18 October 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  Food is the ultimate security need, new map shows

1.02  Agriculture should be placed front and centre at upcoming meeting of UN Climate Change Convention

1.03  The CGIAR Consortium is born: First signatures on the agreement

1.04  CAST report on climate change controversy

1.05  Scientists eye “windows of opportunity” for adapting food crops to climate change in the next two decades

1.06  Productivity: Investment focuses on growing more with less

1.07  Does rice stand a chance against climate change?

1.08 Cornell University's 'Plant inventor' engineers black-and-white cucumbers, pear-flavored melons

1.09  Crop savior blazes biotech trail, but few scientists or companies are willing to follow

1.10  Why we need plant scientists

1.11  Class 1 completes the UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy

1.12  Modern plant breeding: Tangible benefits for Europe

1.13  Maize ‘Green Revolution’ in Nigeria underway

1.14  Plant breeding revolution for cassava, banana and plantain

1.15  Rice roadmap provides an alternative to the quest for 'mega-varieties'

1.16  Super rice yield sets world record

1.17  Australia - Material will help breed locally-adapted wheat

1.18  Asian Plant Breeding Academy launches in 2012

1.19  University of Nebraska, Lincoln dry bean research is part of global improvement effort

1.20  African scientists soon to release striga and drought tolerant sorghum varieties

1.21  Rice research starts to pay off

1.22  A variety of green rice developed in Pakistan

1.23  More nutritious broccoli out in UK

1.24  Bean breeding boost: a first ever

1.25  Crossing cassava...and over to farmers

1.26  Australia - End Point Royalties explained

1.27  Plant variety protection and farmer's rights authority are focus of meetings in India

1.28  Adoption of GM crops in China will influence global attitudes

1.29  Experts examine gene flow and co-existence in agriculture and the environment

1.30  Iowa State university study shows that U.S. consumers are willing to pay premium for healthier genetically modified foods

1.31  How an ‘evolutionary playground’ brings plant genes together

1.32  Campesinos e indígenas reivindican uso y protección de semillas nativas

1.33  Agricultores ecuatorianos se beneficiarán de bancos de semillas

1.34  Largest rice genetics study finds vast differences between Asian rice subpopulations

1.35  Jumping gene enabled key step in corn domestication

1.36  SAARC plans seed bank, rapid response in disaster

1.37  High iron and zinc rice gives hope to micronutrient deficient billions

1.38  Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics scientists find genetic trick to make iron-rich rice

1.39  Constituative over-expression of the OSNAS genes for iron and zinc biofortification of rice

1.40  Breeding more scab resistant wheat

1.41  'Shiny' wheat could reduce impact of climate change

1.42  Research goes into boosting nutritional value of pulse crops for developing countries

1.43  Progress towards developing plants that accomodate climate change - The genetic basis of a plant's adaptability to climate is identified

1.44  Gene technology to secure global food supply: crops must withstand harsher weather

1.45  Breeding soybeans for improved feed - Unique study shows the progress of soybean breeding for improved animal nutrition

1.46  Developing drought tolerant corn hybrids

1.47  New potato clone touted at a potential boon for Red River Valley

1.48  Scientists develop new potato lines to wage war on wireworms

1.49  Texas scientists discover flowering gene in sorghum

1.50  Local scientists develop weed-resistant sorghum

1.51  Paraguay logra la primera semilla de soja que resiste a la sequía

1.52  New Mexico State University researchers examine chile varieties for salt tolerance

1.53  Glandless cotton: a promising possibility

1.54  Research for frost-resistant strawberry plants

1.55  Manipulating plants’ circadian clock may make all-season crops possible

1.56  Desarrollan plantas de garbanzo transgénicas resistentes a insectos

1.57  China leads in genome research of Brassica worldwide

1.58  Computer helps Michigan State University researchers unravel plants’ secrets to survival

1.59  Cornell researchers identify how insects resist Bt pesticides

1.60  First steps toward a 10-year plan to help improve global food supplies through understanding how plants work



2.01  World Wheat Book Volume 2 published

2.02  Plant breeding for harmony between agriculture and the environment



3.01  Genomics in Tree Breeding and Forest Ecosystem Management – A suite of on-line teaching modules

3.02  ISAAA launches new animated biotech video

3.03  National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) on the web

3.04  “Giants” in the American seed industry discuss important issues in video series on



4.01  Visionary $40 million project to revitalize Africa’s orphaned crops announced

4.02  Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug Program announces 2011 winners

4.03  Grand Challenges Explorations: Funding opportunity from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation



5.01  Plant breeding and related R&D PhD level jobs at Monsanto








Food is the ultimate security need, new map shows


It is a graphic demonstration of the sickening, symbiotic relationship between hunger and conflict and highlights food supply problems from Somalia to India to Spain.


Description: Food Security : A 2011 map of Maplecroft food security risk indexDescription: View larger picture


Sub-saharan Africa dominates a new food security risk map, while the Indian sub-continent and Iberian peninsula also stand out Map: Maplecroft


A new map of food security risk around the world is, in some ways, depressingly familiar. Sub-saharan Africa leaps out as the place where the most people fear for their next meal, while the rich world has more to fear from obesity. But there's plenty of salutary reminders and fascinating detail, like India's food problems and the vulnerability of Spain.


And it demonstrates the sickening, symbiotic relationship between lack of food and conflict: where one leads, the other follows.


We must start with the worst, in the horn of Africa. In Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, human failings mean a severe drought has tipped millions into famine. It's a textbook case of why things go wrong. War begets poverty, leaving food unaffordable. Devastated infrastructure destroys both food production and the ability to truck in emergency food. The collapse of society means the effects of extreme weather such as drought cannot be dealt with. And the fear of violence turns people into refugees, leaving their livelihoods and social networks behind.


The recent spike in food prices, linked by some to the uprisings across north Africa and the Middle East, had also hit hard in Somalia. Maize prices in Mogadishu were 100% higher in June 2011 than in June 2010, and the price of sorghum in Somalia rose by 180% compared with 2010 prices.


Sharing Somalia's unhappy ranking as having the greatest risk of food crisis is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where all the factors above apply, plus the impact of as much as half its rich arable land being land grabbed by foreigners. The situation in DRC is simply scary: it is on track to be one of the most populous nations on Earth in coming years.


Turning to India, the new map, produced by risk analysts Maplecroft, reminds us that behind the booming economy of that vast nation, hundreds of millions of poor people remain hungry. Almost half of India's children are malnourished and one in four of the world's hungry poor live there.


"Despite the enormous economic growth India has and is experiencing, it still has very stark income inequality, which is reflected in the malnourishment and infant mortality data," says Helen Hodge, head of maps and indices at Maplecroft. The Maplecroft index, reviewed last year by the World Food Programme, uses 12 types of data to derive a measure of food risk that is based on the UN FAO's concept. That covers the availability, access and stability of food supplies, as well as the nutritional and health status of populations.


Spain and Portugal stand out as very rare examples of rich nations with a medium risk of food security problems. Hodge explains, that while water problems are an issue there, the major reason is heavy reliance on grain imports. Spain buys in 11bn kilograms of grain more than it exports every year at a cost of $2.6bn, while Portugal pays $890m for 3.3bn kilograms.


"Spain and Portugal have made the decision that olive oil and wine exports are more profitable than grain," she says, along with salad crops. So they sell lettuce and Rioja and buy wheat and corn with the profits.


That calculation may change if global food prices continue on their current upwards trend. In other parts of the world, soaring food costs may well ignite further conflict. "It is striking is how much food security plays into the wider picture of unrest," says Hodge.


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1.02  Agriculture should be placed front and centre at upcoming meeting of UN Climate Change Convention


Johannesburg, South Africa and Rome, Italy

14 September 2011, 

FAO and African leaders are working together to move quickly to adopt a "climate-smart" approach to agriculture to fight the impacts of climate change and increasing scarcity of natural resources.


"Africa needs increased productivity in its agriculture and higher incomes in its rural areas, and rural communities and the agro-ecosystems on which they depend have to adapt to climate change and become more resilient to its impacts," Alexander Mueller, FAO's Assistant-Director General for Natural Resources, said in remarks at the conference "Climate Smart Agriculture: Africa - A Call to Action," convened by the Government of South Africa (13-14 September, Johannesburg).


"FAO together with its partners has developed the concept of 'Climate-smart agriculture,' which offers a way to deal with these multiple challenges in a coherent and integrated way", he said.


The approach aims to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and build resilience to environmental pressures, helping farmers adapt to climate change, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This can be achieved through climate-smart practices that increase the organic soil matter and improve water-holding capacity. This also makes yields more resilient and reduces erosion, helping to mitigate climate change.


The way forward

"Climate-smart agriculture includes proven practical techniques and approaches that can help achieve food security, climate change adaptation, and climate change mitigation," Mueller said.


"But more support is needed. We need further piloting and scaling-up of early action programmes, we need to bring together finance and investment opportunities and make them available for developing countries. Agriculture and climate finance need to be addressed together," he added. "Handling one at a time is not going to be enough to meet these multiple challenges," he said.


Agriculture is key, adaptation is essential

Agriculture is the economic foundation of many sub-Saharan countries, employing about 60 percent of the region's workforce and accounting for some 30 percent of gross domestic product.


But climate change may reduce crop yields substantially in sub-Saharan Africa by the 2050s. And some 650 million people in Africa are dependent on rain-fed agriculture in fragile environments that are vulnerable to water scarcity and environmental degradation.


A paper for the Johannesburg event prepared by the South African Agriculture Ministry in collaboration with FAO and the World Bank argues that without measures to adapt food productions to the challenges posed by climate change — and the financing to support those measures — Africa's poverty alleviation and food security goals will not be reached.


Putting agriculture front and centre in climate talks

"The upcoming UNFCCC meeting in Durban, South Africa (28 Nov-9 Dec 2011), offers an opportunity for Africa to shape the global climate change agenda and this conference will help garner attention for the climate-smart agriculture approach," Mueller said.


"It is a signal of utmost importance that Africa has put climate-smart agriculture high on the political agenda by convening this conference," according to Mueller.




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1.03  The CGIAR Consortium is born: First signatures on the agreement


Montpellier, France

September 2011

In the context of the G20 conference held in Montpellier on September 12-13, 2011, the French Minister of Cooperation has signed, together with the Hungarian Ambassador in Paris, the Agreement establishing the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers as an International Organization.


He has welcomed the hosting by France of the CGIAR Consortium headquarters from March 2011 owing to the synergies between the Languedoc-Roussillon Regional Council and the State. The Agreement, of which France is depositary, is now open for signature in Paris before its ratification.


On 12-13 September 2011, the French Presidency of the G20 gathered agricultural research experts for the first ever G20 International Conference on Agriculture Research for Development.

Following the conference, the Agreement establishing the Consortium as an international organisation was signed on 13th September by the French Minister of Cooperation, Mr. Henri de Raincourt, and by H.E. Sem Laszlo Trocsanyi, Ambassador of Hungary.


The Agreement is now open for signature in Paris before its ratification. This new status reflects the fact that ensuring global food security has to be done through a global partnership.


With one billion people going to bed hungry everyday and food prices reaching a historical peak, it is essential that agricultural experts from the G20 countries and global organizations such as CGIAR work in partnership for a better impact on farmers in developing countries.


Agricultural research for development brings concrete solutions to the fight against hunger and poverty across the world but we need to do more. We must work in partnership with development organizations, institutions, the civil society and the farmers, who are at the forefront of global food security.


The Global Rice Science Partnership initiated by CGIAR, Center for International Research on Agriculture for Development (CIRAD), Institute of Research for Development (IRD) and Japan is an example of global partnership which will have an important impact on farmers and consumers. It aims to sustainably increase yields and improve efficiency along the rice value chain to reduce losses and negative impacts on the environment.


“The CGIAR is launching a series of high-quality international research programs with clear objectives of poverty and hunger reduction, improvements in health and nutrition, and enhanced resilience of the world’s ecosystems. This is a global campaign to secure the world’s food supply within 25 years“, says Mr. Carlos Pérez del Castillo, Chair of the Board of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers.


The Consortium was formed recently as part of a CGIAR reform in order to better coordinate the research efforts and ensure a better impact on hunger and poverty reduction.


Since March 2011, the headquarters of the consortium of the 15 CGIAR research centers have been located at Agropolis International campus in Montpellier, next to other important research for development organizations such as CIRAD and IRD.




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1.04  CAST report on climate change controversy


"Emissions of CO2, CH4, and N20 from agriculture are the result of both human-induced and natural processes in the ecosystem .... they can be lowered through modified land use and management." This statement in the Task Force Report on Carbon Sequestration and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Agriculture: Challenges and Opportunities highlights climate change issues based on science-based research.


Published by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), the 116-page reports that: ·


  • Concentrations of GHG/CO2 emissions have already increased to levels not experienced in well over 800,000 years;
  • A number of practices for which increased carbon sequestration and decreased emissions of GHGs have been established or, in some cases, are presently under investigation;
  • The probability that bioenergy crops don! e right offer opportunities for providing GHG benefits.


Check out the CAST press release at


Source:  Crop Biotech Update 14 October 2011


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.05  Scientists eye “windows of opportunity” for adapting food crops to climate change in the next two decades


Copenhagen, Denmark

October 3, 2011


New support needed to tap the genetic potential of seed banks with increased aid from biotechnology


Responding to appeals from African leaders for new tools to deal with the effects of climate change on food production, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has released a series of studies focused on “climate proofing” crops critical to food security in the developing world.


The studies constitute various chapters in a new book titled Crop Adaptation to Climate Change from John Wiley & Sons, which was developed by an international team of the world’s leading climate and agricultural researchers to provide adaptation strategies for more than a dozen crops—such as potatoes, beans, bananas and cassava—on which billions of people depend worldwide.


The studies describe how climate change could threaten food production and how specific adaptation strategies could neutralize or at least significantly lessen the impact. They argue that investments are urgently needed to identify important genetic traits, including drought tolerance and pest resistance, which will be critical for helping farmers adapt to new growing conditions.


“In these studies, we’ve brought together the best climate science with the best knowledge of crop improvement to spell out how crops will be affected and what plant breeders can do to avert or at least cushion potentially devastating blows,” said Julian Ramirez, a scientist at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and one of the authors of the studies.


The studies indicate that many of the critical traits farmers will need to deal with hotter, dryer, and in some cases, wetter conditions likely reside in seeds now safeguarded by international crop genebanks. But researchers note that tapping the potential of plant genetic resources, particularly the rich vein of traits contained in the wild relatives of key crops, will require more intensive application of cutting edge biotechnology, including new tools from the rapidly developing fields of genomics and transgenics.


“These results offer plant breeders a strong foundation for establishing research priorities for the next two decades, which is about the time they’ll need to develop new generations of crop varieties suited to shifting agriculture environments,” said Bruce Campbell, CCAFS director.


The studies indicate that the most direct impact on crop yields will come from changes in temperature and rainfall. But they also warn that indirect effects of climate change could result from altered incidence of pests and disease, though these changes will not always be for the worse.


Scientists report that the potato, for example, a dietary staple for millions of people around the world, is especially vulnerable to heat stress, which reduces growth and starch formation. Rising temperatures in southern Africa and tropical highlands worldwide could be particularly hazardous. Scientists believe that developing and distributing heat-tolerant potato varieties could reduce climate-related damage for about 65 percent (7.7 million hectares) of the world’s potato crop.


Current climatic constraints to crop suitability. Source: Julian Ramirez-Villegas (CIAT/CCAFS/University of Leeds)


Also of concern is the potato tuber moth, which could spread northward and to higher elevations as a result of climate change. But drier, warmer summers in some regions will likely depress the incidence of potato’s worst disease – late blight, which caused Ireland’s potato famine in the 19th century.


Data on the projected impacts of climate change on bananas, beans, cassava and potatoes are available on the website of the recently launched Adaptation and Mitigation Knowledge Network (AMKN). This online platform brings together a large volume of knowledge from diverse sources about climate mitigation and adaptation and links it to interactive maps. Users can access tools and information, such as climate models, drought indexes, and socio-economic data about agriculture, together with farmer comments on video and photos from pilot sites across the tropics.


“Until now, all this information has been widely dispersed, making it hard for scientists, policy-makers, and civil society actors to get a proper grasp of the complex interactions between agriculture and climate change,” said Andy Jarvis, an agricultural geographer at CIAT who also oversees CCAFS research on climate change adaptation. “By making key information freely and easily available for the first time, the AMKN should greatly enhance our understanding of the threat that climate change poses to food security and ultimately our ability to curb the threat.”


For many crops, developing the traits needed to cope with climate change promises to be a long, arduous process, the new studies suggest. Past banana and potato breeding has focused mainly on yield, product quality, and pest- and disease-resistance, while tolerance to drought and heat has received scant attention.


Yet, scientists express confidence that the thousands of samples of traditional varieties and crop wild relatives held in genebanks likely contain a wide diversity of tolerance traits. Though largely neglected in modern crop breeding, traditional varieties and crop wild relatives could play a vital role in helping farmers adapt to climate change, despite the challenges of crossing species that are distantly related.


To overcome those barriers, researchers say they need more detailed information on the traits contained in crop genebanks and more support for deploying biotechnology tools to gather and use this information.


