Archive for 2012


Scientists crack difficult wheat genome

29 November 2012. Source:

The genome of the bread wheat, whose DNA is notoriously complex, is close to being completed, according to an international team of scientists.

Publishing in the journal Nature, they say they had analysed between 94,000 and 96,000 genes in bread wheat (Triticum aestivum).

According to the paper, the plant’s genome is nearly five times as big as humans.

The genes exist in what is in fact a triple genome, reflecting bread wheat’s legacy as the 8000-year-old offspring of three species of grasses.

Gene sequencing will help plant breeders in their search for strains that offer higher yields and are better able to tolerate floods, droughts and salty soils, the researchers said.

Wheat today accounts for a fifth of the world’s calorific intake, and this importance can only grow, given the world’s rising population and the impact of climate change on food production, say experts.

“This work moves us one step closer to a comprehensive and highly detailed genome sequence for bread wheat, which along with rice and maize is one of the three pillars on which the global food supply rests,” says co-author Jan Dvorak, a professor of plant sciences at the University of California at Davis.

“The world’s population is projected to grow from seven to nine billion by 2050,” says Dvorak.

“It is clear that, with no new farmable land available to bring into cultivation, we must develop higher-yielding varieties of these three cereals to meet the growing global demand for food.”

A complete, “polished” version of the genome may still lie several years away, says Neil Hall of the University of Liverpool, England, which led the research.

Although the genome has not been fully decoded, we now have instrumentation that can read DNA hundreds of times faster than the system that were used to sequence the human genome,” which was published in 2001, he says.




19 November 2012. Source:

Scientists from Nanjing Agricultural University, Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), and other institutions reported in Genome Research journal, the completion of the first genetic sequence of the pear. The pear genome will help scientists produce better pear varieties. Comparative genomics and evolution studies using the pear’s genome led to the discovery that pear, apple, and strawberry shared an ancient whole-genome duplication event that occurred 140 million years ago. It is expected that more discoveries on the pear’s genetic evolution will be known now that the genome is completely sequenced.

The scientists used BAC-by-BAC strategy and advanced sequencing techniques to crack pear’s genome. According to Zhiwen Wang of BGI, thte BAC-by-BAC strategy is fit for genomes with high heterozygosity.



Science journal urged to retract Monsanto GM study

Source: Reuters.

LONDON (Reuters) – The publisher of a much-criticised study suggesting genetically modified corn caused tumours in rats has come under heavy pressure from scientists to retract the paper and explain why it was ever printed.

The calls follow a report by Europe’s food safety watchdog this week dismissing the study’s findings.

Reed Elsevier, which published the study in its Food and Chemical Toxicology journal in September, said on Friday it was considering the criticisms and would let readers know if it concluded it needed to change the way it checked research.

In a statement on its website, the journal said “the paper was published after being objectively and anonymously peer reviewed, with a series of revisions made by the authors and the corrected paper then accepted by the editor.”

Hundreds of scientists from around the world have questioned the research, which was written by French researcher Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen and said rats fed on Monsanto’s GM corn suffered tumours and multiple organ failure.

Genetically modified crops are deeply unpopular in Europe but are common in the United State where they have been grown and consumed for more than 15 years.

A day after the study was published, Seralini defended his work, saying it was the most detailed study on the subject to date.

But more than 700 scientists have signed an online petition calling on Seralini to release all the data from his research.

The petition, addressed directly to Seralini, says: “Only a full disclosure of the data can quell any uncertainties over the results you published.”



Seralini et al. study conclusions not supported by data, says EU risk assessment community 28 November 2012. Source:

Serious defects in the design and methodology of a paper by Séralini et al. mean it does not meet acceptable scientific standards and there is no need to re-examine previous safety evaluations of genetically modified maize NK603. These are the conclusions of separate and independent assessments carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and six EU Member States following publication of the paper in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology on 19 September 2012.

EFSA today delivered its final evaluation of the paper by Séralini et al. which raised concerns about the potential toxicity of genetically modified (GM) maize NK603 and of a herbicide containing glyphosate. In particular, it suggested a link between exposure to these substances and an increased incidence of tumours in rats. The Authority’s final review reaffirmed its initial assessment that the authors’ conclusions cannot be regarded as scientifically sound because of inadequacies in the design, reporting and analysis of the study as outlined in the paper. Consequently, it is not possible to draw valid conclusions about the occurrence of tumours in the rats tested. Based on the information published by Séralini et al., EFSA finds there is no need to re-examine its previous safety evaluations of NK603 or to consider these findings in the ongoing assessment of glyphosate.

