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CropBiotech Update 14 November 2008
November 14, 2008
FAO Calls for Global Fight Against Wheat Killer UG99 

Mali Approves Biosafety Law
Ugandan Scientists Start Research on GM Cotton

Study Claims to have Found Transgenes in Mexican Maize 
Report on National Plant Genome Initiative 
Scientists Use MAGIC to Identify Useful Plant Gene Combinations 
Ten-Year Projection for Brazil Agriculture 
Syngenta Buys Argentine Seeds Company
Arcadia Develops Nitrogen Use Efficiency Trait in Wheat  

Asia and the Pacific 
Pollinator Decline Not Yet Affecting Agriculture 
India Announces Biotech Industry Partnership Programme 
Biotech Offers Sustainable Solutions, Says BCP Adviser 
Bayer Opens New Rice Center in Thailand 
VIB Researchers Convert Annuals to Perennials 
EFSA, JRC Sign Cooperation Agreement  

Scientists Explain the Bonsai Effect 
Root-Knot Nematode Resistant Bell Peppers 
Chlorophyll Fluorescence to Assess Drought Performance 
RNAi to Combat the Rice Dwarf Virus


Biofuels Supplement ( November 7, 2008 Issue) [Read latest news]


A new virulent strain of the wheat rust disease is on a global march, wreaking havoc along its way and threatening the global wheat supply. The strain, which was first identified in Uganda in 1999 (thus the name UG99), has made its way into the Arabic Peninsula. In late 2007, UG99 was detected in Iran. UG99 now threatens the nearby wheat mega-producing countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China.

Representatives from major wheat growing countries called for urgent coordinated action to prevent and control the wheat stem rust disease, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization says in a press release. In a declaration adopted by the International Conference on Wheat Stem Rust Ug99 in New Delhi, countries pledged upon the international community, donors and international organizations to increase assistance to national and global initiatives to combat the disease. FAO noted that affected countries and countries at risk should develop contingency plans to prevent rust epidemics that could result in devastating yield losses. "These countries should share surveillance information and a global early warning system should be immediately established."

FAO says that as much as 80 percent of all wheat varieties planted in Asia and Africa are susceptible to UG99.
Read the news release at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/8391/icode/
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The National Assembly of Mali, a country in West Africa, approved its biosafety law on November 13, 2008. A total of 108 'yes' votes were cast for its approval while 20 were "no" votes. For more information about this latest development, email Dr. Mohamed N'diaye, molecular microbiology specialist, Institut d'Economie Rurale, Bamako, Mali at mohamedndiaye1@yahoo.fr.

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Scientists led by Tom Areke, director of the National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) in Soroti, Uganda, have begun to do research on genetically modified cotton to help revive cotton production. The research team has already prepared an acre of land for the field trial.

NaSARRI and another center in Mubuku, Western Uganda are the two research centers chosen to carry out the trial. The National Agricultural Research Organization in conjunction with the Program for Biosafety Systems is training the farm managers from the two centers who will manage the research work.

See http://allafrica.com/stories/200811060393.html for more details.

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Scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) have detected transgenes from genetically modified maize in traditional Mexican landrace varieties, says a news article published by the journal Nature. The study echoes a similar, controversial work published by the prestigious journal in 2001. Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley found traces of genetically modified maize in wild varieties of the crop. The UC Berkeley article caused a storm of controversy and was disowned by Nature saying that "there was insufficient evidence to justify the original publication." Critics pointed out some technical errors in the experiment, including problems with the type of polymerase chain reaction used to amplify the DNA sequences.

The scientists from UNAM tested seed and leaf samples for the presence of the 35S cauliflower mosaic virus, and the nopaline synthase terminator, NOSt. The team found transgenes in about 1 percent of more than 100 fields it sampled, including some sampled by the UC Berkeley researchers. The Nature news article, however, noted that the study failed to confirm an important conclusion made by the UC paper - whether the transgenes had been integrated into landrace genomes and passed along to progeny plants.

