29 December 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  Scarcity and degradation of land and water: growing threat to food security

1.02  "Energy-smart" agriculture needed to escape fossil fuel trap

1.03  Global agriculture able to continue feeding growing world population

1.04  Wheat breeder: Challenges to feed the world unprecedented

1.05  New projection shows global food demand doubling by 2050

1.06  Earth likely to become increasingly hostile to agriculture

1.07  Slow rise in crop yields affects global food security

1.08  Breeders Without Borders

1.09  Education and research of plant breeding for the 21st Century

1.10  Big boost to plant research - The four largest nonprofit plant science research institutions in the U.S. join forces

1.11  UK Plant Sciences Federation launched to tackle global threats

1.12  Africa-wide rice task forces set up for greater impact 

1.13  Thumbs-up for industry collaboration on a sustainable food supply chain

1.14  Use of gametophytic isolating mechanisms for maize

1.15  Institute for Agricultural Research Samaru releases new crop varieties for food security and improved livelihood

1.16  IAR Samaru Nigeria and IITA bring benefits of Vitamin A enriched maize research to rural people

1.17  The story behind ‘super broccoli’ - A case study in the successful commercialisation of UK bioscience

1.18  Center for Marker Discovery and Validation (CMDV) to accelerate conventional breeding in Malaysia

1.19  A Hazara-based agriculture scientist claims to have developed the world’s highest rice yield variety

1.20  Recognition for early career scientist

1.21  Cooks rejoice as world's first seedless pepper goes on sale

1.22  RZ Afrisem presents the first hybrid vegetable varieties for Africa

1.23  China soybean breeding on the rise

1.24  Farmers begin to gradually sow the seeds of change

1.25  Resistant wheats and Ethiopian farmers battle deadly fungus

1.26  Exploring rust solutions in Syria

1.27  Cowpea: driving a silent revolution in Nigeria

1.28  An overlooked cause of seed degradation - implications in the efficient exploitation of plant genetic resources in the face of changing environments

1.29  DNA sequencing caught in deluge of data

1.30  Area with transgenics will be 20.9% greater in Brazil's next harvest, says Celeres

1.31  Colombia se prepara para producir une papa genéticamente modificada

1.32  Biotechnology and U.S. crop yield trends

1.33  GM herbicide-tolerant soybean over 15 years of cultivation in the USA

1.34  Selected articles from FAO-BiotechNews 4-2011

1.35  Scientists use wild potatoes as source of potato resistance

1.36  Global search unearthing promising legumes

1.37  Genomic evidence found for domestication history of Asian cultivated rice

1.38  The value of crop genebanks: A statement from the Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust

1.39  Second Global Plan of Action on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture adopted by FAO governing body

1.40  Informal “seed” systems and the management of gene flow in traditional agroecosystems

1.41  Plant scientists to explore genetics to halt spread of crop diseases

1.42  New field peas a resistant alternative

1.43  Bangladesh: Farmers evaluate salt-tolerant rice varieties

1.44  Whitefly, tomato growers find truce in new Texas variety

1.45  Research improves cold-hardy wheat

1.46  The benefits of breeding crops that produce deep roots

1.47  University of Queensland scientists find genes to tackle climate change in outback rice

1.48  Research puts another nail in coffin of septoria

1.49  Fast, cheap accurate test slows cassava virus disease

1.50  Resistant cultivars are worth their salt

1.51  DuPont & Rosetta Green ink research agreement to identify drought tolerance genes in corn & soybeans

1.52  Scientists find genes that confer resistance to sorghum anthracnose

1.53  Multi-stacked resistance genes confer broad spectrum late blight resistance in potato

1.54  A corny turn for switchgrass biofuels - Berkeley Lab researchers boost switchgrass biofuels potential by adding a maize gene to switchgrass

1.55  New comprehensive lupin genetic map is a global first

1.56  Stronger corn? Take it off steroids, make it all female

1.57  BGI study results on resequencing 50 accessions of cultivated and wild rice cast new light on molecular breeding

1.58  BGI and CIAT announce collaboration for large-scale genome sequencing of cassava

1.59  UCR scientists discover a blueprint for engineering drought tolerant crops

1.60  Genome-wide association study identifies important alleles-controlling agricultural traits directly in rice



2.01  The Context Network releases new study: The Sustainability Transition: Impacts to Agriculture

2.02  Impact of climate change on agriculture

2.03  Crop Adaptation to Climate Change

2.04  Strengthening Community Seed Systems



3.01  New chili pepper resources published at

3.02  Online databases provide new tool for unlocking the genetic secrets in medicinal plants

3.03  Syngenta to use HP cloud offering to access and process data in real time

3.04  Plant Breeding and Genomics online resource reaches milestone

3.05  Watch plant breeding and genomics webinar recordings

3.06  Training module on conservation and sustainable use under the International Treaty now Available Online

3.07  How to Breed for Organic Production Systems Webinar - YouTube

3.08  Plant Breeding and Genomics Online Resource Reaches Milestone

3.09  NY researchers produce the largest seed plant tree of life



4.01  North Carolina State University and Monsanto celebrate $500,000 fund for Plant Breeding and Advanced Analytics Fellows program

4.02  Ph.D. fellowship opportunities in plant breeding available at the University of Illinois Plant Breeding Center

4.03  African PhD students receive 2011 Global Rice Science Scholarships

4.04  Monsanto's Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program (MBBISP) accepting applications



5.01  Position Announcement: Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University

5.02  Postdoctoral Research Associate - Research Plant Geneticist or Research Plant Physiologist

5.03  Description for a Faculty Position in Breeding & Genetics for Nutritional Quality

5.04  Monsanto Pepper Breeder, Teradion, Israel (Job no. 005OG)

5.05  Job Postings for PhD Plant Breeders and Scientists at Monsanto








Scarcity and degradation of land and water: growing threat to food security


New FAO report profiles the state of the natural resource base upon which world food production depends


Rome, Italy

28 November 2011

Widespread degradation and deepening scarcity of land and water resources have placed a number of key food production systems around the globe at risk, posing a profound challenge to the task of feeding a world population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, according to a new FAO report published today.


The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture (SOLAW) notes that while the last 50 years witnessed a notable increase in food production, “in too many places, achievements have been associated with management practices that have degraded the land and water systems upon which food production depends.”


Today a number of those systems “face the risk of progressive breakdown of their productive capacity under a combination of excessive demographic pressure and unsustainable agriculture use and practices,” the report says.


No region is immune: systems at risk can be found around the globe, from the highlands of the Andes to the steppes of Central Asia, from Australia’s Murray-Darling river basin to the central United States.



Agricultural systems at risk: map | table


At the same time, as natural resource bottlenecks are increasingly felt, competition for land and water will become “pervasive,” the report suggests. This includes competition between urban and industrial users as well as within the agricultural sector – between livestock, staple crops, non-food crop, and biofuel production.


And climate change is expected to alter the patterns of temperature, precipitation and river flows upon which the world’s food production systems depend.


As a result, the challenge of providing sufficient food for an ever-more hungry planet has never been greater, SOLAW says — especially in developing countries, where quality land, soil nutrients and water are least abundant.


“The SOLAW report highlights that the collective impact of these pressures and resulting agricultural transformations have put some production systems at risk of breakdown of their environmental integrity and productive capacity. These systems at risk may simply not be able to contribute as expected in meeting human demands by 2050. The consequences in terms of hunger and poverty are unacceptable. Remedial action needs to be taken now,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.


Warning signs

Between 1961 and 2009, the world’s cropland grew by 12 percent, but agricultural production expanded 150 percent, thanks to a significant increase in yields of major crops.


But one of the “warning signs” flagged by the SOLAW report is that rates of growth in agricultural production have been slowing in many areas and are today only half of what they were during the heyday of the Green Revolution.


Overall, the report paints the picture of a world experiencing an increasing imbalance between availability and demand for land and water resources at the local and national levels. The number of areas reaching the limits of their production capacity is fast increasing, the report warns.


25 percent of the earth’s lands are degraded

SOLAW provides for the first time ever a global assessment of the state of the planet’s land resources. Fully one quarter are highly degraded. Another 8 percent are moderately degraded, 36 percent are stable or slightly degraded and 10 percent are ranked as “improving.” The remaining shares of the earth’s land surface are either bare (around 18 percent) or covered by inland water bodies (around 2%). (These figures include all land types, not just farmland.)


FAO’s definition of degradation extends beyond soil and water degradation per se and includes an assessment of other aspects of affected ecosystems, for instance biodiversity loss.


Large parts of all continents are experiencing land degradation, with particularly high incidences down the west coast of the Americas, across Mediterranean region of Southern Europe and North Africa, across the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, and throughout Asia. The greatest threat is the loss of soil quality, followed by biodiversity loss and water resources depletion.


Some 1.6 billion hectares of the world’s best, most productive lands are currently used to grow crops. Parts of these land areas are being degraded through farming practices that result in water and wind erosion, the loss of organic matter, topsoil compaction, salinization and soil pollution, and nutrient loss.


Breakdown of world land degradation: graph


Water scarcity and pollution on the rise

Water scarcity is growing and salinization and pollution of groundwater and degradation of water bodies and water-related ecosystems are rising, SOLAW also reports. Large inland water bodies are under pressure from a combination of reduced inflows and higher nutrient loading — the excessive build up of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Many rivers do not reach their natural end points and wetlands are disappearing.


In key cereal producing areas around the world, intensive groundwater withdrawals are drawing down aquifer storage and removing the accessible groundwater buffers that rural communities have come to rely on.


“Because of the dependence of many key food production systems on groundwater, declining aquifer levels and continued abstraction of non-renewable groundwater present a growing risk to local and global food production,” FAO’s report cautions.



Distribution of world water scarcity: map


A poverty trap

“Worldwide, the poorest have the least access to land and water and are locked in a poverty trap of small farms with poor quality soils and high vulnerability to land degradation and climatic uncertainty,” the report notes.


Some 40 percent of the world’s degraded lands are found in areas with high poverty rates. Still, in a sign that degradation is a risk across all income groups, 30 percent of the world’s degraded lands are in areas with moderate levels of poverty while 20 percent are in areas with low poverty rates.


Prospects for the future

FAO estimates that by 2050, rising population and incomes will require a 70 percent increase in global food production. This equates to another one billion tonnes of cereals and 200 million tonnes of livestock products produced each year.


“For nutrition to improve and for food insecurity and undernourishment to recede, future agricultural production will have to rise faster than population growth and consumption patterns adjusted,” says SOLAW.


More than four-fifths of production gains will have to occur largely on existing agricultural land through sustainable intensification that makes effective use of land and water resources while not causing them harm.



Improving the efficiency of water use by agriculture will be key, according to the report. Most irrigation systems across the world perform below their capacity. A combination of improved irrigation scheme management, investment in local knowledge and modern technology, knowledge development and training can increase water-use efficiency.


And innovative farming practices such as conservation agriculture, agro-forestry, integrated crop-livestock systems and integrated irrigation-aquaculture systems hold the promise of expanding production efficiently to address food security and poverty while limiting impacts on ecosystems.


FAO recently highlighted its vision for the sustainable intensification of agricultural production in its publication, Save and Grow: A New Paradigm for Agriculture, released earlier this year.


Another area where improvement is needed is increasing investment in agricultural development. Gross investment requirements between 2007 and 2050 for irrigation water management in developing countries are estimated at almost $1 trillion. Land protection and development, soil conservation and flood control will require around $160 billion worth of investment in the same period, SOLAW reports.


Finally, greater attention should be paid not only to technical options for improving efficiency and promoting sustainable intensification, but also to ensuring that national policies and institutions are modernized, collaborate together and are better equipped to cope with today’s emerging challenges of water and land resource management.


SOLAW contains numerous examples of successful actions undertaken in various parts of the world, which illustrate the multiple options available that are potentially replicable elsewhere. Given increasing competition for land and water resources, choices of options inevitably require stakeholders to evaluate trade-offs among a variety of ecosystem goods and services. This knowledge would serve to mobilize political will, priority setting and policy-oriented remedial actions, at the highest decision-making levels.




(Return to Contents)




1.02  "Energy-smart" agriculture needed to escape fossil fuel trap


FAO paper published during UN Climate Change Conference highlights how food sector can tackle energy challenges to safeguard a food-secure future


Durban, South Africa / Rome, Italy

29 November 2011

The global food system needs to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels to succeed in feeding a growing world population, FAO said today.


"There is justifiable concern that the current dependence of the food sector on fossil fuels may limit the sector's ability to meet global food demands. The challenge is to decouple food prices from fluctuating and rising fossil fuel prices," according to an FAO paper published today during the UN Conference on Climate Change.


High and fluctuating prices of fossil fuels and doubts regarding their future availability mean that agri-food systems need to shift to an "energy-smart" model, according to the report Energy-Smart Food for People and Climate.


The food sector both requires energy and can produce energy — an energy-smart approach to agriculture offers a way to take better advantage of this dual relationship between energy and food, it says.


The food sector (including input manufacturing, production, processing, transportation marketing and consumption) accounts for around 95 exa-Joules (1018 Joules), according to the report — approximately 30 percent of global energy consumption — and produces over 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.


On-farm direct energy use amounts to around 6 exa-Joules per year, if human and animal power are excluded — just over half of that is in OECD countries.


On farms, energy is used for pumping water, housing livestock, cultivating and harvesting crops, heating protected crops, and drying and storage. After harvest, it is used in processing, packaging, storing, transportation and consumption.


New approach to farming

"The global food sector needs to learn how to use energy more wisely. At each stage of the food supply chain, current practices can be adapted to become less energy intensive," said FAO Assistant Director-General for Environment and Natural Resources, Alexander Mueller.


Such efficiency gains can often come from modifying at no or little cost existing farming and processing practices, he added.


Steps that can be taken at the farm level include the use of more fuel efficient engines, the use of compost and precision fertilizers, irrigation monitoring and targeted water delivery, adoption of no-till farming practices and the use of less-input-dependent crop varieties and animal breeds.


After food has been harvested, improved transportation and infrastructure, better insulation of food storage facilities, reductions in packaging and food waste, and more efficient cooking devices offer the possibility of additionally reducing energy use in the food sector.


Adding up both on-farm and post-harvest losses, around one-third of all food produced — and the energy that is embedded in it — is lost or wasted, FAO's report notes.


Making agriculture less fossil fuel dependent

FAO's report also highlights the tremendous potential for agriculture to produce more of the energy needed to feed the planet and help rural development.


"Using local renewable energy resources along the entire food chain can help improve energy access, diversify farm and food processing revenues, avoid disposal of waste products, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, and help achieve sustainable development goals," it says.


Where good solar, wind, hydro, geothermal or biomass energy resources exist, they can be used as a substitute for fossil fuels in farming and aquaculture operations. They can also be used in food storage and processing. For example, sugar mills frequently use their residue materials for combined heat and power generation. So-called "wet processing wastes" like tomato rejects and skins, or pulp from juice processing, can be used in anaerobic digester plants to produce biogas. Already, millions of small-scale domestic digesters are being used by subsistence farmers in the development world to produce biogas for home use.


Significant action is needed to reduce food losses, and this will also improve energy efficiency in the agri-food chain.


Finally it is essential to improve access to modern energy services to the millions of people who still use biomass in a nontraditional way as energy for cooking and heating.


A long row to hoe

Transitioning to an energy-smart agricultural sector will be a "huge undertaking" that will require long-term thinking, and needs to start now, FAO says.


During the climate talks in Durban, the UN agency is advocating "Energy-smart food for people and climate," an approach based on three pillars: (i) providing energy access for all with a focus on rural communities; (ii) improving energy efficiency at all stages of the food supply chain; and (iii) substituting fossil fuels with renewable energy systems in the food sector.


"The key question at hand is not, ‘If or when we should begin the transition to energy-smart food systems?' but rather ‘how can we get started and make gradual but steady progress?" said Mueller.




(Return to Contents)




1.03  Global agriculture able to continue feeding growing world population


Wageningen, The Netherlands

November 29, 2011

Global agriculture, with the Netherlands leading the way, is demonstrably more prolific, better and cleaner than in preceding years. Agriculture may be more productive more efficient, thereby leaving more land for nature. And the damage caused to the environment by farming has dropped considerably, says Rudy Rabbinge, University Professor Sustainable Development and Food security, Wageningen University, in his farewell address.


Rabbinge indicates that enormous leaps in knowledge and insight into this area may ensure that enough food will be available to feed the growing world population. However, ineffective policy, unequal distribution of production and poor food distribution still leads to a billion people going hungry. It is a disgrace that warrants a world-wide reaction, he said in his farewell speech entitled Hindsights in perspective.


We do not need extra agricultural land in order to feed the world population in the coming decades, says Rabbinge. To his mind, the notion of a present or future shortage is a misunderstanding: this is not the case anywhere in the world, except in China.



Wageningen UR (University & Research centre) has made a substantial contribution to the development of global agriculture, thereby reinforcing its own international position, says Rabbinge. The scientific insight and knowledge developed in Wageningen and elsewhere give cause for utopian thinking with good prospects rather than anti-utopian (dystopian) defeatism. Naive optimism is dangerous, but unfounded pessimism is discouraging and frustrating, he continues.


There is realistic scientific research that explores the boundaries of possibility, according to Prof. Rabbinge. Otherwise, we descend into Malthusian thought processes. Two hundred years ago, Malthusian predicted that the world would be unable to feed the growing population. The fact that he was manifestly wrong is illustrated by the current situation in which the population has increased seven-fold, but there is now more food per head available than in 1800. Rabbinge feels more affinity with the French philosopher Condorcet, who believed in dramatic change thanks to man´s ingenuity.


Food security

In his speech, Rabbinge details how he and his staff, first as Professor of Crop Ecology, then of Theoretical Production Ecology and later as Professor of Sustainable Development and Food Security, were able to use budding insight into biological systems to contribute to prospects for world food security, with less pollution, erosion and other non-sustainable threats. Energy systems are being developed that differ greatly from the current large-scale production. Rabbinge refers to the energy-producing greenhouse (which could be operational in the coming years), energy-neutral buildings and small-scale power generation by means of bio-solar cells. If agricultural production is concentrated at the well-endowed locations, geared up to high production, the world will be in a position both to sustain agro-biodiversity (the combination of natural plague control and biological control mechanisms in the fields) and to secure areas of agricultural land for nature. The historical trends in productivity, the huge opportunities that still exist and the growing will and new institutions fully justify this optimism. Scientific analysis, whether fundamental or applied, form the basis for these opportunities. This is of vital importance in the fragile relationship between science and policy, according to Prof. Rabbinge.


Prospects for action

Rabbinge asserts that science must support policy and political decision-making by providing explicit ranges of options, based on facts, challenges and concrete measures and not on what he calls lip service and good intentions. In his opinion, society would benefit from quantifiable and concrete prospects for action, without prejudices, dogmas, blockades and myths. These choices and scenarios must make clear that if we want to save the maximum amount of agricultural land for nature and preserving biodiversity, for example, agriculture will have to adapt to making more efficient use of less land, in the realisation that that this will require more energy per unit of area but less per unit of product. In this respect aiming at low external input agriculture is neither good for the environment nor good for biodiversity. Another example of a wrong choice is the use of biofuel generated from grain or biomass. Rabbinge calls this extraordinarily unsustainable and sees no point in measures to stimulate the production of biodiesel.


Prof. Rabbinge concludes his argument by calling on young scientists to support a new movement to tackle the disgraceful situation whereby food has become inaccessible to parts of the world population, thereby helping to eradicate hunger.




