Scientists to release biotech maize, cotton varieties in Kenya

Kenyan scientists have used modern biotechnology to develop two crop varieties that are expected to be released in the country soon.

Simon Gichuki of the Kenya Agricultural, Livestock Research Organization’s (KALRO) Biotechnology Research Institute (BioRI) said that the maize and cotton varieties are already awaiting the National Performance Trials before they can be released for field trials, while gypsophilla flower will follow soon.

“The products have been produced within the country by local scientists where risk assessment has been done in accordance with the law,” he said during an agricultural biotechnology sensitization workshop in Nairobi on Friday.

Gichuki noted that genetically modified drought- and pest-resistant cassava, sorghum and sweet potato are due to be complete soon.

Julia Njagi, a biosafety officer at the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), revealed that the authority has approved 24 crop varieties for laboratory and greenhouse trials, 14 for Confined Field Trials (CFT) and three for environmental trials.

She added that the two varieties are pending approval and are at the laboratory and environmental release stages.

Research on Bt cotton was completed in 2002-2012 and approved by NBA for National Performance Trials (NPT) by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).

Insect-resistant and drought-tolerant maize variety has also been approved and is undergoing NPT by KEPHIS experts. Enditem

Source: Xinhua/

-Published in NewsGhana.  See original article link here.

Genetically-modified mustard gets GEAC nod for cultivation

The recommendation for clearance has been sent to Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave who has to approve the decision.

AFTER MONTHS of suspense, a genetically-modified variety of mustard, developed by a Delhi-based institute, has been cleared for commercial cultivation by the country’s top regulator on genetically-engineered organisms. The GEAC, or Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, a body that functions under the Environment Ministry, on Thursday gave its recommendation to approve the long-pending application of the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at Delhi University which had developed a transgenic mustard called DMH-11.

The recommendation for clearance has been sent to Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave who has to approve the decision. The GEAC’s decision on Thursday puts DHM-11 mustard at a stage where Bt brinjal, a transgenic variety of brinjal, had found itself seven years ago. Bt brinjal was the first genetically modified food crop that had reached the Environment Minister’s table for clearance after obtaining all the necessary regulatory requirements. The then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, however, had refused clearance and put an indefinite moratorium the decision. That moratorium continues to this day.

GM mustard is the only other food crop which has made it to this last stage, after prolonged debate and several rounds of regulatory checks that has been going on for years. It is not clear what Dave would decide on this crop.

But organisations opposed to genetically-modified crops slammed the GEAC’s decision. “GEAC has proved yet again that it is unscientific and uncaring with regard to citizens’ health and environment. They have failed in their very mandate and purpose for which they have been created, to protect citizens from the risk of GMOs… We hope and urge minister Anil Madhav Dave to be responsible in his decision-making. This GM mustard should be rejected just as Bt brinjal was, seven years ago,” said Sarson Satyagraha which claims to be a platform for “hundreds of organisations” representing farmers and scientists opposed to introduction of GM mustard.

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi in Indian Express website.  See original article link here.1212

ISAAA presents 2016 Annual Report on GM crops adoption in 2016

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) launched its 2016 report titled Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016. Two launch events were held on May 4 and 5, 2017 in Beijing, China.

The media conference held on May 4, 2017 at China Wold Hotel was attended by some 40 journalists from Chinese and international news agencies. ISAAA Chair, Dr. Paul Teng, presented the highlights of the report. He stressed that the adoption of biotech crops increased to 185.1 million hectares in 2016 after the slight decline observed in 2015. ISAAA Senior Program Officer, Dr. Rhodora Aldemita, talked about the development and adoption of biotech crops in Asia.

The following day, a seminar was held on May 5, 2017 at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which was attended by 120 scientists, members of the academe, and students. Drs. Paul Teng and Rhodora Aldemita presented the highlights of the ISAAA report. Mr. Zhang Xianfa from the Ag GMO Division of the Ministry of Agriculture discussed the status of Chinese biotech crops regulation and development. The participants signified their interest in the adoption of more biotech crops in the country to benefit not just the farmers and their families, but also the consumers.

The events were organized in cooperation with China Biotechnology Information Center, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and the Chinese Biotechnology Society.

For more information about the events, send an email to The ISAAA report is downloadable at the ISAAA website.

-Published by ISAAA.  See original article link here.

World Earth Day And Nigeria’s Stand For Science

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22 with various worldwide events held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. In commemoration of the day this year, over 600 countries across the world took to the streets for ‘March for Science’. Our dear country, Nigeria was one of the countries that participated in the march and took a stand for science.

The event was organised in Abuja, Nigeria, by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology in collaboration with other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government; the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA); National Orientation Agency (NOA); the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Africa, Nigeria Chapter and a non-profit institution based at Cornell University, New York, the Cornell Alliance for Science.

The ‘March for Science’ drew participants from the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF); National Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS); FCT Department of Science and Technology; Academic Union of Research Institutes (ASURI); ECOWAS; a private agricultural solution firm, CONTEC Global and other scientific officers, who marched from the Eagle Square to the Unity Fountain and back. There was also a media parley and a tour of NABDA facilities at the agency’s headquarters on Airport Road, Abuja.

Addressing participants at the Unity Fountain, the permanent secretary of the science and technology ministry, Mrs Belema Wakama, said the march provided an opportunity for scientists and science supporters to take a stand and highlight the immense benefits available for Nigerians in science.

“We are here to remind you that we live in the age of science. The life of everyone of us is highly dependent on the scientific inventions, innovations and modern day technologies. Science has changed the lives of people largely which as we all know have been deployed  to every aspect of modernization and in sectors like agriculture, medicine, environment, education, industry, electricity, aviation, information, etc. for both the developed and developing nations,” she said.

Wakama noted that science is revolutionary as it holds the key to constant development and improvement for addressing climate change, food shortage and challenges in medicine, stressing that the march provided yet another opportunity for supporters of science to come together, join voices to amplify available evidence-based solutions for the nation to adopt to ensure food security especially with its growing population.

According to her, “at the current population of over 180 million people and projected population of 400 million people by 2050, Nigeria is faced with the risk of decreased farming population due to age; decreased arable land; poverty; malnutrition and hunger because the conventional method of agriculture can no longer meet up with our demand. Science holds the solution to our food security.”

Saying a country that cannot feed herself cannot have self-pride, she pointed out that the issue of food security required all hands to be on deck for the reconstruction, revival and rejuvenation of our agricultural sector.

The permanent secretary represented by the director of bioresearches and technology at the ministry, Abayomi Oguntunde, stated that agricultural biotechnology and genetic improvement is recognised all over the world as a solution to food security, adding scientific and regulatory agencies around the world had repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be safe.

Earlier in her remarks, the director-general of NABDA, Prof. Lucy Ogbadu, said the ultimate goal of the march was to ensure that scientific integrity played an important role in government decisions that affect everyone, from funding research for evidence-based policy making to regulation recommendations.

She said the march also aimed to highlight the vital role science plays in our lives and take a stand on it; to build capacity, gain publicity and demonstrate strength and solidarity in science to decision makers; to re-emphasis the role of science in national development; to help scientists and communities they serve work together in improving science education, communication and access.

Other objectives of the march, according to her, include to create awareness and sensitise the public on the many ways that science serves our communities and our world and also encourage the public to value and invest in science, appreciate and engage with science; to speak up because research is not gaining enough support it needs to drive the plan to revitalise Nigeria’s agricultural sector; to create an open, honest science communication inclusive public outreach and to affirm science as a democratic value.

