Agricultural biotechnology crucial for feeding world population

Crop production science and innovation led to new technologies that averted a predicted global starvation catastrophe – By Murray McLaughlin

Sarnia – It took until 1800 for the world population to reach one billion people. The second billion was reached in only 130 years (1930), the third billion in less than 30 years (1959), the fourth billion in 15 years (1974) and the fifth billion in only 13 years (1987).

During the 20th century alone, the global population grew from 1.6 billion to over six billion people.

In 1970, there were roughly half as many people in the world as there are today.

In The Population Bomb (1968), Paul Ehrlich writes: “The world, especially the developing world, is rapidly running out of food … in fact the battle to feed humanity is already lost in the sense that we will not be able to prevent large-scale famine in the next decade or so.”

How was this global starvation catastrophe averted?

One element high on the list is innovation. Crop production science and innovation led to new technologies that produce more per acre and more per crop inputs.

Dr. Norman Borlaug was an American agronomist known as “the father of the Green Revolution.” Borlaug developed new varieties of wheat that were planted around the world and had tremendous yield responses. His approach was adopted by other scientists to improve other crops. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply. Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people from starvation.

With new technologies based on Borlaug’s research, the successes continue. Biotechnology is a new set of tools that enhance crop breeding for new plant traits. Products from biotechnology have shown tremendous improvement since first provided to farmers in 1995. Biotech-bred crops allow farmers to reduce pesticide use, and improve quality and yields with reduced input costs. Biotech-enhanced crops are now grown by 18 million farmers, most of them in developing countries.

In Canada, corn, soybeans and canola are grown using biotechnology (often referred to as genetically-modified organisms or GMOs). All are designed to reduce pesticide use while improving yields. In 1940, corn varieties yielded 25 to 40 bushels per acre. Now, with hybrids and biotechnology, yields are typically 150 to 200 bushels per acre.

GMOs have helped Canadian farmers manage production costs, increase yields and provide safe, nutritious food to the world’s consumers. There is tremendous experience and knowledge about the safety and benefits of GMO crops, based on years of development, testing and production.

The predictions of major hazards, by critics of GMO, have not materialized. GMO crops have played a vital role in improving world agricultural food production per capita. And this will be an ongoing need as the world’s population heads to 10 billion people later this century.

Biotechnology in agriculture production should be embraced the same way we have embraced innovation in medicine, transportation, communication and any number of other sectors. Biotechnology will continue to help reduce global poverty.

We need more people like Borlaug. Through research, science and innovation, he helped ensure we have the necessary tools for a healthy future. Biotechnology will be an important part of that future.

Dr. Murray McLaughlin is an adviser to and former executive director of Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, based in Sarnia, Ont., and a former Saskatchewan deputy minister of agriculture.


China: China’s Planting Seeds Market Continues to Grow

China is the second largest seed market in the world, annually planting 12.5 million tons of seed, with a market value at $17.2 billion. MOA reported that as of September 1, 2016, its Plant Variety Protection (PVP) Office had accepted 17,108 PVP applications and approved 7,824 applications. Increases in PVP applications indicate improving breeding capacity (more varieties) and improved awareness of plant variety protection.

China: China’s Planting Seeds Market Continues to Grow

Published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service as part of its Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) Report.  View article link here.

Was 2016 Really A Good Year For Agricultural Biotechnology?

We write to offer a dissenting opinion to that in a Forbes op-ed, “GMOs Have Had A Good 2016, But Teachable Moments Lie Ahead.” In contrast to that rosy take, we believe the food industry (in the broad sense) continues to fail to appreciate the nature of the opposition to GMOs, and thus continues to fail adequately to defend itself in the face of serious negative developments, which it also fails to appreciate.

The op-ed said 2016 was a good year because Congress passed a law preempting states from meddling with mandatory food labeling for genetically modified foods; the New York Times “corrected” itself by printing a “pro” article following a “con” article on the subject; the National Academy of Sciences came out with (yet another) favorable report reaffirming safety of genetically modified foods; the press has been generally positive about CRISPR; and President Obama said that policies must “follow the science.”

But looking a little deeper, a different picture emerges. Congress did not need to pass a labeling bill, a redundant move precipitated by anti-GMO lobbyists having pushed through a clearly unconstitutional law in Vermont. The New York Times’ editors disregarded an avalanche of expert criticism and responded by raising the status of the “con” article to an editor’s pick. The National Academy report wrongly stated there is a lack of yield benefits from using GMO seeds, a claim contradicted by the papers it cited.  And President Obama’s defense of GMOs was tepid at best, while his administration overall had a poor record when it comes to following the science on GMOs.