(Return to Contents)




1.04  Wheat breeder: Challenges to feed the world unprecedented


By Dan Moser, University of Nebraska

Nov. 23, 2011


• The Green Revolution's improvements — synthetic fertilizers and a variety of herbicides and pesticides — likely have improved yields all they can, so future progress will depend mostly on genetic improvements by scientists.

• That will include transgenic crops, resisted by many consumers, and developing new hybrids.


Take it from a guy who helps feed the world: There's nothing quite like surveying a field comprising a healthy new crop breed your research team helped create and recalling, years earlier, "when you held all the seed of it in the palm of your hand."


P. Stephen Baenziger, University of Nebraska-Lincoln small grains breeder, brought his passion about his work to a talk titled "Setting the Stage: Why Agriculture?" Baenziger was the second speaker in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources' Heuermann Lecture series, which focuses on meeting the world's growing food and renewable energy needs while sustaining natural resources and the rural communities in which food grows.


Developing wheat breeds

Baenziger has been on the front lines of that work his entire career, including 25 years at UNL. He inherited and built on a grains-breeding program that has produced wheat breeds now planted on 66 percent of Nebraska wheat acres, as well as in nearby states. He emphasized, as he has throughout his UNL career, that this work is achieved by a skilled team.

 While that success has helped boost income for Nebraska producers — by about $71 million a year, he estimates — Baenziger is even prouder of the fact that UNL's improvements to wheat are responsible for feeding about 2.7 million people a year.




(Return to Contents)



1.05  New projection shows global food demand doubling by 2050


Washington, DC, USA

November 21, 2011

Global food demand could double by 2050, according to a new projection reported this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


The analysis also shows that the world faces major environmental challenges unless agricultural practices change.


Scientists David Tilman and Jason Hill of the University of Minnesota (UMN) and colleagues found that producing the amount of food needed could significantly increase levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen in the environment, and may cause the extinction of numerous species.


These problems can be avoided, the researchers say, if the high-yielding technologies of wealthier nations are adapted to work in poorer nations, and if all countries use nitrogen fertilizers more efficiently.


In their paper, the scientists explore various ways of meeting the demand for food, and their environmental effects.


The options, they found, are to increase productivity on existing agricultural land, clear more land, or a combination of both.


They also consider various scenarios in which the amount of nitrogen use, land cleared, and resulting greenhouse gas emissions differ.


"Agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions could double by 2050 if current trends in global food production continue," Tilman said. "This would be a major problem, since global agriculture already accounts for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions."


"Ever increasing global demands for food pit environmental health against human prosperity," said Saran Twombly, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.


"These assessments show that agricultural intensification, through improved agronomic practices and technology transfer, best ensure the latter with minimal costs to the former," Twombly said.


"The results challenge wealthy nations to invest technologically in underyielding nations to alter the current global trajectory of agricultural expansion," she believes. "Identifying the economic and political incentives needed to realize this investment is the critical next step."


The environmental effects of meeting the demand for food depend on how global agriculture expands.


The research shows that adopting nitrogen-efficient "intensive" farming can meet future global food demand with much lower environmental effects, vs. the "extensive" farming practiced by many poor nations, which clears land to produce more food.


The potential benefits are great, the researchers believe.


In 2005, crop yields for the wealthiest nations were more than 300 percent higher than yields for the poorest nations.


"Strategically intensifying crop production in developing and least-developed nations would reduce the overall environmental harm caused by food production, as well as provide a more equitable food supply across the globe," said Hill.


If poorer nations continue current practices, they will clear a land area larger than the United States (two and a half billion acres) by 2050. But if richer nations help poorer nations to improve yields, that number could be reduced to half a billion acres.


"Our analyses show that we can save most of the Earth's remaining ecosystems," said Tilman, "by helping the poorer nations of the world feed themselves."


Scientists Christian Balzer of the University of California Santa Barbara and Belinda Befort of UMN are also co-authors of the paper.




(Return to Contents)




1.06  Earth likely to become increasingly hostile to agriculture


Drought frequency is expected to triple in the next 100 years. The resulting variability and stress for farmers could prove regionally disabling without new policy

By Douglas Fischer and  | December 6, 2011


SAN FRANCISCO - To get a glimpse of the future, look to East Africa today.

The Horn of Africa is in the midst of its worst drought in 60 years: Crop failures have left up to 10 million at risk of famine; social order has broken down in Somalia, with thousands of refugees streaming into Kenya; British Aid alone is feeding 2.4 million people across the region.


That's a taste of what's to come, say scientists mapping the impact of a warming planet on agriculture and civilization.


"We think we're going to have continued dryness, at least for the next 10 or 15 years, over East Africa," said Chris Funk, a geographer at the U.S. Geological Society and founding member of the Climate Hazard Group at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


Funk and other experts at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco cautioned that East Africa is just one example. Many recent events - discoveries from sediment cores in New York, drought in Australia and the western United States, data from increasingly sophisticated computer models - lead to a conclusion that the weather driving many of the globe's great breadbaskets will become hotter, drier and more unpredictable.


Even the northeastern United States - a region normally omitted from any serious talk about domestic drought - is at risk, said Dorothy Peteet, a senior research scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.


A series of sediment cores drilled from New York marshes confirm that mega droughts can grip the region: One spanned from 850 to 1350 A.D., Peteet said. And shorter, more intense droughts have driven sea water far up the Hudson River, past towns such as Poughkeepsie that depend on the river for drinking supplies.  


"We're just beginning to map the extent, but we know it was pervasive," she said. "There are hints of drought all the way up to Maine."


Of course, climate change can't be blamed for all the food shortages and social unrest, several researchers cautioned. Landscape changes such as deforestation can trigger droughts, while policy choices exacerbate impacts.


Some hard-hit African countries have the highest growth rates on the planet, and gains in agricultural productivity simply have not kept up with those extra mouths. Per capita cereal production, for instance, peaked worldwide in the mid-1980s, Funk said, and is decreasing everywhere. But no place on the globe is decreasing faster than East Africa.


Simple policy decisions can blunt a crisis. Malawi, in southeastern Africa, gave farmers bags of seed and fertilizer and saw food prices fall and the percentage of its population classified as undernourished drop by almost half over a decade, Funk added. Kenya, in contrast, saw its policies stagnate; prices and malnourishment rates both rose.


Meanwhile, researchers probing the climate in pre-Columbian Central America figure that widespread deforestation had a hand in the droughts thought to have toppled the Mayan, Toltec and Aztec civilizations.


More than 1,000 years ago, "significant deforestation" throughout Central America suppressed rainfall upwards of 20 percent and warmed the region 0.5ºC, said Benjamin Cook, a NASA climatologist.


The forest - and local moisture - rebounded with the population crash that followed European contact, he added. But today the region is even more denuded than during its pre-Colombian peak.


But with the frequency of droughts expected to triple in the next 100 years, researchers fear the resulting variability and stress to agriculture and civilization could prove destabilizing for many regions.


"We should take it seriously," Peteet said.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S) is a nonprofit news service that covers climate change. Contact editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at]




(Return to Contents)




1.07 Slow rise in crop yields affects global food security


Crops yields are rising more slowly and thus have serious implications for global food production. In particular, countries in Europe such as Denmark, France, Finland and Switzerland have noted a decline in crop yield despite increased yield potential. Robert Finger of ETH Zurich, Switzerland makes these observations in Food Security: Close crop yield gap published in the journal Nature.


Finger identifies markets as a contributory factor due to reduced incentive for investment in equipment, fertilizer, and related inputs. Agricultural polices aimed at reducing environmental damage have also hindered growth in crop yields. To close yield gaps that would ensure sufficient global food production, Finger suggests more incentives particularly for low income countries.


Check out for the original article.


Source: Crop Biotech Update 09 December 2011


(Return to Contents)




1.08  Breeders Without Borders


Do you have a desire to try something new, a desire to make an impact on agriculture in a developing country, or perhaps take a non-traditional holiday? Have you ever thought about what it would be like to develop a breeding program for an underdeveloped plant species, or run a breeding program in a developing country? Then Breeders Without Borders may be just what you are looking for.


Anthony Leddin, a plant breeder in Australia, was inspired after reading the book “The Coming Famine”, by Julian Cribb. In trying to figure out what he could do to make a difference, Anthony came up with the concept of Breeders Without Borders. The idea is similar to Doctors Without Borders where plant breeders, undergraduate and graduate students volunteer and are then matched with overseas projects (Crops for the Future) that are looking for plant breeders. These projects would be in underdeveloped species where no breeding work is being done to avoid conflicts of interest. The concept is that the volunteer plant breeder along with the undergraduate and graduate students would spend a short period of time in the country working with local farmers/agronomists to acquaint them with common plant breeding methodology. The projects will become community based breeding where the farmers will eventually run the program and can be supported by the volunteer plant breeder back in their home country. This will begin the new generation of plant breeders in the developed and the developing world as young people will see how interesting plant breeding can be. Young plant breeders will gain experience from more senior plant breeders and their knowledge will not be lost. These young people will come back to their countries being more practical and resilient breeders, a trait that is needed with the many cutbacks seen in plant breeding projects around the world.


As of this newsletter, Anthony has four universities in Australia interested in undergraduate mentoring by a senior plant breeder at a project, and those universities are willing to fund the students’ travel expenses. FAO is interested in the undergraduate mentoring aspect as well.  There is a number of volunteer aid organizations around the world that are willing to fund plant breeders to travel to the project sites. What Anthony is looking for now are “champions” from around the world that can promote Breeders Without Borders and also a major sponsor that could get the ball rolling with funding support.


If you, or perhaps someone you know, are interested in serving as “champions” for Breeders Without Borders or your company is willing to become a sponsor or you would like to volunteer or help with the idea, please drop Anthony an email .


Contributed by Anthony Leddin


(Return to Contents)




1.09  Education and research of plant breeding for the 21st Century


General Perspective

During the 20th Century national, regional and international gene banks established major collections for most crops to ensure the conservation of plant genetic resources. However, the use of this crop genetic endowment remains limited due to the lack of systematic research to provide a comprehensive framework for the efficient identification and introgression of beneficial variation for use in plant breeding. This needs to be achieved for both on-going priority traits and for novel added-value traits. There are now opportunities to develop new more efficient approaches for plant breeding because of the emergence of molecular genomic technologies and advances in computational systems. The power of molecular genomics will be fully realized when used in combination with classical quantitative genetics to integrate and comparatively analyze phenotypic, pedigree, and genotypic information for important traits. When we teach plant breeding we should therefore emphasize research and training in the use of crop diversity: conservation and characterization, plus the development of methods for increasing the pace and scope of impact from seed-embedded technologies. This training will require a broad range of partnerships, which will facilitate leveraging of new resources to harness emerging knowledge.



The research agenda for hands-on training in plant breeding should include from crop biodiversity to bioinformatics with the main focus on analysis of genetic diversity of crops as well as development of strategies for conservation and utilization of genetic resources in plant breeding, with breeding informatics as a primary supportive tool. Over the last century assessment of variation in gene bank collections, and research into breeding and selection has led to a vast accumulation of both knowledge and genetic resources. For example, many breeding programs have collated extensive amounts of historical phenotypic and genealogical information on their breeding lines and some have conserved seed from these lines. However, rarely has this phenotypic data, derived from many years of multi-environment trials, been properly curated and integrated with genotype and site characterization data. The integration of interdisciplinary information resources and a comprehensive germplasm collection will facilitate the development of a new paradigm of knowledge-led plant breeding in which defined genomic regions will be the target for specific manipulation by plant breeding. Hence, all available data although sometimes patchy, can be used for retrospective modelling to form the basis of developing simulation tools to optimize the design of breeding and selection systems of ongoing breeding programs. The main pillars for teaching plant breeding course(s) should be:


Crop Biodiversity: Conservation, characterization and knowledge sharing

  • Developing evolutionary approaches for safe and dynamic conservation of the world’s crop heritage for future generations through further use in plant breeding
  • Exploring improved techniques for the conservation of plant genetic resources and the assessment of crop diversity
  • Understanding the rich genetic diversity of crops in the context of use in genetic enhancement, as the foundation for the development of dynamic core selectors
  • Modeling genetic diversity in agricultural crop species and their wild relatives to determine the extent of variation, clustering of germplasm for sampling, and identifying potential areas for further search


Genetic Variation: Targeted access and efficient utilization

  • Exploiting the untapped value of crop genetic resources through discovery of specific, strategically important traits required for current and future generations of target beneficiaries
  • Analyzing genetic variation (including association mapping for gene discovery and gene re-sequencing for allele mining) of target traits in respective genetic pools to facilitate their further “smart” use in plant breeding
  • Assessing innovative crop genetic enhancement methods that will lead to building “strategic germplasm blocks” through the utilization of unused “exotic” variation
  • Finding eco-friendly bio-techniques that facilitate the genetic manipulation of plants


Breeding Informatics: Building a functional link between biodiversity and plant breeding

  • Determining optimum use of molecular, genetic, phenotypic and genealogical data for “mining” germplasm collections
  • Turning data into knowledge and skills by visualizing results of whole crop genome description that will lead to a better understanding of gene × genotype × environment interactions, of great use in plant breeding
  • Simulating knowledge-driven breeding approaches for assisting genetic enhancement programs to choose the most appropriate parental genotypes, breeding systems and selection procedures
  • Participating in enhancing crop information systems and informatics platforms through a holistic framework in which to orientate the development of such tools, especially to ensure overall biological interpretations


Education … and Public Awareness

Outreach and Education: Students should learn -through courses and research projects- to model genetic diversity in agricultural crop plants and their wild relatives, for both in situ and ex situ conservation, as well as for the sustainable use of genetic resources in crop improvement. They also need to acquire skills to make their case with the public and policy-makers to bring advances in Science for the benefit of humandkind. Photo: Pat Heslop-Harrison.


We increasingly require professionals with holistic interdisciplinary skills to help advance crop improvement. Integrated system-oriented thinking needs to be taught both at undergraduate and graduate levels. E-learning (through the use of web systems) should also become available as a supportive tool and reach students afar, especially through interactive modules allowing users to access knowledge and self-assess their performance. Likewise, we need awareness materials to educate and sensitize the general public and policy-makers to the needs for conservation and sustainable use of crop genetic resources through plant breeding. This may lead to mobilizing resources for large national, continental and international research partnerships with public and private sectors.


You can find out more about the research of the Department of Plant Breeding and Biotechnology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (in Swedish).


Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences


(Return to Contents)




1.10  Big boost to plant research - The four largest nonprofit plant science research institutions in the U.S. join forces


Palo Alto, California, USA

November 22, 2011

The four largest nonprofit plant science research institutions in the U.S. have joined forces to form the Association of Independent Plant Research Institutes (AIPI) in an effort to target plant science research to meet the profound challenges facing society in a more coordinated and rapid fashion.


Scientific leaders from the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (Cornell University), The Carnegie Institution for Science, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (St. Louis, Mo.) and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation (Ardmore, Okla.) formed the AIPI to facilitate scientific discovery through intellectual and technical collaborations. The group will also disseminate research outcomes and provide a forum for discussion of approaches to the challenges facing agriculture.


Collectively, AIPI member institutions operate nearly 60 laboratories with more than 400 personnel. Each organization offers different but complementary technical expertise that ranges from measuring individual chemicals and proteins within plants to the ability to obtain three-dimensional images of plant structures and proteins in living tissue. In addition, state-of-the-art greenhouse and field resources allow science to mature beyond the laboratory and into tangible outcomes to benefit consumers and provide for tomorrow.


“Each of these institutions possesses skilled and dedicated researchers,” said David Stern, President of Boyce Thomson Institute. Researchers at each institution have had tremendous success. Together, we will be even better. AIPI is a tool to allow our collective resources to respond faster to opportunities in an organized and collaborative manner. We will achieve more. And humanity will be the beneficiary.”


“Plants and the many roles they play in our world are often taken for granted,” said Richard Dixon, D. Phil., senior vice president at the Noble Foundation. “But as global populations increase from 6.8 to 9.1 billion people in the next few decades, and water and land resources decrease, we are going to ask more and more from plants to provide food, fuel and fiber.”


In a recent meeting of researchers and scientists from member institutions, hosted by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, AIPI affirmed its initial research objectives in three core areas of plant science research:

  • The development of plants as sources of renewable energy. Grasses, grains, trees and algae are being developed as potential energy sources, including transportation fuels. AIPI scientists will research how to design and deploy plants to contribute to energy needs without depleting soil and water resources, and without competing with food production.
  • The improvement of plants’ abilities to provide an unparalleled range of “ecosystem services” to the planet. Plants filter groundwater, reduce erosion, absorb carbon dioxide and generate oxygen. AIPI researchers want to improve these processes and help mankind use them in novel ways.
  • The continued development of sustainable agriculture practices. Plants underpin all agriculture, whether used as food for humans, as feed for animals or to produce fiber. Sustainable practices both decrease costs to farmers, and provide environmental and consumer benefits.


To accomplish these objectives, AIPI scientists will coordinate projects that study plant growth, development, and chemistry; plant interactions with insects, fungi and bacteria; and metabolic processes, such as oil production and photosynthesis.


“Plants are some of the most highly complex organisms on the planet,” said Jan Jaworksi, member, Danforth Plant Science Center. “AIPI researchers are dividing up the research into primary areas so that we can generate the most profound and useful discoveries.”


Coordinated deployment of the member institution’s expertise will lead to a deeper understanding of how plants react to the environment and other organisms, and how they acquire and use nutrients, as well as revealing the genetic potential within plants.


“All of these capabilities can be harnessed, in the long term, to develop plants that resist disease, tolerate drought or nutrient-poor soils, produce healthier foods, or provide raw materials for energy,” said Wolf B Frommer, Director of the Department of Plant Biology at the Carnegie Institution for Science. “With the challenges facing humanity in the next few generations, this research is critical to maintaining a supply of nutritious food, fiber and energy, in a manner that does not degrade the environment.”


Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (Cornell University) was founded by William Boyce Thompson BTI in 1924 on the premise that basic plant research leads to real benefits for people. Many potential applications of BTI research are to improve crops by increasing yield or nutritional content, or decreasing the need for harmful fertilizers and pesticides. Other research could lead to inexpensive plant-made vaccines, or even shed light on the human immune system.


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


The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Inc., headquartered in Ardmore, Okla., is an independent, nonprofit institute conducting plant science research, plant breeding and agricultural programs to enhance agricultural productivity, which influences agriculture regionally, nationally and internationally. The Noble Foundation also provides grants to nonprofit charitable, educational and health organizations.




(Return to Contents)




1.11  UK Plant Sciences Federation launched to tackle global threats


United Kingdom

23 November 2011

With an increasing urgency to answer the challenges of global issues such as food security and climate change, a new unified body has been set up by the Society of Biology. UK Plant Sciences Federation (UKPSF), launched this week, incorporates the vast range of plant science researchers, educators and industries. The group will bring an inclusive and comprehensive dialogue across the plant and crop science community.


UK Plant Science is playing a role in meeting the needs of an increasing global population and could do more. In a world with a current population of 7 billion people, underpinning research into plant science and crop production and its delivery through a vibrant commercial sector is more important than ever. UKPSF is committed to integration of research and development to meet these challenges in an environmentally sustainable manner.


