, into new rice varieties that cannot be achieved using other breeding methods. This is possible because all genetic information is stored in DNA – which is the common building block of all plants and animals.


IRRI has not developed any GM rice varieties yet. However, we are researching the development and delivery of GM rice with improved:

·         drought, heat, and salinity tolerance;

·         photosynthetic capacity to increase yield and enable it to become more efficient in using water and nitrogen fertilizer (C4 rice); and

·         nutritional value of the grain, including higher pro-vitamin A, improved protein quality, and higher iron.


Other breeding techniques

Marker-assisted breeding

Marker-assisted breeding is a breeding technique that also helps to more accurately breed new rice varieties and to do so in a shorter time frame.


In marker-assisted breeding, a gene or group of genes responsible for a favorable trait is identified using a DNA marker to "flag" its location. As in conventional breeding, two parent plants are still crossed, but this time scientists can do a quick DNA test on the progeny to see if the marker is present in the new plant. If it is, then the desired gene and its associated trait have been successfully passed on to the new generation. Plants not carrying the marker do not carry the gene of interest and are dropped, simplifying the job of the plant breeder. Marker-assisted breeding can also be used to minimize the number of unwanted genes in the new variety by ensuring that only the markers associated with the gene of interest are transferred.


Marker-assisted breeding is being increasingly and successfully employed at IRRI to develop new rice varieties. IRRI’s recently released submergence-tolerance rice is also an example of a rice variety developed using marker-assisted breeding.




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1.23  Predicting the environmental effects of transgenic Bt crop lines


Washington, DC, USA

12 November 2009

Potential risks from new transgenic Bt crop lines can be assessed using carefully controlled laboratory tests, according to findings of a study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and cooperators. This finding will help streamline the assessment process for introducing new insect control technology to the marketplace, while ensuring environmental safety.


Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a biological control bacterium that is effective against a number of key insect crop pests. Crops that contain Bt genes have a built-in defense against these insects, but such crops need to be studied to make sure they don’t pose a risk to non-target organisms.


To test whether the impact of these transgenic crops in the field was predictable from laboratory experiments, scientists from ARS collaborated with researchers at Santa Clara University in California to compare all current laboratory and field studies on non-target effects using meta-analyses. Findings of the ARS study suggest that researchers should be able to more accurately predict from laboratory studies the impact that new experimental lines may have in the field.


Entomologists Jian Duan, Jonathan Lundgren and Steven Naranjo led the study. Duan works at the ARS Beneficial Insects Introduction Research Unit in Newark, Del. Lundgren is based at the ARS North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings, S.D. Naranjo is the research leader of the ARS Pest Management and Biological Control Research Unit in Maricopa, Ariz.


The study was initiated to test the underlying assumption of biotechnology risk assessment—that laboratory tests can accurately identify potential risks of transgenic insecticidal Bt crops in the field.. The new ARS study demonstrated that carefully controlled laboratory tests can accurately detect toxicological risks that might emerge in the field, thereby reducing the need for more expensive and time-consuming tests.


The study, completed earlier this year, was published in the journal Biology Letters.

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




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1.24  Human genome experts to help plant breeders feed the world


Crawley, Western Australia

11 November 2009

The University of Western Australia is hosting 80 scientists from 13 countries whose skills will help revolutionise plant breeding – and vital food production.


It is the first time an OECD-sponsored conference has been held in Western Australia (WA). University of Western Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) are the event’s co-sponsors.


The keynote speaker is a world expert in the human genome: Professor Bruce Weir, Chair and Professor of Biostatistics, and Adjunct Professor of Genome Sciences, at the University of Washington, USA. Professor Weir is director of the GENEVA project, a consortium of 14 whole-genome studies.


Conference convener, Associate Professor Wallace Cowling, of the University’s International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research (ICPBER), said the invitation to Professor Weir to spearhead the conference was motivated by his bio-statistical experience – considered to be invaluable in guiding plant scientists in the area of association genetics, which while highly developed in humans, is just starting in plants.


The conference is of vital importance to plant breeders and molecular geneticists and will challenge plant breeders with the new technologies of genome association-mapping emerging from human and animal genetics.


The OECD-invited speakers are international experts in molecular marker discovery, plant genetic mapping, new biometrical approaches to plant breeding, human genetics and animal breeding.


The OECD Co-operative Research Program’s Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems funded the 16 invited international speakers to travel to Perth.






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1.25  Resistance to Bt crops can be predicted, monitored, and managed, says new study


United States

23 November 2009

Since 1996, crop plants genetically modified to produce bacterial proteins that are toxic to certain insects, yet safe for people, have been planted on more than 200 million hectares worldwide. The popularity of these Bt crops, named after the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, comes from their ability to kill some major pests, allowing farmers to save money and lessen environmental impacts by reducing insecticide sprays.


However, since insects can evolve resistance to toxins, strategies must be implemented to ensure that Bt crops remain effective. A new study published in the December issue of Journal of Economic Entomology entitled “Field-Evolved Insect Resistance to Bt Crops: Definition, Theory, and Data” ( analyzes insect resistance data from five continents, as reported in 41 studies, and concludes that existing theories and strategies can be used to predict, monitor, and manage insect resistance to Bt crops.


According to lead author Dr. Bruce E. Tabashnik, “Resistance is not something to be afraid of, but something that we expect and can manage if we understand it. Dozens of studies monitoring how pests have responded to Bt crops have created a treasure trove of data showing that resistance has emerged in a few pest populations, but not in most others. By systematically analyzing the extensive data, we can learn what accelerates resistance and what delays it. With this knowledge, we can more effectively predict and thwart pest resistance.”


Among the authors’ conclusions are:

·         The refuge strategy (growing non-Bt crops near the Bt crops) can slow the evolution of insect resistance by increasing the chances of resistant insects mating with non-resistant ones, resulting in non-resistant offspring.

·         Crops that are “pyramided” to incorporate two or more Bt toxins are more effective at controlling insect resistance when they are used independently from crops that contain only one Bt toxin.

·         Resistance monitoring can be especially effective when insects collected from the field include survivors from Bt crops.

·         DNA screening can complement traditional methods for monitoring resistance, such as exposing insects to toxins in the lab.

·         Despite a few documented cases of field-evolved resistance to the Bt toxins in transgenic crops, most insect pest populations are still susceptible.


With Bt crop acreage increasing worldwide, incorporating enhanced understanding of observed patterns of field-evolved resistance into future resistance management strategies can help to minimize the drawbacks and maximize the benefits of current and future generations of transgenic crops.


The full article is available at  

Bruce Tabashnik, the lead author can be contacted at




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1.26  Modern molecular characterization tools protect traditional local cultivars in Europe


Can the same methods be used for indigenous vegetables in Africa and Asia?


30 October 2009

Tainan, Taiwan


Southeastern Spain has the world’s largest concentration of greenhouses, covering more than 30,000 ha, concentrated in the province of Almería and, to a lesser extent, in the province of Murcia. Almería’s mild Mediterranian climate and the use of plastic sheeting greenhouses allowed the province to specialize in the production of out-of-season vegtables. Much of its output supplies European markets during autumn, winter, and spring with tomatoes, sweet pepper, cucumbers, green beans, courgettes (zucchini), melons, watermelons, lettuce, marrow, eggplant, and others. While the agricultural sector contributes on average about five percent to the gross domestic product of Spain, in Almería it contributes more than 18 percent.


Interest in old, locally grown cultivars that are nutritious, with good organoleptic and sometimes medicinal properties, is on the rise in Europe. How are these traditional, local vegetable cultivars protected?


Dr. Jaime Prohens, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain presented the keynote lecture on “Comparison of morphological, AFLP and SSR markers for the protection of eggplant germplasm” and explained how registration status protects traditional, local eggplant cultivars introduced hundreds of years ago from Asia to Spain. Germplasm of local varieties of vegetable crops can be registered as conservation varieties, and also

by means of a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.


Conservation variety status can be obtained for landraces and varieties that are naturally adapted to a specific location or region. Dr. Prohens noted:

·         As conservation varieties are genetically diverse, there is no need to prove DUS (distinctness, uniformity, and stability)

·         There is also no need to prove VCU (value for cultivation and use)

·         Seed must be produced in the region of origin of the variety

·         Seed marketing is restricted to the region of origin

·         The maximum seed quantity of seed marketed is limited (max. 0.5% of total seed marketed in given country; seed for an area of 100 ha maximum)


Protected Geographical Indication is already used for wine, cheese, coffee, and chocolate to protect the name of specific regional foods in the marketing chain. A total of 329 fruit, vegetable, and cereal varieties are currently protected in Europe.


To protect against imitation, you need tools to characterize and distinguish the materials from other related or similar materials, certify the origin, and establish the uniqueness of the local variety. Are molecular markers suitable for this purpose?