And let’s also consider some items the rosy view left out:

  • The Non-GMO Project now certifies over 36,000 products.
  • The organic food community forbade the use of plants and animals improved through CRISPR (the current organic prohibition of GMOs and supporting propaganda campaign have been key factors leading to current public skepticism about GMO safety).
  • The possibility of state label requirements in the United States was laid to rest, but now countries around the world have passed or are considering unfounded labeling laws, thus ensuring that multiple labels will be needed anyway for most exported products.
  • Sonoma County, California passed a GMO ban of dubious significance (the major, legal crops in the county are not yet GM); and Boulder County, Colorado ignored expert testimony and the pleas of its own farmers, to embrace an ideological rejection of 20th-century agriculture contradicted by its own internal review and condemned by the local paper.
  • The New York State Parent Teacher (NYS PTA) organization abandoned  the state’s proud history of leadership and achievement in education to adopt a profoundly misinformed resolution stating that “Until GMO and GE food safety is conclusively supported by good science, NYS PTA proposes acting with caution and keeping these products out of school-provided food and drinks.” The NYS PTA somehow managed to miss that the verdict of science has long been clear on this issue, and regularly reaffirmed, despite persistent denial by some ideologues.
  • The Obama administration’s regulatory reform efforts have so far simplified nothing, and instead have proposed more worrisome regulations that would disincentivize innovation and expand scientifically indefensible regulation to gene-edited and CRISPR-derived products.
  • Compared to the larger numbers of years past, only two genetically modified food products were “deregulated” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a potato and an apple, suggesting the major players are giving up hope of ever getting new transgenic products approved.
  • Major export markets for U.S. genetically modified crops are moving in the wrong direction on this issue, including a new labeling law in Korea (third-largest importer of U.S. corn), a ban on GMOs in school lunches in Taiwan (the fifth-largest market for U.S. corn and sixth-largest for U.S. soybeans) and a new requirement for an (undefined) environmental health risk assessment in the Philippines (the largest market for U.S. soybean meal).

The opposition to GMOs transcends borders. Several weeks ago, the inmates ran the asylum agenda at the Biodiversity Convention/Biosafety Protocol meeting called MOP8 in Cancún, México. Established in 1992 to preserve the world’s biodiversity, the Convention’s self-declared greatest accomplishment has been to establish an international treaty to protect biodiversity from GMOs. Of all the substantial threats to biodiversity, GMOs are simply not on the list, and to the extent their higher yields help reduce the pressure to convert more wild lands to agriculture, they are in fact a clear boon. Nevertheless, anti-science NGOs attempted to force adoption of a dysfunctional environmental risk assessment guide that, despite being 10 years in the making, disregards decades of experience and mountain ranges of data. At the same meeting there were demands to place moratoria on synthetic biology, gene drives and editing techniques that hold high promise to address some of the gravest threats to biodiversity in the world. These counterproductive attempts fell short, this time, but make no mistake: They will be back. And, if GMOs are any precedence, most countries will nevertheless ban these new technologies based on the premise they do not know how to properly regulate them.

The cooler heads that prevailed at MOP8 did not prevail in Washington. On December 27, the EPA closed the year by releasing the recommendations of its scientific advisory panel for the regulation of RNAi. While GMO RNAi is considered to be one of the safest control measures ever developed, the EPA panel ignored everything that is known about plant genomes and toxicology, and came out with a series of cost-prohibitive, non-science-based recommendations guaranteed to prevent most products from ever reaching the marketplace, and thus another promising technology faces an imminent crib death.

As to the op-ed’s teachable moment that “[t]he promise of GMOs is abundant, but without clear facts that connect with people’s values, it can be lost in the din of simplistic, polarizing arguments. It is up to science communicators, health professionals, journalists and educators to cut through the clutter,” (emphasis added) we disagree profoundly.

We believe the primary responsibility for such education lies with the purveyors of genetically modified products. While the technology providers (a.k.a. biotech seed companies) have mounted several efforts, they have been hampered by messengers that are inherently not credible to the consumers that most need to be reached; it doesn’t matter how good the material is if the source is dismissed as unreliable before he/she says a word. Where have the food companies been? It is their brands most directly being attacked following a script laid down years ago for a massive propaganda campaign sustained over many years. Why have they not defended the use of the safest ingredients in history, developed with the most precise, predictable, efficient and safe breeding techniques in history, thereby safeguarding their own future freedom to innovate and to operate? The data are spectacularly one-sided in their favor; all they need to do is tell the story.

Quite frankly, while we will defend the technology all we can, why should we defend an industry that will not speak up for itself, and whose members are tripping over each other to tout their new GMO-free products? Instead, food industry actions continue to complicate and negate the work of communicators, health professionals, journalists and educators.

Last year was not, however, a complete bust. The opposition special interests are more and more being seen with clear eyes, which is the essential first step towards resisting their propaganda. But if 2016 was a good year, let us hope we are spared any more like it.