"This pioneering research, which considers crop-by-crop how climate change will alter food production in the future, opens up new windows of opportunity for research to deal with the challenges that farmers face around the world," said Campbell. "But given how rapidly growing conditions are changing, these windows won't be open for long. We must act now to ensure that in the coming decades farmers have the technologies they need to maintain a food-secure world."


The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is a strategic partnership of the CGIAR and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP). CCAFS brings together the world’s best researchers in agricultural science, development research, climate science and Earth System science, to identify and address the most important interactions, synergies and tradeoffs between climate change, agriculture and food security.


Full details about the book and excerpts at the Wiley website




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1.06  Productivity: Investment focuses on growing more with less


By Sarah Murray

A decade ago, sequencing the first plant genome, that of Arabidopsis, a member of the mustard family, took seven years and $500m.


“The same project next year is predicted to take two to three minutes and cost $99,” says Pamela Ronald, a geneticist who chairs the plant genomics programme at the University of California, Davis


Achieving faster and cheaper research results in agriculture will be essential in the years to come – the world is playing catch-up when it comes to agricultural research and development.


In the current situation, as public and private organisations look to shore up the world food system, investments in research involve everything from better seed varieties and new forms of fertiliser to innovation in farming practices.


During the past 20 years, as food prices fell in real terms, this decline was matched by a fall in investment in R&D.


Dirk Jan Kennes, a food and agribusiness analyst at Rabo­bank, a Dutch lender with roots in the agricultural industry, explains: “That left us with a slower pace of productivity growth, which came at the same time as demand picked up.”


The drive to reverse this trend has become more urgent, as natural resources, such as soil and water, come under increasing pressure.


Weather events that could be related to climate change are also starting to challenge the viability of some crops.


With governments, the private sector and development agencies faced with feeding an increasingly populous and hungry world, research to increase agricultural productivity and protect crops from climate change and disease has moved back up the agenda.


Recent advances in genome sequencing and bioinformatics will make this easier.


“We have not only single sequences, but sequences for a diversity of varieties,” says Prof Ronald.


“And we are poised to mine that information and use it to develop crops with improved agronomic traits.”


Genetic engineering is playing an increasingly important role. Almost all the soya grown in Argentina is genetically modified, for example.


Globally, 148m hectares, or about 10 per cent of crop land, is now planted with genetically modified varieties, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.


However, much is also being achieved through conventional hybridisation.


Lawrence Kent, who leads the science and technology work of the agricultural development programme at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gives the example of “submarino” rice, a flood-resistant variety infused with a submergence tolerance gene.


To develop the strain, genes that allow “deepwater” rice to grow “snorkels” were introduced into high-yield varieties. As a result, it can survive when submerged in water for more than two weeks.


At the Gates Foundation, projects that involve genetic modification or transgenics represent a “small but promising” 6 per cent of investment in agricultural R&D.


However, Mr Kent says that the vast majority of investments are in conventional hybridisation projects.


“The key is to find interesting varieties that have traits that yield more, or are flood-resistant or drought-tolerant, and then to make the crosses to introduce them into varieties with the characteristics that farmers want,” he says.


New, improved crops represent only part of the range of developments that are needed to drive increases in agricultural productivity. Better fertilisers are also critical. Here, research is moving in several directions.


“Right now, the efficiency of fertiliser is only 40 per cent,” says Shenggen Fan, director-general of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute.


“The quality can deteriorate during transportation, storage and application. So we need to improve the efficiency of fertiliser.”


Water-soluble and slow-release products – combined with sprinkler and drip irrigation techniques – help maximise its impact.


However, efficiency is only part of the challenge. Phosphate-based fertilisers are derived from non-renewable resources and reserves of this resource are shrinking.


Alternatives must be found.

The agrochemicals industry faces similar challenges, says Mr Kennes.


“First you try to come up with product molecules that are ‘bio-derived’ and displace fossil fuel products,” he explains.


“Then you develop chemicals that are more potent, so you can do more with fewer chemicals.”


Research continues in the laboratory but Mr Kent says progress can only be made when smallholder farmers are also involved.


In many places, they are responsible for the bulk of agricultural production and are in the communities most affected by poverty and food insecurity.


“They have keen eyes and see things that the researchers can’t see,” he says.


Whether it is conducted by scientists in the laboratory or farmers in the fields, R&D is fundamentally focused on doing more with less.


And levels of investment in research have increased markedly. China, for example, has more than doubled its agricultural research spending in the past five years, according to Mr Fan.


However, he says more investment is needed.


“On average, developing countries spend about 0.5 or 0.6 per cent of their agricultural GDP equivalent on agricultural research,” says Mr Fan.


“We need to bring that to at least 1 per cent.”


Andrew Ward,

CRP Programme Officer,

Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers


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1.07  Does rice stand a chance against climate change?


Every year rice production is affected by different weather events. For example, rice production forecasts for 2010-11 have been lowered by 10 million tons from what was expected early in the season due to floods in Pakistan and in some Southeast Asian countries.


An International Food Policy Research Institute study forecasts a 15% decrease in irrigated rice yields in developing countries and a 12% increase in rice prices as a result of climate change by 2050.


Climate change will further challenge rice production. The International Rice Research Institute recognizes the trend of increasing global temperatures and foresees that overall climate change will have a negative impact on rice production. An International Food Policy Research Institute study forecasts a 15% decrease in irrigated rice yields in developing countries and a 12% increase in rice prices as a result of climate change by 2050.


IRRI is helping farmers prepare for climate change, such as by breeding climate-change-ready rice varieties that have improved tolerance to salt, iron, drought, cold, and submergence.


IRRI is also working to minimize emission of methane (a greenhouse gas) from rice production, to help curb climate change.


The International Rice Genebank—the largest collection of rice genetic diversity in the world—is housed at IRRI and helps us conserve and share rice genetic diversity to tackle the challenges of climate change.


Learn more about IRRI's response to climate change.


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1.08  Cornell University's 'Plant inventor' engineers black-and-white cucumbers, pear-flavored melons


Ithaca, New York, USA

September 19, 2011

By Stacey Shackford


By age 4, Michael Mazourek was already fascinated by bell peppers, squash and sugar peas, the vegetables that featured prominently in his first garden.


Now, decades later, the newly designated Calvin Noyes Keeney Professor of Plant Breeding is engineering his own organic varieties in his lab and in Freeville fields, using a combination of traditional and cutting-edge techniques.


Among recent releases from his lab: the Habanada pepper, a mild habanero that still packs a powerful flavor punch; the Farmer's Daughter melon, which tastes a little like pear and slips off the vine when ripe; and the black-spined white Salt and Pepper cucumber, which has garnered awards for its unexpectedly sweet flavor.


Current projects under way include purple snap peas and miniaturized vegetables with vivid colors, stripes and polka dots that he hopes will charm children and serve as "delicious, cleverly disguised vitamins."


Mazourek says there is a growing market for unusual vegetables. One of his biggest advocates is celebrity-chef Dan Barber, who introduces diners at his famous Blue Hill restaurant to Cornell creations like curled snap peas and Honeynut squash. Barber's input has also informed Mazourek's research, as he uses the chef's suggestions to create new varieties.


Other organic growers also play key roles in developing and testing products from Mazourek's lab. The Peacework pepper was named after one of Mazourek's most active partners, the Peacework Organic Farm in Newark, N.Y. Mazourek says industry and grower input is vital and has allowed him to provide for underserved markets whose needs no one else is addressing.


Beyond the funky flavors and colors, Mazourek's vegetables have practical purposes: nutritional content, disease and pest resistance, and suitability for organic and regional growing conditions.


"We're interested in the whole package -- something that provides quality for the consumer and performs well for the farmer, with the minimal environmental impact," Mazourek said. "In organic farming, in particular, you have fewer crutches. It is largely up to the plant to be able to succeed on its own."


Although his subject matter may seem varied, cucumbers, squash and peppers have surprising similarities. Some of the same metabolic pathways that make peppers spicy also control the color of peas or the fibrous texture of squash. And they also share common killers -- funguslike oomycete pathogens such as late blight and downy mildew.


So biochemistry plays a crucial role in Mazourek's breeding program, especially when it comes to flavor, which is not as easy to select for as visual traits.


"How do you get new chemistries to develop in a plant and react with other organisms -- in humans, as nutrients, in pests, as defense mechanisms?" Mazourek said. "We want to come up with ideal new trait packages to help growers and consumers, by understanding the biochemistry and genes controlling it."


Mazourek, who joined the faculty as an assistant professor in 2009, is following in the footsteps of many visionary breeders at Cornell, and is one of only a handful left in the public sector. His immediate predecessor and graduate adviser, Molly Jahn, spearheaded organic breeding at Cornell and made breakthroughs in understanding what makes peppers pungent. And supermarkets are full of the fruits of Henry Munger's efforts -- he introduced more than 50 types of cucumbers, as well as many popular varieties of melons, onions, squash and carrots. Calvin Noyes Keeney, for whom Mazourek's professorship is now named, worked with Liberty Hyde Bailey to develop the first stringless variety of beans.


Mazourek, who grew up on a farm in nearby Newfield, N.Y., says he is fulfilling his boyhood dream -- but not exactly the way he expected.


"I always thought I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. But plant breeding lets you build new plants. I get to spend all day, every day, being an inventor," he said.


Stacey Shackford is a staff writer at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.




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1.09  Crop savior blazes biotech trail, but few scientists or companies are willing to follow


By PAUL VOOSEN of Greenwire

Published: September 21, 2011

PUNA, Hawaii -- His shoes crunching through volcanic grit on the Big Island's eastern shore, Dennis Gonsalves walks into a grove of juvenile papaya trees. The renowned plant pathologist eyes the bulbous green fruit stack up the trees' trunks. In a few months, harvest will arrive, each tree shedding two or three papayas a week.


Working in the shadow of a volcano, farmers in Puna, the heart of Hawaii's papaya industry, harvest a bounty of healthy fruit each year. It's a far cry from 15 years ago, when a devastating virus swept through the groves. The trees withered. Their leaves grew to resemble craggy bird claws. The fruit was pockmarked with ring-shaped spots, hallmarks of infection. The island's papaya tradition seemed at an end.


Today, the trees' leaves are thick as a giant's fingers as they dance in the trade winds. The yellow-fleshed papaya will be sold to Los Angeles or San Francisco or fed to Honolulu's throngs. Stopping at one thriving specimen, Gonsalves cannot conceal his pride.


"This one here," he said, "you come six months from now, it'll be loaded with papaya."


A bit of paternal glow can be allowed. After all, Gonsalves invented the tree.


Nearly all of the papaya grown in Hawaii today is genetically engineered to resist the ringspot virus, a plague, named for its tell-tale brands, that once threatened to end the fruit's run on the islands. Developed by a team of academics led by Gonsalves, the papayas are the only modified fruit freely grown in the United States. And for more than a decade, they have stood alone as the only commercial biotech crop of any kind to be developed by public-sector scientists, not large corporations.


Call it the papaya paradox. While companies like Dupont and Monsanto have developed biotech varieties of commodities like corn, soybean and cotton, investments in improving the fruits and vegetables Americans routinely eat at the dinner table -- tomatoes, lettuce, oranges -- have faltered. With potential profits low, the biotech giants can't be bothered, and university scientists can't afford it. The plants have become effectively abandoned; in farm circles, they are called orphan crops.


The causes are numerous. Many scientists cite the regulatory burden needed to get biotech crops approved, which can take multiple years and millions of dollars. Others have been foiled by the host of patents held by the seed companies. Many are wary whether any consumers, leery of modification, would buy the produce. And little glory or grant money goes to scientists who apply research pioneered by their predecessors.


Gonsalves finds this frustrating. For more than a decade he has heard his papaya story told at conferences, yet few peers have followed him. As disease-resistant specialty crops sit neglected and unapproved, farmers instead fumigate their orchards with insecticide to target disease-spreading bugs. Meanwhile, his technology works, and it has been proven safe time and again, Gonsalves said.


"Twenty-five years ago, the technology was there," he said, sitting in his office north of Puna, where he runs the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center. "From the public sector, what do we have to show for it? This papaya? ... Is that a lot to show for 25 years and millions of dollars spent? I don't think so. I don't think so."


Gonsalves' message is echoed by many researchers, and last year, in its evaluation of biotech crops, the National Academy of Sciences, the country's premier scientific advisory body, cited the lack of biotech work on specialty crops as one of farming's most pressing problems. Basic science is not enough, it said. Researchers and farm-focused universities need to see these plants through to commercialization.


Gonsalves' work "is a model for what should have happened [everywhere]," said Roger Beachy, former director of USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and one of the scientists who, in the 1980s, pioneered virus-resistance technology. "He just plain stuck to it because the farming industry needed it."




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1.10  Why we need plant scientists


Bristol, England, United Kingdom

September 8, 2011

‘Plant scientist’ should take its rightful place beside ‘doctor’, ‘lawyer’ and ‘vet’ in the list of top professions to which our most capable young people aspire, according to a hard-hitting letter by an international group of botanists and crop scientists published today.


The letter calls for a radical rethink of our approaches to plant science research and underlines how, with the Earth’s growing human population, this often neglected branch of science is crucial to our long-term survival.


After an online consultation, the letter’s authors, who include plant scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the John Innes Centre, the Natural History Museum, the Royal Horticultural Society, universities, agriculture and industry have drawn up a list of 100 important questions that urgently need to be addressed by the next generation of plant biologists.


These include: How do we feed our children’s children? How can plants contribute to solving the energy crisis and ameliorating global warming? How can we attract the best young minds to plant science so they can address these grand challenges facing humanity?


The authors say: “Plants are fundamental to all life on Earth. They provide us with food, fuel, fibre, industrial feedstocks, and medicines. They render our atmosphere breathable. They buffer us against extremes of weather and provide food and shelter for much of the life on our planet. However, we take plants and the benefits they confer for granted. Given their importance, we should pay plants greater attention and give higher priority to improving our understanding of them.


“Everyone knows that we need doctors, and the idea that our best and brightest should go into medicine is embedded in our culture. However, even more important than medical care is the ability to survive from day to day; this requires food, shelter, clothes, and energy, all of which depend on plants.


“Plant scientists are tackling many of the most important challenges facing humanity in the twenty-first century, including climate change, food security, and fossil fuel replacement. Making the best possible progress will require exceptional people. We need to radically change our culture so that ‘plant scientist’ (or, if we can rehabilitate the term, ‘botanist’) can join ‘doctor’, ‘vet’ and ‘lawyer’ in the list of top professions to which our most capable young people aspire.”


The authors highlight a number of key issues facing the plant scientists of the future:

·         Food production needs to double from existing levels to feed a world population set to reach 9 billion by 2050. Significant investment in agricultural science and innovation is necessary to ensure maximum productivity on existing arable land and reduce the impact of food production on the planet’s remaining wilderness areas.

·         Without significant improvements in yields of the basic crop plants – wheat, maize, rice – we will experience a squeeze on agricultural land. It is therefore essential to address the yield gap, otherwise we may be forced to choose between the production of staple food crops and luxury crops such as tea, coffee, cocoa, cotton, fruits and vegetables,

·         We need to explore how plants can contribute to solving the energy crisis and find a balance between the use of plants for food and plants for fuel. Plants might also be used to ameliorate global warming but carbon markets do not currently provide sufficient incentive for farmers to grow crops simply to take carbon dioxide out of the air.


Professor Claire Grierson, an expert in plant growth and development at the University of Bristol and lead author of the letter said: “Getting such a diverse group of people together to draw up this list of questions was a very exciting and stimulating process. It was thrilling to realise that there is a great deal of agreement and a surprisingly strong consensus among plant scientists from all walks of the discipline on which issues and combinations of challenges are the most important to address.


“One of our key recommendations is that plant scientists from different disciplines (for example, crop science and ecology) should meet much more often to facilitate the interactions and collaborations that are needed to extract the most important knowledge about plants and apply it to the significant challenges facing humanity.”


The letter is published today in New Phytologist.


One hundred important questions facing plant science research’ by C. S. Grierson, S. R. Barnes, M. W. Chase, M. Clarke, D. Grierson, K. J. Edwards, G. J. Jellis, J. D. Jones, S. Knapp, G. Oldroyd, G. Poppy, P. Temple, R. Williams and R. Bastow in New Phytologist


The questions are the result of a three-month online consultation with plant scientists and farmers in the UK and abroad, and a panel meeting of experts representing academic, commercial and public service communities that produce or benefit from plant science research. They are divided into five broad areas that reflect the breadth and depth of plant research: Society, Environment and adaptation, Species interactions, Understanding and utilizing plant cells, and Diversity.




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1.11 Class 1 completes the UC Davis European Plant Breeding Academy


Davis, California, USA

October 4, 2011

Helping to fill a critical need for additional plant breeders, the University of California, Davis European Plant Breeding Academy (EPBA) graduated its first class of students last week. Over the six sessions held in Angers, France; Enkhuizen, The Netherlands; Barcelona, Spain; Gatersleben, Germany, and UC Davis; this class has spent more than 300 hours in classes, workshops and the field, training to become professional plant breeders.


