30 January 2010


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  Plant breeding recognised as key to future agricultural production

1.02  Breeding crops for the next decade

1.03  Visualizing Consolidation in the Global Seed Industry: 1996–2008

1.04  Can we feed the world without damaging it?

1.05  Third "olympic gold" to Sweden: an award for outstanding research in forest genetics

1.06  Embrapa starts new rice breeding project for Brazil

1.07  Food Crops: Cassava in Vietnam: a successful story

1.08  Egypt's rust-resistant wheat ripe for testing

1.09  The Genome Analysis Centre of BBSRC: capacity and capability challenge call

1.10  Revolutionary new tomato genetics for protected culture to be featured at the ExpoAgro in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico

1.11  GRDC Crop Doctor: Pulse breeding

1.12  Chinese Ministry of Agriculture to establish 132 national demonstration counties for mechanized rice seedling breeding and transplanting

1.13  Potato material from the International Potato Center (CIP) is helping farmers to enhance food and income security in Central and Southwest Asia in the face of climate change

1.14  Funding for climate change research in agriculture gets major boost

1.15  Seed Amendment Bill to encourage public, private investment: Gondal

1.16  Bangladesh-India agreement on agri-biotech exchange

1.17  China’s Standards and Patent Innovation Proposals: problems For IPR and global trade?

1.18  Quiet biotech revolution transforming crops

1.19  GM eggplants, potatoes on trial --Scientists foresee new chapter in farm sector

1.20  US Supreme Court to take up Monsanto alfalfa case

1.21  Herbicide resistant weeds threaten global crops

1.22  ISB News report, special issue: Biofortification of plants through genetic engineering

1.23  Promoting biotech and ensuring the future of farming

1.24  Svalbard Global Seed Vault: 50 000 seed samples sent to the Vault

1.25  USDA/ARS plant collections help safeguard crops

1.26  Overseas collections play important role in controlling invasive species in the U.S.

1.27  Australia's National Farmers’ Federation says that conserving biodiversity is a shared responsibility

1.28  Seed Savers Exchange does their part for food security

1.29  Progress in resistance to post-harvest deterioration in cassava

1.30  Development of high-yielding C4 rice eyed

1.31  The plant that doesn’t feel the cold

1.32  Cold snaps cause sterility in rice

1.33  New USDA/ARS-developed soybean line resists key nematode

1.34  Conquering Asia with the pink tomato

1.35  Genes for drought-tolerance, aflatoxin may mingle to boost corn production

1.36  Barley gives guidance to increasing wheat vigour

1.37  Genetic marker provides fungal disease guide

1.38  Tracking virus resistance genes in watermelon made easier with new molecular markers

1.39  Wheat researchers unlock the power of genetics

1.40  Scientists sequence the genome of the woodland strawberry, a model system for rosaceae plants

1.41  Molecular markers made easy: the Generation Challenge Programme’s Molecular Marker Toolkit

1.42  New genetic map will speed up plant breeding of the world's most important medicinal crop

1.43  Genome sequencing shows past genetic events made soybeans rich in versatile gene families

1.44  USDA scientists, cooperators sequence majority of soybean genome

1.45  China completes cassava genome sequencing for energy use research

1.46  University of British Columbia receives C$10.5M to map genome of sunflower family

1.47  Leadership changes at Crops for the Future

1.48  Invitation to join the International Phtyotechnology Society

1.49  GCP News Issue 43

1.50  UC Davis accepting applications for Plant Breeding Academy programs



2.01  Science for Decision Makers - Plant Gene Technology: Improving the Productivity of Australian Agriculture



3.01  Arborea releases a gene catalogue for the conifer tree Picea glauca



4.01  Soy group offering $50,000 to study crop sciences

4.02  USDA/NIFA plans to release agriculture and food research initiative request for applications in February

4.03  Call for applications for the Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Award

4.04  Global Rice Science Scholarship at IRRI

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



(None submitted)









1.01  Plant breeding recognised as key to future agricultural production


United Kingdom

12 January  2010

The British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) has welcomed the findings of new farmer research which singles out plant breeding as the most important scientific development for future agricultural production.


The research, presented at the Oxford Farming Conference, involved a survey of 600 farmers by the National Farm Research Unit.


Increased yield and improved disease and pest resistance were highlighted by farmers as key priorities for future plant breeding programmes.


BSPB also strongly endorsed the report’s conclusions that UK agriculture needs a functioning R&D chain, from basic science through to practical on-farm application, to meet the challenges of sustainable yield improvement set out in the Government’s Food 2030 strategy.


“There is clear evidence that crop genetic improvement – delivered to the market through commercial plant breeding programmes - will be the single most important factor in boosting future agricultural productivity. This research provides an encouraging indication that farmers recognise the critical need to support future investment in plant breeding,” said BSPB chairman Dr Thomas Jolliffe.


“For some time, plant breeders have highlighted the urgent need to bridge the current hiatus in research activity. Although commercial plant breeding is a research-intensive activity, with around a third of turnover invested in R&D, the limited revenue streams available from seed royalties do not allow significant investment in speculative or long-term targets. As a result, much of the new genetic information being generated at a basic level in public sector research institutes is not being transferred into crops of value to UK farmers and consumers.


“There are encouraging signs that our calls for significant new public investment in translational crop science have not gone unheeded among policy-makers and R&D fund-holders,” said Dr Jolliffe.


“Continued support for the Crop Genetic Improvement Networks, the launch by BBSRC of a new Crop Improvement Club, and the recent establishment of a Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform within the Technology Strategy Board all offer important opportunities to strengthen the R&D pipeline through collaboration between public and private sector research.


“But the timescales involved in plant breeding are such that we need to act now to deliver on the targets for 2030. The immediate challenge is to ensure that research with practical, on-farm impact is effectively co-ordinated and focused on the right priorities. BSPB members have a pivotal role to play in that process by providing a route to market for improved varieties and crop production systems,” said Dr Jolliffe.


BSPB is the representative body for the UK plant breeding industry. Acting on members’ behalf, BSPB licenses, collects and distributes certified seed royalties and farm-saved seed payments on agricultural and horticultural crops. BSPB represents more than 50 members, comprising virtually 100% of public and private sector breeding activity in the UK.




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1.02  Breeding crops for the next decade


28 December 2009

PLANT breeder Bill Angus talks to Teresa Rush about his hopes for the next decade in terms of wheat breeding and how breeders will meet the challenges.


The next 10 years, in wheat breeding terms, will be about achieving a massive boost in production, against a backdrop of increasing environmental constraints.


Nonetheless, the next decade could potentially be one of the most exciting for wheat breeding developments, says Bill Angus.


“Worldwide wheat production is currently about 600 million tonnes. By 2030 we will need to produce 900m tonnes to meet the extra demand for food resulting from population growth.


“We need a second ‘Green Revolution’. The first one stemmed the tide of hunger - it was about dwarf wheat varieties, nitrogen, fungicides, agronomic changes such as the development of field tramlines - and UK farmers were brilliant at picking these up.


“Now we’ve got a backdrop of environmental issues and some of these are actually antagonistic to the need to increase output,” he says.


Recent pesticide and water legislation, which will limit the range of agrochemicals available to farmers, provide good examples of the constraints facing the industry. Plant breeders have been thrown a challenge to equip


farmers to produce more with fewer inputs, a challenge that can only be described as daunting, he says.


“What are we going to do about it? Well, we have to look at every possible opportunity we can, and that means revisiting some technologies discarded in the past.


“There are two in particular I think need to be looked at very, very seriously; one is hybrid wheat and the other is GM.


“We’ve got to have a mature discussion about GM and move away from the emotive stuff. We’ve got to get rid of the antagonistic positions of ‘GM is the answer to all our dreams’ in a stand-off with ‘GM is Frankenstein food’. What we’ve got to say is GM must be considered as potentially one of the building blocks to help us achieve sustainable output.


“If we don’t do that we are in severe danger of letting our fellow human beings in the Third World down very badly.


“I think mass starvation and hunger are really going to be something we are looking at in 10 years time if we don’t do something now.”


There are already signs the plant breeding sector is adapting in order to meet the challenge. Most recently there has been increasing interest in the sector from R&D-based agrochemical businesses.


Within the last few months Monsanto has renewed its interest in wheat breeding via the acquisition of the US Westbred business, says Mr Angus.


What is driving this investment is a fundamental of the worldwide wheat market - the need globally to produce more wheat.


“We are starting to see companies coming back into wheat breeding because of this. The fundamentals say the price of wheat has got to rise, with demand increasing and supply chains becoming more limited.


“Therefore, the agrochemical companies will be looking to take a share of that increase in price. It’s as simple as that.”


Mr Angus admits, a few years ago he would have been highly critical of this encroachment into the seeds business. But, in today’s economic climate, he sees global agrochemical businesses as organisations who, through their greater resources, could make a significant and complementary investment in wheat production.


“It’s going to be very difficult under the current financial returns system for private sector breeders to meet the demands for increased production unless we can tap into public funding and/ or form strategic partnerships with those who have the money.


“If you look at corn (maize) yields in the US, they’ve gone up massively. Why? Because plant breeders have invested in developing new varieties.


“Agrochemical giants, such as Monsanto, invest significant sums into research.That investment is manifested in the increasing output we are seeing in maize.”


In stark contrast, wheat breeding in the US has seen much lower levels of investment and, as a consequence, yields have increased at a much slower rate.


Worldwide there are traits already identified in wheat, which with GM technology, and a refocusing of investments, could provide a significant yield boost within 10 years he maintains.


“I think we are developing an understanding of key traits - there’s lots of talk about nitrogen use efficiency, water use efficiency and modified starch profiles, for example - but we’re still very much in the proof of concept stage.We’re not in position where we could say ‘We’ve got these traits, off we go’.


“I’m not suggesting we should embrace GM - but I do think we should make sure we look at it as an option. There are technologies available to us. If I look, for example, at the molecular marker work we do here, it’s brilliant in terms of giving additional information.


“Wheat breeding has become a much more sophisticated activity than it was 20 years ago. Now we need to find people who can balance traditional technologies with new technology, because the answers are going to come from the selective use of the different technologies available.”


What is needed in the plant breeding industry during the course of the next 10 years is boldness, says Mr Angus.


“I think we need to be much bolder than we are being at the moment. We need to look at developing varieties with different photosynthetic pathways, different crop structures. We need to broaden the genetic pool, look outside of the current wheat germplasm into related grasses to see if we can build improved yield potential and, possibly, also source some better disease resistance than we’ve got at the moment.”


Such developments will require funding and, with total royalty income from wheat amounting to £13-14 million per year, it is about time some of the revenue generated along the food chain is returned to plant breeders, he argues.


While limited funding for commercial plant breeding is a concern, so too is funding for, and targeting of, plant breeding research.


“We’ve lost our way in the public sector,” he says. “We have become too interested in blue sky research topics that are meaningless to farmers.


“I think the public sector has got to really realign itself with what UK plc needs in terms of agriculture - output.”


This realignment is already underway, with the formation of the Crop Improvement Club, the Technology Strategy Board and initiatives such as the Wheat Genetic Improvement Network (WGIN).


“I think if we take some of the technologies available to us now, we stand a chance of increasing our average yield in the UK from eight tonnes per hectare to 12 tonnes a hectare. People will say, well we’ve already got plenty of wheat in the UK. That is not the point - we need to look at it from a global perspective as well as being a major exporter into the world markets.


“If we were to increase UK wheat yields from eight to 12 tonnes per hectare, we would be able to supply everyone on the planet with a loaf of bread.


“The potential is there, but the onus is on us to increase yields in environments where we can capture that yield potential.


“There will be parts of the world, where, because of global warming, we are not able to capture further yield potential.


“While politicians are talking in timescales extending forward over 10 or even 20 years and beyond, the reality for plant breeders is the deadline is much closer because of the time taken to develop new varieties. “If we don’t do something in the next two to three years we’ll really be struggling,” says Mr Angus.


“If we say it takes seven years to produce a new variety, there are only three cycles left to get to 2030.”


What of the wheat varieties of 10 years hence? Will they look and perform like the wheat varieties of today?


More robust and reliable disease resistance is certainly achievable. “I’d like to think in 10 years time we’ll have varieties resistant to take-all but that may depend probably on acceptance of GM technology.


“I think we could be working with a range of modified starch profiles, so wheat may look the same but it may deliver to the marketplace a range of different quality characteristics.


“I also like to think we’ll see varieties much more tuned into the marketplace and we will have moved away from generic ‘feed’ or ‘bread’ classification - but that depends on end users being prepared to invest in downstream breeding activity.


“If they’re not, it’ll be what we’ve had for the last 20 or 30 years. If they don’t share with us what they want and they’re not prepared to help the breeder get to where they want to be, it’s not going to happen.”


Of course, in the UK the HGCA Recommended List system has an enormous influence on the commercial success or otherwise of varieties.


The Recommended Lists have done a good job for farmers - but they are due for a radical rethink if they are to retain their value over the next 10 years he maintains.


Such an overhaul is unlikely, he says, but if only one thing could be changed it should be to include all varieties in all RL trials.


“What farmers want is more data, better data - and a better quality of interpretation of that data.”




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1.03  Visualizing Consolidation in the Global Seed Industry: 1996–2008


Philip H. Howard

Sustainability,  2009, 1, 1266-1287.

Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, Michigan State University, 316 Natural Resources, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA; E-Mail:


Abstract: The commercial seed industry has undergone tremendous consolidation in the last 40 years as transnational corporations entered this agricultural sector, and acquired or merged with competing firms. This trend is associated with impacts that constrain the opportunities for renewable agriculture, such as reductions in seed lines and a declining prevalence of seed saving. To better characterize the current structure of the industry, ownership changes from 1996 to 2008 are represented visually with information graphics. Since the commercialization of transgenic crops in the mid-1990s, the sale of seeds has become dominated globally by Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta. In addition, the largest firms are increasingly networked through agreements to cross-license transgenic seed traits.


Keywords: seed industry; consolidation; concentration; oligopoly; information graphics


1. Introduction

In the last 40 years, the commercial seed industry has transformed dramatically. It has shifted from a competitive sector of agribusiness, composed primarily of small, family-owned firms, to an industry dominated by a small number of transnational pharmaceutical/chemical corporations [1]. These corporations entered the industry by acquiring numerous smaller seed companies, and merging with large competitors. This consolidation is associated with a number of impacts that constrain the opportunities for renewable agriculture. Some of these include declining rates of saving and replanting seeds, as firms successfully convince a growing percentage of farmers to purchase their products year after year [2]; a shift in both public and private research toward the most profitable proprietary crops and varieties, but away from the improvement of varieties that farmers can easily replant [3]; and a reduction in seed diversity, as remaining firms eliminate less profitable lines from newly acquired subsidiaries [4]. A number of studies of consolidation in the seed industry have examined trends up until the turn of the 21st century [5-12], but the most recent, accelerating changes are not as well-characterized [13,14]. In addition, the hundreds of transactions that have reshaped the industry in recent years challenge human cognitive capacities, making the full extent of this process difficult to comprehend. One promising way to improve understanding of the current structure of the global seed industry is by representing patterns of ownership visually, using information graphics. This approach communicates large amounts of information more quickly, and with fewer burdens on our short-term memories, when compared to text alone [15]. Visualization is particularly useful for analyzing consolidation because it can simultaneously represent the specific events that have contributed to these changes, as well as their overall scope. In addition, it can facilitate the dissemination of such research findings to much wider audiences, which is critical for encouraging sustainability efforts [16]. In this article I first discuss several theoretical perspectives that help clarify recent seed industry changes. I then describe the methods used to visualize the mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures that have occurred among key firms since the mid-1990s. These information graphics are presented with profiles of key firms involved in recent structural changes, and analysis of the strategies they have employed to achieve greater control over the seed sector. The potential trajectories of current trends, and their implications for renewable agriculture are briefly discussed.


(For full paper, see




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1.04  Can we feed the world without damaging it?


4 January 2010

Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak have every reason not to get along.

Ronald, a plant scientist, has spent her past two decades manipulating rice from her lab bench, bending the grain's DNA to her whim. Adamchak, meanwhile, is an organic farmer, teaching college students the best practices of an environmentally gentle agriculture at his California market garden.


As Adamchak confesses, few have been more vociferously opposed to the genetic engineering practiced by Ronald than his organic movement, which has steadily grown in recent years to constitute an influential, if tiny, part of the U.S. farm system. So it can come as some surprise when Ronald and Adamchak let slip that they have been happily married for more than a decade.


Such a union should not be shocking, the couple argues. And a more modest version -- sans marriage -- must be considered by any farmer or consumer hoping for a sustainable future for agriculture.


Industrial farming, with its heavy use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizer and irrigation, is exhausting the environment, and with billions more mouths to feed in the upcoming decades, the problem will only worsen unless the efforts of organic farming and genetic engineering are combined, they say.


"The worst thing for the environment is farming," said Ronald, a geneticist at the University of California, Davis, who is best known for her work developing rice strains that survive two weeks of continuous flooding.


"It doesn't matter if it is organic," Ronald said. "You have to go in and destroy everything. So let's be efficient. Let's conserve. Let's be smart about it."


To spread their message to two communities that rarely speak in measured terms, Ronald and Adamchak have written a book, "Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food," which came out in paperback last month.


What Adamchak and Ronald pursue in the book is in essence a unified theory of farming. While critical of Western seed companies that have co-opted genetically modified (GM) crops for questionable business practices, the couple argues that both current and future generations of altered crops will, if responsibly managed, allow much of the world's hungry to be fed from land already degraded by the plow's slice and the tractor's compressing wheel.