UK Plant Science also has a major role in other grand challenges for UK science Research & Development. Human health, energy resources, and biodiversity and habitat conservation are challenges for all UK Science sectors and the work and efforts represented by UKPSF Member Organisations make major contributions to all three.


The UK has a reputation for world class research and development in the plant and crop sciences, and a rich diversity of research groups that reflect the importance of plants for the health and wealth of the nation. UKPSF will be a single point of contact to represent these fantastic UK resources, highlight their outputs and maximise impact through co-ordination of disperse activities.


UK Plant Science can only meet its potential through stronger engagement within and beyond the plant science community. For the first time, the breadth of the UK Plant Science sector is being brought together - basic research, applied research, outreach, industry and education in a unique new structure.


The Society of Biology welcomes plant science groups from across the sector to join the Federation; they aim to bring together basic and applied research, outreach, industry and education. This exciting new initiative will serve as ‘one voice for UK plant science’ to inform policy makers, funders and society.


Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London said: “Plants are rightly returning to centre stage of food policy for many reasons: health, environment, climate, land use, biodiversity.”


Professor Giles Oldroyd, Programme Leader at the John Innes Centre commented: “We in the UK should be proud of our impact in plant science and I hope that the Plant Sciences Federation will ensure that we maintain our international standing”


Dr Mark Downs, CEO of the Society of Biology said, “Plant biology is critical to all our futures. It is essential that politicians, funders and the media recognise its enormous potential in addressing major national and global challenges”.


The UKPSF is launched on Wednesday 23 November, at Chares Darwin House in London, with a keynote address by botanist and celebrated author, Dr Sandra Knapp from the Natural History Museum.


Published: November 25, 2011




(Return to Contents)




1.12 Africa-wide rice task forces set up for greater impact 


Cotonou, Benin

December 12, 2011

National and international rice experts in Africa have joined forces to set up continent-wide task forces on critical thematic areas in the rice sector to stimulate the delivery of improved technologies.


Focusing on five themes – (1) breeding; (2) agronomy; (3) postharvest & value addition; (4) policy; and (5) gender – the Africa rice task forces aim to provide synergy to research efforts across the continent, pool scarce human resources and foster a high level of national involvement.


GRiSP Africa Rice Task Force Launch

“This approach will reduce the time lag between the development and the release of new rice technologies across the continent and increase their impact,” remarked Dr. Papa Abdoulaye Seck, Director General of the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice).


Dr. Seck explained that the task force mechanism is based on three principles: sustainability, development of critical mass and ownership by the national agricultural research systems. “A major thrust of the task forces is building the rice research capacity at the regional and national levels.”


AfricaRice is facilitating these continental task forces in response to the strong demand made by the participants of the 2nd Africa Rice Congress held in 2010, which was endorsed by the 28th Ordinary Session of its Council of Ministers in 2011.


For AfricaRice and its partners, the task force mechanism is an important tool to link the development of improved rice technologies with local partners through adaptive research and to accelerate their dissemination through innovation partnerships.


The Center will build on its experience with the regional rice task force mechanism introduced in the nineties, which was appreciated by its national partners.


The new task forces will operate under the umbrella of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), a CGIAR Research Program, which provides a single strategic plan and unique new partnership platform for impact-oriented rice research for development (R4D).


“We must ensure that the task forces provide a vital space for young scientists to grow,” stated Dr. Marco Wopereis, AfricaRice Deputy Director General, at the recent launch of the Africa Rice Agronomy and Postharvest & Value Addition Task Forces in Cotonou, Benin, which was attended by participants from 14 African countries. Issues relating to mechanization are dealt within both these Task Forces.


Earlier this year, the Africa Rice Gender Task Force was launched to ensure an effective gender mainstreaming in rice R4D and capacity building activities in order to deliver gender-friendly technologies that can improve the quality and the competitiveness of locally produced rice.


The Africa Rice Breeding Task Force is already in operation and is facilitating access of rice breeders across the continent to new varieties and lines. It has also been actively engaged in organizing training programs on breeding, experimental design, and germplasm database management for national researchers.


More news from: Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice)



Published: December 12, 2011




(Return to Contents)




1.13  Thumbs-up for industry collaboration on a sustainable food supply chain


16 December 2011

Scientists, farmers, businesses, retailers and policy-makers from across the agri-food sector are backing a co-ordinated industry approach to ensure a sustainable and efficient UK food supply chain.


It follows the Centre of Excellence for UK Farming (CEUKF) inaugural conference, where delegates from industry, academia and government debated how the UK could become the best place to produce safe and nutritious food - against the backdrop of global population growth, climate change and other key challenges. 


Welcoming the CEUKF initiative, Defra Food and Farming Minister, Jim Paice, MP told conference delegates: “No one sector has the solution to the challenges facing our food production system. It will require innovative approaches, with scientists, farmers, food industry and policy-makers working in partnership to improve the efficiency, sustainability and resilience of our food supply chain.


“The Centre of Excellence for UK Farming is a timely, market-focused initiative to promote effective collaboration between the UK research base and the food supply industry, and I wish the project every success.”


Conference delegates agreed on the need for a shared vision and strategy between government, science and industry. 


“The challenges facing global food security are well reported and urgent, but we are being asked to produce more, whilst reducing our resource consumption and environmental impact. The conference highlighted the case for a co-ordinated UK-wide strategy to achieve this, but there is still considerable work to do in pulling this together,” said Professor Wayne Powell, Director of IBERS, speaking after the event.


“A mix of technologies and approaches is needed to ensure consumer demands can be met. This will require more effective collaboration between research and industry,” he said.


Although the UK still boasts world class science and research, the conference recognised that the translation of new knowledge into practical benefit is increasingly challenged, and shortages are merging in key areas such as soil science and meat technology. 


There were calls for a realignment of research funding, with a boost to translational and applied research within a finite science budget.


Conference delegates agreed that industry has a vital role to play in the funding and steering of research and innovation, including developing partnerships with scientists and research institutes.  The urgency of the challenges ahead will mean aligning research more to market needs.


At the conference close delegates were asked to suggest three of four key actions as next steps. “We’ve already had a superb response, including offers of collaboration and help, and would like to emphasise that we remain open to ideas on ways forward from anyone within our industry,” finished Professor Powell.


For further information contact:

Professor Wayne Powell, Director, IBERS


Media Contacts:

Hannah Chance, Waitrose Press Office,


Ros Lloyd, CEUKF/Farming Futures


(Return to Contents)




1.14  Use of gametophytic isolating mechanisms for maize


Universidad de Guadalajara and North Carolina State University


Recently there has been an interest, largely from organic farmers in the US, in developing maize hybrids that would resist pollination from nearby transgenic hybrids with the same relative maturity. Attempts are well underway with Ga1-s hybrids. The concept is not new, popcorn breeders have used the Ga1-s system for over 50 years, using the designation DS (for Dent Sterile). In addition, white corn breeders, notably Marcus Zuber, have used it for almost 40 years. NC State has released several Ga1-s lines, both yellows and whites, and we have tested a number of homozygous Ga1-s single-crosses and double-crosses.


The system currently works well, but has several disadvantages that may ultimately restrict its usage. All inbreds used must be homozygous for Ga1-s, as the allele is more additive in action, rather than dominant; in addition modifiers of the action of Ga1-s may be required. Backcrossing the gene into existing inbreds is straight-forward, but time consuming. The lines used often become obsolete before the backcrossing is complete, a fact that stymied the use of Zuber's Ga1-s white inbreds.


More consequential perhaps is the widespread occurrence in Mexico of a promiscuous allele at the ga1 locus, Ga1-m (De la Cruz et al., 2008; Padilla, 2011). Ga1-m can pollinate or accept pollen from both ga1 and Ga1-s homozygotes or heterozygotes. Furthermore, NC State has released several inbreds that carry the Ga1-m allele, again both yellows and whites. Clearly, any transgenic carrying even a single copy of Ga1-m would be able to cross with a Ga1-s hybrid, effectively destroying that isolation mechanism.


A more effective barrier to transgenic pollen would be a dominant gametophytic barrier (DGB). Such a factor (Teosinte crossing barrier-1, Tcb1) has been described by Jerry Kermikle (2006), who isolated it from teosinte. Small scale tests suggest that it is quite effective, but it has at least one serious drawback. Homozygous Tcb1-s stocks often do not set seed well. While that is not consequential in heterozygous hybrids, reliable seed stocks of parental lines are the foundation for hybrid seed production. It is suspected, but not (yet) demonstrated that the lack of seed set on homozygous Tcb1-s stocks is due to a shorter pollen tube, which has been transferred from teosinte, combined with the long silk channel of W22, the standard stock carrying the allele. Teosinte has much shorter silks than maize, so that teosinte pollen does not have to traverse as long a distance as maize pollen. Tcb1-s pollen functions well in most crosses and even functions well in selfs in cooler winter nurseries, so there is still much to learn.


There are three possible solutions to this problem:


1. Select for improved seed set in segregating materials carrying Tcb1-s.

2. Isolate DGB lines from accessions of maize.

3. Treat all DGB lines like Cms-sterile lines, maintaining them as heterozygous stocks.


At present, there has not been enough work completed to know if #1 is feasible, but work is underway at the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere.


It appears that new DGB lines can be derived from rare maize accessions; several accessions carrying DGBs have been identified at the University of Guadalajara and several have tentatively been identified by the Allelic Diversity project of GEM (Germplasm Enhancement of Maize). It is worth noting that from more than 200 commercial hybrids studied, DGBs have not been detected in improved materials. At this time, it is not known if the allele(s) involved in this barrier are from the Tcb1 locus or if they represent a different locus, perhaps ga1.


To produce a maize hybrid A x B, ordinarily two reasonably productive parental inbreds (A and B) are required. If B is the male, then the hybrid AB will not accept ga1 pollen, if B is homozygous for a DGB. Line A need not carry the DGB. However, it is also possible to produce AB in a slightly different way and still maintain isolation. For example, line A and line B can each be heterozygous for a DGB, and all hybrid seed will carry at least one copy of the DGB. In the case of Tcb1-s that may well result in lower yields due to lower yields of Tcb1-s homozygotes. However, the existence of DGBs in maize accessions cultivated for years by farmers, would suggest that lower yields of homozygous DGBs should surely have been minimized over the years, if indeed they ever existed. If that is indeed the case, then both A and B could be heterogeneous, segregating lines having a mixture of homozygous and heterozygous DGB genotypes.


Given the current status of organic farming rules in the US, it is likely that the most economical way to supply organically-sourced seeds is through double-cross hybrids (or through synthetic double-crosses, where the "single-crosses" are bulk increased prior to making the "double-cross"). In that case, all four inbreds of any such double-cross could be heterogeneous for homozygous and heterozygous DGB plants.


While homozygosity or heterogeneity of lines may seem inconsequential, use of heterogeneous lines can greatly speed up the production and testing of experimental hybrids, and that testing is both critical and time consuming.



De la Cruz L., L., J.J. Sánchez G., J. Ron P., F. Santacruz R., B. Baltazar M., J.A. Ruíz C., M.M. Morales R. 2008. El factor gametofítico-1  (ga1) en híbridos comerciales de maíz de México. Revista Fitotecnia Mexicana 31(1): 57-65.


Kermicle, J.L. 2006. A selfish gene governing pollen-pistil compatibility confers reproductive isolation between maize relatives. Genetics 172: 499-506.


Padilla G., J.M. 2011. Relaciones de incompatibilidad en razas e híbridos comerciales de maíz. Ph.D. dissertation, Universidad de Guadalajara. Doctorado en Ciencias en Biosistemática, Ecología y Manejo de Recursos Naturales y Agrícolas.


Submitted by: J.Jesus Sanchez, Jose Miguel Padilla, Lino De la Cruz, Jose Ron, James Holland, Matthew Krakowsky, and Major Goodman


Contributed by Major Goodman

North Carolina State University


(Return to Contents)




1.15  Institute for Agricultural Research Samaru releases new crop varieties for food security and improved livelihood


The Institute for Agricultural Research Samaru, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria has released twelve new crop varieties for enhanced regional food security and improved income.


The new crop varieties developed, tested and released by the Institute in December, 2011 are: six Maize varieties, three Sorghum varieties, two Cowpea varieties and one Groundnut variety. The Maize and Cowpea varieties have been developed in collaboration with IITA Ibadan scientists while the Sorghum and Groundnut varieties have been developed in collaboration with ICRISAT scientists. The new crop varieties will offer new choices for growers not only in Nigeria but also in the West and Central Africa Sub-region. The varieties could expand market opportunities for food processing entrepreneurs in the Sub-region.


The six new maize varieties, according to IAR senior breeder, Professor S.G. Ado, are in addition to the 27 varieties released in December, 2009. Sammaz 34 and 36 were developed at IAR Samaru while Sammaz 32, 33, 35 and 37 were developed at IITA Ibadan.


Some of the new varieties were improvement over previously released varieties as a result of fortification with quality protein or incorporation of resistance to abiotic (drought) and biotic (Striga) stresses. Both drought and Striga pose serious challenges to maize production in Sub-saharan Africa.


With these new maize varieties, food security and nutrition security of the region is expected to improve significantly in line with the Millennium Development Goals.  Two of the varieties are extra-early  maturing (85 days after planting), two are medium maturing (95days after plating) while the remaining two are late maturing (120days after planting).  All the new varieties are relatively high yielding with potential yields of 4-6t/ha.


The three sorghum varieties released were Samsorg-42 (white seeded), Samsorg-43 (Yellow Seeded) and Samsorg-44 (White seeded).  The varieties are suitable for production in the sudan and guinea savanna ecologies.  The cowpea varieties released were: Sampea 13 (dual purpose) and Sampea 14 (drought tolerant). In addition to high grain yields, Sampea 13 and Sampea 14 are resistant to Striga and Alectra which are serious constraints to cowpea production especially in the dry savanna agro-ecological zones. With increase in agricultural intensification, the incidence of parasitic weeds is expected to increase and therefore resistant varieties of crops are necessary to provide cheap and sustainable means of control.


The Groundnut variety released was Samnut 24. It is suited to northern guinea and sudano-sahelian ecological Zones.


Contributed by Shehu G. Ado


(Return to Contents)




1.16  IAR Samaru Nigeria and IITA bring benefits of Vitamin A enriched maize research to rural people


Research into pro-vitamin A maize in Nigeria has received a boost through promotional activities organized by both the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR)  Samaru and International Institute of Tropical Agricultural, Ibadan in one of its host research villages, Anguwan Dan Isa, Soba Local Government Area (L.G.A.), Thursday  November 10, 2011.


Both IAR Samaru and IITA Ibadan organized the awareness programme (a Field Day) to showcase the progress made in the collaborative project on pro-vitamin A maize research. According to the Project Leader, Dr. Inuwa S. Usman, Bio-fortification of staple crops like maize through plant breeding is a viable option for combating vitamin A deficiency.


The Field Day was attended by the Deputy Director Research Dr. A.M. Falaki, representing IAR Executive Director, the Project Leader, Dr. Inuwa S. Usman, Representative of Sole Administrator, Soba L.G.A., Honourable Counsellor Isah G. Nayaya. Among the traditional leaders in attendance were Sarkin Bauran Zazzau, Engr. Hayatuddeen Muhammed Sarkin Kuduro Soba, Alhaji Aliyu Sani, religious leaders in the village, farmers and school children. Also, in attendance were: representative of IAR Cereal Research Programme, Dr. (Mrs.) A.B. Zarafi, Mr. T.O. Fadiji Head, Publications and Information Unit and Malam Z. Abubakar a researcher working on the project.


The Field Day activities also featured drama presentation, farm visit, discussion and exhibition which reinforced the attributes and benefits of the vitamin A enriched maize. The day’s event was climaxed with feeding of the pupils in school with breakfast products made from the maize i.e. waina and pap drink.


Other meals made from the maize were tuwo and cake shown to the attendees.

Indeed, the event was a memorable one which the villagers will continue to remember for a long time to come. A major testifier to the richness of vitamin A maize, mallam Abdulkadir Sani, the leader of Farmers in Anguwan Dan Isa said, was the taste of the nice recipes prepared from the maize.


Contribruted by Shehu G. Ado


(Return to Contents)




1.17  The story behind ‘super broccoli’ - A case study in the successful commercialisation of UK bioscience


United Kingdom

23 November 2011

When Beneforté 'super broccoli' was launched onto selected UK supermarket shelves in October 2011, it represented a special achievement for UK bioscience - a consumer-focused, nutritionally-enhanced product developed over more than two decades through collaboration between two BBSRC-supported research world-class institutes and a specialist technology transfer company, part-owned by BBSRC.


Beneforté broccoli is two to three times higher in a compound called glucoraphanin from which sulforaphane is derived upon ingestion. Studies in animal model systems have shown that sulforaphane can lead to lower rates of heart disease, act against some forms of cancer, and boost the body's levels of antioxidant enzymes which can protect DNA from damage and is thought to be a useful component of healthy ageing (ref 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).


Beneforté broccoli, developed by conventional breeding techniques, is born from research on the fundamental biology of plants and the link between human nutrition and health at the John Innes Centre (JIC) and the Institute of Food Research (IFR), respectively. Both institutes receive strategic funding from BBSRC, in 2010 £28M for JIC and £13M for IFR, which provides for long-term research programmes and supporting infrastructure. This allows the institutes to pursue mission-led, far-reaching research programmes that translate their science into new products, services or advice.


But the journey from wild broccoli variety to supermarket product has taken decades (see 'Timeline') and is not just about science. Translating work from laboratory bench to supermarket shelf also requires specialist commercial and legal expertise, which was achieved in collaboration with Plant Bioscience Limited (PBL), a company formed in 1994 to develop innovative research into patented and licensable technologies. PBL is jointly and equally owned by JIC, BBSRC, and the Sainsbury Laboratory and also located on the Norwich Research Park with JIC and IFR, forming a unique nucleus of cutting-edge science in the UK. BBSRC has representation of the board of the company. "The broccoli is selling well at M&S," says PBL Managing Director Jan Chojecki. "If this is sustained, there will certainly be a flow back to British science."


Read the complete article




(Return to Contents)




1.18  Center for Marker Discovery and Validation (CMDV) to accelerate conventional breeding in Malaysia


November 25, 2011

The recently concluded BioMalaysia 2011 saw the launch of the Center for Marker Discovery and Validation (CMDV) based in the Malaysian Agriculture Research and Development Institute (MARDI) by the Prime Minister Dato' Sri Najib Tun Razak. MARDI, the nation's premier institute for agricultural research, is the custodian of the technology due to their extensive experience in the field of molecular agricultural genomics.


The center will be utilizing a platform technology acquired by BiotechCorp, the Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) platform. MAS uses DNA markers in the process of selecting desired plant varieties which will speed up the plant and animal breeding process by enabling variety development through selection of desired genotypes during the early stage of the breeding program.


"This will enable the production of planting materials or brood-stock that are certified to contain desired attributes, thus enabling Malaysia's sales of these products to increase and capture significantly higher value," Mardi director general Datuk Dr Abd Shukor Abd Rahman said in an interview with the Business Times.


In conjunction with the launch, strategic collaborations involving BiotechCorp, MARDI and four other parties in the form of Memorandum of Agreements were announced, utilizing the platform. The early utilizers of the platform include the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, for the genotyping of the palm oil crop; JEFI Aquatech Resources for the breeding of shrimp and other products; as well as, Green World Genetics Sdn Bhd for the breeding of hybrid seeds of vegetables and fruit.




