March for Science goes international

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

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

Bangladesh

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

Philippines

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

Uganda

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

Mexico

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

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

Nigeria

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

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

Hawaii

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

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

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

Bangladesh to release 3 more Bt brinjal varieties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PPPs: Planting the seeds of prosperity for Bangladeshi farmers

 
Local consumer buying eggplants at a market in Mohishaban, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

The eggplant, known in Asia as brinjal, is one of the most inexpensive and popular vegetable crops grown in Bangladesh, ranked only below the potato and onion in terms of total production. It is a major source of income for around 8 million smallholder farmers, and a mainstay in the diet of the nation’s 160 million people. However, the crop is constantly under threat from the fruit and shoot borer — a moth species whose larvae burrow into the eggplant, destroying it from within. If not controlled, the pest can damage up to 100 percent of a field of eggplants and threaten the smallholder farms that depend on it.

On his farm in northern Bangladesh, Anisur Rahman Sheikh told us that he has been growing brinjal for 10 years. While it’s not a difficult crop to grow, he said the impact of the fruit and shoot borer can be disastrous for eggplant farmers.

“Two years ago, 50 percent of my crop was lost to the borer,” he recounted. “I lost a lot of money and seriously considered giving up the crop altogether.”


Anisur Rahman Sheikh in his eggplant field in Shadullapur, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

Given the social and nutritional importance of the eggplant, public and private sector scientists and farmers have pooled their expertise to find both economically sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to tackle the pest.

Rahman Sheikh recently planted biotech eggplant for the first time. The biotech variety (Bt eggplant) repels or kills the fruit and shoot borer, and Rahman Sheikh is confident that it will make a difference for him and his family.

“Already, the plants look stronger and healthier,” he said. “I won’t know until the harvest, but the plants look good. I am expecting a good harvest with no losses.”

In fact, the Bt eggplant has shown close to 100 percent effectiveness in controlling pests. Not only have farmers’ incomes risen through increased yields, but the crop requires far fewer insecticide applications to reduce pests that threaten it.


Anisur Rahman Sheikh ploughing his eggplant field in Shadullapur, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

Rahman Sheikh explained that a good harvest will have a significant impact on his life.

“You see, my house is still not complete,” he said. “So if I get more crops, I get more profit and I can repair my house and I can contribute to my kids’ education, their health, and their safety.”

We visited plant scientist Hasan Tanbir from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, the country’s public research body that helped bring the Bt eggplant to Bangladesh. BARI has been distributing saplings to farmers, and providing training on good stewardship and best practices. In a country where agriculture is so important to the economy, he said the adoption of new technology is vital.


Scientific Officer Hasan Tanbir at the On-Farm research Institute of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute in Bogra, Bangladesh. Photo by: CropLife

“Over 90 percent of Bangladeshi people work in agriculture, and food security is very important to our country,” said Tanbir. “Farmers were becoming afraid to grow brinjal. But with the Bt gene inserted to fight the borer, farmers can be successful with an important crop. It is essential for these farmers.”

Read more from Croplife

The sorghum plant that could tackle blindness

Scientists in Kenya have taken a staple crop, sorghum, and enhanced its Vitamin A content to help fight chronic nutritional deficiencies that cause hundreds of thousands of children to go blind every year.

The insect-resistant Bt eggplant in Bangladesh was facilitated by the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, funded by the United States Agency for International Development and led by Cornell University in very close collaboration with BARI. The project’s goal is to commercialize biotech crops to complement conventional agricultural approaches to help alleviate poverty, reduce hunger and boost food and nutrition security. The Bt eggplant was commercialized in Bangladesh in 2013.

Initially developed in the private sector, the Cry1-Ac protein produced in the Bt eggplant — and which repels the borer — is similar in structure to that found in nature, and is used commercially in the form of Bt-based biopesticides, often used by organic growers. Through a creative partnership and licensing agreement between private and public actors, the Bt eggplant is available to farmers who can most benefit, with no additional technology fees or royalties payable. In addition, farmers will not only be permitted, but actively encouraged, to save their seeds.

Just like the biotech sorghum plant that can tackle blindness, the Bt eggplant is another compelling example of how public and private sector expertise can pull together to meet huge global challenges such as hunger, malnutrition and poverty. By harnessing our collective strengths, including research and development, manpower, resources and facilities, huge progress can be made.

-Written by Deb Carstoiu in devex,com.  See original 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.

Vitamin A rice now a reality

Field trial shows high promise, people may get it by 2018

The first field trial of the Golden Rice in Bangladesh has yielded promising results, triggering prospect of the vitamin A-rich grain’s release as early as 2018.