"The point of our book is that you really need to look at the goals of sustainability," Ronald said. "What matters is: Are we achieving sustainable agricultures that can feed the world without damaging it?"


Ronald and Adamchak are not alone in their call for a more nuanced understanding of GM crops. Their work has inspired books by a varied clutch of professionals: an environmentalist, a historian and a journalist. The books -- Stewart Brand's "Whole Earth Discipline," James McWilliams' "Just Food" and Michael Specter's "Denialism" -- take advocates and critics of genetic engineering to task for what has become a polarized and dumbed-down debate.


Brand, who heavily cites Ronald and Adamchak, is perhaps the most incendiary in his work. While he made his name as a leader of the environmental movement decades ago, founding the Whole Earth Catalog, in recent years Brand has sought a third way, supporting "heretical" technologies like nuclear power.


He is full-throated in his defense of GM crops, writing: "I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we've been wrong about. We've starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our practitioners a crucial tool."


McWilliams, an agriculture historian at Texas State University and previously a critic of GM crops, said that during his recent research he has come to respect and heed the couple's message.


"I admire them for fighting an immense uphill battle," McWilliams said. "I cannot think of another issue that really sets the organic lobby [so] on edge. ... Their attempt to blend organic agriculture with genetic engineering is really quite visionary."


"They're looking into a tidal wave of opposition," he added. "Just judging them solely on the contents of their book, they do it with a great deal of knowledge and a very powerful argument."


(Continues. For the complete article see:




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1.05  Third "olympic gold" to Sweden: an award for outstanding research in forest genetics


The International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) will, at its World Congress in 2010, give the ”Outstanding Doctoral Research Award” to Finnvid Prescher, PhD at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. He receives the prize for his thesis "Seed Orchards – Genetic Considerations on Function, Management and Seed Procurement", in the field of forest genetics. The award is open to PhD theses worldwide, and may be compared to winning an olympic gold medal! This is the third time in a row this award goes to a Swedish doctoral fellow in forest genetics.


At the World Congresses held every 5th year, IUFRO awards PhD theses within some special fields. At the three latest World Congresses, the award in the field of "physiology and genetics" has been given to doctors in forest genetics at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences:


  • World Congress in Seoul 2010 to Finnvid Prescher
  • World Congress in Brisbane 2005 to Kyu-Suk Kang
  • World Congress in Kuala Lumpur 2000 to Run-Peng Wei


Finnvid Prescher is responsible for a large part of Sweden's supply of forest seeds, and has written the PhD thesis while attending to his ordinary work. This is an example of how a practitioner can develop the scientific basis of his practical work.


Prescher has spent his career working in Sweden. Kyu-Suk Kang and Run-Peng Wei studied in Sweden, but have now returned to their respective native countries (Korea and China) to continue their work there. All of them have had Professor Dag Lindgren as their supervisor.


Finnvid Prescher and Kyu-Suk Kang's doctoral theses are about seed orchards, while Run-Peng Wei's deals with tree breeding. The theses have a rather practical angle, and are aimed at improving the operational efficiency rather than analysing profound scientific questions. Many of the results are published in popular forestry periodicals. The awards highlight operational forest genetic questions that are of vital significance for a sustainable future.


Contributed by Dag Lindgren


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1.06  Embrapa starts new rice breeding project for Brazil.


The Brazilian Corporation for Agricultural Research, Embrapa, leads a nationwide rice breeding program with the objective of developing better rice cultivars for all of the rice farming systems in Brazil. The program, started in 1978, has been traditionally composed by consecutive three-year projects, focusing on different aspects of rice breeding and genetics. The novelty is that the new project, started September 2009, is a four-year project unifying all of the previous projects in a single framework, putting together the expertise of a multidisciplinary team of 81 rice scientists.


The new project received the nickname of MelhorArroz, a contraction for breeding better rice, in Portuguese, and has the ambitious goal of becoming a reference in rice breeding worldwide. For achieving this goal, Embrapa counts with the partnership of Irga (the Rice Institute of the State of Rio Grande do Sul), Epagri (Santa Catarina State Agricultural Research and Rural Extension Agency), several other research or rural extension companies from the States of Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Goiás and Tocantins, besides a number of Brazilian Universities. The project leader is Dr. Orlando Peixoto de Morais (, a senior scientist at Embrapa Rice and Beans, located in Santo Antônio de Goiás. Irga and Epagri will continue their independent, state-level breeding programs, which are expected to tap novel and useful variability from the nationwide project. Dr. Morais believes that this new scheme can create the conditions for effective collaboration between public breeding programs in Brazil.


The MelhorArroz Project have several target environments, including subtropical irrigated rice for the South, tropical irrigated rice for the center and the Northeast, upland rice for the center and the West, and rainfed lowland rice for the State of Maranhão. Breeding lines are selected for strict grain quality standards, namely, vitreous long and slender, non-sticky and soft cooking grains. Disease resistance is evaluated throughout the program. The breeding method is a modified pedigree scheme, with recombination in the F5 generation, inspired in the recurrent selection methods. Molecular markers will be used in several stages of the project, including monitoring the variability of synthetic populations, QTL mapping for pest resistance and grain quality, marker-assisted selection of disease resistance genes and fingerprinting of new varieties.   


Although the project is focused on Brazil, Embrapa and partners welcome international collaboration in rice breeding and genetics, with potential for increasing food security and reducing the environmental cost of rice production. Contacts should be directed to Embrapa Rice and Beans, Deputy Director of R&D, Dr. Flavio Breseghello (


Contributed by Pericles Neves


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1.07  Food Crops: Cassava in Vietnam: a successful story


Cassava in Vietnam is among the four most important food crops. Cassava now an important source of cash income to small farmers. In 2008, cassava fresh root production in Vietnam was about 9.39 million tones, up from only 1.99 million tones in 2000 and marked increases in yield, from 8.36 t/ha in 2000 to 16.90 t/ha in 2008. Vietnam has made the fastest progress in application of new technologies in breeding and new cultivar propagation in Asia. Such progress has been considered as a result of many factors, of which the success in breeding and application of new technologies were the main contributing factors. Cassava yields and production in several provinces have more than doubled due to the planting of new high-yielding cassava varieties more than 420,000 ha, mainly KM94, KM140, KM98-5, KM98-1, SM937-26, KM98-7 varieties, and the adoption of more sustainable production practices.


Contributed by Hoang Kim


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1.08  Egypt's rust-resistant wheat ripe for testing


Cairo, Egypt

6 January 2010

Egypt is ready to test new varieties of wheat resistant to a lethal rust, with a series of pilot projects set to launch countrywide.


The 90 projects will involve planting the strains locally to test them in different soil types. Farmers will receive guidelines on what to do if the country becomes affected by the fungus, Ug99, whose virulence has caused global concern (see Deadly wheat disease 'a threat to world food security').


To overcome the significant threat of infection, Egypt has successfully bred Misr 1 and Misr 2, two breeds of wheat that are resistant to Ug99.


The Egyptian Agricultural Research Center began research into the two resistant strains in 2005, funding from the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), Sami R. S. Sabry, deputy director of Field Crops Research Institute, Egypt, told SciDev.Net.


In addition to being fungus-resistant, BGRI stipulated that any new crop varieties should be higher yielding than other varieties.


"Not all resistant strains produce a significant [higher] yield, but Misr 1 and Misr 2 have successfully combined resistance to Ug99 and high yield production, reaching seven tonnes per hectare," Sabry said. The output of previous strains ranged from 6.5 to 6.8 tonnes per hectare.


"Measures are being taken to prevent the spread of disease," said Sabry. "We are trying to protect ourselves and the whole region by protecting our borders from the spread of the fungus."


Egypt has cultivated 40 tonnes of Misr 1 and Misr 2. Of this, 1.5 tonnes has been exported to Afghanistan at no cost. The country is also working with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico, which supplied the pilot strains for research.


Ug99 was discovered in Uganda in 1999 and spread quickly to Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. Its spores have also blown to Afghanistan, Iran and Yemen. There are concerns that the Middle East will be infected next.


The fungus mutates often but scientists hope that the two resistant varieties will provide a double barrier against infection.


"There isn't a great difference between varieties but they serve as a safeguard, in case one variety becomes susceptible to the fungus," said Sabry.




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1.09  The Genome Analysis Centre of BBSRC: capacity and capability challenge call


United Kingdom

11 January 2010

The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) is a new national BBSRC centre for large-scale sequencing of plants, animals and microbes in partnership with the East of England Development Agency and the Norfolk Local Authorities.


TGAC has recently launched a Capacity and Capability Challenge (CCC) programme, offering UK researchers the opportunity to engage with the Centre's new sequencing and bioinformatics facilities through its early access research programme. Starting this month and running for 12-18 months, the CCC will deliver a series of innovative projects addressing both biological research problems and technical challenges to sequencing and associated informatics.


The CCC is being administered with support from BBSRC Office, and will operate to a series of batching dates set at intervals to facilitate efficient review of proposals. The upcoming batching dates are 28 February and 30 April 2010. Further details about TGAC and the CCC are available from the TGAC website at:  


Potential applicants are advised to contact the centre to discuss their proposals and requirements. A technical assessment form, completed in iteration with TGAC, must accompany completed applications.


For more information, contact: Emily Angiolini:; 01603 450000




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1.10  Revolutionary new tomato genetics for protected culture to be featured at the ExpoAgro in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico


Los Angeles, California, USA

27 January 2010

Danson Seed announces the release of a revolutionary new generation of determinate grape cherry tomatoes Merlot, 1677, mini plum tomatoes Shiraz, Malbec and mini romas Tokay & 1776 designed to significantly lower productions, lower harvest costs, and significantly increase yields. These determinate and semi determinate varieties are much earlier than indeterminate varieties and significantly out yield all indeterminate varieties in early, main season, and late season slots. These new products provide both concentrated and continuous setting are not paralled by any existing indeterminate varieties. Their less complex cultural practices than required for indeterminate varieties enable growers to remain in production for extended harvest. They also shorten down time between plantings enabling a higher degree of efficiency in greenhouse, shade cloth, and tunnel operations.


Our mission has always been to lower production costs, lower picking costs, and improve yields for growers. Please join us at the EXPO AGRO SINALOA 2010, February 3-6, 2010 for a demonstration this new technology.




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1.11  GRDC Crop Doctor: Pulse breeding



27 January 2010

A crop rotation that includes pulses provides many benefits but the uptake by growers has been constrained, among other things, by drought, disease outbreaks and poor prices for some pulses.


However, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) believes the role of pulses is more important than ever and is investing significant funds into research in this area.


Pulses include, amongst other crops, field peas, lentils, chickpeas, faba beans, lupins and peanuts.


They boost nitrogen levels as well as help in the management of weeds, pests and diseases. This is on top of an average yield increase of half to one tonne per hectare in the following cereal crop and an increase in protein of between 0.5 and 0.8 per cent.


Without improved varieties it would be increasingly difficult for pulses to remain internationally competitive or popular with growers, yet their importance to whole farm productivity and to food security is increasing.


To maximise efficiency and reduce duplication, the GRDC is working with state departments, universities, international organisations and buyers so that breeding programs are nationally coordinated.


The latest edition of GRDC’s magazine Ground Cover includes a supplement outlining GRDC’s investment in pulse breeding and associated projects aiming to expand the Australian pulse industry.


To go on the mailing list or obtain additional copies of Ground Cover, visit the GRDC website (, call 1800 11 00 44 or email


Pulse Breeding Australia (PBA) is one model that’s been established through industry collaboration and with significant GRDC and researcher provider investment. It’s a single world-class breeding and germplasm enhancement program for temperate pulses – lentils, chickpeas, field peas, lupins and faba beans. Other models have been established for peanuts and mungbeans.

PBA was set up in 2006 and the first varieties developed under the model were released in 2009.


Rather than tendering for a commercialisation partner for each new variety, PBA has established a commercial partnership model by crop type. Partnerships are for a period of up to five years and include investment in the pre-commercial development of lines.


The arrangement means there is some sharing of risk, cost and effort between the breeding program and the commercial partner. This enables a larger number of lines to be progressed to the release stage earlier. It is anticipated that this model will reduce the time to market by between two and four years.


New investment will address industry priorities:

the development of pulses with better adaptation to water limiting environments

varieties with herbicide tolerance to improve in-crop weed control

greater disease resistance

At the same time new varieties need to meet specific market requirements, such as seed size and grain colour, so PBA and Pulse Australia work collectively to bring pulse breeders and international buyers of pulses together.


Ultimately, through its collaborations the aim of PBA is to expand and increase Australia’s pulse productivity by delivering better, more suitable and profitable pulses that are adopted rapidly and widely.




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1.12  Chinese Ministry of Agriculture to establish 132 national demonstration counties for mechanized rice seedling breeding and transplanting


Beijing, China

26 January 2010

News from the conference on mechanized rice seedling breeding and transplanting has confirmed that in 2010 the Ministry of Agriculture will have 132 national demonstration counties for mechanized rice seedling breeding and transplanting, with 100,000 yuan of subsidies to each county. The fund will mainly be used for demonstration, training and publicity, and operation subsidies. The cap for operation subsidies is not more than 40% of the total, and the fund should not be used to cover management expenditure.


The Ministry requires that local authorities should: first, work on their own for early arrangement on the selection of demonstration sites to prepare for the work of the coming year; second, fully use the subsidies for agro-machinery, while prioritizing the subsidies to rice seedling breeding and transplanting machines. Meanwhile, local resources should be tapped for more financial support to extend mechanized rice transplanting; third, explore appropriate cost-effective seedling breeding technology and matching mechanized planting technology, to identify proper local plans in order to improve the effectiveness of the application of the technology; fourth, make use of other policies concerning technology extension in rural areas, the new rural construction and promotion of subsidy policies to the purchase of agro-machinery, so that the public awareness to this issue can be enhanced, and; fifth, implement the projects according to relevant guidance of the Ministry, with appropriate use of the fund.


In 2009, the Ministry had 145 counties for demonstration in the producing areas for rice, adding 10,000 seedling transplanting machines to the project areas, increasing 2.15 million mu of land for mechanized transplanting and 3.36 million mu of mechanized harvest, resulting in cost cut and efficiency increase worth 620 million yuan, 96 million yuan of matching fund from the local governments and 390 million yuan of private investment of the farmers. The technology has been matured with good development in machinery production and selling, becoming a highlight in the development of agricultural mechanization.




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1.13  Potato material from the International Potato Center (CIP) is helping farmers to enhance food and income security in Central and Southwest Asia in the face of climate change


La Molina, Lima, Peru

January 2010

A three-year CIP project is boosting potato production with varieties that have been bred and tested to better adapt to the drought and increased temperatures affecting countries such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Bangladesh. At least 200,000 farm families are expected to benefit from the project, which is producing more reliable harvests for farmers and more stable prices for consumers.


Potato is a highly nutritious staple and important cash crop in Central Asia, but productivity is low. Long dry spells, soil salinity, and heat are major production constraints. Valuable local and old Russian potato varieties have been lost due to inadequate research and the lack of viable seed systems, and the expensive, imported seed is not well adapted to regional conditions. In addition, global warming is particularly acute in Central Asia, where average temperatures have increased 1–2°C since the 1950’s (compared to a 0.5°C increase worldwide) and glacial melt runoff has increased by 30%. In Southwest Asia, off-season production represents a good source of income for resource-poor farmers. However, productivity is constrained by drought and high temperatures, which restrict the cultivation period and yields.


CIP scientists, partner institutions, and stakeholders across the region are identifying and validating heat, drought, and salinity tolerance traits in a comprehensive program of strategic exchange and testing of advanced clones. They have also integrated geographic information systems (GIS) with statistical analysis of multilocation trial data to assess the suitability of clones for specific locations. These geo-referenced risk maps and growth models can also project future conditions under climate change scenarios. This information, along with the planting materials developed by the project, will provide farmers, researchers, regional governments, extension services, and policy makers with the tools they need to face the challenges of the region’s harsh conditions and adapt to climate change. 




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1.14  Funding for climate change research in agriculture gets major boost


Manhattan, Kansas, USA

21 December 2009

Funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for research on greenhouse gas mitigation in agriculture will increase by more than 10-fold, according to an announcement on Dec. 16, 2009, from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.


K-State has been a national leader in this field of research, including extensive work on agricultural soil carbon sequestration, said Chuck Rice, K-State University Distinguished Professor of Agronomy and national director of the Consortium for Agricultural Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases. Rice was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.


"At K-State, we have had one of the most active research and extension programs in the country on greenhouse gas mitigation in agriculture," Rice said.


"Our work has helped establish carbon sequestration rates for no-till and grasslands used by emerging carbon markets. We also have helped establish national baselines for soil carbon levels, guidelines on carbon sequestration in cropping systems, and ways to limit nitrous oxide emissions."


In conjunction with this work, K-State recently received part of a $20 million National Science Foundation grant that helped further establish Kansas as an internationally recognized leader in global climate change and renewable energy research.


The new increase in USDA funding for climate change research in agriculture comes as the U.S. joined 20 other countries across the globe on Dec. 16, 2009 to announce the formation of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA), an international research collaborative to combat climate change. K- State has been partnering with several countries included in Global Research Alliance, including Australia, Canada, Colombia and New Zealand.


