Using CRISPR to edit coral

Some 30 years ago, the world saw its first big global coral bleaching take place — an event that killed more than 15 percent of the ocean’s reefs. Since then, as temperatures continue to rise, so have rates of coral bleaching, leaving scientists scrambling to find new conservation strategies to protect this beloved ocean animal (coral is an animal, not a plant) and the ecosystem it supports. Read more

This Geneticist Is Creating Gene-Edited Animals for Our Plates

Animal geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam has six calves that are rather unusual. Most people might not pick up on what’s odd, but close inspection, and knowledge of bovine genetics, reveals that none of the calves have horns despite being a mix of breeds that typically have them. Even more surprising? The calves’ hornless state wasn’t bred into them — Van Eenennaam and her colleagues edited their genes using the new CRISPR technology.

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R&D should include commercialisation of research products

Research and development should not stop at the exploration of natural resources, but proceed on to commercialise research products for the good of society.

“A research finding should pave the way to positively change people’s livelihood and improve the nation’s economy in terms of product development and commercialisation,” said Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) director-general Datuk Dr Mohamad Roff Mohd Noor.

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Two Filipino inventions receive gold recognition in Geneva tilt

Two Filipino inventions made quite a mark in the 46th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva (Geneva Inventions) in Switzerland held from April 11 to 15: the Portable Smart Surface System and Biotek-M Dengue Aqua Kit.

Each won a gold medal in the highly-prestigious competition, while Smart Surface also came home with a “Jury Distinction” to boot.

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Digital ‘farm-to-market road’ breaks ground

In the near future, the country’s farmers could start selling their produce in a digital market, thanks to students who believe they have finally found a way to make food producers richer.

An online database platform called “e-magsasaka” hopes to reduce the involvement of middlemen in marketing crops and eventually increase farmer profits by 20 percent and keep prices at an affordable level, said a group of graduates who took home the P250,000-prize in the first Innovation Olympics organized by East-West Seeds.

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Can ‘Vaccines’ for Crops Help Cut Pesticide Use and Boost Yields?

When European researchers recently announced a new technique that could potentially replace chemical pesticides with a natural “vaccine” for crops, it sounded too good to be true. Too good partly because agriculture is complicated, and novel technologies that sound brilliant in the laboratory often fail to deliver in the field. And too good because agriculture’s “Green Revolution” faith in fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, and other agribusiness inputs has proved largely unshakable up to now, regardless of the effects on public health or the environment.

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A Remarkable New Technology That Will Diminish A Global Cancer Threat

We in the rich societies of the world don’t hear a lot about aflatoxin. It is probably one of the single largest causes of cancer in the developing world – particularly in Africa. Around a half a billion people are at risk from this toxin in their diet. At high doses it can cause acute poisoning and death. It also causes cognitive stunting in children exposed to it. Aflatoxin is a natural chemical that is made by a fungus called Aspergillus that can infect crops like corn, peanuts and tree nuts particularly when there is damage by insects and/or stress from drought. People like Americans are well protected from this threat by farmers who exercise control measures for the insects and disease, by an advanced food system that monitors for the issue in the harvested crops, uses proper storage conditions, and excludes it from what is sold to us. For instance the EU standard for maize is that it must have less than five parts per billion of aflatoxin.  Unfortunately only 20% of the normal maize supply in Kenya meets that standard.

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Chinese funds pour US$1.4b into US biotechnology firms in the first three months of the year

It’s unclear whether a deepening trade rift with the US could slow the stream of cash from China to medical innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley and Cambridge, Massachusetts

Chinese investors are pumping money into US drug start-ups as Beijing seeks to become a global leader in new medicines, adding to a flood of cash flowing to groundbreaking health firms. Read more

PH needs 19,000 more scientists, researchers

William Dar, the former Agriculture secretary, said that with scientific interventions, the country’s farming sector would be able to increase yields and farmers could venture into value-addition, or the production of finished or semi-processed products for export.