Speaking to journalists, the OFAB in Africa, Nigeria chapter coordinator, Dr Rose Gidado, said the aim of the ‘March for Science’ in Nigeria was to persuade the nation to adopt pervasive technologies especially biotechnology.

“We are narrowing the aim of this march down to biotechnology so we can use this technology, the genetic modification tool, in combating the challenges of global warming, desert encroachment, insect and pest infestation of farmers’ farmland. This technology is the only tool that the breeders have been able to find useful; they have used it and they find it useful to be able to overcome these global warming challenges,” Gidado said.

-Published in Nigeria Tibune.  See original article link here.

Kenyan scientists seek more funding for biotechnology research

NAIROBI (Xinhua) — A Kenyan scientist on Wednesday called on the government to increase funding for agricultural biotechnology to help empower women scientists.

Professor Caroline Thoruwa, the Chairperson of African Women in Science and Engineering said additional funding could help enhance the participation of women in science whose number is currently small.

“Additional funding will help empower women’s participation in modern science especially Genetically Modified Organization that is the current innovation in agriculture,” she said in an inaugural women in biosciences forum in Nairobi.

Thoruwa called on the government to increase awareness on biotechnology by reaching women in all parts of the country.

“It is time to tell the public about the positive side of biotechnology.

“We need to raise up the status of women in biotechnology and also encourage women to network in order to achieve the noble goal of sharing their science,” she said.

Felister Makini, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization Deputy Director General urged the government to make farming easier to women by providing them with modern tools such as biotechnology.

“Biotechnology can help African women since they form majority of farmers and suffer most during drought and food shortages,” she noted.

Makini said that drought and perennial hunger should be a thing of the past since the technology that could be of great help exists.

Margaret Karembu, Director, The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications AfriCenter hailed Kenya’s intention to revive the textile industry by introducing disease resistant and drought tolerant Bt cotton.

“Despite demonstrated will and long history of safe use, conflicting messages between different ministries and regulatory agencies were hampering progress in delivering the technology to farmers,” Karembu said.

She called on women scientists to intensify engagement with government and help clarify long-standing misconceptions on the technology.

-Published in  See original article link here.

German biotech on the rise

The Biotechnology in Germany is a growth engine. According to a new report, all key figures such as employees, turnover and R&D expenditure were at an all-time high in 2016.

In terms of key economic factors, 2016 was the best year for the German biotech sector ever. According to the company survey, which Berlin-based information specialist BIOCOM AG conducts annually based on the biotech indicators of the organisation for economic cooperation and development (OECD) for more than ten years, the generated turnover of the German biotech sector for the third year exceeded €3bn. In 2016, total figures increased by 8% to €3.54bn compared to the year before.


Key figures with all-time high

Further upswing has been observed regarding spending on research and development (R&D). For the second time since 2010, the innovation budget cracked the one billion euro mark (+6.3%) and now stands at €1.1bn (2015: €1.04m). With a total of 20,280 (2015: 19,010), there were more employees than ever before working in biotech companies that are occupied wholly or predominantly with modern biotechnological methods. The total number of these companies rose to 615 (2015: 593). Thereby, the following figures and conclusions relate only to the ‘dedicated’ biotechnology companies, as defined by the OECD.

Stable financing situation

The financial situation also mirrors a sustainable positive trend over the last years: in 2016, around €505m was invested in German biotech companies, which did not reach the record levels of 2015 (€550m), but still is a high amount of money compared to previous years. The majority of the money was spent in public companies (€258m, +5%). With bioeconomy pioneer BRAIN AG, the first biotech IPO since 2007 took place at the German stock exchange in Frankfurt. Total numbers of listed German biotech companies increased to 21. Among them are five firms that are listed on a foreign stock exchange. In 2016, Berlin-based Noxxon Pharma choose that way, too, and went public on Euronext in Paris.

Interest of big pharma and the crowd

A closer look into the financings of the private firms, which secured a total of €216m in 2016, reveals that despite overall lower levels (-17%) than in 2015, a lot of double-digit rounds were raised. Foreign investors participated in eight of the 21 private financing rounds, demonstrating that German companies are able to attract high levels of interest. In addition, two crowdfunding campaigns for biotech companies took place in 2016. Some major multimillion euros licensing deals, such as BioNTech with Genentech (€278m), or Medigene with Bluebird Bio (€917m), or Proteros with MSD (€157m), further support the theory that German firms are quite attractive from an international point of view.

Record employee numbers

There is sustained interest in biotechnological processes and services from big business. This is confirmed by a consistently high number of companies in which biotechnology represents only one aspect of business. In 2016, the category of ‘other biotechnology-active companies’ comprised a total of 137 companies (2015: 133). These included both pharmaceutical and chemical companies focused on innovative biotechnological processes as well as companies from the areas of environment, waste management, energy and agriculture. In 2016, a total of 22,000 people were employed in the biotechnology-oriented areas of such companies. Compared to the previous year (2015: 20,250), this represents a growth of 8.6%. For the first time, total headcount in commercial biotechnology increased above the 40,000 mark to 42,280 (+7,7%).

For more information: click here.

-Written by Sandra Wirsching in European Biotechnology website.  See original article link here.

The government is going to counter ‘misinformation’ about GMO foods

The Food and Drug Administration will fund a campaign to promote genetically modified organisms in food under a bipartisan agreement to keep the government funded through the end of September.

The deal to avert a government shutdown, which passed the Senate by a vote of 79 to 18 Thursday, allocates $3 million to “consumer outreach and education regarding agricultural biotechnology,” which includes genetic engineering of food and commodity crops. The money is to be used to tout “the environmental, nutritional, food safety, economic, and humanitarian impacts” of biotech crops and their derivative food products.

More than 50 agriculture and food industry groups had signed on to an April 18 letter urging the funding to counter “a tremendous amount of misinformation about agricultural biotechnology in the public domain.” But some environmental groups and House Democrats have derided the provision as a government-sponsored public relations tour for the GMO industry.

“It is not the responsibility of the FDA to mount a government-controlled propaganda campaign to convince the American public that genetically modified foods are safe,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who attempted to get the measure struck from the bill last month. “The FDA has to regulate the safety of our food supply and medical devices. They are not, nor should they be, in the pro-industry advertising business,” Lowey said during a congressional hearing

It’s unclear what the FDA campaign will look like, or when it will launch. The $3 million allocated is little more than a speck in the FDA’s total allocated budget of $2.8 billion.

The budget specifies only that the initiative be developed in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, and include the “publication and distribution of science-based educational information.” An attempt by Democrats to redirect the project’s funding to pediatric medical projects within FDA was unanimously voted down by Republicans.

A 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found that 39 percent of American adults believe that genetically modified foods are worse for health than their conventional equivalents — an assessment with which the vast majority of scientists disagree. Nearly 90 percent of the members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science believe GMOs are safe to eat, according to another Pew study.

“Clearly, communication of the benefits of biotechnology from the scientific community has not gone well, and this presents an opportunity to engage with the public in a more meaningful dialogue,” said Mark Rieger, the dean of the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who signed the industry letter. “We see it as a communication issue, not a political one.”

But critics argue the issue is inherently political, given the financial ties between lawmakers and the ag biotech industry. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, agribusiness interests donated more than $26.3 million to political campaigns, including those of several congressmen who sit on the House agriculture appropriations subcommittee.

Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-Ala.), the chair of that subcommittee and a defender of the GMO education funding, received $10,000 from Monsanto in 2016.

“This is a really clear example of big ag influencing policy,” said Dana Perls, the senior food and technology campaigner for the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “The Trump administration is putting big ag before consumer desire and public health … Consumers do not want this.”

