30 September 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  Pakistan farmers need wheat seed fast

1.02  Study recommends changes to emergency seed aid following Haiti earthquake

1.03  Renowned vegetable breeder Henry Munger dies at age 94

1.04  Africa needs more seed companies to push out improved maize varieties

1.05  CIMMYT and the Government of India to launch a second “Green Revolution” in South Asia

1.06  Inaugural African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) closes with concrete outcomes to transform African Agriculture

1.07  Philippines leads in developing rice varieties that contain beneficial amount of beta-carotene

1.08  Indian farmers adopt flood-tolerant rice at unprecedented rates

1.09  With extreme weather on rise, search is on for hardier crops

1.10  USDA and DOE partnership seeks to develop better plants for bioenergy

1.11  Making a mark for cowpea

1.12  The pros and cons of Miscanthus --uses more water, leaches less nitrogen

1.13  PBA to launch high yielding peas in Western Australia

1.14  Corn breeders and seed retailers showcase

1.15  90% of cotton area in India under Bt

1.16  Plant science industry establishes The Compact for living modified organisms

1.17  EU report puts forward isolation distances for GM maize

1.18  Lima beans domesticated twice - Genetic diversity in lima beans is sharply reduced from wild populations

1.19  Chinese scientists identify characteristics of population genetic structures of three wild rice species

1.20  Tapping into corn's tropical diversity

1.21  Russia's Pavlovsk seed and plant bank saved - for now

1.22  Flowers offer clues to biodiversity

1.23  Getting the most out of wild tomatoes

1.24  Parlous times for seed banks spell trouble for Australian agriculture

1.25  Insights into watermelon genetic diversity

1.26  University of Arizona-led consortium awarded $9.9 million to develop 'super rice'

1.27 USDA corn germplasm lines scoring high marks in field trials for resistance to aflatoxin

1.28  New maize disease threatens to devastate East Africa

1.29  Inaugural African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) closes with concrete outcomes to transform African agriculture

1.30  Ancient genes fight disease

1.31  Gene discovery holds key to growing crops in cold climates

1.32  Salt-tolerant rice offers hope for global food supply

1.33  Discovery offers hope of saving sub-Saharan crops from devastating parasites

1.34  New soybeans bred for oil that's more heart-healthy

1.35  Researchers develop protein-packed potato in India

1.36  University of Western Australia scientists discover new molecular mechanism which toughens plants against drought, salinity, flooding and extreme temperatures

1.37  Agrilife research scientist identifies wheat streak resistance gene

1.38  Plants give up some deep secrets of drought resistance

1.39  Biofortification in staple foods still relevant

1.40  Salt-tolerant rice offers hope for global food supply

1.41  Watermelons: What happened to the seeds?

1.42  University of Illinois receives US$1 million USDA grant to study the Glossy15 gene system of sorghum

1.43  Chinese scientists complete genome framework map of the common wild rice

1.44  Scientists test corn genes with MAGIC

1.45  Mars, USDA-ARS and IBM unveil preliminary cacao genome sequence three years ahead of schedule

1.46  Draft genome sequence of the oilseed species Ricinus communis

1.47  How cells manage genes is focus of new study

1.48  Cisgenics- Transgenics without the Transgene

1.49  Cotton research community thrilled by genome sequencing announcement

1.50  Scientists develop marker system for rice kernel length elongation traits

1.51  Cloning will boost fight against wheat diseases



2.01  American Seed Trade Association outlines best management practices to maintain quality seed in new guide

2.02  New book explores history, future of international agriculture

2.03  “Biotecnología y Mejoramiento Vegetal II”, un libro a ciencia cierta

2.04  DTZ report on the economic benefits of plant breeding

2.05  The GCP 2009 Annual Report is now available



3.01  ISAAA announces the launch of a new user-friendly and interactive website of its India Biotech Information Centre

3.02  Behind the Greens interviews provide educational info for consumers

3.03  A simple way to create haploid plants without the need for tissue culture

3.04  The Plant Breeders' Directory is online



(None submitted)



5.01  China Vegetable Research & Development Lead-000T0

5.02  Asia Pacific Tropical Sweet Corn Breeder-001LT









1.01  Pakistan farmers need wheat seed fast


Flooded country risks losing a year’s crop, further threatening nutrition of poor


Rome, Italy and Islamabad, Pakistan

1 September, 2010

FAO today called for more international funds to save the upcoming wheat planting season in Pakistan where floods covering land half the size of Italy have wiped out much of the country's household wheat seed stocks.


Wheat, the staple food of the rural poor in Pakistan, is due to be planted in September through to November. More than half a million tonnes of wheat seed stocks have been destroyed by the floods.


In addition, in the flood affected areas, people are utilizing wheat seed stocks that have not been affected by the flooding to feed their families and the displaced people they are sheltering.


"Unless people get seeds over the next few weeks they will not be able to plant wheat for a year," said Daniele Donati, Chief, FAO Emergency Operations, Asia, Near East, Europe and Special Emergencies. "Food aid alone will not be enough. If the next wheat crop is not salvaged, the food security of millions will be at risk."


Wheat based flat bread, such as chapattis, is the main food of poor rural people in Pakistan.


Land for planting still exists

Wheat farmers in Pakistan were in the process of preparing their land for planting when the floods began. In some areas the fertile top layer of soil has been washed away, making planting impossible. In other areas, the land is still waterlogged or covered in silt and needs to be cleared. However, this is not the case everywhere.


"In many areas it will be possible to plant as soon as the water recedes. FAO and its cluster partners have the capacity to get seed to these areas provided we receive urgently needed funding. But the window of opportunity is closing as the planting season ends in mid November," said Donati.


FAO has completed procurement for the provision of seeds to 200 000 farming families. If additional funding is committed soon, FAO will be able to provide seeds for twice that number.


Early estimates show that 3.6 million hectares of standing maize, rice, sugar cane and cotton crops were destroyed in the floods that have displaced millions of people.


Animal feed

In addition, an estimated 1.2 million livestock and 6 million poultry were lost in the flooding. It is estimated that over one million buffalo, cattle, sheep and goats owned by households in the flooded areas will now face starvation if animal feed is not provided to them urgently.


Animals also need immediate vaccination for diseases like foot-and-mouth disease and Peste des Petits Ruminants - with people and herds on the move as they flee the flooded areas, the risk of animal diseases spreading is great.


FAO and its partners are in the process of procuring animal feed and vaccines to reach over 40 000 livestock-owning households. With additional funding, FAO could reach a further 85 000 households with vital inputs for animal feed and veterinary care.




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1.02  Study recommends changes to emergency seed aid following Haiti earthquake


Norwich, United Kingdom

1 September 2010

A major study of agriculture in Haiti after this year’s earthquake has found that much of the emergency seed aid provided after the disaster was not targeted to emergency needs.


The report concludes that seed aid, when poorly-designed, could actually harm farmers or depress local markets, therefore hampering recovery from emergencies. Indeed, agricultural interventions in Haiti should move away from their emergency focus, and confront farmers’ longer-term challenges, especially their poor access to new crop varieties.


The recommendations follow the first-ever Seed System Security Assessment (SSSA) in Haiti, which saw an international team of researchers, including Dr Shawn McGuire of the University of East Anglia (UEA), look at the impact of the January 12 earthquake on the livelihoods of farming families.


The work, carried out across 10 regions of Haiti in May and June, considered how the earthquake affected the resources and activities of farming households in the seasons immediately following the disaster. Changes in labour, crops planted, and commercial activities were analysed alongside important seed-related issues, particularly farmers’ ability to obtain the seed and planting material they desired, in time to sow. After the earthquake, a widely-held assumption that farmers did not have seed led to extensive seed aid delivered across Haiti. The study also examined the effects of seed aid given. Nearly a thousand farmers were interviewed, along with in-depth studies and dozens of interviews and group discussions.


The SSSA was funded by the Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and coordinated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), working with Catholic Relief Services, UEA, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, NGOs, and Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture.


Agriculture makes up one third of Haiti’s gross domestic product (GDP), and organisations have conducted seed relief there for years. Much of the country received seed aid following the earthquake, in February and March, but the assessment found that, for several regions receiving emergency aid, there was little evidence the earthquake directly affected agriculture. Despite the enormous impact of the earthquake, most farmers could get the seed they need. The assessment also highlighted cases where seed was given out late, or failed to germinate.


Dr McGuire, senior lecturer in natural resources at UEA’s School of International Development, said: “Emergency seed distributions are not needed as often as you think, and they are not harmless - delivering seed aid that is mal-adapted or does not germinate makes stressed farmers even more vulnerable. And large-scale distributions prevent the development of local seed markets that are geared to farmers’ needs rather than donors’ decisions.


“If you are going to do seed aid, you need to target it to actual, rather than assumed, needs. We found that there were no short term seed security problems, aside from those linked to finances. Seed was available in local markets, but some couldn’t afford to buy it. So the type of aid response - large-scale seed distributions - often did not match the seed security problem at hand. The immediate problem was clearly one of financial stress, which can lead to problems accessing a range of goods, including seed. While the earthquake weakened many families’ finances, chronic poverty in Haiti was the real underlying issue.”


The team recommended that emergency seed aid should only be used to address emergency problems. Aid organisations should ensure the seed they make available is adapted to local conditions, fits with farmers’ preferences, and is at least as good as what they normally use. As poverty is more often the constraint in Haiti, rather than an absence of seed, vouchers should be developed more widely, as this gives farmers choice and can help support local markets.


The assessment also found that farmers have had very limited access to new crops or to improved crop varieties in the last five years, and recommended that steps are taken to develop and identify new varieties which can be introduced.


“One of the most striking things we found was that only 14% of farmers had encountered any new crop variety in the last five years, with more than half these new varieties coming in the February and March 2010 emergency distribution alone,” explained Dr McGuire. “Very little innovation reaches Haitian farmers, far less than in other very poor countries, such as Ethiopia. Most countries have public and private sector institutions identifying new crop types and supplying seed, but these institutions are weak in Haiti. The main long term issues are the chronic poverty in farming and the lack of variety in their crops.”


The immediate impact of the earthquake on agriculture was the massive displacement of people from Port au Prince to rural areas, which put pressure on the limited resources of farmers. The earthquake has also disrupted market functioning which affected farmers’ revenues. However, the assessment showed that, for most indicators, Haitian farmers have bounced back quickly from the immediate effects of the earthquake. Most migrants have returned to the cities. Though farmers did sow 16% less seed than normal immediately after the earthquake, they plan to sow more than normal in the following season.


The team identified longer-term challenges, particularly for women-headed households. Women play critical roles in the seed production and market system, and are often responsible for storing food and seed. Rural commerce, managed principally by women, has decreased by up to 90-92% in some areas.


Use this link to view a PDF version of the 'Seed System Security Assessment: Haiti' report.




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1.03  Renowned vegetable breeder Henry Munger dies at age 94


Ithaca, New York, USA

31 August 2010

Henry MungerProfessor Emeritus Henry M. Munger, a well-known vegetable breeder who introduced more than 50 varieties of cucumbers, died Aug. 25 at Kendal at Ithaca. He was 94.


According to, the disease resistance and improved color of nearly all U.S. slicing cucumbers stem from Munger's breeding program. The organization also reports that half of all commercial carrots sold in the United States and Europe have benefited from Munger's discovery of a wild carrot plant with pink-petaled flowers in 1953; that plant became the mother stock for hybrid carrot seed production, which has enhanced carrot carotene content and taste, uniformity and appearance.


Born in 1916 in Ames, Iowa, Munger was raised on a farm in Byron, N.Y., educated first in a one-room school, and enrolled at Cornell at age 16. He received his B.S. in 1936, M.S. from Ohio State University and Ph.D. from Cornell; his doctoral research produced the first fusarium wilt-resistant muskmelon, Iroquois. He started teaching at Cornell in 1942 and was head of the Department of Vegetable Crops for 15 years. He advised more than 60 Ph.D. students, and his breeding work with melons, cucumbers, squash, onions and tomatoes resulted in numerous new, disease-resistant varieties available to commercial growers and home gardeners.


Munger was active in the American Society for Horticultural Science, and in 1995 became the first living person inducted into its Horticultural Hall of Fame. Widely recognized for his teaching and research, his awards include the World Seed Prize, an honorary doctorate from University of Nebraska and Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Outstanding Alumni Award.


In addition to vegetable breeding, Munger consulted with researchers in the Philippines, Egypt, Ecuador and India, and in 1974, he was part of the U.S. plant science delegation to the People's Republic of China. He was a strong advocate for the potential of vegetables to enhance nutrition and health throughout the world.


After his retirement in 1981, Munger remained professionally active and was among the original residents of Kendal at Ithaca.


Munger was predeceased by his wife, Norma, and is survived by two daughters, two grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.


There was a memorial service at Kendal at Ithaca on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 2 p.m. Donations can be made in Munger's memory to Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, 274 Roberts Hall, Ithaca, NY 14850; or to United Way of Tompkins County, 313 N. Aurora St., Ithaca, NY 14850.




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1.04  Africa needs more seed companies to push out improved maize varieties


Ibadan, Nigeria

18 September 2010

African governments have been urged to encourage the emergence of more seed companies that will multiply, market, and disseminate improved maize varieties to farmers to boost food production.


So far, in the West African region, only Nigeria has a relatively vibrant seed industry with about 12 emerging private sector-driven seed companies. Ghana and Mali have three each, while the Republic of Benin has none.


Researchers say this development needs to change for Africa to taste the much awaited Green Revolution.


At a Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa training course on ‘Variety Testing and Seed Production of Open-pollinated and Hybrid Varieties,’ Dr. Baffour Badu-Apraku, IITA Maize Breeder based in Ibadan, said the development of the seed sector was imperative for the continent to have a landmark breakthrough in agricultural productivity.


According to him, Africa needs to push for the establishment of more seed companies that will meet the growing demand by farmers.


The training course, which was held in Ibadan, brought together 25 seed specialists of public institutions and production managers of private seed companies under the DTMA project.


The main aim of the course was to upgrade the technical capabilities and skills of the participants in variety testing, and the techniques of quality seed production, particularly hybrid seed.


Badu-Apraku said the training course was part of strategies designed by IITA and CIMMYT to encourage the emergence of more seed companies in the region.


Another strategy adopted by researchers to promote the availability of good quality maize seed is the facilitation of the establishment of Community-based Seed Production Schemes.


In his words, Badu-Apraku said, “For about 20 years, we have been supporting the Community-based Seed Production Schemes, providing training for them, working with the national systems and arranging inputs for them, linking them with credit facility providers, and in some cases, linking them to the private seed companies to ensure sustainability of schemes.”


According to him, once linked to private seed companies, the Community-based Seed Producers become contract growers and that they have assured market.




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1.05  CIMMYT and the Government of India to launch a second “Green Revolution” in South Asia


Mexico City, Mexico

7 September 2010

In an effort to ensure food security for South Asia, the Government of India and CIMMYT (The International Maize & Wheat Improvement Center) today agreed to build a major agricultural research center for the region. The center, which will be located in India, will develop maize and wheat crops which are more productive, profitable, sustainable, and resilient -- and developed with the cooperation of agricultural research partners. Construction will begin later this year.


South Asia is home to a large segment of the world’s population. Yields for two of its main food crops, wheat and maize, will need to increase to feed its growing population. In 2007, South Asia consumed 101 million tonnes of wheat and 25 million tonnes of maize. In ten years, demand for wheat and maize is projected to be 124 and 30 million tonnes, respectively. To meet the demand, South Asia’s annual yields must grow 1.5% for wheat and 3.5% for maize.


A declaration of intent was signed yesterday at CIMMYT headquarters during a visit by the Indian Minister of Agriculture, Sharad Pawar. “Maize productivity and production in India have shown remarkable progress in recent years,” said Mr. Pawar, “however there is still tremendous scope for enhancing the productivity in maize, particularly in Kharif season maize. CIMMYT is an acknowledged leader both in wheat and maize research and can contribute towards productivity enhancement in India as well as other countries of South Asia, in collaboration with members in the region.”


The last major collaboration between CIMMYT and India dates to the early 1960’s, as India was striving to meet its food deficits. CIMMYT’s Dr. Norman Borlaug suggested the Indian government import Mexican wheat seed, convinced it would thrive. In 1963, India imported 18,000 tonnes of wheat seed. At the time it was the largest importation of seed in the world. The initiative paid off. Wheat yields increased from 12.3 million tonnes in 1965 to 20.1 million tonnes in 1970. From a food deficit, India became self-sufficient and generated food surpluses. Similar results spread across Asia. It was described as a "Green Revolution." For his efforts, Dr. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. The new institute is named in his honor.


“Dr. Borlaug correctly predicted that the boost in food production from the first Green Revolution would last only 20-to-30 years, buying time for humanity to adopt more responsible policies to manage population growth and the use of natural resources,” said Thomas Lumpkin, CIMMYT’s Director General, “Now, with the ban on wheat exports from the drought in Russia and the damage to crops from the floods in Pakistan, we need to act now to make sure that the people in South Asia have enough to eat and the improved means to accelerate economic development.”


South Asia will be hit particularly hard by climate change. Rising temperatures will reduce fertile farmland and by 2050 the amount of maize grown is expected to decline by 6-23% and wheat by 40-45%. The goal of the new research center, to be called The Borlaug Institute of South Asia, is to avert the situation by growing more food, on less land, under more difficult conditions than ever before. In short, the goal of the Institute is a second “Green Revolution.”




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1.06  Inaugural African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) closes with concrete outcomes to transform African agriculture


Accra, Ghana

4 September 2010

A series of outcomes from the inaugural African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) has moved a united Africa forward in the quest to transform agriculture and tackle food security.


Closing the forum in Accra, Ghana, AGRF Chair, Kofi Annan, praised the efforts of public and private institutions, development organisations, the donor community and farmers, to accelerate the green revolution in Africa.


“Today we move forward, strongly united and passionately committed to the concrete actions that we have jointly developed,” said Mr Annan.


AGRF Executive Co-Producer, Akin Adesina, said the meetings kick-started a new phase in the African green revolution:


“We have brought together in Accra great minds and strong spirits who, even as they depart in different directions, will stay bound by the common purpose and firm outcomes we have agreed on here.”


On the third, and final, day of the event, the AGRF agreed to pool efforts and resources to scale up breadbasket project plans and investment blueprints for agricultural growth corridors.


Ghanaian Minister for Agriculture, Kwasi Ahwoi, invited new partners to join the Ghana breadbasket initiative.


The Prime Minister of Tanzania, H.E. Mizengo Pinda, agreed to finalise a blueprint for the Tanzania Southern Corridor by January 2011.


