Biotech Company Starts Work for Spider Silk Production in Vietnam

Kraig Biocraft Laboratories has announced that the key members of its management and production team have laid the groundwork for the company’s Vietnamese spider silk production initiative. Kraig Biocraft Laboratories is a reporting biotechnology company and the leading developer of genetically engineered spider silk based fibre technologies.

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Don’t Believe the Anti-GMO Campaign

GM crops have reduced pesticide use, increased yields and profits, and cause no health hazards

A review article, “Modern technologies for sustainable food and nutrition security”, which appeared in the November 25 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Current Science, is deeply worrying. The article was authored by geneticist P.C. Kesavan and leading agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan and describes Bt cotton as a “failure”. As the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, K. VijayRaghavan, rightly said, this paper is “deeply flawed”. It has the potential to mislead the public and the political system.

Rely on scientific evidence

While the general public can be easily swayed by unauthenticated reports, the authors, as scientists, should have relied on hardcore scientific evidence before making such adverse comments. The statement that “only in very rare circumstance (less than 1%) may there arise a need for the use of this technology [GM]” is not in consonance with their other statements such as the one in the concluding paragraph: “Genetic engineering technology has opened up new avenues of molecular breeding. However, their potential undesirable impacts will have to be kept in view. What is important is not to condemn or praise any technology, but choose the one which can take us to the desired goal sustainably, safely and economically.” Professor Swaminathan also said in a response to the criticism of the article: “Genetic modification is the technology of choice for solving abiotic problems like drought flood, salinity, etc. It may not be equally effective in the case of biotic stresses since new strains of pests and diseases arise all the time. This is why MSSRF [M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation] chose mangrove for providing genes for tolerance to salinity.”

Abiotic stress in crops is a major hazard and does not fall under the less than 1% category mentioned in the review article. Major science academies of the world such as the U.S.’s National Academy of Sciences, the African Academy of Sciences and the Indian National Science Academy have supported GM technology. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, after a massive consultation process, published a 420-page report in 2016 with the observation that “Bt in maize and cotton from 1996 to 2015 contributed to a reduction in the gap between actual yield and potential yield under circumstances in which targeted pests caused substantial damage to non-GE varieties and synthetic chemicals could not provide practical control”.

Bt Cotton being harvested near Salem, Tamil Nadu, in 2005. (Image Credit: Shaju Joh, www.thehindu.com)
Bt Cotton being harvested near Salem, Tamil Nadu, in 2005. (Image Credit: Shaju Joh, www.thehindu.com)

In 2016, 107 Nobel laureates signed a letter challenging Greenpeace to drop its anti-genetically modified organism (GMO) technology stance. They stated that the anti-GMO campaign is scientifically baseless and potentially harmful to poor people in the developing world. Data from a large number of peer-reviewed publications have shown that, on average, GM technology adoption has reduced pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yield by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68% (“A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops”, published in PLOS One by Wilhelm Klümper and Matin Qaim in 2014). Yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops. Yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries. Data from a billion animals fed on GM corn have not indicated any health hazards. Those in the Americas and elsewhere consuming Bt corn or soybean for over 15 years have not reported any health issues. It is preposterous to think that governments would allow their people and animals to be fed “poisonous” food. Even reports based on faulty studies in experimental animals that stated that GMOs cause cancer were withdrawn. Major food safety authorities of the world have rejected these findings.

Not a failure in India

Bt cotton is not a failure in India. The yields hovering around 300 kg/ha at the time of introduction of Bt cotton (2002) have increased to an average of over 500 kg/ha, converting India from a cotton-importing country to the largest exporter of raw cotton. There was a small dip for a couple of years and the yield has now increased to over 550 kg/ha. The question to be asked is, what would have the yield been if Bt cotton had not been introduced in 2002?

It is unfortunate that farmer distress is being wrongly attributed to Bt cotton failure. Farmers continue to grow Bt cotton. The development of resistance can be tackled through practices like Integrated Pest Management and by stacking Bt genes to fight secondary pests. The priority is to accelerate development of Bt cotton varieties that can be packed densely in fields and increase the yields to over 800 kg/ha, as is the case with other countries.