Congratulations to the following EPBA Class I graduates:

- Guillermo Aqulla Tortosa, Semillas Fito, Spain,

- Inga Kottmann, Deutsche Saatveredelung AG, Germany,

- Liora Lifshitz, Zeraim Gedera Ltd., Israel,

- Naama Barom Eliyahu, Hazera Genetics, Israel,

- Wilbert Luesink, Norddeutsche Pflanzenzucht Lembke (NPZ), Germany,

- Supat Mekiyanon, Chia Tai Co., Thailand,

- Diego Ramos, Monsanto, Spain

- Bunterm Iamthian, Chia Tai Co., Thailand,

- Jose Maldonado, Monsanto, Spain,

- Marc Solsona, Semillas Fito, Spain,

- Dominique Rouan, Bayer CropSciences, Belgium,

- Mathieu Sanvoisin, Syngenta, France,

- Mika Isolahti, Boreal Plant Breeding Ltd., Finland,

- Andreas Girke, Norddeutsche Pflanzenzucht Lembke (NPZ), Germany.


For more information on the Plant Breeding Academy, please contact Joy Patterson at or visit




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1.12  Modern plant breeding: Tangible benefits for Europe


By Sandra Peterson 02 September 2011

Harvest time has come again and so too have concerns about food availability and prices. In Europe, after a dry spring followed by a wet summer in many areas, some farmers fear that their business may not survive. With global projections – by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Bank – that we will see the highest world food prices since the previous record set in 2008, every individual, company, government and institution engaged in agriculture should be sharpening their focus on the sustainability of food supply. Indeed, every tool should be employed to help ensure an affordable and high-quality supply of food, feed and fiber to sustain our growing world.


Which brings me to plant biotechnology. Of course, this is not the only solution to all agriculturally-related problems, but it can make significant contributions - if we in Europe allow our farmers to reap its benefits.


Plant biotechnology was discovered and first developed in Europe and has proven it can bring benefits to the environment, to the economy and to society. Despite the abundance of innovative technologies that are on our doorstep in public and private research in Europe, today’s global agricultural players are increasingly turning toward the Americas and emerging markets in Asia as they map out their long-term growth plans. While the European market continues to struggle with the question of whether to accept genetically modified crops, farmers in other parts of the world are promptly and eagerly adopting the technology. As these foreign markets grow, research and development programmes are growing with them. But to date, innovations from this field have no real chance to be put into practice in Europe.


Advanced breeding is spawning new plant varieties that bring tangible benefits. Studies estimate that up to 60% of yield increases gained over the past decades are due to improved crop varieties made possible by plant breeding. Not only are innovative products helping to produce more food for the growing world population and are keeping production costs under control, they are doing so in a more environmentally sustainable way. If we look at the environmental benefits alone, biotech crops are for example contributing to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices by allowing farmers to use less fuel for tractors and by increasing soil carbon storage due to reduced tillage. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, in 2009 these savings were equivalent to removing 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – the same as removing approximately eight million cars from the road for one year. Contrary to popular belief, biotech crops also promote biodiversity by saving 75 million hectares of land that would otherwise need to be used for agriculture.


These are not small numbers – they are significant contributions towards helping combat climate change and secure affordable food supplies.


Advanced plant breeding, including genetic modification, furthermore aims to increase water, nutrient and other input efficiencies. As research continues to yield new advancements in biotechnology, these characteristics will become more common – and the contribution genetically modified crops make to sustainability will become more obvious.


Meanwhile, even though the technology is available to potentially provide all these benefits to the farmers and citizens of Europe – and to our environment – Europe continues to hesitate.


And while Europe continues to be one of the largest importers of agricultural commodities worldwide, its own agricultural production is declining. At the same time, agricultural demand is rising in the emerging markets. If we want to mitigate supply scarcity from competing demands and to contribute to the prosperity of the developing world, we should increase sustainable production in Europe by applying all advanced technologies available.


While we respect the opinions of those who take a contrary view and believe they should be given a choice as to what technologies they use and the food they consume, this should not prevent others from leveraging the advantages of innovative solutions in the face of increasingly complex social, economic and environmental challenges. By choosing to accept plant biotechnology, Europe can choose to take a significant step forward towards driving sustainability within agriculture.




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1.13  Maize ‘Green Revolution’ in Nigeria underway


Ibadan, Nigeria

September 13, 2011

Nigeria aims to raise maize production to 20 million tons per annum up from the current 8 millions tons in the next few years.


The move is part of efforts to enhance food security, create jobs, and more importantly, cushion the oil-rich nation from the effects of rising food prices.


Dr. Akin Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the new efforts would transform maize industry and make farming more profitable.


Maize is consumed by millions of Nigerians, and its productivity has been stymied by low adoption of improved seeds, poor seed quality, little or no use of fertilizers, low investment in research funding, and poor extension services. In the 1980s, Nigeria experienced a silent Maize Revolution in the savannah but the transformation was not sustained.


“We have begun a journey of transformation—a journey to re-engineer Nigerian agriculture for high impact and success,” Adesina said during a meeting with a team of maize experts in Abuja.


Increasing maize production will ensure food security, and generate income and jobs.

Adesina called on experts to translate research and innovations into impacts on farmers' fields, adding that “we must do this at a scale that can reduce hunger and poverty.”


According to him, government has resolved to “rebuild the broken walls of Nigeria's agriculture.


“Our resolve is clear: Grow Nigerian Agriculture." he added.


The maize team, on Sunday, submitted a blueprint on how to achieve the new targets.

Dr. Sam Ajala, IITA Maize Breeder, said the focus on maize was a step in the right direction.

“If you look at maize, it has the highest return on investment compared with other crops. So if we are able to get it right in maize it will be great,” he said on Tuesday.


Researchers aim to leverage on earlier successes recorded under the Doubling Maize Project that proved that maize yield could be doubled on farmers’ fields.


The new move will also benefit from the plethora of innovations that are still in international and national research centers waiting to be adopted by farmers.


For instance, high-yielding and disease-resistant varieties that are adaptable to Nigeria’s various agroecological zones, and drought- and Striga-resistant varieties that could address on-farm stresses, would be deployed to farmers.


Also early, intermediate, and late-maturing varieties with yields up to thrice as much as traditional varieties will help farmers tackle the negative effects of climate change.


“We are optimistic that if given the necessary support we will achieve the 20 million tons,” Ajala said.




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1.14  Plant breeding revolution for cassava, banana and plantain


Davis, California, USA

SEptember 13, 2011

Cassava, banana and plantain, staple foods for millions of the world’s poorest people, are notoriously difficult to breed. But an international team of scientists aims to change that, using a revolutionary new approach to plant breeding developed at the University of California, Davis.


The project is supported by a grant of $1.2 million from the NSF-BREAD (Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development) program, a joint initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Science Foundation.


“These are very important food security crops, but they take a long time to reproduce and it’s difficult to create new varieties,” said Simon Chan, assistant professor of plant biology at UC Davis.


Recently Chan and the other team members — Hernan Ceballos, of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia; Jim Lorenzen, from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Tanzania; and Leena Tripathi of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture in Nairobi, Kenya — were invited, with other recipients of NSF-BREAD grants, to present their work to Bill Gates at the foundation’s headquarters in Seattle.


“He was very interested in the science and had good questions for everyone,” Chan (photo) said.


Most successful crop varieties are hybrids created by crossing two inbred varieties. While this is relatively easy to do in well-established annual crops like maize or wheat, it is much harder with slower-growing crops like cassava, banana and plantain. As a result, cassava, banana and plantain growers are currently forced to create new varieties by crossing two hybrid parents — a highly unpredictable process.


New crop varieties allow farmers to cope with pests, disease, drought and other problems.


Working with the small laboratory plant Arabidopsis thaliana, Chan’s lab recently discovered a method to create plant seeds that carry the DNA from only one of their parents, allowing breeders to immediately create a hybrid that “breeds true,” dramatically cutting the time required to create new crops with traits such as disease- or drought-resistance.


“What’s exciting is that what started with Arabidopsis is already jumping from a little plant to big crops,” Ceballos said.


With the NSF-BREAD grant, the research team will develop Chan’s technology for use with these major crop plants.


Cassava is a perennial plant grown as an annual crop. Farmers harvest the edible roots just before the rainy season, then take the stems and replant them for the next year. Cassava is drought resistant and particularly adapted to harsh, poor environments.


Because farmers replant the stems from year to year, the crop basically reproduces as a clone. To produce an improved hybrid through conventional methods could take hundreds of thousands of crosses over many decades, Ceballos said.


“We find good hybrids by chance, but we want to find them by design,” he said.


Cultivated bananas and plantains (a starchy cousin of the banana that has to be cooked before eating) are practically sterile. Breeding new hybrids requires either using the occasional fertile seeds from domestic crops or seeds from wild bananas, which are a threatened resource, Lorenzen said.


Chan’s technology could be used to make homozygous plants — with identical sets of chromosomes — that could be tested for new and useful traits, then used to breed new hybrids, Lorenzen said.


Propagating crop plants like cassava, banana and plantain as vegetative clones is a big disadvantage when it comes to storing and distributing the plants, Chan said. Seeds are much hardier and easier to store and ship than roots or stem cuttings. Seeds are also less susceptible to viruses, and not subject to the same quarantine rules as vegetable materials.


The ability to propagate these crops as seeds would be a “huge, huge advantage,” Chan said.


The objective of the NSF-BREAD program, part of the NSF’s Plant Genome Research Program, is to support innovative basic scientific research designed to address key constraints to agriculture in the developing world. The program is jointly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the NSF, and grants are reviewed and awarded through the same processes as other NSF grants.




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1.15 Rice roadmap provides an alternative to the quest for 'mega-varieties'


Cali, Colombia

September 2011

Boosting rice production to feed a rapidly growing world population requires an urgent, coordinated global effort, according to a group of leading rice scientists.

The scientists set out a roadmap for improving the “yield potential” of rice – the plant’s genetic capability to produce grain – during a special meeting of The Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) at CIAT’s headquarters in Colombia.


With global rice demand expected to rise by more than 25% by 2035, GRiSP brings together the world’s premier rice scientists and research institutions to help them share information, technology and expertise for the development more productive rice crops.


Acknowledging the “lost decades” of research aimed at producing high-yielding rice strains like those that triggered the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, Achim Dobermann, deputy director general for research at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), said: “The age of the ‘mega-varieties’ may be over,” and called for a new focus on work to achieve gradual, systematic genetic gains in yield potential.


All hands on deck…

Scientists at the GRiSP Yield Potential Workshop agreed that there is a need for more risky “blue-sky” research and greater emphasis on diverse rice improvement approaches on a global scale. These include hybrid rice development, for example, which has so far been applied with promising results – but only in particular rice-growing regions.

Scientists hope the new effort will deliver steady incremental gains in rice production, comparable to those achieved for maize in developing countries since the 1970s. This work will complement pioneering but uncertain research aimed at ramping up photosynthesis in rice, which, if successful, could deliver a quantum leap in yield potential.


In addition, the workshop identified several “safe-bet” rice breeding approaches, which fall into three categories.


One involves the creation of a more yield-efficient plant type through “pyramiding” of genes associated with plant traits that are known to be associated with higher yields, based on extensive knowledge of rice physiology. Such an approach was tried in the 1990s but fell short of expectations.


Scientists also aim to take advantage of more powerful tools from molecular biology and vast amounts of new information and technologies available from the fields of crop genomics and phenomics. Among other benefits, scientists will be better able to exploit genes from wild plants related to rice that control traits associated with higher grain yields.


To gain a better understanding of the combinations of traits most likely to raise yields, scientists will soon begin using simulation modeling for analysis of such traits in “virtual plants.”


Hybrid rice development, pioneered by Chinese scientists, has resulted in impressive yield increases of 15 to 20 percent. The Program at IRRI seeks to extend these gains to other Asian countries.


A third approach substitutes a breeding technique known as “recurrent selection” for the conventional “pedigree” approach to rice breeding. Commonly used for maize improvement, recurrent selection has made possible steady improvement in the yield potential of this crop.


About 20 years ago, rice scientists at CIAT and Brazilian Enterprise for Agricultural Research (EMBRAPA) working in collaboration with colleagues at CIRAD, began applying recurrent selection to rice breeding in South America, especially for the improvement of tolerance to specific stresses, such as soil infertility. Building on this experience, new rice populations will be developed for recurrent selection in Asia.



“Assembling these different approaches into a concerted and coherent global rice breeding effort is a big step forward toward achieving the gains in yield potential that are essential for meeting increased demand in the coming decades,” continued Dobermann).


In his concluding remarks, CIAT’s Agrobiodiversity Research Area Director Joe Tohme, agreed: “We have a major challenge ahead of us; we cannot continue to repeat what we have done in the past. This is a unique time for the rice breeding community to embrace new tools and new collaboration in order to make major progress.”


…but mind the gap

Rice breeders are well aware that, in addition to raising the crop’s yield potential through a broad portfolio of genetic approaches, it is also necessary to narrow the gap between potential and actual yields under farmers’ conditions through better crop management. For this latter purpose, Latin America offers useful lessons. Its system of direct rice seeding in dry soil – which contrasts with Asia’s labor-intensive system of transplanting seedlings in flooded rice paddies – will likely spread in the latter region, as rapid urbanization makes rural labor ever more scarce and expensive.


Novel approaches for promoting improved crop and water management practices have made possible striking increases in farmers’ direct-seeded rice crops in South and Central America.


The GRiSP Yield Potential workshop was held at CIAT on the 22-25 August 2011.




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1.16  Super rice yield sets world record



By Jin Zhu (China Daily)

CHANGSHA - Yuan Longping, China's leading agricultural scientist, realized one of his 80th birthday wishes recently when his super grain brought yields of 13.9 tons of rice a hectare, setting a new world record for rice output.


When he turned 80 last year, Yuan, who is widely known as the "Father of Hybrid Rice", vowed to cultivate a new type of hybrid rice yielding about 13.5 tons a hectare by 2012 and improving to 15 tons a hectare in 2020.


The rice breed, DH2525 (Y two superior No 2), produced a harvest of 13.9 tons a hectare during its trial planting in Longhui county in Hunan province, the provincial academy of agriculture announced at a news conference on Monday.


To ensure the accuracy of the yield amount, a team of experts under the Ministry of Agriculture supervised the harvest on Sunday, randomly selecting three of the 7.2-hectare trial field's 18 plots.


The yield exceeded the goal China set itself in 2004 of 13.5 tons a hectare.


Hybrid rice is produced by crossbreeding different varieties of rice. Yuan developed the first Chinese hybrid rice variety in 1974.


His research team reached the target unit yields of 10.5 tons a hectare in 2000 and 12 tons a hectare in 2004, setting world records both times.


"I was delighted as it was very difficult to produce such a high yield of rice in such a large area," Yuan said at a news conference on Monday.


"This year's success showed China is leading the world in super hybrid rice research."


Top-quality seeds, advanced cultivation methods and fertile farmland are needed to increase rice output, he said.


China plants about 29 million hectares of rice every year, with an average output of 6.3 tons a hectare, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.


By 2010, super hybrid rice accounted for nearly 25 percent of the total acreage, statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture showed.


"The increase in rice output will give the country the confidence to maintain its self-sufficiency in grain production, as well as help reduce poverty worldwide," Lu Bu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told China Daily on Monday.


More than 50 percent of the world's population and about 60 percent of Chinese people eat rice.


Meanwhile, more than 900 million people in the world experienced malnutrition and hunger in 2010, up from 800 million in 1995, statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization showed.


"But both in China and other countries, making super hybrid rice planting technologies widespread will take more time due to diverse conditions and a shortage of agricultural professionals," he said.


By 2009, super rice had been planted in India, Vietnam and the United States, among others, and covered 3 million hectares. The average unit yield had steadily increased over several years.


Yuan said he believes the yield could eventually increase to 15 tons a hectare.


"I hope it can be realized by the time I am 90 years old," he said.


Feng Zhiwei and Wang Yanyun contributed to this story.




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1.17  Australia - Material will help breed locally-adapted wheat



September 28, 2011

Australian wheat breeders have been presented with a smorgasbord of genetic material which will allow them to breed new varieties with flowering times specifically adapted to different production areas.


They will use the material to breed wheat varieties which produce the maximum amount of grain, and flower at the ideal time to avoid stresses including drought, heat and frost, which can reduce yields.


The genetic material – a series of wheat lines identical except for genes influencing flowering - has been produced by CSIRO Plant Industry, under a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) funded project.


The research was presented by project leader Ben Trevaskis (photo), of CSIRO, at Perth's recent Wheat Breeding Assembly, supported by the GRDC.


Dr Trevaskis said the new wheat lines were being evaluated by the CSIRO this year in field trials at locations including Merredin.


The lines were expected to be used in Australian wheat breeding programs from next year.


"The value of these wheat lines is potentially enormous," he said.


"It is a set of material which will allow breeders to optimise flowering behaviour and yields for different environments."


"We have not previously hit upon the best genes to use across different Australian environments."


Dr Trevaskis said the material would also allow breeders to plan ahead for changing environmental conditions expected to be caused by climate change.


"For example, the frost window in some areas is expected to recede, in the long term, by as much as six weeks," he said.

