31 July 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  How to feed a hungry world

1.02  Global warming and priorities of plant breeding

1.03  The return of wheat rust

1.04  “Business as usual” crop development won’t satisfy future demand

1.05  First WACCI Biotech School funded by the VW Foundation ends successfully

1.06  Ambitious GM rice project, aiming to re-engineer rice to increase yields by 50 per cent, enters next phase

1.07  Breeding focus switches to hybrids

1.08  AGRA and Lundin For Africa Society partner with Injaro Investments to invest in the West African seed industry

1.09  Maize farmers and seed businesses changing with the times in Malawi

1.10  Malaysia launches two new varieties of rice

1.11  International experts see backswing in pendulum of biological patenting

1.12  How to get IP protection for new varieties of plants and animals

1.13  GM food crops need to be part of the solution

1.14  What plant genes tell us about crop domestication

1.15  Cotton’s global genetic resources - Report documents the status of cotton seed collections across eight countries

1.16  Saving corn, one seed at a time

1.17  Flowering and freezing tolerance linked in wheat, UC Davis study shows

1.18  Mapping out pathways to better soybeans

1.19  Combating stem rust: Uganda pest should give us food for thought

1.20  Single gene causes susceptibility to two major pests in wheat

1.21  Planting for the future: New rust resistant wheat seed on its way to farmers

1.22  Energy crops growing on seawater - Ceres salt-tolerant trait could unlock millions more acres of marginal cropland

1.23  A new tool for improving switchgrass

1.24  Maize seedlings predict drought tolerance

1.25  What secrets are stored in the roots of corn plants?

1.26  Corn detasseling: A summer rite on the way out

1.27  Rutgers researchers discover secrets of nutritious corn breed that withstands rigors of handling

1.28 Research will help boost fungal disease resistance in legumes

1.29  Drought-tolerance: a learning challenge for poor farmers

1.30  Variety fix to meet bread salt reduction target

1.31  Toxin-free castor plants would be major help to industry

1.32  New Fusarium chemotype tightens FHB tolerance levels

1.33  Developing viral disease in tomato

1.34  Fungi's genetic sabotage in wheat discovered

1.35  Plant scientists at the John Innes Centre find new explanation for hybrid vigour

1.36  Recent News and Event items from the FAO-BiotechNews e-mail newsletter

1.37  Newsletter on Organic Seeds and Plant Breeding, Issue 11/2010



2.01  Molecular Techniques in Crop Improvement 

2.02  Rice Biofortification

2.03  FAO publication: Induced Plant Mutations in the Genomics Era

2.04  Corn Fact Book tells story of a modern agricultural marvel

2.05  ISAAA Releases "Bt Cotton in India: A Country Profile" - First in Biotech Crop Profile Series

2.06  The proceedings of the Seventh African Crop Science Society Conference held 5-9 December 2005, Entebbe, Uganda

2.07  2nd International Symposium on Genomics of Plant Genetic Resources

2.08  The Africa Rice Congress 2010

2.09  6th International Rice Genetics Symposium

2.10  Plant Genetic Resources Newsletter: dead but maybe not yet buried



3.01  FAO provides free access to statistics treasure trove

3.02  Tracking research across the globe



4.01  Syngenta accepts student scholarship applications in potato-growing areas

4.02  2011 Jeanie Borlaug Laube WIT Award: Call for Applications

4.03  Women in Triticum (WIT) Mentor Award: call for nominations



5.01  Strategic Scientist-Quantitative Modeling position at Monsanto

5.02  Positions available at the Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University









1.01  How to feed a hungry world


Producing enough food for the world's population in 2050 will be easy. But doing it at an acceptable cost to the planet will depend on research into everything from high-tech seeds to low-tech farming practices.


With the world's population expected to grow from 6.8 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050, a certain Malthusian alarmism has set in: how will all these extra mouths be fed? The world's population more than doubled from 3 billion between 1961 and 2007, yet agricultural output kept pace — and current projections (see page 546) suggest it will continue to do so. Admittedly, climate change adds a large degree of uncertainty to projections of agricultural output, but that just underlines the importance of monitoring and research to refine those predictions. That aside, in the words of one official at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the task of feeding the world's population in 2050 in itself seems “easily possible”.


Easy, that is, if the world brings into play swathes of extra land, spreads still more fertilizers and pesticides, and further depletes already scarce groundwater supplies. But clearing hundreds of millions of hectares of wildlands — most of the land that would be brought into use is in Latin America and Africa — while increasing today's brand of resource-intensive, environmentally destructive agriculture is a poor option. Therein lies the real challenge in the coming decades: how to expand agricultural output massively without increasing by much the amount of land used.


What is needed is a second green revolution — an approach that Britain's Royal Society aptly describes as the “sustainable intensification of global agriculture”. Such a revolution will require a wholesale realignment of priorities in agricultural research. There is an urgent need for new crop varieties that offer higher yields but use less water, fertilizers or other inputs — created, for example, through long-neglected research on modifying roots (see page 552) — and for crops that are more resistant to drought, heat, submersion and pests. Equally crucial is lower-tech research into basics such as crop rotation, mixed farming of animals and plants on smallholder farms, soil management and curbing waste. (Between one-quarter and one-third of the food produced worldwide is lost or spoiled.)


Developing nations could score substantial gains in productivity by making better use of modern technologies and practices. But that requires money: the FAO estimates that to meet the 2050 challenge, investment throughout the agricultural chain in the developing world must double to US$83 billion a year. Most of that money needs to go towards improving agricultural infrastructure, from production to storage and processing. In Africa, the lack of roads also hampers agricultural productivity, making it expensive and difficult for farmers to get synthetic fertilizers. And research agendas need to be focused on the needs of the poorest and most resource-limited countries, where the majority of the world's population lives and where population growth over the next decades will be greatest. Above all, reinventing farming requires a multidisciplinary approach that involves not just biologists, agronomists and farmers, but also ecologists, policy-makers and social scientists.


To their credit, the world's agricultural scientists are embracing such a broad view. In March, for example, they came together at the first Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development in Montpellier, France, to begin working out how to realign research agendas to help meet the needs of farmers in poorer nations. But these plans will not bear fruit unless they get considerably more support from policy-makers and funders.


The growth in public agricultural-research spending peaked in the 1970s and has been withering ever since. Today it is largely flat in rich nations and is actually decreasing in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where food needs are among the greatest. The big exceptions are China, where spending has been exponential over the past decade, and, to a lesser extent, India and Brazil. These three countries seem set to become the key suppliers of relevant science and technology to poorer countries. But rich countries have a responsibility too, and calls by scientists for large increases in public spending on agricultural research that is more directly relevant to the developing world are more than justified.


The private sector also has an important part to play. In the past, agribiotechnology companies have focused mostly on the lucrative agriculture markets in rich countries, where private-sector research accounts for more than half of all agricultural research. Recently, however, they have begun to engage in public–private partnerships to generate crops that meet the needs of poorer countries. This move mirrors the emergence more than a decade ago of public partnerships with drug companies to tackle a similar market failure: the development of drugs and vaccines for neglected diseases. As such, it is welcome, and should be greatly expanded (see page 548).


Genetically modified (GM) crops are an important part of the sustainable agriculture toolkit, alongside traditional breeding techniques. But they are not a panacea for world hunger, despite many assertions to the contrary by their proponents. In practice, the first generation of GM crops has been largely irrelevant to poor countries. Overstating these benefits can only increase public distrust of GM organisms, as it plays to concerns about the perceived privatization and monopolization of agriculture, and a focus on profits.


Nor are science and technology by themselves a panacea for world hunger. Poverty, not lack of food production, is the root cause. The world currently has more than enough food, but some 1 billion people still go hungry because they cannot afford to pay for it. The 2008 food crisis, which pushed around 100 million people into hunger, was not so much a result of a food shortage as of a market volatility — with causes going far beyond supply and demand — that sent prices through the roof and sparked riots in several countries. Economics can hit food supply in other ways. The countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development pay subsidies to their farmers that total some US$1 billion a day. This makes it very difficult for farmers in developing nations to gain a foothold in world markets.


Nonetheless, research can have a decisive impact by enabling sustainable and productive agriculture — a proven recipe (as is treating neglected diseases) for creating a virtuous circle that lifts communities out of poverty.



News features



Podcast: Future food

What might tomorrow's crops need to look like in order to feed the world?

right arrow

For more online see




Volume 466, pages:531–532

Date published: 29 July 2010

DOI: 10.1038/466531a

Published online 28 July 2010


(Return to Contents)




1.02 Global warming and priorities of plant breeding


3  July 2010

Md. Abdur Rahim

GLOBAL warming is an increase of average air temperature of the Earth's surface and oceans' temperature. The most important challenge for sustainable agriculture is climate uncertainty, more specifically global warming. According to Gallup Polls, over a third of the world's population is unaware of global warming, with people in developing countries less aware than those in developed countries. Anticipated changes in global climate leading to more frequent extreme conditions will need adaptations of agricultural crops in order to sustain agricultural production.


This anthropogenic climate change first came to the consideration of the policy makers after the assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990. According to IPCC global air temperature increased 0.74 ± 0.18 °C (1.33 ± 0.32 °F) between the start and the end of the 20th century. The main causes for global warming is due to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, resulting from anthropogenic activity, particularly burning of fossil fuel and unexpected deforestation.


The consequence of the global warming is increasing the average air and ocean temperatures, leading to gross melting of snow and ice, and rising global sea level. Increased air temperature directly as well as indirectly affect the agricultural production. In the last decade, severe drought and heat have led to significant crop yield losses in the world including Bangladesh. Furthermore, the magnitude of sea level rising is another vulnerability of Bangladesh.


The coastal areas get frequently inundated with saline sea water during high tidal period and are not completely protected against salt water intrusion. The drought, heat and salinity affect crop yield at almost all the crop growth stages, with the flowering stage being the most vulnerable. The response of plants to water deficiency and salt toxicity involve both short-term physiological responses as well as long-term structural and morphological changes in crops.


The northern part such as Greater Rangpur, Dinajpur and Barind Tract of Rajshahi are the drought prone areas of Bangladesh. The limited irrigation of these areas reduces cropping intensity than the other part of the country where irrigation allows two or three rice crops annually. On the other hand, most of the salinity prone parts are Khulna, Satkhira, Bagerhat, Pirozpur, Jhalakathi, Barisal, Patuakhali, Chittagong, Cox's Bazar, Noakhali, Borguna and Bhola.


The coastal area of Bangladesh constitutes 20% to 30% of the agricultural land. Among the coastal areas, the Sundarbans (mangrove forest) covers about 4,500 km2. The rest of the coastal area is agricultural land. The farmers of these areas are severely affected with salinity problem and they need salt tolerant crop varieties. Study justifies planning of plant breeding for global warming to develop drought and salinity tolerant crops in the future.


In stress conditions plant activates mechanism of acclimation and adaptation. Adaptation is related to heritable modifications. Molecular control mechanisms for abiotic stress (drought and/or salinity) tolerance are based on the regulation of stress-related genes. Acclimation is defined as the generation of non-inheritable modifications that reflect the physiological change of the plant to cope with abiotic stress.


However, conventional Plant Breeding has relied upon repeated recombination of adapted material to search for relatively small improvements. Introduction of new genes from unadapted material to the high yielding gene pool has mostly been inefficient, particularly for complex traits like drought and/or salinity stress tolerance. In this case, marker assisted selection (MAS) and quantitative trait loci (QTL) May be more effective tool for improvement of drought and salinity tolerance in agricultural crops.


Finally, it can be said that we should utilise molecular biology tools and conventional breeding simultaneously for the genetic improvement of abiotic stress tolerance. Therefore, government should patronise such research and ensure proper fundings.


Md. Abdur Rahim is Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics and Plant Breeding, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Bangladesh.


Source: The Daily Star, Bangladesh, 3 July 2010


(Return to Contents)




1.03  The return of wheat rust


The disease eating away our daily bread

A genuine food scare to worry about—and also learn from

Jul 1st 2010


IN 1998, at a research station in south-west Uganda, William Wagoire, a plant breeder out checking his crops, came across something that everyone thought had been driven from the face of the Earth: the crimson cankers of stem rust, a disease that was once wheat’s deadliest scourge but had not been seen since the Green Revolution that transformed agriculture in the second half of the 20th century. Since then stem rust has spread from a corner of Africa’s Great Lakes to countries as distant as Iran and, recently, South Africa (see article). Scientists now fear that the fungus cannot be kept out of Punjab, one of the world’s great bread baskets.


So far rust has not caused a disaster. But that is mostly because of luck, and luck does not last. In the right conditions stem rust destroys everything in its path. After decades in which they have not encountered the disease most of the world’s wheat varieties have fallen behind in the endless battle of thrust and counter-thrust waged by predators and prey. They are defenceless. Wheat is the most widely planted crop in the world, providing a fifth of mankind’s calories. So the return of stem rust could cause vast suffering, threatening mass hunger in some of the world’s most populated areas.


Scare stories abound, but this is one worth taking seriously. Fortunately, the story of wheat rust—albeit punctuated with carelessness and complacency—is not just of destruction but also of unacknowledged successes. Plant breeders have come up with remedies and strategies that could keep stem rust at bay. But they urgently need more help.

Source: The Economist, July 1, 2010


(Return to Contents)




1.04  “Business as usual” crop development won’t satisfy future demand


Urbana, Illinois, USA

7 July 2010

Although global grain production must double by 2050 to address rising population and demand, new data from the University of Illinois suggests crop yields will suffer unless new approaches to adapt crop plants to climate change are adopted. Improved agronomic traits responsible for the remarkable increases in yield accomplished during the past 50 years have reached their ceiling for some of the world’s most important crops.


“Global change is happening so quickly that its impact on agriculture is taking the world by surprise,” said Don Ort, U of I professor of crop sciences and USDA/ARS scientist. “Until recently, we haven’t understood the urgency of addressing global change in agriculture.”


The need for new technologies to conduct global change research on crops in an open-field environment is holding the commercial sector back from studying issues such as maximizing the elevated carbon dioxide advantage or studying the effects of ozone pollution on crops.


However, U of I’s Free Air Concentration Enrichment (FACE) research facility, SoyFACE, is allowing researchers to conduct novel studies using this technology capable of creating environments of the future in an open-field setting.


“If you want to study how global change affects crop production, you need to get out of the greenhouse,” Ort said. “At SoyFACE, we can grow and study crops in an open-field environment where carbon dioxide and ozone levels can be raised to mimic future atmospheric conditions without disturbing other interactions.”


From an agricultural standpoint, one of the few positive aspects of global change has been the notion that elevated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will stimulate photosynthesis and result in increased crop yields.


But recent studies show that crops grown in open fields under elevated carbon dioxide levels resulted in only half the yield increase expected and half of what the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change used in their model predictions regarding the world’s food supply in 2050.


There’s no doubt that carbon dioxide levels are rising. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were 260 parts per million (ppm). Today, those numbers have increased to 385 ppm. By 2050, carbon dioxide levels are expected to be 600 ppm.

“Elevated carbon dioxide is creating a global warming effect that in turn is driving other climate change factors such as precipitation patterns,” Ort said. “By 2050, rainfall during the Midwest growing season is projected to drop 30 percent.”


U of I researchers are also studying how elevated ozone levels will affect crop yields.


Soybean plants are being evaluated in elevated ozone at SoyFACE. New studies show that yields in the tri-state area of Indiana, Illinois and Iowa have been suppressed by 15 percent due to ozone pollution. Ort said if the same cultivars of soybean are used in 2050 that are being planted now, producers can expect to see an additional 20 percent drop in yield due to expected increases in ozone levels by the middle of the century.


“Ozone is a secondary pollutant caused by the interaction of sunlight with pollution clouds produced in industrialized areas and carried over rural areas by wind,” Ort said. “For example, if pollution from Chicago blows out of the city into agricultural areas, it can interact with sunlight to produce ozone and cause plant yields to suffer.”


Because ozone is an unstable gas, its concentration levels vary greatly, Ort said. Thus, agricultural areas located near industrial areas will face the greatest challenges. Unfortunately, of the world’s two top-growing areas for soybean – the United States faces a much greater ozone challenge than Brazil.


“The SoyFACE experiment and historical data recorded over the past 10 years both indicate that for every additional one part per billion of ozone, soybean yields will decrease 1.5 bushels per acre,” Ort said. “We are applying for funding to examine corn’s sensitivity to ozone at SoyFACE, but a historical analysis indicates a significant sensitivity and yield loss.”


In addition to generating results about the response of crops to global change, SoyFACE has provided proof of concept that adaptation of crop plants to global change can be achieved in the field. Ort believes that this approach can and needs to be scaled to much larger sizes necessary for conventional selective breeding.


Currently, only five FACE research facilities exist in the world. SoyFACE is the largest and most expansive in terms of number of global change factors under investigation. Researchers at SoyFACE are assisting in the development of additional FACE experiments in Brazil, India and Australia.


“FACE technology, coupled with revolutionary genomic tools, can markedly accelerate the breeding cycle,” Ort said. “Once we discover the suites of genes that control the optimal response of plants growing in global change conditions, we can screen germplasm collections to narrow down hundreds of thousands of cultivars before testing the best ones in the field.”


Ort said top priorities of focus include tropical areas that are already food insecure and areas such as the U.S. Corn Belt that produce a large percentage of the world food supply.


“More research in these areas is critical,” he said. “How top-producing areas fare with climate change will be very important in determining global food security for the future.”


This research was published in the Annual Review of Plant Biology, Current Opinion in Plant Biology, and Plant Physiology. Researchers include Ort, Stephen Long, and Elizabeth Ainsworth of the U of I, and Xin-Guang Zhu of the Shanghai Institute of Biological Sciences in China. Research was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, and the Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research.




(Return to Contents)




1.05  First WACCI Biotech School funded by the VW Foundation ends successfully


A three-week long (June 28 - July 16, 2010) Biotechnology School which brought together 24 participants from 7 countries for training in Genotyping and Phenotyping Plant Genetic Resources at the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) has ended successfully. The workshop funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, was a collaboration between WACCI, the Biotechnology Centre of the University of Ghana and the Institute of Plant Breeding, Seed Science and Population Genetics, University of Hohenheim, Germany. In an opening address, the Director of WACCI, Prof. Eric Danquah, lamented the deteriorating quality of postgraduate education in the Sciences in most of sub-Saharan Africa due to inadequate funding. He intimated that the state of food insecurity in the sub-region was partly due to weak infrastructure and low prioritization of research and development. He emphasized that the Biotech School had been designed to correlate laboratory results in biotechnology with results from fieldwork to ensure that research results do not remain in the laboratory as in the past, but are taken to the doorstep of the farmer, following validation on research plots. He thanked the collaborators and the funding agency, and also expressed the hope that more collaborative ventures will be undertaken in the future.


Experts from Ghana, Germany, the USA, the UK and Tunisia taught theoretical and practical modules in advanced genetics, crop genomics and molecular approaches in crop breeding. Instructors for the three-week workshop included:

·         Dr. Bettina I.G. Haussmann, Principal Scientist, International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Niamey, Niger.

·         Professor Philip White, (Head), Environmental Plant Interactions Programme, Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI), Dundee, Scotland

·         Professor Khaled Masmoudi, (Head), Plant Molecular Genetics Laboratory, Centre of Biotechnology, Sfax, Tunisia

·         Dr. Heiko Kurt Parzies, (Senior Scientist), Institute of Plant Breeding, Seed Science and Population Genetics, University of Hohenheim, Germany

·         Dr. Jacquelyn Renae Jackson, (Research Assistant Professor), Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Natural Sciences , Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL, USA


Some of the participants had this to say;

Vivian Oduro, Ghana: “It was just excellent! We had quality information that would carry us throughout our career. Well done WACCI”.


Obitoye Dorcas Olubunmi, Nigeria: “The training was excellent, eye-opening and very interesting. The information given was so accurate and up to date. The organizers were warm, welcoming and approachable. It was indeed an international workshop. Keep up the good work, WACCI”.


Leiser Willmar Lukas, Germany: “Wunderbar! Amazing time in Ghana. Very interesting, well organised workshop with great cultural exchange by both instructors and participants. Thanks for the nice time”.


Establishment of WACCI

The WACCI ( was established in the University of Ghana (UG) in June, 2007 with funding from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to train 40 plant breeders, arriving in 5 cohorts of eight students each, at the PhD level. WACCI was conceived from a partnership between the University of Ghana (UG) and Cornell University to address the critical shortage of plant breeders in the West and Central Africa sub-region. The aim is to equip the next generation of plant breeders with the necessary knowledge and skills required for the improvement of indigenous crops that feed the peoples of the West and Central Africa regions. The PhD programme is a 5-year fully funded course. Students undertake two year of coursework at the UG and three years of field research at the students’ home institution. In the first year, students take 10 courses, five per semester. The second year involves advanced modular courses delivered by selected experts from around the globe to give students exposure in practical issues that would confront them in their research. WACCI is committed to developing the human capacity necessary for the realisation of AGRA’s dream of an African green revolution. Currently in the third year, WACCI has enrolled 28 students from Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Niger, Burkina Faso and Kenya. The Centre obtained additional funds from the Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) in April, 2008 to support 4 more students.