Citing figures from the UN Trade Map, Dar, in one of his columns in The Manila Times, said the country was still a net food importer as it exported $5.7 billion worth of farm and food products in 2016 and imported $11 billion, for a deficit of $5.9 billion.

In comparison, Thailand exported $42.2 billion in farm products in 2016 and bought from abroad $15.7 billion for a surplus of $26.5 billion; Indonesia, $36.5 billion in farm exports and $17.9 billion in agricultural imports for a surplus of $18.6 billion; Malaysia, $26.7 billion in farm exports and $17.4 billion in agricultural imports for a surplus of $9.3 billion; and Vietnam, $23.1 billion in farm exports and $14.5 billion in agricultural imports for a surplus of $8.6 billion.

Dar blamed the inadequate number of Filipino scientists for the country’s being a laggard in farm exports compared with its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Citing Unesco recommendations, he said the Philippines had a very low researcher/scientist ratio per million of people. The agency recommends 380 scientists/researchers per million population, but the Philippines only has 189 researchers/scientists per million.

This means the country needs at least 19,000 more scientists.

Dar said countries that are industrialized exceed the Unesco recommendation: Israel has 8,300 researchers/scientists per million population, South Korea has 6,900, Singapore 6,700, Malaysia 2,100, and Thailand, 974.

Chief astronomer Dario de la Cruz of the state-run Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) told The Manila Times that some government-funded scientific facilities needed a “revamp” or relocation to perform more efficiently.

Ang observatory pa nga lang natin, hindi na ideal site ito for astronomy dahil sobrang luma na [Even our observatory is not an ideal site for astronomical activities anymore because of its old and worn out facilities],” said de la Cruz.

Pagasa’s astronomical observatory, which recently invited more than a thousand sky watchers for the rare “super blue blood moon event” at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, has been standing on the site in Quezon City since 1954.

-Written by Mary Gleefer Jalea in The Manila Times with report from Conrad Cariño. See original link here.

DOST, UP bat for first ‘smart farm’ in PHL

The Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) is putting its stakes to fund the country’s first “smart farm.”

The smart farm is a facility for the Smart Plant Production in Controlled Environments (Spice), a P128-million program that will promote urban farming and high-tech plant conservation.

It will be housed at the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute’s Nursery of Indigenous and Endemic Plants in Quezon City. Teaming up to develop the Spice are the UP Diliman Institute of Biology and Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute, and UP Los Baños Institute of Biology.

This program aims to lead the research and development (R&D) for the design of a stand-alone urban-farm system and establish protocols for micropropagation, cryopreservation and nursery management of rare, endangered and economically valuable native plant species.

“The core of this project is not only the development of new technology, but also, on a macro perspective, to ensure that we can protect our country’s rich biodiversity,” Science Undersecretary for R&D Dr. Rowena Cristina Guevara said.

Modern-farming methods like vertical farming, micropropagation, cryopreservation and hydroponics will be practiced to grow native plants in an environment wherein the climate, the lighting and the irrigation system can be monitored, controlled and changed real-time through the use of electronics, sensors and automation.

“My idea of internationalization is exporting our own ideas, that foreign scientists will come to the country to study trees that are endemic here. Spice is an innovation project,” UP Executive Vice President Dr. Teodoro Herbosa remarked. National Scientist and UP Professor Emeritus Dr. Edgardo Gomez shared his experiences in biology and commended the team for initiating the project.

“This [Spice] will be a world-class institute,” Gomez said.

Besides the technical features of the project, the facility is envisioned to include a “living laboratory,” where visitors can see the various technologies employed and store where they can buy fresh vegetables grown on site.

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

Optimism high as Uganda’s biotech bill gets a “second chance”

Some Ugandan officials are optimistic that the nation’s biotechnology biosafety bill will soon pass, saying that President Museveni’s concerns have been addressed.“The president expressed concern on seven out of 44 clauses in the biosafety bill,” noted Kafeero Sekitoleko, chairman of Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee. “These have since been addressed and we’re ready to report back (to Parliament). I want to leave Uganda with a biosafety law by end of my term in May (2018).”After years of wrangling, Parliament passed the bill in October 2017. But President Museveni referred it to back to lawmakers in December, citing various concerns.