In a communiqué issued to delegates, the moderators of breakout panel sessions published a series of concrete outcomes of the AGRF, including:

  • empowerment of women throughout the agricultural chain by accelerating access to improved technology, finance and markets
  • backing for the Impact Investment Fund for African Agriculture to scale up access to finance by farmers and agri-businesses
  • investment for science, technology and research for food nutrition security
  • accelerated access to improved seed by promoting the entire value chain, including support for plant breeding, seed companies and seed distribution systems
  • improved fertilizer supply systems and more efficient fertilizer value chains
  • more inclusive business models linking agri-business, commercial farms and smallholder farmers
  • better water management
  • mixed crop livestock systems


To ensure progress is made on the firm commitments, the AGRF issued to delegates a detailed plan of action.


Government and development groups including the African Union and AGRA will conduct peer review assessments to ensure various science and technology inventions and innovations are implemented as soon as possible.


“I am delighted to see that we have agreed monitoring mechanisms on the actions,” said Jorgen Ole Haslestad, CEO of Yara, strategic partner of the AGRF.


Agri-business companies Yara and Syngenta said at the AGRF they are working towards a new land use initiative to create a fact-based dialogue and to better understand the interaction of agriculture and climate change.


The road ahead

Those implementing new commitments will not lack resources:

“We pledge ourselves to work with all other key partners to ensure that capacity is not a limiting factor in the green revolution,” said Namanga Ngongi, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the organisation that founded the AGRF alongside Yara.


Mr Annan thanked the government leaders, including H.E. Mizengo Pinda, H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, and the Hon. John Dramani Mahama, Vice President of Ghana, who had taken part in the AGRF.


“These gracious, impassioned leaders threw their political weight behind this shining moment of transformation for Africa,” said Mr Annan.


And he urged governments and parliamentarians to help eradicate poverty and realise the dream of a green revolution.


“The time for action is now. For as you leave this forum, you are carrying upon your shoulders the vibrant hopes of a generation and a continent. We will not dash the dream of the African farmer,” said Mr Annan.


“With our hands on the plough, we will till this beautiful land’s soil together, and help Africa reap a bountiful harvest.”


Source: New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) via


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1.07  Philippines leads in developing rice varieties that contain beneficial amount of beta-carotene


Manila, The Philippines

9 September 2010

The Philippines is leading third world countries in developing rice varieties that contain beneficial amount of beta-carotene, as the country will conduct field trials on these varieties come dry season next year.


Atty. Ronilo A. Beronio, executive director of Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), said the country’s progress in pro-beta-carotene rice research will make Philippines the first developing country to grow the said rice varieties.


Using conventional method in breeding, plant breeders had inserted the gene containing beta-carotene in a local popular variety. To be transferred to farmers by 2013, the beta-carotene-laden rice can be grown organically and will be sold in a price comparable with the regular polished rice.


“The first approval of this type of rice will likely be given to our country as plant breeders have successfully crossed the beta-carotene gene with PSB Rc82. PhilRice will test the variety’s adaptability and performance after signing a material transfer agreement,” Beronio said after attending the recent 15th board meeting of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board held in Singapore.


With the inclusion of the beta-carotene gene to PSB Rc82, Beronio said deficiency in Vitamin A is expected to decrease as a study published in the June 2009 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that a cup of pro-beta-carotene rice could supply half of the vitamin A needed every day. When consumed by the body, beta-carotene produces vitamin A.


In the country, statistics from Food and Nutrition Research Institute revealed that around four of 10 children aged six months to five years old and three of 10 school children suffer from the deficiency. One of five pregnant and lactating Filipino women also lack vitamin A.


Vitamin A deficiency damages the immune system increasing risk to common bacterial and viral infections and rate of mortality especially among children. Meanwhile, weakness in immune system usually leads to poor eyesight and night blindness.


Beronio, who experienced night blindness while growing up in a fishing village in Palawan, said the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board is confident of the Philippines’ capability to develop beta-carotene-rich rice owing to the country’s fixed regulatory frameworks on safety evaluation.


“The country’s National Committee on Biosafety under the Department of Science and Technology provides regulatory oversight on this type of advance research, while the Bureau of Plant Industry strictly monitors field trials. We also have Administrative Order No. 8, Series of 2002 stipulating the rules and regulations on the importation and releases of plant and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology,” Beronio explained.


Other than the scheduled field testing of pro-beta-carotene rice, PhilRice is currently increasing the rice’s resistance to bacterial leaf blight and tungro. Dr. Antonio A. Alfonsio, acting director of the Department of Agriculture-Biotechnology, leads the project.


Meanwhile, two acceptability studies conducted by Strive Foundation in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 revealed that 69 percent of the respondents accept biofortified rice produced through biotechnology while 58 percent of farmers and rural consumers are willing to plant, buy, and sell rice similar to the varieties to be tested by PhilRice.


DA-PhilRice is a government-owned and –controlled corporation that aims at developing high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

For more information, please visit or contact DA-PhilRice at Maligaya, Science City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija with telephone number (044) 456-0285 loc 511/512 or any PhilRice station near you. You may also visit their website at or text your questions to 0920-911-1398.




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1.08  Indian farmers adopt flood-tolerant rice at unprecedented rates


New Delhi, India

14 September 2010

Farmers cultivating rice on 12 million hectares of flood-prone areas in India are planting flood-tolerant rice varieties at unprecedented rates, thanks to faster seed multiplication, targeted dissemination, and linking of partners.


Dr. Umesh Singh, senior scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), said, “Earlier, we only provided and field-tested IRRI rice lines that were tolerant of flooding. Now, we assist government agencies and private seed companies to multiply and distribute seeds to farmers at a faster pace.”


Field-testing a rice variety normally takes 4–5 years before it is released and another 2–3 years before it reaches farmers. Through targeted dissemination, IRRI is helping state governments identify specific flood-prone areas where seeds of the submergence-tolerant variety can be distributed, without having to wait until it is multiplied and distributed en masse.


IRRI, celebrating its 50th year of conducting rice research, has been working with India's national and state governments, nonprofit organizations, farmers' organizations, research institutions, and public and private seed companies to promote Swarna-Sub1, a flood-tolerant version of the widely grown Swarna variety.


Even before the seeds are released, different research institutions are already multiplying these seeds,” Dr. Singh explained. “Immediately after release, we encourage state governments, as they distribute the seeds to other channels for large-scale multiplication, to also disseminate the seeds directly to farmers in target areas. Farmers need not wait for 2–3 years for mass distribution.”


Swarna-Sub1 incorporates the SUB1 gene into the Indian mega-variety Swarna, making it resilient to flooding of up to 17 days while retaining the desirable traits of the original variety,“ said Dr. David Mackill, senior scientist at IRRI who helped identify the SUB1 gene and develop Sub1 varieties.


Under submergence, Swarna-Sub1 provides a yield advantage of about one ton per hectare over Swarna,” Dr. Mackill added. “Since this is an improved version of an existing variety, scientists only had to test its tolerance of submergence, lessening the time for field-testing by a year.”


"Swarna-Sub1, released in August 2009, is the first submergence-tolerant, high-yielding rice variety in India,” said Dr. Singh. “It was released in record time and is spreading at an unprecedented speed.” Swarna took 25 years after its release to be planted on six million hectares, reaching its current “mega” variety status.


“We are hoping that Swarna-Sub1 will reach the same status in only five years,” Dr. Singh added. “It could entirely replace Swarna and spread to other flood-prone areas all over the country.”


IRRI identifies flood-prone areas with very low agricultural productivity and where technology diffusion is usually slow. State governments distribute “minikits” or 5-kg packets of seeds to farmers in these areas. To date, 70,000 minikits, or an equivalent of 350 tons of seeds, have been distributed during kharif or monsoon. Within one year of release, this variety has reached more than 100,000 farmers in India.


IRRI links with the National Food Security Mission, a mega-scheme of the Ministry of Agriculture, government of India, state governments, NGOs, and public and private seed producers and breeders to multiply and  disseminate Swarna-Sub1 seeds. The supply will aid various states in India that do not have enough seeds to distribute to farmers.




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1.09  With extreme weather on rise, search is on for hardier crops


20 September 2010


By Mica Rosenberg

IN EL BATAN, MEXICO More than 500 years after Spanish priests brought wheat seeds to Mexico to make wafers for the Catholic Mass, those seeds may bring a new kind of salvation to farmers hit by global warming.


Scientists working in the farming hills outside Mexico City found that ancient wheat varieties have particular drought- and heat-resistant traits, including longer roots that suck up water and a capacity to store more nutrients in their stalks.


They are crossing the plants with other strains developed at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in El Batan to grow types of wheat that can fight off the ill effects of rising temperatures around the world.


"It's like putting money in the bank to use, in this case, for a not rainy day," scientist Matthew Reynolds said of the resilient Mexican wheat his team collected.


Seed breeders say they are the first line of defense protecting farmers from climate change, widely expected to cause average global temperatures to rise between 1 and 3 degrees over the next 50 years.


As a result, intensified drought, along with more intense and unpredictable rainfall, could hit crop yields and lead to food shortages and spikes in commodity prices.


In Mexico, small farmers are grappling with the effects of unfavorable weather that scientists say is exacerbated by climate change. Last year the country saw the lowest rainfall in 68 years, and this year an active hurricane season battered corn-growing areas near the U.S. border.


Corn farmer Cesar Longoria, 56, said his family's harvest dropped by 30 percent in the 2009 drought, and that more than half his fields in Reynosa were ravaged by floods in July when Hurricane Alex hammered northern Mexico.


"For the people that depend on corn, this is a tragedy," said Carlos Salazar, head of Mexico's national corn growers association. "They have to buy more expensive corn to feed themselves and their animals."


The number of hungry people in the world had been rising for more than a decade, reaching a record spike in 2009 triggered by the economic crisis and high domestic food prices in several developing countries.


Nearly 1 billion people were considered undernourished this year, said the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in a report this week, and jumps in food prices have led to riots and social unrest.


Russia's worst drought in more than a century has led to a rise in wheat prices that is reverberating around the world. In Mozambique, 13 people were killed as protests over a 30 percent rise in the price of bread turned violent.


In India, the world's second-largest wheat producer, rising temperatures could cut crop output by up to 25 percent in the next half century as the population booms. India was one of the first nations to receive the benefits of innovative techniques of Nobel Peace Prize-winning plant scientist Norman Bourlag, the architect of the Green Revolution that helped pull the country from the brink of famine.


Bourlag started his pioneering research in the 1940s in Mexico, considered a birthplace of corn, where native varieties of the grain dating to long before the Spanish conquest survive.


While the maize and wheat center, funded by governments, development banks and foundations, sends improved wheat and corn seeds around the world, even the lines best adapted in the laboratory to climate extremes will fail unless farmers adopt methods of conserving water and recovering depleted soil.


Thousands of seeds are stored in the center's seed bank, where containers filled with red, blue, yellow and white corn are preserved in a refrigerated vault. The genes of some are being mapped to isolate useful traits that could produce improved lines.


"Many of these land races have been around for tens of thousands, if not millions, of years and have lived through wide variations in the climate," Thomas Payne at the seed bank said. "They hold valuable information that can be used to confront the uncertainties of the future."


Source: Reuters via


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1.10  USDA and DOE partnership seeks to develop better plants for bioenergy


Washington, DC, USA

2 September 2010

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced research awards under a joint DOE-USDA program aimed at improving and accelerating genetic breeding programs to create plants better suited for bioenergy production. The $8.9 million investment is part of the Obama Administration's broader effort to diversify the nation's energy portfolio and to accelerate the development of new energy technologies designed to decrease the nation's dependence on foreign oil.


"Cost-effective, sustainable biofuels are crucial to building a clean energy economy," said Secretary Chu. "By harnessing the power of science and technology, this joint effort between DOE and USDA will help accelerate research in the critical area of plant feedstocks, spurring the creation of the domestic bio-industry while creating jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil."


"Developing a domestic source of renewable energy will create jobs and wealth in rural America, combat global warming, replace our dependence on foreign oil, and build a stronger foundation for the 21st century economy," Secretary Vilsack said. "This scientific investment will lay the foundation for a source of fuel made from renewable sources."


The research grants will be awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program focused on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing lignocellulosic materials--i.e., nonfood plant fiber--for biofuels production. Emphasis is on perennials, including trees and other nonfood plants that can be used as dedicated biofuel crops. Since such crops tend to require less intensive production practices and can grow on somewhat poorer quality land than food crops, they will be a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food. Combining DOE's leadership in genome-scale technologies with USDA's long experience in crop improvement will help accelerate development of such specialized crops and improve their effectiveness as feedstocks for biofuels production.


The research will make use of the most advanced technologies and techniques of today's genomics-based systems biology.


New projects to be funded this year aim at enhancing productivity, yield, nutrient and water utilization, and sustainability of plant feedstocks. Research focuses on better understanding of basic plant processes that control cell wall composition, plant architecture, cell size and division, wood formation, nutrient uptake, carbon allocation and on the impact of temperature and water availability.


DOE's Office of Science will provide $6.9 million in funding for seven projects, while USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture will award $2 million to fund two projects. Initial funding will support research projects for up to three years.


DOE-funded projects include:

• USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center, Albany, Calif., $949,348

• University of California, Berkeley, Calif., $793,413

• University of Delaware, Newark, Del., $868,794

• University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $1,340,000

• University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill., $1,165,900

• University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo, $1,106,656

• Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Danville, Va., $734,759


USDA-funded projects include:

• University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill, $1,000,000

• Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $1,000,000

For more information on the individual projects and the joint DOE-USDA Plant Feedstocks Genomics for Bioenergy research program, visit:




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1.11  Making a mark for cowpea


Striga starves cowpea by attaching itself to the crop's root

Lucky Omoigui, Makurdi, Nigeria


Cowpea, otherwise known as the black-eyed bean, provides the major source of dietary protein to millions of people across large swathes of northern sub-Saharan Africa. One of the most drought tolerant of all grain legume crops, its productivity is challenged by a number of environmental constraints but, until just recently, little investment has been dedicated to its improvement.


One of the most serious constraints to cowpea's productivity is the parasitic weed Striga gesneroides, which starves the cowpea host by attaching itself to the crop's root, and then proceeds to deposit millions of tiny seeds into the soil to await the next planting. With no chemical available either to kill the parasite or to disable the seed lying in the ground, the only feasible solution lies in breeding genes for resistance into the crop.


Paradoxically, one of the best known genes for resistance turned up in an unimproved variety from Botswana, where Striga does not occur. Establishing whether a particular plant carries the resistance gene using conventional testing is an experimental nightmare. However it represents a dream target for marker-assisted selection (MAS) technology, because a marker for tracking the resistance gene has already been developed. However, establishing and maintaining the necessary human and physical infrastructure needed to run a MAS laboratory is beyond the capacity of most breeding programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.


A decentralised approach

The top-down solution proposed by much of the donor community has been to create a central, technologically advanced hub, tasked to analyse plant materials provided by users, as exemplified by the Biosciences eastern and central Africa facility in Nairobi. However, a contrasting bottom-up approach is now being taken by The Kirkhouse Trust, a UK-based charity, which is engaged in helping to provide MAS technology directly to West African cowpea breeders. The Trust's conviction is that the requirements for MAS can be sufficiently simplified to allow the technology to be used even in a very remote location.


The Trust is helping to provide MAS technology directly to West African cowpea breeders


Kirkhouse Trust

The requirements for MAS boil down to a means of extracting DNA from the plant, and the equipment and reagents to then amplify the critical sequence in order to establish its presence or absence. The Trust's priority has been to source reagents which do not require constant refrigeration and are not hazardous. DNA extraction has become a matter of squashing a leaf segment onto a specially treated paper, and the amplification reaction is provided in dry form, to which the user needs only to add water, and the DNA in the form of a small disc of paper.


With support from the Trust, a consortium of cowpea breeders has been formed across the region. All have been provided with the same set of equipment, reagents and training; the initial group of four (Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Cameroon) has grown to six (Mali, Togo and Senegal, with Ghana dropping out).


A beacon of success

While progress has been uneven, largely due to a lack of trained personnel, the group in Burkina has shown what can be achieved by a committed principal investigator, who has succeeded in setting up a functional laboratory, organising staffing, recruiting students and gaining the ear of the national Department of Agriculture. As a result, the Trust now uses this group as both a beacon and a training centre for more recent participants.


The Botswana resistance gene is effective over a large area, but it does not control all West African populations of Striga. Where the gene is ineffective, other resistance genes - which are known - will need to be marked and deployed. Beyond this are other productivity constraints, including aphid feeding and infection by various fungi and bacteria, for which resistance breeding could benefit from a marker-assisted leg-up.


The Trust's major focus has been to support national breeding programmes



The Trust's major focus has been to support the breeding programmes in situ, but at the same time it has invested substantially in a cowpea genome sequencing programme, as this form of data is necessary for designing genetic markers. Training of senior and junior breeding staff has been conducted through a series of three-six month research visits to the University of Virginia (a Trust partner), the organisation of regional workshops, and by supporting a series of technicians' working visits to the Ougadougou laboratory. A similar programme is underway in East Africa, targeting common bean, which is the staple grain legume across the region.


The key to the whole effort is the search for sustainability; the Trust believes that this is much more likely to be achieved by putting the technology directly into the hands of the practitioners, rather than by gifting it from on high. This way, the breeders themselves are more likely to have a stake in proving its worth and to be prepared to generate the internal pressure to incorporate MAS into their own national programmes over the long term.


Note: The Kirkhouse Trust will be represented at the forthcoming Fifth World Cowpea Research Conference to be held in Senegal


Written by Robert Koebner, CropGen International




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1.12  The pros and cons of Miscanthus --uses more water, leaches less nitrogen


Urbana, Illinois, USA

8 September 2010

In the search for the perfect crop for biofuel production, Miscanthus has become the darling to many. But in an effort to not be charmed by its enormous potential for biomass production, researchers at the University of Illinois are taking a careful look at the pros and cons of its behavior in the field.


A recent study analyzed water quantity and quality in plots of Miscanthus, switchgrass, corn, and soybeans and found that Miscanthus used substantially more water, but reduced the potential for nitrogen pollution to water bodies.


“We found that Miscanthus tends to dry out the soil much more than corn, soybeans, or switchgrass later in the growing season,” said Greg McIsaac, environmental scientist in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “This would likely reduce runoff, stream flow and surface water supplies later in the summer and in early fall, when streams are typically at their lowest. It could reduce the amount of water available to those who are downstream in late summer and early fall.”


Switchgrass behaves like Miscanthus early in the growing season, drying out the soil. It then goes into a reproductive mode and uses very little water in the late summer and fall.


McIsaac said that Miscanthus’s impact on water supply may be small if it is planted on only a few acres in a watershed. “The severity of the impacts will likely vary depending on the nature of the soils and climatic conditions. In areas where water is in short supply, switchgrass may be preferable, understanding that switchgrass creates much less biomass than Miscanthus,” he said.