"Using this new genetic material, plant breeders can plan ahead for these expected changes."


Dr Trevaskis said the new wheat lines contained dozens of different versions of the genes which influence flowering time through the plant's response to day length and vernalisation (cold weather during winter).


Day length and the cold of winter are two of the main factors which influence flowering time.


"We examined thousands of wheat varieties from around the world to identify different versions (alleles) of the VRN1 gene, which controls the plant’s response to vernalisation, and the PPD1 gene, which controls day length responses," Dr Trevaskis said.


"We selected versions of each gene that will cause different flowering behaviours and then incorporated them into the Australian wheat variety Sunstate, commonly used in Australian breeding programs."


Dr Trevaskis said the research project made use of diagnostic DNA technologies that allow researchers to rapidly screen for variation in material used in local or international breeding programs, and in older races of wheat.




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1.18  Asian Plant Breeding AcademySM launches in 2012


The University of California, Davis, is launching the Asian Plant Breeding AcademySM (PBA) in 2012 in cooperation with Asia & Pacific Seed Association (APSA).  The Asian PBA is modeled on the highly successful North American and European PBA programs.  The first five sessions will be rotated among three plant breeding centers in Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen.  The last session of this 2-year program and graduation will take place in Davis, California.  Experts from Asia, North America, Europe and Australia will be invited to join UC Davis instructors in delivering the program.


“We have had participants from Asian countries in our existing PBA programs.  We are now making it easier for breeders in this part of the world to receive this advanced professional education.  We are also very glad for the opportunity to highlight the plant breeding expertise in the region in cooperation with APSA” – says Kent Bradford, Director of UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center.


APSA President, Dr. Ruiquing Huang, notes that – “Plant breeding is considered one of the key components in tackling current and future problems in food supply.  Like in the rest of the world, Asia also faces a shortage of trained plant breeders.  APSA Executive Committee is pleased to bring the Plant Breeding Academy to its members and the region.”


The first session is planned for July 2012 in Bangkok.  More details of the session dates and locations will be available shortly.  APSA and UC Davis PBA will have information sessions at the upcoming Asian Seed Congress, November 14-18, Pattaya, Thailand.


Contributed by Donna Van Dolah


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1.19  University of Nebraska, Lincoln dry bean research is part of global improvement effort


Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

September 29, 2011

Improving dry bean production worldwide is one goal of research being conducted at UNL’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center (PREC) at Scottsbluff.


Mapping beans’ gene sequence is a piece of the effort. Scientists also are comparing drought resistance, nutritional value, and disease among hundreds of cultivars, present, past, and in development.


Just before harvest, UNL dry bean breeding specialist Carlos Urrea and one of USDA’s top bean scientists, Phillip Miklas, inspected UNL research plots with more than 300 lines of dry edible beans. They noted maturity stage and uniformity, yield potential, and diseases.


This work is part of the BeanCAP project. (CAP stands for Coordinated Agricultural Projects.) One of BeanCAP’s goals is the development of genomic tools and the genetic sequence for dry beans, said Miklas, research geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service.


Other major crops, such as rice and corn, have already been genetically sequenced, and now it’s dry beans’ turn, Miklas said.


After harvest, the 300-plus lines in the Scottsbluff plots will be tested for nutritional content and the effects of drought stress. Beans that were stressed will be compared with others that were fully watered.


Seed will be tested in USDA-ARS laboratories at Baylor University and Michigan State University to measure iron and zinc content. Genetic tools and sequencing will be used to check for differences and determine which genes influence levels of these and other micronutrients.


The 300-plus varieties represent U.S.-bred cultivars from the 1930s to new lines that haven’t yet been released for commercial production. Most of the lines were bred in Idaho, Colorado, Nebraska, North Dakota, Washington and Michigan. Some were bred in other states and Canada.


Studying many varieties that have been developed over a long time allows scientists to see how the U.S. breeding program may have led to genetic gains in yield, Miklas said.


 Increased Interest in Beans

Several factors are driving the increased interest in improving dry bean production, Miklas said. More people are recognizing their health benefits, including high fiber, low fat, and several important nutrients. Some types of bean also help lower cholesterol.


Dry beans are on the lists of crops needing improvement for the Feed the Future Project, a U.S. government global hunger and food security initiative, Miklas said.


David Ostdiek

Communications Associate, Panhandle REC


For more information on dry bean production in Nebraska see


Source: CropWatch via


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1.20  African scientists soon to release striga and drought tolerant sorghum varieties


September 30, 2011

East African researchers are at advanced stages towards releasing striga and drought resistant varieties of sorghum. According to Dr. Dan Kiambi, the Executive Director of the African Biodiversity Conservation and Innovations Centre (ABCIC), about 50 sorghum lines carrying one to four striga resistant QTLs introgressed in five farmer preferred varieties, using marker assisted backcrossing have been field tested under different environmental conditions in Eritrea, Kenya and Sudan with very promising results. This progress was presented at a regional workshop which took place on September 19 to 20, 2011, in Nairobi, Kenya. The aim of the workshop was to sensitize the sub-regional stakeholders on technologies available for the deployment of Striga resistant varieties.


The scientists showcased the power of science and technology, in particular marker assisted breeding, in providing solutions to some of Africa's crop production challenges. It was attended by 60 participants including sorghum breeders, scientists, policy makers, farmers, media, seed companies and extension agents. The participants appreciated the work done so far in development the sorghum varieties in the sub- region. They stressed the need for adoption of a value chain approach, in order to ensure that all relevant stakeholders were sufficiently involved.


Striga is one of the most serious constraints in cereal production in Africa, and leads in some cases to 100% yield losses in farmers' fields, causing crop damage estimated at seven billion dollars (US$7 billion) across Africa. The project is supported by the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA).


For more information, contact Dr Dan Kiambi, the Executive Director of ABCIC, at




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1.21  Rice research starts to pay off


by Robert Zeigler 

Viet Nam is one of the most important rice exporters in the world, second only to Thailand in recent years. Rice contributes significantly to the national income and is a staple food for all Vietnamese.


As is the case with all Asians, Vietnamese people typically eat rice everyday – usually at every meal. Rice is such an integral part of life that its consumption is often taken for granted – not just as a staple food but as a driver of national food security, regional political stability, economic growth, and its potential to elevate whole communities out of poverty.


But, when rice prices rise, people start to pay attention, because higher rice prices directly affect individuals and their families. Higher rice prices reduce people's capacity to purchase other essential foods and they have less money to invest in health care, housing, and other basics. Alternatively, when rice prices are affordable people have much greater potential to meet their basic needs and then invest in other areas such as micro-business and education – drivers of economic growth.


Without Viet Nam's contribution to global trade, regional political stability and food security would be threatened. Compared with that of other commodities, the international market for rice is "thin" – meaning most rice is produced and consumed domestically, leaving little for international trade.


So, aside from playing an important national role in feeding its own people, Viet Nam is a critical global player in international rice trade. Changes in international trade dynamics, such as the Thai government's recent decision to implement a rice mortgage programme to pay higher prices to Thai farmers for their rice, can affect trade globally, international prices, and thus the affordability of rice for consumers everywhere.


In 1985, Viet Nam achieved self-sufficiency in rice and then went on to continue to increase its production due to supportive Government policies, and its adoption of better crop management strategies and new high-yielding rice varieties.


In September, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) released a report looking at the impact and value of rice breeding work of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) between 1985 and 2009 in three key rice-growing countries: Indonesia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam. The report mentioned that over this time and directly due to IRRI's contributions, rice yields in Viet Nam increased by 9.8 per cent in southern Viet Nam in the Mekong Delta, which produces more than 50 per cent of Viet Nam's rice.


The annual value of IRRI's rice breeding benefits across all three countries studied by ACIAR is US$1.46 billion – a staggering amount considering that IRRI's annual revenue across this time was around US$40 million. Around 42 per cent of these benefits – or around $610 million every year – flowed directly to Viet Nam.


Of course, Viet Nam has made additional investment in its own institutes, scientists, and extension officers to build their expertise and capacity to add value to IRRI's breeding work. Viet Nam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), various universities, and other agencies help test IRRI's rice and adapt it to local conditions and needs. Then they do the hard work of getting the seed of these new varieties into the hands of farmers for planting and production.


In addition, the ACIAR study notes that their evaluation of IRRI's impact in Viet Nam accounts only for IRRI's rice breeding work and that, if the other areas of activities had been included, the impact and value of benefits would have been much more.


For example, with our Vietnamese partners, IRRI helped MARD develop the Three Reductions, Three Gains (Ba Giam, Ba Tang) programme that motivated rice farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta to modify three resource management practices – seed, fertiliser, and insecticide use. This programme has won multiple awards and has contributed to rice yield increases in southern Viet Nam. We are also looking forward to a plant hopper workshop that will be held in Ha Noi in December that will support efforts to provide innovative and ecologically sustainable ways to reduce pest outbreaks of brown plant hoppers that have been damaging rice crops and have re-emerged in recent years in Viet Nam.


The ACIAR report has evaluated the dollar value of our rice breeding contribution to Viet Nam and demonstrated the value of investing in rice research and development. We look forward to future collaboration with Viet Nam to support the development of the rice sector there. — VNS


*Robert Zeigler is the director general of the International Rice Research Institute. He is an internationally respected plant pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in agricultural research in the developing world.




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1.22  A variety of green rice developed in Pakistan


At Hazara University in Pakistan, scientists have been developing green super rice by combining genes from the wild rice Oryza longistaminata, four land races of Pakistani origin and three varieties viz. JP-5, Basmati 385, KS-282 in a conventional breeding strategy. The developed rice line has leaves that remain green longer than usual, effecting prolonged photosynthetic activities. Hence, the number of filled grains per panicle increased from 200 to 700, the panicle length increased up to 47 cm with 250-300 grains per panicle, and production increased from 5t/ha to 12t/ha.


See the story at


Source:  Crop Biotech Update 14 October 2011


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.23  More nutritious broccoli out in UK


A new variety of broccoli labeled as Beneforté was developed by experts at the Institute of Food Research and the John Innes Centre. Using conventional breeding techniques, the new variety produces more glucoraphanin, a phytonutrient naturally present in standard broccoli and believed to be the cause why broccoli-lovers have reduced chances of getting heart disease and cancer. Glucoraphanin also helps increase the level of antioxidant enzymes in the body.


"Our research has given new insights into the role of broccoli and other similar vegetables in promoting health, and has shown how this understanding can lead to the development of potentially more nutritious varieties of our familiar vegetables", said Professor Richard Mithen, of the Institute of Food Research. "Now there will also be something brand new for consumers to eat as a result of the discoveries we have made."


Read more on the health benefits of the new broccoli at


Source:  Crop Biotech Update 14 October 2011


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.24  Bean breeding boost: a first ever


Its nutritional value is so high, it has been described as a 'near-perfect food', feeding 375 million in Latin America and 200 million in sub-Saharan Africa, thus earning its place as of the world's most important legume. Plus, beans are easy to grow, adapting readily to different cropping systems and maturing quickly. The news gets better: bean breeding will greatly benefit from the generosity of 1,575 bean SNPs, donated by the Bean Coordinated Agricultural Project (BeanCAP, USA). This landmark donation boosts bean SNPs to the realm of the thousands for the first time ever. BeanCAP is partnering with GCP in disseminating these new bean resources to developing-country researchers.


Source: Special-edition GCP News to mark World Food Day on the 16th October


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1.25  Crossing cassava...and over to farmers


GCP is delighted to announce the release of UMUCASS33, a new disease-resistant high-yielding cassava variety, a cross-continental perfect pedigree of South American and African parentage. Nigeria's National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) at Umudike, one of GCP's partners, developed this variety in close collaboration with Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT).

Source: Special-edition GCP News to mark World Food Day on the 16th October


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1.26  Australia - End Point Royalties explained



September 30, 2011

As harvest approaches, a new Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) fact sheet has been released to answer growers’ questions about End Point Royalties (EPRs).


EPRs are an essential income source for Australia’s cereal, pulse and oilseed breeding programs. The collection of these royalties is evolving and now there are two main systems.


These two main collection systems are:

• Automatic deduction of EPRs by grain traders buying from a grower; or

• Royalty managers directly invoicing growers for EPRs.


The Plant Breeder’s Rights Act gives the variety owner the exclusive right to sell their varieties, which includes the right to collect royalties for commercial use.


Plant breeders rights (PBR) is a type of intellectual property right/set of rights. It is a protection of a variety that allows the breeder/owner of the variety to place restrictions on what the grower and others can do with it.


To download the GRDC fact sheet, visit




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1.27  Plant variety protection and farmer's rights authority are focus of meetings in India


Alexandria, Virginia, USA

September 30, 2011

Representatives from the American Seed Trade Association, the U.S. seed industry and academia traveled to India Sept. 12-13, 2011, to meet with the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Seed Association of India with the goal of advancing ASTA's relationship with the Indian seed industry and identifying ways to partner.


Currently the Indian seed industry is valued at $1.5 billion, according to the National Seed Association of India. They have annual growth rate projected at 12-15 percent, making it a $3 billion industry by 2015.


"There's no doubt that the seed industry in India is growing," says Bernice Slutsky, ASTA vice president of science and international affairs. "It is vital that India and the United States implement and establish similar seed legislations to facilitate the orderly exchange of seed between the two countries.


"As the Indian seed industry identifies and releases new varieties with unique traits, it's important to have cooperative agreements to improve the global development and movement of seed."


From the discussions, it was agreed upon that work could be done jointly with regards to procedures for DUS (distinctness, uniformity and stability) tests for Plant Variety Protection (PVP) applications. Another area of joint interest identified was technology transfer.


Andy LaVigne, ASTA president and chief executive officer; Slutsky; Dana Rewoldt, Syngenta Seeds senior patent attorney; Ajai Rana, RiceTec, Inc.'s Savannah Seeds chief executive officer and managing director; and Miller McDonald, The Ohio State University Department of Horticulture and Crop Science professor emeritus, participated in these meetings.


"This meeting was really focused on exchanging information and better understanding their PVP system," LaVigne says. "As a group we learned a great deal about the regulatory part of India's seed industry, which will be helpful in the future as more companies look to partnering opportunities in that region."


In a meeting with India's Ministry of Agriculture, Rewoldt presented the differences between the United States' and India's legal framework and plant variety protection practices.


This presentation led to discussion about DUS testing and the use of databases in the United States, the use of molecular markers, the relationship between breeders and PVP officials and users of the PVP system.


McDonald shared a comparative analysis of the India Seed Law and the U.S. Federal Seed Act.


Similar information was shared in meetings with the National Seed Association of India and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute. In these meetings, Rana talked about users of the PVP system and provided them with information from a company perspective.


More follow up work will be needed, but these meetings were insightful and the issues align with ASTA's long term strategic plan, Slutsky says.


Source: Newsletter of the American Seed Trade Association via


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1.28  Adoption of GM crops in China will influence global attitudes


China’s adoption of genetically-modified crops will provide the “tipping point” for global attitudes to biotechnology, according to two leading lights of the private and public sector debate on biotechnology in agriculture.


Speaking after a panel discussion on biotechnology moderated by The Wall Street Journal as part of a conference on sustainable agriculture in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Sir Gordon Conway of Imperial College, London, said he expected China to approve genetically-modified crops for mainstream cultivation as early as 2012.


“I think next year or the year after they will release a rice that is GM and that will change everything. They’ve got 30-40 [GM crop tests] underway right now—we’re very close,” he said.


For advocates of biotechnology, GM is a key tool for boosting world food output. With more productive and drought and pest resistant varieties of staple crops like rice and wheat available, they argue that this could be the next step in feeding the world.


They point to the widespread use of GM in major producers like the U.S. and Brazil, which enters the food chain all over the world in the form of animal feed.


Yet in many parts of the world, governments remain highly skeptical of GM crops. In Europe, debate continues to rage on the topic; today, grain giant Monsanto will hear the results of a review by the European Court of Justice over a prohibition of its MON 810 corn, which has been approved in the European Union but was banned by France several years ago.


Higher food prices have put more pressure on EU lawmakers to relax rules on GM imports, as they did on traces in feed shipments earlier this year. In Portugal and Spain, sowings of GM crops have risen to a record high this year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


Mike Bushell, principal scientific advisor of agrochemicals giant Syngenta, who spoke on the panel of the same debate, agreed—despite the fact that one of the world’s largest grain traders, Bunge Ltd., has just banned a variety of the company’s GM corn on the basis it hasn’t been approved in China.


U.S.-based Cargill Inc, another giant of global agricultural markets, has also just announced it won’t accept the same variety, called Agrisure Viptera, at its North American milling plants until it is approved by the EU.


“The ironic thing is China has already got people all over the place cultivating [unapproved GM rice] illegally,” said Bushell.


Certainly in the broader debate on how to feed the world sustainably, GM cannot be put aside. In some of the world’s largest agricultural producers, including the U.S. and Brazil, such technology is widespread already.


But in Europe, public opinion remains firmly against GM crops and looks unlikely to shift any time soon. However, it’s important to remember that earlier incarnations of biotechnology, like hybrid seeds, took at least 30 years to become widely accepted in the U.S. and GM technologies have been around for far less time than that.




