28 February 2011


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  Importance of ag research highlighted with funding

1.02  New crop varieties for a changing climate

1.03  China to face food supply pressures

1.04  China’s measures to stabilize grain production relieve worldwide concerns

1.05  Climate change, grain production is focus of $20 million USDA/NIFA grant for the University of Idaho, Washington State University and Oregon State University

1.06  Adapting agriculture to climate change: Summary statement from a Bellagio Meeting

1.07  DuPont Chair & CEO: meeting world food needs requires science and collaboration

1.08  Assessing agriculture's potential to mitigate global warming

1.09  Scientists develop green super rice

1.10  New variety releases expand market options for Tanzania’s farmers

1.11  Mars Food looks to sustainable source of rice

1.12  Colorado State University researchers to collaborate on $25 million USDA project to develop climate change-resistant strains of wheat

1.13  New rice variety could ease Mozambique's supplies

1.14  Plant breeding is being transformed by advances in genomics and computing

1.15  China to set up its own large seed companies

1.16  Armed with US$40 million, global research team to fight Ug99

1.17  China's Ministry of Agriculture and Supreme People’s Court protect rights of new plant varieties hand in hand

1.18  Patent to be granted for salinity tolerance technology

1.19  New White House intellectual property advisory committees elevates IP enforcement to highest level

1.20  Remarkable results achieved in IPR protection for China’s seed industry

1.21  Government of Mexico continues granting environmental testing permits to developers of GM corn and other crops

1.22  New ethanol-only biotech corn raises doubts

1.23  Africa flirts with GM technology in rush for climate-ready crops

1.24  Biotech crops surge over 1 billion hectares - Developing nations drive growth at adoption rates exceeding industrialized countries

1.25  Reflexive biotechnology development

1.26  Controversy over GM maize in Peru

1.27  Getting curators to think like breeders

1.28  New biodiversity benefit-sharing protocol relies on national rules, experts say

1.29  Research identifies wild ancestor genes for crop improvement

1.30  Plants can adapt genetically to survive harsh environments

1.31  Promising results for breeding drought-resistant cowpea

1.32  Wheat genes are the key to salinity fight

1.33  The great pyramid - By stacking multiple genes for resistance, plant breeders develop tomatoes that are a monument to better pest control

1.34  Researchers reach a breakthrough for protein levels in key staple crop

1.35  Two genes better than one for Pseudomonas syringae

1.36  For longer-life, disease-free roses, North Carolina State University researchers insert celery gene

1.37  Finding a polyamine way to extend tomato shelf life

1.38  University of Minnesota finalizes exclusive license with French biotech company Cellectis for technology that allows scientists to modify genes to create specific traits

1.39  Plants have for the first time been cloned as seeds

1.40  University of Illinois researcher receives USDA grant to study soybean flowering response

1.41  More targeted breeding: plant genes under the microscope

1.42  Advance in bioenergy research: Transcriptome sequencing from developing seeds of biofuel-plant Jatropha curcas completed



2.01  Book Review: The Murder of Nikolai Vavilo

2.02  The International Dimension of the American Society of Agronomy: Past and Future


2.04  Documentary on rice and climate change

2.05  Plant Breeding for Water Limited Environments

2.06  Journal explores Translational Seed Biology



(None submitted)



4.01  Texas A&M Plant Breeding Bulleting features summer plant breeding internship

4.02  European Seed Association to award the best student of the Plant Breeding Academy



(None submitted)









1.01  Importance of ag research highlighted with funding


U.S. President's budget increases funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) from $262 to $325 million


Madison, Wisconsin, USA

February 16, 2011

The continuing importance of agricultural research is evident with the proposed funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) in President Obama’s FY 2012 budget. Strong AFRI funding will support land grant, USDA, and industry scientists in meeting global challenges including food security needs, maintaining soil ecosystem health, adapting crops to a changing climate, and producing renewable energy.


In the President's FY 12 budget AFRI funding increases from $262 million to $325 million.


“We are pleased that the President has included competitive agricultural research as part of his agenda for the future of innovation, as shown by the proposed 2012 level for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The $63 million is a realistic increase in the current budget environment," says Caron Gala Bijl, Senior Science Policy Associate for the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA).


ASA, CSSA, and SSSA are members of the Washington DC based AFRI Coalition, a group of more than 30 science organizations that advocate for AFRI funding.


"For the purposes of addressing key issues like soil health, crop adaptation, energy production, as well as food security and safety, it is essential that AFRI weather this tough fiscal climate," she continues.


AFRI is the flagship competitive grant program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The Institute supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition, and health; renewable energy, natural resources, and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.


The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Coalition is made up of 32 scientific societies and science advocacy organizations with diverse research interests who support a full appropriation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).


The Coalition believes that robust funding of AFRI shows strong commitment to America’s farmers, consumers, researchers, and food and rural entrepreneurs, bringing them the tools necessary to maintain the country’s competitiveness. At the same time, work performed under AFRI helps to protect the natural resource base and environment, enhance human nutrition and promote health, improve our fundamental understanding of plants and animals, and foster vibrant rural communities. For more information, visit:


The Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), founded in 1955, is an international scientific society comprised of 6,000+ members with its headquarters in Madison, WI. Members advance the discipline of crop science by acquiring and disseminating information about crop breeding and genetics; crop physiology; crop ecology, management, and quality; seed physiology, production, and technology; turfgrass science; forage and grazinglands; genomics, molecular genetics, and biotechnology; and biomedical and enhanced plants.


CSSA fosters the transfer of knowledge through an array of programs and services, including publications, meetings, career services, and science policy initiatives. For more information, visit


More news from: USDA - NIFA (National Institute of Food and Agriculture)




(Return to Contents)




1.02  New crop varieties for a changing climate


Patancheru, India

February 10, 2011

The International Crops research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) participated in the IFPRI 2020 international conference from February 10–12, 2011, New Delhi on Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health, organized by The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). ICRISAT and IFPRI belong to the Consortium of Centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).


Inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, more than 900 delegates are participating in this two-day global conference. The event will feature over 150 leading figures from agriculture, nutrition, health, and other related sectors in 5 plenary sessions and 15 parallel sessions. These sessions will serve as a venue for over 900 conference participants to interact together and develop solutions to address global food, nutrition and health challenges.


Speaking at the conference, ICRISAT Director General William Dar said, “we have up scaled high yielding varieties of groundnut which are tolerant to aflatoxin and developed a low cost testing kit to strengthen local capacity for aflatoxin monitoring in Asia and Sub- Saharan Africa. Here at this IFPRI 2020 conference, we along with our partners, join hands to eradicate global hunger and malnutrition.”


Aflatoxins are poisonous by-products produced from two types of fungi and are among the most carcinogenic substances in human food.


Benefiting thousands of farmers in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, ICRISAT’s research has resulted to the production of aflatoxin-free food and enhanced regional and international trade opportunities. ICRISAT, through its various innovations done through purposeful partnerships following an Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) approach, help provide a food, income and nutritional security to smallholder farm families of the drylands tropics.


Explaining ICRISAT’s work, Dr Dar said, “our work with the National Smallholder Farmer Association of Malawi (NASFAM) that has over 108,000 members provides agricultural advisory services for groundnut production and assures a market for farmers’ produce. Through NASFAM, farmers have access to improved technologies of ICRISAT by participating in on-farm trials and demonstrations.” ICRISAT’s work on aflatoxin has enabled groundnut farmers in Malawi to re-enter the world market.


Human and nutrition is one of six developmental outcomes in ICRISAT’s new strategy to 2020, aiming for the consumption of more nutritious and balanced diets by smallholder households in the dryland tropics.




(Return to Contents)




1.03  China to face food supply pressures


Beijing, China

January 31, 2011


China will face pressures ensuring farm product supply meets demand over the next five years, the Shanghai Securities News reported Saturday citing Chen Xiaohua, China's vice agricultural minister.


Chen said in the five-year period from 2011 to 2015, China will annually consume an extra 4 million tons of grain, 800,000 tons of vegetable oil and 1 million tons of meat.


To meet that increased demand, China will boost agricultural development during the 12th Five-year Plan (2011-2015) period with more policy support, Chen said.


The government will provide more funding for agriculture and subsidize technology development for farmers, Chen added.


The government will also enhance agricultural market regulation and boost farmers' income, Chen said.


In 2010, China produced 546.4 million tons of grain, 39.2 million tons of cooking oil and 77.8 million tons of meat.


Source:  Xinhua via Ministry of Agriculture via


(Return to Contents)




1.04 China’s measures to stabilize grain production relieve worldwide concerns



February 18, 2011

On 9 February, Premier Wen Jiabao chaired an executive meeting of the State Council, at which another ten measures were announced on the basis of recently unveiled supporting policies for grain productionincluding raising the minimum purchase price of rice, increasing efforts in development of anti-drought infrastructure, prearranging subsidies of 1.2 billion yuan from the central government for purchase of agricultural machinery, and expanding the scope of the subsidies for anti-drought watering practices in the winter wheat fields.


These timely supporting policies will play an important role in mitigating the increasing pressure from the rise of world grain prices, preventing the further increase of grain prices resulting from the possible reduction in the grain output caused by the drought in China’s north as well as stabilizing domestic prices and curbing inflation.


Integrated measures taken by the state to stabilize grain prices


Since October 2010, there has been unusually limited rainfall in Shandong and Henan, two major wheat producing provinces. It is estimated that drought in North China, the Huanghuai Plain and some other areas would continue this February. Some experts have predicted that although China would not be confronted with serious grain shortage thanks to the regulating role of the national grain reserves despite possible reduction in grain output in the future, the shortage of some grains and the inter-regional imbalance between supply and demand resulting from the drought might lead to certain fluctuation of prices; and that the price of wheat would go up by around 2.09 percent because of the drought.


Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture said that announcement of the ten measures, which included increasing subsidies for anti-drought efforts and raising the minimum purchase price of rice, showed that China had shifted its approach for promoting grain production and stabilizing prices from merely anti-drought activities in the northern wheat producing area to integrated supportive measures for the production of three major grain crops, namely wheat, corn and rice.


Source:People’s Daily Overseas Edition via Ministry of Agriculture via


(Return to Contents)




1.05  Climate change, grain production is focus of $20 million USDA/NIFA grant for the University of Idaho, Washington State University and Oregon State University


Pullman, Washington, USA

February 18, 2011

Helping one of the largest wheat producing regions in the world mitigate and successfully adapt to climate change is the focus of research that scientists from the University of Idaho, Washington State University and Oregon State University will conduct with a five-year, $20 million grant from the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture.


NIFA officials announced the grant this morning along with two other $20 million awards to the University of Florida and Iowa State University. UI is the lead institution for the Pacific Northwest grant and will receive $8 million. WSU and USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists, also adjunct faculty at WSU, at Pullman will receive $8 million. OSU will receive $4 million.


Although they emphasize that there are more than 60 different agri-ecological zones within the region, project scientists say, in general, temperatures in the Pacific Northwest’s prime grain growing regions are expected to increase by 3.6 degrees by 2050. Winter precipitation is expected to increase by approximately 5 percent in that same time frame; summer precipitation, however, is expected to decrease. They also say a 5 percent increase is relatively small compared to the large variations in precipitation throughout the region from year to year.


“The challenges that we are facing in agriculture are enormous,” said Howard Grimes, vice president research at WSU. “Everybody who has looked for even a moment at the population increase that is facing our planet, coupled with the arable land issues, coupled with the water use issue, coupled with the regional climate change issues understands immediately how grand this challenge is.”


Scientists from a variety of disciplines at the universities will tackle different aspects of the climate change challenge – cropping practices, weed and disease management and prevention, economics, computer modeling and mapping, soil science, rural sociology, carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions, and education and Extension. The team will include 22 principal investigators, 14 graduate students, three post-graduate researchers, and several technical and administrative staff. They will create a region-wide research, outreach and education network to address climate change issues.


“This project is unique in several important ways,” said Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “It is interdisciplinary and inter-institutional, but it is also unique in the sheer magnitude of funding and scope. This larger, integrated, coordinated effort truly has the potential to be transformational for wheat and barley producers in our region.”


Thirteen of the nation’s wheat and 80 percent of the country’s soft white wheat exports come from the Pacific Northwest.


More information about the scientists involved and their roles in the project is available at




(Return to Contents)




1.06  Adapting agriculture to climate change: Summary statement from a Bellagio Meeting


Conference/Workshop Report


January 2011


This Statement summarizes the results of the third in a series of consultations between agricultural scientists (in particular those interested in the conservation and use of crop diversity in plant improvement) and climate scientists on how to adapt agriculture to climate change. The first meeting, also held at Bellagio (3-7 September 2007), looked at the Conservation and Use of Global Crop Genetic Resources in the Face of Climate Change. It identified three major challenges facing the adaptation process: collecting crop diversity before it disappears, using it to breed better adapted crops, and informing key players of the increased need for the conservation and effective use of crop genetic resources in the face of climate change.


The second meeting, held at Stanford University on 16-18 June 2009, looked more specifically at breeding, and in particular at Climate Extremes and Crop Adaptation. Among other things, it recommended that efforts to develop heat tolerant cultivars of the major cereals be intensified, and that greater investments be made in genotyping and phenotyping the variation already held in genebanks, and in collecting remaining diversity.


This third meeting in the series, and second at Bellagio, focused on a specific area of intersection between the ground covered by the previous consultations: the role of plants that are closely related to crops but are not themselves cultivated (crop wild relatives, or CWRs for short) in breeding cultivars better adapted to future climates. We structured the discussion into three sections, and summarize the results in the same way below. We also note that the tight focus of this short meeting on CWR is not meant to indicate that other strategies for adaptation are less worthwhile. For example, changes in agronomic practices, such as the adoption of conservation agriculture, may well be an effective adaptation strategy, and one that complements crop genetic improvement. It was also often noted that the use of CWRs is but one of many tools in the breeder's toolbox.


Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz


(Return to Contents)




1.07  DuPont Chair & CEO: meeting world food needs requires science and collaboration


Wilmington, Delaware, USA

February 11, 2011

Increasing agricultural productivity, improving food quality and achieving long-term food security will require science and collaboration to address dramatic global population challenges, DuPont Chair & CEO Ellen Kullman told members of the Chief Executives’ Club of Boston yesterday. The Chief Executives’ Club is among the top three most influential thought leadership venues in the U.S.


Ellen noted the challenge for global food production is to feed the world’s growing population, which is near 7 billion and expected to rise to 9 billion by 2050. In the meantime, the world’s supply of arable land per person is decreasing.


Ellen said the scale and scope of this challenge can only be tackled through science and collaboration.


“Successful collaboration means developing advanced seed technologies that meet specific local needs, crop protection products to help guard crop yield and quality, innovative packaging that protects food quality and testing systems to ensure food safety and good agricultural practices that improve the knowledge and skills of farmers in developing countries,” Ellen said.


As an example, Ellen pointed to the Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) project. The initiative is an African-led public-private partnership focused on improving the nutrition and digestibility of sorghum that is a staple for more than 300 million people in Africa. The ABS project uses science and technology to enhance sorghum’s nutritional content. The lead organization has been Africa Harvest, a Kenya-based non-profit, and DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred is a primary technology provider.


“Inclusive, innovative science that involves farmers, governments, universities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and customers can meet the world’s demand for food and do it while improving consumer benefits and increasing sustainability,” Ellen said.  “We have a tremendous opportunity to address global food challenges by increasing the productivity of the world’s farmers, expanding the availability of nutritious food, delivering cutting-edge crop protection products that are more sustainable and empowering farmers around the world to improve their families’ standards of living.”




(Return to Contents)




1.08  Assessing agriculture's potential to mitigate global warming


Norway and Germany support FAO's work to fill data gaps on greenhouse gas emissions, create planning tools


Rome, Italy

15 February 2011

The governments of Norway and Germany have committed a combined total of $5 million in support of an FAO programme to improve global information on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and more accurately assess farming's potential to mitigate global warming.


The improved data acquired by FAO's Mitigation of Climate change in Agriculture (MICCA) programme will be made available via an online global knowledge base that will not only profile greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture but will also identify best opportunities for mitigating global warming through improved farming practices.


"Data variations in existing assessments, as well as information gaps, pose a real challenge in terms of making the most of the agriculture sector's significant potential to sequester atmospheric carbon," said Marja-Liisa Tapio-Bistrom, coordinator of the FAO MICCA Programme.


Having access to improved data will give governments, development planners, farmers and agribusinesses a tool they can use to access international funding for mitigation projects and design and implement policies, programs and practices intended to reduce agriculture's GHG emissions, increase the amount of carbon sequestered on farms.


"Climate-smart" farming practices can increase productivity and improve resilience to changing weather and climate patterns while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (For more on climate-smart agriculture, click here.)


Good information for good policies

"We are extremely grateful to the governments of Norway and Germany for supporting this work," said Alexander Mueller, FAO Assistant-Director General for Natural Resources.