-Written by Wayne Parrot and Val Giddings in Forbes.  See original article link here.  Dr. Parrot is a professor at University of Georgia. Dr. Giddings is senior fellow at Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Provide incentivise for increasing agricultural biotechnology research

It will enhance quality of seeds & also play a major role in enabling an ‘ever-green revolution’

Agriculture, which is the largest informal sector and the main driver in the Indian economy, experienced distress due to the demonetisation drive. With the Budget 2017 being preponed, expectations are running high especially in the Indian agricultural sector. Many companies are yet to realise that there is a scope behind it, by which the current scenario can change for good with logical budget allocation and implementations.

For the rural economy, which caters to 65 percent (800 million) of India’s population, it is important that the agricultural sector receive top priority. According to the reports, budget 2017 will focus on making the life of lower income groups, ie farmers and the SMEs, easy and convenient with the introduction of its measures and initiatives.

In addition, discussions are ongoing regarding methods that can be implemented by the government to increase the income of farmers by two-fold by 2022. Other notable agriculture-related discussions in the run-up to the budget presents ways to bring agriculture in the purview of digital payments revolution and the move towards high-value agricultural products.

In a country like India, where 50 percent of rural households depend on agriculture, the well-being of the rural economy is directly interconnected to improving farmer livelihoods. The 2017 budget needs to bring about change by providing the sector with positive initiatives. They should also enjoy the freedom to choose new agricultural technologies including seeds and services.

The industry has repeatedly given several recommendations to resolve these problems; the most prominent one is to establish a mustard oil development board that would work in collaboration with societies and agricultural institutes; working in the field of mustard seeds in order to promote production and popularity with respect to consumption.

They would keep track of market updates, government notifications, market information updates, R&D, branding and promotion of mustard oil. There is a strong need to focus on the marketing of mustard oil, as it will help this segment in positioning the product in line with the changing needs and demands. This, in turn, will regulate import and export of one of the most popularly grown crops in India.

Import of vegetable oils during December 2016 fell to 15 percent in comparison to December 2015. Imports in December 2016 stood at 1,209,685 tonnes compared to 1,420,902 tonnes in December 2015; consisting of 1,174,296 tonnes of edible oils and 35,389 tonnes of non-edible oil, according to data compiled by Solvent Extractors’ Association of India (SEA). The overall import of vegetable oils during first two months of current oil year 2016-17 – November and December 2016 is reported at 2,385,149 tonnes compared to 2,758,337 tonnes, a visible decline of 14 percent.

When speaking of countries in the Asia Pacific region, they are increasingly embracing agricultural biotechnology. Given their contribution and the potential to affect the agricultural economy, public and private agricultural research institutions, seed companies and agriculture universities should be incentivised to increase their agricultural biotechnology research to create even newer and modern seed technologies.

This will not only help in creating enhanced quality seeds, while playing a major role in enabling an ‘ever-green revolution’, but will also help create new IPs, reduce import costs, bring upsurge in local jobs and even provide a boost to the agriculture manufacturing sector. While this is what, which lacked in the 2016 Budget, we are optimistic that the government comprehends this opportunity and accordingly makes provisions in the upcoming Budget 2017.

-Written by Vivek Puri in Business Standard.  See original article link here.

PHL tackles food security through UK’s Newton Fund

Rice researchers, scientists and funding partners from the Philippines and the United Kingdom, along with those from China, Thailand and Vietnam, converged early this month at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Los Baños, to collaborate and share issues in sustainable rice production.

Thirteen projects funded through the Newton Fund UK-Philippines-China-Thailand-Vietnam Sustainable Rice Programme presented the current outputs of their research which address real-world problems as varied as lowering the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases for rice consumers, to increasing rice plant drought tolerance.

The three-year research projects began in 2016 and will continue until 2019. The Newton Fund Sustainable Rice Programme showcases an innovative mix of regional and country approaches that aim to help solve core challenges in global food security.

About 60 researchers, joined by representatives from the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and each of the country’s funding partners came together to explore ways to collaborate further, including sharing resources, lessons learned and data that can add value to their current projects and strengthen links with their counterparts from participating countries.

Deputy Ambassador to the Philippines Nigel Boud, in his welcome remarks to the delegates, said: “This is the first regional research program that we are running under the Newton Fund and it brings together countries to collaborate on work that is so important, like the sustainable production of rice. It demonstrates the kind of work that we want to be doing in the Newton Programme in the years ahead.”

Together with Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general of IRRI, the delegates noted the significance of rice research to the country and the region, noting the importance of rice and the regional collaboration being achieved through the projects.

Of the 13 projects, four involve scientists from the Department of Agriculture (DA)-Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice). Two projects are working on improving the nutritional quality of rice and the other two focus on creating greater resilience of the rice plant to diseases and environmental stresses due to climate change.

One PhilRice researcher involved in the projects, Dr. Riza G. Abilgos-Ramos, said: “Our work will help to provide part of the solution in preventing type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases, by increasing dietary fiber and enhancing rice-grain properties that would help to manage or prevent spikes in blood sugar increase after meals.

