Newton Agham partners award over P620 million in science, innovation grants

The British government, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute are jointly providing over £10 million (about P620 million) for grants and collaborative projects in the third year of the Newton Agham Programme.

The science grants aim to help solve core challenges in long-term social and economic development in the Philippines, including energy security, disaster response, health care, environmental resilience and food security.

British Ambassador Asif Ahmad said, “While capitalizing on the Philippines and the strength of the United Kingdom in research and innovation, jointly supporting these projects shall create significant impact on improving living standards and promoting economic growth.”

He added, “Solutions to development challenges are created alongside the advancement of the UK and Philippine science and innovation expertise, which are key drivers to economic development.”

Awardees were recognized in a reception held at the British Ambassador’s residence on February 7. The UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and PhilRice are cofunding research projects on the sustainable production of rice; two projects are working on improving the nutritional quality of rice, while the other two focus on creating greater resilience of the rice plant to diseases and environmental stresses due to climate change.

The awards also include eight PhD scholarships and 10 Institutional Links grants, both co-funded by the British Council and CHED.

CHED Chairman Patricia Licuanan said, “We are pleased to jointly award, in partnership with the British Council-Newton Fund, grants to our top scholars who are paving the way for the deepening of expertise in science and technology, as well as to our best institutions who are now working side by side with the foremost universities in the UK, to innovate on solutions in the areas of health care, digital literacy and green energy, among others.”

Institutional Links grants develop research and innovation collaborations and support the exchange of expertise between academic groups, departments and institutions in the Philippines and the UK.

Meanwhile, Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña highlighted the key principles of the Newton Agham Programme that are part of the Philippine government’s new 10-point economic agenda.

He was particularly referring to investing in human-capital development, including health and education systems, to meet the demands of business and private sector; improving social protection programs, for the protection of the citizenry, especially the disadvantaged from instability and economic shocks; and the promotion of science, technology, as well as the creative arts to enhance innovation and creativity toward self-sustaining and inclusive development.

De la Peña said, “These key items of our economic agenda, centered on creating genuine, positive change in our nation through science and technology, underlies our renewed and reinvigorated determination to continue support for the Newton-Agham Programme.”

The DOST is cofinancing two research partnership projects with the UK’s Research Councils, the 15 Leaders in Innovation Fellows with the UK Royal Academy of Engineering and the DOST Pagasa-UK Met Office partnership on Weather and Climate Science for Service.

-Written by Philippine News Agency in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Biopesticide is a fertilizer at the same time

How would you like to make your own pesticide that is at the same time a fertilizer? You can do that simply by adding fermented garlic and hot pepper to the bio-organic liquid fertilizer developed by Dr. Ronaldo Sumaoang, a microbiologist who is an expert in the fermentation technology having taken two postgraduate courses on the subject as a scholar in Germany several years ago.

Dr. Sumaoang is the maker of the Durabloom liquid bio-organic foliar fertilizer derived from fish extracts that is rich in nutrients and enzymes. He has been using his formulation in his own commercial farming of vegetables and he swears he does not use any chemical pesticides to protect his tomatoes, pechay, eggplant and many other vegetables which he sells through his own grocery in their subdivision.

Compared to the chemical pesticides, the use of his biopesticide formulation is very economical. Spraying one hectare of vegetables with chemical pesticide will easily cost about a thousand pesos. On the other hand, Dr. Sumaoang’s biopesticide worth the same amount could already spray 10 hectares.

Dr. Sumaoang explained that his original Durabloom bio-organic fertilizer was intended primarily to enhance growth of vegetables and many other crops. It provides the plants with nutrients to supplement what they could take up from the soil. Because the formulation is somewhat sticky, it is not easily washed off by rain or sprinkler irrigation. As it is, it is not effective in discouraging insect pests from feeding on the plants.

But by adding fermented garlic and chilli, Durabloom liquid organic fertilizer becomes an effective deterrent to insect attack. Dr. Sumaoang explains that by adding fermented garlic and chilli, the acidity is increased to 5 to 6 percent compared to the original 4 percent. The increase in acidity makes it effective as a pesticide, according to him.

The insects are discouraged to attack the plants sprayed with biopesticide because the smell of garlic repels the insects. At the same time, when they start feeding on the sprayed plants, the pungent taste of the hot pepper also discourages the insects to attack.

Here’s an easy way to prepare your own biopesticide using Durabloom bio-organic foliar fertilizer as the main carrier. First ferment the garlic and hot pepper in a second hand 20-liter plastic pail such as those available at Allied Botanical Corporation.

To produce 10 liters of biopesticide, put 9 liters of clean water in the fermenting pail. Add to the water half kilo of peeled and crushed garlic. Then add a kilo of ripe hot pepper and one liter of molasses. Cover the pail with cheese cloth so air could enter. Place the same in a cool dry place to ferment for 20 to 30 days. After that, harvest the liquid by passing it through a strainer.

After the liquid is harvested, add one liter of Durabloom bio-organic fertilizer. That’s now your biopesticide which is both a fertilizer and a pesticide. You have to store this in airtight bottles or containers.

The biopesticide can be sprayed on vegetables once a week. Mix 10 tablespoons or 100 ml per 16-liter knapsack sprayer and spray thoroughly on the leaves. According to Dr. Sumaoang, aside from discouraging insect attack, the biopesticide also repels the red ants that are the carriers of aphids that suck the sap of vegetables and other crops.

-Written by Zac B. Sarian in Manila Bulletin.  See original article link here.

Australian OGTR approves field trial of GM Potato

The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) in Australia has issued a license to the Queensland University of Technology, allowing the limited and controlled release (field trial) of potato genetically modified (GM) for disease resistance.

The field trial (License Application DIR 150) is authorized to take place at one site of up to 0.1 hectare in Redland City, Queensland, for a period of two years. It will assess the agronomic characteristics and Potato virus X disease response of the GM potato plants under field conditions. The GM potatoes will not be used in human food or animal feed.

