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 indicating which e-mail addresses are to be subscribed and in which language they wish to receive the newsletter.



On 25-27 August 2013, a molecular breeding course in wheat took place in Karnal, India, organised by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). The course was held for young scientists from different wheat research stations of India involved in a project funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to increase the productivity of wheat under rising temperatures and water scarcity in South Asia. A 38-page laboratory manual, edited by S. Dreisigacker, R. Tiwari and S. Sheoran, that was developed for the course is now available on the web. See or contact for more information.


The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has just published “Socioeconomic considerations in biosafety decisionmaking: Methods and implementation”, edited by D. Horna, P. Zambrano and J. Falck-Zepeda. The specific objective of this study is to provide guidance on how to conduct an ex ante economic assessment of a genetically modified (GM) crop when such an assessment becomes part of the crop’s approval process. Using the case of GM cotton in Uganda, the authors propose and develop a methodological framework for the inclusion of socio-economic considerations in biosafety evaluations. See or contact for more information.


A number of FAO books on agricultural biotechnologies are available on request. These include “Socio-economic impacts of non-transgenic biotechnologies in developing countries: The case of plant micropropagation in Africa” and “Marker-assisted selection: Current status and future perspectives in crops, livestock, forestry and fish”. Copies of the FAO Biotechnology Glossary are also available in Chinese, English, French and Russian. These also include “Agricultural biotechnology for developing countries - Results of an electronic forum”, in Spanish, and “Results from the FAO Biotechnology Forum: Background and dialogue on selected issues”, two books which provide the background and summary documents of Conferences 1-6 and 7-12 respectively of the FAO Biotechnology Forum. To request a copy of one or more of these publications, please send your full postal address to


On 4-24 March 2013, the FAO Biotechnology Forum hosted a moderated e-mail conference on the "Impacts of genomics and other 'omics' for the crop, forestry, livestock, fishery and agro-industry sectors in developing countries". Before the conference, a 10-page background document was published, which provides an easily-readable overview of the current status regarding genomics in food and agriculture and briefly discusses some of the main ways in which the knowledge from genomics can be used. About 520 people subscribed to the conference, posting a total of 61 messages, 57% of which came from people living in developing countries. Discussions in the 3-week long conference focused on the challenges and opportunities of genomics, particularly in crops but also in livestock. There seemed to be agreement about the tremendous promise of genomics but recognition that it is still very much an emerging field for developing countries. During the conference there was also general support for establishment of a moderated platform for informal exchange of experiences, data, knowledge and expertise on genomics and other aspects of breeding for the global community. See the background document, and all the messages posted, at For more information, contact This was the 19th e-mail conference hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum since it was launched in the year 2000.


The 36th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission takes place in Rome, Italy on 1-5 July 2013. Documents prepared for this meeting include a 2-page Information Paper (CAC/36/INF/8) about the FAO GM Foods Platform (, which is a new online platform to share information on safety assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants authorized in accordance with the Codex Guideline entitled “Guideline for the conduct of food safety assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants” (Guideline CAC/GL 45-2003, annex III adopted in 2008). See or contact for more information. The Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission is an intergovernmental body which sets international food safety and quality standards to promote safer and more nutritious food for consumers worldwide.


With the support of FAO and the joint FAO/IAEA division, the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics is developing a publicly accessible e-learning bioinformatics course on animal viral pathogens. The first module of this course, entitled "Phylogenetics of animal pathogens: Basic principles and applications" is already available on the web. It has been designed as a self-learning module for animal health laboratory staff and is organized in four chapters: basic notions on phylogenetic trees; how to build phylogenetic trees; how to interpret phylogenetic trees; and exercises. See or contact for more information. 


Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are being promoted as an important institutional mechanism for gaining access to additional financial resources, sharing risks, and addressing other constraints in pursuit of sustainable and inclusive agricultural development. In 2010, FAO’s Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division initiated a series of appraisals of PPPs implemented in certain African, Asian and Latin American countries. The main objective was to draw lessons that can be used to provide guidance to FAO member countries on how to partner effectively with the private sector to mobilize support for agribusiness development. Twelve country reports are currently available and some of the PPP case studies they contain involve use of agricultural biotechnologies. These include the production of monoclonal antibodies and development of a rapid assay to detect white leaf disease in sugarcane in Thailand; the adoption of biogas energy technology in integrated poultry slaughterhouses in Thailand; and the delivery of Rhizobium inoculant biofertilizers in Kenya. See or contact for more information.


Animal production is a significant source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. As part of a stream of activities carried out by FAO to identify low GHG emission pathways for the livestock sector, FAO has just published "Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions in livestock production: A review of technical options for non-CO2 emissions" written by A.N. Hristov, J. Oh, C. Lee and co-authors and edited by P. Gerber, B. Henderson and H.P.S. Makkar. The 206-page publication evaluates the potential of enteric fermentation (i.e. fermentation of feed in the rumen as part of the normal digestive processes of livestock), manure and manure management and, thirdly, animal husbandry practices for mitigating methane and nitrous oxide, i.e. non-carbon dioxide (non-CO2), GHG emissions from livestock production. The section on animal husbandry also covers use of recombinant bovine somatotropin as well as artificial insemination and other reproductive technologies. See or contact for more information.