Over the next four years, USDA will expand agricultural climate change mitigation research by $90 million and contribute this research to the GRA. The increase will raise USDA´s agricultural climate change mitigation research portfolio to more than $130 million over the next four years, up from a base level of funding of just over $10 million in fiscal year 2009. USDA´s enhanced commitment is part of a larger increase on climate change research at the Department. Overall, USDA announced that it expects to invest more than $320 million in the next four years on climate change mitigation and adaptation research for agriculture.


In conjunction with this announcement, USDA also released a new report titled "The Effects of Climate Change on U.S. Ecosystems."


This report summarizes the most recent scientific findings on how climate change will affect agricultural systems in the U.S. and worldwide.


For more information on the USDA GRA initiative, see and go to the "Press Room." Search for Release No. 0615.09 from Dec. 16, 2009.


New USDA report on the impact of climate change on agriculture


Based on a consensus of recent scientific research and modeling, a new report from USDA concludes that climate change is already affecting U.S. agriculture, land resources, water resources and biodiversity. The report, "The Effects of Climate Change on U.S.


Ecosystems," identifies many of the effects of climate change on agriculture and other ecosystems in the U.S. over the next several decades. The USDA report was done in cooperation with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP).


Some of the report´s main points:

  • Grain and oilseed crops will mature more rapidly, but increasing temperatures will heighten the risk of crop failures, particularly where precipitation decreases or becomes more variable.
  • Marketable yield of horticultural crops (such as tomato, onion, and fruit) are more vulnerable to climate change than grains and oilseed crops due to the high sensitivity of their quality and appearance to climate factors.
  • Livestock mortality will decrease with warmer winters but this will be more than offset by greater mortality in hotter summers. Hotter temperatures also will result in reduced productivity of livestock and dairy animals, due to changes in consumption and lower pregnancy rates.
  • Weeds that can thwart agriculture production grow more rapidly under elevated atmospheric CO2, extend their range northward, and are less sensitive to herbicide applications.
  • Disease and pest prevalence will escalate as a result of shorter, warmer winters, challenging crop, livestock, and forest systems.
  • The trends toward reduced mountain snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt runoff in the Western U.S., and toward increasing drought in the West and Southwest, imply changes in the availability of water and a need to monitor the performance of reservoir systems with implications for water management and irrigated agriculture in that region.
  • Climate change is inducing shifts in plant species in rangelands, favoring the establishment of perennial herbaceous species that reduce soil water availability early in the growing season. Shorter winters, however, decrease the need for seasonal forage reserves.


For the complete report, see:




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1.15  Seed Amendment Bill to encourage public, private investment: Gondal


14 January 2010

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture Nazar Muhammad Gondal on Wednesday said the recently introduced Seed Amendment Bill seeks certain important amendments in the Seed Act of 1976.


While talking to the media the minister highlighted the crucially important features of the bill. He said the bill was aimed at making the seed legislation more effective under the changing scenario of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and to meet the requirements of the private sector along with the emerging seed industry. The minister said that certain amendments in the Seed Act, 1976 had been proposed and already approved by the cabinet in its meeting held on September 30, 2009.


“The objectives of the amendments are to incorporate the wider participation of the private sector in agriculture and the latest development in seed technology and seed industry along with our international obligation under the WTO regime,” he added.


The minister said the bill once passed would increase the role of the private sector through registration of seed companies, seed dealers and seed processing units. It would provide an opportunity to make available the pre-basic seed for the production of basic and certified seed in the private sector. It would also enhance the penalties for those selling sub-standard seed in the market and establish accredited seed testing laboratory in the private sector.


“The amendments would enable us to provide training to the people engaged in the seed industry and regulate the quality of transgenic varieties developed through genetic engineering,” expressed the minister.


It would ensure the availability of quality seeds to the farmers, which is extremely important. The dependence on the seed import would also be decreased and would encourage an investment in the emerging national seed industry by multinational and private seed sector to invest and go for local seed production.


He said that the Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) bill, already introduced in the parliament, would ensure intellectual property rights to the breeders for development of new plant varieties. The introduction of the bill would pave the way for enhanced investment of public sector in breeding programmes for development of high yielding hybrid varieties.


About importance of the bill, the minister said that it would encourage plant breeders and seed organisations of both public and private sectors to invest in research and plant breeding.


“It would contribute to the redevelopment and availability of new technologies and making additional resources available to support research in the country,” said the minister.


The minister further added that the multinationals and biotech seed companies could play their role for providing quality seed only if they were assured of protection of their investment through PBR.


He said that PBR legislation was required to avoid further delay in the investment in seed industry of Pakistan. “We need to support and protect the local seed industry otherwise we shall have to remain a seed importing country with extremely high cost and that would keep our farmers at stress in the competitive agrarian economy,” concluded the minister.




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1.16  Bangladesh-India agreement on agri-biotech exchange


15 January 2010

Bangladesh Agriculture Minister Matia Choudhury and Indian Agriculture Minister Sharad Power signed an agreement in Dhaka on 08 January 2010 to collaborate on advanced agricultural technology. Both countries will exchange technologies and scientists to build and improve capacity to develop GM and hybrid crop varieties to combat salinity, drought and submergence problems.


In their earlier meeting, Mrs. Choudhury and Dr Mangala Roy, Secretary of India Agriculture Research & Education and Director of India Agricultural Research Institute expressed their views on the positive direction for the production and import of hybrid and GM crops to meet food shortage. "The Bangladesh Government will not be conservative in importing and releasing GM crops if it is found beneficial for the country," she stressed.


Scientists from both countries are trying to incorporate the genes from the resistant sources to develop salinity and drought tolerant rice varieties. BR11 was crossed with the submergence tolerant IRRI lines to develop BR11Sub1 which can survive under 15 day submergence. India developed SwarnaSub1 as a submergence tolerant variety. Moreover, IRRI 64 and Mahasuri varieties were also modified for the purpose. BRRI 47 and BINA Line are being developed as salinity tolerant varieties. Pokkali, Uri and other coastal varieties of rice from both the countries have shown saline tolerance to a significant level.


For more news from Bangladesh, email Dr. Khondoker Nasiruddin of the Bangladesh Biotechnology Information Center at




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1.17  China’s Standards and Patent Innovation Proposals: problems For IPR and global trade?


21 December 2009

By Dr. Ruth Taplin

The proposed change to the standards law by the Standardization Administration of China (SAC) concerning “Regulations on Administration of Formulating and Revising National Standards Involving Patents” caused a flurry of concern and responses around the world prior to the deadline for public comment of 30 November 2009. There are 21 articles which may be further be revised after public comment from global industry and they deal with Chinese National Standards involving patents.


In this column I will deal with a few of the most contested articles and provide a synopsis of the concerns of many organisations that deal with national standards and patents and those that trade with China. The latter part of this article will deal with Notice No. 618, posted on 15 November, which would implement an Indigenous Innovation Accreditation System.


In general, although SAC is trying to balance the requirements of society, which include the rights of individuals, owners of IP and institutional investors to invest in innovation by earning a reasonable fair return on their patented products with the right of all members of society to benefit from innovation and new technologies; the balance by all accounts has not been made with this proposed legislation.


Article 9, for example, is challenging the practice of worldwide organisations such as ANSI, CEN/CENELEC/ ETSI, JISC, ISO, IEC, ITU and other major standards setters by not including the basic requirements of FRAND which enables innovators to be able to obtain a return on the risks of investing in R&D. This is done through the concept of offering licenses to the essential patent claims of an internationally agreed standard based on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms (FRAND).


Article 9, a national standard cannot include any patented technology unless the patent holder agrees to grant licences with royalties “considerably lower than the customary license fee” or with no royalties at all. It is argued that most patent holders making a rational choice in the face of licensing revenue being well below the normal royalty expected by the patent holder or no royalty at all, many patent holders will choose not to licence their technology which will result in a lower quality standard and a great loss as the patent holder will seek a fair return on an investment elsewhere.


Some technologies will not allow for the latter which would force the patent holder to accept a lower standard and thereby seek to make up for their losses by selling their product for a higher price outside of China which could affect adversely China’s own export business.


The Indigenous Innovation Product Accreditation Program, on the other hand, will also it is argued hamper China’s progress in advancing science and technology capabilities by limiting access to the most advanced and best products from around the world which will affect the Chinese standard of living but has serious implications for non-Chinese companies investing and operating in China. This is because Notice 618 stipulates that a Chinese product’s IP be developed and owned in China and that any trademark be originally registered in China. Within this context, quality, value and performance has a much diminished role.


As China and the international community need to robustly protect IPR together as economic ties are built, this new program does not recognise the reality of cross-border, collaborative and the global nature of R&D for innovative purposes. If local IP ownership becomes the basic requirement for market access, collaborative innovation on a global scale would suffer and would be against free and open trade as most innovative products are not developed in a single national territory. This applies to SME companies as well which increasingly rely in Europe for example on business partnering across many nations to develop an innovative product. The most important industry groups from around the world have signed a letter making such points by 10 December 2009, the deadline set by Chinese governmental departments for public comment.


The Chinese have now responded to the above-mentioned letter but appear not to have addressed the concerns of international industry. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman in a written statement of 14 December stated that the accreditation system of the above notice “accords with China’s indigenous innovation strategy and international rules.” She further stated that both domestic and foreign companies are treated equally and fairly under such rules. The statement did not address concerns that globally developed technology may hold IP that is difficult to discern in the case of geographic origin and that with such an indigenous based accreditation system foreign industry may be forced to transfer their IPR to China which does not constitute fair and reasonable treatment for industry outside of China. This indigenous innovation notice has tremendous implications for the fair treatment of non-Chinese global trade and innovation which is a multibillion dollar market that covers the majority of new technology products.


As China is set to become the world’s second largest economy these issues will affect IP owners, investors of all types and patent holders. How Chinese organisations and agencies continue to respond to these concerns of global industry will be worth noting.




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1.18  Quiet biotech revolution transforming crops


21 December 2009

For the past two decades, promises of crop improvement have been the domain of genetically modified plants: mostly, crops supplemented with bacterial genes to resist pests or weedkillers like Roundup. More than 85 percent of U.S. corn, soy or cotton grown contains such genes.


But there is more than one way to transform a plant.


Using advanced biotechnology, long hidden in the background and only now starting to pay dividends, scientists are changing crops without tapping foreign genes -- and often without the regulatory oversight that is given to GM crops.


Many of these crops use latent effects of genes squirreled away in discarded seed varieties to create breeds that at first glance seem artificial. There is corn so infused with vitamin A precursors that it practically glows orange, rice that can survive more than two weeks of flooded conditions, and wheat that resists the advance of devastating aphids.


Such specialized crops are possible because researchers are mastering the science of breeding. Using techniques collectively known as molecular breeding, geneticists have started to return results in a variety of plants, said Ed Buckler, a plant geneticist at Cornell University who recently helped sequence the corn genome.


"We know that old-fashioned good breeding works," Buckler said. "And a lot of that is an intelligent numbers game" based on genetic theories elaborated by Gregor Mendel more than a century ago. Molecular breeding, he added, "is now a way to do that much faster."


Increasingly affordable with improved technology, molecular breeding is becoming the mode of business in the crop world, said Bonnie McClafferty, development head at HarvestPlus, a nonprofit funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that supports molecular breeding research into improving plant nutrition in Africa and Asia.


"People don't understand that we're not working with Gregor Mendel anymore," McClafferty said. "The science is advancing, and there's a whole variety of tools to use."


In fact, molecular breeding is only the start of a bewildering diversity of biotech approaches to crop development that defy the conventional notion of splicing foreign genes into plants. This next generation could shake up what has become a stalled debate -- call it the Roundup Ready stalemate -- by introducing GM crops that, for example, use only their species' native genes or have the expression of their own genes silenced.


While the techniques draw from the same pool of knowledge, and travel together in scientific circles, many environmental groups do not oppose molecular breeding, while stridently critiquing current GM crops, according to Marco Contiero, the European biotech policy director for the environmental group Greenpeace.


"Genetic engineering is just a part of modern biotechnology," Contiero said. "We are against this specific application. We are not against marker-assisted selection."


Most scientists believe that molecular breeding and advanced genetic modification will eventually form a powerful tandem, said David Baulcombe, a professor of botany at the University of Cambridge and the chairman of a recent report issued by the United Kingdom's Royal Society on the future of agriculture.


"Within genetic modification, you've got to remember there's a whole bunch of technologies," Baulcombe said. "There's GM where you move plants' genes around. GM where you use artificial genes to silence gene expression. And then there's the technology that is out in the field now in which bacterial genes have been moved into the crop."


After Mendel

For thousands of years, crop breeding remained much the same: Farmers crossbred plants with desirable traits like high yield, as often as not reproducing those traits in offspring. Mendel clarified the situation, but conventional breeding practices today, though stirred by developments like the green revolution's hybrids, would remain roughly familiar to farmers of a century ago.


(see complete article at:




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1.19  GM eggplants, potatoes on trial --Scientists foresee new chapter in farm sector


14 January 2010

Bangladesh's farm sector is likely to enter an era of biotechnology, as agricultural scientists are advancing in research to develop genetically modified (GM) varieties of eggplants and potatoes.


Scientists said the move to introduce transgenic eggplant and potato crops is aimed at relieving farmers of insecticides and fungicides, boosting production and enabling consumers to get pesticide-free vegetables.


Eggplants, known as Bt eggplants, are now on trial in seven confined fields at various agriculture research stations. Bt eggplants are in its second year of trial in natural conditions.


Potatoes, termed Rb potatoes, are also on trial in two confined fields, said Dr Md Al-Amin, head of biotechnology at Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (Bari).


Prior to putting the crops on trial in confined fields, scientists kept the eggplants and potatoes in greenhouses after transforming the insect-resistant gene-Bacillus Thuringiensis in nine preferred varieties of eggplants and the Rb gene in two varieties of potatoes.


The scientist said the Bt eggplant crops yielded good results in previous field trials, expecting that the insect-resistant Bt eggplant could be given to farmers in the next three years, subject to government approval.


“We got good results in the confined field trials last year and found 85-95 percent infestation-free eggplants,” said Al-Amin.


If Bt eggplant proves safe for human consumption and harmless to the environment, it will be the first GM crop variety in Bangladesh, which now looks to ensure food security for a growing population by practicing modern agriculture technology, said stakeholders.


Environmental activists however opposed the move, arguing that genetically modified brinjals and potatoes will not be safe for human consumption and the environment.


“The way it will be modified leaves a toxic effect in brinjal, which aims at protecting crops from pest attacks. When an insect cannot eat crops, how will it be safe for human consumption,” said Farida Akhter of Nayakrishi Andolon, a platform of farmers who practise ecological agriculture.


“Above all, farmers will lose their right to preserve seeds,” she said, fearing that GM crops may lead to a mono crop culture by damaging the present multi-crop system.


“If crops fail, the farmers will suffer the most,” said Farida, suggesting that policymakers look back at the cases where farmers in India committed suicide after the crops failed.


Scientists however differed with Farida regarding toxicity in the human body.


“By the method we have modified, there is no possibility of toxicity in humans," said Al-Amin.


“It requires a receptor to create a toxic effect on humans. But the human body does not have that receptor. Our findings show that it does not create any health hazard.”


The move to introduce transgenic eggplants and potatoes, with the strength to resist 'fruit and shoot borer' (FSB) in eggplants and 'late blight' in potatoes, has come as farmers suffer from crop losses because of these two destructive diseases.


To avoid such losses, farmers use huge quantities of insecticides in one of the mostly consumed vegetable -- eggplants. It not only creates a risk to consumer health but also forces farmers to spend up to Tk 60,000 a hectare.


Farmers count Tk 26,000 a hectare in fungicides to save potatoes from late blight disease attacks, scientists said.


The initiative to develop GM eggplants and potatoes was taken based on technical collaboration with Cornell University under the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, funded by the United States Agency for International Development.


Al-Amin said introduction of these two transgenic vegetables will boost production by preventing crop loss due to diseases. These crops will also relieve farmers of spending thousands of taka on insecticides and fungicides to avoid crop loss.


It will also enable consumers to get pesticide-free potatoes and eggplants, he said.


“Our main goal is to raise production by preventing losses from diseases in eggplants and potatoes. We also aim to minimise health hazards to consumers due to pesticides,” said the scientist.


“We are getting good results in eggplant. We have also found potatoes moderately disease-resistant in trials last year,” he said.


He expects that Bt eggplants could first be placed with the National Technical Committee on Bio-safety for approval next year.


“If we can prove that these transgenic crops are safe for human consumption and get environment clearance, we will be able to reach out seeds to farmers in the next three years,” he said, referring to eggplants.




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1.20  US Supreme Court to take up Monsanto alfalfa case


15 January 2010

The Supreme Court said Friday it would consider overturning a court order that has blocked Monsanto Co. from selling alfalfa seeds that are genetically modified to resist its Roundup weed killer.


The nation’s highest court said it would hear Monsanto’s appeal of a ruling that prevented its Roundup Ready alfalfa from being planted since 2007.


The court’s decision in this case also could affect a second ruling involving the biotech company’s modified sugar beets.


"USDA's regulatory approval process was short-circuited without any hearing to consider the views of impacted farmers and consideration of sound science," said Stephen Welker, Monsanto's alfalfa and sugar beet lead, in a statement. "We view the Supreme Court's action to hear our appeal as important for American farmers and look forward to presenting our case to the Supreme Court in the coming months. We believe alfalfa growers deserve choice in the products that are available to them."


Monsanto filed the petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in October, arguing that the 2007 injunction by Judge Charles Breyer should not have been ordered without first holding an evidentiary hearing. As a result, the ban imposed unnecessary restrictions and costs on alfalfa hay and seed growers, Monsanto said Friday. Monsanto petitioned the appellate court twice between 2007 and 2008 "to fully consider the scientific evidence and tailor any relief ordered pending the governmental agency completion of an EIS."