“It will likely be in the farmer’s economic interest to plant the most productive crop, which may also use more water than their current crops. When and where this occurs over significant areas, downstream water users should consider how it is going to influence their water supply. They may need to develop plans to address more frequent water shortages, or perhaps attempt to influence the planting decisions through incentives or policy. It is something to be aware of and plan for if Miscanthus or a similar water-demanding crop becomes economically attractive to farmers,” he added.


The fact that both Miscanthus and switchgrass use more water early in the growing season than corn and soybeans could be seen as a benefit because flooding is often a problem that time of year. Drying out the soil earlier in the spring would reduce runoff from spring rains, he said, and thus reduce flood flows.


The study also looked at how nitrogen moves or “leaches” into the ground water beneath the four crops. With corn and soybeans where the field has tile drainage, the fertilizer and soil organic nitrogen gets converted to nitrate which is highly soluble and moves with the water to the tile drains. From there it moves out to the ditches and streams, causing problems for drinking water supplies and contributing to the hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.


The Miscanthus and switchgrass plots in the study received no added fertilizer and grew vigorously without it. Consequently, it wasn’t surprising that the unfertilized Miscanthus and switchgrass had much lower leaching than soybeans or fertilized corn.


McIsaac explained that there are several factors at work, not just the absence of applied fertilizers. “The roots in perennial grasses go deeper into the soil. They’re more extensive and they are active earlier in the growing season – so if we had perennial corn, it might behave more like these grasses. But even with soybeans, where we also didn’t apply fertilizer, the amount of leaching was almost as high as with corn. So it’s not just the absence of fertilizer, it’s also the perennial roots that retain more soil nitrogen.”


“We did not apply fertilizer to Miscanthus or switchgrass because the study was designed to look at a low-input biofuel,” McIsaac said. “The results showed that you can get high productivity without fertilizing Miscanthus, at least for the first three to four years. It is likely that if you apply fertilizer to Miscanthus and switchgrass, there would be more leaching than what we saw in our study, with no application. But because of the root activity, I would expect fertilized Miscanthus and switchgrass to leach less than fertilized corn. To be certain, this needs further study.“


Miscanthus and Switchgrass Production in Central Illinois: Impacts on Hydrology and Inorganic Nitrogen Leaching appears in the September-October edition of the Journal of Environmental Quality. Authors in addition to McIsaac are Mark B. David, and Corey A. Mitchell. Funding for this research was provided by the C-FAR Strategic Research Initiative.




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1.13  PBA to launch high yielding peas in Western Australia


Pulse Breeding Australia (PBA) will commercially release two higher yielding Kaspa-type field pea varieties on 14 September 2010. These new varieties are suited for areas with lower rainfall. According to Brondwen MacLean, Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) pulse and oilseeds manager, PBA Twilight and PBA Gunyah would provide field pea growers the opportunity to manage and optimize their production.


"PBA Twilight and PBA Gunyah will provide the same agronomic benefits of the variety Kaspa in relation to lodging and pod shatter resistance at harvest," she said. "But the new varieties are much earlier flowering, have significantly higher grain yield and will be more reliable in low to medium rainfall environments.


These two new varieties were bred by Tony Leonforte, leader of the PBA field pea program based in Horsham. The seeds of these varieties will be distributed by AWB Seeds starting 2011.


For more information regarding the vari! eties of PBA,


Source: Crop Biotech Update 27 August 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.14  Corn breeders and seed retailers showcase


21 September 2010

Ames, Iowa, USA

Thirty-two percent of conventional farmers wish their seed company offered more non-GMO options, according to the Farm Journal Summer 2010-on-line poll of readers in May of this year. But where are improved non-GMO corn hybrids available? Come learn and connect with seed salesmen, farmers, and corn breeders who are increasing the number of non-GMO (conventional and organic) corn hybrid options in the market today at a Practical Farmers of Iowa and US Testing Network field day on Thursday, September 23 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in Ames, IA.


The US Testing Network, or USTN, coordinates a rigorous testing program to evaluate public and private corn germplasm. The USTN is primarily concerned with the evaluation of germplasm being developed for the organic and non-transgenic grain industry. To reach that purpose the USTN’s members provide corn to be tested, provide locations for testing and/or financial support. The USTN is a membership organization founded in 2009.


This field day is free and the public is invited. Lunch will be provided. RSVP is suggested to Sarah Carlson at or (515) 232-5661.

Attendees will have the opportunity to view the newest conventional and organic corn hybrids, listen to a USDA research grant update, participate in a Corn Disease and Corn Insect I.D. workshop, and hear presentations from seed retailers, production specialists, and other exhibitors involved in the non-GMO marketplace.


Directions: From Hwy 35 in Ames, travel West on Hwy 30 for 5 miles to the ISU Agronomy Research Farm. Turn left (South) on U Ave. Look for signs to the turquoise Morton Building.




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1.15  90% of cotton area in India under Bt


31 August 2010

Dilip Kumar Jha



The evolution of Bt created additional value worth Rs 40,000 cr until 2008


Bt cotton has surpassed 90 per cent of cotton acreage this kharif season with farmers continuing to gain from the high-yielding seed since its commercialisation in 2002.


Over the last eight years, farmers have got better output through Bt cotton seeds compared to the conventional seeds. “Although, the final figure is yet to be assessed, we can safely say that the Bt area has crossed 90 per cent of the total cotton acreage this year,” said A B Joshi, textile commissioner. India is one of the fastest adopters of Bt cotton, especially after the introduction of Bollgard II, an insect-resistant genetically modified (GM) seed that reduces pesticide use by up to 80 per cent, two years ago.


However, 100 per cent use of Bt may not be possible as a section of farmers continue with conventional seeds, says Joshi.


India’s cotton sowing area has increased substantially over the last three years to 110 lakh ha this kharif season, from 103 lakh ha and 98 lakh ha in 2009 and 2008, respectively.


Ashok Damji Daga, a Coimbatore-based cotton trader, attributed this growth to a significant rise in the minimum support price (MSP) and higher yield in the area under Bt seed.


Till August 26, about 106 lakh ha was covered under cotton, thanks to a favourable climate. Total cotton output this year is estimated at 325 lakh bales (1 bale = 170 kgs) as against 295 lakh bales in the previous year, according to data by the Ministry of Textiles.


With mill consumption estimated at 221.5 lakh bales and export cap at 49.5 lakh bales, total mill cotton demand in the country is expected to fall to 315.5 lakh bales this cotton year (October ‘10 - September ‘11) as against the availability of 370.5 lakh bales. Last season, the total demand was estimated at 333 lakh bales against supply of 373.5 lakh bales.


According to sources at the ministry of textile, the evolution of Bt in the cotton sector has created additional value in the country worth Rs 40,000 crore until 2008. (Additional value from cotton sector includes income from exports, saving foreign currency through lower imports, technology tax to the government and cheap raw material available for local users, including ginners and textile manufacturers).


India earned Rs 2,800 crore through exports in 2008, while potential savings through lower imports was at Rs 7,545 crore. The user industry earned Rs 500 crore through availability of locally originating lint which has now become an import substitute.


Availability of cottonseed oil has eased pressure on vegetable oil, while cottonseed meal exports have fetched an additional Rs 3,500 crore.


Processors like ginners earned Rs 720 crore. Farmers became rich with an additional income of Rs 20,000 crore due to higher yield with Bt technology.


Farm labourers recorded a growth of Rs 1,300 crore and technology providers earned a gross fee of Rs 280 crore. Hybrid seed companies shared less than one per cent of the total additional income with a sale of 238 packets worth Rs 110 crore.


Jagresh Rana, director, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) said, “Year-on-year, farmers have continued to adopt Bt cotton, which has resulted in higher yields and significant higher incomes.”


“Adoption of cotton technology in over 90 per cent of the cotton acreages this year, clearly demonstrates the benefits farmers are experiencing from Bt Cotton. Their increasing vote in favour of Bt cotton technology is an example of how innovation and technology have helped them increase farming efficiencies, get better yields and better income. It is testimony to the fact that there is a growing need to create an environment where farmers have access to more such beneficial technologies.”




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1.16 Plant science industry establishes The Compact for living modified organisms


A process for countries to file and process claims related to damage to biological diversity caused by living modified organisms (LMOs) Industry-developed liability and redress arbitration framework is commitment to responsible use of technology


Brussels, Belgium

15 September 2010

CropLife International today announced that The Compact, a clearly defined, efficient, and fair process for countries to file and process claims related to damage to biological diversity caused by living modified organisms (LMOs), is now in force. Members of the Compact include the six major plant biotechnology providers — BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta.


“The plant science industry’s commitment to stewardship and the responsible development and use of living modified organisms has helped to ensure there has been no negative impact on biological diversity for over fifteen years of commercialization,” said Denise Dewar, Executive Director of Plant Biotechnology at CropLife International. “It is this dedication to rigorous science-based risk assessment, risk management and stewardship that has made plant biotechnology an essential tool for farmers as they work to increase crop productivity and reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint.”


The Compact was first introduced in May 2008 to national governments and food value chain stakeholders as a first: an innovative private sector-established option to domestic and international liability laws that provides redress and financial security in the event of damage to biological diversity caused by LMOs. Since 2008, The Compact’s founding members have developed the framework and guidelines for filing and arbitrating claims. The Compact defines a clear, science-based process for resolving claims alleging damage to biological diversity where binding decisions are made by independent commissioners and arbitrators under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), located in The Hague.


“There is no doubt that the Compact is at the cutting edge of innovation in the resolution of transnational disputes, a 21st century solution which could hardly have been conceived of only a generation ago,” said Jan Paulsson, President of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration. “The prospect of neutral decisions, timely decision-making and reliable enforcement on the consensual basis established in the Compact is likely to generate emulation in other technologically advanced fields as well. One can only applaud The Compact’s members, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and the world community for forging a unique private-public arbitration regime to address claims of damage to biological diversity from the use of living modified organisms.”


Today, biotech crops are grown on 134 million hectares in 25 countries, including several major agricultural exporting countries. Guidelines on the import, transfer, handling, and domestic use of living modified organisms, including how to address damage to biological diversity, can have significant impact on international trade. The introduction of The Compact provides States assurance of an objective and independent procedure for evaluating and arbitrating claims of, and remedying damage to, biological diversity. The implementation of such a framework supports smooth trade transactions in the agricultural community.


“CropLife International believes The Compact plays a critical role in providing financial security and supplementing other liability and redress frameworks involving LMOs. It clearly demonstrates our industry’s confidence in the safety of its products,” continued Dewar. “It is our intent in implementing The Compact that in the future, in the unlikely event of damage to biological diversity, States will choose to seek remediation under The Compact because it is the most effective, efficient, and comprehensive process for addressing these sorts of claims, and provides the assurance of recovery in the event of actual damage.”




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1.17  EU report puts forward isolation distances for GM maize


29 September 2010


On this week's meeting of the Agricultural Council of the EU, the Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli presented a Best Practice Document for the cultivation of GM maize. The report was drawn up by the European Coexistence Bureau to propose measures that avoid the mixing of GM and conventional maize. According to Dalli, the report is meant to help Member States in developing their own coexistence guidelines – in July the Commission had come forward with a proposal to nationalise the cultivation decision of GM crops. At the meeting several Member States criticised this move, though.


The measures suggested by the Coexistence Bureau relate to the storage of the seeds and, above all, to spatial isolation distances as best ways to limit or avoid co-mingling of maize from different cultivation systems. Even if the Best Practice Document is non-binding, Dalli explained that these measures "are in full accordance with the spirit and aims of the proposal" to devolve the definition of coexistence policies to Member States and to provide them with more flexibility to do so.


In compiling the report the Coexistence Bureau has not only drawn upon numerous scientific trials, studies and models covering different regions in the EU, it has also collaborated with 20 experts that were nominated by interested Member States. This work has resulted in sets of isolation distances that reduce cross-pollination between GM and non-GM maize and ensure compliance with different target levels for the presence of GMOs in conventional maize.


To keep the GMO content in grain maize below the current labelling threshold of 0.9 percent, isolation distances of 15 to 50 meters are sufficient, even under unfavourable wind conditions. For silage maize, where the whole plants are utilised, isolation distances of 0 to 25 metres are enough. Given that currently no thresholds have been defined yet for the admixture of GM material in conventional seeds, the isolation distances for the cultivation of GM maize may need to be larger in future to ensure adherence to the overall legal threshold of 0.9 percent. For instance, for grain maize distances of 20-55 metres would be enough to limit cross-pollination rates to 0.6 percent.


However, the report also states that in specific cases the application of the recommended best practices may be difficult, e.g. in regions with small or narrow fields. In such cases the experts of the Coexistence Bureau see possible solutions e.g. in voluntary agreements between farmers on harvest labelling and the clustering of fields of one production system.


No regulation of coexistence at the national level?

At the same meeting of the EU's Agricultural Council a majority of Member States objected to the Commission's proposal to nationalise the cultivation decision of GM crops. Among the opposing Member States were Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland. They feared clashes with the World Trade Organisation if no consistent rules were followed in the EU. Furthermore they considered the proposal a violation of the single EU market and the EU common agricultural policy. Only Austria supported these plans. Now a working group is to be established to clarify the issue and develop a consensus.




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1.18  Lima beans domesticated twice - Genetic diversity in lima beans is sharply reduced from wild populations


Madison, Wisconsin, USA

30 August 2010

Lima beans were domesticated at least twice, according to a new genetic diversity study by Colombian scientists. Big seeded varieties known as “Big Lima” were domesticated in the Andean Mountains, while small seeded “Sieva” and “Potato” varieties originated in central-western Mexico.


The researchers also discovered a “founder effect,” which is a severe reduction in genetic diversity due to domestication. This means that today’s Lima bean varieties contain only a small fraction of the genetic diversity present in their respective wild ancestors.


They study was conducted by a team of Colombian scientists at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia-UNAL, Universidad Industrial de Santander-UIS and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture-CIAT. The results are reported in the September-October 2010 edition of Crop Science, published by the Crop Science Society of America.


The Andean domestication likely occurred in southern Ecuador-northwestern Peru, whereas the second domestication, in central Mexico, likely occurred somewhere north and northwest of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.


The scientific team analyzed DNA sequences in a sample of wild and cultivated varieties of Lima bean from Mesoamerica and the Andes. They applied a population genetics and phylogeographical approach, which allowed them to identify unique genetic markers that distinguished groups both in geographic space and genetic similarity.


Initially, the team carried out a pilot study to identify genes with enough variation to be useful for domestication studies in Lima bean. They chose two non-coding segments of chloroplast DNA, the photosynthesizing parts of the cell, and non-functional ribosomal DNA segments to carry out the comparative analysis.


These types of DNA segments are often used in genetic analysis, because they often show a great deal of difference between species, because since they don’t code for any essential life-processes, they mutate regularly.


“These findings call our attention over the conservation not only of [domesticated populations] but more importantly of wild populations of Lima bean in order to preserve the genetic diversity of the species,” said Maria Chacon, one of the researchers from Universidad Nacional de Colombia.


Lima bean is a crop widely distributed in Mesoamerica and the Andes, where several human groups have used it as food resource since pre-Columbian times. In spite of that, scientists have yet to describe its evolutionary history.


Genetic studies, mainly those based on molecular techniques, have proved useful in unraveling the domestication history of many of our major crops such as maize and in pinpointing where early humans made the transition from hunting-gathering to agriculture. Additionally, genetic studies may help measure the effect of domestication activities over the genetic diversity of crops, which may have implications for conservation and improvement efforts.


Research is ongoing to establish where within Mexico one group of Lima beans has been brought into cultivation. The study was funded by La Fundación para la Promoción de la Investigación y la Tecnología of the Banco de la República in Colombia.


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




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1.19  Chinese scientists identify characteristics of population genetic structures of three wild rice species


Beijing, China

2 September 2010

Author: Zhang Wenwen; Ma Xiaoqing

Through more than ten years’ painstaking research, the team led by Research Fellow Gao Lizhi of Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has accomplished their study on population genetics and conservation genetics of three wild rice species in China. Recently their research results have past the expert appraisal organized by Yunnan Provincial Office for Science and Technology Awards. The scientists have investigated the endangered status of these wild rice species, identified characteristics of their population genetic structures, and deepened the understanding on in-situ conservation and germplasm collection and conservation, which have produced scientific evidence for the research on and conservation of wild rice germplasm in China and the world at large.


In 1994, Gao Lizhi began to make systematic survey and sampling of three wild rice species distributed in China: Oryza rufipogon Griff, Oryza officinalis Wallex Watt and Oryza meyeriana sspgranulata. He studied their coenological characteristics, obtained the first-hand data about their endangered status, and concluded that Oryza rufipogon Griffhas the highest level of endangered status, followed by Oryza officinalis Wallex Watt and Oryza meyeriana sspgranulata.


During the research process, the team conducted the research on population genetics and molecular ecology for over 2000 individuals of 92 populations of those wild rice species withallozyme andmicrosatellite markers, set up a DNA bank of over 4000 individuals of natural wild rice populations representing various geographical distribution and habitats across the country, and carried out the research on population ecology for Oryza rufipogon Griffwith the highest level of endangered status. The research results provided scientific evidence for the in-situ conservation of wild rice and further germplasm collection and conservation in the country.


Meanwhile, the team also analyzed the convertibility rate of 60 microsatellite sites in those wild rice species, reported the abundance level of genetic variations of rice germplasm conserved in the national germplasm bank and wild rice germplasm nursery, and scientifically evaluated the effectiveness of wild rice ex-situ conservation in China through the comparison with natural populations.


Source:Science Times via

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1.20  Tapping into corn's tropical diversity


Washington, DC, USA

9 September 2010

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are tapping into the genetic diversity of corn from the tropics to improve varieties grown in the United States and other temperate regions.


Corn, or maize, can be traced to tropical Latin America, where the plants flower as the days grow shorter. As maize was carried from tropical to temperate regions, it had to adapt to the longer day lengths found during temperate summers, according to Jim Holland, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant geneticist at the agency's Plant Science Research Unit in Raleigh, N.C. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.


The genetic diversity of tropical maize could be used to improve maize varieties in temperate regions. But because tropical varieties flower very late when grown under long day lengths in temperate climates, undesirable traits such as poor yield can mask favorable traits such as disease resistance, according to Holland.


Holland and his team crossed two tropical, photosensitive maize lines—one from Mexico, the other from Thailand—with two temperate maize lines found in the United States to assess how day length would affect flowering time in the offspring. The lines were added to a collection developed by Holland and other ARS scientists who crossed a commonly studied corn variety with 25 diverse lines and repeatedly self-fertilized the offspring to create 5,000 inbred lines, each with a unique combination of traits. The collection has become a powerful and widely used tool in the search for genes to enhance desirable traits in maize.


