30 November 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  Investments in agriculture must grow, says FAO Director-General - Rise in food prices make structural changes urgent

1.02  Feeding the world - New study identifies the top 100 questions for the future of global agriculture

1.03  Biofortified crops ready for developing world debut

1.04  Generic guidelines on releasing new rice varieties now available

1.05  Hordeum vulgare – H. bulbosum introgression lines available to breeders

1.06  U.S. wheat research takes public, private collaboration

1.07  Iowa State University researcher and collaborators re-sequence six corn varieties, find some genes missing  Hybrid plants with over-reactive immune system

1.08  AfricaRice launches project for 3 African countries

1.09  Tunnel vision works for climate ready cereals

1.10  Update on wheat stem rust Ug99 in the Rift Valley of Kenya

1.11  The James Hutton Institute formed

1.12  Rice yields targeted in first CGIAR 'mega-programme'

1.13  Cornell University researchers receive $9.4 million from teh U.S. National Science Foundation for maize and rice genomics projects

1.14  Australian breeders working to better involve farmers in teh development of new crop varieties for marginal lands

1.15  Hybrid plants with over-reactive immune system

1.16  Analysis of national food and nutrition security plans in Colombia and Peru

1.17  A new maturity group 5 soybean with excellent yield potential for the Southern USA

1.18  The UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center welcomes FlandersBio as its newest partner of the European Plant Breeding Academy

1.19  SolCAP tomato workshop held in Tampa, FL focuses on new tools

1.20  Scientists release disease free sweet potato varieties

1.21  USDA Scientists breed healthier soybean lines USDA Scientists breed healthier soybean lines

1.22  U.S. Says genes should not be eligible for patents

1.23  Launch of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP)

1.24  GMO bentgrass found in Eastern Oregon

1.25  Reference methods for GMO analysis which have been validated according to international standards

1.26  Mutation advances set to flip biotech crop debate

1.27  Genetic engineering in Africa

1.28  UC Davis, European Plant Breeding Academy Class I gather in Enkhuizen, The Netherlands

1.29  Success! UC Davis Plant Breeding Academysm Class III

1.30  Native potatoes put biodiversity on a plate and on the agenda

1.31  Plant bank to preserve biodiversity of Pacific crops

1.32  Genetic diversity of rice now secure in Svalbard Global Seed Vault

1.33  Global initiative to preserve yam biodiversity

1.34  Study reveals possible reasons for the decline of pollinators

1.35  Working to protect the international food supply: The Fort Collins National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation

1.36  What happens to seed in a seed corn plant?

1.37  Fighting selenium deficiency - Study tests biofortification of lowland rice crops

1.38  Breeding for resistance to late blight - a devastating disease of potatoes and tomatoes

1.39  Genotypic adaptation of rice to lowland hydrology in West Africa

1.40 New disease-resistant food crops in prospect 

1.41  To prevent inbreeding, flowering plants have evolved multiple genes, research reveals

1.42  The genetics of self-incompatibility

1.43  Gene discovery suggests way to engineer fast-growing plants

1.44  Embrapa transfere técnicas de marcadores moleculares para pesquisa com algodão na Tanzânia

1.45  SPATULA gene: good candidate for improving plant growth

1.46  BASF Plant Science licenses Precision BioSciences’ site-specific genome modification technology

1.47  Metabolic marker as selection tool in plant breeding

1.48  Scientists develop an accurate DNA marker assay for stem rust resistance gene in wheat

1.49  Lu05H9 pioneered in marker-assisted breeding of cotton in China

1.50  Gene could lead to healthier food, better biofuel production

1.51  Study rewrites the evolutionary history of C4 grasses

1.52 Molecular mapping of leaf rust resistance gene LRBI16 in Chinese wheat cultivar Bimai 16

1.53  Scientists silence the expression of celiac disease-causing protein in bread wheat

1.54  Scientists silence genes to produce hypoallergenic carrots

1.55  New slow-rusting leaf rust and stripe rust resistance genes in wheat are closely linked

1.56  Scientists develop an accurate DNA marker assay for stem rust resistance gene in wheat

1.57  Understanding more about  cereal eyespot to identify novel sources of genetic resistance

1.58  Photosynthesis trackers shine light on new rice varieties

1.59  Chromosome imbalances lead to predictable plant defects

1.60  Study rewrites the evolutionary history of C4 grasses



2.01  GM Crops: A new peer-reviewed journal on the science and policy of genetically modified crops

2.02  Robert Walch: Salinas author's novel delves into field of ag research

2.03  Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years

2.04  The A to Z of drought phenotyping explained in forthcoming book from GCP

2.05  Introducing: International Research Journal of Plant Science (IRJPS)

2.06  Plant Breeding for Water-Limited Environments

2.07  Breeding and Protection of Vegetables

2.08  Gardens of Biodiversity



3.01  FAO launches Africa crop tool - Interactive 43-nation guide on what to plant, when and where

3.02  First Global Conference on Biofortification: Information available on-line



4.01  Applications now open for Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program

4.02  National Association of Plant Breeders announces nominations for 2011 awards



(None submitted)









1.01  Investments in agriculture must grow, says FAO Director-General - Rise in food prices make structural changes urgent


Abu Dhabi, UAE

23 November 2010

The key to long-term food security lies in boosting investment in agriculture, particularly in low-income food-deficit countries, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said today.


The rapid increase in hunger and malnourishment since the food crisis of 2008 reveals the inadequacy of the present global food system and the urgent need for structural changes, Diouf said, addressing the Gulf Cooporation Council (GCC) Ministerial Forum on Agricultural Investment in Abu Dhabi, attended by representatives of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the host country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).


"The food price and economic crises have had a severe impact on millions of people in all parts of the world," he said. In recent months the international prices of most agricultural commodities have increased, many of them sharply. The global food import bill could pass the one trillion dollar mark in 2010, a level not seen since food prices peaked at record levels in 2008.


"These trends — Diouf said — can have severe implications for countries like the Gulf countries, which depend on commercial imports for a large share of their food consumption needs".


In the Near East and North Africa region, the number of hungry and malnourished people currently is estimated at 37 million, nearly 10 percent of the region's population.


Structural changes a must

Structural changes can improve food security, Diouf said. In the short term, this means targeted safety nets and social protection programmes as well as reliable and timely information on food commodity markets. Small-scale farmers must be assured access to indispensable means of production and technologies — such as high-quality seeds, fertilizers, feed and farming tools and equipment.


In the medium and longer terms, however, investment in agriculture is the answer. Food-deficit countries must be given the necessary technical and financial solutions and policy tools to enhance their agricultural sectors in terms of productivity and resilience in the face of crises.


New Extraordinary Ambassador

The Director-General also named Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, known in the United Arab Emirates as the Mother of the Nation, as Extraordinary Ambassador of FAO.


Sheikha Fatima is the wife of the founder and the first President of UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and has played "a pivotal role in consolidating and promoting the women's rights movement in the Arab world", Diouf said.


He noted her roles as chairperson of the UAE Family Development Foundation, the Chairwoman of the UAE General Women's Union and the President of the UAE's Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood and commended her "enlighting, pioneering thinking about women".


Sheikha Fatima has been active in the fields of literacy, maternal and child care, the disabled, the elderly and orphans and is, Diouf said, an "exceptional human being". He presented her with a silver plaque, an honorific parchment scroll and a medal.


International multi-media conference centre announced

The FAO Director-General and Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, UAE Minister of Environment and Water announced the establishment of the UAE-financed "Sheikh Zayed Centre" at FAO headquarters in Rome.


The new structure, an international multi-media conference centre that will be located inside FAO headquarters in Rome, will provide the live broadcasting facilities and capacity-building infrastructures necessary to continue the fight against hunger and to enhance knowledge sharing and e-learning throughout the organization, Diouf said during a signing ceremony.


The centre will be named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE and father of the country's current president.




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1.02  Feeding the world - New study identifies the top 100 questions for the future of global agriculture


United Kingdom

11 November  2010

One of the biggest challenges facing the world today is how to feed the expected population of nine billion by 2050.


Despite significant growth in food production over the past 50 years, it has been estimated the world needs to produce 70-100% more food to meet expected demand without significant increases in prices.


But the solution to this complex issue is not simply about maximising productivity. With additional challenges from climate change, water stresses, energy insecurity and dietary shifts, global agricultural and food systems will have to change substantially to meet the challenge of feeding the world.


A new paper published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability identifies the top 100 questions for the future of global agriculture.


A multi-disciplinary team of 55 agricultural and food experts from the world’s major agricultural organisations, professional scientific societies and academic institutions was appointed to identify the top 100 questions for global agriculture and food. They were drawn from 23 countries and work in universities, UN agencies, CG research institutes, NGOs, private companies, foundations and regional research secretariats.


An initial list of 618 key questions was, over the course of a year, whittled down by the team to the top 100.


If addressed and answered, it is anticipated these questions will have a significant impact on global agricultural practices worldwide. They offer policy and funding organisations an agenda for change. The questions are wide-ranging, are designed to be answerable and capable of realistic research design, and cover 13 themes identified as priority to global agriculture (see Notes).


Lead author, Professor Jules Pretty, of the University, said: “The challenges facing world agriculture are unprecedented and are likely to magnify with pressures on resources and increasing consumption.


“What is unique here is that experts from many countries, institutions and disciplines have agreed on the top 100 questions that need answering if agriculture is to succeed this century. These questions now form the potential for driving research systems, private sector investments, NGO priorities, and UN projects and programmes.”


Professor Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Advisor and Head of the Government’s Foresight programme, said: “This paper and its lead author Jules Pretty have provided an important contribution to the Foresight project on Global Food and Farming Futures. This study poses the central question, how can a future global population of nine billion people be fed sustainably, healthily and equitably. The project will publish its findings in January 2011.”


This research forms one part of the UK Government’s Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project. The project will publish its findings in January 2011. The Foresight Programme is part of the UK's Government Office for Science. It helps Government think systematically about the future and uses the latest scientific and other evidence to provide signposts for policymakers in tackling future challenges. Government Office for Science supports the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser in ensuring that the Government has access to, and uses, the best science and engineering advice. It is located within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Further details about the project can be found on the Foresight website ( or contact the BIS press office (

The full paper is available free of charge.




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1.03  Biofortified crops ready for developing world debut


17 November 2010

by Tatum Anderson

A range of crops rich in micronutrients will be launched from next year, but is the developing world ready for them, asks Tatum Anderson?


Millet rich in iron; wheat abundant in zinc; cassava tinged with extra beta-carotene. An array of crops bred to contain micronutrients that could fight the widespread problem of undernutrition is about to be unleashed on the developing world, beginning next year.


The first meeting of international experts in biofortification heard last week (9–11 November) that, after almost a decade of research and development, high-iron pearl millet seeds will be released in India next year; and cassava and maize boosted with beta-carotene (which the body turns into vitamin A) will be released in Nigeria and Zambia in 2012. Sweet potato containing extra beta-carotene is already on the market.


But will the undernourished embrace these solutions to the health problems that lack of nutrients brings? Experts at the meeting, the First Global Conference on Biofortification, are now turning their attention to winning over their customers — and they are realising there are many hurdles.


A lack of micronutrients such as iodine or zinc can lead to stunted growth, severe wasting, and intrauterine growth restriction and contributed to a large proportion of the 2.2 million deaths from undernutrition of children under five in 2005, according to a 2008 report by The Lancet.


People deprived of micronutrients usually rely on staple crops to give them sufficient calories to survive but miss out on other micronutrient-containing foods such as protein sources and vegetables. The hope with biofortification is that it could deliver these micronutrients via the very staple crops to which people do have access.


But these insights must now be explained to the outside world, says Ross Welch, a crop and soil scientist at Cornell University, United States, and a specialist in zinc-enriched wheat.


"You need to make sure the consumer will eat them, and the farmers will grow them. We need government policies to promote the planning of biofortification of crops."


Will, for example, Africans who have for generations opted for white-coloured staples, tuck into yellow and orange food rich in beta-carotene? Yellow-coloured maize varieties are often associated with animal feed.


Howarth Bouis, head of HarvestPlus, the organisation that has managed the development of many biofortified crops at a variety of research institutes around the world, thinks habits can be changed. Recent trials of biofortified orange-fleshed sweet potato in Uganda have revealed that if the benefits of vitamin A are explained to mothers, the food is consumed.


The problem, he concedes, will be spreading these messages cheaply. Talking directly to consumers is expensive and this part of the project could be more expensive than the initial breeding process, he says.


The development community also needs persuasion. Many believe biofortification is an expensive technical fix — at a development cost of US$100 million per variety — to a problem that ought to be approached by tackling social and economic issues instead.


The key, it is thought, will be demonstrable improvements in health.


But there have been few large-scale studies seeking a direct link, in real-life settings, between eating biofortified crops and improved health. Such a trial involves feeding a small group of people to determine that levels of the micronutrient do indeed increase in their bodies.


Golden Rice, a crop biofortified with beta-carotene whose inventors hope it might help end the scourge of vitamin A deficiency-related blindness around the world, has been tested on fewer than 100 people so far. Participants have typically been given a single serving of the rice or vitamin A supplements or vegetables, to compare outcomes.


Only one effectiveness test has so far been performed on the HarvestPlus portfolio and results are not yet published.


Trials of biofortified orange-fleshed sweet potato in Uganda have revealed that, if the benefits are explained, the food is consumed


Trials such as this are needed because it is not enough for a nutrient to be present in a food. For it to pass into the bloodstream it must be in an absorbable form — it must be bioavailable.


Bioavailability is a complicated thing influenced by many factors that trials need to untangle — the soil in which the crop grows, the milling, storage, how the crop is cooked, and even the companion foods that are swallowed at the same time.


The bioavailability of crops containing beta-carotene degrades once they have been harvested. Perhaps most elusively, existing bacteria in a person's gut appear to affect bioavailability, which means that, around the world, the absorption of nutrients from the same crop will vary.


A team at Iowa State University, United States, presented encouraging work at the conference showing that the beta-carotene in biofortified maize is converted in the body to vitamin A at a higher rate than that of normal maize and vegetables, including carrots.


Now scientists want to know why the beta-carotene disappears out of maize at different rates depending on the variety. They also want to understand the role of pre-biotics — substances that boost the body's rate of absorption of the micronutrients.


Inulin, for instance, is a non-digestible carbohydrate that can boost the body's absorption of iron, zinc and other minerals. Biofortifying crops with both nutrients and pre-biotics might improve bioavailability.


Assuming the nutrients are available and the locals are persuaded to eat the plants, there are other obstacles, too.


Generally the fruits of cutting-edge technology tend to be sold at a premium, yet the pricing of these crops must be pro-poor, says Marc Cohen, a senior researcher into humanitarian policy and climate change at Oxfam America, if they are to achieve their goals.


Will biofortification outperform other weapons in the war against under-nutrition, such as hugely successful vitamin supplements, or foods such as soy sauce and salt that are fortified through industrial processes?


Donors are even considering the merits of alternatives such as zinc or iodine-boosted fertilisers that might boost the micronutrient levels in food via the soil.


There is also a resistance to biofortification arising from its link to genetically modified (GM) crops. Golden Rice has been developed using transgenic technology. But nothing in the HarvestPlus portfolio uses GM.


The GM debate has obscured constructive discussions over appropriate biofortification research and delivery strategies, according to Sally Brooks, a researcher at the STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) centre, housed at the UK's Institute of Development Studies.


Some believe that HarvestPlus and other global organisations have taken a top-down approach to biofortification research, in an effort to create generic technologies that might work all over the world. This means that developing country scientists and plant breeders have had little say on the kinds of crops that might be most appropriate and their insights have not been harnessed to drive the research agenda.


"There is a mis-match between a strong emphasis on impact at scale and working with local farmers," says Brooks. "They have very little say in what [a crop] looks like. It doesn't matter whether varieties are conventionally bred or GM. The issue is the same."


But HarvestPlus says it is now engaging enthusiastically with developing country farmers.


Source: Source: SciDev.Net via


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1.04  Generic guidelines on releasing new rice varieties now available


November 2010

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), together with its partners, released the Generic Guidelines on Registration and Release of New Rice Varieties which provide a common policy framework for rice variety testing, registration, and release procedures in countries where rice is a major agricultural product. This was published to help farmers access new varieties faster.

Visit to download a copy.




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1.05  Hordeum vulgare – H. bulbosum introgression lines available to breeders


In cooperation with many international research workers and breeders, a team of scientists at Plant & Food Research, New Zealand, has developed 195 lines from H. vulgare x H. bulbosum hybrids. These lines contain discrete introgressions of H. bulbosum chromatin in an H. vulgare background. The size and location of the introgressions have been characterised and the introgressions have been assigned to specific chromosomes using molecular and cytogenetic methods. All of them have been screened in small-plot nurseries in New Zealand, Nordic countries and elsewhere; some have been evaluated agronomically in yield trials and developed further by plant breeders in Nordic countries and by breeders in other parts of Europe, North America and Australasia. The resistance or tolerance of these lines to diseases that are limiting factors in barley cultivation has been recorded. They also possess other traits that could be valuable in breeding programmes focused on tolerance to abiotic stress. The lines will be freely available from NordGen within the next few months once they have been multiplied; stocks will be lodged in the ‘Svalbard Global Seed Vault’ sited within the Arctic Circle.


Richard Pickering (retired), Paul Johnston, Viji Meiyalaghan, Stan Ebdon and Ed Morgan

Plant & Food Research

Private Bag 4704


New Zealand


For more information on the lines contact:  (Dr Paul Johnston)  (Ed Morgan – group leader)


Breeders and researchers can obtain details of availability and access as well as order seeds from:



Nordic Genetic Resource Center

Box 41, SE-230 53 Alnarp, Sweden


Contributed by Paul Johnston 


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1.06  U.S. wheat research takes public, private collaboration


Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

28 October 2010

Past investment into wheat research has given farmers new wheat varieties, disease and insect resistance and agronomic improvements, plus improved quality for millers and bakers throughout the world. For more than 50 years, Kansas farmers - and other wheat producers from across the nation - have supported research from land-grant universities and the USDA through each state’s wheat checkoff program. In the last few decades, however, state and federal dollars towards wheat research have been dramatically reduced, leaving checkoff funds to pick up the slack.


Continued development of wheat varieties and technologies is crucial to the long-term viability of wheat production in the United States, and the effort has gained a boost with the recent entry into wheat variety and technology development by several private firms.


Sorting through research priorities from public and private entities falls at the feet of Jane DeMarchi, director of government affairs for research and technology for the National Association of Wheat Growers. DeMarchi joined NAWG in June, filling a new position dedicated to tracking current research, reviewing funding needs and developing research priorities throughout the entire wheat industry. NAWG has set a goal of increasing wheat yields for U.S. wheat producers at least 20% by 2018; to reach that goal, the collaborative efforts of private and public wheat researchers is necessary.


“We are looking for the private investment to be additive to the overall research picture,” DeMarchi says. “We’ve done a good job of communicating to the technology providers what we’d like to see in future innovation for wheat. We have to make sure that all the research going on right now is directed towards moving the crop forward.”


DeMarchi, who spoke to wheat growers at the annual Fall Meeting of NAWG and the U.S. Wheat Associates in Minneapolis last week, says many state wheat commissions have committed to working together on variety development and other research proposals. This is one step toward leveraging research resources; another is to bring the private firms into the fold.


“I do think there is an opportunity for greater collaboration between the researchers themselves or between states on a regional basis, to make sure that money spent is spent as efficiently as possible so that everyone can learn from the research that’s being done,” DeMarchi says. “We don’t need every program doing everything. We need to focus where the best research is being done and then on a regional basis have people being able to take advantage of that.”


Research priorities in coming years include the introduction of biotech traits to wheat varieties, an industry-wide effort to solve the Ug99 stem rust disease and continued yield, quality and agronomic improvement of varieties. These efforts require the combined effort of public and private, state and federal researchers and funds.


“There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on agriculture research funding. From wheat’s perspective, we are already underfunded. We can’t afford further cuts,” DeMarchi says.




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1.07  Iowa State University researcher and collaborators re-sequence six corn varieties, find some genes missing 


Ames, Iowa, USA

23 November 2010 

Most living plant and animal species have a certain, relatively small, amount of variation in their genetic make-up.


Differences in height, skin and eye color of humans, for example, are very noticeable, but are actually the consequences of very small variations in genetic makeup.


Researchers at Iowa State University, China Agricultural University and the Beijing Genomics Institute in China recently re-sequenced and compared six elite inbred corn (maize) lines, including the parents of the most productive commercial hybrids in China.


When comparing the different inbred corn lines, researchers expected to see more variations in the genes than in humans.


Surprisingly, researchers found entire genes that were missing from one line to another.


"That was a real eye opener," said Patrick Schnable (photo), director of the Center for Plant Genomics and professor of agronomy at ISU.


The research uncovered more than 100 genes that are present in some corn lines but missing in others.


This variation is called the presence/absence variation, and Schnable thinks it could be very important.


Schnable's research is the cover article for the current edition of the journal Nature Genetics, and has been highlighted by the association Faculty 1000, which identifies the top 2 percent of important research from peer-reviewed journals worldwide.


"One of the goals of the research is to try to identify how heterosis (hybrid vigor) works," said Schnable.


Heterosis is the phenomenon in which the offspring of two different lines of corn grow better than either of the two parents. This is the attribute that has enabled corn breeders to produce better and better hybrids of corn.


For instance, two lines of corn can be bred to produce a hybrid that increases yield or resists drought or pests better than either of the parents.


With the current discovery that certain genes are missing from inbred corn lines, Schnable thinks science is a step closer to identifying which genes are responsible for which traits.


Knowing which genes are important would provide a shortcut for breeders to produce hybrids with specific traits.


For example, if one inbred line is missing a gene and is drought susceptible, crossing that line with a line that includes the missing gene and is drought tolerant, might lead to a better hybrid, according to Schnable.


"If we can understand how heterosis works, we might be able to make predictions about which inbreds to cross together," said Schnable. "I don't think we'll be able to tell plant breeders which hybrids will be the absolute winners. But we might be able to say 'These combinations are probably not worth testing.'"


Schnable sees combining genes from two lines as a chance to introduce the best from both plants.


"These are complementing somehow," he said. "It's like a really good marriage. She's good at this, and he's good at that, and together, they form a good team."