WACCI’s core aspiration of training world class problem solving plant breeders for the West African region to aid in increasing the pace of the release and adoption of nutritious and high yielding local crop staples can be realised efficiently if WACCI collaborates with advanced institutions worldwide. Planned activities of the Centre include networking and integration of students into other training programmes in advanced laboratories across the globe for internships and long distance mentoring.


Contact Eric Danquah for link opportunities.


(Return to Contents)




1.06  Ambitious GM rice project, aiming to re-engineer rice to increase yields by 50 per cent, enters next phase


1 July 2010

by Rhiannon Smith

An international consortium aiming to re-engineer rice to increase yields by 50 per cent is about to move into the second phase of its decades-long project.


The project aims to genetically modify rice to use a more efficient method of photosynthesis — the process by which plants convert carbon dioxide into carbohydrates needed for growth.


Rice has a type of photosynthesis called C3. But some plants, including maize and sorghum, have evolved to use a type called C4. The C4 crops are anatomically different from C3s and are better at concentrating carbon dioxide around a particular enzyme — RuBisCO — which is crucial in photosynthesis.


If the scientists are successful in creating rice that follows the C4 pathway the crop could produce 50 per cent more grain, and would require less water and fertiliser.


The C4 plants work best in hot climates, so could be important as global warming increases.


"As temperatures rise, C4 plants will photosynthesise better than C3s," said Richard Leegood, a plant biologist from the UK-based University of Sheffield, which is leading an international team of researchers, coordinated by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines.


The project received US$11.1 million of funding over three years from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in October 2008.


Most of this money has gone to IRRI, said Leegood, where researchers are doing the mammoth task of screening plants to try to identify the genes that control photosynthesis.


The project is a long-term venture — Leegood says that it will be at least 20 years before the modified rice is available.


"Many genes need to be manipulated, then engineered traits need to be transferred into commercial varieties."


Since C3 photosynthesis evolved naturally into the C4 type in other plants more than 60 times through history, Leegood hopes that the public will accept this GM rice.


"It is not an unnatural process; it's something that plants do ordinarily."


Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the US Department of Agriculture said: "This kind of innovative work is crucial if we are going to meet the demands of an expanding population"..


Although there are many other issues that cause food insecurity, Leegood said that this solution could tackle those limitations that are "inherent" in the production of such crops.


The Sheffield work forms part of its Project Sunshine, a programme that investigates how the power of the sun can be harnessed to meet the world's increasing food and energy needs.


Source: SciDev.Net via


(Return to Contents)




1.07  Breeding focus switches to hybrids


July 9, 2010

HYBRID oilseed rape varieties are set to dominate in Europe if developments in breeding technology and facilities are anything to go by. Dominic Kilburn travelled to the Baltic coast to visit one of the market’s biggest players.


Pressure on rotations and a lack of time in the autumn are the key limiting factors in UK growers achieving higher yields from oilseed rape, while the use of farm saved seed may also be holding yields back.


That’s according to Theo Labuda of oilseed rape specialist LS Plant Breeding, who says that, compared with many of their continental counterparts, UK farmers have to contend with a later cereal harvest each year, which means less time to prepare the land properly, and this compromises the winter oilseed rape crop.


Mr Labuda points out, in the UK, about 60 per cent of the crop planted each year is derived from certified seed, while French growers opt for 74 per cent, Denmark 80 per cent and in Germany the figure is as much as 95 per cent.


Winter oilseed rape yields in Germany, where the crop is estimated to be 1.5 million hectares (3.71m acres), are averaging about 4.3 tonnes per hectare (1.74t/acre), while across Europe as a whole, the average is 3.3t/ha (1.34t/acre).



According to Dr Frank Grosse of LS Plant Breeding’s parent company NPZ-Lembke, over the next 10-15 years, hybrid varieties are likely to become the dominant force in oilseed rape in Europe.


The company’s own oilseed rape breeding programme, considered to be one of the largest in Europe, is now only focusing on hybrid varieties, rather than conventional open pollinated alternatives.


“50-60 per cent of the European crop is down to hybrids already, but the percentage is higher in Germany,” says Dr Grosse. “Increased performance from hybrids such as yield advantage, stress tolerance and deeper rooting are causing them to be more popular.”


According to Dr Grosse, German growers are among the leading adopters of hybrid varieties in Europe, with 65 per cent of winter oilseed rape crops down to hybrids. This compares with 54 per cent in France and 37 per cent in the UK.

“We are seeing more interest in hybrid varieties from south eastern European countries, while they are also suited to the weather extremes presented in the developing Eastern European markets,” he says




(Return to Contents)




1.08 AGRA and Lundin For Africa Society partner with Injaro Investments to invest in the West African seed industry


Nairobi, Kenya, Abidjan, Ivory Coast and Accra, Ghana

19 July 2010

First closing of the West Africa Agricultural Investment Fund which invests in the production of improved seed targeted at smallholder farmers


The West Africa Agricultural Investment Fund (“WAAIF”) and Injaro Investments Limited (“Injaro”) today announce the First Closing of the first ever West African fund focused on investing in indigenous seed production companies. The initial investors in the fund are The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the Lundin For Africa Society, a Vancouver-based foundation. The launch of this fund will provide capital that is desperately needed by West Africa’s critical but nascent seed production industry.


“The sole purpose of WAAIF is to provide high quality seeds to smallholder farmers in West Africa, thereby improving income and quality of life,” said Dr. Namanga NGONGI, President of AGRA. “Direct investment in local seed companies will allow West African enterprises, working with local public crop breeders and local farmers, to act as a catalyst for prosperity amongst smallholder farmers.”


WAAIF is the first fund of its kind in West Africa: targeted specifically at promoting the growth of small- and medium-sized African seed companies through long-term loans provided at reasonable rates. WAAIF will thus fill a critical funding gap in West African agricultural development—financing for its seriously underdeveloped and undercapitalized seed sector.


Across West Africa there are around 20 small-to-medium sized seed companies compared to over 50 in East and Southern Africa and the hundreds that operate in Europe or in the United States. To help fill this gap, WAAIF will operate in five countries—Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria.


“Africa’s plant breeders have begun developing high yielding, locally-adapted seed that would enable farmers to double or triple their yields,” said Joseph DEVRIES, director of AGRA’s Seeds Programme. “We now need a vibrant seed sector that gets these varieties to farmers. WAAIF will enable this--it is venture capital for West Africa’s seed entrepreneurs.”


The lack of a robust African seed industry has left smallholder farmers with few choices. Smallholder farmers who grow most of the food consumed in Africa can neither afford nor access high-yielding quality seed varieties of their staple food crops. Whereas improved seed has been responsible for more than half of global yield increases, African smallholder farmers must rely on saved seed whose quality has deteriorated over time, producing the world’s lowest cereal yields and ensuring chronic hunger and malnutrition.


The AGRA-Lundin-Injaro partnership aims to jumpstart a well-capitalised, competitive and efficient regional seed industry; with commercial incentive to produce, distribute and market improved seed varieties that meet farmers’ demands.



WAAIF will invest in and partner with seed companies to transform them into viable commercial entities that provide high quality seed to smallholder farmers at a reasonable price, said Jerry Parkes, Managing Principal of Injaro. The average investment size will be around US$250,000 and the fund will seek an overall net return of 3% on its investments.


In addition to capital investment, Injaro and AGRA will provide business development services, including continual advice on issues like seed production, storage, and distribution and seed company management. Distributors will also be trained on the appropriate use of seeds and other inputs such as fertilizer, to ensure the most efficient, safe and environmentally sound use of all.


WAAIF will seek to actively involve women as entrepreneurs, workers, and smallholder farmers. Women make up the majority of Africa’s smallholder farmers and have the greatest impact on the livelihood of their families, yet face many impediments to education, training and access to finance.


To qualify, companies will need to meet investment criteria in the following areas: corporate setup, output of improved seed, financial performance, and a range of development criteria. The latter includes measures such as overall job creation, skills development in rural communities, and an environmentally benign footprint.


“Until recently, only well-off, large-scale farmers bought improved seed,” DEVRIES said. “The seed market is evolving to recognize that the real market is at the bottom of the pyramid, among millions of smallholder farmers. The prices, crops and varieties marketed need to reflect that.


“African farmers need improved varieties of maize more than any other farmers in the world. Their livelihoods their very survival depends on it.” DEVRIES added.


And while maize will be an important crop for the program, it will not be the only one. Companies producing seed for such staple crops as beans, cowpea, rice, sorghum, soya bean, millet and others will be encouraged to apply.


“Rather than having to chose between poor quality low-yielding seed or high-cost hybrid seed marketed by multinationals, African farmers will have another choice,” NGONGI said. “We can foresee the day when dozens, if not hundreds, of small- and medium-sized African seed companies are working across the region with local, public sector breeders to get low-cost, high-quality seed to farmers across the West African sub-region.



AGRA is a dynamic partnership working across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. AGRA programmes develop practical solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor while safeguarding the environment. AGRA advocates for policies that support its work across all key aspects of the African agricultural value chain ¬from seeds, soil health and water to markets and agricultural education.


AGRA's Board of Directors is chaired by Kofi A Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations. Dr Namanga Ngongi, former Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme, is AGRA's president. With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK's Department for International Development and other donors, AGRA works across sub-Saharan Africa and maintains offices in Nairobi, Kenya, and Accra, Ghana.



Lundin for Africa (LFA) is the philanthropic arm of the Lundin Group of Companies and was founded in 2006 by the Lundin family with a view to contributing toward improvements in the lives of Africa's most impoverished and vulnerable populations.


The Lundins are mining and natural resource entrepreneurs who have enjoyed considerable success in Africa and have recognized the need to ensure that benefits received from the resource sector are shared with host countries’ local communities. Working together with Canadian and international NGOs, LFA supports participatory grassroots initiatives that encourage sustainable community development.



Injaro Investments is an investment adviser and fund manager primarily focused on opportunities in West Africa


Its mission is to become the premier conduit for capital to SMEs in West Africa by supporting entrepreneurs to develop strong businesses that will be a catalyst for economic growth and that will improve the livelihood of the communities in which they operate. Injaro aims to achieve this by deploying capital efficiently and actively developing its investees in order to generate strong returns for its investors.


The Injaro team comprises investment professionals with many years of experience, built within world-renowned organizations, in principal investments, investment banking, management consulting and agri-business. The team applies its local knowledge, world-class experience and an open-minded approach to dealing with the challenges of investing in West African SMEs.




(Return to Contents)




1.09  Maize farmers and seed businesses changing with the times in Malawi


In Malawi, farmers who have in the past few years witnessed crop failure due to poor rains are switching to two new drought tolerant maize varieties, and seed companies are changing their business models to keep up.  “The climate is changing, rainfall is decreasing and the weather is now dictating which varieties farmers grow and in turn which varieties seed companies produce,” says Dellings Phiri, general manager of Seed Co. Malawi, a leading southern African seed company.


He refers to two new drought tolerant maize varieties–ZM 309 and ZM 523–developed specifically for Malawi’s drought-prone areas with infertile soils by CIMMYT, Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, and the Chitedze Research Station, through the Drought Tolerant maize for Africa (DTMA) project. The research was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The varieties were officially launched in March 2009.


For more info see


Source: CIMMYT e-News  June 2010:


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


(Return to Contents)




1.10  Malaysia launches two new varieties of rice


Padi angin (a weedy rice with easy and spontaneous grain shattering characteristics) is a serious problem to rice farmers in Malaysia which can cause losses of up to 74 percent each season. The infestation of padi angin can now be controlled by planting MR 220CL1 and MR 220CL2, two new varieties launched recently by the Minister for Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Datuk Seri Noh Omar.


Both varieties were developed by breeding local varieties, MR 200 and MR 219 with an American rice variety. Research on these varieties has been ongoing since 2003 through a collaborative effort of Malaysian Agricultural Research & Development Institute (MARDI) and BASF. The varieties are resistant to imidazolinone. Malaysia will be the first to plant these varieties in Asia Pacific and it is expected to be widely cultivated throughout the country in the next three years. Extensive field trials were conducted which showed good results. The seeds will be commercially produced by Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (FELCRA).


Email Mahaletchumy Arujanan at for more news on Malaysian crop biotech developments.


Source: Crop Biotech Update 16 July 2010:


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


(Return to Contents)




1.11  International experts see backswing in pendulum of biological patenting


Geneva, Switzerland

21 July 2010

Some experts in Europe are coming to agreement that a tipping point might have been reached with regard to biological patents. At a conference organised this week by the “no patents on seeds” initiative on the eve of a public hearing of the European Patent Office on cases involving the patenting of broccoli and tomatoes, nongovernmental representatives and farmers associations from Europe and elsewhere said there were detectable changes in American jurisprudence and European governments seem to be rethinking the biopatent issue.


“We have a real chance to push for change in patent law,” Christoph Then, a Greenpeace biopatent expert, said at the conference. With regard to the 20 July EPO hearing and the upcoming judgment, the NGOs do not expect a decisive step away from the patenting of plants and animals.


The EPO itself already warned that the hearing was solely dedicated to check whether marker-assisted selection is a biological breeding process or is a technical method and therefore patentable. The patentability of plants and animals would not be discussed, the EPO announced in a press release.


The broccoli and tomato cases, one patented by Plant Bioscience Ltd. (EP 1069819) and the other by the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture (EP 1211926), have been brought before the EPO’s Enlarged Board of Appeal after France-based seed cooperative Limagrain Group, Swiss biotech company Syngenta and the food multinational Unilever filed complaints respectively.


The background of these complaints, according to the Greenpeace expert, is a ban on patenting mainly biological processes in plant and animal breeding in EU 1998 Directive on the protection of biotechnological inventions. So while the EPO’s hearing might result in a revocation of the breeding procedure, said Then, the products generated could still remain covered by the patents. Greenpeace fought a similar case on sunflowers recently.


Even simple genetic screening and selection of plants and animals with special characteristics developed in classical breeding was used to apply for patents, “because a company was the first to describe a genetic feature,” said Then. “It is a systematic abuse of patent law which [is] resulting in the appropriation of natural food all over the world.” Then said a clear ban on breeding processes and genetic sequences is necessary to avoid the bypassing of existing rules.


The Dutch Parliament, following an initiative of the Dutch ministries of economy and agriculture, was the first to pass a resolution to include a minimal “breeders’ exemption” in their national law. At the same time Parliament decided that a full exemption on the national and EU level has to be explored in the next three months (a report on the debate can be found here.) A motion to directly table a breeders exemption in Brussels and to push for the respective change in the EU biopatent directive failed earlier in July by a margin of 70 to 71 votes, said Niels Louwaars, senior scientist biopolicies at the Dutch Centre for Genetic Resources and program manager international projects at Wageningen University. Louwaars co-authored a study commissioned by the ministries to examine positive and negative effects to innovation of the existing system.


In the study [pdf] on the “Breeding Business” Louwaars and his colleagues concluded: “If you consider breeding an important technology – because we need new plant varieties to cope with climate change or new plant diseases – and if you think access to new resources is important for breeding and diversity is good for competition, then the IP system in plant breeding needs to be changed.”


The study recommended to “get rid of strategic patenting” and asked patent offices to “be more strict in how they apply their own rules,” for example when testing the inventive step. “If patent offices would do this we might be able to get rid of more than 99 percent of questionable patents,” Louwaars said. Antitrust authorities, according to Louwaars, also should become much more active.


When discussing the results of the study with representatives of the European seed industry, a lawyer from seed producer Limagrain said he had proof of the anti-innovative effect of the existing system because he had to stop researchers in his company in many cases from exploring new things because of IP rights granted to seed material.


Seeds of Change

Patents should never extend to breeding and to seeds, said Louwaars. With regard to the failure in the Dutch Parliament to initiate changes at the EU level he said, “We lost a battle, but not the war.” He said he hoped for Germany to be successful in their initiative with regard to changes.


“We have reached the tipping point in Germany,” said Then, pointing to a growing number of statements not only from civil society, but from the political parties and the German Ministry of Agriculture, which is organising a conference on possible options for change in biopatenting. Like the Dutch colleges, the ministry had commissioned a study (for the study in German see here) that warned against the risk of a decline in plant variety through biopatenting.


Matthias Miersch, member of the German Parliament for the Social Democratic Party, said at the Munich conference that the difficulty to change international or EU legislation should not make legislators wait. “National parliaments can take the lead with changes,” he said, pointing to a motion tabled by his party on a complete ban to patent animals, plants and breeding as such. He also was in favour of governments subsidising legal aid to fight biopatents. According to Miersch other parties in the German Parliament were expected to join the initiative.


“There certainly is momentum,” said Carlos Correa, Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies on Industrial Property and Economics Law, at the University of Buenos Aires. Changes are visible not only in Europe, but also in the US where “healing has started,” he said, and the patent system is being given a second look after years of ever-extending patenting.


From a developing country point of view, it is essential to make the new debate in the EU and the US much more visible, he said. Developing countries often only get the message that they have to adapt to the patent standards of the industrialised countries.


“We have to get the message through that there we are in a phase of reviewing the system,” Correa said. While proposals to the World Trade Organization to clearly ban patents on life in the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) – as tabled by Bolivia for example – were bold, WTO member countries could declare a stop on these patents in national law and still be fully compliant with TRIPS as it is, he said.


Farmers as Innovators

Wilhelmina Pelegrina, executive director, Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE), recommended taking a look into alternatives to patenting or even plant variety protection in breeding. From the experience of her organisation, which works with farmers, farmer organisations and governments in many Southeast Asian countries, she said, “We saw that farmers cannot only conserve traditional seed, but can also develop new seed and be the innovators.”


In Laos, for example, 600 farmers connected with the initiative developed 114 new varieties over a period of nine years, much more than were produced in formal breeding processes. And even in a country with no official government breeding program like Bhutan, over 40 new rice variants have been produced in recent years which led government officials to ponder legislative changes to recognize the informal breeding process.


“We noted that IPR rights was no incentive,” said Pelegrina. Instead, feeding the community and adapting seeds to climate change are important motivations. She concluded that the current seed policies imported from industrialised countries do not fit the highly dynamic development of breeding in local communities.


Related Articles:


Source: Intellectual Property Watch via


(Return to Contents)




1.12  How to get IP protection for new varieties of plants and animals


Nicholas Jones and Rachel Wallis


Nicholas Jones, partner, Withers & Rogers LLP.

A new ‘low-risk’ peanut without the harmful proteins which cause an allergic reaction is great news for millions of sufferers worldwide, and could bring huge financial benefits to the researchers who developed it.  


However, seeking patent protection for such inventions may not be a straightforward matter.


The American Department of Agriculture’s Food Allergy Research Group, which led the peanut research, identified three proteins they believe to cause the majority of allergic reactions. The scientists then combed 900 different varieties of peanut, looking for naturally-occurring mutations with lower than expected levels of the dangerous proteins, and used traditional cross-breeding techniques to produce the low-risk nut.  


Rachel Wallis, a partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers LLP.


To exploit the full commercial value of their activity, whilst also ensuring that competitors do not infiltrate the market with a similar nut variety, the research team initially needs intellectual property protection. But the scope for obtaining patent protection for new varieties of plants or breeds of animal is limited in most countries.  


In Europe, for example, a patent may only be obtained if the technical feasibility of the invention is not limited to the specific variety for which protection is sought.  In other words, it must be possible to produce the invention in more than one variety.  


The most famous case in this area relates to the “Oncomouse”, a mouse genetically modified to develop tumours. This was deemed a patentable invention because other species could also be modified to develop tumours using the same technical process.


A purely biological process

If the new peanut had been developed as a result of an inventive genetic modification it would have been eligible for patent protection.  However, under current European patent law, any plant and animal variety developed by a purely biological process, such as cross-breeding, is not regarded as a technical invention and is therefore outside the scope of patent eligibility.


The application of genomics to turbo-charge traditional breeding means that the anti-allergy peanut is likely to be joined by an array of new varieties of plants and animals that result from crosses made on the basis of rapid genotyping of existing varieties to pinpoint desired genes.


For example, a public-private partnership in the UK is currently revolutionising commercial barley breeding in this way. The project has studied 1,000 barley cultivars, identifying natural gene variants that can improve important economic characteristics such as yield and resistance to pests and disease.   


But if new varieties developed with a helping hand from genomics fall outside the scope of patent protection, other forms of intellectual property protection are available. However, research scientists and commercial breeders need to think more creatively about how to wring the commercial value from their inventions.  


Plant variety rights

One approach is to apply for plant variety rights, which may be obtained for new botanical varieties.  Such rights protect the breeder of a new plant against other breeders producing, conditioning, selling or marketing a similar variety.  To qualify for a plant variety right, the new plant must be distinct from other known varieties, as well as being uniform.  It must also be stably reproducible with the characteristics that provide its distinctiveness.


A plant variety right protects a specific variety and, in this case, the right could apply to the specific variety of peanut.  Were the peanut patentable, the patent could have also applied to other types of nut sharing the same characteristics.  However, whilst narrower in scope, plant variety rights can provide up to 30 years protection - a decade more than a patent’s lifespan.       