Two months after harvesting the Bangladeshi version of Golden Rice line, GR2E BRRI dhan29, scientists at Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) found that rice grains retained 10 μg/g (micrograms/gram) beta carotene which is good enough to address vitamin-A deficiency (VAD).

Beta carotene, also known as pro-vitamin A, is a substance that the human body can convert to vitamin A.

With this development, a long wait is nearly over for rice breeders who have been trying since 1999 for a varietal development and release of Golden Rice, long being touted by the scientist fraternity as a key remedy to acute VAD problem.

According to the World Health Organization’s global VAD database, one in every five pre-school children in Bangladesh is vitamin A-deficient. Among the pregnant women, 23.7 percent suffer from VAD.

BRRI scientists analysed the post-harvest data collected from the first field test conducted on GR2E BRRI dhan29 during the last Boro season (November 2015 – May 2016) and drew the conclusion just recently that the results are positive.

“Two months after harvest, we’ve found an average of over 10 μg/g beta carotene in GR2E BRRI dhan29. The amount is good enough to meet 50 percent of vitamin-A needs of people consuming rice in their daily diet,” Dr Partha S Biswas, project leader of Golden Rice Project at BRRI, told The Daily Star.

The BRRI carried out the field trial on the campus of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) in Gazipur to keep Golden Rice segregated from other rice varieties grown in BRRI fields.

Provided the BRRI gets the necessary regulatory approval, the organisation would go for multi-location field trials of GR2E BRRI dhan29 in Boro seasons in next two years to set off the process of its commercial release, said Partha.

None of the major diseases like blast, sheath blight, bacterial blight and tungro was observed in the transgenic GR2E BRRI dhan29 and the yield was as good as that of the BRRI dhan29 (check variety) with good expression of beta carotene, according to a paper titled “Recent Advances in Breeding Golden Rice in Bangladesh”.

The paper coauthored by Dr Partha, and the IRRI’s Golden Rice Project Coordinator Dr Violeta Villegas, and Regulatory Affairs head Dr Donald J Mackenzie, was presented at the 4th Annual South Asia Biosafety Conference in Hyderabad, India in late September.

The Philippines is the only other country that is carrying out a multi-location field trial now on their homegrown Golden Rice line while the process of Golden Rice research remained at laboratory and greenhouse stages in Indonesia, India and Vietnam.

Although Bangladeshi rice scientists have been at the forefront of Golden Rice research since the development of this transgenic rice by Swiss and German scientists in 1999, the process gathered momentum only when then IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) plant biotechnologist, Dr Swapan K Datta, infused the genes responsible for beta carotene into BRRI dhan29 in 2002-03.

The genetic engineering technology to derive vitamin A in rice was first applied by Prof Ingo Potrykus of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and Prof Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, Germany back in 1999. All renowned journals and news magazines, including the Nature, the Science and the Time, covered the breakthrough in 2000.

The first generation Golden Rice (known as GR1) was developed through infusing genes from daffodil, but later the second generation variety (known as GR2) was developed by taking a maize from corn as it gave much better output of pro-vitamin A.

Some six lines of GR2 (scientifically called “events”) were developed and the IRRI chose to work on one called GR2R, which it developed and subsequently infused in Filipino and Bangladeshi rice varieties.

After years of lab and greenhouse tests on GR2R, the Philippines and Bangladesh eventually stopped upon an IRRI advice that Event GR2E would work better.

Golden Rice co-inventor Prof Peter Beyer told this newspaper that there were some problems with the Event GR2R. He said the new Event should work well.

Swapan K Datta, ex-IRRI scientist who infused beta carotene-producing genes into Bangladesh’s best performing rice variety, BRRI dhan29, said he was looking forward to see Golden Rice goes to farmers’ fields.

The BRRI dhan29, developed by BRRI in 1994, is the most productive dry season rice variety of Bangladesh that has gone beyond national boundaries to be grown in many other countries including India, China, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.

Rice does not contain beta carotene. Therefore, dependence on rice as the predominant food source necessarily leads to vitamin-A deficiency, most severely affecting small children and pregnant women.

Consumption of only 150 gram of Golden Rice a day is expected to supply half of the recommended daily intake (RDA) of vitamin A for an adult. People in Bangladesh depend on rice for 70 percent of their daily calorie intakes.

The IRRI says VAD is the main cause of preventable blindness in children and globally, some 6.7 million children die every year and another 3,50,000 go blind because they are vitamin-A deficient.

In April 2011, Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sanctioned a grant of over $10 million to IRRI to fund, develop and evaluate Golden Rice varieties for Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Officials concerned at IRRI and Gates Foundation said as the Golden Rice inventors and subsequent technology developer Syngenta allowed a royalty-free access to the patents, the new rice would be of the same price as other rice varieties once released for commercial farming in Bangladesh, and farmers would be able to share and replant the seeds as they wish.

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