"The data we are working together to assemble is fundamental for the effort to shift food production to the climate smart model. The more information we have on emissions from specific farming systems, the more effective the policies countries will be able to put into place to encourage that transition," he added.


Norway's contribution to the project totals around $3 million. Germany is contributing $2 million.


Exploiting opportunities

Agriculture accounts for just around 14 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, equal to 6.8 gigatonnes of carbon equivalent.


At the same time, the sector has great potential to reduce its GHG emissions and sequester large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that soil carbon sequestration - through improved cropland and grazing land management as well as the restoration of degraded lands -- offers the greatest potential in agriculture for climate change mitigation.


Implementing policies, practices and projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture could be done at little or no cost to third world farmers, according to FAO. In some cases it would even increase their productivity, while also making them less vulnerable to climate-related impacts -- thereby buttressing world food security.


More news from: FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)



Published: February 15, 2011




(Return to Contents)




1.09  Scientists develop green super rice


Program focuses on making a hardy, eco-friendly crop

January 31, 2011

Steve Baragona | Washington, D.C.  


Researchers are working to develop rice varieties which require much less water, fertilizer and pesticide than modern types of rice demand.


Rice feeds roughly three billion people in Asia alone, and is a staple food around the world. Modern rice plant varieties yield double or triple the amount of grain possible before the 1960s.


When the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) first introduced these varieties, they were called "miracle rice" because they helped ward off famine is Asia. But they have some major shortcomings.


"When farmers don't have these fertilizers, they fail them miserably," says Jauhar Ali, an IRRI senior scientist.


Petrochemical-based fertilizers are costly and becoming more so. The same is true of the pesticides farmers use to control insects and weeds. Also, the pollution they cause is ruining aquatic ecosystems in many parts of the world.


In addition, they need to be irrigated. But experts say water supplies are increasingly challenged by urbanization and climate change.


Sustainability concerns growing

These were secondary concerns as famine loomed in the 1960s, according to Colorado State University rice researcher Jan Leach.


"[Back then, they said], 'OK, we just need more yield. We need to produce more rice,'" she says. "Now we can step back and say, 'OK, now we know how to get more rice. Now let's think about how to get more rice and be sustainable.'"


Today, IRRI is working on what it calls Green Super Rice - "green" meaning environmentally friendly - because it will grow as much or more grain with fewer inputs; and "super" because it will be better able to tolerate drought, flooding, salty water, insect pests and more.


"All this will be combined into one," Ali says, "Plus disease resistance also. And not only that. We will do it in what they like to eat."


Huge program

If it sounds like a big job, that's because it is. Each one of those traits can be controlled by multiple genes. Combining all the right genes into one plant - without using genetic engineering - takes a whole lot of plant breeding, says Anna McClung, head of a major U.S. government rice breeding center.


"The magnitude of what they're doing is really quite unique and tremendous," she says. "We're talking 10-fold more than a regular program would do. Maybe 100-fold more."


The project spans 16 countries. IRRI and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences have spent the last 12 years mating hundreds of different varieties from the world's largest rice collection.


Hidden diversity

Colorado State's Jan Leach says with that many varieties to choose from, researchers can find valuable traits hidden in the rice genome.


"Many of the traits are present, but they are not turned on until you get them into the right genetic background, or sometimes in the right environment," she says.


For example, some of the genes that help a new variety survive prolonged periods underwater came from a variety that would drown in those conditions. The genes were there, they were just switched off. Ironically, that plant is fairly good at surviving the opposite extreme: drought.


Several first-generation Green Super Rice varieties should be available to farmers in eight target countries in Asia and eight in Africa in about two years. Meanwhile, researchers continue stacking more traits into new varieties to help farmers produce more with less, in order to feed a growing world.




(Return to Contents)




1.10  New variety releases expand market options for Tanzania’s farmers


February 2011

Source: AVRDC newsletter

After several years of development and two years of testing, nine new vegetable varieties, seven of which are indigenous vegetables, were released on 1 February 2011 in Tanzania. AVRDC breeders worked with local farmers, government researchers, and the public and private sector to select, test and evaluate breeding lines for release as stable varieties. Tanzania’s Horticultural Research and Training Institute (HORTI-Tengeru) and Agricultural Seed Agency will now handle the maintenance of the varieties.


Top tomatoes

Two AVRDC tomato lines, LBR 6 and LBR 11, were released under new names ‘Duluti’ and ‘Tengeru 2010,’ respectively. These varieties have resistance to early and late blight diseases, which limit production of common varieties in cool wet weather; the new varieties have the potential to bridge the seasonality gap in tomato production by allowing farmers to grow tomato during the off-season. The yields are comparatively higher than ‘Marglobe’ and other traditionally grown varieties, especially under cool wet weather. The relatively firm fruit can be transported long distances; it is an excellent choice for the fresh market but can also be used for processing. Fruit is large and preferred in some neighboring countries, presenting opportunities for export. Heavy foliage covers the fruit, protecting it from sun-scald and bird damage.


Full article




(Return to Contents)




1.11  Mars Food looks to sustainable source of rice


15 February 2011

The research and development arm of Mars Food has enlisted the help of David Mackill, one of the world’s leading experts in the area of rice plant breeding, genetics and biotechnology, as company’s Strategic Rice Expert.


The focus of the appointment has been to establish a global network of rice researchers, research institutions and government agencies, which can be mobilized to generate ground-breaking new research to support improved rice production and breeding programmes.


The aim is for Mars Food’s rice business, including the global rice brand UNCLE BEN’S, is to become a world leader in the areas of sustainable sourcing and nutrition.


Dr. Mackill joins the company from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), where he was Principal Scientist - Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology. IRRI aims to reduce poverty and hunger by improving the health of rice farmers and consumers, while ensuring environmental sustainability. At IRRI, Dr. Mackill led the development of more than 20 rice cultivars adapted to the challenging growing conditions in southern Asia.


“Having access to the world’s best rice science research and expertise will be instrumental to Mars achieving its ambitions to provide consumers with rice that is produced to the highest standards of sustainability and which offers optimal health and nutrition benefits,” said Marc Turcan, Vice President of R&D and Supply for the Global Mars Food business. “David will be the bridge between the company and the scientific community, initiating new research to advance global understanding as well as channeling the world’s leading scientific expertise into Mars, to help us continually improve our sustainability and nutritional performance.”   


In addition to leveraging external science and research resources, Dr. Mackill will lead Mars Food’s plant science and breeding strategies to create and sustain supply streams which meet the business’ specifications for sustainable sourcing and nutrition.  Initially his work will focus on rice, but will later be extended to other key plant crops such as tomatoes.


Dr. Mackill will also play a key role in the Mars Food Sustainability, Health and Nutrition Research Advisory Board, a panel of independent experts which provides objective scientific advice to Mars Food.




(Return to Contents)




1.12  Colorado State University researchers to collaborate on $25 million USDA project to develop climate change-resistant strains of wheat


Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Fwbruary 15, 2011

Researchers at Colorado State University will participate in a five-year, $25 million U.S. Department of Agriculture project addressing the impact of climate change on wheat and barley.


Over the five year period, CSU researchers in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences will receive $608,000 for the Triticeae Coordinated Agriculture Project, or T-CAP. The project will be coordinated by the University of California-Davis and involves 28 institutions in 21 states.


“This project is significant for Colorado because it will help locate the genes for two traits – drought tolerance and nitrogen use efficiency – that are critically important to the state’s wheat growers,” said Patrick Byrne, professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, who is a primary CSU researcher on the project. “Equally notable is participating in a coordinated network of 28 institutions that will keep CSU’s wheat breeding efforts at the forefront of new technology developments.”


USDA has established the long-term objective of increasing water and nitrogen use efficiency in wheat and barley through the development of varieties that can better adapt to the changing environments expected with continued climate change.


Byrne, who specializes in plant breeding and genetics, will be joined on the project by Soil and Crop Sciences professor and wheat breeder Scott Haley.


"I am really excited about our involvement in the new T-CAP project,” Haley said. “This project builds on what we've already done over the last several years and then takes us to the next level to break new ground at the interface of genomics and breeding.”


One of their major tasks is the evaluation of 300 lines of winter wheat for yield, drought tolerance and nitrogen use efficiency in four different environments. These efforts will be coordinated with similar trials in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.


After evaluating the DNA markers identified through the trials, the team will develop breeding strategies based on natural genetic variation for varieties of wheat that display desired traits.


The USDA also hopes to develop a Plant Breeding Education Network with this award. As part of this educational aspect, CSU will train a doctoral student in wheat breeding and genetics as well as offer a two-week field course in 2012 and 2014 in selecting wheat varieties for drought tolerance.


In the United States, public sector researchers are the main source of new varieties of wheat for producers. Varieties developed publicly account for a substantial portion of the wheat grown each year in the U.S., nearly 70 percent nationally according to a recent estimate. The U.S. must compete for market shares by quickly and efficiently implementing the development and adoption of new wheat varieties.


“To me, the most exciting parts of the project are the goals for translation of basic findings in genomics to our wheat breeding program,” Haley said. “The project has brought together the best minds and ideas available, whether in the public or private sector, all oriented toward application of the project's findings toward applied wheat breeding."


This award was made through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The 2008 Farm Bill established an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the Institute’s flagship competitive grant program. Awards distributed through this program support research in plant and animal health and production; food safety, nutrition, and health; renewable energy and environment; agriculture systems; and agricultural economics and rural communities.




(Return to Contents)




1.13  New rice variety could ease Mozambique's supplies


Maputo, Mozambique

February 18, 2011

Smallholders struggling to grow rice in Mozambique could benefit from a variety that boosts yields nearly six-fold and is less prone to disease.


The new rice has an average yield of seven tonnes per hectare and is more resistant to diseases such as fungal blast and bacterial leaf blight, according to Carlos Zandamela, coordinator of the rice programme at the Institute for Investigation of Agriculture Mozambique (IIAM).


These are the most common diseases affecting rice crops, particularly among farmers unable to afford commercial pesticides.


Baboucarr Manneh, a breeder of irrigated rice at AfricaRice, a pan-African research organisation, said yields from today's varieties average just 1.2 tonnes per hectare in rain-fed systems, which comprise more than 95 per cent of Mozambique's rice-growing area.


Work began when the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in the Philippines, sent Mozambique 11,200 rice varieties for testing.


Scientists at IIAM selected 18 species and tested them in the south of the country. At harvest time they asked local farmers to choose the best varieties.


Atália Mathe, owner of one of the camps where the research was conducted, said: "We have been harvesting at a loss because of pests and the low quality of the rice crops. If what the scientists say [about the new research] is true I am sure we will have better income."


Manneh added: "Any project that aims to boost domestic rice production through dissemination of varieties resistant to the two major rice diseases in Mozambique has a lot of promise.


"The availability of resistant rice varieties will lead to improvements in yields and also the potential expansion of production into areas where, due to lack of adapted varieties, farmers could not grow rice."


"For irrigated and rainfed lowland ecosystems we can produce rice varieties that combine high yield, resistance to major diseases and superior grain quality accepted by local and international markets," said Surapong Sarkarung, an IRRI rice breeder based in Mozambique.


But he added that drawbacks could be: the low capacity of the seed sector to produce certified seed; lack of milling equipment to produce high standard milled rice and lack of credit to support farmers to buy inputs such as seed, fertilisers and machinery.


The new variety, which has yet to be given a local name, is technically known as IR80482-64-3-3-3. It was approved by the registration and release committee at Mozambique's Ministry of Agriculture last month and will be forwarded to IIAM's basic seed office for multiplying before delivery to factories for certification and distribution to farmers.


The research was funded by the government of Mozambique in partnership with IRRI.




(Return to Contents)




1.14  Plant breeding is being transformed by advances in genomics and computing


February 19, 2011

The arrival of affordable, high throughput DNA sequencing, coupled with improved bioinformatics and statistical analyses is bringing about major advances in the field of molecular plant breeding. Multidisciplinary breeding programs on the world's major crop plants are able to investigate genome-wide variations in DNA sequences and link them to the inheritance of highly complex traits controlled by many genes, such as hybrid vigor. Furthermore, there has been a step-change in speed and cost-effectiveness. What previously took six generations to achieve can now be done in two, delivering massive time and resource savings. This has made molecular plant breeding feasible on marginal crops including medicinal plants and crops of the developing world.


Agriculture faces demands to sustainably produce enough food for an expanding world population and to improve the nutritional quality of food crops, as well as to provide non-food crops, e.g. for the biofuels industry. The progress in molecular plant breeding can help meet these demands by;

Š       shortening the time it takes to domesticate new crops from semi-wild plants,

Š       tailoring existing crops to meet new requirements, such as nutritional enhancement or climate change,

Š       rapidly incorporating valuable traits from wild relatives into established crops,

Š       allowing plant breeders to work with highly complex traits, such as hybrid vigour and flowering,

Š       making it feasible to work on research-neglected "orphan" crops.


These issues will be discussed during the session "Plant breeding today: genomics and computing advances bring speed and precision," at the Annual Meeting of the AAAS, Washington, D.C. on Saturday, February 19, 2011.


Source: University of York via EurekAlert! Via


(Return to Contents)




1.15  China to set up its own large seed companies


* Expansion by foreign seed firms in doubt

* GMO seeds not seen widely used in short-term

By Niu Shuping and Tom Miles

BEIJING, Feb 23 (Reuters) - China will breed its own high-yield seeds and set up large seed companies to help ensure the country's food security in coming decades.


The State Council, China's cabinet, said in a statement that the world's largest grain producer aims to breed new seeds using China's own biotechnology and set up large seed-breeding bases by 2020.


Scientists said the move may work against the expansion plans of foreign companies such as DuPont (DD.N) that have taken a large share of China's corn seed market.


"The country will focus development on hybrid rice and corn -- particularly corn, where Pioneer already has a large share of the market and domestic seed firms are failing to compete," said one Chinese seed-breeding scientist.


"The government's concerns are grain security and how to boost farmers' incomes, while foreign companies will increase seed prices after they have occupied the market."


DuPont, which owns Pioneer Hi-Bred, is one of the world's largest agricultural seed companies and sees China as a particular opportunity for expansion. [ID:nLDE62G05Y]

A company spokesman in China contacted by Reuters declined to comment on its share of the corn seed market. Its "Xianyu" seeds are widely planted in the northeast and northern areas.


Many Chinese seed companies are small and inefficient and the domestic seed industry was hit with scandals in the 1990s when fake seeds were sold and farmers harvested nothing.


The State Council did not give any details but domestic seed companies, such as Yuan Longping High-tech Agriculture Co. Ltd (000998.SZ), set up by Yuan Longping, the "father" of China's first hybrid rice strain, may get more support from Beijing.


Scientists said genetically modified (GMO) seeds would not be a priority for Beijing for at least five years. Public debate over the safety of GMO food coupled with a long approval process meant China may not rush to use GMO seeds widely in the near term.


"(Development of) non-GMO seeds will still play a key role in boosting grain production in the coming five years," Huang Dafang, a researcher with the Biotechnology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told Reuters in December.


"GMO technology is a long-term national strategy and not for this or the next five-year plan," Huang said.




(Return to Contents)




1.16  Armed with US$40 million, global research team to fight Ug99


Wind-borne wheat pathogen endangers food security worldwide. With grant from DFID and Gates Foundation, Cornell University and partners will ramp up surveillance; provide farmers with resistant wheat varieties  



27 February 2011

The United Kingdom’s Department of International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced they will invest US$40 million in a global project led by Cornell University to combat deadly strains of Ug99, an evolving wheat pathogen that poses a dangerous threat to global food security, particularly in the poorest nations of the developing world. 


The five-year grant, made to the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project at Cornell will support efforts to identify new stem rust resistant genes in wheat, improve surveillance, and multiply and distribute rust-resistant wheat seed to farmers and their families.


“We cannot overstate the importance of this announcement on the part of two of the most important funders of solutions for addressing the causes of poverty, hunger and disease in the developing world,” said Ronnie Coffman, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics and director of the DRRW. “Against the backdrop of rising food prices, and wheat in particular, researchers worldwide will be able to play an increasingly vital role in protecting wheat fields from dangerous new forms of stem rust, particularly in countries whose people can ill afford the economic impact of damage to this vital crop.”


First discovered in 1998 in Uganda, the original Ug99 has also been found in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen and Iran. A Global Cereal Rust Monitoring System, housed at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), suggests strains of Ug99 are on the march, threatening major wheat-growing areas of Southern and Eastern Africa, the Central Asian Republics, the Caucasus, the Indian subcontinent, South America, Australia and North America.


“We applaud DFID for taking a leadership role in supporting agricultural research,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We hope other governments in both the developed and developing world and donors will follow the UK’s lead and increase investments to provide small-scale farmers with the tools they need to improve their yields so they can feed their families and overcome poverty.”