Registered trademarks

A trademark acts as a badge of origin of the goods or service provided by a company or individual.  With such a commercially viable product, the researchers of the ‘low-risk’ peanut could develop a brand which is widely recognisable to consumers.  This could be in the form of a distinctive name, logo, symbol or a combination of these elements.  Non-conventional trademarks also include colour, smell or sound.


The trademark should serve as a distinction of origin rather than a descriptor of the product.  For example, it is unlikely that ‘nutty’ would gain successful trade mark status.  On the other hand, invented words, such as KODAK for films or Lego for toy bricks, have proved to be two of the most distinctive and successful brands.  


In the 1960s, a mould called Fusarium venenatum was discovered and developed by researchers who were tasked with finding alternative protein-rich foods. It was patented as a ‘mycoprotein’ in 1985 and launched to consumers in 1994 by Marlow Foods, then part of the AstraZeneca group.  The company created a brand for the purpose of selling it to consumers, which is protected by a trademark.  Today the trademark, ‘Quorn’ is one of the UK’s leading brands in the meat-replacement food market and is estimated as accounting for 60 per cent of the market.  


A registered trademark can have an indefinite life and protection in other countries can also be obtained via a Community or International trade mark. The brand recognition and reputation that comes with a well-known registered trademark, such as Quorn, can provide market protection regardless of the patent position.


Community design / registered design rights

Community and registered design rights can also be extremely useful for protecting inventions that are not eligible for patent protection.  For example, should the inventors of the anti-allergy peanut decide to develop a fully marketable product, they may decide to design distinctive packaging or a logo for their peanut variety.  If so, they could protect the appearance of their product for up to 25 years with a registered design right.


Patent rights

Although essentially biological processes are not currently eligible for patent protection, there are two cases, at least one of which will be heard this summer by the European Patent Office’s Enlarged Board of Appeal, which could re-define this section of patent law in Europe.  


In 2002 and 2003, the European Patent Office granted patents to varieties of broccoli and tomatoes respectively.  Both had been developed through conventional breeding techniques. Oppositions were filed against the granted patents and questions relating to the cases have been referred to the Enlarged Board of Appeal for consideration.  The anticipated decisions of the Enlarged Board will hopefully give useful and definitive guidance to industry on the patent eligibility of such inventions in the future.




(Return to Contents)




1.13  GM food crops need to be part of the solution


With the world’s food security facing a looming "perfect storm", GM food crops need to be part of the solution, argues Professor Jonathan Jones. In this week’s Green Room, he wonders why there is such a fuss about biotechnology when it can help deliver a sustainable global food system.


A billion humans do not have enough to eat.

Water resources are limited, energy costs are rising, the cultivatable land is already mostly cultivated, and climate change could hit productive areas hard. We need a sustainable intensification of agriculture to increase production by 50% by 2030 – but how?


Food security requires solutions to many diverse problems. In the US or Europe, improved seeds could increase yields by 10% or more, reduce pesticide use and give "more crop per drop".


However, improved seeds can only help impoverished African farmers if they also have reliable water supply, roads to take crops to market, and (probably most important) fertiliser.


Better farming methods are also part of the solution; these require investment in technology and people.


Fortunately, after 25 years of "food complacency", policymakers are taking the issue seriously again.


I want to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture while maintaining food supply.


The best thing we can do is cultivate less land, leaving more for wildlife, but if we are still to produce enough food, yields must go up.


There are many contributors to yield; water, fertiliser, farming practice, and choice of seed.


‘Simple method’

We can improve crop variety performance by both plant breeding (which gets better every year with new genetic methods), and by genetic modification (GM).


Ouch; yuck – GM. Did you recoil from those letters? Why?


I started making GM plants (petunias, as it happens) in 1983, working at a long defunct agbiotech company in California called Advanced Genetic Sciences.


In the early 80s, we did wonder about – in Rumfeldspeak – "unknown unknowns; the unknowns we didn’t know we didn’t know about", but 27 years later, nothing alarming has been seen.


The method (GM is a method not a thing) is simple.


We take a plant, which typically carries about 30,000 genes, and add a few additional genes that confer insect resistance, or herbicide resistance, or disease resistance, or more efficient water use, or improved human nutrition, or less polluting effluent from animals that eat the grain, or more efficient fertiliser uptake, or increased yield.


We could even (heck, why not?) do all of the above to the same plant.


The result is increased yield, decreased agrochemical use and reduced environmental impact of agriculture.


In commercial GM, many hundreds of independent introductions of the desired new gene (the "transgene") are made, each in a different individual plant that is selected and tested.


Most lines are discarded. To be commercialised, a line must carry a simple, stable and well-defined gene insertion, and show heritable and effective transgene function, with no deleterious effects on the plant.


Growing demand

GM is the most rapidly adopted, benign, effective new technology for agriculture in my lifetime.


Fourteen million farmers grow GM crops on 135 million hectares; these numbers increased by about 10% per year over the past decade, and this rate of growth continues.


More than 200,000 tonnes of insecticide have not been applied, thanks to built-in insect resistance in Bt crops; how could anyone think that’s a bad thing?


Bt maize is safer to eat because of lower levels of mycotoxins from fungi that enter the plant’s grains via the holes made by corn-borer feeding; no insects, no holes, no fungal entry, no toxins in our food.


There are not enough fish in the sea to provide us all with enough omega 3 fatty acids in our diet, but we can now modify oilseeds to make this nutrient in crops on land.


Protection from rootworm means maize crops capture more water and fertiliser, so less is wasted.


Farmers must always control weeds; herbicide tolerant (HT) soy makes this easier, and has enabled replacement of water-polluting persistent herbicides with the more benign and rapidly inactivated glyphosate. HT soy has enabled wider low-till agriculture, reducing CO2 emissions.


And yet in Europe, we seem stuck in a time warp.


Worldwide, 135 million hectares of GM crops have been planted; yet in Norfolk, I needed to spend £30,000 of taxpayers’ money to provide security for a field experiment with 192 potato plants, carrying one or another of a disease resistance gene from a wild relative of potato.


It boggles the mind. What are people afraid of?


‘Wishful thinking’

Some fear the domination of the seed industry by multinationals, particularly Monsanto.

Monsanto is certainly the most determined and successful agbiotech company.


In their view, they had to be; they bet the company on agbiotech because unlike their rivals (who also sell nylon or agrichemicals) they had nothing else to fall back on.


But monopoly is bad for everyone. Here’s a part solution; deregulate GM.


If it costs more than $20m (£13m) to get regulatory approval for one transgene, lots of little GM-based solutions to lots of problems will be too expensive and therefore not deployed, and the public sector and small start-up companies will not make the contribution they could.


Never before has such excessive regulation been created in response to (still) purely hypothetical risks.


The cost of this regulation – demanded by green campaigners – has bolstered the monopoly of the multinationals. This is a massive own-goal and has postponed the benefits to the environment and to us all.


Some fear GM food is bad for health. There are no data that support this view.


In the US, where essentially all the food derives from GM crops, in the most litigious society in history, nobody has sued for a GM health problem.


Some fear GM is bad for the environment. But in agriculture, idealism does not solve problems. Farmers need "least bad" solutions; they do not have the luxury of insisting on utopian solutions.


It is less bad to control weeds with a rapidly inactivated herbicide after the crop germinates, than to apply more persistent chemicals beforehand.


It is less bad to have the plant make its own insecticidal protein, than to spray insecticides.


It is better to maximise the productivity of arable land via all kinds of sustainable intensification, than to require more land under the plough because of reduced yields.


Some say GM is high risk, but they cannot tell you what the risk is. Some say GM is causing deforestation in Brazil, even though if yields were less, more deforestation would be required to meet Chinese and European demand for animal feed.


Some say we do not need GM blight resistant potatoes to solve the £3.5bn per year problem of potato blight, because blight resistant varieties have been bred. But if these varieties are so wonderful, how come farmers spend £500 per hectare on spraying to protect blight sensitive varieties?


The answer is the market demands varieties such as Maris Piper, so we need to make them blight resistant.


I used to be a member of a green campaign group. They still have campaigns I support (sustainable fishing, save the rainforests, fight climate change), but on GM, they are simply wrong.


Even activists of impeccable green credentials, such as Stewart Brand, see the benefits of GM.


Wishful thinking will not feed the planet without destroying it. Instead, we need smart, sustainable, sensitive science and technology, and we need to use every tool in our toolbox, including GM.


Professor Jonathan Jones is senior scientist for The Sainsbury Laboratory, based at the John Innes Centre, a research centre in plant and microbial science

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website


(Return to Contents)




1.14 What plant genes tell us about crop domestication


Simple genetic changes make plants suitable for cultivation, but domestication wasn't always quick or easy


St. Louis, Missouri, USA

7 July 2010


Anyone who has seen teosinte, the wild grass from which maize (corn) evolved, might be forgiven for assuming many genetic changes underlie the transformation of one plant to the other.


However, a method for exploring the genetics of domestication called Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) mapping has revealed that only modest modifications are needed to convert a wild plant to a crop plant. Some major transitions in phenotype can even be achieved by a single genetic change.


The few artificial experiments in domestication that have been conducted have also shown that it is possible to achieve domesticate-like plants in fewer than 20 generations.


None of this pleases archaeobotanists, who try to piece together the history of plant domestication from scraps of ancient plant remains.


Their data are sparse and unimpressive — a 10,000-year-old squash seed found in a cave in Oaxaca, Mexico, or four 12,000-year-old grains of rice recovered from a rock shelter in Hunan Province in China — but they have their own irrefutable reality.


“There’s been an argument in the recent archeological literature that genetics gives a false picture of domestication as a rapid, geographically localized process,” comments Kenneth M. Olsen, PhD, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. "They argue instead that domestication likely involved much trial and error in many different geographic regions over a long period of time."


In a review of the genetics of plant domestication published in the advance online edition of Trends in Plant Science, Olsen, who uses genetic approaches to study the domestication of rice, cassava and coconut, and Briana L. Gross, PhD, a postdoctoral research scholar in his lab, review the recent genetic data and argue that genetic evidence doesn’t conflict with the archeological evidence that domestication was gradual, dispersed and tentative.


The Domestication Syndrome

Plant domestication can be thought of as a two-step process. In the first step, plants acquire traits in what is called the “domestication syndrome” that make the plant worth the labor of cultivation. These include traits that allow a crop to be reliably sown, cultivated and harvested, such as uniform seed germination and fruit ripening.


In the second step, the now domesticated plant is selected for improved qualities. It is in this stage, for example, that farmers might breed many different varieties of a crop that differ in grain taste, fruit color or fruit shape.


In the case of grains two of the most important traits in the domestication syndrome are the loss of shattering, and the loss of seed dormancy.


Shattering, or the tendency of seeds to break off the central grain stalk once mature, is an advantage for wild grains, because it helps to ensure the seeds disperse. But a crop plant must retain its seeds long enough that the seed heads can be gathered at harvest.


The shattering trait provides a good example of the apparent conflict between the genetic and archeological data. Artificial domestication experiments show that it is possible to breed nonshattering cereals quite quickly. But Old World archeological data indicates that nonshattering cereals appeared only gradually, and typically only after the emergence of another domestic trait: larger grain size.


The increase in grain size suggests the plant was already under cultivation, and that the seeds were being sown, or buried, rather than blown about on the surface. Why would the nonshattering trait emerge later than larger grain size?


"The answer, at least in some cases," Olsen suggests, "is that a mutation that led to a complete loss of shattering might make harvesting easier but it would also make threshing much harder." So the nonshattering trait might have lagged behind other domestic traits because it required an optimal combination of mutations that balanced seed retention for both harvesting and threshing.


“This is why rice is still somewhat shattering, unlike maize,” says Olsen. “If you have complete loss of shattering it makes threshing very difficult; so it’s a compromise.”


A second trait in the domestication syndrome is loss of seed dormancy. A wild plant all of whose seeds sprouted at the first shower or warm spell would risk disaster, so most wild species hedge their bets and stagger the germination of seeds. But in the more controlled agricultural environment, where the seeds are sown all at once and reaped all at once, there is strong selection against seeds with this trait.


However, in this case too, it is possible to overshoot the mark. “In rice, if you completely select against dormancy you can get a phenomenon called pre-harvest sprouting, where grains germinate while they’re still on the stalk, Olsen says. “That’s another case where selection has gone too far, and you’re losing crop productivity."


More than one way to make a domestic plant

Any plant breeder can tell the difference between a weed and a crop plant, but figuring out the genetic differences between them is much harder. Searching for the relevant changes among all the genetic variation in a species is like groping in a fog, because most of the variation is neutral and not linked to significant variation in the plant’s phenotype.


Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) mapping is a statistical method that looks for strong associations between particular phenotypic traits and short DNA sequences that identify, or mark, particular locations in the genome. It is particularly useful for studying the inheritance of complex traits that are influenced by many genes and their interactions with the environment.


The main goal of QTL mapping is to understand whether a trait is controlled by a few genes of large effect or many genes of small effect. The assumption is that phenotypes under simple genetic control could be domesticated more easily than those whose traits had a complex genetic basis.


The genetic data indicate that important domestication traits are under simple genetic control, but also, as Gross and Olsen write, that there are “many ways to make a domesticated plant.” For example, genetic analysis shows that barley, common beans and Asian rice were domesticated more than once, a remarkable finding because the archeological evidence on this question is inconclusive.


QTL maps have also revealed that the same traits are sometimes controlled by different constellations of genes. For example, different genes prevent shattering in the two domesticated lineages of barley.


Although QTL mapping has led to many insights about the domestication of plants, Gross and Olsen emphasize that genes cannot tell us everything. Trying to read the history of domestication out of the genomes of existing crop plant is like trying to read a book missing many pages.


There’s a simple reason for this. Living crops cannot provide information about any plant lineage that did not ultimately contribute to a modern crop. So the genetic record is silent about domestication experiments that ultimately failed or were abandoned. If these experiments left a record, they left it only in archaeobotanical remains — which makes it difficult to reconcile that record with the genetic data.


Sticky rice, fragrant rice and other fun stuff

The second step in plant domestication is the fun one. Once a plant has become amenable to sowing and reaping, farmers set to work to improve it or diversify it.


One such improvement is sticky rice, a type of short-grained, famously glutinous Asian rice. Olsen, who has studied the origins of sticky rice, says that usually “about 20 percent of the starch in the rice is amylose and the rest is another starch called amylopectin. Amylose is an unbranched molecule and amylopectin is branchy; because it is branchy, the rice starch sticks to itself when it is cooked."


“In certain areas of the world, particularly Southeast Asia, people favored varieties of rice that were sticky," Olsen says. "By selecting sticky rice, they were actually selecting rice that had a mutation in a gene called Waxy. The gene mutation prevented the plant from making a protein responsible for a key step in producing amylose. When amylose was absent, the grains were filled with the stickier starch amylopectin.”


The fragrance of cooking basmati or jasmine rice is another example of an improvement. What you smell when the steam wafts above the rice cooker is an aromatic compound called 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline (or 2AP), which is also an important note in the aroma cooked popcorn, bread crust, crabmeat — and screwpine leaves. Screwpine leaves are aromatic leaves used to flavor rice dishes and sweets in India and southeast Asia.


The rice BADH2 gene underlies variation in the production of 2AP and a survey of this gene in aromatic rices around the world has shown that although one gene variant (or allele) is by far the most common, the aroma can be generated by a variety of mutations of the BADH2 gene.


To learn more about the science and history of food, Olsen recommends On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. This compendium of food lore even includes the science that underlies the recipe for “thousand-year-old” duck eggs, the “startlingly decrepit” delicacies Chinese love to serve to nervous American tourists.




(Return to Contents)




1.15  Cotton’s global genetic resources - Report documents the status of cotton seed collections across eight countries


Madison, Wisconsin, USA

12 July 2010

A multinational collaborative effort among cotton scientists produced a report on the status of the global cotton genetic resources. According to the report, cotton production relies primarily on two species, with 48 other species catalogued in the various seed collections that have largely been poorly characterized and under-utilized in crop improvement efforts.


Based on the findings of this report, there are four wild species not conserved or maintained within any of the eight collections. The report also documents that the majority of a wild species genome and two other wild species are represented by fewer than accessions. The wild species that are not conserved, or are underrepresented, are threatened by extinction. These species, along with the genes and traits they house, may be lost if immediate action is not taken to collect and preserve them.


The report was initiated in 2008 at the International Cotton Genome Initiative Research Conference in Anyang, China, where cotton scientists initiated a dialogue concerning global cotton genetic resources. Representing the status of cotton genetic resources preserved in Australia, Brazil, China, France, India, Russia, United States, and Uzbekistan, the report was published in the July/August 2010 edition of Crop Science, published by the Crop Science Society of America.


The report was co-authored by B. Todd Campbell and Sukumar Sada of USDA-ARS, with contributions from twenty other scientists from the represented countries.


The seed collections established by these countries are extensive, dispersed globally across five continents. They are divided into three gene pools, including five species in the primary gene pool, twenty species in the secondary gene pool, and twenty-five species in the tertiary gene pool.


Seed collections are reservoirs of genes necessary to protect present and future generations of humankind from emerging crop diseases and vulnerabilities. Long-term preservation of the genetic resources of globally important crops, such as cultivated cotton, serves as a long-term genetic insurance policy.


These preserved genetic resources provide key repositories of genes and traits used by plant breeders to overcome current and future crop diseases and vulnerabilities, challenges associated with a changing climate, and the ability to develop new and novel end-use products. They also provide an important inventory of genetic resources to meet the natural fiber demands of growing populations. 


As the single most important fiber crop in the world, coordinated efforts to collect and maintain cotton genetic resources have occurred over the last century, but this report represents the first effort to document the status of these collections and address global concerns on the diversity and resilience of the cotton genome.


The report documents both the challenges and opportunities faced by cotton collections in germplasm acquisition, conservation and regeneration, characterization, and database development. Although grand challenges such as native habitat loss, political and legal impediments, and funding constraints create significant difficulty for maintaining interconnected and stable global collections, the initiation of multinational and collaborative efforts, such as the one described in this report, create opportunities to conserve and expand the world’s cotton genetic resources.


Ultimately, this report serves as a starting point for building strong, multinational collaborations for conservation and characterization of cotton collections at different germplasm centers in the world. Multinational communication and collaboration are essential to protect, secure, and evaluate the global cotton germplasm resources. Without global, collaborative efforts the most rare and unique cotton germplasm resources are vulnerable to extinction.


For more information on the International Cotton Genome Initiative, visit


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




(Return to Contents)




1.16  Saving corn, one seed at a time


By Betty Jespersen

25 July 2010


For information on saving, sharing and buying heirloom seeds, visit, a nonprofit organization whose members have distributed an estimated one million samples of rare garden seeds, including varieties preserved by the Scatterseed Project based in Industry.


WILTON — For just a few days last week, when the sun was just up and the dew still wet, Pamela Prodan was out in her corn patch, doing her small part to preserve an heirloom variety that likely was grown in this region by the Abenaki. 


For the past decade, in a hobby that has turned into a passion, Prodan has been hand-pollinating non-hybrid corn, using seed saved by four generations of the Mosher family of Wilton.


“This corn is part of the heritage of this region,” she said. “We have to thank the Native Americans for this corn. It is a gift from their culture.”

Prodan and her partner, Conrad Heeschen, save the seeds of many of the crops they grow on their homestead in the fertile Wilton Intervale, a small valley along Wilson Stream in the western mountains.


They grind the heirloom corn, known as Byron Yellow Flint, into meal to use in cooking and feed the dry kernels to their chickens. It is tasty, hardy, disease-resistant, early and vigorous, Prodan said.


In 2008, the strikingly long, straight ears won a Judge's Prize at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity.


“I am thinking of the future generations," Prodan said. "This is a very valuable corn and it should not be lost.”


One of her goals is to preserve its genetic diversity.


"That is why I hand-pollinate," she said. "Corn is pollinated by the wind and I don't want these plants to become contaminated with any other variety.


"I am just a little link in this chain.”


Prodan follows the process laid out by Susan Ashworth in the hand-pollinator's bible, “Seed to Seed, Seed Saving Techniques for the Vegetable Gardener.”


Hand-pollination is time-consuming but not difficult and is the only way people can maintain the purity of a variety of corn, according to Ashworth.


First, the tip is cut off the husk leaves on a selected immature ear to expose its maturing silks, the female part of the plant. It is then enclosed in a small white “shoot bag” to protect it from any outside pollination.


Next, uncontaminated pollen is collected from the tassel, the male portion of the plant, just as it begins to shed pollen from the top of the plant. It, too, is carefully enclosed in a bag and when ready, the pollen is shaken off.


The pollen, the consistency of a very fine powder, from different plants is mixed together to maintain as much genetic variability as possible, according to Ashworth.


Hand-pollination is the next step.


A small amount of the pollen mix is shaken onto the silks of selected ears. Each pollinated ear is then re-bagged to prevent contamination.


This year, Prodan has between 300 and 400 plants in her sampling. Half were used to provide the pollen; the other half were pollinated.


“That represents a pretty large sampling,” she said.


In March, Prodan presented her seed-saving project at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association's Seed & Scion Swap at the Common Ground Education Center in Unity.