Through genetic mapping, Holland's team identified four regions, or quantitative trait loci (QTLs), in the maize genome associated with photoperiod sensitivity. The QTLs—named ZmPR1-4 by the researchers—represent 2 percent of the genetic map, showing that the scientists sufficiently narrowed the genome to pinpoint four specific areas.


The results, published in Genetics, will help researchers select for genes in hardy tropical varieties that could make them better adapted to the long day lengths of temperate regions. They may also help U.S. breeders develop corn varieties that offer increased yields, disease resistance and other desired traits.


Read more about this and other research to improve corn in the September 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.


This research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.




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1.21  Russia's Pavlovsk seed and plant bank saved - for now


The seed and plant bank at Pavlovsk Station in Russia, considered one of the best in the world, may be saved after all.


According to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which has been spear-heading an international campaign to save Pavlovsk, on August 31st the Pavlovsk Experimental Station received an unscheduled visit. It was an accounting audit by representatives of the Russian Public Chamber, Accounts Chamber, and the Russian Housing Development Foundation, or RZhS, which was seeking to sell the grounds where the station has been for the past 100 years.


In a statement, the N.I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry reported that the inspection "was a result of instruction given by (Russian President) Dmitry Medvedev for this situation to be scrutinized. After visiting two plots the commission was convinced that, indeed, the disputed plots harbor plants that make a part of the Vavilov collection of plant genetic resources. As a result of field inspection…representatives of the RZhS Fund stated they will postpone an auction for an uncertain period."


On 7 September, Russian news outlets reported that the postponement will last until the end of October, Crop Diversity reports. The Russian Accounts Chamber will visit the station for another inspection on 15 September. RZhS has announced the formation of an independent international commission to evaluate the presence of unique plant specimens housed there.


During that time, several world-renowned scientists and organizations, including Sir Peter Crane, Thomas Lovejoy, and Harold Mooney, have voiced their support to save Pavlovsk in personal letters to Russian President Medvedev.


Organizations that have sent letters include:

- The DIVERSITAS scientific program, an international network of the world's leading biodiversity scientists, under the auspices of ICSU (International Council for Science) and UNESCO.

- The US Committee of DIVERSITAS, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences, sent its own letter, signed by twelve of the world's leading scientists.

- The International Society for Horticultural Science, the world's leading independent organization of horticultural scientists, representing members in some 150 countries.


By Elizabeth Weise




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1.22  Flowers offer clues to biodiversity


Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

13 September 2010

University research has demonstrated nature’s talent for cross-breeding plants to create new flowers.

DNA analysis of wild evergreen rhododendrons in the Himalayas has suggested that hundreds of species of the plant could be derived from hybrids - cross-breeds between different species.


Their findings may help explain the rich biodiversity of the natural world.

The study shows how random pairings of wild plants millions of years ago has led to the development of hundreds of new species that exist today.


DNA analysis

While scientists have long known that single species can derive from hybrid origins, this latest finding offers rare evidence that whole groups of species can be developed from a hybrid ancestor.


Scientists sampled the DNA of 79 species of rhododendron and used the results to analyse how each species was related.


They found that although most Himalayan rhododendrons were descended from the same ancestral line, three rogue species showed traces of a second, distantly related ancestor.


This species, now extinct, may have arrived in the Himalayas within the last 10 million years, and interbred with species already there.


Ancient cross-breeding

The discovery suggests that much of the diversity found in rhododendrons, and perhaps many other species, is a result of ancient cross-breeding.


This may have enabled a diverse range of offspring over many successive generations.


The joint study with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, published in the Journal of Plant Systematics and Evolution, was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council.




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1.23  Getting the most out of wild tomatoes


18 September 2010

by Luigi on

Where should breeders look for traits like drought resistance among the landraces and wild relatives of crops? The FIGS crowd says: in dry places, of course. And they have a point. But it may not be as simple as that, as a recent paper on wild tomatoes shows.1


The authors looked at the diversity of two genes implicated in drought tolerance, nucleotide by nucleotide, in three populations of each of two closely related wild tomato species from the arid coastal areas of central Peru to northern Chile. Annual precipitation at the collecting sites ranged from 5 to 235 mm. As another recent paper put it, the tomato genepool “has both the requisite genetic tools and ecological diversity to address the genetics of drought responses, both for plant breeding and evolutionary perspectives.” Here’s where the populations came from: 1-3 are Solanum peruvianum, 4-6 are S. chilense.


These places are pretty dry. Here’s what a close-up of the driest (number 3) looks like:


Anyway, Hui Xia et al. found evidence of purifying or stabilizing selection at one gene, called LeNCED1. So far so good. But they also found a pattern of variation at the other gene, pLC30-15, in one of the populations (number 4, S. chilense from Quicacha in southern Peru) which they interpreted as evidence of diversifying selection, where “two alleles compete against each other in the fixation process.”


Now, that would arguably be a more interesting population for a breeder to investigate than any of the others, but the observation “is difficult to explain based on the environmental variables of the populations investigated.” Ouch, say the FIGS crowd!2 But is it perhaps that the authors just considered average rainfall, and not how variable rainfall was at the site, from year to year? The best they can suggest by way of explanation is that S. chilense is an endemic with a very narrow ecological amplitude. In contrast, S. peruvianum is more of a generalist, with larger, expanding populations, found in both dry and mesic locations: “this may not be favourable for the occurrence of adaptive evolution, either because phenotypic plasticity can be promoted rather than local adaptation or because beneficial mutations are more likely recruited from the higher genetic standing variation.”


So, target dry areas for adaptation to drought tolerance, by all means, but the environment is not all, and some wild species may be more useful than others in providing interesting diversity depending on their ecological strategies and population dynamics.



  1. XIA, H., CAMUS-KULANDAIVELU, L., STEPHAN, W., TELLIER, A., & ZHANG, Z. (2010). Nucleotide diversity patterns of local adaptation at drought-related candidate genes in wild tomatoes Molecular Ecology DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2010.04762.x []
  2. Actually, it’s not as bad as that, that other paper I quoted earlier has this to say: “We confirmed that several eco-physiological traits show significant trait-climate associations among climate-differentiated populations of S. pimpinellifolium, including strong association between native precipitation and whole-plant tolerance to water stress.” []




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1.24  Parlous times for seed banks spell trouble for Australian agriculture


Elizabeth Finkel*

CANBERRA—Australia's seed banks are tumbling like dominoes, and the country's agricultural researchers and farmers may end up the losers. The Biloela Research Station in Queensland, home to a 60-year-old collection of seeds of legumes and livestock forage plants, is slated to shut down in the coming months. A plan is in place to rescue commercially valuable grain legumes. But the neglect of other prized accessions will make it harder for Australia to comply with a genetics resources treaty, which in turn could curtail access to overseas seed collections—a debilitating prospect for a country whose farms rely on imported species.


Until a few years ago, Australia's state governments, with agricultural R&D corporations, maintained six seed banks. The Grains Research and Development Corp. (GRDC) was the dominant contributor, but in 2008 it pared back its support to grains. As a result, in mid-2008 a bank in Adelaide holding Mediterranean forages such as alfalfa closed its doors; of its 45,000 accessions, 95% are held nowhere else in the world. Other seed banks are fighting for survival. According to Biloela curator Peter Lawrence, "Vital work to regenerate and conserve some globally unique plant genetic resources


has stopped, and skilled staff have resigned or retired."

Now the Queensland government plans to shut down the Biloela bank as part of a "national strategy" to rationalize plant genetic resources, says Rex Williams, a science leader at Queensland's department of agriculture. Seed banks in Victoria and New South Wales have been approached to store some accessions. GRDC has pledged to pick up the tab over the next 4 years for commercial crop legumes. Accessions of forage plants, including ones that provide bush food for Aborigines, will be kept frozen. But without funds and skilled staff to periodically regenerate seeds, viable accessions will dwindle.


Like all gene banks, Biloela is obligated under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to make seeds freely available on request. Funding shortfalls have made it increasingly difficult for Biloela and other seed banks to share seeds with partner nations, as required by agreements. That, says Adelaide bank curator Steve Hughes, risks serious repercussions for Australian agriculture—including loss of access to overseas varieties of wheat, Australia's most valuable crop.


Many experts argue that the federal government, as treaty signatory, needs to step in to safeguard the collections. Seed banks "need long-term support that is outside grant or research support," says Megan Clarke, chief executive of CSIRO, Australia's national science agency and the country's main supporter of agricultural research. But as a stalemate over funding continues, Australia's plant genetic resources are looking increasingly fragile.


* Elizabeth Finkel is a writer in Melbourne, Australia.


Source: Science 24 September 2010:

Vol. 329. no. 5999, p. 1591

DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5999.1591-a


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1.25  Insights into watermelon genetic diversity


by Jeremy on 29 September 2010

There’s no doubt that most of the time when we non-experts think of genetic diversity in DNA terms, we think about alterations in the actual DNA sequence. Change the genetic code and there’s a chance you change the nature of a gene and as a result change the outward appearance, the phenotype, of an organism. There have been lots of studies relating the differences among species to differences in the DNA code of this sort, but far fewer looking at the differences among varieties of a single species. Amnon Levi and his colleagues looked at the sequence differences among heirloom watermelon varieties and were surprised by the lack of diversity. Despite the fact that heirloom watermelons differ in highly complex ways in a whole slew of traits,1 Levi and colleagues concluded that “there is a very narrow genetic diversity at the DNA sequence level”.


There are, however, other sources of variation that are not reflected in the DNA sequence. Once such is methylation, the attachment of a methyl group to two of the four letters that make up the genetic code. Methylation is closely involved in whether a gene is active or not, and the same gene with two different methylation patterns in two different individuals can be expressed differently, resulting in different phenotypes despite genotypes that are similar in sequence (though obviously not in methylation). Methylation patterns are inherited, but they are not strictly speaking genetic; they are one kind of epigenetic inheritance.


Levi and his group turned their attention to the methylation pattern of 47 watermelon varieties.2 The epigenetic diversity varied from 16-43%, while diversity measured by conventional DNA sequence markers ranged from 3-20%. “Diversity at the methylation level is three times higher than the genetic diversity revealed by DNA markers on the same set of heirloom DNAs,” the authors conclude.3 The vast majority of methylation patterns are inherited stably from the variety’s parents, with very few arising fresh.


The bit I really do not understand in all this is the extent to which the relationships among varieties deduced from methylation patterns match those derived from DNA sequence differences. The new paper and one from 2001 both contain tree diagrams of the relationships, but there is no direct comparison.4 Eyeballing the trees, and looking only at the nearest neighbours, the overlap does not seem all that impressive. I’d like to know more.


That 2001 paper also uses the low genetic diversity (at the DNA sequence level) to argue for “the need to broaden the genetic base of cultivated watermelon”. That idea seems to have fallen by the wayside as the diversity in epigenetic factors has emerged. Is there a more general conclusion to be drawn?


This observation of greater methylation than DNA sequence differences adds to the growing importance of epigenetics in studies of diversity, and may become important in breeding new varieties with specific desired traits. If the methylation patterns can be linked to phenotypic traits, as has already been shown in Arabidopsis, it could be possible to alter methylation without needing to do crosses and selection.


Bonus factoid: “Watermelon is the fifth most economically important vegetable crop and is grown in 44 states in the United States.”



  1. Parris, 1949, is the motherlode on this, if you can get it. []
  2. Not including, alas, the famed Moon and Stars watermelon. []
  3. Nimmakayala, P., Vajja, G., Gist, R., Tomason, Y., Levi, A., & Reddy, U. (2010). Effect of DNA methylation on molecular diversity of watermelon heirlooms and stability of methylation specific polymorphisms across the genealogies Euphytica DOI: 10.1007/s10681-010-0259-z []
  4. I’m not even sure if that is doable. []


Source: Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog

Crops, animals, wild relatives ...



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1.26  University of Arizona-led consortium awarded $9.9 million to develop 'super rice'



1 September 2010

A University of Arizona-led consortium has been awarded $9.9 million from the National Science Foundation to develop a deeper understanding of the wild relatives of cultivated rice with the ultimate goal of creating next-generation varities that are better capable of withstanding drought and poorer soils and produce higher yields than current forms of domesticated rice.


The main goals are to study the genes of different wild rice species and identify genes that could be used to improve the crop.


Cereal crops – including rice – provide 60 percent of the calories and protein harvested worldwide, said UA plant scientist Rod Wing (photo), who is director of the Arizona Genomics Institute in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, holder of the Bud Antle Endowed Chair for Excellence professor in the School of Plant Sciences and a member of the BIO5 Institute.


"Half of the world's population depends on rice, and that population is expected to double in 30 years," he said. "We need to figure out a way to come up with a rice variety with increased yield and capable of growing on less land, on poorer soil, with less water, and with less fertilizer."


Part of RICE 2020, an international coordinated effort in rice functional genomics, the NSF funds the undertaking of functionally characterizing the genomes of all 24 rice species, with the goal of transforming not only crop biology but evolutionary biology as well.


Using wild rice to improve rice crops

"What we're trying to do is identify and catalog all the genes found in the wild relatives of rice and analyze their functions," Wing said. "The idea is to identify genes that confer adaptations helping wild varieties cope with extreme environments and breed them into cultivated rice."


The data could be used immediately to enhance food security, Wing pointed out, by providing a "toolkit of genes" that can be used to improve crop rice.


In addition, the project has crucial implications for evolutionary biology.


"We want to really understand the evolution of the rice genus Oryza in great detail," Wing said. "For example, which genes are the shared ones that make a rice plant a rice plant, and which are those that account for the differences we see between species?"


To do this, the researchers have to understand all the so-called "structural variations of the rice genome." Over the course of its 15-million year evolutionary history, genes have been gained, lost, crippled or inverted, rendering some of them non-functional while allowing others to take on new functions.  


Together with collaborator Manyuan Long, a professor of genetics and evolution at the University of Chicago, Wing's team also will try to answer the question, where did new genes come from?


The highly collaborative project builds on previous accomplishments by several collaborators brought together under the International Oryza Map Alignment Project, or I-OMAP. Wing's group led an effort to determine the entire genetic sequence of the two rice species most widely used in agriculture, Asian Rice (O. sativa) and West African Rice (O. glaberrima).


Preserving wild rice populations

I-OMAP's goals include improving cereal crops as well as maintaining their diversity and ensuring their conservation in the wild.


"This line of research involves field studies," Wing said, "for example, going to the Philippines and identifying, say, a strand of the wild rice Oryza officinalis, so it can be set aside as a nature reserve."


Wing's group will focus on structural differences among the genomes of the 24 rice species and the role of transposable elements (pieces of DNA that, over generations, "jump" from one place in the genome to another, taking other genetic sequences with them in the process) and their impact on gene evolution.


"If we discover a gene that looks to be of interest, we can go to a population of a wild rice species and see how important it is. So we would ask, ‘Is this gene present across the entire population or is it just in the specific specimen whose DNA we happened to analyze?'"


Questions like these, which are of general importance to evolutionary biology as a whole, will be addressed by Carlos Machado, a long-time collaborator of Wing's who was an assistant professor in the UA's department of ecology and evolutionary biology before joining the University of Maryland two years ago.


Another aspect of the project is being led by Michael Sanderson, a BIO5 member and professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology in the UA's College of Science. His research group is going to compare the genomes of domesticated rice and its wild relatives and reconstruct an evolutionary tree of the relationships of these species to each other. This will provide a framework for better understanding the evolution and function of genes in these genomes. 


As a key step in this endeavor, Wing and his group are going sequence the genome of Oryza punctata, which is considered one of the the most primitive rice species.


"Oryza puncatata serves as a so-called out-group species," Wing said, "A reference species to compare all the others to, so we can make evolutionary inferences about the genes we identify – is this gene evolving rapidly or slowly?"


In addition, O. punctata contains a number of genes that could be important to improve cultivated rice, for example genes for stress tolerance.


The domestication bottleneck

"During the domestication process, people end up selecting a couple of plants and crossing them," Wing said. "This way, one of them became the founder of all the domesticated plants. That variety was then improved over thousands of years, but it contains only a very small variety of genes that could be used for crop improvement."


Domesticated rice varieties have been selected for short stature, high yield and low shattering of the grains during harvesting.


This so-called domestication bottleneck leads to crop plants with highly desirable traits such as high yield but deficiencies in other areas such as compromised ability to fight off diseases or cope with droughts.


West African Rice, for example, is more tolerant to drought and salty soils than Asian Rice.


"The system we are developing can be utilized by evolutionary biologists around the world to address grand challenge questions in evolutionary biology," Wing said. "This would be the first of such a system in a crop plant."


The project will provide training and mentoring to postdoctoral scientists, graduate and undergraduate students and high school students with an interest in genome evolution, plant breeding and careers in academic and corporate science.


As an outreach component, the project will include a biannual Plant Science Family Night program at Ventana Vista Elementary School in Tucson, targeting K-5 students and families, with the goal of getting children and their families in the greater Tucson area excited about plants and the role plant science plays in ensuring a safe, sustainable and secure food supply for our planet.


Other collaborators in the project include Doreen Ware at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Jianxin Ma, a professor of agronomy at Purdue University; Detlef Weigel at the Max-Planck-Institute for Developmental Biology in Tubingen in Germany; and Olivier Panaud of the University of Perpignan in France.




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1.27  USDA corn germplasm lines scoring high marks in field trials for resistance to aflatoxin


Washington, DC, USA

2 September 2010

Corn germplasm lines developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are scoring high marks in field trials for resistance to aflatoxin produced by Aspergilllus flavus and A. parasiticus fungi.


According to geneticist Paul Williams with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Mississippi State, Miss., the presence of aflatoxin in corn greatly reduces its value and marketability. That's because aflatoxin is carcinogenic to humans, pets and wildlife. Annual losses incurred by the corn industry to aflatoxin contamination of kernels are estimated at $192 million.


At the ARS Corn Host Plant Resistance Research Unit in Mississippi State, Williams works with a multidisciplinary team of researchers and university cooperators to develop, test and release new corn lines that are genetically resistant to aflatoxin-producing fungi.


In 2008 field trials, for example, two germplasm lines that the team developed—Mp715 and Mp717—showed the highest levels yet of resistance to aflatoxin contamination. A more recent line, Mp04:097, also performed well in 2009 trials.


Mp715 and Mp717 are also resistant to the accumulation of another fungal toxin—fumonisin, which is produced by Fusarium verticillioides. The toxin causes neurological abnormalities in horses after they consume infected corn.


According to Williams, the lines have been widely requested and used in plant breeding programs at state, federal and international research institutions, plus three major commercial seed companies and several smaller ones.


In related work, the researchers are mapping chromosome regions associated with aflatoxin resistance in crosses between resistant lines and susceptible ones with good agronomic qualities. The goal is to identify markers that can be used in marker-assisted breeding.


On yet another front, the team has developed corn lines that resist fall armyworms and southwestern corn borers, insect pests whose feeding damage can contribute to aflatoxin contamination.