The new grant will allow Cornell to build on international efforts to combat stem rust—particularly Ug99 and its variants. Among the university’s partners are national research centers in Kenya and Ethiopia, and scientists at two international agricultural research centers that focus on wheat, the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (known by its Spanish acronym as CIMMYT), and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), in Syria. The FAO and advanced research laboratories in the United States, Canada, China, Australia, Denmark and South Africa also collaborate on the project.  The DRRW project now involves more than 20 leading universities and research institutes throughout the world, and scientists and farmers from more than 40 countries.


As part of the agreement, DFID will contribute approximately $15M and the foundation $25M to the DRRW over the next five years.


“It is important that public and private institutions work together to develop long-term, sustainable and effective solutions to make life better for the world in which we live,” said David J. Skorton, president of Cornell University


In the 1950s, a fatal strain of wheat stem rust invaded North America and ruined 40 percent of the spring wheat crop. The late Norman Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and renowned plant breeder, led a team of scientists who developed high-yield rust-resistant varieties that helped launch the Green Revolution. But 50 years later, virulent new strains of the pathogen emerged unexpectedly in Uganda, putting at risk most of the wheat planted in farmers’ fields worldwide.


Two other rusts pose threats to wheat, leaf and stripe, or yellow rust. Stem rust, of which Ug99 is a variant, is the most feared because it can quickly lead to the loss of an entire harvest.


Since 2008, when the DRRW project was first funded with US$26.8 million from the foundation, researchers have distributed new resistant wheat varieties for testing and evaluation in 40 countries; strengthened nurseries in Kenya and Ethiopia for screening wheat for vulnerability to rusts; and distributed nearly five tons of Ug99-resistant seed for planting in the at-risk nations of Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.


“Wheat is one of Kenya’s most important crops, second only to maize. Our people depend upon it for food security,” said Ruth Wanyera, a plant pathologist with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute in Njoro. “We hope this important investment on the part of the Gates Foundation and DFID will prompt other funders and policy makers in the industrialized and developing worlds to support efforts to protect our global wheat supply.”


Initially called to arms by Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, the DRRW works closely with the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) on a global strategy to avert agricultural disaster for wheat.


“This is a major and much-welcomed investment,” said Jeanie Borlaug, daughter of the late Norman Borlaug, and chair of the BGRI. “My Dad used to say, ‘rust never sleeps.’ The world’s leaders are waking up to this threat.”



Linda McCandless,

Coimbra Sirica,


(Return to Contents)




1.17  China's Ministry of Agriculture and Supreme People’s Court protect rights of new plant varieties hand in hand


Beijing, China

26 January 2011

Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Science, Technology and Education


On 25 Jan 2011, the Department of Science, Technology and Education (DSTE) of the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and the Supreme People’s Court held a national seminar on protection of the rights of new agro-plant varieties in the provincial capital Hefei of Anhui Province. The participants discussed issues related to enforcement of laws to protect the rights with joint efforts.


In his speech, Jin Kesheng, Vice President of the Intellectual Property Right Court under the Supreme Court, required judges engaged in trials over the rights of new plant varieties must effectively fulfill their judicial duties to meet expectations of seed enterprises and research institutes about protection of the rights. Judges in this field must protect the independent innovations and have a full understanding of this new type of judgment for true verdicts of disputes over the rights in a highly effective way. To this end, judges must bear the overall interests in mind, increase awareness of cooperation, give conciliation paramount consideration, follow the principle of associating conciliation with judgment, improve coordination of connected cases, and insist on the principle of full-scale compensation.


In his speech, Shi Yanquan, the vice Director General of DSTE pointed out that to protect the rights we need to make efforts in the following aspects:

1.    Shore up the legal foundation for protecting the rights;

2.    Create new ways and means to protect the rights; and

3.    Seek mechanism to associate law enforcement in government administration for the rights with judicial protection.


As Shi said, MOA has initiated a series of actions to crack down on violation of the rights as well as on making and selling of counterfeit and shoddy goods, accelerate the establishment of seed markets with fair competitions, and promote faster development and use of new varieties with IPR. For example, up to now, nearly 30 000 of inspections have been mad of seed enterprises by a total of 73 000 of law enforcement personnel, some 40 counterfeit goods making dens smashed, 830 cases investigated and dealt with, 925 tons of fake seeds seized, 46 cases handed over to judicial organizations, and eight persons arrested. As a result, more than 63 million yuan of economic loses have been retrieved. In addition, 37 cases of corn and rice right violations have been investigated and dealt with, and a total of 0.5 million tons of seeds and over 7 million yuan involved. All these actions have brought about good social effects.


Shi indicated that MOA and the IPR court would work together in closer cooperation to research and analyze difficulties and top concerns in judicial and administrative protection of the rights, develop a long-term mechanism and provide protective screen for such protection in order to safeguard legitimate rights and interests of breeders, promote progress and innovation in seed science and technology, and sharpen the competitive edges of China’ seed industry in the world market.


More news from: China, Ministry of Agriculture



Published: January 31, 2011




(Return to Contents)




1.18  Patent to be granted for salinity tolerance technology



February 10, 2011

The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics’ first patent application has been accepted for grant in Eurasia. The patent covers salinity tolerance in plants and applies in Turkmenistan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and the Moldova regions.


The technology was invented by ACPFG scientists Mark Tester, Andrew Jacobs, Juan Juttner, Alfio Comis and Christina Lunde (now of the University of Copenhagen).


The patent is for a protein that sits in a plant cell’s outer membrane and pumps sodium ions from the cell, thus improving the plants salinity tolerance.


‘The patent demonstrates that ACPFG research is not only world standard from a scientific perspective, but it also passes the difficult requirements for patentability,’ commented CEO, Professor Peter Langridge. ‘Some of our other patent filings will also be granted this year.’


‘Salinity is a problem in many parts of the world and a major cause of crop loss in much of the developing world,’ he said. ‘Eurasia is a major crop growing region and also suffers from salinity problems.’


Patent applications for 30 technologies have been filed by the ACPFG since it commenced in 2003. Many of these are working their way through the patent systems in various regions.


‘This technology is still many years away from commercial production but this first patent is a significant achievement for ACPFG’ said Michael Gilbert, ACPFG’s General Manager.


ACPFG has over 130 staff and students and has published 240 peer-reviewed journal articles focused on improving the ability of wheat and barley to withstand abiotic stresses such as drought and salinity.


‘Gene patents are currently controversial but they are an important tool in biological sciences,’ Mr Gilbert said. ‘Whilst patents are expensive and difficult to get, they enable us to protect the interests of Australian scientists and growers.’


‘Patents are an asset that we can use to deal with large multi-national companies in the area of agricultural biotechnology,’ he said.


ACPFG retains Philips Ormond Fitzpatrick as patent advisors.


More news from: Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG)




(Return to Contents)




1.19  New White House intellectual property advisory committees elevates IP enforcement to highest level


Geneva, Switzerland

February 10, 2011

William New

US President Barack Obama this week used an executive order to create two government advisory committees on intellectual property rights enforcement. The committees put IP rights at the highest interagency level possible and have the stated aim of promoting innovation through the protection of such rights.


The two committees are aimed at enforcement, one of them a senior committee consisting of the cabinet-level heads of nine major departments of government such as Treasury, Commerce, Justice, Agriculture and Trade.


The second committee consists of agencies directly involved in IP enforcement, including the US Patent and Trademark Office, Department of Homeland Security, State Department, and Health and Human Services.


Both committees will be headed by US IP Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, who issued her first annual report this week (IPW, IP Burble, 7 February 2011). Espinel issued a strategic plan last June.


The White House Executive Order is available here and reproduced below.

The US Chamber of Commerce issued a statement praising the action as a step forward and a sign of recognition of the problem by the Obama administration. The Chamber release is here.


President Obama spoke on innovation and IP rights at the Chamber earlier this week. Full transcript is available at the following link:


Source:  Intellectual Property Watchvia


(Return to Contents)




1.20  Remarkable results achieved in IPR protection for China’s seed industry



January 26, 2011


The survey report recently released by China Seed Industry Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Alliance showed that China’s seed industry had been increasingly aware of IPR, which advocated respect for knowledge, credit and laws, and the numbers of approved applications for plant variety rights (PVR) and patents from the seed industry had been rising sharply. By the end of 2010, the PVR applications had amounted to 7,761, of which 7,268 were from domestic applicants; and those from domestic seed companies had increased at big margin, accounting for 32 percent of the total domestic applications. The approved PVR applications numbered 3,473, of which 3,409 were from domestic applicants. According to the statistics of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), the annual total of PVR applications in China has remained at the fourth place among the UPOV members since 2004.


By the end of 2010, China had accepted a total of 5,015 patent applications related to breeding, of which 3,588 were from domestic applicants and 347 were from domestic seed companies, taking up 9.7 percent of all the domestic applications; and altogether there had been 1,883 approved applications and 1,108 valid patents, including 1,480 approved domestic applications and 816 valid domestic patents, which accounted for 55.1 percent of the total approved domestic applications.


The Ministry of Agriculture has carried out trials on administration of PVR and the seed industry based on laws and regulations in 22 provinces and municipalities in order to strengthen the supervision for seed production bases, eliminate infringements and counterfeits from the source and enhance the PVR protection for key varieties. By 2008, the agricultural administrative agencies across the country had accepted altogether 1,123 PVR cases and this number has dropped dramatically since 2009.


Meanwhile, seed companies have also taken the initiative to protect their legal rights and interests through administrative and legal means or their own efforts, which has achieved good results.


Source: Farmers’ Daily via


(Return to Contents)




1.21  Government of Mexico continues granting environmental testing permits to developers of GM corn and other crops



January 31, 2011

USDA/FAS GAIN report: MX1102

Report highlights:


The Government of Mexico (GOM) has continued granting environmental testing permits to developers of genetically modified corn and other crops (see 2010 GAIN Report MX0044). Mexico has not granted permission for pilot testing of genetically modified corn. Environmental testing requests continue receiving approval, albeit for restricted acreage, as in previous years.

Full report




(Return to Contents)




1.22  New ethanol-only biotech corn raises doubts


• Using genetic engineering can introduce specific changes into plants, such as making crops toxic to insects or immune to herbicide. New varieties are under development that will be resistant to drought, make better use of nitrogen fertilizer and produce more healthful cooking oils.


• Farmers used biotech seed for 86 percent of the corn, 91 percent of the soybeans and 88 percent of the cotton they planted nationwide last year, according to the Agriculture Department.


Washington, D.C. — Corn chips that could crumble in the bag. Cereal that's soggy before you can get it to your mouth.


The companies that mill corn into food products claim they could face problems like those should the government allow biotech giant Syngenta Seeds Inc. to commercialize a new variety of corn. The corn was engineered to cut the cost and greenhouse gas emissions of making ethanol.


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is expected to announce any day now whether he'll clear the biotech product for production. Corn millers are urging him not to do so yet, claiming the biotech kernels could accidentally get into the processors' grain supplies and ruin them, a fear Syngenta says is unfounded.


The Syngenta product is the latest of several thorny biotech and food safety issues that Vilsack has had to face. Last week, he approved the commercialization of a biotech variety of alfalfa over the complaints of the organic food industry, who fear it will contaminate nonbiotech seed and hay.


Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, will also decide soon whether farmers can resume production of biotech sugar beets.


Meanwhile, the demand for biotech seeds to increase crop yields has helped fuel growth at Syngenta, Monsanto and Pioneer Hi-Bred, all of which have research centers in central Iowa. Pioneer, a DuPont unit based in Johnston, last month announced a $32 million expansion that would create 138 jobs.


The millers don't claim Syngenta's new variety of corn would harm someone who ate it — the Food and Drug Administration approved the corn for human consumption in 2007. But they say that contamination by as little as one kernel of Syngenta's corn in 10,000 kernels of conventional grain would be enough to harm the entire batch.


Syngenta's corn contains an enzyme, called amylase, that aids in breaking down the starch in the kernel. That would save ethanol plants in energy costs, but it would make the corn unsuitable for cooking into products like snack chips, breakfast cereal or the batter on corn dogs, processors say.


Most corn now grown by U.S. farmers is already genetically engineered to resist pests or to be immune to a herbicide, but that grain is OK for all uses, including food, livestock feed or ethanol.


"We love biotech. We don't question the safety. It's just a question of can we still make the food products we make now," if grain is contaminated, said Mary Waters, president of the North American Millers' Association, which represents corn processors such as Archer Daniels Midland Co.


Syngenta wants to have farmers start growing its ethanol-only crop in western parts of Kansas and Nebraska this fall. Eventually, the company wants to grow it in Iowa as well.


Syngenta says measures it will take will protect food processors: The corn won't be produced at any place where processors get their grain. Farmers who grow the Syngenta product, under contract with ethanol plants, will be paid an incentive to handle the corn properly and keep it out of conventional supplies.


There is little chance of "the grain getting into the wrong hands, the wrong processes," said Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart.


Conventional ethanol producers buy a liquid version of amylase, mix it with grain and water, and heat the resulting slurry so it can be fermented into alcohol. The Syngenta grain, called Enogen, would be mixed with conventional corn and fed into an ethanol plant. An ethanol producer in Kansas who experimented with the Syngenta product said less heat is needed in processing the corn, cutting energy usage.


The USDA approved commercialization of both the alfalfa and sugar beets only to have production of the crops blocked by judges who ruled that the department had inadequately considered the environmental and economic consequences of the crops. Both crops were engineered to be immune to the popular herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.


The USDA hasn't been sued over Syngenta's corn, but critics of biotech crops say the industrial corn doesn't belong on the market either.


"The idea that you could keep that synthetic amylase out of the food corn is just preposterous," said Margaret Mellon, who follows agricultural biotechnology issues for the Union of Concerned Scientists.


The millers have cited the experience a decade ago with StarLink, a biotech corn that got into food supplies, although it hadn't been approved for human consumption. Companies were required to recall contaminated corn products.


In a letter to Vilsack this week, the North American Millers' Association said data that the group had seen only recently had raised new concerns about the corn.


In a separate letter to Vilsack, Syngenta offered to set up an advisory council made up of industry and USDA representatives to monitor the crop's introduction. The council would be provided with locations of the cornfields.


The processors' group could have had the data much earlier if it had agreed to keep it confidential, said Syngenta's Minehart.


Pioneer, a rival of Syngenta, has not developed a similar product. Pioneer has instead focused on helping ethanol producers by using conventional breeding to increase the starch content of its corn hybrids.




(Return to Contents)




1.23 Africa flirts with GM technology in rush for climate-ready crops


18 February 2011

A woman weeds her maize plantation in Akia village outside Lira town in the northern region of Uganda, November 2009. REUTERS/Hudson Apunyo


LONDON (AlertNet) - The race is on to develop new crop varieties that will help farmers in poorer countries keep up yields under pressure from the impacts of climate change.


A study by researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) warned in December that global warming will cause yields of rice and wheat to fall in all regions of the world by 2050, compared to a future without climate change.


Scientists who specialise in plant breeding say efforts must be stepped up dramatically on all fronts, from searching in far-flung corners of the world for wild varieties that are resilient to climatic extremes, to identifying useful genetic traits and manipulating them to produce hardier and higher-yielding seeds.


"With the onset of accelerated climate change, it is going to be important that farmers can adapt, so researchers need to accelerate progress in making crops more resilient to droughts and floods," says Lawrence Kent, an agricultural development officer at the U.S.-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Plant breeders need to do more and faster, and they need more resources to do it."


Developing “climate-ready crops”, as they are often called, will be essential to avoid production declines in the face of more extreme weather conditions, and to feed a growing global population in the coming decades.


According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 50 percent of the increase in crop yields in recent years has come from new seed varieties, while irrigation and fertiliser account for the rest.


But a major FAO report released in October notes that public investment in crop improvement has declined in many countries since the late 1990s. Efforts to build public seed production systems in the 1980s and 1990s proved costly, leading donors to cut their funding. That made way for the private sector to take over in commercial crops like maize and wheat, the FAO says.


For other crops with fewer profit opportunities, "seed production systems have essentially collapsed in many countries", though public involvement may be picking up again in some places, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Yemen, the report says. Donor agencies and philanthropic organisations have also increased their funding in recent years, although it can be unpredictable.



The food price crisis of 2008 highlighted the urgent need to reduce food insecurity in some of the poorest and most politically volatile parts of the world. At a 2009 summit in Italy, rich governments promised to channel around $3 billion a year to strengthen agriculture. But less than two years on, with international food prices heading back toward record levels, not even a tenth of that money has materialized, Jeffrey Sachs, a leading development economist, told Reuters.


Carlos Sere, director general of the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute, says the world is suffering the consequences of failing to fund crop science during the preceding era of low food prices.


 "Over the last 20 years or so (up to 2008), we did not have a major food crisis, and if we look at what has been invested in agricultural research - except in China, India and Brazil - it is now coming to haunt us," he told AlertNet.


An international report on how to make food and farming globally sustainable, published by the British government in January, calls for agricultural research to be given a higher priority, with a focus on adapting farming to climate change and cutting the greenhouse gases it produces.


