PLANT BREEDING NEWS

 

EDITION 236

 

June 2012

 

An Electronic Newsletter of Applied Plant Breeding

 

Clair H. Hershey, Editor

chh23@cornell.edu

 

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. NEWS, ANNOUNCEMENTS AND RESEARCH NOTES

 

Reviews of broad issues in research and development

 

            1.01  Leading researchers call for $100 billion investment in Agriculture   research

            1.02  World Food Prize honors land-grant universities with Borlaug Medallion      during   150th anniversary of Morrill Act

            1.03  Next-generation education in crop genetics

 

Reviews of breeding programs

 

            1.04  Improvement of varieties for small farmers in China calls for a new             approach to breeding as well as social and legal changes

            1.05  Rwanda releases iron-rich beans to improve public health for millions

            1.06  Investments aim to crack wheat’s ‘tough nuts’

            1.07  Fifteen new plant breeders complete the UC Davis Plant Breeding    Academy

            1.08  Vita launches Potato Centre of Excellence in Africa

            1.09  International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and West Africa             Center for Crop Improvement (WACCI) in a strategic alliance to increase plant       breeders in Africa

            1.10  Breeding strategies for adaptation of pearl millet and sorghum to    climate variability and change in West Africa

            1.11  IITA Project saves Africa from striga infestation

            1.12  Improved potato varieties ensure food security in Peruvian communities

 

Policy and IP issues

 

            1.13  Plant research funding crucial for the future

            1.14  Communicating the global threat of herbicide resistance

            1.15  Herbicide-resistant weeds: current challenges, new tools

 

GM issues

 

            1.16  Trouble on the horizon for GM crops?

 

Genetic resources

 

            1.17  Rising CO2 levels affects gene flow in wild and domesticated rice

            1.18  New research finds unique crop diversity, struggle to save it - Some             farmers in Mexico found to hold the key to conserving special bean

            1.19  Support under plant genetics treaty fund announced during Rio+20

            1.20  Large-scale development of cost-effective SNP marker assays for     diversity assessment and genetic mapping in chickpea and comparative          mapping in legumes

 

Trait selection and applied breeding

 

            1.21  Cornell engineers working on new peppers

            1.22  Integrated genomics, physiology and breeding approaches for improving    drought tolerance in crops

            1.23  Adoption of advanced techniques could propel crop improvement

            1.24  FAO paper calls for re-orientation of crop improvement in the 21st century

            1.25  Discovery may lead to new tomato varieties with vintage flavor and            quality

            1.26  Chinese researchers identify rice gene that could enhance quality and         productivity

            1.27  Introgression of Brassica Rapa Subsp Sylvestris blackleg resistance into B    Napus

            1.28  Cold-tolerant faba beans a new option for Northwestern wheat growers      for fixing N

 

Molecular and basic genetics research

 

            1.29  WSU develops center to manage gene data

            1.30  Scientists complete most comprehensive genetic analysis yet of corn

            1.31  Latest genomic studies shed new light on maize diversity and evolution

            1.32  Taming genetic recombination

            1.33  Discovery of a nitrogen "satiety" gene in plants

            1.34  Next-generation sequencing technology opens doors to discoveries

            1.35  New insight gained into how plants may fight diseases

            1.36  Genome of model legume Medicago truncatula sequenced

            1.37  A new source of maize hybrid vigor

            1.38  Link between vitamin C and twins can increase seed production in crops

            1.39  DNA Discovery key to drought resistant crops

            1.40  Study shows parasitic flower share more genes from its host

            1.41  Defense mechanism of Lectin in plat uncovered

            1.42  Scientists trace footprint of photoperiod pathway genes in Oryza

 

2.  PUBLICATIONS

 

            2.01  New FiBL-Dossier: Techniques in Plant Breeding

            2.02  First Textbook on Breeding for Organic Agriculture Available

            2.03  Participatory Plant Breeding Toolkit Now Available

            2.04  Genética Agrícola (in Spanish)

            2.05  Plant Breeding for Abiotic Stress Tolerance

            2.06  Beyond Vavilov: new resource for collecting diversity

 

3.  WEB AND NETWORKING RESOURCES

 

            3.01  New website to support wheat research

            3.02  A blog site for “Plant Breeders without Borders”

 

4.  GRANTS AND AWARDS

 

            (There are no grants and awards announcements in this issue)

 

5.  POSITION ANNOUNCEMENTS

 

            5.01  Monsanto plant breeding positions

 

6.  MEETINGS, COURSES AND WORKSHOPS

 

7.  EDITOR'S NOTES

 

 

1 NEWS, ANNOUNCEMENTS AND RESEARCH NOTES


1.01 
Leading researchers call for $100 billion investment in Agriculture research

 

St. Louis, Missouri, USA

June 11, 2012

 

Science holds the key to meeting global demands for food and fuel.  The scientific community must make a 10-year, $100 billion investment in food and energy security by funding plant research, says Dr. Tom Brutnell of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, MO and Dr. Wolf Frommer of the Carnegie Institute for Science in Stanford, CA in an opinion piece,Food for Thought, that appeared in the June issue of The Scientist.

 

In their opinion piece, Brutnell and Frommer espouse that if we are to be successful in addressing critical challenges facing a rapidly growing global population we must make an investment that is on par with President John F. Kennedy’s promise to put man on the moon—a project that took a decade and cost 24 billion, ($150 billion in today’s dollars).

 

In 2012 the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that nearly one billion people lack sufficient food to meet suggested daily caloric intake goals. Furthermore, the FAO estimates that food production will have to rise by 70 percent by 2050 as the world population continues to expand.

 

Given the importance of the food and energy supply to economic, social and political stability, the rational for strong investments in agricultural science are clear. “With food supply failing to keep up with the booming population, we need to find innovative ways to boost production.

 

The next generation of innovations in agriculture can only be achieved by using the best science and tools available, be it conventional breeding, advanced breeding, or biotechnology,” say Brutnell and Frommer. “Yet, plant science research has been underfunded for decades and dwarfs in comparison to medical research.”

 

Brutnell and Frommer specifically advocate for a substantial increase in scientific research to boost crop yield and fight plant pathogens as well as for research targeted at developing plants that require less water and fertilizer, and can serve as sustainable sources for biofuels, reducing our dependence on petroleum, a rapidly depleting resource.

 

“In an overpopulated food-limited world, we will inevitably witness more social unrest and potentially food and climate wars. The U.S. must seize the opportunity now to build on its tremendous strength in agriculture and reverse our current path of reduced spending and investment. If we doing nothing, we may return to our pre-1776 role as colonists who simply provide food to more strategically minded nations,” said Brutnell and Frommer.

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27562&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.02  World Food Prize honors land-grant universities with Borlaug Medallion during 150th anniversary of Morrill Act

 

Washington, D.C., USA

June 26, 2012

 

The World Food Prize Foundation awarded its Borlaug Medallion to the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities today. The award was presented during a ceremony in Washington D.C. celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Land-grant Act of 1862.

 

Written by Senator Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont and signed into law on July 2, 1862, by President Abraham Lincoln, the legislation provided grants of federal lands to the states for the establishment of public universities and agricultural education programs nationwide, and led to the democratization of higher education.

 

“Land-grant institutions have played a critical role in inspiring multiple generations to attain the highest levels of education and scientific research; fostering the most prolific era of agricultural production ever recorded in human history; and providing a model for emulation around the world as we endeavor to eliminate the scourge of hunger from the face of the earth,” said Amb.

 

Kenneth M. Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, presented the award to Scott Angle, chairman of the APLU Board on Agriculture Assembly and Dean of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

 

The World Food Prize is the foremost international award recognizing the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

 

The Borlaug Medallion honors those organizations and Heads of State who would not ordinarily be eligible for the World Food Prize, but who have made an especially noteworthy contribution to improving the world’s food supply and ensuring adequate nutrition. In the past it has only been presented to King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand; the Sasakawa Family and its Nippon Foundation of Japan; and Kofi Annan for his leadership of the United Nations.Quinn noted that Dr. Norman Borlaug - Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, founder of the World Food Prize, and known as the “Father of the Green Revolution” – was a graduate of a land-grant university.

 

“APLU should be extremely proud of its stewardship of the universities across our country, and of the critical work and research that continues to occur at institutions across America,” Quinn said. “We continue to make great strides in science and agriculture, and we are committed to working with you to inspire future generations to take on the complex issues that we face around the globe.”

 

The sesquicentennial celebration featured a keynote speech by Bill Gates; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also participated in dynamic panels about the future of education. There are currently 106 land-grant universities, including at least one in every state.

 

More details about the day’s event can be found at this link. Details about the World Food Prize Borlaug Medallion and a downloadable image of it are available online at www.worldfoodprize.org/borlaugmedallion.

 

The World Food Prize was founded in 1986 by Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, recipient of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, The World Food Prize has honored outstanding individuals who have made vital contributions to improving the quality, quantity or availability of food throughout the world. Laureates have been recognized from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Denmark, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and the United States.

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27920&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.03  Next-generation education in crop genetics

 

Eyal Fridman and Dani Zamir

 

Current Opinion in Plant Biology 2012, 15:218–223

DOI 10.1016/j.pbi.2012.03.013

 

Today, plant breeders are being met with new opportunities to develop superior varieties. Fruitful genetic research into populations with novel diversity using genotyping by sequencing combined with genotype-to-phenotype bioinformatics has generated much knowledge that is directly relevant to crop improvement. These advances can assist the breeders in associating genetic makeup with traits of commercial value.

 

The greatest challenge now is to find ways to attract the best young people to work in plant breeding for its innovation, open field experience and ability to support food security. We discuss the need, opportunities and conflicts associated with revamping plant breeding teaching programs to bridge the art and science of this profession with a rapidly expanding job market.

 

Contributed by Rodomiro Ortiz

Dept. Plant Breeding and BiotechnologySwedish

University of Agricultural Sciences

rodomiro.ortiz@slu.se

 

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1.04  Improvement of varieties for small farmers in China calls for a new approach to breeding as well as social and legal changes

 

Wageningen, The Netherlands

June 6, 2012

 

Participatory plant breeding can allow small farmers in China to acquire varieties that are adapted to local conditions. To ensure the success of this approach, however, farmers must be rewarded for their contribution to the conservation of biodiversity. This is the position taken by Chinese researcher Jingsong Li in her thesis, which she defended on May 29 at Wageningen University. Li also points out a number of legal complications concerning the acceptance and ownership of varieties developed with a participatory method.

 

China's formerly state-owned seed sector is rapidly becoming commercial. This creates a risk that small farmers are neglected as a target group and that genetic diversity is forgotten.

 

The intensive involvement of small farmers in breeding can facilitate the development of varieties that are particularly suitable to poor growing conditions. In this way, participatory breeding can be seen as a counterpart to the development of varieties for larger acreages, where farmers have better access to fertilisers and pesticides. Researcher Jingsong Li was the first to investigate the conditions in which participatory plant breeding can be beneficial for both farmers and biodiversity.

 

Li studied this subject in southwest China, one of the country’s poorest regions, where 25 million small-scale farmers live and where maize varieties have been developed via participatory plant breeding for the past ten years. While Li’s conclusions are mostly relevant for China, they are likely to be at least partly valid elsewhere.

 

Li argues that participatory plant breeding can only work if the value of genetic diversity is recognised by all parties. It is important that the improved landraces are not only used locally in traditional feasts and dishes. The project managed to take an important step toward a broadening of the market by selling products to a restaurant in the nearest major city. This is particularly useful since demand for locally grown and environmentally friendly food is increasing among Chinese urbanites.

 

In the framework of Li’s research, for the first time a contract was made between breeders and farmers for the mutual recognition of each other's effort. This means that farmers no longer have to buy from a breeder the seed of a variety to which they themselves contributed. The breeders teach the farmers how to grow good quality seed that they can sell on the local farmers' markets, resulting in additional income for the farmers and a possibility for the breeders to market the same variety in commercial markets in other regions.