Critics have also wondered whether it’s the government’s job to communicate this particular information — and whether that information, as written in the budget, oversteps what scientists really know. While there’s a widespread consensus that GM crops are safe, there are valid and lingering questions about the environmental and social impacts of GMOs.

Last year, an academic analysis of 14 years of farm data found that an uptick in GM seed plantings goes hand-in-hand with increased herbicide use, for instance. Some herbicides have been found to contribute to health problems in animals and humans.

An October analysis by the New York Times found that the technology does not significantly increase yields. And few GM products with tangible consumer benefits — such as better taste or nutrition — have yet made it onto the U.S. market.

“So yes, that gives them a marketing problem,” Kimbrell said. “But Monsanto has plenty of money to advocate for GMOs … Why do we need to use taxpayer dollars?”

One possible answer, from industry’s perspective, is that taxpayer dollars are already funding a Department of Agriculture initiative to label GM foods. Last year, Congress passed a bill mandating that food companies disclose the GM ingredients in their products, and USDA has said it is actively working on the standards for those labels.

Patrick Delaney, a spokesman for the American Soybean Association, said it will be important for consumers to understand those labels once they roll out, likely after September 2018.

“We recognize that there is a need for better and more accessible information on what this technology is and what it provides to consumers, he said by email. “We supported (and still support) that $3 million in funding for biotech education … to better inform the public about the use of biotechnology in food and agricultural production.”

-Written by Caitlin Dewey in The Washington Post.  See original article link here.


Use of biotechnology must to attain food security: Bosan

Around 130 national and international academicians and scientists hailing from seven different countries including Turkey, Tunisia, Sudan, Iran, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan attended a workshop held here to promote the safe use of modern biotechnology to attain the goal of food security and defeating hunger and poverty.

Minister for Food Security and Research Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan inaugurated the 3rd International Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Biotechnology on Wednesday.

The 2-day event being held at the National Agriculture Research Center, Islamabad, is jointly organised by Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS), ISESCO and Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC).

Addressing the audiences, the minister said that it was time that the countries of the region should encourage and support smart agricultural practices.

He said safe use of modern biotechnology was needed to enhance agricultural production and get rid of malnutrition and starvation. The minister pledged full support for agricultural production which was the backbone of economy with sustainable food security.

Dr Ghulam Muhammad Ali, Member Coordination and Monitoring, PARC, Islamabad, noted that advances in science and technology were the need of time for food security and safety. Noting the hunger still prevailing in various parts of the world, he opined that biotechnology was the basis of production of vast variety of transgenic and genetically modified crops which can solve the problem of hunger.

He said that the conference having similar agenda was good for the developing countries as it would open ways for research, collaboration and capacity building.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Kauser Malik, Department of Biological Sciences, FC College Lahore, mentioned that it was our fear of unknown that kept the human beings away from adapting new technologies and advocated the use of genetically modified crops for addressing hunger.

In his message, Dr SM Junaid Zaidi, Executive Director COMSATS, said that despite major developments around the globe, many areas struggle with challenges of starvation and malnutrition. Even the developed countries cannot engage in bigger pursuits without ensuring food security. Mentioning the importance of biotechnology in agriculture, he noted that biotechnological influence on food production and agriculture is undeniable especially for countries like Pakistan with fertile lands and good weather conditions.

The message from Director General ISESCO, HE Dr. Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, noted that there was a dire need to provide an enriching and engaging environment to foster crop science research towards new and improved livelihood opportunities and sustainable food security. He considered collaborations in this regard necessary and appreciated the cooperation between ISESCO and COMSATS.

Shields were given to the esteemed participants who came from different countries for the conference.

-Published in Pakistan Today.  See original article link here.

Farmers return to BT cotton after experiment with desi variety fails

After the experiment with the desi cotton failed to bear fruits, farmers are returning to the BT cotton in the next kharif season.

While there is no taker for the desi cotton seed available with the government agencies, the BT cotton seed is being sold at a premium in the open market, as the seed is not available with the Haryana Seeds Development Corporation.
The farmers say due to high demand, BT cotton varieties were being sold at premium rate by the private seed sellers in the open market. On the other hand, they said, there were no takers for the desi varieties.

“The farmers prefer three varieties of BT cotton— 773, 776 and US 21. Due to high demand, the seed traders have been manipulating the market to create a shortage. Though some unscrupulous elements succeeded in selling these varieties at a premium of Rs 200 per packet above the MRP, the market has stabilised now and these vareties are also available at the MRP of Rs 800,” says a seed trader in Hisar.

Anil Kumar, assistant marketing officer of the Haryana Seeds Development Corporation, says the desi varieties are in low demand this time. “Just 120 packets have been sold till. Last year, I had sold 1,400 packets,” he says, maintaining that the corporation will make some varieties of BT cotton available to the farmers soon.
Farmers say good BT cotton crop in the last kharif season had turned the farmers back to these varieties, as desi cotton was not even able to recover the input cost.

Zile Singh, a farmer from Bir Babran village who sowed desi cotton last time after he lost the BT cotton to the whitefly two years ago, said he was returning to BT cotton this time again.

-Published in The Tribune.  See original article link here.

March for Science: Agony and ecstasy of a Malaysian agricultural biotechnology science communicator

What can be more challenging than slogging in the laboratory, burning the midnight Bunsen burner, changing the methodology a few times, dealing with contaminated cell cultures and losing them, not having the transferred genes express themselves, and mining large genomics data in the terabytes?

It is communicating the science behind the research, repackaging it into plain language and dispelling the misinformation created by technology skeptics to ensure that viable science projects that help address food security and sustainable agriculture practices are commercialized, approved and reach the farms and our forks. This is no small task. Science communication is a complex field requiring special skills, training and experience. The heterogeneity of the public makes science communication both challenging and exciting. There is no cookie-cutter approach. Every audience, topic and concern must be approached differently. Each one is unique, requiring a customized communication strategy.

I have been a science communicator for 14 years and I have enjoyed every one of them, although it is not a bed of roses all the time. It requires patience and the ability to learn from our past mistakes and to perfect our techniques. Here I am sharing my agony and ecstasy.

The agony

Why is it that when scientists speak up for genetically modified (GM) crops we are immediately labeled as industry advocates and as recipients of industry money? In contrast, those who evangelize about organic products are seen as angels and saints? Yet, many of the critics of GM crops receive financial support from the organic industry and this industry has been no angel to science. Scientists who collaborate with agri-companies or receive funding from them are also demonized and their credibility trashed by critics. But, industry collaboration is not new in research at universities. The organic industry widely funds research. Why are only agribiotechnology scientists singled out?

Mahaletchumy Arujanan

Critics create myths about organic foods; instill guilt in mothers who don’t feed their families with organic foods; and force consumers to pay hefty premiums in the pretext of serving more nutritious and sustainably grown foods. The claims that organic foods are more nutritious have been debunked many times. In spite of all this, GM crops and those who support them are painted as evil. For these reasons, I avoid organic foods like the plague – it simply goes against my conscience.

Why is our job made so difficult while critics of GM crops have it easy? They create fear, doubts and myths. But those who embrace science take years to challenge the myths and doubts created by others. It takes years of research. Every time a doubt is created and turned into an unnecessary regulation, farmers pay the price in terms of economic losses. A good example is the failure to approve and commercialize insect resistant Bt brinjal in the Philippines (note the benefits were publicly acknowledged seven years ago but opponents successfully blocked its approval) and GM mustard in India.