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1.29  Experts examine gene flow and co-existence in agriculture and the environment


Washington, DC, USA

September 9, 2011

Experts in agriculture, ecology, and plant biology gathered on September 7-8 in Washington, D.C., to examine the interface between diverse mechanisms of trait transmission among plants and the co-existence of different agricultural production systems. The movements of genes and traits between crops and among crops and their related wild relatives have potential economic and biological impacts, particularly with respect to genetically engineered (GE) plants. While genetic engineering has produced improved crop varieties that are utilized on over half of the crop acreage in the U.S., some agricultural sectors, particularly organic and export, serve markets that are sensitive to the inadvertent presence of even very low amounts of GE products.


More than 110 participants attending the conference on “The Science of Gene Flow in Agriculture and Its Role in Co-existence” discussed biological and management strategies to minimize gene flow and mitigate potential impacts. Speakers from seed and biotechnology companies, academic institutions, government research organizations, trade associations and certification agencies presented the latest information on the consequences of unwanted gene flow and methods for its prevention. Topics included management and stewardship guidelines that are utilized to produce identity-preserved products, the potential consequences if agricultural traits were transmitted to wild or weedy relatives, implications for biofuel crops, and economic impacts of both gene flow and mitigation strategies. The conference highlighted the latest scientific advances in methods to monitor gene flow and to modify flowering and fertility of plants to prevent unwanted pollen or seed dispersal. There was consensus that absolute containment or zero-tolerance thresholds were not achievable in practice but that gene flow could be reduced to very low levels that would meet end-use based standards and have minimal environmental impact.


Dr. Allen Van Deynze of the Seed Biotechnology Center at the University of California, Davis, organizer of the conference, noted that “The meeting brought together experts from across the agricultural and ecological spectrum to identify research targets and mitigation strategies that will enable all segments of agriculture to meet their market goals while minimizing impacts on the surrounding environment.” A subgroup of experts will develop a report and publication to communicate the outcomes of the conference, which was funded by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Biotechnology Risk Assessment Grant programs. For further information, see or contact




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1.30  Iowa State university study shows that U.S. consumers are willing to pay premium for healthier genetically modified foods


Ames, Iowa, USA

September 14, 2011

Consumers are eager to get their hands on, and teeth into, foods that are genetically modified to increase health benefits - and even pay more for the opportunity.


A study by Iowa State University researcher Wallace Huffman (photo) shows that when consumers are presented with produce enhanced with consumer traits through intragenic means, they will pay significantly more than for plain produce.


The research is published in the current issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.


Intragenic modification refers to plants that are genetically modified with genes from other plants within their own species.


Transgenic foods refer to plants that are modified with genes from other species.


Consumer traits are those modifications that are seen as a benefit to the consumer, such as enhanced levels of vitamins. Farmer traits refer to traits that benefit farmers, such as pest and drought resistance.


"What we found was when genes for enhancing the amount of antioxidants and vitamin C in fresh produce were transferred by intragenic methods, consumers are willing to pay 25 percent more than for the plain product (with no enhancements). That is a sizable increase," said Huffman, distinguished professor of economics.


Improving plants by using intragenic methods is very similar to cross breeding plants, a process very commonly used by backyard gardeners trying to improve their irises, and was the main method used by hybrid seed corn businesses prior to genetic modification.


Some plants, however, are difficult to cross breed for a variety of reasons.


There are thousands of types of potatoes, for instance, each having some unique genetic traits. But since they reproduce by using an internal seed or eye of the potato, improving them through cross breeding with other potatoes is difficult.


By using the tools of genetic engineering, the intragenic process allows plant breeders to improve produce using within-species transfers.


Consumers' acceptance of genetically modified plants is a real turnaround from previous research.

In 2001, Huffman first researched consumers' willingness to pay for transgenic foods. At that time, he showed that consumers would pay 15 percent less for foods made from or containing farmer traits introduced by transgenic methods, compared with produce that was not genetically modified at all.


If there remains any hesitation by consumers to eat genetically modified foods, it is difficult to say, said Huffman.


"There still could be a little bit of negative feelings toward a genetically modified product, but they (consumers) see real value being created in enhanced consumer traits, and they are willing to pay for those enhancements that are introduced by intragenic methods," said Huffman.


It does seem that buying foods made healthier through intragenics does not make consumers uneasy, he said.


Huffman's experiment involved consumers bidding on both genetically modified and non-modified fresh potatoes, tomatoes and broccoli.


The intragenically and transgenically modified products had increased levels of antioxidants and vitamin C.


"The basic idea is that when consumers saw that the intragenic produce had elevated healthful attributes, they were willing to pay more for them," said Huffman.


Consumers were not willing to pay more if those enhancements were introduced through transgenic methods, he added.


Participants were also given information - positive, negative and neutral, and in combination - on genetic modification from scientific, human, financial, environmental and general perspectives.


The positive information on the food was given from the point of view of the food industry. The negative information was presented from the perspective of environmental groups. The neutral information was given as from the scientific community. The industry and neutral perspectives contained definitions of intragenic and transgenic modifications.


Huffman said that information from the food industry was usually given more weight by consumers than the information presented by environmental groups. The neutral information moderated the negative effect of environmental group information.




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1.31  How an ‘evolutionary playground’ brings plant genes together


Norwich, United Kingdom

August 29, 2011

Plants produce a vast array of natural products, many of which we find useful for making things such as drugs. There are likely to be many other plant natural products that remain undiscovered or under-exploited, and research from The John Innes Centre, which is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), is uncovering more about the genetics and evolution of natural product pathways in plants. Researchers at JIC have recently discovered that the genes producing two of these products in the model plant Arabidopsis are clustered together, which is extremely rare in plants. An apparent ‘evolutionary playground’ in the plant’s genome seems to have brought the genes together, and knowing how these clusters assemble and are controlled will be important for improving and exploiting the production of new natural products.




A gene cluster discovered in Arabidopsis

Gene clusters are common in bacteria, where genes needed to perform a specific task, such as producing an antibiotic, are grouped together in what are called operons. However in plants and animals, functionally related genes are normally spread throughout the genome. Professor Anne Osbourn of the John Innes Centre, whilst studying a natural antimicrobial compound produced by oats, found that the genes that made this compound were in fact clustered. Her group used the ‘signature’ of these genes’ arrangement to search for other potential clusters, in the model plant Arabidopsis.


Publishing in the journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Science, Professor Osbourn and her colleagues at Stanford University and France’s Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) have now discovered the second of two gene clusters, both producing triterpene compounds. This allows them to look for common features of the gene clusters, giving new insights into how these clusters evolve.


Bacterial operons swap relatively easily between species, but the Arabidopsis gene clusters didn’t enter the plant’s genomes by this route. Both of the clusters are found in ‘dynamic’ regions of the genome that are significantly enriched in transposable elements. These areas act like ‘evolutionary playgrounds’ where recombinations happen more frequently, bringing together different genes. When the gene clusters produce compounds that are useful to the plant, for example in fighting off pests, natural selection favours these clusters. Crucially, in both of the triterpene gene clusters found by the group, the clusters must be maintained as a whole. Losing one part of the cluster leads to the build up of toxic intermediates. This causes an evolutionary pressure to maintain the cluster as a whole, as this increases the chances of the all of the genes being inherited together.


Clustering also allows the genes to be controlled in a coordinated manner, and comparing the gene clusters gave the scientists hints of how this might happen. Both gene clusters show signs that they are regulated by the way the DNA molecule folds or unfolds into chromatin, whilst neighbouring genes outside the clusters don’t. Furthermore, it appears that this level of coordinated gene expression has been acquired by the cluster after its assembly.


These insights into the way these gene clusters have evolved and function will be particularly valuable for efforts to fully exploit the potential of plants to produce valuable products. The ever-growing amount of data being generated by genome sequencing projects can be explored further, to try to discover similar gene clusters. For genes that have already been discovered, this information on clustering genes will help in efforts to use synthetic biology to optimise the production of new drugs, herbicides and other plant products.


Reference: ‘Formation of plant metabolic gene clusters within dynamic chromosomal regions’ will be published online by PNAS in the week beginning August 29th 2011 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1109273108


Funding: This work was supported by the Biotechnological Sciences Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, a German Research Foundation Fellowship and a Danish Research Agency International Studentship




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1.32  Campesinos e indígenas reivindican uso y protección de semillas nativas


Asuncion, Paraguay

September 2, 2011

Foro de Soberanía Alimentaria

El titular del Servicio Nacional de Calidad y Sanidad Vegetal y de Semillas (SENAVE), Dr. Miguel Lovera, resaltó el trabajo que llevan adelante los pequeños productores por reivindicar el uso de las variedades criollas y autóctonas para la alimentación de las familias del campo y de la ciudad.


Lovera participó del Foro sobre Soberanía Alimentaria desarrollado por organizaciones campesinas articuladas en la Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo (CLOC) y La Vía Campesina. en el local del PRODEPA del Ministerio de Educación y Cultura (km 4.5 – Avda. Eusebio Ayala).


El funcionario expuso sobre los trabajos que realiza el SENAVE en materia de recuperación y multiplicación de semillas, al tiempo de escuchar los reclamos del sector campesino que en materia de soberanía alimentaria, mostraron su preocupación por la dependencia alimentaria de nuestro país, pese a la condiciones favorables para la diversidad de la producción que posee el Paraguay.


Durante el debate se coincidió en la necesidad de aunar esfuerzos entre todos los productores para seguir promoviendo aspectos que lleven a la protección de las semillas nativas y criollas y que las mismas permanezcan en manos de los pequeños agricultores e indígenas.




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1.33  Agricultores ecuatorianos se beneficiarán de bancos de semillas


15 September 2011  

Quito, 15 sep (Andes).-Poner a disposición semillas de buena calidad en volúmenes, épocas y formas de acceso asequible para los agricultores ecuatorianos, es el objetivo que busca el Programa Nacional de Leguminosas y Granos Andinos.


El Instituto Nacional Autónomo de Investigaciones Agropecuarias del Ecuador (Iniap) impulsa la implementación de bancos de semilla locales de leguminosas, granos andinos y cereales en varias comunidades del país.


Los bancos de semillas son organizaciones comunitarias que buscan la autosuficiencia en el almacenamiento de semillas, que garanticen la siembra en el próximo ciclo.


Son un espacio de trueque y de distribución entre la familia de la localidad con otras comunidades, dentro de la provincia y del país. Permiten una mayor autonomía en la provisión de semillas y la posibilidad de financiamiento de los sistemas productivos.


Esta labor se realiza junto con los agricultores pertenecientes a la Corporación de Productores de Leguminosas y Granos Andinos Pueblo Puruwa, que aglutina a tres organizaciones: Mushuk Pacari, Pull San Pedro y Sacahuan Tiocajas.


La iniciativa combate la problemática de áreas agrícolas de riesgo climático, donde se encuentran los agricultores más pobres, quienes llegan a sembrar hasta tres veces en su mismo lote porque pierden por exceso o falta de lluvia, heladas o granizadas.


Ante estos fenómenos recurren a su pequeña reserva de semillas y al realizar varias siembras la reserva se agota, poniendo en riesgo la seguridad y soberanía alimentaria./OM




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1.34  Largest rice genetics study finds vast differences between Asian rice subpopulations


Ithaca, New York, USA

September 14, 2011

The largest publicly available genomewide association mapping study in rice to date has found that although the five subpopulations of Asian rice -- indica, aus, temperate japonica, aromatic and tropical japonica -- all belong to one species (Oryza sativa), their genetic structures are so different that, genetically speaking, they are almost like different species.


An international team led by Cornell researchers and published Sept. 13 in Nature Communications conducted the study based on genotyping (identifying genetic differences) more than 44,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across 413 diverse O. sativa varieties from 82 countries. SNPs refer to genetic variation on the DNA level -- points in the genome where a base pair change makes one individual within a species different from another.


The researchers also phenotyped (measured the observable characteristics) for 34 traits related to size, shape, plant development and agronomic performance. Finally, the researchers analyzed the data to determine which particular traits are associated with which SNPs.


"Unlike maize, tomato and many other crops, Asian rice is highly differentiated into five distinct subpopulations or ecotypes," said Susan McCouch, professor of plant breeding and the paper's senior author. The genetic differences among these five rice subpopulations are greater than the differences between many cultivated crops and their wild ancestors, she added.


That's because ancient rice subpopulations have evolved separately for thousands of years as farmers migrated and selectively bred them in a wide range of different ecological and climatic conditions that collectively altered their genetic makeups, McCouch said.


Also, rice mostly self-pollinates or inbreeds, with plants recycling their own genes, while such crops as maize and potato freely cross-pollinate, so they continuously exchange genes within their species and with their wild ancestors. And other inbreeding crops such as tomatoes, for example, were domesticated only once, narrowing the gene pool, while rice was domesticated multiple times in different places.


"You have to take all this into account when you evaluate the genetics of rice," McCouch said.


For example, when the researchers analyzed a trait such as the size of rice panicles (the branched structure holding clusters of flowers or grains), they found variation is highly partitioned by subpopulation, such that the genes that determine panicle length in each subpopulation are entirely different, providing an example of convergent evolution, where very different genetic architecture underlies the same phenotype.


Also, the group demonstrated that the same trait may be governed by different genes in different environments, as in the case of flowering time evaluated in Arkansas, Bangladesh and the United Kingdom.


By understanding which different SNPs confer specific traits, breeders can start to understand and predict how crossing between subpopulations can give rise to offspring that outperform their parents in such desired traits as yield, grain size or drought tolerance.


All the genotypic and phenotypic data and the seeds for the 413 lines of rice are publicly available, allowing geneticists and breeders to build on this work, selecting subsets of SNPs for use in local rice populations, using phenotypic data to identify lines with desired traits to cross with local varieties, and leveraging genotypic data to better understand the genetics of complex trait variation in natural populations of rice and other plant species.


"On the science side, we are taking complex traits and breaking them down into their genetic components," and then using SNP variation to begin to predict phenotypic variation, McCouch said.


Co-authors for the Nature Communications paper include researchers from Stanford University; the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Ark.; the University of Arkansas; the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom (UK); and the Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh, Bangladesh.


The Nature study was funded by the NSF Plant Genome Research Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health and the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.




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1.35  Jumping gene enabled key step in corn domestication


Madison, Wisconsin, USA

September 25, 2011

Corn split off from its closest relative teosinte, a wild Mexican grass, about 10,000 years ago thanks to the breeding efforts of early Mexican farmers. Today it's hard to tell that the two plants were ever close kin: Corn plants stand tall, on a single sturdy stalk, and produce a handful of large, kernel-filled ears. By contrast, teosinte is branchy and bushy, with scores of thumb-sized "ears," each containing only a dozen or so hard-shelled kernels.


In seeking to better understand how teosinte gave rise to corn, a scientific team has pinpointed one of the key genetic changes that paved the way for corn's domestication. As reported today (Sept. 25) on the Nature Genetics website, a major change occurred about 23,000 years ago, when a small piece of DNA - a jumping gene known as Hopscotch - inserted itself into the control region of a teosinte gene that affects plant architecture. This case is among the first to show that a jumping gene can cause alterations in gene expression that impact evolution.


"Hopscotch cranked up the gene's expression, which helped the plant produce larger ears with more kernels, plus become less branchy, and so those early farmers picked plants with the Hopscotch to breed," says University of Wisconsin-Madison plant geneticist John Doebley, a corn evolution expert who led the team.


Jumping genes are strange genetic entities. Found in all sorts of organisms, these pieces of DNA, which carry just a few genes, have the ability to splice themselves out of their current position in the genome and "jump" to other spots. As they mix and mingle with the genome, jumping genes, which are also known as transposable elements, create genetic variation that evolution can act upon. Typically, jumping genes' effects are neutral or bad, as when they land in a stretch of junk DNA or disrupt a critical gene.


"But occasionally, they do something good," says Doebley. "So we found a case where the mutation caused by a transposable element has done something good."


In corn, Hopscotch dials up expression of the teosinte branched 1 (tb1) gene, which produces a transcriptional regulator protein that represses branching, encouraging the plant to grow a single stalk and produce larger ears with more kernels. When early Mexican farmers first encountered teosinte with this Hopscotch insertion, the rare plants must have been prized breeding stock: Today 95 percent of modern corn has this particular genetic alteration.


In recent years, researchers have begun finding more and more cases where transposable elements are associated with altered gene expression, but the links are often only correlative. For this project, however, the paper's first author, Anthony Studer, Doebley's former graduate student who now works as a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell, took the time to show that Hopscotch does in fact cause elevated gene expression. In doing so, this study is among the first to prove that jumping genes can impact gene expression, and, in turn, evolution.


"It's rare that geneticists can explain the genetic changes involved in domestication at this level of detail," notes Doebley, who has made a number of impressive contributions to the corn evolution field over the years.


Early in his career, Doebley helped identify teosinte as corn's closest relative, and in 2005, his team showed that a single genetic mutation was responsible for removing the hard casing around teosinte's kernels, exposing soft grain, another critical step in corn's domestication.


While Doebley's motivation comes from the desire to understand basic evolutionary processes, his work, he notes, could also have real-world applications. "People in plant breeding and plant biotechnology take some interest in this work because they are basically trying to continue the domestication process," he explains. "So understanding what's worked in the past could influence what they do in the present to improve corn."