Paul Mosher, a retired agronomist and former potato specialist at the University of Maine in Orono, said the corn Prodan is growing is the same used by his father, Clare, and back to his great-grandfather, Horace. It was commonly grown by farmers throughout this region over 150 years ago.


“It was known as Eight-Row Flint corn back then because it has eight rows," Mosher said. "Those that grew it in those days used it as a grain for their cattle and also ground it into meal for cooking. I still grow a few plants every few years just to save the seed.”


Mosher, 92, shared his seed with Will Bonsall of Industry, founder of The Scatterseed Project, a regional seed exchange that maintains more than 3,000 plant varieties, including 1,100 varieties of peas and 650 of potatoes. He sells his seed through the Seed Savers Exchange (


Prodan got her seed from Bonsall more than 10 years ago.


Bonsall, who researched the variety, found it was similar to other native “flint” corns, recognizable for its long, skinny cobs and grown by Abenaki communities across northern Vermont, New York and western Maine, Prodan said.


Ashworth wrote that the value of heirloom plants is that they are often well-adapted to specific regional climates and resistant to local diseases and pests, in contrast to hybrid varieties.


She also warns of the urgency of rescuing the world's heritage of seed. Old varieties are lost each year, she said, as multinational agribusinesses buy out family-owned seed companies and replace regionally adapted collections with more profitable hybrids and patented varieties. These are more expensive to produce, cost more for the farmer and gardener, and are less disease and pest-resistant than native strains, she said.


“Far from being obsolete or inferior, these may well be the best home garden varieties ever developed," she said. "It is entirely possible that half of the non-hybrid varieties still available from seed companies could be lost during the next decade.”


The largest seed bank in the United States, the Seed Savers Exchange, (, is a nonprofit organization that saves and shares heirloom seeds. Members have distributed an estimated one million samples of rare garden seeds since the group was founded 35 years ago, according to its website.


Those seeds are widely used by seed companies, small farmers supplying local and regional markets, chefs and home gardeners.


“The genetic diversity of the world's food crops is eroding at an unprecedented and accelerating rate," according to "The vegetables and fruits currently being lost are the result of thousands of years of adaptation and selection in diverse ecological niches around the world.”


Source: Special to the Sun Journal via


(Return to Contents)




1.17  Flowering and freezing tolerance linked in wheat, UC Davis study shows


Washington, DC, USA

30 June 2010

New research by UC Davis wheat geneticist Jorge Dubcovsky and his colleagues could lead to new strategies for improving freezing tolerance in wheat, which provides more than one-fifth of the calories consumed by people around the world.


The new findings, published June 22 in the Online First issue of the journal Plant Physiology, shed light on the connection between flowering and freezing tolerance in wheat.


In winter wheat and barley varieties, long exposures to non-freezing cold temperatures accelerate flowering time in a process known as vernalization. These exposures also prepare the wheat to better tolerate freezing, a process known as cold acclimation.


In their new study, Dubcovsky and his colleagues at UC Davis, The Ohio State University and in Hungary, demonstrated that when the main vernalization gene, VRN1, is expressed in the leaves, it initiates a process that leads to decreased expression of the freezing tolerance genes. (In genetics, "expression" refers to the process by which information carried by the gene is used to create a protein.)


"This system enables wheat and other temperate grasses to respond differently to cool temperatures in the fall than they would to cool temperatures in the spring," said Dubcovsky, a professor in UC Davis' Department of Plant Sciences.


Dubcovsky heads UC Davis' wheat breeding program and Wheat Molecular Genetics Laboratory. The lab coordinates a broad-based research program that aims to provide the scientific information needed to develop healthier and more productive varieties of wheat.


He noted that a cool temperature in the fall, when plants have low levels of the vernalization gene VRN1, activates the freezing tolerance genes, helping to trigger the plants' acclimation to cold temperatures. This is essential in the fall, when cool temperatures are an indication that winter's freezing temperatures are approaching.


"However the same cool temperature in the spring, when high levels of the vernalization gene VRN1 are present in the leaves, results in a weaker response of the freezing tolerance genes," Dubcovsky said. "This avoids initiating the plants' cold-acclimation response, which requires a lot of the plants' energy and is unnecessary in the spring because warmer weather is approaching."


This work was supported by the National Research Initiative from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


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




(Return to Contents)




1.18  Mapping out pathways to better soybeans


Washington, DC, USA

19 July 2010

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are a step closer to unlocking genetic clues that may lead to packing more protein and oil into soybeans, a move that would boost their value and help U.S. growers compete in international markets.


ARS researchers Carroll P. Vance, Yung-Tsi Bolon and Randy C. Shoemaker have narrowed down where genes that determine protein and oil content are likely to be found along the soybean genome. Vance and Bolon work in the ARS Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn. and Shoemaker works in the ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit in Ames, Iowa. The team also included Bindu Joseph, a post doctoral researcher who worked with Shoemaker and is now at the University of California-Davis.


More than half of the estimated $27 billion U.S. soybean crop is exported each year. But there is increasing competition for international markets, and low protein and oil content often deflate prices paid to U.S. growers, particularly in the Midwest.


The researchers used two different approaches to compare the genomes of two nearly identical inbred lines of soybeans that varied in seed protein and oil content, examining patterns in how thousands of genes are expressed, and sequencing 3 billion base pairs of soybean RNA.


By comparing the results, the researchers drew up a genetic map that identifies key molecular markers along a region of the soybean genome known as Linkage Group I. The widely studied region makes up less than 1 percent of the plant's overall genome, but includes 13 "candidate genes" that are likely to play a role in determining oil and protein levels, and a series of associated molecular markers, according to the scientists.


Breeders will be able to use the markers as signposts to enable the development of new soybean lines with higher protein and oil levels. The effort also uncovered evidence showing that protein levels are determined early in the seed's development.


The report, published online in the journal BMC Plant Biology, also is accompanied by vast amounts of sequencing data that scientists can access to study genes related to other desirable traits, such as drought tolerance and pest resistance.


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




(Return to Contents)




1.19  Combating stem rust: Uganda pest should give us food for thought


With 800 million chronically undernourished, anything that reduces the food supply has potential for tragedy


A lethal stem rust has spread to southern Africa's wheat crop. The fungus, identified in Uganda in 1999 and called Ug99, is a new contender in the long hot war between plant breeders and plant pests. Stem rust is an old enemy, but until Ug99 turned up, plant breeders had thought they were in the ascendant. The spread of yet another destructive element – along with drought, flood, locusts, windstorm and rising fuel costs – in the challenges that face the African farmer is a reminder of several things.


One is that in a world in which 800 million people are chronically undernourished and more than 2 billion live on $2 a day, anything that reduces the food supply has potential for tragedy. A second is that agricultural science is a battle that can never be won outright. Any evolutionary biologist would have predicted the arrival of a new pathogen – and any evolutionary biologist would also predict that somewhere in the plant world there must already be genes resistant to the latest devastating pest. These genes must be identified, then spliced or bred into appropriate varieties and distributed to the blighted areas. All of which takes time, money, manpower and relentless scholarship.


But the stem rust is a reminder of two more unforgiving facts of life. One is that as human population levels continue to rise, the farmland available to feed each individual on the planet continues to fall. Sooner or later, there could be a crisis of the kind predicted by Thomas Malthus more than 200 years ago. The reason there has been no Malthusian crisis so far is that as the population doubled, agricultural science tripled crop yields. Ominously, although yields are still increasing, the rate of increase has for three decades been slowing down. Improvements will require investment not just in crop research, but in plant science as a whole. Researchers must understand not just the ideal conditions for experimental wheat, but the natural ecosystems in which rusts, blight, mildew and other pests flourish; they need to understand not just the molecular biology of rice but the evolutionary origins of all the grasses, and the mechanisms that produce genes for drought tolerance, or pest resistance, or high yield and so on.


The other fact of life is that money grows, so to speak, on trees. Almost everything that humans eat, drink, wear, burn or take as medicine is ultimately the gift of the vegetable world, along with the oxygen we breathe. So the new pathogen in Africa is a reminder that we need to do more than invest in aid budgets and crop science: we must learn much more about the intricate natural world around us. That means spending money on very basic research: at the grass roots, you might say.




(Return to Contents)




1.20  Single gene causes susceptibility to two major pests in wheat


A team of researchers led by Justin Faris of the Agricultural Research Service discovered that a single gene (Tsn1) in wheat causes susceptibility to two major fungi pests- Pyrenophora tritici-repentis (also known as tan spot) and Stagonospora nodorum (leaf blotch). These two fungi are often found to infest the same crop fields and producing the same toxin, ToxA, to promote programmed cell death (PCD). The team also developed DNA molecular markers for Tsn1 to ease the elimination of the gene by selective breeding. According to Faris, once the gene is eliminated from the cultivars, the devastating fungi would not have the means to kill the leaf tissues of wheat.


Together with other scientists from seven other organizations, they analyzed the DNA sequence of Tsn1 and exposed that the gene is controlled by the wheat's circadian clock. The PCD response to ToxA only occurs during daytime, which may mean that it can affect photosynthesis of wheat.


See the press release at


Source: Crop Biotech Update 16 July 2010:


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


(Return to Contents)




1.21  Planting for the future: New rust resistant wheat seed on its way to farmers


The red, blister-like postules on leaves and stems give it away: the field is infected by Ug99, a type of wind-borne pathogen known as stem rust that attacks wheat plants. Since its discovery more than a decade ago, Ug99 has held the agricultural world in suspense as governments and scientists rush to protect wheat crops. In 2008, several countries began producing seed of new, rust resistant wheat varieties for distribution to farmers. Agricultural experts hope these high-yielding varieties will be planted in farmers’ fields by 2011, providing a buffer against Ug99.  Efforts are starting to pay off. The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) was founded in 2005 and provides a key venue for the world's wheat and rust experts to exchange information about the disease and its movements, as well as about resistant wheat lines. At a recent meeting, BGRI participants discussed progress by several countries in producing resistant seed. Sources included resistant lines from CIMMYT, from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), and in some instances from their own breeding programs or commercial suppliers. According to reports, new stocks of resistant seed should be ready for distribution to farmers by 2011—significantly sooner than the 10 years it usually takes for a new variety to be released, tested, and made available.


For more info see


Source: CIMMYT e-News  June 2010:


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


(Return to Contents)




1.22  Energy crops growing on seawater - Ceres salt-tolerant trait could unlock millions more acres of marginal cropland


Thousand Oaks, California, USA

30 June 2010

Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. announced today that it has developed a plant trait that could bring new life to millions of acres of abandoned or marginal cropland damaged by salts. Results in several crops, including switchgrass, have shown levels of salt tolerance not seen before.


Ceres reported that its researchers tested the effects of very high salt concentrations and also seawater from the Pacific Ocean, which contains mixtures of salts in high-concentration, on improved energy grass varieties growing in its California greenhouses. Energy grasses, such as sorghum, miscanthus and switchgrass, are highly productive sources of biomass, a carbon-neutral feedstock used for both biofuel production and electricity generation.


“Today, we have energy crops thriving on seawater alone,” said Richard Hamilton, Ceres President and CEO. “The goal, of course, is not for growers to water their crops with seawater, but to enable cropland abandoned because of salt or seawater effects to be put to productive uses.”


Currently, there are over one billion acres of abandoned cropland globally that could benefit from this trait and others in Ceres’ pipeline, including 15 million acres of salt-affected soils in the U.S. The company now plans to evaluate energy crops with its proprietary salt-tolerant trait at field scale. If results are confirmed, biofuel and biopower producers will have more choices for locating new facilities, gaining greater productivity on marginal land and displacing even greater amounts of fossil fuels.


“In the end, this is not so much a salt trait, but a productivity trait and a land-use trait,” Hamilton said. “I am convinced more than ever that techniques of modern plant science can continue to deliver innovations that increase yields and reduce the footprint of agriculture. Improved energy crops will enable the bioenergy industry to scale far beyond the limits of conventional wisdom.”


Chief Scientific Officer Richard Flavell said that Ceres’ salt-tolerant trait could provide significant benefits to food production, too. In conventional plant breeding, breakthroughs in one crop have little bearing on another crop. However, by using techniques of modern biology to develop traits, researchers can duplicate this trait much more easily, and extend the benefits from energy to staple food crops.


“Soils containing salt and other growth-limiting substances restrict crop production in many locations in the world. This genetic breakthrough provides new opportunities to overcome the effects of salt,” said Flavell. In food crops, Ceres has confirmed the trait in rice to date and is preparing additional testing in others.


Flavell believes that salt-tolerant crops need to be combined with better land and water management practices as well as with agronomic techniques that minimize salt build-up in the soil. Furthermore, like first-generation traits, plant traits developed by Ceres can be stacked together to revolutionize plant yields.


“When we begin stacking together salt tolerance, drought tolerance and traits that allow plants to require less nitrogen fertilizer, we can deliver significant productivity and yield increases with fewer inputs than used in the first Green Revolution, as well as valuable increases on marginal or abandoned cropland that does not currently sustain economic yields,” said Flavell.


Ceres is a leading developer of energy crops that can be planted as feedstocks for advanced biofuels, biopower and bio-based products. Its development efforts include switchgrass, high-biomass sorghum, sweet sorghum, miscanthus and energycane. The company markets its seeds under its Blade Energy Crops brand. Ceres holds one of the world’s largest proprietary collections of fully sequenced plant genes.




(Return to Contents)




1.23  A new tool for improving switchgrass


Washington, DC, USA

27 July 2010

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have developed a new tool for deciphering the genetics of a native prairie grass being widely studied for its potential as a biofuel. The genetic map of switchgrass, published by Christian Tobias, a molecular biologist at the ARS Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., and his colleagues, is expected to speed up the search for genes that will make the perennial plant a more viable source of bioenergy.


Switchgrass is now grown as a cattle feed and to restore depleted soils. But interest in using it as a biofuel has intensified in recent years because it can be burned to produce electricity and, like corn stalks, can be converted to ethanol. It also grows on marginal lands, is adaptable to different regions, and—as a perennial—does not need to be replanted each year, which means lower energy costs and less runoff.


To assemble the genetic map, the team crossed a commercial variety of switchgrass known as Kanlow with an ARS-developed variety known as Alamo to produce 238 plants. They extracted DNA from that population and assembled a map based on more than 1,000 genetic markers that could each be attributed to one parent or the other.


The map divides the switchgrass genome into 18 distinct groups of genes linked together on the same strand of DNA. The results were recently published in the journal Genetics.


The work is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as part of the joint USDA-DOE Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy Program.


Understanding the genetic composition of switchgrass could produce big rewards. To make switchgrass more commercially viable as a biofuel, scientists are searching for ways to increase yields and make it easier to break down the plant cell walls, an essential step in producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass.


The genetic map could lead to genes associated with cell wall composition, crop yields and other useful traits. Scientists will be able to use the genetic map to compare the genetic profile of switchgrass to that of rice, sorghum and other plants with better understood genomes and find analogues to genes linked to specific traits in those crops.


ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of USDA. The work supports the USDA priority of developing new sources of bioenergy.




(Return to Contents)




1.24  Maize seedlings predict drought tolerance


ETH Zürich scientists analyze root-to-shoot ratios in seedlings to estimate future yield and response to water stress


Madison, Wisconsin, USA

5 July 2010

Scientists have developed a new method for measuring drought tolerance in maize. By comparing the shoot-to-root ratio in seedlings stressed by low water, scientists can predict whether a plant has the right mix of genes for adapting to drought conditions.


The ideal drought-resistant maize should have a higher ratio of root surface area compared to leaves and stems. Developing enough adult plants to determine this feature is a costly investment. The research, conducted by Nathinee Ruta at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, tested whether the root to shoot ratio in seedlings subjected to water stress would provide the basic genetic information about the general pattern of root system architecture leading to drought avoidance.


The findings were reported in the July/August 2010 edition of Crop Science, published by the Crop Science Society of America. The study was conducted at Peter Stamp’s laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, using maize populations developed by the breeding program of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), headquartered in Mexico.


These maize lines were developed to increase yield in drought-prone environments such as Sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, the data on seedling roots could be compared with yield trials in drought environments that had been generated throughout several years.


The roots of these seedlings grew on filter paper in growth pouches and were measured non-destructively using digital image analysis. The system was kept simple to allow for a handling of 200 plants per day. This was a sufficient amount of data to allow researchers to locate the positions of the genes that control root growth, and link them to other genes in the maize genome.


Most genetic studies of water stress of maize tend to focus on the above ground portion of the plant, with the roots not easily accessible, particularly under drought conditions. With little known about the correlation between root structure and drought tolerance, this research offers promising prospects for using root traits in predicting maize yield under water stress.


“There is probably an optimal maize ideotype for each combination of soil type and climate condition,” stated Andreas Hund, the senior scientist leading the project. “We aim to define these ideotypes for contrasting environments and identify key loci allowing us to select for more efficient root systems.”


Research is ongoing at ETH to improve techniques to measure genetic relationships between leaf and root surface area as they respond to environmental conditions. A strong focus will be on how these factors change over time or with respect to environmental stresses, such as extreme temperatures or drought.


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




(Return to Contents)




1.25  What secrets are stored in the roots of corn plants?


Urbana, Illinois, USA

8 July 2010

With corn being a critical U.S. crop expected to help feed livestock and people around the world and also be a source for the production of clean energy, plant breeders are continually seeking ways to make the plants more productive. To better understand the role corn roots play in this regard, an agricultural engineer and a crop scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have teamed up to examine corn root complexity and how it impacts corn development.


“Corn root structure is very complex, and it is critical to the growth of the plant,” said Martin Bohn, U of I associate professor of crop sciences. “Only with an efficient and well-developed root system can the crop produce the high yields producers are looking for and meet world demand.”


Tony Grift, U of I associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, is partnering with Bohn to examine corn root systems and to evaluate differences among corn genotypes. The team has developed innovative technology that uses high-resolution images of corn roots and statistical software to evaluate root complexity. The ‘softbox’ imaging tool they designed assures proper light penetration into the corn roots and automatically acquires six images per root at the click of a mouse button. These images are then analyzed using a statistical software program to generate a value for root complexity. The highly automated procedure stores the data in a library containing tens of thousands of images. This allows revisiting the imagery when new measurements or methods are developed.


“We define root complexity as the number of root branching points,” Bohn said. “For the human eye, it’s virtually impossible to meaningfully evaluate these differences in root systems. Very importantly, we are looking at the root structure of plants grown in actual soil in the field. Previous methods have examined the root complexity of plants grown in artificial environments, such as through hydroponics. The root systems we look at better represent what actually happens in the field.”


According to the researchers, a complex root structure could lead to a more productive plant. “Root systems with a greater number of branching points allow the plants to be more efficient at taking up water and nutrients from the soil,” Bohn said.


The software analysis employed to evaluate the root systems uses fractal dimensions – a statistical evaluation of geometrical shapes – to provide an indirect estimate of the number of branching points. Not only does the analysis of the roots provide an estimate of root complexity, it also allows the researchers to correlate differences in the complexity of the root systems with the plants’ genetic makeup.


“We have found significant variation in the complexity of the root systems among various corn genotypes,” Bohn said. “We also discovered regions in the maize genome that are responsible for the inheritance of root complexity.”


These findings have allowed the researchers to identify variations in root systems due to the plant’s genetics, beyond the variations resulting from environmental factors such as weather, soil type, and available nutrients.


“With this new technology, we have found that more than half of the variation we observe for root complexity can be explained by genetic differences among plants,” Bohn said. “This is allowing us to separate corn genotypes and identify the genes responsible for the plant’s root structure.”


An important question is: how does root complexity transfer into productivity or how much complexity is really needed?


To unlock information regarding the importance of root complexity on plant performance, the researchers are looking at 10 to 15 above-ground traits of corn plants with varying root complexities. Traits being examined include plant architectural traits like leaf length and width, leaf angle, and yield components like number of ears, number of kernels per ear, and kernel weight. Efforts are also under way to expand the research initiative to determine if root complexity provides the plant with the ability to grow better under low nitrogen or drought conditions.


“We now have the technology, which includes both hardware and software, to study corn root complexity in a high-throughput manner and link this complexity to the genetics of the plant,” Bohn said. “We hope to uncover a wealth of important and useful information being stored in the corn plant’s roots.”


Funding for this research has been provided by Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Dow AgriSciences, and the U of I College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).




(Return to Contents)




1.26  Corn detasseling: A summer rite on the way out



25 July 2010

A summer rite in Iowa fields — thousands of teenagers detasseling corn plants — is likely on the way out.


Faced with a shortage of detasselers, seed corn companies have responded by selectively eliminating the male fertility of King Corn.


Pioneer Hi-Bred of Johnston is testing a new seed germplasm that produces corn plants that can't secrete pollen, which fertilizes the silks on an ear of corn. Monsanto is going the chemical route, genetically engineering seeds so they lose their male fertility when doused with Roundup herbicide.


The result is the same: The male part of the plant, the tassel, will get the equivalent of a vasectomy. The new technologies will gradually replace detasseling, which enables seed-corn companies to control the cross-pollination in their growing plots.


Those fields are essentially factories for producing high-yielding hybrid seeds, which are in demand as the world uses more corn for fuel, food and feed.