It is not easy fighting ideology and hypocrisy with science. The opposition to GM crops has become a cult that no amount of science can dispel. I feel helpless when powerful tools are confiscated from farmers (see how EU “Urges the G8 member states not to support GMO crops in Africa”—clause 72). They are deprived of technological innovations that could help them practice agriculture sustainably, prevent occupational hazards that are caused by the use of pesticides, increase their income and reduce their loss and costs.

A common accusation by critics is that GM seeds are patented by big agri-companies. But they fail to acknowledge that organic products are patented as well. Another favorite of scaremongers is that GM crops are dangerous and can even kill. Yet, since 1996 not a single GM-related health hazard has been reported. Not one. We can’t however, say the same for organic produce. Read here, here and here to see the reality of safety of organic foods.

In spite of the mounting evidence on the benefits of GM crops, critics confuse the public with cooked-up “evidence” demonizing GM crops. For a science communicator backed by science, this is agonizing and makes my job extremely difficult.

The Ecstasy

When Malaysia was developing its Biosafety Act, I was involved in creating awareness about the need for a balanced, science-based regulatory instrument. I faced character assassination, accusations and sarcastic remarks.They were agonizing moments. But the agony turned to ecstasy when the act, and later the regulations and guidelines, became more science-based. Today, I sit in many meetings with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to help implement the regulations in a balanced manner.

There have been other moments of ecstasy as well. Years ago, I waded into untested waters when I tackled issues related to Islamic principles (Shariah compliance) and GM foods. As a non-Muslim, I took a risk in handling such a sensitive topic but there were many countries that were contemplating a fatwa (decree) against GM crops, i.e. to declare GM foods and crops as haram (non-permissible). I didn’t want the misinformation to spread among Muslim countries so I organized a dialogue between religious scholars and scientists.

The first meeting collapsed halfway through with many accusations hurled at me by GM opponents. I took a break from this topic for a while and analyzed my mistakes, found new credible partners and organized another high-level dialogue with top Islamic scholars from the Muslim world. It was a huge success. Here is the resolution that is used as a reference in many countries today that resulted from the discussion. Philippines became the first country after the dialogue to reverse its anti-GM rules, where initially they had a blanket decree claiming all GM foods were haram.

In 2010, I took a creative approach to educating a  group that otherwise wouldn’t take a second look at biotechnology  – fashion students, and through them a wider women’s group. I engaged a university and got its fashion students to design outfits based on biotechnology themes and organized a fashion show. This was part of a bigger event called “Bio Carnival” with poster drawings, coloring, public speaking, debate, quizzes and spelling competitions for students, and exhibitions and hands-on sessions for the public. It was a rewarding experience when the university later introduced biotechnology as a special project for fashion students after realizing how it inspired fashion designs through its colors and unique patterns. With this approach, all the students had to search for information on biotechnology and we educated them about science and innovation.

Then there is my favorite project. I was long frustrated with the amount of space the mainstream media devoted to science issues. I tried making friends with journalists and organizing media training for scientists but it really did not effect much change. So, I decided to create my own playing field, The Petri Dish – the first science newspaper in Malaysia. It is now seven years old and this year it graduated to become a digital portal to reach a wider audience.

The Petri Dish reaches all key stakeholders in Malaysia – academia, researchers, policymakers, politicians (all cabinet members receive a copy), students, industry and the general public. We make it available at shopping malls and Starbucks outlets. I know a number of ministers who read it, and once a topic was fiercely debated at the cabinet meeting after being reported in The Petri Dish.

This is our initiative in bringing science to the headlines. It is aimed at creating awareness among all stakeholders on biotechnology so the public will be more receptive to emerging technologies and policymakers will be able to make informed decisions on regulations and funding. It also encourages young people to pursue STEM education and careers. Every time, I receive positive feedback on Petri Dish, I feel a rush of ecstasy. It is a struggle to sustain a science newspaper but the feeling of inspiring people about science is rewarding.

Another area I enjoy is talking to students – both at schools and universities. These are uncorrupted minds and they are receptive to information backed by science when it is presented by a credible person. Every year, I reach out to more than 2000 students who are inspired by science and believe it offers solutions to many global problems.

The biggest lesson I have learned is that we need to build trust with our audiences before we start communicating with them: Connecting first and then communicating.

I believe the agony and ecstasy will continue, with exciting new developments in synthetic biology, gene editing and gene drives.

Mahaletchumy Arujanan is the Executive Director of Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) and Editor-in-Chief of The Petri Dish – the first science newspaper in Malaysia. She is also an Adjunct Lecturer at Monash University Malaysia. She has a degree in Biochemistry and Microbiology from Universiti Putra Malaysia, Masters in Biotechnology and PhD in science communication from the University of Malaya. She is an active science communicator who addresses policies, regulations, ethics, religions, STEM and other areas pertinent to biotechnology development. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter @maha_mabic.

-Written by Mahaletchumy Arujanan in Genetic Literacy Project website.  See original article link here.

The rise of antimicrobial-resistant diseases

‘Antimicrobial resistance is a threat to global security and economic stability.  It is a looming health and economic crisis that requires both global and local solutions. “Since drug-resistant genes can travel, countries with higher levels of economic and social organization have a stake in the success of measures taken by less-developed countries.  In the fight against antimicrobial resistance, we are only as strong as the weakest link.”—Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, World Health Organization (WHO)  regional director for Southeast Asia.

Six summers ago, 5-year-old Kathy started coughing hard every night.  Her mother, Sarah, took her to a clinic and asked for an antibiotic.  The doctor prescribed azithromycin, and Kathy seemed to improve, but a month later she had another coughing attack.  The doctor put her on a different antibiotic, clarithromycin.

More illnesses followed—ear infections, coughs, colds, runny nose.  In one year, Kathy was given 10 different courses of antibiotics.  Then, when she was 9, she was struck down by a terrifying new illness.  Her temperature soared to nearly 40 degrees, and she was having trouble breathing.  When Sarah coughed, her phlegm was mixed with blood.

Sarah rushed her daughter to a hospital, where doctors diagnosed bacterial pneumonia and prescribed more antibiotics: azithromycin plus amoxicillin/clavulanic acid.  When Kathy showed no sign of improvement, tests revealed that she had been hit with a strain of Streptococcus pneumoniae resistant to azithromycin and other common antibiotics.  Doctors had only one option left—vancomycin, a potent antibiotic given intravenously.  Fortunately, the drug worked and Kathy recovered quickly.  “Based on her medical history, Kathy was a prime candidate for a resistant bacterium,” the doctor who took care of her told this author.

Antibiotics remain the world’s most effective weapon against disease-causing bacteria, with the power to save lives and prevent illness.   In 1969 an American surgeon general told the United States Congress: “The time has come to close the book on infectious diseases.”  Because of this, research budgets were slashed and medical students were discouraged from specializing in such illnesses.

Dr. Bernard Fields, a Harvard microbiologist who went through American medical schools in the 1960s, recalled being told by his mentors: “Don’t bother going into infectious diseases.”

“The perception was that we had conquered almost every infectious disease,” notes Dr. Thomas Beam of the Buffalo, New York, VA Medical Center.  The polio virus had been tamed by the Salk and Sabin vaccines.  The smallpox virus was virtually gone.  The parasite that caused malaria was in retreat.  Once deadly illnesses, including diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus, seemed like quaint reminders of a bygone era.

Science was sure the real challenges would be in the conquest of cancer, heart disease and other chronic ailments.  Instead, “medicine’s purported triumph over infectious diseases has become an illusion,” Dr. Sherwin Nuland wrote in his best-selling How We Die.

