Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ag-Biotech Updates

Control of Coleopteran Insect Pests through RNA Interference Source:Nature BiotechnologyAuthor:James A. Baum
Chinese researchers say they may have found a way to overcome the resistance of cotton bollworms (Helicoverpa armigera) to the inhibitory chemical gossypol, which is produced naturally by cotton plants. The researchers identified the cotton bollworm gene, called CYP6AE14, that confers resistance to gossypol. They then genetically engineered cotton plants that produce a piece of double-stranded RNA which is specific to the CYP6AE14 gene. The researchers found that the RNA acts to "silence" the CYP6AE14 gene, thus restoring the effects of gossypol and retarding the growth of cotton bollworm larvae that try to feed on genetically modified (GM) cotton. The researchers write that this may be a general strategy for triggering "RNA interference" and could find applications in entomological research and field control of cotton bollworms. Their research was funded by the National Science Foundation of China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and China's Ministry of Science and Technology. The article can be viewed online at the link below, with a paid subscription to the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Kenya Government Committed to Biosafety Bill 2007 Source:Crop Biotech Update
Kenyan Agriculture Secretary Wilson Songa has reported that the country's draft Biosafety Bill was not discussed during the last meeting of Parliament. Songa said, however, that the government will continue to advocate for passage of the law when the Kenyan parliament reconvenes in March 2008. Songa was speaking at the official opening of the Eighth Meeting of Stakeholders of the Insect Resistant Maize for Africa (IRMA) project, which is undertaken jointly by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). The article can be viewed online at the link below.

GMO: Kenyan Minister Disowns Draft Biosafety Law Source:Africa Science NewsAuthor:June Ngetich
Kenyan Environment and Natural Resources Minister David Mwiraria has said that the Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) lacks the capacity to identify genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and make decisions about whether they should be released in the environment and on the market. Mwiraria also stated that environmental and civil society groups consider GMO research and biosafety processes to be unaccountable and non-transparent. These and other remarks were part of a statement by Mwiraria that was read out loud at the opening of a six-day training for NEMA staff on GMO Biosafety Risk Assessment. The article says that Mwiraria's statement comes as the Kenyan government is distancing itself from a draft Biosafety Bill. The article says this bill has been in the public domain for close to 15 years. The article can be viewed online at the link below.

The Economic Impacts of Introducing Bt Technology in Smallholder Cotton Production Systems of West Africa: A Case Study from Mali Source:AgBioForumAuthor:Jeffrey Vitale et al.
This article by researchers at Purdue and Oklahoma State universities in the U.S. uses an economic model to predict what would be the economic impacts on farmers and consumers if Bt crops were introduced to smallholder cotton and maize farms in Mali. Results indicate that the potential economic impacts to West African consumers and producers would be significant, potentially reaching $89 million in an average year. In the case of Bt cotton, the article finds that where seed company revenues are maximized, and the companies charge an additional US$60 per hectare, Malian farmers would capture 74 percent of the financial benefits. The seed companies would capture the other 26 percent. The article finds that adoption of Bt maize in Mali would be weaker than adoption of Bt cotton, at least in the absence of complementary changes in maize markets and technology. If Malian maize farmers were charged the same technology premium as South African producers, the model found that adoption would be at less than 10 percent. The article can be viewed online at the link below.

Market and Welfare Effects of GMO Introduction in Small Open Economies Source:AgBioForumAuthor:Alejandro Plastina and Konstantinos Giannakas
This article by researchers at the University of Nebraska in the U.S. tries to sort out how farmers and consumers in small "open" developing economies would be affected by the introduction of genetically modified (GM) products. Economic modeling indicates that while the agronomic benefits associated with the introduction of the first-generation, farmer-oriented GM products are "certainly important," their presence does not guarantee welfare gains to small developing countries. The introduction of GM products is shown to create winners and losers among the consumers and producers of these small open economies. The model finds that the hypothetical introduction of GM products without domestic labeling requirements creates more economic benefits for consumers than when labels are required. The article can be viewed online at the link below.

Japan Says No to GMO Source:Rural Press LimitedAuthor:n/a
A delegation from the No! GMO Campaign, an alliance of Japanese groups representing 2.9 million Japanese consumers, has visited Australia and urged against the lifting of Australian state bans on genetically modified (GM) food crops. The delegation met with officials from the states of South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. The group used the opportunity to express concerns about GM foods, and presented a petition signed by 155 Japanese consumer and farmer organizations representing the 2.9 million Japanese consumers. Campaign spokesman Ryoko Shimizu, said: "We Japanese consumers are now standing at a critical crossroads in assuring our food safety . . . Australia is the only country that can supply GM-free canola to food-importing countries like Japan. If the moratoria are lifted it would damage the reputation of Australian crops in Japan and Japanese consumers would stop buying Australian crops." GM canola has been approved by the Australian federal government but banned by the individual states. Several Australian states are now considering whether to life their bans. The article can be viewed online at the link below.