Pioneer Hi-Bred Vice President Mike Gumina said he understands the historic and cultural importance of detasseling in Iowa and other Corn Belt states.

"The shortage of labor is becoming a real problem," he said.


Seed companies say they are faced with higher costs for detasselers, who make at least $1 per hour more than the $7.25 minimum wage.


The companies also say they encounter labor shortages in rural areas whose youthful populations have thinned.


"We have to compete with Subway for labor in rural areas," Monsanto spokesman Darrin Wallis said.


Ironically, seed-corn companies have had to boost the hiring of detasselers in recent years to keep up with increased corn production, as demand increases for ethanol and livestock feed.


The seed companies insist that they'll still need some detasselers because not all corn strains can be male-neutered.


Pioneer Hi-Bred hires up to 30,000 detasselers from Nebraska to Ohio. Monsanto wouldn't provide its number of detasselers, but the company is slightly ahead of Pioneer in seed corn sales. Together, Pioneer and Monsanto have about two-thirds of North American seed sales.


Iowa's teenagers appear to be just as eager to detassel as their parents and grandparents.


"I've hired full crews of 125 people for several years and haven't had problems getting kids," said Linda Thompson of Stuart, who has been detasseling or assembling crews since 1965.


Thompson's mother, Joanne Nottingham, 80, of Greenfield, gave up detasseling only a couple of years ago because of bad legs. She had detasseled since the 1940s.


"It's hard work, but it's a great way for kids to learn about working and to earn money," Nottingham said.


Detasselers, who work during the three-week corn pollination period each July, have been a part of the landscape in Iowa and the rest of the Corn Belt since the advent of hybrid corn in the 1930s.


Detasseling actually has come and gone before.

In the mid-1950s a germplasm was discovered that neutered male corn. The result was a sharp decrease in detasselers until the early 1970s, when the gelded corn became vulnerable to Southern leaf blight and seed companies were forced back to traditional seed pollination.


Detasseling is reminiscent of the farm labor in citrus or vegetable fields. Detasselers must wear protective netting over their heads to avoid cuts from the sharp-edged corn plants.


Detasselers must keep moving, to cover the one-third to one-half acre required of each detasseler.


Because farmers can fit more plants on an acre, there are more tassels to pull off. Stalks tend to grow higher, putting shorter detasselers at a disadvantage.


Earlier this month, an Illinois company that provides detasselers said it had to let some of its detasselers go because they couldn't reach the tops of the taller plants. Seed companies don't want detasselers to bend the stalks to reach the tassel, fearing it will reduce the plant's yield.


"You always lose a little yield when you detassel," Gumina said.


Detasseling already has been de-emphasized in favor of mechanical cutters, which shave the tassels off the corn plants.


Linda Thompson's crew near Madrid last week did less detasseling than walking. They followed where machinery had cut off the tops of plants, picking off the tassels that the machine had missed.


"The machine doesn't get every one," said Austin Olson, 16, of Greenfield, who is in his third year of detasseling.




(Return to Contents)




1.27  Rutgers researchers discover secrets of nutritious corn breed that withstands rigors of handling


New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

6 July  2010

Rutgers researchers have discovered the basis for what makes corn kernels hard, a quality that allows corn to be easily harvested, stored and transported. The findings could lead to better hybrids and increase the supply for people in developing countries who rely on it as a nutritional staple.


The discovery explains how a breed of corn known as “quality protein maize,” or QPM, incorporates two qualities essential for an economical and nutritious food crop: a source of key protein ingredients as well as a hard-shelled kernel.


Until the arrival of QPM a decade ago, corn did not provide a balanced protein mix when used as a sole food source. A hybrid developed in 1960 increased protein levels with essential amino acids but was commercially unsuccessful, because its soft kernels subjected the harvest to spoilage.


In a paper posted this week to the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Rutgers geneticists reported their findings about genetic coding responsible for making QPM kernels sturdy. The sturdiness results from threshold levels of a specific gene product encoded by two gene copies. Their investigation explains the role of this gene product in generating a protein matrix around starch particles that imparts seed strength.


“While QPM was developed in the late 1990s, scientists have not had a thorough knowledge of how kernel strength could be achieved in a rational way,” said Joachim Messing, professor of molecular genetics at Rutgers. “Our work contributes knowledge that will help other scientists develop better hybrids going forward, either through traditional breeding techniques or genetic engineering.”


At the same time, the Rutgers findings will help scientists understand more about the evolution of seeds and their components.


Corn is naturally low in lysine and tryptophan, amino acids that are essential to make corn an adequate source of protein. Some societies supplement corn with soybeans or other sources of protein in human food and livestock feed. Yet there are societies, generally in South America and Africa, where people rely on corn as their sole source of nutrition.


"QPM has made strides in overcoming malnutrition in these populations, but to make it more available to people who need it, modern approaches to breeding called ‘marker-assisted breeding’ will be superior in adapting local corn varieties for these people,” said Messing, who is also director of the Waksman Institute of Microbiology.


As part of the investigation, Rutgers postdoctoral researcher Yongrui Wu used a technique to eliminate, or “knock out,” the expression of the genes that geneticists suspected were involved in QPM kernel hardness. After knocking out these two genes, responsible for producing proteins known as gamma zeins, Wu observed softer kernels in the offspring.


Detailed investigation of original and knockout kernels using electron microscopy revealed that soft kernels lacked a proteinaceous matrix interconnecting starchy components while providing structural integrity. Such structures were not present in the knockout offspring. The researchers therefore pegged the gamma zeins regulated by these two genes, labeled 16- and 27-kDa gamma zein, as key components of this molecular structure and, as a result, QPM’s hardness.


The softer, commercially unsuccessful hybrid from 1960 had higher levels of lysine and tryptophan because it had reduced levels of several categories of zein proteins, which conferred kernel hardness but crowded out other proteins that carried lysine and tryptophan. QPM has the gamma zeins responsible for the hardness-preserving structure while still lacking other zeins that crowded out nutritional proteins.


Collaborating with Wu and Messing was David Holding, assistant professor of plant molecular genetics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. An expert in genetic analysis of seeds, Holding provided a source of seeds that were well-characterized for these studies.


The research was funded by the Selman A. Waksman Chair in Molecular Genetics at Rutgers.




(Return to Contents)




1.28  Research will help boost fungal disease resistance in legumes



9 July 2010

Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) funded research in Western Australia has identified genetic material which could be used to reduce the impact of some fungal diseases on legumes and other crops.


Fungal diseases cause yield losses typically greater than 25 per cent in Australian legumes and have threatened the viability of some crops.


The need for more profitable legume varieties was the top priority identified at an industry consultation forum hosted by the GRDC in WA this year.


The GRDC funded project ‘Genetic dissection of fungal disease resistance in legumes’ has generated genetic material with resistance to the pathogen Rhizoctonia solani, which causes root rot in all legumes as well as cereals and canola.


It has also identified genetic material resistant to the exotic fungal disease Fusarium oxysporum, which causes wilt diseases and could devastate Australia’s legume industry if exotic strains are introduced into the country.


The project is being led by Karam Singh, program leader at CSIRO Plant Industry in WA and Winthrop Professor at the University of WA (UWA), and also involves the GRDC supported Australian Research Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens (ACNFP) in WA.


The research was presented by Professor Singh at the recent GRDC supported International Legume Conference in Turkey. The GRDC provided funding for Australian researchers to attend the event.


Professor Singh said growers would benefit from significant yield increases and savings on inputs including fungicides if results achieved in the laboratory for Rhizoctonia root rot were translated to the field.


“Rhizoctonia root rot affects Australian cereal crops as well as legumes, causing yield losses in cereals of up to 50 per cent and annual losses of $77 million,” he said.


“It is difficult to control because of limited rotational controls and a lack of resistant cultivars,” he said.


“The research into F. oxysporum – one of the most damaging pathogens in legumes worldwide - means Australian legume growers will be better prepared if any of the wilt diseases enter Australia.”


The GRDC project has tested fungal pathogens on germplasm, mainly from the pasture legume Medicago truncatula, used because of its simple genetic structure, short life cycle and genetic variation.


“The project screened a number of different pathogens to try to find genetic variation in the susceptibility of germplasm to R solani and F. oxysporum,” Professor Singh said.


“We have found strong natural resistance in Medicago germplasm to F. oxysporum and have mapped the genetic material underlying that resistance.


“We have been unable to find strong resistance to R. solani in Medicago but have used a novel approach to develop effective resistance to the pathogen.”


The genetic material identified with resistance to F. oxysporum and R. solani can potentially be deployed in breeding programs to help develop new legume varieties with resistance to root rot and wilt diseases.


As part of the project, researchers are developing collaborations with scientists at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India to investigate Fusarium wilt in chickpeas.


“Expertise gained from the research work is also being used in genomic projects on narrow leafed lupins in WA to help improve the suitability of lupins as a human food,” Professor Singh said.


“This will have flow-on benefits in terms of demand and price for WA growers.”


Professor Singh’s talk at the International Legume Conference in Turkey also presented research work into insect resistance in plants associated with the GRDC funded fungal disease resistance project.


“Both projects are important for capacity building relating to molecular plant pathology in WA and to identify effective ways with which plants resist some of their enemies,” he said.




(Return to Contents)




1.29  Drought-tolerance: a learning challenge for poor farmers


14 July 2010

by Travis Lybbert

Drought-tolerant crops could improve food security — if researchers take downstream adoption challenges seriously, says Travis Lybbert.


Few aims have attracted as much attention and investment from private, public, academic and philanthropic sectors in recent years as drought tolerance (DT) in agriculture. In the past decade, more than US$1 billion has been spent on DT research and investment shows no signs of letting up.


With climate change, growing water insecurity and renewed concerns about food security in the wake of recent price spikes, the potential welfare gains from effective DT crops are enormous.


In rainfed regions of Australia and North America, investments in DT are expected to bring large private profits. Among the poor in developing dryland areas, gains from DT could make the difference between survival and starvation. During a drought, DT could limit catastrophic losses and help households recover more quickly.


Many proponents argue that adopting DT varieties may also allow poor farmers to become more entrepreneurial and diversify their livelihoods.


All these prospective DT benefits not only hinge on transferring lab results to farmers' fields, but also on farmers being able to see these benefits for themselves — which may be particularly tricky for smallholder farmers.


Tough to test

Public institutes and private firms release DT varieties only after they have proven themselves in experimental trials. Even in very controlled settings, breeders struggle to stress their test varieties with the right amount of drought at the right time, but the difficulties don't end there.


A breeder may be satisfied that a DT variety outperforms conventional crops, but poor farmers in difficult growing conditions will, rightly, insist on comparing varieties themselves.


Yet smallholder farmers — who typically face poor soils, erratic weather, and limited or no access to irrigation and other inputs — often lack the control over conditions required to perceive subtle differences between competing varieties.


This is precisely why private firms often can't afford to target smallholders as their clientele: this 'background noise' can make it tough for them to see the difference between a new variety and an old one.


Traits that confer truly dramatic benefits can outcompete this background noise. Bt cotton, for example, has been rapidly adopted by poor farmers in India because its benefits are almost impossible to miss (even with counterfeit Bt seeds in circulation). This is particularly true in extreme cases — indeed, the higher the bollworm pressure the more exaggerated the relative performance of Bt cotton.


In contrast, the relative benefits of DT peak in just the right drought conditions, then quickly fade with increasing drought pressure. These benefits are also much less uniform and observable as they depend on microclimates, rainfall timing, and soil topography and composition.


Accelerating adoption

In a recent paper, we modelled the differences between farmers' decisions to adopt Bt and DT. Our model predicts that the diffusion of DT will be four times slower than Bt crops. [1]


The model also shows that vulnerable farmers — the professed target clientele of many public or public–private DT research efforts — take four times longer to reach 90 per cent diffusion than their less vulnerable peers. This is because the vulnerable farmers are highly sensitive to extreme drought. DT crops do not fare well in extreme drought: when the rains fail and households are really suffering from the broader impacts of drought, DT yields may also fail to deliver.


Furthermore, although DT research is often motivated by impending climate change, the more frequent extreme events predicted by most climate models may actually slow DT adoption.


These learning complications are surmountable, but downstream challenges must be taken seriously.


Bundling DT with other improvements that offer unconditional benefits, such as early maturation, could speed adoption. A functional agro-services sector and regulatory environment could also alleviate some of the learning problems by improving the flow of information to farmers through effective extension, variety labelling and certification.


And pricing will be key. DT diffusion is likely to be especially sluggish among vulnerable farmers if they have to pay a premium for DT seeds, highlighting the importance of royalty-free, humanitarian uses of intellectual property in existing and future public–private partnerships.


DT certainly has the potential to help poor rural households cope with and recover from drought but developing effective DT traits in laboratories and test plots is only part of the solution.


To clear the path to widespread adoption among poor farmers, we must take seriously the quandary of a smallholder farmer in drought-prone Africa trying to figure out whether his neighbour's DT maize really did better than his own.


Travis J. Lybbert is assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at University California, Davis in the United States.


Source: SciDev.Net via


Return to Contents)




1.30  Variety fix to meet bread salt reduction target


26 July 2010


Government targets to reduce salt in our diet could have implications for millers and wheat breeders. Mike Abram reports


Efforts are being made to breed breadmaking wheat varieties that will produce protein quality characteristics to allow millers to continue to reduce the amount of salt in bread.


A new drive to reduce salt in our diets began in 2004, when the Food Standards Agency published voluntary targets to reduce salt in around 85 food categories.


The aim is to reduce daily salt intake to just 6g. Since the start of the campaign daily intake has reduced by around 0.9g, but it was still much higher than the target, at 8.6g, when last surveyed in 2008.


Bread is one of the key targets for the FSA. Around 35% of the salt we consume comes from grain-based products, such as bread and breakfast cereals. The high percentage is as much to do with the amount eaten than the products containing high amounts of salt per se.


But reducing levels isn't straightforward, explains Charles Speirs, baking science and technology manager for Campden BRI. "Salt isn't just used to flavour bread, but also for technical purposes."


In particular, it is important for the large-volume bakers who use the Chorleywood Bread Process. The process can use lower-protein wheats, with chemical improvers, such as ascorbic acid, to produce a loaf of bread in just 3.5 hours.


Dough is rapidly developed using high-energy mixing, which incorporates air that the yeast can then act on before being baked.


But if some salt is removed then the yeast ferments in an uncontrolled way, Dr Speirs says. "It changes the way the bread rises. You can change the level of yeast to compensate, but it can lead to an uneven crumb structure - you end up with an open structure."


In sandwich bread, in particular, with its fine network of bubbles, the uneven structure is not desirable. "You don't want big holes that butter drops through. And even where you have bubbles, you want them to be of a similar size."


Another issue is loaf volume. Generally bread is sold by weight, with premium loaves having an improved structure and greater volume. That also makes them softer, as they are less dense, and helps increase shelf life. But the fear is that less salt will reduce volume.


A FSA-funded project to assess what the impact of reducing salt would be on both crumb structure and volume was set up, with Campden BRI quantifying the likely problems and Nottingham University researching what the causes might be.


But early on another issue became apparent. Reducing salt while using the Chorleywood Bread Process brought more fundamental problems with the dough - it made it less cohesive and more adhesive. "It tended to fall apart, but also stick to the equipment.


"So that became the focus for the project - how do you stop it becoming sticky and falling apart."


Production methods can play a part, the researchers found. "If you produce the material consistently, slowly and in a cool environment then typically you don't see problems," explains Dr Speirs. "But when the process limits are stretched - for example, if the dough is left to prove for 20 to 30 minutes rather than 15, which can happen when producing large batches - then you see problems. A warm bakery can also be an issue.


"And then there are times when you get sticky dough and you can't explain it. What exacerbates the problem is there is currently no test that will allow you to predict whether you will have sticky dough or not."


Coming up with a method of predicting how dough will handle is one aim of a Campden BRI-led research club of industry partners, which is funding a four-year PhD student at Birmingham University.


The research, which involves wheat breeder RAGT, will look at whether ingredient changes can solve the problem, as well as looking at whether there is a production fix.


Indeed, ingredient change might be preferable. It would certainly be cheaper, in the longer term, for millers to be able to use raw materials that will tolerate lower salt levels in bread without needing to change their processing procedures or equipment.


There is hope that this could be possible, says Julie Seekings, RAGT's cereals analytical manager. "Not all varieties react in the same way when you reduce salt."


The firm has been investigating how different varieties perform in predictive breadmaking tests in its laboratories. But it has had to adapt some of its methodology to mimic the reduction of salt in breadmaking by the millers and bakers.


"Our tests are done without yeast so they don't fully replicate the breadmaking process," Mrs Seekings says.


Instead, the firm, in common with other breeders, tests the elasticity and extensibility of dough using Alveograph and Extensograph measurements. Those tests use a standard amount of salt in the flour, which corresponds to a higher level of salt in bread than the 1% millers are now aiming for.


"So we're testing varieties with lower amounts of added salt to see what happens."


The initial results suggest that the elasticity and extensibility of the dough produced does not reduce by the same amount for each variety. "It suggests there are lines that are possibly more suited to producing bread with lower salt levels."


And it doesn't necessarily follow that the current, good breadmaking varieties will necessarily have the right characteristics for baking with a lower salt content.


The firm's senior wheat breeder Ed Flatman, says: "The initial testing gives some indication of how reduced salt could change some of the parameters. Some varieties that were only average before, look better under low-salt regimes, for example."


The likely solution is to breed varieties with stronger rheological properties - increased elasticity or extensibility. "Varieties with those properties wouldn't necessarily make it onto the current Recommended List," he points out.


Finding varieties more adapted to a lower-salt baking process has begun by looking for variation in existing varieties, but has been extended to pre-commercial material, he says. "They have a broader range of genetics that we could exploit."


Beyond that, another option is to look at varieties from the firm's European breeding programme, or even further afield, for a greater range of genetic variation.


"We know something about the genetics - which combinations of genes make dough with more elasticity or that are more extensible."


In particular, two types of protein are under scrutiny.


"The largest grain proteins, the glutenins, have the biggest effect on overall quality, and we can select for those. But we may want to also look at the gliadins, where there is more variation," says Mr Flatman.


That variation will allow breeders to put together more combinations to test for suitability in low salt regimes, he adds.




(Return to Contents)




1.31  Toxin-free castor plants would be major help to industry


Mississippi State, Mississippi, USA

15 July 2010

The castor plant thrives in Mississippi and produces great quantities of valuable oil in its seeds, but it has a reputation that a team of researchers at Mississippi State University are trying to address.


Castor oil is the highly desirable, plentiful product of castor beans. The oil is used to produce everything from cosmetics and paints to jet aircraft lubricants and certain plastics. Generations ago, it was given by the spoonful as a laxative and used as a home remedy to treat a range of maladies.


Today, castor oil still has many desirable properties. The thick oil makes up 60 percent of the seed’s weight. For comparison, high oil corn or canola only produce about 25 percent oil by weight. Ninety percent of the oil is ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid found in large quantities only in castor oil. The acid has many industrial applications.


Brian Baldwin, a Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment station researcher in MSU’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said castor can be used as a biodiesel but is more important as an organic raw material for industrial chemical processes. Because of Mississippi’s climate, the crop could be grown very successfully in the state.


“Castor seed yields in Mississippi can exceed one ton per acre,” Baldwin said. “That seed can produce 1,000 pounds of oil per acre, which is a much higher rate than other high oil-content seeds produce.”


Daniel Barnes, a doctoral student in MSU’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, is trying to make it possible to grow the plant safely for commercial oil production in Mississippi. Castor seed meal, not the oil, contains ricin, a toxic protein that can become fatal if untreated in the body.


“Castor is the only place we can get commercial quantities of ricinoleic acid, but because of the presence of ricin, we are not producing castor in the United States,” Barnes said. “We want to get rid of the ability of the plant to make the toxin altogether.”


There is no law or restriction against the domestic production of castor, but Barnes said castor has not been grown commercially in the United States since the 1970s. It is often planted as an ornamental in Southern gardens.


“We import every bit of castor oil and caster seed, mainly from India and China,” Barnes said.


Once imported, the oil often must be refined and filtered yet again to meet Western industry’s quality standards.


“This is an expensive two-part process. We are importing a product that could be grown here, and then we have to re-refine it,” Barnes said.


To make castor a commercially viable U.S. crop, he is trying to discover a way to genetically modify the plant so that either the gene that produces the toxin is no longer expressed or the toxin is no longer produced.


One of the challenges is that castor resists being transformed. The genetic modification process involves a fragment of DNA foreign to the plant being inserted into the genetic code, where it is accepted and becomes active.


“Everything from cotton to corn and soybeans has been genetically modified, but castor is much more difficult. The castor cells can be transformed, but then you can’t get whole plants to grow from the cells,” Barnes said.


Compounding the problem is that castor is the only species in its genus, so there is no other plant like it. Poinsettia, spurge and rubber trees are among castor’s closest biological relatives, and these and other somewhat closely related plants are being examined to see if they contain genetic code useful to the castor research.


“We’re starting from scratch,” Barnes said. “That’s what makes it a wonderful question for research.”


