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.

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.

Was 2016 Really A Good Year For Agricultural Biotechnology?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provide incentivise for increasing agricultural biotechnology research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHL tackles food security through UK’s Newton Fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Published in BusinessMirror.  See original article link here.

Korea aims for more biotech firms with W100b revenue in 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Written by Sohn Ji-young (jys@heraldcorp.com) in The Korea Herald.  See original article link here.

China: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

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

China: Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

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

 

Vietnam: FAIRS Country Report

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

Vietnam: FAIRS Country Report

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

Genomics used to develop new, better sugarcane varieties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New biopesticide cures fungus in tomato, eggplant, hot pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Published in The Philippine STAR.  See article link via pressreader.com.

Monsanto launches R&D projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

British agency taps IRRI to develop rice seeds

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

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

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

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

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

The amount will fund these projects:

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

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

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

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

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

Genetically weakened malaria parasites tested for vaccine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second GM crop ready for release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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