(Return to Contents)




1.19  A Hazara-based agriculture scientist claims to have developed the world’s highest rice yield variety.


By Muhammad Sadaqat

November 27, 2011


A Hazara-based agriculture scientist claims to have developed the world’s highest rice yield variety. This specific rice plant’s leaves would remain green even after the maturity of grains due to prolonged photosynthetic activity and therefore they could also be used as fodder.


Dr Fida Muhammad Abbasi, a professor of Genetics at Hazara University, told The Express Tribune on Thursday, that the existing varieties do not produce more than five tons per hectare, however the new variety would yield 12 tons per hectare. These would also mature 20 days earlier than the existing local species. Talking about benefits of early maturity, he said it would enable farmers to cultivate potatoes soon after the rice harvest.


Abbasi said that agriculture scientists from across the globe including China and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have been striving to genetically engineer a productive variety- Green Super Rice. He said existing panicles produce about 250 to 300 grains while the remaining grains are empty.


He started work on the project about nine years ago and carried out breeding experiments on the existing local rice plants including wild rice Oryza longistminata, JP-5, Basmati 385 and KS-282. After making all possible crosses and selection, he claims that the rice plant has been successfully developed.


Describing the traits of the newly developed variety, he said that the its leaves would remain green due to continuous photosynthetic activity and increase the number of grains per panicle from 600-700. The length of the panicle has also been increased up to 40-47cm, which is a world record.


Abbasi called the new variety environment friendly due to its prolonged photosynthetic activities and resistance to bacterial blight. If grown on 10 acres of land, the newly discovered variety would fulfil the need of rice growers of the entire Hazara District, he added.


The new variety would be ready for sowing and marketing by next year. Regarding government support for the project the professor said that the Directorate of Science and Technology Pakistan approved a grant of Rs 400,000 for the project, after repeated requests, which he had still not received.


Abbasi said, “I bore all the expenses of the research myself and my hard work has finally borne fruit.” He said that the IRRI had invited him to Taiwan for discussing the new development.


Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2011.




(Return to Contents)




1.20  Recognition for early career scientist


Dr Cristobal Uauy of the John Innes Centre has been awarded the “Bayer Early Excellence in Science Award” 2011 for Biology for his work in the research area of wheat genetics. The Bayer Foundation presents the Bayer Early Excellence in Science Award to talented young scientists in the early stages of their academic careers. The prizes, worth EUR 10,000 are awarded by an independent scientific committee of the Bayer Science & Education Foundation.


 This new international prize was first presented in 2009 and is awarded annually in the three categories biology, chemistry and materials. The selection is made on the basis of the originality and quality of candidates’ research and the significance of this work for the respective award category.


Cristobal’s award recognizes the contributions he has already made to wheat genetic research early in his career, first at the University of California, Davis and now at the John Innes Centre. During his PhD work he cloned the first Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) in wheat, a gene for increased protein and micronutrient content in the grain. In his postdoctoral work, he helped identify a partial resistance gene against the wheat yellow rust pathogen, Puccinia striiformis.

"I am hugely honoured by the award from Bayer,” said Cristobal. “I'd like to extend this recognition to my inspirational colleagues at UC Davis and JIC whom I've been fortunate to work with in trying to better understand the biology of such a relevant and complex crop such as wheat."


In 2009 Cristobal joined the John Innes Centre, which is strategically funded by BBSRC, as a Project Leader, where he is developing new research into yield related traits and is engaged in the translation of his scientific results to applied crop breeding. He leads the JIC’s collaboration with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), which provides a pipeline to deliver the fundamental findings from JIC research to plant breeders and deliver practical benefits to farmers and consumers.


“Dr Cristobal Uauy’s prestigious award from Bayer is a tribute to his multifaceted approach in addressing key areas of global food security,” commented Professor Dale Sanders FRS, Director of the John Innes Centre. “Through his work with wheat – which is underpinned by state-of-the-art genomic technologies – Cristobal’s research is providing a foundation for three key areas of crop production: productivity, quality and pathogen resistance.  The JIC takes pride in this award to Cristobal as we develop our crop science research, and salute Bayer for recognising the value of Cristobal’s research.”


“Research and science play a central role for the inventor company Bayer. I am delighted that these prizes give us the opportunity to support and motivate young scientists,” said Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Plischke, member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG responsible for Innovation, Technology and Environment, and member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation. “Bayer’s innovation strategy has long focused on intensive exchange with colleges and universities. The targeted funding of young scientists is just one element of our programme – cooperation and strategic partnerships are essential for successful industrial research,” continued Plischke.



JIC Press Office:

Andrew Chapple, +44 (0)1603 251490,

Zoe Dunford, +44 (0)1603 255111,

Bayer Corporate Communications:

Dr. Katharina Jansen, Tel. +49 214 30-33243,


About the Bayer Early Excellence in Science Awards:

The prizes are awarded by the Bayer Science & Education Foundation. The primary objectives of the foundation are the recognition of outstanding research achievements, the promotion of talented scientists and support for important school science projects. In content terms, the sponsorship activities focus on technology, natural sciences and medicine. For many years, the foundation has honored outstanding research work with the Hansen Family Award and the Otto Bayer Award in alternate years, each of which carries a purse of EUR 75,000. Since 2008, the foundation has also presented the Bayer Climate Award worth EUR 50,000, which is awarded for outstanding work in the interdisciplinary field of climate and climate impact research. The Bayer Thrombosis Research Award has been established recently. The current focus of the award, presented every two years with prize money of €30,000, is the basic and clinical research work promoting a diagnosis, prevention and therapy of cardiovascular and thromboembolic diseases.


Contributed by Andrew Chapple

Press Officer

Norwich BioScience Institutes



(Return to Contents)




1.21  Cooks rejoice as world's first seedless pepper goes on sale


By Deborah Arthurs

5 December 2011

It's one of the home cook's fiddliest chores. Attempting to deseed a pepper as the little pips ping across work tops and onto the floor is a messy job - and just one rogue seed can leave a bitter taste in the mouth.


But now the chore could be a thing of the past as the world's first seedless pepper has gone on sale.


Marks & Spencer is to be the first retailer to sell the pepper, which has been created as the result of a 15 year project with Melrow salads and seed house Syngenta.


Groundbreaking: Grown in Southern Spain, Israel and the Netherlands, the new seedless Angello¿ baby pepper is a completely new variety that is extra sweet and extra crunchy

Description: Convenient: The pepper has been naturally bred to have no seeds at all

Convenient: The pepper has been naturally bred to have no seeds at all


The natural breeding programme - not a trace of GM here - resulted in a completely seed-free fruit that, in a happy coincidence, also has a sweeter taste than any other pepper currently on the market.


The trademarked Angello pepper is not only seedless, but also contains a 25 per cent higher level of brix (commonly used to measure sweetness in fruit and vegetables) than ordinary peppers.


The combination makes the Angello ideal not only for cooking, but for snacking, picnics and children's lunchboxes.


Seed-free and sweet: The new peppers were 15 years in the making and are said to be perfect for snacking and lunchboxes


Zeina Orfali, M&S peppers expert, comments: 'We know that seeds in peppers can be a real pain for our customers who want to enjoy them straight from the pack or cook speedy suppers with them, so we decided to develop the first seedless pepper so our customers can enjoy this delicious vegetable on the go – no need to deseed.'


The store's grower, Bernard Sparkes, said it was a pleasure to work with M&S on such special projects. 'It’s really exciting to introduce an amazing new variety of vegetable to the high street,' he said.


'Not only does it save time, but it tastes delicious, better than any other pepper on the high street.


'We hope M&S customers enjoy the pepper as much as we have developing it.'


Luciano Fioramonti, Syngenta Business Manager added: 'We hope that we’ll be able to convert people who don’t normally like peppers with our delicious Angello™, it’s the ultimate healthy convenience food!'


Angello peppers

Grown in Southern Spain, Israel and the Netherlands, the new sweet seedless Angello™ baby pepper is a completely new variety of pepper, that is extra sweet and extra crunchy.


Peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, and just one pepper contains the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C.


M&S seedless Angello™ pepper will be £1.79 per pack (100g) and available from 4th December.


Read more:




(Return to Contents)




1.22  RZ Afrisem presents the first hybrid vegetable varieties for Africa


De Lier, The Netherlands and Arusha, Tanzania

December 9, 2011

In its demo field in Tanzania, RZ Afrisem is currently displaying the first aubergine varieties that have been specially developed for the African market. In honour of this unique innovation, RZ Afrisem – a collaboration between breeding companies Rijk Zwaan and East West Seeds – was recently visited by a delegation from AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa).


Up until recently, virtually no vegetable varieties were being bred specifically for African growers. By developing commercial hybrid varieties with improved traits for tropical regions of Africa, RZ Afrisem is now transforming this situation. The newly developed varieties generate a higher yield and exhibit better resistances to diseases than the varieties traditionally cultivated in tropical Africa. Now that the first hybrids of African aubergines are a reality, the next step is to stimulate their seed production.


Providing insights into possibilities

The RZ Afrisem demo field is currently open to any vegetable growers who are interested in visiting it. In addition to displaying the improved varieties, the demo field also hosts demonstrations of a range of different cultivation techniques. By comparing their current situation with the new possibilities, growers gain insights into how they could take their own cultivation activities to a new level. One of RZ Afrisem’s key aims is to ultimately provide African growers with a better chance of a sustainable livelihood.


On 19th November, the RZ Afrisem demo field was visited by the president of AGRA, an organisation that is focused on supporting the African agricultural sector. Since AGRA’s activities overlap considerably with those of RZ Afrisem, President Dr. Namanga had previously paid a visit to the Rijk Zwaan headquarters in De Lier, The Netherlands. This time, in Tanzania, he was very impressed by RZ Afrisem’s activities and the concrete results it had achieved so far. He pledged to investigate opportunities for RZ Afrisem and AGRA to work together more closely in the future.


Rijk Zwaan is focused on the development of high-quality vegetable varieties for the professional horticultural sector under glass, in tunnels and in the ground. Its seeds are sold through its 29 subsidiaries across the world, which are able to provide expert local advice thanks to their closeness to the market. Rijk Zwaan is one of the top 5 globally active vegetable breeding companies.


Based in Arusha, Tanzania, RZ Afrisem has the long-term objective of providing hybrid vegetable varieties to the local growers in Africa. Along with training and knowledge-sharing, Rijk Zwaan intends to offer structural support to Africa through RZ Afrisem and hence contribute to the further development of the horticultural sector on this continent.




(Return to Contents)




1.23  China soybean breeding on the rise


Opposite to the decreasing soybean production, the hybridization breeding of soybean is rising in China. The cross breeding system of soybean has been established in some areas. It is estimated that the breakthrough in soybean yield and quality would greatly improve the competitiveness of domestic non-transgenic soybeans, according to CCM's November Issue of Seed China News.


Anhui Province is a major soybean-planting province in China, with an annual planting area of over 666,666.67 ha. (10 million mu). The province's soybean hybridization breeding, especially for high-protein soybeans, has led the country, mainly relying on the cooperation efforts of research institutes. By three-line breeding methods, some summer soybeans with higher yield, such as "Zayoudou 1", have been successfully cultivated and released in the province and surrounding areas.


It was reported in early Nov. 2011 that a highly efficient soybean breeding system was established in Jilin Province, a key soybean planting region located in Northeast China. After a male sterile line with high outcrossing rate was cultivated, the hybrid seed yield of soybean has been significantly increased. The seed breeding system combining the environment, insects and crop has been further improved. Then the industrialization of soybean seed breeding would be accelerated substantially.


Compared with other main crops like rice, corn and rapeseed, soybean is a most difficult crop to realize distant crossing. It has taken Chinese scientists many years to cultivate soybean male-sterile line and breeding hybrid varieties. The world's first hybrid soybean was born in China in Jan. 2003.


Although China owns the advantages in planting non-transgenic soybean in large areas, the soybean industry has not shown powerful competitiveness compared with the GM soybean industry. Owing to the high cost and low efficiency in growing soybeans, domestic farmers intends to plant other high efficiency or yield crops, such as hybrid rice and corn. Besides, the shrinking demand for non-transgenic soybean in processing industry also affected domestic soybean planting.


It's believed that the new cross-breeding and cultivation technology should be essential to revitalize China's soybean industry. The improvement in soybean seed breeding should cut farmers' purchase cost of hybrid soybean seeds. The planting efficiency of soybean would be greatly improved, with the upgrading of yield and quality.


As for developing excellent hybrid soybean, the cooperation between seed companies and research institutes should be encouraged. Companies should play a key role in promoting the commercialization of soybean breeding. According to Gai Junyi, a famous soybean expert, Shandong Shengfeng Seeds and Technology Co., Ltd. has collaborated with Nanjing Agricultural University to establish a modern soybean-breeding system.


Many industrial insiders also advocate to enhance domestic protein processing business, in order to expand the consumption of non-transgenic soybeans. Actually, non-transgenic soybeans are thought to be the material most appropriate for protein processing. It appears that the demand for non-transgenic soybeans continues to increase globally, with the development of protein processing industry.


It is noteworthy that some domestic oil companies still insist on extract oil mainly with non-tansgenic soybeans. "Only by building our non-GM brand can we compete with international cereals and oils giants," said Vice President of a cereals and oils industrial group in Heilongjiang Province, Northeast China.


Source: Seed China News 1111


Seed China News, a monthly publication issued by CCM International on 30th of every month, offers timely update and close follow-up of China’s seed industry dynamics, analyzes market data and finds out factors influencing market development


About CCM

CCM is dedicated to market research in China, Asia-Pacific Rim and global market. With a staff of more than 150 dedicated highly-educated professionals. CCM offers Market Data, Analysis, Reports, Newsletters, Buyer-Trader Information, Import/Export Analysis all through its new proprietary product ValoTracer.

For more information, please visit

CCM International Ltd.

Guangzhou CCM Information Science & Technology Co., Ltd.

17th Floor, Huihua Commercial & Trade Mansion, No.80 Xianlie Zhong Road, Guangzhou 510070, China

Tel: 86-20-37616606




(Return to Contents)




1.24  Farmers begin to gradually sow the seeds of change


December 20, 2011

By Wang Ximin and Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)


Foreign products taking root among growers of greenhouse vegetables, Wang Ximin and Zhao Huanxin report from Shandong province.


Liu Mingshan, a farmer in Daotian township in Shouguang, the country's leading vegetable producer, said he prefers foreign seeds to domestic ones. "They are higher yielding and more resistant to disease than those developed by Chinese firms."


The veteran greenhouse vegetable grower pointed to a hybrid fruit cucumber from a Republic of Korea company. "It tastes great and sells well."


Bitter news, perhaps, for some agriculture officials and breeders. Foreign varieties have taken more than half of the seed market for major greenhouse vegetables in Shouguang, in East China's Shandong province, and for higher-grade vegetables in China, according to the Ministry of Agriculture's seed management bureau. Industry insiders say, however, that the country should recognize competition renders more choices to farmers and consumers and spurs the fledgling seed industry.


Foreign businesses supply seeds for almost all of the greenhouse fruit cucumbers (with no thorns) and sweet peppers and 80 percent of tomatoes, eggplants and melons in Shouguang, a city of 1 million residents.


"Shouguang farmers have to spend 300 million yuan ($47 million) a year on imported seeds," Tang Mingtao, deputy chief of the city's science and technology bureau, told China Daily.


Two-thirds of the revenue to the local seed market goes to foreign companies, he said. And foreign seeds are distributed through Shouguang to other parts of Shandong, the largest vegetable-producing province in China.


With an annual vegetable yield worth 4 billion yuan, Shouguang is the "vegetable city" that multinational seed companies cannot afford to neglect.


A speedy response

The world's top 10 seed companies, including Switzerland's Syngenta, the Netherlands' Rijk Zwaan and Israel's Hazera, are active players in the Chinese market. They have set up breeding bases or research facilities in Shouguang.


In July 2009, when tomato yellow leaf curl virus overran the greenhouses in Shandong, not one Chinese seed businesses could provide a timely solution, Tang said.


Hazera Genetics, which entered China in 1999, provided tomato varieties resistant to the virus within a few weeks, allowing local growers to re-sow soon, said Yossi Tzuri, Hazera China's CEO.


The price of the virus-resistant seeds and strains was more than double that for earlier versions of tomato, Tang said.


This anecdote and others are so deeply rooted in the minds of some local growers that they have grown to distrust Chinese vegetable brands, said Shen Huolin, dean of the vegetable science department at China Agricultural University in Beijing.


After 12 years of research and development, the professor and his team cultivated a premium long horn-shaped chili pepper variety, known as Zhongshou-12, that is proven better than its foreign counterparts in product quality and resistance to pests and disease.


"When a zealous farmer came to me for more seeds after a trial run," Shen said, "I offered a discount, which was half the price of foreign pepper seeds. To my chagrin, he said that since it was not a foreign make, the price should be still lower!"


Use and value up

China's mammoth vegetable sector used nearly 100,000 tons of seeds to produce 650 million tons of vegetables last year, according to Liao Xiyuan, deputy chief of Ministry of Agriculture's seed management bureau.


The influx of foreign seeds has been rising, Liao said. By December 5 this year, for example, the import value hit $121 million - 3.1 times the value in 2004, Liao cited Customs figures as saying.


"The majority of Chinese greenhouse vegetable seed companies are not capable of breeding and producing seeds or possessing copyright varieties," said another bureau official, who preferred unidentified. "They are mainly agents or producing and marketing some conventional seeds."


He said that overseas seed companies have grabbed 15 percent of the Chinese greenhouse vegetable market and nearly 20 percent in Shandong.


Foreign seeds are usually several or dozens of times more expensive than the homebred, he said. That explains why the value of Chinese seeds, which hold 80 percent of the Shandong market, equals just 20 percent of the imported seeds' value.


Because foreign seeds boast higher germination rates and promise good results, local seedling companies would buy them regardless of the price, said Wang Rui, an executive with New Century Breeding Co in Shouguang.


Nearly all seeds the company uses come from Israel, the Netherlands and Japan, and orders have been already placed for next spring's seedlings, he said. "Shouguang farmers think it pays off to buy such shoots, because better harvest and high-quality products are usually guaranteed."


Marketing matters

The situation in Shouguang has aroused intense discussions in Chinese newspapers, which claim in editorials that the country's greenhouse seed market "risks being monopolized by foreign firms" and that it has to reclaim "the losing battleground".


However, Zhang Zhenhe, chief specialist from the National Agro-Tech Extension and Service Center, said people needn't make too much fuss. "What happens in Shouguang is a special case; it is not representative."


Thanks to its well-developed marketing channels, Shouguang never needs to worry that its produce will be stockpiled even though farmers elsewhere fret about oversupply and price drops.


"Growers in Shouguang are much more market-oriented," Zhang said. "They choose foreign seeds with alacrity to pursue profits and reduce risks, and the benefits can always offset the cost of the seeds."


Foreign seeds are used less in other parts of the country where the market is not as mature, Zhang said. He estimated that the acreage sown with foreign seeds remained below 600,000 hectares a year in China from 2007 to 2010.


But adoption of foreign seeds has benefited growers and consumers, who increasingly care about the quality and safety of their vegetables. "Some varieties are not indigenous, so imports have enriched China's product portfolio," Zhang said.


Competitive boost

Shen Huolin of China Agricultural University said the presence of foreign seed companies has intensified competition in the vegetable sector, as in other industries.


"If you are competing with a heavyweight player, chances are that you will improve faster. If you compete with a weak player, you grow slowly, too," Shen said.