But the report recognises there is no easy way to achieve high levels of productivity and recommends “a careful blend of approaches”, including biotechnology.


It endorses collaboration between the public and private sectors to enable low-income countries to access technologies like genetic modification that could enhance crop resistance to drought, excessively high and low temperatures, increased salinity and pests - traits that could help farmers maintain and even improve yields in the face of global warming.


This "product development partnership” (PDP) model - bringing in companies, academic researchers, governments and international agencies - has been used in the health sector to develop treatments for neglected diseases. It is now being promoted as a way to address the lop-sided nature of plant breeding, where the bulk of effort is focused on producing new crop varieties for sale in rich nations.



One example in the agriculture sector is the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) initiative, which aims to develop and make drought-tolerant maize available royalty free to small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. It is managed by the Kenya-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), and part-funded by the Gates Foundation.


As part of the effort, the non-profit International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is providing conventional breeding expertise and high-yielding maize varieties that are adapted to African conditions, while the multinational agricultural firm Monsanto is contributing advanced breeding tools and drought-tolerance gene sequences it has developed with BASF.


National agricultural research systems in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, together with farmers' groups and seed companies, will test, multiply and distribute the seeds.


Field trials of the genetically modified (GM) maize varieties were carried out in Kenya and Uganda late last year, after the crops received regulatory approval. But farmers will likely have to wait until 2015-2017 before they can start planting the new GM, or transgenic, seeds. Other conventional hybrid varieties also being developed by WEMA are expected to be available in 2013.


WEMA project manager Sylvester Oikeh, an agronomist with AATF, hopes the new maize plants will yield 25 percent more on average than existing varieties during moderate droughts.


“If we can get this dream materialised, (in those conditions), we would be able to feed 14 million to 21 million more people in the countries where we’re working,” he explained.   

Kent from the Gates Foundation believes joint projects like this are a “great idea”, because they will allow the world's poorest farmers to benefit from the cutting-edge biotechnology companies have so far deployed mainly for commercial markets in industrialised economies.


"We want to help people out of poverty and make them more productive on their farms. As long as the technologies are effective and safe, we should try them," he says.


 Many farmers WEMA is working with can’t wait to get their hands on the new seeds, according to Oikeh.



But not everyone agrees. In a paper released last month, the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), a non-profit organisation based in Johannesburg, claims the WEMA project’s main winner will be Monsanto, "enabling it to bring a new trait to the market and gain a foothold in Africa for its products".


"WEMA is a Trojan horse to pressurise participating governments to pass weak biosafety regulations and open the door to the proliferation of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) that will undermine food sovereignty," warns the briefing.


The paper also casts doubt on whether the WEMA maize varieties will be effective in varying environments and weather conditions because engineering drought-resistance in crops is "highly complex".


In response to critics of GM crops, AATF’s Oikeh says using only traditional maize varieties has left Africa’s yields stagnant at around one tonne per hectare while they have risen in other parts of the world over the past three decades.


“Why don’t we get skills and (plant genetic) materials from other people and make a difference to our lives?” he argues.


For Monsanto, public-private partnerships offer "an innovative approach in helping developing world farmers to produce more grain and break the complex cycle of poverty in which they live".


Over the "very long term", as food supplies become more secure, farmers will look for new products and services that raise productivity - a search that may include improved hybrid seeds with higher yields than other traditional varieties, it said in emailed responses to AlertNet's questions.


"And over the same long-term period, as one of the leading seed companies in the world, Monsanto sees potential for new business in areas that are today under-served," wrote David Fischhoff, who leads the firm's technology strategy and development.



Activists who oppose GM crops have also raised the alarm over corporate patenting of plant genes that may be used to develop crops adapted to climate change.


ETC Group, a research and advocacy organisation that keeps a watch on new technologies that could impact the world's poorest, said last October it had identified over 262 patent families covering 1,663 patent documents published worldwide - including issued patents and applications - that make specific claims on environmental stress tolerance in plants, such as resilience to drought, heat, flooding, cold and salt.


Chemical and agricultural firms DuPont, Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta and their biotech partners account for 77 percent of those patent families, according to ETC Group. Just three companies - DuPont, BASF and Monsanto - hold over two-thirds of the total, while public sector researchers own only 10 percent.


"No one should be allowed to claim a chunk of DNA they think could be helpful around climate change. It is too broad a patent," says ETC’s executive director Pat Mooney.


Monsanto’s Fischhoff says corporations need to protect their intellectual property with patents, because doing so ensures they can recoup the millions of dollars in upfront investment required to fund biotech research during the decade or more it takes to get new products to market.


But ETC’s Mooney says patenting genetic sequences that could be used in climate-ready crops violates the spirit of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. He has been lobbying governments and industry bodies to tackle the issue at a meeting of its parties in Indonesia in March. 


The 2004 treaty, now ratified by 126 nations, has established a global system to provide farmers, plant breeders and scientists with access to plant genetic materials, and calls for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilisation for food and agriculture.


It has set up a fund to finance agricultural projects that promote biodiversity and help farmers adapt to climate change. In Peru, for example, six indigenous communities are being supported to re-introduce old native varieties of potatoes and adapt them to higher-altitude mountain terrain.


The fund aims to raise $116 million by the end of 2014, with governments and U.N. agencies having pledged around $11 million so far. Companies that use relevant plant genetic material for commercial purposes are also supposed to pay into it.



Cary Fowler, executive director of the Rome-based Global Crop Diversity Trust, says the test of the treaty will be whether it provides a successful framework for exchanging dwindling crop diversity.


"If the climate is completely different, a country will need diversity in crop varieties that it doesn't have today," he explains.


Besides developing  new crop varieties, efforts must be stepped up to conserve those that exist, including a staggering 200,000 types of wheat and 200,000 to 300,000 types of rice, and make information about them available to plant breeders, Fowler says.


In December, the trust launched the largest-ever global search to find, gather, catalogue, use and save the wild relatives of essential food crops - including wheat, rice, beans, potatoes, barley, lentils, and chickpea - in an attempt to help protect global food supplies against the threat of climate change.


Fowler says that 20 years from now, four out of 10 growing seasons in Africa will no longer be suitable for traditional crops. As the development of new varieties can take a decade, the world has reached an "all hands on deck moment", he says.



The plant scientist, who has worked extensively with the United Nations, cautions that breeding climate-ready crops is difficult because so many traits are involved. Making maize more tolerant to higher average temperatures, for example, may not be sufficient unless the varieties can also withstand higher extremes and higher temperatures at the wrong time in their development.


"A lot of people probably see the problem as being simpler than it actually is,” he says. “There's no such thing as a climate change gene you can put into crop varieties."


He foresees a scramble among international research centres to produce more resilient crops, but warns these might not be widely adopted in impoverished, rural areas. The new varieties will not suit all conditions, and getting them to farmers will be a challenge because many national and local systems for disseminating seeds are patchy.


"A lot of the poorest farmers will be left if we are concerned about poverty, we see something unfolding that will make the situation much worse," he says.


Small farmers will save their own seed and naturally select those more suited to the shifting climate, but they will have a limited pool of genetic material to work with.


"There will be some progress, but there will be a lot of disruption, migration and food insecurity," warns Fowler.


Source: alertnet // Megan Rowling via


(Return to Contents)




1.24  Biotech crops surge over 1 billion hectares - Developing nations drive growth at adoption rates exceeding industrialized countries


Sao Paulo, Brazil

February 22, 2011

In just 15 years after commercialization, accumulated biotech crops exceeded 1 billion hectares in 2010, a milestone that signifies biotech crops are here to stay, according to Clive James author of the annual report released today by ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications).


The 1 billionth hectare was planted in 2010 by one of the 15.4 million farmers in 29 countries who now benefit from the technology. For comparison, 1 billion hectares is roughly equivalent to the vast land area of China, or of the United States. With an unprecedented 87-fold increase between 1996 and 2010, biotech crops are the fastest-adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture, according to James, chairman and founder of ISAAA.


“Growth remains strong, with biotech hectarage increasing 14 million hectares -- or 10 percent – between 2009 and 2010,” said James. “That’s the second highest annual hectare growth ever – bringing 2010 global plantings to 148 million hectares.”


For the first time, in 2010, the ten largest biotech crop growing countries all had more than 1 million hectares in production, providing a broad and stable base for future growth. In hectarage rank order, they include: USA (66.8 million), Brazil (25.4 million), Argentina (22.9 million), India (9.4 million), Canada (8.8 million), China (3.5 million), Paraguay (2.6 million), Pakistan (2.4 million), South Africa (2.2 million) and Uruguay (1.1 million).


For the second consecutive year, Brazil had the world’s largest year-over-year increase in absolute biotech crop plantings, adding 4 million hectares in 2010 -- a 19 percent increase -- to grow a total of 25.4 million hectares. Only the United States leads Brazil in total cropland devoted to biotech crops. Australia, which recovered from a multi-year drought, saw the largest proportional year-on-year increase in biotech crop plantings at 184 percent. Burkina Faso followed at 126 percent growth with 80,000 farmers planting 260,000 hectares, a 65 percent adoption rate.


Brazil, after expediting approvals of biotech crops (a total of 27, and 8 in 2010 alone) and securing export trade agreements, now plants 17 percent of the world’s biotech crops, according to Dr. Anderson Galvăo Gomes, director of Brazilian-based Celeres and contributor to the ISAAA report. Productivity increases attributed to biotech crops helped fuel Brazil’s ability to double its annual grain production since 1990 while increasing cropland by only 27 percent. The benefits from biotech crops are spurring strong political will and substantial new R&D investments in biotech crops, with speed and effectiveness increasing access to technology, Gomes noted. With an ability to bring up to 100 million more hectares of cropland, with water, into production, Brazil will continue to be a driving force in the global adoption of biotech crops and is investing in infrastructure to support that growth.


“Developing countries grew 48 percent of global biotech crops in 2010 and will exceed industrialized nations in their plantings of biotech crops by 2015,” said James. “Clearly, the countries of Latin America and Asia will drive the most dramatic increases in global hectares planted to biotech crops during the remainder of the technology’s second decade of commercialization.”


The five principal developing countries growing biotech crops – China, India, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa – planted 63 million hectares of biotech crops in 2010, equivalent to 43 percent of the global total. All told, 19 of the 29 countries that have adopted biotech crops are developing nations, which grew at a rate of 17 percent or 10.2 million hectares over 2009 compared to only 5 percent growth or 3.8 million hectares in industrialized countries.


More than 90 percent of biotech crop growers are small-scale farmers

Of the 15.4 million farmers using the technology in 2010, 14.4 million were small-scale, resource-poor farmers in developing countries; these farmers are some of the poorest people in the world and biotech crops are contributing to the alleviation of their poverty, according to James. China and India now have the most small-scale farmers using biotech crops, with 6.5 million Chinese farmers and 6.3 million Indian farmers planting biotech crop seed. Remarkably, over the last 15 years, farmers worldwide have made 100 million independent decisions to plant biotech crops.


More than 1 billion people throughout Asia, who are members of the 250 million small-scale rice-producing households cultivating about one-half hectare, are potential beneficiaries from the expected commercialization of insect-resistant Bt rice expected to be introduced before 2015, James noted.


“This is important progress,” said James. “Up to 6,000 deaths a day can be prevented with Golden Rice for Vitamin A deficient populations, which is expected to be available for planting in the Philippines by 2013 followed by Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam.”


Countries new to biotech crop production, additional crops on horizon

In 2010, three nations grew biotech crops commercially for the first time, and one nation resumed planting biotech crops. Approximately 600,000 farmers in Pakistan and 375,000 farmers in Myanmar, planted insect-resistant Bt cotton, and Sweden (the first Scandinavian country to commercialize biotech crops) planted a new biotech high-quality starch potato approved for industrial and feed use. Germany also planted the same biotech potatoes in 2010, resuming its place among the eight EU nations now growing either biotech maize or potatoes.


James said he expects an additional 12 countries to adopt biotech crops by 2015 to bring the list of adopting nations to 40 (the number predicted by ISAAA in 2005), the number of farmers to double to 20 million, and global hectarage to double to 200 million hectares. Up to three or four additional countries are expected to grow biotech crops from each of the three regions of Asia, West Africa, East/Southern Africa and fewer from Latin/Central America, and Western and Eastern Europe. Mexico, the center of biodiversity for maize, successfully conducted its first field trials of Bt and herbicide tolerant maize in 2010. Mexico has already successfully grown biotech cotton and soybean for many years.


James said there is considerable potential for increasing the biotech adoption of the four current large hectarage biotech crops – maize, soybean, cotton and canola – which represented almost 150 million hectares in 2010 from a global potential of double that hectarage at over 300 million hectares. In the next five years, the timing of commercialized biotech rice, and drought tolerance as a trait in maize and several other crops are seminal catalysts for the future adoption of biotech crops globally. Drought tolerant maize is expected in the U.S. as early as 2012, and importantly, in Africa by 2017. The decision, four years ago, to delay biotech herbicide tolerant wheat is also being revisited and many countries are fast-tracking the development of biotech wheat with a range of traits including drought tolerance, disease resistance and grain quality – the first of which are expected to be ready for commercialization as early as 2017. James expects several medium hectarage crops to be approved for commercialization by 2015, including: biotech potatoes resistant to the most important disease of potatoes in the world, “late blight,” the cause of the Irish famine in 1845, sugarcane with improved agronomic and quality traits, disease-resistant bananas, Bt eggplant, tomato, broccoli, and cabbage, as well as some pro-poor crops, such as biotech cassava, sweet potato, pulses and groundnut. The 29 countries which planted biotech crops in 2010 already represent 59 percent of the world population, and James is cautiously optimistic about the contribution that biotech can make to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals of food security and poverty alleviation.


“Biotech crops have played a perhaps underappreciated role in progress toward attainment of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals,” said James. “Their impact by 2015 will be more universally recognized.”


Furthermore, biotech crops have contributed to sustainability and are helping mitigate climate change, said James: “Biotech crops have helped reduce carbon emissions and save land, while helping alleviate poverty for some of the poorest people in the world.”


To provide more of the world’s small and resource-poor farmers access to biotech crops, James says there is an urgent need for appropriate regulatory systems that are responsible and rigorous – but not onerous – for small and poor developing countries.


For more information or the executive summary, log on to


The report is entirely funded by two European philanthropic organizations: the Bussolera-Branca Foundation from Italy, which supports the open-sharing of knowledge on biotech crops to aid decision-making by global society; and a philanthropic unit within Ibercaja, one of the largest Spanish banks headquartered in the maize growing region of Spain.


The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) is a not-for-profit organization with an international network of centers designed to contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty by sharing knowledge and crop biotechnology applications. Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA, has lived and/or worked for the past 30 years in the developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa, devoting his efforts to agricultural research and development issues with a focus on crop biotechnology and global food security.




(Return to Contents)




1.25 Reflexive biotechnology development


Studying plant breeding technologies and genomics

for agriculture in the developing world


A PhD thesis by Wietse Vroom


W. Vroom


(Return to Contents)




1.26  Controversy over GM maize in Peru


Luis Fernando Rimachi Gamarra, Jorge Enrique Alcántara, & Rodomiro Ortiz

Nature Volume: 470, 39 (2011)


Date published: (03 February 2011)

DOI: doi:10.1038/470039d

Published online 02 February 2011


Researchers from the Peruvian National Institute for Agricultural Innovation (INIA) — which has been enforcing national and international policy on biosafety in agriculture since 1999 — have investigated claims that genetically modified maize (corn) is being farmed in the Barranca valley north of Lima (see


The INIA analysed the source and quantity of maize imports, records of seed cultivars, their genetic diversity and planting location. Samples were also tested from the Pativilca River basin — the main river in Barranca and its neighbouring valleys. These came from maize fields, local markets, a local collecting facility and seed companies that sell poultry feed.


Evidence of transgenes was discovered in only some of the poultry grain samples (full details are available in Spanish at This finding is not surprising. Peru imports about 1.5 million tonnes of maize grain annually — mainly for animal feed — from Argentina and the United States, where genetically modified maize is widely grown.


We believe that the Barranca region today is unlikely to be a primary centre of maize diversity. However, farmers there may be growing maize hybrids and other cultivars that have seeds of foreign origin.


Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz


(Return to Contents)




1.27  Getting curators to think like breeders


February 1, 2011

The presentation on genomics and fruit genebanks Cameron Peace given at the recent PAG symposium deserved more than the nibble we gave it. Dr Peace, who is an assistant professor in tree fruit genetics at Washington State University, is advocating nothing less than a complete change in the mindset of genebank curators. Here’s how he characterizes the current system:




Notice the mere trickle of material from the genebank to the user. All too true. I would say that there is also much less movement of material from wild populations to genebanks than is suggested by the diagram. But that’s at least partially down to the fundamental fact that flow of material to breeders is fairly limited. No demand, no supply. This, in contrast, is what Dr Peace wants to see:



He wants genebanks to get their skates on and, to mix a metaphor, not wait for the breeders to pull. He wants them to push. He wants them to provide performance information, and not just data on morphological descriptors; performance-predictive DNA information, and not just genetic diversity data; segregating descendant populations, and not just landraces or wild populations.


