[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see the Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 07 July 2009 09:40
Subject: 102: Biotechnology in Brazil
I'm Lucia de Souza, senior scientist and the vice president of ANBio - Brazilian Biosafety Association.
Brazilian agriculture is of major socio-economical importance, representing about 40% of the country's exports, 20% of the workforce, and up 9% of the GDP. It plays an important role in economical growth, fighting nutritional deficiencies and assuring accessible and healthy food for the population. In recent years, one of the challenges has been to avoid unnecessary logging. The loss of forests, and therefore of biodiversity, increasingly gives rise to concern. This is why economic interests should be directed towards sustainability, which includes forest protection.
Modern biotechnology offers possibilities to address problems and challenges not solved by other agricultural practices. It can contribute to improve human health, welfare and development by improving food quality, safety, yields, and farm profitability while alleviating the environmental drawbacks of agriculture by reducing agricultural land, water and chemical usage. During more than 10 years, the country made several efforts to promote and intensify scientific development. In a way successful, considering results and increase in international publications, especially in genomics (e.g. sequencing Xylella fastidiosa) and also developing transgenic crops that specifically tackles local needs and interests. For instance, sugar cane resistant to insects, with higher sugar content and flowerless. Brazil grows 4 million hectares of sugar cane and demand to supply biofuel production is growing. Its golden mosaic virus-resistant beans have a high potential for benefit-driven development. Beans are highly regarded and nutritious with a local consumption of ca. 18,5 kg per capita/year and production of ca. 3,6 million tons and the virus causes severe yield losses of 40 to 100%.
In order to have both research and the application of its results in a successful manner, many aspects need to be carefully covered. Among these are the regulations that cover the use of new technologies often closely related to biosafety. Biosafety in Brazil generally refers to a broad canon of measures used to assess risks and effectively avoid adverse effects of biotechnological progress for human health and environment. Brazil's first Biosafety Act goes back to 1995. Later, it was amended by Provisional Measure No.2.191-9/2001 establishing the National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio). Since then, numerous regulations have been developed to cover methods to develop, cultivate, manipulate, transport, buy, sell, use, release, and dispose of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to protect human, animal and environmental health. The liberalization of trade of transgenic soybeans in 1998 triggered a legal dispute, suspended its cultivation and undermined to some extent scientific development. In view of the attractive profit and the need to remain competitive in the international market, farmers illegally cultivated transgenic soybeans. The different positions and interests spawned a complex tangle of regulations whose implementation, in turn, caused bureaucracy and harmed Brazil's scientific development.
After an intense debate about the technical, scientific, economic, legal, political, and ethical aspects of the matter, a new version of the Act was formulated in 2005. It was inspired by utmost caution and a stringent evaluation of national economic interests, food and environmental safety but it still has several issues to be cleared up, e.g. the prohibition of the Gene Use Restriction Technology (GURT) even for research. GURT, for instance, can be an important biosafety tool such as in the case of plant-made pharmaceuticals. For a better overview, please see Mendonca-Hagler et al (2008).
Lucia de Souza, Ph.D.
ANBio - Brazilian Biosafety Association/Associacao Nacional de Biosseguranca
Av. Nilo Pecanha, 50
Grupo 2114 Centro
Rio de Janeiro
Tel: (0xx21) 2220-8327 / 2220-8678
luciadesouza (at) uol.com.br
[The message refers to sequencing of the genome of Xylella fastidiosa, which is a bacterium that causes a range of economically important plant diseases. The sequencing and analysis in this project were carried out by a network of 34 biology laboratories and one bioinformatics center, all of them in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Results were published in Simpson et al. 2000 (The genome sequence of the plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa. Nature 406: 151-157). For more details, see http://www.lbi.ic.unicamp.br/xf/ ...Moderator].
Sent: 07 July 2009 09:50
Subject: 103: Re: Recurring themes of this e-conference
Once again, for the second time, I am Peter B.S. Gama, Assistant Research Professor at the Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC), Sudan. My area of specialization is plant physiology and biotechnology.
There is much to learn from this e-conference on success and failure of agricultural biotechnology in developing countries.
In reference to Message 99, I do concur with Prof. Eric Danquah on the point arguing that "until we establish sub-regional Centres of Excellence and Innovation with hubs in every country, we may never see light at the end of the tunnel". And he further emphasizing (1) the necessity to train the next generation of African biotechnologists in Africa itself because we cannot afford to promote brain drain by sending our outstanding scholars to train in world class institutions abroad. (2) Therefore, we need to develop the world class institutions in sub-Saharan Africa through investment, commitment, hard work, and collaborations and train the next generation of biotechnologists in sub-Saharan Africa on Africa problems. (3) We need to develop the products that will address our food security problems locally and this will have to be done by the African scientists themselves and in Africa. Of course, the need for collaborations that will allow us to fast-track progress cannot be overemphasized.