A case study was presented on the utility of morphological and molecular characterization for the protection of eggplant (Solanum melongena) germplasm. Local Spanish eggplant germplasm was separated into three varietal groups: ‘Almagro’ eggplant (the only eggplant variety with a PGI status in Europe); ‘Listado de Gandía’ (internationally known local variety, striped type); and ‘Black’ (conglomerate of different local varieties from different origins).


Morphological data, especially fruit pedicel length and width of the distal part of the pedicel, is useful to distinguish between the local eggplant accessions, but interaction with the environment is causing variation from one year to another. Molecular evaluation using 112 amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) fragments could distinguish the different varietal groups, but differences within each group were dificult to establish. Simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers provided a clear distinction within the same varietal group and could differentiate between types. Distances based on morphological, AFLP, and SSR markers are positively correlated, although the correlation coefficients are moderate, reflecting the different genetic information provided.


Will farmers benefit from protected cultivars?


Protection of specific local cultivars means added value; farmers can sell them at a higher price. Variety protection is worth exploring for well-accepted local eggplant cultivars grown in Asia (S. melongena) and Africa

(S.aethiopicum), as well as for many other indigenous vegetables.


Dr. Andreas Ebert, Global Theme Leader - Germplasm and Manager, GRSU



Published: October 30, 2009


Source: The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC), October 2009 newsletter via


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1.27  Buying seeds, saving seeds: Stokes Seeds matches its customers' donations to the Global Crop Diversity Trust


5 November 2009


This year Stokes Seeds has been running a scheme through which customers are invited to make donations to the Trust, which are in turn matched by the company.


This year the scheme raised $2,652, and we are extremely grateful to Stokes Seeds and their customers.


We are also delighted that Stokes Seeds has decided to run this generous programme again next year.


Visit the Stokes Seeds website




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1.28  Rice research gets a leg up on understanding plant reactions to environment


College Station, Texas, USA

2 November 2009

One might say plants don't have a leg to stand on, but that may actually give them a leg up on the animal kingdom when it comes to environmental adaptability.


"Plants are rooted in the ground. They can't move away when it gets too hot, too dry or too wet," said Dr. Lee Tarpley, Texas AgriLife Research plant physiologist in Beaumont. "If we can understand how plants respond to the environment, that would give us some clues on how to breed plants more capable of adapting to extremes."


Take rice. More than 558 million metric tons are produced annually in some 100 nations. It's a staple on which human survival depends in many developing countries, so assuring a harvest is vital.


"As a rice plant grows, its structure changes based on its age, what kind of weather it has faced, the use of chemicals if any, and what it inherited as a plant variety," Tarpley explained.


Yet with so many variables possible across numerous varieties worldwide, researchers have not had a way to analyze enough samples to target particular plant responses for improvement in breeding programs.


In his research, Tarpley has identified biomarkers in rice - 17 markers thus far that can follow changes in metabolism rapidly across a large number of plant samples. The technique is called metabolite screening. Tarpley has developed procedures for six of these markers so that researchers can begin using them to help diagnose the plant's needs.


"Perhaps we will be able to use these procedures in the lab to screen how tillering occurs and how metabolism changes in that process," Tarpley said. "Then we might understand how to change this to help a plant yield more rice."


A tiller is the stem of the plant where flowers appear before developing individual grains of rice. A rice plant may have about 15 tillers, each with about 200 flowers, according to University of California-Davis statistics.


Tarpley noted that metabolite screening is also used in animals - including humans - to diagnose certain diseases. A urinalysis, for example, may measure 20 metabolites to look for changes from a normal range.


This study in rice is new, he said, because in the past scientists have only considered a few aspects of rice metabolism. So while one aspect might be understood, its interactions with other aspects were not included in breeding decisions.


Likewise, Tarpley added, other research has attempted to examine all of a plant's metabolites. But screening for such a large number was also difficult. That's why Tarpley decided to zero in on 17 major metabolites in rice.


He plans to continue working out the processes for the remaining biomarkers so that the information can be used in crop breeding as well as for managing crop environments in the field.




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1.29  North Dakota State University grades soybean varieties for iron deficiency chlorosis


Fargo, North Dakota, USA

10 November 2009

Iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC) is a serious problem when soybeans are grown on high-pH soils.


"Chlorosis in soybeans can occur whenever soybeans are grown on soils with calcium carbonate or lime in the topsoil," says R. Jay Goos, North Dakota State University professor in the Soil Science Department. "Lime in the topsoil can occur on eroded soils where calcareous subsoil is exposed."


However, in North Dakota, IDC is more common on level, poorly drained soils, which also can have lime in the topsoil.


"Soils with a high water table in the spring are the soils most associated with IDC," Goos says. "These soils often have elevated salinity as well, which makes chlorosis worse. Most of the crops we grow aren't bothered by the presence of lime in the topsoil, but soybeans can be. The upper leaves will turn yellow, but the leaf veins will turn green. If the deficiency progresses, the growing point will be damaged."


The most practical control measure is choosing a resistant variety.


"No soybean variety is immune to chlorosis, but there are huge differences among the most resistant and most susceptible varieties," Goos warns. "The wrong choice can lead to reduced yield or even crop failure."


Since 2001, Goos, with the financial assistance of the North Dakota Soybean Council, has screened soybean varieties for resistance to chlorosis.


Five trials with multiple replications and measurements were started in 2009.

Two sites in Richland County were lost due to ponding. However, reliable data was obtained at the other three sites. All of the soybean varieties entered in an NDSU yield trial received a chlorosis evaluation.


Among conventional, Roundup Ready, Roundup2Yield and Liberty Link varieties, more than 300 varieties were tested in 2009.


"We report the data two ways," Goos says. "We report the data as the actual chlorosis score, where a score of 1 means the variety did not have chlorosis, while a score of 5 is the most severe chlorosis. We also give each variety a grade based on how it did relative to the other varieties and the standards we include in each trial. We did this last year and received favorable comments from producers."


Goos offers the following interpretation of his grading system:

·         Avoid the D's. These varieties are too susceptible to plant on chlorosis-prone soil.

·         You can do better than a variety that tests at a C. Stronger varieties are available for chlorosis-prone soil.

·         A grade of B or B minus is a good grade. However, for fields with the worst chlorosis problems, stay with varieties with a score of A, A minus or B plus. By sticking with these three categories, producers are going with the top 10 percent in the marketplace for resistance, which will be needed for the toughest conditions.

Goos cautions that these trials do not apply to fields without chlorosis problems.


"Our ratings are only for high-pH fields with chlorosis problems," he says. "For well-drained fields without lime in the topsoil and no history of IDC in soybeans, the chlorosis-resistance score of a variety is of little concern."


Goos also warns farmers with chlorosis problems not to be too fast to "jump on the bandwagon" regarding new genetic traits.


"Seed companies are coming out with soybeans with new transgenic traits," Goos says. "A promised yield advantage could be lost quickly if the soybeans turn yellow with chlorosis. On fields giving chlorosis, farmers should not compromise on chlorosis resistance in order to try something new."


The 2009 trial results can be found at






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1.30  Drought-tolerant cowpea can improve crop yield in arid West Africa


Wageningen, The Netherlands

2 November 2009

Even the highly drought-resistant cowpea (a long type of legume) now has an increasingly difficult time surviving in the Sahel countries where climate change has resulted in shorter and less frequent rainy seasons.


Wageningen University scientist Eugene Agbicodo, working on a Lukas Brader fellowship at IITA and Wageningen University, recently localised genes of the cowpea that contribute to an improved drought tolerance. This will help breeders and farmers to produce crops with higher yields despite the changing climate. Agbicodo graduated from Wageningen University recently.


In cooperation with research institute IITA, Agbicodo performed tests in Nigeria with a drought-sensitive type and a drought-tolerant type of cowpea and 120 offspring of a cross-breed of the two. By comparing the DNA from the offspring that did poorly with those that did well, he traced the location of the drought-tolerant characteristic on the cowpea chromosome. Agbicodo also established that plants with leaves that age slower and stomata that stayed open longer had a higher legume and seed yield.


Cowpea is often one of the few crops that produces anything at all in drought-stricken areas with barren soil. In addition, the plant improves the soil's fertility because of its excellent nitrogen-fixing abilities. Poor harvests have a dramatic effect on over 200 million Africans who eat the legumes and feed the tops to their cattle.


Cowpea is a traditional crop that is cultivated on small farms and not economically viable for large corporations. This is why there has been very little detailed research into the crop. But that is now changing.


Led from the United States and subsidised by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a research programme has been established via the Generation Challenge Program (GCP) to acquire more knowledge about the cowpea and increase the yield of the crops.


The close cooperation between scientists from Wageningen University, IITA and the scientists in the GCP program of the University of California (Riverside, USA) resulted in the localisation of genes that stimulate drought-tolerance in various types of cowpea. These results can now be used to secure the future of cowpea as a food source in arid areas of West Africa.


More news from: Wageningen University



Published: November 2, 2009



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1.31 Scientists identify a gene in plants that is responsible for controlling the size of seeds


Norwich, United Kingdom

5 November 2009

Scientists from the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK and the University of Freiburg in Germany have uncovered a gene in plants that is responsible for controlling the size of seeds, which could lead to ways of improving crops to help ensure food security in the future.


