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CropBiotech Update 21 November 2008
November 21, 2008
FAO's Diouf Appeals for New World Food Security System 
CGIAR Centers "Generate High Economic Rates of Return on Investments"

Africa's Promise to Support Agriculture Not Kept
1.65 Million People in Africa Benefit from Cassava's Comeback

GM Carrots May Help Prevent Osteoporosis 
Project to Map DNA of 1000 Plant Species 
International Team Develops "Waterproof" Rice 
New Genetic Resources for Cereal Crops 
Scientists Develop Tool to Detect Transposable Genetic Elements
BIO President Questions Food Vs. Fuel Debate  

Asia and the Pacific 
Protein-Rich Lupin, Coming to a Plate Near You 
Western Australia Lifts Moratorium on GM Cotton 
UAE Ministry and FAO to Work on Biotech 
Biotechnology for Food Sufficiency in Indonesia 
Council Wants 'Tighter' GMO Regulations in Scandinavia   

Scientists Find Solution to a Molecular Paradox 
Genes Responsible for Inflorescence Architecture in Tomato 
Researchers Discover Way to Double Rice Yield in Drought-Stricken Areas 
Plant Secretes Malic Acid to Attract Beneficial Soil Bacteria



Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf called for a World Summit in 2009 to "lay the ground for a new system of governance of world food security and an agricultural trade that offers farmers, in developed and developing countries alike, the means of earning a decent living." He made this appeal during a special session of the FAO's 191-member-nation governing conference.

"We must have the intelligence and imagination to devise agricultural development policies together with rules and mechanisms that will ensure not only free but also fair international trade," said the FAO DG. He added that the Summit should come up with $30 billion per year to build rural infrastructure and increase agricultural productivity in the developing world.

The FAO media release is at http://www.fao.org/
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Agricultural research done by Centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and their national partners in South Asia have provided "essential outputs that have helped maintain productivity, growth in agriculture, generated high economic rates of return on investments and, indirectly, through the price effects, contributed to food security and poverty alleviation." This is the gist of "An Assessment of the Impact of Agricultural Research in South Asia since the Green Revolution" by Peter Hazell of the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London.

Hazell reviewed literature on research impacts in the region. He noted that crop improvement continued to be the focus of agricultural research for South Asia but with more emphasis on stabilizing yields. Of the annual cost of $143 million that CGIAR spends on research in Asia, annual benefits exceeds US$1 billion from research on maize, wheat and rice alone.

Read the feature article at http://www.cgiar.org/monthlystory/november2008.html. Click on the report above to view the full copy.

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Despite a promise made in Mozambique in 2003 to allocate 10 percent of their budgets to agriculture by 2008, many African countries have not achieved that goal. At that time also, government leaders sought to support the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), an African-led initiative by the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the African Union (AU). These measures were suppose to help African countries reach the first Millennium Development Goal of cutting poverty and hunger in half by 2015.

Of Africa's 53 countries, only seven met the target - Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, Malawi, and Niger. Cris Muyunda, senior agricultural advisor for the COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) Secretariat, says this negligence has increased African vulnerability to drought, hunger, and malnutrition despite the continent's large land and water resources.

The analysis by the International Food Policy Research Institute is available at  http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/newsletters/IFPRIForum/if200810.asp

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Following years of massive crop losses caused by a devastating virus, farmers from Africa's Great Lakes Region are once again harvesting healthy cassava, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Cassava is one of Africa's most important staples, with each person in the region consuming 80 kilograms of the crop per year. So when a virulent strain of the cassava mosaic disease (CMD) decimated harvests in countries such as Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, consequences were disastrous. In Uganda alone, the disease destroyed 150 000 hectares of cassava.

FAO, in collaboration with the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), has spearheaded the distribution of virus-free planting materials to some 330,000 smallholders in countries struck by the virus. The UN agency estimates that the improved crop now benefits a total of some 1.65 million people.