Antimicrobial resistance

But it seems medicine declared victory and went home too soon.  Every disease-causing bacterium now has versions that resist at least one of medicine’s 100-plus antibiotics.  In fact, there is now such a thing as antimicrobrial resistance (AMR), a phenomenon where infectious microorganisms previously susceptible to a certain drug become eventually resistant to such treatment.

In the Philippines the 2015 Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance Program report of the Department of Health said,  “Organisms commonly involved in deadly human infections are responding less and less to antibiotics.  The alarming fact is that these bacteria are not just becoming resilient to first-line antimicrobials, such as fluoroquinolones and third-generation cephalosporins, but also to strong, last-resort antibiotics called carbapenems.”

An estimated 700,000 cases of AMR from various parts of the world have been reported, according to the 2014 review, Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a Crisis for the Health and Wealth of Nations.  By 2050 the number is expected to balloon to 10 million.  In the United States at least 2 million people are reported to be infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics and snatching 23,000 lives each year as a direct result of these infections.

The Philippines is not spared from such assault.  In an article that came out in Philippine Daily Inquirer, Anne A. Jambora wrote: “Bacteria, viruses and some parasites can now stop antimicrobial medications, such as antibiotics and antivirals, from working against them.  Standard treatment then become ineffective, and, soon, in an event of a post-antibiotic era, even the simplest injury or a minor wound could become life-threatening.”

Just recently, the Geneva-based WHO published a list of antibiotic resistant “priority pathogens”, a catalogue of 12 families of bacteria that pose a threat to human health.

“The list is a new tool to ensure research and development respond to urgent public-health needs,” explained Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHOs assistant director general for health systems and innovation.  “Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options.”

In a statement, Kieny said the list highlights, in particular, the threat of “gram-negative” bacteria that were resistant to multiple antibiotics.  These bacteria have built-in abilities to find new ways to resist treatment and could pass along genetic material that allowed other bacteria to become drug-resistant, as well.

Reasons for emergence

There are several reasons for this sudden surge of new bacteria and viruses that resist antibiotics.  Abuse of antibiotics has been cited as one of the main culprits. “Essentially,” Dr. Lee Green, a family practitioner at the University of Michigan, was quoted as saying by the Newsweek, “we have a tradition of prescribing antibiotics to anybody who looks sick.”

“In many countries, antibiotics are available without doctor’s prescription, which lets patients diagnose and dose themselves, often inappropriately,” Time journalist Michael D. Lemonick added.

“The overuse of antibiotics—especially taking antibiotics even when they’re not the appropriate treatment—promotes antibiotic resistance,” the US-based Mayo Clinic explained.  “Antibiotics treat bacterial infections but not viral infections.”  But even when doctors dispense antibiotics properly, there is no guarantee they’ll be used that way.  This is where another reason comes in: misuse.  Several studies have shown that a third of all patients fail to use the drugs as prescribed. In his special report, Lemonick wrote: “Patients frequently stop taking antibiotics when their symptoms go away but before an infection is entirely cleared up.  That suppresses susceptible microbes but allows partially resistant ones to flourish.”

This has been fully explained by Sally Davies, the United Kingdom chief medical officer. In her book The Drugs Don’t Work, the author describes how bacteria become resistant to drugs when a person doesn’t take antibiotics for long enough.  “If the drugs are not given enough opportunity to fully kill the bacteria, it may survive while also learning how to resist future treatment with the same drug,” Davies wrote. “This is why it is important that antibiotics are only taken exactly as prescribed by a trained medical professional.”

Still another culprit: agriculture.  “High-tech farmers have learned that mixing low doses of antibiotics into cattle feed makes the animals grow larger,” Lemonick wrote. “Bacteria in the cattle become resistant to the drugs, and when people drink milk or eat meat, this immunity may be transferred to human bacteria.”

According to Dr. Enrique Tayag, the director IV of the Department of Health Bureau of Local Health Development, when food is mixed with antibiotics, AMR may result.  “There is an animal-to-person contamination, and person-to-person transmission,” the former assistant health secretary was quoted as saying.  “So now, we’re looking at animal health, food health and human health.”

Environmental degradation

in a way, environmental degradation has also contributed to the appearance of infectious diseases that resist drugs.  “Infectious diseases are a basic barometer of the environmental sustainability of human activity,” Platt pointed out.  Francesca Grifo, director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History, wrote: “One of the clearest examples of how ecosystem disruption affects disease behavior can be seen in the interaction between deforestation and the infectious, and particularly vector-borne, diseases that are common through tropics and subtropics.”  (A vector is an organism that transmits a disease from place to place.)

Global political response

To address the looming antibiotic-resistance disaster, a global political response similar to the way the world has reacted to climate change or HIV/AIDS is needed, according to Swedish Minister of Public Health

Gabriel Wikstrom.  “Of course, [with antibiotic resistance], we have many technical issues still to solve, and medical issues, as well, but it’s foremost a political issue,” Wikstrom was quoted as saying by the Inter Press Service.

The “business-as-usual” scenario must be stopped at all cost.  “What is clear is that all countries around the world need to stop treating antibiotics as if they are sweets,” declared Lord Jim O’Neill, chairman of the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance of the UK. “It’s true in humans, and it’s true in agriculture.”  For its part, the health department urges all Filipinos to use antibiotics properly.  Tayag suggests that before taking self-prescribed antibiotics, he needs to ask these questions: What is wrong with me?  Is this the right medicine?  Is it safe?  Shall I die because I’m taking this?

“The battle against AMR is continuous and we cannot relent,” Dr. Butch Rector, MSD medical director, told the Philippines Graphic.  “It is difficult, but with concerted effort—from patients and doctors, to the government, as well as the private sector—we can be optimistic of a world finally free from AMR.”

Image Credits:

-Written by Henrylito D. Tacio in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Scientific innovations solving agricultural problems

Agriculture plays a critical role in food security, political stability, and world peace and yet it leaves a big environmental footprint. Agriculture accounts for 33 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and as much as 75 percent of nitric oxide emissions. It’s also responsible for 70 percent of world water use, 50 percent of the topsoil loss, and drives 80 percent of the planet’s deforestation.

The challenge for all of us — as scientists, policy makers, farmers and consumers — is to mitigate these environmental insults while feeding 9+ billion people.

Fortunately, scientific innovations—including agricultural biotechnology—are helping us meet these challenges. I’d like to share five inspirational stories of people who are relying on science to address common, but daunting, farming issues.

The Nitrogen Problem

Giles Oldroyd, a professor at the John Innes Centre in the UK, is leading a team that aspires to engineer cereal crops, like maize, to produce their own nitrogen fertilizer by associating with soil microbes. This addresses three challenges: lack of access to synthetic nitrogen fertilizers in areas of the developing world, like Sub-Saharan Africa, where yields are only 15-20 percent of those in similar climatic regions; eliminating the nitrogen run-off from farms and the associated release of nitric oxide; and reducing carbon emissions generated by the production of nitrogen fertilizers.  If Giles and his team are successful, farmers around the world will have access to cleaner, greener, cereal crops. Learn more about Giles’ mission to address the nitrogen problem here.

