Archive for May, 2013



The JR Simplot company has applied for commercial release of a GM potato, to be marketed as Innate, which has been modified to decrease the production of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen, and reduce black spot bruising.

The petition claims that the potatoes are unlikely to pose a plant pest risk.

Public comments are now being sought.



After years of suffering from blight caused by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, American chestnut trees may rise again through gene technology developments. Dr. William Powell of the State University of New York and Scott Merkle of the University of Georgia started the search for genetic protection for the American chestnut tree in 1990. Dr. Powell knew that most of the chestnut blight symptoms are caused by the oxalic acid that C. parasitica generates as it grows. He also knew that wheat has an enzyme called oxalate oxidase, which detoxifies oxalic acid. Together with his team, he transferred the gene that encodes oxalate oxidase from wheat to chestnut, and they found that oxalate oxidase can indeed enhance blight-resistance.

This month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture supervised the planting of three experimental patches, a project organized by the Forest Health Iniative (FHI). If the trial works, the FHI will request permission to plant transgenic chestnut trees in the wild to re-establish the species in America’s woodlands. The team hopes to use the model for future projects to re-establish threathened species such as the elm tree, ash tree, and a fir tree known as the eastern hemlock.



Biotech pineapple developed in Costa Rica by Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. Inc. has been approved for testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The new pineapple variety is called Rosé because of its rose-colored flesh.

The developers overexpressed a gene from pineapple and tangerine, silenced other genes, and altered flowering for more uniform growth and quality. Del Monte must complete the testing and a food safety consultation with the Food and Drug Administration prior to commercialisation of the product.


Gene silencing set to boost agricultural yields

30 April, 2013. Source: Media release, Murdoch University


Nematodes can reduce major crop yields by 15 per cent or more.

Researchers from Murdoch University have developed an environmentally friendly ‘gene silencing’ method to control Root Lesion Nematodes, plant pathogens known to reduce crop yields in major crops such as wheat and barley by 15 per cent or more.

Professor Mike Jones from Murdoch’s Plant Biotechnology Research Group, based in the Western Australian State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, said the microscopic, worm-like pests were an economic drain on agriculture.

“Root Lesion Nematodes are major pests of agricultural, horticultural and industrial crops such as sugarcane. They invade and damage plant roots, making the plants susceptible to water and nutrient stress,” he said.

“Not only do they rob host plants of essential nutrients while feeding, but they create entry wounds that leave plant roots susceptible to attack by fungi and bacteria in the soil.

“They are an often unrecognised problem for farmers, not just in Australia but internationally, and to date, nematode control strategies have often required the use of expensive and environmentally unfriendly chemicals.

“Our work on gene silencing presents a new, environmentally sound approach to control these nematode pests and lift yields.”

Professor Jones said gene silencing involved blocking the formation of proteins needed for nematodes to complete their life cycles.

He said the method was highly targeted to ‘switch off’ specific genes and was another example of the benefits of genetic modification of crop plants.


Genetic modification grain may help save world from starvation: expert

23 May 2013. Source:

To keep a competitive edge in agricultural production and feed a growing global population, Australia needs to look further into Genetic modified (GM) foods, GrainCorp CEO Alison Watkins told agribusiness representatives Thursday.

Speaking at a Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) forum in Sydney, Watkins encouraged Australians to consider the benefits of GM technology in the face of potential global food shortages in the future.

To feed a global population of almost 10 billion by 2050, the world will require an extra 1 billion tonnes of grain to be grown each year, Watkins said, and Australia must do its part to stave off world hunger while protecting its own economy.

“For Australia to protect our share of global trade, we have to grow our national crop size to 60 million tonnes. That’s about 50 percent more than what we currently produce,” Watkins said.

According to Watkins, Australia does not have much more land available for grain growing in order to double its production by 2050, and the pressures of climate change are likely to make this target even more difficult to realise.