In essence, Dr Peace wants genebank curators to think like breeders. More, he wants them to be breeders. Or at least pre-breeders.


There’s much to be said for this. The latest State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (SOW2) bemoans the continuing obstacles to use of collections. Something Must Be Done, it suggests. But curators have their hands full. The same SOW2 says that they have no money. That they need more equipment. That they have regeneration backlogs. That people are telling them to conserve more neglected and underutilized plants, and more crop wild relatives. That’s when armed gangs of looters are not ransacking their facilities. Now they should be plant breeders as well? Sheesh!


Well, the fact is that with the International Treaty on PGRFA, most curators don’t have to worry about basic conservation. Not really. Not for Annex 1 crops anyway. They can choose to outsource that stuff, for example to the international centres of the CGIAR, secure in the knowledge that they can have access to the material whenever they want it.


With the ITPGRFA, curators have the space to think like breeders. But do they have the training? And will the breeders return the compliment, and think a bit like curators?


Contributed by: Luigi Guarino via


(Return to Contents)




1.28  New biodiversity benefit-sharing protocol relies on national rules, experts say


Paris, France

February 7, 2011

By Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch

The recently agreed international instrument to facilitate access to genetic resources and the equitable sharing of benefits accrued from those resources opened for signature last week, and the text is already getting mixed reviews from stakeholders.


The text has been considered by many stakeholders as a good starting point but with much left to interpretation, and much left to national level implementation. The issue was discussed by a panel in Paris on 3 February.


The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity [pdf] was adopted on 29 October 2010, after six years of intense negotiations. Several issues, such as the scope of the protocol, the compliance to the instrument, and the sharing of viruses in the text, were keenly discussed.


The international seminar, organised by the Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations, a Paris-based think tank working on development issues, in collaboration with the Agence Franćaise de Développement, gathered academics and civil society representatives long acquainted with the subject. The legal, policy, practical challenges and contributions of the protocol to the sustainable development agenda were discussed.


According to Claudio Chiarolla, a research fellow on the international governance of biodiversity at IDDRI, the Nagoya Protocol has a broad scope with many overlaps with other international for a such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, also under the umbrella of the FAO.


The protocol also brushes with organisations dealing with intellectual property rights, such as the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) and its breeders’ exemption, the World Intellectual Property Organization Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, and the World Health Organization with its negotiations on a multilateral system for influenza virus sharing.


The protocol has the potential to enhance international equity between countries and between countries and indigenous communities, but many practicalities will have to be decided not only within the CBD, but also in other fora and at different levels of governance, Chiarolla said.


Impact of Protocol on WHO Negotiations

According to Sangeeta Shashikant, legal advisor for the Third World Network, the ongoing WHO negotiations on pandemic influenza preparedness might be impacted by relevant elements of the Nagoya Protocol.


The language of Article 8 of the protocol only requires countries to “pay due regard” to “cases of present or imminent emergencies that threaten or damage human, animal or plan health,” she said. But it also requires “expeditious fair and equitable sharing of benefits,” thus indicating that even in the case of emergencies, the CBD requirements remain and do not exclude the need for prior informed consent or mutually agreed terms, she said.


In relation to other international instruments, Article 4 also “requires due regard to be paid to ongoing work or practices provided such work or practices are supportive of and do not run counter to the objectives of the convention and the protocol,” she said.


Parties to the CBD are bound by the principles of the convention principles, she said, and these principles are applicable also to pathogens. These principles “are actually the legal foundation blocks that are key to rectifying the inequities prevailing in the WHO sharing scheme,” she said.


The United States is not party to the CBD.


Since the WHO negotiations are not complete, “the jury is still out on whether the outcome will be supportive of the legal requirements of the convention and the protocol,” she said, adding that all the WHO outcomes “did not have the same binding status as a treaty.”


The next WHO intergovernmental meeting on influenza preparedness will take place from 11-15 April.


Compliance, Temporal Scope Still Open

Compliance to the protocol has been subject to extensive discussions since before the adoption of the protocol. However, compliance “is not an all or nothing case,” said Veit Koester, external professor at Roskilde University Centre in Denmark, as an incomplete compliance does not mean non-compliance. Sometimes countries do not have the capacity to comply fully with the instrument’s requirements.


Comparing the compliance mechanisms already in place in other instruments, Koester said that the Nagoya Protocol compliance mechanism could be modelled after the compliance mechanism of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, but it appears unlikely.


There is grounds for “some degree of optimism” that the establishment of a compliance mechanism will be decided at the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the protocol to be held in India in October 2012, along with the eleventh meeting of the CBD Conference of the Parties, but the hurdle is that the mechanism has to be adopted by consensus, he said. Major issues that might prevent a consensus are the institutional aspects of constructing a compliance mechanism, how to trigger the non-compliance procedure, and the outcome of a case of non-compliance, he said.


Submissions asserting non-compliance by parties with respect to other parties are extremely rare, he said. It would be fair, for example, to allow submissions by indigenous and local communities, but it is doubtful that this trigger will be accepted by parties, he said.


Franćois Meienberg, joint managing director of the nongovernmental Berne Declaration, said that one of the implementation problem of the Nagoya Protocol could be the temporal scope and whether there will be prior informed consent (PIC) and mutually agreed terms (MAT) on species acquired before the protocol, as “an incredible amount of genetic resources already left the country of origin,” he said.


Article 15.1 of the protocol gives no indication that genetic resources acquired before the entry into force of the protocol would be excluded, said Meienberg. Major risks are that the users will examine ex situ collections in their own countries or in countries that are not parties to the protocol, or will check if the resource is available on the open market, A user having illegally accessed a genetic resource in a country of origin could pretend he legally found it ex situ. A correct national implementation is therefore crucial to implement the protocol and the CBD, he said.


According to Elsa Tsioumani, a lawyer and consultant on international environmental law based in Thessaloniki, Greece, traditional provisions are an important part of the Nagoya Protocol which establishes new obligations for parties and requires protection of traditional knowledge in situ.


National legislations on the access and benefit sharing mechanism are needed to ensure that benefits reach the local indigenous communities. In answer to a question from the audience, Tsioumani said that a lot depends on national legislations, which at present do not seem entirely favourable to indigenous communities.


More news from: Intellectual Property Watch




(Return to Contents)




1.29  Research identifies wild ancestor genes for crop improvement


February 22, 2011 By Krishna Ramanujan

Using the genetic variation found in wild and exotic rice species, researchers are providing breeders with genomics tools and knowledge to develop higher yielding, stress-tolerant varieties, a Cornell researcher reported Feb. 19 at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, D.C.


"Using genomics, we are discovering cryptic forms of natural genetic variation hidden in low-yielding wild and exotic strains and demonstrating that these genetic resources can be used to enhance the performance of the world's most productive cultivars," said Susan McCouch, professor of plant breeding and genetics, who presented her research, "Discovery of Genes for Crop Improvement From Wild Ancestor Plants," at the meeting.


For example, when selected alleles (gene variants) from a low-yielding wild ancestor of Asian rice (O. rufipogon) were bred into local high-yielding rice cultivars in China, Indonesia, Brazil, Korea, Sierra Leone and the United States, the results led every time to selected offspring with 15-20 percent higher yields than their cultivated parent, said McCouch.


To create novel varieties, plant breeders typically cross the best performing lines with each other, but the rules of genetics say that crosses between genetically dissimilar plants are more likely to generate something new, McCouch said. It's not about whether the genes come from a wild or cultivated plant, but rather whether those genes come from different gene pools, meaning they have evolved separately. Wild rice offers an obvious source of untapped genetic variation that has evolved separately from domesticated rice for thousands of years.


Today's gene banks hold seeds from hundreds of thousands of wild and cultivated forms of plants whose DNA could lead to new crop varieties, but the genes contained in these seeds are largely uncharacterized, McCouch said. Recently, genomics-based tools have opened the door to investigating these genetic resources. Large-scale genomics experiments are helping to identify genes and sequences of DNA from wild and exotic plants, understand their functions and develop predictive models about how to unlock the genetic potential of these underutilized plants for crop improvement, McCouch said.


"These discoveries are catalyzing new interest in underutilized exotic germplasm [strains] and are helping to transform the field of plant breeding from black box experimentation to predictive science," she added.


Provided by Cornell University (news : web)




Return to Contents)




1.30  Plants can adapt genetically to survive harsh environments


West Lafayatte, Indiana, USA

January 31, 2011

A Purdue University scientist has found genetic evidence of how some plants adapt to live in unfavorable conditions, a finding he believes could one day be used to help food crops survive in new or changing environments.


David Salt, a professor of horticulture, noticed several years ago that a variant of the research plant Arabidopsis thaliana that could tolerate higher levels of sodium had come from coastal areas. To test the observation, Salt grew more than 300 Arabidopsis thaliana plants from seeds gathered across Europe. The plants were grown in non-saline soil and their leaf-sodium content was measured.


Each plant's origination was mapped, and those with the highest sodium contents were found to have come from seeds collected close to a coast or area with high saline soil. All plants were analyzed using genome-wide association mapping, which compares the genomes of a number of plants with a shared physical trait - in this case leaf sodium accumulation - to identify genes that may account for variation in this characteristic. Salt found that the plants that accumulate the highest sodium levels in their leaves had a weak form of the gene HTK1, which regulates sodium intake distribution to leaves.


"The major gene that is controlling variation in leaf sodium accumulation across the whole European population of Arabidopsis thaliana is HTK1," said Salt, whose findings were published in the journal PLoS Genetics. "The Arabidopsis thaliana plants that accumulated high levels of sodium had a reduced level of HTK1 gene expression. The populations that have this altered form of HTK1 are on the coast. There are a few exceptions that prove the rule, such as populations in the Czech Republic, which isn't near the coast, but come from an area containing high saline soils derived from an ancient beach."


It has long been known that plants are adapted to their local soil environments, but the molecular basis of such adaptation has remained elusive. Salt said this is some of the first evidence linking genetic changes with adaptation to specific environmental factors.

"What we're looking at is evolution in action," Salt said. "It looks like natural selection is matching expression of this gene to the local soil conditions."


Salt said crops grown around the world could be affected, possibly negatively, by climate change. It may become important to identify mechanisms to adapt plants to drought conditions, higher temperatures or changes in soil nutrition. Salt believes identifying genetic mechanisms of how plants naturally adapt to their environments will be key to solving those problems.


"Driven by natural selection, plants have been evolving to grow under harsh conditions for millennia," Salt said. "We need to understand genetically what is allowing these plants to survive these conditions."


Salt plans to continue his research to understand at the DNA level how Arabidopsis thaliana adapts to environmental conditions. The National Institutes of Health funded his work.




(Return to Contents)




1.31  Promising results for breeding drought-resistant cowpea


Texas, USA

January 31, 2011

Promising results from a crossbred cowpea variety has Texas AgriLife Research scientists hopeful that the drought-resistant trait will soon be available to producers.


Though commonly consumed as a food staple, the cowpea (commonly known as the black-eyed pea) has lots of potential to expand into the feedstock sector in both livestock and cropping systems, according to Dr. B.B. Singh, a visiting professor in the soil and crop sciences department at Texas A&M University.


“Drought is one of the major constraints to agriculture across the world,” Singh said. “The breeders are trying to develop drought-tolerant varieties. Screening for this in the field is very difficult. What we’ve done is bring the drought inside the greenhouse and so far, we’ve seen some very favorable results.”


In a greenhouse at Texas A&M in College Station, Singh has been working with a group of scientists to breed a drought-resistant cowpea variety. This type of cowpea could be valuable as a food staple in the U.S., Asia, South America and in Africa where high temperatures and little rainfall dictate growing conditions.


“We’ve been working on this with the goal of understanding the physiology of drought tolerance so we can better breed for it,” said Dave Verbree, a doctoral student in plant breeding and physiology at Texas A&M. “We’re looking at how many genes are involved and breeding drought-tolerant lines that combine only the best traits for a given environment.”


Verbee is using thermal imaging to assist in identifying the superior genotypes that will be used in the crossbreeding experiments, which are done through conventional methods of breeding.

Singh came to the department as a visiting professor following his retirement three years ago from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Africa. He is working with colleagues Creighton Miller, D.C. Sheuring and Dr. Bill Payne, using field trials in College Station as part of research efforts. The team also is finding solutions to breeding cowpea varieties that are aphid resistant in addition to drought tolerant.


Inside the greenhouse, small boxes with about 4 inches of soil contain test lines that were planted in mid-November.


“Each were watered enough to germinate and grow,” Singh said. “After that, we don’t water them and watch response of each line to drought over time.”


Sixteen varieties were planted on the same day, Singh said. Fifty days later and without any watering, the resistant varieties remained green and fully alive whereas the susceptible ones were completely dead with brown leaves and dried stems.


“Our preliminary studies have shown one major gene for drought tolerance,” he said. “We’re trying to transfer that gene into the improved varieties found in Africa, Asia and the U.S. that have good healthful factors and are aphid resistant. We hope these new varieties will have major impact improving food production in southern U.S., Africa, Asia and Brazil.”


The cowpea originated in Africa and was brought to America around 1775. It was used mainly as a fodder crop, then became a grain crop in southern U.S. It fixes its own nitrogen, doesn’t need much fertility and is resistant to many diseases. The crude protein in improved varieties can be up to 30 percent. “We hope in the 21st century when drought, heat and moisture become factors, a 60-day heat- and drought-tolerant cowpea will become the main food legume in the world as they would fit in the existing cereals and root-crops systems as a short-duration niche crop.”


For beef cattle production, Singh said he is advocating the cowpea not only as a food crop, but also as crop for livestock that can be cut and baled. Instead of having a grazing cowpea and a food cowpea, Singh envisions having an all-in-one variety where a producer can get both fodder and food. “The U.S. spends a lot of money on feed grain for meat production,” Singh said. “A crop like the cowpea could replace that. This doesn’t need nitrogen, so it needs very little fertilizer, and it doesn’t need much insecticide spray. You get two tons of grain and two tons of fodder per hectare within 60 days.


“The cowpea grains sell for about $500 per ton, so you get enough from grain and feed in protein-rich fodder for cattle. I think this is something that is very exciting for the future, particularly 15 years from now when we have even more drought and water resources become more limited," Singh said.


The demand for the protein-rich cowpea grains would significantly increase in Asia and Africa with the rise in their population, he added.


Singh has brought to College Station more than 35 lines of cowpeas with drought and aphid tolerance, as well as with resistance to other diseases and higher yield potential. His work there has involved using conventional breeding methods to cross those lines with six Texas and California varieties in greenhouse and field settings.


According to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Africa, the cowpea is an important food crop in many African, Asian and South American countries, especially as an alternative source of protein where people cannot afford meat and fish.


The crop typically is grown by subsistence farmers with limited agricultural resources, who use it to feed livestock or sell for additional income.


Estimates from the International Food and Agriculture Organization and other sources indicate that more than 6 million tons of cowpeas are produced annually worldwide, with sub-Saharan Africa responsible for about 70 percent of that amount. With availability of new short-duration heat- and drought-tolerant and pest-resistant varieties, cowpea production would significantly increase in the coming decades.


Link to earlier news release: Gene developed through conventional breeding to improve cowpea aphid resistance




(Return to Contents)




1.32  Wheat genes are the key to salinity fight



February 15, 2011

The scourge of salinity has long been associated with the shocking images of wide stretches of farming country turned white from salt.


What is less recognised is that this spectacular damage is not the greatest threat salinity poses to Australia’s grain crops – it is the low lying salts hidden in the water table beneath the soil surface which are doing the greatest damage.


“Salinity is a big problem nationally, but a lot of it is not the spectacular stuff like you see in places such as Western Australia where there are localised highly saline patches – that’s a land management issue and there’s good people doing good work on that,” said Professor Mark Tester, from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the University of Adelaide and Director of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility.


“Where there’s a bit of salt in the soil and the yield is getting clipped back a bit - this is a very widespread problem.


“It’s estimated about 70 per cent of the wheat crop around Australia has its yield pegged back by maybe 10pc.”


And, unlike the salt scourges in WA, it’s not huge amounts of salt doing the damage. Prof. Tester says just “modest amounts” – salinity at just one-tenth the strength of sea-water is all that’s needed to start reducing plant yield.


But not all wheat varieties are affected in the same way. Prof. Tester and his team are working their way through the problem of what makes a wheat plant tick, what parts of the plant are active in resisting salt, which parts are susceptible, and which genes trigger those behaviours.


“What we’ve been doing is trying to understand the traits in plants that can contribute to maintaining yields in saline environments,” Prof. Tester said.


