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CropBiotech Update 6 February 2009
February 6, 2009
Caterpillar Plague Could be Contained More Easily than Originally Thought
World Development Report Says Research and Investment in Agriculture Needed
Collaboration to Improve Gabon's Cassava Sector

Little Beetle is Big Problem for Avocado Growers
Brown-Rot Genome can Teach us How to Make Better Biofuels
Canola as Biodiesel Feedstock
BASF and Embrapa Submit Biotech Soybean for Approval

Asia and the Pacific
Van Montagu Is India's Genome Valley Awardee
ABARE Report on Stockfeed Containing GM Ingredients
India to Establish National Institute of Abiotic Stress Management
India, Nepal Ink MoU on Agric Research Cooperation

Farmer Defies GM Crop Ban in Wales

A Human-Safe Alternative to Organophosphate Insecticides
Transgenic Chickpea Plants Resistant to Sap-Sucking Insects
Companion Cell Protects Sperms from Genetic Damage


Millions of marauding caterpillars have invaded more than 50 towns and villages in Northern Liberia, devouring crops and contaminating waterways as they continue their journey to neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone. The plague, which is Liberia's worst in 30 years, has prompted the West African government to declare a state of emergency. But according to findings made by a team of experts during a field visit, the caterpillar infestation could be contained more easily than previously thought.

Scientists, led by experts from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Liberian government, have established that the insects were not armyworms, as had been reported, but larvae of the moth Achaea catocaloides. Unlike armyworms, Achaea larvae don't burrow into the ground to cocoon and are thus easier to kill. Although the fact of their pupating on the ground was obviously good news, Achaea attacks a wider range of plant and tree species.

The Liberia Ministry of Agriculture is leading in discussions with FAO and other partners on how to contain the infestation after confirmation of the true identity of the caterpillars involved. FAO, in a press release, says that "it is also the opportunity to develop a better response system against migrant pests in the sub-region based on monitoring, early warning, biocontrol, capacity building and contingency planning."

Visit http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/10019/icode/ for more information.

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A World Development report calls for serious research and investment in African countries that rely heavily on agriculture. It also recommends more sustainable and resilient agricultural systems, and a combination of technological innovations with institutional innovations such as markets, financial services and farmer organizations.

The report also takes note of biotechnology, saying that potential risks and benefits of biotechnology should be objectively and urgently evaluated so that it can contribute to the pro-poor agricultural development agenda.

View the news released at http://africasciencenews.org/asns/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=167&Itemid=1

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Gabon will be collaborating with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Nigerian government to build up its local cassava industry, according Francois Eboumi, Gabon's Ambassador to Morocco and Special Adviser to the President of that country. Speaking at IITA's headquarters in Ibadan, Eboumi said that the Nigerian government has agreed to assist Gabon by providing planting materials and information on cassava production, among others. "This is important as Nigeria has had far-reaching successes on cassava and is the world's top producer of the crop. We want to draw from their experience," Eboumi added.

The Gabonese diplomatic official said that his country will also focus on strengthening local capacity, ultimately developing the skills necessary to improve the cassava industry on its own. As in most West African countries, cassava is a staple food and a major source of income in Gabon.

The press release is available at http://www.iita.org/cms/details/news_details.aspx?articleid=2045&zoneid=81For more information, contact Jeffrey T. Oliver at o.jeffrey@cgiar.org

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Researchers at the North Carolina State are focusing their attention on the redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus), an invasive insect that threatens the US $30 million avocado industry of southeast Florida. First detected in the United States near Georgia in 2002, the beetle has been moving through the state since 2004, causing widespread death of redbay (Persea borbonia) trees. The female beetle carries spores of the laurel wilt-causing fungus in its body, a food source for adult beetles and their larvae. When the beetles bore into the sapwood of a host tree, the fungus germinates, plugs the water-conducting cells of an affected tree and causes it to wilt. The biggest problem for scientists is that it's difficult to tell a tree has been infested until it begins dying.