Barnes has been working on ricin in castor for four years. He earned his master’s degree from MSU examining ways to reduce workers’ exposure to ricin in the production process. Now he is trying to actually remove this toxic protein.


The project is being conducted by faculty in MSU’s departments of biochemistry, plant and soil sciences and biological sciences. Others involved in the interdisciplinary team are Ken Willeford in biochemistry, and Donna Gordon and Nancy Reichert, both in biological sciences. Funding is through MSU’s Sustainable Energy Research Center and the Office of Technology Commercialization.




(Return to Contents)




1.32 New Fusarium chemotype tightens FHB tolerance levels


Mycotoxin contamination in wheat is a big problem of the industry in Canada. The mycotoxins are produced by the fusarium head blight Fusarium graminearum. A level of fusarium damaged kernels (FDK) has been established for the wheat harvest in the country based on the mycotoxin produced by the traditional chemotype or strain of F. graminearum 15 ADON.


Recently, a new chemotype of the fungus was discovered by Kelly Turkington of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Randall Clear of the Canadian Grain Commission. The new chemotype produces twice as much toxin as the 15 ADON chemotype in the laboratory. Genetic studies have shown that the two chemotypes are entirely distinct from each other but are both sensitive to tebuconazole, the active ingredient of fungicide Folicur. The Commission however has to increase the threshold level of FDK due to the more virulent chemotype.


"The research illustrates to pathologists, breeders and farmers that these plant disease issues we deal with are not static. They change from within the population itself, or from new pathogens introduced into our cropping systems. So we need to be vigilant in terms of monitoring our crops, to stay on top of these issues before they hit the farmer in the pocketbook," Turkington says.


For details see the original article at


Source: Crop Biotech Update 23 July 2010:


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


(Return to Contents)




1.33  Developing viral disease in tomato


A major viral disease of tomato caused by a complex of viruses called Tospovirus has been found in all tomato producing regions of Brazil. It can totally wipe out young tomato seedlings and the only solution is to breed for resistance against the virus. A resistant gene Sw-5 against the virus was discovered by Eric Campos Dianese of the University of Brazil under the supervision of Maria Esther de Noronha Foresca. The presence of the gene in tomato plants was highly correlated to resistance against the virus. Studies also showed that Tospovirus forms a complex of virus species with different characteristics.


Molecular markers for the gene have previously been identified which have been used in rapid introgression of the Sw-5 gene into commercial varieties. These markers however are located near the gene and can be separated during crossing work. With the discovery of the viral resistance gene Sw-5, new markers derived from the Sw-5 gene itself were developed and are more ideal in differentiating susceptible and resistant plants.


According to Leonardo Boiteus, the coordinator of tomato breeding program at Embrapa Vegetables, the new marker ensures the maintenance of viral resistance in a plant since the Sw-5 gene is dominant and can be expressed in heterozygous state. He added that, "the system can be used for any type of tomato which is important for seed companies that focus on developing new tomato hybrids."


See the news article in Portuguese at


Source: Crop Biotech Update 16 July 2010:


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


(Return to Contents)




1.34  Fungi's genetic sabotage in wheat discovered


Washington, DC, USA

12 July 2010

Using molecular techniques, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and collaborating scientists have shown how the subversion of a single gene in wheat by two fungal foes triggers a kind of celular suicide in the grain crop's leaves.


Fortunately, the team has also developed DNA molecular markers that can be used to rapidly screen commercial cultivars for the gene, Tsn1, so it can be eliminated by selective breeding. This, in turn, would deprive the fungi of their primary means of killing off leaf tissue to feed and grow, explains Justin Faris, a plant geneticist with the ARS Cereal Crops Research Unit in Fargo, N.D.


The fungi—Pyrenophora tritici-repentis (also known as tan spot) and Stagonospora nodorum (leaf blotch)—are often partners in crime, occurring in the same crop fields and producing the same toxin, ToxA, to induce a Tsn1-controlled response in wheat called programmed cell death (PCD). Normally, PCD protects plants by confining invading pathogens in dead cells. However, the strategy doesn't work against the ToxA fungi because they're "necrotrophs," pathogens that feed on dead tissue.


To better understand this genetic trickery, Faris led a team of scientists from seven different research organizations in isolating, sequencing and cloning the DNA sequence for Tsn1 from cultivated wheat and its wild relatives. Based on their analysis, the researchers concluded that modern-day wheat inherited Tsn1 from goatgrass. They figure this happened after a goatgrass gene for the enzyme protein kinase fused with another gene, NB-LRR, which probably conferred resistance to biotrophs, pathogens that feed on living tissue.


Interestingly, Tsn1 is controlled by wheat's circadian clock, and only initiates PCD in response to ToxA during daylight hours. At night, Tsn1 shuts down and "ignores" ToxA, suggesting the toxin may indirectly interfere with the plant's photosynthesis.


The team, which includes researchers from North Dakota State University-Fargo and the Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens-Murdoch among others, is reporting its findings this week online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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




(Return to Contents)




1.35  Plant scientists at the John Innes Centre find new explanation for hybrid vigour


Norwich, United Kingdom

20 July 2010


Plant scientists at the John Innes Centre have provided a new solution to an old debate on why species hybrids are often more vigorous than their parents.


They found a type of genetic “noise” - caused by a surprising degree of variation in gene activity even for highly similar traits in closely related species. In this study, the scientists analysed the trait of flower asymmetry in two closely related species of snapdragon. They measured the activity of two relevant genes and its effect on the trait.


In research to be published in PloS biology on 20th July, the JIC scientists showed that gene activity may be free to vary during evolution within particular bounds. They theorize that when species hybridise, some of the variation in gene activity may be cancelled out, leading to greater vigour.


Natural selection may be unable to eliminate the noise they identified. It only has a very minor effect on a species for any single gene, but the collective effect for many genes could be substantial, reducing overall species performance. Hybridisation, however, might partly eliminate the noise.


“This is the first study that analyses the consequences of variations in gene expression on conserved traits in closely related species,” said Professor Enrico Coen from the John Innes Centre, an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), which funded the research along with a Marie Curie grant for early stage training.


The results show that hybrids might be expected to exhibit increased performance in basic traits such as growth. However, they also show that in the longer term, other traits such as those involved in sexual reproduction might be expected to perform less well, accounting for reduced fertility of hybrids.


“Gene expression levels are free to drift around during evolution within particular bounds,” said Professor Coen. “But the cumulative effects of variation explain the conflicting phenomena of hybrid superiority and inferiority.”


This explanation of hybrid vigour covers natural species as well as domesticated varieties. The findings avoid some of the pitfalls of previous explanations.


“Breeders already know there is no magic hybrid vigour gene, otherwise they would have used it by now,” said Professor Coen. “What our study shows is how and why hybridisation can have such a strong impact on performance” said Professor Coen.


This was supported by a Marie Curie grant for early stage training and the BBSRC-John Innes Centre PhD Rotation Program.




(Return to Contents)




1.36  Recent News and Event items from the FAO-BiotechNews e-mail newsletter


Here below is a sample of plant-related News items from Updates 4-2010 (23 June 2010) and 5-2010 (14 July 2010) of FAO-BiotechNews. The e-mail newsletter is published in six different versions, one per language i.e. Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian or Spanish. The items' main focus is on the activities of FAO, of other United Nations agencies/bodies and of the 15 CGIAR research centres, plus the activities from a number of other major-intergovernmental organisations (e.g. OECD, UPOV, OIE). All items are also provided on the FAO Biotechnology website (at If anyone wishes to subscribe, they can send a message to indicating which e-mail addresses are to be subscribed and in which language they wish to receive the newsletter.


FAO website

FAO Biotechnology website (in Arabic, Chinese,

English, French, Russian and Spanish)


NEWS *** (


1) FAO Biotechnology website - updates

Three main sections of the FAO biotechnology website have recently beenupdated. The first, on 'FAO Documents', provides an annotated list offreely-downloadable documents and now includes 210 web links to a wide rangeof articles, books, meeting reports, proceedings and studies published byFAO, or prepared in collaboration with FAO, over the last 13 years concerningagricultural biotechnologies. The second, on 'Country policy documents'provides an annotated list of freely-downloadable biotechnology policydocuments from 18 FAO members. Most of the 25 documents are national policydocuments, covering applications of biotechnology in food and agriculture aswell as in other areas, such as pharmaceuticals, the environment and humanhealth care. The third, on 'Sectoral overviews', provides an overview of theapplication of biotechnologies in the agro-industry, crop, fisheries andaquaculture, livestock and forestry sectors in developing countries. See (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian andSpanish) or contact with any comments.


2) Biosafety book - Bangladesh TCPOn request from its member countries, FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme(TCP) supports countries through small projects which address specificproblems in their agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors. In May 2008, aTCP was launched for Bangladesh on "Assistance in the formulation of enablingregulatory measures for research and sustainable application ofbiotechnology", implemented jointly by FAO and the Bangladesh AgriculturalResearch Council (BARC). Under this TCP, a training course was organized inGazipur, Bangladesh on 21-30 November 2008, covering five modules, namely,agricultural biotechnology; ecological aspects of biosafety; biosafetyguidelines including risk analysis; post-release monitoring; and legalaspects, including plant variety protection. A 293-page book entitled"Biosafety of genetically modified organisms: Basic concepts, methods andissues", edited by M.K.A. Chowdhury, M.I. Hoque and A. Sonnino, comprisingthe proceedings of the training course is now available on the web. See or for more information.


3) Induced plant mutations in the genomics eraThe International Symposium on Induced Mutations in Plants was held on 12-15August 2008 in Vienna, Austria organised by the International Atomic EnergyAgency (IAEA) and FAO through the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of NuclearTechniques in Food and Agriculture. It comprised an opening session, twoplenary sessions and ten concurrent sessions, covering topics such as inducedmutations in food and agriculture, genetic diversity and crop domestication,abiotic stress tolerance and adaptation to climate change, crop quality andnutrition, seed and vegetatively propagated plants, gene discovery andfunctional genomics. A 458-page publication entitled "Induced plant mutationsin the genomics era", edited by Q.Y. Shu, is now available, with acompilation of peer-reviewed full papers contributed by participants. See or contact Q.Y.Shu@iaea.orgfor more information.


4) Reports of four regional consultations on plant breeding capacityThe Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building(GIPB), FAO and partners have previously carried out a worldwide assessmentof national plant breeding and related biotechnology capacity (PBBC). Toanalyse these results, the GIPB recently held four regional e-consultations(for Latin America and Caribbean; South-Eastern and Southern Asia;Sub-Saharan Africa; and Western Asia and Northern Africa). For each one, abackground note was prepared before the consultation and a report wasprepared afterwards. See or contact for more information.


5) FAO biosafety capacity building book - now in French and SpanishFAO recently published "Building biosafety capacities: FAO's experience andoutlook", aiming to illustrate the main findings and lessons learned fromFAO's past and ongoing biosafety capacity building initiatives. This 53-pagebook, by A. Sensi, K. Ghosh, M. Takeuchi and A. Sonnino, is now alsoavailable in French and Spanish. See or to request a copy, providing your full postaladdress and well as indicating which language version you wish to receive.


6) Cartagena Protocol: COP-MOP 5 documentsThe 5th meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety(COP-MOP 5) takes place on 11-15 October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan, back-to-backwith the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention onBiological Diversity (COP 10), on 18-29 October 2010. The meeting willaddress a number of standing issues on the COP-MOP agenda (i.e. compliance;operation and activities of the Biosafety Clearing-House; capacity building;financial mechanisms and resources; cooperation with other organizations,conventions and initiatives; and administration and budgetary matters). Itwill also address a number of substantive issues arising from the medium-termprogramme of work and previous COP-MOP decisions (i.e. handling, transport,packaging and identification of living modified organisms; risk assessmentand risk management; liability and redress; monitoring and reporting;assessment and review; and public awareness and participation). See for background information and access to officialdocuments (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) orcontact for more information.


7) UNIDO e-biosafety training networkThe e-biosafety training network of the United Nations Industrial DevelopmentOrganization (UNIDO) aims to address the demand of biosafety regulatorysystems in developing countries for intensive training in biosafety. Itcombines distance-learning with on-campus training, including laboratorypractice, and the programme is currently given in cooperation with the MarchePolytechnic University (Ancona, Italy), the Pontifical Catholic University ofMinas Gerais (Belo Horizonte, Brazil) and Ghent University (Ghent, Belgium).Registration for the academic year 2010-2011 is now open for the trainingcourse in Italy (registration deadline 1 October, course begins 5 November),Brazil (course begins in early October) and Belgium (registration deadline 15September, course begins 1 November). See or for more information.


8) OECD Biotechnology Update 20Issue number 20 (July 2010) of the OECD Biotechnology Update is nowavailable. Presented by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation andDevelopment (OECD) Internal Co-ordination Group for Biotechnology, the34-page newsletter provides updated information on OECD activities related tobiotechnology. See (517 KB) orcontact for more information.


9) Review of FAO's capacity building activities in biosafetyFAO has just published "Building biosafety capacities: FAO's experience andoutlook", which aims to illustrate the main findings and lessons learned fromFAO's past and ongoing biosafety capacity building initiatives, in order toimprove future interventions and better shape strategic planning, in linewith the Cartagena Protocol and other related international instruments. The53-page book, by A. Sensi, K. Ghosh, M. Takeuchi and A. Sonnino, presents abrief overview of 26 biosafety capacity building projects, whose totalfunding amounted to about 7.5 million US dollars, launched by FAO since 2002.They include 18 national projects as well as six that are subregional,regional or interregional and two that are global. Conclusions in the bookpropose key operational elements for future initiatives to maximize resultsand fully meet countries' needs. See or to request a copy, providing your full postaladdress.


10) Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling - 31st session reportThe report of the 31st Session of the Codex Committee on Methods of Analysisand Sampling, that took place on 8-12 March 2010 in Budapest, Hungary, is nowavailable. Agenda item 3 was dedicated to the "Proposed draft guidelines oncriteria for methods for detection, identification and quantification ofspecific DNA sequences and specific proteins, in particular in foods derivedfrom modern biotechnology" and is covered in paragraphs 13-33 of the report.See the report (ALINORM 10/33/23), together with the agenda providing linksto the meeting's documents, at or contact codex@fao.orgfor further information. The Committee agreed to forward the proposed draftguidelines to the 33rd Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (to beheld 5-9 July 2010 in Geneva, Switzerland) for adoption at Step 5/8 with therecommendation to omit Steps 6 and 7. The Codex Rules of Procedure,describing also the 8-Step elaboration procedure, are available at (in Arabic,Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish).


11) Codex Committee on Food Labelling - 38th session reportThe report of the 38th Session of the Codex Committee on Food Labelling, thattook place on 3-7 May 2010 in Quebec City, Canada, is now available. Agendaitem 6 was dedicated to "Labelling of foods obtained through certaintechniques of genetic modification/genetic engineering" and is covered inparagraphs 134-161 of the report. See the report (ALINORM 10/33/22), togetherwith the agenda providing links to the meeting's documents, at or contact codex@fao.orgfor further information.


12) Symposium on Genomics of Plant Genetic ResourcesFollowing the first symposium, held in Beijing, China in 2005, the 2ndInternational Symposium on Genomics of Plant Genetic Resources was held on24-27 April 2010 in Bologna, Italy. Abstracts from the symposium are nowavailable. The scientific programme was organised in nine different sessions,covering themes such as 'harnessing plant diversity: From sequence tofunction' or 'genomics-assisted crop improvement for food security indeveloping countries'. The symposium was organised by BioversityInternational, the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop PlantResearch (IPK) and the University of Bologna, and took place with thepatronage, inter alia, of FAO. See or for more information.


13) UN General Assembly - 64th session resolutionsThe 64th Session of the UN General Assembly considered a number of agendaitems with preparatory documents and/or resolutions relevant tobiotechnologies, including items 53 (a) on 'Agricultural technology fordevelopment'; 55 (c) on 'Science and technology for development'; and 60 on'Agriculture development and food security'. See the preparatory documents(numbered A/64/258, A/64/168 and A/64/221 respectively) for each item at (in Arabic, Chinese,English, French, Russian and Spanish) and the resulting resolutions (numberedA/RES/64/197, A/RES/64/212 and A/RES/64/224 respectively) at or contact formore information. For example, in resolution A/RES/64/224, the GeneralAssembly, inter alia, "Reaffirms the need to mobilize the resources needed toincrease productivity, including the review, approval and adoption ofbiotechnology and other new technologies and innovations that are safe,effective and environmentally sustainable".


14) The International Industrial Biotechnology NetworkThe International Industrial Biotechnology Network (IIBN) was launched at asymposium held on 29 March 2010 at the United Nations Industrial DevelopmentOrganization (UNIDO) Headquarters in Vienna, Austria, co-organized with theInstitute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries (Ghent University,Belgium). The network is dedicated to promoting "the use of novelbiotechnologies for adding economic value to under-utilised biologicalresources in developing countries in order to meet specific developmental andbiodiversity conservation goals, respectful of cultural and social values. Toachieve its mission, IIBN will catalyse partnerships between public researchinstitutes, governments, private sector and national and internationaldevelopment agencies leading to international initiatives intended totranslate recent technological advances in the life sciences into renewablebio-based products". See or for more information.


15) Biosafety Protocol News 7The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity has now publishedthe 7th issue of Biosafety Protocol News. The 23-page issue highlightsexperiences and lessons learned in facilitating the exchange of informationon living modified organisms (LMOs) through the Biosafety Clearing-House,with contributors presenting their experiences and lessons learned in Africa,Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America. See (5.8 Mb) or for more information.


16) UNCTAD technology and innovation report 2010The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development recently published"Technology and innovation report 2010: Enhancing food security in Africathrough science, technology and innovation". The 106-page report focuses onways of improving agricultural performance in Africa and the role thattechnology and innovation can play in raising the agricultural production andincomes of smallholder farmers and in facilitating access to food for thepoorest people both on and off the farm. It is organised in seven chapters,covering respectively key issues in the development of African agriculture;building innovation capabilities in Africa agriculture; agriculture andnational food security; challenges and opportunities to achieve foodsecurity; transfer and diffusion of agricultural technology; technology mixesfor small scale farming (including discussion of various cropbiotechnologies); and recommendations. See (1.2 MB) or for more information.


17) Papers from CGIAR Science Forum 2009On 16-17 June 2009, the CGIAR Science Forum 2009 was held in Wageningen, theNetherlands, convened by the Independent Science and Partnership Council(ISPC) of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research(CGIAR). It brought together over 300 scientists, donors and civil societygroups from 55 countries to debate recent advances in genomics,biofortification, bio-based products and other technologies that can reducefood insecurity in developing countries. A special open access issue of thejournal Crop Science has now been published containing a selection of paperspresented at the Forum. See or for more information.


18) The 6th International Rice Genetics SymposiumThe abstracts are now available on the web from the 6th International RiceGenetics Symposium that took place on 16-19 November 2009 in Manila,Philippines. Organized every 4-5 years since 1985 by the International RiceResearch Institute (IRRI), the symposium's aim was to "showcase the latestdevelopments in the field, including research on breeding, mapping of genesand quantitative trait loci, identification and cloning of candidate genesfor biotic and abiotic stresses, gene expression, and genomic databases andmutant induction for functional genomics". The 365-page publication containsabstracts from the plenary, concurrent and poster sessions and from twoworkshops. The symposium was held in conjunction with the 7th InternationalSymposium on Rice Functional Genomics. See orcontact for more information.


19) Abstracts from Africa Rice Congress 2010The Africa Rice Congress 2010 was held in Bamako, Mali on 22-26 March 2010.Organised by the Africa Rice Center, and following the first Africa RiceCongress that was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 2006, the congress' aimwas to take stock of advances in rice science and technology aimed atenhancing rice productivity in farmers' fields, while protectingenvironmental services and coping with climate change. A 205-pagepublication, edited by P. Kiepe, M. Diatta and D. Millar, containingabstracts from the congress, in English and French, is now available on theweb. The abstracts, many of which describe the use of biotechnologies inrice, are organised in six main themes, one of which is 'genetic diversityand improvement' (pages 1-59). See (in Englishand French) or contact for more information.


20) Impact analysis of MASTo complement its scientific crop improvement research, the GenerationChallenge Programme (GCP) of the Consultative Group on InternationalAgricultural Research (CGIAR) commissioned a series of socio-economicstudies, including one entitled 'Ex-ante impact analysis of marker-assistedselection technologies' by G. Norton and colleagues. The study was conductedin Africa and Asia to evaluate the quantitative impact and investments of twoGCP projects which utilised marker-assisted breeding to develop improvedvarieties of rice and cassava. See the studies at or for more information.


21) Agricultural biotechnologies to 2015The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recentlypublished "Biotechnologies in agriculture and related natural resources to2015", by A. Arundel and D. Sawaya. The 105-page article provides an overviewof the current state of technological development and presents estimates andprojections for the types of biotechnologies expected to reach the market foruse in agriculture and related natural resources to 2015. It is one of twoarticles published in a special issue (volume 2009/3) of the periodical 'OECDJournal: General Papers', written for the 'Bioeconomy to 2030' project. See (2.1 MB) or for more information.