“The Newton Fund gives us the chance to do this with experts from different countries and allow us to expand our network in the UK and Southeast Asia.” Ramos is a supervising science research specialist in the Rice Chemistry and Food Science Division of PhilRice. The IRRI visit was highlighted by a tour of the research facilities, group presentations, poster-sharing sessions and clinic sessions.

Representatives from partners DA-PhilRice, Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-Philippine Council for Agriculture Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Science, and Thailand National Science and Technology Development Agency were among the delegates.

The Newton Fund builds scientific and innovation partnerships with 16 partner-countries to support their economic development and social welfare, and to develop their research and innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth. It has a total UK government investment of £735 million up until 2021, with matched resources from the partner countries.

In the Philippines the program is known as the Newton Agham (Science) Programme to reflect the collaboration between the UK and the Philippines in science, research and innovation.

The UK delivery partners and the UK government, through its embassy, works with Philippine science and innovation institutions and funders, such as the DOST and the Commission on Higher Education, to codevelop and implement program that strengthen science and innovation capacity and create solutions to development challenges in the Philippines and in the region.

– Published in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Korea aims for more biotech firms with W100b revenue in 2017

South Korea’s main biotechnology business body is looking to work in conjunction with the government to foster at least 10 local biotech companies with revenue of more than 100 billion won ($85.03 million) in 2017.

“Today, biotechnology is all about speed,” said Korea Biotechnology Industry Organization President Seo Jeong-sun during a New Year’s biotech industry meeting hosted by the government Friday.

“Currently, there are only 302 biotech companies which have reached the break-even point, which is only 32.6 percent of the total. Now, we must quickly move to build up 10 or more companies that generate over 100 billion won in revenue” Seo said.

The emergence of such high-revenue biotech companies that are publicly listed here will prove their competitive edge and innovation in the global market, said Seo, who is also the chief of Kosdaq-listed genome sequencing company Macrogen.

In addition, KoreaBio will work with the government to train and nurture more than 100,000 biotech workforce personnel over the next 10 years.

“For a country to possess more than 100,000 data scientists who can process and analyze medical information in the bio-health business holds immense meaning in the age of Industry 4.0,” Seo said.

KoreaBio, which already trains some 1,300 new biotech specialists through its own academy, will partner with the government to expand the scale of its training program.

Supporting the growth of promising biotech startups is another major agenda for 2017, Seo said, pointing to ventures such as personal genome sequencing firm GenStory, gene info platform MyGenomeBox, gene analysis service provider 3billion and Polus, a biosimilar developer.

Looking ahead, KoreaBio pledged to strengthen ties with its counterparts in Japan and China to offer more global business opportunities to Korean companies as well.

-Written by Sohn Ji-young ( in The Korea Herald.  See original article link here.

China: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

China is the world’s largest importer of genetically engineered (GE) crops and one of the largest producers of GE cotton in the world, but it has not yet approved any major GE food crops for cultivation. As a part of its rule revision plan, in 2016, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) released the “Revised Administrative Measures for Safety Assessment of Agricultural Genetically Modified Organisms” (MOA Decree 7 [2016]). The “13th Five-Year Plan for Science and Technology Innovation” aims to push forward the commercialization of a new domestic type of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn, Bt cotton, and herbicide-resistant soybeans by 2020. At the same time, delays in import approvals continue to worsen, causing unpredictability for traders and delaying the adoption of needed new varieties in exporting countries such as the United States.

China: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

Published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service as part of  its Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) Report.  View article link here.


Vietnam: FAIRS Country Report

This report provides an update of the food laws and regulations currently in force in Vietnam. The sections updated include: Section V-Labeling requirements; Section VI.2-Importation of live aquatic animals for consumption; Section VIII.1- Food safety inspection regulated by the Ministry of Health (MOH); and Section VIII.3.2-Quarantine and food safety inspection of goods of animal origin. Minor updates are made to Section II-Food additives; Section VII.2.3- Genetic Engineered (GE) plants used for food and feed; and Section VIII.5-Quality inspection of animal feed. Additionally, new sections added to this report include: Section VI.4- Micronutrients and fortified food and Section VIII.4-Food safety monitoring.

Vietnam: FAIRS Country Report

Published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service as part of its Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) Report.  View article link here.

Genomics used to develop new, better sugarcane varieties

The sugarcane industry is huge in the Philippines, with many other industries heavily dependent on sugar, such as the energy and fuel sectors, including bioethanol.

News reports say sugarcane farming is the second most in demand job in the Philippines. Reports say data from the Bureau of Local Employment said there were 12,400 vacancies for sugarcane farmers and 100 job openings for sugarcane grinders as of January 2016.

Therefore, the sugarcane industry, along with its allied industries, need support to sustain this strong demand, especially considering the fact that like any other crop, sugarcane deteriorates, becomes prone to disease and its yield decreases as it remains in the field.