The final Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan (RARMP) concludes that this limited and controlled release poses negligible risks to people and the environment and does not require specific risk treatment measures.

The finalized RARMP, together with a summary of the RARMP, a set of Questions and Answers on this decision and a copy of the license, are available online from the DIR 150 page in the OGTR website.

-Published in ISAAA’s Crop Biotech Update.  See original article link here.

Climate-smart rice helps farmers face climate change

Stress-tolerant rice varieties can help farmers face the challenges of climate change, according to Matthew Morell, Director General of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Morell stressed this during his Millenium Lecture at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, India on February 10, 2017. Furthermore, he labeled rice as “the engine of food security” since more than half of the world’s population consider rice as their daily staple food. Thus, the efforts of rice scientists to improve rice are vital in addressing hunger and malnutrition in developing countries.

Morell also discussed the climate change-ready rice varieties developed by IRRI and its partners, which produce high yields and at the same time tolerant to flooding, drought, and saline soils.

Read the news article from IRRI.

-Published in ISAAA’s Crop Biotech Update.  See original article link here.

Asean economic integration winners and losers

IT is fair to say that the countries and regions around the world have taken the creation of the single Asean market with 600 million people and a combined GDP of $2.1 trillion seriously, and have studied the opportunities Asean offers and are looking at the best entry points into the region. At the same time, the Asean member-states have encouraged their business sectors to get ready.

The name of the game is competitiveness. In this process, it is essential that we look at winning sectors and at sectors that will be challenged.

Let’s look at some sectors:

Transport

Southeast Asia is not only a vast and developing market, it is also bound by the dynamic economies of China, India, South Korea and Australia. Facilitation of trade is vital for all Asean countries, which occupy an area at the heart of these leading global manufacturers. Trade among member-countries themselves is steadily increasing with intratrading expected to increase to 30 percent of total trade. As a result, transport and logistics have become big business in Southeast Asia. For the Philippines this means to accelerate the implementation of transport infrastructure; the Philippine government has to address cost, quality and competitiveness issues in domestic logistics.

Aviation

The aim of the Asean Single Aviation Market is to foster a competitive airline industry and propel the region’s carriers into the global market. It is a strategy that seeks to increase market access, establish central authorities and industrial standards for a sector that is undergoing unprecedented expansion. Open skies will yield a host of opportunities for Asean members by removing obstacles to growth, such as restrictive airspace and route constraints. In the Philippines the decision has to be made to expand Clark and modernize the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, provide night-landing equipment to airports and improve civil aviation regulation.

ICT

Sustained investment in information and communications technology (ICT) is proving to be one of the most potent drivers of development for emerging economies. The strong focus on ICT development is having a significant impact on the Asean region. There is a master plan to deliver ICT as an engine of growth for all- member-states and to establish the region as a global communications hub. The Philippines is a leader in business-process management (BPM) and will have to improve its telecoms infrastructure/broadband if it wishes to maintain that position.

Health care

Health spending in Southeast Asia is expected to double in real terms over the next decade, outstripping GDP growth, as governments seek to improve standards and widen the scope of care available. There are wide variations in the region.

Several Asean members have passed laws to establish national health insurance systems and mandated universal coverage, including the Philippines.

Services

Within Asean, the services sector accounts for 40 percent to 70 percent of each economy’s GDP. Education, the upgrading of local skills, infusion of foreign skills (which will lead to mutual technology/knowledge transfer) and overall productivity increases are the cornerstone of a competitive economy.

The Philippines has a great chance to take dominant positions in BPM (we are already No. 1 in voice in the world) and in various creative sectors, from animation to game development to digital content and digital design).

Agriculture

The sector’s output derives almost entirely from small holdings, which dominate the region’s agricultural landscape. Many farms occupy less than 2 hectares and have low access to technology, information, finance and, crucially, to markets. The problem is that poor techniques and low-grade inputs, including seeds, lowers productivity, while farmers struggling to survive are driven to over culture their lands and deplete scarce water resources as a result.

The integration of the agri sector will be challenging with winners and losers. The Philippines will not be among the winners in the short term.

Manufacturing

In the last 25 years Asean countries have become established as a preeminent destination for global manufacturers seeking a well-resourced, cost-effective manufacturing base for garments and textiles, electronics and a huge variety of branded goods that stock the shelves of retailers in Europe and North America.

There is a developing strategy among many Asean states to move from low-cost manufacturing and become providers of value-added products in many sectors, involving ship and drilling rigs, automotive, mineral smelting and refining, biomedical and biochemistry, petrochemicals, health care, agro-biotechnology and many more.

Food and beverage

Almost all countries in Asean are experiencing high economic growth accompanied by rapid changes in the consumption pattern. A growing middle class is developing preferences for food and beverages that are more convenient and packaged well, especially juices and premium beverage alcohols.

The Philippines must take the agri-food supply chain much more seriously and develop strategies to increase farm productivity through mechanization, consolidation of farmland and the application of new technologies.

Consumers

The ever-growing diverse consumer market of Asean with a combined GDP of $2.4 trillion will be the fourth-largest economic region in the world by 2050, according to research conducted by McKinsey&Co. (McKinsey Global Institute analysis). The growth of the region’s various economies and its rising middle class speak volumes for the future as companies can tap into expanding opportunities. By 2025, McKinsey expects the size of this consumer-driven market to almost double to 125 million households.

Tourism

The travel sector is helped by growing connectivity in the region, which supports to stimulate tourism. As a result, the travel and tourism industry is seen as crucially important for development. Tourism is vital for its socioeconomic benefits, as it promotes people-to-people connectivity, one of the key strategies toward achieving the Asean community.

Income received from international tourism is at an estimated $21 billion for Malaysia in 2013, $18.9 billion for Singapore, $9.3 billion for Indonesia, $7.5 billion for Vietnam, $4.7 billion for the Philippines, $2.7 billion for Cambodia and a huge $42 billion for Thailand.

In conclusion, there are definitely more winners than losers. And where challenges exist, governments and the private sector should get together to find solutions without delay jointly. Asean is a big adventure.