 

The commercialisation of the Chinese seed industry is increasingly involving China in international negotiations on trade and property rights regarding plants. This means that commercial varieties developed through participatory breeding must also meet the strict requirements of the UPOV and TRIPS guidelines. This can cause problems such as, for instance, the varieties not being sufficiently homogeneous for the rules, which are new in China. Li and her team made progress in various workshops with local, regional and national governments, however, and the Chinese government is open to various proposed measures that can ensure that the varieties developed together with farmers can be marketed.

 

Jingsong Li is optimistic about the future of participatory plant breeding in China. “The innovations provide opportunities for the country to balance different interests, respect international legal obligations, and respond appropriately to the pressures of the competitive market,” she explains.

 

Jingsong Li’s research was funded by the International Development Research Centre in Canada. It was part of a research programme of the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27428&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.05  Rwanda releases iron-rich beans to improve public health for millions

 

Kigali, Rwanda and Washington D.C., USA

June 20, 2012

 

The Rwanda Government today announced the release of five new iron‐rich bean varieties that could provide more iron in the diets of millions of Rwandese who eat beans every day.

 

Iron deficiency is widely prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa. During childhood and adolescence, it lowers resistance to disease and impairs learning capacity. It reduces the ability of adults for physical labor. Severe anemia increases the risk of women dying in childbirth.

 

In Rwanda, anemia, which is used as an indicator of iron deficiency, afflicts almost one out of five non-pregnant women and 40% of children under‐five in Rwanda. Children and women will be the main beneficiaries of these new bean varieties, which could provide up to 30% of their daily iron needs.

 

“Beans are the ‘meat’ and even the ‘bread’ of the Rwandan countryside. A meal without beans in Rwanda is like a meal without food.” explains Lister Katsvairo, HarvestPlus Country Manager.

The new iron-rich bean varieties were bred by the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) using conventional breeding methods.

 

Farmers who evaluated these beans during field trials liked them because they were high yielding and resistant to major diseases and pests. The beans are also highly marketable due to their large seed size and their preferred colors, including red and white that are sought for in local and urban markets. “Demand for these varieties has already started, and we have produced enough seed quantities to sell to farmers at an affordable price for the next cropping season.” said Katsvairo.

 

By September, HarvestPlus and its partners will distribute more than 200 tons of iron-rich climbing and bush bean varieties via agrodealers and local markets to about 75,000 farming households. Farmers will be able to grow these new beans to feed their families. They can also harvest and share seeds with others in their community amplifying the nutritional benefits. By the end of 2013, more than half a million household members are expected to be eating iron-rich beans.

 

This development and delivery of iron-rich beans is being funded by HarvestPlus. Partners include RAB, CIAT, other Rwanda Government agencies and local partners.

 

HarvestPlus leads a global effort to breed and disseminate staple food crops that are rich in vitamins and minerals to improve nutrition and public health. Using a process called biofortification, higher amounts of vitamins and minerals are directly bred into foods such as bean, cassava, sweet potato, rice, maize, pearl millet, and wheat. HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Improved Nutrition and Health. It is coordinated by CIAT and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27764&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.06  Investments aim to crack wheat’s ‘tough nuts’

 

Australia

June 21, 2012

 

Widespread frosts in Western Australia in 1998 and 2005 caused wheat yield losses of 500,000 and 700,000 tonnes respectively, while drought, salinity, disease and nutrient issues are ongoing challenges for the State’s cereal growers.

 

To help crack these ‘tough nuts’, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) invested about $13.5 million in wheat and barley ‘pre-breeding’ research in 2011-12 and has invested almost $51.5m in this research program area from 2009-10 to 2012-13.

 

The GRDC also has equity investments in three of the commercial wheat breeding companies in Australia.

 

More details about the GRDC’s ‘pre-breeding’ investments are contained in the new GRDC Cracking Wheat’s Toughest Nuts Fact Sheet.

 

‘Pre-breeding’ refers to research which can go all the way from gene discovery to the delivery to plant breeders of advanced lines and phenotyping tools (to measure observable characteristics).

 

GRDC yield and quality traits manager Jorge Mayer said the GRDC’s investments in this research program area were part of a broader integrated strategy which included researching more effective farm practices to ensure farmers maximised the genetic advances being made.

 

“The lag between investment and delivery of improved varieties to growers is generally between 10 to 20 years, although many tools developed as part of pre-breeding research can deliver benefits much earlier to current breeding programs and therefore new varieties,” Dr Mayer said.

 

“It is also important to remember that Australian growers are reaping the benefits of investments made many years ago in genetic improvement.”

 

The fact sheet includes sections on frost; drought; salinity; nutrient use efficiency (nitrogen and phosphorus); diseases; and quality and functionality.

 

It also includes a table outlining progress made on these challenges.

 

The GRDC Cracking Wheat’s Toughest Nuts Fact Sheet is available at www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-CrackingWheatsToughestNuts

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27792&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.07  Fifteen new plant breeders complete the UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy

 

Davis, California, USA

June 11, 2012

 

Helping to fill a critical need for additional plant breeders, the University of California, Davis Plant Breeding Academy (PBA) graduated its third class of students on Friday. This class is composed of a group of working professionals who have spent more than 300 hours in classes, workshops and the field, training to become professional plant breeders. Dr. Marlin Edwards, Vice President of Research and Development, Monsanto Vegetable Seeds, gave the keynote speech at the graduation. Congratulations to the following PBA Class III graduates:

 

          Miguel Ahumada, Driscoll Strawberry Associates, USA

          Laura Brown, K&B Development, LLC, USA

          Jarunee Buaboocha, Chia Tai Co. Ltd., Thailand

          Kanlayanee Chaichana, Chia Tai Co. Ltd., Thailand

          Jonathan Gienapp, HM.Clause, USA

          Francine Giusti, Monsanto Vegetable Seed Co., USA

          Anna Hall, Bayer CropScience, USA

          Jim Irvine, Ball Horticultural Company, USA

          Jennifer Izzo, Driscoll Strawberry Associates, USA

          Bradley Martin, HyTech Production Ltd., Canada

          Jonny McIntier, Monsanto Vegetable Seeds, USA

          Terry Moran, Driscoll Strawberry Associates, USA

          Elizabeth Robertson, Abbott and Cobb Inc., USA

          Naoki Yaya, Sakata Seed America Inc., USA

          Helge Zieler, Independent, USA

 

The PBA includes six week-long sessions at UC Davis and provides each student integrated post-graduate training to prepare them to advance their careers as plant breeders. Each qualifying graduate receives a UC Davis certificate and 19 units of academic credit.

 

“It is hard to believe that already four 2-year classes have now graduated from the Plant Breeding Academy making a cohort of 67 plant breeders from this program. The graduates should be very proud and excited to apply their new skills.” said Allen Van Deynze, co-founder of the PBA.

 

The PBA was developed by the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center in direct response to industry concerns over the reduced number of plant breeders being trained in academic programs. The two-year course provides an opportunity for companies to invest in dedicated personnel who are currently involved in breeding programs, but would like further formal instruction in genetics, statistics and plant breeding theory. In addition to coursework, each student designs a breeding program as a final project. The course schedule allows students to maintain their working positions while enrolled.

 

The PBA is taught by internationally recognized plant breeders Doug Shaw and Larry Teuber, both of UC Davis, and Todd Wehner from North Carolina State University, with guest lecturers speaking on their specific areas of expertise. Applications are now being accepted for:

 

          PBA Class IV (starts September 2012) and

          the Asian PBA (starts November 2012).

 

For more information visit pba.ucdavis.edu or contact Joy Patterson at jpatterson@ucdavis.edu or at (530) 752-4414.

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27538&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.08  Vita launches Potato Centre of Excellence in Africa

 

Dublin, Ireland

June 13, 2012

 

A major €5m Vita Potato Centre of Excellence that will increase the supply of food in African countries is being launched on June 13th 2012 by Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, TD.

 

The Potato Centre of Excellence is a programme for growing Irish potatoes in Gamo Gofa in Southern Ethiopia to enable the two million population to feed themselves in the long term.

 

Local farmers take out a ‘loan’ of a bag of seed potatoes, which can be returned the next year alongside a donation of another bag, providing yet more farmers with seed for years to come. This process can enable millions to feed their families.

 

Launching the Vita Potato Centre of Excellence, Minister Coveney commented: “I’m delighted to be launching this very innovative project today. It represents a wonderful collaboration between Irish agri-food expertise through Teagasc and the Irish Potato Federation allied to the development knowledge of Vita along with their international partners in this proposed Potato Centre of Excellence. The generous support of the Irish Potato Federation in supporting model farms and developing local industry as well as Teagasc in developing local research-advisory service linkage shows that the Irish agri-food sector has much to offer other countries seeking to learn from our experiences. I wish the project every success”.

 

Teagasc Director Prof. Gerry Boyle said: “Food security and climate change are global issues that cannot be solved by any individual country alone. I am delighted to announce today that Teagasc is expanding on our current leadership role in international research consortia, and commencing a new initiative on food security, which will be headed up by Dr Rogier Schulte.

 

Today’s launch of the Vita Potato Centre of Excellence in Africa is the first step and an excellent example of international collaborative research and development on sustainable food security.”

 

Vita is an Irish international development agency with programmes in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya whose vision is to forge long-term international partnerships which empower rural communities to sustain their livelihoods. John Weakliam, Vita CEO, said: “This project is about technology transfer and business partnership and not about aid, to allow farmers to own their own destiny.

 

The Potato Centre of Excellence can bring about a key solution to the African food challenge.” “This links with Ethiopia’s aim of self-sufficiency and business partnership with Ireland,” Her Excellency Lela-Alem Gebreyohannes, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Ireland said: “We are keen to develop through strategic, long term partnerships that benefit all stakeholders.

 

The Vita Potato Centre of Excellence is an exciting step for the people of Ethiopia, and should serve as a template for replication across Africa.”Vita is delighted to acknowledge the vital contribution of the Department of Foreign Affairs, through Irish Aid, as well as the European Union, to Vita’s Sustainable Livelihoods Programme in the Horn of Africa.

 

More about this programme:

 

          The Irish Potato Federation (IPF) have conducted two sites visits to the potato development site in Gamo Gofa in Southern Ethiopia and are providing funding support and agronomic and business support.

 

          Partners in the research component of the project include Teagasc, Europe’s leading agriculture researchers in Wageningen University in The Netherlands, the International Potato Centre (CIP) and the Ethiopian National Agriculture Research Agency (EIAR). Teagasc’s potato breeding programme is supported by a world-renowned potato research facility in Oak Park in Carlow while Wageningen University is the world’s leading researcher of the potato and has carried out extensive research of potato projects in Ethiopia.

 

          The Potato Centre of Excellence is implementing a four-year research partnership under the supervision of Wageningen University which will examine seed quality, farm systems and project delivery and impact in the potato programme in Chencha. The research will measure outcomes of the Seed and Ware potato development in improving farm systems, nutrition status and livelihoods of Ethiopian farmers.

 

          Ten Ethiopian, Irish and international organisations are supporting the potato initiative with secured initial funding close to €1 million.

 

Vita is an Irish development agency whose mission is to tackle household food insecurity through community led sustainable agriculture project which are scalable and replicable, with a special focus on women as the key enablers of sustainable development. The 2012-15 programme goal is to create a material improvement in nutrition for 250,000 households, and leverage such impact through partnerships and scaling up.

 

The European Union has validated Vita’s work with potato farmers with an award of first prize amongst Ethiopian partners in September 2011. In the past three years, with support from the Irish Government and in partnership with the Sisters of Mercy Western Province in Galway, Vita and government partners have championed a community led approach to development in Chencha based on empowerment and sustainability. This includes programmes that enable households to build stoves and latrines, with immediate positive and direct impacts on the long term health of families. Other programmes include tree–planting schemes for subsistence farmers as well as provision of solar lighting to create sustainable communities living in “Green Zones”.

 

In Ireland, local communities are also getting involved – they are being led by residents from Kill village, County Kildare who have raised significant funding to support the development of the Vita Potato Centre of Excellence. Employees from Bank of Ireland, Electric Ireland, Dublin City Council and other organisations also support Vita’s work in Ethiopia.

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27593&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.09  International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and West Africa Center for Crop Improvement (WACCI) in a strategic alliance to increase plant breeders in Africa

 

April 30, 2012

West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

 

Today's hybrid corn varieties more efficiently use nitrogen to create more grain, according to 72 years of public-sector research data reviewed by Purdue University researchers.