To sustain the industry’s growth, new and superior varieties of sugarcane should be developed, according to Dr. Liwayway M. Engle of the Philippine Sugar Research Institute (PhilSurin).

The problem is, sugarcane breeding, which includes marker-assisted selection of promising varieties, is a long and tedious process—taking as many as eight to nine years— thus, requiring a lot of human and financial resources.

The process is long due to sugarcane’s long life cycle and complex genetic nature, which requires a huge breeding populations of 100,000 to 400,000 genotypes.

To solve this problem, Engle said genetic improvement of sugarcane must be continuously undertaken.

Speaking at the recent S&T Agri Biotech Forum held at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management Convention Hall, Engle said sugar genomics is good for increased productivity, profitability, sustainability and global competitiveness of the Philippine sugar industry.

Organized by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-Philippine Council for Agriculture and Aquatic Resources Research and Development, the forum was part of the activities for the 12th National Biotechnology Week.

Engle and her team, which includes a pathologist, agronomist and breeders, started a project in 2012 that sought to apply genomics in sugarcane variety development. PhilSurin partnered with the Philippine Genome Center, whose state-of-the-art DNA sequencing facilities were funded by the DOST.

The objective was to reduce the time it takes to develop a new variety by two to three years, thus, shortening the process to five to six years.

“So we can bring new varieties to sugarcane planters a lot quicker,” Engle said.

In particular, the group wanted to produce high-yielding varieties, while eliminating their susceptibility to two major diseases affecting sugarcane through DNA marker-assisted selection (MAS). These two diseases are downy mildew and smut.

MAS is a process in which scientists search for biomarkers associated with a particular trait. When a marker is found to be consistently associated with a specific trait, that marker may now be used by the scientists to screen for that trait. Biomarkers, therefore, help speed up the development of new sugarcane varieties.

Under the conventional eight-to-nine-year breeding program, two stages are done for selection against diseases.

In screening for downy mildew, the team selects the best in terms of morphological traits among the 100,000 varieties they produce. Those selected are subjected to a screening procedure to see are resistant against the disease. They are planted and laid down in mildew nurseries where there are also susceptible varieties. Then inoculation is done where the inoculum (water containing downy mildew pathogens or agents, which cause downy mildew) is sprayed on the seedlings. After which, evaluation is undertaken to check which of the selected varieties are resistant to downy mildew.

For screening of smut, the planting materials are soaked in the inoculum containing the smut pathogens after which incubation is done. Then the planting materials are planted in the field and the team awaits the growth of the seedlings. The team then rates the plants on whether they are susceptible or resistant to smut.

Hence, to shorten the process, Engle’s team decided to undertake the application of biotechnology for marker-assisted selection.

In identifying the markers for the diseases, they collect samples of sugarcane at the age of about three to six months. The samples are ground and genomic DNA is isolated from the samples.

The DNA then undergoes amplification or multiplication into several duplicates. The material is then subjected to electrophoresis, a technique for separating the components of a mixture of charged molecules in an electric field.

Through electrophoresis, different band patterns consisting of different segments of DNA may be seen. Band patterns are also called DNA fingerprints. This data is then analyzed and they compute for genetic distance, which determines how similar or how different the two sugarcane parents are.

This information is useful to scientists in deciding whether to cross-pollinate or hybridize the two parents.

Next, scientists do analysis or association test for the trait that they are considering for the marker. Then they score the band patterns for each variety, to know which band pattern exists in which varieties and which is unique to a certain variety.

The band patterns or DNA fingerprints are also used in variety-integrity tests to check the authenticity of the sugarcane variety, after which a certification is issued. This will ensure that farmers are planting the right variety in their fields.

So far, Engle and her team has already ranked the different promising sugarcane varieties based on field trials in Victorias City and La Carlota in Negros Occidental, and in Bukidnon. They hope to eventually produce five promising varieties.

Other partners for the project are the Sugar Regulatory Administration and the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of the University of the Philippines.

-Written by S&T Media Service in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

New biopesticide cures fungus in tomato, eggplant, hot pepper

WiltCure, a biopesticide, can effectively control Fusarium wilt in tomato, eggplant, and hot pepper, resulting in more vigorous growth and higher yield.

This was the key finding of the project, Callus and microbe co- culture as a novel source of biopesticides against major agricultural pests and diseases, which was funded by the Department of Science and Technology and monitored by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the DOST.

Fusarium wilt is a major disease in many solanaceous crops. It is caused by Fusarium oxysporum, a soil-borne pathogen. It is conventionally controlled by using chemical pesticides.
However, prolonged use of synthetic chemicals reportedly degrades natural soil nutrients and contaminates the environment.

Biopesticides are the best alternative to reduce use of synthetic chemicals. They are derived from natural sources such as plants, fungi, bacteria, and other non man-made synthesis. They are easy to use and are environment-friendly.