Read more about research to improve corn in the September 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.




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1.28  New maize disease threatens to devastate East Africa


Kampala, Uganda

31 August 2010

Esther Nakkazi

A new maize disease, not previously reported in Africa, will threaten food security and the livelihoods of millions of people on the continent, scientists have said.


Rough dwarf maize disease was identified early this year in Masindi district and Namulonge in western and central Uganda, according to Godfrey Asea, head plant breeder for the cereals research programme at Uganda's National Crops Resources Research Institute (NACRRI).


The disease has not yet been fully analysed to understand the pathogen. The strain, the rate of spread and even the scope of infection in Uganda or East Africa are still unknown, Asea said.


It is thought that the leaf hopper, a tiny insect that feeds on plants, transmits the infection through its eggs.


Infected maize crops have wrinkled leaves, no cobs at all and generally stunted growth.


"The devastating nature of the dwarf maize disease is total loss of the crop yields once it attacks," said Asea.


The disease can infect 20-30 per cent of an entire maize field according to observations by specialised maize plant breeders.


"The only line of defense we have so far is to sensitise farmers on how to control spread of the disease. We shall advise them to keep uprooting and burning the infected crop," Asea said.


John Kityo a maize farmer in Namulonge, said farmers do not know what caused the disease, "but I know it is a major threat to maize production and the experts say they do not know much about it".


Maize production contributes 20–30 per cent of the GDP of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and provides 70 per cent of rural employment.


Stephen Mugo, senior scientist and maize breeder at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, said researchers need to study how the leaf hopper produces the disease in maize, as well as its biology, and start thinking of developing a host plant that is resistant. "This will be the easiest option for scientists and farmers."


But he also said there were no funds for the research and scientists trying to work on the diseases had to look for resources on their own. Governments only react when there is a crisis, he claimed.


Source: SciDev.Net via


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1.29  New orange maize breed coming


7 September 2010

By Times Reporter

ZAMBIA will this year introduce a new breed of orange maize to further curb the high vitamin A deficiency levels among people in the country especially the children.


Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) director Richard Kamona said his organisation would use the conventional plant breeding techniques, which will result in the production of the more nutritious orange maize. Public health statistics indicate that vitamin A deficiency still remains a serious problem in Zambia affecting more than 53 per cent of the children.


Severe Vitamin A deficiency has been associated with higher levels of malnutrition, child mortality as well as partial and complete blindness.


The new orange maize variety therefore, which is being developed by the ZARI through biofortification, will seek to improve the Vitamin A content of the maize product in a natural way.


Dr Kamona said this at a pro-Vvitamin A maize dissemination and delivery strategic planning workshop held at Chrismar hotel in Livingstone yesterday.


The workshop attracted Ministry of Agriculture and Health directors, Food Reserve Agency (FRA), University of Zambia, Programme Against Malnutrition, Harvest Plus programme officials, Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU), some non governmental organisations, representatives of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and ZARI.


The key objective of the meeting was to develop a delivery strategy that would ensure that Vitamin A maize reached and was utilised by the consumers.


He said that the control of Vitamin A deficiency in Zambia would lead to substantial and lasting improvements in childhood survival and prevention of irreversible blindness caused by micronutrient malnutrition.


Dr Kamona said that despite Zambia having introduced vitamin A through sugar and maize fortification, it was evident that additional measures were required to further reduce vitamin A deficiency in the country.


The biofortification of maize with provitamin A was cost effective as maize was the staple food in Zambia hence would have far reaching impact on the reduction of Vitamin A deficiency.


Dr Kamona said that the new varieties of orange maize would continue to be tested until 2012 when it is hoped that they will be disseminated to farmers in several villages in the country to see how the new varieties perform and whether consumers like to eat the orange maize.


Harvest Plus head of product delivery Harrie Hendrickx said his organization was committed to introducing yellow maize in Zambia because it would greatly improve the health of the people.


Harvest Plus country manager Eliab Simpungwe called on Zambians to embrace yellow maize as it would go a long way in decreasing vitamin A deficiency and malnutrition.




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1.30  Ancient genes fight disease


Peter Hemphill

9 September 2010

AUSTRALIA has turned to the "Fertile Crescent" countries in the Middle East for genetic material to counter soil-borne pathogens.


Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey are where the ancient ancestors of wheat originated and the region is now providing a valuable genetic source for modern plant breeding programs.

At the forefront of the research is Australian scientist Julie Nicol, who has been based in Turkey since 2001 working for Mexico's wheat and maize plant breeding institution CIMMYT.


Dr Nicol said CIMMYT had the world's largest diversity in germplasm.

"We need to mine that diversity to provide genetic material in an adapted background more readily to be used by plant breeders," she said.


CIMMYT is working with the Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and other organisations on research focused mostly on crown rot, but also cereal cyst nematode and root lesion nematode.


Some of the work has been funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation.


Dr Nicol said the soil-borne pathogens were major biological constraints to grain production in rain-fed cropping regions around the world.


"When you don't get a lot of rain, you get a lot of soil-borne constraints to the cropping systems. These are microscopic problems but can cause reduced tillering or stunting of crops," she said.


Dr Nicol said her work included screening genetic material collected from Turkey, the Middle East, west Asia and northern Africa for genes useful in global genetic programs.


This included sending germplasm to Australia.


"We are focused on identifying high yielding germplasm," she said.


"Many of the sources of resistance to these soil-borne pathogens are in the progenitors of wheat.


"We are evaluating the germplasm for resistance to these pathogens."


Dr Nicol said her connection to Turkey also had other benefits for Australian researchers.


She said plant breeders send her germplasm to determine if it had resistance genes they thought were present.




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1.31  Gene discovery holds key to growing crops in cold climates


Edinburgh, Scotland

9 September 2010

Fresh insight into how plants slow their growth in cold weather could help scientists develop crops suited to cooler environments.


Researchers have shown for the first time that a gene – known as Spatula – limits the growth of plants in cool temperatures, possibly helping them adjust to cool conditions.


Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, who took part in the study, believe that by manipulating the gene, they could produce the opposite effect – enabling development of crops that grow well in cold climates.


Scientists studied the Spatula gene in a weed known as thale cress and found that when levels of the gene were low, the plant leaves grew almost twice as much at lower temperatures as they would normally.


Being able to improve crop growth under cool conditions – in which growth would typically be slow – could help ensure the availability of food supplies for future populations.

The study, carried out by the Universities of Edinburgh and York, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Royal Society, was published in Current Biology.


Dr Karen Halliday of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who took part in the study, said: "We have pinpointed a key gene linked to the growth of plants according to the temperature – this could be of real interest in improving crop yields and food security in temperate climates."


Source: University of Edinburgh via


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1.32  Salt-tolerant rice offers hope for global food supply



10 September, 2010

A team of scientists at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics has successfully used genetic modification (GM) to improve the salt tolerance of rice, offering hope for improved rice production around the world.


The research team has used a new GM technique to trap salt in the root of the rice plant, reducing the amount of toxic salt building up in the plant and increasing its tolerance to salinity.


This new research into rice builds on previous work into the salt tolerance of plants led by scientists from ACPFG. The research has been conducted in collaboration with scientists now based in universities in Cairo, Copenhagen and Melbourne.


"Rice is the staple food for billions of people around the world," says Dr Darren Plett, lead author and Research Associate with the ACPFG, a key partner of the Waite Research Institute at the University of Adelaide.


"Rice is often grown on land that is prone to high levels of salinity. Lands that accumulate salt have lower crop yields, which can threaten food supply. This has made salinity tolerance an increasingly important factor in the efforts to secure global food production," Dr Plett says.


The research team expressed a gene to increase the number of salt-transporting proteins in specific cells in the roots of the rice plant. The genetic modification resulted in salt being trapped in the root, where it is less harmful to the plant, thus avoiding salt travelling to the shoot where it does the most damage.


Dr Plett says the new GM technique is an "efficient and robust biotechnological approach" to helping rice grow in saline conditions.


"Our results provide a new approach for genetic modification to increase the tolerance of crops to the toxic sodium ion (Na+), which is a major environmental stress. Successful genetic engineering efforts using this technology should assist in global food production. The same technology can be used to improve the nutrient levels within rice grain, which would be very important for consumers the world over," Dr Plett says.


The results of this work have been published in the online peer-reviewed science journal PLoS ONE. Work is now underway to transfer the technology to wheat and barley.

PLoS ONE paper




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1.33  Discovery offers hope of saving sub-Saharan crops from devastating parasites


Toronto, Canada

10 September 2010

Each year, thousands of acres of crops are planted throughout Africa, Asia and Australia only to be laid to waste by a parasitic plant called Striga, also known as witchweed. It is one of the largest challenges to food security in Africa, and a team of scientists led by researchers from the University of Toronto have discovered chemicals and genes that may break Striga’s stranglehold.


When crops grow, their roots release a plant hormone called strigolactone. If the soil contains Striga seed, it will use the released strigolactone as a cue to germinate and infect the crop plants. Once connected to the crop, the Striga plant kills the crop by sucking out its nutrients. “In sub-Saharan Africa alone, Striga has infected up to two-thirds of the arable land,” says U of T cell and systems biologist Peter McCourt, principle investigator of a study published this week in Nature Chemical Biology. “With chemicals and genes in hand that influence strigolactone production in plants, we should be able to manipulate the level of this compound by chemical application or plant breeding which would break the Striga-crop interaction.


The scientists used a model genetic plant system called Arabidopsis to screen 10,000 compounds and identify a set of five chemicals, designated cotylimides, which increase the accumulation of strigolactone in plants. They also found related chemicals that decrease strigolactone levels. From there, they screened for mutants of Arabidopsis that were resistant to cotylimides and identified mutants that made less strigolactone. These mutants identified genes that regulate strigolactone levels in plants.


The research team includes members from the University of Toronto’s Department of Cell and Systems Biology and Centre for Analysis of Genome Evolution and Function, as well as the RIKEN Plant Science Center in Yokahama, Japan.




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1.34  New soybeans bred for oil that's more heart-healthy


Washington, DC, USA

16 September 2010

Products made from soy oil stand to benefit from two new germplasm lines that produce high levels of oleic acid, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and university scientists.


According to molecular biologist Kristin Bilyeu with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Columbia, Mo., increasing soy oil's level of the monounsaturated fat can avoid resorting to hydrogenation. Besides converting liquid oil into a solid, like margarine, hydrogenation helps to improve shelf life and product quality. But it also generates trans-fats, which alter the body's blood cholesterol levels, producing more of the "bad" LDL cholesterol than the "good" HDL cholesterol.


In 2008, soy oil accounted for 70 percent of all edible oils and fats consumed in America, underscoring the importance of reducing trans-fats in cooking, baking and deep-frying applications. Increasing the oil's oleic acid may offer industrial benefits, too, like improving cold-weather engine performance when using soy-based biodiesel, notes Bilyeu, with the ARS Plant Genetics Research Unit in Columbia. ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of USDA.


In a new issue of BMC Plant Biology, Bilyeu and colleagues Anh Pham Tung, Jeong Dong Lee and J. Grover Shannon report their identification and use of a mutant pair of alleles, or gene copies, to bolster soy's oleic-acid production.


Typically, soy oil is 13 percent palmitic acid, 4 percent stearic acid, 20 percent oleic acid, 55 percent linoleic acid, and 8 percent linolenic acid. But the new beans contain more than 80 percent oleic acid, reports Bilyeu, who collaborated with scientists at the University of Missouri and Kyungpook University in the Republic of Korea.


Other research groups have successfully used transgenic methods such as gene silencing to increase soy's oleic-acid levels. But the ARS-university team used classical plant breeding instead, "endowing" their soy lines with two mutant alleles for the gene FAD2.


Normally, its orchestration of biochemical events in soybean seed favors production of linoleic acid and other unsaturated fatty acids. However, combining the two naturally occurring variant alleles (FAD2-1A and FAD2-1B) reversed the situation, generating more oleic acid.


Field trials in Missouri and Costa Rica indicate the soy lines' oleic-acid production can stay fairly constant across diverse growing conditions. Additional tests are planned.




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1.35  Researchers develop protein-packed potato in India


21 September 2010

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Researchers in India have developed a genetically modified potato that is packed with up to 60 percent more protein and increased levels of amino acids.


In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday, the scientists expressed hope that the transgenic potato would find more acceptance because it uses a gene from the amaranth seed, another edible crop.


"Because potato constitutes an important part of the diet of many people in developed as well as developing countries, it is apparent that this can add value to potato-based products with enhanced benefits for better human health," they wrote.


Amaranth is a tall, broadleaf plant that produces tiny seeds. It was a major food of the Aztecs and earlier American cultures, and started to be grown as a grain crop in the United States in the late 1970s.


One of its genes, Amaranth Albumin 1 (AmA1), is regarded as agriculturally important because it endows the plant and its seeds with high protein levels and higher concentrations of several essential amino acids.


Led by Subhra Chakraborty at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research in New Delhi, the scientists inserted the gene into seven types of potatoes and then grew the transgenic potatoes over two years.


They found that the transgenic potatoes contain between 35 and 60 percent more protein than unmodified potatoes. They also contain increased levels of amino acids, notably lysine, tyrosine and sulfur, which are usually limited in potatoes.


These had been fed to rats and rabbits with no adverse consequences, the scientists said.


More than a billion people worldwide consume potatoes daily.


Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 14, 2010 via


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1.36  University of Western Australia scientists discover new molecular mechanism which toughens plants against drought, salinity, flooding and extreme temperatures


24 September 2010

Western Australia

Drought, salinity, flooding and extreme temperatures threaten many plants essential to humankind – and scientists at The University of Western Australia have discovered how they respond to these challenges.


Lead researcher Winthrop Professor Steven Smith, of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology based at UWA, said understanding how plants grow under stressful environmental conditions was vital for food, fuel and fibre production.


His team’s discovery of a new molecular mechanism by which plants deal with stress is published today as the cover-page article by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in their marquee journal, Science Signaling.


“We found that when plants are stressed they respond by increasing their sensitivity to a steroid growth hormone called brassinosteroid. This provides a way for them to step up to the challenge of growth in harsh conditions,” Professor Smith said.


“Our discovery – a great piece of scientific detective work – shows that a plant does not just succumb to whatever the weather serves up: it responds positively by putting energy into continued growth even under difficult circumstances. This finding opens a new door to find ways to identify or select plants that perform better in difficult conditions.”


Lead author Ping Che, Research Assistant Professor in UWA’s Centre of Excellence for Plant Metabolomics said: “We linked two previously unconnected research fields. It was known that environmental stresses trigger a ‘quality control’ system in the internal membranes of plant cells but the targets of this QC system were unknown.


“We also had circumstantial evidence that brassinosteroids were involved in stress responses in plants. We discovered that the QC system directly activates brassinosteroid sensing which in turn provides stress tolerance. Mutants defective in the QC system were sensitive to stress but this could be overcome by directly activating the steroid response system.”


The research was carried out in collaboration with scientists at the Australian National University’s node of Plant Energy Biology. Research Assistant Professor Che is now a visiting researcher in one of the world’s top brassinosteroid research laboratories at the SALK Institute in San Diego, where he is taking the next step forward in this research.


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1.37  Agrilife research scientist identifies wheat streak resistance gene


Texas AgriLife Research scientists headed by Dr. Huangjun Lu discovered a wheat streak mosaic virus-resistance gene. They crossed the Colorado wheat line with TAM111 and found that the wheat streak mosaic virus resistance was due to a single dominant gene from the Colorado germplasm line. After conducting molecular mapping they were able to form markers to track the gene for wheat breeding programs.


Prior to this research, Wsm1 from wheat grass was the only gene that was identified with resistance to wheat streak mosaic virus, and the newly identified gene from bread wheat was labeled as Wsm2.


"A lot of programs will use this information to accelerate their breeding and increase the levels of resistance in new cultivars," said Dr. Jackie Rudd, wheat breeder and member of Dr. Lu's research team.


Read the complete article at


Source: Crop Biotech Update 27 August 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.38  Plants give up some deep secrets of drought resistance


A team of researchers from University of Wisconsin (UW) studying the mechanism of drought resistance in plants have identified the protein targets of the plant hormone abscisic acid. The work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is of utmost importance because of the current need to expand and intensify agricultural production on marginal lands worldwide in the midst of the global climate change.


"Most plants have what's called a permanent wilting point, where if water content goes below 90 percent or so, they don't just dehydrate and go dormant, they dehydrate and die," said Michael Sussman, a UW-Madison professor of biochemistry. "Figuring out how to trigger a dormant state, such as exists naturally in seeds, which are 10 percent water and can in some cases remain viable for hundreds of years, could be key to creating plants that survive drought in the field", Sussman added.


See details of the story at\\


Source: Crop Biotech Update 27 August 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.39  Biofortification in staple foods still relevant


Despite urbanization and income growth associated with globalization, diets of the rural poor will continue to be heavily based on staple foods like cereals and tuber crops. The richer and more urban populations will increase their intake of higher-value proteins, oils, fruits and vegetables. These were the findings of economists from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Hence, while the rich will be able to afford foods that contain important micronutrients like zinc, iron and vitamin A, the poor will not be as fortunate.


In Integrated Economic Modeling of Global and Regional Micronutrient Security, the economists use a global agricultural market model to simulate demands for food and micronutrients into the future. They suggested that biofortification will remain relevant and should be targeted particularly on cereal grains in South Asia,! and roots and tubers in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Check out to download the paper.


Source: Crop Biotech Update 9 September 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.40  Salt-tolerant rice offers hope for global food supply


Rice, the staple food for billions of people around the world, which is very susceptible to salt has been improved to resist saline stress through genetic modification, says the news release from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. Center scientists have inserted a gene which modified rice to increase the number of salt-transporting proteins in specific cells in the rice root. This resulted in salt being trapped in the root where it is less harmful and avoiding its effect to the vulnerable upper part of the plant.


Dr. Darren Plett, lead researcher of the study, says that the new GM technique is an "efficient and robust biotechnological approach" to help rice grow in soils with high salinity. "Our results provide a new approach for genetic modification to increase the tolerance of crops to the toxic sodium ion (Na+), which is a major environmental stress. Successful genetic engineering efforts using this technology should assist in global food production. The same technology can be used to improve the nutrient levels within rice grain, which would be very important for consumers the world over," Dr Plett added.


The results of this work have been published in the online peer-reviewed science journal PLoS ONE. Work is now underway to transfer the technology to wheat and barley. PLoS ONE paper:


The original news article can be viewed at


Source: Crop Biotech Update 16 September 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.41  Watermelons: What happened to the seeds?


