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.



As part of its Joint Departmental Discussion Paper series, the World Bank recently published "The status and impact of biosafety regulation in developing economies since ratification of the Cartagena Protocol" by M. McLean, M.-E. Foley and E. Pehu. After the introduction, the 25-page paper contains chapters on the impact of the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety regulation; the impact of biosafety regulation in developing countries; and opportunities to advance biosafety regulation. See or contact for more information. This is a Joint Departmental Discussion Paper from the World Bank's Agriculture and Rural Development Department and the Environment Department.


As part of its Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds series, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Environment, Health and Safety Division recently published "Revised consensus document on compositional considerations for new varieties of soybean [Glycine Max (L.) Merr.]: Key food and feed nutrients, antinutrients, toxicants and allergens". This 48-page document updates and revises the original soybean consensus document issued in 2001. The revised document addresses compositional considerations for new varieties of soybean by identifying the key food and feed nutrients, anti-nutrients, toxicants and allergens. A general description of these components is provided. In addition, there is background material on the production, processing and uses of soybean, and considerations to be taken into account when assessing new varieties of these crops. The text also suggests the constituents to be analysed related to food use and to feed use. See or contact for more information.


The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) recently published "Doubled haploid technology in maize breeding: Theory and practice", edited by B.M. Prasanna, V. Chaikam and G. Mahuku. This 51-page manual is primarily intended for maize breeders in the national agricultural research systems and small and medium enterprise seed companies in developing countries who would like to better understand and use the doubled haploid (DH) technology in breeding programs. It is a compilation and consolidation of knowledge accumulated through scientific contributions of several maize geneticists and breeders worldwide as well as protocols successfully developed (in collaboration with the University of Hohenheim, Germany) and used by the CIMMYT Global Maize Program in DH line development, especially in Mexico. See (2.8 MB) or contact for further details.


The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) recently published "Agroforestry tree domestication: A primer", edited by I. Dawson, C. Harwood, R. Jamnadass and J. Beniest. Aiming to synthesise basic information about important tree domestication issues and provide a resource for learners and teachers to use and contextualise for their own purposes, this 147-page manual contains 15 units organised in 5 modules on key topics related to agroforestry tree domestication. Unit 8 is dedicated to "Molecular marker characterisation" while Unit 12, dedicated to "vegetative propagation techniques", also covers micropropagation. See or contact for more information.


A new web interface for the multi-lingual FAO Biotechnology Glossary has just been launched, with an improved look and structure to make it more accessible and user-friendly, and with more advanced search capabilities. The new online Biotechnology Glossary will now be updated and edited at regular intervals by a team of international technical experts using VocBench, a web-based multi-lingual vocabulary management tool developed by FAO. The FAO Glossary of Biotechnology for Food and Agriculture was published in 2001, prepared by A. Zaid, H.G. Hughes, E. Porceddu and F. Nicholas, providing consolidated, comprehensive and accessible definitions of over 3,000 terms and acronyms that are used regularly regarding agricultural biotechnologies. It has proven to be a very popular reference source and has been translated into the five other official UN languages (i.e. Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish) as well as Polish, Serbian and Vietnamese, while the terms have also been translated into Kazakh. See the new interface at (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). Comments on the new site are warmly welcome, at


An "International workshop on socio-economic impacts of genetically modified (GM) crops", co-organized by the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) and FAO, took place in Seville, Spain on 23-24 November 2011. The 133-page proceedings of this workshop, edited by M. Lusser, T. Raney, P. Tillie, K. Dillen and E. Rodríguez-Cerezo, are now available on the web. They are organized in four chapters, with chapter 3 providing background information on the workshop and chapter 4 summarizing the seven main topics presented at the workshop, the discussions from each of the sessions as well as prospects of further research. The seven topics were adoption of GM crop varieties and socio-economic impacts on farmers; aggregated and global impacts of GM technology in agriculture; economics of segregation/coexistence of supply chain; socio economic impacts of GM crops: examples of use in decision-making; economic compensation, liability issues and institutional framework influencing adoption of GM crops; research on consumers attitudes and direct/indirect impacts of GM crops on consumers including health; looking forward: new GM crops in the pipeline and their possible economic and social impacts. See (4.8 MB) or contact for more information.


The FAO Working Group on Biotechnology has recently reprinted "Marker-assisted selection: Current status and future perspectives in crops, livestock, forestry and fish", originally published in 2007. The 494-page book is edited by E.P. Guimarães, J. Ruane, B.D. Scherf, A. Sonnino and J.D. Dargie and is organised into six sections: an introduction to marker-assisted selection (MAS), in chapters 1-2; case studies of MAS in crops, in chapters 3-9; case studies of MAS in livestock, in chapters 10-13; case studies of MAS in forestry, in chapters 14-15; case studies of MAS in fish and shellfish, in chapters 16-17; and the final section is devoted to a selection of non-technical issues relevant to applications of MAS in developing countries, such as national research capacities and international partnerships, economic considerations, the impacts of intellectual property rights, and policy considerations (chapters 18-22). See or contact to request a copy, providing your full postal address.