Project leader Eufrocinio Marfori said WiltCure is a biopesticide formulated after a series of laboratory and pot and field experiments carried out at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

In a report submitted to DOST- PCAARRD, Marfori said the product was developed after a co- culture consisting of potato callus and microbe showed the highest inhibitory activity against the pathogen. This co-culture was formulated into a biopesticide as a dry powder and was named WiltCure. Toxicity tests showed it is non-toxic to mammals and to both terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates.

The project’s researchers reported favorable results when WiltCure was evaluated under greenhouse and field conditions. Pot experiments showed that plants treated with WiltCure have better plant height and fruit yield.
Yellowing and wilting of foliage – symptoms of disease infection – were not observed compared with untreated plants and plants treated with synthetic pesticide.

Field experiments showed incidence of yellowing and wilting in untreated plants we re not observed in plants treated with WiltCure. Height and fruit yield were also higher in plants treated with WiltCure.

The researchers recommended further testing of the effectiveness of WiltCure not only in one location but also in other regions as well. They reported the possibility that WiltCure may also control Fusarium wilt in banana, ginger, and other crops.

This research project is one of the components of the program, Development and promotion of enhanced and new biofertilizers, biostimulants, and biopesti- cides for increased crop productivity of the UP Los Baños Biotech.

-Published in The Philippine STAR.  See article link via

Monsanto launches R&D projects

Agriculture firm Monsanto Company has launched a stronger pipeline of research and development (R&D) projects this year, which include the implementation of 49 new projects.

Monsanto said 2017 will be a record year for its R&D pipeline, with 14 projects advancing to launch and the first unveiling for more than 35 projects in the Climate pipeline.

The company’s industry-leading pipeline projects span across seeds, traits, crop protection and data science to support growers by mitigating challenges posed by weeds, insects, diseases and environmental shifts resulting from climate change each season.

“The role that agriculture plays in our daily lives has never been more critical – including meeting the world’s growing needs and driving on-farm practices that preserve biodiversity and our natural resources like soil and water,” said Robert Fraley, Ph.D., Monsanto’s chief technology officer.

“These advancements demonstrate how we’re delivering new ways that farmers can manage the 40+ key decisions they must make throughout the growing season to enable a successful harvest,” he added.

Monsanto’s R&D platforms span several areas of agricultural technology: Data science, plant breeding, plant biotechnology, crop protection, and agbiologicals Some of the R& projects are:

•The BioAg Alliance, a partnership between Monsanto and Novozymes that focuses on microbial solutions, continues to grow the depth and breadth of its pipeline. The Alliance’s BioYield platform is an example of this growth through expansion to new crops and development of next-generation projects that are designed to help improve yield potential by helping crops use nutrients in the soil more efficiently.

•The Climate FieldView™ platform allows farmers to collect and analyze field data from multiple sources – including the soil, field and atmosphere – and provides valuable insights to help farmers get the most out of every acre. The platform continues to evolve research efforts to develop new digital tools, including insights that help farmers make more informed decisions about crop nutrition and fertility, as well as which seed and planting approaches will help enable a more productive harvest each year. The Climate FieldView™ platform continues to be the most widely adopted digital ag platform in the industry.

•Higher-Yielding Corn, a family of corn plants with traits for increased yield potential, is also advancing in the pipeline. This project is part of the company’s Yield & Stress research collaboration with BASF.

•Broad, integrated solutions to address yield-limiting diseases.

-Written by Madelaine B. Miraflor in Manila Bulletin.  See article link via

British agency taps IRRI to develop rice seeds

The United Kingdom-based Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has tapped the expertise of Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for six projects aiming to develop rice seeds, including the country’s indigenous heirloom rice.

“Several research projects that ensure the long-term sustainable production of rice, one of the world’s most important food crops, received financial support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council [BBSRC],” the Irri said in a statement.

“The projects cover a wide range of important issues, including rice quality; resource use and photosynthetic efficiency; resilience to pests, diseases and environmental stresses; and novel research tool and technology development,” it added added.

The Newton Fund’s Sustainable Rice Programme will fund the 13 identified projects by the BBSRC, in collaboration with research teams in China, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, according to the Irri. Six of 13 identified projects will be undertaken in collaboration with the Irri.

The total funding for the six rice-focused researches is £3.417 million, or around P179.193 million, according to BBSRC.

The amount will fund these projects:

  • Molecular characterization and genetic analysis of nutritional components of Philippine indigenous pigmented rice germplasm (£644,834);
  • Real-time deployment of pathogen resistance genes in rice (£479,403);
  • Enhanced Rice quality for Health (EnRicH) (£493,525); Rhizo-Rice: a novel ideotype for deeper roots and improved drought tolerance (£325,299);
  • Developing rice with increased resistance to salinity and drought (£684,773) and climate-ready rice; and
  • Optimizing transpiration to protect rice yields under abiotic stresses (£789,275).