Watermelons with seeds are not as popular with consumers, so producers are growing more of the seedless fruits. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

By Jane Black

Washington Post Staff Writer

31 August 2010

In 1995, Jason Schayot set the world record for spitting a watermelon seed when he shot his tiny black bullet a whopping 75 feet, 2 inches, almost a quarter of a football field. It's a record that would be hard to beat. But Schayot might not have much competition anyway. Within a generation, most Americans won't even know that watermelons have seeds, let alone how to spit them.


According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board, only 16 percent of watermelons sold in grocery stores have seeds, down from 42 percent in 2003. In California and the mid-South, home to the country's biggest watermelon farms, the latest figures are 8 and 13 percent, respectively. The numbers seem destined to tumble. Recently developed hybrids do not need seeded melons for pollination - more on that later - which liberates farmers from growing melons with spit-worthy seeds.


The iconic, black-studded watermelon wedge appears destined to become a slice of vanished Americana. If that sounds alarmist, try to remember the last time you had to spit out a grape seed.


The sea change is all in the service of convenience. "People don't eat watermelon out of hand like they used to. They like to eat it in fruit salads," said Robert Schueller, the public relations director for Melissa's Produce, a California distributor that sells only 10 percent of its watermelons with seeds. "It's a question of ease, time, and there's the safety factor. Kids could choke on the seeds."


You can't blame producers for giving people what they want, though as far as I can tell, childhood mortality rates remain unaffected by the type of watermelons for sale. Nor should we let nostalgia be an obstacle to progress. Seedless watermelons are easier to eat, and it's not only harried soccer moms who prefer them. Chefs such as Eric Ziebold at CityZen and Todd Gray of Equinox, both usually vocal proponents of heritage varietals, prefer seedless watermelons because they are more easily transformed into elegant cubes and fine dices.


Still, as the end of summer looms, I can't help but mourn the inevitable disappearance of the black-dotted red watermelon. In part, it is a wistfulness for a classic American fruit and its traditions. Without seeds, there can be no seed-spitting contests such as the one in Luling, Tex., home to an iconic watermelon water tower, or the one in Pardeeville, Wis., where the rules are strictly enforced: No professional tobacco spitters. Denture wearers must abide by the judge's decision if their teeth go farther than the seed.


Though there is some debate about it, the flavor of old-time watermelons might also be in jeopardy. And what a flavor to lose! In "Pudd'nhead Wilson," Mark Twain described the true Southern watermelon as "a boon apart . . . when one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat." Convenience, whether it's a smaller size, a fruit without seeds or year-round availability, always seems to extract a price. And if that sounds alarmist, try to remember the last great tomato you bought at a supermarket.


The watermelon, or Citrullus lanatus, belongs to a family of climbing vines that include cucumbers and gourds. And like all fruits, they naturally have seeds. The seedless versions are not genetically modified, as some might assume, but are hybrids that have been grown in the United States since the middle of the 20th century. Breeders match the pollen from a diploid plant, one that contains 22 chromosomes per cell, and the flower of a tetraploid plant, which contains 44 chromosomes per cell. The result is a triploid with 33 chromosomes that is incapable of producing seeds. (The tiny white ones you sometimes find are seed coats, where a seed did not mature.) Breeders call it the mule of the watermelon world.


When farmers first began growing seedless watermelons, they still needed seeded varieties to pollinate them. But that has changed, says Mark Arney, president of the watermelon board, who, for the record, has never spit a watermelon seed farther than 20 feet. Over the past five or six years, the same period when the share of seeded watermelons began to drop precipitously at grocery stores, farmers began using so-called non-bearing pollinators. In other words, instead of planting a percentage of their fields with old-fashioned watermelons to pollinate, they plant another hybrid that produces the flowers that bees need but no actual fruit.


I see the trend at local grocery stores. I haven't found any seeded melons at my local Safeway this summer or at the nearby Whole Foods Market, though a staff member there told me that they sometimes carry organic watermelons with seeds.


The most reliable place to find old-school watermelons is the farmers market. That is not because of any bias in favor of old-fashioned varieties. It's because seedless watermelons are more difficult and expensive to grow. Their seeds are most successful when germinated in a greenhouse rather than outdoors, and farmers must buy hybrid seeds for the pollinator plants. More than half of the watermelons grown at Montross, Va.-based Garner Produce, a regular at Washington markets, are seeded. At Spring Valley Farm and Orchard in Morgan, W.Va., 60 percent of the melons have seeds. "It's easier," said Joe Heischman, a co-manager of the farm. "But I think the seeded ones also taste better. When we put out samples of both, people always say the seeded ones are sweeter."


That Mark Twain's angels would reject seedless watermelons is a fairly widely held belief among the minority of shoppers who have given the subject any thought. "I find seedless creepy, bland and oddly textured - sort of mealy," said Colleen Levine, a 32-year-old government affairs consultant who writes the blog Foodietots.


"Maybe it's all in the name of convenience. But I would never trade flavor just so I didn't have to deal with seeds," agreed Lisa Feng, a health-policy researcher at George Washington University. "Thank goodness for international markets that still carry these 'burdensome' fruits."


I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of seeded, seedless, yellow and the newly popular "personal" watermelons from Melissa's Produce and one seeded melon from a local farmers market.


The local melon was the runaway favorite. "Crisp and sweet with more than just a sugar-water taste," said one tester. "Yum! Oh my god, yum," was the judgment of another.


But the rest of the results didn't prove much. The runner-up was a seedless personal melon, which was sweet and refreshing but lacked the concentrated flavor of the local melon. Next came the seedless red and yellow melons, which were inoffensive but whose primary asset was being cold on an August afternoon. Bringing up the rear was the California seeded melon, which was mealy and tasteless with more seeds than flesh, though in this case that wasn't a bad thing.


"It all depends on how it was grown and if it was picked when it was ripe," said Frank Stitt, chef at the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Ala., and an evangelist for Southern food. "I have had some seedless watermelons that would rival traditional watermelon. However, it seems like the older varieties consistently have a little more intensity of flavor." At the Highlands, Stitt uses seeded watermelons.


Stitt says he isn't afraid that seeded varieties will disappear, at least in Alabama watermelon country. But he reckons that a greater public awareness of heirloom varieties could help reverse producers' relentless focus on convenience.


Stitt remembers eating rattlesnake watermelon when he was growing up, oblong fruits with light- and dark-green stripes, and sugar babies, smaller, round ones that are still common in markets today. There are a host of other heirloom varieties with romantic names, such as the white-fleshed Cream of Saskatchewan; Mountain Hoosier, which can grow to 75 pounds; and Charleston Gray, an old Southern favorite that is being revived by seed savers.


The strategy has worked wonders for tomatoes. Tasteless, round red ones still predominate at grocery stores, but the fashion for lumpy, mottled and striped tomatoes has expanded the market and the plant breeders' race to develop a supermarket variety that actually tastes good. Are watermelons ready for a renaissance? Champion seed spitters of the future should spread the word.


Source: The Washington Post via


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1.42  University of Illinois receives US$1 million USDA grant to study the Glossy15 gene system of sorghum


Urbana, Illinois, USA

8 September 2010

A $1 million USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grant will help University of Illinois researchers determine if changes in the Glossy15 gene system of sorghum will lead to enhanced bioenergy production in the future.


“Understanding how to modify crops we already know about and tailoring them to bioenergy uses is becoming increasingly important,” said Stephen Moose, U of I professor of crop sciences and member of the Energy Biosciences Institute in the Institute for Genomic Biology. “If we really want to make this happen, we need to tailor our crops to local environments and develop crops that are economically and environmentally sustainable.”


In order to improve biomass yields and conversion to bioenergy, plant traits such as growth habit, sensitivity to day length, flowering time, carbon partitioning, and nutrient use efficiency must be improved, Moose said.


In maize, researchers have found that increased expression of the Glossy15 gene delays flowering and reduces grain yields while leading to greater accumulation of total biomass and stalk sugars. In addition, the nitrogen requirements to maximize total biomass are much less for the hybrids with higher Glossy15 expression.


“Because of the close relationship between maize and sorghum, it’s possible that interactions between the genes in maize will help program differences in shoot maturation that distinguish grain, sweet and biomass sorghum cultivars,” he said. “We are interested in finding out if this gene can be used to convert superior sorghum grain hybrids to cultivars enhanced for bioenergy production.”


Through comparative genomics, targeted resequencing, RNA expression analysis and association mapping, U of I researchers plan to further characterize sorghum in order to regulate shoot maturation.


“Collectively, our results may lead to improved sorghum cultivars optimized for sustainable, low-cost production of biomass for lignocellulosic processing,” he said.


Their project titled “Functional analysis of regulatory networks linking shoot maturation, stem carbon partitioning, and nutrient utilization in sorghum” has been approved for the next three years. Researchers include Moose and Patrick Brown of the U of I, and Max Moehs of Arcadia Biosciences in California.


USDA AFRI grants are awarded to projects that accelerate plant breeding programs and improve biomass feedstocks by characterizing the genes, proteins, and molecular interactions that influence biomass production. Their goal is to lay the groundwork for biofuels derived from lignocellulosic biomass materials.




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1.43  Chinese scientists complete genome framework map of the common wild rice


10 September 2010

After the high coverage sequencing, splicing and assembly of common wild rice genome, the genome framework map was completed by a research team led by Prof. Gao Lizhi at the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). This is the first wild rice genome sequencing project completed by Chinese scientists and is also the first wild rice genome framework map with high heterozygosity in the world. It was shown that common wild rice genome had nearly 370 million base pairs and contained about 40,000 genes. The sequencing depth was 70 times of the genome size and 92% of the wild rice genome had been covered, as well as more than 90% of the genes. At present, the research team is stepping up the detailed genome map of common wild rice.


Following the indica (9311) genome framework map completed by Chinese scientists, the common wild rice genome framework map and further sequencing of the detailed genome map will promote the large-scale analysis and identification of important functional rice genes to provide unprecedented opportunities for high-throughput mining and utilizing of excellent wild rice genetic resources. It will also boost the improvement of rice varieties and germplasm and make it possible for an in-depth understanding of the origin and acclimation mechanisms of cultivated rice in Asia.

Original article:"




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1.44  Scientists test corn genes with MAGIC


Washington, DC, USA

13 September 2010

A new method for testing gene function in maize plants has been created by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists and university cooperators.


Peter Balint-Kurti, a geneticist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at the agency's Plant Science Research Unit in Raleigh, N.C., teamed up with colleagues Guri Johal and Cliff Weil at Purdue University to create MAGIC, an acronym that stands for "mutant-assisted gene identification and characterization." ARS is the USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.


MAGIC is a gene-centered approach that uses mutant genes or other genetic variants controlling a trait of interest as "reporters" to identify novel genes and variants for that trait. This method offers researchers a new way of sifting through the large amount of natural genetic variation to identify and map versions of genes important for the control of specific, agriculturally useful traits.


Balint-Kurti and colleagues recently demonstrated MAGIC's usefulness when examining hypersensitive response in maize. Hypersensitive response is a defense mechanism used by all plants in which one or a few cells surrounding the site of a pathogen attack kill themselves to prevent further spread of the pathogen.


The research team experimented with mutant gene Rp1-D21, which causes hypersensitive-response lesions to form spontaneously all over a plant regardless of whether a pathogen is present. The researchers crossed a plant containing Rp1-D21 with two popular maize inbred lines, one of which partially suppresses hypersensitive response and the other which partially enhances it, to identify a genomic location involved in the pathway controlling the start or local spread of hypersensitive response.


The scientists are currently conducting more hypersensitive response studies. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the scientists are now using MAGIC to identify other genomic regions responsible for hypersensitive response.


This research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.

Details about MAGIC were recently published in the scientific journals Crop Science and Genetics.


Read more about this and other research to improve corn in the September 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.




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1.45  Mars, USDA-ARS and IBM unveil preliminary cacao genome sequence three years ahead of schedule


Mclean, Virginia, USA

15 September 2010

Today, Mars, Incorporated, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), and IBM released the preliminary findings of their breakthrough cacao genome sequence and made it available in the public domain.  This is the result of a joint research endeavor to improve the cocoa growing process and represents a successful private/public partnership for the benefit of the world's cocoa farmers, and a more sustainable world cocoa supply.


The preliminary sequencing of the cacao genome is a promising first step in advancing farmers' ability to plant more robust, higher yielding and drought and disease-resistant trees. The results of the research will be made available to the public with permanent access via the Cacao Genome Database to ensure that the data remains perpetually open without patent, as well as to allow scientists to begin applying the findings immediately to crop cultivation efforts.  


With approximately 6.5 million farmers depending on cocoa for their livelihoods – most of them coming from small, family-run farms, cocoa is a crucial crop for their survival and the economies of their nations.  However, cocoa crops have always been plagued by serious global losses from pests and diseases, and to date, there has been very little investment in scientific research to improve the cacao tree.


"As the global leader in cocoa science, we understand the importance of not only investing in this research, but making it publicly available for all to benefit," said Howard-Yana Shapiro, Ph.D., global head of plant science and research at Mars, Incorporated. "As a private company, Mars is in a unique position to drive and fund fundamental science that will support its long term focus and vision.  Although it may not benefit the bottom line in the short term, in the long run, it will ensure mutually beneficial results for the company, cocoa farmers and tree crop production in key regions of the world."


Decades of Mars research has led to major innovations in the areas of sustainable cocoa farming technology. The company's latest partnership – blending Mars' cocoa expertise, USDA-ARS' extensive experience with other major crops and IBM's technology – is an example of the role business can play in addressing challenging global issues.


The results of this uniquely collaborative project —which were delivered three years early due to Mars' scientific leadership, advances in genome technology and constant real-time collaboration with key partners—mark a significant scientific milestone that is already starting to benefit millions of farmers, particularly in  West Africa where more than 70 percent of the world's cocoa crop is produced. By making the results publicly available, scientists will have access to key learnings to advance plant science, while plant breeders and farmers around the world will be able to develop cacao trees that are more sustainable, and can better fend off the environmental assaults that inflict $700 to $800 million in damages to farmers' crops each year.


"Genome sequencing helps eliminate much of the guess-work of traditional crop cultivation," continued Mars' Shapiro. "Cocoa is what some researchers describe as an 'orphan crop,' because it has been the subject of little agricultural research compared to corn, wheat and rice.  This effort, which will allow fast and accurate traditional breeding, is about applying the best of what science has to offer in taking an under-served crop and under-served population and giving them both the chance to flourish."  


"The collaboration with Mars and the USDA-ARS leverages more than a decade of IBM Research's experience in computational biology, as well as the power of the Blue Gene supercomputer," said Ajay Royyuru, senior manager, IBM Computational Biology Center. "By assembling the sequence fragments into the complete genome sequence and developing a detailed genetic map, we can help maximize the potential yield and income for cocoa farmers and catalyze future research and endeavors involving the cacao tree."  


Mars was the primary funder of the project, investing millions into the research. Other partners in addition to the USDA-ARS Subtropical Horticulture Research Station in Miami, and the Jamie Whitten Research Center in Stoneville, Miss., and IBM, include:  Clemson University Genomics Institute; Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA) at the University of California-Davis; National Center for Genome Resources; Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics at Indiana University; HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology; and Washington State University. Moving forward, the collaboration will continue to analyze and characterize the cocoa genome in preparation for submission to peer-reviewed publications.


"The talent and dedication brought together through this partnership is unmatched," concluded Shapiro. "Our work is not over, however – we have a shared responsibility to continue our research and release new information to the public as we continue on this path of discovery."


For more information, please visit, or




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1.46  Draft genome sequence of the oilseed species Ricinus communis


August 2010

Agnes P Chan, Jonathan Crabtree, Qi Zhao, Hernan Lorenzi, Joshua Orvis, Daniela Puiu, Admasu Melake-Berhan, Kristine M Jones, Julia Redman, Grace Chen, Edgar B Cahoon, Melaku Gedil, Mario Stanke, Brian J Haas, Jennifer R Wortman, Claire M Fraser-Liggett, Jacques Ravel & Pablo D Rabinowicz


Nature Biotechnology 28 , 951–956 (2010)  |  doi:10.1038/nbt.1674

Received 30 June 2010 Accepted 02 August 2010 Published online 22 August 2010



Castor bean (Ricinus communis) is an oilseed crop that belongs to the spurge (Euphorbiaceae) family, which comprises ~6,300 species that include cassava (Manihot esculenta), rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) and physic nut (Jatropha curcas). It is primarily of economic interest as a source of castor oil, used for the production of high-quality lubricants because of its high proportion of the unusual fatty acid ricinoleic acid. However, castor bean genomics is also relevant to biosecurity as the seeds contain high levels of ricin, a highly toxic, ribosome-inactivating protein. Here we report the draft genome sequence of castor bean (4.6-fold coverage), the first for a member of the Euphorbiaceae. Whereas most of the key genes involved in oil synthesis and turnover are single copy, the number of members of the ricin gene family is larger than previously thought. Comparative genomics analysis suggests the presence of an ancient hexaploidization event that is conserved across the dicotyledonous lineage.


Source and access to full text




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1.47  How cells manage genes is focus of new study


Tallahassee, Florida, USA

September 2010

In a field of maize, no two leafy stalks of multicolored corn will look exactly the same, even though they grew from seed cells with identical genetic material.


How cells with identical genomes can express different traits is a longstanding biology puzzle. Now, a distinguished team of Florida State University scientists and a researcher from Florida A&M University (FAMU) will work on that puzzle with a new, $1.45 million grant from the National Science Foundation.


The cutting-edge pilot study is expected to shed light on the cellular mechanisms that regulate gene expression.


In other words, said Florida State molecular biologist Hank W. Bass, the project leader, this study intends to uncover the fundamental principles of how cells manage their genetic information.


"What we find will provide insights and valuable comparisons for understanding how other plants and animals regulate their genetic information," Bass said. "It may bridge a gap between molecular genetics and cell biology, and could have important implications for how to study and understand basic processes in humans such as development and disease."


In the process, the research could lead to better maize quality and yield. Bass noted that understanding genetic control of processes such as seed development and grain fill have major implications for improving the yield or quality of maize seed.


"In corn, the kernel stores food, energy and vitamins," Bass said. "These are the direct or indirect products of gene activity. Findings from this project are therefore likely to have important agronomic implications for improving corn."


Bass compares the genome of maize or any other plant or animal to a library, where each book represents a gene.


"Libraries have thousands of books, like genomes have thousands of genes, yet only a small portion of the genes in each type of cell are active at any given time," he said. "In the library analogy, only some of the books would be physically accessible — others may be housed in the building, but locked away in a room that cannot be accessed. Genomes also segregate their component genes into accessible and inaccessible genetic material, but the genome is dynamic, rapidly able to reorganize itself in order to change gene activity as required for processes such as progression through the cell division cycle or tissue and organ development.


"Our study proposes to combine biochemical and microscopic techniques to access and map the regions of the genome that are accessible versus inaccessible," Bass said.


The research is considered vital because genome organization is the prerequisite to its function.