-Written by Henry J. Schumacher in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Challenges of the 4th Industrial Revolution

The unfinished Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 has an underdeveloped Chapter Two, titled “An Overview of Prospects and Other Developments that Could Affect the Philippines’ Socioeconomic and Institutional Development”.

Are our economic planners now taking a closer look at what is happening in the real world, and are prepared to abandon the old and simplistic export-or-perish and open-up-or-shrink economic-development formulas?

Yes, the country needs to do serious stock-taking by rigorously assessing global and national developments. The protectionist America First policy initiatives of the Trump administration and the Brexit phenomenon that has shaken Europe to the core should clearly be on top of the National Economic and Development Authority list, for both these developments have serious implications on the Philippine trade and industrial policies and the situation of the country’s overseas Filipino workers. The must-assess list should also include two more trade-related issues: the failure of the World Trade Organization’s Doha Development Agenda (DDA) to take off after one and a half decades of fruitless global trade talks; and the sudden collapse of the much-ballyhooed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Economic technocrats of the past administrations pinned so much hope in the DDA and the TPP as possible platforms for Philippine trade and economic expansion.

However, one major development that both those in the government and civil society should not ignore are the changes in the market and the workplace that are continuously
being churned out by what the superelite in the Davos annual summit call as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
Why Fourth?

According to economic historians, there are three epochal Industrial Revolutions. The first happened in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the factory system powered by the steam engine and new machines replaced the cottage or home-based production of textiles and various goods in Europe and, subsequently, in America and elsewhere. The revolution was amply celebrated in the 1776 book of Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, which described the explosive growth of production under the extended division of labor in a capitalist factory system. The book also advanced the thesis that nations prosper because of the “invisible hand” that unleashes the animal spirits among “free” capitalists as they build factories and trade goods everywhere. The new wealth, however, was appropriated by a few who ignored the rights of the “proletariat” to eight-hour work, unionism and better conditions of work. These rights took two centuries of working-class struggle before they came to be recognized in many countries.

The Second Industrial Revolution is dated to have taken place in the late 19th century up to the early decades of the 20th century. This period saw advances in steel making, railway construction, gas exploration and refining, telegraph communication, chemical formulation, electrification and development of the bicycle and automotive. This period also witnessed the transformation of the factory system into mass-production system involving giant conveyor belts, thousands of workers and the application of the ideas of Frederick
Taylor on “scientific management” (alternatively known as the one-best-way approach in business operation).
The Third Industrial Revolution is largely based on the Information Communication Technology (ICT) Revolution. The ICT Revolution supposedly began in the 1950s with the development of digital systems and rapid advances in computing power, which have enabled new ways of generating, processing and sharing information. The ICT Revolution intensified in the last three to four decades with the digitization of the analog system of communication; launching of communication satellites; development of the personal computer and microprocessors; emergence and commercialization of cellular communication; the spread of the Internet; and the endless discovery on the endless uses of ICT in various phases of commerce and aspects of life. These decades, also happened to be decades, too, of the dominance of “free trade” thinking, alias “Washington Consensus”, in national and global trade-policy formulation.

Today the Fourth Industrial Revolution builds on the advances under the ICT. This is described as the fusion of “cyber-physical systems” providing entirely new capabilities for people and machines. One author asserts the Fourth Industrial Revolution “represents entirely new ways in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even our human bodies”, as exemplified by the emergence of new “technology breakthroughs”, such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology, Internet of Things, 3D printing and autonomous vehicles. The breakthroughs include a host of mind-boggling innovations and discoveries, for example, human organs, such as liver, are now being duplicated through the magic of 3D printing and the use of new materials, while Google, the search engine firm, has successfully piloted the production of the “autonomous car” sans any driver, which is now being sold in the market.

With the huge flow of productivity-enhancing technical innovations and technologies it is able to generate, the Fourth Industrial Revolution clearly provides humanity a historic opportunity to liberate all Earth’s inhabitants from hunger, ignorance and disease. This, unfortunately, is not happening. The revelation by Oxfam International that eight men have wealth equivalent to the collective wealth of 3.6 billion people or half of humanity captures the extent of inequality in the world. Instead of easing, inequality is deepening between and among countries, between and among social classes. In the Philippines the bottom one-fourth of the population has remained stuck in the quagmire of poverty since the 1990s, despite the government’s commitment to halve poverty under the old UN Millenium Development Goals for 2000-2015.

The bigger challenge, however, is: Will the Philippines be able to post sustainable growth and create more and better jobs as the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to churn out new technological products and processes? It is a given that the arrival of any new technological product in the workplace has a “disruptive” impact on existing jobs, which often leads to some form of technology-triggered unemployment. In the past, such unemployment is eventually offset by the growth of new investments and jobs in related industries, such as farm mechanization spurring the growth of agri-processing industry. This time, the problem, per study by Martin Ford, author of The Rise of the Robots (2015), job displacement in some industries can be massive and job losses cannot easily be offset. Which is the reason Ford is pushing for a “basic income guarantee” for all citizens regardless of whether they have jobs or not. This is like making the existing Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) initiated first by the Arroyo administration universal. These two topics—CCT and basic income guarantee—deserve a separate discussion.

Meantime, the threat of massive job displacement under the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution is real, and should be treated seriously by the Philippines. For example, the two biggest industries at home—electronics assembly and call center/BPO services—are vulnerable, jobs-wise, to the advances in automation. On the other hand, the demand for OFW services in various countries may also weaken (apart from the recent impact of the rising tide of anti-immigrant attitudes in developed countries) due to the rise of robots and DIY (do-it-yourself) technological breakthroughs. The hopes of some economists that more jobs can be created if the Philippines focus on certain value chain phases of the multinational GPNs are now being dashed by the efforts of developed countries to bring back low-cost manufacturing in their home turfs.

In short, the world of work under globalization is changing radically under the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Is it not time for the Philippines to reassess, indeed, its overall position globally and at home? Should it not draw up a more balanced program of regional and global integration simultaneous with the scaling up of its domestic agricultural and industrial capacities?