Sean Wang, chief of Syngenta China's corporate affairs, said: "Competition spurs innovation and investment and drives quality improvements to meet the needs of customers."


By co-existing with foreign rivals, Chinese companies are working hard to try to get closer to their level. They have even surpassed them in some areas, Shen said. "In this way, the seed market will not be monopolized by foreign firms."


China Agricultural University and the Shouguang government are running the Shouguang Vegetable Research Institute to help boost national vegetable seeds industry, Shen said.


Over the past five years, it has developed eight vegetable varieties - four sweet melons, two peppers and two towel gourds - that have reached international advanced level, according to Zhao Zhiwei, a manager with the institute's experimental base in Shouguang.


Removing the snags

Zhang Baoxi, deputy director of the Institute of Vegetables and Flowers at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said foreign companies' advantages in greenhouse vegetables were built on a long history of research and massive investment.


In comparison, Chinese seed breeders began to give priority to greenhouse varieties only in the early 2000s.


"For a long time, Chinese breeders focused only on seeds for outdoor vegetables, especially the crops with higher yields during early growth period," Zhang said. "They somehow unconsciously dropped the strains fit to grow in greenhouses."


Unlike in foreign countries, the major players in seed breeding in China are institutes at universities and academies, rather than enterprises, he said.


It usually takes at least 10 years to develop a vegetable variety, but seed researchers in these institutes are often funded by government projects that last about three years. This means researchers spend much energy seeking new projects to maintain funding, Zhang said.


Some institutes run their own companies, usually to finance research, but often without forging tight links with the market, he said.


"It is safe to say that China's whole input in vegetable research is less than that in a single foreign company," Zhang said. For instance, Syngenta spends roughly $1 billion on research and development annually, according to a company statement.


For China's vegetable industry to thrive, it must protect intellectual property rights, both Zhang Baoxi and Shen Huolin said.


"Sometimes you have developed a popular new variety, but in less than three years, you'll find that the area sown in this variety through illegal seed distributors is far greater than the area with seeds from legal channels," Zhang said.


Some individuals even steal technology, Shen said. "For example, by combining the excellent traits of two varieties, both of which were obtained through illegal means, individuals could easily concoct a hybrid with better quality than the original."


Shen claimed that some vendors paid cash to breeding farmers who had grown Zhongshou-12 peppers in his production base outside Beijing to get nearly all the seeds they harvested this year.


"I should have gotten several thousand kilograms of seeds, but I haven't gotten a single gram," he said.


The seed bureau's Liao Xiyuan vowed the Ministry of Agriculture would foster large seed companies in China through acquisition. At least 8,700 seed companies are registered in China, but only a small fraction are large and have adequate R&D capacity, the bureau said. The country will also "drastically" invest in development while improving extension service and market regulation, Liao said.


Looking ahead

Back in Shandong, the Shouguang Vegetable Industry Group invested 150 million yuan last year to set up a seed company, including a pilot base for vegetable breeding, said Tang Mingtao of the city's science and technology bureau.


The Zhongshou-12 pepper variety developed by Shen Huolin's team has now been planted in at least 667 hectares, more than half of the chili pepper-growing area in Shouguang.


Asked about the goal in the coming five years, Shen said he anticipated Chinese seeds would be used in 30 percent of all greenhouse vegetable planting area in this "showcase of China's vegetable industry".


Ju Chuanjiang and Zhao Ruixue in Shandong contributed. Write to and




(Return to Contents)




1.25 Resistant wheats and Ethiopian farmers battle deadly fungus


December 23, 2011

When a devastating stripe rust epidemic hit Ethiopia last year, newly-released wheat varieties derived from international partnerships proved resistant to the disease, and are now being multiplied for seed.


Wheat farmers and breeders are embroiled in a constant arms race against the rust diseases, as new rust races evolve to conquer previously resistant varieties. Ethiopia’s wheat crop became the latest casualty when a severe stripe rust epidemic struck in 2010. “The dominant wheat varieties were hit by this disease, and in some of the cases where fungicide application was not done there was extremely high yield loss,” says Firdissa Eticha, national wheat research program coordinator with the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). “This is a threat for the future because there is climate change—which has already been experienced in Ethiopia—and the varieties which we have at hand were totally hit by this stripe rust.”


Ethiopia is not alone; stripe rust has become a serious problem across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, with epidemics in 2009 and 2010 which many countries have struggled to control. What’s new is the evolution of stripe rust races that are able to overcome Yr27, a major rust resistance gene that many important wheat varieties rely on. Although recent weather conditions have allowed the new rust races to thrive, they first began to emerge more than a decade ago, and CIMMYT’s wheat program, always looking forward to the next threat, began selection for resistance to Yr27-virulent races in 1998.


“CIMMYT has a number of wheat lines that have shown good-to-excellent resistance to stripe rust without relying on Yr27, in screening in Mexico, Ecuador, and Kenya,” says Ravi Singh, CIMMYT distinguished scientist and rust expert who leads the breeding effort in Mexico. Many of these are also resistant to the stem rust race Ug99 and have 10-15% higher yields than currently-grown varieties, according to Singh. The current step is to work with national programs to identify and promote the most useful of the resistant materials for their environments—a process that was underway in Ethiopia when the epidemic struck.


Eticha is leading his country’s fight against stripe rust. Reflecting on the disease, he says: “For me it is as important as stem rust. I find it like a wildfire when there is a susceptible variety. You see very beautiful fields actually, yellow like a canola field in flower. But for farmers it is a very sad sight. Stripe rust can cause up to 100% yield loss.” There is no official figure yet on the overall loss to Ethiopia’s wheat harvest for 2010, but it is expected to be more than 20%.


The other common name for stripe rust is yellow rust. Severely-infected plants look bright yellow, due to a photosynthesis-blocking coating of spores of the fungus Puccinia striiformis, which causes the disease. These spores are yellow to orange-yellow in color, and form pustules. These usually appear as narrow stripes along the leaves, and can cover the leaves in susceptible varieties, as well as affecting the leaf sheaths and the spikes. The disease lowers both yield and grain quality, causing stunted and weakened plants, fewer spikes, fewer grains per spike, and shriveled grains with reduced weight.


Epidemic flourishes with damp weather

Normally, Ethiopia has two distinct rainy seasons, one short and one main, allowing for two wheat cropping cycles per year. However, 2010 saw persistent gentle rains throughout the year, with prolonged dews and cool temperatures—perfect weather for stripe rust. Most wheat varieties planted in Ethiopia were susceptible, including the two most popular, Kubsa and Galema, so damage was severe. Under normal conditions, the disease only attacks high-altitude wheat in Ethiopia, but last year it was rampant even at low altitudes. This could reflect the appearance of a new race that is less temperature sensitive, or simply the unusual weather conditions; Ethiopian researchers are currently waiting for the results of a rust race analysis.


There was little Ethiopia could do to prevent the epidemic; imported fungicides controlled the disease where they were applied on time, but supplies were limited and expensive. Newly-released, resistant varieties provide a way out of danger. In particular, two CIMMYT lines released in Ethiopia in 2010 proved resistant to stripe rust in their target environments: Picaflor#1, which was released in Ethiopia as Kakaba, and Danphe#1, released as Danda’a. Picaflor#1 is targeted to environments where Kubsa is grown, and so has the potential to replace it, and Danphe#1 could similarly replace Galema. Both varieties are also high-yielding and resistant to Ug99.


Seed multiplication of resistant CIMMYT varieties

As soon as the situation became clear, EIAR and the Ethiopian Seed Enterprise (the state-owned organization responsible for multiplication and distribution of improved seed of all major crops in Ethiopia) worked together to speed the multiplication of seed of these varieties, using irrigation during the dry seasons. This is happening now, with almost 500 hectares under multiplication over the winter—421 of Picaflor#1 and 70 of Danphe#1. Financial support from this project came from the USAID Famine Fund. Two resistant lines from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) were released in Ethiopia in 2011, and will add to the diversity for resistance.


Eticha does not foresee any difficulty encouraging farmers to adopt the new varieties. In 2010 they were grown by 900 farmers on small on-farm demonstration plots, as part of EIAR’s routine annual program, so they have been seen—free of stripe rust—by thousands of farmers, and there will be more demonstration plots as more seed becomes available. However, “farmers are at risk still even if the varieties are there,” he says, “the problem is seed supply.” Some seed will reach farmers this year, but the priority will be ongoing multiplication to build up availability as fast as possible.


Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT's Global Wheat Program, visited Ethiopia in 2010. “The epidemic was a real wake-up call,” he says. “Researchers have known for more than ten years that the varieties grown are susceptible. Farmers are not aware of the danger, so it is the responsibility of researchers and seed producers, if we know a variety is susceptible, to replace it with something better."


"Ethiopian scientists responded quickly to the epidemic", says Braun, "but there were heavy losses in 2010. What we need is better communications between scientists, seed producers, and decision makers to ensure the quick replacement of varieties.”


Building on a strong partnership

The value of the collaboration between CIMMYT and Ethiopia is already immeasurable for both partners. CIMMYT materials are routinely screened for rust at Meraro station, an Ethiopian hotspot, in increasing numbers as rust diseases have returned to the spotlight in recent years. CIMMYT lines are also a crucial input for Ethiopia’s national program.


“The contribution of CIMMYT is immense for us,” says Eticha. “CIMMYT provides us with a wide range of germplasm that is almost finished technology—one can say ready materials, that can be evaluated and released as varieties that can be used by farming communities.” Ethiopia has favorable agro-environments for wheat production, and the bread wheat area is expanding because of its high yields compared to indigenous tetraploid wheats. “Wheat is the third most important cereal crop in Ethiopia,” explains Eticha, “and it is really very important in transforming Ethiopia’s economy."


Bekele Abeyo, CIMMYT senior scientist and wheat breeder based in Ethiopia, works closely with the national program. CIMMYT helps in many ways, he explains, for example with training and capacity building, as well as donation of materials, including computers, vehicles, and even chemicals for research. “In addition, we assign scientists to work closely with the national program, and facilitate germplasm exchange, providing high-yielding, disease resistant, widely-adapted varieties.” Speaking of the stripe rust epidemic, he says, “last year, the Ethiopian government spent more than USD 3.2 million just to buy fungicides, so imagine, the use of resistant varieties can save a lot of money. Most farmers are not able to buy these expensive fungicides. During the epidemic, fungicides were selling for three to four times their normal price, so you can see the value of resistant varieties.”


“I think East Africa is colonized by rust. Unless national programs work hard to overcome and contain disease pressure, wheat production is under great threat,” says Abeyo. “It is very important that we continue to strengthen the national programs to overcome the rust problem in the region.” With Yr27-virulent stripe rust races now widespread throughout the world, Ethiopia’s story has echoes in many CIMMYT partner countries. The challenge is to work quickly together to identify and replace susceptible varieties with the new, productive, resistant materials.


For more information: Bekele Abeyo, senior scientist and wheat breeder


Source: CIMMYT newsletter    via


(Return to Contents)




1.26  Exploring rust solutions in Syria


The ongoing fight against the wheat rust diseases is an international, collaborative effort involving many partners in national programs and international organizations. CIMMYT works closely with ICARDA, which leads efforts against the wheat rust diseases in Central and West Asia and North Africa. At the International Wheat Stripe Rust Symposium, organized by ICARDA in Aleppo, Syria, during 18-20 April 2011, global experts developed strategies to prevent future rust outbreaks and to ensure the control and reduction of rust diseases in the long term.

Other participating organizations included CIMMYT, the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN, the International Development Research Center (IDRC, Canada), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). More than 100 scientists from 31 countries presented work and shared ideas on wheat rust surveillance and monitoring, development and promotion of rust-resistant wheat varieties, and crop diversity strategies to slow the progress of rust outbreaks.


CIMMYT was represented by Hans-Joachim Braun and Ravi Singh. “Wheat crops and stripe rust like exactly the same conditions,” says Braun, “and they both love nitrogen. This means that where a farmer has a high yield potential, stripe rust takes it away, if the wheat variety is susceptible. In addition to the really devastating epidemics, the disease is very important because even in bumper years, farmers who grow susceptible varieties still can’t get a good yield.”


One thing all the attendees agreed on was the immediacy of the rust threat. New variants of both stem rust (also known as black rust) and stripe rust (or yellow rust), able to overcome the resistance of popular wheat varieties, are thriving under the more variable conditions caused by climate change, increasing their chances of spreading rapidly. Breeders in turn are quickly developing the varieties farmers need, with durable resistance to stem and stripe rust, as well as improved yield performance, drought tolerance, and regional suitability.


Other major areas of focus are the development of systems for monitoring and surveillance of rust to enable rapid response to initial outbreaks, and overcoming bottlenecks in getting resistant seed quickly to farmers. There is much to be done, but Singh is confident: “If donors, including national programs and the private sector, are willing to invest in wheat research and seed production, we can achieve significant results in a short time.”


More news from: CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center)



Published: December 23, 2011


Source: CIMMYT newsletter  via


(Return to Contents)




1.27  Cowpea: driving a silent revolution in Nigeria


Ibadan, Nigeria

December 24, 2011

Cowpea production and processing is propelling a silent revolution in Nigeria, as incomes from the crop are improving rural livelihoods in the country.


Farmers and processors in Osu, a community in southwestern Nigeria, say processing the protein-rich crop into cakes popularly known as akara is akin to hitting a goldmine.

“The benefits are many,” says Mrs. Olaiya Oluwakemi—an akara vendor.


“From frying of akara alone, I have been able to afford sending my son to the university. I built a house and now own a car,” Oluwakemi adds.


Oluwakemi says she had tried other businesses in the past but the processing of cowpea grains to akara remained the most viable option. The business has grown in the last seven years and she currently employs more than 20 people. On average, she gets profits of between N1500 (US$10) and N2000 (US$13) daily. In a country where about 50% of the population thrives on less than US$2 per day, this is a lot of cash.


“I have tried other businesses but this is just the best,” she reiterates.


Another cowpea processor, Chief Mrs. Olorunisola, says she inherited the business from her mother.


After managing the business in the last 30 years, Olorunisola now owns the famous Iyadunni Akara processing enterprise. The business uses about 100 kg of cowpea grains as raw material daily for making akara; it has five branches spread across Nigeria.


Incomes from the firm have helped Olorunisola to build two houses. The third, a 3-storey building, is still under construction.


Three of her children have graduated from the university, thanks to income from akara.


Like Oluwakemi and Olorunisola, several other processors have benefited from the processing of cowpea in the community. Most of the houses built in Osu have at least the foundation laid with income from akara.


Thousands of travelers passing through Osu town, located between Ile-Ife and Ilesha, stop daily to buy the popular ‘akara Osu’ from the vendors and eat.


Consumers interviewed say the protein-rich crop replenishes lost energy arising from fatigue experienced during long journeys.


“I look forward to eating akara osu whenever I am traveling on this route,” says passenger Friday Adeshina.


Elsewhere in the northern part of Nigeria—home to cowpea production, this leguminous crop has proven to be a veritable source of income for farmers and processors.


In Borno, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano states and as far as Niger Republic, cowpea farmers who adopted improved cowpea varieties and management practices reported an average of 55% rise in their incomes, according to data from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).


Farmers who use traditional varieties earn about US$ 25/ha, while those who are growing the improved cowpea are getting US$390/ha, and additional US$139, with proper crop management practices.


Besides incomes, interventions by IITA and partners supported by the Tropical Legumes ΙΙ project, Canadian International Development Agency, United States Agency for International Development, and the Sudan Savanna Task Force of the Kano-Katsina-Maradi (SS TF KKM) Pilot Learning Site (PLS) of the sub-Saharan Challenge Program, are helping farmers with improved technologies to meet the increasing demand for the crop.


Farmer Mohammed Mustapha says he has been able to double cowpea yields using the same plot of land with improved varieties and agronomic practices, thanks to IITA interventions.


“Before, I used to get two bags of cowpea from this field but in 2009, I harvested five bags which were more than double the initial amount,” says Mustapha, a farmer in Kunamawa village in Safana Local Government Area of Katsina State.


Cowpea’s appeal to farmers has spiraled in recent times, making the crop a prominent tool in fighting hunger and poverty in Africa.


Dr Christian Fatokun, IITA Cowpea Breeder and Tropical Legumes II Project Coordinator, says the appeal of the crop is growing not just because of incomes associated with it but also due to the fact that it is drought tolerant and suitable for cultivation in the arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa.


But the strides made by the crop are not without challenges. For instance, the plant still faces pests attacks during every stage of its life cycle. Aphids extract juice from cowpea leaves and stems while the crop is still a seedling and also spread the cowpea mosaic virus. Flower thrips feast on it during flowering, pod borers attack its pods during pod growth, and bruchid weevils attack the postharvested seeds. The plants are also attacked by diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Parasitic weeds—Striga and Alectra—choke the plant’s growth at all stages and nematodes prevent the roots from absorbing nutrients and water from the soil. Yield gap remains a huge challenge.


Unleashing the full potential of cowpea will require greater attention to the crop both in new scientific discoveries and investments.


Dr Boukar Ousmane, IITA Cowpea Breeder, notes that unfortunately, support for cowpea research has been rather relatively low compared with other crops such as wheat and rice. Consequently, this situation has constrained the cowpea crop attaining its full potential and is gradually putting the lives of millions of people in developing countries at risk.


He says that funding research activities aimed at tackling the challenges facing the crop is key to realizing the full potential of the crop.




(Return to Contents)




1.28  An overlooked cause of seed degradation - implications in the efficient exploitation of plant genetic resources in the face of changing environments


Plant genetic resources, as the raw material of future elite cultivars, are very important for achieving food security. Studying the factors affecting their most efficient exploitation in breeding programs is the subject of a recent paper that appeared in the July issue of the journal Plant Genetic Resources: Characterization and Utilization. The work identifies as an important, yet overlooked factor of seed degradation the established negative correlation between yielding and competitive ability. This negative correlation gives a survival advantage to the low yielding-strong competing genotypes within the variety or germplasm under study, at the expense of the high yielding-weak competitors when propagated under the standard dense stand conditions. The process not only results to the gradual cultivar degeneration and identity loss, but prevents selection for and exploitation of the positive and novel adaptive variation that is released by the genome in response to environmental stimuli.


The paper illustrates how to counteract these negative effects and accelerate progress through selection, through application of the concept of “nonstop selection” using a novel selection equation and novel field selection designs. These factors insure equal opportunities for all plants to be selected, effectively eliminating the masking effects of soil fertility that interfere with selection efficiency and permitting the application of very high selection pressures. The relevance and importance of the above process in the face of changing environments, accelerated by climate change, is highlighted.


Source: Plant Genetic Resources: Characterization and Utilization (2011) 9(2):321-323.


Contributed by Dr. Dionysia A. Fasoula

Agricultural Research Officer A΄

Plant Breeding and Molecular Genetics

Agricultural Research Institute

Nicosia, Cyprus


(Return to Contents)




1.29  DNA sequencing caught in deluge of data


Kathy Kmonicek for The New York Times

Nabil Azmay, a technician at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, checks a HiSeq 2000 that reads 300 billion bases per run.


BGI churns out so much data that it often cannot transmit its results to clients or collaborators over the Internet or other communications lines because that would take weeks. Instead, it sends computer disks containing the data, via FedEx.


“It sounds like an analog solution in a digital age,” conceded Sifei He, the head of cloud computing for BGI, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute. But for now, he said, there is no better way.