“In the context of meeting the global sustainable development goals, it is crucial to accelerate science and explore possible innovations from sharing of resources, data and information,” said Achim Dobermann, Rothamsted Research director and former deputy director general for research at IRRI.

BBSRC is one of seven research councils that work together as Research Councils UK and provides a range of funding opportunities to enable individuals and groups to pursue world-class bioscience research, according to the IRRI.

In 2015 and 2016, it invested £473 million in bioscience, people and research infrastructure.

-Written by Jasper Arcalas in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Genetically weakened malaria parasites tested for vaccine

WASHINGTON—Researchers infected lab mosquitoes with genetically weakened malaria parasites, and then recruited volunteers willing to be bitten—a lot—to test a possible new strategy for a vaccine.

The idea: Vaccinate using living malaria parasites that are too weak to make people sick. It’s a huge challenge, and while Wednesday’s study is a small step, it illustrates the urgent quest for a powerful malaria vaccine.

Mosquito-borne malaria infects more than 200 million people worldwide every year, and kills about half a million, most of them children in Africa. Bed netting and insecticides are the chief protection.

The most advanced malaria vaccine candidate, made with pieces of the parasite, protects only about a third of children. Still, the World Health Organization plans pilot projects in Africa in 2018 to test whether the partial protection offers enough benefit for widespread use.
Hoping for better protection, a Seattle team is creating a vaccine with whole living, but weakened, parasites, an approach that has long worked with viruses.

First, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Researcher Center and the Center for Infectious Disease Research removed three genes from malaria parasites that are critical to human infection.

They grew the “genetically attenuated parasites” in mosquitoes, and vaccinated 10 healthy volunteers not with a needle but with the captive insects: For about 10 minutes, each volunteer held out an arm for roughly 150 to 200 bites. Why? Scientists don’t know how to grow malaria parasites outside a mosquito’s salivary glands, explained lead author Dr. James Kublin, a Fred Hutchinson researcher.
If the approach pans out, one hurdle will be getting those parasites into a traditional shot.

None of the volunteers became sick with malaria, researchers reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine—although the bites caused swelling and itching.

Missing key genes, the parasites couldn’t multiply in the liver in order to spread. But they did spark immune-system defenses capable of completely protecting mice from malaria.

Later this year, the Seattle team will test whether a small number of people given the genetically attenuated parasites really are protected when bitten by mosquitoes carrying regular malaria.

It’s too soon to know whether genetically engineered parasites are a feasible approach, cautioned Dr. Ashley Birkett, director of Program for Appropriate Technology in Health’s (PATH) Malaria Vaccine Initiative, who wasn’t involved in the work. PATH is an international, nonprofit global health organization based in Seattle.

But it’s not the only live parasite attempt. Biotechnology company Sanaria has reported promising early results with a different way of weakening malaria, irradiating thousands of infected mosquitoes and gathering the weakened parasites out of their salivary glands.

-Written by Associated Press and published in BusinessMirror.  See article link here.

Second GM crop ready for release

Three years after the release of Bt Brinjal, Bangladesh is going to get its second genetically modified (GM) crop — a disease resistant potato — as scientists have sought government approval for its commercial use.

Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, which has developed the blight resistant (RB) potato, applied on December 29 for the commercial release of the crop, Bari Director General Md Rafiqul Islam Mondal told The Daily Star yesterday.

GM crops are the ones whose DNA has been modified, in most cases, by introducing a new trait to the plant, thereby, giving it extra vigour either to resist diseases or withstand stress conditions.

Once released, RB potato will be farmers’ answer to late blight, one of the most devastating plant diseases caused by fungal attack. Farmers in Bangladesh spend up to Tk 100 crore a year in spraying 500 tonnes of fungicide to protect this major tuber crop from late blight.

With an annual output of nine million tonnes, Bangladesh is a potato exporting nation ranking 7th among the top potato-producing countries in the world.

Apart from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Uganda are also working on developing and releasing blight resistant GM potato.

According to the International Potato Center (CIP), potato is the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat in terms of human consumption. More than a billion people eat potato, and its worldwide production exceeds 300 million metric tonnes.

Late blight, responsible for the 19th century Irish potato famine that had led to one million deaths from starvation, still affects more than 3 million hectares of potato crops globally and causes economic losses estimated at $2.75 billion a year, according to the CIP, which is helping Uganda develop the GM potato.

Breeders involved in developing the RB potato since 2006 at Bari said the resistant gene was taken from wild potato varieties and was infused into a potato variety called Katahdin in the United States. They said it was crossed with Diamant and Cardinal — two popular potato varieties in Bangladesh.

After years of lab tests, greenhouse and contained field trials across the country, Bari scientists found out that RB potato succeeded in resisting the late blight. Later, they approached the Ministry of Agriculture for regulatory approval, said Md Jahangir Hossain, director of Bari’s Tuber Crops Research Centre (TCRC).