 

Tony Vyn, a professor of agronomy, and doctoral student Ignacio Ciampitti looked at nitrogen use studies for corn from two periods – 1940-1990 and 1991-2011. They wanted to see whether increased yields were due to better nitrogen efficiency or whether new plants were simply given additional nitrogen to produce more grain.

 

"Corn production often faces the criticism from society that yields are only going up because of an increased dependency on nitrogen," said Vyn, whose findings were published in the early online version of the journal Field Crops Research. "Although modern hybrids take up more total nitrogen per acre during the growing season than they did before, the amount of grain produced per pound of nitrogen accumulated in corn plants is substantially greater than it was for corn hybrids of earlier decades. So, in that sense, the efficiency of nitrogen utilization has gradually improved."

 

Vyn and Ciampitti's analysis covered about 100 worldwide studies. Of those, 870 data points were taken from the earlier period through 1990, and 2,074 points were taken from studies after 1990, when transgenic hybrids started hitting the market. All studies involved analyses of total nitrogen uptake and grain yield by corn plants at maturity, usually in response to multiple nitrogen application rates.

 

Grain yields in these research studies averaged about 143 bushels of corn per acre over the last 21 years compared with an average of 115 bushels in the previous 50 years. Those studies showed that in the earlier period, one pound of nitrogen applied to a field produced about 49 kilograms of grain. In the more recent period, the same amount of nitrogen produced about 56 kilograms of grain.

 

About 90 percent of the corn data points examined in Vyn's study evaluated nitrogen rates between zero and 250 pounds per acre. Over both periods, the average rate of nitrogen fertilizer distributed in experimental fields was nearly the same – 124 pounds per acre in the earlier period vs. 123 pounds in the later period.

 

Vyn said genetic improvements have led to corn plants that require less space around them, allowing growers to squeeze more plants into an acre. Research fields from the modern era averaged about 28,900 plants per acre – about the average final plant populations in Indiana cornfields in 2011 - compared with 22,800 plants per acre from 1940-1990.

 

"The maximum individual plant nitrogen uptake stayed exactly the same despite the average gain of 6,000 more plants per acre," Vyn said. "The modern plants are just more efficient at taking nitrogen up and utilizing it than they were before."

 

Vyn and Ciampitti are working toward methods to increase grain yields further by investigating the contribution of nitrogen to plant biomass and yield formation processes in high-yielding hybrids under a wide range of nitrogen inputs and production stress factors. Knowing that modern hybrids are sustaining a reasonable quantity of nitrogen uptake even under progressively higher plant densities is a good start, Ciampitti said.

 

"We are getting clues on how plants have already improved nitrogen use efficiency, and we will use that to push for further increases," Ciampitti said. "We finally feel like we're shedding some light on what traits plant breeders should select for to increase nitrogen efficiency even more."

 

Vyn and Ciampitti plan to further investigate how water use efficiency and nitrogen use efficiency are tied together, as well as how plants can achieve more tolerance to environmental stresses.

 

Dow AgroSciences, PotashCorp and the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded their work.

 

Abstract

Physiological Perspectives of Changes Over Time in Maize Yield Dependency on Nitrogen Uptake and Associated Nitrogen Efficiencies: A Review Ignacio A. Ciampitti, Tony J. Vyn.

 

Over the past three decades, the study of various mechanisms involved in maize grain yield (GY) formation and its relationship with nitrogen (N) uptake dynamics has been increasingly acknowledged in the scientific literature. However, few studies have combined investigations of GY response to N fertilizer with detailed physiologically based analyses of plant N dynamics such as N uptake quantities, timing, and (or) partitioning – and the complex interactions of those with specific genotypes (G), management practices (M), and (or) production environments (E).

 

Limited reporting of both N and yield dynamics at plant-component, individual-plant, and community levels has contributed to a considerable knowledge gap as to whether the physiological mechanisms that govern maize plant N dynamics and their relationship with GY formation have changed with time. We, therefore, undertook a comprehensive review to discern trends in physiological aspects of maize response to changing plant densities and fertilizer N rates (M components) under the umbrella of evolving G x E interactions. We reviewed 100 published and unpublished papers based on field experiments which consistently reported total plant N uptake at maturity and maize GY (frequently among other physiological variables).

 

Our analyses were limited nearly exclusively to experiments involving hybrid (as distinct from inbred) response to M input levels where plant density data was available. Dissection of the complex interactions among years, plant densities and N rates began with division of treatment mean data (close to 3000 individual points) into two time periods defined by year(s) of the original research: (i) studies from 1940 to 1990 – "Old Era" and, (ii) studies from 1991 to 2011 – "New Era." For the Old Era, maize GY averaged 7.2 Mg ha−1 at a mean plant density of 5.6 pl m−2 with a total plant N uptake of 152 kg N ha−1, a grain harvest index (HI) of 48% and N harvest index (NHI) of 63%. For the New Era, maize GY averaged 9.0 Mg ha−1 at a mean plant density of 7.1 pl m−2, total plant N uptake of 170 kg N ha−1, a grain HI of 50% and a NHI of 64%.

 

The most striking findings in terms of overall GY and plant N uptake were: (1) on a per-unit-area basis, both potential GY and NIE (GY/N uptake) increased from Old to New Era at comparable N uptake levels, and (2) on a per-plant basis, total plant N uptake at maturity had not changed between eras despite increased plant density in the New Era genotypes.

 

Other important findings in terms of plant growth and component partitioning responses to N were (i) a consistently strong dependency between dry matter and N allocation to the ear organ in both eras; (ii) higher total plant biomass (BM) accumulation and N uptake, on an absolute basis, during the post-silking period with New Era genotypes accompanied by relatively smaller changes in HI and NHI; (iii) a strong correlation between plant N uptake at silking time and per-plant GY and its components in both eras; (iv) New Era (56.0 kg GY grain kg−1 N) was primarily associated with reduced grain %N, and to a minor degree with NHI gains; and (v) New Era genotypes showed higher tolerance to N deficiency stress (higher GY when no N fertilizer was applied), and larger GY response per unit of N applied, relative to Old Era hybrids.

 

This improved understanding of the physiological factors underlying progress in maize yield response to N over time, within the context of changing G x E x M factors, serves to help guide maize programs focused on achieving further improvements in N use efficiency.

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=26519&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.10  Breeding strategies for adaptation of pearl millet and sorghum to climate variability and change in West Africa

 

June 20, 2012

 

Haussmann, B I G and Rattunde, H F and Weltzien-Rattunde, E and Traore, P C S and et al, . (2012)Journal of Agronomy and Crop Science. 13 p.. ISSN 1439-037x Download

 

Abstract

Semi-arid and subhumid West Africa is characterized by high inter-annual rainfall variability, with variable onset of the rainy season, somewhat more predictable endings, and drought or excess water occurrence at any time during the growing season. Climate change is predicted to increase this variability. This article summarizes options for plant breeders to enhance the adaptation of pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum [L.] R. Br.) and sorghum (Sorghum bicolor [L.] Moench) to climate variability in West Africa. Developing variety types with high degrees of heterozygosity and genetic heterogeneity for adaptation traits helps achieving better individual and population buffering capacity. Traits that potentially enhance adaptive phenotypic plasticity or yield stability in variable climates include photoperiod-sensitive flowering, plastic tillering, flooding tolerance, seedling heat tolerance and phosphorus efficiency. Farmer-participatory dynamic gene pool management using broad-based populations and diverse selection environments is useful to develop new diverse germplasm adapted to specific production constraints including climate variability. For sustainable productivity increase, improved cultivars should respond to farmer-adoptable soil fertility management and water harvesting techniques. Larger-scale, on-farm participatory testing will enable assessments of varietal performance under evolving climatic variability, provide perspective on needs and opportunities and enhance adoption. Strengthening seed systems will be required to achieve sustainable impacts.

More...

 

More news from: ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics)

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27848&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.11  IITA Project saves Africa from striga infestation

 

A notorious crop parasite, it is one of the major problems of crop growers in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) embarked on a four-year project in June 2011 to develop Striga control techniques for smallholder farmers. After one year of implementation, the project outputs are showing encouraging results.

 

The project called "Achieving Sustainable Striga Control for Poor Farmers in Africa" project, or ISMA include using Striga resistant maize and cowpea varieties, along with "push-pull" technology. The push-pull technology involves intercropping with specific Striga-suppressing forage legumes, using Imazapyr herbicide-coated seeds, encouraging maize-legume intercropping and crop rotation; and adopting Striga biocontrol technologies.

 

In Kenya, the project has reached about 6,000 farmers. Partner seed companies have also released 66 tons of seeds using Imazapyr herbicide resistant (IR) maize technology. The IR maize technology, together with the use of Striga resistant maize varieties, could decrease the emergence of Striga by up to 60%.

 

According to ISMA project manager Mel Oluoch, their initiative will lead to 50 percent increase in maize production and more than double the increase in cowpea yield, especially in areas that were previously infested with Striga. crops in areas where drought, heat and salinity are major problems.

 

Using a molecular biology technique known as EcoTILLING, scientists were able to identify 23 DNA sequence variations of which 17 occurred in the gene coding region. Two of these DNA sequence variations in the coding region are predicted to cause malfunctioned proteins.

 

Understanding the genetic variation in genes that encode the light harvesting chlorophyll proteins will enable scientists to use DNA markers to improve the 'stay green' efficiency in plants.

 

For more details about the project, view http://www.iita.org/news-feature-asset/-/asset_publisher/B3Bm/content/saving-africa-from-the-violet-vampire;jsessionid=EAEA828BF7D00FD582044C4123803BCE?redirect=%2Fnews.

 

The news from the University of Western Australia is available at http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201205314685/business-and-industry/dna-discovery-key-drought-resistant-crops

 

Source: Crop Biotech Update 01 June 2012

 

Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University

Mes25@cornell.edu

 

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1.12  Improved potato varieties ensure food security in Peruvian communities

 

Two improved varieties of potatoes were able to increase the crop's yield eight times higher than any of the 150 native potato varieties grown in the Cusco region in Peru three years after their formal release. This was reported by Stef de Haan, International Potato Center's (CIP) breeder.

 

The two varieties, named Pallay Poncho and Puka Lliclla, are both resilient to late blight disease, a fungus that is posing an increasing threat to potato production in the Andes. The two varieties give yields of about 15-16 tons per hectare, compared to 5 tons per hectare from traditional native potatoes.

 

View the original article at http://www.cgiar.org/consortium-news/improved-potato-varieties-ensure-peruvian-communities-have-enough-to-eat/

 

Source: Crop Biotech Update 15 June 2012

 

Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University

Mes25@cornell.edu

 

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1.13  Plant research funding crucial for the future

 

Stanford, California, USA

June 1, 2012

 

The scientific community needs to make a 10-year, $100 billion investment in food and energy security, says Carnegie’s Wolf Frommer and Tom Brutnell of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in an opinion piece published in the June issue of http://the-scientist.com/2012/06/01/food-for-thought/

 

They say the importance of addressing these concerns in light of a rapidly growing global population is on par with President John Kennedy’s promise to put man on the moon—a project that took a decade and cost $24 billion.

 

“Today, we face growing and economically empowered nations, energy-intensive global economies, and major shifts in global climate that together constitute the perfect storm for agriculture.,” Frommer and Brutnell say. “Yet plant-science research has been underfunded for decades—and funding is projected to shrink.”

 

In 2012 the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that about 920 million people lack sufficient food to meet suggested daily caloric intake goals. Furthermore, the FAO estimates that food production will have to rise 70 percent by 2050 as the world population continues to expand.

 

The only way to address this pending problem, Frommer and Brutnell say, is to use scientific research to boost crop yield and fight plant pathogens. Plant science can also develop plants with a diminished the need for fertilizers and water, as well plants that can produce sustainable biofuels.

 

What’s more, in addition to improving food and energy security, upping investments in agricultural science can contribute to increase social and political stability in developing nations.

In order to accomplish this, however, the United States must commit greater resources to funding plant research.