As part of its Animal Production and Health Paper series, FAO recently published “Lessons from HPAI: A technical stocktaking of outputs, outcomes, best practices and lessons learned from the fight against highly pathogenic avian influenza in Asia 2005−2011”. Since 2004, FAO has been at the forefront of the global effort to fight H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which emerged in Southeast Asia in 2003. The 95-page book documents the result of an initiative by the Regional office for Asia and the Pacific of FAO’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) to reflect on the work done so far to control HPAI in the Asia region, and to identify its impact and achievements, success stories, challenges and lessons learned. Different chapters are dedicated to the topics of coordination, surveillance, laboratory capacity, vaccination, biosecurity, socio-economics, wildlife, communication and advocacy and, finally, lessons learned. See or contact for more information.


Microbiological agents are one of the most significant contaminants of animal feed. The detection and enumeration of harmful bacteria, yeasts, fungi and parasites is imperative for the health of the animals and of the humans consuming animal products. As part of its Animal Production and Health Manual series, FAO has just published “Quality assurance for microbiology in feed analysis laboratories” which complements a previous FAO publication on “Quality assurance for animal feed laboratories” and describes additional procedures for detection and isolation of microbiological agents which may be found in animal feeds. Written by R.A. Cowie and edited by H.P.S. Makkar, the 196-page book is organized in three sections: the Quality Management System in a microbiology laboratory; quality assurance and general laboratory procedures; and microbiology procedures. See (800 KB) or contact to request a copy, providing your full postal address.


Under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a Compliance Committee was established to promote compliance, to address cases of non-compliance, and to provide advice or assistance. The report is now available of the 10th meeting of the Compliance Committee which took place on 29-31 May 2013 in Montreal, Canada. See the 9-page report, together with the other meeting documents, at or contact for further information.


The latest issue (June 2013) of the OECD Biotechnology Update, prepared by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Internal Co-ordination Group for Biotechnology, is now available. The 35-page newsletter provides updated information on OECD activities related to biotechnology. See (1.4 MB) or contact for more information.


On 4-24 March 2013, the FAO Biotechnology Forum is hosting its next e-mail conference, entitled "Impacts of genomics and other 'omics' for the crop, forestry, livestock, fishery and agro-industry sectors in developing countries". The conference is open to everyone, is free and will be moderated. To subscribe to the conference, send an e-mail to with the following one line in the body of the message (leave the subject line blank):
subscribe biotech-room3-L firstname lastname

Where firstname and lastname refer to the person's first and last name. For example, if the subscriber's name is John Smith, then the line should be:
subscribe biotech-room3-L John Smith

A 10-page background document was prepared and is available on the Forum website, at For more information, contact


The FAO e-mail conference on "GMOs in the pipeline: Looking to the next five years in the crop, forestry, livestock, aquaculture and agro-industry sectors in developing countries" took place from 5 November to 2 December 2012. The 11-page summary document is now available, entitled “An FAO e-mail conference on GMOs in the pipeline in developing countries: The moderator’s summary”, by J. Ruane. The document provides a summary of the main issues discussed by participants during this 4-week conference based on the 109 messages that were posted. From the e-mail conference, a picture emerged of a GMO pipeline that contains a considerable quantity and variety of products, indicating that the new GMOs likely to be released in developing countries within the next five years will continue to be dominated by the crop sector, where a broad range of new crop by trait combinations are in the pipeline, but may also see increased focus on new areas such as GM fish, insects and trees. See (90 KB) or contact to request a copy. All e-mail messages posted in the conference are available at (0.9 MB).


On 22-25 September 2010, the Global Conference on Aquaculture 2010 took place in Phuket, Thailand, jointly organized by FAO, the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) and the Royal Thai Department of Fisheries. It brought together a wide-ranging group of experts and important stakeholders to review aquaculture progress and the further potential of this sector, as a basis for improving the positioning of the sector and its mandate within the global community. The conference proceedings are now available on the web, entitled "Farming the waters for people and food”, edited by R.P. Subasinghe et al. Most of the 896-page proceedings is dedicated to a series of 19 expert panel reviews, three of which consider in some detail the use of biotechnologies in aquaculture, namely expert panel review 1.2 on "Novel and emerging technologies: Can they contribute to improving aquaculture sustainability?" (by C.L. Browdy et al); 3.1 on "Promoting responsible use and conservation of aquatic biodiversity for sustainable aquaculture development" (J.A.H. Benzie et al); and 3.3 on "Improving biosecurity: A necessity for aquaculture sustainability" (M. Hine et al). See or contact for more information.


In 2008, FAO approved a two-year Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project in the Near East and North Africa region entitled "Strengthening capacities towards the establishment of a regional platform for the detection of genetically modified organisms", with Jordan, Lebanon, the Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen as the six participating countries. As part of this TCP project, an advanced training course on "Detection of genetically modified organisms and biosafety for food and agriculture” took place in Aleppo, Syria on 19-24 June 2010, jointly organized by FAO, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the General Commission for Scientific and Agricultural Research (GCSAR). In the context of this training course, a laboratory manual on GMO detection was prepared, edited by A.M. Abdul Kader et al, which is now available on the web. The first half of the 322-page publication is in English while the second half is in Arabic. See the manual (10.5 MB) or contact for more information.

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