Other officials also sought to allay fears that the country may never have a biosafety law.

“The president’s issues with the biosafety bill have been addressed. So the bill will pass,” reiterated Christopher Kibazanga, state Minister for Agriculture.

His and other supportive voices were heard at the 3rd Biennial National Agricultural Biosciences Conference (NABIO) 2018, where Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, speaking at the official opening, assured guests that the Science and Technology Committee’s report on the bill would be tabled for debate before Parliament breaks off for the Easter holiday.

The announcement prompted jubilation from an evidently excited audience. Uganda’s pro-biotech community is now in a “fingers-crossed” mood as it eagerly awaits results from yesterday’s tabling of the report.

The two-day NABIO conference — organized by the Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development (SCIFODE), in cooperation with local and global partners in biotech and biosafety — attracted national and international scientists, policy makers, journalists, politicians, farmers and university students.

The biennial event provides a platform for dialogue among bioscience stakeholders to chart out the most strategic way to harness bioscience for national and regional economic transformation.

Almost naturally, Uganda’s biosafety law took center stage as different scientists shared updates on bioscience research and regulatory progress in different countries. The local audience, particularly farmers, expressed frustration about the protracted process of passing Uganda’s law.

“Last season alone, I lost seven acres to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD),” lamented Sarah Nabirye Kiirya, a farmer from Kinyomozi village in the Kiryandongo district in Western Uganda. “Please fast track the enactment of the biosafety law so farmers like me can access virus resistant GM cassava.”

Losses due to CBSD are estimated at $24.2 million annually.She and many other farmers also are recovering from a long drought and a fall armyworm (FAW) invasion that devastated crops countrywide in 2017.

In a bid to restore farmers’ yields, scientists at the National Agricultural Research Organization have since 2007 used genetic engineering to address viral diseases in cassava, bacterial wilt in bananas, drought and pest challenges in maize, nitrogen and water use efficiency in rice, and late blight disease in potatoes.

While Uganda has the highest number of genetically modified (GM) crops under field testing in Africa, efforts to get such products of modern agricultural technology into farmers’ fields have so far been stifled by the absence of an enabling national policy.

“It is very pernicious when everyone, especially non-scientists, claim scientific authority,” argued Amos Mandela, a Ugandan parliamentarian. He was addressing widespread misinformation circulated by anti-GMO and environmental groups, which has at least in part been responsible for the delayed passing of the biosafety law.

As the conference concluded, one overreaching sentiment remained: Is this it? Could this be the time when farmers like Sarah are finally given the opportunity to choose better performing GM crops? As it stands, they can only remain optimistic.

Written by Joshua Raymond Muhumuza in Cornell Alliance for Science. He is a research assistant with Uganda Biosciences Information Center. See original article link here.

NEMA to approve field trials for GM cotton in May

Planting of National Performance Trials (NPT) for Genetically Modified (GM) Cotton might start May once the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) gives approval.

Currently NEMA is awaiting feedback from the public which is supposed to be ready by end of April, after it issued a gazette notice for them to submit comments on an environmental impact assessment for the proposed NPT on the GM Cotton.

Speaking Thursday during an Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Nairobi, Chief Compliance Office at NEMA Margaret Njuki said they issued a gazette notice to the public to submit comments last month for the proposed NPTs at nine sites.

The nine sites proposed for the field test of GM cotton include Mwea, Katumani, Kampi ya Mawe, Bura, Perkerra, Kibos Alupe, Barwessa and Matuga.

Simon Gichuki from Kenya Agriculture and Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO), said the initial plan was to start the NPTs in April to target the long rains. However, due to the delay in approval, some areas including Kampi ya Mawe, Katumani and Matuga may miss out due to erratic weather condition.