GM Crops - Asian Farmers Have Their Say Source:SciDev.NetAuthor:Jia Hepeng
Farmers participating in a recent Asian Regional Farmers' Exchange Program in the Philippines were asked about their thoughts and experiences with genetically modified (GM) crops. Many said they welcome GM crops, according to this feature article. Zu Maotang, president of the Farmer's Association of Gaobeidian City in the northern Chinese province of Hebei, is one such farmer. Zu said, however, that a dramatic reduction in bollworms achieved through the adoption of Bt cotton has coincided with outbreaks of other pests, especially mirid bugs. Agricultural scientists reassured Zu that increased insecticide spraying in the early stages of the mirid bug life-cycle could deal with the insects, but he said that many of his fellow farmers were startled when the bugs appeared, because they had been convinced that Bt-cotton was insect-free cotton. He wondered whether "Perhaps scientists will soon identify a gene against mirids." Kraisorn Kunluechakorn, a farmer and small seed dealer from Thailand, expressed more caution, saying, "Despite the benefits we have seen here [in the Philippines], we would not lobby the government for GM crops. Who knows if it's good or bad in the long term?" The feature article can be viewed online at the link below.

Massive Rise in GM Farming Still Not Enough, Says Europe\'s Biotech Industry Source:EuropaBioAuthor:n/a
EuropaBio, the European bioindustries association, has reported a 77 percent increase over the past 12 months in the area planted to genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe. The group says that more than 1,000 square kilometers of GM crops have been harvested. [According to a related article (BBC; October 29), a Bt maize variety resistant to the corn borer is the only GM crop grown widely in Europe. Planted in Spain for the last 10 years, it is now proving popular in France where the acreage has tripled in a year and also in Germany and the Czech Republic. The French president recently placed a temporary ban on GM planting, however, and some environmental groups claim that beneficial insects could be harmed by Bt maize. EuropaBio argues that GM maize is appealing to farmers and safe for the environment.] The press release can be viewed online at the link below.

New Breed of Seed Source:IndyStar.comAuthor:John Russell
Dow AgroSciences has said that over the next three years, it wants to produce a genetically modified (GM) seed called SmartStax with eight genetic traits to fight pests and weed killers on "multiple fronts". The article says that would be significantly more than the maximum of three traits in GM seeds that are currently on the market. The article can be viewed online at the link below.

Modified Toxin Helps Crops Kill Resistant Insects Source:NatureAuthor:Heidi Ledford
Researchers at National Autonomous University of Mexico and the University of Arizona in the U.S. have modified Bt toxins to make it more difficult for insects to develop resistance. Their work has been published in the journal Science. More work will need to be done to see whether plants can be genetically engineered to produce the modified form of toxin, according to the article. Bruce Tabashnik, an entomologist at the University of Arizona and a member of the research team, says it is "almost inevitable" that insects will develop resistance to the Bt toxin. So far, the article says resistance has only been documented in the field for two insects: diamondback moths (Plutella xylostella ) and cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni), both of which produce larvae that feed on vegetable crops. The resistant insects have only been found in fields and greenhouses where Bt is sprayed as an environmentally-friendly pesticide, not in fields planted with Bt-producing genetically modified (GM) crops. The article says that biotechnology companies are pursuing several options to prevent Bt resistance from developing among insect populations. These include selling GM crops that contain two different Bt toxins which bind to separate receptors found in insect guts. Researchers are also developing plants that produce an entirely different toxin, normally made by bacteria that live in nematode worm guts. William Moar, an entomologist at Auburn University in U.S., comments that the modified Bt toxin could make a useful addition to this "arsenal." The article can be viewed online at the link below.

Non-target Effects of Bt Crops Database Available Source:ISB NewsAuthor:L. LaReesa Wolfenbarger
A comprehensive new public database houses information from 171 scientific studies of the effects of Bt crops on non-target arthropods (including insects and arachnids). The database is designed to facilitate a quantitative approach to synthesizing available studies on the effects of Bt crops. The online database contains 5,758 "experimental comparisons" obtained from the 171 studies. An extensive search was conducted to find these studies, and each study featured in the database meets four criteria: 1) it involves a Bt field crop; 2) it measures an effect on a non-target arthropod; 3) its design includes a non-transgenic control or varies exposure levels to Bt plants or their products; and 4) it is in English. About half the studies are based on laboratory work and about half on field trials. Author affiliations for the studies include academic institutions, government, corporations, and non-profit organizations, with the largest contributor being academic institutions. Publications on the non-target effect of Bt crops on arthropods began in 1992 with the majority of studies published after 2000. The database is available online at the link below.

Genetic Approach to Identifying Bt Resistance Genes in Heliothis Virescens Source:ISB NewsAuthor:Joan LeGloahec and Linda J. Gahan
Researchers in the U.S. have developed varieties of Heliothis virescens (Hv) in the laboratory that are resistant to the Bt toxin Cry1Ac, produced in many insect resistant genetically modified (GM) crops. Their purpose was to identify what sort of genetic mutation can lead to Bt resistance. The article says this information is of interest to scientists who want to assist farmers with pest management. The article can be viewed online at the link below.

New Leadership for CIMMYT Source:Crop Biotech UpdateAuthor:n/a
Thomas Lumpkin, the current director general of the World Vegetable Center's Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC) in Taiwan, has been chosen to succeed Masa Iwanaga as director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), based in Mexico. Lumpkin, a respected scientist and science administrator, will assume the new post on March 15. CIMMYT is one of the research centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The article can be viewed online at the link below.

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