The potential for improvement is great, but Schnable cautions that much work needs to be done.


"We are at the point where we think this is going to be important, but we don't know which genes specifically are going to be important," he said. "Now we need to figure out which genetic combinations will be predictive of hybrid success."




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1.08  AfricaRice launches project for 3 African countries


Rice production Africa - The Africa Rice Centre (AfricaRice) Monday in Dakar, Senegal, launched a project to increase rice production in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal over the next five years. The project should lead to the production of large quantities of quality rice for consumers and tackle the problems of production, processing and marketing of local rice in the affected countries.


The project is fully funded by the Syngenta Foundation for sustainable rice farming in West Africa to the tune of US$2 million per year.


Following the 2008 food crisis and at the request of the Malian authorities, the Foundation decided to contribute to improving production of African rice, according to Oumar Niangado, the delegate of the Foundation in West Africa.


On his part, Deputy Director General of AfricaRice Marco Wopereis said Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso had the potential to increase their rice production.


According to him, while the rice consumption on the continent continues to increase, at an average of 5 per cent per year, it is unsustainable, costly and sometimes dangerous to rely on the int ernational market.


Senegal imports 60 percent of its rice consumption, or 500,000 to 800,000 tons per year.


Mali imports about 20 to 30 per cent of its local rice requirements, while Burkina only produces 50 per cent of its requirement


News - Africa news




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1.09  Tunnel vision works for climate ready cereals


Western Australia

23 November 2010

Despite climate change and variability across Australia's grainbelt, with increased ambient carbon dioxide (CO2) and temperature and reduced rainfall, very little attention has been paid to the interactive effects of high temperature, CO2 and soil moisture on crop growth and yield.


That's about to change thanks to experiments by CSIRO Plant Industry and The UWA Institute of Agriculture at The University of Western Australia (UWA), with a research team at UWA's Shenton Park Field Station using four state-of-the-art poly tunnels to inform wheat breeders about how climate change and variability will affect the genetic traits they select for.


The sealed tunnels were designed and built as part of the 'Climate Ready Cereals' project funded by the Federal Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the WA component is managed by CSIRO in collaboration with The UWA Institute of Agriculture.


According to CSIRO Principal Research Scientist Dr Jairo Palta, most previous studies showed individual effects on wheat yield of increased CO2, higher temperature and drought, but was unclear about how the three variables interacted and affected grain yield for different cultivars.


"The CSIRO and UWA research team should unravel the impact of this interaction during wheat growth and the critical stages of flowering and grain filling," Dr Palta said.


Tunnel temperatures vary from ambient to six degrees celsius above ambient and CO2 levels vary from ambient (approx 380ppm) to about double at 700ppm.


WA, Australia's largest grain-producing state, is forecast to become drier, while all regions will likely be exposed to higher temperatures and elevated CO2.


The UWA Institute of Agriculture Director, Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique, said that grain productivity and quality must be sustained or increased in the face of increasing demand for food, stockfeed and fuel for WA to maintain its cereal supplies and competitive export status.


"Based on current physiological knowledge, some wheat germplasm, contrasting for traits, will likely differ in yield response to climate change and variability," Professor Siddique said.


According to Dr Palta, while elevated CO2 had some advantages for crops such as wheat, it was likely to suffer yield loss from increased temperature and frequency of terminal drought.


The UWA Institute of Agriculture and CSIRO PhD candidate from Brazil, Eduardo DIAS de Oliveira, is doing most of the 'hands-on' physiological research in the UWA climate tunnels.


Mr DIAS de Oliveira said that growing different wheat genotypes in environments with elevated CO2 and temperatures and controlled water, then analysing growth (size, leaf area, biomass), physiology (photosynthesis, transpiration, water use) and yield and studying how these mechanisms worked inside the plants, would help breeders select and create traits better adapted to climate change and variability.


The UWA Institute of Agriculture post-doctoral Fellow, Dr Helen Bramley and Australian Endeavour Research Fellow, Dr Muhammad Farooq, from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan, are researching high temperature and drought, which complements the 'Climate Ready Cereals' project.


Dr Bramley explained that water, although fundamental to plant growth and productivity, was usually the most limiting resource, especially in dryland agricultural environments.


"Water is the bulk constituent of most plant cells and is needed for biochemical processes, cell expansion or growth, dissolution of many compounds and conveying essential nutrients.


"Although dryland crop plants, such as wheat, have evolved mechanism to conserve water, when taking up CO2 for photosynthesis water vapour is lost via evaporation through open stomata.


"This water must be continually replenished from water taken up from the soil by roots, to prevent the shoot from dehydrating," Dr Bramley said.


According to Professor Siddique, Dr Bramley's UWA post- doctoral project, 'Linking the plumbing of roots to shoots: wheat plant hydraulics under drought', is making a valuable contribution to the 'Climate Ready Cereals' project.


Dr Farooq is evaluating the role of nitric oxide (NO) in heat and drought stress resistance in wheat. NO is emerging as an important signalling molecule, with multiple biological functions.


"I am assessing the genotypic variation in terms of stress-induced NO emission and the relationship between NO emission, heat and drought," he said.


Dr Farooq's findings should background the mechanism of NO-induced stress tolerance in wheat and help develop a quick test to screen genotypes for stress resistance.


About 21% of the world's food depends on wheat (T. aestivum), which grows on 200 million hectares of farmland worldwide. While wheat's global yield rose 20% from 1987 to 1997, a 1% decline from 1997 to 2007 meant it would struggle to sustain global population increases.




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1.10  Update on wheat stem rust Ug99 in the Rift Valley of Kenya


Wheat stem rust hits Rift Valley farmers

28 October 2010


Wheat stem rust Ug99 continues to threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of farmers in Kenya's Rift Valley region. Wet and misty conditions since November 2009 are making Ug99 even harder to control. Small-scale farmers who account for 80 percent of wheat growers are especially hard hit.


"Farmers this [2010] season are complaining that despite spraying their crop it has been affected by the rust," the agriculture extension officer in Njoro District (Rift Valley) said. "Before, we would spray the field twice but now we are being forced to apply the chemical up to 5 times," a farmer said.


According to a crop breeder with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Peter Njau, farmers are embracing disease control.

Spraying fields when infestation is already too high or using the wrong products are some of the problems.


Of about 11 000 wheat varieties screened in 2005, less than 2 percent were found to have some resistance to Ug99. KARI is among the centres to develop Ug99-resistant wheat varieties and have produced 2 that are ready for trial.


Communicated byProMED-mail (


[Wheat stem rust is caused by the fungus _Puccinia graminis_ f. sp. _tritici_. Overall yield losses of up to 80 percent are reported, but some fields are totally destroyed. New races are emerging, and the most dangerous at present is strain Ug99 (discovered in Uganda in 1999), which has overcome the major resistance gene Sr31 used in our current wheat varieties. Since then Ug99 has appeared in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, and Iran, and even more virulent variants of Ug99 able to overcome additional resistance genes have emerged including, for example, in Kenya's Rift Valley in 2009 (ProMED-mail post 20090312.1019). A new source of Ug99 strains was recently reported in South Africa opening up additional routes of transmission and increasing the threat in the southern hemisphere (ProMED-mail post 20100602.1834).


Stem rust spores are spread by wind and with infected straw, and some grasses or volunteer wheat may generate a "green bridge" providing inoculum for the next cropping season. Disease management may include fungicide applications, control of volunteer wheat, and resistant varieties if available. Breeding programmes have been set up in international cooperation (Delhi Declaration) to establish wheat varieties resistant to Ug99.


As mentioned in the report above, bad timing and unsuitable chemicals may well be a reason for the increased need of fungicides to control stem rust in Kenya. However, cereal rust strains with new fungicide resistances are emerging worldwide and the possibility of Ug99 strains developing additional fungicide resistances cannot be excluded. Such strains would be even more difficult to control.




Source: Source: UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) News [edited] <>



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1.11  The James Hutton Institute formed


To be named in honour of James Hutton, Scottish enlightenment science pioneer



8 November 2010

The new “super research institute” to be formed from SCRI, the crop research centre in Invergowrie, and Aberdeen’s Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, is to be named in honour of the Scottish Enlightenment science pioneer, James Hutton.


The James Hutton Institute will bring together existing Scottish expertise in crop research, soils and land-use, and will make a major contribution to the study of key global issues, such as food and energy security, biodiversity, and how climate change will affect the way we use land and grow crops. The new organisation will begin operations in April next year.


James Hutton (1726 – 1797) was a leading figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, an eighteenth century golden age of intellectual and scientific achievements centred on Edinburgh. His counterparts included Adam Smith the economist and David Hume, the philosopher and historian. Hutton is internationally regarded as the father of modern geology and one of the first scientists to describe the Earth as a living system; his thinking on natural selection influenced Charles Darwin in developing his theory of evolution.


The James Hutton Institute will operate from the two existing sites and will employ more than six hundred scientists and support staff, making it one of the biggest research centres in the UK and the first of its type in Europe. It is expected to set up an international office to reinforce its global presence.


The institute will be one of the Scottish Government’s main research providers in land, crop and food science. The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, said:


“By bringing together the talent and expertise of two such internationally respected bodies, it is entirely fitting that James Hutton is the inspiration behind the new name. As a geologist, physician, naturalist, chemist and experimental farmer, his life encapsulates the ambitious and wide remit that I am sure will be a hallmark of the James Hutton Institute.


"I'm confident that it will rapidly establish itself on the global stage, enhancing even further the reputation of Scottish science and providing exciting new opportunities for all its staff.”


The Chief Executive of the new organisation, Professor Iain Gordon, was appointed in July this year. He said: “As a distinguished and influential Scottish polymath with an international reputation, it is wholly appropriate that an interdisciplinary scientific research institute based in Scotland and seeking to operate and have impact internationally should bear James Hutton’s name.


“I believe this decision will have strong political resonance in Scotland today where the ambition is to once again have Scotland punching well above its weight.”


The James Hutton Institute’s Chairman is Ray Perman. Appointed in March this year, Mr Perman is a former chair of WWF Scotland and a trustee of WWF UK. He was a board member of Scottish Enterprise until December 2009 and chair of Social Investment Scotland.


He said: “We have taken some considerable time over this decision. We involved the staff of SCRI and the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute from the outset. The suggestion that we look to James Hutton came from one of our staff. It matches very well the ambitions we have for this new organisation.”


The proposal to bring together the two, world-renowned research institutes was set out by the First Minister, Alex Salmond, in January 2008.


Mr Salmond said the intention was to strengthen Scotland's environmental research capacity, and enhance its international competitiveness.


The two existing centres are currently at the end of a five year programme of environmental research on behalf of the Scottish Government and are currently tendering for a new, five year programme that will be carried forward by The James Hutton Institute and other Scottish research organisations.


SCRI and the Macaulay already have extensive global connections: SCRI has international development links to Africa and trade links to China and the Macaulay is active in more than 40 countries worldwide. The two organisations also earn income from European Union funded research and from the private sector.


Both have international reputations for the quality of their scientific research:

  • SCRI’s genetics team was described recently as “the world leader in barley and soft fruit genetics” by independent experts. SCRI potato and soft fruit varieties are household names. It is estimated that fifty percent of the blackcurrants grown around the world are SCRI-bred.
  • An independent survey carried out on behalf of Times Higher Education earlier this year ranked the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute as one of most influential organisations in the fields of environmental and ecological sciences, both within the UK as well as internationally. The Institute was ranked in the top 20 of all UK academic institutions which includes all research organisations and universities.


The Macaulay Land Use Research Institute and SCRI

The Scottish Government provides £23 million to both SCRI (£13 million) and the Macaulay (£10 million) for bespoke research - about three-quarters of their income. The organisations also have contracts from the European Union and other research sponsors.


The Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI), based at Invergowrie, Dundee employs around 300 staff and has an income of nearly £17 million. Its scientists work on potato and soft fruit breeding, pests and disease control, food quality, plant-land interactions and genetics. Its Chairman, Peter Berry CMG, is a former Chairman of the Crown Agents for Overseas Governments and Administrations.


Scotland’s unique biomathematical and statistical organisation (BioSS) is part of the SCRI group and has offices in Edinburgh, Dundee and at the Macaulay. It will be part of the new institute.




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1.12  Rice yields targeted in first CGIAR 'mega-programme'


Hanoi, Vietnam

11 November  2010

Farmers could benefit from increased rice yields and new varieties of the staple crop adapted to climate change, with the launch of a global research programme that aims to lift millions out of hunger and poverty by 2035.


The Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) was launched by the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) at the 3rd International Rice Congress in Hanoi, Vietnam, this week (8–12 November).


It is the first of 15 CGIAR research programmes — formally known as "mega-programmes" — aimed at increasing food security and protecting the environment over the next 25 years.


CGIAR — founded in the 1970s to channel funds into agricultural research — has radically reformed its research activities in the last year, rallying donor funding around a series of mega-programmes to promote more joined-up, thematic research. Although the move was criticised by some, who feared the reforms would distance decision-making from those working on the ground, it went ahead.


Now, the GRiSP mega-programme aims to improve rice yields and prevent more than one billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2035, through better irrigation methods and reduction of rice farming-related deforestation.


The five-year initiative will cost nearly US$600 million. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will contribute about US$70 million per year, said Prabhu Pingali, deputy director of agricultural policy and statistics at the foundation. He said other donors include the United States Agency for International Development and the UK's Department for International Development.


"Finally all the rice research in the CGIAR will happen under one umbrella … so that you can have targeted, focused efforts around major outputs rather than duplication of effort," Pingali told SciDev.Net.


Russell Reinke, a rice breeder at Yanco Agricultural Institute, in Australia, said some participants at the congress wondered if CGIAR's efforts to coordinate rice research are really necessary.


"There's a point at which linkages can benefit, but if they are forced too far, you simply waste resources, and you don't really achieve an increase in efficiency," Reinke told SciDev.Net.


Robert Zeigler, director-general of the International Rice Research Institute, said at a press briefing on Tuesday (9 November) that it is too early to say whether the mega-programmes will succeed. But he noted that in Hanoi this week, French officials signalled their intention to create a national rice research institute – "FRiSP" – modelled on GRiSP.


"I think that's concrete evidence that [GRiSP] is already beginning to have an impact on how research is organised globally," Zeigler said.




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1.13  Cornell University researchers receive $9.4 million from the U.S. National Science Foundation for maize and rice genomics projects


Ithaca, New York, USA

22 November 2010

A team of Cornell researchers will develop a tool to knock out genes in maize and another team will sequence wild rice genes, identify their functions and insert key genes into cultivated lines for breeders, thanks to multimillion-dollar grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF).


Thomas Brutnell, a scientist at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) on Cornell's campus and adjunct associate professor in plant breeding and genetics, leads a team that received a three-year, $2.5 million NSF Plant Genome Research grant to develop a way for Ds transposons, or jumping genes, to knock out other genes at desired locations. By knocking out specific genes, maize researchers can better understand that gene's purpose. Such a tool could help scientists understand how drought or salt tolerance works or find lines that are more efficient at water and nitrogen uptake, for example.


multicolored corn kernels


An ear of corn with multicolored kernels caused by the transposable element Ds. When Ds inserts in a gene required for kernel color, it disrupts the gene's function resulting in a colorless (reddish-brown) kernel. When another transposable element Ac is present, the Ds element jumps away, restoring gene function. The multicolored pattern reflects both when and how often Ds jumps. Photo by Amanda Romag


Brutnell and colleagues will also create a public website where other researchers can look up a gene of interest and scan for the closest insertion point for Ds. The project includes a community service component -- any researcher can order maize lines from BTI that include a Ds transposon inserted near a candidate gene, or request that the Brutnell lab screen for Ds insertions in their favorite gene.


"They [researchers] will pay up to $2,000 when we deliver a Ds insertion into their gene, which covers the cost of labor for my lab," said Brutnell. By offering the service, "we're going to fine-tune this protocol and publish our results enabling other groups to take advantage of the system," he added. Brutnell's lab will also continue to use the technique to knock out genes related to photosynthesis, a research interest in his group.


Susan McCouch, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics, leads a team that received a four-year, $6.9 million grant to explore natural variation in wild and cultivated rice varieties as the basis for accelerating the process of plant breeding to enhance the productivity and sustainability of rice production throughout the world.


Wild rice varieties have adapted to changing environments over many thousands of years and contain alleles that have been bred out of cultivated varieties. "Wild ancestors embody more genetic variation than cultivars, and they are a rich source of alleles that are useful for breeding," said McCouch. "Our work has shown that wild alleles can enhance the productivity of modern rice cultivars by 10 to 20 percent, and we are only beginning to explore this potential."


Using wild rice samples from 14 countries, the researchers will evaluate the range of genomic diversity using next-generation sequencing, and the most divergent wild samples will be used to make crosses with cultivated varieties. The offspring of these crosses will be evaluated to identify plants that can resist such stresses as drought, salt, acid soils, extreme temperatures and disease, and to identify genes from the wild materials that confer these characteristics. The project will develop analysis tools and computer models to predict how specific genes control complex traits and will make lines of cultivated rice that incorporate beneficial wild rice alleles available to the breeding and genetics community.


McCouch and colleagues also will provide workshops on rice production in the tropics (taking students to the Philippines), and all of the data, germplasm and genomic resources will be made publicly available through project websites.




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1.14  Australian breeders working to better involve farmers in the development of new crop varieties for marginal lands



26 November 2010

Australian breeders are working alongside colleagues from conflict-affected and developing countries in an effort to better involve farmers in the development of new crop varieties for marginal lands that are found in many parts of the developing world, as well as Australia.


More than 22 plant breeders from Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, China, East Timor, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Nepal and Tanzania are in Perth for a two week Master Class in Collaborative Breeding. They will learn how to include farmers in research to help breed crops for adverse environmental conditions and poor soils often found in conflict affected countries like Afghanistan, East Timor, Ethiopia, Iran and Nepal.


“The focus for much of the world’s and Australia’s crop breeding is for lands that are fertile or where farmers can afford inputs such as fertilizers and irrigation. Collaborative breeding is a relatively new approach to crop breeding to ensure the research is relevant to poor conditions and to farmers’ needs,” explained Prof. William Erskine, Director of the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) at the University of Western Australia.


“The trick is to involve the farmers in deciding on the traits needed and then testing them on-farm under their own conditions.”


Professor Erskine has organised the Master Class with support from the Crawford Fund which promotes and supports agricultural research designed to benefit the developing world. Other sponsors included the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Grains Research and Development Corporation, the International Centre for Plant Breeding Education and Research (ICPBER) and the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).


“The crops developed from collaborative breeding are known to be effective because participating farmers enthusiastically test, adopt and share them with neighboring farmers, providing the great advantage of hastening the uptake of the new genetic material in marginal areas.”


“We will be providing trainees with skills on engaging farmers and using the new statistical techniques for the improved analysis of on-farm varietal trials,” he said.


While field trips are involved, much of the training is being done at ICPBER. The Master Class was opened on 22 November by the Hon. Terry Redman WA Minister of Agriculture and Food.


The breeders are working on a huge spectrum of crops including wheat, rubber, maize, pulses, barley, cassava, peanuts, almonds, canola and rice. Presenters came from Syria, Bangladesh, South Africa and Australia.


"The Crawford Fund is particularly pleased that this master class is being held in Australia so that a group of experienced and practicing Australian plant breeders can benefit and join colleagues from developing countries,” said Dr Eric Craswell, Crawford Fund Director of Training.




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1.15  Hybrid plants with over-reactive immune system



11 November 2010

Crossbreeding can result in incompatible gene combinations


Individuals from the same species can often be crossed without any trouble. However, genes also have their preferences, and some gene variants are not compatible with those found in other individuals of the same species. Natural selection can give rise to gene variants that do not suit the genes of plants from other populations within the same species. In this way, new species may arise. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne have now identified such a gene combination. This combination ensures that the incompatible hybrids do not grow well in cold conditions and are unable to control their immune response to pathogens. (Nature Genetics, October 31, 2010)


Incompatible hybrids from crosses between the Arabidopsis thaliana accession Ler and different accessions from Central Asia at low temperatures (14º). Each pair represents two second-generation plants, which are heterozygote (left) or homozygote (right) for the incompatible allele interaction. Because incompatible alleles are recessive, only homozygotes display dwarfism. In contrast, the heterozygotes grow normally.


Image: Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research


Hybrid plants that carry two or more incompatible gene variants - also known as incompatible alleles - are often sterile and slow-growing. Breeding researchers call such plants with conflicting gene variants incompatible hybrids. However, these deleterious alleles do not simply disappear from nature; some are surprisingly frequent. This would suggest that they are advantageous in their original genetic backgrounds and show their bad side only after breeding. Matthieu Reymond, Rubén Alcázar and their colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research have studied incompatible hybrids that are produced by crossing Arabidopsis thaliana accessions.


The natural range of this familiar weed, which is also known as thale cress, extends from Japan to the Cape Verdi islands and North America, and from North Africa to northern Sweden. The different variants of the species are known as accessions. If the European accession Ler is crossed with the Asian accession Kas-2 or Kond, incompatible hybrids are produced that only grow as a dwarf form at temperatures below 14 degrees Celsius.


Overactive immune system impedes growth

The Cologne scientists have now discovered the critical allele in Kas-2 and Kond. It is a receptor-like kinase that is involved in the immune response. This allele allows the production of a protein that triggers a stronger immune response in the plant.


The critical allele in Ler maps to within a cluster of Resistance genes. Their gene products also support the plant in defending itself against pathogens. Reymond and Alcázar had demonstrated this connection before, and are still analyzing the precise Ler allele polymorphism(s) within the complex cluster which triggers incompatibility with the Kas-2 and Kond receptor-like kinase alleles. "The dwarf growth would suggest that the Ler allele must have something to do with the plant’s immune system. An activated immune defence system demands considerable metabolic activity of the plant and always operates at the cost of growth," says Matthieu Reymond.


The Cologne scientists remark that isolated Arabidopsis populations accumulate genetic differences over time. Certain genetic differences arise randomly while others are selected because they enable the plant to adapt particularly well to local environments. The incompatible Kas and Kond kinase alleles are common in Asia and show signatures of selection, but do not exist in other parts of the world. They were probably able to spread in Asia as they helped the populations there to attain an optimal immune response. The disastrous over-activity of the immune system only arises when they are crossed with the Ler accession, which they probably never encounter in nature due to the large distance between them. Therefore, a selection pressure against is not expected to be harmful to allele combination.