The field of genomics is caught in a data deluge. DNA sequencing is becoming faster and cheaper at a pace far outstripping Moore’s law, which describes the rate at which computing gets faster and cheaper.


The result is that the ability to determine DNA sequences is starting to outrun the ability of researchers to store, transmit and especially to analyze the data.


“Data handling is now the bottleneck,” said David Haussler, director of the center for biomolecular science and engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “It costs more to analyze a genome than to sequence a genome.”


That could delay the day when DNA sequencing is routinely used in medicine. In only a year or two, the cost of determining a person’s complete DNA blueprint is expected to fall below $1,000. But that long-awaited threshold excludes the cost of making sense of that data, which is becoming a bigger part of the total cost as sequencing costs themselves decline.


“The real cost in the sequencing is more than just running the sequencing machine,” said Mark Gerstein, professor of biomedical informatics at Yale. “And now that is becoming more apparent.”


But the data challenges are also creating opportunities. There is demand for people trained in bioinformatics, the convergence of biology and computing. Numerous bioinformatics companies, like SoftGenetics, DNAStar, DNAnexus and NextBio, have sprung up to offer software and services to help analyze the data. EMC, a maker of data storage equipment, has found life sciences a fertile market for products that handle large amounts of information. BGI is starting a journal, GigaScience, to publish data-heavy life science papers.


“We believe the field of bioinformatics for genetic analysis will be one of the biggest areas of disruptive innovation in life science tools over the next few years,” Isaac Ro, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, wrote in a recent report.


Sequencing involves determining the order of the bases, the chemical units represented by the letters A, C, G and T, in a stretch of DNA. The cost has plummeted, particularly in the last four years, as new techniques have been introduced.


The cost of sequencing a human genome — all three billion bases of DNA in a set of human chromosomes — plunged to $10,500 last July from $8.9 million in July 2007, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute.


That is a decline by a factor of more than 800 over four years. By contrast, computing costs would have dropped by perhaps a factor of four in that time span.


The lower cost, along with increasing speed, has led to a huge increase in how much sequencing data is being produced. World capacity is now 13 quadrillion DNA bases a year, an amount that would fill a stack of DVDs two miles high, according to Michael Schatz, assistant professor of quantitative biology at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.


There will probably be 30,000 human genomes sequenced by the end of this year, up from a handful a few years ago, according to the journal Nature. And that number will rise to millions in a few years.


In a few cases, human genomes are being sequenced to help diagnose mysterious rare diseases and treat patients. But most are being sequenced as part of studies. The federally financed Cancer Genome Atlas, for instance, is sequencing the genomes of thousands of tumors and of healthy tissue from the same people, looking for genetic causes of cancer.




Return to Contents)




1.30  Area with transgenics will be 20.9% greater in Brazil's next harvest, says Celeres


Sao Paolo, Brazil

December 6, 2011

Celeres notes that genetically modified crops should occupy 31.8 million hectares in the 2011/12 harvest; corn with combined gene technologies advances


The area sown with transgenic varieties in the 2011/12 harvest will be 20.9% greater than in the last harvest, according to the 2nd crop biotechnology adoption monitoring report for the 2011/12 season, released today by Celeres. According to the forecast in the specialized consultation on agricultural economics, crops with transgenic soybeans, corn and cotton should add up to 31.8 million hectares during this cycle – a new record for the adoption of biotechnology in national agriculture.


The survey considers the recent favorable outlook during the period between deciding what to plant and the start of planting, and even exceeds the initial forecasts of Celeres itself, which in August estimated the area occupied by transgenic crops in the current cycle at 30.5 million hectares. "This increase is a reflection of a good moment for Brazilian agribusiness, and of the increased confidence that producers have to bank on transgenic varieties with a guarantee of profitability," explains Anderson Galvao, managing partner of Celeres and coordinator of the study.


Soybeans continue to account for the greater portion of this area: there will be 21.4 million hectares cultivated with genetically modified (GM) varieties in the harvest, an increase of 16.7% over the previous harvest. And the Central-Western region continues in the national leadership in the production of transgenic soybeans, responsible for 42.7% of this area (9.1 million hectares). The Southern region is next, with 40.4% of the total area (8.7 million hectares).


The area with GM cotton will also be greater, and should come to 469 thousand hectares, an increase of 32.2% over the previous harvest. In this case, too, the Central-West is in the lead, with 54.6% of the total area of cotton with biotechnology (256 thousand hectares).


Corn: varieties with combined gene technologies advancing rapidly

In the case of corn, the overview takes into consideration both the summer harvest, which should be planted between November 2011 and January 2012, as well as the winter harvest, for which work should begin only in March. The numbers for this crop have not yet been determined, but Galvao believes that the trend is also towards a significant increase. In the sum of the two harvests, with two thirds (67.3%) of the total area planted with corn in Brazil to be occupied by GM hybrids, on a total of 9.9 million hectares – an increase of 32% over the 2010/11 period.


The summer harvest should occupy 4.9 million hectares, or 45.4% of the total space occupied by corn, which represents 1.5 million hectares more than in the 2010/11 summer harvest. The southern region concentrates the largest part of these transgenic corn crops, with 2.2 million hectares (43.9% of the area with GM corn), followed by the Southeast, with 1.4 million hectares, or 29.9% of the area cultivated with hybrids with biotechnology.


According to Celeres, the new development in the case of transgenic corn is the rapid adoption of varieties with combined gene technologies (or stack genes, hybrids with resistance to insects and tolerance for herbicides), which began to be sold this year. The insect-resistant hybrids are still leading, and should occupy 4.9 million hectares, but the varieties with combined genes, expected to occupy 4.4 million hectares in 2011/12, should constitute the largest part in the crops for the next sequences, both for the 2011/12 winter harvest as well as for all of 2012/13.


In Galvao's view, it should also be noted that there are practically no commercial restrictions on the growing of genetically modified corn. "The geographic dispersal in the adoption of biotechnology for corn growing is an indication of this trend," he observes. On the other hand, the study indicates that the adoption is less in the North and Northeast regions, which shows a certain technological imbalance among the growers. "We still need public policies that facilitate access to biotechnology for small producers in these regions, underscoring the potential for income improvement," he concludes.


A third overview of the adoption of biotechnology for this harvest is planned for April. The entire study is available here:




(Return to Contents)




1.31  Colombia se prepara para producir une papa genéticamente modificada



December 5, 2011

Yuca, caña de azúcar, arroz, soya, café y papa entrarán próximamente al grupo de los alimentos genéticamente modificados que serán desarrollados en Colombia.


De hecho, en ese país se está desarrollando una papa resistente a la polilla guatemalteca, una plaga que afecta a la gran mayoría de estos cultivos en la Región Andina. Y es precisamente este alimento transgénico el que se constituirá en el primero “made in Colombia”. No obstante, sólo hasta dentro de unos cuatro o cinco años se pondrán sus semillas en el mercado, pues a pesar de que ya se necesita una solución al problema, las investigaciones y puesta en el mercado de una variedad nueva requieren de aprobaciones de las entidades locales encargadas.


María Andrea Uscátegui, directora de Agro-Bio Colombia, señaló que aunque hay naciones más avanzadas en el tema, la legislación a favor, el apoyo del Gobierno y el potencial agrícola, son motivos suficientes que posicionarán al país como un buen sitio para el fortalecimiento de la investigación de organismos genéticamente modificados.


“Hoy en día producimos y comercializamos rosas y claveles azules, maíz y algodón con modificaciones genéticas. Y estamos adelantando estudios con yuca (mandioca), soja, caña de azúcar, café, arroz y papa, cultivos que son de interés para el sector agrícola colombiano”, explicó la directiva, quien agregó que los estudios en papa, realizados por la Corporación de Investigación Biológica de Medellín, son los que tienen un mayor potencial.

Fuente: La República / ChileBio




(Return to Contents)




1.32  Biotechnology and U.S. crop yield trends


University of Illinois

December 7, 2011

Biotechnology varieties first became available for commercial use in the U.S. in 1996. By 2011, they accounted for 88%, 90%, and 94% of the acres planted to corn, upland cotton, and soybeans, respectively (U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Acreage,, 6/30/11). For other crops, adoption of biotech varieties has been limited or nonexistent. Given that 15 years have passed, this article compares the trend in U.S. average yield since 1995 with the trend that existed from 1940 through 1995, a period that predates commercial biotech varieties. The year 1940 approximates when the average yield of most U.S. crops began increasing, due in part to traditional breeding methods.


Analytical Methods

Yields per harvested acre were obtained for corn, all cotton, soybeans, and 11 crops for which adoption of biotechnology varieties is limited or non-existent. Source of the data is USDA, NASS,, 11/2011. Linear yield trends were estimated for 1940-1995 and 1996-2011 using regression analysis. The estimated yield trends are tested statistically to determine if they exceed zero at the 95% confidence level. Also, the 1996-2011 yield trend is compared against the upper value of the 95% confidence range around the pre-1996 trend. This test provides an indication of whether the trend is statistically higher since 1995.



The yield trend is estimated in the crop’s quantity unit per harvested acre. For example, the estimated yield trends for corn are 1.86 bushels per harvested acre for the earlier 1940-1995 period and 2.02 bushels per harvested acre for the later 1996-2011 period (see Table 1 below).


For 13 of the 14 crops, the yield trend estimated for 1940-1995 exceeds zero with 95% statistical confidence. The exception is sugar cane. The time-trend R2 exceeds 0.78 for each of the 13 crops, implying that the time trend explains at least 78% of the variation in yield over time. This is a high degree of explanation for a single variable. For 1996-2011, 9 of the 14 yield trends exceed zero with 95% statistical confidence. A lower number is expected because the number of observation years is smaller. For the same reason, it is not surprising that R2 also is lower.


For only 7 of the crops analyzed in this study is the estimated yield trend higher during 1996-2011 than 1940-1995. The 7 crops are barley, corn, cotton, peanuts, rice, soybeans and sugar beets. For each of these 7 crops, the 1996-2011 yield trend exceeds the high end of the 95% confidence range for the 1940-1995 yield trend (see Table 2 below). This finding suggests that, for these 7 crops, the 1996-2011 yield trend exceeds the 1940-1995 yield trend with 95% statistical confidence.



This analysis finds that, while the yield trend increased for all 3 biotech crops after 1996, the yield trend increased for less than half of the crops (4 of 11) for which biotech varieties are of limited importance. This finding does not prove that biotechnology is the reason for the higher yield trend for corn, cotton, and soybeans. It only reveals that the evidence on linear yield trends is not inconsistent with such a conclusion.


Over 10 years, the higher yield trend translates into a harvest yield that is 1.6 bushels, 0.6 bushels, and 69.1 pounds higher for corn, soybeans, and cotton, respectively. This addition to yield is 1.0%, 1.4%, and 7.9% of the highest harvest yield observed for corn, soybeans, and cotton, respectively. Thus, for corn and soybeans, the increase in yield trend since 1995 is not large.


These implications are subject to change with more years of data. Also, the analysis does not address what the yield trend would have been for corn, cotton, and soybeans if biotech varieties had not been introduced.





(Return to Contents)




1.33  GM herbicide-tolerant soybean over 15 years of cultivation in the USA


Genetically modified (GM) herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops have been largely adopted where they have been authorized. Nevertheless, they are sometimes criticized, notably because of the herbicide use associated with them. The commercialization of the first GM crops indeed surprised a number of people because they were herbicide-tolerant: in fact it was often expected that biotechnology would lead to innovations avoiding chemicals (such as pesticides) through a better use of biological capacities and a valorization of life processes. Nowadays, after 15 years of cultivation, a better assessment of their impacts could be carried out, as it can take into account the trends over time, and not only the first few years of cultivation, if sufficient data are available.  This period of time is necessary to reveal changes and analyze some phenomena that occur only after a certain number of years of use, such as weed resistance.


A recently published paper deals with some impacts of glyphosate-tolerant soybean, particularly as regards herbicide use and weed resistance to glyphosate. The paper presents some factors explaining the predominance of GMHT crops in the first and current GM crops. Then, trends in the use of herbicide for GMHT crops are studied in the case of the most widespread herbicide-tolerant crop: HT soybean in the USA. The evolution in the toxicity of herbicides applied to HT soybean is also addressed, as well as the appearance of glyphosate-resistant weeds. Lastly, the paper examines the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds and its impact. How are farmers, weed scientists, and the industry coping with this development, and what are the prospects of glyphosate-tolerant crops given weed resistance? In conclusion, some issues of sustainability and innovation governance raised by genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops are discussed.


Available at:



Bonny S. Herbicide-tolerant Transgenic Soybean over 15 Years of Cultivation: Pesticide Use, Weed Resistance, and Some Economic Issues. The Case of the USA. Sustainability, 2011, 3(9), pp. 1302-1322.  DOI: 10.3390/su3091302


Contributed by S. Bonny



(Return to Contents)




1.34  Selected articles from FAO-BiotechNews 4-2011


1) Strengthening partnerships in agricultural biotechnologies

The FAO moderated e-mail conference entitled "Strengthening partnerships in agricultural biotechnologies for the benefit of smallholders in developing countries: Discussing North-South, South-South, Public-Private cooperation and more" took place from 14 November to 18 December 2011. Major topics discussed included Public-Private partnerships, South-South cooperation and the importance and modalities of involving smallholder farmers in partnerships. Of the different food and agricultural sectors, most focus was on crops, followed by livestock. About 340 people subscribed to the conference and 76 messages were posted by 48 people living in 25 different countries. Nearly two thirds of messages came from people living in developing countries. See the messages posted, as well as the 13-page Background Document to the conference, at or contact for more information.


2) Agricultural biotechnologies and food security


The December 2011 volume of the Journal of Biotechnology is dedicated to selected contributions from sessions of the 14th International Biotechnology Symposium, which took place on 14-18 September 2010 in Rimini, Italy. One of the papers included is by J. Ruane and A. Sonnino, from FAO's Research and Extension Branch, on "Agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries and their possible contribution to food security". See or request a copy from


3) Global plan of action for plant genetic resources approved


On 29 November 2011, the FAO Council adopted the Second Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, that was agreed by the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in July 2011. It contains a set of 18 Priority Activities, several of which are relevant to biotechnologies, such as Priority Activity 9 (on supporting plant breeding, genetic enhancement and base-broadening efforts) and 5 (on surveying and inventorying plant genetic resources for food and agriculture). The original Global Plan of Action was adopted through the Leipzig Declaration in 1996. See an FAO press release at (in Arabic, English, French and Spanish) or contact for more information. FAO is governed by the Conference of Member Nations, which meets every two years. The Conference elects a Council of 49 Member Nations to act as an interim governing body and the Plan of Action was adopted at the Council's 143rd Session, held in Rome from 28 November to 2 December 2011.


Source: FAO-BiotechNews 4-2011

E-mail address:



(Return to Contents)




1.35  Scientists use wild potatoes as source of potato resistance


Potato virus Y (PVY) is a notorious pathogen of potato that causes severe losses in tuber quality and yield globally. Several wild potato varieties with resistance to PVY have been identified but there is no cultivated variety with resistance available. Since amino acid substitutions at specific domain of host factor eIF4E-1 have been found to confer resistance to different crops, Hui Duan of JR Simplot Company in the U.S. and colleagues sequenced the associated genes expressed in wild potato plants.


A new form of eIF4E-1 labeled as Eva1 by the researchers was found in three wild species namely Solanum chocoense, S. demissum, and S. etuberosum. Amino acid substitutions were found in different locations in the protein when compared with the cultivated potato (S. tuberosum) homolog. Eva1 also failed to bind with the viral protein VPg which is needed for infectivity. These findings support that Eva1 could be used to develop intragenic potato cultivars with resistance to PVY.


Read the research article at


Source: Crop Biotech Update 16 December 2011


(Return to Contents)




1.36  Global search unearthing promising legumes



November 30, 2011

Alternative species of perennial pasture legumes from southern Africa could help Australian producers fill traditional green feed gaps in autumn and late spring, the 17th International Congress on Nitrogen Fixation has been told.


The congress is being sponsored by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), hosted by the Centre for Rhizobium Studies (CRS) at Murdoch University, and supported by Curtin University, the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) and the Perth Convention Centre.


CRS director Associate Professor Graham O’Hara said the GRDC-supported CRS was currently investigating African herbaceous perennial legumes such as Lebeckia, Lessertia and Lotononis for their suitability in Australian farming systems.


“These species are showing promise in providing green feed for grazing over a longer period than traditional perennial legumes such as lucerne and white clover,” he said.


“Many Australian soils do not sustain traditional perennial legumes throughout the year because of stresses such as acidity, low clay content, low nutrient status and low rainfall.”


Associate Professor O’Hara said Australian researchers continued to introduce legumes from overseas, in a bid to find species better adapted to local soils.


“However, because Australian soils don’t naturally contain rhizobia which form effective nitrogen-fixing symbioses with these legumes, inoculation with introduced rhizobia is essential,” he said.


Rhizobia are soil bacteria that fix nitrogen into the soil after becoming established inside the root nodules of legumes.


The legume introduction program at CRS is being run by Professor John Howieson as part of an African-based project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).


“During the past 15 years the CRS and the National Rhizobium Program have developed 15 strains of rhizobia for commercial production, and contributed to the development of new legumes which, together with their rhizobia, have been sown over five million hectares in Australia,” Professor Howieson said.


“In addition, new insights have been obtained into phenomena affecting the symbiotic relationship between legumes and rhizobia.”




(Return to Contents)




1.37  Genomic evidence found for domestication history of Asian cultivated rice


Beijing, China

December 16, 2011

As one of the earliest domesticated crops by human being, rice has undergone significant phenotypic and physiological changes during the process of transformation from wild rice to cultivated rice that contains two major subspecies “indica and japonica”. However, the genome-wide variation patterns involved in the process remains a puzzle.


In order to clarify the issue, the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) resequenced the genomes of 40 Asian cultivated rice accessions and 10 wild rice accessions in collaboration with worldwide research bodies including CAS Institute of Botany, Berkley University and Cornell University.


Using a strict pipeline, they identified around 15 million candidate single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in all 50 accessions and obtained 6.5 million high-quality SNPs after excluding sites with missing data in any accession, representing the largest high-quality SNP data set ever obtained in rice. Among the 6.5 million high-quality SNPs, 4,124,470 were found in cultivars. A large proportion (2,953,712; 71.6%) of these SNPs were also found in wild rice accessions, indicating that most genetic variation in cultivated rice is derived from the variation in wild rice.


Millions of SNPs in representative wild and cultivated rice strains provided an unprecedented opportunity to finely resolve the domestication history of cultivated rice. The analysis of the SNPs not only gave support to the hypothesis that japonica and indica were independently domesticated, but also further suggested japonica was domesticated from the Chinese strain of O. rufipogon. Besides, they also identified thousands of candidate genes that may have been artificially selected during the domestication of one or both of the two cultivated subspecies.


The data generated in the research provide valuable dense molecular markers for rice breeding and for identifying agronomically important genes in rice. The paper entitled “Resequencing 50 accessions of cultivated and wild rice yields markers for identifying agronomically important genes” has been published online in Nature Biotechnology on Dec. 11. (




(Return to Contents)




1.38  The value of crop genebanks: A statement from the Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust


World population just surpassed the big round number of 7,000,000,000.


Mankind reached its first billion just as the 19th century got underway. That feat of fecundity required eons. It took us just 12 years, however, to tack on the last billion. We’re definitely on a roll.