In addition to Doebley and Studer, the Nature Genetics paper's authors include Qiong Zhao, a graduate student in Doebley's lab, and Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, an assistant professor of plant sciences at the University of California, Davis.


The work was funded through a U.S. Department of Agriculture Hatch grant and by the National Science Foundation.




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1.36  SAARC plans seed bank, rapid response in disaster


Nazmul Ahsan

South Asian nations are set to create a seed bank and a regional rapid response mechanism to fight natural disasters in the forthcoming 17th SAARC Summit to be held in the Maldives, officials said Sunday.


They said eight nations who make up the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have lined up four deals for the Summit to be held in the tiny Indian island nation on November 10-11.


Leaders of the SAARC countries will sign two trade and customs related deals, an agreement on seed bank and a path-breaking accord on regional rapid response to fight natural disasters such as cyclones and quakes.


Details of the deals were revealed and discussed during an inter-ministerial meeting held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes presided over the meeting.


"We have made good progress to sign at least four agreements during the upcoming 17th SAARC Summit. The SAARC Secretariat has pushed the members towards striking the deals," a MoFA high official told the FE.


Set up in 1985, the SAARC includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Leaders of the member countries meet at a summit every year, aimed at boosting trade, economic and cultural links.


The Maldives Summit could also see fruition of a few more deals related to trade and economic cooperation, but member nations have yet to complete formalities, the official added.


He said the deals paving the way for a SAARC Seed Bank and a regional Rapid Response to Natural Disaster are expected to be the "key achievements" of the Summit as farming is predominant in all south Asian nations and they face frequent natural disasters.


According to the draft agreement of the SAARC Seed Bank, the member countries will set up a regional seed bank to help farmers get quality seeds from the reserve in case of a shortage due to natural calamities.


Under the arrangement, each member state of the bloc will take initiative to be self sufficient in seed to meet their own requirement and contribute to ensuring food security in the region.


It will widen scope for sharing expertise and experience in technology and help develop stress tolerant seed varieties, an expert of Ministry of Agriculture said, adding the deal will benefit Bangladesh most.


The proposed seed bank will help countries cooperate in exchanging their high yielding seeds that are already in the public domain and do not fall under intellectual property rights, he said.


The SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disaster will help the member-nations deal with the calamities that visit South Asia most frequently.


The SAARC Disaster Management Centre in New Delhi has prepared a draft agreement to enhance cooperation in disaster management among the members, a senior official in the ministry said.


Besides, the member of the bloc have planned to line up key deals on SAARC Food Bank and Energy and Electricity cooperation for the upcoming summit, a foreign ministry official said.


According to diplomats, India has already prepared a draft roadmap on a SAARC Market for Electricity to cater to soaring demand for energy in the region.


Besides, member states are still working to forge an agreement on SAARC Finance in an effort to fund large projects in the region. Bangladesh Bank, Dhaka's central bank, has been asked to prepare a concept paper on the issue by September, it is learnt.


"Besides the four agreements, the SAARC countries could sign five more deals in the 17th Summit provided that the member nations complete the formalities and iron out the differences by October," another top MoFA official told the FE.




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1.37  High iron and zinc rice gives hope to micronutrient deficient billions


Adelaide and Melbourne, Australia

8 September 2011

Scientists from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) have produced rice with high enough iron levels that it meets daily recommended requirements for iron intake.


The team, based at the Universities of Adelaide, Melbourne and South Australia, and Flinders University, and funded by the Australian Research Council and HarvestPlus, genetically modified rice to increase the amount of iron that is transported to the endosperm of the grain (the part that people eat). This resulted in rice that has up to four times more iron than conventional rice. The rice also has doubled zinc levels.


‘Rice is the primary source of food for roughly half of the world’s population, particularly in developing countries, yet the polished grain, also known as white rice, contains insufficient concentrations of iron, zinc and pro-vitamin A to meet daily nutritional requirements’ said Dr Alex Johnson from ACPFG.


‘A lack of genetic variation in rice has hindered efforts by conventional breeding programs to address iron levels. These programs have not been able to achieve the level of iron and zinc in the rice grain that we are able to achieve with a biotech approach in our glasshouse experiments,’ said Dr Johnson


This research represents the first time rice lines have been reported with iron levels at or higher than the daily recommended levels.


According to the World Health Organisation, iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world and affects more than two billion people (30% of the world’s population). Symptoms include poor mental development, depressed immune function and anaemia.


‘The development of new cereal varieties containing increased concentrations of iron and other essential micronutrients, an approach known as biofortification, offers an inexpensive and sustainable solution to the chronic micronutrient malnutrition problems that currently plague people in developing countries,’ said Dr Johnson.


The results of this research were published yesterday in the online peer reviewed journal PLoS ONE:

Work is now underway to test this technology in field trials.




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1.38  Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics scientists find genetic trick to make iron-rich rice


Manila, The Philippines

September 26, 2011

Scientists say they have made a breakthrough in their quest to develop a rice variety to address iron and zinc deficiencies that affect millions of people in poor countries across Asia.


The genetically modified (GM) rice has up to four times more iron than conventional rice and twice as much zinc, Alex Johnson, from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) told SciDev.Net.


"The rice has some of the highest iron concentrations that have been described for white rice (up to 19 parts per million). We have also demonstrated that the iron is in the endosperm tissue that makes up white rice," Johnson said. This is important because of the widespread consumption of white rice.


"This new report documents the early and exciting results for one approach for increasing the iron content of the rice grain," said Gerard Barry, leader of the Rice Crop Team of the US-based HarvestPlus, which partially funded the research. "The increase in iron in the polished grain is very important in terms of human nutrition."


HarvestPlus, which promotes biofortification research, usually focuses on conventional plant-breeding methods. But increasing the level of iron in rice is hard to achieve through conventional breeding because there are few naturally occurring varieties of rice with higher concentrations of iron to kick off the breeding process.


Johnson and his team focused on nicotianamine, a substance that occurs naturally in rice and helps it to take up iron from the soil. Normally, it is low levels of iron in the soil that signal to the rice to switch on the genes that control the production of nicotianamine. The scientists have succeeded in keeping these genes switched on all the time.


The method also boosted zinc levels.


Johnson said that, since nicotianamine naturally occurs in rice, consumption was unlikely to have any adverse health effects.


But he said it would take ten years before the new rice variety could be released for human consumption, because of the need for evaluation in the field over several seasons, and the need for bioavailability studies to discover whether animals actually absorb the iron.


Field trials have begun at the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).


Link to full paper in PLoS ONE


Source: SciDev.Net via


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1.39  Constituative over-expression of the OSNAS genes for iron and zinc biofortification of rice


Rice is the primary staple food for about half of the world's population. However, polished rice has insufficient amounts of iron, zinc, and beta carotene to meet daily requirements of the consumers. Rice plants absorb iron from the soil only when there is low iron available. Alexander Johnson of the University of Melbourne in Australia and colleagues conducted a study to help plants continuously absorb iron not only during low iron situations.


The team overexpressed all three genes of the OsNAS family, which have been known to encode production of nicotianamine (NA), a chemical compound naturally found in plants that facilitates the uptake and transport of iron. They assessed the utility of each gene for iron biofortification through single-transgene approach. Two OsNAS2 overexpression lines exhibited four-fold increases in iron concentration. This increase was mapped in unprecedented detail using synchrotron X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. Characterization of 90 transgenic lines overexpressing these genes showed that the three genes increase not just iron levels, but also zinc concentration.


Based on the findings, rice cultivars overexpressing single rice OsNAS genes could provide sustainable and genetically simple solution to iron and zinc deficiency disorders, which are rampant throughout the world.


Read the research article at


Source: Crop Biotech Update 15 September 2011


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.40  Breeding more scab resistant wheat


Lexington, Kentucky, USA

September 6, 2011

Fusarium head blight, also known as head scab, is not an annual problem in wheat, but it is an annual concern of wheat producers. When a significant amount of head blight is widespread throughout an area, it can cause substantial crop losses and loss of income for producers.


During the 1990s, U.S. producers lost an estimated $3 billion to the disease. More recently, as a result of a widespread occurrence of Fusarium head blight in 2009 in Kentucky, the state’s producers lost an estimated $30 million.


David Van Sanford, wheat breeder in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, has worked to breed varieties that are resistant to Fusarium head blight. With funding from the United States Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, he’s conducting research on the effectiveness of a new piece of equipment that may boost Fusarium resistance in several varieties.


The equipment is a high speed, imaged-based optical sorter designed by U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists in Northern Kansas.


“If this works in our breeding populations, the susceptible seeds will be eliminated prior to planting and the seeds that we take to the field will have a pretty good level of scab resistance,” he said. “It could save time and money and ideally help us get to the end product more quickly.”


The machine has a camera mounted to it that photographs each seed as it passes through one of three vibration channels. If the image shows grain that appears to have Fusarium, the camera will send the image to a microprocessor that triggers a burst of air to remove the kernel from the channel and into a waste bin.


In 2010, Van Sanford began a study where half of the wheat seed went through the sorter before going to the field at UK’s Spindletop Research Farm in Lexington. Wheat from the study was harvested during June. Researchers will plant two seedlots, sorted and unsorted in October and analyze the results comparing sorted and unsorted wheat by next summer.


If the test proves successful, Van Sanford will conduct additional research about whether running seeds through the machine more times creates a higher level of Fusarium resistance.


If the results are promising, this technology could be applied to the thousands of populations that are handled by the breeding program, Van Sanford said.




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1.41  'Shiny' wheat could reduce impact of climate change


Friday 23 September 2011

Researchers at Bristol University are working on breeding crops which they believe could reduce global temperature by a significant amount in the face of climate change; scientists predict climate change would see hotter, more erratic weather disrupting growing patterns in Europe.


Crops which could reflect the sun’s rays away from the earth are being developed in Bristol as one of several measures aimed at reducing global warming and thereby mitigating climate change. The scientists in Bristol are attempting to develop wheat with ‘shinier’ leaves to reflect sunlight; they believe this could reduce the impact of a rise in global temperatures.


Professor Andy Ridgewell, who is leading the research in Bristol, is looking at different wheat varieties and examining the natural reflectivity of the leaves. He hopes this will allow him, through conventional breeding processes, to increase the reflective potential of wheat plants.


The crops are not visually discernable from one another; their reflective properties vary from one plant to another and one leaf to another. Professor Ridgewell explained there is "nothing science fiction-like" about his research, that the reflective properties were not visible to the eye.


The team from Bristol is currently in the preliminary stage of research, examining the variability of wheat plants currently on the market. Professor Ridgewell hopes to then identify and breed the reflective trait into wheat. He is examining whether the plants’ 'shininess' is due to properties within the wax on leaves, a thicker layer of leaf wax, or even leaf shape.


Though it may sound far-fetched, the research being conducted in Bristol could be of global importance. Professor Ridgewell estimates that 'shinier' wheat could reduce the global temperature by a degree if rolled out.


He elaborated, "Temperature change in climate change is always an odd thing to get your head around, because it may be 15 degrees warmer today than it was this morning when you got up. In terms of global climate change, where people talk about 3 degree warming in the future, it tends not to mean very much.


"Temperatures tend to be amplified in the summer, and in Europe, if the global rise is 3o it would be much more like a 5o rise in summer time temperature in Europe. If we can get a degree off that, it’s a fifth of the problem, so only four fifths to go."




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1.42  Research goes into boosting nutritional value of pulse crops for developing countries


by Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio

September 14, 2011


Fargo, N.D. — Dil Thavarajah understands the importance of lentils and beans in the diet of billions of people in developing countries.


When she was growing up in Sri Lanka, Thavarajah ate lentils three times a day, a very common diet.


"This is called poor man's meat," she said. I can't imagine any occasion like a wedding or funeral without lentils. It's just a major food."


Today, Thavarajah leads a group of North Dakota researchers looking for ways to make lentils, chickpeas and beans more nutritious. Long recognized as a good cheap source of protein, the plants are known as pulse crops, a name derived from the Greek word for porridge.


Thavarajah, a plant physiologist at North Dakota State University in Fargo, is convinced they can also be a good source of essential nutrients, and help improve the lives of countless people worldwide.


According to the World Health Organization, more than two billion people are anemic because they don't receive enough iron in their diet. More than 250,000 children go blind every year because they lack vitamin A.


"If we can have in our lentils, or pea, or chickpea not only beta carotene, but selenium, iron, zinc, it's like a whole food," Thavarajah said. "It will be fabulous, and fantastic."


This quest started a few years ago when Thavarajah was a post-graduate student at Stanford University, where she learned to use a piece of equipment by examining the chemical profile of lentils.


"It was an accident that we were looking at some of the seeds," said Thavarajah [who recalls thinking?], 'Oh my God, there's a lot of selenium and they are bioavailable.' "


Nutrients that are bioavailable are easily absorbed by humans. That's critical. That's an important factor, as some plants have nutrients that pass through the digestive system unused.


Thavarajah landed in North Dakota because the state is a leading producer of lentils and peas in the United States, and has the countries only lab focused on this kind of research.


Researchers at the new lab include her husband, Thava, a chemist; Kevin Mcphee, a plant breeder; and Dr. Gerry Combs, director of the USDA Human Nutrition Lab. They work with researchers in Austrialia, Bangladesh and India who all share the goal of finding crop varieties with the most available nutrients.


Equipment runs 24 hours a day in the small lab at North Dakota State analyzing ground up seed samples. Some of these samples are from North Dakota and some are from Australia. Others are from wild varieties grown for centuries in Middle Eastern countries.


The research is partly funded by the Northern Pulse Growers and Harvest Plus, an international organization working to improve micronutrients in crops.


It took Dil Thavarajah five years to find the best plant varieties for selenium. In the next five years she expects to find the best plants for iron, zinc and Vitamin A.


McPhee, who uses traditional crop breeding to create a new variety rich in micronutrients, is in the third year of the plant-breeding program. Each new variety takes as long as 10 years to develop.


But McPhee said the result will open new markets for farmers who grow and export the pulse crops.


"The crops have been marketed quite successfully based on physical appearance, size, shape, color. That's been good enough," he said. "But now we are in a sense, redefining what quality is. If we're able to provide a whole food that has high nutritional value, to international populations, the potential impacts are very big and really quite exciting."


The change could improve the health of millions around the world. Closer to home it could mean expanded markets and higher prices for the North Dakota farmers who grow the crops.




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1.43  Progress towards developing plants that accomodate climate change - The genetic basis of a plant's adaptability to climate is identified


Washington, DC, USA

October 6, 2011

The ability to promote agricultural and conservation successes in the face of rapid environmental change will partly hinge on scientists' understanding of how plants adapt to local climate.


To improve scientists' understanding of this phenomenon, a study in the Oct. 7, 2011 issue of Science helps define the genetic bases of plant adaptations to local climate. The National Science Foundation partly funded the study, which was conducted by Alexandre Fournier-Level of Brown University and colleagues.


The study involved growing a diverse panel of strains of the mustard plant, Arabidopsis, in various locations within its native range in Finland, Germany, England and Spain. Then, the genetic mutations increasing plant fitness in each of these locations were identified.


Results show that the preferred climate of each strain of Arabidopsis is conferred by the presence of a relatively small number of genes; different sets of genes control adaptability to different types of climates; and the presence of a particular set of climate genes in a single plant is not necessarily mutually exclusive to the presence of another. These findings mean that it may be possible to combine various sets of climate genes in a single Arabidopsis strain in order to generate a strain that would be able to thrive in multiple types of climates. Such adaptability would help the plant accommodate climate change.




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1.44  Gene technology to secure global food supply: crops must withstand harsher weather



October 2011

Rapid population growth and a swiftly changing climate compound the challenges of ensuring a secure global food supply. Genetically modified plants could help to solve the problem, believes a Norwegian crop researcher.


Over 90 per cent of the global food supply consists of either plants or meat from production animals raised on plant-based feeds. By 2050, 70 per cent more food will need to be produced worldwide on roughly the same area of farmland to keep up with global population growth. At the same time, major changes in climate are expected to occur.


Only 100 species

Although a quarter million plant types exist, global food production today is based on only about 100 of them. Wheat, corn and rice account for over 60% of all production.


“We depend completely on the success of these few crops. But I am convinced that the fitness of current plant varieties will not last forever. All it will take to trigger a famine is one year of badly reduced yields for just one of the three main crops,” warns Atle Bones, Professor of Biology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim.


Professor Bones and his colleagues have received funding for their research from a number of programmes at the Research Council of Norway, including the Large-scale Programme on Functional Genomics in Norway (FUGE).


Ensuring a supply of food

Professor Bones believes that in order to ensure a secure global food supply, we will have to use every existing means – including genetically modified organisms (GMO).


Genetically modified plants are created by adding, removing or modifying one or more genes in order to breed plants with desired traits. Currently, most genetically modified food is in the form of plants with traits added to make them more resistant to insects and chemical weed killers (herbicides).


Professor Bones envisions a future when plants will need extra-strong resistance to the effects of phenomena such as floods, cold spells, droughts and ultraviolet radiation.