GM mustard (DMH-11) is a technology to create mustard hybrids. Being a self-pollinator, mustard is difficult to hybridise through conventional methods. Genetic modification allows different parents to be combined easily, helping yields go up substantially. The herbicide glyphosate is only used for selection of hybrids and is not meant for farmer fields. In any case, reports on the probable carcinogenic potential of the herbicide have not been accepted by major science academies. Yield data can only be assessed in farmers’ fields. For this, trials are necessary. The question then is: why are the trials being scuttled? The moratorium on Bt brinjal is the most unfortunate step taken by the government in 2010 and has crippled the entire field of research and development with transgenic crops. Bangladesh has used India’s data to successfully cultivate Bt brinjal, despite all the negative propaganda. Reports indicate that as many as 6,000 Bangladeshi farmers cultivated Bt brinjal in 2017. How long will it take for Bt brinjal to enter India from Bangladesh?

India has one of the strongest regulatory protocols for field trials of GM crops. Many scientists have been part of the monitoring processes, and it is an insult to the integrity of our scientists to indict the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation and the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee as lacking in expertise and having vested interests. The paper by Dr. Kesavan and Dr. Swaminathan seems to have got most things wrong for whatever reason.

GM technology is not a magic bullet. It needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There is definitely scope for improvement in terms of technology and regulatory protocols. But it is time to deregulate the Bt gene and lift the embargo on Bt brinjal. A negative review from opinion-makers can only mislead the country. In the end, it is India that will be the loser.

 

Written by G. Padmanaban in The HIndu. G. Padmanaban is a former director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Chancellor, Central University of Tamil Nadu. See original article link here.

New Biocontainment Strategy Controls Spread of Escaped GMOs

Hiroshima University (HU) researchers successfully developed a biocontainment strategy for genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Their new method prevents genetically modified cyanobacteria from surviving outside of their test environment, enabling ways to more safely research the effects of GMOs. Their results were published in ACS Synthetic Biology.

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GM Eggplant Can Reduce Pesticide Use in Bangladesh

The first replicated field trials comparing genetically modified eggplant varieties with their non-GM counterparts in Bangladesh have confirmed the Bt gene confers almost total protection against this vital crop’s most damaging pest.

The field trials were carried out in the Bogra district of Bangladesh by a Bangladeshi-U.S. team of researchers. The results are published in the Nov. 21 PLoS One.

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PHILIPPINES: Nat’l Biotech Week 2018 spotlights science, solutions, and social awareness

The National Biotechnology Week is an annual celebration of biotechnology in the Philippines, officially set every third week of November by Presidential Proclamation No. 1414. The celebration highlights the role of biotechnology across vital sectors in the Philippines, from agriculture to the youth. The 2018 NBW happens from November 13 to 17 at the World Trade Center in Pasay City. Read more

Pakistan, China Sign MoU for Agricultural Enhancement

The Ministry for Planning, Development and Reform on Friday informed the National Assembly that Pakistan and China have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to cooperate in the agriculture sector.

The ministry in a written reply said the government attached great importance to cooperation in the agriculture sector with China under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Image Credit: www.corridor.pk
Image Credit: www.corridor.pk

According to the MoU, both the countries will conduct joint research on conventional and genetically modified varieties of seed breeding, precision agriculture, biotechnology and biological application for disease and pest control. Both countries will also collaborate in the technology of pre and post-harvest storage and processing.

Pakistan and China will cooperate in the field of water conservation and management through the use of water efficient technologies. Both countries will encourage investment in agriculture infrastructure for sustainable food systems.

 

Originally published in Pakistan Today Profit. See original article link here.

Biotechnology to be made a Focus in Vietnam’s S&T Development Scheme

Biotechnology will be promoted in the science and technology development scheme of Việt Nam, contributing to socio-economic development, said Dr. Phan Ngọc Minh, Vice President of the Việt Nam Academy of Science and Technology (VAST), at the nationwide biotechnology conference held on Friday in Hà Nội.

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China Reaping Harvest of Agricultural R&D

China is transforming its traditional agriculture sector, using science and technology to drive rural revitalization and modernization.

Delivering a report on the development of China’s agricultural science and technology recently, Tang Huajun, president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), said remarkable progress has been made in innovation, which has played an important role in ensuring national food security and increasing farmers’ incomes.

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GEAC Approves Field Studies of GM Mustard on Honey Bee

A year after the government put the commercial release of genetically modified (GM) mustard on hold, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has approved field studies of GM mustard on honey bee and other pollinations at its recently held 136th meeting.

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Federation of Seed Industry of India Bats for GM Variety

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