Mr. Rajeev Arora, Advisor, Textile Value-chain for Kenya and Chair Bt. Cotton Taskforce at the Ministry of Industry Trade and Cooperatives, said before planting NPTs that had been proposed to commence in April 2018 will now be conducted in six sites due to the delay.

He added that the team appointedin 2017 together with the Agriculture, Food Authority (AFA) has developed a cotton revitalization roadmap with conventional hybrid seed initiative which will then be followed by Bt Cotton.

“A total of 20 counties have been mapped out as potential areas for revitalization of cotton production with a total of 200,000 hectares,” he said.

Arora noted that sensitization programs and activities are also ongoing with support from different development partners.

The impact of Cotton revitalization, Arora said is to increase cotton production from the current 5,500 tons to 50,000 tons in the next five years.

“The plan is to initially develop cotton using hybrids and conventional seeds and by 2019 to grow Bt cotton after its commercialization which will have three times production yield compared to present conventional varieties,” Arora said, adding that total production will be done in over 200,000 hectares land in the five years.

-Written by Wangari Ndirangu in Kenya News Agency. See original article link here.

Government should invest in biotechnology related research

GM crops that produce industrial products could be grown in Britain for first time

Crops which have been genetically modified so they produce industrial products could be grown in Britain for the first time after scientists applied for permission to the government to start field trials.

Rothamsted Research, which is based in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, wants to plant GM camelina with altered DNA so that it produces ‘wax esters’, a natural lubricant which can be used instead of petrochemicals to keep machinery running smoothly.

Until now the company has only planted GM crops which could be used for human consumption, such as camelina with extra Omega-3 fish oil to boost health, or wheat altered to produce higher yields.

But the company said it now planned to use camelina as a ‘chassis’ to make useful lipids, or fatty acids, which can provide alternatives for chemicals in a range of industrial applications.

However campaigners said the outdoor trials in Hertfordshire and Suffolk, represented an ‘unacceptable risk’ to ‘people, wildlife and the wider environment.’

Twenty-six organisations including farmers, scientists, retailers and environmentalists have lodged a formal objection to Defra, asking them to refuse permission for trial, warning that pollen or seeds could escape and lead to other plants growing wax esters, which are harmful to humans.

 Liz O’Neill, director of umbrella group GM Freeze: “Rothamsted Research started off trying to persuade us that GM camelina would save the oceans but now they’re referring to it as a ‘chassis’ on which they will produce an array of industrial compounds.

“GM Freeze wants to help create a world in which everyone’s food is produced responsibly, fairly and sustainably. This trial would be a step in the opposite direction and should not go ahead.”

Rothamsted, which has been genetically altering plants for 15 years, submitted its application in February and objections can be lodged until April 8, with a final decision expected from Defra by the end of May.

The company said it hoped to begin planting this year, and complete their trial by 2020.

Professor Jonathan Napier who is leading the trial said: “We have synthesised the gene sequences involved in the production of omega-3s and other useful compounds, such as astaxanthin and wax esters, and optimised them to be functional in camelina plants.

“These synthetic sequences are based on the sequence of genes found in a range of different organisms, including photosynthetic marine organisms and other lower eukaryote species, such as mosses and oomycetes.

“By using transgenic camelina as a chassis to make these useful lipids, we have an alternative source for them.”

As well as the wax esters and Omega-3 alterations the plants will also be genetically altered to increase the thickness of their stems and improve photosynthesis, to boost crop yields.

Rothamsted said if the trials go ahead they would be closely monitored by Defra and its independent advisory committee and the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE).

There will also be regular inspections, carried out by the Genetic Modification Inspectorate, which is part of the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency.

But campaigners said there was a significant amount of information that is missing from the company’s application to Defra, including technical details of the genetic modifications themselves and any assessment of the potential impact on farms already growing non-GM camelina in the UK.

Rothamsted has also provided no details of what the wax ester lubricant could specifically be used for.

 -Written by Sarah Knapton in The Telegraph. See original article link here.