[For further information on the FAO Biotechnology Forum see the Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 15 December 2008 16:26
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 83: Re: Biotechnology applications and Jatropha curcas

My name is Heike Lipper, I am an environmental scientist in Germany and am a free journalist.

I would like to refer to the comment of Dr. K. Chalapathy Reddy (message 78) and other scientists from India.

The possibilities of Jatropha oil are of big interest in the European Union today. Different companies are investing in the opportunities of Jatropha, and biotechnology institutes are involved by research of good yields and non-toxic varieties. Therefore, especially India is of international interest as India is one of the countries with lots of experience in Jatropha investigation, and as the first Jatropha oil from India might arrive within the next months in Europe.

I did read with big interest the comments about Jatropha curcas, as I will arrive next week in India on the issue of Jatropha, for collecting information in terms of its development and the different aspects regarding its affects, writing some article about in Germany.

Therefore, I would like to thank FAO for this conference where people from different areas of the world can take part.

Heike Lipper
environmental scientist
Gut Wienebuttel 1
21339 Luneburg
e-mail: heike.lipper (at) web.de

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 15 December 2008 16:26
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 84: Thermal conversion vs. bioconversion - biogas

This is from Ruzena Svedelius, again.

Dr. K. Chalapathy Reddy (message 78) wrote that "bioenergy through plant- and/or animal-based feedstock has to play a great role". Yes. Therefore, we all are responsible for production of biomass and not only for energy conversion from biomass. Sustainable systems can never be achieved by thermal conversion because of losses of plant nutrients as environment polluting compounds. Ash does not contain energy important for soil microorganisms. Only by using bioconversion systems, when the non-converted feedstocks are returned to the soil as organic fertilizers, can new biomass be produced without man-made agrochemicals. Many unfertile soils can be turned to agricultural land with the help of organic fertilizers (the positive effects of bioenergy and microbial activity should be calculated).

Uwe Bruenjes (message 68) wrote: "I'm aware that bio-conversion (as opposed to chemical conversion) is extremely slow. How long does it take to convert biomass into methane gas, with an acceptable efficiency? It takes at least days, if not weeks". That's life. The same slow processes happens in our bodies - we do not want to burn up. When using batch system where several bioreactors/digesters are running (like cylinders in car engines), we can achieve continuous production of methane. These digesters have to be well insulated and volume adjusted to the amount of feedstocks that are daily available (dry matter content about 30%).

In message 80, Uwe Bruenjes suggested: "Back to the drawing board!" and "We have to establish a set of rules according to which each proposal should be evaluated, and only then can we develop a real solution. Though as I hinted before, this solution might be more chemical than biochemical...". Chemical is, for example, burning and pyrolysis. An enormous sum of money was used and is still going to support unsustainable waste incineration, how to use ash and for development of expensive chemical processes (including other fossil energy sources) but very little was and still is going to support biological processes (for example, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) budget in EU - 'Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology' can use for research only 1935 million euro while 'Information and Communication Technologies' can spend 9050 million euro. Can we achieve sustainability without food and ecological services? 'Euratom for nuclear research and training activities' receives 2751 million euro for five years 2007-2011, but all other 'energies' only 2350 million euro for seven years 2007-2013. Personal from the European Environment Agency informed us that about 20% will be used for research on renewable energies and 80% goes to fossil energies.)

On Internet we can find many scientific papers dealing with biotechnology but most of the promising results stay there and are not developed for practical use. I am afraid that nobody is so wise that a set of rules can be established. Only "learning by doing" can give success. Biotechnology needs unlimited resources or at least as much as nuclear energy (???) - in other case we have difficulties to survive on the Earth.

In message 76 from Professor J Ralph Blanchfield, we can read that "The enzyme that allows a cow to digest grasses and other plant fibres can be used to turn other plant fibres into simple sugars". Similar comment comes from Emma Kreuger when she mentioned that there are plenty of natural biological processes that we can use for increasing efficiency during bioconversion. She also suggests "an international education program in biogas production" and I would like to add that it will be very fruitful for both developed and developing countries.