"The spreading of the incompatibility between the Ler accession and the Asian accessions is a by-product of natural selection in their local environments. This is a good example of how new species may arise that can no longer be crossed with each other," explains Rubén Alcázar.


Original work:

Rubén Alcázar, Ana V. García, Ilkka Kronholm, Juliette de Meaux, Maarten Koornneef, Jane E Parker & Matthieu Reymond

Natural variation at Strubbelig Receptor Kinase 3 drives immune-triggered incompatibilities between Arabidopsis thaliana accessions

Nature Genetics (doi:10.1038/ng.704)




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1.16  Analysis of national food and nutrition security plans in Colombia and Peru


Analysis of national food and nutrition security plans in Colombia and Peru, and how crop biofortification can be integrated into these (documents in Spanish).


Contributed by Helena Pachon


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1.17  A new maturity group 5 soybean with excellent yield potential for the Southern USA


A new conventional soybean germplasm line JTN-5203 has been developed for the Mid south area of United States. This offers broad resistance to soybean cyst nematode (SCN = Heterodera glycines Ichinohe) populations, reniform nematodes (Rotylenchulus reniformis Linford and Oliveira) and fungal diseases, coupled with high yield potential.  JTN-5203, which will be released by USDA-ARS in cooperation with the Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station, results from the research efforts of Dr. Prakash R. Arelli, who is with USDA-ARS, Crop Genetics Research Unit in Jackson, TN in collaboration with Drs. Vincent R. Pantalone and Fred L. Allen of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Dr. Alemu Mengistu, also of USDA-ARS-CGRU in Jackson, TN.


JTN-5203 is an F6 -derived line from the cross ‘Caviness’ x ‘Anand’.  The pedigrees of parental cultivars Caviness and Anand, include ‘Hutcheson’ x ‘Asgrow 5403’ and ‘Holladay’ x ‘Hartwig’, respectively.  It brings together resistance from PI88788, Peking and PI437654 and is uniformly resistant to SCN Races 2, 3 and 14 (HG Type, HG Type 0 and HG Type, respectively).  This line was evaluated for SCN resistance in the greenhouse using established methods, and resistance was confirmed using simple sequence repeat markers associated with SCN resistance in a polymerase chain reaction. In marker assisted selection, the markers used were: Satt309, 162, 082, 574 and Sat_168, and the tracked resistance alleles included rhg1, Rhg4 and Rhg5.


Based on data averaged from across 23 locations in 2007-2009 in the USDA Uniform Soybean Tests – Southern Region Uniform V test (USA), JTN-5203 produced 49.3 bushels/acre (bu/a) or 3315.4 kilograms/hectare (kg/ha) seed yield.  This was similar to checks 5002T and 5601T. JTN-5203 has white flowers, gray pubescence and a determinate growth habit.  Seeds are yellow with buff hila.


In the 2009 Tennessee, USA Soybean Variety Performance Tests, JTN-5203 produced very high seed yields (67 bu/a = 4505 kg/ha) and was ranked second among 36 maturity group IV and V conventional varieties and Roundup Ready checks evaluated in 5 environments.  JTN-5203 tied for the lowest lodging score among all the maturity group V varieties in the test.


JTN-5203 is an exciting new release because it is highly resistant to SCN Race 2, the race that is predominantly infecting soybean cultivars grown in Tennessee.  Currently, maturity group V varieties that are both high yielding and highly resistant to SCN Race 2 are mostly unavailable for growers in Tennessee.  JTN-5203 can also serve as an excellent parent material with resistance to nematodes, sudden death syndrome (SDS), frogeye leaf spot and stem canker, combined with very high yield potential.


This research was partially funded by the Tennessee Soybean promotion Board (USA) and technical assistance of Lisa Fritz (USDA-ARS) and Dana Pekarchick (USDA-ARS) is greatefully acknowledged.


Contributed by Prakash R. Arelli

Supervisory Research Geneticist

Crop Genetics Research Unit


Jackson, TN 38301


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1.18  The UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center welcomes FlandersBio as its newest partner of the European Plant Breeding Academy


The UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center is proud to welcome FlandersBio as our newest partner of the European Plant Breeding Academy. FlandersBio of Gent, Belgium, joins organizations such as the European Seed Association; Vegepolys; the French Seed Association; Seed Valley; Naktuinbouw; the Center for Research in Agricultural Genomic, Spain; the Spanish Plant Breeders Association; Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Gatersleben; and the German Plant Breeders Association in a partnership with the Seed Biotechnology Center to develop and support this one-of-a-kind collaborative program committed to the future development of plant breeders.


FlandersBio is the umbrella organization for the Life Sciences sector in Flanders, a dynamic non-profit, fee based organization with 210 members. Their mission is to support and facilitate the sector’s sustained development. Their objective is to ensure that it remains a strong driver of economic growth in the region. The FlandersBio network brings together companies with innovative, R&D-driven activities in the life sciences – companies that are for example developing biopharmaceuticals, medical technologies or agricultural or industrial biotech products. Their network welcomes also academic research institutes and providers of capital, services and technologies to the life sciences community. By organizing networking activities they build bridges between the different entities and by actively stimulating innovation and R&D, FlandersBio creates an added value for the sector as a whole. For more information please see:


The UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center is pleased to announce that applications are now being accepted for the second class of the European Plant Breeding Academy beginning in October of 2011. The integrated postgraduate program, which is not crop specific, teaches the fundamentals of plant breeding, genetics, and statistics  through lectures, discussion, and field trips to public and private breeding programs. Employers appreciate the opportunity to provide their valued employees advanced training without disrupting their full-time employment. Participants will attend six 6-day sessions in five countries. The instructors are internationally recognized experts in plant breeding and seed technology.


For more information on the UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy or the Plant Breeding Academy in the United States visit or contact Joy Patterson,


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1.19 SolCAP tomato workshop held in Tampa, FL focuses on new tools from breeders


16 November 2010

Advances in sequencing have led to vast amounts of genomic data related to tomato. Several new technologies and software are available to aid researchers in their efforts to breed enhanced varieties. This one-day free workshop hosted by the Solanaceae Coordinated Agricultural Project, “Using the Tomato Genome Sequence and Infinium Array in Breeding,” provided a detailed overview of several such technologies. Held in conjunction with the 25th Annual Tomato Disease Workshop, 26 on-site and 42 webinar participants discussed the application to plant breeding of available sequencing resources, the Tomato Genome Browser, bioinformatics and downstream analysis regarding working with genotype data. Each of these presentations was recorded and will be available through the SolCap website ( For more information related to this event, please contact Allen Van Deynze at the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center, 


About the Solanaceae Coordinated Agricultural Project (SolCAP) - SolCAP projects link together people from public institutions, private institutions, and industries who are dedicated to the improvement of the Solanaceae crops: potato and tomato. SolCAP projects focus on translating genomic advances to U.S. tomato and potato breeding programs.


Contributed by ALLEN VAN DEYNZE


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1.20  Scientists release disease free sweet potato varieties


Uganda farmers already have the advantage of planting disease free varieties of sweet potatoes. The new sweet potato varieties with weevil and virus resistance were developed and released by crop scientists of the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NACRRI). Scientists continue to develop these varieties through conventional breeding, tissue culture and modern biotechnology techniques. Aside from acquiring disease resistance, they are also improving the nutritional quality of both fresh and dry matter by developing varieties that contain vitamin A. Various indigenous sweet potato species and species coming from the International Potato Center in Peru are being used.


"We usually obtain local collections and keep them in the green house where the crossing of varieties is conducted. When we receive those varieties from Peru, we undergo the same process of crossing them with the indigenous ones. So far we have released 20 varieties between the year 1996 - 2010," said Charles Niringiye, sweet potato agronomist of NACRRI.


The aim of this research program is to improve food security and livelihood of the rural families in Sub-Saharan Africa including Uganda.


Read the rest of the story at


Source: Crop Biotech Update, 24 September 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.21  USDA Scientists breed healthier soybean lines


U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and university scientists have discovered and used gene copies of FAD2 to improve soybean's oleic-acid content. The team led by Kristin Bilyeu, a molecular biologist of USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS), said that having high levels of oleic acid would mean more monosaturated fat, thus avoiding resorting to hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is the process of converting oil from liquid to solid, which also improves shelf life and product quality. However, this process also produces trans-fats which worsen the body's blood cholesterol levels.


Soy oil would normally contain 20 percent oleic acid, but the new beans produced with the gene copies could produce up to more than 80 percent oleic acid. Field trials in Missouri and Costa Rica showed that these new soy lines' oleic content remains stable even if exposed to different growing conditions.


For more information, visit


Source: Crop Biotech Update, 24 September 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.22  U.S. says genes should not be eligible for patents



29 October 2010

Reversing a longstanding policy, the federal government said on Friday that human and other genes should not be eligible for patents because they are part of nature. The new position could have a huge impact on medicine and on the biotechnology industry.


The new position was declared in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Department of Justice late Friday in a case involving two human genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer.


“We acknowledge that this conclusion is contrary to the longstanding practice of the Patent and Trademark Office, as well as the practice of the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies that have in the past sought and obtained patents for isolated genomic DNA,” the brief said.


It is not clear if the position in the legal brief, which appears to have been the result of discussions among various government agencies, will be put into effect by the Patent Office.


If it were, it is likely to draw protests from some biotechnology companies that say such patents are vital to the development of diagnostic tests, drugs and the emerging field of personalized medicine, in which drugs are tailored for individual patients based on their genes.


“It’s major when the United States, in a filing, reverses decades of policies on an issue that everyone has been focused on for so long,” said Edward Reines, a patent attorney who represents biotechnology companies.


The issue of gene patents has long been a controversial and emotional one. Opponents say that genes are products of nature, not inventions, and should be the common heritage of mankind. They say that locking up basic genetic information in patents actually impedes medical progress. Proponents say genes isolated from the body are chemicals that are different from those found in the body and therefore are eligible for patents.


The Patent and Trademark Office has sided with the proponents and has issued thousands of patents on genes of various organisms, including on an estimated 20 percent of human genes.


But in its brief, the government said it now believed that the mere isolation of a gene, without further alteration or manipulation, does not change its nature.


“The chemical structure of native human genes is a product of nature, and it is no less a product of nature when that structure is ‘isolated’ from its natural environment than are cotton fibers that have been separated from cotton seeds or coal that has been extracted from the earth,” the brief said.


However, the government suggested such a change would have limited impact on the biotechnology industry because man-made manipulations of DNA, like methods to create genetically modified crops or gene therapies, could still be patented. Dr. James P. Evans, a professor of genetics and medicine at the University of North Carolina, who headed a government advisory task force on gene patents, called the government’s brief “a bit of a landmark, kind of a line in the sand.”


He said that although gene patents had been issued for decades, the patentability of genes had never been examined in court.


That changed when the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation organized various individuals, medical researchers and societies to file a lawsuit challenging patents held by Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation. The patents cover two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, and the over $3,000 analysis Myriad performs on the genes to see if women carry mutations that predispose them to breast and ovarian cancers.


In a surprise ruling in March, Judge Robert W. Sweet of the United States District Court in Manhattan ruled the patents invalid. He said that genes were important for the information they convey, and in that sense, an isolated gene was not really different from a gene in the body. The government said that that ruling prompted it to re-evaluate its policy.


Myriad and the University of Utah have appealed.


Saying that the questions in the case were “of great importance to the national economy, to medical science and to the public health,” the Justice Department filed an amicus brief that sided with neither party. While the government took the plaintiffs’ side on the issue of isolated DNA, it sided with Myriad on patentability of manipulated DNA.


Myriad and the plaintiffs did not comment on the government’s brief by deadline for this article.


Mr. Reines, the attorney, who is with the firm of Weil Gotshal & Manges and is not involved in the main part of the Myriad case, said he thought the Patent Office opposed the new position but was overruled by other agencies. A hint is that no lawyer from the Patent Office was listed on the brief.


A version of this article appeared in print on October 30, 2010, on page B1 of the New York edition.


from -


Contributed by Robert Fjellstrom

Plant Molecular Geneticist

Agricultural Research Service, USDA

DB National Rice Research Center

Stuttgart, Arkansas


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1.23  Launch of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP)


10 November 2010

One of the world’s largest global scientific partnerships for sustainable agricultural development has launched a bold new research initiative that aims to dramatically improve the ability of rice farmers to feed growing populations in some of the world’s poorest nations. The efforts of the Global Rice Science Partnership, or GRiSP, are expected to lift 150 million people out of poverty by 2035 and prevent the emission of greenhouse gases by an amount equivalent to more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide.


An initiative of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and its partners, GRiSP was launched in Hanoi today at the 3rd International Rice Congress. The new global initiative will lead scientists to embark on the most comprehensive attempt ever to deploy rice’s genetic diversity. Cutting-edge research aimed at discovering new rice genes and deciphering their functions will feed into accelerated efforts to break the yield barrier in rice and to breed new generations of “climate-ready” rice with flooding tolerance and other traits that are essential for adapting production in the face of climate change. The initiative is expected to boost supplies enough to reduce anticipated increases in rice prices by an average of at least 6.5% by 2020, and at least 13% by 2035.


“Given that rice is a staple food for more than half the global population and in most of the developing world, there is no question that availability of rice is equated with food security,” said Dr. Robert Zeigler, director general of IRRI, a member of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers.


According to Zeigler, GRiSP has the potential to contribute significantly to lowering food prices, which he says should lift about 72 million people out of poverty by 2020. This effect is measured by counting the lower costs as projected income gains worth US$11 billion, thus reducing global poverty by 5% by 2020 and 11% by 2035.


At the same time, GRiSP research will significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from rice production through the adoption of improved irrigation methods and by avoiding deforestation. More than 1.2 million hectares of forest, wetlands, and other natural ecosystems will be saved by 2035 because rice production will not need to expand into new areas, thanks to higher rice yields.


The launch of GRiSP marks the beginning of a 5-year, nearly US$600 million endeavor. While GRiSP builds on existing research, development, and funding, it requires additional new financial support to raise annual funding for rice research from around $100 million in 2011 to $139 million in 2015 to fully realize its potential.


“GRiSP is the opening gambit in a wider campaign to secure the world’s food supply within 25 years,” said Mr. Carlos Pérez del Castillo, chair of the Board of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers. The Consortium of Centers was formed recently in a major reorganization of the CGIAR that is responsible for providing financial support for the implementation of the CGIAR Research Programs.


“In the coming months,” he added, “the CGIAR will launch further high-quality international research programs that form part of a comprehensive vision, with clear impact-oriented targets, for reduction in poverty and hunger, improvements in health and nutrition, and enhanced resilience of the world’s ecosystems. We welcome the CGIAR donor support for these new programs.”


The initiative will also promote revolutionary transformations in rice agronomy, processing, and policy. The overall goal will be to serve farmers and consumers by increasing yields using improved seeds and agricultural practices, and by reducing postharvest losses (estimated at 20-30 percent of developing-country production).


As part of a vigorous effort to strengthen national research capacity, this program will offer hundreds of developing-country professionals—at least 30 percent of them women—the opportunity to take part in degree programs and training courses.


This global partnership is led by IRRI along with AfricaRice and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and includes two French organizations, the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD) and L'Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), as well as the Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS), with hundreds of other partners worldwide representing governments, the private sector and civil society. These partners actively shaped the research agenda of GRiSP and will play key roles in its implementation. GRiSP provides an example of how the CGIAR will operate in the future, which other research programs will emulate.


GRiSP embodies the key recommendations of Never an Empty Bowl: Sustaining Food Security in Asia, an international taskforce report released in late September by IRRI and the Asia Society. Calling for new efforts to “raise and sustain the productivity of rice farmers,” the report proposes innovative mechanisms to pay for this work, including one in which rice-growing nations would fund rice research on the basis of the value of domestic production.




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1.24  GMO bentgrass found in Eastern Oregon


By Mitch Lies

Capital Press

Roundup Ready creeping bentgrass has been found in Eastern Oregon's Malheur County.

Oregon State University weed scientist Carol Mallory-Smith said the genetically modified bentgrass is growing in several miles of irrigation canals and on field borders between Ontario and Nyssa.


Mallory-Smith was alerted to the presence of the plant by a Malheur County resident who discovered the grass couldn't be taken out with Roundup. The resident contacted Mallory-Smith and sent her a sample.


The sample tested positive for the transgenic gene. Mallory-Smith said she has been to the area twice since the Oct. 14 discovery and found the genetically engineered bentgrass in large canals, laterals and spreading up from canals into fields. Mallory-Smith speculated the plants originated from seed that spread from a seed field planted to the grass in 2005 just across the river from Malheur County near Parma, Idaho.


Roundup Ready creeping bentgrass is being developed by the Scotts Co. for the golf-course market. The grass has been tied up in the federal deregulation process since 2003, when Scotts and Monsanto Co. first petitioned the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to deregulate the crop.




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1.25  Reference methods for GMO analysis which have been validated according to international standards


New reference report from the Joint Research Center of the European Commission lists 79 reference methods for GMO analysis which have been validated according to international standards


Brussels, Belgium

10 Novembe 2010

A new reference report published today by the JRC lists 79 reference methods for GMO analysis which have been validated according to international standards. This compendium, developed jointly by the EU Reference Laboratory for Genetically Modified Food and Feed (EU-RL GMFF) and the European Network of GMO Laboratories (ENGL), presents the technical state of the art in GMO detection methods. Each method is described in a user-friendly way, facilitating the implementation of GMO legislation by official control bodies.


Most of the methods have been developed by the biotechnology industry and validated by the EU-RL GMFF for their applicability according to EU legislation. They will be used by EU Member States to organise official controls on GMOs and the compendium will therefore contribute to the health and consumer protection of European citizens.


The following selection criteria were applied to decide on inclusion of GMO detection methods, which were validated in international collaborative trials during the period 1999 to 2009:

  • Considering the largest common denominator in the present global framework of GMO analysis, this first issue of the compendium focuses on Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) methods i.e. DNA-based detection methods.
  • Compliance with ISO 5725 international standard (accuracy (trueness and precision) of measurement methods and result) and/or the IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) “Protocol for the design, conduct and interpretation of method performance studies”.


The 79 reference methods thus identified are described in a short executive summary which provides all essential information. For further details on some of the methods the relevant references are provided. This user-friendly lay-out makes the compendium a practical tool and facilitates implementation of the reference methods by GMO control laboratories.


Related Links



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1.26  Mutation advances set to flip biotech crop debate


17 November 2010

By Paul Voosen


Earlier this year, out in the remote test farms of North Dakota, researchers sprayed weedkiller on canola, a delicate golden-flowered plant used for cooking oil. A touch of the herbicide would have killed most plants, but the canola refused to wilt. It survived to late summer harvest.


It was not an uncommon sight in modern farming. Like many U.S. crops, the canola had been engineered to survive a heavy dose of weedkiller. But this stubborn plant was different from most genetically modified crops, which carry copies of bacterial genes in their DNA. The canola survived by tapping only the natural gifts of its genetic code -- or, rather, a lightly "edited" version of its genetic code.


Created by the biotech firm Cibus LLC, this herbicide-tolerant canola is likely to be the first in a wave of crops created by targeted mutation, a long-sought technique that allows tailored changes in plant genes, down to single pairs of DNA. The technology is poised to upend the debate on modified crops, forcing regulators and the public to face a simple question: What does "genetically engineered" mean?


Approaches vary on targeted mutation, with Cibus using an older and controversial technique compared to its peers, which draw on bleeding-edge approaches to human gene therapy. But while the technologies diverge, at their most fundamental they all resemble altering one letter in one word of the newspaper, said Peter Beetham, Cibus' scientific head.


Flipping that one letter, he said, "potentially changes the meaning of the whole paragraph."


Though far from public notice, invoking random crop mutations is a time-tested technology. Throughout the past century, breeders have used harsh chemicals and radiation to mutate the cells of food staples like wheat; the reaped improvements were an essential part of the Green Revolution. Despite these gains, though, mutation has remained a random, inefficient process, mostly producing crops riven with lesions and genetic flaws, drowning out the rare improvement.


Targeted mutation, also known as genome editing, changes this dynamic. Over the past several years, a clutch of small biotech firms has developed tools that allow scientists to induce errors in DNA repair -- such mistakes are the source of mutation -- with great specificity. These tools, which use complex protein structures called zinc fingers or meganucleases, can also selectively insert or silence genes in crop species like corn. Combined, they will knock years off development time, scientists say.


"These tools are going to be widely used to study plant gene function, to modify multiple [genetic] pathways and to understand how plant genes work," said Dan Voytas, a biologist at the University of Minnesota and one of the leading developers of genome editing. "We're at a true inflection point in how we do plant biotechnology."


In perhaps the best measure of genome editing's spreading influence, the advance has attracted the attention and capital of the world's largest biotech companies, including Monsanto Co., Dow Chemical Co., Dupont Co. and BASF SE. Over the past few years, these chemical and seed companies have conducted a quiet arms race, partnering with startups like Sangamo Biosciences and Precision Biosciences to snatch up licenses to the companies' technology.


In the industry, expectations are high that genome editing, building off the reams of gene function data pouring into private and public databases, will reorder their business. As Vipula Shukla, one of Dow's leading scientists, wrote last year in the journal Nature, these technologies make "precise modification of native genomes in plants practical and feasible for the first time. This approach ... establishes an efficient and precise strategy for plant genome engineering."


The technology, licensed from Sangamo, is well beyond proof of concept (pdf), Shukla added in an interview.


"It's something that's very much embedded in our efforts to develop all kinds of traits," she said. Dow is using it on cash crops -- the Nature paper applied genome editing in corn -- and has signed deals to apply it in potatoes, tomatoes and cassava, among other plants. "We are using it wherever and whenever it makes sense from product development," Shukla said.


Many scientists have expressed hope that these new genetic tools could spur the public to embrace, or at least not fear, the bioengineering of plants, since the crops would not carry the "yuck" factor of foreign genes. (A frost-tolerant tomato carrying a fish gene, proposed in the early 1990s, is still widely cited, though it was never sold.)


Such hopes misread public sentiment, said Janet Cotter, a Greenpeace scientist based at the University of Exeter. The public's objections are simple, she said: "They don't like people meddling with DNA."