Per Bergman, who led EFSA’s work, said: “EFSA’s analysis has shown that deficiencies in the Séralini et al. paper mean it is of insufficient scientific quality for risk assessment. In addition, several national organisations were independently mandated by Member States to assess this study. These reviews have demonstrated a consensus among a significant part of the EU risk assessment community that the conclusions of Séralini et al. are not supported by the data in the published paper. We believe the completion of this evaluation process has brought clarity to the issue.”

Broad consensus EFSA’s final statement considered the independent assessments of the paper by organisations of six EU Member States: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Full copies of these evaluations can be found in the annex of EFSA’s statement. EFSA noted the emergence of a broad European consensus, with the reviewed Member State assessments finding the conclusions of Séralini et al. were not supported by the data presented in the study. Four of the national evaluations found the paper did not provide scientific information that would indicate the necessity to reopen the risk assessment of NK603 or glyphosate. The exceptions were France’s High Council of Biotechnology and Italy, whose assessments did not examine this issue. Member States also identified many of the same weaknesses in the methodology and design of the paper as raised by EFSA. Unclear study objectives, the low number of rats used in each treatment group, a lack of detail on the feed and treatment formulation, key information missing on the statistical methods employed and incomplete endpoint reporting were all highlighted by Member State organisations. Inadequate sample size In the course of the review process, EFSA had requested Séralini et al. to provide further information on their study documentation. No such material had reached the Authority before publication of this statement. However, on 9 November 2012, Séralini et al. published a general reply to the reactions from across the globe to their paper.

After carefully examining the publication, EFSA concluded it provided only a limited amount of relevant information which failed to address the majority of the outstanding questions raised in the Authority’s first statement. In their ‘Answer to critics’ document, Séralini et al. stated the sample size of their treatment groups was too small to allow them to draw conclusions with regard to long-term carcinogenicity and mortality. EFSA noted this acknowledgement from the authors is inconsistent with the overall conclusions they made in the paper regarding the tumours and mortality. EFSA’s evaluation of the Séralini et al. article was in keeping with its mission to review all relevant scientific literature for GMO risk assessment. The Authority remains committed to monitoring relevant literature on an ongoing basis to ensure the advice it provides is up to date.



30 October 2012. Source: EFSA

EFSA to finalise review of Séralini et al. publication by mid-November

EFSA is due to publish in mid-November its second and final assessment of the Séralini et al. publication on the potential toxicity of GM maize NK603 and of a herbicide containing glyphosate.

EFSA has extended the publication date of its second statement from the end of October until mid-November to allow it to fully consider the assessments of the Séralini et al. publication already carried out by EU Member States including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and The Netherlands.

Upon publication of its initial statement on 4 October, EFSA also requested additional information from the study’s authors related to experimental design, reporting and analysis of findings in order to help inform the Authority’s final assessment.


New GM canola variety on way

24 Oct, 2012


BAYER is about to launch its first Roundup Ready canola variety in Australia, a hybrid called IH50RR – developed at Horsham, in Victoria’s Wimmera – and company officials are upbeat about its prospects.

With a dizzying array of canola varieties on the market, Bayer will have to hit the ground running to attract acres, but is confident it can do so, with strong hybrid vigour boosting the package.

The variety is the product of strong Bayer investment in canola in Australia.

Andrew Loorham, marketing manager – Seeds and Traits at Bayer CropScience, said the package of early vigour, solid yields and good blackleg resistance stacked up well, as did a compact plant, meaning lodging is unlikely to be an issue.

The new IH50RR Bayer variety currently has a provisional rating of resistant-moderately resistant (R-MR) in the independent Canola Association of Australia (CAA) rating scheme.


17 October 2012


Genetically modified mice could be the answer to clearing deadly landmines.

Scientists have genetically modified mice to enable them to sniff out landmines. They hope the GM mouse, known as MouSensor, could one day become a useful tool to help deal with the dangerous legacies of past wars.

More than 70 countries are contaminated by unexploded landmines, a constant reminder of previous conflicts.

”Long after wars have ended, communities are still impeded from going back to their normal, daily activities because of all these mines affecting their land,” says Charlotte D’Hulst of Hunter College, New York, who led the team that developed the MouSensor.

One approach to clearing landmines is to use HeroRats, giant pouched rats that are trained to sniff out landmines by the Belgian NGO, Apopo.

Two of these, with a human handler, can clear an area of 300 square metres in less than a few hours. It would take two people about two days to do the same. One disadvantage of the HeroRats system, however, is that the rats need about nine months of training before they’re ready for landmine detection.