Turning inedible plants into food

According to Professor Bones, there are thousands of plants that could be cultivated for food once they are bred to remove toxic compounds or undesirable traits.


Rapeseed is one of the world’s 15 most important crops. Professor Bones and his colleagues have figured out how to genetically instruct the rapeseed plant to remove toxins from its seeds.


“Rapeseed is currently used for producing cooking oil and animal feed, but it has certain limitations,” he explains. “Our technique could make it possible to utilise this plant to an even greater extent, and the principle could well be applied to other plant species or plant parts.”


Weighing benefits vs. risks

In Norway, the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board assesses all applications from companies seeking approval for a GMO product.


The board’s assessment guidelines are based on the precautionary principle, which postpones implementing any measure until its threat to human health or the environment has been ruled out.


For are we actually certain that genes from genetically modified food do not enter or alter human DNA, or that genetically modified organisms, once released into nature, will not negatively affect the ecosystem?


According to Professor Bones, “Opponents of GMOs see the worst case scenario as organisms turning out to be toxic or spreading into nature in undesired ways. To me, the worst case scenario would be a global food shortage because we squandered our chance to carry out research on introducing traits that enable plants to withstand the coming challenges.”


The biologist agrees that the benefits must be weighed against the risks, case by case. When it comes to GMOs, he says, there is no single truth but many.


“As of today, not a single report of GMOs having damaged health or the environment has been verified.” He stresses, however, that it is extremely difficult to prove specific effects of food, since a diet consists of many foods that have a combined effect.


Precise, quick and flexible

Conventional plant breeding, in which the best traits of a plant are selectively bred over time, is still a useful solution in many instances. But it is a method limited in its precision and speed and is restricted to certain species.


“Using gene technology,” continues Professor Bones, “we could in theory create a new product in the course of a few months, with a variety of traits added or altered, and tailored to different farming zones. Genetic modification can also be key for increasing the nutritional value of vegetable foods.”


“I don’t believe that gene technology or GMOs alone will save the world, but they will be part of the solution in certain areas,” concludes the crop researcher. “Some changes, such as climatic ones, are going to happen rapidly, so we don’t have time to wait the many years it would take with conventional selection to introduce the desired traits into our crop varieties.”


GMO distribution

Worldwide from 1996 to 2009, the area of farmland used to cultivate genetically modified plants increased 80-fold. In all, 25 countries (including seven in Europe) grow genetically modified plants on a large scale; more than half the world’s population lives in these countries. The total land area on which genetically modified plants are cultivated is more than 3.5 times the size of Germany.


The article is published in Norwegian in the Biotek og mat (Biotechnology and food) publication from the Research Council of Norway's Functional Genomics programme (FUGE).




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1.45  Breeding soybeans for improved feed - Unique study shows the progress of soybean breeding for improved animal nutrition


Madison, Wisconsin, USA

September 16, 2011

Modifying soybean seed to increase phosphorus content can improve animal nutrition and reduce feed costs and nutrient pollution. However, further research is needed to commercialize this valuable technology. Knowledge of soybean and other crops such as maize suggest that reducing phytate, the principle storage form of phosphorus in plant tissue, in seeds reduces seed germination and emergence of seedlings in the field. In soybean, however, researchers debate whether this problem exists, and suggest that other factors may be the cause.


New research published in the September-October issue of Crop Science offers unique insights on the topic. In the study, one modified soybean variety had better seedling field emergence than the control, which had a normal Phosphorus value. The performance of this soybean line, developed by Dr. Joe Burton at the USDA-ARS, is evidence that improved seed germination and field emergence of modified Phosphorus soybeans are possible.


“Based on our experience with the North Carolina line, soybean breeders working with the low-phytate trait now know that good seed germination and emergence is an attainable objective,” said Dr. Katy Martin Rainy, one of the study’s authors. “Our study provides breeders with critical insights on how to do this.”


Looking at two sources of the modified trait allowed Dr. Laura Maupin, lead author of this study, to draw conclusions about the specific effect of the modified trait itself. The data reported came from a vast set of 12 different environments, further strengthening the study’s conclusions. While the modified soybean varieties did have lower seedling emergence than the control varieties on average, most of the varieties still had more than 70% emergence. The study suggests that the problem with low phytate soybean seeds is due to low vigor seedlings, an issue that is easily addressed through seed treatments.


This data painted a complex picture for soybean breeders throughout the world. Seedling emergence of low phytate soybean varieties must be evaluated with a sufficient amount of data from many different environments. “Progress can be made quickly”, said Dr. Rainey, “and we have adopted a strategy of using germination assays, elite parents, seed treatments, multi-environment trials, and markers.” The project was funded by the United Soybean Board.


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




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1.46  Developing drought tolerant corn hybrids


Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

September 29, 2011

If drought is often a challenge in your farming operation, you may be interested in new advances in drought tolerant corn and whether to include these hybrids in your crop rotation. This article describes

·         the process currently used to create drought tolerant corn;

·         why drought tolerance is a trait which is difficult to improve in comparison to herbicide resistance or insect resistance traits; and

·         the limitations and benefits of drought tolerant hybrids.


Why Do Crops Need Water?

Crops need water to carry out processes necessary for survival. Water helps cool plants and transports dissolved nutrients throughout the plant and supports photosynthesis and plant growth.


The Nature of Drought Tolerant Traits and How They Affect Plant Processes

Why would you want multiple genes to improve drought tolerance in a corn variety? Drought tolerance is called a quantitative trait. Quantitative traits are heavily influenced by the environment and are controlled by large numbers of genes. Other traits, which are not influenced as much by environmental conditions and are controlled by only a few genes, are called qualitative traits. Examples of these are herbicide resistance and insect resistance. Quantitative traits are more difficult for breeders to improve due to the number of environmental factors influencing how the trait is expressed, coupled with needing to work with a larger number of genes.


Some of the environmental and genetic factors affecting drought tolerance include the timing and duration of water stress, soil type, heat, and humidity. All of these influence plant processes, such as closing of the stomata (openings in the plant leaf surface). The stomata allow carbon dioxide in to make sugars for plant growth and release water, increasing transpiration and protein production.


Genes related to drought stress can affect these and other plant processes differently. For example, one hybrid contains a trait which increases root depth and another which increases silking vigor. In the Corn Belt deeper roots mean the plant will find more available moisture deep in the soil profile. Improving silk vigor is important because prolific silk growth increases the likelihood of good pollination. Silks are 98% water by weight, which explains why drought can be so detrimental to silk development. More traits related to drought tolerance will offer multiple modes of action, such as these, in response to drought stress conditions.


Developing Drought Tolerance in Corn

Drought tolerant corn varieties have been developed using the “native gene” approach. This refers to using traditional plant breeding techniquzes, but with an added twist from using cutting edge molecular tools. In this manner, breeders conduct crossing experiments to determine the relative chromosome location of these native drought tolerant genes, and then use marker-assisted selection to help move along the breeding process more efficiently.The “native gene” approach has allowed breeders to bring in more than one gene affecting drought tolerance. In contrast, a transgenic/biotech approach (which involves genetic engineering) introduces a single new gene into corn from another organism.


How RNA Chaperones are Being Bred into Hybrids

Genes not present in any corn germplasm can be incorporated and then bred into elite crop lines through “native approaches.” These biotech-derived varieties are still in the industry development pipelines and not yet available to producers. Let’s take a look at one drought tolerant trait in the pipeline that uses RNA chaperones."


RNA chaperones are proteins that help produce and protect other proteins during times of stress. Although the specific mechanisms aren’t yet fully understood, in general, RNA chaperones help make sure that RNA molecules and critical plant proteins maintain their proper shape. Therefore, even under drought stress, critical proteins produced by the plant fold into their proper shape. If the shape of a protein is damaged, it cannot properly perform its function. During the reproductive growth stages, damaged proteins can lead to yield loss. RNA chaperones help stabilize yield even during drought conditions.


Precision Phenotyping

You may hear the term “precision phenotyping” as you research corn varieties for your operation. This term refers to a set of tools and designed experiments which help breeders determine which specific genes and/or traits contribute the most toward drought tolerance. Careful control of the environment and precise observations are necessary to accurately assess the drought tolerance levels of corn lines/varieties. In an effort to control the growing environment, fields with uniform soil conditions are selected. These fields also need to meet certain requirements in terms of latitude, altitude, and soil fertility. Researchers select low rainfall areas that would be able to grow good crops if water were present. Drip irrigation is typically used in to control the amount of water the plants receive.


The experiments must also be conducted at the correct time during the corn’s life cycle. Researchers are interested in what is happening during specific plant processes in specific tissues at a critical stage (such as flowering, grain fill, etc). As an example, UV (ultra-violet light) sensors and infrared sensors are often used to create images that allow researchers to “measure” the temperature of the plants. With UV light, the plants that appear purple in the picture tend to be cooler than those that are red or yellow.


Breeders also look for specific DNA markers in plants that exhibit drought tolerance. These markers are then used to plan specific crosses to “stack” multiple drought related traits into drought tolerant hybrids. This approach of carefully controlled environments, DNA work, and detailed field observation is called “precision phenotyping.”


Is Drought Tolerant Corn Right for Your Operation?

Even though drought tolerant corn offers some advantages, care should be taken to determine whether these particular hybrids are suitable for your farming operation. Drought tolerant corn does not offer a yield advantage over other hybrids under irrigated or well-watered conditions. Drought tolerant corn will not grow without water; it simply performs better than other hybrids under limited-water conditions.


It is also important to note drought tolerant corn varieties vary in the way they handle drought. Genetics affect different physiological processes involved in water use so no one variety will work well across all drought ridden environments. Currently, hybrids are best suited for dry land or fields with marginal soil and climate conditions for corn production (areas that typically yield 100-140 bu/ac or lower). This seed will be higher priced due to the new traits and its limited availability. Before purchasing these hybrids, carefully think through the environmental conditions in your particular field(s), look at the genetics offered by the hybrids, and weigh the cost versus the benefits they can provide to your operation.


Amy Lathrop, Distance Education Specialist, Department of Agronomy

Deana Namuth, Extension Plant Genetics Education and Outreach Specialist

·         For more information on the traditional breeding process see the CropWatch article Plant Breeding

·         Marker-assisted selection is explained in the CropWatch article Using DNA Markers

·         To learn more about genetic engineering in general, please refer to the CropWatch article Making a Genetically Engineered Crop.


Source: CropWatch


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1.47  New potato clone touted at a potential boon for Red River Valley


FARGO, N.D. — Will a newly discovered russet potato variety make the Red River Valley a yield contender with the Pacific Northwest?

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Will a newly discovered russet potato variety make the Red River Valley a yield contender with the Pacific Northwest?


Carl Hoverson of Larimore, N.D., thinks so, and — as one of the key growers for the Simplot-processed potato plant in Grand Forks, N.D. — he’s one of the folks who should know best.


Hoverson Farms hosts some of the test plots that include trials by Dr. Asunta “Susie” Thompson, a potato breeder at North Dakota State University in Fargo. This year, one of Thompson’s new crosses, a variety called 4405-1 Russet had an “incredible” yield of 777 hundredweights per acre.


Hoverson was so impressed with it that he put out his own press release about it.


“There were about nine very nice, uniformly-shaped (potatoes under each hill) with light russeting tubers under each plant,” Hoverson says.


Each of the potatoes weighed about a pound, and were perfectly shaped.


The “incredible” news was that the clone was planted later than normal, on May 24. Still, it bulked up to the 777 per hundredweights per acre by the harvest date of Sept. 17. Other Russet Burbank varieties in the same row were yielding 300 bags.


Encouraging signs

Hoverson says the selection has to go through many tests for processing quality, including solids, but the signs look good. Both parents have good processing quality and the potato “felt like a Shepody,” he says.


“It typically takes 400 (per hundredweight) of potatoes per acre on irrigation in North Dakota and Minnesota to cover input costs, so this would be great news for our potato farmers,” Hoverson says.


The region is closer to eastern food markets and so has a transportation advantage to the PNW producers, but this could be something special, he says.


“If this variety does all of the qualities the processing industry wants” it will “rival the major potato producing area of the Pacific Northwest, including Washington, Oregon and Idaho.”

Potential potato powerhouse


It could “again make the Red River Valley the major supplier of potatoes in the United States and world markets,” Hoverson says. “Lower costs per acre combined with impressive yields will make the Red River Valley a powerhouse in potato production.”


The Northern Plains Potato Growers Association thanked Thompson and her crew at NDSU for a “job well done.”


Thompson says the yield potential rivals the Columbia Basin on the clone selected in the Red River Valley.


“It’s very early of course in that clone stage, but we do have other beautiful dual-purpose russets in our pipeline,” Thompson says. “In fact, one hopefully to be released this fall or winter, that has excellent yield potential.”


She says one in trials at Inkster, N.D., and harvested Sept. 26, had a yield of 522 hundredweights per acre on a short dry season, planted on June 2. “It’s fun working with growers that are so excited about what’s happening with the breeding program,” Thompson says.


Hoverson says he’s already decided to invest several thousand dollars in the meristem and minituber work to “blow up” the seedstock on the prospects that it will be a winner.




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1.48  Scientists develop new potato lines to wage war on wireworms


Wireworms, the slender brownish-orange larva of click beetles are destructive pests of potatoes. Previous studies by United States Department of Agriculture scientists have discovered that two wild potatoes from Chile and Bolivia, Solanum berthaultii and S. etuberosum have broad spectrum resistance to the beetles and green peach aphids.


To see the effects of the resistance genes to the wireworms, scientists crossed germplasm derived from the wild potatoes with a cultivated variety. The 15 top-performing plants from three generations of progeny were selected and were planted in wireworm-infested field plots.


Results published in the Journal of Economic Entomology showed that the resistant clones performed well and in some cases performed better than the insecticide-treated Russet Burbank potatoes. The researchers have also discovered that the natural compounds called glycoalkaloids may be protecting the breeding clones at concentrations not harmful to the consumers.


To see the original news, check


Source: Crop Biotech Update 23 September 2011


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.49  Texas scientists discover flowering gene in sorghum


Texas AgriLife Research scientists have discovered a gene that regulates sorghum flowering. "For energy crops, we want to prevent plants from flowering so they accumulate as much biomass as possible for bioenergy/biofuels production," said Dr. John Mullet, AgriLife Research biochemist. Mullet explained that the gene controls flowering in response to day length. It is regulated by the plant's 'clock' and light that enables the plant to flower at approximately the same date each growing season.


"Flowering time is important for sorghum no matter what type of sorghum is grown," said Rebecca Murphy, a biochemistry doctoral student at Texas A&M University. "In the case of bioenergy sorghum, you want to delay flowering because the more you delay flowering, the more biomass sorghum will accumulate."


The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will enable breeders to use "molecular markers to assist in the design of sorghum hybrids that flower at optimal times accelerating the process of breeding high-yielding grain, sweet and energy sorghum hybrids."


View the feature article at


Source: Crop Biotech Update 30 September 2011


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.50  Local scientists develop weed-resistant sorghum


John Muchangi

20 September 2011

Local farmers will have a new sorghum variety resistant to the feared striga weed at the end of this year. Striga attacks sorghum by growing into the roots where it sucks out water and nutrients. It slowly kills the plant and three weeks later emerges from the soil having done most of the damage.


Director of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) Ephrain Mukisira said the new striga-resistant variety could be available to farmers in December this year. "In some cases striga has caused more than 100 per cent damage. This has really discouraged farmers," he said yesterday. Striga, also known as a witch weed, is difficult to manage and can stay under the ground for more than 15 years waiting for a farmer to plant cereal crops which facilitate their growth.


Yesterday, Dr Mukisira said they are testing preferred varieties in the field before releasing the seeds to farmers. The Kari director was speaking in Nairobi at a meeting organised by the Africa Biodiversity Conservation and Innovations Centre and the Association for Strengthening Agriculture Research in Eastern and Central Africa. The meeting was also attended by scientists from Sudan and Eritrea where more than 50 weed-resistant varieties have also been tested.


Sorghum is highly profitable and has rebounded in Kenya as a key cash and food crop. Dr Mukisira said it offers better returns than maize in the face of unreliable rains because of climate change. The East African Breweries also plans to buy sorghum from farmers for its popular keg beer.


The ministry of Agriculture says although sorghum growing had declined since 1976, last year farmers produced more than 130,000 metric tonnes. "We are at the tail-end of developing technologies that offer hope for problems that have been very serious sorghum production constraints in East and Central Africa. In a year's time we should have products ready for farmers," says Dr Dan Kiambi, director of the Africa Biodiversity Conservation and Innovations Centre .


The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that in the Horn of Africa, Striga destroys about USD2.89 billion worth of maize and sorghum every year, sorghum suffering 86 percent of this loss. Maize is the most popular cereal in Eastern and Central Africa, followed by sorghum.


Local farmers will have a new sorghum variety resistant to the feared striga weed at the end of this year. Striga attacks sorghum by growing into the roots where it sucks out water and nutrients. It slowly kills the plant and three weeks later emerges from the soil having done most of the damage.