FAO's Regional Office for the Near East, in collaboration with the Association of Agricultural Research Institutes for the Near East and North Africa (AARINENA), organized a regional workshop on "Agricultural biotechnology network for strengthening regional cooperation and knowledge sharing" on 2-4 July 2012 in Cairo, Egypt. The training workshop aimed to raise awareness of the Regional Agricultural Biotechnology Network of Near East and North Africa (RABNENA) and develop the capacity of the participants on how to operate and use RABNENA as a platform for biotechnology knowledge sharing and collaboration for biotechnology target groups and stakeholders at national and regional levels. See for the workshop presentations and relevant documents, for the network website (in Arabic and English) or contact for more information.


The scientific journal Agriculture & Food Security has just published "Re-orienting crop improvement for the changing climatic conditions of the 21st century" by C. Mba, E.P. Guimarães and K. Ghosh. The paper underscores that plant breeding must be re-oriented in order to generate 'smart' crop varieties that yield more with fewer inputs. It highlights some of the current plant breeding techniques that hold great promise for crop improvement, including marker-assisted selection, targeting induced local lesions in genomes (TILLING), genetic modification, as well as emerging biotechnologies of relevance to plant breeding such as zinc finger nuclease, oligonucleotide directed mutagenesis, synthetic genomics, etc. The paper also recommends adequate policies to enable plant breeding, training of a new generation of plant breeders, establishment of partnerships (including public-private sector synergies), 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, and strengthening the national agricultural research and extension systems of developing countries. See (350 KB) or contact for more information.


The latest Tsetse and Trypanosomosis Information bulletins (volume 34, parts 1 and 2) are now available on the web. Published twice a year by FAO, the bulletins contain both news and scientific abstracts aiming to collate and disseminate current information on all aspects of tsetse and trypanosomosis research and control to institutions and individuals involved in the problems of African trypanosomosis (a vector-borne disease affecting people and animals caused by various species of blood parasites called trypanosomes). The bulletins also include items covering biotechnology applications for disease diagnosis and in trypanosome research, and are available in English and French. See or contact to subscribe.


The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), in collaboration with the Università Politecnica delle Marche, Italy, is organizing an e-learning Masters course in Biosafety in Plant Biotechnology. The course is intended to provide specialized knowledge and skills with regard to environmental risk assessment and management of genetically modified (GM) crops as well as GM food and feed safety assessment. The course is specifically focused on crops and aspects of priority for different cultivation areas (mainly Balkan, Mediterranean and Central Africa). It will begin tentatively on 5 November 2012 and have a duration of 46 weeks, including two on-campus training sessions (Ancona, Italy) of one week each at the beginning and at the end of the course. Deadline for applications is 1 October 2012. See or contact for more information.


The 6th meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP-MOP 6) takes place on 1-5 October 2012 in Hyderabad, India, back-to-back with the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 11), on 8-19 October 2012. The meeting will address a number of standing issues on the COP-MOP agenda (i.e. compliance; operation and activities of the Biosafety Clearing-House; financial mechanisms and resources; cooperation with other organizations, conventions and initiatives; and administration and budgetary matters). It will also address a number of substantive issues arising from the programme of work and previous COP-MOP decisions (i.e. capacity building activities; handling, transport, packaging and identification of living modified organisms; notification requirements; liability and redress; unintentional transboundary movements and emergency measures; risk assessment and risk management; subsidiary bodies; socio-economic considerations; monitoring and reporting; assessment and review). See for background information and documents (some in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) or contact for more information.


The Convention on Biological Diversity's Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH) conducted an online forum on "Strategic approaches to capacity-building for biosafety and the comprehensive review of the capacity-building action plan" from 20 February to 4 May 2012. Its purpose was to facilitate discussions on strategic approaches to capacity-building for biosafety, as well as measures for improving the planning (including needs assessments), implementation, coordination and monitoring of biosafety capacity-building initiatives. The outcomes of the Forum will contribute to the comprehensive review of the capacity-building action plan to be considered by the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP-MOP 6). See for the messages posted as well as the background documents for each discussion group or contact for more information.


On 9-11 May 2012, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) organized the "Inter-regional workshop on capacity needs for the implementation of the Nagoya - Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety" in Riga, Latvia. The workshop was a follow up to the four regional workshops organized by the Secretariat in 2011 in Africa, Asia and Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The objective of the inter-regional workshop was to build on the discussions held during the regional workshops and enable participants from the different regions to share information and exchange experiences with respect to development and implementation of domestic regulatory instruments that address liability issues or response measures for environmental damage or damage to biological diversity and to review potential capacity needs in these areas with an emphasis on capacity requirements to implement the Supplementary Protocol. See the report and all related documents at or contact for more information.


As part of its OECD Environmental Working Paper series (nr. 40), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published "Adaptation and innovation: An analysis of crop biotechnology patent data" by S. Agrawala, C. Bordier, V. Schreitter and V. Karplus. Using the count of patent applications as an indicator, the paper provides empirical quantification of innovation in biotechnology to develop crops that are more resilient to three forms of abiotic stress (drought, soil salinity and temperature extremes) associated with climate change. See (in English and French) or contact for more information.


As part of its IFPRI Discussion Papers series, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) recently published "Measuring the contribution of Bt cotton adoption to India's cotton yields leap" by G.P. Gruere and Y. Sun. The paper examines the contribution of Bt cotton adoption to long-term average cotton yields in India. See or contact for more information.

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Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC-10) Conference