Prior to the injunction, Roundup Ready alfalfa was planted by 5,500 growers across 263,000 acres. Alfalfa is the fourth-largest crop grown in the U.S. with 23 million acres grown in 48 U.S. states annually, but about 1 percent of that is currently Roundup Ready.


Opponents claim that Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds contaminate other crops, and that Roundup Ready promote superweeds, weeds that cannot easily be killed because they have developed a tolerance to weedkiller. The Center for Food Safety filed a 2006 lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of non-profits and farmers who wanted to retain the choice to plant non-modified alfalfa, according to the center. CFS won the case and two appeals by Monsanto in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2008 and 2009. Now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.


Monsanto defends its products, saying that cross-pollination is unlikely and that the environment benefits because less weedkiller would be used.




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1.21  Herbicide resistant weeds threaten global crops


Western Australia

21 January 2010

Weeds have evolved a new form of resistance to the world’s most important herbicide, glyphosate, according to research led by Colorado State University.


Dr Todd Gaines, now of the WA Herbicide Resistance Initiative (WAHRI) in The University of Western Australia’s School of Plant Biology, warns that the glyphosate resistant weed populations could impact the use of glyphosate for the cultivation of the global food and fibre crops: rice, wheat, soybeans, maize and cotton.


In a paper published recently in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) lead author Dr Gaines documents his research on a new resistance mechanism in weeds, discovered in the particularly damaging weed species, Amaranthus palmeri.


This weed infests large areas of US crop land and can devastate yield, Dr Gaines said. In some regions of the US southern states, glyphosate resistant weeds are becoming so rife in cotton crops that mechanical harvesters are damaged and weed control sometimes must be done by hand. “Many locations are back to full tillage, and even manual, weed control,” he said.


In a commentary in the same issue of PNAS, UWA Winthrop Professor and WAHRI Director Stephen Powles, writes that in a world of more than six billion people, threats to food production have major repercussions, including famine, war and civil unrest.


“Glyphosate resistance evolution is a major adverse development because glyphosate is a one in a 100-year discovery that is as important for reliable global food production as penicillin is for battling disease,” Professor Powles said.


“In soybean, maize, cotton and canola crops engineered to be glyphosate resistant, this herbicide removes infesting weeds without damage to the crop. The massive adoption of these crops has meant excessive reliance on glyphosate for weed control over vast areas. Globally, no weed control tools are as good as glyphosate and its potential loss because of resistance is a looming threat to global cropping and food production.”


For more information:





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1.22  ISB News report, special issue: Biofortification of plants through genetic engineering


Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

21 January 2010

ISB News Report January 2010


The Accumulation of Novel Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Transgenic Plants

Johnathan Napier, Noemi Ruiz-Lopez, Tianbi Li, Richard Haslam, Olga Sayanova

One promising area of research pertains to the production of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, the so called fish oils, in transgenic plants. The goal is not the direct replication of the fatty acid profile found in marine microbes or fish, but rather the nutritional enhancement of vegetable oils by the inclusion of specific marine fatty acids not normally synthesized by higher plants. In such a scenario, the dietary intake of these healthy fats would be achieved by consumption of omega-3 LC-PUFA-enhanced vegetable oils, without a need for increased consumption of fish or supplements.


Biofortification of Vitamin B6 in Seeds

Hao Chen, Liming Xiong

Animals need a continuous supply of vitamin B6 in their daily diet. Since plants are the major source of vitamin B6 for animals either directly or indirectly, it is of great interest to increase vitamin B6 levels in plants for improved nutrition value. By overexpressing PDX genes specifically in seeds using a seed-specific promoter, we increased the total vitamin B6 level three times over that of wild type. Our results indicate that the seed is a suitable target organ for engineering high levels of bio-available vitamin B6.


Iron Biofortification Of Rice By Targeted Genetic Engineering

Christof Sautter and Wilhelm Gruissem

Rice plants have been developed that contain six times more iron in polished rice kernels. To accomplish this, two plant genes were transferred into an existing rice variety. In the future, high-iron rice could help to reduce iron deficiency in human nutrition, especially in developing countries in Africa and Asia. Moreover, engineered plants will be useful to study the regulation of iron homeostasis in planta.


Feeding Future Populations With Nutritionally Complete Crops

Sonia Gomez-Galera, Shaista Naqvi, Gemma Farre , Georgina Sanahuja, Chao Bai, Teresa Capell, Changfu Zhu, and Paul Christou

Micronutrient deficiency diseases are rife in the developing world, causing millions of needless deaths and adding to miserable socio-economic conditions. Many strategies have been proposed to address nutrient deficiencies, including supplement distribution, fortification programs, and attempts to make crops more inherently nutritious. A relatively new approach is to create novel crop varieties that are more nutritious. The key is to take the part of the plant that is eaten and modify it to increase its ability to store minerals and capacity to synthesize vitamins.




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1.23  Promoting biotech and ensuring the future of farming


St. Louis, Missouri, USA

4 January 2010

The U.S. National Corn Growers Association’s Biotechnology Working Group directs research efforts, promotes biotech acceptance and conducts informational campaigns on the benefits of biotechnology in agriculture. In 2010, the team, under the leadership of chairman Rob Korff, moves forward with efforts to promote the benefits of biotechnology while increasing farmer awareness of stewardship issues including the importance of proper refuge compliance.


The Biotechnology Working Group discussed priorities for 2010 during the December 2009 Action Team meetings held in St. Louis. The group hopes to spread the message that biotechnology provides consumers with a plentiful, consistent crop grown with methods that minimize the use of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and irrigation.


“In the past few years, technology to protect a plant’s ability to reach its full potential in adverse conditions has led to increased yield stability,” said Korff. “With these advances comes the responsibility to educate growers on the importance of technology and of what the long term viability of these products means to our industry.”


To protect the viability of these products, Korff’s team will make a priority of stressing the importance of such important practices as refuge compliance.


“In past years, grower education on refuse compliance was our No. 1 priority,” said Korff “This coming spring, refuge guidelines will change for a few products. We want to ensure that growers follow the stewardship guidelines in place to maintain today’s technology until tomorrow’s can take its place.”


Additionally, Korff stressed that, while each team specializes in a specific area to ensure in depth knowledge and analysis of important issues, teamwork as an entire organization is imperative to successfully serving corn growers nationwide.




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1.24  Svalbard Global Seed Vault: 50 000 seed samples sent to the Vault


Svalbard, Norway

13 December 2009

Svalbard Global Seed Vault has received a major seed shipment while world leaders are gathered to tackle climate change in Copenhagen.


On Sunday 13th of December, more than 50.000 seed samples landed in Longyearbyen to find their place in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.


The shipment contains seeds from crops adapted to dry climates. Among them is sorghum, a high energy crop, known for its wide adaptability and resistance to drought. This "camel among crops" could be a key to agricultural development in areas affected by aridity and saline soils.


Cultural plants for the future

Since the climate conditions change so rapidly, it is extremely important to ensure the genetic diversity of all the cultural plants of the world. In these genes, we will find the necessary qualities to make effective cultural plants in the future. This is absolutely necessary to secure a satisfactory food supply for the global population. Within the next 40 years, the world’s food production must be doubled, says the Norwegian minister of agriculture and food, Lars Peder Brekk.


Among the depositors are two major agricultural research centers, both working with adaptation of plants to dryer areas: ICARDA (International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas) and ICRISAT (International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics).


 Genetic diversity is vital for solving the challenges to agriculture which climate change will cause. It is only through using this diversity that scientists can breed new varieties of our crops, able to thrive in dramatically different conditions expected in the future. This diversity is stored in seeds, and seeds from all continents are now stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, says Roland von Bothmer, professor of genetics and plant-breeding at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and part of the team responsible for running the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.


Since the opening of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in February 2008, more than 430.000 unique seed samples have arrived at the Vault from seed banks all over the world. The purpose is to take care of and protect the seeds in the Arctic permafrost.


The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the ultimate security net for the world's crop diversity. The Seed Vault aims at safeguarding the world’s most important plant genetic resources for food and agriculture with a maximum level of security.


The Seed Vault offers free-of-charge back-up for the seed collections held in seed banks around the world.




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1.25  USDA/ARS plant collections help safeguard crops


Washington, DC, USA

5 January 2009

In the months ahead, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists plan to collect walnuts from Kyrgyzstan, grasses from Russia, and carrots and sunflowers from fields across the Southeastern United States in efforts that will enhance one of the nation's most effective tools for protecting the food supply.


Researchers will make the trips to collect plants with useful characteristics. The collected material will become part of the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS), a network of gene banks that plays an integral role in preserving genetic traits that can be used to combat emerging pests, pathogens, diseases and other threats to the world's supply of food and fiber.


The NPGS collections are made up of approximately 511,000 samples of seeds, tissues and whole plants kept at more than 20 ARS gene banks around the country. Many of the gene banks also receive support from universities and state agricultural experiment stations.


ARS scientists use collection materials for research and mail out thousands of samples of materials free of charge each year to researchers and educators in the United States and countries throughout the world.


ARS also funds approximately 15 expeditions every year to search for new samples of crops and crop relatives with unique traits, such as drought tolerance and pest resistance. The trips, coordinated by the ARS National Germplasm Resources Lab (NGRL) in Beltsville, Md., are conducted with collaboration from host countries and include benefits for these countries.


Useful traits in the samples added to the NPGS may be incorporated into crop cultivars, often many years later. For example, a peanut found in a Brazilian market in 1952 is a source for resistance to a wilt virus for most of the peanuts grown in the Southeastern United States and in many other nations. A wheat plant collected in Turkey in 1948 effectively resisted a fungal pathogen that emerged as a major threat 15 years later. Its genetics are now incorporated into virtually every wheat variety grown in the Pacific Northwest.


Requests for material are filed through the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), an online database ( that identifies and keeps track of every sample in the collection.


Read more about this and other ARS collections in the January 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.


ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's principal intramural scientific research agency. The research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.




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1.26  Overseas collections play important role in controlling invasive species in the U.S.


Washington, DC, USA

5 January 2010

When melaleuca began invading the Florida Everglades and surrounding areas, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists knew of one place to look for a solution: the ARS Australian Biological Control Laboratory (ABCL).


Melaleuca quinquenervia, commonly known as the "Australian broad-leaved paperbark tree," is a serious invasive plant in Florida that has caused extensive environmental and economic damage. In its native country of Australia, melaleuca trees are widely planted. But in Florida, melaleuca is a pest, growing into immense forests and virtually eliminating all other vegetation.


That's why when the Florida melaleuca population needed to be controlled, ARS scientists at ABCL in Brisbane began surveying, collecting and curating the herbivorous insects of melaleuca and adding them to their extensive collection. More than 450 insect species in the collection feed on melaleuca alone. Two of these insects have been successful in curbing melaleuca's spread and a third has successfully established, thanks to the leadership and cooperative effort from the ARS Invasive Plant Research Laboratory (IRPL) in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and cooperators.


The insects join tens of thousands of herbivorous and parasitic insects in ABCL's collection that have been professionally preserved for permanent storage. The specimens are often used for genetic characterization and by taxonomists to conduct systematic studies and identify cryptic species—new species that look identical to those already known.


ABCL's collection also houses samples of targeted weeds such as melaleuca. These samples are used to help characterize and genetically match weeds in the exotic range with specimens from the native range, an essential component in selecting effective, host-specific biocontrol agents.


During the past 24 years, the scientists at ABCL have explored countries throughout Asia to find the most promising biocontrol agents. According to Matt Purcell, entomologist and director of ABCL, a large percentage of the insects they collect are previously unknown to science. Their collections help to increase the knowledge of biodiversity across different habitats and ecosystems in Australia and Southeast Asia.


Similar biocontrol collections are housed at ARS labs in Montpellier, France; Hurlingham, Argentina; and Beijing, China. Read more about them in the January 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.


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




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1.27  Australia's National Farmers’ Federation says that conserving biodiversity is a shared responsibility



11 January 2010

Today marks the launch of the ‘International Year of Biodiversity’. Biodiversity is of critical interest to farmers – since biodiversity and agriculture are interdependent and both are pivotal in addressing looming climate change and food security pressures.


The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) says the challenge before the Australian Government – as with world governments – is striking the right balance between biodiversity while, at the same time, ensuring that farmers are able to increase food production by the 70% needed come 2050 to feed a projected world population of nine billion people.


“Australian farmers are crucial to conserving ecosystems,” NFF President David Crombie said. “This is reflected in Australia’s Environmental Stewardship program, currently in Phase One, which has been overwhelming embraced by farmers over the past two years.


“In fact, under the 2010 Federal Budget, we are calling on the Rudd Government to expand the Environmental Stewardship program to cover all endangered species and ecological systems listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.


“Farmers are Australia’s frontline in dealing positively and proactively in managing environmental needs (see Fact Sheet below at Attachment A). When we think of complex ecosystems, natural habitats and endangered species, I don’t think people realise these national assets are literally in farmers’ backyards.


“Farm-gate environmental management is two-pronged. Firstly, sound natural resource management drives effective and efficient farm techniques, making farming viable and sustainable. Increasingly, environmentally-friendly practices are generating long-term profitability, improved drought resistance and making our resources more sustainable.


“Secondly, beyond the business, farmers are often required (by various local, state and federal laws) to lock-up large sections of their properties to preserve native vegetation… essentially having stewardship of those natural resources on behalf of all Australians.


“However, as a consequence, farmers lose the productive capacity of those areas from their properties, while incurring ongoing costs to conserve and protect the land, including pest and weed management and maintaining green corridors for wildlife conservation.


“Farmers are the first to recognise they have a duty of care to sustainably manage the environment, but they also need help when going over and beyond that duty of care. Farmers taking extra responsibility for environmental management deserve recognition of the costs involved, as well as their time and expertise in delivering sound frontline land care.


“As a nation, we have moved beyond the outdated myth that farmers are somehow divorced from the rest of the community in wanting to preserve our environment. In fact, farmers plant over 20 million trees every year just for conservation reasons, preserving the land for generations to come.


“Expanding the Environmental Stewardship program would recognise that farmers have been improving environmental sustainability on-farm and taking greater responsibility for ecological land management – delivering positive outcomes for farms, the community and the environment.”



Australian farmers – frontline environmentalists

  • Farmers occupy and manage 54% of Australia’s landmass, as such, they are at the frontline in delivering environmental outcomes on behalf of the broader community.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics, Land Management and Farming in Australia, 2007-2008.
  • Natural Resource Management is a fundamental activity on Australian farms. In fact, 94.3% of Australian farms actively undertake Natural Resource Management.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics, Natural Resource Management on Australian Farms 2006-07.
  • Farmers improving their Natural Resource Management practices reported doing so to increase productivity (88.6%), for farm sustainability (88.4%) and better environmental protection (74.5%).
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics, Natural Resource Management on Australian Farms 2006-07.
  • Australian farmers spent $3 billion on Natural Resource Management over 2006-07, actively managing or preventing weed, pest, land and soil, native vegetation or water-related issues on their properties. More than $2.3 billion was spent on weed and pest management, while land and soil-related activities accounted for $649 million of total expenditure.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics, Natural Resource Management on Australian Farms 2006-07.
  • In 1991, the Agricultural Census recorded that farmers planted 9,000,000 tree seedlings for conservation purposes. The 2001 Census recorded farmers planting 20.6 million tree seedlings solely for conservation purposes.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics, Agricultural Census, 1991 & 2001.
  • Our farmers have led Australian primary industries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a massive 40% between 1990 and 2006. This is Australia’s leading greenhouse gas reduction contribution.
  • Australian Government Department of Climate Change, National Inventory by Economic Sector 2006.
  • 71% of farmers reported barriers to greater Natural Resource Management activity, including a lack of financial resources (78.9%), time (63.1%), government incentives (40%), age and ill-health (22.2%).
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics, Natural Resource Management on Australian Farms 2006-07.


Australian farmers – food & fibre producers

  • Australian farmers produce almost 93% of Australia’s daily domestic food supply. Food imports contribute 7.5% of the total value of Australian retail food sales.
  •  Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Australian Food Statistics 2007.
  • Australian farms and their closely related sectors generate $137 billion-a-year in production – underpinning 12% of GDP.
  •  derived from modeling by Econtech, Australia’s Farm Dependent Economy Report, 2005 and ABARE, Australian Commodity Statistics, 2008.
  • Over the last recorded 30 years (1974-75 to 2003-04), Australian farms have consistently achieved average multi-factor productivity growth of 2.8%-a-year – no other industry, with the sole exception of telecommunications and information technology, comes close to this achievement.
  • Australian Government Productivity Commission, Trends in Australian Agriculture 2005.
  • Australia exports a massive 60% (in volume) of total agricultural production. In terms of value, this represents around 67% of the total gross value of Australian agricultural production.
  • ABARE, Australian Commodity Statistics, 2008.
  • In terms of export earnings for Australia, agriculture makes a massive contribution to the national economy accounting for $31 billion in the 2008 calendar year.
  • Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Trade At A Glance, 2009.




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1.28  Seed Savers Exchange does their part for food security


21 January 2010

DECORAH, Iowa -- Andrea Springmeier dedicated time Jan. 5 to evaluating week-old lettuce seedlings.


Springmeier, a collection technician for Seed Savers Exchange, was performing a laboratory germination test.