Eric Kueneman Chief of FAO's Crop and Grassland Service said "Having cassava back on the table is of major importance, especially to the region's most vulnerable, who have been hit hard by this year's global food crisis." He added that increasing the production of local crops, such as cassava, is a pillar of FAO's response to the food crisis, which threw an additional 75 million people into poverty in 2007 alone.

Read the complete article at http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/8490/icode/

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A genetically modified carrot that provides more calcium has been developed by scientists at the Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas. Kendal Hirschi and colleagues boosted calcium levels by inducing carrots to express increased levels of sCAX1, a gene from the model plant Arabidopsis that encodes a calcium transporter. Most plant-derived foods are not good providers of calcium, which is a key component for healthy bones. Inadequate dietary calcium is a global problem, particularly in regions that don't have access to dairy products or where large segments of the population are lactose intolerant. Insufficient intake of calcium may lead to osteoporosis.

The modified carrots contain elevated calcium levels, but can the body use it? To determine the bioavailability of the calcium in the GM carrots, 30 volunteers-15 females and 15 males of various ethnic backgrounds and in their early to late 20s-ate single meals containing regular or modified carrots, which were labeled with a stable calcium isotope. The researchers found that the calcium intake of volunteers who consumed the modified carrots for two weeks increased by 41 percent, compared to those who ate regular carrots.

Hirschi and colleagues hope that this will be the first in a new-generation of fruits and vegetables with enhanced calcium content.

Read the full story at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/nov08/carrots1108.htm The paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) is available athttp://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0709005105

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The government of Alberta, Canada, has launched the 1,000 Plants Initiative, an unprecedented, international project focused on "finding new genomic information that could lead to new medicines and a range of value-added plant products." The US $2 million project, which will be led by Gane Ka-Shu Wong, aims to map DNA of 1000 plant species.

"My work has focused on finding ways to bring speed and cost-saving to DNA sequencing and applying the data to enhance selective breeding of useful plant species," said Wong. "Incredibly, only about 100 plant species DNA sequences have been analyzed in the proposed manner, so this project has real potential for new discoveries that can make nature work for us." Doug Horner, Minister of Alberta Advanced Education and Technology, noted that the "project not only aims to improve human health and help the environment, but could also be the seed for a whole new bio-products industry in Alberta to diversify its agricultural sector."

Several partners are supporting the initiative including the Alberta government, the Alberta Agricultural Research Institute (AARI), Genome Alberta, the University of Alberta and international institutions including the Beijing Genomics Institute (China) and Musea Ventures (USA). All of the sequence data that the scientists will produce will be made available to the public through GenBank.

The press release is available at http://www.alberta.ca/home/NewsFrame.cfm?ReleaseID=/acn/200811/2475592E5F382-B4A5-

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An international team of researchers hopes that flood-tolerant rice plants will be available to smallholder farmers in flood-prone areas within the next two years. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is leading this initiative through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Tests in farmers' fields in Bangladesh and India have shown that "waterproof" versions of popular varieties of rice can withstand two weeks of complete submergence. The varieties are identical to their susceptible counterparts, but recover after severe flooding to produce abundant yields of high-quality grain.

University of California Riverside's Julia Bailey-Serres, a professor of genetics, is leading the work to determine how Sub1A, a gene in a low-yielding traditional Indian rice variety, confers flood tolerance in the new varieties of rice. "Sub1A effectively makes the plant dormant during submergence, allowing it to conserve energy until the floodwaters recede," said Bailey-Serres of the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences and the Center for Plant Cell Biology. 

Read UC's media release at 

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David Garvin and his colleagues at the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) developed a special population of plants of the wild grass Brachypodium distachyon which could help speed up scientists' search for genes that could protect cereal crops from diseases. The ARS scientists developed the first recombinant inbred line (RILs) population of Brachypodium. RILs can serve as powerful tools for mapping out genes.