Increasing seed or grain size has been key in the domestication of the crops used in modern agriculture, and with a growing world population, further increasing the yield of crops is one goal of agricultural research. Michael Lenhard, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), has identified a gene in the model plant Arabidopsis that determines overall seed size, and is now investigating how this could be used to for the improvement of crops.


Publishing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team from the John Innes Centre, an institute of the BBSRC, demonstrated that the gene acts locally at the base of the growing seed. It produces an as yet unidentified mobile growth signal that determines final seed size. If the gene is turned off, smaller seeds are produced, but crucially if the gene is turned on at a higher level than normal, seeds a third larger in size and weight are produced. This is the first time such a reciprocal effect on seed size has been observed, and points to the fundamental importance of this gene in plant development.


More work is now needed before this research can be applied to crop plants. One effect of increasing the seed size in the experimental plants was to decrease the total number of seeds produced, so there was no overall increase in yield. The scientists did notice an increase in the relative oil content of the larger seeds, so the effects of altering this gene in oil seed rape is currently being investigated.


Unravelling this gene’s role in determining the final seed size will also be important for other strategies for increasing yield, an example of how fundamental plant science can inform and drive efforts to ensure food security.


Professor Mike Bevan, Acting Director of the John Innes Centre, said “This work shows how JIC's focus on understanding the mechanisms controlling plant growth can have immediate useful application for crop improvement.”


Reference: Local maternal control of seed size by KLUH/CYP78A5-dependent growth Signalling, PNAS, doi_10.1073_pnas.0907024106


More news from:

    . John Innes Center

    . BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council)

    . University of Freiburg




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1.32 Scientists plot genetic ploy against grain pest the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum)


Washington, DC, USA

2 November 2009

Aided by a genomic map of the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and university scientists are plotting a kind of genetic sabotage on the pest’s basic life functions—from locomotion to digestion.


Nationally, infestations of flour beetles and their beetle cousins cost millions of dollars in losses annually to stored grains and the food products made from those grains. Warehouse sanitation usually keeps beetle numbers down, but severe cases can necessitate the use of chemical controls. The problem is that T. castaneum has shown a propensity for developing resistance to insecticides.


As an alternative, a team of ARS and Kansas State University scientists is examining ways to exploit specific genes that regulate where, when and how a substance called chitin is used to form the beetle’s outer shell, or exoskeleton.


Led by ARS entomologist Richard Beeman, the team identified nine genes encoding specialized enzymes, dubbed “chitin deacetylases” (CDAs), which trim off branches of a long chain of simple sugars that make up raw chitin.


Which branches get trimmed depends on where chitin is needed on a developing beetle’s body, and for what purpose, explains Beeman, with the ARS Stored Product Insect Research Unit in Manhattan, Kan. For example, around leg joints, chitin’s branched-chain structure must be snipped to allow for flexibility and movement. But around the head and thorax, where protection of vital organs is key, a heavier, stiffer chitin deposition is needed, requiring a different form of CDA trimming.


Beeman and KSU collaborators Subbaratnam Muthukrishnan and Yasuyuki Arakane used a biotech procedure called “RNA interference” to demarcate the genes’ roles and observe what effect their elimination had on the insect’s development or survival. Some CDA-deficient strains developed in the lab couldn’t bend their legs as adult beetles, making it impossible for them to walk, mate or feed. Another such strain couldn’t shed its old exoskeleton.


Ultimately, such observations could open the door to chitin-disabling biopesticides or anti-chitin proteins engineered into crop plants.


Read more about this research in the November/December 2009 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.


The research supports the U.S. Department of Agriculture priority of promoting international food security.


ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency.




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1.33  Plant experts unveil DNA barcode


Hundreds of experts from 50 nations are set to agree on a "DNA barcode" system that gives every plant on Earth a unique genetic fingerprint.


By Mark Kinver

Science and environment reporter, BBC News

The technology will be used in a number of ways, including identifying the illegal trade in endangered species. The data will be stored on a global database that will be available to scientists around the world.


The agreement will be signed at the third International Barcode of Life conference in Mexico City on Tuesday.


"Barcoding is a tool to identify species faster, more cheaply and more precisely than traditional methods, " explained Patricia Escalante, head of the zoology department at Mexico's National University (UNAM), which is hosting the gathering.


In an effort to limit the impact on the planet's biodiversity, Dr Escalante said it was vital to establish a reliable monitoring system. "We need an accurate inventory," she observed, "to recognize parasites of medical, economic or ecological importance." Mexican researchers, she added, were involved in a network to produce barcodes in key taxonomic groups , such as trees, fungi, bees and aquatic insects.


Cracking the code

"Biodiversity scientists are using DNA technology to unravel mysteries, much like detectives use it to solve crimes," said David Schindel, executive secretary for the Consortium for the Barcode of Life (COBL).


"You start with a specimen that has been identified by a specialist, so you have a known species," he explained.


"You then take a tiny piece of tissue; let's say we are dealing with a mosquito, we'd take half of one leg, put it in a little tube and grind it up. You'd then extract the DNA.


"We are only looking at a tiny, tiny part of the whole genome - just 650 base pairs. In comparison, the human genome has three billion base pairs.


"So the next stage is finding that tiny little region, cutting it out and making millions of copies - which is known as magnifying - in order to analyse the region.


"What you get out of that process is a string of 650 letters - and if the process is working then you will get identical sequences or very, very similar sequences for the same species."


The information is then added to a global database, which can be accessed by scientists around the globe.


DNA breakthrough

Researchers have been able to use this technique to identify animal species since 2003. But, until now, the system has not worked for plant species.


It has been necessary to identify a different region of DNA that also provided a number of important characteristics. These characteristics included:

• technologically easy to process

• readily obtainable from degraded material

• variable between species, but not too variable


Graphic of a DNA sequence (Image: Science Photo Library) A team of researchers had been assessing seven potential barcodes. This was then narrowed down to just two possibilities. The announcement in Mexico will mark the end of the process, with the international biodiversity scientific community reaching an agreement on the best way to identify plants. Dr Schindel said one of the benefits of the technology was the speed and ease of identifying species.


"Now - within just a few hours - you can get an answer," he told BBC News.


This would lead to much more effective use of resources when it came to tackling problems such as crop pests or the spread of diseases, he explained. It would no longer be necessary to wait for a specialist botanist to examine the sample in order to get an accurate identification of the species.


The technology would also allow species to be identified from a fragment of material. Illegally harvested timber is often processed into furniture before being shipped overseas, making it very difficult to assess the origin of the wood. However, identifying the timber's "DNA barcode" would quickly reveal whether the wood was sourced from a legitimate source.


As part of the International Barcode of Life Project, scientists hope that five million specimens from 500,000 species will be catalogued in the next five years. nature/8346635.stm


Identifying a plant's DNA "barcode" will help tell is if it is being illegally traded




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1.34  Drought resistance explained - structural study at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory reveals how plants respond to water shortages


Grenoble, France

8 November 2009

Much as adrenaline coursing through our veins drives our body’s reactions to stress, the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA) is behind plants’ responses to stressful situations such as drought, but how it does so has been a mystery for years. Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Grenoble, France, and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) in Valencia, Spain discovered that the key lies in the structure of a protein called PYR1 and how it interacts with the hormone. Their study, published online today in Nature, could open up new approaches to increasing crops’ resistance to water shortage.


Under normal conditions, proteins called PP2Cs inhibit the ABA pathway, but when a plant is subjected to drought, the concentration of ABA in its cells increases. This removes the brake from the pathway, allowing the signal for drought response to be carried through the plant’s cells. This turns specific genes on or off, triggering mechanisms for increasing water uptake and storage, and decreasing water loss. But ABA does not interact directly with PP2Cs, so how does it cause them to be inhibited? Recent studies had indicated that the members of a family of 14 proteins might each act as middle-men, but how those proteins detected ABA and inhibited PP2Cs remained a mystery – until now.


A group of scientists headed by José Antonio Márquez from EMBL Grenoble and Pedro Luis Rodriguez from CSIC looked at one member of this family, a protein called PYR1. When they used X-ray crystallography to determine its 3-dimensional structure, the scientists found that the protein looks like a hand. In the absence of ABA, the hand remains open, but when ABA is present it nestles in the palm of the PYR1 hand, which closes over the hormone as if holding a ball, thereby enabling a PP2C molecule to sit on top of the folded fingers. As these features seem to be conserved across most members of this protein family, these findings confirm the family as the main ABA receptors. Moreover, they elucidate how the whole process of stress response starts: by binding to PYR1, ABA causes it to hijack PP2C molecules, which are therefore not available to block the stress response.


“If you treat plants with ABA before a drought occurs, they take all their water-saving measures before the drought actually hits, so they are more prepared, and more likely to survive that water shortage – they become more tolerant to drought”, Rodriguez explains. “The problem so far”, Márquez adds, “has been that ABA is very difficult – and expensive – to produce. But thanks to this structural biology approach, we now know what ABA interacts with and how, and this can help to find other molecules with the same effect but which can be feasibly produced and applied."


