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-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 17 June 2009 09:32
To: 'biotech-room4@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 41: Re: Biotech developments in Argentina in the past

My name is Viviana Echenique and I am Professor at the Universidad Nacional del Sur, Department of Agronomy, and Senior Researcher at CERZOS (CONICET), Bahia Blanca, Argentina.

I agree with Sandra Sarry, Eduardo Trigo and Alejandro Escandon (Messages 25, 33 and 39 respectively) about the situation in Argentina but I would like to add some comments. My research and teaching areas are related to plant genetics and biotechnology. The most important technologies adopted in Argentina are molecular markers and GMOs. In the last 8-10 years, public research received more funding to establish networks in order to train students and to develop products in genomics and biotechnology (PAV: vacancy area project and PAE: strategic area project).

PAV was a very interesting experience in organizing a platform working with '-omics'. The second step, PAE, is allowing us to develop products. In our case, related to wheat improvement. Currently, commercial wheat cultivars in Argentina are developed by traditional breeding based on development of genetic variability by artificial crosses, selection and evaluation. Recent advances in the fields of molecular biology, genomics, gene discovery and transformation in cereals have not been widely explored in breeding programs. All these circumstances prompted the creation of the WheatBiotech Project (WB) during 2008. WB is a network of research groups with expertise in DNA-based technologies (genomics, molecular markers, transformation, virus induced gene silencing (VIGS) etc), ecophysiology, end-use quality and phytopathology designed to develop and transfer technology to Argentinian seed companies, promoting a fluid communication between public and private sectors. The final goal of WB is to exploit biotechnological tools to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of the Argentinean wheat chain. WB is developed by 12 partners including 7 private breeding companies from Argentina and it has been funded for 4 years starting in 2008.

Related to GMOs, I agree about the economical benefits. This is fantastic. But we need to consider the environmental and social problems related with adoption of a technology. Although in our country the regulation is very strict (transgenic products are carefully evaluated at both laboratory and field level in order to establish the biosafety and risks) when a product is on the market, use of the technology is the responsibility of the farmer, in some cases without careful planning. Roundup Ready (RR) soybean has generated a true productive revolution, reducing considerably production costs. In 20 years, agriculture in Argentina had experienced drastic changes. If we analyze the distribution of crops in our country, it is possible to observe a dangerous displacement to monocultures, strongly accentuated in some provinces. Soybean cultivation, without the recommended rotation to ensure a balance of organic matter and without fertilization to restart the nutrients taken from the soil, is a very dangerous combination for the sustainability of the system. The increase in hectares of soybean has occurred to the detriment of horticulture, milk production, cattle and forage, affecting in general small scale farmers. Also, some forest had been devastated to cultivate soybean with the consequences of reduction in CO2 fixation, contributing to global warming. It is evident that it necessary to plan our agriculture to avoid the undesirable after-effects of monoculture and the detrimental environmental effects of the technology, that it is a very good one, but if it is used in a responsible way. I think that this should be the focus for the future, technology and sustainability for development, with a careful planning of agriculture.

Prof. Viviana Echenique
Departamento de Agronomia
Universidad Nacional del Sur
San Andres 800
8000 - Bahia Blanca
Phone: 54 291 4861666 ext 156
Fax: 54 291 4862882
email: echeniq (at) criba.edu.ar

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 17 June 2009 10:15
To: 'biotech-room4@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 42: Experiences from Philippines - rice

I am Alex Rigor, Senior Science Research Specialist at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

We at PhilRice started utilizing biotechnology as a tool more than a decade ago. The most prominent successes with the use of biotechnology, I think, that we were able to achieve is the development of several rice varieties adapted to the Philippines. To date, we were able to release rice varieties suited for irrigated lowland conditions as well as varieties that are tolerant to salinity using tools like anther culture and marker-assisted selection. Recently, through collaborations with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), we were able to recommend for release IR64 (one of the most popular rice varieties in the Philippines) with submergence tolerance (IR64-Sub1). [Submergence 1 (Sub1) is a major quantitative trait locus confering tolerance to submergence (rice plants can survive longer under water). IR64-sub1 was obtained through conventional crossing and marker-assisted back-crossing with IR64...Moderator].