On the study's distinguished transdisciplinary team are FSU co-principal investigators Karen M. McGinnis and Jonathan H. Dennis. Florida State recruited the molecular biologists/geneticists in 2008 and 2009, respectively, for the Integrating Genotype and Phenotype research "cluster" that Bass and fellow biologist David Houle helped to develop as a part of the university's ongoing Pathways of Excellence initiative. Earlier this year, McGinnis garnered a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the NSF. Dennis is a pioneer in the mapping of human chromatin. From 2003-2007, Bass led an NSF-funded project to map genes onto maize chromosomes using advanced microscopic techniques.


Joining the team from FAMU's College of Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agricultural Sciences is Professor Oghenekome U. Onokpise, who collaborated with Bass on the earlier NSF-funded maize study.


Advanced technology will play a major role in the new research.


"My co-investigator Jonathan Dennis has pioneered the use of combined biochemical, genomic and computational techniques to study the functional organization of human chromatin, the complex mixture, including DNA and associated proteins in which gene expression occurs," Bass said. "Surprisingly, maize and humans have almost identical genome sizes and complexities. We have simply substituted maize tissues for human tissues, and the maize genome for the human genome, and plan to transfer the technologies from animals to plants."


The researchers will develop new tools for identifying how the maize genome is organized at the chromatin level and how its organization changes in response to development and genetic inputs.


Mapping all that is a pretty big deal, Bass said.


"If one can map how a cell and indeed how an entire plant determines which genes are turned on or off in response to a change in the environment, or the presence of disease, or even during the plant's journey from seed to maturity, it may be possible to affect the outcome," he said.


"The National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program funds projects such as this to promote truly basic research on fundamental questions like 'How does that work?'" Bass said. "The long-term benefits of NSF-funded research are sometimes unexpected, but rarely disappointing."




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1.48  Cisgenics- Transgenics without the Transgene


20 September 2010

by Kevin Folta

Recently at the International Horticultural Congress in Lisbon, Portugal, a workshop was dedicated to transgenic crop biology and its integration with public perception.  As mentioned in previous posts, the central theme is to placate the misinformed public opinion by using clever technologies to circumvent traditional unfounded criticisms of biotechnology.


Dr. Franz Krenz was the first speaker of the session.  His focus was in describing what have been known as cisgenic technologies, or the moniker sometimes applied to allele-specific marker assisted selection, precision breeding.*  Dr. Krenz and colleagues have adopted a very strict interpretation of what cisgenic means.  By his definition, a cisgenic plant contains regulatory regions and protein-coding regions from the same species, shuttled by biotechnological means.  There are no bacterial genes for resistance, no viral promoters, no other genic sequences. Corn to corn, rice to rice, quince to quince.  It would be like moving a gene that controls eye color from one person to another to another to make their blue eyes brown.  Homo sapiens to Homo sapiens.  Nothing fancy.


In plants naturally-occurring beneficial gene variants are quite common, yet oftentimes occur in unimproved species with limited commercial potential.  Specific gene variants confer resistance to disease, variation in flowering time and production traits like fruit size and yield.  These have been described in many horticultural and agronomic crops.  To breed these traits into existing lines using traditional crossing methods might take decades, depending on the crop.  For example, apple scab prevention requires 20-30 sprays per season, sprays that weigh on the environment, the farmer’s bottom line, and place more chemicals into consumer products.  For a long time science has searched for a solution. In 1946 scientists identified natural resistance to scab in Malus floribunda, a wild apple relative.  The gene was identified years later.


Back in the 50′s, crosses were made, and the resistance to scab moved to new commercial lines- along with >30,000 other genes that were potentially inconsistent with commercial apple qualities.  This phenomenon of linkage drag means that you can’t easily just breed in a single desired trait, that you bring the rest of the non-commercial qualities along for the meiotic ride into subsequent generations.  To get the apple-scab resistance gene into plant lines with commercial apple potential took almost fifty years!


Imagine if that single beneficial gene could be picked up and moved to a new line without all the deleterious genetic baggage?  Certainly modern transgenic technologies could do (and did) just that.  Yet to survive the non-scientific onslaught of anti-transgenic interests, scientists had to work around the traditional means of transgenic technologies to make it acceptable.  Over the last decade, scientists have isolated that one beneficial gene, and only that gene, and moved it alone to commercial plants.


The process took a few years rather than five decades and the cost to achieve this and deregulate was about €6M instead of ten times that and many scientist careers.   Dutch consumers do find this form of genetic engineering acceptable, as it provides a healthy product with less chemical intervention and lower environmental impact.  Plus, it is apple genes into apples.  We do that already with crosses.


Still there are opponents to the technology, but most of their their weak arguments disabled via these techniques.  Unfortunately, the end product is the same, maybe even less effective, than if traditional transgenic approaches were used, and it takes a lot more time and money to make it happen.


This is just one example of how scientists are cleverly working around warped public perception problems to solve real issues, and enhance sustainable production.  Cisgenics will be at least a stop-gap solution in the European Union until public education and perception refocus real problems in sustainable agriculture.  For now, the practices of cisgenics may be the central means of introducing traits to plants that can benefit the consumer and environment without the lengthy breeding process, and most of all without raising the ire of those that seek to stop transgenic technology.


*Precision Breeding has also been used to refer to marker assisted selection (MAS), which is a tool for checking the results of breeding experiments, not a type of genetic engineering.


Kevin Folta is an Associate Professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Armed with a fist-full of genome data and the molecular toolkit to put it to work, his goal is to exploit technology to its fullest to feed more people, more nutritious food, with less environmental impact. Unfortunately, well-meaning science deniers stand to obstruct this mission. Wielding the steely sword of science and the velveteen fist of rhetoric, Kevin seeks to win their hearts and change their minds so that we can advance the cause of using biotechnology to feed more people with less harm to our planet.




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1.49  Cotton research community thrilled by genome sequencing announcement


22 September 2010

Cotton research was given a boost at the 5th biennial International Cotton Genome Initiative (ICGI) meeting being held at CSIRO Canberra, Australia, where scientist Ryan Rapp announced that Monsanto, in a collaboration with the sequencing company Illumina, had sequenced the genome of the non-cultivated Peruvian cotton relative, Gossypium raimondii. The Peruvian cotton genome is much smaller and simpler to sequence than that of commercial cotton (G. hirsutum), which like many crop plants, is an ancient polyploid hybrid with twice as many chromosomes. Half of cotton’s chromosomes constitute what is called the “D” subgenome and are closely related to the chromosomes of G. raimondii. The sequence will serve a critical role as the reference for future assembly of the larger cotton crop genome. Cotton is the most important fiber crop worldwide and this sequence information will open the way for more rapid breeding for higher yield, better fiber quality and adaptation to environmental stresses and for insect and disease resistance.


Monsanto and Illumina will donate the sequence to the public effort by depositing the genetic data into the public domain through entry in the GenBank database, hosted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). The new sequence data will significantly complement the previously developed resources and ongoing cotton genome research that underpin the ultimate goal of cotton genome sequencing, such as linkage maps, transcriptome characterization, and physical map development.


Rapp stressed the importance of involving the cotton research community in analysing the sequence, identifying genes and gene families and determining the future directions of research. A number of workshops and video conferences will be held by the cotton research community to coordinate efforts. Within the ICGI organisation there are many scientists with resources and expertise that will make an important contribution to making the best use of the sequence. ICGI is delighted by this contribution and wholeheartedly thanks Monsanto and Illumina.


Dr. David Stelly, a cotton researcher with Texas A&M University and Texas AgriLife Research, attending the ICGI meeting said “A public reference genome sequence is essential to efficient use of modern genomic technologies for both non-GE and GE approaches to genetic improvement”. “The lack of a good public reference genome for cotton has been among the most serious constraints on development of cotton genomics. The ongoing efforts by Monsanto and Illumina will lead to a good public reference genome for cotton, and help stimulate the creation of new and more efficient research paradigms in cotton research and improvement. These will be needed if society is to meet additional demands of the future, when we'll have to produce more, yet use fewer resources.”


Tianzhen Zhang, molecular geneticist at Nanjing Agricultural University, commented, “Most countries will be very interested in using the sequence to advance their development of molecular breeding”.


Dr. Liz Dennis, a cotton molecular biologist from CSIRO, said “the availability of the sequence will revolutionize cotton research in Australia. Having the sequence will allow us to find genes and markers for increased yield and resistance to diseases. The first ICGI meeting was in Canberra 10 years ago and I’m delighted by the progress over that time”.


“ICGI” welcomes this opportunity for this public/private cooperation. ICGI is looking forward to coordinating the community to take full advantage of this resource” quoted Richard Percy, Chair of ICGI. For more information, contact




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1.50  Scientists develop marker system for rice kernel length elongation traits


Kernel length in rice (Oryza sativa L.) is regulated by different stretches of DNA, wherein the gene GS3 is the most essential because it controls 80-90% of the variation in kernel length. Previous studies have shown that when the exon or the portion of DNA that codes information for protein synthesis of the GS3 is mutated, maximum variations in the kernel length were observed. M. S. Madhav and other scientists of the Directorate of Rice Research, India, developed a simple marker system named DRR-GL using polymerase chain reaction, a technique used to amplify a single or few copies of a piece of DNA, forming thousands to millions of copies of a particular DNA sequence. This was done to target small changes in the DNA sequence of GS3. The marker was validated using a segregating population and 152 rice varieties and was found to be associated with the kernel length and elongation after cooking. According to the scientists, the marker is easy to use, saves time and cost, and could also be utilized for large-scale marker-assisted selection for the kernel length trait.


Subscribers of Molecular Breeding can download the complete research article at


Source: Crop Biotech Update 27 August 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.51  Cloning will boost fight against wheat diseases



10 September 2010

Wheat breeders can now more easily select cultivars resistant to two of Australia’s most damaging wheat diseases - tan (yellow) spot and Stagonospora (septoria) nodorum blotch - thanks to a research breakthrough.


Work at the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) supported Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Pathogens (ACNFP) has contributed to a United States team cloning and sequencing a gene associated with the diseases.


Yellow spot is the most damaging wheat disease in Australia and in Western Australia, causing current annual losses of $212 million nationally.


Septoria is the second worst wheat disease in Western Australia, and the third most damaging in Australia, causing national losses of $108 million.


A team led by geneticist Justin Faris of the Cereal Crops Research Unit in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, has cloned and sequenced the gene for tan spot necrosis 1 (Tsn1).


Tsn1 is the protein produced by susceptible wheat cultivars which helps yellow spot and septoria to infect the leaves.


ACNFP director and GRDC western panel deputy chairman Richard Oliver said ACNFP had identified some wheat cultivars containing a genetic marker previously used to identify susceptible lines, but which did not react to the diseases.


“This was a small but significant step in cloning the Tsn1 gene,” Professor Oliver said.


“Cloning the gene not only means we understand how these two pathogens cause disease, it also means we can give breeders more versatile tools to help them select resistant lines.


“Having the Tsn1 gene cloned means breeders can add a so-called ‘perfect marker’ into their breeding program.


“Previously there was a discrepancy between the old marker and disease resistance.


“The use of the new ‘perfect marker’ means it will be easier to eliminate the susceptible cultivars and we should be well on the way to slashing losses to these diseases.”


Meanwhile, growers are urged to choose wheat varieties resistant to tan (yellow) spot and septoria, particularly if they farm in areas prone to the diseases.


“Growers should choose resistant varieties and therefore reduce or eliminate the need for foliar fungicides,” Professor Oliver said.


“This advice applies particularly to wheat sown into wheat stubble.


“Choosing resistant varieties will put downward pressure on inoculum levels of these damaging diseases.”


Growers can obtain information on state-based disease resistance ratings for wheat varieties by visiting the National Variety Trials (NVT) website


The NVT program, funded by the GRDC, involves more than 580 trials sown at more than 250 locations each year.


The GRDC recently recontracted ACNFP research work, led by Professor Oliver, with the Curtin University of Technology.




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2.01  American Seed Trade Association outlines best management practices to maintain quality seed in new guide


Alexandria, Virginia, USA

9 September 2010

The American Seed Trade Association updated its Guide to Seed Quality Management Practices to include phytosanitary components.


“The original guide, released in 2008, was well received by the seed industry,” says Ric Dunkle, ASTA senior director of seed health and trade. “When we released it, people began looking at it and coming back to us with recommendations, which have been taken into consideration in the new version.”


The Guide to Seed Quality Management is designed as an educational tool and to provide general guidance to assist companies in developing and implementing their quality management systems. The guide provides information for maintaining seed product integrity from incorporation of a trait into a breeding program through commercial seed production and sale.


“The previous version focused on quality management systems for maintaining genetic integrity,” says Bernice Slutsky, ASTA vice president for science and international affairs. “The addition of phytosanitary information integrity really completes the guide.”


The guide consists of eight modules covering everything from incorporating seed into a breeding program to commercial seed sales. It also provides users with a list of terms and acronyms, resources, general auditing principles and an International Standard Organization.


Many companies have internal procedures to help keep seed free from disease, Dunkle says. “Countries regulate disease and associate different levels of risk with each one based on if they see it as a threat to their country or not,” he says. “The guide provides some basic protocols companies can use to maintain quality seed such as how to prevent outside pests from being introduced to your facilities or plant stock.”


Readers will be able to easily identify the new content, as the font is displayed in a different color. The guide is available online for free at in both a modular and PDF version.


It’s a practical guide, Slutsky says, and one that all seed companies can use and modify to meet the needs of their business.


“Having established requirements or standard operating procedures, when it comes to seed movement, is imperative in today’s marketplace,” Dunkle says. “This guide should help them develop quality seed best management practices and avoid problems in the area of pest management by preventing seed from becoming exposed to certain organisms and taking proper measures—from the obvious such as properly sanitizing equipment to the not so obvious such as testing irrigation water.”


The Guide to Seed Quality Management Practices is based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP). Companies can pick and choose what sections apply to their business.


“The guide should be thought of as a skeleton,” Slutsky says. “Companies can use the guide as a general framework that can be adapted to their specific operations.”


ASTA will work on an outreach program to further enhance the guide and help companies establish a plan specific to their operation.




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2.02  New book explores history, future of international agriculture


A historical perspective and glimpse of the future of one scientific society’s role in world agronomy


Madison, Wisconsin, USA

9 September 2010

For more than 100 years, scientists have made the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) a force for international change to improve agriculture. A new book, The International Dimension of the American Society of Agronomy: Past and Future, provides both a historical overview and a glimpse of the future of the world of agronomy.


The contributions of science to agriculture over the last century are impossible to ignore. Despite a fourfold increase in world population and higher economic demand per person, efficiency gains have allowed 3% of the U.S. population to provide basic food needs and still export massive amounts of grain to the rest of the world.


The book features a look forward with viewpoint essays from leading agronomists who prophesize the future of world agronomy in the context of:

· changing diets

· food crises

· biofuels

· fertilizer trends

· organic agriculture

· under-investment in agricultural research


Essays from this new book include historical perspectives from a range of contemporary international issues that agronomists and scientists will need to address in the coming century. The book is published by the American Society of Agronomy.


The book was edited by Bill Payne and John Ryan, both spending major parts of their careers with international agricultural centers and whose mission is to address global poverty, hunger, and environmental degradation. They hope that the book will serve to expand public interest in international agriculture and lead to enhanced funding for research in international agriculture.


The International Dimension of the American Society of Agronomy: Past and Future is 126 pages, softcover, and available from the American Society of Agronomy for $30 at, or call 608-268-4960 or email




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2.03  “Biotecnología y Mejoramiento Vegetal II”, un libro a ciencia cierta


22 September 2010


Esta obra consta de 652 páginas y reúne contribuciones de 143 investigadores y especialistas que trabajan en diferentes áreas relacionadas con las nuevas técnicas de mejoramiento vegetal. Se puede bajar desde los sitios de INTA y de ArgenBio.


El periodista Germán Sopeña escribió un libro de crónicas que tituló "La libertad es un tren", en estos tiempos que corren esa frase puede trocar en "la libertad es Internet". Es así que desde hoy profesores, estudiantes e interesados en la biología, la agronomía y carreras afines podrán acceder libremente a la versión online del libro "Biotecnología y Mejoramiento Vegetal II" realizado por Ediciones INTA y ArgenBio, y que próximamente saldrá a la venta en formato papel.


Esta publicación actualiza, profundiza y extiende conocimientos clave en el campo de la biotecnología vegetal y sus aplicaciones. Esteban Hopp -coordinador del Área Estratégica Biología molecular, Bioinformática y Genética de avanzada del INTA Castelar y editor de este volumen- explicó que "este libro se utiliza como texto en universidades en, por ejemplo, los cursos de Genética y Biotecnología. Su valor es muy alto ya que no sólo se lo estudia en la Argentina sino además es referencia en países como México, Ecuador y España".


Gabriela Levitus -directora Ejecutiva de ArgenBio y editora- amplió: "Esta obra es única en Latinoamérica en su género. Esta segunda edición amplía en conocimientos y ejemplos a la primera editada en 2004. Esperamos que este lanzamiento constituya una herramienta útil y accesible para docentes, estudiantes y profesionales que se dedican y se dedicarán a la noble tarea de mejorar la agricultura".


Según los editores, "en el contexto de los principios básicos del mejoramiento las tecnologías evolucionan rápidamente y, del mismo modo, se acelera la transferencia del conocimiento básico a las aplicaciones. Esta edición intenta reflejar este proceso dinámico y aportar información actualizada con ejemplos de aplicaciones al mejoramiento de diferentes especies vegetales".


Hoja por hoja

Este libro -editado por Gabriela Levitus, Viviana Echenique, Clara Rubinstein, Esteban Hopp y Luis Mroginski- consta de 652 páginas y reúne las contribuciones de 143 investigadores y especialistas que trabajan en diferentes áreas relacionadas con las nuevas técnicas de mejoramiento vegetal.


Dividido en siete capítulos, "Biotecnología y Mejoramiento Vegetal II" presenta una sección de herramientas básicas y dedica varios capítulos a las técnicas de cultivo de tejidos y micropropagación que se utilizan para generar variabilidad, conservar germoplasma, producir clones libres de enfermedades o para la generación de plantas transgénicas. Se incluyen además las aplicaciones de estas técnicas a casos específicos.


Consideradas herramientas clave para el mejoramiento, el libro también profundiza en las "ómicas" -genómica, transcriptómica, metabolómica- por su importancia en la investigación básica, el mapeo de genes, la identificación de marcadores moleculares y también en la identificación de funciones y redes regulatorias que influyen en las características que se desean mejorar.


Un lugar destacado merece la transgénesis, debido al potencial y versatilidad que ofrece esta tecnología para la obtención de cultivos tolerantes a estrés biótico y abiótico, a plagas y enfermedades o con mejoras en su calidad nutricional. Estos avances se presentan en el contexto de la adopción global de los cultivos transgénicos, el papel que desempeñan en la Argentina, y otros temas relacionados con la tecnología, como la percepción pública y aspectos regulatorios y de bioseguridad.