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1.51  Paraguay logra la primera semilla de soja que resiste a la sequía


19-September 2011

El material genético, resultado de una investigación encabezada por la Universidad Nacional de Asunción podría ser liberado comercialmente en 2016. La semilla, que podría aguantar una merma de precipitaciones de hasta 400 milímetros por año, no es un transgénico


El 43% de la soja paraguaya se perdió en 2009 a causa de la sequía


A paso lento pero seguro avanza la concreción de la primera variedad de semillas de soja resistentes a la sequía. Tras realizarse la irradiación de las simientes, fueron sembradas en campos experimentales en San Lorenzo, registrándose de esta forma la primera generación de semillas que puede convertirse con el tiempo en una de las herramientas más preciadas para el sector productivo.


El Dr. Héctor Nakayama, investigador del Centro Multidisciplinario de Investigaciones Tecnológicas (Cemit) de la Universidad Nacional de Asunción (UNA), quien encabeza el trabajo de investigación, dijo que ahora se está acelerando el proceso para la obtención de una variedad que muestre características uniformes para posteriormente lanzarla al mercado.


Agregó que el tiempo de investigación se podría extender hasta 5 años más, lo que deduce que para el 2016 Paraguay contaría con su material genético tolerante a la sequía disponible para la siembra.


Agregó que deben buscar la variedad para conseguir la estabilidad necesaria: que posean las mismas características o superiores a las variedades de soja existentes actualmente en el mercado.


“Pueden ser resistentes a la sequía, pero si no contienen el mismo nivel nutritivo, no sirve el trabajo”, resaltó.


El técnico precisó que la primera generación de semillas que fueron cosechadas durante el último ciclo de producción de soja (abril pasado) se encuentran almacenadas y refrigeradas.


Se estima que para la próxima campaña sojera, que arranca a partir de este setiembre, serán trasladadas hasta el Chaco, para la experimentación de campo, en terrenos de la Cooperativa Chorotitzer Komite Ltda.


Además de sequía, esta primera generación de soja será sembrada bajo condiciones extremas de sequía, alta salinidad y elevadas temperaturas, de modo a crear una variedad resistente, que se genera en condiciones altamente adversas para la producción de la oleaginosa.


Nakayama señaló que la idea apunta a que en esta zafra se tenga ejemplares resistentes y fértiles de modo a mejorar la calidad, teniendo en cuenta que los materiales tienden a retroceder y a volver en su estado anterior.


De acuerdo a las condiciones en que serán sembradas, estas semillas pueden, inclusive, aguantar una merma de precipitaciones de hasta 400 milímetros por año.


El trabajo se inició con la selección de una variedad de soja convencional (sin transgénesis) que fue llevada a una inducción desde la mutación, sin la presencia de ningún gen transgénico.


Nakayama señaló que no quisieron trabajar materiales transgénicos por el hecho de prever cualquier problema por el uso de una patente comercial de las empresas que explotan este negocio, a la par de generar un material de propagación (semillas) libre de transgénicos.


Agregó que el proceso se aceleró por medio de la radiación.


EL trabajo es desarrollado en forma regional, con el financiamiento del Organismo Internacional de Energía Atómica, el Instituto de Biotecnología Agrícola (Inbio), la Cooperativa Komite Ltda y la Universidad Nacional de Asunción.


El 43% de la soja paraguaya se perdió en 2009 a causa de la sequía, mientras que la caída en el PBI, por ese motivo, fue de 3.8 por ciento. En paralelo, el país produjo un total de 8.4 millones de toneladas de soja en la campaña pasada, correspondiente al período 2010/11.




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1.52  New Mexico State University researchers examine chile varieties for salt tolerance


New Mexico, USA

October 4, 2011

The effects of drought are evident in New Mexico, especially in the area of agriculture, but the chile crop will not be left behind if New Mexico State University researchers have any say in the matter.


Evan Call, who graduated from NMSU in 2010 with a Master of Science in Plant and Environmental Sciences, began the study, "Evaluation of Two Methodologies to Screen Capsicum for Salt Tolerance," in 2009. Call was advised by Paul Bosland and April Ulery, NMSU plant and environmental science professors.


Call began the study partly in response to the steady decrease in main water sources for New Mexico farmers. Such reductions, especially the water level decrease at Elephant Butte Lake, make it more challenging and expensive to irrigate crops, and many farmers are forced to tap into underground water sources, which often have higher saline content, Ulery said. Additionally, plants grown in soil with high saline content are often stunted and have lower yield because salts inhibit nutrient and water uptake by plants.


"It takes so much effort for a plant to grow in high saline soil that it expends more energy trying to stay alive than in producing healthy fruit," Ulery said.


Chile seeds are typically planted a half inch to one inch deep in soil. The saline content is often higher in surface soil because water moves toward the surface in response to heat from the sun, and when the water evaporates, it leaves salt behind. Ulery said farmers have some control over saline content by irrigating the soil before planting crops to drive salt further down into the soil. She emphasized that careful management is crucial when using poor quality water.


The study examined 13 accessions representing five species of chile plants in a germination test to see what percentage of each species showed signs of making it through the growing process when grown in seven saline solutions. Then, the 13 species were narrowed to eight in a greenhouse test to see which species would emerge through the soil when grown in saline soil mix.


'Early Jalapeno' had the highest emergence percentage at 81 percent. 'NuMex Sweet' and P.I. 140375 also finished in the top three performers for saline tolerance, with emergence percentages of more than 70 percent.


In the future, Bosland said he would like to look at inheritance of the salt tolerance trait in chile plants and developing cultivars that are salt tolerant.


Call, Bosland and Ulery also collaborated on a study with faculty members from Texas A&M University, titled "Responses of Eight Chile Peppers to Saline Water Irrigation." This study found that NMCA 10652 and 'Early Jalapeno' were the most saline-tolerant chile varieties.


"It is becoming increasingly important to look at saline conditions and water use, especially considering recent changes in water distribution and drought," Ulery said. "We don't know the future or when it is going to get better, but in the meantime we can prepare and use varieties that can handle less water or lower quality water while still maintaining quality of fruit."


Ulery and Bosland said because chile is such an important crop in New Mexico, they hope local farmers will be able to use such research findings to continue to produce healthy crops even in difficult growing conditions.




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1.53  Glandless cotton: a promising possibility


High levels of gossypol, a natural toxin in most cotton varieties, make all of the plant's tissue, including the seeds, inedible by humans and most animals. Scientists at New Mexico State University (NMSU) are working to determine if a variety of cotton called Alcala which is free of the toxin gossypol, will grow well and be productive in New Mexico. Seeds from gossypol-free cotton can be used in food products for humans and in feed for a wide variety of animals.


Developing glandless cotton for food and feed applications is not new having been done previously in Africa and China in the 1990s. However, it was not economically feasible.


"This is the second year of our study. Last year we tested it, and we saw that we were able to get reasonable, significant lint yield and seed yield from the glandless cotton. So far it's looking good, we have not had any major pest attack on the crops. The cotton at this stage is looking better than even last year so we are expecting a higher yield this year," said John Idowu, extension agronomist in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences.


Check out for the original article.


Source: Crop Biotech Update 09 September 2011


Contributed by Margaret E. Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University


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1.54  Research for frost-resistant strawberry plants


Oslo, Norway

September 2, 2011

Soon it will be possible to grow strawberries that withstand frost. This will lengthen their growing season in countries that must cope with cooler climates.


Strawberries are sensitive to cold. Each year, at least 20 per cent of the annual strawberry crop in countries such as Norway is lost due to frost.


Norwegian researchers are working to identify and understand the genes associated with frost tolerance in strawberries. The objective is to strengthen the plants’ immunity to frost.


“We are searching for strawberry varieties that can withstand frost and still score high for important characteristics such as taste, colour and firmness,” explains Muath Alsheikh, a researcher and strawberry breeder at Graminor AS, Norway’s national plant-breeding company.


New varieties in response to climate change

Developing new cultivars (bred plant varieties) adapted to the chilly growing conditions of the north has long been a priority of Norway’s agriculture industry. Prospective changes to the climate make it even more essential to breed new, hardier plant varieties that can withstand harsher growing conditions.


In recent years, advances in molecular genetics have expanded the range of tools available to plant breeders.


“New technology enables us to develop frost-resistant cultivars much more quickly than we can using conventional methods,” says Idun Christie, CEO of Graminor.


In collaboration with Norwegian and international players, the company is carrying out research using molecular techniques to solve the frost challenge. The projects receive funding from the Food Programme: Norwegian Food from Sea and Land under the Research Council of Norway.


Competitive international advantage

Graminor’s task is to ensure that Norwegian farmers and horticulturists have access to a diversity of disease-free plant materials suitable for Norwegian growing conditions.


“We carry out tests on good seed products or varieties from outside of Norway under Norwegian conditions,” says CEO Christie. “Currently, Norwegian farmers cultivate mostly international strawberry varieties – but these tend to be poorly suited to the winter demands of our climate. Developing new varieties can yield substantial benefits within Norway, and will have potential in the international market as well.”


Efficient new methods

It is very time-consuming to breed new strawberry varieties, particularly frost-resistant ones, using conventional methods. Each year, Graminor breeds hybrids that yield roughly 5 000 seed-producing plants . After a decade of testing and evaluation, one or maybe two of these might be approved as new varieties.


Using methods based on molecular markers, however, scientists can now more rapidly identify the genes associated with frost tolerance. Such markers are used in molecular genetics to identify a specific sequence of DNA or proteins that show heritable variation.


The researchers analyse various strawberry varieties under controlled cold-temperature trials in the laboratory to pinpoint the relevant markers. They have found a clear correlation between frost resistance and amount of proteins in the plants. Other DNA markers also play a role in a variety’s ability to withstand frost.


“The knowledge we obtain will make it possible to select frost-tolerant strawberries quickly and efficiently,” summarises Muath Alsheikh.


Benefits other berries, too

 “This is research that is applicable for strawberry farmers working in frost-prone climates all over the world, for instance in all the Nordic countries,” adds Ms Christie, “so we are coordinating our efforts with other Nordic research groups. We hope that this new methodology for breeding winter hardiness in strawberries can also be applied to other kinds of berries that have difficulty surviving the winter.”


“Adapted plant material is critical for profitability in any plant production,” states Kirsti Anker-Nilssen, Adviser in the Food Programme. “The expected changes in winter climate ahead will make good winter hardiness and frost tolerance all the more important.”


All of Norway’s plant breeding for agriculture and horticulture is consolidated under Graminor AS.

The projects involving frost-tolerant strawberry varieties are being carried out in cooperation with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research (Bioforsk), Hedmark University College, food wholesaler BAMA Gruppen AS, and Indiana University-Purdue University, USA.


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1.55  Manipulating plants’ circadian clock may make all-season crops possible


New Haven, Connecticut, USA

September 1, 2011

Yale University researchers have identified a key genetic gear that keeps the circadian clock of plants ticking, a finding that could have broad implications for global agriculture.


The research appears in the Sept. 2 issue of the journal Molecular Cell.


"Farmers are limited by the seasons, but by understanding the circadian rhythm of plants, which controls basic functions such as photosynthesis and flowering, we might be able to engineer plants that can grow in different seasons and places than is currently possible," said Xing Wang Deng, the Daniel C. Eaton Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale and senior author of the paper.


The circadian clock is the internal timekeeper found in almost all organisms that helps synchronize biological processes with day and night. In plants, this clock is crucial for adjusting growth to both time and day and to the seasons.


The clock operates through the cooperative relationship between "morning" genes and "evening" genes. Proteins encoded by the morning genes suppress evening genes at daybreak, but by nightfall levels of these proteins drop and evening genes are activated. Intriguingly, these evening genes are necessary to turn on morning genes completing the 24-hour cycle.


The Yale research solved one of the last remaining mysteries in this process when they identified the gene DET1 as crucial in helping to suppress expression of the evening genes in the circadian cycle.


"Plants that make less DET1 have a faster clock and they take less time to flower," said lead author On Sun Lau, a former Yale graduate student who is now at Stanford University. "Knowing the components of the plant's circadian clock and their roles would assist in the selection or generation of valuable traits in crop and ornamental plants."


Other authors from Yale are Xi Huang, Jae-Hoon Lee, Gang Li and Jean-Benoit Charron, now of McGill University.


The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Lau was supported in part by the Croucher Foundation.




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1.56  Desarrollan plantas de garbanzo transgénicas resistentes a insectos


September 2011

Científicos indios lograron desarrollar plantas de garbanzo transgénicas resistentes a insectos, y demostraron que la acción conjunta de dos proteínas Cry controla mejor a las plagas que la acción de una sola.


El garbanzo (Cicer arietinum L.) es la segunda legumbre que más se cultiva en el mundo, atrás de la soja. Es además una fuente imcportante de proteínas, tanto para las personas como para los animales. A pesar de su enorme demanda, los rendimientos del cultivo a nivel global se han estancado en los últimos veinte años debido a varios estreses bióticos y abióticos que lo afectan.


Con el objetivo de contribuir al mejoramiento del garbanzo, Meenakshi Mehrotr, del Instituto Nacional de Investigación en Botánica de India, junto con otros investigadores, obtuvieron plantas de garbanzos transgénicas a través de la transformación con Agrobacterium. Estas plantas contienen los genes cry1Ab y cry1Ac. En los ensayos de eficacia, comprobaron que se logra una mejor protección contra la larva Helicoverpa armigera cuando ambos genes están en la misma planta que cuando la planta fabrica una sola de las proteínas insecticidas.


Según el trabajo, publicado en la revista Euphytica, los resultados muestran la importancia de acumular o apilar dos proteínas Cry para una protección eficaz contra los leptidópteros que atacan al cultivo de garbanzo.


Pyramiding of modified cry1Ab and cry1Ac genes of Bacillus thuringiensis in transgenic chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) for improved resistance to pod borer insect Helicoverpa armigera

Meenakshi Mehrotra, Aditya K. Singh, Indraneel Sanyal, Illimar Altosaar and D. V. Amla



The modified cry1Ab and cry1Ac insecticidal genes of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) under the control of two different constitutive promoters have been introduced into chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) by Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of pre-conditioned cotyledonary nodes. 118 stable transformed T0 plants as independent transformation events were obtained expressing individual cry1Ab, cry1Ac or both pyramided genes for their co-expression driven by either cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter with duplicated enhancer (CaMV35S) or synthetic constitutive promoter (Pcec) and their combinations. Integration and inheritance of transgenes in T0 and T1 population of transgenic chickpea plants were determined by PCR, RT-PCR and Southern hybridization. Results of Southern hybridization showed single copy integration of cry1Ab or cry1Ac genes in most of the transgenic plants developed with either single or pyramided genes and reflected Mendelian inheritance of transgenes in T1 progeny. Real time PCR of pyramided transgenic plants clearly showed differential expression of transcripts for both the genes driven by CaMV35S and Pcec promoters. Quantitative assessment of Bt Cry toxins by ELISA of T0 transgenic chickpea plants showed expression of toxin ranging from 5 to 40 ng mg−1 of total soluble protein (TSP) in leaves of transgenic plants. Insect bioassay performed with transgenic plants showed relatively higher toxicity for plants expressing Cry1Ac protein as compared to Cry1Ab to Helicoverpa armigera. Pyramided transgenic plants with moderate expression levels (15–20 ng mg−1 of TSP) showed high-level of resistance and protection against pod borer larvae of H. armigera as compared to high level expression of a single toxin. These results have shown the significance of pyramiding and co-expression of two Cry toxins for efficient protection against lepidopteran pests of chickpea.




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1.57  China leads in genome research of Brassica worldwide


Beijing, China

August 30, 2011

Headed by CAAS Institute of Vegetable Crops and Flowers, Institute of Oil Crops and BGI-Shenzhen, Brassica rapa Genome Sequencing Project Consortium (BrGSPC) composed of China, UK, ROK, Canada, US, France, and Australia finished a research paper on the genome of the mesopolyploid crop species B. rapa, and on 29 August, 2011, published it in Nature Genetics, an international authoritative journal. Following successful projects on genome sequencing of cucumbers and potatoes, the research on B. rapa is another major outcome of genome research of vegetables through international cooperation led by China, which symbolizes that China has led in genome research of Brassica represented by cabbages in the world.


So far, B. rapa is determined to be the closest species to Arabidopsis. Because of highly similarities in genes of B. rapa and Arabidopsis, B. rapa genome sequencing would be constructive in using rich function information of Arabidopsis, improving crops and promoting the hereditary improvement of B. rapa and other crops of this species


This successful research is a new breakthrough in the field of agriculture in the country. This project is greatly supported by the Department of Basic Research, Department of Rural S&D and Department of International Cooperation of the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Department of Education, Science and Culture of the Ministry of Finance, and the Department of Science, Technology and Education of the Ministry of Agriculture, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.




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1.58  Computer helps Michigan State University researchers unravel plants’ secrets to survival


East Lansing, Michigan, USA

August 31, 2011

Recent research by Michigan State University (MSU) scientists has shed more light on how plants are able to cope with extreme environments.


However, the name of one of the key contributors to the work, which is detailed in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is not listed among the paper's authors. That's because it's a cluster of computers.


Through a collaboration between plant and computer scientists, MSU researchers figured out how certain genes in a plant turn on and off depending on the stress the plant is experiencing, be it cold or heat, drought or too much water, or bacterial infection.