John Atoyebi (82) wrote: "I strongly believe that it is developing countries that need energy intervention most, due to a shortfall in energy production and generation such as gas, biodiesel, among the developing countries". That is true, but so-called developed countries are not so well developed that they can secure energy delivery in a sustainable manner (without pollution of environment and with use of knowledge-based technology). Today and tomorrow 10 000 inhabitants in North Sweden are without electricity because of snow. Some days it can be more than 100 000 inhabitants. Big companies have a monopoly to deliver expensive electricity. If local economists and politicians supported building modern local biogas plants, this situation could not happen. Still a problem is that modern equipment for efficient methane production does not exist. As soon as it will be introduced in developed countries, also developing countries will use it. Energy agency and others who should support renewable energies are still supporting fossil energy sources, nuclear energy and incineration.

Thanks to FAO that we could share our thoughts and were allowed to make inputs to discussion on this for survival of all of us important subject. Last question: Is it possible that people working at FAO can influence economists and politicians who are responsible for peoples future? Motivation: Economy should be seen as management of resources. Last decades the management was not sustainable (ecologically, economically and socially) and therefore soil degradation, air, water and food pollution, biodiversity decline and the negative effects on marine ecosystems, on situation in developing countries and also on global financial situation are obvious. Politicians are responsible for setting up frames for market so only sustainable product, processes and services are allowed.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Let's hope that 2009 becomes a more active year for biotechnology than 2008.

Dr. Ruzena Svedelius,
Nobbelovs Torg 29,
SE 226 52 Lund,
Biological Transformation of Renewable Organic Material
Phone: +46 707 33 11 20
E-mail: rsvedelius (at) hotmail.com

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 15 December 2008 16:27
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 85: Re: Biotechnology and ethanol from sorghum

This is Srinivasa Rao, a sweet sorghum breeder from ICRISAT, India. My areas of research interest are improvement of sugar and grain yield, adaptability, genotype X environment (G X E) interaction, molecular markers, and candidate gene identification. We are currently working on sweet sorghum under various projects towards germplasm characterization and genetic improvement.

There were few messages on sweet sorghum improvement through biotechnological means. I would like to address possible niche traits that requires immediate attention based on the recent developments.

1. Sweet stalk related traits are having high genotype X environment interaction with comparatively high heritability - identification of stability QTLs (quantitative trait loci) helps here.

2. Candidate gene identification for sugar-related traits based on micro/sequenome technology and their pyramiding.

3. Improving activity of sucrose isomerase without affecting isomaltulose pathway. [Research on sucrose isomerase in sorghum was also discussed in message 53...Moderator].

4. Most of the present-day sweet sorghum genotypes are photo sensitive - bring Ma5 and Ma6 genes to make them photo-insensitive.

5. Inter-allelic interaction and epistasis are predominant for brix-related traits - cautious selection will help to certain extent.

6. Wide hybridization with sugarcane and miscanthus followed by embryo rescue/somatic culture and marker-assisted breeding will help to improve sugar and biomass respectively

I hope this information helps to have a birds eye view of explorable biotech options in sweet sorghum. I congratulate FAO for taking initiative in organising this e-conference.

Srinivasa Rao P
Scientist-Sorghum Breeding
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
Patancheru 502 324,
Andhra Pradesh,
Fax: 91-040-30713074/30713075
E-mail: p.srinivasarao (at) cgiar.org

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 15 December 2008 16:28
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 86: A world-wide network of alternative energies

This is from Huberto Noriega Cordova, from Peru. I am a microbiologist and representive from Peru to the International Organization for Biotechnology and Bioengineering (IOBB, http://iobborg.net/).

I suggest the creation of a world-wide network of alternative energies (WWNAE), presided over by the FAO. The WWNAE-FAO will be useful as an advisory source, for diffusion of scientific events, construction of a data bank, planning of annual activities of training in different countries, promotion of scientific research, to create bonds of continuous analysis of certain technologies, to create access to training groups by technological area.