According to scientists monitoring the geographical movement of invasive species, the beetle continues its journey south. "The worry is that as the beetle continues to spread down the coast, it will begin to affect avocado trees, which belong to the same genus as redbay trees," says Frank Koch, NC State researcher. Koch is part of a team that hopes to devise a plan in case the beetle moves to southwest Miami, as they predict. The team is trying to figure out if they can protect avocado trees with fungicides. These fungicides, however, are costly and might affect the marketability of fruits.

Read the complete article at http://news.ncsu.edu/news/2009/02/redbaybeetle.php

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By decoding and analyzing the genome of the brown-rot fungus Postia placenta, a team of international scientists has gained valuable insights on how brown-rot fungi digest wood. The team believes that the brown-rot fungus' capability to degrade lignocellulosic biomass can be harnessed to produce better biofuels.

Lignin, a biopolymer that plays a crucial role in water conduction and protection against pests, is of particular interest to biofuel researchers since it binds cell walls and prevents the extraction of cellulose. Only by removing lignin could cellulose be broken down, fermented, and distilled into liquid transportation fuel. This is where the destructive capabilities of brown-rot come in.

Examination of Postia genome and transcriptome revealed a repertoire of genes and expression patterns distinct from those of other known cellulose-degrading microbes including a distinct set of genes coding for biomass-degrading enzymes. The scientists also compared the genetic blue prints of brown-rot, white-rot and soft-rot fungi. Randy Berka, one of the paper senior author said that such comparisons "will increase understanding of the diverse mechanisms and chemistries involved in lignocellulose degradation. The findings may enable biotechnologists to devise new strategies to enhance efficiencies and reduce costs associated with biomass conversion for renewable fuels and chemical intermediates.

Read the complete article at http://www.jgi.doe.gov/News/news_09_02_05.html The paper published by PNASis available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0809575106 The annotated genome has been made available athttp://www.jgi.doe.gov/Postia

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Canola can be a feedstock for renewable diesel in cold weather conditions says a study from the Alberta Renewable Diesel Demonstration (ARDD) in Canada. "The ARDD research makes it clear that canola biodiesel and canola-based blends are particularly well-suited to perform well in cold winter climates," says JoAnne Buth, president of the Canola Council of Canada. "These findings create further confidence that Canada can meet the biodiesel inclusion standards established by the federal government and two provincial governments, Alberta and British Columbia."

 The study used a 2% blend of canola-derived renewable diesel in winter months, and a 5% blend in the spring and summer comprised of 75% canola and 25% tallow. The blends performed without problems in cold temperatures. The new Alberta Renewable Fuel Standard requires 2% biodiesel fuel blends in the province by 2010.

Visit http://www.canolabiodiesel.org for more facts about canola-based biodiesel or  http://www.canola-council.org/biodiesel/news/1528/cold_weather_biodiesel_study_great_news_for_canola_
for the press release.

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BASF and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), Brazil's public agricultural research corporation linked to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, announced that they have submitted their herbicide-tolerant soybean for regulatory approval to the Brazilian Biosafety Commission (CTNBio). The GM soybean variety is expected to be available to Brazilian farmers from 2011 onward. Brazil is the world's second-largest soybean producer and the largest exporter.

The cooperation between BASF and Embrapa dates back to 1997. Bayer provided Embrapa with herbicide tolerance genes which the Brazilian company introduced to soybean among other crops. "This public-private partnership illustrates the capabilities of Brazil in agricultural biotechnology. Embrapa pursues various technologies in research. And advanced biotechnology, conducted according to principles of sustainability, brings results that allow us to be pioneers in meeting the challenges of generating wealth and well-being," said Silvio Crestana, Director-President of Embrapa.

The press release is available at http://www.basf.com/group/pressrelease/P-09-112

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The Chief Minister of India's Andhra Pradesh, Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy conferred the prestigious Genome Valley Award 2009 to Prof. Marc Van Montagu, Founder and Chairman of the Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries (IPBO), Ghent University, Belgium during the inaugural ceremony of BioAsia 2009 held at Hyderabad on Feb 1-4, 2009. Prof. Van Montagu co-discovered with the late Prof. Jeff Schell the Ti-plasmid and gene transfer mechanism between Agrobacterium tumefaciens and plants. His discoveries opened a new dimension in the research and development of crop varieties and opened up the field of plant molecular genetics as a tool for sustainable agriculture production. He was the first to pioneer the development of transgenic/biotech crops including tobacco, rapeseed and corn resistant to insect-pests and tolerant to herbicides.