Despite GM foods being regulated by the Australian government, the technology has been haunted by community distrust and opposition.

Australian scientists were outraged in 2011 when environmental activist group Greenpeace destroyed experimental GM wheat crops in development in a CSIRO greenhouse near Canberra. No genetically modified wheat strain had ever been approved for cropping in Australia before.

Watkins says she is not advocating the introduction of unsafe and untested GM grain varieties.

Watkins warned that ignoring the potential of GM grain to help feed the world could result in Australia becoming uncompetitive and irrelevant in the global agricultural marketplace, and potentially contribute to poverty and famine.


Development underway for first transgenic sugarcane plantation

20 May 2013. Source: Jakarta Post

The National Genetically Modified Product Biosafety Commission (KKHPRG) recently approved the first genetically-altered sugarcane crop, paving the way for the development of transgenic sugarcane for commercial production.

Bambang Purwantara, a member of the commission, said that the institutions which held the mandate to approve biotech plants had all given the nod to a drought-resistant transgenic sugarcane seed

The cane, developed by state plantation firm PT Perkebunan Nusantara, the Indonesian Sugarcane Plantation Research Center (P3GI) and experts from the State University of Jember in East Java, is currently under a limited field testing.

“We are proud to announce that the first biotech staple crop will be a drought-resistant sugarcane. We expect to see the transgenic sugarcane planted by next year at the latest,” Bambang explained.

The commission is currently assessing another sugarcane variety — said to be resistant to herbicide — developed by the state plantation company and scientists from the research center and the university.

The drought-resistant sugarcane is the first out of 14 recommended biotech crops that are being assessed by the commission, which was established in 2010 to oversee the developing biotechnology.

Thirteen other transgenic food crops have passed food safety testing, which ensures that the products are safe for human consumption.


29 April 2013


Find below an edited version of a presentation by former anti-GM campaigner Mark Lynas hosted by the International Programs – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University.

For the full text, or to watch the presentation, follow the link above.

I think the controversy over GMOs represents one of the greatest science communications failures of the past half-century. Millions, possibly billions, of people have come to believe what is essentially a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies on an unprecedentedly global scale.

This matters enormously because these technologies – in particular the various uses of molecular biology to enhance plant breeding potential – are clearly some of our most important tools for addressing food security and future environmental change…

So for me also there is also a moral dimension to this. The fact that I helped promote unfounded scare stories in the early stages of the anti-GMO movement in the mid 1990s is the reason why I now feel compelled to speak out against them. I have a personal responsibility to help put these myths to rest because I was so complicit in initially promoting them…

Following a decade and a half of scientific and field research, I think we can now say with very high confidence that the key tenets of the anti-GMO case were not just wrong in points of fact but in large parts the precise opposite of the truth…

The anti-GMO campaign has also undoubtedly led to unnecessary deaths…

I think this campaign is shameful and has brought the entire environmental movement into disrepute, with damaging consequences for the very beneficial work that many environmentalists do…

Science tells us today that the coming age of ecological scarcity extends much further than just global warming. If we wish to preserve a semblance of current biodiversity on this planet, for example, we must urgently curtail agricultural land conversion in rainforest and other sensitive areas.

This is why organic agriculture is an ecological dead-end: it is dramatically less efficient in terms of land use, so likely leads to higher rates of biodiversity loss overall. Maybe organic producers should be legally mandated to specify on labels the overall land-use efficiency of their products. I’m all in favour of food labelling by the way when it comes to something important that the consumer should have the right to know.

Of course conventional agriculture has well-documented and major environmental failings, not least of which is the massive use of agricultural fertilisers which is destroying river and ocean biology around the world. But the flip side of this is that intensive agriculture’s extremely efficient use of land is conversely of great ecological benefit.

For example, if we had tried to produce all of today’s yield using the technologies of 1960 – largely organically in other words – we would have had to cultivate an additional 3 billion hectares, the area of two South Americas.

