Archive for 2014


A Tale of Two GMO Transplant Techniques

12 November 2014 Source:

Ever since scientists announced they could place functional foreign genes into plant cells some 30 years ago, people have been arguing about the pros and cons of genetically modified crops. On one hand, GM crops produce larger, heartier yields, and could help solve the world’s food shortage problem. On the other, something about eating a tomato whose genes have been tampered with can be a little unsettling and, well, unnatural.

Not that the biotech industry has been paying much attention to consumer’s unease. Almost as soon as scientists announced that plants could be genetically altered to suit human needs, companies began scrambling to create new, modified organisms as quickly and efficiently as possible. In the last 15 years, herbicide-tolerant and pest-resistant crops have become the standard in the United States and a handful of other Western countries, and have almost entirely replaced conventional planting methods. (Europeans have displayed slightly more skepticism in this regard—GM crops remain banned in many EU countries.) …

Two of the techniques for transplanting genes are transgenesis and cisgenesis. Both involve introducing one or more genes into a plant. However, cisgenesis involves only genes from the same species or a cross-compatible species, a process that could otherwise happen—though over a considerably longer period of time—through breeding or other natural methods. Transgenesis, however, combines genes between unrelated species in a way that could never happen on its own. Like cold-water fish genes, which have been inserted into strawberry plants to prevent the fruit from freezing. Obviously there is a reluctance to accept GM foods that have been created with transgenesis rather than cisgenesis, because these are viewed as ‘unnatural’.

However, while both are used in what are called “genetically modified” crops, there is no way to tell which GM foods have been created via transgenesis versus cisgenesis, as international GMO regulations do not discriminate between the two methods. Recent research into these two techniques suggests that both are, scientifically speaking, safe and acceptable means to creating GM crops. However, a wider implementation of cisgenic techniques could ease anxieties about transgenesis and lead to increased consumer acceptance. “There is reasonable evidence that consumers are more comfortable with the use of genes from within the same species than transgenes. However, future developments regarding the generation and commercialization of cisgenic crops will depend on application of less stringent regulation to these crops worldwide,” a 2013 report on the techniques concluded.




25 November 2014. Source:

A new potato that’s engineered with gene deletion doesn’t have to be regulated by USDA.

The USDA’s deregulation of J.R. Simplot’s GM potatoes recently generated much publicity, but another GM potato was quietly cleared for commercialisation without undergoing that regulatory process.

Cellectis Plant Sciences, a subsidiary of a French pharmaceutical company, has genetically modified potatoes to experience less sugar buildup during cold storage, thereby helping to preserve their quality. The crop also contains less of a potentially cancer-causing compound.

These traits are similar to Simplot’s “Innate” potato but Cellectis’ product wasn’t subject to the same environmental assessments and public notice and comment requirements.

The difference is that Simplot used agrobacterium, a plant pest, to transfer genes from wild and cultivated potatoes, which causes the Innate variety to fall under USDA’s regulatory purview.

Under the USDA’s interpretation of federal law, which has been upheld in court, the agency’s authority over genetically engineered crops is limited to those that are potential plant pests.

In the case of Cellectis’ potato, the company did rely on a protein from a blight-causing bacteria to remove unwanted genetic material from the variety.

However, that bacterial protein wasn’t incorporated into the potato’s genes, which convinced the USDA that the variety isn’t a plant pest and doesn’t require a permit for field release or interstate movement, according to documents recently released by the agency.

“We knocked out DNA sequences that inactivated a gene,” said Dan Voytas, chief science officer for Cellectis.

Cellectis hopes the variety will gain broader market acceptance than previous genetically engineered varieties that were deregulated by USDA because the technology simply removes genetic material, rather than inserting it from other species, he said.

Roughly 10-15 percent of potatoes are lost during storage due to sugar buildup, and the company hopes to significantly cut that waste, Voytas said.

Before it can make actual claims about waste reduction, Cellectis must first conduct large-scale tests that are now possible due to USDA’s decision, he said.

The company expects it will take several years before enough of its potatoes are available for commercial production, and it still plans to clear the variety with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

Also, Cellectis will seek regulatory approval in foreign countries that import U.S. potatoes, Voytas said. “There’s still quite a bit of effort in front of us.”