 

“In an overpopulated, food-limited world we will inevitably witness more social unrest and, potentially, food and climate wars,” Frommer and Brutnell say. “The U.S. must seize the opportunity now to build on its tremendous strength in agriculture and reverse the current path of reduced spending and investment. If we do nothing, we may return to our pre-1776 role as colonists who simply provide food to more strategically minded nations.”

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27310&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

SeedQuest.com

 

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1.14  Communicating the global threat of herbicide resistance

 

Western Australia

June 7, 2012

 

As penicillin is to human health, so glyphosate is for weed control in global crops. This is the message from Professor Stephen Powles, Director of the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI) in the newly released video, ‘Preserving glyphosate through diversity’.

 

Global grain and fibre production is substantially underpinned by herbicides for weed control. With the introduction of glyphosate resistant crops, and no-tillage farming practices, crop productivity has increased over the past 20 years. Likewise, over-reliance on herbicides has increased, with herbicide resistant weeds threatening global crop productivity and world food security.

 

The AHRI video showcases the issues leading up to the evolution of herbicide resistance, and offers workable solutions that growers can implement in their farming systems.“By increasing our reliance on herbicides, we’ve increased our risk of herbicide resistant weeds. So while we’ve adopted no-till, and we must continue to do so, we’ve got to be more sustainable about our weed control and our herbicide use”, Professor Powles said.

 

It is crucial that the threat of herbicide resistance is addressed at both the research and practice levels. Throughout the last decade, Professor Powles' UWA-based, GRDC-funded team has been key to developing research into all aspects of herbicide resistance. As a result, today many Australian farmers have the tools and know-how to manage the resistance problem.To aid in addressing the resistance threat, AHRI will host an international, multidisciplinary research conference to consider the global herbicide resistance challenge faced by agriculture. World authorities on herbicide resistance will converge in Fremantle, Perth, Western Australia for the Global Herbicide Resistance Challenge Conference from February 18-22, 2013.

 

The first three days (18-21 February) will focus on state-of-the-art resistance science, addressing resistance from the molecular and biochemical, through to agro-ecological and socio-economic issues. The fourth day (22 February) will review herbicide resistance management, with a field tour on 23 February focusing on farm resistance management.

 

Early bird registration is available from now until July 31st. There are also one-day registration options available. For further information, visit the website, follow the Conference on Facebook and Twitter, or contact Conference Chair Lisa Mayer, T: 08 6488 7870, E: lisa.mayer@uwa.edu.au

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27453&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.15  Herbicide-resistant weeds: current challenges, new tools

 

Urbana, Illinois, USA

June 12, 2012

 

The ongoing evolution of herbicide-resistant weeds is a source of worry in Illinois, said University of Illinois professor of molecular weed science Patrick Tranel. He and research assistant Nick Hausman will be making a presentation on this topic during the 56th annual Agronomy Day at the U of I on August 16.

 

Recent examples in Illinois include biotypes of waterhemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus), Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri), and horseweed (also known as marestail or Conyza canadensis) resistant to glyphosate; a waterhemp biotype resistant to HPPD inhibitors; and waterhemp populations/biotypes that display multiple resistance to herbicides spanning several site-of-action groups. Survey data suggest that the majority of waterhemp populations now exhibit multiple-herbicide resistance.

 

When glyphosate-resistant crops were introduced, their initial success caused many weed-management practitioners to stop worrying about herbicide-resistant weeds. Now the increasing occurrence of glyphosate resistance has caused those concerns to be revived and research to find new weed-management tools to be revitalized.

 

"Within the next few years, we anticipate that new herbicide-resistant crops will be available," said Tranel. "These likely will include crops with genetically engineered resistance to 2,4-D, dicamba, or HPPD-inhibiting herbicides."

 

These crops will be stacked with other forms of resistance, such as resistance to glyphosate and/or glufosinate.

 

"Dow AgroSciences anticipates introducing its Enlist Weed Control System in corn in 2013 with soybean to follow later," Tranel said. "The Enlist system includes metabolic resistance to 2,4-D that will be stacked with glyphosate resistance. Coupled to the Enlist system is a new formulation of 2,4-D."

 

Monsanto is also developing crops with resistance to synthetic auxin herbicides stacked with glyphosate resistance, but their crops will be resistant to dicamba rather than 2,4-D. They have recently announced that they are on track for a 2014 launch of dicamba-resistant soybean.

 

Both Syngenta and Bayer are evaluating crops resistant to HPPD inhibitors. Soybean is the most important for the Midwest, but it is not expected to be available for at least two years.Although these new crops will increase herbicide options for a given crop, the options will not include novel site-of-action chemistries -- they will use old chemistry, possibly with new formulations/variations.

 

"Most important, weed biotypes already exist that are resistant to these herbicides," cautioned Tranel. "Thus, it would be naive to expect any of these new weed-control tools to solve all of our current weed-resistance problems."Another new weed-management tool recently announced by Monsanto is BioDirect Technology, which takes a biologically rather than chemically based approach. It is still in the very early stages of development, but it will be interesting to follow because it may eventually yield a novel approach to weed control.

 

Regardless of how novel the technology is, it will not be immune to resistance evolution. "One of the things we learned from the Roundup Ready era is how to overuse something that seemingly is almost too good to be true," Tranel said. "If and when we begin adopting new weed-control options, we must not forget this lesson. Any weed-control option must be used wisely and judiciously, and as just one component of an integrated weed management strategy, if its effectiveness is to be preserved."

 

Agronomy Day attracts more than 1,000 people each year to the Crop Sciences Research and Education Center in Urbana to find out the latest information on technology and techniques to improve food and fuel production. For more information on speakers and displays, like University of Illinois Agronomy Day on Facebook or go to:

 

http://agronomyday.cropsci.illinois.edu/

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27579&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.16  Trouble on the horizon for GM crops?

 

Arizona, USA

June 19, 2012

 

Pests are adapting to genetically modified crops in unexpected ways, researchers have discovered. The findings underscore the importance of closely monitoring and countering pest resistance to biotech crops.

 

Resistance of cotton bollworm to insect-killing cotton plants involves more diverse genetic changes than expected, an international research team reports in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

To decrease sprays of broad-spectrum insecticides, which can harm animals other than the target pests, cotton and corn have been genetically engineered to produce toxins derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt.

 

Bt toxins kill certain insect pests but are harmless to most other creatures including people. These environmentally friendly toxins have been used for decades in sprays by organic growers and since 1996 in engineered Bt crops by mainstream farmers.

 

Over time, scientists have learned, initially rare genetic mutations that confer resistance to Bt toxins are becoming more common as a growing number of pest populations adapt to Bt crops.

 

In the first study to compare how pests evolve resistance to Bt crops in the laboratory vs. the field, researchers discovered that while some the of the lab-selected mutations do occur in the wild populations, some mutations that differ markedly from those seen in the lab are important in the field.

 

Caterpillars of the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera, can munch on a wide array of plants before emerging as moths. This species is the major cotton pest in China, where the study was carried out.

 

Bruce Tabashnik, head of the department of entomology at the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who co-authored the study, considers the findings an early warning to farmers, regulatory agencies and the biotech industry.

 

"Scientists expected the insects to adapt, but we're just finding out now how they're becoming resistant in the field," Tabashnik said.

 

To avoid surprises, researchers have exposed cotton bollworm populations to Bt toxins in controlled lab experiments and studied the genetic mechanisms by which the insects adapt.

 

"We try to stay ahead of the game," he said. "We want to anticipate what genes are involved, so we can proactively develop strategies to sustain the efficacy of Bt crops and reduce reliance on insecticide sprays. The implicit assumption is what we learn from lab-selected resistance will apply in the field."

 

That assumption, according to Tabashnik, had never been tested before for resistance to Bt crops.

 

Now for the first time, the international team gathered genetic evidence from pests in the field, enabling them to directly compare the genes involved in the resistance of wild and lab-reared populations.

 

They found some resistance-conferring mutations in the field were the same as in lab-reared pests, but some others were strikingly different.

 

"We found exactly the same mutation in the field that was detected in the lab," Tabashnik said. "But we also found lots of other mutations, most of them in the same gene and one in a completely different gene."

 

A major surprise came when the team identified two unrelated, dominant mutations in the field populations. "Dominant" means that one copy of the genetic variant is enough to confer resistance to Bt toxin. In contrast, resistance mutations characterized before from lab selection are recessive – meaning it takes two copies of the mutation, one provided by each parent, to make an insect resistant to Bt toxin.

 

"Dominant resistance is more difficult to manage and cannot be readily slowed with refuges, which are especially useful when resistance is recessive," Tabashnik said.

 

Refuges consist of plants that do not have a Bt toxin gene and thus allow survival of insects that are susceptible to the toxin. Refuges are planted near Bt crops with the goal of producing enough susceptible insects to dilute the population of resistant insects, by making it unlikely two resistant insects will mate and produce resistant offspring.

 

According to Tabashnik, the refuge strategy worked brilliantly against the pink bollworm in Arizona, where this pest had plagued cotton farmers for a century, but is now scarce.

 

The dominant mutations discovered in China throw a wrench in the refuge strategy because resistant offspring arise from matings between susceptible and resistant insects.

 

He added that the study will enable regulators and growers to better manage emerging resistance to Bt crops.

 

"We have been speculating and using indirect methods to try and predict what would happen in the field. Only now that resistance is starting to pop up in many places is it possible to actually examine resistance in the field. I think the techniques from this study will be applied to many other situations around the world, and we'll begin to develop a general understanding of the genetic basis of resistance in the field."

 

The current study is part of a collaboration funded by the Chinese government, involving a dozen scientists at four institutions in China and the U.S. Yidong Wu at Nanjing Agricultural University designed the study and led the Chinese effort. He emphasized the importance of the ongoing collaboration for addressing resistance to Bt crops, which is a major issue in China. He also pointed out that the discovery of dominant resistance will encourage the scientific community to rethink the refuge strategy.

 

Tabashnik said China is the world's top cotton producer, with about 16 billion pounds of cotton per year. India is number two, followed by the U.S., which produces about half as much cotton as China.

 

In 2011, farmers worldwide planted 160 million acres of Bt cotton and Bt corn. The percentage of cotton planted with Bt cotton reached 75 per cent in the U.S. in 2011, but has exceeded 90 per cent since 2004 in northern China, where most of China's cotton is grown.

 

The researchers report that resistance-conferring mutations in cotton bollworm were three times more common in northern China than in areas of northwestern China where less Bt cotton has been grown.

 

Even in northern China, however, growers haven't noticed the emerging resistance yet, Tabashnik said, because only about 2 percent of the cotton bollworms there are resistant.

 

"As a grower, if you're killing 98 percent of pests with Bt cotton, you wouldn't notice anything. But this study tells us there is trouble on the horizon."Original article

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27798&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.17  Rising CO2 levels affects gene flow in wild and domesticated rice

 

Researchers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service confirmed that the increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere influences the flow of genes from wild or weedy rice plants to domesticated rice varieties. This is the first study that demonstrated such occurrence and explained that the flow of genes is not uniform.

 

"We know that global climate change will require some farmers to revise production strategies in response to shifting weather patterns and crop demands," said ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling. "These new findings will help plant breeders design and interpret studies on how changes in climate may affect crop response."

 

Read more at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2012/120523.htm

 

Source: Crop Biotech Update 01 June 2012

 

Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University

Mes25@cornell.edu

 

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1.18  New research finds unique crop diversity, struggle to save it - Some farmers in Mexico found to hold the key to conserving special bean

 

USA

June 26, 2012

 

Nestled within the Sierra Juarez Mountains in the Mexican state Oaxaca is the small village of Santa María Jaltianguis, its 600 residents relying on farming as their primary occupation. The high-protein Phaseolus bean is a staple of the local diet, with every household growing the crop for home consumption and only one in five farmers selling it to local markets. And while most of the native farmers practice modest subsistence farming to feed their families, they also hold the key to conserving bean diversity unique to the Sierra Juarez region that is among the world’s highest. Their in-field experimentation and management techniques are vital in preserving this genetic variation.