In his acceptance speech at the Hyderabad International Convention Center, he emphasized the importance of agriculture in India that despite only accounting for 17% of its GDP it directly underlies the livelihood of 600 million people. The science of biotech offers new possibilities in improving the lives of these people most of them  resource-poor farmers and land-less laborers. Bt brinjal also known as eggplant or aubergine, is a hope not only for 1.4 million farmers in India but also for the millions of farmers around the world, he said. Tremendous progress has been made in the area of biotechnology and it has enormous potential to contribute to healthier food, good quality medicines, and better environmental sustainability.

Prof. Van Montagu's discoveries enable researchers around the world to develop new biotech crops that are helping farmers to halve insecticide usage, double yield and reduce ploughing to help conserve soil and water - the most important element of sustainable crop production systems and conservation.

Details about the awarding ceremony at http://www.vib.be/NR/rdonlyres/E8FB2BC8-3D32-4D76-BFC1-9609FA07C689/2820/20090202_ENG_MarcVanMontagu_GenomeValleyAward.pdf For more information about biotech developmentsin India contact: b.choudhary@cgiar.org and k.gaur@cgiar.org

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The increasing adoption of genetically modified crops has led to a greater presence in stockfeed mixes but consumers are not rejecting animal products fed with them. This was the conclusion of a report from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE).

The report GM Stockfeed in Australia: Economic Issues for Producers and Consumers discusses key economic issues for supply chain participants and provides an indication of market acceptance of edible products from animals fed GM stockfeed. "Other livestock industries may increase their intake of GM stockfeed in the future, as more varieties of GM crops are developed and commercialized," says Phillip Glyde, ABARE executive director.

 Read ABARE's media release at http://www.abareconomics.com/corporate/media/2009_releases/29jan_09.html

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India's Cabinet has approved the establishment of  the National Institute of Abiotic Stress Management with an initial budget of Rs. 73.50 crore (around US$15 million) in the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012). Abiotic stresses like drought, temperature extremes, flood, salinity, mineral toxicity and nutritive deficiency are threatening agriculture production globally. India being a tropical country faces such abiotic stresses to a significant degree which has implications for maintaining national food security.

The National Institute of Abiotic Stress Management will carry out basic and strategic research that will lead to development of technologies for mitigation and adaptation of crops, livestock, horticulture, fisheries and micro- organisms to such stresses. The important research programs will be in a matrix mode and will be involve four disciplines: drought stress management, atmospheric stress management, edaphic stress management, and policy support research. The institute will be located at Malegaon, Baramati Dist. in Maharashtra State of India and will have a deemed-to-be university status.

For details of the National Institute of Abiotic Stress Management visit http://pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=47087 For more information about biotech developments in India contact: b.choudhary@cgiar.org andk.gaur@cgiar.org

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The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) to strengthen their partnership in the field of agricultural research and education. The MoU will facilitate germplasm exchange between the two countries and exchange and training of scientific and technical personnel. Major areas of focus include vegetable hybrid seed production, development of grape and ginger cultivars and animal and veterinary biotechnology. The MoU was signed by NARC executive director Parashuram Lal Karna and Mangala Rai, ICAR director general and secretary of the Indian Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE)

Read the press release at http://www.icar.org.in/news/wccagri-03-02-2009.htm

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Farmers Guardian reports that Welsh farmer Jonathan Harrington imported and planted transgenic maize varieties at his farm in Wales, a move that has outraged anti-GM campaigners and the Welsh Assembly. Nine years ago, the Welsh Assembly voted unanimously for a GM-free Wales. This is despite the European Union legislation allowing farmers to cultivate genetically modified maize. Harrington told Farmers Guardian that he planted the GM maize varieties "as an act of defiance to the Assembly's childish attitude to GM food.".Harrington also told the press that he gave GM maize seeds to two other farmers.

The insect resistant GM maize varieties which Harrington imported from Spain are on the EU common variety list, and as such it was legal to grow them anywhere in Europe. These varieties are grown in France, Germany, Spain and Czech Republic.