*** EVENTS *** ( September - 1 October 2010, Dakar, Senegal. 5th World Cowpea ResearchConference. Organised by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture(IITA), in cooperation with the Dry Grain Pulses Collaborative ResearchSupport Programme, Purdue University and the Institut Senegalais deRecherches Agricoles, the conference will cover a wide number of topicsranging from cowpea genetic improvement and use of molecular tools, to humannutrition and processing and enterprise development. See or contact for moreinformation.


1-5 November 2010, Guadalajara, Mexico. VII Encuentro Latinoamericano y delCaribe sobre Biotecnología Agropecuaria (REDBIO 2010). The programme for this7th Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on Agricultural Biotechnologyconsists of 6 plenary sessions and 16 symposia, covering a wide range oftopics such as emerging technologies, biodiversity, bioenergy and biofuels,biotechnology in animals, forestry and tropical fruits. See (in Spanish) or for more information. REDBIO is the TechnicalCo-operation Network on Agricultural Biotechnology in Latin America and theCaribbean, and this major meeting is held every three years.


Contributed by John RuaneThe Coordinator of FAO-BiotechNews,



(Return to Contents)




1.37  Newsletter on Organic Seeds and Plant Breeding, Issue 11/2010


July 2010


  • ECO-PB is critical on the implementation of COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 2008/90/EC
  • Finalisation of the European project “Farm Seed Opportunities”: Opportunities for farm seed conservation, breeding and production
  • Collection of Open Pollinated Vegetable Varieties as Basis for Biodynamic and Organic Breeding Activities
  • 2nd EUCARPIA Organic and Low-input Section Conference “Breeding for resilience: A strategy for organic and low-input farming systems?”
  • ECO-PB General Assembly attached to the 2nd EUCARPIA Organic and Low-input Conference in Paris



More news from:

    . ECO-PB (European Consortium for Organic Plant Breeding)

    . FIBL (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture)



Published: July 7, 2010


 (Return to Contents)






2.01  Molecular Techniques in Crop Improvement


Jain, S. Mohan; Brar, D.S. (Eds.)

2nd ed., 2010, IX, 772 p., Hardcover

Price: $229.00 + shipping and handling ($8.00 U.S. or $20.00 Elsewhere)


The first edition of this book, "Molecular techniques in crop improvement" published in 2002 provided comprehensive information on the latest tools and techniques of molecular genetics and applications in crop improvement, and highlighted molecular genetics from the perspective of plant breeders. Since then, major advances have been made in molecular tagging of genes/QTLs governing complex agronomic traits, identification of candidate genes and in applying marker assisted breeding for tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses and quality traits. Recent advances in transgenic technologies, genome sequencing and functional genomics offer tremendous opportunities to support plant breeding programs. We have covered new developments in molecular biology and their potential applications in plant breeding in this second edition. The book has a total of 31 chapters and divided into 4 sections: A) Plant breeding in the genomics era, B) Molecular markers and their application, C) Genomics, and D) Transgenic technologies. The book features major topics, which are QTL analysis, comparative genomics, functional genomics, bioinformatics, DNA marker technology automation, gene-based marker systems, , application of molecular markers for tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses as well as in germplasm conservation, gene pyramiding, gene silencing, TILLING, CISGENESIS, microarray, metabolomics, proteomics, transcriptomics, microRNAs, marker-free transformation, gene targeting/homologous recombination, and genetic engineering. This book will be especially useful to scientists engaged in molecular genetics and plant breeding. It will also be a valuable book for the graduate and post graduate students specialising in crop science, genetics, plant breeding and biotechnology.


(Return to Contents)




2.02 Rice Biofortification


Lessons for Global Science and Development


By Sally Brooks


'A deeply thought-provoking book, this study of biofortification in rice explores how and why public science so often irons out complex needs into a demand for pre-packaged solutions. Biofortification could yet become an exemplar of a different, boundary-crossing, socially-informed science for poverty alleviation. [This] book is essential reading for both critics and proponents of biotechnology in international development.'

Paul Richards, Professor of Technology and Agrarian Development, Wageningen University, The Netherlands




Pathways to Sustainability Series

June 2010 •  208 pages •  234 x 156mm •  ISBN 9781849711005


Biofortification - the enrichment of staple food crops with essential micronutrients - has been heralded as a uniquely sustainable solution to the problem of micronutrient deficiency or 'hidden hunger'. Considerable attention and resources are being directed towards the biofortification of rice - the world's most important food crop.


Through an in-depth analysis of international rice biofortification efforts across the US, Philippines and China, this book provides an important critique of such goal-oriented, top-down approaches. These approaches, the author argues, exemplify a model of global, 'public goods' science that is emerging within complex, international research networks. It provides vital lessons for those researching and making decisions about science and research policy, showing that if this model becomes entrenched, it is likely to channel resources towards the search for 'silver bullet' solutions at the expense of more incremental approaches that respond to locality, diversity and the complex and uncertain interactions between people and their environments. The author proposes a series of key changes to institutions and practices that might allow more context-responsive alternatives to emerge.


These issues are particularly important now as increasing concerns over food security are leading donors and policy makers to commit to ambitious visions of 'impact at scale' - visions which may never become a reality and may preclude more effective pathways from being pursued.


Published in association with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)


'A lucid analysis of the decision making in international agricultural research which emphasizes a technical, commercial approach. Malnutrition is far better tackled with a biodiversity approach that makes available local foods that can be eaten fresh and are free.'

Suman Sahai, Convenor, Gene Campaign, New Delhi



'A deeply thought-provoking book, this study of biofortification in rice explores how and why public science so often irons out complex needs into a demand for pre-packaged solutions. Are the great private philanthropic foundations and the brilliant scientists they fund simply incapable of understanding the lives of the rural poor? The author prefers instead to make a case for deep institutional reform, offering space for new types of partnership. Biofortification could yet become an exemplar of a different, boundary-crossing, socially-informed science for poverty alleviation. Her book is essential reading for both critics and proponents of biotechnology in international development.'

Paul Richards, Professor of Technology and Agrarian Development, Wageningen University, The Netherlands


'Rice Biofortification convincingly illustrates the tenacity of the top down linear research paradigm which unfortunately still dominates the international agricultural research agenda. How researchers can effectively work with local contexts is an important issue, which the author handles admirably.'

Joachim Voss, independent research professional, and formerly Director General of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia




(Return to Contents)




2.03  FAO publication: Induced Plant Mutations in the Genomics Era



The year 2008 marked the 80th anniversary of mutation induction in plants. The application of mutation techniques, i.e. Gamma-rays and other physical and chemical mutagens, has generated a vast amount of genetic variability and has played a significant role in plant breeding and genetic studies. The widespread use of induced mutants in plant breeding programmes throughout the world has led to the official release of more than 2,700 plant mutant varieties. A large number of these varieties (including cereals, pulses, oil, root and tuber crops, and ornamentals) have been released in developing countries, resulting in enormous positive economic impacts.


During the last decade, with the unfolding of new biological fields such as genomics and functional genomics, bioinformatics, and the development of new technologies based on these sciences, there has been an increased interest in induced mutations within the scientific community. Induced mutations are now widely used for developing improved crop varieties and for the discovery of genes, controlling important traits  and understanding the functions and mechanisms of actions of these genes. Progress is also being made in deciphering the biological nature of DNA damage, repair and mutagenesis. To this end, the International Symposium on Induced Mutations in Plants was organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations through the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.


The Symposium comprised an open session, two plenary sessions and ten concurrent sessions, covering topics from induced mutations in food and agriculture, plant mutagenesis, genetic diversity, biofortification, abiotic stress tolerance and adaptation to climate changes, crop quality and nutrition, seed and vegetatively propagated plants, gene discovery and functional genomics. A workshop on low phytate rice breeding was also organized. About 500 participants from 82 Member States of the IAEA and FAO, and nine international organizations/institutions attended the Symposium, with a good balance between the private and public sector, as well as developing and developed Member States. The Symposium received valuable assistance from the cooperating organizations and generous support from the private sector, for which the sponsoring organizations are most grateful.


This publication is a compilation of peer-reviewed full papers contributed by participants. They were either oral or poster presentations given in different sessions except Concurrent Session 3 (which will be compiled by the Human Health Division in a separate publication). These papers not only provide valuable information on the recent development in various fields related to induced mutations, but also on the social and economic impact of mutant varieties worldwide. Therefore, these Proceedings should be an excellent reference book for researchers, students and policy makers for understanding applications of induced mutations in crop improvement and biological research.


Qu Liang


Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture


Download the full version (6,302 Kb)



Table of Contents

Opening Remarks

Opening Remarks

Summary of the FAO/IAEA International Symposium on Induced Mutations in Plants

Closing Statement

A Summary of the International Symposium on Induced Mutations in Plants

(Download  - 544Kb)

Opening Session

(Download  - 181Kb)

Plenary Session 1

(Download  - 511Kb)

Induced Mutations In Food and Agriculture

Concurrent Session 1

(Download  - 579Kb)

Mutation Enhancement of Genetic Diversity and Crop Domestication

Concurrent Session 2

(Download  - 365Kb)

DNA Damage, Repair and Genome Stability

Concurrent Session 4

(Download  - 452Kb)

Induced Mutations for Traits that Affect Abiotic Stress Tolerance and Adaptation to Climate Change

Concurrent Session 5

(Download  - 773Kb)

Induced Mutations for Enhancing Crop Quality and Nutrition

Concurrent Session 6

(Download  - 462Kb)

New Techniques and Systems for Mutation Induction

Concurrent Session 7

(Download  - 252Kb)

High Throughput Techniques for Mutation Screening

Concurrent Session 8

(Download  - 945Kb)

Mutation Induction and Breeding of Ornamental and Vegetatively Propagated Plants

Concurrent Session 9

(Download  - 178Kb)

Induced Mutations in Seed Crop Breeding (1)

Concurrent Session 10

(Download  - 1,015Kb)

Induced Mutations in Seed Crop Breeding (2)

Plenary Session 2

(Download  - 1,172Kb)

Induced Mutations in the Genomics Era: New Opportunities and Challenges


Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome via


(Return to Contents)




2.04  Corn Fact Book tells story of a modern agricultural marvel


St. Louis, Missouri, USA

29 July 2010

Those with an interest in knowing more about America's family farmers and the positive contribution they make to the nation's economy won't want to miss the 2010 edition of the Corn Farmers Coalition's Corn Fact Book.


The educational publication, funded by corn checkoff programs in 14 different states, has been widely distributed in Washington as a part of a large advertising campaign that has included, print, radio, online and large scale outdoor messages. It is now available to the general public.


"This publication is full of interesting facts on the technology and innovation that allow us to grow corn for food, feed, and fuel but it also tells the story of who grows corn today," said Keith Hora, a Washington, Iowa farmer featured in the Corn Fact Book. "It also explains how farmers in the US have become the most productive in the world, and the economic benefits farmers and the general public receive as a result of our efforts. It truly is an American success story."


Among the facts chronicled: Seven of the largest corn crops in history have been produced in the last seven years, despite less-than-ideal weather and on virtually identical acreage. And 90 percent of all U.S. corn is still produced by family farmers. The Corn Fact Book highlights a few farmers and tells a bit of their story and how it benefits us all.


Every year, American consumers ask farmers for more food but give them less land on which to produce it. They want farmers to be more efficient and use less energy. Every year, farmers manage to succeed - with less than 2 percent of the population feeding the rest of the country - and managing to export a fair bit as well.


"We're more efficient that ever," said Jon Holzfaster, a Paxton, Neb. grower featured in the Fact Book. "We're using less fuel and traveling across the land fewer times. We have better genetics to help us optimize yields from existing acres and our use of chemicals has decreased dramatically. In this respect, the good old days are actually happening right now."


And the facts show that the efforts by family farmers to improve their environmental footprint are paying off. Thirty-seven percent less land is needed to produce a bushel of corn; soil erosion is down 69 percent and emissions produced in growing and harvesting a bushel of corn has dropped 30 percent.


Click here for more information on the Corn Farmers Coalition.




(Return to Contents)




2.05  ISAAA Releases "Bt Cotton in India: A Country Profile" - First in Biotech Crop Profile Series


Bt Cotton in India: A Country Profile is the first volume in a new series of publications called "Biotech Crop Profiles" which will feature comprehensive overviews of the adoption, impact and future prospects of biotech crops in developing countries. The series is produced by researchers of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).


Bt Cotton in India: A Country Profile critically analyzes the adoption and impact of Bt cotton in India from 2002 to 2009. The volume is a user-friendly, comprehensive and rich source of information on Bt cotton in India – the first biotech cotton crop to be approved in India in 2002.  It includes the most relevant authoritative statistics and references on Bt cotton in India, including hectarage of Bt cotton hybrids, numbers of Bt cotton farmers, and a chronology of approved Bt cotton events.


The volume also summarizes the impact of Bt cotton in India at the national and farm-level during the eight year period of commercialization taking into account the 11 independent studies conducted by public institutions during that period. It is excerpted from the "Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2009", ISAAA Brief 41, authored by Dr. Clive James.


The volume hopes to share the rich knowledge and experience with Bt cotton in India more widely with the scientific community in the country and also with global society. This will facilitate a more informed and transparent discussion about the contribution and potential role of Bt cotton in the agriculture sector in India and other countries, and particularly Bt cotton's contribution to a more sustainable agriculture.


Download a copy of the publication at


Contributed by Bhagirath Choudhary


(Return to Contents)




2.06  The proceedings of the Seventh African Crop Science Society Conference held 5-9 December 2005, Entebbe, Uganda


This publication includes more than 250 of high quality papers, and 5 keynote lectures, in different fields, presented orally or in poster format in the conference, which constituted the bulk of the three parts of the proceedings, 1600 pages (African Crop Science proceedings, December 2005, volume 7). The theme of the conference was “Opportunities and Challenges in transforming African Agriculture”. Click on the link below to access these Free-publications


The proceedings of the 9th ACSS conference, Cape Town, South Africa, 2009 are now uploaded on the website which is linked to the ACSS website.


Contributed by Kasem Zaki Ahmed

Minia University, El-Minia, Egypt


(Return to Contents)




2.07  2nd International Symposium on Genomics of Plant Genetic Resources


(24–27 April 2010, Bologna, Italy): this conference, organised by Bioversity International, the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) and the University of Bologna, followed a tightly-packed agenda organised in nine different sessions, addressing themes such as 'harnessing plant diversity: From sequence to function' and 'genomics-assisted crop improvement for food security in developing countries', amongst others. The book of abstracts can be downloaded at


(Return to Contents)




2.08  The Africa Rice Congress 2010


(22–26 March 2010, Bamako, Mali): organised by the Africa Rice Center, the congress' aim was to take stock of advances in rice science and technology aimed at enhancing rice productivity in farmers' fields, while protecting environmental services and coping with climate change. A 205-page publication, edited by P Kiepe, M Diatta and D Millar, containing abstracts from the congress, in English and French, is now available. The abstracts, many of which describe the use of biotechnologies in rice, are organised under six main themes, one of which is 'genetic diversity and improvement' (pages 1-59). To download the abstracts (available in French and English), please visit


(Return to Contents)




2.09  6th International Rice Genetics Symposium


(6–19 November 2009, Manila, The Philippines): organised by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the symposium's aim was to 'showcase the latest developments in the field, including research on breeding, mapping of genes and quantitative trait loci, identification and cloning of candidate genes for biotic and abiotic stresses, gene expression, and genomic databases and mutant induction for functional genomics'. A 365-page publication is available, containing abstracts from the plenary, concurrent and poster sessions and from two workshops. The symposium was held in conjunction with the 7th International Symposium on Rice Functional Genomics. For the abstracts and more information, please visit the Symposium website at


(Return to Contents)




2.10  Plant Genetic Resources Newsletter: dead but maybe not yet buried


During 2009, Bioversity discontinued publishing PGRN, although this decision may not yet be widely appreciated by the PGR community. Its loss means that there is no longer a sensible outlet for the “grey” PGR literature – such as reports of collection expeditions, updates on germplasm collections, preliminary testing of new characterization protocols etc. A new intiative is currently being launched by Robert Koebner ( and Theo van Hintum (WUR) to bring PGRN back from the dead. The idea is to resume publication as a web-only English language journal housed at WUR, and to provide authors with linguistic support if needed. We are currently looking for the necessary financial sponsorship, and to achieve this we need to demonstrate that there is appreciable community support for the revival of PGRN.


So if you think that this is a worthwhile goal and that you would like to see PGRN back as a freely available, web-based journal, please email a message of support to Robert Koebner at


We hope to hear from as many of you as possible!


Contributed by Pierre Charmetant


(Return to Contents)





3.01  FAO provides free access to statistics treasure trove


World's largest database of food, hunger and agricultural information now fully accessible online


Rome, Italy

9 July 2010

FAO is granting free and open access to its central data repository, FAOSTAT, the world's largest and most comprehensive statistical database on food, agriculture, and hunger, the UN agency announced today.


Previously, it was possible to download without charge a limited amount of information from FAOSTAT – which contains over one million data points covering 210 countries and territories -- but access to larger batches of statistics required a paid annual subscription.


The power of numbers

"We are now providing totally free access to this immense pool of data," said Hafez Ghanem, FAO Assistant Director General for Economic and Social Development. "This information is an important tool in the fight to alleviate poverty, promote sustainable development and eliminate hunger. We're particularly keen on making sure that economists, planners, and policy-makers in the developing world, where that tool is needed most, can get at it and put it to good use."


Ghanem also noted that the move forms part of an ongoing FAO effort to provide easier and more direct access to its vast information assets, an initiative that came out of an independent external evaluation and strategic planning process initiated by FAO's Members in 2008.


"FAOSTAT is a powerful tool that can be used not just to see where hunger occurs, but to drill down and better understand why hunger occurs -- and what might be done to combat it," added Pietro Gennari, FAO Statistics Division Director. "It’s especially designed to support monitoring, analysis and informed, evidence-based policy-making specifically related to rural and agricultural development and hunger reduction, the only tool of its kind.”


In addition to aiding development planning, the information contained in FAOSTAT gives developing countries the intelligence they need in order to participate in and benefit from international trade in an effective and competitive manner. Donor countries can also use it to identify specific sectors where aid might be most effectively targeted.


A reservoir of knowledge

FAOSTAT includes data on agricultural and food production, usage of fertilizers and pesticides, food aid shipments, food balance sheets, forestry and fisheries production, irrigation and water use, land use, population trends, trade in agricultural products, the use of agricultural machinery, and more.


FAOSTAT can be consulted using English, French or Spanish and allows users to select and organize the statistical information into tables and charts according to their needs and to download it in Excel format. The original statistic data is supplied by individual countries and regional development organizations in standardized formats. Records go back to 1961, the dawn of the Green Revolution.


This reservoir of knowledge is already being used by economists, planners and national development authorities, donor agencies, international aid organizations, other UN agencies, NGOs, academic researchers, investors – and farmers.


Current subscribers who will now have free access to FAOSTAT include international news agencies, development institutions, universities, government ministries and international organizations.


More news from: FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)



Published: July 9, 2010




(Return to Contents)




3.02  Tracking research across the globe


Interactive website opens a window on agricultural R&D


14 July 2010

 by Ayala Wineman


Research has shown that investments in agricultural research and extension have large impacts on agricultural productivity, poverty, and nutrition. Yet, countries under-invest in agriculture: In 2000, developing countries spent about $2 per capita on agricultural research, and according to a 2008 World Bank report, only 4 percent of official development assistance is directed toward agriculture.


Recent ASTI findings

The Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) initiative collects, analyzes, and shares data on agricultural research & development (R&D) in developing countries. Facilitated by IFPRI, it tracks investment in agricultural research, sources of R&D funding, and allocation of the investment across institutional categories, as well as the number of agricultural scientists, their degree levels, their distribution among major commodities and themes, and the participation of female scientists. Policymakers and other stakeholders can use this information to design agricultural development strategies to reduce hunger and poverty.

ASTI tools


The interactive ASTI website enables users to

  • access primary data on agricultural science indicators;
  • present these data using a variety of graphics tools;
  • download national and regional publications; and
  • view profiles that list all agricultural R&D agencies, and their contact details, in a given country.


ASTI is updating data for more than 30 Sub-Saharan African countries. In coming months, it expects to make available a large number of country, regional, and sub-regional reports on its website. It recently launched a new blog so those interested in agricultural R&D can keep abreast of developments.



Agricultural Research & Development


Source:  ASTI website via


(Return to Contents)





4.01  Syngenta accepts student scholarship applications in potato-growing areas


7 July 2010

Greensboro, North Carolina, USA

• This is the inaugural year of the Syngenta Potato Scholarship

• The scholarship runs from July through September; applications accepted online or via U.S. mail

• Agribusiness-focused scholarship winner awarded $5,000 toward education

Continuing its investment in the future of agriculture, Syngenta is sponsoring the inaugural Syngenta Potato Scholarship program. Applications are currently being accepted, and the scholarship is open to high school seniors and college students (excluding seniors) interested in pursuing a career in agriculture who currently reside or attend school in one of the following states: Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington or Wisconsin.