 

A group of researchers from the University of California-Davis set out to learn more about this farmer-led conservation management of Phaseolus beans occurring in the Santa María village, and how farmers are adapting to environmental pressures. “We wanted to see how farmers are reacting to this global climate change,” says Paul Gepts, a professor of Plant Sciences at UC-Davis who co-authored the study just out in the new July-August issue of Crop Science. Gepts is also a more than 30-year member of the Crop Science Society of America and American Society of Agronomy.

 

Phaseolus vulgaris, the most economically and nutritionally important Phaseolus species, is adapted to warmer temperatures at lower altitudes. Two races, Mesoamerica and Jalisco, have branched from this species. While Mesoamerica has remained in warmer lowland conditions, Jalisco has climbed to the cooler highlands. The second species, Phaseolus coccineus, prefers cooler temperatures at higher altitudes. Phaseolus dumosus, the final species, acts as a stabilized hybrid marked by intermediate adaptation.

 

Gepts and his team of researchers collected seeds from 287 bean plants in 10 fields belonging to farmers from the Santa María village, returning to California to plant their findings and study their samples’ genetics. They were curious to determine if farmers’ seed management techniques directed bean seed stocks to the fields in which they were best adapted. They also studied the fields for evidence of gene flow, which can play an important role in crop diversity by introducing new genes to an otherwise uniform crop. The physical separation present between fields in the hilly landscape appears to serve as a barrier to gene flow, confining cultivars to their respective fields. Nevertheless, results from the study show some seeds are slipping through the cracks of these spatial barricades and ending up in unfamiliar territory.

 

Gepts was particularly impressed with the techniques of one farmer whose two fields, one low- and the other mid-elevation, were used to grow two highly differentiated sub-populations of race Jalisco. The P. Vulgaris born race has ascended the mountains of the region over time, adjusting to the cooler highlands.

 

But this local grower disregarded years of adaptation and introduced the race to a lower field with higher temperatures, relying on existing variation within the Jalisco field to make the transition. His experiment resulted in the most genetically diverse Jalisco field in the study, highlighting the role, the decisions of farmers play, in crop diversity.

 

“The farmer distinguished and used intraracial variation to fit those contrasting growing environments, possibly attempting to adapt race Jalisco to warmer environments,” says Gepts, who believes that global climate change is one driving force behind much of the experimentation in the region.

 

Another is socioeconomic pressure. Some farmers told researchers that they’re focusing on production in warmer, low-elevation fields due to their proximity to the village. Changes in market demand and reduced labor availability may also have notable impacts on the structure of biodiversity of Phaseolus beans in the Sierra Juarez region.

 

Yet, as society and the environment change and the hilly landscape of this village remains constant, farmers will continue to experiment with the natural adaptations of the Phaseolus bean to better adapt themselves to a changing world. And those decisions in the field may have serious implications on the future of Phaseolus bean diversity.

 

The full research paper as newly published in Crop Science is available, here: https://www.crops.org/publications/cs/articles/52/4/1721

 

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at https://www.crops.org/publications/cs/articles/52/4/1721

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27962&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.19  Support under plant genetics treaty fund announced during Rio+20

 

Rio de Janeiro21 June 2012,

 

The European Commission is contributing €5 million euros (6.5 million dollars) towards the Benefit-sharing Fund of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, FAO announced today, at a high-level ministerial meeting on the plant treaty at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to manage crop diversity for food security and climate change.  The Benefit-sharing Fund helps farmers in developing countries adaptation.

 

This is the single largest contribution made to the Benefit-sharing Fund since it was established in 2008. It will help to increase the capacity of smallholder farmers to manage traditional crops like potato, rice, cassava, wheat and sorghum.

 

http://www.planttreaty.org/news/ec-contributes-%E2%82%AC5-million-help-farmers-maintain-crop-diversity

 

Contributed by Francisco Lopez

FAO-AGPM

Francisco.Lopez@fao.org

 

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1.20  Large-scale development of cost-effective SNP marker assays for diversity assessment and genetic mapping in chickpea and comparative mapping in legumes

 

This article, published online in Plant Biotechnology Journal, reports compilation of 2486 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and development of cost-effective and flexible throughput Competitive Allele Specific PCR (KASPar) assays for 2005 SNPs.

 

Based on these markers, a second-generation genetic map comprising 1328 marker loci including novel 625 CKAMs, 314 TOG-SNPs and 389 published marker loci with an average inter-marker distance of 0.59 cM has been constructed.

 

Detailed analyses of 1064 mapped loci of this second-generation chickpea genetic map showed a higher degree of synteny with genome of Medicago truncatula, followed by Glycine max, Lotus japonicus and least with Vigna unguiculata.

 

Development of these cost-effective CKAMs for SNP genotyping will be useful not only for genetics research and breeding applications in chickpea, but also for utilizing genome information from other sequenced or model legumes. This article is available

 

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-7652.2012.00710.x/abstract

 

Contributed by Rajeev Varshney

r.k.varshney@cgiar.org

 

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1.21  Cornell engineers working on new peppers

 

Ithaca (WSYR-TV)

June 15, 2012

 

You may have already decided that you do or don’t like certain kinds of peppers – especially the hot ones. But at Cornell, they are constantly developing new varieties you might want to eat.

 

Inside a Cornell greenhouse, plant-breeding engineers are working on the hottest peppers. The engineers are combining the characteristics of what’s known as the ghost pepper and the red savina.“We can try to find the new hottest pepper or at least understand what makes the really hot peppers really hot,” said plant breeding engineer, Michael Mazourek.

 

The engineers don’t know exactly how hot the new peppers are right now. But cracking the peppers requires wearing gloves because the oil that produces the heat can stay get stuck on the skin for a full day.

 

The engineers have also designed other peppers that may not be extremely hot, such as the habanada, which they say is as flavorful as the habanero without the burning sensation.“There are so many other flavors around it, this pepper actually we think is one of the keys to being able to have hot pepper flavor without the heat,” Mazourek said.He says there is a growing market for new and different vegetables, like peppers, that might appeal more to consumers.

 

http://www.9wsyr.com/news/local/story/Cornell-engineers-working-on-new-peppers/_senNWB980SDICFu5tjc4Q.cspx

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.22  Integrated genomics, physiology and breeding approaches for improving drought tolerance in crops

 

This article has been published as an open access article in Theor Appl Genet and may be downloaded from  http://www.springerlink.com/content/r25751312l4457jx/

 

This article discusses the most recent advances in plant physiology for precision phenotyping of drought response, a vital step before implementing the genetic and molecular-physiological strategies to unravel the complex multilayered drought tolerance mechanism and further exploration using molecular breeding approaches for crop improvement.

 

Emphasis has been given to molecular dissection of drought tolerance by QTL or gene discovery through linkage and association mapping, QTL cloning, candidate gene identification, transcriptomics and functional genomics.

 

Molecular breeding approaches such as marker-assisted backcrossing, marker-assisted recurrent selection and genome-wide selection have been suggested to be integrated in crop improvement strategies to develop drought-tolerant cultivars that will enhance food security in the context of a changing and more variable climate.

 

Contributed by Rajeev Varshney

r.k.varshney@cgiar.org

 

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1.23  Adoption of advanced techniques could propel crop improvement

 

West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

June 28, 2012

 

Scientists could take greater strides toward crop improvement if there were wider adoption of advanced techniques used to understand the mechanisms that allow plants to adapt to their environments, current and former Purdue University researchers say.

 

In a perspective for the journal Science, Brian Dilkes (photo, right), a Purdue assistant professor of genetics, and Ivan Baxter (photo, left), a research computational biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, argue that today's technology could allow scientists to match physiological and genetic characteristics of plants with the soil characteristics that promote or inhibit their growth. Making those connections could reduce the time necessary to improve plants that are coping with changing environmental and climatic conditions.

 

"Evolution has solved the problems that we face in terms of adapting plants to grow in a multitude of environments," Dilkes said. "If we understand these processes, we'll be able to apply that knowledge to maintaining diversity in natural systems and improving and maintaining crop yield."

 

The majority of a plant's makeup, besides carbon dioxide, comes from elements and minerals absorbed from the soil as the plant grows. The physiological and genetic mechanisms that allow plants to obtain iron from the soil, for instance, can also cause the plant to accumulate other elements. Understanding how those changes interact is an important piece of improving plants, Baxter said.

 

"This is just a hint of the complexity that's out there," said Baxter, a former post-doctoral researcher at Purdue who works for the USDA at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. "If we're going to make the necessary improvements in agricultural productivity, we will have to move forward with these techniques."

 

Much of the work done to understand how plants have adapted to their environments focuses on one gene and one element it controls at a time. Pinpointing one or more genes responsible for a particular trait can take years, even decades.

 

Dilkes and Baxter believe a wider adoption of molecular phenotyping techniques, such as ionomics and genome-wide association mapping, could allow scientists to work with multiple elements and genes at once.

 

"By focusing on one gene or one element at a time, you miss out on the other physiological mechanisms occurring in the plant," Dilkes said. "The potential to broaden our understanding of these complex interactions and have a dramatic effect on agriculture is there."

 

Genome-wide association mapping allows scientists to find genetic associations among multiple phenotypes, or physical traits. The process quickly shows which genes may be responsible for the physical characteristics.

 

Ionomics studies the elemental composition of plants and how those compositions change in response to environmental or genetic changes."Experiments with thousands of samples are now possible," Baxter said. "We've just started to put these things together."

 

Research in Baxter's lab is supported by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service.

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27997&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.24  FAO paper calls for re-orientation of crop improvement in the 21st century

 

June 29, 2012

 

Researchers from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a publication that highlights some of the scientific and technological tools that should be the staple of all breeding programs.

 

A research was conducted to offer a promising solution to the challenges of global food insecurity and an increasing population. Challenges are further aggravated by the yield-depressing consequences of climate change and variations and by the pressures on food supply by other competing demographic and socio-economic demands.

 

The research suggests that the re-orientation of plant breeding should be done to generate and mass produce what is called 'smart' crop varieties, those which yield more but with fewer inputs. It also suggests adequate policies for plant breeding, including those that spur innovation and investments; training of the new generation of plant breeders; establishment of partnerships and collaborations, including public-private sector synergies; and adoption of continuum approach to the management of plant genetic resources for food as means to improved cohesion of the components of its value chain.

 

Developing countries are urged to overhaul their National Agricultural Research and Extension System to address specific needs.

 

View the original publication at http://www.agricultureandfoodsecurity.com/content/pdf/2048-7010-1-7.pdf

 

Abstract

A 70% increase in food production is required over the next four decades to feed an ever increasing population. The inherent difficulties in achieving this unprecedented increase are exacerbated by the yield-depressing consequences of climate change and variations and by the pressures on food supply by other competing demographic and socioeconomic demands. With the dwindling or stagnant agricultural land and water resources, the sought-after increases will therefore be attained mainly through the enhancement of crop productivity under eco-efficient crop production systems. ‘Smart’ crop varieties that yield more with fewer inputs will be pivotal to success. Plant breeding must be re-oriented in order to generate these ‘smart’ crop varieties. This paper highlights some of the scientific and technological tools that ought to be the staple of all breeding programs. We also make the case that plant breeding must be enabled by adequate policies, including those that spur innovation and investments. To arrest and reverse the worrisome trend of declining capacities for crop improvement, a new generation of plant breeders must also be trained. Equally important, winning partnerships, including public-private sector synergies, are needed for 21st century plant breeding to bear fruits. We also urge the adoption of the continuum approach to the management of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture as means to improved cohesion of the components of its value chain. Compellingly also, the National Agricultural Research and Extension System of developing countries require comprehensive overhauling and strengthening as crop improvement and other interventions require a sustained platform to be effective. The development of a suite of actionable policy interventions to be packaged for assisting countries in developing result-oriented breeding programs is also called for.

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=28025&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.25  Discovery may lead to new tomato varieties with vintage flavor and quality

 

Davis, California, USA

July 28, 2012

 

A new discovery could make more tomatoes taste like heirlooms, reports an international research team headed by a University of California, Davis, plant scientist.

 

The finding, which will be reported in the June 29 issue of the journal http://www.science.com/ has significant implications for the U.S. tomato industry, which annually harvests more than 15 million tons of the fruit for processing and fresh-market sales.“This information about the gene responsible for the trait in wild and traditional varieties provides a strategy to recapture quality characteristics that had been unknowingly bred out of modern cultivated tomatoes,” said Ann Powell, a biochemist in UC Davis’ Department of Plant Sciences and one of the lead authors of the study.

