Agricultural Biotechnologies
Agricultural Biotechnologies in crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries and agro-industry  Biotech-banner

The News items relate to applications of biotechnologies in food and agriculture in developing countries and their major focus is on the activities of FAO, other UN agencies/bodies and the 15 CGIAR research centres. The News items cover all food and agricultural sectors (crops, forestry, fisheries/aquaculture, livestock, agro-industry) and a wide range of biotechnologies (e.g. use of molecular markers, artificial insemination, triploidisation, biofertilisers, micropropagation, genomics, genetic modification etc.). New documents are included as News if they are freely available on the web and, for people who can't download them or who wish further information, an e-mail contact is also provided. The News service was launched in January 2002 and all News items posted since then (there were 800 in the first 9 years) are available here. The news and event items on this website are also disseminated through an e-mail newsletter called FAO-BiotechNews that is published in six different versions, one per language i.e. Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. To subscribe, send a message to [email protected] indicating which e-mail addresses are to be subscribed and in which language they wish to receive the newsletter.


The Eleventh Session of the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture will take place virtually on 19-21 May 2021. Several biotechnology-related items are on the provisional agenda for this meeting. In relation to the 'Draft technical guidelines for the implementation of the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources', these include “Innovations in cryoconservation” (agenda item 3.2.1) and “Genomic characterization” (agenda item 3.2.2). They also include ""Digital sequence information" on animal genetic resources for food and agriculture" (agenda item 5) and "Review of the work on biotechnologies for the conservation and sustainable use of animal genetic resources" (agenda item 7). Working documents pertaining to each of these agenda items will be made available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish before the meeting. Information documents are provided in English, including one on "Recent developments in biotechnologies relevant to the characterization, sustainable use and conservation of genetic resources for food and agriculture" as well as other biotechnology-related documents associated with new guidelines for management of animal genetic resources for food and agriculture. See or contact [email protected] for more information.
As part of its “Food safety technical toolkit for Asia and the Pacific”, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has just published “Food fraud – Intention, detection and management”. The 32-page document describes the key aspects of food fraud and discusses a set of measures that food safety authorities can take to manage the persistent problem of food fraud. These include legal interventions as well as new technologies such as DNA barcoding, a promising and potentially very accurate tool used to identify the food species involved and detect cases of food fraud by substitution. The document also includes a list of resources on food labelling, technological interventions and food import and export certification systems provided by FAO and the Codex Alimentarius. See or contact [email protected] for more information.
Building on their lengthy collaboration, FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are aiming to further strengthen and develop their joint activities. The Joint FAO/IAEA Nuclear Technologies Division, operating since the 1960s, has now become a Centre and will continue its well-recognized and respected work whilst increasing synergy and expanding areas of common interest, in particular in relation to transboundary animal and plant diseases. A recent FAO story highlights a number of examples where FAO and IAEA have been working together to improve agriculture and food security. These include the use of real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing to rapidly detect livestock diseases in Belize, development of a drought-resistant groundnut variety in Sudan using mutation breeding and use of the sterile insect technique (SIT) in Ecuador to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly from its growing areas for three fruit species. See (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) or contact [email protected] for more information.
On 11-24 October 2021, the Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 15); the Tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CP COP-MOP 10); and the Fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (NP COP-MOP 4) will take place concurrently in Kunming, China. These meetings collectively are known informally as the UN Biodiversity Conference and were originally scheduled to take place on 15-28 October 2020. Documents for COP 15, CP COP-MOP 10 and NP COP-MOP 4 will be made available in the UN official languages at, and respectively. For more information, contact [email protected].
Biopesticides are mass-produced, biologically-based agents used for the control of plant pests. A recent FAO story looks at the role that biopesticides have been playing in the ongoing desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) infestation that has stripped farming families of food and income and threatened the food security of millions of people in the Horn of Africa. Biopesticides using varieties of the pathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae have proven to be very effective against the desert locust. The story looks at the way the biopesticides work against the desert locust, their benefits as well as obstacles to their wider use. See (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) or contact [email protected] for more information.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is supported by a number of Specialist Commissions whose role is to use current scientific information to study problems of epidemiology and the prevention and control of animal diseases, develop and revise OIE's international standards and address scientific and technical issues raised by Members. These include the OIE Biological Standards Commission (“Laboratories Commission”), which is concerned with developing internationally agreed standards for laboratory diagnostic tests and vaccines for OIE-listed animal diseases of mammals, birds and bees. They also include the Aquatic Animals Commission, responsible for ensuring that the Aquatic Animal Health Code and the Manual of Diagnostic Tests for Aquatic Animals reflect current scientific information. The meeting reports from these Commissions are available in English, French and Spanish from For more information, contact [email protected].
A news story from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) reports that the first series of peer-reviewed publications on the GR2E golden rice field trial data are now available. The two publications focus on the agronomic performance of golden rice varieties developed in the Philippines and Bangladesh. The varieties were developed by crossing genetically modified GR2E Kaybonnet rice (produced by addition of the phytoene synthase gene from maize and the carotene desaturase gene from the bacterium Pantoea ananatis to the temperate japonica rice variety Kaybonnet) with popular rice varieties from Asia. Unlike conventional milled rice, golden rice produces provitamin A (beta-carotene), from which humans can make vitamin A, in the endosperm, the starchy portion of the grain left after milling. See or contact [email protected] for more information.
The FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia recently published “Breeding strategies for sustainable genetic improvement of Caucasian and Carpathian Brown cattle breeds” by C. Egger-Danner, T. Szucs and E. Raizman. The document describes an FAO project whose aim was to elaborate breeding goals and plans for breeding and breed development of Caucasian Brown cattle in Armenia and Georgia and Carpathian Brown cattle in Ukraine. As a first step, phenotypic and molecular genetic characterization, using 64 000 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs), of the selected breeds and description of their production environment were carried out. Breeding programmes for the breeds were then drawn up, involving use of artificial insemination for genetically superior bulls. See or contact [email protected] for more information.