It was like looking at a drop of water out of the entire ocean. SSE's collection of rare seeds is so large that even the non-profit organization's leaders can't say exactly how big it is. The number is estimated to be more than 25,000 varieties. An inventory project is under way to determine how many there are.


It is the largest non-governmental seed bank of its kind in the United States. Their collection mostly comprises heirloom vegetable seeds.


What's exciting for gardeners is SSE wants to share their collection to protect their seeds' genetic diversity.


"Our mission is becoming more important every year," said George DeVault, SSE's executive director and president. "Our food system is built on a narrow genetic base ... The more diversity in our food crops, the safer we'll be (in terms of) food security."


They sell seeds to support their mission through an annual catalog. The 2010 edition is in the mailing process. Of the 600 varieties it lists for sale, 200 are certified organic. Twenty varieties are new to the catalog.


"We're trying to preserve them by making them more popular," said DeVault.


SSE sells about 1 million picture packets of seeds a year, plus larger orders. Besides vegetable seed, the catalog sells transplants, books, flower seed, fruit seed, herb seed, garlic and gifts.


The organization also wants to promote the distribution and sharing of seeds. For this, they've created the Seed Savers' Yearbook, a publication for its members. The 2010 edition lists more than 700 of its 12,000 members who save their own seeds and want to share them.


SSE maintains its seeds on an 890-acre farm near Decorah known as Heritage Farm. It's been called one of the most diverse farms in the world. Here, seeds are regenerated in preservation gardens or through laboratory germination tests. The tests are done to ensure seeds can produce plants with characteristics that stay true to their parent plants.


"It's to maintain the purity of seed," said John Torgrimson, SSE editor.

Varieties sold through the catalog are grown in trial gardens to make sure gardeners receive plants as advertised. The seeds SSE sells are produced on site or by growers around the country and the world.


"If we don't grow it, we have a grower grow it for us," said Torgrimson.


These growers use SSE seed stock and follow the organization's quality control standards.


Heritage Farm is also home to three seed storage vaults, staff offices and a seed house where orders are taken over the telephone, filled and shipped.


Approximately 15,000 people visit the farm each year. It's open to the public from April to December for tours of gardens, orchards and the visitors center. The center has informational exhibits and sells seeds, plants, books, tools and gifts.


Visitors can also use eight miles of hiking trails, see a different type of heirloom poultry each year and view the farm's herd of White Park cattle, an ancient and rare breed.


This year, the farm's event calendar includes a tomato tasting and salsa contest, heirloom apple grafting workshop, spring plant sale, annual conference and campout and a harvest festival.


To learn more, visit




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1.29  Progress in resistance to post-harvest deterioration in cassava


In the last 10-15 years there has been a gradual shift in the priorities of cassava research at CIAT to incorporate biotechnology tools on one hand and to better satisfy the needs of the processing sector on the other. There is a generalized interest to transform cassava from a subsistence crop (whose main relevance is for food security), into a cash crop (that could have a larger impact by promoting rural development and contributing to poverty alleviation).


For cassava to better satisfy the needs of the different processing sectors, specific objectives were set for the cassava research at CIAT. High-value root quality traits have been successfully identified.  Additional traits, such as herbicide tolerance and tolerance to post-harvest physiological deterioration (PPD) are also key objectives. During 2009, CIAT made significant progress toward identifying different sources of tolerance to PPD.


Cassava roots are not meant to be reproductive organs. From the evolutionary point of view, the function of the root is to store energy for the plant to resume growth after periods of stress (i.e. drought, severe insect attacks, etc.). When the root is cut from the stems, a rapid chain of reaction takes place rendering the root unpalatable and unmarketable 1-3 days after harvest. Cassava is generally grown in marginal environments, frequently characterized by large distances to the processing centers and deficient transport infrastructure, specifically roads. The short shelf-life of the roots severely limits the marketing options by increasing the likelihood of losses and the overall marketing costs. In addition, the access to urban markets and processing facilities is restricted to production sites that are relatively close to them. PPD begins with blue-black discoloration. Within a week microbial activity may cause further deterioration. PPD resembles typical changes associated with the plant’s response to wounding, and triggers a cascade of biochemical reactions, in which reactive oxygen species are central. Specific genes involved in PPD have been identified and characterized, providing evidence that genetic variability and tolerance could be found.


In May 2009 several genotypes that had been identified as potentially carrying tolerance to PPD were harvested and evaluated in a trial were different set of roots were evaluated 5, 10, 20 and 40 days after harvest. Assessment of PPD is a destructive method (roots are discarded once they have been scored). Clones from two different sources of tolerance were identified (among high-carotene genotypes and related to the waxy-starch mutation) with excellent levels of tolerance (no symptoms throughout the whole experiment, even 40 days after harvest). The mutagenized cassava and the back-crosses to M. walkerae also yielded promising results (already accepted for publication in Crop Science in 2010).


The antioxidant properties of carotenoids explain the tolerance to PPD found in yellow roots. Perhaps a minimum concentration of carotenoids (≈ 10µg of total carotenoids per gram of fresh root) is required for their antioxidant properties to be effective. There is no apparent reason why roots with an amylose-free (waxy) starch would show tolerance to PPD. This is further supported by the occurrence of at least one waxy-starch genotype very susceptible to PPD. The waxy starch germplasm evaluated in this experiment shares a common progenitor with the original mutant and are all results of self-pollinations. It is possible that the tolerance to PPD observed in these waxy-starch genotypes is linked (but not dependent) to the waxy starch gene. In other words, tolerance to PPD in the waxy starch genotypes would not be a pleiotropic effect of the mutation, but may be rather linked to it.


A feasible explanation for the tolerance in the mutagenized population would be that one of the genes involved in the regulation of PPD (after the root receives the signal that it has been cut from the stem) has been disabled through the mutagenesis process. In the case of germplasm derived from the cross with the wild relative M. walkerae, results are more difficult to explain because the inter-specific cross had higher levels of PPD than the backcrosses to M. esculenta. Further evaluations are required in this case.


These results suggest that tolerance to PPD can be found in different sources and they seem to be acting through different biochemical/genetic mechanisms. The availability of these sources of tolerance should allow for the identification of molecular marker(s) linked to the trait. Molecular markers would allow for an early identification of tolerant genotypes in segregating progenies overcoming the current need of relatively large number of roots for proper phenotypic data. A solution to the problems related to PPD, which for many years had remained an unsolvable problem (from the genetic point of view), may have been finally found.


Contributed by Hernan Ceballos

Cassava Project leader



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1.30  Development of high-yielding C4 rice eyed


3 January 2010

The futuristic C4 rice which is seen to give rise to the second "green revolution" that will save the globe's poor community from hunger may solely be developed through genetic engineering.


The C4 rice may take a long while before a commercial release, but it is targeted to give a yield of 50 percent higher than check varieties (benchmark for high yield).


Achim Dobermann in "Future Intensification of Irrigated Rice Systems" said that by 2020 rice yield in irrigated areas must increase to a yield potential of 12 metric tons (MT) per hectare in the dry season and eight to nine MT per hectare in the west season.


And C4 rice is needed in order to keep a high yield in delta areas which will be the most adversely impacted by climate change, according to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).


As the major trait of C4 plants – mainly the efficient use of carbon (which represents the C in C4) for more efficient photosynthesis that will enhance rice productivity – is found outside the rice specie, perhaps the only way to develop this high-yielding rice may be through genetic engineering.


"The only tool we can see now that will allow us to see that kind of gene in rice is through genetic modification so you can increase the capture of solar energy (that will be turned into) biomass," said IRRI Deputy Director General William G. Padolina in Growth Revolution Magazine's "Climate Change and Rice Report."


C4 rice is being developed to carry the trait normally found in C4 plants such as sorghum, corn, and sugarcane which have higher yield despite lower irrigation requirement unlike the conventional C3 rice which is water-thirsty.


IRRI Director General Robert S. Zeigler said what is alarming is that climate change will have more negative impact in the highly rice-productive delta areas including the Mekong Delta (covering Vietnam which is world's second largest rice exporter).




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1.31  The plant that doesn’t feel the cold


Norwich, United Kingdom

7January 2009

Scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK, have discovered that plants have a built-in thermometer that they use to control their development.


Plants are exposed to huge variations in temperature through the seasons as well as big differences between night and day. To cope with this, they sense the temperature around them, and adjust their growth accordingly. Publishing in the journal Cell, they have now identified a thermometer gene, which could be crucial for breeding crops able to cope with the effects of climate change.


Plants can sense differences of just 1ºC, and climate change has already had significant effects, bringing forward when some plants flower and changing global distributions of species. While the effect of temperature on plants has been known for hundreds of years, it has been a mystery until now how temperature is sensed.


To solve this problem, Vinod Kumar and Phil Wigge at the John Innes Centre, an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), looked at all of the genes in the model plant Arabidopsis to see which are switched on by warmer temperature.  They connected one of these genes to a luminescent gene to create plants that give off light when the temperature is increased. In this way, the team could screen for mutants that could no longer sense the proper temperature. One mutant was particularly interesting, since it lost the ability to sense temperature correctly.  The plant behaved as though it was hot all the time, and the scientists could see this as the plant was luminescent when it was warm and cold.


“It was amazing to see the plants,” said Dr Vinod Kumar, who discovered the mutant plant. “They grew like plants at high temperature even when we turned the temperature right down.”


This plant has a single defect that affects how a special version of a histone protein works. Histone proteins bind to DNA and wrap it around them, and so control which genes are switched on. Remarkably, when this specialised histone is no longer incorporated into DNA, plants express all their genes as if they are at a high temperature, even when it is cold. This told the scientists that this specialised histone is a key regulator of temperature responses.


The histone variant works as a thermometer by binding to the plant’s DNA more tightly at lower temperatures, blocking the gene from being switched on.  As the temperature increases, the histone loses its grip and starts to drop off the DNA, allowing the gene to be switched on.


The temperature sensing histone variant was found to control a gene that has helped some plant species adapt to climate change by rapidly accelerating their flowering.  Species that do not adjust their flowering time are going locally extinct at a high rate. Plants must continually adapt to their environment as they are unable to move around, and understanding how plants use temperature sensing will enable scientists to examine how different species will respond to further increases in global temperatures.


“We may be able to use these genes to change how crops sense temperature,” said Dr Wigge.  “If we can do that then we may be able to breed crops that are resistant to climate change.”


The John Innes Centre,, is an independent, world-leading research centre in plant and microbial sciences with over 800 staff. JIC is based on Norwich Research Park and carries out high quality fundamental, strategic and applied research to understand how plants and microbes work at the molecular, cellular and genetic levels. The JIC also trains scientists and students, collaborates with many other research laboratories and communicates its science to end-users and the general public. The JIC is grant-aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.


The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities.


Reference: H2A.Z-Containing Nucleosomes Mediate the Thermosensory Response in Arabidopsis Vinod Kumar and Philip Wigge, Cell 2010, 140(1) to be published 8th January 2010




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1.32  Cold snaps cause sterility in rice


Los Baños, Philippines

12January 2010

The latest from Rice Today, the magazine of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).


Recent extreme cold snaps in Europe and North America demonstrate how much trouble a temperature change can cause. For rice, the cold can be devastating as it can cause sterility, which means no grain is produced.


Rice Today’s January-March 2010 edition explores how tropic-loving rice is being adapted to cold environments to boost rice yields in Korea and across rice-growing nations in Africa where rice is exposed to cold temperatures.


Demonstrating the extent of the "cold" issue, Rice Today also publishes maps of rice production in cold temperate regions and high-altitude areas in the tropics that experience cold temperatures. We also hear from rice farmers in the upland regions of the Philippines who are eagerly awaiting cold-tolerant rice varieties to help prevent yield losses.


Furthermore, taking a look at the upland regions of Chiang Mai, Thailand, life for farmers is already looking more promising. Their path out of poverty – by diversifying into high-value vegetable crops while still producing rice to ensure personal food security – is shared through an exposé on IRRI’s rice landscape management research to improve livelihoods.


African rice farmers and researchers are also addressing food security issues as they work together to adapt African rice production to climate change.


IRRI’s climate change researcher, Dr. Reiner Wassmann, shares his thoughts on what the absence of agriculture in the final agreement of the COP15 – the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference held in December 2009 – may mean for rice production.


On rice trade matters, Dr. Samarendu Mohanty, IRRI economist, outlines an initiative to develop a digital rice information gateway that can provide real-time rice crop monitoring and generate short- to medium-term projections on production, consumption, trade, and prices under different scenarios. In his medium-term outlook, Dr. Mohanty says that “rice prices will continue to rise as production fails to keep pace with demand growth because of low yield growth and limited area expansion.”


This issue’s Pioneer Interview features retired economists Randy Barker and Robert Herdt as they reminisce about their IRRI days and reflect on the evolution of IRRI’s social science research.


In this issue, we report more about the kickoff of IRRI’s 50th anniversary celebrations, starting with the 6th International Rice Genetics Symposium, the launch of IRRI’s 50th anniversary, and other related events. We also feature the Philippines in our first country highlight for the year.

All of these, plus the latest news, views, and books, are available now in Rice Today’s January-March 2010 edition. Free online registration for the full content and notification of future issues of Rice Today is now available. Subscribers’ copies are being mailed.




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1.33  New USDA/ARS-developed soybean line resists key nematode


Washington, DC, USA

31 December 2009

A new soybean line developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists is good news for growers. The line, JTN-5109, is effective against the most virulent soybean cyst nematode, called LY1.


The soybean cyst nematode is a pervasive soybean pest worldwide. In the United States, the nematode is the most damaging soybean pest, causing an estimated yield loss of nearly 94 million bushels in 2007. Genetic resistance has been the most effective means of controlling the pest.


Nearly all nematode-resistant soybean varieties currently available contain resistance genes from one of two sources—soybean lines “Peking” or Plant Introduction (PI) 88788. JTN-5109, however, has combined nematode resistance from three sources—“Peking,” PI 437654 and PI 567516C.


JTN-5109 is the latest soybean line developed by geneticist Prakash Arelli and his team at the ARS Crop Genetics Research Unit's satellite laboratory in Jackson, Tenn. The soybean was developed using a combination of traditional plant breeding and genetic marker-assisted selection. Arelli discussed the research at a meeting of the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science Society of America in November.


Nematode populations are genetically variable and have adapted to reproduce on resistant soybean cultivars over time. And in recent years, the LY1 nematode populations were found in Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee.


JTN-5109 provided yields of 26 bushels per acre in field studies conducted in 2008 at Jackson, Tenn., and Ames Plantation near Grand Junction, Tenn. That yield is not far below the 29 bushels per acre produced by 5601T, which is a commonly used cultivar, but one susceptible to LY1. The JTN-5109 line will be an excellent source material for breeding high-yielding soybeans with resistance to nematodes, especially for the LY1 nematode population.


Arelli collaborated with scientists at the University of Tennessee, Michigan State University, Iowa State University, and the University of Missouri, as well as the ARS Corn and Soybean Research Unit at Wooster, Ohio, on the project.


ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.




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1.34  Conquering Asia with the pink tomato


Wageningen, The Netherlands

21 January 2010

Plant Research International has discovered the gene that makes tomatoes pink. Plant breeding companies are showing a great deal of interest in this gene; they are hoping to use it to conquer the Chinese and Japanese markets.


Tomatoes generally turn red but a mutation in the tomato genome makes them turn pink instead. This mutation was described in the literature as early as 1925 but it was still not known what caused it. In this month's Plant Physiology a research team led by Arnaud Bovy explains that the pink colour is due to a mutation in a single gene. This mutation blocks the production of a key group of compounds, the flavonoids. They are found in the tomato skin and are yellow in colour. They combine with another pigment, red lycopene, to create the typical red colour of ripe tomatoes. If the yellow flavonoid is missing, the tomato becomes pink.


Pink tomatoes are unknown in the Netherlands but are very popular in countries like China and Japan. They have been grown there for years without the plant breeders knowing the exact genetic cause. European plant breeding companies would like to have pink versions of their tomato varieties to sell in the Asian market. They will now be able to breed such pink versions more successfully and efficiently.


Bovy's group carries out a great deal of research into flavonoids, not so much because of their role in determining the colour of various plants but because they are considered healthy food components of fruit and vegetables. Flavonoids probably function as antioxidants, reducing the likelihood of cardiovascular illnesses.


Regulating gene

His group carried out biochemical studies of pink tomatoes and discovered that one important flavonoid was missing. Further research showed that a whole series of genes involved in the production of this compound were no longer expressed. It finally turned out that a single regulating gene was responsible for switching these genes on and off. 'When we tested our findings on different tomato varieties, the relationship between this gene and the pink colour turned out to be one hundred per cent', says Bovy. Plant breeders can now combine the pink colour with other positive characteristics in their product range, such as disease resistance and taste.


Eighteen months ago Bovy was involved from the sidelines in the development of a purple tomato that produces extra flavonoids, giving it a promising effect on health as demonstrated in animal experiments. English colleagues have taken the lead in developing this tomato further. / Albert Sikkema


This article was written by the editorial staff of Resource, the bi-weekly newspaper for Wageningen University and Research Centre.




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1.35  Genes for drought-tolerance, aflatoxin may mingle to boost corn production


College Station, Texas, USA

31 December 2009

Scientists plan to put two and two together in a study that will likely yield improved U.S. corn quality and yields.


Two traits that impact corn will be examined by two researchers hoping to use basic scientific discoveries to improve products at the farm level.