D’Hulst wanted to improve on the HeroRats concept by creating a genetically modified ”supersniffer” mouse, sensitive to the specific odour of the explosives in landmines, TNT.

Scientists recently found a receptor in the mouse’s olfactory bulb (the collection of neurons in the nose that detects smells) that specifically recognises a chemical called DNT – a less explosive but similar-smelling version of TNT. D’Hulst modified a mouse’s genes to give it a much larger proportion of DNT receptors in its nose compared with the nose of a normal mouse.

In a normal mouse’s olfactory bulb, there are some 10 million neurons in total, with about 4000 specialised for a particular odour. D’Hulst’s GM mouse has 10,000 to 1 million neurons specialised for DNT, increasing the animal’s ability to detect the smell of the explosives 500-fold. She will present the latest results from her work this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans.

So far, the mouse has not been tested in the field and D’Hulst has yet to work out the best landmine-clearing protocol for her MouSensors. She says one approach might be to take advantage of the fact that the mouse would probably change its behaviour when it came across a landmine.

Given its extreme sensitivity to TNT, the mouse would probably have some sort of seizure when it sniffed explosives, D’Hulst says, because so many neurons in its olfactory bulb be firing at once. And that seizure might be detectable by some device implanted into the mouse.

”We are thinking along the lines of implanting a chip under the skin of these animals that would wirelessly report back to a computer when the animal’s behaviour is changing upon being triggered by a TNT landmine,” D’Hulst says. Once the location of a landmine had been identified, a bomb-disposal expert could go in and neutralise it in the normal way. The mouse itself would be safe from the landmine, since it would be too small to trigger an explosion.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Weapon Contamination Unit, Ben Lark, says biosensors such as the GM mice would only be one way of detecting landmines and only in certain situations.

”They wouldn’t replace other means,” Lark says. ”There are three different types of approach: the manual approach, which is people with detectors; machines, such as a flail; and then you have biosensors – which are traditionally dogs. You never use one means on its own.

”The other thing is, the moment you have a minefield you have lots of mines together. If you have too many it saturates an area. I would assume if the mouse had such super-rodent powers it would be overwhelmed fairly quickly.”

Developing the MouSensor technology to detect landmines is a proof of concept for D’Hulst. GM mice could be created to detect a range of other odours, too, she says, for example to diagnose tuberculosis by sniffing compounds on the breath of sick individuals.

The bacteria that cause TB emit compounds that can be sniffed out in saliva samples, she says. Though developing a GM mouse that could detect them would not be a trivial task – researchers would first have to identify the neurons in the mouse’s olfactory bulb that detected the tuberculosis odour in question and then identify and modify the correct parts of the genome to create their desired biological sensor.

As for the landmine-detecting mouse, D’Hulst says she will need to carry out more tests and work with the NGOs involved in landmine disposal to work out the best way to develop the technology. ”If we have to put a time on [testing in the field], we hope it will be within five years,” she says.

The Guardian


Adelaide researchers instrumental in mapping genome for barley

18 October 2012


Adelaide scientists have inspired a huge international team effort to map the barley genome, revealing the crop’s most intimate secrets for the first time.

The research published today in the prestigious journal Nature is the key to breeding better barley, such as drought and heat-tolerant  varieties that resist pests  and disease.

University of Adelaide Professor Peter Langridge, at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics on the Waite Campus, is excited about the potential to transform one of the world’s oldest crops.

“We’ve gone out and worked out where all of the genes sit, within the barley genome,” he said.

“So we can go to a region of the barley genome and say: ‘Here are genes involved in seed development, or here are genes involved in disease resistance’. We can go in and we can target particular areas now, in ways we couldn’t before.”

The results can be used to create new barley varieties, either by genetic engineering or conventional breeding, “because it tells us where key genes are”, Professor Langridge said.

“It allows us to look for new variation that we can bring in to the breeding programs,” he said.

“We can provide information to the breeders about what they can select for.”

The international project was a huge undertaking, because the barley genome is twice the size of the human genome.

Professor Langridge said this should come as no surprise, because “there are things that plants can do, that humans can’t do”.

“They can photosynthesise, they can fix carbon,” he said.

“The other thing is that plants are stuck in one place, they can’t escape from the climate and the weather, so they need all sorts of special mechanisms to cope with that stress and that variability.”

Barley is Australia’s second most important crop, after wheat, with around seven million tonnes of barley a year, worth $1.3 billion annually. About 65 per cent is exported.

The International Barley Sequencing Consortium was founded in 2006, following an important meeting in Adelaide. The consortium includes scientists from Germany, Japan, Finland, Australia, the UK, the US and China.