We cannot afford the luxury of romanticised but inefficient agricultural systems like organic because the planet is already maxxed out in terms of both land and water. Our only option therefore is to learn to do more with less. This is known as sustainable intensification – it’s about improving the efficiency of our most ecologically scarce resources.

But remember, everything is changing. Food demand will inevitably skyrocket this half-century because of the twin pressures of population growth and economic development. We need to sustainably increase food production by at least 100% by 2050 to feed a larger and increasingly affluent global population.

It is a truism to say that people are hungry not because there is a global shortage of food in an absolute sense, but because they are too poor to afford to eat. But it is a dangerous fallacy to suggest therefore that because the world on average has enough food, we should therefore oppose efforts to improve agricultural productivity in food insecure countries.

In fact probably the best way to address rural poverty is to ensure that subsistence farmers the world over enjoy more reliable and increasingly productive harvests. This will enable them both to feed their own families and to generate a surplus to sell at a profit so their children can go to school.

Is genetic modification a silver bullet way to achieve this? Of course not. It cannot build better roads or chase away corrupt officials. But surely seeds which deliver higher levels of nutrition, which protect the resulting plant against pests without the need for expensive chemical inputs, and which have greater yield resilience in drought years are least worth a try?…

However, a showdown is looming, because some of the most exciting biotechnology initiatives are now based in African countries.

But if the activists have their way, none of these improved seeds will ever leave the laboratory. And this brings me, by way of conclusion, to the essentially authoritarian nature of the anti-GMO project.

All these activists, strikingly few of whom are themselves smallholder farmers in Africa or India, claim to know exactly which seeds developing country farmers should be allowed to plant. Those which are not ideologically approved by self-appointed campaigners should be banned forever.

In the final assessment only way that conspiracy theories die is because more and more people begin to wake up to reality and reject them. Then perhaps there comes a tipping point where what was once received wisdom becomes increasingly understood for the foolish nonsense that it always was.

I think – I hope – that we are close to this tipping point today. And now, with just a little extra push, we can all join in consigning anti-GMO denialism to the dustbin of history where it belongs.



Source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

According to a paper in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, it may be time to re- think the use of compositional equivalence studies required of GM crop developers by regulatory regimes globally because unintended compositional effects that could be caused by genetic modification have not materialised. Following a review of 20 years of literature on the subject, the authors argue that compositional equivalence studies uniquely required for GM crops may no longer be justified on the basis of scientific uncertainty.

Since 1993, investigating the compositional equivalence between GM crops and their conventional counterpart has been the cornerstone of the safety evaluation of GM crops and it is designed to investigate any unintended effects of introducing new genetic material into a plant using biotechnology.

This testing, according to the authors, was based on uncertainty as to the frequency and magnitude of alterations that might occur due to the modification process.

Since they began regulating the safety of GM crops, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found all of the 148 GM crops they evaluated to be “substantially equivalent” to their conventional counterparts as have the Japanese regulators for 189 submissions. Over 80 peer-reviewed publications also conclude this same compositional safety for GM crops. These studies have covered the full range of GM crops – from soybean, canola and cotton, to tomato, potato and raspberry – and the full range of modifications.

“Our assessment is that there appears to be overwhelming evidence that transgenesis [genetic modification] is less disruptive of crop composition compared with traditional breeding, which itself has a tremendous history of safety.”

The authors question whether the millions of dollars spent each year on compositional studies for GM crops can be justified. According to the paper, expanding regulatory requirements have increased compositional study costs over 10-fold, from approximately US$100,000 per study, to over US $1 million per study.

In conclusion, they state, “The merits of continuing to generally require compositional analysis of GM crops to inform safety seems dubious given the results of 20 years of research, and if agreement can be reached that these studies are no longer warranted, use of this technology will become accessible to a wider array of scientists.”