I suggest that:
- Each country identifies its potential alternative energetics.
- Isolation and selection of types of microorganisms that optimise the obtention of bioenergy.
- Creation of groups in every country that promote the investigation and generate the application in a pilot of technology at a suitable level.
- To create a sense of the alternative technologies that are active in their country and to create prospective of the development of bioenergies and its respective annual monitoring.

Huberto Williams Noriega Cordova,
M.Sc. Biotechnology and bioengineering
Universidad Nacional de Trujillo
Representante Nacional de la International Organization for Biotechnology and Bioengineering
e-mail: wiliams_h9 (at) yahoo.com ; huberto_1 (at) hotmail.com

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 15 December 2008 16:28
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 87: Views from Madagascar

This is Xavier Rakotonjanahary, a plant breeder from Madagascar, working at the Ministry of National Education and in charge of Promotion of applied research. The debate on the application and use of biotechnology for developing countries is of very high interest and I am grateful to the FAO for delaying the closing date for posting message; I had opportunities to be aware of the progress made in biotechnology for biofuel production and will try to respond to the important questions raised by the challenges and opportunities posed by biofuels, in view of food security, energy and sustainable development needs.

Production of biomass for biofuel purposes is currently a program of the government and some NGO and projects are actively involved in this activity. It is included in the first-generation biofuels production because the material used is mainly jatropha and, to a lesser degree, sugar cane. So, the aim of the program is to produce biomass and to convert biomass to biofuel. Nonetheless, the first drop of biodiesel or bioethanol is predicted for 2010. However, there is not yet reported any drawback considering food security, as the plantation area for biomass production does not impede on food crop perimeters.

Developing countries should prioritise use of the biotechnology tools/products for the first generation biofuels, which are ready made. Effectively, it is more probable that developing countries will not be able to sustain their research efforts to produce second-generation biofuels, unless regional or international cooperation is contracted for this purpose. Co-operation with developed countries is a prerequisite for developing countries to produce their own cellulase and therefore, it is very much important. In this context, biomass production in developing countries for biofuel could be better understood.

There is not yet argument in favour of chemical neither biological process to produce second-generation liquid biofuels. It is clear, as mentioned by Emma Kreuger in her contributions, that nature has biotechnology and it should be better understood and used in the most efficient way. However, this biological process is known as very slow and it should only be used for producing the first generation liquid biofuels. Developing countries should prioritise their biotechnology resources (people, money etc.) on the range of biofuels currently available. In this context, South-South co-operation is very important so that technicians and experts in developing countries can help each other. Developing countries should also adapt bioenergy-related biotechnologies produced in developed countries in their context; it is very much important that north-south cooperation be effective. Developing countries should ensure their access to appropriate biotechnologies for bioenergy production, by protecting their intellectual property.

In my view, use of biogas production by fermentation is very relevant and beneficial to rural smallholders. However, my concern is that it is still very rare in Africa, although in many Asian countries (Vietnam, India, etc.) it is currently carried out in small villages. For small biogas units to be successful, biotechnological approaches should be simple, easy to access and at low cost. Biotechnologies could play an important role in improving the operation/efficiency of these units if research institutions or organisations, public or private, including FAO, are organising and spreading new small-scale biogas units and training those which are already operational by experience sharing or exchange of materials.

Xavier Rakotonjanahary
Plant breeder
Head, Promotion of Applied research Office
Ministry of National Education
r.xavier (at) simicro.mg

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 15 December 2008 16:29
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 88: General points and the issue of capacity-building

I am John Caesar, a senior lecturer in biology and Head of the Department of Biology at the University of Guyana.

Moderator and participants, please accept my commendation on the insights emanating from this conference. Having followed the discussions on the technical aspects and other related issues, I wish to make a few observations at this closing hour.