An RIL is formed by crossing two inbred strains followed by selfing or sibling mating to create a new line whose genome is a mosaic of the parental genome. This means that offspring of each line in the population will retain the same genetic identity in perpetuity. Scientists need to genotype a strain only once. Since all the offspring of each line will always have the same gene, they can also repeat experiments as often as they desire. Garvin noted that the ability to work with large numbers of plants with the same genetic makeup gives scientists the opportunity to obtain highly accurate information on the number of genes that control a trait.

The scientists will use the Brachypodium RIL population to identify genes that will provide resistance against the UG99 strain of the wheat rust disease.

Read the complete article at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2008/081113.htm

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Scientists from the Iowa State University have developed a new tool that can pinpoint the location and history of irrelevant and redundant DNA segments in an organism's genome. The software TEnest, designed by Brent Kronmiller and Roger Wise, will help researchers accelerate genome assembly by identifying the position of transposable genetic elements. These elements exist throughout the genome and can cause gene or chromosome mutations. They can also provide a mechanism that allows gene functions to evolve. Transposable elements are widespread in plant genomes. For instance, the human genome is composed of 45 percent repeat sequences, while the corn genome contains 67 percent repeat sequences.

Repetitive elements are difficult to sort out, since they tend to hide within themselves. TEnest can solve this problem since it is capable of unraveling nested segments and reconstructing full length repeats. The software has been applied to four agriculturally important grains: maize, barley, wheat, and rice. Oat, sorghum, and soybean sequencing groups have also expressed interest in developing organism specific databases.

Read more at http://www.csrees.usda.gov/newsroom/impact/2008/nri/11171_genome.html

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"Crop prices have fallen dramatically in the past few months as oil and gas prices have declined. This connection between oil and crop prices has been noted by agricultural economists throughout the year. Yet many policymakers continue to be distracted by a spurious food vs. fuel debate." This was stressed in a press statement by Jim Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

Greenwood added that "Agricultural biotechnology continues to help increase crop yields, producing more food and biofuels feedstocks on less land. And industrial biotechnology is helping to convert corn starch and crop residues into biofuels more efficiently."

See the full statement of Jim Greenwood at 
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Australians could soon be consuming a high protein, semi-domesticated grain eaten by the Incas a thousand years ago. Researchers at the University of Western Australia's (UWA) Center for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) and the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) are turning their attention to pearl lupin (Lupinus mutabilis), a nitrogen-fixing legume very high in oil and originally from the Andes in South America.

Pearl lupin oil is high in unsaturated fatty acids and low in erucic acid. It also has a good profile of amino acids relative to other legumes. As an added bonus, pearl lupin has a thin seed coat similar to soybean making it highly suitable for dehulling.

A three-year, Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) funded project will focus on increasing the yield and improving the adaptation of pearl lupin to high rainfall zones of Australia, with the ultimate aim being commercial release of a new variety. At this early stage of the project, the researchers have successfully bred low alkaloid, earlier flowering breeding lines with reasonable agronomy.

Read more at http://www.clima.uwa.edu.au/news?f=23355

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The state government of Western Australia (WA) announced that it will lift the ban on the commercial production of genetically modified (GM) cotton in the East Kimberley region's Ord River Irrigation Area.Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman said that the decision was made following more than 10 years of GM cotton trials in the region. The GM cotton trials were supervised by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), Department of Agriculture and Food and the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO). The trial crops have been very successful, yielding almost 11.5 bales per hectare, Redman noted. The agriculture minister further said the trials have shown that there are no agronomic problems, including the control of insects, in growing GM cotton in the Ord. Importantly, there have been no environmental concerns with the crops.

Read the complete press statement athttp://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/WACabinetMinistersSearch.aspx?

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Emirates News Agency, WAM, (Wakalat Anba'a al-Emarat), the government information arm, reported that Minister of Environment and Water Rashid Ahmed Bin Fahd and the Representative of UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the United Arab Emirates Kayan Jaff signed an agreement for technical cooperation to set up a regional system aimed at enhancing capability to ensure food safety. Laboratories will be enhanced to enable them to test genetically modified food products.

In addition, the agreement will assist national programs in their biotechnology activities by filling the gap between the academic and research sectors and the industry.