The Welsh Assembly admitted that despite its restrictive GM crop policy, it has no legal power to ban GM crops.

The full article is available at http://www.farmersguardian.com/story.asp?sectioncode=19&storycode=24011&c=1

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Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic have been collaborating for more than five years as a part of a special project on biotechnology and medical genomics. But now they have turned their attention from patients to pests. The scientists have successfully developed a human-safe pesticide that specifically targets aphids, a bug that has been ravaging crops worldwide.

Aphids are normally controlled by organophosphate insecticides that block the activity of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), an enzyme vital for regulating the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Organophosphates target a catalytic serine residue in AchE. Because these agents also affect vertebrate AChE, they are toxic to non-target species including humans and birds. Several studies have shown that organophosphate insecticides can enter the brain of young children and damage developing nervous system.

The team developed a small molecule that blocks nearly all AChE activity in greenbug and soybean aphid without inhibiting AChE in humans. Instead of targeting serine, the molecule the scientists developed blocks a cysteine residue in the AChE active site to which aphids and other insects cannot develop a resistance.

The open-access paper published by PLoS ONE is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0004349Visit   http://newsblog.mayoclinic.org/2009/01/27/patients-to-pests/ for more information, including video and audio clips on the importance of the research.

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Chickpea is an important food legume currently grown on 12 million hectares in more than 40 countries. India is the world's top producer of chickpea. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the country produces some 5 million tons annually. Chickpea production in India, however, is severely threatened by difficulties in managing several insect pests. These pests include the lepidopteran pod borer, pea leaf weevil and the sap-sucking cowpea aphid (Aphis craccivora).

Researchers at the Bose Institute in Kolkata have successfully developed transgenic chickpea plants resistant to cowpea aphids. The transgenic plants express a garlic lectin gene (asal) which encodes a mannose binding homodimeric protein. Lectins are sugar-binding proteins that mediate numerous biological processes, such as cell-cell and host-pathogen interactions. The insecticidal activity of some lectins involves the binding of the protein to the gut surface, leading to fatal abrasion in the insect's gut lining.

The level of recombinant protein in transgenic lines, as measure by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), varied between 0.08 percent and 0.38 percent of the total soluble proteins. In planta bioassay revealed significant decreases in the survival and fecundity of cowpea aphids. The scientists will next study the resistance of the transgenic cowpea lines to other sap-sucking insects.

The paper published by Transgenic Research is available for download at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11248-009-9242-7

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Scientists at Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC), in Portugal, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, in New York, have described the mechanism by which plants prevent transposons-caused mutation from occurring in pollen grains.

Transposons or jumping genes are very common in all known genomes. For instance, transposons make up more than 70 percent of the maize genome. Activation of transposons may lead to deleterious mutations, and thus it needs to be under tight control. If such harmful mutations occur in sexual cells, they will be transmitted to the progeny and spread in the population.

In pollen grains, sperm cells are protected by large companion cells. The companion cell provides the sperm with energy and nourishment, and pushes them towards their targets during fertilization. The scientists found that companion cell also provide the sperm cells with instructions that protect their DNA from damage and thus help pass on a stable genome to the next generation. The instruction is in the form of small interfering RNAs (siRNA), molecules that silence transposons via RNA interference.

For more information, read http://www.igc.gulbenkian.pt/media/article/39 The paper published by Cell is available at http://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674(08)01644-9

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The 5th International Greek Biotechnology Forum, organized by the Society for Biotechnology, Biosciences and Culture, will be held at Zappeion Megaron, Athens from 8-9 May 2009. The two day event will host some of the most important research and scientific developments concerning bio-medicine, agro-biotechnology, biofuels, and environmental biotechnology.

Visit the conference website at http://www.igbf.gr/


The Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products (BIGMAP) at Iowa State University (ISU) was established to provide publicly-based assessment and communication of the risks and benefits of the products of agricultural biotechnology. The 6th annual BIGMAP symposium will be held at the Gateway Center, Ames, Iowa, on April 21-22, 2009.

To register for the symposium visit http://www.bio.org/foodag/compliance/bigmap/.  