FAO recently released its first ever report on "The state of knowledge of soil biodiversity" on World Soil Day, which falls on 5 December. The report on the state of knowledge of soil biodiversity, covering its current status, challenges and potentialities, was produced in response to an invitation by the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for FAO, in collaboration with other organizations, to consider its preparation. The report represents the output of an inclusive process involving 300 scientists from around the world under the auspices of the FAO Global Soil Partnership and its Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils, the CBD, the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative and the European Commission. It presents the state of knowledge on soil biodiversity, the threats it faces, the solutions that soil biodiversity can provide to problems in different fields, including agriculture, environmental conservation, climate change adaptation and mitigation, nutrition, medicine and pharmaceuticals, and remediation of polluted sites, and more. The report also considers the role of molecular approaches to studying soil biodiversity. See the 618-page report at, its ‘Summary for policy makers’ at and the related press release at (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish). Contact [email protected] for more information. 

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has just published its Technology and Innovation Report 2021 entitled “Catching technological waves: Innovation with equity”. It examines the likelihood of frontier technologies, such as gene editing, artificial intelligence and robotics, widening existing inequalities and creating new ones. It also addresses the national and international policies, instruments and institutional reforms that are needed to create a more equal world of opportunity for all, leaving no one behind. See the report (in English), the report overview (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) and press materials (in English, French and Spanish) at or contact [email protected] for more information. This is the 6th publication in the Technology and Innovation Report flagship series which UNCTAD launched in 2010 to address issues in science, technology and innovation that are topical and important for developing countries in a comprehensive way with an emphasis on policy-relevant analysis and conclusions.
The 6th Session of the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Forest Genetic Resources (WG FGR) takes place virtually on 13-15 April 2021. Items on the provisional agenda include “Review of the work on biotechnologies for the conservation and sustainable use of forest genetic resources” and ““Digital sequence information” on forest genetic resources”. Working documents for each agenda item will be made available before the meeting, in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish, at The WG FGR is one of four intergovernmental technical working groups established by the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which is an intergovernmental body established by the FAO Conference in 1983 and whose membership includes 178 countries and the European Union. The topics of “digital sequence information” and biotechnologies for the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources will also be discussed in meetings of the other three intergovernmental technical working groups, namely on animal genetic resources (WG AnGR), aquatic genetic resources (WG AqGR) and plant genetic resources (WG PGR), which take place virtually on 19-21 May, 1-3 June and 22-24 June 2021 respectively. Contact [email protected] for more information.
FAO has been helping the Jamaican Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to produce disease-free ginger using a low-tech biotechnology called tissue culture. Ginger rhizome rot (GRR) is a highly destructive disease which has been devastating production in Jamaica. With FAO’s help, a long-term strategy to resuscitate the industry has been developed, including introduction of a commercial certification programme. As part of this, quality certified clean planting material, free from the GRR disease, is produced using tissue culture in the greenhouse that can then be purchased by farmers for cultivation. Tissue culture is a long-established biotechnology that refers to the in vitro culture of plant cells, tissues or organs in a nutrient medium under sterile conditions. See an FAO story about this project at (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) or contact [email protected] for more information.