See the Emirates News Agency release at http://www.wam.org.ae/servlet/Satellite?c=WamLocEnews&cid=1225447315651&p=

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The development of agricultural biotechnology products is a possible alternative to meet Indonesia's food requirements. This was agreed upon by a number of savants during a biotech symposium on "The Improvement of Indonesian Social and Economic Situation through Agricultural Technology Application" in Jakarta.

Graham Brookes of PG Economics, Ltd. UK, highlighted the Global Impact of Biotech Crops: Economics and Environmental Effects 1996-2006, suggesting that Indonesia could benefit from biotechnology application since it can contribute to food sufficiency, reduce fuel usage, and decrease greenhouse gas emission. According to Dedi Fardiaz, a former Deputy Chairman for Food Safety and Hazardous Substance Control, National Agency For Drug and Food Control (BPOM), Indonesia, "Biotechnology is not a new thing. Through regulation, biotech products are ensured to be safe. In Indonesia, this is reinforced by the food safety guidelines for genetically modified products." Dr. Dewa Swastika of the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development, Ministry of Agriculture supported this statement adding that there is a need for strategic policies to control the entry, production and distribution of food produced using GM technology.

The symposium was supported by Croplife Indonesia and was attended by 40 participants coming from the academicand media sectors.

For more details on this event visit http://web.bisnis.com/artikel/2id1697.html or emailmartin.sihombing@bisnis.co.id. For news on biotechnology in Indonesia contact Dewi Suryani of IndoBIC at dewisuryani@biotrop.org.

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At its latest session in Helsinki, Finland, the Nordic Council agreed that Scandinavian governments should tighten GM labeling regulations and create GMO-free zones. Ministers of Nordic countries, such as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, believe that by setting GMO-free zones in their countries, the region could gain 'competitive' advantage by producing organic products.

Read the press release at http://www.norden.org/webb/news/news.asp?lang=6&id=8240
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Researchers at the University of Washington in St. Louis have made a major discovery explaining a mechanism by which plant cells silence potentially harmful genes. Craig Pikaard and his colleagues focused their attention on a type of RNA polymerase (Pol) exclusive to plants. RNA polymerases, the enzymes responsible for making RNA from DNA templates, are key players in determining which genes get switched on and which get left off. In 2005, Pikaard and his team discovered two RNA polymerases found only in plants: Pol IV and V. Since the discovery, the scientists have been on a hunt to figure out what these enzymes are making.

Using the plant model Arabidopsis, the scientists discovered that Pol V transcribes non-coding or "junk DNA" sequences. Biologists have long been baffled by this alleged "junk DNA". They don't code for any protein, yet they are continuously being transcribed.

Pol V was found to make non-coding RNAs that the scientists think bind with the small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) generated by Pol IV, acting as a scaffold for these gene silencers. What were previously thought of as junk DNA prove to be functional regions of the genome, since transcription of these regions is necessary to keep potentially harmful genes turned off. The scientists noted that the functions of Pol IV and V provide a solution to a paradox of epigenetic control: the need for transcription in order to transcriptionally silence the same region.

Read more at http://news-info.wustl.edu/tips/page/normal/12932.html The abstract of the paper published by Cell is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2008.09.035

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Difference in the branching of plant inflorescences, or shoot-bearing flowers, determines plant reproductive success and crop yield. Zachary Lippman and colleagues at the Hebrew University in Israel discovered a genetic mechanism that determines pattern of flower growth in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family of plants that includes tomato, potato, pepper, eggplant, tobacco, petunia, and deadly nightshades. Unlike other plants such as poppies and sunflowers that grow as single flower per stalk, members of the nightshade family have several branches each carrying a flower. According to the scientists, manipulation of this genetic pathway can turn a typical tomato vine into a highly branched structure with hundreds of flower-bearing shoots.