Drought tolerance and aflatoxin resistance are the targets of the study by Texas AgriLife Research scientists who have been awarded a $500,000 grant for the project by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


The idea is to use basic science which identified the drought- and aflatoxin-related genes in the lab of Dr. Michael Kolomiets and apply them in corn breeding through the expertise of Dr. Seth Murray. Kolomiets is a plant pathologist and Murray, the project’s lead investigator, is a corn genetics researcher.


“We plan to use basic knowledge we learned from previous studies and translate that through breeding corn for drought tolerance and aflatoxin resistance,” Kolomiets said.

The “basic knowledge” stems from discoveries Kolomiets has made in researching a 13-member family of genes called LOX, or lipoxygenase.


He said one LOX family member is connected to a plant’s drought response while another is linked to aflatoxin development.


“A geneticist basically has to break something to see how it works,” Kolomiets said. “So in this case, we were able to shut down each gene in the lab to decipher what its function is for the plant biology and the plant's ability to respond to environmental stresses.”


It seems that one of the LOX genes is “hijacked” when droughty conditions are ripe for the Aspergillus fungi to ride into the plant with its toxins. Yet another member of the gene family is the reason for plant aging and death once the plant is under severe drought stress.


Lipids – the fats and oils in plants like corn, soybeans, peanuts, tree nuts and cotton – are sought out, it seems, by pathogens like fungi. So, Kolomiets reasons, preventing the gene hijacking – via a mutation of the gene that has been shut down – will help corn plants avoid problems with these weather-related maladies.


Drought is a recurring problem for corn producers – especially in the southern U.S. and throughout other parts of the world. Aflatoxin, which becomes prevalent in drought years, is a serious issue because it renders corn inedible for humans as well as for many livestock, depending on the content level. Both of these concerns cause a blow to the economy when the corn supply is cut by lower yields or poor quality, the researchers pointed out.


“Loss in Texas from mycotoxins (mostly aflatoxin) was $13 million in 2008 – the highest in the nation,” according to the researchers.


Murray and Kolomiets will begin the four-year project in January. They will be assisted by Dr. Tom Isakiet, Texas AgriLife Extension Service plant pathologist, who will train graduate students for the project.




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1.36 Barley gives guidance to increasing wheat vigour



13 January 2010

Increasing the vigour of cereal crops can lead to more efficient water use and increased grain yields. It can also reduce weeds and increase nutrient uptake.


Dr Richard Richards is leader of the CSIRO’s High Performance Crops Program. His focus is on breeding higher yielding wheat and gaining a better understanding of the genetic variations in wheat growth, development and yield.


His team has produced unique wheat plants by combining different traits that control vigour, from varieties found in Australia and around the world.


Speaking on the GRDC’s latest Driving Agronomy 2010 audio compact disc for the southern region, Dr Richards believes these super vigorous wheats are different to other varieties anywhere else in the world and have deeper, more extensive root systems and more extensive branching.


The key to unlocking this new vigour in wheat actually came from barley. Dr Richards observed barley growing side by side with wheat and noted barley was more vigorous with extra tillers and was better yielding than wheat in dry environments. The team worked out how barley achieved its higher vigour and then set about recreating that in wheat.


Dr Richards says crop vigour is important in making best use of rainfall. In many years in southern Australia, only half of the rainfall received in the growing season is used by the crop, meaning the other half is wasted. His focus has been on increasing crop vigour to ensure more rainfall is used by the plant and less evaporates from the soil surface.


He says it is a balancing act to choose the right variety of wheat for the range of climate conditions possible during a growing season. In dry years, the super vigorous wheats under development could yield less than current conventional varieties if sown in mid May. But if sown later, they are likely to yield better than current varieties. However in average rainfall years, the super vigorous wheats are expected to perform better than current varieties.


The CSIRO team has also been working on wheats that do not require as much phosphorus, and is leading the world with its results.


Dr Richards says there are two mechanisms in varieties for improving P use efficiency. However, they are not currently found in any of the wheats grown in Australia. The key is in developing wheats with these mechanisms so they can solubilise the large bank of soil P that is currently unavailable to plants.


While it is early days, the team has discovered the P solubilising mechanism in varieties from Brazil. One gene solubilises P using an organic acid secreted from the roots and a second gene is associated with larger root hairs, which make soil bind to the roots. Adhesion of soil particles to roots makes P more available to the plant.


The team is aiming to have elite germplasm into field testing in breeding programs in three years’ time. They have already started crossing varieties and hope to breed 2-3 generations per year, instead of one.


GRDC’s supplements Agronomy and Wheat Breeding are free and can be downloaded from GRDC’s website,, or ordered from Ground Cover Direct, freecall 1800 110044 or email


The GRDC Driving Agronomy 2010 audio compact disc for the southern region is available free (plus postage and handling) through GRDC’s Ground Cover Direct. Order code is GRDC474.




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1.37  Genetic marker provides fungal disease guide



23 December 2009

Following the 2009 harvest, many grain growers are evaluating the performance of their varieties as part of their decision making for next year’s crops.


GRDC Western Panel Deputy Chairman Professor Richard Oliver says growers could also use a range of decision support information around disease resistance and agronomic performance to add rigour to their on-farm observations.


Prof Oliver, who also heads up the Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens at Murdoch University, has discovered a protein associated with leaf diseases commonly known as Stagonospora (or Septoria) nodorum blotch and Tan (or Yellow Leaf) Spot.


The protein, known as ToxA, is produced by both the fungi that cause these diseases – Stagonospora nodorum and Pyrenophora tritici-repentis – and interacts with wheat lines with the Tsn1 Gene, making them more susceptible to the two diseases.


Using the ToxA protein as a sensitivity marker, Professor Oliver’s team has identified wheat varieties which are sensitive to ToxA and therefore more susceptible to Stagonospora nodorum blotch and Tan Spot.


“It’s another method of more accurately zeroing in on the causes of susceptibility,” Professor Oliver said.


“The identification of the gene that is associated with susceptibility gives breeders an easy way to eliminate susceptible wheat lines early in the breeding process.”


“This can be used in conjunction with existing Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia disease ratings to make decisions about the suitability of varieties from a disease perspective.


“Growers with crops affected by Stagonospora nodorum blotch and Tan Spot can now choose from a list of cultivars that are insensitive to ToxA and therefore have less severe disease symptoms.


“More such cultivars are expected as wheat breeders begin to consciously select for lines which have lost the Tsn1 gene,” Professor Oliver said.


Details of the research results, including the list of ToxA insensitive cultivars, can be found at


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




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1.38  Tracking virus resistance genes in watermelon made easier with new molecular markers


Washington, DC, USA

28 December 2009

Finding watermelon genes that confer resistance to the devastating zucchini yellow mosaic virus (ZYMV) has just been made easier, thanks to molecular markers developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and university and international cooperators.


ZYMV, a member of the Potyvirus family, seriously affects the commercial production of cucurbit crops like watermelon worldwide. Potyviruses are the largest of the 34 plant virus families currently recognized, most of which are transmitted by aphids. Cucurbit plants infected with ZYMV lose their ability to photosynthesize, resulting in yellow mosaic on leaves, stunted plant growth, unmarketable and deformed fruit, or even early plant death.


In the United States, spraying watermelon fields with insecticides is the most common practice to reduce the presence of aphids that spread the virus. Still, the development of commercial varieties that are resistant to the virus is the most economic and effective method for controlling the disease.


ARS plant virologist Kai-Shu Ling and geneticist Amnon Levi, with the agency's U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, S.C.; geneticist Karen Harris, now with the ARS Crop Genetics and Breeding Research Unit in Tifton, Ga.; and geneticist Michael Havey, with the ARS Vegetable Crops Research Unit in Madison, Wis., collaborated with scientists in France and at North Carolina State University to sequence and clone a gene called eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E (eIF4E), which the scientists believe confers resistance to ZYMV in watermelon.


The scientists have also identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced "snips") that are potentially responsible for resistance to ZYMV in watermelon. SNPs are variations in DNA sequences that can affect protein sequence and functions and, in this case, how a plant responds to ZYMV.


Based on these SNPs mutations, two molecular markers, named CAPS-1 and CAPS-2, have been developed to help facilitate watermelon breeding through marker-assisted selections. Currently, advanced watermelon breeding lines with resistance to ZYMV are under development at the ARS Charleston laboratory for future public releases.


Details of this study, which was partially funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), can be found in the scientific journal Theoretical and Applied Genetics.


ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency. The research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.




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1.39  Wheat researchers unlock the power of genetics


29 December 2009

The tried-and-true methods of traditional plant breeding have created hundreds of improved wheat varieties for Kansas wheat farmers over the years.


New developments in plant breeding, however, have scientists at Kansas State University and USDA's Agricultural Research Service excited about new transgenic lines that help solve some of wheat producers' toughest challenges.


K-State Plant Pathologist Harold Trick has teamed up with ARS researcher John Fellers, for example, to "silence" genes as a method of controlling Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus. This work is part of a larger project that received $52,000 from the Kansas Wheat Commission in FY 2009.


Essentially, Trick, Fellers and their colleagues have dissected the Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus genome, isolating several proteins within, and are attempting to engineer wheat plants to shut off the genes.


"If you can switch off any of the genes, there is a good chance you can prevent the virus from replicating," Trick says. Thus, the virus could be pre-empted before it ever starts within these lines of wheat.


The work is tedious, time-consuming and difficult. But the potential rewards to wheat farmers are vast.


"This could give us a new source of resistance to Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus," says Trick, who adds that preliminary experiments are showing good levels of resistance. K-State and ARS researchers are working on other genetic enhancements for wheat, including, including scab resistance, rust resistance and better grain filling during hot weather.


There is a catch, however: currently, genetically modified wheat has not gained acceptance by the federal regulatory agencies that monitor such activity. Furthermore, approval by the USDA, FDA and EPA is many years and several million dollars away for federal regulatory compliance.


As the world's most widely consumed commodity - and one whose consumption has outstripped supply seven of the last 10 years - wheat is perfectly poised to capitalize on genetic engineering, Trick says. In recent months, several agriculture technology firms have announced intentions to bring genetic enhancements in wheat to the marketplace within the next 10 years and as early as 2015. In the meantime, research from Trick, Fellers and their colleagues continues.


"This is necessary research. Once transgenic wheat is widely accepted, we want to be ready to put traits into elite lines. The concept alone doesn't cut it. We need to show the traits we are working on will be beneficial to both producers and consumers."




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1.40  Scientists sequence the genome of the woodland strawberry, a model system for rosaceae plants


Washington, DC, USA

11 January 2010

The genome of a model plant related to peach, cherry and cultivated strawberry has been sequenced by a consortium of international researchers that includes scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).


The scientists announced the sequencing of the genome of woodland strawberry over the weekend at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference in San Diego, Ca. The project was funded by Roche Diagnostics.


Fragaria vesca, commonly known as the woodland or alpine strawberry, is a member of the Rosaceae family, which consists of more than 100 genera and 3,000 species. This large family includes many economically important and popular fruit, nut, ornamental and woody crops, such as almond, apple, peach, cherry, raspberry, strawberry and rose.


F. vesca has many traits that make it an attractive model system for functional genomics studies. Its small size and rapid life cycle enable researchers to conduct genetic analyses with great efficiency and low cost. To determine the importance of a gene of interest, F. vesca can be transformed in order to modulate the activity of that gene in the plant. Most importantly, F. vesca has a relatively small genome, yet shares most gene sequences with other members of the Rosaceae family, making it an important tool for addressing questions regarding gene function.


ARS molecular biologist Janet Slovin, with the Genetic Improvement of Fruits and Vegetables Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., created the nearly inbred line used in the F. vesca genome sequencing project. Named “Hawaii 4,” this line allowed the researchers to more easily program a computer to piece the genome together from the relatively short lengths of sequence data generated by modern sequencing machines.


Although the F. vesca genome is a model genome for the Rosaceae group, critical regulatory gene functions will probably differ, hypothesizes Slovin. Scientists can use the genome sequence to identify these genes, to test their function in F. vesca, and to develop molecular genetic markers for more rapid breeding of crops belonging to the Rosaceae group. Slovin will use the genome to study and improve heat tolerance during fruit production in strawberry.


ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The research supports the USDA priorities of promoting international food security and responding to climate change.




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1.41  Molecular markers made easy: the Generation Challenge Programme’s Molecular Marker Toolkit


The Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) of the CGIAR invites you to take a look at one of its latest resources from Subprogramme 5: the GCP Molecular Marker Toolkit (MM Toolkit). The GCP MM Toolkit aims to provide easy and unlimited access to existing information on publicly available molecular markers ready for use for marker-assisted selection in 19 food security crops, and aims to serve of particular use to developing country biotechnologists and plant breeders who often face difficulties in accessing such current information.


For more details, we encourage you to visit the MM Toolkit homepage at


GENERATION: Cultivating Plant Diversity for the Resource-Poor

A CGIAR Challenge Programme

Hosted by CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center


Contributed by Kate Durbin

GCP Communications Assistant


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1.42  New genetic map will speed up plant breeding of the world's most important medicinal crop


York, United Kingdom

14 January 2010

Plant scientists at the University of York have published the first genetic map of the medicinal herb Artemisia annua.


The map is being used to accelerate plant breeding of Artemisia and rapidly develop the species into a high-yielding crop. This development is urgently needed to help meet escalating demand for effective malaria treatments.


Though preventable and treatable, malaria is a serious global health problem, estimated to kill almost a million people every year. The most effective drugs for treating malaria are Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs). Increased funding for malaria treatments means demand for ACTs is expected to double from last year’s figures, to around 200 million treatments, by 2012. However, meeting this increased demand will be a challenge: artemisinin is extracted from the plant Artemisia annua, but yields are low, making production expensive. In recent years, Artemisia production has been uneconomic and planting areas have declined, raising fears of shortages.


Plant scientists at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the Department of Biology at the University of York are addressing this problem by using molecular technologies to rapidly improve the Artemisia crop. In the latest issue of Science, they publish the first genetic map of this species, plotting the location on the plant’s genome of genes, traits and markers associated with high performance. This will enable scientists to recognise young plants as high performers from their genetics. It will also inform the selection of suitable parent plants for breeding experiments.


The map has been validated in glasshouse experiments that found the top-performing plants had elevated frequencies of genetic indicators for high yield. The project is led by Professor Dianna Bowles and Professor Ian Graham. Professor Graham says “The map is already proving to be an essential tool for us. With our new understanding of Artemisia genetics, we can produce improved, non-GM varieties of Artemisia much faster than would otherwise be possible.” This speed is essential. “We intend to get high-yielding seed to farmers in the next 2-3 years in order to supply soaring demand for malaria treatments” explains Professor Dianna Bowles. “This is a really tight deadline and we can only do it with the benefit of the new knowledge provided by the map.” The work demonstrates how modern genetics is shortening the timescales needed to turn a wild plant species into a domesticated crop.


The scientists at York are creating the new varieties for use by many thousands of small scale growers in the developing world, for whom the Artemisia crop is an important source of income. The project has just received its second grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This grant will support final development of the new varieties and their delivery to Artemisia producers in Africa and Asia.



  • “The genetic map of Artemisia annua L. identifies multiple loci affecting yield of the antimalarial drug artemisinin” by Ian A. Graham et al. appears in Science on Friday, 15 January.
  • More information on the project can be found at;
  • The Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) is a research centre in the Department of Biology at the University of York. Its mission is to realise the potential of plant- and microbial-based renewable resources through gene discovery and germplasm
  • The work is funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It builds on work financed by the Medicines for Malaria Venture and GlaxoSmithKline, and supported by core-funding to CNAP from the Garfield Weston Foundation.
  • Estimates of future ACT demand and artemisinin supply can be found in a recent scenario analysis by the Boston Consulting Group;




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1.43  Genome sequencing shows past genetic events made soybeans rich in versatile gene families


Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

13 January 2010

Among the many plants that humans have found useful enough to domesticate, soybean (Glycine max) is a wonder. Like other legumes, it has the important ability to make some of its own essential nutrients by hosting nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Soybean is also a virtual chemical factory, so rich in proteins that it is a major source of protein for animal feed, and so rich in oils that it is used to produce much of the world's cooking oil; it is also a major source for biodiesel.


If it seems as if nature could hardly have made agriculture a more useful plant, at last we may now be able to understand why. The first complete sequencing of the soybean genome has now made available the fine details of the soybean's unusually productive genetic code and is revealing an unusual evolutionary history that led to its chemical versatility.


The sequencing of the soybean genome will be announced in a paper forthcoming in the January 14 issue of the journal Nature. Authored by Jeremy Schmutz of the Joint Genome Institute and the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center and 43 other researchers from 18 institutions, the paper details results pointing to key evolutionary events that may be responsible for the plant's unusual capabilities.


In particular, researchers found evidence of two separate instances, one about 59 million years ago and the other about 13 million years ago, when the plant's ancestors doubled their genes by adding an extra copy of the organism's original set a chromosomes, resulting in a genetic condition known as polyploidy.


Most higher animals and plants (including humans) have two copies of their genetic code in most of their cells through most of their life cycle (they are "diploid"), but polyploid organisms have a extra copies, usually in multiples of two so the material can be evenly divided during sexual reproduction. In each of the polyploid events in the soybean's evolutionary history, the plant's ancestor changed from having two copies of its genes to four. After the polyploidy occurred, the new copies either slowly evolved and diverged from the original genes to become new pairs of genes, or the duplicate copy disappeared because it was unnecessary, and the plant eventually became diploid again.