The distinction between targeted mutation and traditional biotech crops is too fine, added Jeff Wolt, an agronomist at Iowa State University. If it looks like biotechnology and it acts like biotechnology, it will be mixed up into the current debate, he said.


"I don't think the public understands the subtleties," he said.


Regulatory uncertainty

As targeted mutation plows forward, crops developed with it are bound to run up against a U.S. regulatory system that has been based on one technology: the somewhat random insertion of largely bacterial DNA into plants.


Genome editing could instead see crops that have had multiple native genes slightly altered, targeting complex qualities like their water use. Without carrying foreign genes, such plants could face little to no regulatory oversight.


For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which controls growth of genetically modified crops, concluded six years ago in a letter, seen by Greenwire, that it had no authority to regulate crops generated with "mutagenesis techniques" like those employed by Cibus. The firm has faced no limits on its field trials for its herbicide-tolerant canola and will likely be able to sell the crop without facing the USDA controls that have regulated bioengineered crops for more than a decade.


Indeed, regulators in the United States and Europe are bracing themselves for the explosion of genetic approaches set to unfold in plants. Beyond genome editing, plants could have expression of their genes silenced with RNA -- a practice already used in soy and papaya -- or scientists may use genetic tools to insert DNA from plants in the same species, avoiding the randomness of breeding (Greenwire, Dec. 21, 2009).


For several years, USDA has been reworking its rules for bioengineered crops. It remains a mystery whether or how it will choose to regulate genome-edited crops, but the department is "considering where zinc-finger technology falls within our regulatory authority," said Andre Bell, a spokesman.


The possibility of a light regulatory load -- and access to a European market still conflicted about traditional genetically modified crops -- is "one of the real attractions of our technologies to our partners, especially those in Europe," said Matthew Kane, CEO of Precision Biosciences, which has licensed its editing technology to Dupont and, earlier this month, to BASF, the German chemical giant.


Looking simply at the technology of genome editing, less regulation would seem appropriate, Iowa State's Wolt said. "Using biotechnology that doesn't insert a foreign gene means that we should be simplifying, minimizing or eliminating a lot of these regulatory requirements," he said. Given public opinion, however, USDA officials "have their hands somewhat tied in what they can do," he added.


Given the regulatory uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic, the large crop firms have not committed to the notion that edited crops should skirt regulators. Indeed, it is likely Dow and BASF will use targeted mutation to improve crops that also carry bacterial genes, falling squarely under existing rules.


Still, there is an optimism that genome editing could roam free, said Voytas, who is also the chief scientist at Cellectis Plant Sciences, a firm that recently began collaborating with Monsanto.


"Conservatively, people are saying if we deliver a nuclease protein ... that's not so different than a [mutation-causing agent]," he said. "We've not genetically altered the cell that's receiving it."


There will be difficult distinctions for regulators to untangle, though, since multiple, single-letter changes can be introduced with genome editing, Voytas said. Perhaps one mutation is fine, but scientists will be able to cause three, five or 10 letter changes in genes.


"There's a threshold," he said. "When do you have a new gene?"


'New phase of what's possible'


Engineering plants has long been a messy affair. While researchers can have their way with flexible microbes, inserting DNA into plants relies on technology pioneered decades ago. Using bacteria or gene guns -- the latter blast plant cells with DNA-encrusted metals -- scientists can only insert DNA at random. With luck, the genes do not interfere with existing DNA, and the crop is cultivated.


To Cibus' Beetham, splicing foreign DNA into plants seems inelegant, a "transition technology."


Plant genomes are like grandfather clocks, he said, and throwing a foreign gene into the genome amounts to adding a fast-spinning cog "that throws off everything." Genome editing, in Beetham's analogy, would instead tweak the bite in one cog's tooth.


Cibus' approach to mutation is controversial. The technique exploded onto the scientific scene in the late 1990s with high -- and failed -- promises for gene therapy; it has been freighted with skepticism ever since.


During those heady days, the technology, developed in the lab of Eric Kmiec at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, looked miraculously simple: Introducing a hybrid DNA-RNA template would cause a small number of cells, during division, to copy genetic code off the template, causing mutation.


More than 10 years later, Cibus' approach remains similar. The firm injects single strands of synthesized DNA into a cell. The strands match the code of one genome section, except for one intentional mistake. When the cell divides, on rare occasions the template lines up with its targeted DNA. Repair enzymes sense a mismatch and swoop in to "fix" the DNA, copying off Cibus' template and creating a permanent mutation. Cibus' single-strand DNA, its job done, is then broken apart by the cell.


"The only change is a single mutation," Beetham said. "It's a much clearer and safer product."


The tools used by Precision, Cellectis and Sangamo are more proactive, relying on customized protein molecules that recognize genetic strands 20 or so letters in length -- a signature long enough to imply a unique position -- and there break apart the DNA, rather than waiting for cell replication. Then, a DNA template similar to Cibus' can be used, or scientists can wait for the repair enzymes to make a mistaken mutation themselves. Either way, an inheritable change is made at high rates, and no foreign genetic material is left behind, according to Precision's Kane.


"Once the [protein] has made its cut, it gets out of the way," he said.


There are limits to what can be done with genome editing, since it is restricted to variations on genes already in a plant. For example, one pillar of modern agricultural biotechnology is the Cry bacterial gene, which produces a protein toxic to select insects and harmless to humans. Used widely in cotton and corn, the gene is wholly foreign to plants. It could not be created by mutation.


The true potential for genome editing, beyond more efficient hypothesis testing, involves attributes that cannot be tied to a single gene: traits like height, drought tolerance and photosynthesis. As more genes are linked to these traits, targeted mutation can be used to increase or limit their expression, the type of wholesale bioengineering that is currently more common in bacteria.


"Those more complex changes can be considered now and can be accomplished in a relatively quick period of time," Kane said. "We are entering a new phase of what's possible."


Several environmental groups that have long been opposed to genetically modified crops, like Greenpeace and the Center for Food Safety, are conflicted when it comes to this new phase. They welcome the notion that more precise tools will lower the roulette-type insertion of genes in modified crops. However, they are uncertain if their campaigns against edited crops will mirror their past opposition.


Since bioengineered crops began to be sold more than a decade ago, the debate has pivoted on whether or not a plant carries foreign genes, said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety. "Frankly, I'm getting a little tired of that [debate]," he said.


The center's concern with Cibus' canola, and future edited plants, is that herbicide resistance will remain a prime goal of biotech companies, particularly if such resistance can be imparted without USDA rules. Already, a number of weeds have developed tolerance to glyphosate, the popular herbicide that is routinely overused on transgenic crops, the National Academy of Sciences warned earlier this year.


These crops "demonstrably lead us exactly the wrong way," Freese said.


Greenpeace, meanwhile, is unequivocal in considering edited crops genetically modified. Inserting any heritable material into the cell, even a single-strand piece of DNA unable to integrate into the genome, should qualify the crop as engineered, Greenpeace's Cotter said.


"It's tinkering around with an approach that's still working against nature," she said.


Matter of time for edited crops?


Whether it is working with or against nature, Cibus has grown herbicide-tolerant canola in North Dakota, where most of the crop is already modified to resist Monsanto's Roundup. The company has bred its mutated canola, designed to resist a class of sulfonylurea weedkillers, into high-yielding varieties. It plans to sell the crop in little more than a year, partnering with the seed distributor BrettYoung.


All of Cibus' successful mutations have come in developing weedkiller-resistant crops. It has deals to develop similar traits in potatoes and flax, and last year it received $37 million from Makhteshim-Agan, an Israeli herbicide company, to develop five "major" crops for the European market.


The company has also seen plants resist its mutation efforts. Its plans for sorghum have faltered, for example. Not all crops will necessarily work with the Cibus' technology, Beetham said. And some outside scientists are skeptical it can target any traits beyond herbicide resistance.


One of Beetham's past collaborators, Chongmei Dong, a plant geneticist at the University of Sydney, believes the company's mutations are not a result of their DNA templates at all, but rather the natural rate of mutation seen in cultured plant cells. By exposing these cells to herbicide, it is simple to find resistant plants -- just look for the surviving cells. When Dong tried using Cibus' techniques in embryonic wheat cells five years ago, the mutation would not take.


"I started thinking, '[Does] this technology really work?'" Dong said.


Beetham, who worked at Kimeragen, the failed company that rose out of Kmiec's lab, published one of the earliest studies using DNA-RNA templates in 1999, inducing weedkiller resistance in tobacco. Since then, his team has plugged away for 10 years, improving the template and the screening used to find the minute number of successfully induced mutations. The mechanism is clear to Beetham, and Cibus understands the timing of DNA repair well enough to target complex traits, he added.


"You can circumvent selection," Beetham said. "That's a challenge. I'm not saying that it's a slam dunk. But we have the tools now that can go after that challenge."


It may be scientifically impossible to be certain, given published data, whether Cibus is creating its mutations or simply picking out accidental mutations it can use. KeyGene, a decades-old Dutch biotech company, has begun using a process similar to Cibus, targeting weedkiller resistance in vegetables. Beetham said the company's data are clear that they are generating mutations above the background levels.


Still, Dong believes that it will be zinc fingers and similar molecules that will lead the field in the future, a sentiment the major biotech firms seem to share, given their recent deals.


Researchers are racing to publish high-profile papers indicating high efficiencies -- mutations that are successful 10 percent of the time, a previously unheard success --- and the cutting mechanisms are well-understood. It is only a matter of time before the edited crops arrive, scientists say.


Given the demands that will be placed on agriculture in the coming decades -- slowly supplementing and replacing fossil fuels in the economy, and feeding a rising population -- these tools could not have come soon enough, Minnesota's Voytas added.


"These new technologies allow you to do things with much more precision, with much more accuracy and with much more certainty," Voytas said. "You know what you created."


Copyright 2010 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved.


Source: Greenwire via


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1.27  Genetic engineering in Africa


Currently, genetically modified crops are only cultivated in three African countries on a commercial basis. However, in research and development plant biotechnology is already used more and more. Scientists work above all on crops that are better adapted to local growing conditions or that are more nutritious. At the same time, many African governments increase their efforts to regulate genetically modified crops in their countries.


Please read more about genetic engineering in Africa:

Disease-resistant bananas, drought-tolerant maize


GMO Safety spoke to African experts in the field, they are presenting their views on these issues. Prof. Diran Makinde is Director of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Arthur M. Makara is Executive Director of the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (Scifode) in Kampala, Uganda.


Please read the interview about the current and future role of genetically modified crops in Africa in more detail:

„New GM crops in the pipeline: “These are staple crops that Africans love to eat several times a day.“


We would be pleased if you report about the topics. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.


Contact: Barbara Löchte

GMO Safety editorial team

Genius GmbH, Darmstadt; i-bio Information Biowissenschaften, Aachen


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1.28  UC Davis, European Plant Breeding Academy Class I gather in Enkhuizen, The Netherlands


Last week, Enkhuizen in The Netherlands was the stage for the UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy (EPBA), a two year study program for plant breeders. This international program is one of the measures which seed companies are taking to respond to the threatened shortage of highly qualified breeders. Demand for breeders on the rise - The UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy responds to the trend which sees fewer numbers of graduate plant breeders in the face of increasing demand from the steadily growing seed companies. Interest in academic breeding studies has declined significantly. On the other hand, courses in life sciences are gaining in popularity and cell biologists, molecular biologists and biotechnologists at seed companies play an important role in breeding research. Many of these highly qualified personnel have the capacities to lead a breeding program, but lack the specialized knowledge with regard to genetics, statistics and intellectual property laws. The UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy focuses specifically on these people; they learn additional skills and study the required theory.


Participants in the UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy come from French and Israeli branches of Syngenta and a Spanish branch of Monsanto (Seminis). Other students come from seed companies in Germany, Belgium, Finland and Thailand.  The EPBA was organized with support of our partners in the Netherlands, Seed Valley. Lectures and practical sessions are given in the Enkhuizen based Seed Valley companies Enza Zaden, Incotec and Syngenta and at inspection and quality organization Naktuinbouw.


Seed Valley, the area between Enkhuizen and Warmenhuizen in the province of North Holland, is home to many specialized seed companies which deliver high quality propagating material to vegetable and flower growers all over the world. This makes Seed Valley a global centre of “green software”; this is where the genetic programs are developed which determine whether a plant is resistant to disease, how a vegetable tastes and the colour and size of a flower.


For more information on UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy Class II starting October 2011 and application process, visit


Contributed by Donna Van Dolah

Seed Biotechnology Center

Davis, CA


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1.29  Success! UC Davis Plant Breeding Academysm Class III


Class III of the UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy (PBA) started September 13th with the first session of this premier training program hosted by UC Davis. 16 participants gathered from various countries to participate in the program. The PBA targets professionals and provides an in-depth postgraduate education in plant breeding. The program, which is not crop specific, teaches the basics of plant breeding, genetics, and statistics through a balance of classroom instruction, workshops, and site visits to plant breeding programs. A complete listing of students attending Class III can be found here.


UC Davis, European Plant Breeding Academy Class I gather in Enkhuizen, The Netherlands

Last week, Enkhuizen in The Netherlands was the stage for the UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy (EPBA), a two year study program for plant breeders. This international program is one of the measures which seed companies are taking to respond to the threatened shortage of highly qualified breeders. Demand for breeders on the rise - The UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy responds to the trend which sees fewer numbers of graduate plant breeders in the face of increasing demand from the steadily growing seed companies. Interest in academic breeding studies has declined significantly. On the other hand, courses in life sciences are gaining in popularity and cell biologists, molecular biologists and biotechnologists at seed companies play an important role in breeding research. Many of these highly qualified personnel have the capacities to lead a breeding program, but lack the specialized knowledge with regard to genetics, statistics and intellectual property laws. The UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy focuses specifically on these people; they learn additional skills and study the required theory.


Participants in the UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy come from French and Israeli branches of Syngenta and a Spanish branch of Monsanto (Seminis). Other students come from seed companies in Germany, Belgium, Finland and Thailand.  The EPBA was organized with support of our partners in The Netherlands, Seed Valley. Lectures and practical sessions are given in the Enkhuizen-based Seed Valley companies Enza Zaden, Incotec and Syngenta and at inspection and quality organization Naktuinbouw.


Seed Valley, the area between Enkhuizen and Warmenhuizen in the province of North Holland, is home to many specialized seed companies which deliver high quality propagating material to vegetable and flower growers all over the world. This makes Seed Valley a global centre of “green software”; this is where the genetic programs are developed which determine whether a plant is resistant to disease, how a vegetable tastes and the colour and size of a flower. For more information on UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy Class II starting in October 2011 and application process, visit


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1.30  Native potatoes put biodiversity on a plate and on the agenda


Lima, Peru

29 October 2010

Potatoes in all shapes, colors and presentations were a hit at Latin America’s biggest ‘foodie’ get together this year, and highlighted the fact that biodiversity can be delicious; good for science, good for the palate and good for the economy.


In the United Nations Year of Biodiversity, Peru’s answer to Germany’s Oktoberfest, the III International Gourmet Festival –Mistura - paid homage to the biodiversity of the humble potato by featuring native potatoes as a star product.


With more than 200 thousand visitors to the six day event, the festive occasion provided an ideal learning opportunity for the many Peruvians who, although their country is in the throws of a gastronomic boom, still only recognize a handful of the more than 4000 varieties of native potato that exist in the Andes.


Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio – mastermind behind the annual festival, and head of a gastronomic empire including more than 30 restaurants around the world, is recognized in his home country as something of a champion of the unsung heroes who are the guardians of that biodiversity.


" It’s important for consumers to understand that every time you eat a Peruvian causa, behind that dish is a hard working small potato producer”, says Acurio, one of a ‘new wave’ of chefs actively sourcing local products and embracing the social and economic role that food plays.


The International Potato Center (CIP)’s regional initiative PapaAndina, working closely with its public and private partners, has played a major role in making sure that small scale Andean farmers are benefiting from the potato’s new found star status in Peru.


The ‘foodie factor’, along with growing interest from the country’s major supermarket chains, represents an opportunity for small farmers to access high-value markets, and has fueled a rapidly expanding internal market. In 2010 the native potato market moved about five thousand metric tons of potato in Peru, up from a mere 100 tons in 2005.


Together with research organizations and NGO’s, which are working directly with 6,000 farmers and their families throughout Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, PapaAndina develops improved production technologies, and new products and marketing strategies. Its advocacy activities have also placed potato firmly on the political agenda.


This means for example that, in Peru small farmers are more able now to respond to the high quality standards demanded by multinational companies for chips production. The creation of a National Potato Day has helped raise public awareness, and technical norms have been adopted to ensure quality control for the freeze-dried potato products, chuño and tunta.


The creation of a business model incorporating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) also ensures that farmers receive a fair price for their product.


Such a model was instrumental in setting a new benchmark price for native potatoes, negotiated between Pepsico and farmers in a pilot partnership established in 2007 representing a 100% increase over prices obtained in local markets, with an average profitability of 30% for farmers. More than 200 farming families have benefitted from a secure demand and price for their production over the last three years.


Potatoes are set to focus once again on the international agenda, with this week’s conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10). The meeting due to be held from 18-29 October in Nagoya, Japan will bring together officials from 192 countries and the European Union to address the issue of biodiversity loss.


With reports indicating the failure to meet targets set eight years ago, the meeting is expected to highlight once again the urgency with which governments need to adopt policies for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.




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1.31  Plant bank to preserve biodiversity of Pacific crops


Manila, The Philippines

1 November 2010


The giant swamp taro, the orange-fleshed Fe'i banana and a coconut that grows to half a metre in length are among the native crop species to be saved in a major project that has begun across small islands in the Pacific.


The Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) is coordinating the project in which 1,000 unique varieties of staple fruit and vegetables from 7,500 Pacific islands are being collected to be grown in research institutes, with duplicates held at CePaCT.


The project is a response to concerns about indigenous crops being abandoned in favour of higher-yielding imported varieties.


The crops also hold valuable genetic diversity that could be used to breed or engineer crops that can cope with harsh conditions, according to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which is supporting the project.


Unlike the 'doomsday' seedbanks, such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which aim to preserve seeds in case of a catastrophe, the CePaCT bank will be available to farmers and researchers aiming to produce new varieties.


But because many of the crops reproduce asexually — producing clones, rather than reproducing through seeds — the banking process is far from simple.


Mary Taylor, CePaCT manager, told SciDev.Net that the shoot tips of plants are grown in the laboratory in small glass tubes. "Once they reach the ideal size, they are subcultured to produce more plants," she said.


"In all the countries we work in, farmers have access to the material we distribute," said Taylor. However, she emphasised that the programme's success depended on community support for the cultivation of local crops.


The Pacific territories involved in the project are the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.


Crops include the Fe'i banana from French Polynesia, the large Niu Afa coconut and the giant swamp taro, which can survive harsh atoll conditions, including sandy saline soils, and is particularly useful when food is short.


Dong Rasco, a plant breeder at the University of the Philippines and former head of the Institute of Plant Breeding there, said the project is crucial not only for the Pacific islands but also for other areas with similar environmental conditions.


"Pacific crops have not really spread to other countries, so they provide a lot of untapped potential that will never be discovered if totally lost," he said.

He suggested that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations could establish a similar project.


Source: Source: SciDev.Net via


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1.32  Genetic diversity of rice now secure in Svalbard Global Seed Vault


The Philippines

5 November 2010

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) sent 42,627 samples of seeds from different types of rice in its collection last week to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, dubbed the “Doomsday Vault,” to help secure the world’s rice diversity.


The black boxes containing the rice seeds traveled to the mountains of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, about 1,200 kilometers from the North Pole. Deep inside Svalbard’s icy mountains, the Vault houses all of the world’s important crop seeds that may be humanity’s ultimate insurance in food security in the event of a major regional or global crisis.


The rice collection that left IRRI is the Institute’s second deposit to the Vault. The first deposit of 70,180 rice samples was made during the inauguration of the Vault in February 2008 – the largest shipment for the Vault’s opening.


After this second deposit, IRRI now has the largest number of samples of a single crop and its wild relatives, coming from the largest number of countries, stored in Svalbard, said Dr. Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton, head of IRRI’s International Rice Genebank (IRG).


If ideal conditions of temperature and storage are followed inside the Vault, seeds can be stored for hundreds of years.


The samples sent to Norway are duplicates of rice conserved at IRRI’s IRG in Los Baños, in the Philippines, that houses the largest collection of rice genetic diversity in the world. About 110,000 different types of rice are kept in long-term storage, the “base” collection, and in medium-term storage for distribution, the “active” collection.


IRRI shares seed from the IRG for free with farmers, farmers’ groups, governments, universities, and others under conditions set by the International Treaty on Plant Genetics Resources for Food and Agriculture, Dr. Sackville Hamilton explained. “One hundred twenty-six countries signed this Treaty that ensures the fair sharing of benefits from the use of these resources.”


IRRI, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, built the IRG in 1965. Its comprehensive rice collection includes samples of wild rice, ancestors of rice, traditional and heirloom varieties, and modern varieties. The foresight that drove its establishment is best demonstrated through IRRI’s work with national research institutions in characterizing traits that benefit rice breeding and developing improved rice varieties that address current and future challenges rice farmers face in their fields.


IRRI also works with governments in replenishing lost rice varieties. “IRRI’s collection of Cambodia’s native varieties proved critical after the Khmer Rouge strife that caused local rice varieties to vanish,” recalled Ms. Flora de Guzman, IRRI’s research manager at the IRG. “IRRI had duplicates of these varieties and so, between 1981 and 1989, IRRI and Cambodia completed the process of replenishing the country’s lost rice.”  


The importance of preserving genetic diversity is in the spotlight this year as the world celebrates the International Year of Biodiversity that promotes awareness and appreciation of the world’s ecological and agricultural diversity.


Conserving rice diversity – or any crop diversity – is essential in helping the world face new environmental challenges and a changing climate. The genetic diversity of one type of rice from one part of the world may contain traits that allow threats, such as flooding, to be addressed in another part.


Although IRRI’s IRG has its own safety mechanisms in place to properly conserve its precious collection of rice genetic diversity, the duplicate samples sent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault provide an ultimate backup for its collection of rice genetic diversity.