At the end of my earlier message (nr. 54), I stressed my personal view that unless there is a functional initiative for development of agricultural biotechnology in developing countries, especially the sub-Saharan countries, we will lose most of what would be our original research to other countries and well equipped laboratories due to lack of facilities.
So connecting this perception with the latest contribution by Prof. Denis Murphy (Message 100), it likely that based on the Theme 2 listed the proposed solutions are okay. However, I do disagree to some extent with the notion that it may be unrealistic for each nation, however small, to fund its own agricultural research program but rather to collaborate with neighbouring countries and also with Northern centres. We also need to pursue our own 'academic butterflies'.
Again in Theme 3 ("Lack of capacity for indigenous development of agricultural biotechnology in the South") of Message 100: Here, I do think there is to huge potental for development of indigenous capacity but unfortunately there is lack of awareness or willingness from policy-makers to support projects in the area of biotechnology. Probably because we are used to assess results in terms of yield, acreage cultivated, and maybe some industrial traits. I mean, when the rest of world go "omics" why not us (sub-Saharan countries).
It is true that the story of Dr. Gabisa Ejeta has inspired many by the award of the 2009 World Food Prize in recognition of his achievements in improving the prospects of African sorghum farmers by developing a series of hybrid varieties. Yes, this has been fruits of collaborative research. However, Africa needs to build its own expertise at home so that we get a lion share of credits coming out of the research (Sorghum is native to Africa), in publicity. Some may also not likely agree with me, but this is how development of academic might is gauged. It may inspire more young graduates to study in Africa if they realize that the same work done in the USA can be accomplished at home.
Peter B. S. Gama, PhD
Assistant Research Professor
Plant Physiology and Biotechnology
Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC)
Office Phone: +249 126 734 498
Mobile Phone: +249 911 711 625
Email: pbatalisgama (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 07 July 2009 13:42
Subject: 104: Re: Forestry - biotechnology - India
I am Dr. Rajalakshmi, a lecturer in Botany at the N.G.M. College, India.
Forest genetics, with its peak in the 1940s, parallelly grows with the advancement in biological sciences and could see a tremendous growth in the last six decades. With limited forest resources in developing countries, it is a Herculean task to meet the demands of large populous country like India. Forestry in early 1980s has been rechristened as 'Biodiversity', an umbrella term that started gaining momentum and it is broader in managing available resources. Biodiversity enlists the variety and variability of flora and fauna; conservation strategies to protect rare, endangered and threatened (RET) species of the world.
At this juncture, micropropagation becomes instrumental in protecting the RET species especially the tree members. In addition, techniques like embryo rescue and haploid production are useful in conserving certain tree species that produce aborted embryos. Meristem culture is also successful in raising virus-free plants. Biofertilizers involving various blue green members and marine algae is worth mentioning as they not only boom our agriculture, they also reduce the debt burden of the farming community.
However, I feel the intervention of biotechnology in Forestry has to go a long way. To address a few issues:
(i) the existing gap between the research and forest department
(ii) limited funds and inadequate infrastructure
(iii) lack of trained professionals.
The products of biotechnology will be fruitful only when it serves the purpose. i.e. to save the particular species, time, human resources and money. This is especially true with the developing countries like India, as it has to strike the balance between the huge demand and limited resources.
K. Rajalakshmi, PhD
Department of Botany,
email: ecoraji (at) gmail.com
Sent: 07 July 2009 16:50
Subject: 105: Re: Recurring themes of this e-conference
Following up once more, this is C Tom Hash from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), based in India.
While I appreciate the call from Drs Danquah (Message 99) and Gama (Message 103) for sub-regional Centres of Excellence and Innovation with hubs in every developing country, I still am concerned that the linkage of these centres (and their hubs) with agencies involved in technology delivery must be there if there is to be effective delivery of products more valuable than "just" publications, people with the technical expertise to perform biotechnology, and improved CVs of a limited number of people. Otherwise we will face a serious risk of simply perpetuating existing problems with "academic butterflies" that have been referred to by several contributors to this conference.
In the case of plant breeding programs wishing to exploit molecular marker-based diversity assessment, fingerprinting, quantitative trait locus (QTL mapping and/or selection, I think that one of the real needs at present (and in the immediate future) is for timely provision of high quality and cost-effective marker data - probably from service labs. Establishment of such service labs will require entrepreneurship, infrastructure and technical expertise, as well as an interest in providing a service rather than necessarily being at the front line of technology development. It would be great if these service labs could be established at the proposed sub-regional hubs, but they can only be cost-effective for applied plant (and animal or microbial) breeding programs if they are operating at capacity in a high throughput manner. Otherwise, they will not be used, even if they are available, as the applied breeding programs will find alternative uses of their scarce operational resources to be more attractive.
C Tom Hash
Principal Scientist (Breeding)
Andhra Pradesh 502 324
Email: c.hash (at) cgiar.org