The more recent gene-copying event in the soybean lineage was almost certainly an event known as "allopolyploidy," where the duplicated set of genes came from a separate organism that was genetically similar, but probably a distinct species from the other genetic donor. In this condition, the new set of genes are essentially still duplicates, but may be somewhat varied in their specific code.


What makes soybean somewhat unique as a polyploid, according to Jessica Schlueter, a faculty member in Bioinformatics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the paper's third author, is the fact that most of the plant's copied genes diverged to become new genes rather than disappearing, which is the more common evolutionary result of gene duplication.


"One of the characteristics that we've known from studies in soybeans is that there is an over-abundance of multi-gene families," noted Schlueter. "On average, we are finding 2.3 loci (a term designating specific locations in the genetic material) per genetic marker (individual gene). In a simple diploid genome, you would expect one loci per marker."


Schlueter stresses, however, that soybean's polyploidy alone is not the whole story: "In Arabidopsis (the first sequenced plant and also an ancient polyploid), you only have 20% of the genome showing a signature of duplication – it has kicked out 80% of the genes that were duplicated," Schlueter said. "Soybean is the complete opposite of that spectrum – it has kept 75% of that duplicated material. It seems to be very resilient to polyploidy – it handles it very well and retains a lot of similar genetic information."


The team found a particularly high number of genes that provide the genetic codes for soybean's rich compliment of proteins and the vast majority (78%) of those and other identifiable genes occur at the ends of the chromosomes. The chromosome ends are generally distant from the centromeres (where the chromosomes' chromatid strands are linked) and thus contain the regions in the genome, as the authors note, "where nearly all the genetic recombination occurs during reproduction."


"You can see across the genomic sequence these major blocks that have been duplicated and remain within the genome," Schlueter said. "This is one of the big take-home messages that we had. The soybean genome has a unique structural characteristic that we have not seen in a sequenced plant genome before."


Since most plants with histories of genome duplication lose many of their extra gene copies relatively quickly, a major question remaining is why the soybean has not dumped its extras. Schlueter points out that the oldest identified occurrence of polyploidy in the soybean lineage occurred 59 million years ago, a time near the point where legume family itself first emerged, and the event may be related to the development of these plants' shared ability to form the unique adaptation of root nodules that house nitrogen-fixing bacteria.


The nodules are a particularly valuable evolutionary development, since they give legumes the ability to produce their own biologically usable form of nitrogen, an element that is essential for biological processes (especially protein production) but is also frequently scarce in a usable form. Developing a feature that allowed a biological partnership with nitrogen-fixing bacteria was a game-changer for the legumes.


"One of the concepts with polyploidy is that you get unique morphological characteristics because the plant has twice the genetic information" Schlueter said, "Large seeds, large flowers, the ability to grow in various temperature conditions, and so on. It's like doubling your genetic variability all at once. If you allow genes to mutate, you have a second copy that is suddenly evolutionarily free to go off on its own path."


In the soybean lineage, the team found that many of the duplicated genes were preserved and allowed to diversify after each of the two polyploidy events.


If soybean may have kept its duplicated genes because it was able to diversify many of them into new genes that gave the organism useful new capabilities, the question is what were those new capabilities, and how are they related to the plant's diverse chemical attributes that humans find so useful? Finding out is the complicated task ahead for Schlueter's research.


As one of the bioinformaticians on the soybean genome project, Schlueter's participation involved identifying the genes and blocks of genes that were duplicated and establishing dates for when duplication events had occurred.


The team used a "molecular clock" to establish dates for when genes had been duplicated, measuring specific differences between genes that are known to be essentially random and therefore have a predictable rate of occurrence. For example, certain single substitutions of the DNA bases (A, T, G and C) in the code sequence are "silent," which means they do not affect the organism and their rate of appearing in the genetic record should be random. The changes have no genetic effect because the new three-letter "codon" they make also codes for the exact same amino acid as the original codon ( a change in the code from "AAG" to "AAA" for example – both produce the amino acid lysine). The change thus has no effect on the production of the substance the gene carries the instructions for, and the number of times it occurs in the history of the gene at a specific point in the sequence is a purely random event, with a regular and predictable rate of occurrence. If the researcher measures the number of times such a letter difference occurs between two gene sequences that were once identical, then they have a relative measurement for how long ago the copying was done.


In the next stage of her research on the genome, Schlueter will be looking in finer detail at differences between diverged genes and looking for clues regarding the process of gene divergence and its effects.


"In my lab I'm starting to ask why there is a persistence of polyploid genes," Schlueter said. "I'm looking at differences in gene expression between the two duplicated genes – why are they both still being expressed? How are they regulated? What are the epigenetic changes in these regions?


The big question is," she noted, "why are they both still there?"


Far from being simply an abstract academic question, the issue is potentially a very large one for bioscience and particularly for the biotech industry, as the soybean is a model plant for understanding how natural processes can lead to biochemical diversity.


"There was an article in Newsweek recently that essentially said 'stop all the sequencing – the last thing we need to do is to sequence another genome.' I get the point – we have a lot of sequence data, and we are just starting to utilized all of it," Schlueter said.


"But on the flip side, from an evolutionary biology perspective, there are some very important evolutionary processes that need to be revealed," she said. "It's easier to draw conclusions about what happened millions of years ago if you have access to hundreds of different genomes that have been sequenced and can see differences. The information will help us find the 'why?' of the soybean and many other useful plants."




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1.44  USDA scientists, cooperators sequence majority of soybean genome


Washington, DC, USA

13 January 2010

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are part of a team that has sequenced the majority of the soybean genome, providing an unprecedented look into how this important legume crop converts four critical ingredients—sunlight, water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen—into protein and oil, the basic building blocks for many consumer products. The research team from 18 federal, state, public and private organizations published their research today in the journal Nature.


"Soybean and other legumes play a critical role in global food security and human health and are used in a wide range of products, from tofu, soy flour, meat substitutes and soy milk to soy oil-based printing ink and biodiesel," said Molly Jahn, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. "This new information about soybean's genetic makeup could lead to plants that produce more beans that contain more protein and oil, better adapt to adverse environmental conditions, or are more resistant to diseases."


This sequencing of the soy genome is the culmination of more than 15 years of collaborative research. The team used a so-called "whole-genome shotgun" (WGS) approach to sequence 85 percent of the 1.1 billion nucleotide base pairs that spell out soy's entire DNA code. The sequence also provides researchers with a critical reference to use in deciphering the genetics of some 20,000 other legume species.


Geneticists Randy Shoemaker, Perry Cregan (photo), David Hyten, Steven Cannon and David Grant with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) contributed to the Nature paper. Their work involved the creation of genetic markers and the development of the soybean (Glycine max) genetic map that facilitated "anchoring" of the genome sequence to the 20 sets of soybean chromosomes. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.


The Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute; Purdue University at West Lafayette, Ind.; the University of Missouri at Columbia, and the University of Arizona at Tucson also participated in the soybean sequencing project, which was supported by the National Science Foundation and USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Through federal funding, NIFA invests in science to solve critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future.


According to USDA's Shoemaker, who is with the ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit in Ames, Iowa, integrating the new sequence with existing physical and genetic maps of soy will move researchers closer to linking observable physical traits of soy to their associated genes and alleles—alternate versions of genes. Ultimately, this will speed the development of new soybean cultivars offering higher seed yields, increased protein and oil contents, better adaptability and improved disease resistance, particularly to Asian soybean rust (ASR), which threatens America's $27 billion soy crop.


"Overlaying the sequence onto available maps will expedite identification and orientation of genetic markers such as single nucleotide polymorphisms, which are often located near genes that control agronomically important traits," Shoemaker said.


Using such markers, soy breeders can rapidly determine which offspring plants have inherited these traits without growing them to maturity, saving time, money and resources.


"We've mapped the locales for about 90 important traits affecting soybean growth and development, seed yield, seed protein and oil, and disease resistance, to name but a few," Shoemaker added. "With this high-quality sequence, we now have access to candidate genes that we've never had before, which will enable us to look at their patterns of expression, develop molecular markers to track them in breeding programs, and work with them to determine their function or modify them to improve their function."


Some key discoveries already gleaned from the whole-genome sequence include the first soybean gene conferring resistance to ASR, which can cause soy losses of 10 to 80 percent; a mutation that could make soybeans easier to digest by producing lower levels of a carbohydrate called stachyose; a mutation for higher levels of production of the enzyme phytase that could enable livestock to absorb more phosphorus from soybean feed so less gets excreted as a potential water contaminant; and 52 genes that orchestrate development of soy plant root nodules, where symbiotic bacteria transform atmospheric nitrogen into a form soy and other crops can use for their growth and development.


Photo by Keith Weller




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1.45  China completes cassava genome sequencing for energy use research


18 January 2010

China has completed the genome sequencing of three varieties of cassava, the roots of which are used to produce ethanol, scientists said Monday.


The genome sequencing can shed light on the cassava plant as a source of biomass energy. It also lays the foundation for enhancing cassava's ability to grow on barren soil and resistance against drought, said Peng Ming, head of the Biology Institute of the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences.


China is taking the lead in genetic research into the cassava. The sequencing has covered more than 95 percent of the three cassava varieties' genes. The United States has only covered 65 percent of one variety, Peng said.


No other country has published research of the cassava genome sequencing so far, Peng said.


The sequenced varieties are Ku50 (high starch content cassava), W14 (original cassava) and CAS36 (sweet cassava).


The three varieties' draft genome maps would be completed in March, Peng said.


Cassava is extensively grown in southern China for food and as a new source of biomass energy. "Genetic researches will enable cassava to grow in the colder and drier northern China," Peng said.




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1.46  University of British Columbia receives C$10.5M to map genome of sunflower family


British Columbia, Canada

12 January 2010

University of British Columbia researchers have received $10.5 million in funding from Genome Canada through the Government of Canada, Genome BC and international partners to enable them to create the first reference genome of the sunflower family – work that will pinpoint agriculturally important genes and could result in a hybrid sunflower that provides both biofuel and food products.


The sunflower family includes 24,000 species – making it the largest plant family in the world. It is one of only a handful of economically important plant families where a reference genome is not available.


A UBC team led by Canada Research Chair Loren Rieseberg will use new and conventional technologies to sequence, assemble and annotate the genome of the cultivated sunflower. This new information will drive advances in crop improvement, weed control and the development of woody sunflower species as a new biofuel.


One of the potential applications of this research includes the creation of a hybrid variety of sunflower, grown as a dual-use crop. The wild Silverleaf species of sunflower, known for its tall, woody stalks that grow three to 4.5 metres tall and up to 10 centimetres in diameter, could be crossbred with a commercially valuable sunflower plant that produces high-quality seeds, capitalizing on the desirable traits of both species.


“The intent is to have the basis for a breeding program within four years,” says Rieseberg, a professor in the Department of Botany. “The seeds would be harvested for food and oil, while the stalks would be utilized for wood or converted to ethanol. As a dual-use crop it wouldn’t be in competition with food crops for land.”


In addition, this fast-growing annual crop would be highly drought-resistant, thanks to desirable traits from the Silverleaf variety, and would therefore be suitable for use in subsistence agriculture in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in much of North America.


Nolan Kane, a post-doctoral fellow with the UBC Department of Botany, is one of the co-investigators on the project and together with colleagues at the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in France, is doing much of the bioinformatics for the genome project. Steve Knapp from the University of Georgia is another co-investigator on the project.


“The sunflower genome is 3.5 billion letters long – slightly larger than the human genome,” says Kane. “The sunflower family is the largest plant family on earth – encompassing several important crops and weeds. Mapping its genome will create a very useful reference template for the entire plant family, which will enable us to work on closely related species.”


The work is also being funded by the US departments of Energy and Agriculture, and by INRA.


“This significant investment from Genome Canada – and the support it has helped to leverage from partner organizations – will produce new, basic knowledge that could ultimately have a major impact on our daily lives,” says John Hepburn, UBC Vice President Research & International. “The results of this competition highlight the benefits of collaborative research funding models, while supporting the innovative and important basic research being conducted at UBC.”


“Genome BC is very pleased to support this innovative project, which will capitalize on Canada’s strong genomics infrastructure and leadership in sunflower genomics, in collaboration with other experts worldwide,” says Dr. Alan Winter, President and CEO of Genome BC. “The potential applications of this research are extremely important, both globally and locally.”




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1.47  Leadership changes at Crops for the Future


Dr Hannah Jaenicke is moving on from Crops for the Future on 31 March


After more than four years as Director of the International Centre for Underutilised Crops (ICUC) and more recently as Interim Global Coordinator of Crops for the Future (CFF), Dr Hannah Jaenicke will be leaving the position at the end of March of this year. Given her role in masterminding the concept of CFF and then taking the idea through to actual implementation of the organisation, we feel that it is appropriate to summarise some of these achievements below.


Based in Sri Lanka over the past four years, Dr Jaenicke has been remarkably successful in further promoting the importance of underutilised crops internationally. During her time as Director of ICUC, that organisation gained worldwide recognition for its work, but Dr Jaenicke also recognised that there was a need for greater critical mass in terms of institutional capacity to help address the many research and development issues associated with underutilised crops. She took the opportunity to do this by proposing and being the principal driver for the creation of CFF through the merger of ICUC with the Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilised Species (GFU) - the global partnership programme of GFAR, hosted by Bioversity International.


With the cessation of funding for GFU and the departure of its coordinator in early 2008, Dr Jaenicke had, as Director of ICUC, to virtually single-handedly establish CFF. This meant, among many demanding tasks, to develop a 5-year strategic plan, organising independent reviewers and a panel to find an appropriate hosting organisation and geographical location for CFF, and, of overriding importance, to secure funding from donors to support the organisation. It is a measure of her abilities that she managed to achieve these objectives, whilst still maintaining a research program for ICUC, and developing a new program for CFF.


Through these significant achievements, Dr Jaenicke has provided a very substantial foundation for CFF which will begin to operate formally from the regional office of its hosting organisation, Bioversity International, in Serdang, Malaysia in July 2010. From 1 April 2010 onwards, the Global Coordinator position will taken up by Dr Michael Hermann, whose background we summarise in the next notice.


Although Dr Jaenicke is moving on at the end of March, CFF is very fortunate that it can continue to maintain linkages with her through her involvement in several projects on underutilised crops -including the CoDI project supported by DFID's Research into Use Programme.


Finally, on behalf of our colleagues on the former Board and Steering Group of ICUC and GFU, respectively, and of the current interim governing body of CFF, we wish to take this opportunity to express our gratitude and appreciation for the remarkable contributions that Dr Jaenicke has made in establishing CFF and highlighting the importance of underutilised crops throughout the world.


New Global Coordinator for Crops for the Future: Dr Michael Hermann


As noted in the notice above, a new Global Coordinator for CFF will begin work on 1 April 2010. He is Dr Michael Hermann, who has over the past 22 years worked in the area of agricultural biodiversity, mostly with CG centres and their partners - and in particular the International Potato Center (CIP) and Bioversity International. Trained as a crop ecophysiologist and horticultural engineer, Dr Hermann has worked for 20 years in Latin America, but also managed large multi-locational projects in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. His special area of expertise is on root and tuber crops, but his experience has more broadly emphasised use strategies for underutilised crops, post-harvest technologies, and product and small enterprise innovation with the ultimate goal of linking poor farmers to markets for income generation.


Dr Hermann also has experience in policy work on underutilised crop species. In particular, he has been spearheading advocacy efforts in conjunction with UNCTAD, donors and trade promotion bodies for legislative change of EU food safety legislation that has emerged as a non-tariff barrier to trade in biodiversity products. Over the past two years, he has been jointly contracted by Bioversity International and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD) to work in Montreal as a liaison officer to support the SCBD with the implementation of the Convention's agricultural program. During this time, he has however continued to manage research projects in Latin America on behalf of Bioversity International.


Although Dr Hermann will take up his position as Global Coordinator for CFF on 1 April, he is also required to complete his contract with Bioversity-SCBD which terminates at the end of June. It has therefore been agreed that he will divide his time equally between CFF and Bioversity-SCBD from 1 April to 30 June.


Statement from John Palmer and George Rothschild on behalf of interim governing body for Crops for the Future


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1.48  Invitation to join the International Phtyotechnology Society


Dear Colleague:

The future of natural resources and of the planet rests on innovation in science and technology towards clean practices for agriculture and industry, towards prevention and remediation of pollution. Plants can provide tools and approaches for improving sustainability of anthropic activities, and phytotechnologies have been proposed since over 20 years as a solution.


The International Phytotechnology Society (IPS) is a no-profit, worldwide professional society comprised of individuals and institutions engaged in the science and technologies using plants to deal with environmental problems. IPS’s mission is to promote research, education, training, and application of those technologies that use plants to deal with problems of environmental contamination, carbon sequestration, alternative fuels, and ecological restoration. IPS is open to all researchers, practitioners, regulators, site owners and interested and concerned individuals and institutions who want to promote a natural way to deal with environmental problems. After the results of the Copenhagen conference 2009, the burden for scientists and researchers to make their voice heard and their work appreciated has become more relevant, to provide new technologies, new solutions, new approaches against climate change and environmental degradation.


This is why we invite you, all researchers in academies, public institutions, companies, to become a member of IPS. The subscription is not expensive, and provides free access to the International Journal of Phytoremediation. Our next world meeting will be held in Parma, Italy, from 26 to 29 September 2010. It is an occasion for getting to know us at our best.  to keep updated on all initiatives and for registration to the Society.