The Global Crop Diversity Trust, an independent organization that ensures conservation of crop diversity for food security, supports the operational costs of the Vault through an endowment fund that the Trust established to conserve crop diversity in perpetuity.


"The rice varieties deposited by IRRI are a global treasure for future food security," said Dr. Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Drop Diversity Trust. "IRRI has the largest rice collection in the world, vital to developing varieties that can deal with future challenges such as changing climates or water scarcity. It is therefore essential that this collection is given the best protection available anywhere in the world, and so with this latest shipment from IRRI to Svalbard we are that much closer to ensuring food security for future generations."


Any contributing party can store seeds in the Vault for free.




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1.33  Global initiative to preserve yam biodiversity


The first worldwide effort to save the diversity of the yam is underway. Yam is consumed by 60 million people on a daily basis in Africa alone. Through funding support from the United Nations Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, about 3,000 yam samples are targeted to be collected worldwide and will be sent to the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria.


"This opportunity to protect an incredibly wide variety of yams allows us to feel more reassured that the unique diversity of yam will be safely secured and available to future generations," said Alexandre Dansi, a yam expert at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin.


The yam project is part of a bigger effort involving major crop species which The Global Crop Diversity Trust is assisting. The Trust is helping partners in 68 countries to rescue and regenerate more than 80,000 endangered accessions in crop collections.


View IITA's press release at


Source: Crop Biotech Update, 24 September 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.34  Study reveals possible reasons for the decline of pollinators


Countryside Survey Integrated Assessment was conducted by the Countryside Survey Partnership to investigate status and trends of ecological processes that are important for individuals or society in Great Britain, especially concerning various ecosystem services, such as pollination, soils, and the quality of freshwaters and their relationship with biodiversity. Results of the analysis revealed that from 1990 to 2007 the number of wild plant species that produce nectar has decreased leading to reduced number of pollinators. The decline of the pollinators is due to nectar providing plants being dominated by more competitive plant species.The overgrowth may be attributed to the decreased management and air pollution wherein the nitrogenous compounds in the air serve as fertilizers.


Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said, "Pollinating insects are vital to our existence, helping to provide the food on our tables. It is important that we investigate the causes of the decline and take action to address it. The UK has some of the best environmental scientists in the world and using their skills we are gathering more information on changes to our land and the effects this has on species and habitats. This survey will help us analyze what effects policy decisions have and where and how we need to take action."


For more details, visit The Countryside Survey is available at


Source: Crop Biotech Update, 29 October 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.35  Working to protect the international food supply: The Fort Collins National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation


FORT COLLINS - Imagine a Thanksgiving without corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing or rolls.


Any one of those Thanksgiving staples could be off the menu if drought or disease wiped out farmer's crops, but a group of scientists in Fort Collins are working to make sure that doesn't happen.


At the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, scientists are working to protect the international food supply by preserving millions of seeds and the genetic information they contain.


The NCGRP is one of the largest such facilities in the world. More than 600,000 collections of plants are kept at bellow freezing temperatures in the facilities giant walk in freezer. Additional seeds are being preserved in large tanks partially filled with liquid nitrogen.


"What we try to do is keep seed alive for as long as possible," Curator Dave Ellis told 9NEWS.


Properly packaged and stored, the seeds can live for at least 100 years and Ellis says that's important if governments worldwide want to protect their food supply.


"These [seeds] may not be of use now or may not be of use 10 years from now, but 20 years from now when we have some new disease or insect or issue that challenges agriculture that we never dreamed of today... it may be the missing element that we need to continue to build productivity and protect agriculture in the United States," Ellis said.


The NCGRP's mission is about more than just protecting food here at home. The seeds are available to qualified researchers worldwide who are working on solving some of agriculture's toughest challenges.


"Drought resistance is a big thing right now because water is going to be more and more scarce. We look at disease resistance, climate change, which is happening much faster than a plant can evolve," Ellis said. "So what we're currently doing is looking at our germplasm collections and seeing which plants have certain attributes that allow them to grow at a high temperature, at a lower temperature, with less water."


Because this research is so valuable to agriculture and so important to protecting the international food supply, nations routinely share their collections. According to Ellis, most countries have a national gene bank similar to the NCGRP and those that don't already are opening facilities. Mexico is the latest country to create a national gene bank. The facility began accepting shipments of seeds this month.


"This kind of international exchange is very important because no country exists on crops that are native to their area," according to Ellis.


The NCGRP gave several boxes of seeds to Mexico earlier this week, sending back germplasm from crops that are not only native to the country but seeds that were collected there. Several more shipments are scheduled to go out over the next few months.


Ellis says it's all part of making sure the international food supply stays secure.


"We as consumers are expecting that we can go to the market and buy a ripe red tomato any time of the year right now," Ellis said. "Well, in order to keep that going we've got to stay one step ahead of all of these challenges that are happening in agriculture to insure that we can meet the needs of the farmer to grow the crop. And then also be one step behind, to be able to continually evolve and bring in new germplasm to keep food productivity and food safety right where we expect it as consumers today."


For more information on the NCGRP, visit




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1.36  What happens to seed in a seed corn plant?


Good seed corn quality is something you know when you see it. You open a bag and find lots of foreign material, misshapen and broken kernels, and you know you don't have quality. But getting quality seed can be harder than recognizing it.


It starts with having the right equipment to process corn, and then operating it correctly. First, of course, it must be harvested gentler and dried on the ear. Sorting for off-types often happens when corn comes in from the field as it heads for the drying bin. These off-types would produce what are often known as rogue plants.


Once off the cob, grading and cleaning become paramount. Warner Seed Farmers, near Dayton, Ohio, use both mechanical sorters and an electronic color sorter. The color sorter consists of cameras that capture an image of each kernel. The idea is to detect infirmities, such as a tiny crack, that wouldn't be detected otherwise, and that can't be caught in the grader.


Once detected, a puff of air is automatically triggered by the brains of the color sorter. It's enough to knock the undesirable kernel out of the system. It may not a good kernel out too, but that doesn't appear to be a huge problem with their machine, Dan Warner says. It typically doesn't have a lot of extra, good kernels sorted out with ones that need to be removed.


The neat thing about the color sorter is that it can be set to your specifications, Warner says. If you want to really zero in and knock out more kernels, you narrow the specifications to be allowed. If you can live with kernels having slightly more variation, then you can widen the range. Kernels are ejected by the puff of air depending upon when the cameras say they are out of the desired quality range.


Once seed is sorted and graded, it's treated. All seed corn receives certain treatments. More are coming all the time. Warner relies on an expensive but effective seed treater machine to coat kernels evenly.


Then the corn is bagged. A germination tag is placed on each bag. Even for seed coming from storage from a previous year, it must be retested by law. In Indiana it must be 95% germination or higher. If not, the company is required to inform the buyer that it tests below that level.


This should be a good year for high germinations test results, based on early results so far, Warner concludes.




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1.37  Fighting selenium deficiency - Study tests biofortification of lowland rice crops


Madison, Wisconsin, USA

9 November 2010

Approximately 1 billion people worldwide suffer from a deficiency of selenium, an essential nutrient for liver, heart, thyroid, and immune function. Since selenium deficiency is prevalent in Southeast Asia, researchers are studying the best biofortification for lowland rice production.


In a study funded by the Commonwealth Government of Australia, the soil retention of three types of selenium was tested. The research appears in the September-October issue of the Soil Science Society of America Journal


According to researchers at the University of Adelaide, biofortification of rice with selenium is most easily performed by adding selenium-enriched fertilizers to rice either as a spray or as a fertilizer amendment to the soil. Lowland rice soil is usually flooded, unlike upland rice soil which served as the control variable in the experiment. 


Lakmalie Premarathna, University of Adelaide, and the author of the paper, measured the availability of selenium in rice crops when a pre-plant fertilizer was added. 


“Elemental selenium is unsuitable as a pre-plant fertilizer for lowland rice as it is not readily oxidized in the soil to soluble forms that crops can absorb,” she says. Selenite and selenate were also ruled out because they became poorly available forms of selenium when subjected to flooding.


Adding selenium in foliar sprays is more labor intensive than adding selenium-enriched fertilizers to the soils at planting, but the fate of various forms of fertilizer selenium in flooded (lowland) rice soils is not well understood, according to Premarathna.


However, lowland rice paddies are drained a few weeks before harvesting. She suspects that levels of selenium could potentially return to suitable levels for crop absorption. Research is ongoing at the University of Adelaide to find the best biofortification for lowland rice production systems. 

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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1.38  Breeding for resistance to late blight - a devastating disease of potatoes and tomatoes


Researchers funded by the BBSRC Crop Science Initiative have made a discovery that could instigate a paradigm shift


United Kingdom

18 November 2010

Researchers funded by the BBSRC Crop Science Initiative have made a discovery that could instigate a paradigm shift in breeding resistance to late blight - a devastating disease of potatoes and tomatoes costing the industry £5-6Bn a year worldwide. They will share this research with industry at an event in London later today (18 November).


Professor Paul Birch of the University of Dundee and his team at the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI), the University of Dundee, and the University of Aberdeen have developed a new approach to breeding resistance to the mould-like organism Phytophthora infestans (P. infestans) that causes late blight.


"Through their work on the interactions between potato plants and P.infestans Professor Birch and his team have come up with a completely new approach to breeding resistance to late blight in potatoes. This approach will be taken forward in a new project working with colleagues at The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich to identify resistance in potato plants that could then be used for breeding new resistant varieties. It is also hoped that it will be possible to combine resistance to late blight with resistance to nematodes (another serious problem for potato farming in the UK) in a single GM variety.


Professor Birch said "In the past we have tried to breed resistance to late blight by identifying plants that survive a period infection and could, in future generations, potentially give rise to resistant varieties. This approach is slow, resource intensive and requires a degree of luck that the resistance will last for any prolonged period. So far, all such resistances have been defeated because of the broad extent of variation in the population of P.infestans in the environment. With our discovery, we can use genetic analysis to identify plants for breeding that are inherently resistant to infection. When introduced into cultivated varieties, such disease resistance should be far more durable."


By studying the interactions between P. infestans and potato plants the team has identified proteins that are secreted by the invading pathogen and are essential for infection.


Professor Birch continued "We now know a lot more about how P.infestans gets round the potato plant's natural defences and therefore what it takes for the plant to resist infection. We can actually look at a potato plant's genetic makeup and say whether it will be sustainably resistant to late blight, which is a huge step forward. Whilst our approaches are suitable for breeding, in future we also hope to use a GM approach to produce a variety that is resistant to both blight and potato cyst nematode."


Dr Mike Storey, Head of Research and Development, AHDB - Potato Council said "Blight is a serious problem for the potato industry in the UK. We are working hard to raise grower awareness and ensure best practice to control the disease but we have the challenge of a continually changing pathogen population. What we need now is the application of this new research to improve variety resistance and identify new crop protection targets and integrate these approaches for sustainable control and to reduce the impact when blight does occur. This will be of great benefit to UK farmers and the economy."


Professor Janet Allen, BBSRC Director of Research and chair of the Global Food Security programme development board said "We know that high quality bioscience research is required if we are to have a sustainable supply of safe, affordable, healthy food to feed a growing world population. Late blight is a significant problem in the UK and elsewhere and so it is particularly good news that the fundamental research carried out under BBSRC's crop science initiative is providing opportunities to move towards application in new varieties."


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.




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1.39  Genotypic adaptation of rice to lowland hydrology in West Africa


The lowlands in West Africa are characterized by a diverse hydrology, wherein some areas are submerged in flood while other areas are permanently in non-flooded conditions. Thus, rice breeding programs must come up with genotypes that could thrive in either conditions or for a target population of environments. K. Saito of Africa Rice Center, Benin, and colleagues evaluated 14 rice genotypes in seven experiments for two years to investigate the effect of genotype and environment on grain yield, and to identify high-yielding genotypes and plant characteristics linked with high yield.


The studied Oryza sativa indica genotypes, including ‘aerobic rice genotypes' and interspecific genotypes, were developed from crossing O. sativa and O. glaberrima for upland (‘NERICA' genotypes) and lowland conditions (‘NERICA-L'). Higher grain yields were observed from flooded lowland conditions. Three environment groups were identified based on water availability: aerobic, hydromorphic (rainfed during growth, with drought spells during vegetative stage), and permanently flooded. An interspecific genotype (WAB1159-4-10-15-1-3) produced high yield in flooded and hydromorphic environments. Other interspecific genotypes (NERICA-L-6 and NERICA –L-54) exhibited high yields only in flooded environments. However, an aerobic rice genotype (B 6144F-MR-6-0-0) produced more yield than those three interspecific genotypes in aerobic conditions. In hydromorphic environments, grain yield was found to be correlated with growth duration.


The researchers concluded that interspecific breeding could be an efficient technique in enhancing lowland rice productivity, and also recommend a systematic effort to screen and identify rice genotypes that perform well across or within specific target population of environments in West Africa.


Read more about this study in the recent issue of Field Crops Research Journal at


Source: Crop Biotech Update, 1 October 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.40 New disease-resistant food crops in prospect


Researchers uncover the genetic basis of remarkable broad-spectrum resistance to a viral infection


In some parts of the world, is the most important pathogen affecting leafy and arable brassica crops including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, swede and oilseed rape


United Kingdom

18 November  2010

Researchers have uncovered the genetic basis of remarkable broad-spectrum resistance to a viral infection that, in some parts of the world, is the most important pathogen affecting leafy and arable brassica crops including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, swede and oilseed rape. They have tested resistant plants against a range of different strains of the virus taken from all over the world and so far, no strain has been able to overcome the resistance.


The research on the so-called Turnip mosaic virus (TuMV), led by Dr John Walsh of the University of Warwick and funded under the BBSRC Crop Science Initiative, has been taken forward in a new partnership with Syngenta Seeds.


A Turnip mosaic virus (TuMV) – resistant plant (left) and a susceptible plant (right) following challenge with TuMV. Copyright: Dr John Walsh, The University of Warwick


Dr Walsh said "TuMV causes really nasty-looking black necrotic spots on the plants it infects - 'a pox on your' vegetables! This can cause significant yield losses and often leaves an entire crop unfit for marketing. At best, a field of badly affected Brussels sprouts might provide some animal fodder, but these vegetables would not be appealing to most shoppers. The virus is particularly difficult to control because it is transmitted so rapidly to plants by the insect vectors."


Dr Walsh and his team identified the major gene involved in resistance to TuMV and discovered that the way in which it creates resistance is completely new. Using this knowledge, they found that it was possible to identify plants with an inherent resistance that could be used to speed up the breeding process and develop commercial varieties that are resistant to TuMV.


The team from University of Warwick are now working with industry partner Syngenta Seeds to breed resistance into Chinese cabbage. They hope in future to do the same with other crops such as broccoli, cabbage and kale.


Peter van der Toorn, R&D Lead Leafy Crops, Syngenta Seeds Vegetables said "Working in partnership with academic researchers is very important for us. Through such collaborations it's possible to take an idea from pre-commercial research and turn it into a new variety that can benefit the consumer and boost our contribution to the UK economy. We are very excited to be working together with academics at the University of Warwick to breed varieties with improved resistance to Turnip mosaic virus."


Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said "Bioscience research in all its forms has always given rise to developments that have impacts in society - whether predicted or serendipitous. Such developments need a structure through which to realise their potential and a partnership such as this one between the University of Warwick researchers and Syngenta will be important to ensure that resistance to diseases is incorporated into commercial crop varieties. These new resistant varieties would then be available to contribute towards future food security."




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1.41  To prevent inbreeding, flowering plants have evolved multiple genes, research reveals


5 November 2010

A research team led by Teh-hui Kao, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State, in collaboration with a team lead by Professor Seiji Takayama at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, has discovered a large suite of genes in the petunia plant that acts to prevent it from breeding with itself or with its close relatives, and to promote breeding with unrelated individuals. In much the same way that human inbreeding sometimes results in genetic disease and inferior health, some inbred plants also experience decreased fitness, and therefore, have developed mechanisms to ensure that their offspring benefit from hybrid vigor -- the mix that results when genetically distinct members of the same species breed. The team's discovery of the multiple inbreeding-prevention genes were published on Nov. 5 in the journal Science. The identification of these genes comes on the heels of Kao's earlier identification of two additional inbreeding-prevention genes in the same plant.


"Humans have mechanisms to prevent inbreeding that are in part cultural," Kao explained. "But a plant can't just get up and move to the next town to find a suitable, unrelated mate. Some other system must be at work." Kao began to unravel the mystery of what he calls a "non-self recognition system" in the mid 1980s by studying the genetic sequence of petunias. Petunias and many common garden plants are hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female reproductive organs, and these reproductive organs are located in close proximity in the same flower. This floral anatomy makes it easy for a plant's pollen to land on itself, resulting in self-fertilization and genetically inferior, inbred offspring. To prevent self-fertilization, many flowering plants, including the petunia, have evolved a strategy called self-incompatibility, or the ability to recognize self and non-self components within both the male and female reproductive organs.


Prior research

Because of the petunia's hermaphroditic nature, Kao and his colleagues assumed that there had to be both male and female genetic strategies to prevent a plant from breeding with itself or with close relatives. In 1994, Kao's team discovered the first piece of the self-incompatibility puzzle. In a paper published in Nature, he and his colleagues announced that they had identified a gene called S-RNase (S for self-incompatibility) in Petunia inflata, a wild relative of the garden petunia. The S-RNase gene controls self-incompatibility in the pistil -- the plant's female reproductive organ. Thanks to this gene, the pistil is able to distinguish between self and non-self pollen, which is analogous to sperm cells, and specifically kills self-pollen to prevent inbreeding. Later, in another paper published in Nature in 2004, Kao's team announced the discovery of the male counterpart of S-RNase -- a gene called Type-1 SLF -- that controls self-incompatibility in pollen by distinguishing between self and non-self pistil S-RNase proteins, and specifically detoxifying non-self S-RNase proteins, thereby allowing outcrossing.


That is, the team found that the S-RNase and the Type-1 SLF genes worked in concert to control the way in which the plant accepted or disallowed the introduction of particular pollen into its own reproductive system. In summary, they found that, thanks to the genetic interaction between the male-component and female-component genes, a plant pollinated by its own pollen or by pollen of a similar genotype failed to produce seeds. However, a plant pollinated by pollen of a sufficiently distinct genotype produced seeds and reproduced successfully.


More recently, Kao and his colleagues set out to fill in some important missing pieces in the self-incompatibility puzzle. "During previous research studies, other researchers who had studied the evolutionary histories of Type-1 SLF and S-RNase found no evidence of co-evolution, which was surprising as the male and female genes directly involved in controlling self/non-self recognition during sexual reproduction are expected to have co-evolved." Kao said. "In fact, Type-1 SLF has a much shorter evolutionary history than S-RNase." Meanwhile, Kao and his team noticed that "Type-1 SLF had a much lower allelic sequence diversity when compared to S-RNase, raising a question as to how, with limited allelic diversity, the allelic variants of Type-1 SLF proteins can recognize a large repertoire of 40 or more highly divergent S-RNase proteins," he said. "We were puzzled by how the Type-1 SLF gene seemed to have such a young evolutionary history, and how the allelic variants of Type-1 SLF protein seemed to have such a low sequence diversity. We knew that the male and female genetic counterparts had to have kept up with each other throughout evolution -- they had to have co-evolved -- so that meant there had to be older and more numerous SLF genes controlling the male side of the equation."


New discoveries

Now, in the Science paper, the team has announced its identification of five additional types of SLF genes -- named Type-2 to Type-6 SLF genes -- found in the same chromosomal region as the Type-1 SLF gene. Kao and his colleagues found that while the Type-1 SLF gene certainly played an important role in preventing inbreeding, Type-2 and Type-3, and most likely additional types of SLF genes, also controlled self-incompatibility. "Each Type-1 SLF protein can recognize only a limited number of non-self S-RNase components," Kao said. "Meanwhile, each of the additional types of SLF proteins we've found can recognize different sets of non-self S-RNase proteins, and all of them collectively account for the entire suite of non-self identification. This recent finding has solved the puzzle about the co-evolution between the male and female genes, and how a single type of SLF protein has the capacity to recognize a large number of highly divergent S-RNase proteins."


Kao also explained that self-incompatibility in plants can be likened to the adaptive immune system in vertebrates. "The plant needs to distinguish between non-self and self to know which plants it should breed with and which it should reject as too similar," Kao explained. "In the same way, our bodies distinguish between non-self and self to know what to attack and what to leave alone." Kao explained that when pathogens enter our bodies, our T-cells recognize them as foreign invaders and battle against them by triggering production of antibodies by B-cells. "When this system goes awry, our bodies misidentify self as non-self and attack it," Kao said. "These attacks on our own tissues are known as auto-immune disorders; arthritis and Lupus are just a couple of examples."


Kao also explained that, just as we have evolved many different types of T-cell receptors to collectively recognize the many foreign antigens we might encounter in our environment, plants have evolved many versions of self-incompatibility genes that produce multiple types of SLF proteins in pollen to collectively recognize a large suite of possible non-self elements -- S-RNase proteins.


In addition to Kao, other members of the research team include Ken-ichi Kubo, Tetsuyuki Entani, Akie Takara, Mamiko Toyoda, Shin-ichi Kawashima, Akira Isogai, and Seiji Takayama from Japan's Nara Institute of Science and Technology; Ning Wang, Allison M. Fields, and Zhihua Hua from Penn State; and Toshio Ando from Japan's Chiba University. The research conducted at Penn State was funded by the National Science Foundation.




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1.42  The genetics of self-incompatibility


Petunias show that the mechanisms behind inbreeding prevention are similar to immune response


Washington, DC, USA

4 November 2010


Illustration showing non-self pollen fertilizing a petunia; and conversely self-pollen perishing.


The female part of the petunia flower secretes an enzyme that is designed to deter pollen tube growth, thereby preventing fertilization. However, in the cases that the pollen has come from a genetically different plant, the pollen produces its own protein that combats the pistil's enzyme. With the enzyme out of the way, the pollen tube can keep growing and fertilization can occur. Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


Inbreeding is a bad strategy for any organism, producing weak and problematic offspring. So imagine the challenge of inbreeding prevention in a plant where male and female sexual organs grow right next to each other! Such is the genetic conundrum faced by the petunia.