-Written by Rene E. Ofreneo in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Fat content in soybean oil modified with CRISPR-Cpf1

A research team from the Center for Genome Engineering, within the Institute for Basic Research (IBS) in South Korea has successfully edited two genes that contribute to the fat content of soybean oil using the new CRISPR-Cpf1 technology. This technology is an alternative to the more widely used gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9.

IBS scientists have previously used Cpf1 to edit human DNA cells. This time, they introduced the CRISPR-Cpf1 complex into plant cells. The team designed CRISPR-Cpf1 to cut two of the FAD2 genes in soybeans. These genes are part of the pathway that converts oleic acid into the polyunsaturated linoleic acid. By mutating FAD2 genes, the percentage of oleic acid in soybean seeds increases, resulting in healthier soybean oil.

The IBS research team also discovered at least three benefits of CRISPR-Cpf1 over CRISPR-Cas9: CRISPR-Cpf1 technique has shorter CRISPR-RNA (crRNAs), so the RNA can be synthesized chemically; CRISPR-Cpf1 creates larger deletions (7 base pairs) in the target gene, which is good for making the gene completely inoperative; and the type of cleavage left by Cpf1 might help further gene editing processes.

More details are available at the IBS News Center.

-Published in ISAAA’s Crop Biotech Update.  See original article link here.

Newton Agham award P620 million in science and innovation grants

The British government, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) are providing over £10 million (approximately P620 million) in grants and collaborative projects in the third year of the Newton Agham Programme.

The science grants aim to help solve core challenges in long term social and economic development in the Philippines, including energy security, disaster response, health care, environmental resilience and food security.

British Ambassador Asif Ahmad said, “While capitalizing on the Philippines and the United Kingdom’s strengths in research and innovation, jointly supporting these projects shall create significant impact on improving living standards and promoting economic growth. Solutions to development challenges are created alongside the advancement of UK and Philippine science and innovation expertise, which are key drivers to economic development.”

The awardees were recognized in a recent reception held at the British ambassador’s residence.

The UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and PhilRice are cofunding research projects on the sustainable production of rice; two projects are working on improving the nutritional quality of rice and the other two focus on creating greater resilience of the rice plant to diseases and environmental stresses due to climate change.

The awards also include eight PhD scholarships and 10 Institutional Links grants cofunded by the British Council and the CHED.

CHED Chairman Patricia Licuanan said, “We are pleased to jointly award, in partnership with the British Council-Newton Fund, grants to our top scholars who are paving the way for the deepening of expertise in science and technology, as well as to our best institutions that the are now working side by side with the foremost universities in the UK, to innovate on solutions in the areas of health care, digital literacy and green energy, among others.”

Institutional Links grants develop research and innovation collaborations and support the exchange of expertise among academic groups, departments and institutions in the Philippines and the UK. Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña highlighted the key principles of the Newton Agham Programme that are part of the Philippine government’s new 10-point economic agenda.

Particularly, he refers to investing in human-capital development, including health and education systems, to meet the demands of business and private sector; improving social-protection programs, for the protection of the citizenry, especially the disadvantaged from instability and economic shocks; and the promotion of science, technology and the creative arts to enhance innovation and creativity toward self-sustaining and inclusive development.

De la Peña said, “These key items of our economic agenda, centered on creating genuine, positive change in our nation through science and technology, underly our renewed and reinvigorated determination to continue support for the Newton-Agham Programme”.

The DOST is cofinancing two research partnership projects with the Research Councils UK, the 15 leaders ininnovation fellows with the UK Royal Academy of Engineering and the DOST Pagasa-UK Met Office partnership on Weather and Climate Science for Service.

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

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

-Published in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Climate-smart rice key to farmer resilience, says IRRI head

CHENNAI, India – Stress-tolerant rice varieties can help make farmers more resilient against the increasingly destructive effects of climate change, said Matthew Morell, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Delivering the Millenium Lecture at the M.S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai on 10 February,  Morell described rice as “the engine of food security,” citing that more than half of the world’s population—or nearly four billion people—eat rice as their daily staple.

IRRI’s research activities, conducted in collaboration with national governments, have resulted in high-yielding improved varieties that saved Asia from famines in the 1960s and 70s.

More recently, with the onslaught of climate change, IRRI and its partners have developed high-yielding rice varieties tolerant of environmental stresses such as flooding, drought, and soil salinity. Morell called the “climate change-ready rice varieties,” which have been deployed in stress-prone areas of India, as an important part of helping farmers become more resilient.

The MSSRF is a nonprofit trust founded by M.S. Swaminathan, World Food Prize awardee in 1987 and former IRRI director general. It serves as a research center on sustainable agriculture and rural development.

-Published in IRRI.  See original article link here.

House panel OKs Salceda’s ‘science for change’ measure

The House Committee on Science and Technology has approved House Bill (HB) 4581, filed by Albay Rep. Joey S. Salceda, which aims to boost the country’s scientific innovations and inventions, research and development (R&D) toward social progress and global competitiveness.

Titled Science for Change Program (S4CP) Act, with the theme of “Science for the People,” and a budget that could reach P672 billion by 2022, HB 4581 is designed to help accelerate science, technology and innovation developments and enable the country to keep up with current global technology and innovation trends.

S4CP was launched by the House Committee on Science and Technology, chaired by Bohol Rep. Erico Aristotle Aumentado. When enacted, it will be implemented by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). It was hailed by legislators as a key toward higher standards of STI and global competitiveness.

The total R&D budget for 2017 is P5.8 billion. The bill proposes an estimated R&D budget, which starts at P21 billion next year, more or less doubling yearly over the next five-year period, and could reach P672 billion in 2022.