On behalf of the Executive Board of IPS

Prof Nelson Marmiroli

For further contact:


Contributed by Elena Maestri


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1.49  GCP News Issue 43


15th January 2010


From GCP

1. GCP’s 3rd Call for GSS proposals–Deadline extended

For reasons outlined in our recent announcement, the deadline for submission of proposals for GCP’s 3rd Call for Genotyping Support Service proposals has been extended to 17th January 2010. More


2. Recruitment–GCP seeks Communications Assistant

The GCP Communications Unit has a vacancy for a Communications Assistant. The role entails a variety of communications and public relations functions within the organisation, involving writing and editing for both print and electronic media. Deadline for applications: 20th January 2010. More


3. GCP SP2 Leader recognised for scientific contribution through Fellowship award

GCP Subprogramme 2 Leader Rajeev Varshney was the proud recipient of an award from the highly esteemed National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), India, having been named Fellow of the academy, effective 1 January 2010. Congratulations, Rajeev! More


4. GCP cassava researchers to reap benefits from completion of draft genome sequence

Ongoing research under GCP’s Cassava Challenge Initiative is set for a boost following the recent completion of the first draft of the cassava (Manihot esculenta) genome sequence by a team of researchers – an achievement which has led to a grant of US$1.3 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Arizona to support subsequent research activities. More


5. GCP hosts workshop at PAG XVIII

A group of GCP scientists joined forces at the recent Plant & Animal Genome Conferences (PAG) XVIII in San Diego, California, to host a GCP workshop on 11th January 2010. More


6. GCP-funded project featured in French press

A partially GCP-funded project on banana genome sequencing received attention recently in wide circulation magazine Biofutur. More.


7. GCP gets set for an interesting first quarter!

We’re in for a busy year in 2010! GCP staff and collaborators brace themselves for the business of the new year with preparations at full throttle for the following GCP events:

  • GCP Molecular Breeding Platform (MBP) launch workshop, 17–20 February 2010, Hyderabad, India
  • Informatics workshop for users of the MBP, 22–24 February 2010, Hyderabad, India
  • Indian Wheat Challenge Initiative launch workshop, 22–23 February 2010, New Delhi, India
  • Chinese Wheat Challenge Initiative launch workshop, 25–26 February 2010, Beijing, China
  • Genomic application: Molecular breeding in developing countries (a parallel session to be hosted by the GCP Director and forming part of FAO's Agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries conference), Guadalajara, Mexico, 2nd March 2010. More on FAO conference.
  • Details on these and other events are available on our Meetings & Events webpage, and results and outcomes will be made available in due course.


Events and opportunities from GCP’s network of collaborators and beyond



8. RUFORUM Community Action Research Programme–Call for proposals

RUFORUM Community Action Research Programme (CARP) is seeking concept notes for a competitive call. Deadline: 15th February 2010. More


Upcoming events

  • Reminder! Applications of bioinformatics in plant breeding course, April 2010 (Deadline for application: 25th January 2010) . More
  • 52nd Maize Genetics Conference
    • Dates: 18–21 March 2010
    • Location: Riva del Garda, Italy
    • Early application deadline (for reduced fees): 29th January 2010
    • Target: Plant genetic researchers with knowledge and/or interest in maize genetics
    • More
  • Vth International Congress on Legume Genetics and Genomics (ICLGG)
    • Dates: 2–8 July 2010
    • Location: Pacific Grove, California, USA.
    • Early application deadline (for reduced fees): 1st April 2010
    • Target: Researchers working on fundamental aspects of legume biology in model species, using genetic and genomic tools, as well as those working on applied aspects and breeding of crop and pasture species.
    • More
  • 14th International Biotechnology Symposium
    • Dates: 14–18 September 2010
    • Location: Rimini, Italy
    • Early application deadline (for reduced fees): 31st May 2010; Abstract submission deadline: 1st March 2010
    • Target: Biotechnology professionals from  different scientific disciplines
    • More


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1.50  UC Davis accepting applications for Plant Breeding Academy programs


UC Davis is currently accepting applications for two Plant Breeding Academy programs, one at UC Davis and one in Europe. The program is aimed toward assistant breeders, seed production personnel, line breeders and trait integration personnel, etc. that lack the academic background needed to advance as breeders. The program, which is not crop specific, teaches the basics of plant breeding, genetics, and statistics  through lectures, discussion, and field trips to public and private breeding programs. This certificate course has less breadth, but more depth than a Masters Degree in Plant Breeding.  Employers appreciate the opportunity to provide their valued employees advanced training without disrupting their full-time employment. Participants attend six 6-day sessions over 20 months. The instructors are internationally recognized experts in plant breeding and seed technology.


To date, 38 agricultural professionals from 12 countries have participated in the first two classes of this premier program. Class III of the PBA will begin in September, 2010.  The sessions will be held in Davis, California. 


UC Davis is partnering with European seed companies, institutions, and associations to offer the European Plant Breeding Academy which will be held in France, The Netherlands, Spain, Germany and UC Davis.  Class I of the European PBA will begin in March, 2010.


Dan Gardner, Dairyland Seed Company, “I recently received a significant promotion within the alfalfa breeding program in my company, Dairyland Seed, 18 months after my graduation from the UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy.  My promotion was directly linked to my participation in Class I of the Academy.  The Academy training gave me the knowledge and skills to significantly advance my plant breeding career. I was able to keep my great job with Dairyland, attend the six training sessions and advance my career without taking two years off to earn a master’s degree in plant breeding.  My employer is also extremely pleased with the results.”


Anthony Tse, owner, Clover Seed Co., Ltd., “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.”


Class size is limited to 20 to ensure individualized instruction. See   to apply to either PBA Class III or the European PBA or contact Joy Patterson at


Contributed by Joy Patterson


Editor’s note: See addional details in Section 6.  MEETINGS, COURSES AND WORKSHOPS


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2.01  Science for Decision Makers - Plant Gene Technology: Improving the Productivity of Australian Agriculture



29 December 2009

The Bureau of Rural Sciences, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry in Australia has published Science for Decision Makers - Plant Gene Technology: Improving the Productivity of Australian Agriculture.


Among the topics include an introduction to conventional breeding to plant gene technology, global and Australian status of GM technology, regulations of GM crops in Australia, and benefits of the technology.


Download the publication at




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3.01  Arborea releases a gene catalogue for the conifer tree Picea glauca


The Arborea project is announcing the release of a gene catalogue for the conifer tree Picea glauca (white spruce, of the Pinaceae family). White spruce is a major forest tree species which spans the northern half of the entire North-American continent. It is one of the most widely used by Canada’s forest products industry. The gene catalogue represents a major milestone toward full length cDNA sequencing in conifer trees. 


The gene catalogue, developed in collaboration with Gydle inc., integrates sequence data sets produced by Arborea ( and Treenomix (, two large-scale Genome Canada projects.  It is based on 272,172 EST sequences produced from 201,405 cDNA clones coming from 42 libraries.  The catalogue, estimated to represent 27,720 different genes, contains the following entities:

·        EST sequences, also available in the EST section of Genbank;

·        Clone sequences, produced from EST sequences and representing transcript sequences in positive mRNA orientation;

·        Clusters are groups of clones representing the same gene.  Each cluster has a representative clone.


The data files available in this release contain the following information.

Download files at

·        Cluster representative, cDNA clone and EST sequences (fasta format)

·        cDNA clone and EST Cluster contents (csv format)

·        Annotations to be released at a later date

·        Readme files


Related developments: 32K genes oligo-microarray

A whole-genome gene microarray comprised of 70-mer oligonucleotides has been developed jointly by Arborea and Treenomix. Look for information on this microarray on the Arborea website in the near future.


Citation and acknowledgement using this Gene catalogue data

Please acknowledge the use of these data as "Arborea white spruce gene catalogue".


ArboreaBrian BoyleJohn MacKay

GydlePhilippe Rigault


Contribution institutions

The following institutions have participated in this research: Université Laval, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Centre de Recherche du CHUL, FPInnovations - Paprican,  Gydle Inc., Ministère des ressources naturelles et de la faune du Québec, University of Alberta.


The following institutions have contributed to funding of Arborea research: Genome Canada, Genome Québec, Canadian Forest Service, Alberta Forestry Research Institute, Ministère des ressources naturelles et de la faune du Québec, FPInnovation - Paprican, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Alberta Research Council, University of Alberta.


Contributed by Fabienne.Mathieu

Université Laval Québec


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4.01  Soy group offering $50,000 to study crop sciences


6 January 6 2010

Students, if you've been wavering on whether to pursue a degree in crop sciences, perhaps this number will help you in your decision: $50,000.


That's the total amount the Illinois Soybean Association could fund for your education in crop sciences at the University of Illinois.


The association has pledged to fund five scholarships a year for four years at the UI, said Ron Moore, chairman of the Illinois Soybean Association.


The Illinois Soybean Association Scholarship, for incoming freshmen and transfer students, is $12,000 for the first year, followed by $10,000 a year for up to three more years as long as the student meets the requirements. In addition, the recipients can receive up to $8,000 total over four years to help cover tuition, fees and other educational expenses.


The scholarship is believed to be the largest single scholarship available to students in the UI's College of Agricultural Consumer and Environmental Sciences, according to assistant dean for academic programs Jason Emmert.


"We want to attract the brightest people we can," said Ron Moore, a Roseville soybean farmer and chairman of the Illinois Soybean Association.


The scholarships are funded by the Illinois soybean checkoff. Soybean farmers pay the checkoff when they sell their beans to the grain elevator. The amount is one-half of 1 percent of the value of soybeans sold, Moore said. Half of the checkoff money goes to the Illinois Soybean Checkoff Board, also known as the Illinois Soybean Association, and the other half goes to the national association.


"Our board has noticed over the last several years a decline in the enrollment in crop science programs. As we look long-term into the future, that may have detrimental effects on the number of researchers working on soybean quality and soybean production issues," Moore said.


"This scholarship is an amazing opportunity for students interested in our programs," said Fred Kolb, professor and undergraduate teaching coordinator in the College of ACES.


Although the UI this past year saw a jump in the number of enrollments in crop sciences, historically enrollment has been declining as the number of people coming from or familiar with production agriculture declines. Kolb attributed the recent increase to the horticulture students merging into the department. About 40 of the 156 undergraduate students in crop sciences are studying horticulture, he said.


"We've been working hard to recruit students in undergraduate programs in crop sciences," Kolb said. The college would like to increase those enrollment numbers because there is strong demand for students who graduate from the UI's crop sciences program, he said.


The demand comes from government agencies, agriculture supply companies such as Growmark and seed companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Pioneer. Seed companies are looking for people who are interested in working to improve genetics, Emmert said.


"There's going to be a strong need in the coming decades for crop sciences students, especially those interested in plant breeding," he said.


Students from urban or suburban areas may not be aware of the employment opportunities associated with crop sciences, Moore said.


"It's a hidden career," he said.


The scholarships are available to students of all backgrounds, Moore said. You don't have to have grown up on a farm or in a rural area, he said.


Scholarships do have a way of generating interest in programs, according to Emmert.


"It's a moving target as far as what dollar value is appealing to students. One this big will certainly attract some attention," Emmert said.


The scholarship application deadline is Jan. 15 for incoming freshmen and March 1 for transfer students. More information is available at and


Illinois Soybean Association Scholarship recipients must meet certain requirements, which include an ACT score of 28 or higher for incoming freshmen and a grade-point average of 3.4 for incoming transfer students. Students must have a demonstrated interest in crop sciences. Internal transfer students must fulfill the requirements and follow the procedures for transferring into crop sciences.


More information about the scholarship is available by contacting Emmert at jemmert<@> or 244-4540.


A similar scholarship will be offered at Southern Illinois University, Moore said.




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4.02  USDA/NIFA plans to release agriculture and food research initiative request for applications in February


Washington, DC, USA

6 January 2010

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) expects to release its request for applications (RFA) for the 2010 Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) no later than mid-February 2010 and will commit up to $800 million in funding for new grants, contingent on annual appropriations in following years.


AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program and was established under section 7406 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, otherwise known as the 2008 Farm Bill.  AFRI will support work in the following priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition, and health; renewable energy, natural resources, and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities. Programs focused on these areas will use a disciplinary-based approach to building a foundation of knowledge critical for solving current and future problems.


Within these priority areas, AFRI will support interdisciplinary, multi-functional projects in five  “societal challenge” areas to achieve significant and measurable outcomes and achieving goals. The five goals include:


  1. Keep American agriculture competitive while ending world hunger
  2. Improve nutrition and end child obesity
  3. Radically improve food safety for all Americans
  4. Secure America’s energy future through renewable biofuels
  5. Mitigate and adapt agriculture to variations in climate


NIFA will issue a series of RFAs to address these program areas. Grants in 2010 will be larger in size with funding up to $25 million and longer in duration with five year grants awarded that are eligible for renewal upon achieving specific goals.  NIFA expects such grants will lead to greater collaboration among institutions and organizations and will integrate basic and applied research with deliberate education or extension programs.


In addition, up to $5 million in funding opportunities for pre- and postdoctoral fellowship grants will be offered.  This program area will create a cadre of “NIFA Fellows” poised to become the next generation of agricultural scientists, educators and practitioners.


All RFAs will be available on NIFA’s Web site and on  Some program areas require letters of intent, which will be requested no sooner than three weeks after the RFA’s release.  Submission of full proposals to those program areas will be no sooner than six weeks after the letter of intent deadline, with deadline dates determined based on proposal complexity.  Applicants will be allowed a minimum of 90 days to prepare proposals for large, complex projects.  For program areas that do not require letters of intent, proposal submission deadlines will be no sooner than four weeks after the RFA’s release and will be determined with consideration of application complexity.


For more information about the AFRI funding opportunity, visit the NIFA Web site at


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




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4.03  Call for applications for the Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Award


26 January 2010

The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) is pleased to announce the call for applications for the first annual Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum (WIT) Award for early-career women wheat researchers.


This award, established in 2010, provides professional development opportunities for women working in wheat during the early stages of their career. The award is named after Jeanie Borlaug Laube, mentor to many, and daughter of Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug. Jeanie Borlaug Laube has served as Chair of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative since October 2009.


Selection criteria:

  • The award is made only to women
  • There is no age limit, but the award is intended for early career scientists ranging from advanced undergraduates to recent PhD graduates and post-doctoral fellows. Priority is given to women at the pre-professoriate level.
  • Strength of scientific abstract submitted to the BGRI annual technical workshop
  • Demonstrated commitment to and passion for agricultural development
  • Leadership potential
  • Quality of written statement of intent
  • 1 Letter of Recommendation from a supervisor, professor, or mentor that speaks to the applicant’s leadership potential


Up to three awards may be granted in a given year.  However, the number of awards granted may be fewer in number depending on the quality of applications received.


Recipients of the Jeanie Borlaug Laube WIT award are invited to the annual BGRI technical workshop, to be held in St. Petersburg in 2010. The exact amount of the award will vary with demonstrated need, but is intended to help cover costs associated with attending the BGRI workshop, including economy airfare, hotel, registration fees, and a standard per diem for meals and other incidentals.  Award recipients are also eligible to attend a training program at CIMMYT in Obregon, Mexico in 2011, along with the 2011 Jeanie Borlaug WIT Award recipients.  Awardees will be publicly honored in St. Petersburg at a lunch seminar talk on gender equity in Agriculture and will also be honored at an invitation-only dinner hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on the evening of May 31st.


To apply, please complete the attached application and submit along with a letter of recommendation. Applications must be received by MARCH 1, 2010.


Electronic submissions may be sent to:  


Applications may be sent by mail to:  

Jeanie Borlaug Laube WIT Award

c/o Ronnie Coffman, Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project

Cornell University

252 Emerson Hall

Ithaca, NY 14851 USA


For any questions, please contact:

Sarah Nell Davidson, PhD

Associate Director

Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project

31A Warren Hall

Cornell University

Ithaca, NY 14853

t: +1 607 255 1064

m: +1 607 279 5577

f: +1 607 255 1005

Skype: sarah.nell.davidson


Contributed by Jennifer Nelson

Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project


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4.04  Global Rice Science Scholarship at IRRI


The Global Rice Science Scholarships aim to produce a new generation of rice scientists who are experts in a specific scientific discipline and well-rounded in their understanding of the broader issues of rice science for development. The scholarships seek to attract the brightest young agricultural scientists and mold them into future leaders at all levels of rice research and development.


The Bayer global rice science scholar will be based at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines with possibility to implement part of the thesis work at Bayer facilities as appropriate. As the leading global rice research organization, IRRI is the premier place for graduate students to engage in PhD research programs under the supervision of world-class scientists. We offer stimulating and rewarding training opportunities, in addition to scholarship benefits, outlined below, that are internationally competitive. Qualified students who are about to conduct their PhD research are invited to apply for these scholarships. We provide a gender-sensitive environment and strongly encourage women applicants.


Study level: The scholarship is for a PhD degree.


One scholarship slot available:

A PhD scholarship for a promising young scientist to become a future leader in public or private sector rice improvement R&D, with special emphasis on rice breeding and associated disciplines such as plant pathology, entomology, physiology, or biotechnology.


Scholarship period: 3 years


Scholarship benefits: Round-trip air fare to/from Manila; pre- and post-departure allowance to cover visa, in-transit costs, etc.; monthly stipend to cover lodging, laundry, and food/subsistence; local medical and accident insurance; local travel as required; book allowance; computer and network access; research support; and shipping costs (one-time support given at the end of the program).


Application closing date: 1 March 2010


For more information please contact or visit


Contributed by Anilyn D. Maningas

Office of Scholars' Affairs, Training Center

International Rice Research Institute


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4.05  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,