 

“Now that we know that some of the qualities that people value in heirloom tomatoes can be made available in other types of tomatoes, farmers can have access to more varieties of tomatoes that produce well and also have desirable color and flavor traits,” she said.

 

For decades, plant breeders in the tomato industry have selected varieties that are uniformly light green before they ripen, in order to produce tomatoes that can be harvested at the same time.

 

However, this characteristic is accompanied by an unintended reduction in sugars that compromises the flavor of the fresh fruit and its desirability for processing.

 

Powell’s UC Davis research team began studying the genes influencing tomato fruit development and ripening after spending two summers screening tomato plants for transcription factors that might play a role in both fruit color and quality. Transcription factors are proteins that regulate genes, or turn them on and off. These factors themselves are manufactured or expressed by genes.

 

The UC Davis researchers were particularly interested in tomatoes they observed in the field that were unusually dark green before they ripened.Partnering with researchers at Cornell University and in Spain, who were mapping regions of the tomato genome, the scientists discovered two transcription factors, called GLK1 and GLK2, that control the development of chloroplasts. Chloroplasts are the structures in the plant cells that enable plants to  photosynthesize, converting the energy of sunlight into sugars and other compounds that influence flavor and color.

 

The researchers scoured a collection of mutant and wild species of tomatoes at UC Davis established at UC Davis by the late Professor Charles Rick beginning in the 1950s. They discovered that dark green tomatoes that naturally express GLK2 produced ripe fruit with increased levels of sugars or soluble solids, important for processing tomatoes, as well as higher levels of the health-promoting compound lycopene.

 

“Nature presents numerous important genes and their variants, like uniform ripening, that breeders employ to facilitate the needs of growers, processors and consumers,” said Jim Giovannoni, a USDA plant molecular biologist with the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University. “Understanding the genes responsible for these characteristics facilitates the challenging process of breeding crops that meet the needs of all components of the food-supply chain.”

 

Cuong Nguyen, a Cornell graduate student in Giovannoni’s laboratory co-authored the paper with Powell. Other members of the research team included: Theresa Hill, KaLai Lam Cheng, Rosa Figueroa-Balderas, Hakan Aktas, Hamid Ashrafi, Ariel Vicente, Javier Lopez-Baltazar, Roger Chetelat, Allen Van Deynze and Alan Bennett, all of UC Davis; Yongsheng Liu and Cornelius Barry of Cornell University and the Boyce Thompson Institute of the USDA; Clara Pons and Antonio Granell, of the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Spain; Rafael Fernández-Muñoz of the Universidad de Málaga, Spain.

 

Funding for the study was provided by The University of California Discovery program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, the National Science Foundation, the Viet Nam Education Foundation, the Fundación Genoma España, and the Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología and the Instituto Tecnólogico de Costa Rica.

 

UC Davis is an international leader in agricultural research and is ranked as the most frequently cited university in the world in the area of plant and animal sciences, according to ISI Essential Science Indicators. The university’s Department of Plant Sciences is internationally known for its Plant Breeding Academy, which provides professional training for plant breeders around the world.

 

View article and video "Wild tomatoes hold genetic treasures"

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27988&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.26  Chinese researchers identify rice gene that could enhance quality and productivity

 

Beijing, China

June 25, 2012

 

Chinese researchers have identified a key gene in rice that could enhance both quality and productivity of rice at the same time, as they reported in the journal Nature Genetics on Sunday.

 

While studying the Basmati rice from Pakistan that is world famous for its high quality, Fu Xiangdong at Chinese Academy of Sciences and his colleagues found a gene named GW8 could influence the quality of rice.

 

The gene could improve the shape and color of rice grain, enhancing its quality of appearance. On the other hand, it could also change the arrangement of starch inside the grain, enhancing its quality for eating.

 

Further study shows that the GW8 gene also exists in some types of high yield rice grown in China. However, it's a different variant of that gene, whose major effect is not on quality, but on the grain weight, thus enhancing the productivity of rice.

 

The team then identified a third variant of the gene. "We found another variant of GW8, which could combine the advantages of those two variants that respectively influences quality and productivity," Fu told Xinhua in a telephone interview.

 

"Therefore the new variant could enhance the quality and productivity of rice at the same time."

 

The superiority of the new variant of GW8 gene was supported by field experiments. If it is introduced into the Basmati rice, it could increase its productivity by 14 percent, while the quality remains the same.

 

And if it is introduced into the high yield rice in China, it could significantly enhance the quality of rice grains, while its productivity remains the same.

 

Fu said that this discovery could lead to new varieties of rice that would have outstanding performance in both quality and productivity.

Source: Xinhua

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27881&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.27  Introgression of Brassica Rapa Subsp Sylvestris blackleg resistance into B Napus

 

Blackleg is one of the predominant diseases of canola (Brassica napus). It is caused by a fungal pathogen called Leptosphaeria maculans. To address this problem, Fengqun Yu from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and other researchers transferred two blackleg resistance genes (LepR1 and LepR2) from B. rapa subsp. sylvestris (BRS) into canola through interspecific hybridizations.

 

They analyzed the microsatellite markers in two backcross populations (WT3BC1 and WT4BC1) which showed that segregation fit a 1:1 ratio for BRS and non-BRS alleles.The team used two L. maculans isolates (WA51 and pl87-41) to differentiate plants carrying resistance genes LepR1 and LepR2.

 

They found that only 4.0 and 16.6% of the plants were resistant to isolates WA51 and pl87-41, respectively, in the WT3BC1 population, while 17.9 and 33.3% of the plants were resistant to these isolates, respectively, in the WT4BC1 population. Based on cotyledon resistance and marker-assisted selection (MAS), BC1 plant WT4-4, which carried a resistance gene similar to LepR1 (designated as LepR1′) and BC2S1 plant WT3-21-25-9, which carried LepR2′, were identified.

 

The resulting plants were successively backcrossed with B. napus. They used MAS in every generation to decrease non-resistance alleles related to the BRS genome and to recover the complete complement of C-genome chromosomes. This led to the formation of highly blackleg resistant B. napus lines.

 

The research paper is available at http://www.springerlink.com/content/b37u344048j14716/

 

Source: Crop Biotech Update 15 June 2012

 

Contributed by Margaret Smith

Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University

Mes25@cornell.edu

 

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1.28  Cold-tolerant faba beans a new option for Northwestern wheat growers for fixing N

 

ASTA News

8 June 2012

 

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have identified more than a dozen faba bean germplasm lines whose ability to shrug off the chill of winter could offer Northwestern wheat growers an important alternative winter crop.

 

According to Jinguo Hu, who leads the ARS Western Regional Plant Introduction Station (WRPIS) in Pullman, Wash., commercial varieties developed from the cold-tolerant faba beans will give wheat farmers another legume to grow in rotation with wheat during the winter, especially in the Palouse region shared by Washington and Idaho, as well as other parts of the Northwest.

 

Peas and lentils are now used for such rotations, but they're no match for faba beans when it comes to "fixing" (with help from symbiotic bacteria) nitrogen into a form plants can use for growth and development.

 

Hu, together with ARS geneticists Clare Coyne and Rebecca McGee, Washington State University Professor William Pan, and graduate students Jolene Mwengi and Erik Landry, identified the winter-hardy faba beans during three years of field tests in the Palouse, using seed from the ARS WRPIS worldwide collection. That collection has 700 faba bean accessions from 60 countries, including England, France, Germany, Bulgaria and China.

 

The team's field trials showed high levels of winter hardiness in 14 germplasm lines based on their ability to survive sub-freezing temperatures, down to 4 degrees Fahrenheit in one case.

 

The survivors also included offspring plants derived from a cross made between a temperate, vegetable-type faba bean variety and a winter-hardy accession, demonstrating the heritability of the trait and value of the 14 lines in breeding new, elite varieties.

 

In related work, the team also identified from 13 accessions numerous plants with white- flowered phenotype, which were conditioned by two independent recessive genes, zt-1 and zt-2. These genes prevent the productions of tannins that make the legume's seed less digestible. The team also is investigating DNA markers associated with these and other genes to aid the identification of plants with desirable traits.

 

Cultivated since early Neolithic times, faba bean today ranks sixth among the world's most important legume food crops. The legume is adapted to a wide range of environments and provides an important source of protein for people whose diets are low in meat.

 

ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.

 

Source: ASTA News, 8 June 2012

 

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1.29  WSU develops center to manage gene data

 

'There are millions of data points, we're talking about very large numbers'

 

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

 

PULLMAN, Wash. -- This fall, Washington State University will open a new center designed to help catalog and coordinate the massive amounts of genetic data researchers use.

 

The bioinformatics center will serve faculty members and manage access to data generated by new instruments that sequence plant or animal genomes.

 

The ultimate goal is to reduce by years the breeding process and get crop varieties with improved traits to farmers faster, said Rich Koenig, chair of the university's Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.

 

Six months ago, the chief bottleneck in doing that was the lack of the ability to rapidly genotype wheat. Now the university has a cutting-edge Pacific Biosciences SMRT sequencer and USDA Agricultural Research Service research geneticist Deven See has a sequencer so the bottleneck is handling the data, Koenig said.

 

"There are millions of data points, we're talking about very large numbers the individual researcher has no hope of working with themselves," Koenig said.

 

The center's technicians will translate the data into manageable information and models for breeders and researchers.

 

Using the information, researchers can screen and make selections based on DNA and their knowledge of genetic markers.

 

"We're taking 90 individuals susceptible to a disease and comparing them against their siblings that are resistant," See said. "They're basically really, really identical except one gets sick and one doesn't. We're going to ask, 'What's that one piece of difference?'"

 

The bioinformatics center will be housed in existing university facilities, Koenig said.

WSU recently received $77,000 per year for three years from the Washington Grain Commission to fund a technician dedicated to cereal grains.

 

The center will also include technicians focused on animal genomes and basic plant and biological sciences.  Dorrie Main will serve as center director.

 

Growers can expect a reduced time to release a new wheat or barley variety, Koenig said. It will also make it easier to collect traits in a variety, combining characteristics such as disease resistance, bread quality and yield.

 

http://www.capitalpress.com/washington/mw-WSU-bioinformatics-052912-art

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.30  Scientists complete most comprehensive genetic analysis yet of corn

 

Washington, DC, USA

June 3, 2012

 

Genetic analysis could help meet nutrition needs of growing population.  An interdisciplinary team, led by researchers at Cornell University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), today published the most comprehensive analysis to date of the corn genome.

 

The team expects the achievement to speed up development of improved varieties of one of the world's most important agricultural commodities. The results should boost international efforts to increase yields, expand areas where corn can be cultivated and produce varieties better equipped to resist pests and disease.

 

Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

 

Funded in the United States by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the USDA, the work was a collaborative effort by scientists at 17 U.S. and foreign institutions that include the University of Wisconsin-Madison; University of Missouri-Columbia; North Carolina State University; Beijing Genome Institute; University of California, Davis and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Mexico City, Mexico.

 

The study appears in two corn genome projects published in separate reports in the June 3 online edition of the journal Nature Genetics. "This work represents a major step forward and an important tool in the arsenal available to scientists and breeders for improving a vital source of nutrition," said Edward B. Knipling, administrator of USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

 

The analysis could also help those who develop corn yields as a source of fuel, who manage crops in the face of changing climates and who are concerned about the diminishing supply of arable land and growing populations, he said.

 

"This project is a stellar example of how collaborations of scientists, here and abroad, leverage resources across multiple agencies to enable transformational research with the potential to address urgent societal needs for a bio-based economy," said John Wingfield, assistant director for NSF's Biological Sciences Directorate.

 

It is anticipated that the tools and approaches generated in this project will enable scientists to look at genetic differences in other organisms as they respond to global climate change, human disturbance and invasive species, Wingfield explained.

 

The studies' collaborators shed light on corn's genetic diversity, detail how it evolved and outline how corn--known as maize among scientists--continues to diversify as it adapts to changing climates and habitats.