With regards to failure, I think, that (1) we still aren't efficient with use of the technology. For example, using molecular markers such as simple sequence repeats (SSRs), we spend about $4.00-5.00 per marker data point in our lab as compared to $0.30-1.00 that IRRI has reported. Well, one could argue that at IRRI it costs maybe less because they can purchase reagents at a lower price. This may be partially true. But in our case, one of the main reasons for this high cost is that we still have not really optimized the use of these DNA markers. By this, I mean that we still have a lot of failed polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification, problems with gel running, etc. In addition, most of our protocols say from DNA extraction to gel documentation is manually done. Therefore, we cannot fully utilize the use of markers in our breeding program. Our current rate of data generation is probably about less than 1,000 data point per week. With maximum capacity and with a lot of staff (more than 10 research assistants) involved, we probably may double this number. My point is that, when we compare this using high-throughput automated equipment, the number I mentioned can be easily done by a single person in less time.

Another reason for failure is the (2) high rate of staff turn-over. A lot of our trained staff in biotechnology usually stay at our institute for only about a couple of years or so. Therefore, projects of these staff are most of the times suspended or prematurely terminated. Currently, the management of our institute is providing incentives to somehow lessen the migration/movement of a critical mass of biotech staff from our institute.

Alex T. Rigor, Ph.D.
Senior Science Research Specialist
Plant Breeding and Biotechnology Division
Philippine Rice Research Institute
Maligaya, Science City of Munoz 3119
Nueva Ecija,
PH +63 (44) 456-0258; -0285 loc.260
atrigor (at) philrice.gov.ph

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 17 June 2009 12:40
To: 'biotech-room4@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 43: Biotech research-application disconnect - India

I am E.M. Muralidharan from India. I work at the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi, Thrissur, in the area of biotechnology of forestry species.

Unlike the case in some of the nations in Africa, as described in the earlier messages, I feel in India there has been no dearth of facilities, funds or expertise in biotechnology research. The liberal funding in the past two decades for setting up facilities and training of manpower by the Department of Biotechnology, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and other agencies has ensured that the nation is mostly self sufficient in most modern technology. However, my opinion is that agricultural biotechnology has hardly produced any benefits yet. Firstly, I think there is too much duplication of research in the important crop species and a lot of the work being carried out lacks a clear objective or perspective in terms of application. Secondly, there is too much emphasis in most organizations (perhaps not in private companies) on purely academic aspects of research. There is not much to be gained by a stand-alone research programme aimed at, say, developing a micropropagation or genetic transformation protocol for a crop species if, at the practical level, the researcher is never involved in applying the technique. Yet that is what is happening most of the time, at least in India. That is one reason you would find dozens of published papers describing in vitro laboratory protocols for a species but which is hardly ever put to use anywhere to actually propagate superior clones for deployment in the field or in developing an improved variety. I feel that the desire of the researchers to improve their career, publish in the best scientific journals or obtain a patent often comes in the way of meaningful research outputs.

Research in biotechnology in public-funded organizations and universities should therefore fit into a comprehensive crop improvement programme involving all areas of expertise that are essential for success. Procedures will then have a better chance of being fine tuned in the lab itself for its applicability rather than for novelty or Citation Index alone. An alternate means of performance assessment of researchers should be in place which does not lay undue emphasis on purely academic research.

Dr. E.M. Muralidharan
Biotechnology Division
Kerala Forest Research Institute
Peechi, Thrissur. 680653
emmurali (at) gmail.com

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 17 June 2009 13:27
To: 'biotech-room4@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 44: MAS for downy mildew resistance in pearl millet for India

I am C Tom Hash, trained at Cornell University as a conventional plant breeder and working for the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) on development and application of tools for marker-assisted breeding in sorghum and pearl millet. I am based in India and involved in research projects targeting improvement of these two crops in both sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (hopefully with spillover to other regions where these crops are grown globally).