Predictably, the latest milestone is passing by as a one-day news event. As long as I can remember, the media’s cursory coverage of population growth has been coupled with references to Malthus, who in 1798 famously asserted that population would inevitably outstrip food production. That was before the first billion.


Could the world feed so many people? The answer was obviously ‘yes’.


A qualified ‘yes’, however. Today’s 7 billion could never survive on the amount of food grown in Malthus’s day. It is increased productivity, courtesy of cropland expansion and a series of farming ‘revolutions’, that has enabled population growth. Yet, despite productivity gains sufficient to enable the world to add another 6 billion, a billion people today are chronically undernourished. Hungry.


It has been fashionable to argue that the problem is not production but poverty. Or distribution. Or policies. Or people’s eating habits. If only people were not poor, they could (obviously) buy their way out of hunger. If we just distributed the food we had more equitably, if we had better policies, if only more people were vegetarians, there would be no hunger.


On paper, these arguments are almost irrefutable. I’ve just never quite been able to shake the feeling that none have much of a chance of leaping off the page and into practice soon enough to feed the last billion or the next. Indeed, income disparities are widening, people are eating more meat. And policies? Oh, forget it.


The arguments will continue to be put forth as if they were plans, and they will continue to be valid on paper and up to a point. That point will be reached when real productivity constraints collide with real demand for food, arising from population growth and economic development.


In capitals around the world and in their development agencies, I detect a shift. They sense that production itself is becoming a problem. It doesn’t mean that poverty isn’t a huge factor. It doesn’t mean that they have started to blame the last billion for the woes of the world – after all the 7th billion, by definition, is composed of children aged twelve and under. It also doesn’t mean that income disparities, food distribution, waste, and eating habits are not important issues to address. But it does mean that production matters.


Global food production is still increasing, but yield increases are slowing noticeably. Annual yield increases above 2% for major cereals, enjoyed until recently, have now fallen substantially below that mark.


 Global Yield Growth Rates (% per year)




Corn (maize)









Source: Alston, Beddow and Pardey (2010)


Yields of rice and wheat no longer keep up with population growth. This can’t be a good sign.


With the rise of the middle class globally and more people eating meat, the demand for grain is rising even more than population growth alone might indicate.

Around the globe, we are increasing our appetites without diminishing our hunger. Something is seriously amiss.


The mismatch of supply and demand trends sets us on a dangerous collision course. Food price volatility and increasing incidence of hunger and food insecurity are easily predictable. Unavoidable, in fact.


How did we get ourselves into such a mess?

To be sure, there are limits to production. And while we certainly have not reached them, we know they are there! Limits to the expansion of cropland. Limits to the amount of water for irrigation. Limits, ultimately, to affordable fertilizer. These are physical constraints that affect how much food can be grown. There can be little doubt that such constraints will shape our world and our future profoundly. But constraints alone do not explain what is happening. Not yet.


Agricultural economists Julian Alston and Philip Pardey believe that the reduction in productivity growth is related to declining growth in agricultural R&D spending. The Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was fueled by investments in research, research with astronomical rates of return that paid handsomely in increased food production.


Finally, we turn to the purpose of conservation of crop diversity, which is not conservation but use.


Access and availability are critical to use. Access to diversity in genebanks, however, is feasible in a way that access to diversity in farmers’ fields is not. There are millions of farmers – this is the in-situ conservation “system.” But in the race to breed varieties that will not succumb to Ug99, for example, on whose door among the millions should one knock to find the genes for resistance? The in-situ approach, impressive in what it has accomplished over time, is challenged when it comes to screening for traits and providing broad access.


In hindsight, most governments rested on these successes, not appreciating that activities such as plant breeding are not ‘one-off’. Yields stagnate unless you replace current varieties with more productive varieties. It’s a simple truth. Failure to fund research in the 1990s is being felt now.


The next decade or two will be rough and volatile. Climate variability, physical constraints and the lack of innovation in the pipeline will see to that.


Genebanks are conserving hundreds of thousands of unique samples, many of which have not yet been screened to reveal the very traits that could be employed to help agriculture adapt to climate change and become more productive: heat resistance, drought tolerance, disease and pest resistance, productivity in low nutrient situations. Can anyone doubt their importance?


The world will add yet another billion in the next 12 years. Interestingly, that’s about the length of time it takes for a plant breeder to develop a new crop variety and get it to farmers. Planning for productivity is so much more pleasing than waiting for plague and pestilence.


Press release of the Global Crop Diversity Trust

Cary Fowler

Executive Director


(Return to Contents)




1.39  Second Global Plan of Action on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture adopted by FAO governing body


We are pleased to inform that the Second Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture was unanimously approved by the FAO Council at  its 143rd Session this week. The Council recognized the  Second Global Plan of Action as an important instrument for an effective conservation and use of plant genetic diversity at global and local levels.  


The Second Global Plan of Action was prepared under the aegis of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has been prepared 15 years since the first Global Plan of Action was adopted in 1996. It is based on country inputs from regional consultations as well as  gaps and needs identified in The Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture published in 2010.


The FAO press release on the subject  is here 


Contributed by Kakoli Ghosh

Team Leader Seeds and Plant Genetic Resources

Plant Production and Protection Division, FAO


(Return to Contents)




1.40  Informal “seed” systems and the management of gene flow in traditional agroecosystems


Dyer GA , González C , Lopera DC , 2011. Informal “Seed” Systems and the Management of Gene Flow in Traditional Agroecosystems: The Case of Cassava in Cauca, Colombia.PLoS ONE 6(12):e29067.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029067


Our ability to manage gene flow within traditional agroecosystems and their repercussions requires understanding the biology of crops, including farming practices' role in crop ecology. That these practices' effects on crop population genetics have not been quantified bespeaks lack of an appropriate analytical framework. We use a model that construes seed-management practices as part of a crop's demography to describe the dynamics of cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) in Cauca, Colombia. We quantify several management practices for cassava—the first estimates of their kind for a vegetatively-propagated crop—describe their demographic repercussions, and compare them to those of maize, a sexually-reproduced grain crop. We discuss the implications for gene flow, the conservation of cassava diversity, and the biosafety of vegetatively-propagated crops in centers of diversity. Cassava populations are surprisingly open and dynamic: farmers exchange germplasm across localities, particularly improved varieties, and distribute it among neighbors at extremely high rates vis-à-vis maize. This implies that a large portion of cassava populations consists of non-local germplasm, often grown in mixed stands with local varieties. Gene flow from this germplasm into local seed banks and gene pools via pollen has been documented, but its extent remains uncertain. In sum, cassava's biology and vegetative propagation might facilitate pre-release confinement of genetically-modified varieties, as expected, but simultaneously contribute to their diffusion across traditional agroecosystems if released. Genetically-modified cassava is unlikely to displace landraces or compromise their diversity; but rapid diffusion of improved germplasm and subsequent incorporation into cassava landraces, seed banks or wild populations could obstruct the tracking and eradication of deleterious transgenes. Attempts to regulate traditional farming practices to reduce the risks could compromise cassava populations' adaptive potential and ultimately prove ineffectual.


Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz


(Return to Contents)




1.41  Plant scientists to explore genetics to halt spread of crop diseases


United Kingdom

November 19, 2011

New and more virulent crop diseases are predicted to emerge as a result of climate change. Scientists from the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory on Norwich Research Park are at the front line of fundamental research to understand the impact of temperature on pathogens, plants and how they interact. They will mine genetic diversity in crop relatives for new sources of disease resistance.


TSL scientists are enlisting a wild grass collected from coastal plains in Israel to protect wheat harvests from a disease that is already devastating crops from Uganda to Iran.


“The research highlights the importance of maintaining biodiversity,” said Dr Brande Wulff from The Sainsbury Laboratory.


“Wild plants can harbour powerful resistance to crop diseases.”


The wispy, insignificant-looking grass Aegilops sharonensis, or Sharon goatgrass, grows on coastal plains in Israel and South Lebanon that are undergoing increasing development. Many populations of the grass are on the edge of extinction.


Scientists are growing it from seed in glasshouses at The Sainsbury Laboratory so they can identify the genes that protect it from Ug99, a stem rust fungus that could infect 80-90 per cent of wheat varieties worldwide. They have just received an additional half a million pounds of funding from BBSRC to identify and isolate the genes responsible for disease resistance.


The disease can spread rapidly over large distances by wind or by accidental human transmission. Stem rust pathogens can also evolve quickly and seven additional variants of Ug99 have been identified. The onward spread is highly likely.


“The immediate fear in terms of food security is that Ug99 will reach the Northern Punjab in Pakistan where nearly a fifth of the world’s wheat is grown,” said Dr Wulff.


Stem rust traditionally thrives in warmer climates and is only an occasional visitor in the UK, but Ug99 is more aggressive at lower temperatures compared to other strains. A longer term fear is that it could become established in more temperate regions of Europe.


“Rising temperatures and increasing drought are the most obvious threats to agriculture posed by climate change, but the greatest impact of climate change on yields could actually be the emergence of new pests and diseases,” said Dr Matthew Reynolds from CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.


Ug99, first identified in Uganda in 1999, is of particular concern because it has broken a key resistance gene in commercial wheat, Sr31, that has protected crops worldwide for three decades. It is also virulent against most other resistance genes in wheat and related species.


The leaves and stems of a healthy crop, just weeks away from harvest, can become infected with red blister-like pustules and turn into a tangle of black stems and shrivelled grains. Yield losses of 70 per cent or more are possible, with the biggest losses in small scale subsistence farming.


“Over the next three years we aim to identify the genes that make Sharon goatgrass able to stand up to Ug99,” said Dr Brande Wulff.


“The ultimate step, four or five years from now, is to isolate these genes, take them out with the molecular tweezers and put them into locally-adapted high-yielding bread wheat.”


One of the defining differences of this research is that the scientists plan to clone not just one new resistance gene, but several, and put them together in one package. As a backup, they will continue to clone more genes. As they learn more about the pathogen they will be able to mix and match genes in combinations that are even more likely to provide durable resistance.


“We hope to create a formidable obstacle to the pathogen,” said Dr Wulff.


The research is funded by The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, The Two Blades Foundation, The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Capacity and Capability Challenge (CCC) fund from The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC).


Researchers at the John Innes Centre, also on the Norwich Research Park, are investigating other emerging pests and diseases that could be exacerbated by climate change. Dr Saskia Hogenhout is studying small bacteria called phytoplasmas that are transmitted by insects to infect crops including potato, oilseed rape, carrots and lettuce.


Dr Vinod Kumar is studying the fundamental mechanisms that govern interactions between plants, pathogens and climate, focusing on variations in temperature. By improving our fundamental understanding, his research team hope to be able to develop climate-resilient resistance to crop diseases such as blackleg disease of brassicas.




(Return to Contents)




1.42  New field peas a resistant alternative



27 Nov, 2011 04:00 AM

NEW varieties of field peas with resistance to the northern disease scourge, powdery mildew, have the potential to provide growers in northern farming areas with an alternative winter legume.


The University of Sydney's Plant Breeding Institute at Narrabri has developed the new lines which are more suited to northern environments than traditional southern varieties.


Cotton Grower Services branch manager at Goondiwindi, Andrew Stewart, said pilot plantings of new varieties in the Border Rivers area this year had shown early promise.


"The southern varieties can be grown here but they are not powdery mildew resistant and that is a major problem," he said.


"Agronomically as a legume rotation crop for wheat, field peas have a good fit because they are a true break for nematodes in the soil. Chickpeas aren't a break crop for nematodes."


Mr Stewart said field peas had the capacity to fix 60 to 80 kilograms per hectare of nitrogen.


"And they give you other options besides grain. They are a fantastic green manure crop, a good hay crop and they can also be used for grazing. So you are not out of pocket so much by growing a break crop," he said.


Field peas are planted in early to mid-May and are harvested in the second half of October before wheat harvest. They are a very quick crop.


Mr Stewart said the key to establishing field peas as a more widely grown alternative crop in the area was to find new local markets.


"The grain protein is ideal for grower rations for pigs where it forms about 25 percent of the ration," he said. "Once we get a volume of field pea grain together we will look at changing the diet for pigs.


Mr Stewart said the initial cost of planting seed was high at $900 to $1000/tonne and a sowing rate of 100 kilogram/ha but that would become less of an issue once more producers started producing seed.


He said field peas were similar to other legume crops to grow and, in some cases, had greater advantages.


"There are heaps of herbicide options for field peas more than for chickpeas and faba beans," he said.


"You can use the same winter crop planter you sow wheat with and inoculation with field pea inoculants is no different to what you do with chickpeas or faba beans."


Mr Stewart said field peas could either be desiccated with Reglone prior to harvest to bring them in together or left to dry down naturally.


"The main thing is that when they are ready to harvest you need to get in and harvest them as the pods can shatter. You get them out of the way then go onto your barley and wheat," he said.


One of the pilot plantings in the Goondiwindi area this year was on Cameron Henwood's property, Strathmore, at Toobeah.


"We wanted to see if we could get an alternative legume for winter," Mr Henwood said. "I have grown faba beans and chickpeas for years. Chickpeas aren't so good around here sometimes because of the floods. Faba beans are no good because the price has gone down and they are worth less now than they were 15 years ago.


"The other thing with field peas is you can feed them off to cattle whereas you can't do anything with chickpeas if it turns dry."


Queensland Country Life


Source: http://www.queenslandcountryl... Via


(Return to Contents)




1.43  Bangladesh: Farmers evaluate salt-tolerant rice varieties


November 29, 2011

Source: IRRI


One hundred forty-three participants from the villages of Gnngarampur, local government representatives, and staff members of the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA)-Khulna Hub attended.


Participants casted their votes for the best and the worst varieties according to their own preference. Most farmers chose the variety BRRI dhan41 as the best. It has similar characteristics to one that the farmers’ currently use, BR23, and the farmers hoped they would get higher yield with BRRI dhan41.

The farmers said BRRI dhan41 should be tested in medium lowland and lowland in larger plots. Some farmers added that BRRI dhan41 could allow them to sow sesame and mungbean on time and avoid waterlogging from the early showers pre-monsoon.


Isabul Golder, one of the participating farmers, reported that the early harvest of another variety, BRRI dhan 49, in his field helped him to bring his field in condition 10 days earlier than BR23 last year.


The event was organized by the CSISA-Bangladesh project, in collaboration with Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture, and the Directorate of Agriculture Extension (DAE) at Katianangla Village.


More news from: IRRI (International Rice Research Institute)




(Return to Contents)




1.44  Whitefly, tomato growers find truce in new Texas variety


College Station, Texas, USA

December 5, 2011

The whitefly in Texas may be sending up a surrender flag to tomato processors in the state thanks to a Texas AgriLife Research scientist developing a new variety that resists the virus spread by this pesky insect.


A 10-year battle against the insect all but wiped out the tomato industry in Texas, but the new tomato already is encouraging small processors to stay in business, according to Dr. Kevin Crosby, AgriLife Research vegetable breeder.


“We first saw this new virus around 2002 or so,” Crosby said. “There were strains of this virus complex always in the Rio Grande Valley, but they weren’t nearly as easily spread by the whitefly as this new strain that originated in the Middle East and then went from Florida to Mexico and then came to Texas.


“It spreads like wildfire. I’ve seen a 50-acre field just plowed under because they couldn’t get a single tomato out of them. There are so many whiteflies down there in that subtropical region, you really can never completely eliminate whiteflies. You can’t do it.”


The researcher said tomato plants as young as three weeks old can be infected by the whiteflies, causing leaves to curl and turn yellow, ultimately killing the entire plant.


Tomato processing in the Rio Grande Valley pulled the plug rather than fight the prolific fly, industry officials said.


“Whiteflies just devastated the tomato industry here,” said Buddy Ault, owner of Rio Valley Canning Co. in Donna. “At one time the Rio Grande Valley was producing about 40,000 acres of tomatoes until the whitefly came along.


Acreage plunged. Then, about five years ago we noticed that plants were dying just when the fruit was about to mature. The leaves turned yellow and cut off nutrients to the fruit, causing tomatoes to stay green on the inside.”


Growers first blamed the whitefly, then realized a virus carried by whitefly was to blame, Ault said.


“So, we asked Texas AgriLife Research about the possibility of developing an open-pollinated, virus-resistant variety,” he said.


Help came from previous research conducted in Texas, aided by national and international vegetable breeding networks, Crosby said.


“Dr. Paul Leeper, who was a scientist at (AgriLife Research in) Weslaco for decades, did a lot of the early work on hot climate, processing tomatoes. As a result, he built a lot of very good varieties for the industry. In fact, his tomatoes at one point were the most popular tomatoes in tropical places because they could tolerate the heat,” Crosby noted. “But we found out that they could not tolerate the new viruses that have been brought in by the whitefly.”


Crosby called upon colleagues in Florida and Taiwan, who had identified tomato genes that provide resistance to the viral disease, in seeking plants to cross with the Texas varieties. He got a supply to test from Dr. Peter Hansen at the World Vegetable Research and Development Center in Taiwan, as well as from Dr. Jay Scott, a world-famous tomato breeder at the University of Florida.


“We were able to cross those lines with our Weslaco lines and generate material that was adapted to Texas and that had good processing qualities,” Crosby said.


For now, the new variety called T-5 is being tested by some producers in the Rio Grande Valley and Crosby said the results are promising.


“Because it combines two distinct virus-resistance genes, resistance has been outstanding,” he said.


“The new variety is impressive,” said Ault, whose company cans a mixture of diced tomatoes and green peppers for H-E-B’s Hill Country Fare label.


“We like the T-5 very much,” he said. “It is highly productive, has good flavor, good color and is virus resistant. What we don’t like about it is that it is an indeterminate variety, meaning not all the fruit sets and matures on the plant at the same time. As a processor, we prefer one that sets fruit all at the same time. But considering we had little to work with prior to the T-5, we’re optimistic Dr. Crosby’s good work will prevail.”


Crosby plans to continue the virus-resistance research for the fresh tomato types and to develop varieties suited for growing in the different climate across the state.


“Growers of fresh market tomatoes are interested in our work because there’s little to nothing in the vine-ripe class or heirloom-type cultivars, which are well-adapted to the heat and have the virus resistance,” Crosby said.




(Return to Contents)




1.45  Research improves cold-hardy wheat


By Victoria Martinez, For The StarPhoenix December 5, 2011

With global demand for wheat exceeding 20 billion bushels a year, producers need more high-yielding crops that can survive in the extreme climate of the Canadian Prairies.


Winter wheat, which is planted in the fall and harvested in July and August, could help meet this need. It has a 30 per cent higher yield than spring-seeded varieties. It is less susceptible to late spring diseases and it provides ground cover that reduces soil erosion.


But harsh Canadian winters take a toll on winter wheat crops. Improved cold resistance could change this and provide an attractive option for local producers, as well as potentially put more food on the world's tables.


Plant sciences PhD student Parul Jain is part of a University of Saskatchewan team that is studying gene groups in winter wheat to help improve the crop's cold resistance.


"The results we've had so far are exciting," said Jain, who has already identified seven gene switches linked to cold resistance for her doctoral research. Each gene switch may turn on a different set of genes, causing different reactions to cold.


U of S plant breeding experts will use these switches to produce new nutritious and hardy grain lines. The resulting cold-hardy lines would not be considered genetically modified products, since the genes occur naturally in wheat.


"People are looking at cold hardiness in every kind of plant all over the world," said U of S research scientist and genomics expert Monica Baga, who supervises Jain's work along with Ravindra Chibbar, Canada Research Chair in molecular biology for crop quality.