A research team led by Teh-hui Kao of Penn State University, in collaboration with a team led by Professor Seiji Takayama at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, presents new insights into the petunia's complicated genetic dance of self-incompatibility in the November 5 issue of Science magazine. Kao's research was supported by the National Science Foundation.


It turns out that the mechanisms behind petunia inbreeding prevention are very similar to those in an immune response. Just like vertebrates have many types of T-cell receptors that specialize in fighting different antigens, petunia pollen proteins are encoded by different types of related genes that all collaborate together to help fight destructive enzymes in the petunia pistil. Through this complicated system, only correct pollen (pollen produced by a plant genetically different from the pistil) will thrive, grow and complete fertilization.


The petunia pistil produces an enzyme that is harmful to any pollen's RNA production. Every pollen grain that makes contact with the pistil has its own set of proteins. If the pollen is from a genetically different plant, its proteins destroy the pistil enzyme. With the poisonous pistil enzyme out of the way, the pollen tube can keep growing.


If, however, the pollen comes from the same genetic lineage as the pistil, the pollen will lack the appropriate protein to combat the RNA-destroying enzyme from the pistil. In this situation, the enzyme will wreak havoc on the functionality of the pollen, and will prevent the pollen tube from continuing to grow. Fertilization will not be able to occur.


In 1994, Kao's lab identified a gene in petunias that encodes the RNA-destroying enzyme in the pistil. In 2004, the same lab found another gene on the male side, in the pollen, that interacts with the pistil protein.


Today, the researchers report that it is not just one, but many related genes on the male side of the equation that together help thwart female enzyme attack.

Kao, who has studied self-incompatibility in petunias for more than two decades, marvels: "The more I get to know this system, the more I respect plants. They have a truly sophisticated system to prevent inbreeding!"




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1.43  Gene discovery suggests way to engineer fast-growing plants


Durham, North Carolina, USA

11 November 2010

Tinkering with a single gene may give perennial grasses more robust roots and speed up the timeline for creating biofuels, according to researchers at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP).


Perennial grasses, including switchgrass and miscanthus, are important biofuels crops and can be harvested repeatedly, just like lawn grass, said Philip Benfey, director of the IGSP Center for Systems Biology. But before that can happen, the root system needs time to get established.


"These biofuel crops usually can't be harvested until the second or third year," Benfey said. "A method to improve root growth could have a major role in reducing the time to harvest for warm season grasses."


Benfey's team appears to have found a way to do just that. They took a directed genomic approach aimed at identifying genes that become active when cells stop dividing and start taking on the characteristics of the mature, adult cell they are to become. "We systematically looked for those genes that come 'on' precisely when cells transition from proliferation to differentiation and then turn 'off' again just as quickly," Benfey said.


That genome-wide search in the roots of the familiar laboratory plant Arabidopsis and subsequent screening of mutant lines turned up a single gene, which the researchers call UPBEAT1 (UPB1). Further study showed that UPB1 controls the gene expression of enzymes known as peroxidases.


They then showed that these peroxidases control the balance of free radicals between the zone of cell proliferation and the zone of cell elongation where differentiation begins. (Although free radicals are probably most familiar as agents of stress to be combated with antioxidants, Benfey noted that the balance of free radicals has also been implicated in the control of a similar transition from proliferation to differentiation in animals.)


When the researchers experimentally disrupted UPB1 activity in the plant root, it altered the balance of free radicals such that cells delayed their differentiation and continued growing. Those plants ended up with faster-growing roots, having more and larger cells. When UPB1 activity was artificially increased, the growth of plant roots slowed.


"It's possible that by manipulating a single gene, you could get a plant with rapid growth," Benfey said. Interestingly, UPB1 appears to act independently of plant hormones that play well-known roles in the balance between cell division and differentiation.


From an engineering perspective, the prospect of enhancing growth by taking a gene away, as opposed to adding one, is particularly appealing, Benfey notes.


"It also suggests that plants are not growing at their full potential," he says. That makes sense, of course, as plants in the real world have to make tradeoffs, for example, between growth and reproduction.


In addition to their potential in biofuels production, the findings might also lead to new ways to produce bigger and stronger plants with the capacity to sequester more earth-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Benfey says. His startup company, GrassRoots Biotechnology Inc., has acquired the patent for this discovery with its potential in mind. The company's primary goals are the development of next-generation biofuels and the use of root systems for carbon sequestration.


Collaborators on the NSF-funded study, which appears in the November 12th issue of the journal Cell, include Hironaka Tsukagoshi and Wolfgang Busch, both at Duke.




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1.44  Embrapa transfere técnicas de marcadores moleculares para pesquisa com algodão na Tanzânia



11 de novembro de 2010

Variedades de algodão geradas pela Embrapa e progênies resultantes de cruzamentos com variedades da Tanzânia estão sendo testadas num projeto inédito de cooperação técnica. No Brasil, uma das pesquisadoras que lidera o projeto, Lúcia Hoffmann, diz que a cooperação visa também inserir o uso de marcadores moleculares no melhoramento de algodoeiros naquele país africano.


Hoffmann explica que foi montada uma parceria com a Universidade de Dar es Salaam, tendo como principal articuladora a Dra. Flora Ismail. “As pesquisas começaram através de um projeto que visava colaboração de países na área de biossegurança (GMO-ERA),coordenado no Brasil pela pesquisadora Eliana Fontes”, comenta a biotecnologista da Embrapa Algodão, que hoje trabalha no Núcleo de Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento do Cerrado, em Goiânia (GO).


A pesquisadora brasileira diz que uma das ideias é ampliar o conhecimento sobre o Fusarium, a doença do algodoeiro mais importante na Tanzânia. “O projeto deve escolher uma praga, provavelmente Lepdoptera, para estudos ligados à resistência das plantas”, diz Lúcia. Ela comenta que um fator significativo para a aprovação do projeto foi sua condição de sustentabilidade, conferido pela solidez do programa de melhoramento do algodoeiro na Tanzânia, estabelecido a partir de 1930.


Segundo Hoffmann, um projeto anterior, Pró-Africa, financiado pelo CNPq, permitiu estender a colaboração para o Lake Zone Agricultural Research Development Institute (LZARDI) de Ukiriguru, braço do Ministério de Agricultura e Segurança Alimentar daquele país, que se localiza em Mwanza, ao lado do Lago Vitória.


“Este instituto é responsável pelo melhoramento genético do algodoeiro na Tanzânia, onde trabalha a melhorista Everina Lukonge. No desdobramento do projeto deve se estabelecer uma estreita colaboração entre Ukiriguru e a Universidade de Dar es Salaam”, acrescenta Lúcia. Ela observa que a prática do melhoramento genético na Tanzânia tem obtido sucesso pelo fato de que parte dos cotonicultores estejam cadastrados para colaborar na avaliação das variedades, o que pode facilitar a divulgação de possíveis variedades de algodão geradas pela parceria Brasil-Tanzânia.


“O conhecimento dos pesquisadores da Embrapa Algodão sobre as possibilidades efetivas da aplicação de marcadores moleculares no melhoramento e manejo de pragas deve ser importante para o sucesso do projeto, que posteriormente poderá ser estendido para outras culturas importantes na Tanzânia, como arroz, café e caju”, finaliza a pesquisadora.


O projeto terá início em janeiro de 2011, com dois anos de duração, financiamento da Africa Brazil Agriculture Inovation Marketplace da Agência Brasileira de Cooperação (ABC), Department for International Development (DIFID, do Reino Unido) e Banco Mundial, com previsão orçamentária de US$80 mil.


A equipe internacional envolvida conta, além de Flora Ismail e Everina Lukonge, com os biotecnologistas Godliving Mtui e Ken Hosea. E ainda, S. Lyantagaye e M.H.S Muruke.


Do lado brasileiro, além de Lúcia, participam do projeto os pesquisadores Camilo Lelis Morello, Flávio Rodrigo Gandolfi Benites, José Di Stefano, o entomologista José Ednilson Miranda, o fitopatologista Nelson Suassuna e o biotecnologista Paulo Augusto Vianna Barroso. Segundo Hoffmannm estão previstas duas visitas dos pesquisadores brasileiros à África e a vinda de dois pesquisadores tanzanianos ao Brasil, com datas a definir.




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1.45  SPATULA gene: good candidate for improving plant growth


November 210


Author: Steven Penfield


Crop plant growth in well resourced fields is often limited simply by the temperature of the growing environment. Where plants are grown in glasshouses, winter heating is commonly a significant contributor to the cost of plant production. Hence in both situations there is interest in understanding how the relationship between environmental temperature and plant growth rate is established, and whether this can be modified either through conventional or fast-track breeding or biotechnological means. The SPATULA (SPT) gene has been reported to be responsible for decreasing Arabidopsis thaliana growth rates in response to low ambient temperatures. As spt mutants show no increase in freezing sensitivity, deletion of this gene could be a viable way to increase crop yields in temperate areas at cooler times of year.


Full article


Source: ISB News Report - November 2010


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1.46  BASF Plant Science licenses Precision BioSciences’ site-specific genome modification technology


Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA

1 November 2010

BASF Plant Science and Precision BioSciences Inc., announced today that they have entered into a collaborative agreement to create site-specific genome modifications in plants. The agreement provides BASF Plant Science with non-exclusive access to aspects of Precision BioSciences’ proprietary Directed Nuclease Editor™ (DNE) technology, which can be used to develop advanced agricultural products.


Precision BioSciences’ industry-leading DNE technology uses advanced protein engineering methods to produce rationally designed enzymes which have the ability to modify single, unique sites within a large genome. Using DNE technology, scientists can remove or insert multiple genes at a single site within a plant chromosome, thereby efficiently and precisely conferring desirable traits into plant species. This technology can thus streamline the trait development and breeding processes, and potentially accelerate a trait’s time to market.


“We are excited to announce this cooperation with BASF Plant Science, a leading force within global plant agriculture,” said Jeff Smith, Chief Science Officer at Precision BioSciences. “We are looking forward to a productive relationship with BASF Plant Science to develop novel products utilizing Precision BioSciences’ DNE technology.”




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1.47  Metabolic marker as selection tool in plant breeding


November 2010

Source: ISB News Report - November 2010


Authors: Joost T. van Dongen and Nicolas Schauer


Currently, monitoring for traits is performed using molecular marker or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) technology. However, metabolite levels are more closely linked to phenotype than genes and as such may be used as predictive markers. An advantage of this approach is that epistatic, epigenetic, or post-translational effects, which influence the presence or absence of a specific trait, can be directly linked to metabolite profile. Recent studies indicate powerful opportunities for plant breeding using the predictive power of metabolites. This review provides an overview of some recent approaches in which the power of metabolome analysis is exploited to describe or even predict phenotypic features.


Full article




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1.48  Scientists develop an accurate DNA marker assay for stem rust resistance gene in wheat


19 November 2010

The stem rust resistance gene Sr2 has been widely used as a donor for stem rust resistance in North American and CIMMYT wheat breeding programs due to its broad-spectrum protection. However, the gene confers moderate resistance and recessive gene action making it difficult to select. A DNA marker is necessary to predict the presence of the gene in wheat lines.


Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) scientist R. Mago and colleagues developed a cleaved amplified polymorphic sequence (CAPS) marker, which are gene location-specific and easily scored and interpreted compared to other markers. This CAPS marker is associated with the presence or absence of Sr2 in 115 out of 122 diverse wheat lines. The marker indicates the absence of the gene in all lines which were known to lack Sr2. Thus, this marker exhibit high accuracy and could be helpful to many wheat breeders working on stem rust resistance.


An accurate DNA marker assay for stem rust resistance gene Sr2 in wheat

R. Mago, G. Brown-Guedira, S. Dreisigacker, J. Breen, Y. Jin, R. Singh, R. Appels, E. S. Lagudah, J. Ellis and W. Spielmeyer

Read the abstract of this study at




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1.49  Lu05H9 pioneered in marker-assisted breeding of cotton in China



10 November 2010

Lu05H9, a new variety of red flower-marked pest-resistant hybrid cotton bred by the Cotton Center of Shandong Academy of Agricultural Sciences, recently passed the examination of the National Crop Variety Approval Committee (NCVAC). The “red flower marker” is like an “anti-fake label” for transgenic pest-resistant hybrid cotton. This new variety has broken a path for the red flower-marked breeding of cotton in China, and it has also been the first case of its kind in the world.


According to the breeder, Research Fellow Wang Liuming, Lu05H9 was developed through 20 years efforts in distant hybridization which meant transferring the HB red flower trait of wild Gossypium bickii to cultivated pest-resistant hybrid cotton. This new variety bore pink flowers. At the bottom of their pedals showed big purplish red basal spots. During the period of full blossom, the cotton field was filled with only pink flowers. Such red flowers made it easy to distinguish this transgenic hybrid cotton from ordinary cotton, which enabled farmers to tell the hybrid cotton was authentic or counterfeit and helped to regulate the market order and protect farmers’ interests.


Lu05H9 demonstrated marked advantage in yield increase compared with similar varieties in the regional experiment for new cotton varieties. In the two years’ experiment in the hybrid cotton production areas along the Yellow River, the average yield per mu (1/15 hectare) of seed cotton and lint cotton were 247.8 kg and 102.0 kg respectively, up 9.5 percent and 9.6 percent over Lumianyan No. 15, ranking first in its group of experimented varieties. The demonstration production at all localities indicated that this variety was worthy of application and extension because of its good germination, vigorous sprouts, tolerance to Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt, high resistance to cotton bollworm, high and steady yield, and high-quality fiber.




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1.50  Gene find could lead to healthier food, better biofuel production


West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

22 November 2010

Purdue University scientists have found the last undiscovered gene responsible for the production of the amino acid phenylalanine, a discovery that could lead to processes to control the amino acid to boost plants' nutritional values and produce better biofuel feedstocks.


Natalia Dudareva, a distinguished professor of horticulture, and Hiroshi Maeda, a postdoctoral researcher in Dudareva's laboratory, determined that the gene is one of 10 responsible for phenylalanine production in plants. Understanding how the amino acid is produced could provide a strategy to increase or reduce that production.


Phenylalanine is important for plant protein synthesis and for the production of flower scent, anti-oxidants and lignin, a principal plant cell wall component that helps plants stand upright and acts as a barrier in the production of cellulosic ethanol. It is one of the few essential amino acids that humans and animals cannot synthesize, so it must come from plants.


"In plant tissues where we want to lower lignin content, we may be able to block these pathways," Maeda said. "In cases where you want to increase the amount of phenylalanine, we could do that as well."


Decreasing phenylalanine could lead to a reduction in lignin, which would improve digestibility of cellulosic materials for ethanol production. Increasing phenylalanine could boost the nutritional value of some foods.


Dudareva and Maeda used a co-expression analysis to find the prephenate aminotransferase gene. They monitored the expression activity of nine genes in the research plant Arabidopsis that were known to be involved in phenylalanine production and looked for other genes that became active at the same time.


"This gene had almost identical gene expression patterns as the known phenylalanine-related genes," Maeda said.


The comparable gene in petunias also was identified. Dudareva and Maeda confirmed that its expression patterns matched other genes involved in the formation of phenylalanine and volatile scent compounds in the flower.


To test the find, Dudareva and Maeda used the E. coli bacteria. They overexpressed the protein encoded by newly discovered gene and detected the expected enzyme activity. They also decreased the gene's expression in petunia flowers and witnessed a reduction in phenylalanine production.


"We provided both biochemical and genetic evidence that the gene is indeed involved in phenylalanine biosynthesis," Dudareva said. "It completes the pathway."


Dudareva said she would use the discovery to increase the scent of flowers in order to study the interaction of insects with flowers.


Dudareva and Maeda's findings were published in the early online version of the journal Nature Chemical Biology. The National Science Foundation funded the research.




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1.51  Study rewrites the evolutionary history of C4 grasses


Champaign, Illinois, USA

16 November 2010

According to a popular hypothesis, grasses such as maize, sugar cane, millet and sorghum got their evolutionary start as a result of a steep drop in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during the Oligocene epoch, more than 23 million years ago. A new study overturns that hypothesis, presenting the first geological evidence that the ancestors of these and other C4 grasses emerged millions of years earlier than previously established.


The findings are published in the journal Geology.


C4 plants are more efficient than C3 plants at taking up atmospheric carbon dioxide and converting it into the starches and sugars vital to plant growth. (C3 and C4 refer to the number of carbon atoms in the first molecular product of photosynthesis.) Having evolved relatively recently, C4 plants make up 3 percent of all living species of flowering plants. But they account for about 25 percent of global plant productivity on land. They dominate grasslands in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate areas. They also are a vital food source and an important feedstock for the production of biofuels.


"C4 plants are very successful, they're economically very important, but we actually don't know when they originated in the geological history," said University of Illinois plant biology professor Feng Sheng Hu (photo right, with graduate student Michael Urban), who led the new analysis. "To me, it's one of the most profound geological and ecological questions as a paleoecologist I can tackle."


A previous study dated the oldest C4 plant remnant found, a tiny fragment called a phytolith, to about 19 million years ago. Other studies analyzed the ratios of carbon isotopes in bulk soil samples to determine the ratio of C3 to C4 plant remains at different soil horizons, which correspond to different geological time periods. (C3 and C4 plants differ in their proportions of two carbon isotopes, C-12 and C-13.) Those studies indicated that C4 grasses were present as early as the Early Micocene, about 18 million years ago.


Rather than analyzing plant matter in bulk sediment samples, David Nelson, a postdoctoral researcher in Hu's lab at the time of the study (now a professor at the University of Maryland), analyzed the carbon isotope ratios of individual grains of grass pollen, a technique he pioneered while working with Hu in the lab of biogeochemistry professor Ann Pearson at Harvard University.


Using a spooling-wire micro-combustion device to combust the grains, and an isotope mass spectrometer to determine the relative ratio of C-12 and C-13 in the sample, Nelson and Illinois graduate student Michael Urban analyzed hundreds of individual grains of grass pollen collected from study sites in Spain and France.


"Because we analyze carbon isotopes in a material unique to grasses (pollen) we were able to detect C4 grasses at lower abundances than previous studies," Nelson said.


This analysis found "unequivocal evidence for C4 grasses in southwestern Europe by the Early Oligocene," the authors wrote. This means these grasses were present 32 to 34 million years ago, well before studies indicate atmospheric carbon dioxide levels made their precipitous decline.


"The evidence refutes the idea that low (atmospheric) CO2 was an important driver and/or precondition for the development of C4 photosynthesis," the authors wrote.


"This study challenges that hypothesis and basically says that something else was responsible for the evolution of C4 plants, probably higher temperature or drier conditions," Hu said. With atmospheric carbon dioxide levels now on the increase, he said, "there are also implications about how C3 and C4 plants will fare in the future."


Researchers from Harvard University; the Universidad de Granada, Spain; and the Bureau de Recherche Géologiques et Minières, France, also contributed to the study.


The University of Illinois Research Board, the National Science Foundation, and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation Fellowships Program supported this study.




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1.52  Molecular mapping of leaf rust resistance gene LRBI16 in Chinese wheat cultivar Bimai 16


One of the most pervasive wheat diseases is leaf rust caused by the fungus Puccinia triticina. Thus, scientists are drawn on discovering the gene that would code for resistance to this pathogen. Hai Zhang of Hebei Agricultural University, China, together with other scientists, mapped the genes for resistance to leaf rust by using wheat lines produced from a cross between resistant cultivar Bimai16 and susceptible cultivar Thatcher. The resulting wheat lines are introduced with two types of Chinese Puccinia triticina- FHTT (could cause disease on cultivars Zhou 8425B and TcLr26, but not on Bimai 16) and PHTS (could cause disease on TcLr26, but not on Zhou 8425B and Bimai 16). Results of the first test using FHTT pathogen type showed that Bimai 16 has a single dominant resistance gene (LrBi16). After the second seedling test using PHTS, two dominant genes (LrBi16 and LrZH84) were identified in Bimai 16. Based on seedling reaction patterns, the researchers concluded that plants with LrBi16 could possibly be the new leaf rust resistance gene.


Read the abstract of this study at


Source: Crop Biotech Update, 24 September 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.53  Scientists silence the expression of celiac disease-causing protein in bread wheat


Celiac disease (CD) is a digestive ailment that causes inability to absorb nutrients and poses immune response to gluten proteins present in wheat, barley and rye. The reaction is controlled by a group of white blood cells called T cells, which detects the presence of gluten. This disease is genetic, and the only treatment is to strictly abstain from eating food containing gluten. This led Javier Gil-Humanes of Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC), Spain, and other scientists to use RNA interference (RNAi) to reduce the expression of gluten in bread wheat. They constructed a set of RNA sequences that makes a tight hairpin turn and expressed in the endosperm of bread wheat to silence the expression of gluten.


The researchers observed that the expression of gluten was significantly reduced in the transgenic lines of bread wheat. The total gluten produced were extracted and tested for ability to react with T cell clones from CD patients. For the five transgenic lines, there was a 10-100 times decrease in the amount of antigenic determinants produced. The total gluten extracts failed to react with T cell for three of the transgenic lines, and reduced responses were observed in another three transgenic lines. Therefore, reduction in the expression of gluten by RNAi can be used to produce wheat lines with low levels of toxicity for CD patients.


Read the open-access research article at


Source: Crop Biotech Update, 1 October 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.54  Scientists silence genes to produce hypoallergenic carrots


Pathogens and abiotic stress could stimulate the production of a plant protein called pathogenesis-related protein-10 (PR10). This protein elevates the allergenic potency of numerous fruits and vegetables, such as carrots. Two similar genes (Dau 1.01 and Dau c 1.02) were found in carrots that code for PR10 forms. Susana Peters of Justus Liebig University, Germany, and colleagues conducted a study with the objective of producing hypoallergenic carrots by silencing either Dau 1.01 or Dau c 1.02 in transgenic carrots through RNA interference (RNAi).


Through quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and immunoblotting, the presence of the genes and the protein was documented. Results showed that PR10 accumulation was highly reduced in the transgenic plants, compared with the untransformed samples. Both the transgenic and wild-type plants were treated with salicylic acid, a chemical that induces PR10. An accumulation of PR10 was observed in the wild-type carrots, but not in the transgenic plants. The decrease of the allergenic potency in Dau c1-silenced plants was enough to cause a reduced allergic reaction of patients with carrot allergy, verified by skin prick test. This study demonstrated the possibility of producing low-allergenic food through RNAi, and the scientists recommend for simultaneous silencing of multiple allergens to come up with hypoallergenic carrots for consumers.