Salceda said it is his privilege to push legislation for the country’s strong science and technology program, one of the vital components for growth under the Duterte administration. S4CP focuses on four core concerns: 1) Program Expansion, 2) New Programs, 3) S&T Human Resource Development and 4) Accelerated R&D Program for Capacity Building of Research and Development Institutions and Industrial Competitiveness. PNA

Salceda said DOST will be guided over the next five years by the tagline “Science for the People” in its pursuit of R&D and S&T initiatives in 12 priority areas: R&D to address pressing problems; R&D for productivity; R&D to tap, manage and store Renewable Energy Resources; R&D to apply new technologies across sectors;

Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation; maximized utilization of R&D results through technology transfer and/or commercialization; accelerated R&D program for capacity building of R&D institutions; assistance to production sector; upgrading of facilities and improvement of S&T services;

Human Resource Development for S&T; utilization of state universities and colleges in the regions which do R&D and develop human resources in S&T, and; collaboration with industry, academe and international institutions.

For a country to be industrialized, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommends it should have 380 researchers, scientists and engineers (RSE) per million population doing R&D studies, and one percent of GDP should be invested in R&D. Based on a DOST 2013 R&D survey, the Philippines has 270 RSEs per million population only, hence the need to increase the number by 110 in the coming years.

S4CP target areas for R&D include health, food and nutrition; human security; agricultural and aquatic productivity; creative industries, tourism and services industries; nuclear science for health, agriculture and energy; and agriculture; renewable energy; Biotechnology for agriculture, health and environment; Space Technology and ICT development; Artificial Intelligence, and climate and environmental sciences, among others.

-Written by the Philippine News Agency in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Researchers review targeted genome editing techniques in horticultural crops

Breeding technologies, whether conventional or modern, have been often used to enhance crop production. However, these breeding methods are sometimes laborious and complicated, especially when attempting to improve desired traits without inducing pleiotropic effects.

Targeted genome editing (TGE) technology using engineered nucleases, including meganucleases, zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) has been used to improve the traits of economically important plants.

These TGEs has emerged as novel plant-breeding tools that are alternative approaches to conventional breeding, but with higher efficiency.

Saminathan Subburaj of the Chungnam National University in South Korea, together with researchers from various academic institutions, described the basic principles of TGE as well as their advantages and disadvantages. Their study also discussed TGEs’ potential use to improve the traits of horticultural crops.

For more information, read the article in Horticulture, Environment, and Biotechnology.

-Published in ISAAA’s Crop Biotech Update.  See article link here.

Research explains plant tissues’ sense of direction

Scientists at the John Innes Centre, Norwich have discovered how complex plant shapes are formed. The work, led by Dr. Alexandra Rebocho and colleagues in Professor Enrico Coen’s laboratory, could have wide implications on the understanding of shape formation, or ‘morphogenesis’, in nature. Understanding how genes influence plant shape formation would lead to better-adapted and higher yielding crop varieties.

One of the prevailing theories of how complex plant shapes develop, upon which this new research builds, is the theory of ’tissue conflict resolution’. In this theory, growth outcomes depend on tissues. In isolation, individual tissue regions grow equally in all directions or elongate in a preferred direction. In reality, tissue regions do not occur in isolation, but the adhesion and cohesion between adjoining regions cause tissues to buckle, curve, or bend to a compromise state.

The three proposed types of tissue conflict resolution are areal, surface, and directional. The new research provides evidence for the third category: directional conflict. Tissues, or collections of tissues, can have a set of directions, or ‘polarity field’, which is caused by the asymmetrical distribution of proteins within cells. An example of a response to this directionality is when plants grow faster parallel or perpendicular to the local polarity field.

For more information about this research, read the news release from the John Innes Centre.

-Published in ISAAA’s Crop Biotech Update.  See original article link here.

Australian OGTR Issues License for Field Trial of GM Indian Mustard

Australia’s Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) has issued a license to Nuseed Pty Ltd., allowing the field trials of Indian mustard (Juncea canola) genetically modified (GM) for altered oil content. The field trials (License Application DIR 149) will be carried out between April 2017 and May 2022, and will take place at a maximum of 4 sites of up to 2 hectares per site in 2017, 10 sites of up to 5 hectares per site in 2018, and 15 sites of up to 10 hectares per site in each subsequent year.

The final Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan (RARMP) concludes that this limited and controlled release poses negligible risks to people and the environment and does not require specific risk treatment measures. The finalized RARMP, together with a summary of the RARMP, a set of Questions and Answers on this decision and a copy of the license, are available online from the DIR 149 page in the OGTR website.

-Published in ISAAA’s Crop Biotech Update.  See original article link here.

Trump Administration has opportunity to base biotech regulations on science, not fears

At least when it comes to biotechnology, President Trump’s Executive Order of 20 January freezing recent regulations provides a chance to get industry regulations right.

As currently practiced, the regulatory system is functionally locked into the grossly overestimated potential for hazardous impacts perceived when the regulatory framework, titled “The CoordinatedFramework (CF) for the Regulation of Biotechnology,” was first implemented 30 years ago.

The CF was developed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). OSTP brought together representatives of the three federal agencies seeking to regulate commercial applications of biotechnology to develop this guidance document.

These were the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The CF was written before we knew much about how organisms modified by the modern molecular methods (aka biotechnology) would be different from those modified by traditional methods when they came into use outside of laboratories. People worried a lot about unforeseen hazards, so the main objective of the CF was to find ways the new products could be captured for regulatory evaluation under existing statutes.

We now have had many decades of experience with biotechnology and the resulting genetically modified organisms (GMOs). We can say with confidence that no hazards have emerged that can be attributed to using biotechnology methods. Crops modified by such molecular methods have been in commercial production for two decades with no evidence of harm to either human health or the environment, according to a last year’s report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Older overviews, including a 2010 report on a decade of EU-funded GMO research, have likewise failed to identify hazards unique to the use of the modern molecular modification techniques. By contrast, the economic and environmental benefits have been substantial.

So a restructuring of the regulations to reflect growing scientific evidence and experience was overdue. What makes this challenge especially urgent is recent rapid development of new genome editing techniques based on the CRISPR/Cas9 system and various composite enzymes, such as TALENS, that cleave double-stranded DNA at specific sequences. These can be used to create the same kinds of genetic changes (mutations) that underlie all of plant and animal domestication, blurring the distinction between natural mutations (not regulated), mutations induced by chemicals and radiation (not regulated) and mutations created by the new enzyme systems.