The article was recommended for publication to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) but was rejected. The study will be published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

The news article published by Nature is available

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The National Academies in the United States has come up with a report on "Achievements of the National Plant Genome Initiative and New Horizons in Plant Biology" as a response to an Interagency Working Group on Plant Genomes to evaluate the National Plant Genome Initiative (NPGI). The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.

The National Plant Genome Initiative, set to celebrate its tenth year, is coordinated by the Interagency Working Group on Plant Genomes which is comprised of various federal agencies. The report concludes that NPGI has been successful overall by contributing to revolutionary breakthroughs in genome sequencing of plants, including Arabidopsis (a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard), rice, and soon maize. The committee recommends steps to significantly broaden NPGI's mission to include "the basic biology of economically relevant traits in model and crop species, deeper investigations into plant diversity and adaptation to various ecological niches, and continued expansion of translation to breeders and farmers."

The full report is available at http://dels.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/plant_genome.pdf

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A US $4 million, five-year study that could help increase crop yield, stress tolerance and disease resistance is underway at Purdue University. The scientists are using a new technique called "mutant-assisted gene identification and characterization" or MAGIC to identify potentially useful gene combination in crops. MAGIC uses Mendelian mutants or other genetic variants in a trait of interest as reporters to identify novel genes and variants for that trait. The technique is akin to enhancer-suppressor screens commonly used in laboratories. But instead of relying on 'artificial variations', the technique reveals variation created over million years of evolution.

The scientists, led by Guri Johal, said that MAGIC is a 'back to nature' approach. They noted that wild and exotic crop relatives possess a wealth of genes that code for beneficial traits. "Mutagenesis has worked well, but we are reaching a period of diminishing returns," Johal said. "We've identified most of the genes that have effects on their own, but now we need to understand how combinations of genes interact. We suggest going back to nature to find additional genes involved in a wide range of different processes."

Read the full article at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2008b/081112JohalMAGIC.html
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Brazilian agricultural and livestock production will grow 25 percent and the country's market share of world meat and poultry exports will double in the next ten years. This is the highlights of a study "Projections of Agribusiness 2008/2009 to 2018/2019" published by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. Projections cover 18 agricultural commodities and agricultural trade.

The commodities with the most growth potential are soy, wheat, corn, meat and poultry, ethanol, soyoil and milk. Grain production is expected to increase from over 40 million metric tons in 2007/2008 to 180 mmt in 2018/19, or an increase of 29 percent.  Government officials said that increased production could be achieved through technological gains.

Read more on the agricultural situation at http://www.fas.usda.gov/gainfiles/200811/146306371.pdf
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Syngenta announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire SPS Argentina SA, a company that specializes in the development, production and marketing of soybean, corn and sunflower. The acquisition is expected to expand Syngenta's customer base in Argentina, the world's third largest soybean producer with 21% of global soybean production. Forty-eight million tons of soybeans were harvested last year in the country, mostly for export to Asia and Europe.

SPS is one of Argentina's largest seed companies. It was established in 1972 and is based in Buenos Aires Province, where it also runs an advanced research program. Financial details of the agreement have not been disclosed.

View the press release at http://www.syngenta.com/en/media/mediareleases/en_081110.html
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Arcadia Biosciences is developing nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) technology  in wheat using a technique developed by the University of Alberta, Canada. "It varies by crop and location, but generally, 50% of the nitrogen farmers apply to the ground, the plant will never use," Vic Knauf, chief scientific officer, told wheat producers at a board meeting of the  U.S. Wheat Associates and National Association of Wheat Growers.

Visit http://www.grainnet.com/articles/Arcadia_Biosciences_Develops_Nitrogen_Use_Efficiency_
for more information.
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The well documented worldwide decline in the population of bees and other pollinators  is not, at this stage, limiting global crop yields, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO)The loss of insect pollinators is brought about by a combination of diseases, reduction in native vegetation and the use of insecticides, among other factors. Concerns over food availability amid decrease in the population of pollinator insects prompted the research, CSIRO entomologist Saul Cunningham says.