 

One study, published in the journal led by team member, USDA-ARS and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory scientist Doreen Ware, examines the genetic structure and the relationships and sequential ordering of individual genes in more than 100 varieties of wild and domesticated corn.

 

Another study led by team member Jeff Ross-Ibarra from the University of California, Davis gives an extraordinary glimpse into how corn evolved more than 8,700 years ago from a wild grass in the lowland areas of southwestern Mexico into today's ubiquitous international commodity.

 

The researchers compared wild varieties with traditional corn varieties from across the Americas and with modern improved breeding lines. They identified hundreds of genes that

played a role in the transformation of corn from its wild origins to today's cultivated crop and show how that transition was largely achieved by ancient farmers who first domesticated it thousands of years ago.

 

Last year, the economic value of the U.S. corn crop was $76 billion, with U.S. growers producing an estimated 12 billion bushels, more than a third of the world's supply. Corn is the largest production crop worldwide, providing food for billions of people and livestock and critical feedstock for production of biofuels.

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27349&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.31  Latest genomic studies shed new light on maize diversity and evolution

 

Shenzhen, China

June 4, 2012

 

BGI, the world’s largest genomics organization, together with other 17 international institutes, announced that they completed the second generation of maize HapMap (Maize HapMap2) and genomics studies on maize domestication and improvement. The two separate studies were published online in the same issue of Nature Genetics.

 

The studies mark an important milestone in Maize (Zeamays) genomics research, providing an unprecedented glimpse into maize’s ‘wonderful diversity’ and revealing new insights into the evolutionary history of maize genome. These studies will provide valuable insights for botanists and breeders worldwide and facilitate the genetic engineering of this vital cereal crop in the world.

 

In addition to BGI, the other collaborative organizations include U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of California Davis, Cornell University, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and others.

 

Characterizing Maize’s Impressive Diversity

Maize’s impressive diversity has been attracting much attention in the academic community and agricultural sector. However, characterizing this diversity- in particular at high levels- has been technically challenging. In this study, researchers developed a novel population-genetics scoring model for comprehensively characterizing the genetic variations, including single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), small insertion-deletions, and structural variations (SVs).

 

Through the comprehensive analysis, about 55 million SNPs were identified across 103 inbred lines of wild and domesticated maize. They also found that SVs were prevalent throughout the maize genome and were associated with some important agronomic traits, such as those involved in leaf development and disease resistance.

 

The researchers also investigated the major factors that influence the maize genome size. The results showed the genome size variations between maize and Gama grass (Tripsacum dactyloides), maize’s sister genus, are mostly driven by the abundance of transposable elements (TE). In contrast with the fact that the intra-species genome size variation is influenced by the DNA structure known aschromosomal knobs. In addition to the differences, there is tremendous unity of gene content between maize relatives, suggesting that the adaptations, such as frost and drought tolerance, amongst all of maize’s relatives are likely integratable in maize.

 

Tracing Maize’s Evolution and Improvement

Since maize was domesticated approximately 10,000 year ago, its wild progenitor went through a particular transformation that had radically altered maize’s wild species to meet human’s needs. To comprehensively trace maize’s evolution process, researchers sequenced 75 wild, landrace and modern maize lines. Through the comparative population genomics analysis, they found the evidence of new genetic diversity that has arisen since domestication, maybe due to the introgression from wild relatives. They also identified a number of genes that obviously had played important roles in the transition from wild to domesticated maize.

 

More importantly, the results demonstrated that the selection applied by ancient farmers seemed to play a stronger impact on maize evolution than the breeding techniques adopted by modern breeders. Hybridization in agriculture is vitally important to maintain genetic diversity, and sustains the quality and yield of a crop. In this study, researchers found that many of the changes in the patterns of gene expression had been concentrated in the genes selected for heterosis by modern breeding techniques. These findings suggest that modern breeders should devote more efforts to make effective improvement on candidates by introducing more diversity at the regions linked with selection.

 

Dr. Xun Xu, Deputy Director of BGI, said, “Genetic improvement of crops is the key output of breeding research. The two studies provide a new way to comprehensively understand maize’s genetic diversity and evolutionary history as well as offer an invaluable guidance for botanists and breeders to improve this vital crop.”

 

Dr. Gengyun Zhang, Vice President of BGI, said, “Maize is one of the world’s most important crops. The two studies will provide a valuable foundation for accelerating the improvement of maize towards meeting the world's increasing demands for food, livestock feed and biofuel. We look forward to achieve more breakthrough for solving the food security challenges and environmental problems in the near future.”

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27411&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.32  Taming genetic recombination

 

France

June 22, 2012

 

Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, INRA scientists in Versailles-Grignon have identified a factor that limits exchanges of DNA fragments between chromosomes (crossover) during the formation of gametes (sex cells). Mutation of this gene results in a number of crossovers that is three times higher than normal, and hence an increase in genetic recombination during reproduction. These findings give great promise to plant breeding, in that they may facilitate easier production of novel combinations of traits of interest. They are published in the online edition of Science of the 22nd of June 2012.

 

Meiosis is a specific type of cell division that generates gametes (sexual cells) in all living beings – animals, plants, fungi, etc. – which reproduce sexually. It consists of two successive cell divisions after which each of the four daughter cells (future gametes) only contain half of the chromosomes of the parent that produced them. Just before the first division, chromosomes from the same pair then pair up and some parts cross over, which is when fragments of genetic material can be exchanged between the chromosomes.

 

This natural phenomenon, called crossing over, contributes to the recombination of genetic information at the level of an individual and a species and produces chromosomes that are unique from the parental chromosomes. It also plays a mechanical role, because it is essential for the correct distribution of chromosomes to daughter cells.  In cultivated plants, it may be interesting to exploit such genetic recombination in order to group essential traits of agronomic interest in new varieties.

 

The INRA researchers in Versailles-Grignon, and their Spanish and American colleagues, focused on the mechanisms that regulate crossovers in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. They set out to identify factors of this regulation in a zmm mutant of Arabidopsis that has a very low number of crossovers, a poor distribution of chromosomes to its gametes and a marked reduction in its fertility (which notably results in abnormally small fruit). Working with these plants, the scientists searched for new mutations that would be capable of restoring crossovers and fertility, under the hypothesis that this would enable them to identify the genes whose function is to limit the number of crossovers.

 

They thus identified an enzyme in the helicase family, FANCM, which limits the development of crossovers during meiosis in A. thaliana. A mutation of the gene coding for FANCM was able to restore the crossovers in zmm mutants. Furthermore, when a fancm mutant was compared with a wild-type plant, despite the fact that the number of crossovers is normally strictly regulated, a single mutation of the FANCM gene led to a tripling in the number of crossovers, without this having any effect on the fertility or health of the plant.

 

This major discovery is the first in the world of its type: until now, FANCM was known to intervene in DNA repair (notably in humans). Also in plants, only factors promoting the formation of crossovers had been discovered, but now a major factor limiting crossovers is known. Overall, this work opens promising perspectives in cultivated plants where an increase in genetic recombination during reproduction, via regulation of the number of crossovers, would provide access to hitherto unknown combinations of traits of interest.

 

Finally, it should be noted that these findings also question the role of genetic recombination in evolutionary terms. Although the frequency of crossovers was increased markedly by the researchers without this having any consequence on the mechanisms of meiosis and plant fertility, the reason why the number of crossovers is very small in practically all species still remains unknown.

 

ReferenceCrismani W. et al. 2012. FANCM limits meiotic crossovers. Science, 22 June 2012.DOI: 10.1126/science.1220381

 

http://www.seedquest.com/news.php?type=news&id_article=27975&id_region=&id_category=&id_crop=

 

Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.33  Discovery of a nitrogen "satiety" gene in plants

 

France

June 4, 2012

 

An INRA research team in Montpellier, working in collaboration with teams from CNRS in Strasbourg and New York University, have recently achieved a major advance in our understanding of plant nutrition. They have characterised a gene involved in a molecular mechanism that can adjust the uptake of soil nitrogen by roots as a function of the nitrogen requirements of the whole plant. This research may facilitate the selection of varieties displaying a more efficient use of nitrate fertilisers, so as to ensure more environmentally-friendly crops.

 

To ensure their nutrition, plants absorb soil nitrate, or NO3- (the principal source of nitrogen for herbaceous plants) via their roots. This phenomenon is rendered possible by highly efficient transporters that allow the passage of nitrate through the membranes of cells at the periphery of the root. However, because soil nitrate availability is heterogeneous and can fluctuate over time and in space, plants must constantly modulate their absorption capacity so as to maintain a sufficient nitrate intake that will meet their needs. This is facilitated by a mechanism qualified as "satiety" (by analogy with animals), that allows the plant to reduce its absorption when its nitrogen requirements have been fulfilled.

 

For the first time, researchers in Montpellier have identified a gene (HNI9/IWS1) that participates in this mechanism in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. This gene codes for a nuclear protein in plant cells, the function of which had been very poorly understood until now.

 

The scientists have shown that when the plant is satiated, this protein causes the deposit of epigenetic markers in the gene of the principal membrane transporter of root NO3. These markers do not modify the gene sequence but act as a "modulator" of its expression that represses synthesis of the transporter. The quantity of the transporter thus diminishes, and root nitrogen absorption is consequently reduced.

 

This original research opens perspectives to improve the use of fertilisers in agriculture. Indeed, nitrate is one of the principal ingredients in these fertilisers, and that part which is not taken up by crops can pollute ground and surface water. In this context, the discovery of mechanisms that are naturally implemented by plants to adjust nitrate uptake to their nutritional requirements, is of importance. One of the long-term prospects is to render plants capable of accumulating nitrogen even when their immediate nutritional requirements are met, so that they can remobilise it at a later stage. This could improve soil nitrate use efficiency by plants and allow a reduction in fertiliser inputs in agriculture.

 

Scientific leader:Marc LEPETITBiochimie et Physiologie Moléculaire des Plantes (INRA, CNRS, Supagro, Université de Montepellier 2)Département scientifique « Biologie végétale »Centre Inra de Montpellier2 place Viala 34060 Montpellier.

For further information:Widiez T, El Kafafi ES, Girin T, Berr A, Ruffel S, Krouk G, Vayssières A, Shen WH, Coruzzi GM, Gojon A, Lepetit M (2011). “HIGH NITROGEN INSENSITIVE 9 (HNI9)-mediated systemic repression of root NO3? uptake is associated with changes in histone methylation”. 9 août 2011, PNAS, 108: 13329-13334, doi: 10.107

 

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Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.34  Next-generation sequencing technology opens doors to discoveries

 

College Station, Texas, USA

June 13, 2012

 

Discoveries unfathomable only a few years ago are reality today at the Texas AgriLife Genomics and Bioinformatics Service with the acquisition of next-generation sequencing technology on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station, said the director of the service.

 

Dr. Charlie Johnson, director of the Texas AgriLife Genomics and Bioinformatics Service, shows off the new the Illumina HiSeq 2500 next-generation sequencing system on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station. (Texas AgriLIfe Research photo by Kay Ledbetter)

“As we move into the genome-sequencing era, we are entering a truly amazing period in history,” said Dr. Charles Johnson, director of the service. “Our mission is to facilitate scientific discoveries by guiding and empowering scientists across the Texas A&M University System over an increasingly complex and technologically advanced terrain.”

 

The genomics and bioinformatics service was established in the fall of 2010, but it is the recent purchase of the Illumina HiSeq 2500 next-generation sequencing system that will give the team led by Johnson the capability to make a huge impact on crop breeding.

 

“Although focused on plant breeding, this machine has the potential to sequence the equivalent of the human genome in one day for as little as $1,000,” Johnson said. “It took more than 13 years to do the original human genome project, and cost $2.7 billion.“We can also mix large numbers of samples within one lane using sequencing-based bar coding to provide cheaper per-sample pricing,” he said, “which in turn leads to larger studies and greater scientific discoveries.”

 

One of the keys to this technology is bioinformatics analysis, or analyzing the tidal wave of data and turning it into usable information, Johnson said. AgriLife has invested significant resources in this area as well.