April 2, 2013. Source: ABC News

Tasmania’s dairy farmers are warning the state’s ban on genetically-modified organisms, or GMO’s, could disadvantage the sector over the next few years.

The Tasmanian moratorium on GMO’s was extended five years ago.

It’s due to expire next year, and will be put up for review in the next few months.

Paul Bennett from Dairy Tasmania has warned against another blanket ban on GMO’s.

He says researchers interstate have developed high-energy grazing grasses, and Tasmanian dairy farmers will be the only ones in the country who can’t access the fodder if the ban on GMOs is extended.

“Full use of all technology available is something we’d support,” Mr Bennett said.

Jan Davis from the TFGA agrees.

“We need to get productivity gains,” Ms Davis said.

Tasmania’s fruit growers have warned there will be consequences if the state’s blanket ban on genetically-modified organisms is revoked.

Lucy Gregg from Fruit Growers Tasmania says the state’s GMO free status is vital to overseas marketing campaigns.

“Certainly from the perspective of marketing to international markets, we do know from past experience that Tasmania has the moratoriums on GMO’s means that we can leverage into markets suchs as Japan and Korea and even into Europe,” Ms Gregg said.

The state government says details of the review will be announced shortly.



Australia transfers technology for genetically modified bananas to India

March 2013. Source: Times of India

Recipe for slaying anaemia

Australian scientists have genetically modified bananas to stack them with extra vitamins and iron. They are now sharing this technology with Indian scientists. What makes this development really significant is that India is the world’s largest producer of bananas by a mammoth margin and consumes most of these domestically. So it is elementary that if Indian bananas could be fortified with more nutrients, this would have a wholesome impact on the citizenry’s diet and counteract their penchant for malnutrition. The possibility of making bananas rich in iron is of special note as iron-deficiency is a grave problem among vegetarians and anaemia is also a major cause of maternal mortality.

India’s Bt cotton triumphs helped the global GM narrative march forward but the government has tried to reign in this march at Bt brinjal, putting a moratorium on its commercial release after a decade’s worth of agronomic and biosecurity testing, not to mention unequivocal approval from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee. While our decision-makers bury their heads in the sand, the US Food and Drug Administration has categorically declared that foods developed by bioengineering techniques do not entail greater safety concerns than those developed by traditional plant breeding. Ninety per cent of American maize, soybean and canola is now GM. Brazil, which once used to be a net food importer, has engineered an impressive agricultural turnaround by pushing GM crops forward. Not only does China’s dining table boast GM papaya, tomato and bell peppers but GM poplar is now supplying it timber on a commercial scale!

As food demand keeps rising, it will become increasingly hard to resist the embrace of high-yielding GM varieties. Anyway, why try to resist when no harm has been detected among Americans who have been chomping GM cornflakes and tortillas for around two decades now?



Genetically engineered silk eyed as coating for implants

March 2013. Source:

A German company is raising the ante on potential medical and industrial uses of silk polymers through development of a genetically engineered spider silk fiber it is commercializing under the name “Biosteel”.

According to AMSilk (Martinsreid, Germany), Biosteel has six times more toughness than carbon fiber while having elasticity comparable to rubber. The material is said to be scalable in industrial processes.

“Of all the many applications for spider silk, the spinning of a viable commercial fiber has always been technically the most challenging. With the current process, we have shown that a commercial spider silk fiber is possible,” said Lin Römer, who heads R&D at AMSilk. “Next we will optimize the fiber further and scale raw material production and spinning in our new pilot plant.”

Target medical applications for Biosteel include implant coatings, medical textiles and surgical products such as meshes, support textiles or wound coverings. Other potential targets include high-performance technical textiles and sporting goods.

In an interview with PlasticsToday, Chief Business Officer Mathias U. Woker described the raw material technology behind Biosteel as an E. coli fermentation process. He said the company does not provide details to describe how E. coli can be genetically engineered to mimic the system used by spiders to produce proteins that form the basis of fibers for its web.