“The yield that is being nipped back over a large area of land is because of salt that is down in the subsoil – you can’t see it at the surface. That kind of subsoil salinity is a classic target for crop improvement, trying to improve the ability of plants to withstand that erosion to its yields.”


It’s not a problem exclusive to Australian conditions – salinity affects approximately 5pc of the world’s cultivated land and represents a major limitation to agricultural production at a time when primary production needs to lift its output to meet the globe’s growing population.


However, great leaps forward have been made in addressing the problem in recent years, with scientists around the world improving their understanding of which genes are responsible for the reaction of various crop types to salt pressures.


Here in Australia, Prof. Tester’s work is being supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), which is investing in pre-breeding research to discover novel genes and deliver germplasm with improved salinity tolerance to plant breeding companies.


These companies can then breed new and better varieties of wheat seed for sale to farmers, who can then grow higher-yielding crops on salt-affected lands.


It sounds like a simple proposition, especially in an era of gene markers and new plant monitoring technology, but the reality is highly complicated.


There are three components of a wheat plant that can help the plant maintain growth in saline soils: its ability to keep salt out of its central shoot; the ability of the shoot to tolerate the salt that does enter (tissue tolerance); and the ability of the plant to handle the negative impact salt has on water availability in the soil (osmotic tolerance).


For the past decade Tester and his team have been working on the first element in trying to identify which genes govern a plant’s ability to exclude salt from its shoot.


Prof. Tester’s team has been investigating the HKT group of genes, which control sodium influx into cells, and some of which are located around the xylem (the pipes that move water through the plant).


In effect, the genes govern the ability of the xylem to suck the salt out of the water before it reaches the leaves.


“It’s like the final purification of water before it gets to the leaves,” Prof. Tester said.


Researchers at the CSIRO have located two of these genes in a single durum line, which provides big breeding possibilities given that most durum lines are very sensitive to salt.


And while the CSIRO has been crossing these genes into durum and bread wheats, Tester’s team has been further investigating the genes’ mechanism of action.


Through the use of transgenic techniques, the researchers are deliberately over-expressing the HKT genes around the xylem vessels to increase the variation beyond what is found naturally.


“The aim is make plants more tolerant by taking a beneficial trait and increasing its influence,” Tester said.


This approach can result in what scientists call the “deleterious pleiotropic effect” – where the increased expression of one positive gene trait triggers a corresponding expression of negative traits – Prof. Tester says that in this instance the other genes activated by the HKT gene group were consistent with the needs of the plant.


The research has found that over-expression of the HKT group led to improved sodium exclusion (up to 37pc less salt in the shoot) and salinity tolerance, with the excess sodium excluded from the shoot stored in the cortical cells of the root.


But more importantly to farmers, plants carrying the HKT gene have been found to result in seedling biomass that is 10pc higher under saline conditions than lines not carrying the genes.


Two intervals in the wheat genome that include members of the HKT group – on the 2A and 6A chromosomes – have now been associated with that result, with 2A the most promising for further breeding work in bread wheats.


But Prof. Tester has not invested all of the industry hopes in just one project, with other areas of investigation also showing promising results.


“I like running quite a lot of programs in parallel and then jumping on the winners – which is a strategic way of operating,” he said.


Some promising results have also been achieved in field trials following the identification of an influential area on chromosome 1 of barley known as HvNax3.


Due to their similarities, the location of key barley genes can act as a guide to the location of similar genes in wheat varieties.


However, the challenge for researchers is that the HvNax3 interval contains hundreds of genes.


“Within that is one particular gene that in model systems has shown to influence salinity tolerance,” Prof. Tester said.


“There are loads of genes that we don’t know the function of, a whole pile of mystery genes, so it might be one of them.


“But we’ve spotted in that list of genes down the end of the chromosome an old friend that has already been published in model systems. So we decided to concentrate on this one.”


So far, trials have shown that HvNax3 reduced shoot sodium accumulation by 10-25 per cent in plants grown in one-third seawater.


Interestingly though, the researchers are not certain of how the gene works, with Prof. Tester speculating that it might help the plant lock salt away in the roots, preventing it from rising up to the shoots.


“We’re still not certain of the actual mechanistic basis for that trait,” he said. “But if the field trials that we were doing this year confirm what we found in the previous year, then there are possibly big effects on yield from this particular chromosome interval.


“But I want to see those results come in for a couple of years yet before getting really excited about it.”


The gene group has been bred into a number of recombinant crosses, involving the South Australian barley cultivar Barque, and if the next round of field trials replicate the early success in bolstering yield in saline conditions, Prof. Tester says numerous opportunities will ensue for identifying the differences between salt-tolerant and insensitive lines.


In the long-term Prof. Tester believes that numerous traits for salinity tolerance will be stacked into wheat varieties to dramatically improve performance.


“While we’re delivering those sodium exclusion discoveries into the farmers’ fields, in parallel with that we’ve got to start making other discoveries on other aspects of salinity tolerance,” he said.


“The obvious ones we’re chasing are osmotic tolerance and the tissue tolerance so we can pile these things on top of one another.


“The more information you have and the more useful it is, the more accurately we can alter traits out in the field and deliver more benefits to the farmer.” 


More information on salinity is available at the GRDC website,




(Return to Contents)




1.33  The great pyramid - By stacking multiple genes for resistance, plant breeders develop tomatoes that are a monument to better pest control


Chiang Mai, Thailand

17 February 2011

A quick scan of recent headlines brings the problem into focus: Pesticide use on vegetables in Bangladesh increased a stunning 328% in the past decade, the European Union is considering a ban on vegetable exports from Thailand due to excessive pesticide residue, and farmers in Cambodia are placing themselves and the environment at risk by applying toxic pesticide cocktails to their vegetable crops.


Vegetable farmers in the tropics need safer solutions to keep pests and diseases in check. Take tomato, the world’s most important horticultural crop. Production of this popular vegetable in the lowland tropics is constrained by diseases such as tomato yellow leaf curl virus disease caused by begomoviruses, which are transmitted by whitefl ies (Bemisia tabaci). Bacterial wilt caused by the bacteria Ralstonia solanacearum is another troublesome pathogen that can devastate crops. Plant breeders have developed tomato lines resistant to these pathogens, but over time the resistance breaks down as the pathogens evolve and fi nd new ways to slip through the plant’s defenses.


Resistance comes in two fl avors: unstable or stable. Single resistance genes confer unstable resistance; either they are present and active in a plant, or not functioning at all. If they are present and an evolving pathogen overcomes that single hurdle, the door to disease opens and the plant is vulnerable to attack.


Stable resistance relies on the concept of safety in numbers: Plant breeders aim to achieve it by working with several, rather than just one, resistance gene.


Hanson’s work involves pyramiding, or combining several resistance genes into the Center’s tomato lines to deal with the rapidly changing microbial landscape. Gene pyramiding is a breeding technique used to introduce multiple genes into a plant, each of which imparts resistance to a specifi c pest or disease. Because a pest must overcome all of the resistance genes simultaneously to survive, it is more likely the vegetable line or variety will retain its resistance over a longer period—perhaps for several decades.


Bulwark against begomoviruses

Tomato yellow leaf curl virus disease can lead to 100% crop loss if the infection occurs at an early stage. Farmers often misuse pesticides in an attempt to control the whitefly vector, and as a result B. tabaci has developed resistance to the agrochemical arsenal. Using a combination of marker-assisted and conventional breeding tactics, AVRDC breeders have developed tomato lines with various combinations of Ty-1, Ty-2, and Ty-3, three genes drawn from wild tomatoes Solanum habrochaites, S. chilense, and S. peruvianum. Lines carrying these multiple resistance genes to several whitefl y-transmitted begomoviruses have been selected for further development and fi eld trials. “AVRDC is the fi rst to develop and distribute open-pollinated lines with multiple Ty resistance for small-scale farmers,” Hanson said. Unlike hybrids, seed from open-pollinated lines can be saved and planted in successive seasons—an important cost-saving measure for farmers in developing countries.


Besides holding begomoviruses at bay, there’s an additional objective the Ty-resistance varieties must achieve: Farmer approval. The new tomato lines must satisfy yield and fruit quality requirements of farmers and markets. Multilocation trials are ongoing in Mali and Tanzania in Africa, and in Karnal, India to solicit farmers’ impressions, comments, and observations about the resistant tomato varieties.


Blocking bacterial wilt

One of the world’s most monitored phytopathogenic bacteria due to its lethality, persistence, wide host range and broad geographic distribution, R. solanacearum infects more than 250 plant species in 50 families, including tomato, eggplant, potato, banana, and other economically important crops. Chemicals generally have proven to be ineff ective in controlling bacterial wilt and are not recommended as a means of control.


By planting pathogen-free seedlings and following careful crop rotations, farmers can mount a limited defense against bacterial wilt. Resistant tomato cultivars would further strengthen their position, yet there are currently no fully immune cultivars available. Although cultivar ‘Hawaii 7996’ displays resistance to bacterial wilt, the level of resistance is aff ected by temperature, soil moisture, and the strain of the pathogen.


“Our knowledge of the nature and genetics of bacterial wilt resistance is improving, but pinpointing the exact mechanisms involved remains a challenge,” said Hanson.


Help in locating those mechanisms comes from AVRDC plant pathologist Dr. Jaw-fen Wang, whose group has been instrumental in the design of the markers linked to bacterial wilt resistance. “This kind of breeder- pathologist teamwork has been critical for our success,” Hanson said. “With the marker maps prepared by the pathologists, we are identifying gene markers in two regions conditioning bacterial wilt resistance— one on chromosome 6 and the other on chromosome 12.”


The marker maps are being applied to assess tomato lines developed by the Center over the past 30 years. “Many of our lines carry ‘Hawaii 7996’ alleles on chromosome 12, but only a few have the alleles on chromosome 6,” Hanson said. “This region already has the Ty-3 gene. By adding alleles and other Ty genes to this region, we have developed lines such as AVTO1010 and AVTO1003, which have moderate levels of bacterial wilt resistance.”


Long-term disease resistance for vegetable crops is a much sought-after goal, if an elusive one. AVRDC’s disease-resistant lines coupled with good agricultural practices such as crop rotation and the use of net houses or net shelters to exclude pests off er farmers an integrated strategy for safe tomato production.




(Return to Contents)




1.34  Researchers reach a breakthrough for protein levels in key staple crop


Results could prove beneficial to millions suffering from malnutrition


January 27th, 2011

ST. LOUIS, MO. Researchers working at The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center’s International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology (ITLAB), have made an another advancement in their efforts to improve the root crop cassava which is a major source of calories to 700 million people worldwide, primarily living in the developing world.  A study conducted Dr. Claude Fauquet, Principal Investigator and Director of ITLAB, established a method to provide more dietary protein in cassava.  The results of this research are published in the recent article, “Transgenic biofortification of the starch staple cassava (Manihot esculenta) generates a novel sink for protein,” in the PloS One journal.;jsessionid=A1DEDC893E671F46E854C97369B7D913.ambra01


Cassava has many properties that make it an important food source across much of Africa and Asia, it also has many limitations.  For example, cassava has poor nutritional content because it is lacking protein among other micronutrients.


Although calorie dense, the starchy, tuberous roots of cassava provide the lowest sources of dietary protein among the major staple food crops.  The starchy roots total protein content ranges from 0.7 to 2.5% dry weight compared with 7 to 14% in cereals such as wheat, rice and corn.  Insufficient protein intake often leads to protein energy malnutrition (PEM), which is estimated to affect one in four children in Africa.  Cassava has the lowest protein to energy ratio (P:E) of any staple food, making resource-poor populations that rely on cassava as their major source of calories at high risk of PEM which can lead to permanent physical and mental disabilities and related pathological disorders.


“The ILTAB lab strives to improve cassava productivity and quality through genetic transformation to help less developed countries and we are a step closer to that reality,” said Dr. Claude Fauquet, principal investigator and director of ITLAB at The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.  “This study will contribute to efforts to end the very real and scary reality that a child dies every six seconds from malnutrition.”


The cassava used in the study was genetically modified to express zeolin, a nutritionally balanced storage protein resulting in total protein levels of 12.5% dry weight within the tissue, a fourfold increase as compared to the non-transgenic controls.  This breakthrough demonstrates that it is possible to increase the PE ratio for cassava to be close that of cereals, and that it is possible to improve essential amino acid composition to directly benefit children.  Initially Fauquet and his team had concern that the modified cassava would have a disrupted physiology and altered phenotype of the transgenic plants.  Greenhouse and field studies revealed this not to be the case, with similar levels of protein accumulation recorded across more than three years of testing in three different locations.


A two-year-old child consuming 50% of his/her dietary energy as wild type cassava would receive about 3 g dietary protein, equivalent to 20% of their daily protein requirement.  The same child consuming the same amount of modified cassava accumulating storage protein at levels achieved in the study would obtain approximately 16 g of dietary protein, or more than 100% of their daily requirement.  This illustrates that genetic modification of cassava has the potential to deliver enhanced nutrition to at-risk populations.


The results prove a concept towards the potential transformation of cassava from a starchy staple, devoid of storage protein, to one capable of supplying inexpensive, plant-based proteins for food, feed and industrial applications.


About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center


Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research at the Danforth Center will feed the hungry and improve human health, preserve and renew the environment, and enhance the St. Louis region and Missouri as a world center for plant science.  The Center’s work is funded through competitive grants and contract revenue from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard Buffett Foundation.




ILTAB has developed significant expertise in cassava genetic transformation to produce commercial products that are resistant to cassava viruses and have more nutritious roots. The technology is now capable of producing high quality transgenic cassava plants in a variety of farmer-preferred cultivars, with the possibility of stacking many genes expressing several important agronomic or nutritional traits.


ILTAB was established in 1991 with a mission to develop the techniques and products of tropical plant biotechnology and to transfer knowledge and resources to developing countries.  By doing so, it will help these countries improve their agricultural production in a sustainable manner, providing useful research tools and training young scientists from these countries.  Three major crops were initially chosen as a core for the research activities: rice, cassava and tomato, but ILTAB is now concentrating only on cassava with the goal to deliver products in Africa.  Research projects have also been initiated on yam, sweet potato, cotton, sugarcane, and a number of other tropical and sub-tropical crop species, contributing to the wide range of experience within ILTAB.


Claude Fauquet, a native of France, obtained his academic degrees from the University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France.  Prior to co-founding ILTAB at The Scripps Research Institute with Dr. Roger Beachy in 1991, Dr. Fauquet worked for 19 years as a plant virologist for IRD, including 14 years stationed at a French research center in Ivory Coast, West Africa.  Dr. Fauquet is also a member of the Graduate Faculty at University of Missouri-St. Louis, Adjunct Professor with University of Missouri-Columbia, and Co-Chair of the Global Cassava Partnership, which he founded in 2002.


For more information, contact:


Karla Goldstein:

Melanie Bernds:


Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz


(Return to Contents)




1.35  Two genes better than one for Pseudomonas syringae


United Kingdom

February 1, 2011

Researchers funded by the BBSRC have revealed a novel molecular mechanism that triggers plant infection by Pseudomonas syringae, the bacteria responsible for bacterial speck in tomatoes. The scientists from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London have revealed how two genes in the bacteria work together to launch the infection process that ultimately kills the plant's cells and causes disease, significantly reducing crop quality and yield.


Pseudomonas syringae is responsible for major disease outbreaks in an enormous range of economically important food plants including rice, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers and beans. It is also a problem in wild plants and one Pseudomonas syringae type has recently infected half of all chestnut trees in the UK. The researchers hope that by understanding the molecular basis for how the bacteria attack plant cells they will be able to find new targets for pesticides and devise better strategies for disease management.


Speaking about the findings, published today (1 February 2011) in Nature Communications Dr Jörg Schumacher, the senior author on the study, explains: "These bacteria have quite a sophisticated system for infecting plants. They use remarkable needle-like structures called pili to penetrate and inject a range of proteins into a plant's cells, which then work to suppress its immune response and kill infected cells. Pseudomonas syringae are very versatile bacteria and their pili help them to infect a very large range of plants causing numerous symptoms in different plants, for example black/brown specks on tomato fruits."


"From what we know, these bacteria only produce their pili and launch infection when they have already invaded the plant tissue. It is unclear how they sense the plant tissue environment that triggers infection, but we do know that the regulatory mechanism that controls pili formation is essential in this process."


What distinguishes Pseudomonas syringae from other related pathogens that also use pili to infect plants is that it has duplicated a gene during evolution that is involved in producing the pili. Indeed the researchers have found the duplicated gene in all the strains of Pseudomonas syringae they have studied, which makes them think that it is very likely to provide some selective advantage in the infection process. It appears, for example, that this innovation may allow for more subtlety when it comes to whether or not to commit to infection.


Dr Schumacher continues: "The motivation for this study was to find out how having a duplicated gene could provide Pseudomonas syringae with the 'edge' in terms of evolutionary advantage. We have studied related systems in other bacteria in great detail in the lab of Professor Martin Buck, where this study was carried out. What we have found here is that the two-gene system in Pseudomonas syringae is an evolutionary innovation that had not been described in bacteria.