 

He compared it to a giant puzzle, and the team of bioinformaticians, geneticists, statisticians, mathematicians and computer scientists are the ones who put the DNA information pieces together to make the complete picture.Dr. Bill McCutchen, AgriLife Research executive associate director, said this genomics capability will be of particular importance to the wheat breeding program.“This provides our scientists with the capability to quickly advance important traits that we find in our multiple research plots across Texas, traits such as drought tolerance,” McCutchen said.

 

“The molecular-marker system provides a genetic road map of sorts, and we can now advance our breeding and agronomic research programs at a much faster pace.”Johnson said AgriLife scientists are now able to connect the genetic information from large numbers of breeding populations to a wealth of phenotypic information, making the connection between genes and resistance to drought, disease and insects, as well as other high-value traits leading to increased yields over a broad range of conditions.

 

Instead of looking at one or two markers at a time, “we can look at hundreds of thousands of markers at one time,” he said.“We now have the ability with genomics to integrate and develop superior wheat varieties for yield, drought tolerance, quality and other traits in a much shorter period of time as compared to conventional means of breeding,” McCutchen said. “By combining our strong breeding, pest management and agronomic expertise with genetic knowledge, we, AgriLife, are able to produce significant advancements across cropping systems.”

 

Both McCutchen and Johnson said this technology applies to all crops, livestock, diseases and human health – anything with DNA.“AgriLife Research, in a visionary effort, has launched this center and made it available to the entire Texas A&M University System,” Johnson said. “We are not a for-profit center, but it takes a significant amount of money to keep the doors open.“Our goal is to provide the best possible sequencing and bioinformatics service for all our collaborators, and through that effort, provide the greatest possible return to the citizens of Texas and the world by way of revolutionary new discoveries.”

 

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Source: SeedQuest.com

 

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1.35  New insight gained into how plants may fight diseases

 

United Kingdom

13 June 2012

 

A breakthrough discovery that has shown how plants may defend themselves in the face of pathogen attacks could hold the key to making crops more disease-resistant and to boosting food production to help global food security.

 

As part of a BBSRC-funded project led by Oxford Brookes University, STFC's Central Laser Facility has developed a unique technique that has answered a question which has puzzled scientists for many years - why certain proteins in plant cells don't move around as much as their counterparts in animal cells.

 

By enabling the movement of individual molecules in living plant cells to be observed in real time for the first time, the new technique has revealed that the cell wall plays a crucial role in limiting the mobility of proteins produced when a plant comes under attack. Specifically, it has shown that the cell wall allows these proteins to stabilise in the plasma membrane (a 'skin' covering the inside of the cell wall). This restricts their ability to move around and fight invading pathogens and so increases the plant's vulnerability.

 

Dr Stan Botchway from the Lasers for Science division within the Central Laser Facility says: "The technique we've developed and deployed to solve this mystery has helped provide unprecedented insights into plants' defence mechanisms. As a result, we've plugged a major gap in scientists' understanding of how plants function at a microscopic level."

 

Dr John Runions of Oxford Brookes University, who has led the project, says: "This vital advance in our knowledge of the fundamental biological processes that take place in living plant cells will help us to improve crops' resilience and their ability to meet the challenges posed not just by diseases and pests but also by drought and a warming climate."

 

The breakthrough has been achieved using a single-molecule tracking technique specially developed at the OCTOPUS (Optics Clustered to OutPut Unique Solutions) imaging facilities, which form part of the world-leading Central Laser Facility's Lasers for Science division, located in the Research Complex at Harwell. This was complemented by the use of total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy - an established technique which, by eliminating background fluorescence, delivers extremely high-resolution images of samples under investigation.

 

The result was a clear demonstration that a plant's cell wall interacts with proteins produced in cell membranes and restricts their diffusion, possibly reducing their ability to ward off diseases.

As the world's population continues to grow, there is an urgent need to improve crop yields by enhancing the resilience of a range of crops to disease. This research project therefore represents a crucial stepping stone in bringing the sustainability of future food supplies within closer reach.

 

The research paper outlining this major discovery in plant biology has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/recent.

 

Background

BBSRC awarded £295k in funding for this project and also contributed funding to the original development of capabilities at STFC's Central Laser Facility.

 

OCTOPUS, located in the Research Complex at Harwell, at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, links multiple light sources to multiple imaging stations, allowing a combination of techniques to be brought to bear on the samples under investigation.

 

About

the STFCThe Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security.

 

The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.

 

STFC operates or hosts world class experimental facilities including:

          in the UK; ISIS pulsed neutron source, the Central Laser Facility, and LOFAR. STFC is also the majority shareholder in Diamond Light Source Ltd.

          overseas; telescopes on La Palma and Hawaii

 

It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities by funding membership of international bodies including European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institut Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

 

STFC is one of seven publicly-funded research councils. It is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

 

Follow us on Twitter: @STFC_Matters. For more information visit: www.stfc.ac.uk

 

About BBSRCBBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

 

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M (2011-2012), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

 

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1.36  Genome of model legume Medicago truncatula sequenced

 

France

June 14, 2012

 

Scientists from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in collaboration with teams from Genoscope (CEA) and CNRS, as part of an international consortium *, have reported the genome sequence of a legume, Medicago truncatula (Mt) also known as Barrel Medic. This sequence provides easy access to the location of genes of interest in crop legumes (pea, field bean, lentil, alfalfa, clover) which will greatly facilitate breeding.

 

Legumes have the capacity to fix atmospheric nitrogen; as a result legume crops do not require nitrogen fertilizers, which represents a real asset for a sustainable and more environmentally friendly agriculture. Results are published in Nature on November 16th 2011.

 

This fodder plant, proposed as a model legume by INRA in the 1980s, belongs to the Fabaceae family (formerly Legumes). Legumes play a major economic role: they are a substantial source of plant proteins for animals and humans, and their cultivation does not require nitrogen fertilizers, which is cost-effective and beneficial to the environment. Because they improve soil fertility, they play an important role in crop rotations. The world production is 300 million tonnes per year.

 

Legumes have the unique characteristic to fix atmospheric nitrogen which other cultivated plants cannot do. This characteristic is the result of a symbiosis with soil bacteria called rhizobia which form root nodules. Rhizobia produce an enzyme missing in plants, nitrogenase, which allows them to fix atmospheric nitrogen inside the plant. In return, the plant provides an environment and nutrients that are necessary for the bacteria to develop and fix nitrogen.

 

Through their participation in an international collaboration, scientists from INRA have deciphered the genome sequence of Mt. The study has revealed that a duplication of the entire genome about 60 million years ago, when legumes appeared, has played a major role in the formation of the Mt genome and contributed to the evolution of symbiotic life with rhizobia.

 

Genes that were involved in the symbiosis with mycorrhizal fungi have duplicated and one copy has evolved to control the nodulation process.Mt is phylogenetically close to most of the legumes cultivated in Europe, such as pea, field bean, alfalfa and clover. There is a strong conservation of the order in which genes are located on chromosomes of these species (shared synteny).

 

Knowledge of the genome sequence of Mt has allowed the order of the genes on its eight chromosomes to be determined. This knowledge should greatly ease the identification of important genes in cultivated legumes. Genetic improvement of legumes is necessary in order to increase their productivity, their use in crop rotation and to develop sustainable systems that require less chemical inputs, in particular nitrogen fertilizers whose production is very energy-consuming.

 

*Participants in the International Consortium include: University of Oklahoma, J. Craig Venter Institute, Genoscope (CEA Institut de Genomique), Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, University of Minnesota, LIPM INRA/CNRS, John Innes Centre, Noble Foundation, University of Wageningen, MIPS, Ghent University, National Center for Genome Resources (NCGR), BIA INRA, CNRGV INRA.

 

The French participation to the program, including sequencing of M. truncatula chromosome 5 was funded by the European Union Grain Legumes program (with equal funding from Genoscope and EU), the French ANR SEQMEDIC program, INRA, and CNRS.

 

References:

Nevin D. Young, Frédéric Debellé, Giles E. D. Oldroyd, et al. The Medicago Genome Provides Insight into the Evolution of Rhizobial Symbioses. Nature, November 16th 2011, DOI: 10.1038/nature10625

 

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1.37  A new source of maize hybrid vigor

 

Urbana, Illinois, USA

June 28, 2012

 

Steve Moose, an associate professor of maize functional genomics at the University of Illinois and his graduate student Wes Barber think they may have discovered a new source of heterosis, or hybrid vigor, in maize. They have been looking at small RNAs (sRNAs), a class of double-stranded RNA molecules that are 20 to 25 nucleotides in length.

 

"Hybrid vigor" refers to the increased vigor or general health, resistance to disease, and other superior qualities arising from the crossbreeding of genetically different plants. "We've always known that there's a genetic basis for this heterosis," said Moose. "Charles Darwin noticed it and commented that corn was particularly dramatic."

 

Scientists have been debating the sources of hybrid vigor since the early 1900s when Mendel's laws were rediscovered. Many of them disagreed with the model that prevailed from the 1920s to the 1950s, which linked heterosis to a single gene or to the interaction of several genes. "It seemed that the whole genome was involved," said Moose.

 

The discovery of DNA in 1953 eventually caused a paradigm shift in the way people looked at hybrid vigor but, Moose said, there was no unifying theory. Even as new genetic technologies were developed, the genes did not seem to explain everything.

 

"We thought that maybe it's the rest of the genome, the remaining 85 percent of the corn genome, that's important," said Moose.

 

RNAs were originally found in 1998 in roundworms. Researchers studying virus resistance in plants then began to notice them and observed that the way that they function is very different from the functioning of protein-coding genes.

 

"Every time we have a breakthrough in our knowledge of genetics, people have looked to see if that breakthrough brings any insight into the mystery of the hybrid vigor," said Moose. "That's what we've done with the small RNAs."

 

"When you think about what small RNAs do, they participate in regulating growth and they tell other genes what to do," he continued. "So they have the two properties that we know fit what has been described (about heterosis) even though we do not have an explanation. We would argue that, while they are part of the explanation, they may not be the whole explanation."

 

Moose and Barber sampled small RNAs from the seedling shoot and the developing ear of maize hybrids, two tissues that grow rapidly and program growth, to investigate how the small RNA profiles of these hybrids differed from those of their parents. In collaboration with associate professor of crop sciences Matt Hudson, they analyzed what they described as a "deluge" of data.

 

"There were 50 million data points, but we whittled it down to the most important ones," said Barber.

 

They found that differences are due mainly to hybrids inheriting distinct small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), a subset of sRNAs, from each parent. The siRNAs interfere with gene expression. They also found that hybridization does not create new siRNAs, but hybrids have a more complex siRNA population than their parents because they inherit distinct siRNAs from both parents.

Moreover, the differences in parental siRNAs originated primarily from repeats, which are the result of retrotransposon activity. Retrotransposons are elements that move around and amplify themselves within a genome.

 

"This is a new source of genetic diversity that people had overlooked," said Barber.

 

"We are not saying that genes are not important," said Moose. ""But probably the way corn properties are altered in the hybrid situation is mediated by the small RNAs in addition to the genes."

 

Moose and Barber hope that their work might provide more insight into how to decide which inbred maize lines to cross. "We don't want to alter how the plant grows, but if we can tweak it to do whatever it already does either faster or more, that could be an advantage," said Moose.

 

The article describing this work, "Repeat Associated Small RNAs Vary Among Parents and Following Hybridization in Maize" by Wesley T. Barber, WeiZhang, Hlaing Win, Kranthi K. Varala, Jane E. Dorweiler, Matthew E. Hudson, and Stephen P. Moose was published in the June 26, 2012, issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

 

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1.38  Link between vitamin C and twins can increase seed production in crops

 

Riverside, California, USA

June 18, 2012

 

Biochemists at the University of California, Riverside report a new role for vitamin C in plants: promoting the production of twins and even triplets in plant seeds.

 

Daniel R. Gallie, a professor of biochemistry, and Zhong Chen, an associate research biochemist in the Department of Biochemistry, found that increasing the level of dehydroascorbate reductase (DHAR), a naturally occurring enzyme that recycles vitamin C in plants and animals, increases the level of the vitamin and results in the production of twin and triplet seedlings in a single seed.

 

The value of the discovery lies in the potential to produce genetically identical seedlings and increase production of high-value crops.