To determine the structure of PYR1, the scientists made use of the infrastructure of the Partnership for Structural Biology, including EMBL Grenoble’s high-throughput crystallisation facilities and the beamlines at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, located in the same campus as EMBL Grenoble.


Source article

The abscisic acid receptor PYR1 in complex with abscisic acid.

Santiago, J., Dupeux, F., Round, A., Antoni, R., Park, S.Y., Jamin, M., Cutler, S.R., Rodriguez, P.R. & Márquez, J. A. 

Nature advance online publication, 8 November 2009.


More news from: EMBL - The European Molecular Biology Laboratory




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1.35 Drought tolerant plant gene discovered



2 November 2009

An international group of plant scientists, led by Dr Gonzalo Estavillo and Professor Barry Pogson at The Australian National University have discovered a subtle mutation in Arabidopsis, a small, rapid growing plant, which may have important and far reaching implications for establishing drought resistance throughout the plant kingdom.


“This work actually began when we were looking at different mutant varieties of Arabidopsis that had unusual responses to high light,” said Dr Estavillo. “We discovered a particular mutant gene called SAL1 that enabled plants to survive longer without added water, and seeing the obvious potential, we began to investigate.”


One potential the group is currently exploring is the application of the mutation to food crops such as rice or wheat, and the researchers will now begin to introduce the mutant characteristics into the elite wheat cultivars currently used in agriculture industry.


“The ultimate aim of the project is to develop wheat lines with improved drought tolerance and water use,” explained Dr Estavillo. “The next step will be to identify wheat mutant plants lacking SAL1 genes identified by molecular biology procedures. We expect that these mutants should remain green, turgid and photosynthetically active, producing more leaves, flowers and seeds during mild to moderate water deficit.”


Estavillo points out that with most climate models predicting that the vast wheat growing areas of southern Australia will become drastically drier over the next fifty years the prospect of drought resistant wheat offers much promise for ensuring long term food supply and economic wellbeing. This has been recognised by the Australian Government’s Grains Research Development Corporation, which recently provided further funding for Dr Estavillo and Professor Pogson to identify genetic variants of the SAL1 gene in wheat, in conjunction with CSIRO Plant Industry.


The SAL1 mutation also has the advantage of facilitating less controversial solutions to the enhancement of food crops. Because the basis of the mutation is a missing gene it would also be potentially possible to create drought tolerance in a plant like wheat without employing transgenic methods, or what is commonly referred to as Genetic Modification (GM) Technology, which rely on splicing genes into existing genomes.


Instead, using traditional plant breeding techniques, drought resistance traits could potentially be introduced through a process of interbreeding, alleviating both public concerns about GM food stock, as well as introducing drought resistance to commercial varieties of the plant as quickly as possible.




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1.36  University of California, Riverside plant scientist’s research spawns new discoveries showing how crops survive drought


Riverside, California, USA

18 November 2009

Junior professor’s breakthrough launches unprecedented number of publications in high-profile journals

Breakthrough research done earlier this year by a plant cell biologist at the University of California, Riverside has greatly accelerated scientists’ knowledge on how plants and crops can survive difficult environmental conditions such as drought.


Working on abscisic acid (ABA), a stress hormone produced naturally by plants, Sean Cutler’s laboratory showed in April 2009 how ABA helps plants survive by inhibiting their growth in times when water is unavailable – research that has important agricultural implications.


The Cutler lab, with contributions from a team of international leaders in the field, showed that in drought conditions certain receptor proteins in plants perceive ABA, causing them to inhibit an enzyme called a phosphatase. The receptor protein is at the top of a signaling pathway in plants, functioning like a boss relaying orders to the team below that then executes particular decisions in the cell.


Now recent published studies show how those orders are relayed at the molecular level. ABA first binds to the receptor proteins. Like a series of standing dominoes that begins to knock over, this then alters signaling enzymes that, in turn, activate other proteins resulting, eventually, in the halting of plant growth and activation of other protective mechanisms.


“I believe Sean’s discovery is the most significant finding in plant biology this year and will have profound effects on agriculture worldwide,” said Natasha Raikhel, the director of UC Riverside’s Center for Plant Cell Biology, of which Cutler is a member. “Because the ABA receptor is so fundamentally important for understanding how plants perceive various environmental stresses, I am sure the strings of research that Sean’s discovery sparks will be endless.”


In only months since Cutler’s discovery, six research papers in prestigious journals such as Science and Nature have been published that build on his work, a testament to the interest among plant scientists to nail down how exactly the stress signaling pathway works in plants. This intense activity in the field was expedited by Cutler’s willingness to share information with colleagues before his own research was published – an open approach that is at odds with the often cutthroat competition in hot scientific areas.


“This intense interest by the scientific community will certainly accelerate the development of new agrichemicals that can be used to control stress responses in crops, and I believe we need to work openly to tackle problems of such great importance,” said Cutler, an assistant professor of plant cell biology in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences. “There is also tremendous interest from industry, and we are moving closer to designing both improved chemicals that can control drought tolerance in crops and improved receptor proteins that can be used to enhance yield under drought conditions. Ultimately, my vision is to combine protein and chemical design to usher in a fundamentally new approach to crop protection. These recent papers are an important step towards realizing that goal.”


Determining how the chemical switch works

One of the six research papers that builds on Cutler’s work is published online Nov. 18 in Nature. The research, led by Jian-Kang Zhu, a professor of plant cell biology at UCR, fleshes out the domino pathway from the receptor down to the proteins that control plant growth.


“Freshwater is a precious commodity in agriculture,” Zhu said. “Drought stress occurs when there is not enough freshwater. We wanted to understand how plants cope with drought stress at the molecular level. Such an understanding is necessary if we want to improve the drought tolerance of crop plants through either genetic engineering or marker-assisted breeding.”


In their Nature paper, Zhu and his colleagues report on how they reconstituted in a test tube the process of information transfer from receptor to phosphatase, and all the way downstream to the protein that turns the gene on or off, and then ultimately to the gene itself.


“The ABA signaling pathway we reconstituted is arguably the most important pathway for plants to cope with drought stress.” Zhu said. “This is the first time the whole pathway has been reconstituted in vitro. What is emerging is a clear picture of how the chemical switch works – useful knowledge for designing improved chemical agents for application in crop fields.”


Zhu explained that in vivo studies (done in the living body of the plant) involve thousands of proteins, which can complicate data interpretation. By doing the study in vitro (outside the living body of the plant) his lab avoids this problem, making it possible to determine the minimal number of components necessary and sufficient for the ABA response pathway.


Next in its research, the Zhu lab will use the knowledge of the ABA response pathway to make transgenic plants that will have substantially higher levels of drought tolerance, achieved by manipulating the levels and activities of the key components of the pathway. The lab also plans to investigate how drought stress triggers the production of ABA.


Zhu was joined in the research by Cutler and UCR’s Hiroaki Fujii, Viswanathan Chinnusamy, and Sang-Youl Park. Americo Rodrigues, Silvia Rubio, Regina Antoni and Pedro L. Rodriguez of the Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Plantas, Spain; and Jen Sheen of the Massachusetts General Hospital also collaborated on the study.


Zhu was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Currently, he has an appointment also at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia.


The other five research papers that Cutler’s research inspired discuss the molecular structure of the ABA receptor, showing in atomic detail how ABA functions to trigger signaling.


The UCR Office of Technology Commercialization has filed a patent application on Cutler’s discovery, and is currently seeking partners in industry.




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1.37 Flemish researchers develop revolutionary technology for use in plant breeding


Ghent, Belgium

3. November 3009

In collaboration with researchers at VIB-UGent and The University of Antwerp (UA), scientists at the BioScience business group of Bayer CropScience AG in Gent have developed a technology that can significantly increase crop yields as well as make them more resistant to unfavorable growing conditions. It is based on selecting plants that make more efficient use of energy.


One of the greatest challenges of this century is making the food supply secure in a world that finds itself under increasing pressure from the growing population, changing food patterns and changing climate. The use of new molecular technologies for plant breeding is essential to increase both yield and stress tolerance in our crops.


The new technology is based on insights in epigenetics. The „epigenetic component is like an extra dimension on top of the genetic code of a living organism that is affected by the environment and in turn changes the activity of the genes. The efficiency of energy production is strongly related to its epigenetic code. By using a „smart selection adapting the epigenetic code, Bayer BioSciences hope is to use the technology in breeding and to develop improved yield varieties.


Using this method in rapeseed it has been proved that rapeseed varieties can be selected yielding between 8% and 20% more than the common varieties. With the help of researchers at VIB-UGent and UA, the underlying mechanism was unraveled and the technology further developed. The result is a very efficient technology based on mechanisms such as energy metabolism and epigenetic regulation, which occur in all plants. The applicability of the selection system is also confirmed in rice, but should in principle be applicable to all crops and should provide the possibility to make selection processes more efficient. Another quite important advantage is that the more energy-efficient varieties do not require more water or fertilizer to produce higher yields.