The scientists rated the crops on how much they depended on pollinators for maximum production. Depending on the crop, this dependence ranges from zero to 100 percent. For example, cereal crops like wheat don't need to be pollinated but at the other end of the scale, unpollinated almond trees produce no nuts. The team found that between 1961 and 2006 the yields of most crops have consistently grown at about 1.5 per cent a year because of improvements in agriculture. Furthermore, they found out that there is no difference in relative yield between pollinator dependent and non-dependent crops.

However, Cunningham says that the study detected warning signs that demand for pollinators is still growing and some highly pollinator-dependant crops are suffering.

Read the news release http://www.csiro.au/news/Pollinator-Decline.html The paper published by Current Biology is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2008.08.066
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The Government of India has approved the Biotechnology Industry Partnership Programme (BIPP) to support discovery and innovation in industry. This ambitious program to promote public private partnership will be implemented by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of the Ministry of Science and Technology. Under this program, the Government will support partnership programme with industries on cost sharing basis for high risk discovery and innovation and accelerated technology development. The program provides for a government contribution of 30-50% to the industry for discovery linked innovation. It aims to increase the global competitiveness of Indian industry in new and futuristic technologies and enhance ownership of intellectual property in these areas by Indian companies and scientists; to address major technological needs in agriculture, human health, animal productivity, energy and environment where expected social and economic impact is high; and to fulfill the biotech strategy objectives of 30% of DBT's R&D investment in partnership with industry. . 

The specific areas are priorities under four broad categories: Category-I: Partnership with industry for fulfilling major national technology needs in health, agriculture, energy and environment friendly/ green manufacturing area. Category-II: Partnership with industry for increasing global competitiveness of Indian Industry in new and futuristic technology. Category-III: Partnership with industry for evaluation and validation of  products of high national importance. Category-IV: Shared major facilities around technology platform as core facilities.

For detail information, visit Biotechnology Industry Partnership Programme (BIPP) athttp://dbtindia.nic.in/AboutBIPP.pdf. For more information about biotech development in India contactb.choudhary@cgiar.org or k.gaur@cgiar.org.
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Food security, affordable energy, access to water, climate change and pollution, and healthcare - these are among the pressing issues that need to be addressed globally. One emerging technology that strives to address these areas and offers sustainable solutions for the future, is biotechnology. Dr. Benigno Peczon, member of the Board of Advisers of the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines, said in a recent convention of the Kapisanang Kimika ng Pilipinas - Southern Tagalog Chapter (KKP-ST), that biotechnology offers a lot of benefits.

Biotechnology, says Peczon, is not only a tool to develop genetically improved crop varieties but it is also being used to increase yields and augment food production to help end global famine and hunger. Industrial use of biological systems for waste water treatment such as bioremediation are now being used. Likewise, the advances of biotechnology are applied in healthcare industry for the development of vaccines, industrial enzymes and testing kits for cancer treatment. "Biotechnology is the science of the future. It has a huge potential in food and energy area," said Peczon. Agricultural science and technology, including the indispensable tools of biotechnology, will be critical to meeting the growing demands for food, feed, fiber and fuel. He called on future Filipino chemists to explore other fields related to chemistry such as the diverse scientific discipline of biotechnology. He encouraged entrepreneurship among Filipino chemists in advancing chemical science in the biochemical industry. This year's KKP-ST convention was sponsored by the Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research and Development (PCASTRD) and the SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center (SEARCA BIC).

For more news about biotechnology in the Philippines email SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center atbic@agri.searca.org.
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Bayer CropScience has opened a new rice research facility in Thailand. Situated at the heart of Suphanburi, a rice growing region north of Bangkok, the center aims to develop high yielding rice varieties suitable to the local weather and cultivation conditions. The center also hopes to increase rice production in Asia in the next few years. The launch of the first commercial seed varieties to the Thai market is planned for 2011. Friedrich Berschauer, chairman of the board of management of Bayer CropScience AG, is optimistic that the launch of new, high-yielding rice varieties will pave the way to a "second green revolution" in Asia. Bayer has also opened a rice research laboratory in Singapore earlier this year.