Read more about this study at


Source: Crop Biotech Update, 8 October 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.55  New slow-rusting leaf rust and stripe rust resistance genes in wheat are closely linked


It has been believed that the common wheat genotype ‘RL6077', which is similar to ‘Thatcher' carries the Lr34/Yr18 gene which gives slow resting adult plant resistance (APR) to leaf rust and stripe rust. However, after using diagnostic marker of the gene in the complete gene sequence of RL6077, it was discovered that the gene is absent.


Sybil A. Herrera-Foessel of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) together with other scientists crossed RL6077 with the susceptible wheat parent ‘Avocet' and developed populations from photoperiod-sensitive lines that are segregating for resistance to leaf rust and stripe rust. The lines were grown in different locations and were evaluated for resistance to leaf and stripe rust. Results showed that there is a correlation in the responses of the rusts, implying that the same gene or closely related genes could give resistance to the two diseases. Through molecular mapping, five markers were identified on chromosome 4DL .


In a parallel study in Canada which used Thatcher crossed with RL6077, the same gene (Lr67) that confers resistance was found in the same chromosomal region. The gene that gave resistance to the rusts in this study was designated as Yr46. The researchers conclude that Lr67/Yr46 can be used together with other slow-resting genes to come up with intense APR to leaf rust and stripe rust in wheat.


Subscribers of the Theoretical and Applied Genetics journal can access the research article at

Source: Crop Biotech Update, 29 October 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.56  Scientists develop an accurate DNA marker assay for stem rust resistance gene in wheat


The stem rust resistance gene Sr2 has been widely used as a donor for stem rust resistance in North American and CIMMYT wheat breeding programs due to its broad-spectrum protection. However, the gene confers moderate resistance and recessive gene action making it difficult to select. A DNA marker is necessary to predict the presence of the gene in wheat lines.


Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) scientist R. Mago and colleagues developed a cleaved amplified polymorphic sequence (CAPS) marker, which are gene location-specific and easily scored and interpreted compared to other markers. This CAPS marker is associated with the presence or absence of Sr2 in 115 out of 122 diverse wheat lines. The marker indicates the absence of the gene in all lines which were known to lack Sr2. Thus, this marker exhibit high accuracy and could be helpful to many wheat breeders working on stem rust resistance.


Read the abstract of this study at


Source: Crop Biotech Update, 19 November 2010


Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.57  Understanding more about  cereal eyespot to identify novel sources of genetic resistance


Norwich, United Kingdom

29 November 2010

John Innes Centre researchers are working with plant breeders to understand more about the economically important fungal disease, eyespot and identify novel sources of genetic resistance to the disease that could be used to protect our cereal crops.


Eyespot is a fungal disease of cereals, affecting the stem base and causing large yield losses, making it economically important, especially in areas such as North West Europe and North West USA where mild damp autumns are ideal for its growth. Chemical control using fungicides, as well as being environmentally unsound, is often not cost effective for farmers, so crop varieties with higher levels of resistance are needed to help combat this disease.


Dr Paul Nicholson, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, has been working with the Home-Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) and the plant breeding company RAGT Seeds, through a CASE studentship awarded to Chris Burt, to understand the disease and identify new sources of resistance.


Very little variation in genetic resistance to eyespot exists in commercially-grown wheat varieties. In most instances, any moderate resistance in varieties was thought to derive from a single gene, Pch2, bred in from a French wheat, Cappelle Desprez in the 1950s.


Eyespot is caused by two different, co-existing fungal species, Oculimacula yallundae and Oculimacula acuformis, and recent research from the John Innes Centre is now suggesting that the resistance derived from Pch2 is differentially effective against the two species. Publishing in the journal Plant Pathology, Dr Paul Nicholson and his group have shown that the Pch2 gene is significantly less effective against O. yallundae than against O. acuformis.


“In all probability this resistance is not, as previously supposed, responsible for the partial resistance observed in many varieties,” said Dr Nicholson. “We have now characterised a source of genetic resistance that is effective against both eyespot pathogens, and it is this, rather than Pch2, that we believe confers the partial protection observed in moderately eyespot-resistant commercial wheat varieties.”


The group looked at a second reported component of the resistance in Cappelle Desprez, but on a different chromosome to the Pch2 gene. Publishing in the journal Theoretical and Applied Genetics they found that this confers significant resistance to both eyespot pathogens, and at both the seedling and adult stage, making it much more effective than Pch2 alone.


“Breeders thought that they were working with Pch2 while, in fact, if they had moderate eyespot resistance it was most probably coming from this other gene in Cappelle Desprez,” said Dr Nicholson.


“This suggests that using Pch2 as the sole source of genetic resistance may not provide adequate protection against eyespot where the predominant cause of eyespot is O. yallundae. Currently, in the UK, O. acuformis predominates but there is evidence that a shift in the type of fungicide used may be reducing this prevalence in favour of O. yallundae.”


“In the search for genetic resistance against eyespot, it is going to be critical that we test any potential candidates for resistance against both species.”


The group have found nearby genetic markers, which can be used by plant breeders to breed this resistance into commercial wheat varieties.


“This is an excellent example of applied research translating benefits all the way from lab bench through breeder hands and into farmer’s fields,” noted Peter Jack, cereal genotyping lead at RAGT Seeds. “It also prepares the ground for improvements in fundamental knowledge of plant-pathogen interactions and more generic benefits for a wide range of pathogen species.”


Sarah Holdgate, lead cereal Pathologist for RAGT Seeds, added: “although eyespot is a globally important fungal pathogen, conventional approaches to the identification of resistant lines are time consuming and costly. This research, through dissection of resistance components and identification of linked markers, will clearly facilitate breeding of naturally resistant varieties.”


“This is a very good example where coordination between funding bodies, BBSRC and HGCA, has enabled breeders to work directly with public sector researchers to tackle an important yield impacting trait,” commented Richard Summers, R & D chairman of the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) and cereal breeding lead, RAGT Seeds. “This is a model we would like to see develop further.”


Reference: Differential seedling resistance to the eyespot pathogens, Oculimacula yallundae and Oculimacula acuformis, conferred by Pch2 in wheat and among accessions of Triticum monococcum, C. Burt Plant Pathology (2010) 59, 819–828 Doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3059.2010.02307.x

Identification of a QTL conferring seedling and adult plant resistance to eyespot on chromosome 5A of Cappelle Desprez C. Burt, et al,, Theoretical and Applied Genetics (2010) DOI: 10.1007/s00122-010-1427-1

Collaboration: RAGT Seeds Ltd

Funding: BBSRC and the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) through a BBSRC-CASE award

Chris Burt has been studying eyespot on a CASE studentship in Dr Paul Nicholson’s group at the John Innes Centre. Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE) allow students to receive high quality research training in collaboration with an industrial partner. Chris’s CASE studentship was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA), and involved working with RAGT Seeds.




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1.58  Photosynthesis trackers shine light on new rice varieties


Beaumont, Texas, USA

1 December 2010

What looks like a flock of giant, robotic geese in a field near Beaumont is actually new technology shedding light on how scientists can develop better varieties of rice.


Specially designed equipment is monitoring photosynthesis in 14 rice varieties at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Beaumont, according to Dr. Ted Wilson, director and lead scientist on the study.


"Photosynthesis is the engine that drives crop growth, development and yield. By understanding the physiology behind photosynthesis better, we can use this information to determine what plants to select in a plant breeding program, with the end result being a more efficient and faster rate of developing new varieties," Wilson said. "In a nutshell, the faster one can develop a new variety, the greater the rate of yield increase and thus grower income."


In field studies, Wilson and his team are looking at a series of inbred rice varieties and their offspring, which are called hybrids. The idea is to try to determine the inheritance of different traits and how much of the photosynthetic rates of a variety can be inherited from the male and female plants.


Each variety is grown under a different cage which is automatically measured 58 times in 15-second increments during a three-day period. This is repeated over the growing season, totaling more than 635 measurements of five minutes for the plants in each cage, Wilson explained.


"We also measure detailed information on light interception, allocation of carbohydrates to different parts of the plant and uptake of nitrogen. So, we can get information on how much we're able to predict how a particular variety responds to a particular environment," Wilson said.


He said that the more light a plant is able to intercept, the greater the plant's growth and, hence, its yield. The study is comparing results of different varieties to see if some are able to intercept light better than others.


Wilson explained that a plant uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugars, which are the building blocks for plant growth and respiration.


"The plant allocates the sugars to different parts of the plant -- the roots, leaves, stem, and grain -- dynamically throughout the season as the crop grows," he said. "The manner in which this allocation occurs determines whether you end up with a plant that is largely vegetative at one extreme, or ends up using a lot of its 'energy' to produce, say, grain at the other extreme."


The goal of a rice breeding program, Wilson added, is to produce a plant that has enough vegetation to support the greatest amount of grain yield.


"This is very much a balancing act. If you select for a plant type that sends most of its energy to producing grain too soon, the plant will be small and stunted," he said. "At the other extreme, if you select for a plant type that puts most of its early and mid-season growth into vegetation, you can end with a very late maturing plant that has too much vegetation that costs the plant too much energy to maintain, which can result in a plant that either matures its grain too late or which cannot support much grain."


The team is considering three years of detailed data as part of its continuing rice breeding program.


"Our ultimate goal is to develop a new variety of rice, so we are working very closely with Dr. Omar Samonte who is a plant breeder and partner on this research, and Jim Medley who is the lead technician who keeps the project going," he said.




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1.59  Chromosome imbalances lead to predictable plant defects


West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

3 November 2010

Physical defects in plants can be predicted based on chromosome imbalances, a finding that may shed light on how the addition or deletion of genes and the organization of the genome affects organisms, according to a study involving a Purdue University researcher.


The findings identify easily measured characteristics that vary with imbalances of specific chromosomes, said Brian Dilkes, a Purdue assistant professor of horticulture. Understanding why and how those imbalances result in certain characteristics could open the door to correcting those defects in not only plants, but also in animals and humans.


A classic example in humans is in Down syndrome, which is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21.


"The ability of an organism to replicate and pass on all its genes is incredibly important," Dilkes said. "What we've found is that genes are sensitive to their dose relative to the rest of the genome. When that balance is disrupted, the organisms fail."


In plants, an imbalance in chromosome number can cause defects in stems, leaves, flowers and other physical features. Understanding how those imbalances cause changes could allow scientists to manipulate plant traits to increase biomass for fuels or other purposes.


"By learning the rules, we can predict the outcome of adding or deleting a gene from an organism," Dilkes said. "We see predictable physical consequences for variation in chromosome dosages. This problem is tractable."


Dilkes, a co-author of the findings released in the early online version of the journal Genetics, was part of a team as a project scientist at the University of California-Davis Genome Center that studied chromosome dosage in the research plant Arabidopsis thaliana. The team used naturally occurring and laboratory-created plants with multiple copies of each chromosome, called polyploids, and then crossed them to create aneuploids, or plants with an irregular number of chromosomes.


The aneuploids, which had either an excess or deficiency of a chromosome, were tested to see which chromosomes were deficient or excessive. Those plants were then phenotyped, recording their physical characteristics. The phenotypes and chromosome imbalances were compared, and it became clear that more or less of particular chromosomes corresponded to specific phenotypic characteristics.


Plants with excess chromosome 1 and a deficiency of chromosome 3 had increased stem diameter, for example. To test the finding, plants were created that had both an excess of chromosome 1 and were deficient in chromosome 3, and stem diameter grew as predicted.


In a surprising turn, the team found that chromosomal imbalance resulted in abnormal traits expressed in its offspring. Plants with a normal number of chromosomes that were descended from plants with chromosome imbalances should have been normal but still displayed abnormal characteristics.


"Something about those chromosomes is different," Dilkes said. "We have no idea what that something is, but it suggests there are multigenerational consequences to changes in chromosome dosage. The DNA sequence says these plants should be perfectly normal, but they are not."


Dilkes said future research would focus on chromosome imbalances in crop plants such as corn and trying to understand how the excess or deficiency of a gene leads to a particular phenotypic characteristic.


The National Science Foundation funded the research.




Phenotypic Consequences of Aneuploidy in Arabidopsis Thaliana

Isabelle M. Henry, Brian P. Dilkes, Eric S. Miller, Diana Burkhart-Waco, Luca Comai


Aneuploid cells are characterized by incomplete chromosome sets. The resulting imbalance in gene dosage has phenotypic consequences, specific to each karyotype. Even in the case of Down syndrome, the most viable and studied form of human aneuploidy, the mechanisms underlying the connected phenotypes remain mostly unclear. Because of their tolerance to aneuploidy, plants provide a powerful system for a genome-wide investigation of aneuploid syndromes, an approach that is not feasible in animal systems. Indeed, in many plant species, populations of aneuploid individuals can be easily obtained from triploid individuals. We phenotyped a population of Arabidopsis thaliana aneuploid individuals containing 25 different karyotypes. Even in this highly heterogeneous population, we demonstrate that certain traits are strongly associated with the dosage of specific chromosome types and that chromosomal effects can be additive. Further, we identified subtle developmental phenotypes expressed in the diploid progeny of aneuploid parent(s) but not in euploid controls from diploid lineages. These results indicate that long-term phenotypic consequences of aneuploidy can persist after chromosomal balance has been restored. We verified the diploid nature of these individuals by whole-genome sequencing and discuss the possibility that trans-generational phenotypic effects stem from epigenetic modifications passed from aneuploid parents to the diploid progeny.




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2.01  GM Crops: A new peer-reviewed journal on the science and policy of genetically modified crops


United Kingdom

2 November 2010

In January 2010, Landes Bioscience Journals launched GM Crops ( as the first international peer-reviewed journal of its kind, with a distinguished editorial board headed by Editor-in-Chief Professor Naglaa A. Abdallah at the University of Cairo. The new publication is dedicated specifically to transgenic crops, their products, their uses in agriculture and all technical, political and economic issues contingent on their use. In addition to publishing original research, GM Crops will also publish regular features, including Extra Views and GM in the Media.


Just a few weeks ago, Professor Channapatna S. Prakash (Tuskegee University) and I joined Professor Abdallah and the board as co-editors for this new journal.


This is a welcome opportunity to establish an authoritative vehicle encompassing both the scientific and non-scientific aspects of GM crops and their products, as well as issues related to the adoption of the technology around the world.


With an increasing international focus on genetically modified crops, improved agronomic traits resulting from the genetic engineering techniques and applications coupled with the increasingly successful use of the technology in more and more countries with each passing year, the timeliness of the new journal could not be more appropriate. GM Crops fills a significant void in today's scientific literature, serving as an international forum to initiate and facilitate discussion of the progress and problems in this most important area of biotechnology.


We hope you will look favourably on sending your future manuscripts in this area to GM Crops.


For further details, please consult the Call for Papers (




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2.02 Robert Walch: Salinas author's novel delves into field of ag research


"The Departments," by Edward Ryder (Two Harbors Press; $17.95).


> Local connection: Edward Ryder received his bachelor's degree in botanical sciences from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California, Davis. The Monterey County resident retired in 2003 after a long career as a plant breeder with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Salinas.


Although he has published two books and numerous articles in his scientific field, this is his first novel.


> Content: Ryder takes the reader inside a fictional university agricultural research department where outside changes create a situation that jeopardizes an important research project when a key individual leaves.


The behind-the-scenes look at genetic research and the politics, egos and personalities that can clash in an academic setting are at the core of this story.


Elias Goodman, a San Juan Bautista native, is one of the central characters of the story. He's working at Western State University. As the novel opens, Elias' friend and colleague, Jack Crampton, has just decided to take a position at a seed company in Elias' old home town.


The fight to keep Jack's position and refill it is one of many issues that are addressed as this tale unfolds. The struggle between traditional approaches and new technologies in the laboratories is also wrapped up in this engrossing view of the largely unrecognized world of plant breeding. The problems that arise between the private sector and the halls of academia are also addressed in the book.


> Audience: Novels on the ag industry and researchers' hard work to create better crops are few and far between. If you'd like to read a story that delves into the research end of the industry, you'll find this novel much to your liking. There are some "technical bits" in the book, but they are not a major distraction and most lay readers should not be put off by them.


> Robert Walch of Monterey writes about Central Coast Authors for the Arts & Books page Saturday in The Salinas Californian. Contact him in care of Central Coast Authors, The Salinas Californian, 123 W. Alisal St., Salinas 93901; fax to 754-4293; or e-mail to




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2.03  Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years


FAO has just published a document which summarises the outputs from a moderated e-mail conference on "Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years".


Over 800 people subscribed to the conference and 121 messages were posted by 83 people living in 36 different countries, the greatest number coming from people in India, Nigeria, Argentina, the United States and Cameroon. The majority of messages (74%) were posted by participants living in developing countries. Participants in the e-mail conference shared a wealth of experiences regarding the use of agricultural biotechnologies across the different food and agricultural sectors in developing countries. They provided concrete examples where agricultural biotechnologies were benefiting smallholders in developing countries. They also discussed at length why specific biotechnologies, as well as agricultural biotechnologies in general, had not succeeded in developing countries and they offered suggestions to increase their success in the future. The conference also indicated that there is no general answer to whether applications of a given agricultural biotechnology have succeeded or failed in the past, but that every application is different and its success depends primarily on the local context in which it is used.


The full document is available on the web at (in HTML) and (PDF, 107 KB).


Contributed byJohn Ruane

FAO Working Group on Biotechnology

Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO)


FAO Biotechnology website: (in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian)


Executive Summary


This document summarizes the major issues discussed by the participants of a moderated e-mail conference hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum from 8 June to 8 July 2009, entitled "Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years". It took place as part of the build up to the FAO international technical conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC-10), that was held in Guadalajara, Mexico on 1-4 March 2010 (


Participants in the conference shared a wealth of experiences regarding the use of agricultural biotechnologies across the different food and agricultural sectors in developing countries. They provided concrete examples where agricultural biotechnologies were benefiting smallholders in developing countries. They also discussed at length why specific biotechnologies, as well as agricultural biotechnologies in general, had not succeeded in developing countries and they offered suggestions to increase their success in the future. The conference also indicated that there is no general answer to whether applications of a given agricultural biotechnology have succeeded or failed in the past, but that every application is different and its success depends primarily on the local context in which it is used.


A total of 834 people subscribed to the conference and 121 e-mail messages were posted, 74 percent of which were from people living in developing countries. Most contributions focused on whether applications of one or more biotechnologies had been a success or a failure in the crop, livestock, forestry or food processing sectors, as well as the factors that determined their success or failure. The remaining messages were cross-sectoral in nature, discussing agricultural biotechnologies in general without specifying a given sector, and focused on reasons for failures, and suggestions for increasing their success in the future.


Of the different sectors, the greatest focus was on crops and here the use of genetic modification, in particular, as well as tissue culture, molecular markers, biofertilizers and induced mutagenesis were discussed. For genetically modified (GM) crops, most of the messages focused on specific case studies, in particular Bt cotton in India and herbicide tolerant soybean in Argentina. For the former, it was considered a major success by some participants, while others indicated that the situation was more complex, with performance depending on the hybrid background, growing conditions and institutional context, among others. For the latter, there seemed to be general agreement that GM soybean had resulted in substantial economic benefits in Argentina as well as some undesirable correlated environmental impacts, which were not caused by the technology per se but by failures to incorporate appropriate planning and policy interventions. There was also considerable discussion about the impact of regulation on the success or failure of GM crops in developing countries. The practical benefits of establishing a regulatory system for GM crops were underlined as it enabled commercial release. Many participants also argued that GM crops were over-regulated, which was negatively impacting their adoption in developing countries, imposing additional costs and delays.


Discussions on tissue culture focused on its use for micropropagation and numerous participants described how it had been applied successfully in different countries such as Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines and Venezuela, for banana, cassava, cocoa and ornamental plants among others. It was also argued that more could be done to make it accessible to farmers, and practical suggestions, including low cost micropropagation and creation of small regional micropropagation laboratories, were proposed. Apart from micropropagation, other successful uses of tissue culture were also discussed, resulting in release of new wheat varieties in the Sudan and the well-known new rice in Africa (NERICA) varieties.


For marker-assisted selection (MAS), a number of MAS-derived crop varieties that have been released in developing countries were discussed, including rice tolerant to submergence, released in the Philippines, and pearl millet hybrids with resistance to downy millet disease, released in India. Success of the latter was attributed to long-term donor support and collaborative partnerships, as well as good linkages between the upstream biotechnology end and the downstream product development, testing and delivery end. Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centres were mentioned as often playing an important role in these MAS developments. Many messages addressed the issue of slow progress in the field and a key issue identified was the lack of collaboration/interaction between plant breeders and biotechnologists.


Biofertilizers have been applied successfully in a number of developing countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, Honduras and Peru. Most of the messages emphasized the importance of communicating with the farmers, particularly concerning the relative advantages of biofertilizers. Successful examples of applications of induced mutagenesis were also described, leading to the release of new varieties of banana, groundnut and sesame in Sri Lanka and banana in the Sudan.


Participants indicated that application of biotechnologies in livestock and forestry was less advanced than in crops. Most livestock-specific messages focused on biotechnologies for genetic improvement, in particular artificial insemination (AI) as well as embryo transfer and the use of molecular markers. AI was considered to have had a substantial impact in only few developing countries and numerous explanations were proposed for this, including the lack of extension services, economic incentives and appropriate policies. The lack of proper animal recording systems in developing countries was identified as one of the major constraints to applying biotechnologies for genetic improvement. Successful use of a DNA test for a major gene to increase the fertility of Deccani sheep in India was described.


In forestry, most discussion was about micropropagation, with the remainder dedicated to biofertilizers, biopesticides and molecular markers. Clear messages emanating from the contributions are that there is a big gap between research developments and their use in the field; and that enhancing collaboration and understanding between researchers in the laboratory and forestry professionals in the field will enhance the application of forestry biotechnologies.


Several contributions were dedicated to the production and importance of traditional fermented foods in developing countries. There was general consensus regarding the need to develop defined starter cultures for indigenous fermented foods and to transform fermentation from being an ‘art’ to a ‘technology-driven process’, and successful examples from Thailand were provided.