Technologies under development elsewhere such as Tufts University (Medford, MA) focus on silk produced directly by silkworms.

Silk is a natural polymer produced by the silk moth, silk worm, bees, wasps, ants, and spiders. Each species produces a type of silk with a unique properties’ signature. Silk produced from silk moths has been a valued fashion material for centuries.

Silk from spiders has not been commercially available because they are cannibals, and cannot be bred on a large scale. It would also be too expensive to harvest the thread.

Recombinant proteins

It is possible to produce spider silk as recombinant proteins using engineered host organisms. That process has been slowed by lack of complete gene sequencing for spiders. A synthetic sequence that mimics or even enhances the original silk proteins can also be used.

Thomas Scheibel, chair of Biomaterials at the University of Bayreuth, is the main inventor of the AMSilk technology and serves as chief scientific advisor for AMSilk. He spent three years as a researcher at the University of Chicago and developed spider silk technologies at the Technische Universität München.

Once the silk is produced it needs to be drawn in order to achieve useable properties. Drawing of the fiber mimics the way a spider pulls dope from its gland.

Woker said that the company currently can only make the material on a kilogram scale, but plans to develop tons-scale capacity, either internally or through third-party manufacturers, within two years. He would not disclose current fiber spinning capacity or plans for production development.

Biocompatibility, resiliency and toughness are Biosteel’s trump cards.

“Our first focus is on a coating for breast implants,” said Woker.

“A coating for a silicone breast implant would prevent capsular fibrosis.” The tightening of the fibrous capsule around the implants making them less mobile takes place in a process called capsular fibrosis. Woker expects clinical trials to commence within two years.

AMSilk was founded in 2008 and is located near Munich. Key investors are MIG Funds and AT Newtec, Munich. Projects are partially funded through grants from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Infrastructure, Transport and Technology.


GM rice: Cure in sight for hay fever sufferers

11 April 2013. Source:

Genetically modified rice may hold the key to a mask- and medicine-free existence for Japan’s millions of allergy sufferers. But the remedy is still some years away.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is backing research into GM rice artificially implanted with proteins from Japanese cedar pollen, one of the main causes of hay fever.

It hopes the rice can be produced on a commercial basis by 2020, although several problems stand in the way.

Experts say the rice, if eaten on a continuous basis, will neutralize the allergic reaction caused by cedar pollen that manifests itself in sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes.

“Japanese people have been eating rice for centuries. If we can commercialize it, (allergy sufferers) won’t need to go to the hospital or take medicine ever again,” said a hopeful Takashi Matsumoto, a senior program officer at the farm ministry’s Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Research Council Secretariat.

One in three to five Japanese suffers from hay fever to some degree. In addition to Japanese cedar and cypress, allergens include pollen from ragweed, mugwort and alder.

Current hay fever treatments mainly address the symptoms with medicine that stops the histamines, which cause the itchiness and runny nose, from activating. While there are curative therapies, such as injections and placing drops of pollen extract under the tongue, the results can take two to three years to bear fruit.

In contrast, the “hay fever therapy rice” is a curative treatment as long as the individual consumes a daily bowl of GM rice. It takes six months for the allergy to go away.

The farm ministry says the flavor hardly differs from regular rice.

An official explained that when the intestines absorb rice proteins, the immunity system in the gut that sorts out foreign substances “will not induce an allergic reaction because (the rice) isn’t a foreign substance.”

The research, which was nearly shelved, should cheer hay fever sufferers.

The farm ministry, along with the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, initially began developing the rice not as a medicine, but as a Food for Specified Health Uses (FOSHU) that would alleviate hay fever symptoms.

In total, 670 million yen ($7.16 million) has been poured into the project since the beginning of fiscal 2004…The farm ministry will release its research results by the end of fiscal 2014 with the aim of starting commercial production by 2020 once it has been confirmed there is no safety issue.