Thailand is the site of two international conferences. One is the International Conference on Fungal Evolution and Charles Darwin: Fom Morphology to Molecules to be held on July 9-11, 2009 at the Thailand Science Park, Pathumthani, Thailand. Details of the conference are available at http://www.biotec.or.th/darwinconf2009.

ABIC 2009: Agricultural Biotechnology for Better Living and a Clean Environment  will be held September 22-25, 2009 at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, Bangkok, Thailand. Visit http://www.abic.ca/abic2009 for additional information.

The Seed Biotechnology Center at University of California Davis is celebrating its 10th year. To commemorate this event, the center is hosting a symposium that will focus on the topics which are most relevant to the seed industry today. With the theme, Filling the Gap between the Public and Private Sectors, the symposium will bring together scientists from universities, government and private industry to network and discuss technological advancements in plant breeding, seed biology and their applications in agriculture.

More information is available at http://sbc.ucdavis.edu/About_the_Center/Symposium.htm


Prof. Marc Van Montagu, Founder and Chairman, Institute of Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries (IPBO), Ghent University, Belgium and Prof. V.L. Chopra, Member (S&T), Planning Commission of India released ISAAA Brief 38 on "The Development and Regulation on Bt Brinjal in India (Eggplant/Aubergine)" during the Crop Biotechnology: Scope and Challenges Session in BioAsia 2009 on 2nd Feb 2009 at Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. Prof. Arjula Ramachandra Reddy, Vice Chancellor of Yogi Vemana University, Andhra Pradesh coordinated the program.

This ISAAA Brief on Bt brinjal is a very comprehensive review of all aspects of the cultivation in India of the important vegetable brinjal, which is likely to be the first biotech food crop to be approved and adopted in India in the near term, following the unparalleled success of the commercialization of the fiber crop, Bt cotton. The Brief summarizes the development and regulatory status in India of biotech Bt brinjal hybrids which confer resistance to the most important insect-pest of brinjal, fruit and shoot borer (FSB). It also captures the content of the extensive regulatory dossier for Biotech Bt brinjal, which has undergone a rigorous assessment by the regulatory authorities.

The full copy of ISAAA Brief 38 on "The Development and Regulation on Bt Brinjal in India (Eggplant/Aubergine)" is available at the ISAAA website:http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/38/download/isaaa-brief-38-2009.pdf For more information about biotech developments in India contact: b.choudhary@cgiar.org and k.gaur@cgiar.org

Brinjal or eggplant is an important vegetable crop in India. It is planted to 550,000 hectares in the country. Brinjal cultivation, however, is often input intensive, especially for insecticide applications. It is prone to attack from insect pests and diseases, the most serious of which is the fruit and shoot borer (FSB). FSB-resistant brinjal varieties expressing Bt proteins have been developed. Results of studies submitted to regulatory authorities in India confirm that Bt brinjal offers the opportunity to provide effective control against fruit and shoot borer, and decrease insecticide input by as much as 80%.

Know more about Bt brinjal in India in the latest Pocket K produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. Download the material at http://www.isaaa.org/kc/inforesources/publications/pocketk/default.html#Pocket_K_No._35.htm(Copy and paste the link to your web browser)

A Hindi translation is avaialable at http://www.isaaa.org/kc/inforesources/publications/

Expert Consultation on Agricultural Biotechnology for Promoting Food Security in Developing Countries-Proceedings has just been released. The publication details the proceeding of an expert consultation held by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) in collaboration with the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) in Malaysia in August 2008.

The document comprises nine sections: 1. Rationale and Objective of Expert Consultation; 2. Opening Session; 3. Session IA: Status of Agricultural Biotechnology Research and Application-Global Developments; 4. Session IB: Status of Agricultural Biotechnology Research and Application- Country Reports; 5. Session II: Biotechnology Applications; 6. Session III: Global and Regional Partnerships in Agricultural Biotechnology; 7. Session IV: Issues in Adoption and Commercialization of Agricultural Biotechnology- Panel Discussion, 8. Breakout Group Discussion and Recommendations on Addressing Issues through Country and Regional Initiatives; and 9. Session VI: Plenary Session- Group Recommendations and General Recommendations.A pdf of the report is available at http://www.apcoab.org.