The tomato mutants compound inflorescence (S) and anantha (AN) have long been known to produce large numbers branches and hundred of flowers. The researchers identified the altered genes in the S and AN mutants. The S and AN genes are members of the well known homeobox and F-box gene families, respectively. These genes play a crucial regulatory role in patterning both animals and plants. The two genes work in sequence to regulate the timing of development of a branch and a flower - so, for example, slowing down the pathway that makes a flower allows for additional branches to grow.

The open access article published by PLoSONE is available at  http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0060288

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Scientists from University of Alberta, Canada have found a group of genes in rice that they say enables a yield of up to 100 percent more in severe drought conditions. Jerome Bernier, in collaboration with scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and Central Rainfed Upland Rice Research Station in India, measured the effect of a previously reported, large-effect quantitative trait locus (QTL) on grain yield and associated traits in 21 field trials. QTLs are regions in the DNA that are associated with particular phenotypic traits. The team found that the relative effect of the QTL on grain yield increased with increasing intensity of drought stress, "from having no effect under well-watered conditions to having an additive effect of more than 40 percent of the trial mean in the most severe stress treatments."

Bernier and colleagues hypothesize that the new genes stimulate the rice plants to develop deeper roots, enabling it to access more of the water stored in the soil. The discovery marks the first time this group of genes in rice has been identified, and could potentially bring relief to farmers in countries like India and Thailand, where rice crops are regularly faced with drought.

Read the full article at http://www.expressnews.ualberta.ca/article.cfm?id=9784 The paper published by the journal Euphytica is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10681-008-9826-y

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Plants in their natural environment need all the help they can get. They face a multitude of threats: frost, drought, herbivores and pathogens such as fungi, nematodes, bacteria and viruses. Scientists have known that beneficial soil bacteria confer immunity against a wide range of plant diseases by activating plant defenses, thereby reducing a plant's susceptibility to pathogen attack. Plants use an array of metabolites to defend themselves against harmful organisms and to attract others that are beneficial. Although bacterial signals have been identified that activate these plant defenses, plant metabolites that elicit rhizobacterial responses have not been demonstrated.

Scientists at the University of Delaware provided evidence tthat the metabolic intermediate malic acid (MA) secreted from roots of Arabidopsis selectively signals and recruits the beneficial rhizobacterium Bacillus subtilisin a dose-dependent manner. Secretions of malic acid are elicited by the foliar pathogen Pseudomonas. Binding of the rhizobacterium triggers induced systemic resistance, and in turn provides resistance against the foliar pathogen.

The discovery underscores the breadth and sophistication of plant-microbial interactions. The use of microorganisms to control plant pathogens is accepted as a durable and environmentally friendly alternative in plant disease management.

The open-access paper published by Plant Physiology is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1104/pp.108.127613

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The NEPAD-North Africa Biosciences Network (NABNet) and Center of Biotechnology of Borj Cedria (CBBC) are organizing a workshop on "The Challenges for North Africa and Promises for a Regional Integrated Program in Biosciences" at the Ezzahra Hotel Zahra Dar Tunis, Tunisia, on November 28-30, 2008. The workshop will review the progress of the NABNet flagship projects that include research on such crops as barley, wheat, and date palm.

For more information contact NABNet Director Mohamed ElArbi at me_aouani07@hotmail.fr.

The International Conference on Climate Change and Global Warming (CCGW 2009) will be held on 23-25 September, 2009 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The conference will be organized by the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology. This event aims to bring together researchers, scientists, engineers, and scholar students to exchange and share their experiences, new ideas, and research results about all aspects of climate change and global warming, and discuss the practical challenges encountered and the solutions adopted.

For more information, visit http://www.waset.org/wcset09/toronto/ccgw/

World Agricultural Forum's (WAF) 2009 World Congress will be held on February 24-27, 2009 at Kampala, Uganda. With the theme, "Africa Meets the World: Creating Prosperity By Investing in Agriculture", the congress will bring together an influential group of speakers to include heads of state, policy leaders, economists, corporate CEO's and NGO experts from around the world to discuss the topics and necessary actions that will make a difference in African agriculture today.

For more information, visit http://www.worldagforum.org/rel-archive-2009-congress.htm 


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