Extreme cold creates a double threat to crops. Some types of winter wheat resist overnight frosts well, but can't stand up to longterm cold, and vice versa. Breeders need to protect crops from both types of cold, which are associated with different genes.


Jain is identifying gene switches that turn various individual genes on and off. She is looking at 15 variants of one gene switch and has already found several versions of the switch that set off cold-protecting genes.


Using these switches, scientists in the research group will identify important genetic markers for selecting the best cold-protecting properties for wheat.


Jain's pure scientific results can be put to use directly at the U of S because the campus has a dedicated breeder for winter wheat who has all the genetic stocks.


By identifying genes, the research group helps breeders speed up the production of new wheat lines.


"Traditional breeding times vary anywhere between seven and 10 years depending on the trait and luck of the breeder," Chibbar said. "In the case of identified genes, which is our case, development can be reduced by between one and two years."


The cold resistance research is part of U of S efforts to meet global challenges in food security, which is a signature area of the university's research.


Since 60 per cent of the world wheat market is winter wheat from other countries, there is already a huge market for this type of grain.


Victoria Martinez is a student intern for U of S Research Communications.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix


Read more:




(Return to Contents)




1.46  The benefits of breeding crops that produce deep roots



Kell, D.B. 2011. Breeding crop plants with deep roots: their role in sustainable carbon, nutrient and water sequestration. Annals of Botany 108: 407-418.

What was done


In a "Viewpoint" article published in the Annals of Botany, Douglas Kell -- who holds joint appointments at the University of Manchester's School of Chemistry and its Interdisciplinary Biocentre, as well as the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council -- discusses the many benefits to be reaped from the breeding of crops that produce deeper and more "bushy" root systems than they do currently.


What was learned

Kell recounts how broader and deeper roots result in "much greater steady-state trapping of carbon, and also of nutrients and water, leading to improved drought and flooding tolerance, greater biomass yields, and better soil structure and steady-state carbon sequestration," noting that crops with such root systems "seem to mobilize and retain nutrients and water very effectively over extended periods, thus providing resistance to drought (e.g. Burch and Johns, 1978; Passioura, 1983, 2006; Ekanayake et al., 1985; Champoux et al., 1995; Price et al., 2002; Kato et al., 2006; Kirkegaard et al., 2007; Bernier et al., 2008; Kamoshita et al., 2008; Karcher et al., 2008; Cairns et al., 2009; Hund et al., 2009; McKenzie et al., 2009)." He also notes how the same phenomenon provides resistance to "flooding and other consequences of climate change, as well as to fertilizer runoff," while providing still further evidence in support of "the role of roots in improving soil structure (Gregory et al., 2010), on improving hydrology (MacLeod et al., 2007) and in showing that soil organic carbon improves agronomic productivity (Lal, 2010)." And in describing what could be called the super-payoff of a breeding program that he feels could essentially double the rooting volume of earth's crops, Kell calculates that "increasing soil carbon in the steady state by just 15% would lower atmospheric CO2 by 30%," which consequence would provide a powerful negative feedback to whatever global warming impetus earth's rising atmospheric CO2 concentration might possibly be producing.


What it means

Although Kell's analysis is significant in its own right, the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content produces essentially the same results, as it typically stimulates plant root growth, as indicated by the many reviews of pertinent papers archived in our Subject Index under the general heading of Roots. Therefore, it can be appreciated that nature is already at work on the project Kell envisions. And if mankind was also to embark on the program he proposes, the two-pronged approach could ultimately lead to a new steady-state condition of the planet, whereby its atmospheric CO2 concentration stabilizes at an equilibrium value somewhat higher than that of the present, which consequence would result in greater plant water use efficiencies and crop yields than those of the present, but which would produce a climate that is not a whole lot different from that of today.


(References can be found at the following link)




(Return to Contents)




1.47  University of Queensland scientists find genes to tackle climate change in outback rice


Queensland, Australia

December 19, 2011

University of Queensland scientists have discovered that an ancient relative of rice contains genes that could potentially save food crops from the devastating effects of global warming.


In a report, published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS)*, it has been shown that wild rice plants in hotter and drier parts of Australia tend to be more genetically diverse.


Professor Robert Henry from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), who led the research team, said there were global implications for this discovery.

"This finding will be useful in selecting crop varieties that can cope with a variable and changing climate," he said.


The genetic diversity found by the scientists is seen as a bulwark against climate change because some genes offer plants a degree of resistance to bacterial and fungal pathogens, both of which are known to attack plants under stress.


In a study conducted over more than 238 km of remote landscape, researchers from QAAFI and Southern Cross University compared wild cereal relatives growing in Australia with those found in the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture began in the cradle of civilisation.


The Fertile Crescent is a geographical region that stretches more than 2000 km from the Nile in Egypt to the waters of the Persian Gulf in the west.


The wild rice research project is a collaboration with Professor Eviatar Nevo from the Institute for Evolution in Israel, which used recent advances in DNA-sequencing technology to examine the genetics of wild-plant populations on a large scale.


* Genome diversity in wild grasses under environmental stress, PNAS, December 27, 2011, vol. 108 no. 52, 21139-21144


QAAFI background

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) is a scientific research institute of The University of Queensland (UQ), which was formed through an alliance between UQ and the Queensland Government's Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI). QAAFI draws together 100 research teams specialising in plant, animal and food sciences from 11 UQ and DEEDI sites across Queensland. For more information visit


About QAAFI Director, Prof. Robert Henry

Professor Henry has written and edited several books on plant molecular biology and product quality and published more than 200 peer reviewed scientific papers and more than 500 national and international conference papers. He was made a fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) in 1993, was Chair of the, RACI, Cereal Chemistry Division and received the Guthrie Award in 2000. He is a senior editor of the "Plant Biotechnology Journal" (Wiley - Blackwell Publishing Ltd), Associate Editor of "Conservation Genetics" (Springer Science), and a member of the Australian Research Council, College of Experts and the Plant Breeders Rights Advisory Committee.


More news from: University of Queensland






(Return to Contents)




1.48  Research puts another nail in coffin of septoria



December 20, 2011

Research by local and international researchers has given plant breeders another tool to fight the fungal wheat disease commonly known as septoria, which causes annual losses exceeding $100 million in Western Australia.


A protein called 'Tox1' produced by Stagonospora nodorum, which causes Stagonospora (also known as septoria) nodorum blotch, has been cloned so it can be used by wheat breeders to help screen new breeding lines for their susceptibility to the disease, and produce varieties with better resistance.


The cloning was achieved by scientists at the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) supported Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens (ACNFP), based at WA’s Curtin University, and colleagues at the Australian National University and in the United States.


ACNFP director Richard Oliver (photo) said the cloning of Tox1 could help produce a septoria-resistant replacement for the WA noodle wheat variety Calingiri, which is moderately susceptible to the disease due to its sensitivity to Tox1.


Professor Oliver said the cloning of Tox1 was the latest in a series of achievements made in septoria research in recent years.


“Progress in combating septoria has really taken off in the six years since the GRDC began funding research into the genome sequence associated with the disease,” he said.

“The research achievements have significantly reduced the time it takes breeders to select disease resistant lines, and has allowed them to concentrate more resources on other desirable traits.


“Already in 2011, WA growers’ productivity has increased by $20 million due to their adoption of new wheat varieties insensitive to protein toxins produced by septoria.”


Professor Oliver said Tox1 was one of a small number of proteins, called effectors, secreted by septoria.


“Our research has shown that septoria causes disease on wheat by producing effectors, which interact with specific wheat proteins present in some varieties and not in others,” he said.


“If a particular type of wheat protein is present in the variety, the effector causes ‘necrosis’ – the premature death of cells in the plant tissue – which enables the septoria fungus to enter the plant and cause disease.


“The amount of disease is roughly proportional to the number of effectors the fungus has, for which the cultivar has the specific receptors.


“The task of the plant breeder is to remove those wheat genes which cause sensitivity to the effectors.”


Professor Oliver said about 100,000 doses of two effectors – known as ToxA and Tox3 – had already been delivered to Australian wheat breeders in recent years, for use in testing the susceptibility of new wheat lines to septoria.




(Return to Contents)




1.49  Fast, cheap accurate test slows cassava virus disease


December 12, 2011

By Brian Clark, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences


PROSSER, Wash. - The Nigerian poet and novelist Flora Nwapa calls it "Mother Cassava.”


A fundamental staple in the diet of nearly a billion people, the cassava plant produces a root that is processed in many ways to produce foods and beverages. After rice and beans, cassava is the most important subsistence crop in the tropical regions of South America, Asia and Africa.


In many parts of Africa, cassava’s hardiness allows it to be grown on land unsuitable for the cultivation of cereals or other staple crops. African farmers like cassava because, on a per acre basis, it produces higher yields than other crops, thus assuring that the family has food and income.


Detecting disease in cuttings

Unfortunately, cassava mosaic disease, or CMD, threatens the crop. The disease has been the cause of at least one serious famine in Africa.


CMD causes leaves to become twisted, misshapen or not to develop at all. Reduced leaf area in turn reduces the size of tubers.


In Africa, seven distinct viruses spread by whiteflies and via vegetative cuttings cause CMD. Cassava is propagated via cuttings from existing plants, so if the parent plant has CMD, so too will the daughter plants.


"Part of the problem with managing CMD has been in accurately detecting these viruses,” said Naidu Rayapati, a plant virologist based at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, Wash. "If these viruses can be detected in vegetative cuttings, it should be possible to quarantine contaminated plant material and supply farmers with clean cuttings for new plantings.”


Grad student helps apply WSU work for Africa

Rayapati has long been involved in the business of insuring that growers use clean, healthy planting stock. In Washington, he leads a project working to contain the spread of grapevine leafroll, a complex virus disease that damages valuable wine grapevines.


Rayapati and his Nigerian graduate student, Olufemi J. Alabi, collaborated with Lava Kumar, a virologist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria, to address the problem of CMD detection in cassava. A U.S. Agency for International Developmet (USAID) Linkage Grant funded the project.


Safer, cheaper, localized testing

"Previous methods of virus detection in plant tissue required commercial kits that were expensive and that involved handling toxic or carcinogenic materials,” Rayapati explained. The special training and facilities required to handle the materials, coupled with the expense, made it extremely impractical to use on a wide enough basis to effectively help manage CMD in African countries.


"What we did is replace the dangerous materials used in the extraction of plant tissue with safe ones which are also cheaper,” Rayapati said. "When you don’t have facilities or protocols for handling the dangerous stuff, you really need this sort of alternative.”


Rayapati had previously helped develop a method whereby plant samples could be easily and inexpensively transported from remote agricultural areas in Asia and Africa to laboratories capable of conducting analysis. Now, though, the testing can be done at regional hubs, thus speeding up the process of detecting the presence of disease-causing viruses.


"What we essentially did was transfer the technology to the people who really need it,” Rayapati said.


No need to purify plant material first

The modified testing technique not only replaced the expensive and toxic ones with materials that are safe and cheap. It also combined separate tests for individual viruses into one test, further reducing the cost of detecting CMD-causing viruses.


"We essentially adapted a protocol we developed here in Prosser that we were using to detect the presence of viruses in grapes,” Rayapati said.


Typically, plant material must be purified in particular ways in order to reduce the volume of material that has to be screened for the presence of viruses.


"We thought, why eliminate all the ‘junk?’ That’s just another added expense,” Rayapati said. "The test is quite specific in that it looks for particular molecules that signal the presence of disease-causing viruses in cassava. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. Even if it’s surrounded by hay, you will know when you sit down if there is a needle in there.”


More work to be done

Rayapati is quick to point out that having an inexpensive means of detecting the viruses that cause CMD is only a first step, albeit a critical one. CMD is transmitted by whitefly, he said, so new plantings need to be done when the whitefly population is low as well as with clean plant material.


"But there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution,” he said. "There has to be an adaptable and flexible strategy that combines the ancient farming practices of the people with modern ones developed by researchers.”


(Return to Contents)




1.50  Resistant cultivars are worth their salt


By Greg Rhodes in Industry


21 December 2011

A research and breeding programme as diverse as that of DLF Trifolium ensures that the world's largest grass grower and producer creates a steady crop of leading edge cultivars designed to thrive in challenging environments.


Developing the quality and reliability of its seed varieties is always at the forefront of DLF's grass breeding, as are innovations in growing methods and generating new varieties that can meet the changing pressures and demands that modern sport, leisure and the urban realm impose on amenity and fine turf.


Coastal sportsgrounds and links golf courses historically have had to contend with issues that other inland locations are spared, and choosing the right seed mixture to apply in such settings is seldom straightforward.


Salt dominates these environments but deciding which cultivars deal best with its potentially damaging effects has for long been a game of trial and error for UK turfcare professionals.


Worldwide, the issue is a growing one, as the acreage unsuitable for crop production increases. Irrigation water, contaminated with salt by desalination, is largely responsible for raising soil salt levels - creating a hostile environment for crops - while intensively fertilised turf, such as links golf courses, as well as highway verges, are becoming problem zones.


The impact of salt is more widely reported in the UK now and is causing major concern for those charged with the task of establishing and growing turfgrasses.


How to confront the issue of contaminated irrigation water is still to be resolved but thankfully the turfcare professional's job of selecting seed to cope with high salinity soil is set to ease with the release of DLF's latest high-salt tolerant cultivars.


The grass breeder's test laboratories have identified varieties that display above-average performance, compared to standard varieties, when faced with high salinity.


DLF recognised four characteristics crucial to combating the effects of salt: good establishment rate; improved survival and growth rate; good wear resistance and drought tolerance.

Testing was conducted across the spectrum of grass species, including perennial ryegrass, red fescues, chewings fescues, strong creeping and hard and sheep's fescues.


Perennial ryegrass faired best - the highest number of cultivars exhibiting a 'very high' salt tolerance rating. Those successes were reinforced in the independent trials undertaken by the Sports Turf Research Institute for the British Society of Plant Breeders' (BSPB) Turfgrass Seed buyer's guide.


In perennial ryegrass close mown trials, DLF's new high salt tolerance Dickens 1 cultivar came top of rankings covering a variety of test criteria.


Also, for cultivars in the 22mm mown category, another high salt tolerance cultivar - Columbine - ranked third.


DLF cultivars performed just as well elsewhere, with Brahms ranked second in new cultivars for chewings 10-15mm trials, and Quatro topping the leaderboard for the sheep's fescue 10-15mm trials - a cultivar that also displayed the highest salt tolerance in the grass breeder's own trials.

The STRI work also showed that many of DLF's new high salt tolerance cultivars performed creditably well on other criteria, such as rust and wear resistance and sward density, especially among perennial varieties.


That finding tells turfcare professionals that a switch in their choice of cultivar to limit salt impact would not result a loss of turf quality overall. Rather the opposite in fact, claims DLF. Trialling these new cultivars in the field could reap lasting rewards and mark a step forward for groundsmen who have long sought a solution to the perils of salty conditions. The new cultivars will be used in creating a range of new salt tolerant mixtures within both the Masterline and Johnsons sport seed brands.


You could say that DLF is helping Britain's `Salts of the earth` deflect the debilitating effects on turfgrass of the salt of the earth.

Read more articles in Industry, by Greg Rhodes or from December 2011.




(Return to Contents)




1.51  DuPont & Rosetta Green ink research agreement to identify drought tolerance genes in corn & soybeans


Collaboration Aims to Identify Additional Modes of Action for Drought Tolerance


DES MOINES, Iowa and REHOVOT, Israel – Dec. 15, 2011 – DuPont and Rosetta Green Ltd. have entered into a strategic research agreement to identify drought tolerance genes in corn and soybeans.


Under the agreement, Rosetta Green will use proprietary technology and bioinformatics capabilities to identify microRNAs.  DuPont, through its Pioneer Hi-Bred business, will test candidate genes in target crops.  Pioneer will have an exclusive commercial license for genes identified through this collaboration which will improve drought tolerance in corn and soybeans for farmers.  Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.


“Drought can lead to losses for corn growers of up to $13 billion annually,” said John Bedbrook, vice president, DuPont Agricultural Biotechnology.  “We are pleased to collaborate with Rosetta Green to identify new genes leads which can help farmers protect yield and feed a growing population, and build on our strong pipeline of leads for drought tolerance.”


Water is one of the most significant inputs for farmers.  On average, 85 percent of corn acres experience some level of yield reduction due to drought stress during the growing season.  Improved drought tolerance in corn and soybeans will enable growers across the world to increase productivity while responsibly managing water resources.


"We are greatly honored by Pioneer's decisions to work with Rosetta Green,” said Amir Avniel, Rosetta Green CEO.  “Signing this agreement is a significant milestone for the company and a vote of confidence in its technology.  We believe that microRNA genes have great potential in the agriculture industry and in crop improvement.”


MicroRNAs are small RNA molecules in corn, soybeans and other plants.  They represent an additional mode of action to develop important trait solutions in corn and other crops.  


Rosetta Green Ltd (TASE:RSTG) has a database of microRNA genes which it uses to develop improved plant traits using innovative genes called microRNA.  The company specializes in the identification and use of these unique genes that function as "main bio-switches" to control key processes in major crops such as corn, wheat, rice, soybean and more.  Rosetta Green's current trait development portfolio includes improved abiotic stress tolerance, increased yield and improved nitrogen use efficiency.  For additional information please visit Rosetta Green's website at


Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, is the world’s leading developer and supplier of advanced plant genetics, providing high-quality seeds to farmers in more than 90 countries.  Pioneer provides agronomic support and services to help increase farmer productivity and profitability and strives to develop sustainable agricultural systems for people everywhere.  Science with Service Delivering Success™.


DuPont (NYSE: DD) has been bringing world-class science and engineering to the global marketplace in the form of innovative products, materials, and services since 1802.  The company believes that by collaborating with customers, governments, NGOs, and thought leaders we can help find solutions to such global challenges as providing enough healthy food for people everywhere, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels, and protecting life and the environment.  For additional information about DuPont and its commitment to inclusive innovation, please visit


Contributed by Jane Bachmann

E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Inc.


(Return to Contents)




1.52  Scientists find genes that confer resistance to sorghum anthracnose


Sorghum like many other important crops experience various plant diseases especially those caused by bacterial pathogens. One such disease is sorghum anthracnose which is caused by Colletotrichum sublineolum. Thus, Moses Biruma of Makerere University and colleagues conducted a study to identify resistance genes for C. sublineolum. They profiled East African sorghum genotypes and generated a final set of 126 sequenced genes, wherein 15 were identified to be biotic stress related. Seven of the genes were subjected to functional analysis followed by fungal inoculation and PCR analysis.


The resulting candidate set of genes include those that encode resistance proteins (Cs1A, Cs2A), a lipid transfer protein (SbLTP1), a zinc finger-like transcription factor (SbZnTF1), a rice defensin-like homolog (SbDEFL1), a cell death related protein (SbCDL1), and an unknown gene. When the expression of Cs1A, Cs2A, SbLTP1, SbZnF1 and SbCD1 were silenced, the resistance was highly compromised, unlike the milder effect in SbDEFL1 and SbCK2 silencing.


Genome analysis revealed that Cs1A and Cs2A genes are located in two different locations on chromosome 9 closely linked with duplicated genes Cs1B and Cs2B, respectively.


Subcribers of Theoretical and Applied Genetics may download the complete article at


Source: Crop Biotech Update 09 December 2011


(Return to Contents)