Firstly, aside from the low-end type biotechnologies, a number of developing countries would still need some local capacity-building in leveraging the relevant technologies and methodologies. This makes some of the recommendations I proffered during the 2005 e-mail conference of this Forum on "The role of biotechnology for the characterisation and conservation of crop, forest, animal and fishery genetic resources in developing countries," relevant in this discourse as well. Permit me to relate some of these:

I believe a concerted effort is needed in designing a global biotechnology for bioenergy "start-up" projects with the following features:

- Regional and sub-regional groupings of developing countries along similar lines as the UNEP-GEF (United Nations Environment Programme - Global Environment Facility) Biosafety Frameworks project;

- Assistance with the development of national capacity for some aspects of first generation biofuels and, more importantly, second generation biofuels - methodologies, training, assistance with some basic start-up equipment where governments may not be able to afford(?);

- comprehensive national needs assessments in biofuel biotechnologies suitable for both research and development (R&D) and ordinary farmers et al.;

- human, infrastructural and institutional capacity for the development of second generation biofuels where relevant and necessary;

- The need for very small countries with very common capacity challenges and problems needing biotechnological interventions for local biofuels development, to be pooled as clusters in subregions during the capacity building and technical training phases;

- I quote here, with minor additions in square brackets [ ], what I wrote then with respect to training and human resource capacity building:
"a comprehensive scholarship/fellowship programme for developing countries to facilitate the leveraging of [the requisite biofuels-related] biotechnology capacity through [short-term training] postgraduate research in developed [or developing countries with the full capacity in the field] countries. This should be complemented by a five to ten year sustainability programme to help avert brain drain. What is the assurance that they will stay in the regions or developing countries with the kind of salaries there? The twin issues of human capacity sustainability and brain drain in the developing countries will inevitably be a looming threat to effective biotechnology development in developing countries unless we find innovative answers - regional/subregional pools/clusters in biotechnology R&D institutions with reasonably/moderately competitive salaries may be a simplistic but explorable solution;"

- Alternatively, the engagement of willing experts in the field of biofuel biotechnologies in the diaspora can be leveraged in a 'brain gain' model. Guyana has its example involving Professor Suresh Narine, the holder of a Canadian NSERC chair at the University of Alberta. At the invitation of the government, he has been the prime mover in leveraging the relevant technologies and adapting them to the local situation to generate biodiesel from waste oils and fats from the food industry as well as palm oil from a decades old plantation.

- The Chemistry department at my University has also initiated some bioethanol projects on a small experimental scale. We hope to collaborate with the local, on-campus Institute of Applied Science and Technology to amplify these;

- In the case of Jatropha use, the National Agricultural Research Institute has commenced experiments with small-scale Jatropha plantations on degraded bauxite mine spoils. Hopefully, this could help in the restoration ecology and at the same time provide feedstock for jatropha biodiesel sacle-up in Guyana;

- I believe FAO can spearhead a programme for biofuels biotechnology because of the multiple solutions the industry can provide for struggling economies once the relevant life-cycle analyses can be made.

The question of intellectial property rights may be a major barrier for developing countries and may require some international framework for biofuels biotechnology if indeed the use of this technology can save the woodlands, mangrove forests and rainforests for over-exploitation for fuelwood, the concommitant deforestation and related negative impact on climate change.

Genetic modification of tree species for biomass as feedstock may be contentious for some countries at this time if the risks are not fully assessed in the case of biodiversity-endowed countries. The use of cellulases to exploit the pervasive aquatic plants such a water hyacinth could be another possibility where the weed grows abundantly.

John Cartey Caesar BSc(Hons) MSc
Senior Lecturer,
University of Guyana,
Box 10-1110, Georgetown
[National Project Coordinator, UNEP-GEF National Biosafety Framework,
Commissioner (part-time), Public Utilities Commission of Guyana]
Tel.: 592-222-4926;
PhoneFax: 592-222-3596
Email: jccaesar (at) yahoo.com

[John's comments were made in Conference 13 of this FAO Biotechnology Forum, at http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/C13/040705.htm ...Moderator].

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