"With our work and that of others we are able to understand how evolution that happens at the molecular level translates to phenomena we observe in our daily lives. When we see brown leaved chestnut trees next spring, chances are that Pseudomonas syringae and the duplicated gene are involved."


Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said: "With improvements in imaging and modelling we are now able to look deeper into cells at how the molecular machines that underlie all life on earth work. But this is not just knowledge for its own sake; a more detailed understanding of how crop pests interact with their hosts will be important for developing more sophisticated methods of controlling them. This is vital to global food security, ensuring that we can provide safe nutritious food to a growing world population."


This research was also supported by the Leverhulme Trust and the Wellcome Trust.


This research is published in February edition of Nature Communications:

Also see: Rappas M, Schumacher J, Beuron F, Niwa H, Bordes P, Wigneshweraraj S, Keetch CA, Robinson CV, Buck M, Zhang X. Structural insights into the activity of enhancer-binding proteins. Science (Mar 2005).




(Return to Contents)




1.36  For longer-life, disease-free roses, North Carolina State University researchers insert celery gene


Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

February 10, 2011

A rose by any other name would smell … like celery?


North Carolina State University research intended to extend the “vase life” of roses inserts a gene from celery inside rose plants to help fight off botrytis, or petal blight, one of the rose’s major post-harvest diseases.


Some fungal pathogens, the bad guys that infect plants, produce a sugar alcohol called mannitol that interferes with the plant’s ability to block disease like petal blight, which produces wilty, mushy petals – an effect similar to what happens to lettuce when it’s been in the crisper too long.


In an effort to make roses live longer – and to get more value from your Valentine’s Day gifts – NC State horticultural scientists Dr. John Dole and Dr. John Williamson lead an effort to insert a gene called mannitol dehydrogenase from celery into roses to “chew up” mannitol and allow the plant to defend itself from one of its greatest threats.


“This gene is naturally found in many plants, but it’s uncertain whether the rose already has it,” Williamson says. “If it does, it doesn’t produce enough enzyme to help the plant fight against petal blight.”


The genetically modified roses currently growing in NC State test beds look and smell like “normal” roses. Now the roses will be tested to see whether they’re better able to withstand petal blight.


The research is just one part of an extensive NC State effort to build a better rose, Dole says. Other research thrusts include examining the types of sugars best suited for mixture with water to keep the plants thriving after they’ve been harvested; studying the variance in water quality across the country to see which water provides the best home for roses after they’ve been cut; and preventing various other important plant diseases.


The ultimate goal is to get roses to survive for three to four weeks after they’ve been harvested, Dole adds. Many of the roses in florists and grocery stores come from Colombia and Ecuador, so the longer shipping times can reduce vase life after purchase.


Other NC State project collaborators include Dr. Bryon Sosinski, who is working on identifying other resistance genes in the rose that could provide additional resistance to other environmental factors, and Drs. George Allen and Sergei Krasnyanski, who insert the genes of interest into rose plants.


The research is funded by Dole Food Company and the American Floral Endowment.




(Return to Contents)




1.37  Finding a polyamine way to extend tomato shelf life


Washington, DC, USA

February 16, 2011

Tomatoes spend so much time on shelves and in refrigerators that an estimated 20 percent are lost to spoilage, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are working with colleagues at Purdue University to extend the shelf life of tomatoes. The research also may lead to tomatoes that taste better and are more nutritious.


ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, and the research results support the USDA priority of promoting international food security.


Autar Mattoo (photo), a plant physiologist with the agency's Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., joined with Avtar Handa, a professor of horticulture at Purdue, and Savithri Nambeesan, a graduate student working with Handa, to focus on manipulating a class of nitrogen-based organic compounds known as "polyamines" that act as signals and play a role in the plant's growth, flowering, fruit development, ripening, and other functions. Polyamines also have been linked to the production of lycopene and other nutrients that lower the risks of certain cancers and other diseases.


The researchers wanted to see if they could increase levels of polyamines in tomatoes, and what the effects would be of any increases. They introduced a polyamine-producing yeast gene, known as spermidine synthase, into tomato plants to increase the production of a higher polyamine spermidine that is believed to modulate the plant ripening process.


The results, published in The Plant Journal, showed that introducing the gene not only increased spermidine levels and vegetative growth, but extended the tomato's post-harvest shelf life. Shriveling was delayed by up to three weeks, and there was a slower rate of decay caused by diseases. The tomatoes also had higher levels of lycopene. The study also shows for the first time that spermidine has its own effects independent of other polyamines, extending shelf life and increasing growth.


The use of molecular genetics to enhance tomatoes has faced resistance from the horticulture industry and food-processing companies. But scientists have used the approach to develop improved varieties of corn, soybeans, and cotton.


Read more about this research in the February 2011 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.




(Return to Contents)




1.38  University of Minnesota finalizes exclusive license with French biotech company Cellectis for technology that allows scientists to modify genes to create specific traits


Minneapolis / St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

February 16, 2011

The University of Minnesota has finalized an exclusive, worldwide license agreement with Cellectis, a Paris-headquartered biotechnology company, for technology that allows scientists to modify genes to create specific traits. Cellectis will further develop the technology at a research and development (R&D) facility it opened in St. Paul.


The technology, TAL effector nucleases, was jointly developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University. The technology involves taking a DNA binding protein (TAL) and fusing it to a nuclease that breaks DNA. When the chromosome break is repaired, it allows the incorporation of DNA sequence changes at a precise location in the genome. This platform technology has broad applications in genome engineering including fundamental genetic research, crop improvement and treatment of human genetic diseases.


"In plants, we try to go in and modify genes to have specific traits," said Dan Voytas, professor in the College of Biological Sciences and joint inventor of the technology. "For example, we can make plants resistant to bacterial and fungal pathogens, and drought."


The Cellectis plant sciences R&D facility in St. Paul employs three doctoral-level scientists and two research assistants, led by Voytas, who are working to target plant genome modification. Voytas also serves as chief science officer for Cellectis plant sciences and has taken a temporary leave from the university to further research and development.


"The Cellectis license is a great example of the many benefits that result from commercializing university technology," said Jim Woodman, technology marketing manager at the Office for Technology Commercialization. "This license agreement transfers technology with the potential to improve human health and nutrition from the lab to a world leader in developing genome engineering tools. It also helps create jobs here in Minnesota."


"We're very excited about the potential of this technology, which has applications in plants, animals, and fungi," said Voytas. "It's clearly able to target DNA sequences with considerable ease. It appears we can make targeted modifications much easier than with existing technologies."


Cellectis plant sciences was formally launched in July 2010 as a subsidiary of Cellectis, a genome engineering company that designs and markets endonucleases in the fields of research, biomanufacturing, agricultural biotechnology and therapeutics. Cellectis plant sciences aims to optimize technologies, such as meganucleases or TAL effector nucleases, that could effectively modify plant genetics.




(Return to Contents)




1.39  Plants have for the first time been cloned as seeds


Davis, California, USA

February 17, 2011

Plants have for the first time been cloned as seeds. The research by UC Davis plant scientists and their international collaborators, published Feb. 18 in the journal Science, is a major step toward making hybrid crop plants that can retain favorable traits from generation to generation.


Most successful crop varieties are hybrids, said Simon Chan, assistant professor of plant biology at UC Davis and an author of the paper. But when hybrids go through sexual reproduction, their traits, such as fruit size or frost resistance, get scrambled and may be lost.


"We're trying to make a hybrid that breeds true," Chan said, so that plants grown from the seed would be genetically identical to one parent.


Some plants, especially fruit trees, can be cloned from cuttings, but this approach is impractical for most crops. Other plants, especially weeds such as hawkweed and dandelions, can produce true seeds that are clones of themselves without sexual reproduction -- a still poorly understood process called apomixis.


The new discovery gets to the same result as apomixis, although by a different route, Chan said.


Normally, eggs and sperm are haploid -- they have half the number of chromosomes of the parent. The fertilized egg and the adult plant it grows into are diploid -- containing a full complement of chromosomes, half contributed by each parent.


Chan and his colleagues focused their work on the laboratory plant Arabidopsis, which has certain genetic mutations that allow it to produce diploid eggs without sexual recombination. These eggs have the same genes and number of chromosomes as their parents. But those eggs cannot be grown into adult plants without fertilization by sperm, which adds another parent's set of chromosomes.


Last year, Chan and UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Maruthachalam Ravi showed that they could breed haploid Arabidopsis plants that carried chromosomes from only one parent. They introduced a genetic change so that after the eggs were fertilized, the chromosomes from one of the parents were eliminated. Such haploid plants would reduce the time needed to breed new varieties.


In the new study, Chan's lab, with colleagues from India and France, crossed these Arabidopsis plants programmed to eliminate a parent's genes with either of two mutants that can produce diploid eggs.


The result? In about one-third of the seeds produced, the diploid eggs were successfully fertilized, then the chromosomes from one parent were eliminated, leaving a diploid seed that was a clone of one of its parents.


Ravi described the result as a step on the way toward artificial apomixis. The team hopes to produce crop plants, such as lettuce and tomato, that can fertilize themselves and produce clonal seeds. Applications for provisional patents on the work have been filed.


The other authors of the paper are: Mohan Marimuthu, Jayeshkumar Davda and Imran Siddiqi from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India; Sylvie Jolivet, Lucie Pereira, Laurence Cromer, Fabien Nogué and RaphaĎl Mercier, L'Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Versailles, France; and Lili Wang, UC Davis Department of Plant Biology.


The work was principally funded by the National Science Foundation.




(Return to Contents)




1.40  University of Illinois researcher receives USDA grant to study soybean flowering response


Urbana, Illinois, USA

February 23, 2011

Advanced genomic techniques and a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grant of almost a half-million dollars will allow University of Illinois researchers to advance fundamental knowledge in plant science that will lead to healthier, more productive crops that play a key role in keeping American agriculture sustainable and competitive.


Yoshie Hanzawa, U of I assistant professor of crop sciences, will study flowering response to seasonal photoperiod changes in soybean.


“Flowering response is a critical factor to environmental adaptation of crop plants,” Hanzawa said. “Flowering is a key trait that determines a plant’s survival and productivity.”


Hanzawa said the knowledge obtained through this project will enhance understanding of the molecular basis of photoperiodic flowering and provide valuable information to help plant breeders maximize yield potential by developing superior germplasm that’s highly adaptive to diverse environments.


“We want to help open up a new frontier in soybean breeding,” Hanzawa said. “We have a huge variation in day length from northern to southern United States. Our goal is to develop germplasm that fits each microenvironment by modifying the response of the soybean plant to day length.”


One approach to increase soybean production today is to extend the seed filling period between the flowering time and the beginning of seed maturation, she said. Modification of photoperiod responsiveness would make this possible by advancing the flowering time and allowing cultivation of soybean at wider latitudes while improving yield.


“We must have genetic tools and information that allow modification of flowering time independently of seed maturation,” Hanzawa said. “To achieve this, we must understand the molecular basis of the photoperiodic response on the flowering gene networks in soybean.”


Hanzawa’s project offers young scientists, including undergraduate students, excellent opportunities to learn and apply the latest advances in plant genomics research, she added. Because flowering affects many broad areas of plant research, these findings could impact development, physiology, genetics, genomics, bioinformatics, evolution, ecology and plant breeding.


NIFA awarded the grants through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Foundational funding program. AFRI is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: 1) plant health and production and plant products; 2) animal health and production and animal products; 3) food safety, nutrition and health; 4) renewable energy, natural resources and environment; 5) agriculture systems and technology; and 6) agriculture economics and rural communities.


Hanzawa will work in collaboration with Randall Nelson, USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection Curator and professor in the Department of Crop Sciences.




(Return to Contents)




1.41  More targeted breeding: plant genes under the microscope


State-of-the-art breeding methods help with the search for new, better crops


Monheim, Germany

February 24, 2011

In the future, the earth will have to feed an ever growing number of people. Worldwide harvest yields are however unable to keep pace with the planets growing population, and the consequences of climate change are increasingly threatening cereals, fruit and vegetables. The situation is further exacerbated by the increasing scarcity of resources. Biotechnology in combination with state-of-the-art breeding methods could contribute to a solution: These approaches enable a specific selection and cross-breeding of plant traits, creating more robust and higher-yielding varieties.


Agriculture is facing enormous challenges caused by the growing world population. According to UN estimates, it is expected to exceed the 7 billion mark already this year. In 2050 the population of the earth will be more than nine billion people – all of whom will need enough to eat. In addition, the climate change threatens to worsen the situation even further. For example, the World Bank estimates that five to ten million hectares of land are lost each year due to soil degradation. The entire area of land used for agriculture in Germany amounts to about 17 million hectares.


To safeguard our food supply in the future and overcome these global challenges, farmers around the world need new approaches. The agricultural research scientists at Bayer CropScience are therefore committed to plant biotechnology. Molecular biologists are now making a crucial contribution to the work of plant breeders with new methods. In the coming years, they plan to further accelerate plant breeding and develop fruit, cereal and vegetable varieties with new properties. “Biotechnology allows us to look deep inside the plant – through leaves, stems and roots into the genetic material in the cell nucleus,” explains Dr. Johan Botterman, Head of Product Research for BioScience at Bayer CropScience in Ghent, Belgium. The requirements on the plants of the future will be enormous and next to impossible to achieve with conventional breeding based solely on selection and cross-breeding. After all, it takes many years to develop a new variety of tomato or rice. The plants have to prosper and form fruit before their crossbred progeny is available for the next cycle of selecting and crossing. In addition, the breeders have to analyze thousands of offspring and test them to see whether the desired traits have been passed on.


Biotechnology methods considerably accelerate plant breeding and complement the plant breeders’ many years of experience. A process that takes about ten years with conventional breeding, for example, can now be completed in roughly half the time. To develop new varieties, the biotechnology experts at Bayer CropScience in Ghent collaborate closely with their colleagues from Nunhems, the vegetable seed specialists at Bayer CropScience, in interdisciplinary teams: They enhance the taste, shelf life and processing properties of fruit and vegetables or make crops such as rice and oilseed rape more tolerant to stress factors such as drought, pests and diseases.


Search for the genetic fingerprint

One instrument in the plant experts’ repertoire is the molecular analysis. BioScience researchers examining genetic material in the laboratory can precisely determine how the individual seedlings of a new breed differ. “Thanks to advances in molecular biology, it is now possible to describe plant properties in terms of their genes. The more we find out about plants by means of biotechnology, the better we can recognize the mechanisms and genetic networks behind specific characteristics,” explains Botterman. Properties such as enhanced photosynthesis performance or nutrient uptake are generally based on the complex interplay of several genes. Once this kind of network has been identified, it can also be diagnosed in other plants, providing valuable information for breeding. “Molecular marker analysis also allows us to identify a number of genes and thus a number of traits in one plant at the same time,” says Benjamin Laga, one of the group leaders of the Genetics team at Bayer CropScience in Ghent. This gives the plant scientists a genetic fingerprint that characterizes the individual traits of a plant, just like a barcode identifies a product.


One advantage of marker analysis is that it works even with young seedlings. For example, to identify whether the fibers of a cotton plant will be particularly long, strong and fine, it is sufficient to take a piece of the stalk or a leaf into the laboratory. “This kind of targeted selection saves enormous amounts of development time, and space in the greenhouse and the trial fields – and therefore also money,” says Dr. Jan van den Berg, Global Head of Molecular Breeding at Nunhems, referring to an economic aspect of molecular biology in plant breeding. Molecular markers make possible an enormous range of new varieties: for example, Nunhems has developed more than half of its 2,500 varieties of vegetable seeds within the past six years. “There is a rising demand for higher yields but also for quality traits such as new tastes or more aroma,” says Paul Degreef, Global Head of Breeding at Nunhems.


Targeted evolution in genetic material

The biotechnology experts have to precisely understand the genetic material if they want to search for specific genes. The genetic codes of many crop plants are already known. For example, the oilseed rape genome was deciphered by a team headed by Dr. Bart Lambert, Oilseeds Product Research Manager at Bayer CropScience, together with several partners. Working from 30,000 plant genes, the Bayer scientists are now developing enhanced oilseed rape varieties using another biotechnology method known as reverse genetics.


The method is called reverse genetics because, unlike before, the scientists do not use the external appearance of a plant to draw conclusions about the responsible genes. Instead, they specifically modify a gene or genetic network to give the plant a new trait. They do this by treating the seed with a substance that triggers mutations, distributed randomly throughout the entire plant genome. “Changes like these happen in nature, too. But we accelerate this evolutionary process in a particular direction,” explains Lambert. From thousands of randomly mutated seed samples, the scientists select the ones that carry a promising mutation in their genetic material. To do this, the BioScience researchers have created a very fast and accurate tracing method which multiplies and sequences the genetic modules in a precisely defined gene segment.