The results of the research are published in the leading journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Hauben et al., Energy use efficiency is characterized by an epigenetic component that can be directed through artificial selection to increase yield).


This research was financed by IWT Flanders (Institute for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders) and the BioScience business group of Bayer CropScience AG in Gent.


Ghent University

After more than twenty years of uninterrupted growth, Ghent University is now one of the most important institutions of higher education and research in the Low Countries. Ghent University yearly attracts over 30,000 students, with a foreign student population of over 2,200 EU and non-EU citizens. Ghent University offers a broad range of study programmes in all academic and scientific branches. With a view to cooperation in research and community service, numerous research groups, centres and institutes have been founded over the years. More info


The University of Antwerp (UA)

The University of Antwerp was founded in 2003, following a merger between three formerly independent universities: RUCA, UFSIA and UIA. The latter institutions date back to 1852. UA has approximately 11,000 students, which makes is the third largest university in Flanders.

UA offers a high-level academic program in the pursuit of internationally competitive research and entrepreneurship. The fact that UA is among the leading European universities, based on a comparison of scientific impact scores for natural and biomedical sciences (“EU Science and Technology Indicators” 2003), is proof of its elevated quality standards for scientific research.

The permanent academic staff has approximately 850 members, while there are some 700 researchers that are paid from external research funds and projects. Anually, over 3,000 original research papers are published. The important Faculty of Sciences includes the Departments of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Bioengineering Sciences, Mathematics, and Information. For more information, please visit


More news from:

    . Bayer CropScience

    . VIB (Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology)

    . University of Ghent




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1.38 New map of variation in maize genetics holds promise for developing new varieties


Ithaca, New York, USA

19 November 2009


A new study of maize has identified thousands of diverse genes in genetically inaccessible portions of the genome. New techniques may allow breeders and researchers to use this genetic variation to identify desirable traits and create new varieties that were not easily possible before.


Publishing in the Nov. 19 issue of Science, the researchers, whose senior and first author are at Cornell, have identified the first map of haplotypes -- sets of closely linked gene variants known as alleles -- in the maize genome. They have identified and mapped several million allele variants among 27 diverse inbred maize lines.


The lines selected for study included a cross-section of maize types commonly used for breeding while also representing worldwide maize diversity.


The haplotype map "will help develop molecular markers and tools that breeders and geneticists around the world can use to study maize and improve maize varieties," said Ed Buckler, the paper's senior author, a USDA-ARS research geneticist in Cornell's Institute for Genomic Diversity and an adjunct professor of plant breeding and genetics.


Michael Gore, a graduate student in Buckler's lab, is the paper's lead author.


The other co-authors are affiliated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), Cold Spring HarborLaboratory and University of California-Davis.


In the last century, maize breeders have found limitations in recombination (the ability to shuffle genetic variation), where large regions genetic material fail to recombine near the chromosome's center, called the centromere. To overcome this, breeders have crossed two complementary lines, resulting in a new line with higher yields and vigor.


However, because large regions of the maize chromosome are less accessible, breeders cannot arrive at optimal genetic combinations.


The study has revealed a great deal of genetic variation near the chromosomes' centromeres, which resist recombining. Now, breeders can use molecular markers to identify desirable genetic variants and new genetic technologies to move the desired variation onto the same chromosomes and create new, more productive lines with desired traits.


The study revealed more than 100 large regions (selective sweeps) on the genome where breeders selected for a gene during domestication.


In doing so, genetic diversity was lost around those genes.


The study also identified regions of genes shared by all maize species as well as regions that are different based on the geographic adaptations of lines of plants. For example, the study identified almost 200 highly differentiated regions that result from adaptations in tropical and temperate maize.


"This survey of genetic diversity provides a foundation for uniting breeding efforts across the world and for dissecting complex traits through genomewide association studies," said Buckler.


The first complete sequence of the maize genome appears in the same issue of Science.


The haplotype study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the USDA-ARS.


Source: ChronicleOnline, Cornell University, By Krishna Ramanujan via


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1.39  Maize cell wall genes identified, giving boost to biofuel research


West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

19 November 2009

Purdue University scientists have helped identify and group the genes thought to be responsible for cell wall development in maize, an effort that expands their ability to discover ways to produce the biomass best suited for biofuels production.


The Purdue scientists, led by Nicholas Carpita, a professor of plant cell biology, published their findings on the 750 cell wall genes in the journal Plant Physiology on Thursday (Nov. 19). They also were co-authors on a study, published Thursday (Nov. 19) in Science, that for the first time sequenced the genome of maize.


In discovering the some 32,000 genes of maize, scientists can better study the function of individual genes and how each affects all aspects of the plant's development. Purdue's scientists are particularly interested in the genes that regulate cellulose, lignin and other parts of plant's cell walls.


"This gives us an inventory of the genes that could become possible targets for modification in the production of biomass," Carpita said. "We want to be able to control the structure of the cell walls."


Carpita and Maureen McCann, a professor of biology and a co-author on both papers, are part of Purdue's C3Bio research project, which is aimed at using thermal and chemical catalysts to create biofuels that utilize more of a plant's carbon. The team hopes to engineer catalysts or catalytic sites into plants and use heat or chemical catalysts to directly convert the biomass into fuel.


"The grasses, including maize, make a unique kind of cell wall," Carpita said. "Beyond the cell wall genes, having a complete genome will enable us to identify developmental controls, such as genes that delay flowering to continue production of biomass, or alter pathways so that plants accumulate more sugar in the stem."


The annotation of the maize cell wall genes also led to the discovery of more than 80 mutants involved in cell wall production. Scientists can grow plants that have a gene mutation and compare them to those without the mutation to understand how changes in the gene functions in biomass accumulation or quality in maize.


"Discovering the genome sequence of maize is a huge step forward in getting at the functions of genes that will be useful in developing new bioenergy crops," McCann said. "We will be able to identify mutants in key genes of interest and then assess how mutation changes the plant cell wall and if those changes are useful."


Researchers found that maize's cell wall genes were more similar to those of rice than to Arabidopsis, a plant often used as a model in scientific experiments.


"Now we're starting to see differences in the families of related genes and how those genes are expressed," said Bryan Penning, McCann's lab manager and a co-author on both papers. "Now that we have the sequence, we can start building a reservoir of data on the expression patterns of the cell wall genes."


The next step in using the data collected will include testing the mutant genes and exploring how expression of particular genes can be regulated to produce desired characteristics in a maize plant.


Other Purdue scientists involved in the Science paper were Phillip San Miguel, director of the Agricultural Genomics Center, and Richard Westerman, a systems manager and senior programmer in horticulture and landscape architecture. Purdue researchers collaborated with the University of Florida and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.




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1.40  Governments of Canada and Saskatchewan support new DNA-based wheat identification technology


Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

13 November 2009 

The Governments of Canada and the Saskatchewan together with the Saskatchewan Research Council announced today their investment of almost $9 million dollars in the commercialization of a DNA-based process for wheat identification.


Saskatchewan has been a leader in developing cutting edge technology such as the wheat ID, to boost one of our largest economic engines; agriculture,” Minister Cheveldayoff said. “We want to build on our knowledge economy by commercializing technologies developed through our innovation system and market that to users around the world.”


“Our government is delivering real results for Canadian farmers by investing in innovative research and new technologies that will help increase their profitability,” said MP Brad Trost (Saskatoon-Humboldt) on behalf of Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. “We are proud to collaborate with provinces on projects, such as this one, that contribute to the future competitiveness and prosperity of our entire agricultural sector.”


This advanced DNA-based technology, initially developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists and licensed to SRC, may provide a cost-effective and consistent testing method to identify different wheat varieties and classes in a 24-hour turnaround time. This development could help fill the gap created by the removal of the Kernel Visual Distinguishability (KVD) test, which was used as a class identification tool and a requirement for registration until 2008. This new technology will help Canada stay competitive by maintaining its reputation for providing high-quality products to national and international markets.


"We've supported this project with both funding and expertise because farmers need a test that assures customers we are providing safe, high-quality grain," said Larry Hill, chair of the CWB's board of directors. "This support will help ensure that farmers get the best possible returns for their wheat."


The SRC is currently validating a DNA-based test that verifies midge insect resistance in wheat varieties. Next SRC will be working to determine whether the technology can be utilized to offer viable commercial tests for wheat class and variety identification. A team of scientists and technologists has been hired for the project.


“The federal-provincial funding provided today brings SRC a step closer to offering a commercial wheat DNA test,” said Dr. Laurier Schramm, SRC’s Chief Executive Officer. “SRC is dedicated to proving out the technology and, if viable, offering this service to help the agriculture industry maintain Canada’s brand reputation for high quality products and competitiveness in international grain markets.”