The press release is available at http://www.bayercropscience.com/
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Annual plants grow, flower and die within one year. Perennials, on the other hand, live for more than two years. The life strategy of many annuals consists of rapid growth following germination, to eliminate the need to compete for food and light, and rapid transition to flower and seed formation. Cereal crops are mostly annual grasses. Unlike annuals, perennials invest for the long term. They make permanent structures such as overwintering buds or bulbs. Scientists at the Flanders Institute of Biotechnology (VIB) and Ghent University successfully converted annual plants to perennials by silencing two genes.

The VIB researchers deactivated a pair of flower inducing genes in the model plant Arabidopsis, a typical annual. These genes are normally activated in the advent of long days in the spring. Mutant plants can no longer induce flowering, but they can continue to grow vegetatively or come into flower much later. As with real perennials, these plants show secondary growth with wood formation creating shrub-like Arabidopsisplants.

The scientists noted that the silencing of these genes might be an important mechanism in plant evolution, initiating the formation of trees.

The complete news article is available at

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The European Commission's Joint Research Center (JRC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have signed an agreement that will "advance scientific cooperation and the development of international standards in the fields of food and feed safety." The detailed Memorandum of Understanding signed by both organizations sets out how the JRC and EFSA will aim to ensure that additional data is provided for food and feed risk assessment. EFSA will cooperate with the JRC in areas such as GMOs, BSE, and the effects of climate change on food safety and feed additives.

EFSA's Executive-Director Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle noted that increased cooperation with JRC will help keep the agency's work at the forefront of scientific knowledge and expertise. JRC has a network of seven research institutes in five member states providing "customer-driven scientific and technical support for the conception, development, implementation and monitoring of EU policies."

The press release is available at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/EFSA/efsa_locale-1178620753812_

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Plants exposed to unfavorable conditions, such as cold, drought, salinity and herbivory, are usually smaller than those growing in stress-free conditions. The basis of stress growth-inhibition is not well understood, even though it reduces plant growth and crop yield by approximately 22 percent worldwide. Wound-induced stunting is exemplified in ornamental bonsai plants, with their height, girth, and leaf sizes uniformly reduced to as little as 5 percent of their untreated sister trees.

Scientists at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom found that when leaves of the model plantArabidopsis are repeatedly wounded, cell division in the plant's apical meristems is reduced and the growth of the plant is arrested within days. They also found a seven-fold increase in the concentration of the phytohormone jasmonate (JA) in wounded plants.

Growth of mutant Arabidopsis plants unable to synthesize JA or unable to respond to the hormone, is not affected by wounding stress. The scientists noted that the primary function of wound-induced JA is to stunt growth through the suppression of cell division. The finding opens the possibility of improving crop growth through the manipulation of the jasmonate signal pathway.

The open access paper published PLoS ONE is available at  http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0003699
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The root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne incognita), a biotrophic parasite of many crops, including tomato, cotton and coffee, is responsible for global agricultural losses amounting to more than US$ 150 billion annually. The ominpresent worm is usually controlled by applying methyl bromide, an odorless, colorless gas that has severe negative effects in the environment. The pesticide has been banned for use in the United States.

Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) developed varieties of bell pepper resistant to the root-knot nematode. In a paper published by HortScience, a team of researchers led by Judy Thies tested the stability of the worm-resistant bell pepper varieties 'Charleston Belle' and 'Carolina Wonder'. Good news for pepper growers: the scientists found out that the two varieties are viable alternatives to methyl bromide for managing southern root-knot nematode in sub-tropical environments. It is important to establish whether the peppers' resistance to the nematode breaks down when they are grown in hot environments.

Read the abstract of the article at http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/43/1/188

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Scientists at the Australian National University (ANU) have developed a rapid, non-invasive technique to assess plant performance during drought. The technique measures chlorophyll fluorescence to determine how plants cope up with low-water conditions. A paper describing the method was published online ahead of print by Plant Methods.