In 2015, President Obama requested a reexamination of the CF. The OSTP issued a memorandum to the heads of the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture titled “Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products.” This initiated an interagency effort that was to include the objectives of “….reducing regulatory burdens and avoiding unjustifiably inhibiting innovation, stigmatizing new technologies, or creating trade barriers.”

But that didn’t happen – and therein lies the opportunity. In late 2016, the interagency working group produced an update of the CF that – in many, many words – says which agency is responsible for which type of biotechnology product. It didn’t say anything about easing the regulatory burden in the light of evidence and experience.

And neither did the second document they produced, titled “National Strategy for Modernizing the Regulatory System for Biotechnology Products.” This one outlines ways the responsible agencies can learn about new technologies and how they can better inform the public – and potential product developers – what they need to do to comply with the regulations.

The devil, of course, is in the details – the rules – published in draft form in the Federal Register on January 19, 2017. In the new proposed rules, APHIS (the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) acknowledged that experience had taught the agency that biotechnology methods do not produce plant pests, the fear of which was their original regulatory rationale. So they have come up with a new rationale, proposing to focus on the possibility that molecular genetic modification (GM) might produce noxious weeds.

That seems reasonable for plants that start out as noxious weeds, but makes no sense at all for plants that have long been domesticated and have lost their weediness. The proposed rules apply to all plants that have been modified by any of the modern molecular methods.

So what the USDA seems to be saying is that even though biotechnology hasn’t turned a crop plant into a plant pest, we now have to worry that any kind of genetic change might turn a non-weed into a weed. No evidence. Just concerns. What they give with one hand, they propose to take away with the other.

Then there is the FDA’s draft guidance for genetically modified animals. The FDA proposes to regulate all animals with “intentionally altered genomic DNA” as new animal drugs! That is, except certain GM mosquitoes, which they’re turning over to the EPA to regulate as pesticides.

So even if the genetic change produced by a modern method is exactly like one that occurs in
nature, the animal must be regulated. Take hornless cattle. There are hornless beef cattle, but not hornless dairy cattle. Since horns are dangerous, dairy cattle are physically dehorned, a painful process. Scientists have produced hornless dairy cows by using genome-editing technology to disrupting the same gene in dairy cattle that a spontaneous mutation disrupted in beef cattle. FDA’s proposed rules would make the gene-edited dairy cattle a new animal drug. How much sense does this make? What’s the likelihood of an animal-calssified-as-a-drug making its way through the approval process?

These rules were just published or are just being published as draft guidance, so they’re subject to President Trump’s Executive order titled “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review.  Might it be possible to go a step further and revamp the entire existing regulatory framework for agricultural and environmental biotechnology using the CRA (Congressional Review Act) and the new executive order mandating the revocation of two regulations for every new one adopted?

The scientific evidence of safety is in. Genetic modification by modern methods is as safe or safer than the still unregulated older methods, such as chemical and radiation mutagenesis, used for most of the last century. Existing regulations have protected us from nothing but our fears. Those fears may have been justifiable thirty years ago, but we now know them to be unjustified. Yet the original CF remains in place and is still applied only to organisms modified by biotechnology methods. This continues to cost millions of dollars, jobs, and opportunities to innovate.

The multi-million dollar cost of regulatory compliance is out-of-reach for public sector researchers and a crushing burden to private sector companies. And the time required to gain regulatory approval is outrageous. The FDA, for example, took more than a decade to approve the AquaBounty’s GM salmon and more than 7 years to approve the first trials of Oxitec’s GM mosquito (both companies are now subsidiaries of Intrexon).

Regulation must focus on the product, not the process by which it was created. And it’s time to regulate only real hazards, of which there is a small number. The vast majority of agricultural applications represent minor tweeks of well-known organisms, from grains, fruits and vegetables, to chickens, pigs and cows. These can easily be classified as GRAS (generally regarded at safe) and don’t need regulation.

Real regulatory reduction can substantially decrease the cost and time it takes to improve an agricultural organism through biotechnology. If done properly, it will unleash innovation and create jobs.  GM crops, animals and microorganisms can make – and already have made – critical contributions to expanding the world’s food supply. Best of all, they can do this biologically, decreasing agriculture’s environmental footprint and making it more sustainable.

This opinion piece was first published in shortened form on AgriPulse on February 6, 2017.

Dr. Nina Fedoroff,  Senior Science Advisor, OFW Law, Washington, DC and Evan Pugh Professor Emerita, Penn State University

-Published in The Genetic Literacy Project website.  See original article link here.

USDA Extends Comment Period for Proposed Rule to Revamp Its Biotechnology Regulations

  • As previously covered here, on January 19, 2017, USDA published a proposed rule to update its regulations regarding the importation, interstate movement, and environmental release of certain genetically engineered organisms in response to advances in genetic engineering and the Agency’s understanding of the plant pest and noxious weed risk posed by genetically engineered organisms.  The proposed updates would represent the first comprehensive revision of the regulations since they were established in 1987.

  • Today, APHIS announced that it would be extending the comment period for the proposed rule to June 19, 2017.  82 FR 10312.

  • With a new administration at the helm, it remains unclear whether this proposed rule will move forward following the end of the comment period on June 19, 2017.  Industry stakeholders are encouraged to take advantage of this additional time to prepare and submit comments to the Agency to ensure that any future Agency action as it relates to the proposed rule will result in the least regulatory burden possible.

-Published in The National Review.  See original article link here.

Why Bioethics Matters in Biotechnology

The last five years have witnessed amazing acceleration of innovation in biotechnology. CRISPR will lead to precision gene editing that could vastly improve food crop yields and provide cures to cancer. Lightning-fast gene sequencing will enable early detection of cancer from a simple blood test. High-speed bulk data transfer allows the entire genomes of millions of people to be compared online in the search for cures to both common and rare diseases. Neuromorphic chips will accelerate the dawn of artificial intelligence, and smart prostheses will allow para- and quadriplegic patients to move, the deaf to hear, and the blind to see.