To support the project, the Governments of Canada and Saskatchewan are investing up to $7.43 million over five years through a cost-sharing agreement under the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriFlexibility fund. A shared federal-provincial investment of $1.48 million made through the Canada-Saskatchewan Western Economic Partnership Agreement (WEPA) this year will enable SRC to purchase equipment, software and scale up the testing process. The total investment in this work over the next 5 years is $8.91 million. In partnership with the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council, the CWB has contributed an additional $392,000 earmarked for developmental work on choosing an appropriate form of DNA testing.


The AgriFlexibility fund, part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, was created to help reduce costs of production and improve environmental sustainability for the sector; promote value-chain innovation and sectoral adaptation; and respond to emerging opportunities and market challenges for the sector.


Through the Canada-Saskatchewan Western Economic Partnership Agreement (WEPA), both levels of government are contributing $25 million each, over four years, to strengthen economic activity and improve quality of life in western Canadian communities.


More information:




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1.41  ARS scientist launches project to create a genomics "toolkit" to help plant breeders develop new varieties of sweetpotato


Washington, DC, USA

5 November 2009

An Agricultural Research Service (ARS) computational molecular biologist in Mississippi is launching a project to create a genomics toolkit to help plant breeders develop new varieties of sweetpotato. Brian Scheffler and his colleagues will use the state-of-the-art equipment at the ARS Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Unit in Stoneville, Miss., to develop and locate DNA markers on the 90 chromosomes of sweetpotato.


Sweetpotato, the world’s seventh most important food crop, is extremely important to global food security, according to Scheffler. Yet very little genomics information is available in a form that sweetpotato breeders can use to develop new varieties for enhanced nutrition or improved resistance to stresses brought about by climate change, adverse environmental conditions, or pests and diseases.


Scheffler will receive $120,000 in funding through the agency’s 2010 T.W. Edminster Award to pay for a two-year postdoctoral research associate to work with him on the sweetpotato project. The award, named for a former ARS administrator, enables postdoctoral researchers to work closely with experienced scientists in their fields of interest, as well as conduct high-priority research on pressing agricultural issues. The Edminster Award is presented to the highest-ranked research proposal among 50 proposals selected for funding through ARS’ annual Postdoctoral Research Associates Program. ARS scientists submitted 450 proposals to this year’s program.


In addition to creating genetic maps of sweetpotato, Scheffler and his postdoctoral associate will use a high-throughput DNA sequencer to develop a sweetpotato microarray for studying where, when and how certain genes are expressed. Of particular interest are genes affecting rhizome (underground stem) production in sweetpotato, especially during stress related to environmental factors such as drought.


The markers, microarrays and gene expression data will constitute the “tools” in the genomics toolkit, and should enable sweetpotato breeders to speed their identification and integration of important new traits into their elite breeding lines.


In addition to providing funding for Scheffler’s project, this year’s ARS Postdoctoral Research Associates Program will fund projects on assessing host specificity in aphid parasitoids, developing novel controls for stable flies, and improving drought tolerance in wheat.


ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The sweetpotato project supports the USDA research priority of ensuring international food security.




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1.42  Protecting the future: how plant stem cells guard against genetic damage


Norwich, United Kingdom

16 November 2009

Scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, have shown how plants can protect themselves against genetic damage caused by environmental stresses. The growing tips of plant roots and shoots have an in-built mechanism that, if it detects damage to the DNA, causes the cell to ‘commit suicide’ rather than pass on its defective DNA.


Plants have, at the very tips of their roots and shoots, small populations of stem cells, through which they are able to grow and produce new tissue throughout the plant’s life. These stem cells are the precursors to producing plant tissues and organs. This means that any defect that arises in the stem cell’s genetic code will be passed on and persist irreversibly throughout the life of the plant, which may last thousands of years.


It is therefore critical that there are safeguards that prevent stem cell defects becoming fixed, particularly as the stem cells exist at the growing tips of shoots and roots where they are especially exposed to potentially hazardous environments.


Nick Fulcher and Robert Sablowski, with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), set out to discover what these safeguards could be. By using X-rays and chemicals they were able to induce damage to DNA, and found that stem cells were much more sensitive to DNA damage than other cells. The cells are able to detect the DNA damage, triggering the death of these cells, thus preventing the damaged genetic code becoming fixed in the rest of the plant tissues.


A similar system exists in animal cells, which has been very well investigated, as the failure of this system can lead to cancer. The discovery of a similar, although distinct system in plants is therefore of great interest in the field of plant development, as well as in the efforts of scientists to develop plants better able to cope with environmental stress.


Drought, high salinity and the accumulation of hazardous chemicals in the soil are side-effects of a changing climate, so knowledge of how plants cope with theses stresses is of fundamental importance to agricultural science’s response to climate change. This is one aim of the research carried out by the John Innes Centre, an institute of the BBSRC.



Hypersensitivity to DNA damage in plant stem cell niches

Nick Fulcher and Robert Sablowski, PNAS, doi_10.1073_pnas.0909218106


Studentship from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (Grant BB/B511927/1). Work in the Sablowski laboratory is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the European Union.




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1.43  Researchers complete draft genome sequence for cassava


$1.3 Million grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will fund the next phase of research critical to global food security


St. Louis, MO Nov. 9, 2009

A team of academic, government and industry researchers has completed a first draft of the cassava (Manihot esculenta) genome. The project is an important first step in accelerating the pace of research on this subsistence crop and addressing some of the many limitations that face cassava farmers around the world.


Cassava is a root crop that serves as the primary food source for more than 750 million people each day. Although it has many properties that make it an important food across much of Africa and Asia, it also has many limitations. Cassava has poor nutritional content and is susceptible to many pathogens, particularly in Africa, where one third of the continental harvest is lost each year to viral diseases. One of these, Cassava Brown Streak Disease, or CBSD, is currently the major threat to food security in some parts of Eastern Africa.


The impetus for the genome sequence began in 2003 with the formation of The Global Cassava Partnership (GCP-21), co-chaired by Dr. Claude Fauquet, director of the International Laboratory for Tropical Agriculture Biology (ILTAB) at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (DDPSC) in St. Louis, and Dr. Joe Tohme of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia. This, in turn, led to a 2006 proposal by Fauquet, Tohme and 12 other international scientists to DOE JGI’s Community Sequencing Program, which was selected for a pilot project.


The full genome project gathered momentum in early 2009 when 454 Life Sciences and DOE JGI each pledged the resources to use 454’s Genome Sequencer FLX platform with long-read GS FLX Titanium chemistry to rapidly generate the DNA sequence data needed for the project. More than 61 million sequencing reads were generated and assembled into a draft genome that contains an estimated 95 percent of cassava genes. It is one of the first large genome projects to primarily use 454 Life Sciences’ long-read sequencing platform, which enabled both improved quality of the draft, and its rapid generation.


“By 2050, 90 percent of humankind will live in developing countries where agriculture is the most important economic activity. Crops grown by small farmers are central to international food security, health, economic growth, energy needs, poverty reduction and social stability,” Fauquet said. “The information contained in the cassava genome will provide tremendous opportunities to improve this important crop, bringing it into the mainstream of plant research thereby reducing the time and cost of delivering improved cultivars to farmers who need it most.”  


The annotated draft genome sequence is available at DOE JGI’s Phytozome Web site,

In response to the urgency of this threat, and building upon the newly available cassava genome sequence, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $1.3 million grant to University of Arizona researchers who will lead an international consortium to develop a genome variation database that will provide breeding tools to aid farmers in improving cassava, with a special focus on increased resistance to the CBSD virus.


This grant is part of the foundation’s Agricultural Development initiative, which is working with a wide range of partners to provide millions of small farmers in the developing world with tools and opportunities to boost their yields, increase their incomes and build better lives for themselves and their families. The foundation is working to strengthen the entire agricultural value chain – from seeds and soil to farm management and market access—so that progress against hunger and poverty is sustainable over the long term.


The availability of the genome sequence enables the newly-funded project to study how cassava varieties differ from each other. “The contributions of 454 Life Sciences and DOE JGI in making the cassava genome a reality have opened a new chapter in cassava research worldwide. We’re excited about the opportunity for cassava breeders to access new tools for improving a staple African crop,” said Katherine Kahn, program officer with the Agricultural Development initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Steve Rounsley, PhD, associate professor in the School of Plant Sciences at the UA and a member of the BIO5 Institute, will coordinate the project that includes partners at the Institute for Genome Sciences, University of Maryland, Baltimore, the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), and 454 Life Sciences, a Roche Company.

 “This is a perfect example of how quickly things can happen when everyone is aligned behind an important cause.  Most of the data for the genome were generated within 8 weeks of getting DOE JGI and 454 Life Sciences on board,” said the UA’s Rounsley, who led the collaboration. 


“We are pleased to contribute our sequencing technology to this important global initiative,” explained Michael Egholm, Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Research and Development at 454 Life Sciences. “This project, along with other recently completed complex plant genome projects, demonstrates that 454 Sequencing systems are rapidly becoming the standard for de novo sequencing and assembly.”