“Right in this season, I’m receiving many phone calls every day from Northern potato growers seeking advice for protecting their produces from blight attacks. Once approved, RB potato will bring them a big respite from the disease,” said Hossain.

He said farmers now have to spray costly fungicides in their fields several times during a cropping season to save their potato from late blight.

Md Abu Kawochar, a scientific officer at the TCRC, had told this correspondent that the final regulatory trials conducted at six sites in the country during the last potato season had shown positive results.

Bari developed the late blight resistant potato in cooperation with the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII), a USAID-funded consortium of public and private sector institutions supporting scientists, regulators, extension workers, farmers and the general public in developing countries to make informed decisions about agricultural biotechnology.

Bari Director General Md Rafiqul Islam Mondal said once the Ministry of Agriculture would forward the approval application to the relevant biosafety regulatory committee, they would verify the matter. Once satisfied, the plea would be sent to the national biosafety body for approval.

He said the regulatory process would take a few more months to end.

RB potato would be the second commercially released GM food crop in South Asia after Bt Brinjal, which was also released by Bangladesh in 2013.

Empowered with a crystal protein gene (Cry1Ac) taken from soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, Bt Brinjal is resistant to Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB), the deadliest brinjal pest.

After its release, Bari supplied Bt Brinjal plants to a limited number of farmers in 2014 and 2015. But since late 2016, the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) has been going for the crop’s large scale production across the country.

“Success with Bt Brinjal has led Bangladesh to prioritise the field testing of a new late blight resistant potato [an important crop occupying 0.5 million hectares of land in Bangladesh] which could be approved as early as 2017,” stated the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), in its latest report titled “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech”.

ISAAA, a non-profit international organisation having three centres in New York (USA), Nairobi (Kenya), and Los Baños (the Philippines), keeps watch on production and expansion of biotech crops worldwide.

ISAAA recorded a 100-fold increase in global biotech acreage in just 20 years (from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015) making biotechnology the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times and reflecting farmer satisfaction with biotech crops.

-Written by Reaz Ahmad in The Daily Star.  See article link here.

Cambodia: Biotechnology Introductory Workshop in Cambodia

This report summarizes the outcomes of the Biotech Introductory Workshop, which was organized to increase awareness of agricultural biotechnology and ensure science-based regulatory decisions in Cambodia.

Cambodia: Biotechnology Introductory Workshop in Cambodia

Published by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service as its Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) Report. View article link here.

Origin to gain access to DuPont’s non-GM corn seed

DES MOINES, IOWA, U.S. — Origin Agritech Ltd., an agricultural biotechnology trait and seed provider, has signed a definitive agreement with DuPont Pioneer, the advanced seed and genetics business of DuPont (DD), under which Origin will gain access to non-GM corn seed products from DuPont Pioneer. Origin said it expects to have commercial seed products available for sale in the U.S. market for spring 2017 planting.

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

“This agreement with DuPont Pioneer is a critical first step toward launching Origin’s North America strategic Pillar III, focused on serving the non-GM/organic markets,” said Bill Niebur, chief executive officer of Origin. “We look forward to offering these products to U.S. farmers through a novel, digitally-enabled route to market while building a platform from which Origin can continue to grow.”

The transaction is Origin’s second business agreement with DuPont. The companies in April 2016 agreed to a commercial agreement to jointly develop new seed technologies in China for Chinese farmers.

“We are pleased with the opportunity to continue to do business with Origin,” said Bart Baudler, commercial unit lead, PROaccess. “Through this agreement, Origin is strengthening its ability to diversify its genetic and product choices for farmers.”

Origin recently released advances in its Pillar I and II growth platforms, and the Jan. 3 announcement supports progress in the launch of the company’s Pillar III: North America non-GM/organic growth platform.

“Today’s announcement helps advance our business model of creating value by connecting growers and end users — while providing services along the value chain,” said Christine Bobst, business director for Origin North America. “We are looking forward to serving the non-GM/organic markets in new and different ways as we pursue a full slate of agricultural products, technology and service offerings.”

Founded in 1997 and headquartered in Zhong-Guan-Cun (ZGC) Life Science Park in Beijing, China, Origin Agritech Ltd. specializes in crop seed breeding and genetic improvement, seed production, processing, distribution, and related technical services. The company’s phytase corn was the first transgenic corn to receive the Bio-Safety Certificate from China’s Ministry of Agriculture, and over the years, Origin has established a robust biotechnology seed pipeline, including products with glyphosate tolerance and pest resistance (Bt) traits. Origin operates production centers, processing centers and breeding stations nationwide with sales centers located in key crop-planting regions. Product lines are vertically integrated for corn, rice and canola seeds.

DuPont Pioneer develops and supplies advanced plant genetics, providing high-quality seeds to farmers in more than 90 countries. The company provides agronomic support and services to help increase farmer productivity and profitability and strives to develop sustainable agricultural systems for people everywhere.

-Written by Eric Schroeder in World Grain News.  See article link here.