My research group, and our collaborators here in India and in the United Kingdom, have had one major success in applied biotechnology that is having an impact at the farm level here in India. This required development of a restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) based genetic linkage map of pearl millet to identify markers for host plant resistance to downy mildew disease, which is the most important biotic constraint to production of pearl millet hybrids in India. This was followed by RFLP-based marker-assisted backcrossing to improve downy mildew resistance of an elite hybrid parental line that was the susceptible parent of the population used for mapping the disease resistances that were the subject of this marker-assisted selection (MAS) program. Marker-assisted breeding of several improved versions of this hybrid parental line was followed up by conventional development, testing, release, seed multiplication and marketing (by both public- and private-sector seed companies) of an improved version of the popular public-sector-bred pearl millet hybrid 'HHB 67'. All of these inter-related activities have contributed to adoption of this biotechnology product in its zone of adaptation in northwestern India.

The new version of the hybrid was released by the Government of India in 2005, as 'HHB 67 Improved', as a replacement for the original hybrid HHB 67 (Khairwal IS and Hash CT, 2007. 'HHB 67-Improved' - The first product of marker-assisted crop breeding in India. Asia-Pacific Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology e-News). Last year F1 hybrid seed was produced to sow at least 300,000 hectares to pearl millet hybrid 'HHB 67 Improved', while this year the area could reach over 500,000 ha if sowing conditions are favorable in Haryana and Rajasthan. The total area sown to the original HHB 67 probably reached a high of 700,000 ha and the combined total area of the original and improved versions may now be marginally less than this although their area continues to increase in Rajasthan.

Compared to the original hybrid, 'HHB 67 Improved' has marginally higher grain and stover yield performance even when downy mildew is not present and otherwise fits the niche previously occupied by the original HHB 67. The original hybrid finally succumbed to downy mildew in farmers' fields about the time seed of the new version started to become available, and this stimulated demand for seed of the more disease-resistant improved version. Without this increased demand from farmers, sufficient seed of 'HHB 67 Improved' would not have been produced by the seed companies to permit timely replacement of the original (which is still on-going).

The research product development and testing chain for 'HHB 67 Improved' was long and had many partners, both here in India and in the UK (Hash et al., 2006; http://www.icrisat.org/Journal/bioinformatics/v2i1/v2i1teamwork.pdf). Marker development, linkage map construction, and initial disease resistance QTL discovery in the UK, marker-assisted backcross improvement of downy mildew resistance of elite hybrid parental line H 77/833-2 at ICRISAT, and initial trials by ICRISAT and our national program partners that identified the best improved versions of HHB 67 as a promising hybrid combinations, were largely supported by a series of research grants from the Plant Science Research Programme of the UK's Department for International Development (DfID PSP) to ICRISAT and its UK-based research partners. Subsequent on-station and on-farm testing of two promising hybrids was supported by our national program partners. Without the active involvement of all of these partners it would not have been possible to breed, test, and release this product, which is now very much wanted by farmers in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Haryana. Long-term (>15 years) support from the DfID PSP management team was a critical contributing factor to this success story, which has clearly demonstrated how research partners with widely disparate interests can come together, each contributing something for which they have comparative advantage, to deliver an appropriate research product targeted to meet the needs of the poor, while each part of the group is simultaneously pursuing its individual interests. However, even this would not have been enough to permit rapid adoption of the improved hybrid if Breeder Seed of the improved hybrid parental lines had not been made readily available to the seed companies involved in its seed production and marketing.

To my mind, the most important factors for this success were the long-term support from the donor, long-term collaboration of the partners, and reasonably strong linkage of the 'upstream' biotechnology end of the series of projects to the more 'applied' plant breeding product development, testing and delivery end. There were serious opportunity costs (for example the donor and research partners decided to restrict support for additional marker development and QTL mapping so that resources could be made available to support demonstration of applied marker-assisted breeding and use of its products in breeding experimental hybrids, and this has ultimately restricted our ability to rapidly follow-up with additional products; and our publication record has not been as good as it probably should have been), but we were able to deliver finished products to farmers before much larger teams working on much better funded crops. Also, benefits to farmers have already exceeded the total research funding support provided by DfID during the period 1990 through 2005 for research activities related to the development and application of marker-assisted breeding tools for pearl millet.