Researchers will use next-generation technologies to sample many varieties of cassava and develop a large database of markers that can be used to identify genes involved in many important traits. The team will collaborate with researchers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in applying these genetic markers toward identifying resistance to Cassava Brown Streak Disease. All of the information and tools the project develops will be freely available worldwide.


Traditional cassava improvement is slow and difficult. The availability of large numbers of markers will help make breeding schemes more efficient.  For instance, traits that may only show up in mature plants can be identified in seedlings with a cheap DNA test.  Since cassava is used for industrial starch production, and has potential as a biofuel source, there are commercial applications of these breeding tools.  However, the most important applications will be those that improve the lives of those who depend upon cassava for their daily calorie intake.


The Global Cassava Partnership (GCP-21)

Founded and chaired by Dr. Claude Fauquet and Dr. Joe Tohme, the GCP-21 is an alliance of the cassava research and development community, that are working to identify the major constraints to unlock the productivity potential of cassava. The sequencing of the cassava genome was one of these major constraints, and its establishment will permit the development of many more tools that will be made available for free to the cassava community. These modern tools will provide new tools to breeders and biotechnologists to speed up the improvement of cassava to benefit of hundreds of millions of people in the world.  For more information please visit,


Contact: Karla Goldstein,


Contributed by Dr. Claude M. Fauquet

Director ILTAB


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1.44  Breeders can enhance nutritional value of pumpkins and squash using inexpensive colorimeter method


Gainsville, Florida, USA

4 November 2009

Carotenoids, the family of yellow to red pigments responsible for the striking orange hues of pumpkins and the familiar red color of vine-ripe tomatoes, play an important role in human health by acting as sources of provitamin A or as protective antioxidants. Pumpkins and squash, available in a wide range of white, yellow, and orange colors, are excellent sources of dietary carotenoids, particularly lutein, alpha-carotene, and beta-carotene. The colors of these nutritional vegetables are determined by their genetic makeup—the concentration and type of carotenoids they contain—which are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.


The good news: this wide range of carotenoids in pumpkins and squash provides fertile ground for genetic improvement. When breeders have reliable information about carotenoid types and concentrations, they can work to improve the vegetables' nutritional value and create new varieties of antioxidant-packed offerings for consumers.


But identifying and quantifying carotenoids hasn't been simple; scientists traditionally use a method called "high-performance liquid chromatography", or HPLC. HPLC is highly sensitive and reproducible, but can be expensive and time-consuming. To determine if carotenoid content of pumpkin and squash could be accurately measured using a less-expensive and simpler method, Rachel A. Itle and Eileen A. Kabelka from the University of Florida's Horticultural Sciences Department designed a research study using colorimetric analysis to correlate color space values with carotenoid content in pumpkins and squash. The study appeared in a recent issue of HortScience.


Pumpkins and squash with white, yellow, and orange flesh color were grown at multiple locations for the study. The flesh of each specimen was evaluated using both HPLC and colorimetric analysis. According to the research, "strong correlations between colorimetric values and carotenoid content were identified."


Interestingly, the researchers found a "nine-fold increase in total carotenoids provided within orange–red and yellow–orange colored cultigens versus yellow colored cultigens."


The research determined that colormetric analysis can aid breeders interested in increasing carotenoid content in pumpkins and squash. The method, Kabelka concluded, "will be successful, easy to implement, and inexpensive".


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

Founded in 1903, the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) is the largest organization dedicated to advancing all facets of horticultural research, education, and application. More information at


Photo by Rachel Itle


More news from: ASHS (American Society of Horticultural Science)




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1.45  Cucumber genome published: guide to pumpkin, melon and plant vascular system


3 November 2009 — The genome of the cucumber has been sequenced by an international consortium lead by Chinese and U.S. institutions. The annotated genome is published online Nov. 1 by the journal Nature Genetics.


The cucumber genome will give insight into the genetics of the whole cucurbit family, which includes pumpkins and squash, melon and watermelon, and be a platform for research in plant biology, said William Lucas, professor and chair of the Department of Plant Biology at the University of California, Davis. Lucas helped with the development and management of the project.


"This is going to help a large community -- we can now go ten times faster than we could before," Lucas said.


Lucas studies the vascular transport systems, phloem and xylem, that plants use to move nutrients, minerals and signaling molecules throughout the body of the plant. Pumpkins and cucumber are model plants for studying vascular transport, because their vascular system is large and easy to access.


The Lucas research group has shown that plants use both proteins and RNA -- molecules copied or transcribed from DNA -- as signaling molecules that are transported around the plant through the phloem. These signals can affect plant growth, coordinate activity through the plant and help it fight infection. For example, in 2007 they showed that "florigen," the signal that tells the growing tips of plants to make flowers in response to seasonal changes, is a protein transmitted through the phloem.


The new study identified 800 phloem proteins in the cucumber genome. With the help of the genome data, researchers will be able to rapidly identify and characterize all the protein, RNA and other molecules in the phloem sap, Lucas said.


There are already indications that far more is going on in the phloem than anybody, "including me," had previously expected, he said.


The study shows that five of the seven chromosomes in cucumber arose from ten ancestral chromosomes shared with melon, and gene-coding stretches of DNA share about 95 percent similarity to melon. Preliminary studies in the Lucas lab at UC Davis have established comparable similarity between cucumber and pumpkin.


The cucumber genome will also provide insights into traits such as disease and pest-resistance, the "fresh green" odor of the fruit, bitter flavors and sex expression.


The cucumber is the seventh plant to have its genome sequence published, following the well-studied model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, the poplar tree, grapevine, papaya, and the crops rice and sorghum.


The sequencing effort, begun earlier this year, was coordinated by Professor Sanwen Huang of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science and included the Genome Center at the Beijing Genome Institute-Shenzhen and UC Davis as well as several laboratories in China and others in the U.S., Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia and South Korea.


Part of the effort relied on new methods developed by the Beijing Genome Institute to assemble short pieces of DNA, about 50 base pairs, into the sequence. The Beijing Genome Institute-Shenzhen can now sequence and assemble genomes much faster, and at lower cost, than previously possible, Lucas said.


"This will be the forerunner for many genomes done at a cost-effective rate," he said.


Source: ScienceDaily via


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2.01  Creating Abundance: Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development


Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode

2008. Cambridge University Press


"This is an important book! It traces the stream of biological innovation that over a period of two centuries has transformed the technical landscape of American agriculture. It demonstrates that biological innovations were essential for the movement of agriculture to new lands with more extreme climates, for maintaining and enhancing productivity in the face of evolving threats from pests, soil degradation and depletion, for creating modern livestock breeds, for enhancing feed efficiency, and for protecting animal and human health. It will be the standard against which the next generation of research in the history of agricultural technology will be evaluated."

-Vernon W. Ruttan, Regents Professor Emeritus, Department of Applied Economics and Department of Economics, University of Minnesota


(Extracted from a review for


Contributed by John Miles


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4.01  Generation Challenge Programme, Genotyping Support Service (GSS): 3rd Call for proposals.


This call is being launched in conjunction with a call from the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which focuses on supporting the evaluation of crop genetic resources.  Together, these coordinated and complementary calls widen the support that plant scientists can obtain.


The GSS is offered to plant breeding programmes and germplasm collections in the developing world to facilitate their access to molecular marker technologies for the analysis of germplasm. GSS hires high-throughput, cost-effective genotyping facilities; beneficiaries of the service will send their samples there for analysis, with the GSS covering the costs.


GSS is not only limited to genotyping services and financial support, but also includes capacity development: participating researchers receive training to analyse the resulting data, including interpretation and application of the new knowledge.



·         Applicant organisations will be national agricultural research systems, academia, civil society organisations or private companies, located in developing countries and active in plant breeding and/or germplasm conservation for the main food crops.

·         Applicants should be willing to incorporate the use of molecular maker technologies with a long-term perspective, ie, demonstrate readiness to take the steps needed to become self-sufficient in outsourcing genotyping work in the medium term.


Application procedure and submission

·         Full details of this call for proposals

·         How to submit a GSS proposal: A step-by-step guide

·         Genotyping Service Request Agreement

·         Applications to be submitted online

·         GSS applicants may benefit from the information available in the GCP ToolBox of available markers (see below).


GCP is delighted to share with you one of its latest resources from Subprogramme 5: the GCP Toolbox of available molecular markers useful for marker-assisted selection in GCP crops.


This toolbox allows rapid access to validated markers that are currently, as of April 2009, being used in marker-assisted selection (MAS) selection in 19 GCP mandate crops. This first version of the toolbox is limited to SSR, STS, SNP and SCAR markers as they are highly reproducible. At the moment there 172 markers in the toolbox that are linked to 65 different traits. The current information available on the GCP Toolbox is accessible through the Capacity-building corner of the GCP website and consists of both background information and direct entry to the Toolbox itself.


The GSS beneficiaries will find in the toolbox a reliable reference point for the development of their genotyping proposals.