Shatterproof oilseed rape pods

Bayer CropScience wants to use reverse genetics to solve a problem that affects many farmers who grow oilseed rape: the seeds often fall from the ripe pods onto the ground before they can be harvested, making them useless for further processing. The BioScience researchers are therefore developing plants with pods that are more resistant to shattering. They have identified a specific gene in the genome that is involved in the development of a tissue in the pod that holds the “packaging” of the seeds together. When the crop ripens, this tissue breaks down. But under unfavorable conditions, this happens too early and the seeds fall out of the pods prematurely. The plant scientists have changed the genetic activity and thus developed oilseed rape plants with shatterproof pods.


Four genes in the genetic material of oilseed rape are responsible for opening the pods. Scientists use a substance to stimulate random mutations (mutagenesis) and breed seedlings. They cross only plants in which one of the relevant genes is inactive. In this way, they develop oilseed rape plants with pods that do not open until they are harvested. Using reverse genetics, breeders can accelerate natural evolution. (Click on graphic to enlarge) 


Genetic research has revolutionized modern plant breeding. Molecular markers and advances in genome deciphering assist in breeding plants with enhanced traits markedly faster. The use of biotechnology to develop varieties that are more tolerant to diseases, pests and climate-related stress also has a huge impact on the development of sustainable agriculture. The demand for raw materials and energy can be considerably reduced, as less fertilizer and fewer pesticides have to be applied to the fields with machinery or the plants themselves require less water.




(Return to Contents)




1.42  Advance in bioenergy research: Transcriptome sequencing from developing seeds of biofuel-plant Jatropha curcas completed


Subtitle: Bioplant R& D and LGC Genomics sequence the transcriptome of Jatropha curcas

Vienna, Berlin – LGC Genomics, the genomics division of LGC, is pleased to announce that it has completed the sequencing of the whole transcriptome of the different developmental stages of Jatropha curcas seeds on behalf of the Austrian Bioplant R&D, Vienna and the PBU, Department of Biotechnology, VIBT-BOKU, Vienna.


LGC Genomics used a novel proprietary method and the cutting-edge Roche/454 Titanium sequencing technology to analyse the full-length, optimised, normalised cDNA library of Jatropha curcas. Approximately 12,000 full-length transcripts, assembled with an average 25 fold sequence coverage were obtained.


The species Jatropha curcas of the family Euphorbiaceae has gained global attention as an alternative bioenergy plant. It grows in tropical and subtropical areas and is currently being successfully processed for the production of biodiesel. Jatropha can be planted on poor, contaminated soils which are not suitable for food production and is used in plantations of hedges and barriers to protect vulnerable areas against soil erosion. Jatropha is also used as source of fuel wood, for the production of lamp oil, soap, colors and smear oils and for some medicinal applications.


Margit Laimer (PBU, BOKU) and Karin Gruber (Bioplant R & D): “Bioplant R & D and PBU are considering the sequencing of the transcriptome of Jatropha curcas an important milestone in our efforts to develop elite-cultivars in order to improve global access to and production of green energy. The sequencing of the Jatropha species will not only enable biofuel scientists to understand the plant’s genetic make-up, so aiding in its processing, but will help farmers increase their yields and contribute to the exploration for a genuine alternative to fossil fuels.” Bioplant`s improved plant material is expected to reach the market within the next years. The efforts for the “Production of elite plant material of Jatropha curcas“by Bioplant R&D and PBU, Vienna, are supported by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG).


Contributed by  Margit Laimer

Plant Biotechnology Unit IAM

Dept. Biotechnology

BOKU University



(Return to Contents)






2.01  Book Review: The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov


February 9, 2011

Harry Eagar

THE MURDER OF NIKOLAI VAVILOV: The Story of Stalin’s Persecution of One of the Great Scientists of the Twentieth Century, by Peter Pringle. 371 pages, illustrated. Simon & Schuster, $26


Despite what the subtitle says, Peter Pringle’s life of N.I. Vavilov is mostly a life, not a political biography. The political story was told almost half a century ago by Zhores Medvedev in “The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko,” now (unbelievably) out of print.


We get two new things from Pringle: Much heretofore unknown information about Vavilov’s family and personal life; and a sense of a man defying fate to the point of defying reality: “Blinded by his devotion to science, he had refused to see the evil in those who sought to destroy him until it was too late.”


Vavilov’s generosity and willingness to compromise with Trofim Lysenko is an attractive personal feature, but like a lot of people in the ‘20s and ‘30s, attractive personal qualities led to disasters, for him and for others.


Pringle portrays a very attractive personality, although naive in more than political matters. His first marriage, very young, was a disaster, though not, it appears, all his fault.


In reading Russian history, irony becomes the default position for almost everything, but the creation of Vavilov as a “class enemy” is extreme even by Russian standards. His father was born a bound serf, who after emancipation made a success in the fabric business in Moscow -- exactly the sort of modernism that Bolshevism was supposed to be in favor of.


His father wanted his sons to enter business, but both Nikolai and Sergei preferred science and both were successful.


Nikokai Ivanovich was an incredibly energetic field worker, advocate and administrator. Long after his death -- ironically, from starvation -- his mate (they never married) published what had been saved of a giant manuscript of his plant-hunting expeditions as “Five Continents.”


Never a successful theorist, he amassed the world’s largest collections of food crop seeds. His dream was to end famine in Russia, where -- despite what you will hear from rightwing mythmakers -- tsarist agriculture was a cruel business that relied on destroying peasants.


Yields were one-third of what farmers in western Europe achieved, but even when harvest failures left millions starved to death, the grain ships kept leaving Odessa, filled to the brim with grain that was worth more to boyars if sold in Budapest (the world’s biggest milling town, not Minneapolis, as American patriots would have it) than if used to feed the men and women who grew it.


The artificially created famines of the Bolshevik years were nothing new to Russia.


This helps to explain why Vavilov (and many another) saw promise in Bolshevism, despite it obvious failings. Bolshevism promised, as tsarism never did, to try to improve things.


It didn’t but Vavilov couldn’t have known that. It was Stalin and Lysenko, not Reagan or Hitler, who brought down Communism by failing to understand biology. It is a measure of the miserable state of obscurantism in tsarist Russia that the people who made the revolution were so ignorant.


It is a measure of the vast size and potential of Russia that Vavilov and other geneticists existed by the hundreds and thousands, though swamped by the hundreds of thousands of illiterates and half-educateds. Vavilov’s creation, given the poverty of the USSR, of the big seed collection and plant breeding institutes in the hundreds was amazing.


Then he disappeared into the prisons of the NKVD. It is interesting, and a meaningful contrast with Hitlerian Germany, that in Russia people who were marked for death were not simply killed. A weird concern for form and bureaucratic correctness required the NKVD to gather evidence against Vavilov and get a confession out of him.


That the evidence was faked and the confession was extracted under torture adds the usual spice of ridiculous irony to everything that happens in Russia.


There is, however, a final and exterior irony. As a study out just this month shows, most Americans are as ignorant as Stalin and Lysenko were about the science of genetics that Vavilov gave his life for.


The Russians, at least, had an excuse.




(Return to Contents)




2.02 The International Dimension of the American Society of Agronomy: Past and Future


A new book, The International Dimension of the American Society of Agronomy: Past and Future, highlights the role of scientists working to improve international agriculture. The 126-page book includes essays from leading agronomists on the future of world agronomy. Member price: $24. View Table of Contents | Purchase online | Call: 608-268-4960 | email:


(Return to Contents)






The JOURNAL OF HORTICULTURE AND FORESTRY (JHF) is a multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journal published that will be monthly by Academic Journals ( JHF is dedicated to increasing the depth of the subject across disciplines with the ultimate aim of expanding knowledge of the subject.


Call for Papers

JHF will cover all areas of the subject. The journal welcomes the submission of manuscripts that meet 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 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. Instruction for authors and other details are available on our website;


JHF is an Open Access Journal

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. JHF is fully committed to the Open Access Initiative and will provide free access to all articles as soon as they are published.


Kenneth Ochonogor

Editorial Assistant


 (Return to Contents)




2.04  Documentary on rice and climate change


Contributed by Luigi Guarino


(Return to Contents)




2.05  Plant Breeding for Water Limited Environments


by Abraham Blum; Springer 2011.


Contents and sample pages available at


Contributed by Abraham Blum


(Return to Contents)




2.06  Journal explores Translational Seed Biology


Advances in seed biology are the focus of a just-released special issue of Plant Science. Co-edited by Professors Kent Bradford and John Harada, the issue explores topics discussed at the 2007 Plant Sciences symposium on “Translational Seed Biology: From Model Systems to Crop Improvement.” The symposium, which Bradford and Harada co-organized, brought together leading public and private sector scientists to discuss the advances in seed biology and identify the remaining challenges to be explored. Working with researchers involved in this event, Bradford and Harada have provided views from various aspects of the overall objective of the symposium – to learn fundamentally how seeds are formed, develop and fulfill their reproductive and conservation functions and how that knowledge can be translated into useful applications in agriculture. The co-editors would like to acknowledge the other members of the organizing committee for the symposium and members of USDA-CSREES Regional Research Project W-2168.


Source: Seed Biotechnology Center Enews


(Return to Contents)





4.01  Texas A&M Plant Breeding Bulleting features summer plant breeding internship



February 16, 2011

The Plant Breeding Bulletin is devoted this month to our Summer Plant Breeding Internship that is designed to introduce undergraduate students to the discipline of plant breeding, especially those students who believe that they have a interest in the discipline. The Plant Breeding Summer Internship is a collaborative effort among the plant breeding faculty in the departments of Soil & Crop Sciences and Horticultural Sciences. Students who are interested in participating in the internship identify and prioritize five plant breeding programs across the two departments and my office then works with those programs to identify three that will accept the student for approximately one month each during the summer. This program is open to Texas A&M students and to students at other colleges and universities. Some of the students whom we have had over the past couple of summers are highlighted below.


Maria Ypina was a community college student who heard about this program through Staci Frerich, our undergraduate recruiter. Maria rotated through the programs of Bill Rooney (sorghum), David Byrne (peaches/roses), and Wayne Smith (cotton) in 2009. Although we were not successful in attracting Maria into a plant breeding tract, we did solidify her desire to transfer to Texas A&M and today she is majoring in Bio and Environmental Sciences in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology.


In 2010, Heather Watson and Ben Meritt participated in the Plant Breeding Summer Internship program. Heather continues in our Department with plans to further her education through graduate studies but at last visit was not firm on her area of study. Heather rotated through Steve King (watermelon), Kevin Crosby (peppers), and Wayne Smith (cotton). Heather was impressed with Dr. King’s watermelon breeding program and continued to work in his program during the Fall Semester of 2010. She was an integral part of my harvest efforts at Weslaco in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and working in cotton at 110 F probably made watermelon breeding pretty inviting. Heather noted, “I believe that this internship will help me decide my future academic direction and well as help me choose a rewarding and satisfying career.”


Ben Meritt rotated through the sorghum program of Bill Rooney, the rice program of Rodante Tabien at the Beaumont Research and Extension Center, and Dave Byrne’s peach and rose program at College Station. Ben has begun his graduate studies in cotton breeding and is co-chaired by Richard Percy (USDA/ARS) and Wayne Smith.


For 2011, so far we have two outstanding students lined up for the program. Mitchell Schumann will rotate through the programs of Rodante Tabien (rice), Ray Smith (forage legumes) at the Overton Research and Extension Center, and another program to be determined. Jae Ebeling will work with Jackie Rudd (wheat) at the Amarillo Research and Extension Center, Jane


Dever (cotton) at the Lubbock Research and Extension Center, and Russ Jessup (perennial grasses) at College Station.


Ben Meritt’s (2010 intern) Dad wrote a note of thanks for this program and gave me permission to share some of it with you. “My wife Teresa and I cannot tell you how much we appreciate what you do in your leadership for students like our son. … we believe that the sky is the limit for his future in plant breeding. It’s exciting to see and hear about the cutting edge science that is going into our agriculture of the future. .. Ben loves what he is learning and for the opportunity he was given this summer with the breeding internship that A&M offered (multiple crops). The program was exactly what Ben wanted to do.”


Anyone interested in this program should visit with me, Wayne Smith, at, 979-845-3450, or 217 Heep to learn more about the opportunity. I believe that the interns so far have found the program helpful as they decide their future professional direction. The plant breeding faculty has been supportive of the program and provides invaluable guidance for these potential plant breeders of tomorrow.




(Return to Contents)




4.02  European Seed Association to award the best student of the Plant Breeding Academy


February 17, 2011

ESA, the European Seed Association is establishing an “Outstanding Student Award” for the European Plant Breeding Academy (EPBA).  The very first award will be given to the most outstanding student of the first class of the EPBA that will graduate in September of 2011.  The award presentation will take place during the General Assembly at the upcoming ESA Annual Meeting in Budapest, October 16-18, 2011.


The European Seed Association is the single EU-wide organisation representing the associations and companies active in research, breeding, production and marketing of seed of agricultural, horticultural and ornamental plant species.


Garlich von Essen, Secretary General of ESA, was instrumental in the idea of the award. He notes that, “ESA recognizes the increasing demand for trained professionals in the seed industry, especially plant breeders.  We are very supportive to the establishment of the Plant Breeding Academy in Europe.  This award is a symbol of our continuous support to the EPBA program”.


The European Plant Breeding Academy is organized by the University of California Davis, in cooperation with several European institutions and organisations.  It is a postgraduate program that 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 attend six 6-day sessions in six countries. The instructors are internationally recognized experts in plant breeding and seed technology.


Applications are now being accepted for the second class of the European Plant Breeding Academy beginning in October of 2011.


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,


(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 2010/2011


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

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

Š      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






Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) hosts European Plant Breeding Academy sessions focused on breeding with molecular markers


CRAG moves to a new building in Barcelona and hosts European Plant Breeding Academy session focused on breeding with molecular markers.


At the beginning of 2011 the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) research groups will move to a new building in the Bellaterra Campus of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. ( The new building features state-of-the art laboratories, growthrooms and greenhouses.  At the opening the new facility will already accommodate 99 scientists, 63 Ph.D. students, 52 technical support staff and 11 administrative staff.


Contributed by Joy Patterson




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






19-23 March 2011. First International Symposium on Wild Relatives of Subtropical and Temperate Fruit and Nut Crops, University of California, Davis, California, USA.


For abstract submission and registration please visit the conference web site


21-23 March 2011. Minia International Conference for Modern Africa (MICMA 2011): Agriculture and Irrigation in the Nile Basin Countries, El-Minia, Egypt.


For further details please visit our website


28 March – 8 April, 2010. Quantitative Genetics in Plant Breeding.

An application form is available on this PDF link:


Further information is available by contacting the course director by email at or by calling the course administrator on +44 1223 342269


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



7-9 April 2011. International Watermelon Conference, Eden Roc Renaissance Resort and Spa, Miami Beach, FL, USA.


To receive more information about the conference, including pricing and the speaker list, visit


10-15 April 2011. 10th Conference of the International Society for Seed Science, Sauipe Class Hotel, which is located at Costa do Sauípe, Bahia, Brazil.


Full information about the program can be found on the conference website (


18-21 April 2011. International Wheat Stripe Rust Symposium, ICARDA, Aleppo, Syria


International symposium to focus on wheat stripe rust epidemic and research

Organizers: ICARDA, FAO; Co-Organizers: CIMMYT, BGRI

For more information: visit or contact Dr. Michael Baum,


(NEW) 2-6 May 2011. BioVeg 2011. 8vo Congreso de Biotecnología Vegetal, Centro de Bioplantas, Ciego de Ávila, Cuba.


Contributed by Marcos E. Martinez-Montero

Bioplantas Center, Plant Breeding Laboratory

University of Ciego de Avila

Ciego de Avila, CUBA


23 May – 24 June 2011. Conservation Agriculture (Advanced course), CIMMYT, Mexico.


For more details contact: Petr Kosina


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


13-16 June 2011. BGRI 2011 Technical Workshop, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.


For more information visit


31 July – 5 August 2011. Fourth International Workshop on the Genetics of Host-Parasite Interactions in Forestry, Valley River Inn

Eugene, Oregon, USA

For more information visit:


October 2011 to June 2013. 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 (See also Section B above for further details)


(NEW) 24-27 October 2011. International Conference on Challenges and Opportunities for Agricultural Intensification for Agricultural Intensification of the Humid Highland Systems of Sub-Saharan Aftrica, Kigali, Rwanda.

Registration via conference website at:


Abstract submission deadline for oral and poster presentations extended to 31 March.


The CIALCA Consortium and the CGIAR Consortium Research Programme (CRP) on the Humid Tropics have the pleasure of announcing an international conference to take stock of the state of the art of agricultural intensification in the highlands of sub-Saharan Africa, and to chart the way forward for agricultural research for development in the Humid Tropics CRP and the CIALCA Consortium.


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