Cross-sectoral discussions covered four main reasons for failures of agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries. The first was the lack of funds, facilities and trained professionals, where their negative impacts were highlighted. The second was brain drain, which weakened national capacities, although some participants argued that it should not only be considered in a negative light. The third was inappropriate research focus, where it was argued that researchers were increasingly focusing on basic rather than applied research. The fourth was the lack of political will, where it was considered that there was government apathy to research in general, as well as biotechnology research in particular, while the positive enabling role that government policies could play was underlined.


Cross-sectoral discussions also included four main suggestions for increasing the success of agricultural biotechnologies in the future. The first was that research should be focused on the real problems of the farmers, where discussions included practical recommendations to make this possible. The second was that extension systems should be strengthened, as they can ensure that relevant R&D results actually reach the farmer. The third was that regional and sub-regional cooperation should be increased, and establishment of sub-regional centres of excellence was proposed. The fourth was that public-private partnerships (PPPs) be formed, and participants described some recent examples and discussed the potential advantages and disadvantages of PPPs.


Contributed byJohn Ruane

FAO Working Group on Biotechnology

Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO)


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2.04  Introducing: International Research Journal of Plant Science (IRJPS) IRJPS


Dear Colleague,


I am pleased to announce to you that the October  issue of  International Research Journal of Plant  Science is out. You can view 

it at:  

Kindly support this journal by submitting your manuscripts to us. 

Kindly watch out for our November  Issue that will be out soon.


The   International Research Journal of Plant Science(IRJPS)  is a  multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journal that will be published monthly  by International Research Journals  (


IRJPS  is dedicated to increasing the  depth of the subject across disciplines with the ultimate aim of  expanding knowledge of the subject.


Editors and reviewers

IRJPS is seeking energetic, qualified and high profile researchers to  join its editorial team as editors, subeditors or reviewers. Kindly  send your resume to:,  , or


Call for Research Articles

IRJPS  will cover all areas of the subject. The journal welcomes the  submission of manuscripts that meets the general criteria of  significance and scientific excellence, and will publish:

Original articles in basic and applied research

Case studies

Critical reviews, surveys, opinions, commentaries and essays


We invite you to submit your manuscript(s) to:,  , or   for publication. Our objective is  to inform authors of the decision on their manuscript(s) within four  weeks of submission. Following acceptance, a paper will normally be  published in the next issue. Guide to authors and other details are  available on our website; to authors.htm



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


Best regards,


Paul Okpimah

Editorial Assistant,

International Research Journal of Plant Science(IRJPS)

E-mail:, , or


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2.05  The A to Z of drought phenotyping explained in forthcoming book from GCP


GCP will soon be publishing a book entitled ‘Drought phenotyping in crops: from theory to practice’. More


3rd International Conference on Plant Molecular Breeding

During the opening speech of the recently concluded 3rd International Conference on Plant Molecular Breeding (ICPMB), the Director General of the Institute of Crop Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), Jianmin Wan, underscored the growing problem of food security.


Similarly, molecular breeding has been growing at par with the problem, as the 3rd ICPMB saw the biggest meeting to date, with over 700 participants at its venue, the Beijing International Convention Center, from 5–9 September 2010. GCP was one of the sponsors. Read the full story


3. GCP welcomes Breeding Services Manager to the Integrated Breeding Platform (IBP) team

GCP is pleased to announce the arrival of Chunlin He as Breeding Services Manager of the IBP team. More


5. Molecular Breeding marks GCP Toolkit in prominent article

GCP’s Molecular Marker Toolkit article has been documented in a leading specialist journal, Molecular Breeding. More


7. Mixed model QTL mapping course at ESALQ/USP, Brazil

  • Dates: 13–15 December, 2010
  • Application deadline: December 2nd, 2010
  • Course organisers: the Department of Genetics, Escola Superior de Agricultura “Luiz de Quieroz” (ESALQ)/ Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP), Wageningen University (WUR) & GCP’s IBP
  • More


. Workshop materials now available online

We are pleased to announce that workshop materials from the 3rd GCP-funded cassava community of practice (CoP) annual workshop, held in July 2010 in Ghana, are now available online. More


From GCP’s wide circle of partners and collaborators…


Source: Gcpnews, Issue 51--November 2010


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2.06  Plant Breeding for Water-Limited Environments


A. Blum, Tel Aviv, Israel

This volume is the only existing single-authored book offering a science-based breeder’s manual directed at breeding for water-limited environments. Plant breeding is characterized by the need to integrate information from diverse disciplines towards the development and delivery of a product defined as a new cultivar. Conventional breeding draws information from disciplines such as genetics, plant physiology, plant pathology, entomology, food technology and statistics. Plant breeding for water-limited environments and the development of drought resistant crop cultivars is considered as one of the more difficult areas in plant breeding while at the same time it is becoming a very pressing issue. This volume is unique and timely in that it develops realistic solutions and protocols towards the breeding of drought resistant cultivars by integrating knowledge from environmental science, plant physiology, genetics and molecular biology....

more on


2011. XIV, 258 p. 23 illus. in color.


69,95 €


SFr. 100.50


ISBN 978-1-4419-7490-7


Can be purchased online also at and


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2.07  Breeding and Protection of Vegetables


October 2010

M.K.Rana: Professor, Department of Vegetable Sciences, Ch.Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar 125 004, Haryana, India

New India Publishing Agency

ISBN: 978-93-80235-49-3


Details: 2011, 525p.,figs.,tables., col.plts.,gloss.,25cm

Price: INR 2250.00 USD 80.00

The book has been written in a very simple and easily understandable language. The information given in this book is based on systematically and scientifically designed field and laboratory experiments conducted in various ecological zones.


It is believed that this book will serve the scientific society in a variety of ways. Undergraduate and postgraduate students, professors, teachers, scientists and researchers having their interests in different fields of specialization will certainly be benefited. The book covers articles written by well known authorities in respective fields:



·         Vegetable Breeding Methods and Techniques

·         P. Hazra

·         Development of Vegetable Varieties by Use of Various Breeding Methods

·         Jyotsna Devi

·         Mutation Breeding in Vegetable Crops

·         S.K. Pahuja, R.P. Saharan and Minakshi Jattan

·         Molecular Breeding of Vegetable Crops

·         Veena Chawla, N.R. Yadav and P. Narayanaswamy

·         Heterosis Breeding in Vegetable Crops

·         Nagendra Rai and Ramesh Kumar Singh

·         Breeding for Disease and Insect-Pest Resistance in Vegetable Crops

·         Jyotsna Devi & P. Talukdar

·         Vegetable Breeding for Quality Traits

·         P. Hazra and A.K. Dutta

·         Insect-Pests of Vegetable Crops and Their Management

·         Ram Singh and G.S. Dhaliwal

·         Nematode Problems and Their Management

·         R.K. Walia and R.S. Kanwar

·         Management of Fungal and Bacterial Diseases in Vegetable Crops

·         S.K. Gandhi & Naresh Mehta

·         Viral Diseases of Vegetable Crops and Their Management

·         Rakesh Kumar and Hari Chand

·         Post-Harvest Diseases of Vegetable Crops and Their Management

·         Naresh Mehta & M.S. Sangwan


Published: October 29, 2010




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2.08  Gardens of Biodiversity


New FAO book celebrating traditional food production in the Southern Caucasus


December 2010, Rome

As part of its contribution to the International Year of Biodiversity, FAO has published a book celebrating the richness of biodiversity for food and agriculture in the Southern Caucasus, birthplace of many common foods found on plates all over the world.


Comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, the Southern Caucasus was one of the places where human beings first practised agriculture around 10 000 years ago and food crops such as wheat and grapes have their ancestral home in the region.


The Southern Caucasus has also been listed as the centre of origin of apples, apricots, pomegranates, pears and peas.


Small farms and gardens

Today, the area is still one of the world’s hotspots of biodiversity for food and agriculture. And the reason for this is largely thanks to the attachment to traditional food production systems by small farmers and local people who grow food in their gardens.


This diversity in food crops is mainly due to the climate – hot summers and cold winters – and to the mountains that provide differing degrees of shade and rainfall patterns. Entitled Gardens of Biodiversity, the FAO book contains hundreds of beautiful photographs documenting genetic resources, rural life and traditional food practices.


It also provides over 400 bibliographic references in seven different languages that have been used by the book’s contributors, including farmers, specialists in national research institutions and FAO staff in both the regional offices and headquarters.


Rich collections

The Southern Caucasus is well known for its diversity of endemic species and subspecies of cultivated and wild wheat. All three countries maintain rich collections in their national seed banks and scientists are constantly working on wheat selections of varieties with a good productive potential and pest resistance.  


“We have to store germplasm in seed banks, but we also need farmers to preserve and use this genetic material in their day-to-day activities.


This book pays homage to that, and we hope it will help focus on the role of farmers in the Southern Caucasus and elsewhere in this important task,” said Caterina Batello, Senior FAO Officer and one of the book's authors. 


The culinary ingenuity of the people has added to this rich mix with, for example, an extraordinary range of breads, which play an essential role in local food culture. 


Livestock and bees 

As well as plants, the Southern Caucasus are also home to important local breeds of cattle and sheep, such as Georgian mountain cattle, Megruli red cattle and Balbas, Mazekh and Bozakh sheep.  


The region even has its own indigenous bee, the Caucasian honeybee, which because of its productivity is popular all over the world.  


"The Southern Caucasus is a treasure trove of biodiversity that must not be lost. Only concrete action will ensure that present and future generations can continue to improve their food security and livelihoods. Today we must "wake-up" and engage in identifying, maintaining and using our genetic resources to meet the challenges of the future to feed a growing world population," said Batello.  


FAO NEWS RELEASE  [10/111 en]



Hilary Clarke

Media Relations (Rome)


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3.01  FAO launches Africa crop tool - Interactive 43-nation guide on what to plant, when and where


Rome, Italy

11 November 2010

FAO has launched a quick reference calendar covering 43 major African countries that advises which crops to plant when, according to the type of agricultural zone from drylands to highlands.


The web-based tool, developed by FAO experts, covers more than 130 crops from beans to beetroot to wheat to watermelon.


It is aimed at all donors, agencies, government extension workers and non-governmental organizations working with farmers on the continent.


Emergency help

The FAO crop calendar is especially useful in case of an emergency such as drought or floods or for rehabilitation efforts following a natural or manmade disaster.


As well as crops, it advises on tried and tested seed varieties that are adapted to the soil and climate conditions of each area.


“Seeds are critical for addressing the dual challenges of food insecurity and climate change,” said Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division.


“The right choice of crops and seeds is crucial both for improving the livelihoods of the rural poor and hungry and for dealing with climate change.


To be able to make that choice, you have to make sure seeds and planting materials are available and accessible at the right place and at the right time.”


Rich African ecology

There are 283 agro-ecological zones covered in the calendar, representing the vast richness and variety of the African ecology as well as challenges of land degradation, sand encroachment and floods.


An estimated 50 percent of the global increase in yields over the past ten years has come from improving the quality of seeds. The other fifty percent has come from better water management and irrigation practices.




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3.02  First Global Conference on Biofortification: Information available on-line


If you weren’t able to attend the First Global Conference on Biofortification, November 9-11, 2010 in Washington, DC, don’t worry! All the conference proceedings, including background papers, briefs, PowerPoints, photos, and videos of the plenary sessions, can be viewed on the conference blog along with articles and commentaries. The conference also received considerable media coverage. We encourage you to share your comments on any of the posted content.


The conference by all accounts was a success, thanks to the diversity of thoughts and ideas shared over the three days. Attendees noted how rare it was to have agricultural and nutrition scientists in the same room talking to each other (watch videos of attendees sharing their perspectives). The conference brought together stakeholders working on different aspects of biofortification—from “discovery to delivery.” Morning plenaries were devoted to exploring how agriculture and nutrition could better interface and the challenges in moving biofortification forward. In afternoon workshops, experts honed in on progress, challenges, and “the way forward” on a range of topics.


We’ll be posting a proposed ‘framework for action’ in early December. Comments are welcome, so be sure to visit.


Contributed by Hannah Guedenet

Communications Specialist


Washington, DC 20006


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4.01  Applications now open for Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program


Third consecutive year of funding to improve research in wheat and rice breeding


St. Louis, Missouri, USA

11 November 2010

Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON) and Texas AgriLife Research, an agency of the Texas A&M University System, have announced the open call for applications for students interested in pursuing research in wheat or rice plant breeding.


Applications for the third round of funding from Monsanto's Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program (MBBISP) are being accepted now through February 1, 2011. Funds are available for scholars pursuing a doctorate in wheat or rice plant breeding. Students interested in applying can find more details at


"Every year, the quality of the entries exceeds our expectations," said Program Director, Dr. Ed Runge of Texas A&M University. "I anticipate another strong group of applications from students all over the world interested in improving breeding efforts in rice and wheat, two of the world's most important crops."


Monsanto is funding the program, which is administered by Texas AgriLife Research, through 2013. The program honors the accomplishments of Dr. Henry Beachell and Dr. Norman Borlaug, who pioneered plant breeding and research in rice and wheat, respectively.


"I can think of no better way to honor the landmark work of these two important researchers than by encouraging new scientific research in these two important crops," said Ted Crosbie, Monsanto's vice president of global plant breeding. "The program named in their honor is ensuring the next generation of innovative rice and wheat breeders will have the tools and resources to lead the world through the second Green Revolution."


Applications will be reviewed by an independent panel of global judges chaired by Runge, who is also a professor, and Billie B. Turner Chair in Production Agronomy (Emeritus) within the Soil and Crop Sciences Department, Texas A&M University at College Station.


Students from anywhere in the world can complete their Ph.D. program at any university in the world that grants a Ph.D. in rice or wheat breeding. Part of the research program must be completed in one of the following developed areas: Australia, Canada, the United States or Western Europe if students are enrolled in a developing country university. The program also calls for award recipients to conduct at least one season of field work in a developing country if they are enrolled in a university in Australia, Canada, USA or Western Europe.


Monsanto announced its $10 million grant to establish Monsanto's Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program on March 25, 2009 at the 95th birthday of Dr. Borlaug who passed away in September 2009.




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4.02  National Association of Plant Breeders announces nominations for 2011 awards


The National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) is pleased to announce its Awards Program for 2011. This year the NAPB is sponsoring two awards that will be presented at our Annual Meeting May 23-25 at Texas A&M University, College Station, TX.


Early Career Award - recognizing a successful individual active in the plant breeding field.


Life Time Achievement Award - recognizing an individual who has given distinguished long-term service to the plant breeding field in such areas as research, education, outreach and leadership.


These awards will highlight the achievements of individuals and are open to everyone in the plant breeding community. The nominee does not have to be a member of the NAPB.


A description of each award and the procedures for nominating a candidate can be found at our website    Annual NAPB Meeting information can also be found at the meeting site


Nominations are currently being accepted and the final deadline is March 1, 2011 (5:00 pm Pacific time). For inquiries or questions please contact the Awards Chair Karen Moldenhauer at (870)673-2661 or


The National Association of Plant Breeders represents and advocates for plant breeders in the United States working in the public and private sectors. For further information, please visit


 (Return to Contents)





This section includes three subsections:






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




Online Graduate Program in Seed Technology & Business

Iowa State University


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


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


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


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

Paul Christensen, Seed Technology and Business Program Manager Ph.





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


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






Seed Biotechnology Center takes the Classroom to the Professionals – Seed Business 101

Seed Business 101 was created with input from industry executives to accelerate the careers of promising new employees. It offers invaluable insights and perspectives 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.  The purpose of this course is to shorten the learning curve for new employees teaching them what every employee must know about the working of the main functional areas of a seed company in order to perform optimally in the team as quickly as possible and avoid mistakes.  The course is designed to focus on optimum operations of the five major functional areas of a seed company.

§  Research and Development        

§  Production

§  Operations

§  Sales and Marketing

§  Administration


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. Case studies are designed to immerse participants in the decision making roles in all five functional areas of a seed company.


Registration:     Enrollment is currently being accepted for the following dates and locations:

November 15-19, 2010 – Davis, CA (Session nearly full – secure your spot today.)

January 17–21, 2011 – Boise, Idaho

February 14-18, 2011 – Yuma, Arizona

For more information contact Jeannette Martins, or to register

go to:




European Plant Breeding Academysm Class II scheduled to start in Fall 2011

European Plant Breeding Academy class II will begin its academic year in Fall 2011.  This is a professional development course designed by the Seed Biotechnology Center at UC Davis to increase the supply of professional plant breeders.  For more information and application process visit


EPBA Class II locations and dates:

Week 1:   Oct 17-22, 2011                    

Location:  Gent, Belgium

Partners:  FlandersBio


Week 2:   Mar 5-10, 2012                     

Location:  Angers, France

Partners:  Vegepolys,   Fédération Nationale des Professionnels des Semences Potageres et Florales (FNPSP)


Week 3:   June 25-30, 2012                   

Location:  Gatersleben, Germany

Partners: The German Plant Breeders' Association (BDP), Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK)


Week 4:   Oct 8-13, 2012                      

Location:  Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Partners:  Seed Valley, Naktuinbouw


Week 5:   Mar 4-9, 2013                       

Location:  Barcelona, Spain

Partners:  Asociacion Nacional de Obtentores Vegetales (ANOVE), CRAG [a consortium between  Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC), Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentaries (IRTA)Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB)]


Week 6:   June 24-29, 2013                  

Location:  Davis, CA

Partners:  Seed Biotechnology Center, UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences






(NEW) 7-9 February 2011. International Conference on Crop improvement, ideotyping, and modeling for African cropping systems under climate change (CIMAC), Hohenheim University, Stuttgart, Germany.


The CIMAC conference addresses possibilities for genotypic adaptation via selection or breeding, modeling that allows extrapolative evaluation of climate change scenarios in view of genotypic adaptation mechanisms and the idea to propose crop ideotypes to develop a basis for tactical and strategic decision making to adapt African agriculture to climate change.


The conference will offer a platform for the exchange of ideas, concepts and experiences in crop improvement, ideotyping, and modeling.


Main conference themes are 1) Crop improvement strategies for genotypic adaptation to climate change, 2) Traits for ideotypes to adapt African crops to climate change, and 3) Crop modeling for ideotype development


For abstract submission and registration please visit the conference web site


Contributed by Dr. Marcus Giese

University of Hohenheim

Institute for Plant Production and Agroecology of the Tropics and Subtropics


(NEW) 14 February – 13 May, 2011. Wheat Improvement & Pathology training program 2011 (Feb 14 – May 13, 2010)


CIMMYT's Wheat improvement training program is a unique professional development opportunity for early-career scientists who work in the public, private or non-governmental sectors. Scientists working in National Agricultural Research System (NARS) particularly in the area of wheat breeding, pathology and physiology may find this course useful.


Based on individual needs, participants with clearly defined learning objectives will be assigned to relevant CIMMYT scientists/ tutors in the following research areas:

* Breeding bread wheat for increased yield potential, quality and durable disease resistance in irrigated & high production areas.

* Breeding bread wheat for increased yield potential, quality and durable disease resistance in rainfed, low & marginal production areas.

* Durum wheat breeding for high yield potential, drought tolerance, durable disease resistance and good industrial quality..

* Wheat pathology and durable rust resistance.

* Application of physiology in wheat breeding.


Approximately 4 weeks will be dedicated to covering wheat pathology and wheat quality aspects, molecular techniques and applied statistics. The remainder of the time is spent at the field station, El Batán & Obregón, dedicated to wheat improvement methodologies and selections. Field activities include crossing and selections, disease screening work, and laboratory work - pathology, biotech, and grain quality (70% of time). Lectures and seminars on various aspects of wheat breeding comprise approximately 30% of the course time.


More information:

Applications to: Petr Kosina (


Contributed by Petr Kosina



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


Contact Jeannette Martins, or visit


(NEW) 19 February 2011, 10:00 - 11:30 am. A series of talks and a discussion meeting: Plant Breeding Today: Genomics and Computing Advances Bring Speed and Precision, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 147A. AAAS meeting, Washington.




Molecular approaches speed up plant breeding of medical and developing country crops.  

Ian Graham, Centre of Novel Agricultural Products, University of York


Dissecting the Genetics of Complex Agronomic Traits for Crop Improvement

Edward S. Buckler, Cornell University


Discovery of genes for crop improvement from wild ancestor plants. Susan Rotherford McCouch, Cornell University  

Susan Rotherford McCouch, Cornell University


Queries to; Elspeth Bartlet


Contributed by Elspeth Bartlet

External Communications Manager

The CNAP Artemisia Research Project

Department of Biology (area 7)

University of York



(NEW) 19-22 February 2011. Plant Transformation Technologies II

(NEW) 23-26 February 2011. Plant Gene Discovery Technologies

Campus Altes AKH, Lecture Hall C1, Spitalgasse 2, 1090 Vienna


Please, note that the Early Bird Registration Deadline for the International Conference “Plant Transformation Technologies II” to be held in Vienna, Austria has been extended until November 19th, 2010.

Rates will significantly increase on November 19th. Please, click here to register now:  Online Registration


Please also note that the Abstract Submission Deadline has been extended until November 12th 2010, and abstracts are still being accepted for poster and oral presentations!! For online submission please click here:

Abstract Submission

or send your abstract (MS Word format) to the following email address:


“Plant Transformation Technologies II” will cover the following topics:

 -Agrobacterium Mediated Plant Transformation

-Particle Bombardment and Other Transformation Methods

-Explants Used for Plant Transformation

-Transformation of Important Crops

-Plant Transformation Tools: Genes, Vectors, Promoters etc

-Selectable and Screenable Markers

-Molecular Analysis of Transgenic Events and Transformmants

-Expression of Transgenes in Transgenic Plants (Integration, Stability)

-Marker Excision and Marker Free Transtechnologies

-Plastid Transformation and Biotechnology

-Transgenic Plants as Bio Factories

-Transgenic Plants and Public

-Intellectual Property in Plant Transformation

-Emerging Plant Trans-Technologies


Amongst the invited speakers are internationally known names such as M. Van Montagu, C.N. Stewart, Jr., V. Citovsky, S.B. Gelvin, H.D. Jones, H. Kobayashi, D.W. Ow, R. Bock, M. Boutry, L.-Y. Lee, A. Trewavas, G. Lomonossoff, G. Corrado, S.-S. Kwak, G. Angenon, H. Daniell and others.


View all meeting information online at:


Dr. Alisher Touraev

Chair of the Organizing Committee