Contact: Humberto Gomez, GSS Coordinator


Contributed by Catherine Durbin


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4.02  Call for Proposals: Collecting Award Scheme of the Global Crop Diversity Trust


Towards a more complete coverage of crop diversity in ex situ collections


Since the pioneering work of Nikolai Vavilov, many hundreds of thousands of samples of crop diversity have been collected around the world. In fact, it is likely that most of the genetic diversity of many crops has probably already been collected, and is being maintained in the world’s 1,700 ex situ collections. However, critical gaps still exist in these collections. For example, much previous collecting focussed on centres of diversity, and the extremes of the ranges of crops and their wild relatives have often been relatively neglected. That, of course, is where genes useful for adaptation to climate change are most likely to be found. In fact, the wild species related to our crops are in general not well represented in collections, certainly relative to the genetic diversity they represent, and many are not to be found in genebanks at all. The need to locate and collect wild crop relatives before they disappear from their natural habitats is made more urgent by the advent of climate change, which threatens many wild species with extinction as well as posing new challenges to crop production.


Collecting crop diversity in a cost-effective manner is recognized as a priority activity under the Global Plan of Action (GPA) “Supporting planned and targeted collecting of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture,” of which one of the objectives is “to begin to fill gaps in the genetic diversity of existing collections with well targeted and prioritised collecting.”


With support from the Global Crop Diversity Trust (the Trust) and others, a team of Geographic Information System (GIS) experts at Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) have analyzed the major taxonomic and geographic gaps in the worldwide holdings of different crop genepools. We now therefore have information that can guide the “targeted collecting” called for by the GPA, for a number of crops, including barley, beans, chickpea, cowpea, faba bean, finger millet, lentil, maize, pearl millet, pigeon pea, sorghum and wheat:[]. This website also provides data on predicted changes in species richness due to climate change for each of the twelve genepools.


The Global Crop Diversity Trust is therefore now launching a competitive grants scheme to support the collecting of remaining genetic diversity for these crops. Priority will be given to collecting proposals that fill the gaps in worldwide holdings and/or target areas and populations likely to be at imminent risk and/or harbour traits of use in adapting crops to climate change, as identified in the above-mentioned analyses or similar efforts. Expeditions which target multiple genepools will be especially welcome.  Accepted norms and regulations for collecting and safe transfer of germplasm, including the FAO International Code of Conduct for Plant Germplasm Collecting and Transfer, should be followed at all times.


Funds from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) of Australia are supporting this Collecting Award Scheme.


All interested parties are hereby invited to submit proposals for consideration by the Trust for an award in early 2010.  The following terms and conditions will apply:


Priorities for support under the Collecting Award Scheme:

Grants will be awarded based on the following criteria and priorities:



The Award Scheme will fund the collecting of wild crop relatives and/or landraces of the following crops: barley, beans, chickpea, cowpea, faba bean, finger millet, lentil, maize, pearl millet, pigeon pea, sorghum, wheat.


Type of germplasm, target areas and traits

Priority will be given to the collecting of wild crop relatives which are entirely missing from genebanks or from areas that are not represented in existing ex situ collections. Landraces identified as not being represented from specific areas considered of high potential value in terms of traits for climate change adaptation may also be targeted. This includes targeting marginal areas with known abiotic stresses such as high temperatures and low water availability, or high incidence of pests and diseases whose ravages are expected to intensify under climate change.


Target species and geographic areas should be identified through an explicitly

described process of gap analysis at the global, regional or national levels, such

as the gap analysis describe above or any other.



Collaborative proposals involving multiple countries (for example under the aegis of a regional Plant Genetic Resources Network), as well as regional and international research centres will be especially welcome.


Duplication and availability of the collected germplasm

The grant recipient must ensure that the germplasm collected is available under the terms and conditions of the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and duplicated for safety in a genebank meeting international standards of management. It is expected that a sample of the collected germplasm is deposited with an institute/genebank in the country of collecting. In addition a sample must be sent for safety duplication to a genebank meeting international management standards. The grant recipient can nominate the genebank(s) for our approval or request us to provide the name of a genebank that meets such standards.  



The route of the collecting expedition(s) must be fully documented (tracked by GPS if possible). Passport data should be as full as possible and include accurate coordinates (longitude and latitude) of all collection sites. Both presence and absence of populations of target genepools must be confirmed at locations where searches are performed. Recipients should use standard collecting forms.


All data on collected germplasm must be made available in the public domain. Further, provision must be made for all data generated by the project to be entered into an appropriate, publicly available, electronic database, within six months after collection. Recipients are also encouraged to publish the results of the project in appropriate scientific journals.


Eligibility of grantees

Any individual or group of individuals working in recognized governmental, public non-governmental and/or private institutions are eligible to apply for a grant provided the application receives official endorsement from the institution(s) concerned.


Size and duration of grant

Grants will be awarded in the range of USD 10,000-30,000, to be spent over a period not to exceed one year. All work must be completed no later than 30 April 2011. Applicants will be expected to show a budgetary or in-kind contribution to the project.


Allowable expenses

Funds provided by the Scheme can be applied to a range of different budget items, including additional labour, consultancies, local travel, field or laboratory supplies, services and equipment. No unassigned overhead will be payable but supporting costs, where identified, can be charged.



These projects will run for a maximum of 12 months, a six month technical and financial progress report and a final technical and certified financial report must be submitted during the life of the project. An electronic copy of the data on the germplasm collected, and if appropriate, a hard copy of each of any reports, other publications and software resulting from or relating to the project must also accompany the final report.


The Process

Submission of applications:

All applications must be made on an official proposal form, a copy of which is attached, or can be downloaded from the Trust’s website[] . The terms and conditions that apply to the project can also be viewed on our website.


Applications of the completed proposal from can be sent electronically (either scanned or in PDF format with signature) to:  or  by hard copy or fax to:


Global System Project Manager

Collecting Award Scheme

Global Crop Diversity Trust

c/o FAO

Viale delle Terme di Caracalla

00153 Rome, Italy

Fax: +39 0657055634


Deadline for submission of applications:

All applications for the Award Scheme must be received by the Trust by 15 December 2009.


Review of applications 

All applications will be reviewed by the Trust Secretariat, who may enter into correspondence with the applicant in order seek any necessary clarification. In addition, all applications will be reviewed by at least one independent external reviewer. A Selection Panel, comprising staff of the Trust and external members, will then select the successful applications. The decision of the Selection Panel shall be final.


Notification of grant award 

Applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application by the end of February 2010. Successful applicants will be sent a Grant Agreement for signature by the competent authority. 


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4.03  Graduate Assistantship, offered in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University


The Monsanto Graduate Assistantship, offered in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University, supports outstanding students pursuing a doctoral degree in applied plant breeding and genetic improvement of crops. In addition, Monsanto supports one assistantship in cotton production.


A total of 14 assistantships—each providing a $24,000 annual salary, individual health insurance, and funds for all required fees and tuition—will be awarded to both U.S. and international students.



• Earn a minimum 3.5 grade point average in all master’s level graduate course work

• Demonstrate an aptitude for research

• Provide three letters of recommendation from professors or employers with knowledge of applicants research and academic abilities

• Successfully complete the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

• Successfully meet all other requirements for admission to graduate studies at Texas A&M University


Application Procedure:

Applicants should follow all of the guidelines and procedures to apply for graduate studies in a department offering a plant breeding degree at Texas A&M University at College Station. On-line application to graduate studies at Texas A&M University can be found at

Additional items to be provided by the applicant are:

• A statement providing sufficient background information to demonstrate the student’s aptitude to conduct plant breeding or cotton production research

• Identification of the area of plant breeding research to be

pursued and its importance to the agricultural industry

• A one- to two-page letter of support from the department sponsor or major professor which includes a dissertation title and objectives


Students applying to the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences must send these additional items to the attention of Wayne Smith, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, 2474 Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843-2474,


Students applying to the Department of Horticultural Sciences must send the additional items to the attention of David Byrne, Department of Horticultural Sciences, 2133 Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843-2133 (


Selection Procedure:

Applications will be reviewed by an interdepartmental committee that includes faculty members from the departments of Horticultural Sciences, Soil and Crop Sciences, Entomology, and Plant Pathology and Microbiology, along with the associate dean for graduate programs.


Preference will be given first to candidates who have earned a master of science degree outside Texas A&M. Second preference will be given to those who have earned a master of science degree from the university but earned an undergraduate degree elsewhere. Candidates who have earned both bachelor and master of science degrees from the university are not eligible for this assistantship.


Additional Information:

The award is for a maximum of three years plus one academic semester. Students must maintain satisfactory research progress and meet all other Texas A&M University enrollment requirements.


If an Experiential Learning Assignment with Monsanto is requested by Monsanto, the student will remain enrolled at Texas A&M University and on the Monsanto Assistantship with additional salary from Monsanto to help cover costs. The Monsanto Assistantship will be extended to cover the length of the Experiential Learning Opportunity.


Contributed by C. Wayne Smith

Professor and Associate Head

Department of Soil and Crop Scienc