FAO has recently published “Indicators of the genetic diversity of trees – State, pressure, benefit and response”, by Lars Graudal and co-authors. Prepared within the ambit of The State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources, this study reviews issues related to the development of indicators for tree genetic diversity. It includes a historical account of the development of science-based indicators for tree genetic diversity that embrace ecological surrogates for genetic diversity, the genecological approach, genetic monitoring of management units, the use of molecular markers, as well as relevant experience from other organisms and policy processes. It also includes a section on relevant data, data sources and databases. Finally, the study proposes a set of four operational indicators for monitoring tree genetic diversity. The proposed indicators could support efforts towards sustainable forest management, as well as the development of indicators for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. See or contact [email protected] for more information.
On 17-19 February and 24-26 February 2021, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) held a virtual informal session to prepare for the 24th meeting of the body (SBSTTA-24) scheduled to take place later in 2021. The informal session served as an opportunity for Parties and observers to explore the virtual format, and to exchange opinions on key agenda items on the road to developing a scientifically and technically sound post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Agenda items included synthetic biology (agenda item 4) as well as risk assessment and risk management of living modified organisms (item 5). See statements from the informal session for each agenda item at, the SBSTTA-24 documents at or contact [email protected] for more information. SBSTTA is an open-ended intergovernmental scientific advisory body of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD.

The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VETLAB) Network is a global network of national veterinary laboratories coordinated by the Animal Production and Health Section (APH) of the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. The network currently comprises 72 laboratories in 46 African and 19 Asian countries and is now working to expand to Central and Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The VETLAB laboratories and the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre’s Animal Production and Health Laboratory work with each other, including experts from the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre, to use nuclear, nuclear-derived and other methods for monitoring, early detection, diagnosis and control of transboundary animal and zoonotic diseases. Recent network activities have focused, inter alia, on support to COVID-19 testing, as well as lumpy skin disease and African Swine Fever in South Asia, rabbit hemorrhagic disease in West Africa and highly pathogenic avian influenza. More information on the network is provided in the latest version of the APH newsletter (no. 73). The newsletter, issued twice a year, gives an overview of past and upcoming training courses, meetings, projects, news stories and publications. See or contact [email protected] for more information.


The Plant Breeding and Genetics Section (PGS) of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture recently launched a 5-year Coordinated Research Project on “Development of integrated techniques for induced genetic diversity and improvement of vegetatively propagated and horticultural tree crops”. The project aims to develop novel genetic resources, methodologies and tools for accelerated breeding for productivity improvement in vegetatively propagated crops (root and tuber crops) and horticultural tree crops (olive) using mutation induction and associated biotechnologies. It will involve ten participating countries from Member States where the crops are grown extensively. This and many other news items are included in the January 2021 PGS newsletter. The newsletter gives an overview of their past and upcoming events, ongoing projects and publications and is issued twice a year. See or contact [email protected] for more information.

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