Discovery of synergies in applications that blur the boundaries of traditional science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will continue to fuel this exponential growth of innovation. In spite of this exuberant trend, it is important to remember that innovation and discovery often outpace the regulatory structures that ensure their best and most ethical use in society.

The bioethics field traditionally is interpreted as pertaining mainly to the medical interests of humans. It has dealt with five key issues: beneficence, non-maleficence, patient autonomy, social justice, and patient confidentiality. However, with the advent of nanotechnology and other technologies that allow inter-kingdom transfer of genetic material, a need exists to establish a broader interpretation. Theologian Brian Edgar1 notes that a more robust definition should comprise six key considerations: respect for the intrinsic value of all life, valuing human uniqueness, preserving organismal integrity, recognizing ecologic holism, minimizing future liability, and producing social benefit. These considerations, while not expected to provide all of the answers to ethical dilemmas faced by technological advancement, create a framework for productive discussion of the most important aspects of biotechnology.

As Christians, we must also acknowledge that we are made in the image of God2, and have the unique ability, of all created things, to have a relationship with our Creator. In thoughtfully considering the implications of having been thus created, we have the responsibility of honoring Him by not only valuing human life, but by valuing and caring for His creation as well. If we actively and consistently apply this principle to guide us in making decisions about the application of biotechnology, the benefits to ourselves and to our world will be tremendous.


  1. Edgar, B. 2009. Biotheology: Theology, Ethics and the New Biotechnologies. Christian Perspectives on Science and Technology. ISCAST Online Journal 2009.
  2. Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:5-6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9

-Written by David Dyer, Ph.D. in Asuza Pacific University.  See original article link here.  David Dyer, Ph.D., is executive director of Azusa Pacific’s M.S. in Biotechnology program.

Will Biotechnology Regulations Squelch Food and Farming Innovation?

INTRODUCTION:

Genetically engineered crops and animals (GMOs) have been a controversial public issue since the first products were introduced in the 1990s. They have posed unique challenges for governments to regulate. Although most working scientists in the field hold the opinion that genetic engineering, for the most part, is part of a continuum of the human manipulation of our food supply that’s gone on for thousands of years, critics contend differently.

Many crop biotechnology skeptics frame their concerns in quasi-religious terms, as a violation of “nature” or fears that the increased use of GE foods will lead to a ‘corporate takeover’ of our seed and food systems, and the adoption of an ecologically destructive ‘industrialized’ agriculture system. GMOs have become a symbol of the battle over what our global, regional and local food systems should look like going forward.

The clout of the food movement that vocally rejects many aspects of conventional farming has exponentially increased since then, promoted by mainstream journalists, scientists and non-profit groups from Michael Pollan to Consumers Union to the Environmental Working Group. Organic leaders and lobbyists, such as Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Organics and Just Label It, openly demonize conventional food and farming in defiance of their commitments agreed to in the 1990s that organic food would not be promoted at the expense of conventional agriculture. Attempts to reign in the unchecked influence of the conventional food critics have repeatedly failed; over much of the past decade, they’ve had a sympathetic ear in Washington. Partly in response to the prevailing winds, the USDA has evolved increasingly byzantine regulatory structures when it comes to new GE products.

The Genetic Literacy Project 10-part series Beyond the Science II (Beyond the Science I can be viewed here) commences with this introductory article. Leading scientists, journalists and social scientists explore the ramifications of genetic engineering and so-called new breeding technologies (NBTs), specifically gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR. We will post two articles each week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, over the next 5 weeks.

Regulation is at the heart of this ongoing debate. Many scientists and entrepreneurs have come to view the two key agencies regulating GE in the United States — the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture — as places where ‘innovation goes to die.’ That’s an exaggeration, but not without some truth; regulations are inherently political, and the winds have been blowing against technological breakthroughs in agriculture for much of the last decade. On average, it takes upwards of $125 million and 7-10 years for the Agriculture Department to approve a trait, exhausting almost half of a new products 20-year patent protection. No wonder the agricultural sector is consolidating, and most new products are innovated by larger corporations.

The regulatory climate may be changing, perhaps radically, in the United States and possibly in the United Kingdom, as the result of recent elections.

Many of the old rules and regulations regulating GE crops were set up in the 1980s and early 1990s. They are arguably creaky, overly-restrictive and do not account for dramatic increases in our understanding of how genetic engineering works and the now clear consensus on their safety.

Now with NBTs, which are largely unregulated since the techniques were not foreseen 30 years ago when regulations were first formulated, agricultural genetic research is at an inflection point: Will governments make the same mistake that they did previously and regulate innovation almost out of existence, or will they incorporate reasonable risk-risk and risk-benefit calculations in evaluating which technological advances should proceed with limited regulations?

Decisions on these issues will shape not only food and farming in Europe, North America and the industrialized nations, but the food insecure developing world, which looks to the West for regulatory guidance.

Gene Editing and Animals

The second article in our series, by University of California animal geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam, addresses the challenges of regulating genetically engineered animals. She focuses on dehorned cows, which have been developed without gene editing over many years with, at times, less than optimal results. Should gene editing be evaluated on a case-by-case basis triggered by the novelty of the traits, or should the entire process be heavily regulated — the general approach favored by the European Union in regulating more conventional genetic engineering?

Pesticide Debate: How Should Agricultural Chemicals Be Regulated to Encourage Sustainability?

Dave Walton, an Iowa farmer, discusses the brouhaha that has erupted in recent years over the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer originally developed under patent by Monsanto. Many GMO critics are now expressing concerns over pesticide use in conventional agriculture, using glyphosate as a proxy for attacking the technology. Are their concerns appropriate? Walton, who grows both GE and non-GE crops and is director of the Iowa Soybean Association, has used glyphosate on his farm since the introduction of herbicide resistant crops in 1996. He uses on average a soda-sized cup of glyphosate per acre, and the use of the herbicide has allowed him to switch from more toxic chemicals. Most strikingly he discusses the sustainability impact if a glyphosate ban is imposed, as many activists are calling for.