The Topsoil Problem

Bram Govaerts, a native of Belgium, works at the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) in Mexico.  Bram champions the adoption of conservation agriculture practices that reduce topsoil loss and offer myriad other benefits, such as reduced tillage, leaving surface resides on the land, and diversifying cropping systems. To help small-scale farmers across the developing world achieve widespread adoption of these practices, Bram uses cell phones, social media, and other communications and educational approaches, both online and offline. These strategies inspire change at both the farmer and policy levels. Bram is committed to helping farmers access the innovations to rise above subsistence farming. As he noted upon receiving the prestigious Borlaug Field Award in 2014: “The best recognition of Dr. Norman Borlaug’s legacy is to be conscious and shout out loud that farming is the future. It is our moral duty as researchers to bring pride back to the fields by harnessing the existing innovations of farmers and other value chain actors and fostering capacity and application of science and technology.”  See Bram in action here.

The Land Conservation Problem

To feed a growing population without encroaching further onto wild lands, scientists are looking to produce more food on less land. Researches are exploring such ingenious approaches as increasing the rates by which plants perform photosynthesis: the process of using light, water, and CO2 to produce biomass and food. Ultimately, this may help plants sequester CO2 more efficiently, which could boost yields without increasing cultivated acreage. Maureen Hanson, at Cornell University, is leading a collaborative team in the US and the UK to transfer the genes that code for a special compartment in microbes to flowering plants, which enables those plants to become more efficient at using CO2 to to produce biomass. Stephen Long, a scientist in Illinois working on the RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency) project, is taking another approach to increase rates of photosynthesis. These applications of genetic engineering are innovative models for helping us to produce more with less. Read about Stephen’s work to improve photosynthesis in cassava here. And Maureen’s work here.

The Pesticide Problem 

Researchers in Bangladesh helped reduce insecticide use by smallholder farmers when they developed a variety of insect-resistant eggplant — or brinjal, as it is known in South Asia — in 2014. Brinjal that incorporates resistance conferred by bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) required the will of forward-thinking political leaders, such as Bangladesh Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, to get approved and on the market.  Now, farmers who used to spray their brinjal as frequently as twice a day have reduced their pesticide use by as much as 80 percent.  This means a healthier farmer, a healthier environment, healthier consumers, and a huge cost savings for small-scale farmers.  With the additional income generated by their crops of pesticide-free GMO eggplant, farmers can afford to better feed and educate their families, which may further help break the cycle of poverty cycle. Watch farmers discuss their success with Bt brinjal here.

The Thirsty Plants Problem

Researchers in eastern Africa, such as plant breeder Elizma Joubert and entomologist Regina Tende, are part of a global public-private partnership called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA). They are working to produce GM maize that can resist insects and thrive on limited amounts of water — an ever-increasing challenge as drought has become the new norm for many farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa, where maize is an important staple crop. WEMA already is being grown commercially in South Africa, and has been successfully field-tested in Kenya and Uganda. Most recently, Tanzania conducted its first-ever GMO field trial, and the drought-tolerant WEMA showed good results. Learn more about this historic trial and the potential it holds for small-scale farmers here.

These five innovations are mitigating agriculture’s use of nitrogen, topsoil and land; helping plants be more efficient at using nitrogen and water; and reducing pesticide use. These are just some of the ways that agricultural scientists are helping improve global food security, reduce poverty, and achieve environmental sustainability. To translate this innovative research into global practices that reduce the environmental footprint of the food we eat requires political will and the public support of policy makers, farmers and all of us, as consumers.

Join us on Earth Day, April 22, as we March for Science as a global community in support of science and innovation needed to address the great environmental and agricultural challenges we face.

Sarah Evanega holds a doctorate in plant biology from Cornell University, where she is the director of the Alliance for Science and senior associate director for International Programs at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

-Written by Sarah Evanega in Alliance for Science website.  See original article link here.

Use of high-yielding GM varieties will allow farmers to export corn

The government should promote the use of higher-yielding genetically modified (GM) seed varieties to boost corn output and enable farmers to export, according to an executive of Monsanto Philippines Inc. (MPI).

MPI Country Commercial Lead Rachelle Lomibao said expanding the use of modern technology will help the government achieve its goal of exporting corn in the near future.

“If you just increase the yield average per hectare then you don’t have to increase the number of hectares to be planted with corn. You just increase productivity per hectare and that’s not impossible,” Lomibao told the BusinessMirror on the sidelines of the company’s media launch of a new hybrid corn seed variety on Monday.

However, the MPI executive said the use of hybrid-corn seed varieties alone is not enough to turn the Philippines’s dream of exporting the crop into a reality.

“It’s not just about the seeds; it has to be accompanied by a lot of factors: fertilization, right agronomic practices, right management of water and right management of diseases and pests,” Lomibao said.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) earlier said the Philippines will achieve a “historic feat” this year by exporting corn due to a surplus in output.

However, Lomibao said she doesn’t see this happening this year.

“We may not be able to export this year due to the gap between the supply and demand,” she said.

Latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that the country’s self-sufficiency ratio on corn declined to 91.35 percent in 2015, from 93.12 percent
recorded in 2014.

On Monday MPI rolled out Dekalb 6999S, a hybrid corn seed variety, which has a potential yield of 13.6 metric tons per hectare (MT/ha), more than triple than the country’s average yield of 4 MT/ha.

“Based on our trials it has a potential yield of as much as 13.6 MT/ha. This variety can be used both for wet and dry seasons,” MPI Marketing Lead Pam Valenzuela told reporters in a news briefing on Monday.

“This variety is what we need to reduce the gap between what is currently being produced and the demand,” Valenzuela added.

Dekalb 6999S contains Genuity, a Monsanto trait technology that makes the crop resistant to pests, such as corn borer, earworm and cutworm, according to MPI. MPI also said its latest product is protected against weeds due to its Round Up Ready component.

When asked if the MPI’s latest seed variety could withstand extreme weather condition such as drought, Lomibao said, “it will thrive.”

“Dekalb has been known to have a germplasm that is really resilient against drought. Our previous variety the Dekalb 6919 survived when planted during the last time we had El Niño,” she said.

“The germplasm, which is drought-tolerant used in 6919, is the same with that of Dekalb 6999S. We are confident that with Dekalb 6999s farmers can still be accorded with an optimum yield through our hybrid [seeds],” she added.

Lomibao also disclosed that there are several hybrid corn seed varieties currently in the pipeline.

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

Jasper Emmanuel Y. Arcalas is a graduate of the UST Journalism School (Batch 2016). He currently covers agribusiness for the BusinessMirror. He joined the news outfit in August 2016.

Expert: Biotechnology Will Aid Sustainable Agricultural Production

Prof. Benjamin Ubi, the President, (BSN), says the adoption of biotechnology will facilitate sustainable agricultural production in the country.

Ubi made the declaration in an interview with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Thursday

He said that the adoption of biotechnology applications was the panacea to the current food challenges facing the country.

“Biotechnology, including genetic engineering and production of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), provides powerful tools for the sustainable development of agriculture, fishery and forestry, as well as meeting the food needs of the population.

“GMOs currently account for about 16 per cent of the world’s crops, particularly crops like soybean, maize, cotton and canola, and there are indications that the growing trend will continue.

“So, we must eat what we grow and grow what we eat. This means we ought to produce more and agricultural biotechnology is a tool for achieving this,’’ he said.

Ubi also pledged the support of the BSN for the efforts of National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) to harness the potential of modern biotechnology.

“BSN, as a stakeholder in biosafety, will continue to support NBMA; we should all be rest assured that no biotechnology product will be imposed on anyone.

“Hunger and peace work hand-in-hand, so lack of hunger consequently promotes peace; therefore, biotechnology and its derivatives should be adopted for the benefit of Nigerians, while maintaining regulatory standards.

“Biotechnology and biosafety stakeholders must, therefore, work in tandem with global bodies because Nigeria is not a pariah nation; we are a responsible and respected member of the global community,’’ he said.