Se puede acceder al libro en y en la biblioteca de




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2.04  DTZ report on the economic benefits of plant breeding


The DTZ’s report on the economic benefits of plant breeding has now been finalised and the final version is attached in case you would like to include it in a future edition of PBN. Copies can be obtained by e-mailing


Penny Maplestone

Chief Executive

British Society of Plant Breeders Ltd.


Executive Summary

DTZ was commissioned by BSPB to conduct an independent economic impact assessment of the work of its members.

The aim is to highlight the benefits delivered to the UK economy through new plant varieties developed by plant breeders and to highlight that these benefits are delivered by the major UK breeders without public subsidy.

The report considers impacts relating to key crops including wheat, barley and forage maize.



Three areas of impact are highlighted as follows:

Yield increase - the gross value of the yield increase since 1982 attributable to plant breeders is estimated to be £373 - £445 million per annum in 2010 prices.

Import substitution and the UK milling industry - Plant breeding has provided the varieties that have enabled home grown wheat used for milling to grow by 57% between 1982 and 2009, or 1.7 million tonnes. This has helped to safeguard up to 750 UK milling jobs and £300 million of annual UK milling turnover. By reducing imports, plant breeders have helped support annual emissions reductions of 113,000 tonnes per annum of carbon dioxide and transport savings of £51 million per annum.

UK branded bread market – worth £2.9 billion, plant breeders have supported the trend to use 100% British wheat. Hovis has a 9% turnover growth target over the next 3 years worth £33 million or £10 million per year. Meeting this target will be dependent on strong promotion, product innovation and UK provenance claims which would not be possible without the efforts of plant breeders.



By developing new higher yielding barley varieties plant breeders have provided UK farmers with an additional £75.6 million per annum of malting barley.

The additional alcohol extracted from malting barley as a result of the efforts of plant breeders has created:

For distillers, an extra 17.8 - 66.8 million potential bottles with a retail value on the whisky export market of £129 - £483 million per annum.

For brewers, a potential additional £148 million per annum of beer. However, brewers simply buy less malt as the beer market is declining. This saves them £3.9 million per annum on input costs.

Processibility – reductions in beta glucan content in barley have allowed significant productivity improvements worth £105 million in reduced staff costs per annum to the brewing industry.



By developing low GN varieties, plant breeders have helped to safeguard one of the UK’s largest whisky export markets – USA and Canada – from future regulatory change. These markets were worth £466 million per annum in 2009.

The efforts of plant breeders have helped to safeguard the UK malting industry which exists in a highly competitive market with UK turnover of £511 million per annum and employment of 2,000 FTEs (Full Time Equivalents).


Forage Maize

By developing new, early maturing, forage maize varieties, plant breeders have supported rapid growth in the UK area of forage maize as farmers have recognised, and adopted, the benefits.

Results of independent research show a financial benefit of £0.52 per cow per day, equating to £80 per cow over the winter period.

On this basis plant breeders have supported provision of better rations worth £66 million per annum to the equivalent of 96% of UK intensive dairy herds.



By developing new, early maturing, forage maize varieties, plant breeders have supported rapid growth in the UK area of forage maize as farmers have recognised, and adopted, the benefits.

The table below provides a summary which shows that the annual benefits are in the range £1 – 1.3 billion per annum with a further £1.3 billion of safeguarded economic activity.



Wheat yield at feed prices


Potential additional milling wheat premium


Transport cost savings


Hovis provenance claims



Barley yield


Additional beer


Brewing processibility


Additional whisky


Forage maize

Forage maize improved dairy productivity


Plus safeguarding:

UK Maltsters


UK Millers


Key whisky markets



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2.05  The GCP 2009 Annual Report is now available


If you wish to receive a copy by post, please request one from Communications Assistant Gillian Summers, indicating your mailing address.


An electronic PDF version is online. To view other current GCP publications, please visit our publications page.


Source: Gcpnews Issue 50--October 2010


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3.01  ISAAA announces the launch of a new user-friendly and interactive website of its India Biotech Information Centre


The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) announces the launch of a new user-friendly and interactive website of its India Biotech Information Centre (BIC). India BIC website ( is a one-stop-shop for reliable information on genetically modified (GM) crops and agri-biotech related developments in the country. It contains the most comprehensive and packaged information related to GM crops and also features most updated information related to biotech policy and regulatory environment in the country.


Catering to the needs of multiple stakeholders, the website filters and logically decodes complex biotech science related information so as to expand the understanding of biotechnologies in agriculture. It also features important research publications, short and snappy documents and biotech video documentaries that are translated in major Indian languages.


Major ISAAA publications including ISAAA's flagship annual Brief on the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops, Briefs on Bt Brinjal and Science Communication, series of Biotech Crop Profiles and ISAAA series of Facts & Trends are made available free in downloadable format. In addition, publication highlighting the significance of the seed and new crop technologies; downloadable biotech videos; attractive gallery of posters related to GM crops and a series of Pocket Ks on crop biotechnology are placed on the website for use by students, researchers, scientists, farmers, general public and concerned stakeholders. All publications released in the past are available in the archive section.


An interesting feature of the website is a column "Latest News & Views" that updates readers with the new developments in the area of crop biotechnology on a daily basis. It also includes Crop Biotech Update (CBU), a weekly summary of news on latest developments in crop biotechnology in the Asia and Pacific region. For up-to-date news in the area of biosafety regulation and policy matters, a "Policy & Regulatory Bulletin" contains the most sought-after information on biotech regulation in India including decision and policy documents placed for public information. Relevant reports and publications of significance to Indian agriculture are also made available in the form of "Information Capsule".


Visitors of India BIC website are encouraged to send their feedback and suggestions for improvement of this website to and




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3.02  Behind the Greens interviews provide educational info for consumers


Take a walk on wild side with U.C. Davis tomato researcher Roger Chetelat in his Behind the Greens video clip, as well as Fred Bliss, as he talks about the key to peach variety in his video clip The key to peach variety? It's all in the roots.  Behind the Greens video clips are coordinated with Vantage Point Media and their educational website.


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3.03  A simple way to create haploid plants without the need for tissue culture


Simon Chan, UC Davis Plant Biologist, talks about Plants With One Genetic Parent on YouTube


Dr. Simon Chan talks about a novel method that his group recently discovered for producing plants that carry genetic material from only one of their parents. His discovery enables a simple way to create haploid plants without the need for tissue culture.


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3.04  The Plant Breeders' Directory is online


21 September 2010


As part of its ongoing efforts to foster an all inclusive global network of scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders engaged in the conservation, utilization and dissemination of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), GIPB has the pleasure to launch the Plant Breeders’ Directory (PB-Directory).

This new tool enables you to network with colleagues worldwide thereby permitting you to:

•    Interact with people working on themes of mutual interest

•    Explore the works of other people and groups

•    Showcase your own work and skills

•    Create or join interest groups


Please note that, if you are a subscriber of GIPB, the information of your account has been used to create a new account now available under the PB-Directory. Please click on the link below to access the homepage of the PB-Directory and to log in to your account:


Please take a few minutes to enter the information of your new profile. In addition to the basic information, you will notice that more specific sections have been created, such as:

•    Areas of work (for stakeholder communication)

•    Expertise

•    Breeding methods /approaches

•    Cultivar(s) developed


This will allow other members to know more about you, and thus to contribute to the building of a community for crop improvement.


In case you need further information and if you wish to send some suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact us by answering to this email.


With best regards

The GIPB team


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5.01  China Vegetable Research & Development Lead-000T0




Provide leadership for all R&D activities and interface with the country business management team

·          Lead the country R&D team to develop a fully loaded and highly competitive breeding pipeline consistent with the country commercial strategy.

·          Represent R&D in the country vegetable business leadership team and assure communication and connectivity between business functions (commercial, technology development, manufacturing, etc.) and the country/ regional/ global R&D leadership to make sure alignment of R&D strategy and initiatives with the commercial objectives.

·          Prepare and deliver presentations to country, region and global R&D leadership teams on key project status, strategy, and portfolio.

·          Develop plans and facilitate the execution of long-range R&D infrastructure development to meet country, regional and global business needs consistent with global R&D strategic plans.


Facilitate R&D Activities, assuring compliance with country and regional requirements

·          Provide overall management of the country R&D program including facilities, budget, recruitment, people development, and guidance to country breeding program assuring alignment with business needs and adoption of technologies to enhance breeding. 

·          Work closely with Finance, ESH, country, region and global R&D leadership on safety initiatives.

·          Work closely with R&D breeding leads to set and implement country breeding strategy from an operational perspective.

·          Work closely with country, region and global R&D leadership to ensure Intellectual Property protection.  

·          Assure proper seed movement protocols for seed shipments to and from country.

·          Coordinate the contracting of services and materials in support of country R&D activities.


Develop people and build a talented workforce

·         Work closely with HR to develop talent acquisition strategy in support of the business strategy.

·         Coordinate training that fosters the development of the existing workforce in R&D.

·         Develop and leverage relationships within the market that help position the company for hiring of a talented workforce.

·         Active involvement in establishing and reviewing individual and project goals in close coordination with functional leads and HR. 


Lead the country R&D budgeting process and monitor program spending

·         Provide input to the regional and global R&D Leads on investment needs (people and infrastructure) to support the country R&D strategy.

·         Assure that spending occurs within budget and that variances are anticipated and communicated (OPEX and CAPEX).


Build collaborations internally and externally to help achieve business objectives

·         Seek and develop collaborations with industry & academic partners to advance the business and to help achieve strategic business objectives.

·         Represent the R&D team to the external community and interact effectively with relevant stakeholders.

·         Provide technical review and assessment on R&D proposals and research plans.

·         Participate in country strategy, planning and initiative management.

·         Collect and communicate competitive R&D information.

Other ad hoc jobs as assigned.



·          Ph.D. in breeding and genetics, or related discipline with at least 8 years research experience and 5 years experience leading others.

·          Excellent people, managerial and organizational skills with strengths in leveraging relationships and leading through influence.

·          Ability to analyze relevant information and lead decision-making process, balancing long term strategic focus with short term needs and activities.

·          Effective verbal and written communication skills in English.  Fluency in other languages would be beneficial.

Job Research & Development

Primary LocationAsia Pacific-China-Shandong-Changyi, Shandong

Organization R&D North Asia_51084832

Schedule Full-time


Apply on line at


Contributed by Donn Cummings

Global Breeder Sourcing Lead, Monsanto


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5.02  Asia Pacific Tropical Sweet Corn Breeder-001LT



The tropical sweet corn breeder will directly interact with the vegetable breeding community, breeding technology, trait development and serve as a key member of the technology development pipeline. Hainan is both a vegetable and row crop corn R&D center. Individual will also have oversight of existing sweet corn program in Chiang Rai, Thailand. This role offers the prospect to work with the world's largest global agronomic and vegetable breeding organization that possesses state of the art breeding application tools and analytical platforms. This provides opportunities for development of novel breeding approaches/methodologies or the creative application of existing methods for the enhancement of tropical sweet corn. A significant amount of interaction and collaboration expected with other sweet corn breeders. There is direct interaction with breeding technology, pathology, foundation/stock seed, technology development, and the commercial organization.  The qualified candidate will also manage design, development, and implementation of breeding research projects in collaboration with scientists in fields such as pathology and breeding technology. You will have direct management responsibility of your breeding staff and budget management.


Key responsibilities include:

  • Direction and management of all components of a successful commercial tropical sweet corn breeding program.  Including, but not limited to: creation and evaluation of breeding populations; utilization of molecular markers to incorporate genes for disease resistance and quality traits; utilize di-haploids in the breeding program; coordinate, place and evaluate trials in major global market segments; make line and hybrid advancement decisions; fulfill requirements for variety advancement through documentation of performance; completion of required breeder's seed.
  • Utilization of all relevant breeding technologies with appropriate allocation of resources directed at the successful development of commercial products for key global market segments.
  • Through engagement and collaborative interaction with breeding technology communities across Monsanto, identify, research, and eventually apply those to your breeding program that enhance breeding program effectiveness and efficiency.  
  • Achieve pre-commercial hybrid advancement targets and make recommendations to appropriate regional crop teams.  
  • Travel to key global market segments required for trial and product evaluations.
  • Ensure that the research team is trained and compliant with Monsanto Environmental Safety and Health (ESH) policies to ensure safe operations of the research program.
  • Oversight of existing sweet corn breeding program activities in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
  • Manage budget cost center and appropriate allocation of resources - both current and long range.
  • Recruiting, training, and development of research support personnel.




Required Skills/Experiences:

PhD in Plant Breeding and Genetics.

  • Strong background in plant breeding, genetics, field plot technique and statistical analysis, molecular biology, and molecular marker application to plant breeding.
  • Demonstrated success in technical proficiency, scientific creativity, and collaboration with others.
  • Excellent managerial and organizational skills; ability to balance multiple tasks and achieve milestones.
  • Ability to work in a team based environment with multidisciplinary teams; effective verbal communication skills.
  • Leadership capabilities within the technology community that can extend into other functional areas.
  • English language fluency and good communication ability necessary.


Desired Skills / Experience:

  • Minimum of 3 years experience working in breeding/genetics.
  • Vegetable crop research experience. 
  • Knowledge of quantitative genetics, functional genomics, genetic statistical theory, and experimental design as it is applied to plant breeding.


 Research & Development

Primary Location

Asia Pacific-China-Hainan-Hainan

Other Locations

Asia Pacific-Thailand-Chiang Rai-Chiang Rai


 Vegetable Breeding Technology_51070579




Apply on line at


Contributed by Donn Cummings

Global Breeder Sourcing Lead, Monsanto


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


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




1.      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:




2.      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.





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


Offered Fall/Spring 2010/2010


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

·         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




26-28 October 2010. Genomics-based breeding, the 2010 conference of the Genome Analysis section of the German Society for Plant Breeding (GPZ), Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany.


We invite participants from the plant breeding industry and research community to attend this exciting meeting with a scientific programme covering the latest cutting edge crop genomics technologies and applications.


Please register online ( to submit contributions for the four plenary sessions and the poster exhibition. An additional industry exhibition will provide companies involved in plant genomics and breeding an opportunity to present their products and services to an audience of experts and potential customers


Young scientists involved in crop genomics are encouraged to use the industry exhibition for contact with potential future employers. The conference language is English.


On behalf of the local organising committee we look forward to seeing you in Giessen!


Wolfgang Friedt and Rod Snowdon


Submitted by

Wubishet A. Bekele




New Course Opportunity – Seed Business 101


Offered at four locations in California and Idaho between November 2010 and February 2011


The Seed Business 101 course was created with input from industry executives to accelerate the careers of promising new employees. By selecting and sponsoring employees to attend this course, companies acknowledge past performance and invest in accelerated professional development. The course also offers invaluable insights and perspective to seed dealers and companies offering products and services to the seed industry, including seed treatments, crop protection, seed enhancement and technology, machinery and equipment, etc.


Seed Business 101 core curriculum

The goal of Seed Business 101 is to enhance each participant’s career performance and help them avoid costly mistakes.

The course is designed to focus on optimum operations of the five major functional areas of a seed company.

§  Research and Development        

§  Production

§  Administration

§  Operations

§  Sales and Marketing

Participants will acquire a broad understanding of the major aspects of a seed company’s operations and cross-departmental knowledge of best practices for profitability.


This course will be offered in four locations in California and Idaho between November 2010 and February 2011. Each session will be limited to 30 participants.


For more information contact Jeannette Martins, or Michael Campbell,; or to register for the class go to:




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.


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

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


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


(UPDATE) 9-11 November 2010. First Global Conference on Biofortification: From Discovery to Delivery. Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center, Washington, D.C.


The First Global Conference on Biofortification is less than two months away! Confirmed speakers include Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New York Times columnist, Navyn Salem, Executive Director of Edesia Global Nutrition Solutions, Roger Thurow of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Lawrence Haddad, director of the Institute of Development Studies, Keith West of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and more! Click here for a complete conference agenda and list of speakers.


This is the first international effort to take stock of progress made in developing nutrient-rich crops, share lessons learned, and chart the future of biofortification. This three-day event will bring agricultural scientists, public health specialists, policymakers, donors, and business leaders together to move this emerging agricultural intervention for public health forward. Engaging the agriculture, public health, nutrition, and international development communities is crucial to the success of this event and to the development of this intervention. We hope that you join us in November. For more information about the conference and to register, please visit the event website. Or email for more information.

Contributed by Helena Pachon


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.


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


(New) 16 November 2010, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm. Using the tomato genome sequence and Infinium array in breeding. Workshop presented by SolCAP in conjunction with the 25th Annual Tomato Disease Workshop.  University of Florida/ IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, 14625 CR 672, Wimauma, FL 33598


Session 1 - Publicly available tomato sequence data and how to use it in the context of a breeding program

This session will cover the status of whole genome sequence data and next generation transcriptome data available for tomato. We will present a case study for marker identification, provide examples of conducting sequence comparisons, and provide you  with scripts to parse these searches


Session 2 - Analysis of Illumina Infinium array data

This session will focus on highly parallel genotyping tools. We are moving away from scoring sequence polymorphism as a “band on a gel.”  We will present the design of the SolCAP/Illumina consortium tool, discuss the resulting data format, and discuss quality control.


Session 3 -  Leveraging the Illumina array data for breeding

The SolCAP/Illumina array provides a powerful survey tool in support of breeding programs.  This session will discuss how these data can be used to guide the next steps in breeding programs including: parent selection, analysis of population structure, mapping strategies, and selection strategies.


To Register:    For more information contact Jeannette  Martins: 


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


(UPDATE) 16-17 February 2011. Seed Biology, Production and Quality Course, Davis, California.


This unique two-day course is designed for professionals in the seed industry, crop consultants and growers to update and expand their current knowledge. Participants will learn fundamental and specialized information on topics including seed development, production, harvesting, testing, conditioning, enhancement, storage, pathology and quality assessment. The course content has been updated with the latest information and instructors include: Dr. Derek Bewley (University of Guelph, Canada), Dr. Henk Hilhorst (Wageningen University, The Netherlands), Dr. Hiro Nonogaki (Oregon State University, Corvallis), Dr. Robert Gilbertson (University of California, Davis), Deborah Meyer (California State Seed Laboratory) and Dr. Kent Bradford (University of California, Davis).


Register early for discounted fee: $550.00 USD (Deadline for discounted fee is January 7, 2011; Required method of payment: Credit Card)

Course fee after January 7, 2011: $650.00 USD



Jeannette Martins


(NEW) 5-7 April 2011. Genebanks: exploring ways to improve service to PGR users and effectiveness of PGR conservation. Meeting of Eucarpia Genetics Resources Section.



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


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.


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


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