The ANU researchers led by Barry Pogson found that found plants' viability during increasing water deficit could be measured and quantified by measuring changes to the maximum efficiency of photosystem II (Fv/Fm), and that this was easily measurable by chlorophyll fluorometry. The versatility of the technique was verified by comparing drought performance of several Arabidopsis ecotypes to a variety of mutants with altered drought tolerance or photosynthetic efficiency. The chlorophyll fluorescence technique might complement existing methods of evaluating drought performance while also increasing the number of tools available for assessment of other plant stresses.

The paper is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1746-4811-4-27
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Rice dwarf is one of the most economically damaging viruses of rice plants in Southeast Asia, Japan and China. Plants infected with the rice dwarf virus (RDV) are stunted and fail to bear seeds. The virus also causes delayed flowering and incomplete panicle emergence, which may lead to yield loss of up to 4000 kg/ha. RDV is transmitted to rice plants exclusively by leafhoppers (Nephotettix). A group of scientists from the Japanese National Agricultural Research Center employed RNA interference (RNAi) to develop plants resistant to the RDV.

Genetic resistance is one of the most effective approaches to the protection of crop plants from viral infection. Shimizu and colleagues, however, noted that there are no reports of naturally occurring genes that endow resistance to RDV. The scientists resorted to gene silencing via RNAi. They specifically targeted the viral genesthat encode for the Pns12 and Pns4, RDV non-structural proteins that plays essential roles in viral replication.

Rice plants that accumulated small interfering RNAs (SiRNA) specific to the Pns12 constructs, after self-fertilization, were found to be strongly resistant to viral infection. The study demonstrates that silencing a protein critical for the viral replication cycle provides an effective strategy for engineering resistance to virus-caused plant diseases.

Read the paper published by the Plant Biotechnology Journal at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-

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With the theme "Decoding Life for Human Health", the 2nd World Congress of Gene will be held at Foshan, China on December 5-7, 2008. Congress sessions include: Basis and Frontiers of Gene Technology, Gene Technologies in New Drug Development and Medical Practice, Environmental Gene Technology, Gene Technology for Sustainable Energy and Agricultural, Forest Tree, Marine & Food Gene Technology. The session on Agricultural and Food Gene Technology is co-organized by the Agri-biotech Committee of Chinese Society of Biotechnology (CSBT) and ISAAA-China BIC.

For more information, including the registration procedure, visit 

The sixth BioAsia 2009 will be held February 2-4, 2009 at Hyderabad International Convention Centre (HICC), Hyderabad, India. The conference is being organized by the Federation of Asian Biotech Associations, All India Biotech Association, and other partners. BioAsia 2009 is expected to attract entrepreneurs, business development teams, scientists from R & D institutions and universities, investors and other industry experts to explore global business tie-ups.

For additional information visit http://www.bioasia.in/

The 5th International Conference on Biopesticides: Stakeholders' Perspective (ICOB-V 2009) will be held on 26-30 April 2009 at the Indian Habitat Center (IHC) Lodhi Road, New Delhi, India. It is being organized  by TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) in collaboration with the Society for Promotion and Innovation of Biopesticides (SPIB). This conference is in continuation of a series of international conferences held previously in Thailand (1996 and 2005), China (1998), and Malaysia (2002). The conference will tackle fundamental and applied research on various aspects of biopesticides in pest and disease management in agriculture, forestry, public health, and the urban landscape.

For further information, contact Dr Seema Wahab, Advisor, Department of Biotechnology (DBT) at
 or the Secretariat of the 5th International Conference on Biopesticides at
. For registration, visit the conference website at http://www.icob5.nic.in

Hosted by the Government of the Republic of Uganda and supported by the European Commission, the Information Societies Technology (IST)-Africa 2009 conference will take place 06 - 08 May 2009 in Kampala, Uganda. IST-Africa 2009 is the fourth in an Annual Conference Series which brings together senior representatives from leading commercial, government and research organizations across Africa and from Europe, to bridge the Digital Divide by sharing knowledge, experience, lessons learnt and good practice, and discussing policy related issues.

For more information, visit http://www.ist-africa.eu/Conference2009/default.asp

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