The $5,000 scholarship opportunity is available to students involved in the potato-growing industry who meet one of these requirements: 1) High school senior interested in agriculture and/or involved in 4-H or FFA; or 2) College freshman, sophomore or junior majoring (or intending to major) in an agriculture-related field.

Applications must include:

  1. name
  2. address
  3. phone number
  4. e-mail
  5. school/college
  6. major/intended major
  7. agriculture involvement
  8. verification of the applicant’s involvement/previous involvement in 4-H or FFA
  9. declaration of involvement in the potato-growing industry, and
  10. an essay that does not exceed 350 words that addresses the following topic:


Agricultural resources are becoming increasingly scarce, and still growers are expected to produce higher-quality crops in a larger quantity with fewer resources. In 350 words or less, explain how the potato industry could maximize its resources to meet the growing demand for food, feed and fuel. When writing your essay, consider the following aspects:

- Land Use

- Water Optimization

- Technology Transfer

- Biodiversity

Applications must be submitted by September 15, 2010, and can be sent to:

Meredith Brown

Gibbs & Soell Public Relations

8521 Six Forks Road, Suite 300

Raleigh, NC 27615


Ph: (919) 870-5718

Fax: (919) 870-8911


For additional information and the ability to apply for the scholarship online, please visit

The scholarship will be awarded in October prior to the 2011 spring semester of school. The winner will be announced in November and will be informed via letter. He or she will also be recognized at the Potato Expo in Las Vegas, Nev., January 5 – 7, 2011.




(Return to Contents)




4.02  2011 Jeanie Borlaug Laube WIT Award: Call for Applications


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


Application Deadline:  October 1, 2010


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. Paul, Minnesota, USA, in June 2011. 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 2010 Jeanie Borlaug WIT Award recipients.


To apply, please complete the application below and submit along with a letter of recommendation.


Applications must be received by OCTOBER 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 an application and for any questions, please contact:

Sarah Nell Davidson

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


Please address general application questions to


Contributed by Jennifer M. Nelson

Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project


(Return to Contents)




4.03  Women in Triticum (WIT) Mentor Award: call for nominations


The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) is pleased to announce the call for nominations for the first annual Women in Triticum (WIT) Mentor Award.


This award, established in 2010 and to be first awarded in 2011, recognizes mentors of both genders who have proven to be excellent mentors of women working in Triticum and its nearest relatives.


Recipients of the WIT Mentor award will receive a cash honorarium of $3,000 USD as well as the honor of organizing a session at the subsequent year’s BGRI technical workshop. 


Selection criteria:

  • Men and women mentors are eligible.
  • Demonstrated commitment to increasing gender parity in agriculture as reflected in the nomination letter.
  • Demonstrated excellence in mentoring of women working in Triticum.
  • Demonstrated commitment to scientific outputs that contribute to healthy families around the world as reflected in the nomination letter.


Deadline: Nominations must be received by October 1, 2010


No more than one award will be granted in a given year.   To submit a nomination for the Women in Triticum (WIT) Mentor Award, please submit a letter that, in 500 words or less, that illustrates why your nominee meets the stated selection criteria and is a compelling recipient of the award.


Electronic submissions may be sent prior to October 1, 2010 to:  

Applications may be sent by mail to: 

WIT Mentor Award

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

Cornell University

252 Emerson Hall

Ithaca, NY 14851 USA


Please include information on the nominator as well as the nominee:

Part I.  Nominator Information

Full Name:


Email address:


Current Institutional affiliation:

Gender (male or female):

Highest degree earned:

Date that your highest degree was earned:

Subject area of highest degree earned:


Part II.  Nominee Information

Full Name:


Email address:


Current Institutional affiliation:

Gender (male or female):

Highest degree earned:

Subject area of highest degree earned:


Contributed by Jennifer M. Nelson

Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project


 (Return to Contents)





5.01  Strategic Scientist-Quantitative Modeling position at Monsanto


Required experience/skills: PhD or PhD completion expected in the next 6 months in Computer Science, Bioinformatics, Computational Biology, Mathematics, Statistics and/or engineering discipline or equivalent degree; creating predictive models and strategies to drive scientific decisions; programming skills and ability to build predictive models from complex data  (either in an academic or professional environment);  3+ years experience with Statistical packages (R, Matlab, SAS); proficient in computational modeling, simulation, data analysis; strong publication record in peer reviewed journals.


Desired skills: quantitative genetics, QTL and association analysis to identify and tag loci of interest with molecular markers; building models for predictive breeding; advanced knowledge of various forms of statistical and analytical techniques; machine learning experience; scientific programming (Perl, C/C++, Java); experience working with agricultural/biological scientific data.


The Technology Pipeline Solutions (TPS) team within IT works directly with the Monsanto scientists to develop software platforms that enable research and development efforts. The accepted candidate will join the emerging field of IT systems informatics leveraging their training to play a key role in defining and delivering breakthrough science in high throughput R&D business platforms (Breeding, Breeding Technology, Biotechnology and Compliance) for Monsanto. The Strategic Scientist will identify changes in state-of-the-art scientific technology in order to propose R&D software solutions to accommodate latest trends in data quantity and quality. The selected candidate will work in a collaborative research environment with interdisciplinary scientists internal and external to Monsanto addressing the emerging changes in analytical scientific breakthroughs.


Interested applicants may forward resume to and/or submit application on line; please reference this ad in your cover letter. Monsanto is an equal opportunity employer; we value a combination of ideas, perspectives and cultures. EEO/AA Employer M/F/D/V.


Contributed by Pam Keck


(Return to Contents)




5.02  Positions available at the Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University



Salary will be made within the Professorial Range

Ref: IBERS.10.14



Salary will be made within the Professorial Range

Ref: IBERS.10.18



Salary will be made within the Professorial Range

Ref: IBERS.10.20



Grade 7(from point 33 upwards)/8: £32,620 - £43,840

Ref: IBERS.10.15



Grade 7(from point 33 upwards)/8: £32,620 - £43,840

Ref: IBERS.10.16



Grade 7(from point 33 upwards)/8: £32,620 - £43,840

Ref: IBERS.10.17



Grade 7(from point 33 upwards)/8: £32,620 - £43,840

Ref: IBERS.10.19



Grade 7(from point 33 upwards)/8: £32,620 - £43,840

Ref: IBERS.10.21


Closing date for all posts: 14 September 2010

Interview dates: During the second half of October 2010


For information and application forms please go to Email:

Hotline: (01970) 628555


Contributed by Catherine Howarth


(Return to Contents)





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


North Carolina State University offering Plant Breeding Methods (HS 541) in a distance education version


North Carolina State University will be offering CS,HS 541, Plant Breeding Methods in a distance education version this fall.  The instructor is Todd Wehner ( This is an introductory Plant Breeding course for first year graduate students and advanced undergraduate students.  The emphasis is on traditional methods of developing improved cultivars of cross-pollinated, self-pollinated, and asexually-propagated crops, and the genetic principles on which breeding methods are based.  The purpose of this course is to provide the student a general background in all areas of plant breeding.  The goal is to develop students who are knowledgeable in all of the areas of plant breeding, and to have sufficient understanding to work as an assistant breeder at a seed company, or to continue with advanced courses in plant breeding.


CS,HS 541 presents an overview of plant breeding methods, including germplasm resources, pollen control, measurement of genetic variances, and use of heterosis.  Special topics include genotype-environment interaction, index selection, stress resistance, polyploidy, and mutation breeding.  The course provides in-depth coverage of methods for breeding cross-pollinated, self-pollinated and asexually-propagated crops.  Courses usually taken before CS,HS 541 are genetics and statistics.  Courses taken after often include CS,HS 719 (germplasm and biogeography), CS,HS 720 (molecular genetics), CS,HS 745 (quantitative genetics), CS,HS 746 (advanced breeding), CS,HS 748 (pest resistance, now PP590), CS,HS 860 (breeding lab 1), and CS,HS 861 (breeding lab 2). For more information on HS 541 Plant Breeding Methods, see:


For more information on Todd Wehner, see:




Online Graduate Program in Seed Technology & Business


Iowa State University


The Iowa State University On-line Graduate Program in Seed Technology and Business develops potential into managerial leadership.


Seed industry professionals face ever-increasing challenges. The Graduate Program in Seed Technology and Business (STB) at Iowa State University provides a unique opportunity for seed professionals to grow by gaining a better understanding of the science, technology, and management that is key to the seed industry.


The STB program offers a Masters of Science degree as well as graduate certificates in Seed Science and Technology and in Seed Business Management. Science and technology curriculum includes courses in crop improvement, seed pathology, physiology, production, conditioning, and quality. Business topics include accounting, finance, strategy, planning, management information systems, and marketing and supply chain management--including a unique new course in seed trade, policy, and regulation.


Contact us today for more information about how you can apply.

Paul Christensen, Seed Technology and Business Program Manager Ph.





On-Line Crop Breeding Courses Offered by UNL's Department of Agronomy & Horticulture


Course Questions: Contact Cathy Dickinson at 402-472-1730 or


Payment Options: Credit Cards ONLY accepted on-line, for other payment arrangements contact Cathy Dickinson at 402-472-1730 or


Registration Questions: CARI Registration Services 800-328-2851 or 402-472-1772, M-F 8:30a-4:30p CST


International Registrants: May register on-line, if you need to contact us: We are available M-F 8:30a-4:30p US CST by Skype Contact ID: cari.registration (free but must have free software installed and computer microphone) or by calling 01-402-472-1772.



Available Courses - Fall 2010/Spring 2011

·         Self-Pollinated Crop Breeding, Aug. 24 - Sept. 23, 2010 more info

·         Germplasm & Genes, Sept. 28 - Nov. 2, 2010 more info

·         Cross-Pollinated Crop Breeding, Nov. 4 - Dec. 9, 2010 more info

·         Advanced Plant Breeding Topics, Feb. 1 - Mar. 3, 2011 


Registration Options

Any 1 Course $150.00

Any 2 Courses $275.00

Any 3 Courses $400.00 (price includes course notebook)

All 4 Courses $500.00 (price includes course notebook)


For additional information see


Contributed by Cathy L Dickinson


P. Stephen Baenziger




 2 August – 1 October 2010. Hands-on training program, Wheat Improvement and Pathology, CIMMYT El Batán & Toluca, Mexico

Note: Application deadline was May 28th, 2010

For more details contact: Petr Kosina (


3 August 2010 8:00AM to 6:00 PM. 2010 ASHS Intellectual Property Symposium - Current Issues and Applications for Intellectual Property of Horticultural Plant Cultivars, Palm Desert, CA, USA.

To learn more, go to:


To register for the ASHS IP Symposium (or become an ASHS member), you can do so at


(NEW) 23-27 August 2010.Workshop on Experimental Design and Data Analysis with Focus on Underutilized Crops

The International Foundation for Science (IFS), Bioversity International, RUFORUM and other partners will conduct a training workshop on experimental design and data analysis with focus on underutilized crops research on August 23-27 in Entebbe, Uganda. Applicants from the African countries Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Ehiopia and Mozambique who are working on inter-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder research projects of underutilized crops, between 40 to 45 years old are encouraged to apply by July 20, 2010.


For more information on this announcement and on how to apply, check


15-17 August 2010. 4th Annual Plant Breeding Meeting, Plant Breeding Coordinating Committee (PBCC), and the new National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) (an initiative of the PBCC), Pioneer Hi-Bred's headquarters in Johnston, Iowa. We are pleased to announce that registration is now open. .  This site also provides information on the meeting agenda, optional tours, lodging, meeting logistics, and poster presentations.  All meeting participants must register prior to the deadline of Monday, August 2, as we will not be able to accommodate on-site registrations.


Hotel reservation deadline at group rate is July 31st; see for more information, including the program agenda and featured speakers.


 Call for nominations for NAPB Secretary, NAPB Treasurer, and PBCC Vice Chair: please forward names to Stephen Baenziger at  The NAPB Secretary position is newly elected each year as the first seat in an annual progression through Vice Chair, Chair, (NAPB Officers) and Past Chair (PBCC Officer).  NAPB Treasurer and PBCC Vice Chair are newly created, elected positions in the revised NAPB/PBCC organizational structure.


29 August – 1 September 2010. Molecular Plant Breeding: An International Short Course on Practical Applications of Molecular Tools for Plant Breeding. Michigan State University - East Lansing, Michigan, USA.


30 August – 1 September 2010. 14th EUCARPIA Meeting on Genetics and Breeding of Capsicum & Eggplant, Valencia, Spain.


(UPDATE) September 2010. Apply now for Class III of the UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy


Next class starts September 2010


  Space is limited – only 4 spots remain available.

This unique program is only offered every two years.


A number of applicants have already been selected for this premier training program which is targeted toward working professionals and provides in-depth postgraduate education in plant breeding. 


The program, which is not crop specific, teaches the fundamentals of plant breeding, genetics, and statistics through a balance of classroom instruction, workshops, and site visits to plant breeding programs.


The PBA Academy has gained a wide recognition. To date, 66 participants in 4 different PBA programs represent 17 countries and 40 different breeding organizations.


For detailed information and to apply:

Visit  or contact Joy Patterson at, 530-752-4414

 or Rale Gjuric, Director, UCD Plant Breeding Academy, 204-688-5116,


5-9 September 2010. Third International Conference on Plant Molecular Breeding, Beijing, China

·         Fellowship opportunities open to: participants from developing countries in Africa and Asia

·         Target: Plant scientists with interest and/or background in molecular breeding

·         More


14-18 September 2010. 14th International Biotechnology Symposium, Rimini, Italy

·         Early application deadline (for reduced fees): 31 May 2010

·         Target: Biotechnology professionals from different scientific disciplines

·         More


22-24 September 2010. International Rice Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean – “Rice Challenges for XXI Century", Intercontinental Hotel, Cali, Colombia.


Contact: Ximena Escobar




26 – 29 September 2010. 7th International Phytotechnology Society: Phytotecnologies in the 21st Century: Challenges after Copenhagen 2009. Remediation – Energy – Health – Sustainability, the University of Parma, Italy.


27 September – 1 October 2010. 5th World Cowpea Conference: Improving livelihoods in the cowpea value chain through advancement in science. Dakar, Senegal.


(NEW) 1 November 2010. Annual Meeting of the ASA/CSSA/SSA: C01 Crop Breeding & Genetics.


Breeding and Genetics of Improved Pest Resistance

Organizer: Georgia Eizenga

Presiding: Mauricio Ulloa

12:55 PM-4:25 PM


Symposium--Accomplishing Green Revolution 2 through Plant Breeding with a Look Back at the First Green Revolution

Organizer: Georgia Eizenga

Presiding: David Baltensperger

4:00 PM-6:00 PM


Breeding for Resistance to Biotic Stress

Organizer: Georgia Eizenga


Evaluation of Agronomic Performance and Quality

Organizer: Georgia Eizenga

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

7:55 AM-12:00 PM


Tools for Evaluating and/or Enhancing Genetic Progress

Organizer: Georgia Eizenga

Presiding: Ganesan Srinivasan

4:00 PM-6:00 PM


Breeding for Tolerance to Abiotic Stress

Organizer: Georgia Eizenga


Graduate Student Poster Competition

Organizer: Georgia Eizenga


Use of Molecular Tools to Enhance Breeding Efforts

Organizer: Georgia Eizenga

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

9:55 AM-4:00 PM


A Look below Ground-the Role of Soil, Water and Root Systems & Wide Hybridization/Div. C01 Business Meeting

Organizer: Georgia Eizenga

Presiding: Wenwei Xu

12:55 PM-4:00 PM


Symposium--Green Revolution 2 through Application of Second Generation Sequencing to Plant Breeding and Improving Quantitative Traits

Organizer: Georgia Eizenga

Presiding: J. Perry Gustafson


1-19 November 2010. Plant genetic resources and seeds: policies, conservation and use. MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai (first part), and in Jeypur, Orissa (second part).


8-12 November 2010. 3rd International Rice Congress (IRC2010), Vietnam National Convention Center, Hanoi, Vietnam.


(NEW) 8-19 November 2010. Eighth training course of ICRISAT-CEG:

Application of Molecular Markers in Crop Improvement, ICRISAT Campus at Patancheru, Greater Hyderabad, India.


ICRISAT's Center of Excellence in Genomics  (CEG,, supported by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, is pleased to announce its Eighth Training Course. ICRISAT-CEG has already trained 160 scientists through organizing 7 training courses. Details about these courses and participants are available at


The overall theme of the course is application of molecular markers in crop improvement. The major focus in the course will be on analysis and the use of marker genotyping data rather than on data generation. Course will provide hands-on training on sample preparation, the experimental design and data analysis components of molecular markers by using different biometrics and bioinformatics tools. Construction of genetic linkage maps, marker-trait association based on linkage mapping procedures and use of decision support systems in molecular breeding will have major emphasis in the course. In addition, participants will be exposed to the new advances in genomics, bioinformatics and modern breeding through lectures on topics like association genetics, next generation sequencing, marker-assisted recurrent selection, genomic selection and novel bioinformatics approaches.


The Eighth Training course is open to mainly Indian scientists however, few scientists from developing countries who have demonstrable ability to use the techniques taught can also apply. Selected Indian participants will be provided 2nd class AC train fare by the shortest route to/from ICRISAT, boarding and lodging at ICRISAT. Candidates selected from other developing countries will need to get the sponsorship from either their organization or some other funding agencies for their travel expenses and ICRISAT will be taking care of their boarding and lodging at ICRISAT campus during the course. Last date for submitting on line application is 25 August 2010 at (


For further details or queries, please contact: Rajeev Varshney, Leader- Centre of Excellence in Genomics (e-mail: or Kanaka Prasad, Officer- Training (


(NEW) 15-27 November 2010. The Fifth International Training Course In Vitro and Cryopreservation for Conservation of Plant Genetic Resources: Current Methods and Techniques, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), Pusa Campus, New Delhi, India.


The International Training Course is being organized by the NBPGR-Bioversity International Centre of Excellence and co-organized with the Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology (APCoAB), a programme of Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI).


This practical, hands-on course is designed for those currently involved in the development and use of in vitro and/or cryopreservation techniques for the medium to long-term conservation of vegetatively propagated and non-orthodox seed species. The deadline for applications is 30 September 2010.


Details about application and course content can be found on the website. vitro_and_cryopreservation_techniques_for_conservation_of_plant_genetic_resources.html


Please share this announcement with your partners, colleagues and networks which might benefit from this training opportunity.


Contributed by Elisa de’ Medici

Bioversity International


22-24 November 2010. 10th Gatersleben Research Conference 2010 (GRCX) "Sequence-informed Crop Research", Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK), Gatersleben, Germany


Contributed by Roland Schnee


(NEW) 16-17 February 2011. Seed Biology, Production and Quality,

UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center, University of California, Davis.

To enroll:


In this course, learn the fundamentals and the most current research information from leading experts in plant sciences on seed development, production, harvesting, conditioning, storage, enhancement and quality assessment.



Jeannette Martins


(NEW) 6-10 June 2011. 13th InternationalLupin Conference 2011, Poznań, Poland


The management of the Institute of Plant Genetics Polish Academyof Sciences and the board of the Polish Lupin Association have a pleasureto invite you to come to Poznań (Poland) and participate in the 13thInternationalLupin Conference 2011.Poznań is the capital of Wielkopolska - a region of Poland renowned for highstandards and long-standing traditions in agriculture. It is a beautiful city witha long, turbulent history as well as a strong academic center with numerousscientific institutions, many of them specializing in different aspects of lupinresearch (


The theme – “Lupin crops – an opportunity for today, a promise for the future” – provides an international forum to discuss the current role of lupins in animal nutrition, human diet and sustainable agricultural systems, and should stimulate researchers and industry professionals to take on new challenges in lupin genetic improvement and agronomic use.


PROGRAM - tentative sessions (titles and number of sessions can be modified according to the feedback from potential contributors through the Expression of Interest Form )

1. Taxonomy, biodiversity, ecogeography and evolution

2. Genetics and genomics

3. Breeding and biotechnology

4. Agro-ecology, farming systems, profitable and sustainable production

5. Physiology, plant development and symbiosis

6. Biochemistry and metabolomics

7. Diseases, pests, and tolerance to abiotic stresses

8. Lupins for human and animal nutrition and health


The Organizing Committee intends to publish a book of abstracts as well as a monography of peer-reviewed contributed papers which will be delivered to the Participants during the Conference.


Contributed by George Hill

Secretary/Treasurer, International Lupin Association


October 2011. 10th African Crop Science Society Conference 2011, Maputo, Mozambique.


More information will be available on ACSS website.

Also, you can contact Dr. Luisa Santos (ACSS Vice- President, Chairman, LOC; Eduardo Mondlane University, Faculty of Agronomy and Forest Engineering, P.O. Box  257, Maputo, Mozambique.


(Return to Contents)





Plant Breeding News is an electronic forum for the exchange of information and ideas about applied plant breeding and related fields. It is a component of the Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (GIPB), and is published monthly throughout the year.


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


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


Messages with attached files are not distributed on PBN-L for two important reasons. The first is that computer viruses and worms can be distributed in this manner. The second reason is that attached files cause problems for some e-mail systems.


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


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


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


(Return to Contents)