Ubi urged anti-GMO campaigners not to play politics with issues that could engender food security and alleviate poverty, saying that tangible efforts should be made to enhance the availability and affordability of high-quality foods via biotechnology applications.

“I assure all that modern biotechnology had been found to be safe by global certification bodies.

“All the same, informed criticism is good for checks and balances but it should not be allowed to be a clog the wheel of progress,’’ he added.

-Published in PM News Nigeria.  See original article link here.

March for Science goes international

The Cornell Alliance for Science global network is planning to join the March for Science in key international locales on April 22, as well as Washington, D.C., and its home base of Ithaca, NY.

Science allies are organizing marches in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Hawaii, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, London and other places.


Arif Hossain, a communications officer with the Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership and an Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellow, is organizing the march in Dhaka: “I believe in science, and to me this celebration is an inspiration and impulse to work for better health services, safer living, quality education and an enlightened future. I am marching to let the world know that we are united for science in Bangladesh. We have 160 million people to feed in the changed climate and together we will make a better day with science and innovation.”


Marshall “Marlo” Asis, an agricultural journalist and Global Leadership Fellow, is helping to organize the march at the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City: “As a historic first, the March for Science will serve as an agent of transformation in uniting Filipinos yearning for change with biotechnology at the heart of the discussion. Indeed for us, silence is no longer an option! It is high time to tell the world that good science intended for the common good must be once and for all accessible to those who need it most — the hungry, the malnourished and the poor.”


Clet Wandui Masiga, a conservation biologist, geneticist and Global Leadership Fellow, is co-coordinating the march in Uganda:   “We have those people who know the truth about science, but they are silent. This silence is giving anti-science activists an opportunity to misinform the public. I am therefore going to march to show the world that I support and use science, and people should be allowed to have access to science to make decisions for themselves.”


Luis Ventura-Martinez, a biologist on the faculty of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Global Leadership Fellow, is participating in the Mexico City march: “I am for Mexico, and just like what is sadly happening in other developing countries, science is not a priority for our government, which recently reduced the financial support to science. We, the science allies, should show that no one deserves to be forgotten, that the science matters, and that we are here.

“We need to call out for science, because science is not alone. And from across the silence, and from across the world, our voices will be heard. We need to do this not just for the scientists, but for everyone, for all of us.”


Nkechi Isaac, a Nigerian journalist and Global Leadership Fellow, is joining the march in Nigeria:  “At the current population of over 180 million people, Nigeria is faced with the risk of malnutrition and hunger because the conventional method of agriculture can no longer meet up with our demand. Science holds the solution to our food security.

“Science is revolutionary. It holds the key to constant development and improvement for addressing climate change, food shortage and challenges in medicine. The March for Science provides an opportunity for scientists and science supporters to take a stand and highlight the immense benefits available for Nigeria in science.”


Marches are planned on the islands of Oahu, Hawaii, Maui and Kauai, where Sarah Thompson, coordinator of the Hawaii Alliance for Science, will be participating: “We are united in a love of science, an insatiable curiosity of it.  We know that science is everywhere and affects everyone. We seek to build a grassroots network of like-minded individuals who support science and science-based decision making.”

Remember to pick up your March for Science tee-shirts, social media materials and free downloadable posters at the Alliance for Science store.

-Released by Cornell Alliance for Science Global Network.  See original article link here.

Bangladesh to release 3 more Bt brinjal varieties

Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) will release three more varieties of the country’s first genetically modified (GM) crop–Bt Brinjal, which is infused with a pest-resistant gene.

BARI Director General Dr Abul Kalam Azad made the announcement at a workshop on “Bt Eggplant Research and Development,” at a hotel in Dhaka today.

“Bt technology is not a panacea. It works only against shoot and fruit borer. For other diseases, we must manage using other mechanisms,” he added.

Addressing the occasion, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said that government is ready to accept any advanced technology keeping in mind the safety of the people.

Currently, around 6,000 farmers in 36 districts are cultivating four Bt Brinjal verities— BARI Bt (Uttara), BARI Bt (Kajla), BARI Bt (Nayontar) and ISD006 Bt BARI.

Farmers from Rajshahi, Rangpur, Pabna and Gazipur started cultivating the Bt Brinjal for the first time in 2014. With the journey of cultivating Bt Brinjal, Bangladesh has joined a group of 29 countries that grow GM crops.

BARI Chief Scientific Officer ASM Mahbubur Rahman Khan gave a presentation on “Performance of Bt Brinjal varieties at Farmers Field” and Prof Anthony M Shelton, director of Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Project from Cornell University, also spoke at the function.

-Published in The Daily Star.  See original article link here.

All in the name of food security

PRESIDENTIAL Proclamation 1414, signed in 2007, stipulates “the policy of government to promote safe and responsible use of modern biotechnology and its products as one of the several means to achieve and sustain food security, equitable access to health and services, sustainable and safe environment and industry development.”

Biotechnology, coined by Hungarian agricultural economist Karl Erchy by combining the two words, “bio [from biology]” and technology, is considered as a possible solution to the impending wave of hunger the world will be facing in the future.

Referring to that brance of science, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug commented: “I [can] now say that the world has the technology—either available or well-advance in the research pipeline—to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology.”

The tools used in biotechnology include gene cloning, tissue culture, microbial culture, DNA-marker technology and genetic engineering. The latter is the most controversial as, it is the method used in developing genetically modified organisms.

To a nonscientist, biotechnology is too hard to understand. But for an American scientist like Frank A. Shotkoski, it is as easy as eating fried chicken or drinking lemon juice. Ask him anything about it, and he will not deviate from the subject.

Currently, he maintains an adjunct professor position at Cornell University in the College of Life Science Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics. He originally joined the university in 2005 as Director of Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII), where he directed several biotechnology commercialization projects in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa. The program ended in November 2016, but he is still working pro bono on the projects in Indonesia and Bangladesh.

Biotech as boon

“I see biotechnology as an important component of the many technologies and choices that we have available to provide food security, human nutrition and health for an ever-expanding population,” Shotkoski said in an exclusive interview. “This is especially important for agriculture, where farmers are faced with many biotic and abiotic constraints, most of which can’t be dealt with using conventional technologies.”

The man knows what he is talking about. He has worked in both agricultural and medical technology and biotechnology all of his professional career. He has witnessed and experienced the benefits of biotechnology firsthand and understood well the potential future benefits to mankind that will come from this technology.

What makes Shotkoski a credible source of information when it comes to biotechnology is that he has been directly involved in the development and commercialization of two important products of genetic engineering.

It was in Bogor, Indonesia, where we had the pleasure of meeting Shotkoski. He was one of the invited speakers for the biotechnology workshop for Asian journalists. It was there we learned he had been to the Philippines several times already. In fact, he is happily married to a Filipina, Anna Marie Jensen (more popularly known as Francine Prieto).

It was in 2005 that he first came to the Philippines. As the newly appointed director of ABSPII, he visited the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB). “I spent most of my time in Los Baños working with our research team on the bacillus thuringiensis talong, ringspot virus-resistant papaya and multivirus-resistant tomato projects. I was very impressed with the professionalism of the staff and students regarding their work and dedication to the project. [And also] by their willingness to enjoy an active social life,” he recalled.

Loving the Philippines

Shotkoski finds Filipinos as his kind of people: They work hard, he said, “And they play hard!”

Aside from the people, what made him attracted to the Philippines is the natural beauty of the country. “The fantastic beaches, ocean adventures, cultural uniqueness, affordability and interesting food,” he said.