Plant pathologist Steve Savage challenges us to think in a more nuanced way about a popular belief that organic farming is ecologically superior to conventional agriculture. The Agricultural Department has been a fractious mess in recent years in its efforts to oversee and encourage new breeding technologies. When the Clinton administration oversaw the founding of the National Organics Standards Board in 1995, USDA officials extracted the commitment from organic industry that the alternative farming system would not be promoted at the expense of conventional agriculture. After all, study after study, then and now, has established that organic farming offers no safety nor clear ecological benefits.

“Let me be clear about one thing,” said former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman in December 2000. “The organic label is not a statement about food safety, nor is ‘organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.”

But that’s not what’s happened.

Regulations and the ‘NGO Problem’ in Africa and Asia

While GE crops were pioneered in the United States and embraced in other western coun- tries outside of Europe, there has been resistance in regions of the world where these innovations could arguably bring the most impact: Africa and poorer sections of Asia. Ma- haletchumy Arujanan, executive director of Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre and editor-in-chief of The Petri Dish, the first science newspaper in Malaysia, takes on the emerging Asian food security crisis posed by a parallel rise in population and living (and food consumption) standards. She reviews the successes and failures in various countries, and the effective campaigns by anti-GMO NGOs, mostly European funded, to block further biotech innovation.

Margaret Karembu, director of International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications, Africa regional office (ISSSA) AfriCenter based in Nairobi, has found a similar pattern of mostly European-funded NGOs attempting to sabotage research and spread misinformation about the basic science of crop biotechnology. Africa is the ultimate ‘organic experiment’, and farmers have failed miserably using family agro-ecology techniques for decades. Cracks are beginning to form in the anti-GMO wall erected across the continent and there are hopes that young people will be attracted to farming, lured by the introduction of GE crops and other innovations.

Public Opinion and GMOs

Brandon McFadden, assistant professor in the Food and Resource Economics Department, University of Florida, addresses the complex views of consumers regarding innovation and GE foods. The public has a widely distorted perception of what genetic engineering entails, which helps explain why consumers remain so skeptical about technological innovation in farming.

Julie Kelly, a contributing writer to numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal, National Review and the GLP, takes on Hollywood in her analysis of the celebrity embrace of the anti-GMO movement. Who are the ‘movers and shakers’ manipulating public opinion in favor of the organic movement and against conventional agriculture? Is the celebrity-backed science misinformation campaign working?

Future of GM Research and How the Public Debate May Evolve

Paul Vincelli, extension professor and Provost’s Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Kentucky, has been perturbed about the attack on independent university researchers for working with the biotechnology industry over the years. By law, land grant university scientists are required to work with all stakeholders, particularly corporations who are developing the products used by farmers, including organic farmers. No, scientists who partner with corporations in research and product development are not ‘shills’. He rejects the knee jerk belief, advanced by many activist critics of GE crops, that corporate funding necessarily corrupts science and should be banned.

Finally, risk expert David Ropeik has an optimistic take on the future. He believes 2016 may have been a turning point in the debate over GE foods. Technology rejectionists, from Greenpeace to labeling activists, are sounding increasingly shrill and less scientific. Gene editing, he believes, could undercut claims that GE foods are unsafe because they are unnatural. He is convinced, perhaps optimistically, that GE opponents will soon be viewed as ‘science denialists.’

We will see.

Anti-GMO critics cite opinion polls and the votes of anti-GMO legislators in Europe and elsewhere as ‘proof’ that genetic engineering should be curtailed and more heavily regulated. That’s a rickety platform if one believes in science, however; science is not a popularity contest.

The Genetic Literacy Project is a 501(c)(3) non profit dedicated to helping the public, journalists, policy makers and scientists better communicate the advances and ethical and technological challenges ushered in by the biotechnology and genetics revolution, addressing both human genetics and food and farming. We are one of two websites overseen by the Science Literacy Project; our sister site, the Epigenetics Literacy Project, addresses the challenges surrounding emerging data-rich technologies. Jon Entine is the founder of the Science Literacy Project.

-Published in The Genetic Literary Project and written by Jon Entine, Executive Director, Genetic Literacy Project.  See original article link here.

Biotechnology solution to food insecurity

Prof. Benjamin Ubi, the President, Biotechnology Society of Nigeria (BSN), has identified food insecurity as an underlining cause of some of the greatest challenges in the country.

Ubi, who said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Abuja, added that biotechnology would ensure adequate food security in the country.

“We recognise that food security is paramount and biotechnology, the green alternative policy of the government, will achieve its goal of ending hunger, ensuring food security and promoting sustainable agriculture.

“This will also provide a form of economic diversification as it will bring with it a new set of skill requirements and expand job opportunities.

“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reinforce this with Goal 2 which seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture since 75 per cent of crop diversity has been lost from farmer’s field,’’ Ubi said.

He also said that better use of agricultural biodiversity could contribute to more nutritious diets, enhanced livelihoods for farming communities and more resilient and sustainable farming system.

“The effects of climate change have had a devastating effect on food security, food availability, food accessibility, food utilization and food systems stability.

“And for Nigeria to be food sufficient, we must look to scale, underscoring the need for modern and climate smart agricultural practices.

“We must look to increase investment, including through international cooperation, rural infrastructure, agricultural research and extension services, technology development as well as plant and livestock gene banks in order to enhance agricultural productivity capacity.’’

Ubi said that the practice of safe modern biotechnology should be encouraged to ensure zero hunger by welcoming technology that would provide safe and adequate food for Nigerians.

He, therefore, implored stakeholders to put more efforts in developing the country’s local resources to meet agriculture demands both at local and international trade platforms.

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

Agricultural biotechnology crucial for feeding world population

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

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

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

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

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

How was this global starvation catastrophe averted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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China: China’s Planting Seeds Market Continues to Grow

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

China: China’s Planting Seeds Market Continues to Grow

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