C Tom Hash
Principal Scientist (Breeding)
ICRISAT-Patancheru, Hyderabad
Andhra Pradesh 502 324
Email: c.hash (at) cgiar.org
Tel: +91-40-3071-3322 (direct) or +91-40-3071-3071 extn 2322

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 17 June 2009 17:04
To: 'biotech-room4@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 45: GM sweet potato - Kenya

I'm Daniel Kamanga, Director of Communication at Africa Harvest (www.africaharvest.org). As a non-scientist, I'm often fascinated by the kind of debate the GM sweet potato in Kenya elicits. Opponents of the GM technology have framed the issue as a failure. This assertion is the veiled attempt to say that the technology cannot or has not worked for Africa. I beg to differ.

Africa Harvest CEO, Dr. Florence Wambugu, was first involved with the GM sweet potato in 1991 when USAID was offering a post doctoral fellowship, specifically targeting a young PhD researcher with a background in virology and a particular interest in root or tuber crops. Florence had just completed her PhD at the University of Bath, United Kingdom. Her PhD focused on the control of sweet potato virus. At the time - and probably even now - the global average sweet potato yield per hectare was 14,7 tons. Kenya's was only 4.8. The opportunity presented by USAID was undeniably the 'next logical step' for Florence. She later became part of a team that took advantage of Monsanto’s royalty-free technology transfer program.

For three years, valuable pioneering work was initiated as she preoccupied herself with trying to establish if the new technology of gene transfer could be used to develop a sweet potato feathery mottle virus resistant potato. In 1994 - after completing her bench-work - she returned to Kenya as the Director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a position she held for seven years. It was during that time that the GM sweet potato technology transfer to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) occurred.

What has been framed a 'failure' has in fact been great success. Three major successes stand out:

1. Ensuring the transgenic trials were carried out in accordance with international standards: Being the first GM crop variety in Sub-Saharan Africa was a milestone, but the pioneering nature of the project demanded adherence to strict international standards that stretched all involved. The trials were carried out following consultation and in close collaboration with the very communities likely to benefit from the final product. Again, there was no resistance or destruction on trials, confirmation of a strong foundation of what is happening today;

2. Facilitating Capacity building: Many Kenyan scientists were trained under the project, and have led the county to patriotically support the potential benefits associated with GM technology. Kenyan scientists have been at the forefront of advocating a home-grown approach that will promote improvement and increase productivity of local crops. The quality of debate during the passage of Kenya's Biosafety Bill leaves no doubt why Kenya is a centre of science and technology in the region;

3. Development of the institutional framework in Kenya: KARI now has a bio-transformation lab where skilled scientists can carry out further research in future. KARI and the lab are now in a position to form vital collaborations on related scientific work. For example, KARI is a critical partner to the Africa Biofortified Sorghum (ABS) Project (www.biosorghum.org). Kenya is also a beacon of light in the region with regard to biosafety. Organizations such as Kenya plant Health Inspection services (KEPHIS) have developed relevant expertise and experience out of the GM sweet potato project. KEPHIS monitors all field trials, collects and analyses data to ensure compliance with internationally accepted standards;

4. Facilitate future win-win partnerships support: The GM sweet potato project paved the way for Kenya and the region to benefit from relevant scientific collaborations that through the Bio-transformation lab and new scientific personnel attract research funding and address Kenya specific agricultural issues. The number of similar projects today, attests to the success of the GM sweet potato project;

5. Biosafety law in Kenya: Kenya which is one of a few African countries conducting research in genetic modification. Last year, Parliament overwhelmingly passed a law to govern the technology. Since laws do not happen in a vacuum, one can assume that the passage of the law is one of the unrecognized successes of the GM sweet potato project.

Daniel Kamanga
Director, Communications
5 Hunter Street, Randburg
P.O. Box 3655
Pinegowrie 2123
South Africa
dkamanga (at) africaharvest.org
(0) +2711 781 4447
(c) +27 82 787 4799

[Although it doesn't say, I presume this message is a response to the comment in the second paragraph of Message 26 by Doug Gurian-Sherman, who wrote "In the context of successes and failure, on the failure side should be noted genetically engineered sweet potato for resistance to Sweet Potato Feathery Mottle Virus in Kenya (and reported success with conventional breeding methods in Uganda). This project seems to have used up a lot of monetary resources and scientists' time with no product after a decade of work."...Moderator]

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