Now, going back to biotechnology. According to him, he became interested in science and technology at a quite young age. “I still remember as far back as kindergarten, our teacher showed the class a drawing of a crop duster plane spraying a crop field with insecticide,” he recalled. “The next page had a drawing of an ominous-looking grasshopper [which was] even larger than the plane from the previous drawing. The teacher went on to explain to us that because of the indiscriminate use of pesticides, we were creating superbugs that could survive the pesticide applications.”

“In my mind, I envisioned those large mutant grasshoppers knocking the crop duster planes out of the air and killing the pilots. I decided then that something had to be done about the bad situation, and it stuck with me until now. Of course, I later learned more about pesticide toxicology and the development of resistance,” he related.

The young Shotkoski grew up on a working farm in Nebraska, where people grew corn, alfalfa, sorghum and other row crops. “I was well aware of the production constraints associated with insect pests, diseases and weeds, as well as the extreme labor and intensive work involved in controlling and managing these problems,” he said. “I was convinced that there had to be an easier way to make a living on the farm.”

-Written by Henrylito D. Tacio in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

11 researchers recognized for work for PHL development

Eleven Filipino researchers received recognition for their contributions to the country’s development at the recent Annual Scientific Conference and 84th General Membership Assembly of the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP).

The researchers were cited for their various contributions in the areas of science education, environmental studies, pharmaepidemiology, maternal health care, research on natural products and toxicology, cost-effective biofungicides for important tropical crops, biotechnology, eco-industrial energy systems, languages, statistical mechanics, industrial and health application of carrageenan, rainfall forecasting and veterinary immunology and public health and others.

This year’s conference theme is “Philippine Development: Foregrounding Ethical and Moral Values.” Rev. Fr. Albert E. Alejo, SJ, PhD, inspired and enlightened the participants to the conference on the issues of researches. He posed questions, such as, “Am I a better person by becoming a researcher?”

Alejo shared his research engagements in Mindanao, especially in the conflict areas of Basilan. The hundreds of guests at the conference held recently at the Philippine International Convention Center on Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City, were researchers from various areas in the country.

Recognized for their exemplary contributions were the following:

  • Dr. Socorro E. Aguja for her contributions to science education, environmental studies, human capital development and citriculture, as well as for her active involvement in science education and teacher mentorship.
  • Dr. Godofreda R. Vergeire-Dalmacion for her effectual influences on the areas of pharmacoepidemiology, pharmacovigilance and maternal health care.
  • Dr. Jovencio G. Apostol for his pioneering research on natural products and beneficial contributions to vascular pharmacology, toxicology, pharmacogenomics, pharmacy education, clinical pharmacy and pharmacy practice.
  • Dr. Dionisio G. Alvindia for his groundbreaking work in the development of natural and cost-effective bio fungicides for banana, mango and other important tropical crops, which led to the reduction of worker and environment exposure, as well as industry dependence on harmful pesticides.
  • Dr. Danilda Hufana-Duran for her pioneering research and accomplishments on the development and use of advanced reproductive biotechnologies and establishing laboratory standards and protocols that resulted in the production and propagation of genetically superior water buffaloes.
  • Dr. Kathleen B. Aviso for her work in the development of modeling techniques for the design and planning of eco-industrial and energy systems.
  • Dr. Alfredo C. Robles Jr. for his widely published scholarly work on Asean-EU relations and on the Asia-Europe Meeting process,  characterized by its retrospective and prospective focus, its rigorous and theoretical approaches, and its broad empirical scope in terms of sources and languages.
  • Dr. Jose Perico H. Esguerra for his numerous contributions to the statistical mechanics of self-gravitating systems, random walks, Brownian motion, and first passage processes, applications of fractional calculus in physics and mathematical methods for nonlinear and quantum systems along with his two decades of educating students and professionals in physics, his mentorship of Philippine teams in international Olympiads.
  • Dr. Annabelle V. Briones for her studies on various innovative techniques on the use of carrageenan for an array of industrial and health applications; indigenous sources for new products; and her initiatives on the development of DOST Mosquito Ovi-Larvicidal Trap System.
  • Dr. Carlos Primo C. David for his innovative contributions in short-term rainfall forecasting in the Philippines, as well as scholarly works on hydrology, climate change and environmental geology; and active participation in climate change-related research focusing on water resources, along with his service to youth education and the scientific community.
  • Dr. Claro N. Mingala for his contributions in the fields of veterinary immunology, microbiology, molecular biology and public health; as well as the development of DNA-based and rapid diagnostic tools for economically important animal diseases, for which he has gained national recognition.

Each awardee received a cash prize of P25,000, a medallion of excellence and a plaque of recognition. The conferment ceremony was led by the NRCP President and National Scientist Edgardo D. Gomez and Science Undersecretary for S&T Services Dr. Carol M. Yorobe, assisted by the NRCP Executive Director Dr. Marieta Bañez Sumagaysay.

NRCP is a collegial and Science and Technology advisory body of the Department of Science and Technology with more than 4,000 member-researchers, scientists and technologists across the country and around the world.

-Published in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

China aims to sow a revolution with GM seed takeover


The planned takeover of Swiss seed giant Syngenta by Chinese state-owned chemical company ChemChina stands to change the outlook for biotech research in China. Although China imports preapproved genetically modified (GM) foods and generously funds GM research, the Chinese government has never approved a staple biotech food crop for cultivation. That may soon change, however. If the Syngenta takeover clears regulatory hurdles, the emergence of a massive state-owned company in possession of competitive GM seed lines could help speed along commercialization of key GM crops like corn. Researchers will still face an uphill battle, though—a Chinese public wary of government food safety claims largely opposes GM crops.

-Written by Mara Hvistendahl in Science Magazine.  Read the full article here.

Marine microorganisms vs ‘superbugs’ discovered

A breakthrough research program funded by the Department of Science and Technology-National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP) has discovered microorganisms which can kill “superbugs” or bacteria that are resistant to modern antibiotics.

The research program “Marine Sediment-Derived Actinobacteria: New Vista for Natural Products Discovery in the Philippines” was led by NCRP researcher Dr. Doralyn Dalisay.

Dalisay’s team discovered special types of microorganism from sediments collected from the ocean floor which have demonstrated an ability to kill aggressive disease-causing pathogens or superbugs, the DOST-NRCP said in a bulletin post.

Superbugs refer to bacteria which have developed genes that are resistant to different antibiotics. In effect, the infections caused by superbugs are harder to treat.

“The findings are quite promising and if more microorganisms like these will be discovered and tested, this [endeavor] will place the Philippines in the global frontiers of medical and therapeutic research,” said Dalisay, who is based in University of San Agustin in Iloilo.

“The highly biodiverse marine microorganisms thriving in the sediments surrounding the Philippine archipelago have not been investigated well with regard to their potential for developing products that are of interest in biotechnology and pharmaceutical sciences”, Dr. Dalisay added.

The NRCP bared that the extracts from the library “showed strong inhibitory activities against a panel of test pathogenic drug-resistant bacteria and fungi.”

The NRCP said the first and second phase of the research program focused on isolating marine sediment-derived microorganisms, determine their antimicrobial activities and bio-geographical distribution in the Philippine archipelago.

The research is now on its third phase which aims to “evaluate the microorganisms’ anti-cancer activities, study their biodiversity, and perform genomic analysis to establish relationships between metabolite biosynthesis potential, taxonomy, and the habitats and locations from which the isolates originate.”

-Written by Martin Sadongdong in Manila Bulletin.  See original article link here.