10 November 2014. Source: US Government Department of Agriculture and


We are advising the public of our determination that potatoes designated as InnateTM potatoes (events E12, E24, F10, F37, J3, J55, J78, G11, H37, and H50), which have been genetically engineered for low acrylamide potential (acrylamide is a human neurotoxicant and potential carcinogen that may form in potatoes and other starchy foods under certain cooking conditions) and reduced black spot bruise, are no longer considered a regulated article under our regulations governing the introduction of certain genetically engineered organisms. Our determination is based on our evaluation of data submitted by J.R. Simplot Company in its petition for a determination of nonregulated status, our analysis of available scientific data, and comments received from the public in response to our previous notices announcing the availability of the petition for nonregulated status and its associated environmental assessment and plant pest risk assessment. This notice also announces the availability of our written determination and finding of no significant impact.


We are advising the public of our determination that an alfalfa event developed by the Monsanto Company and Forage Genetics International, designated as event KK179, which has been genetically engineered to express reduced levels of guaiacyl lignin, is no longer considered a regulated article under our regulations governing the introduction of certain genetically engineered organisms. Our determination is based on our evaluation of data submitted by the Monsanto Company and Forage Genetics International in its petition for a determination of nonregulatory status, our analysis of available scientific data, and comments received from the public in response to our previous notices announcing the availability of the petition for nonregulated status and its associated environmental assessment and plant pest risk assessment. This notice also announces the availability of our written determination and finding of no significant impact.


Herbicide tolerant genetically modified (GM) canola has been grown in NSW and Victoria since 2009 and in Western Australia since 2010. The tables below provide information regarding the hectarage for each year, a state-by-state breakdown and the percentage of GM canola grown in each state as well as nationally.

(PDF attached – AusCanolaFigures_2014)

 By Year (hectares)

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
NSW 13,930 23,286 28,530 40,324 31,573 52,000
Vic 31,186 39,405 22,272 19,012 21,232 37,000
WA 86,006 94,800 121,694 167,596 260,000
National 47,125 150,707 147,613 183,042 222,414 349,000
Total Area 1,165,000 1,390,000 1,590,500 1,815,000 2,480,000 2,480,000 Sept Est
% GM 4% 11% 9% 10% 9% 14%


By State (%)

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
NSW 6% 8% 7% 5% 5% 9%
Vic 13% 16% 6% 3% 5% 9%
WA 0% 10% 12% 13% 14% 21%
National 4% 11% 9% 10% 9% 14%


Source: Australian Oilseeds Federation and Monsanto Australia


1 November 2014


AGRICULTURAL Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) chair Ken Matthews says some Australian governments are “gutless” when it comes to giving farmers access to genetically modified (GM) crops.

The former secretary of both the agriculture and transport departments made the no-nonsense observation in a detailed outline of global and domestic attitudes on biotechnology at the National Farmers’ Federation Congress in Canberra last week.

Mr Matthews summed up by saying Australia suffers from not having a more objective, science-based discussion about agricultural biotechnology.

“It’s really important that Australia has practicing farmers speak up for agricultural biotechnology because it’s practicing farmers that will be persuasive.”

The ongoing anti-GM campaign is one of the “big risks” facing the technology’s development, he said.

“There is a great suspicion of science and scientists in public debate in Australia and there has been a very effective campaign by NGOs (non-government organisations) which has influenced public opinion.

“As a result, what worries me is that environmentally responsible farmers – who tend in many other areas to be leaders of farm opinion – can often be ambivalent about GM.

“The pro-GM constituency among farmers is therefore not as strong as it could be in Australia.”

Governments need to lead

Mr Matthews said attitudes held by the general public, consumers, environmentalists and media were also central problems in the GM debate.

But his strongest criticism was reserved for various governments that refuse to allow GM crops to be cultivated, despite overwhelming scientific evidence.

“Some governments in Australia are – and I use this word carefully – gutless,” he said.

“There are total bans on GM in South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT,” he said.

“There are moratoriums in WA and NSW but there are certainly exemptions for that. In my view they (total bans) aren’t rationally based; they aren’t properly founded in science.

Need to build trust

Mr Matthews said Australia grew GM canola and GM cotton and had great strengths in the area, with a world class regulatory system and plant breeding expertise.

But he said a three-part plan was needed to help overcome the slow progress of biotechnology development.

He said a constituency of biotechnology supporters was needed to build understanding of the potential benefits to farmers, consumers, the environment and society as a whole.

“We need to build community confidence and trust in Australia’s regulatory arrangements,” he said.

“We do need to be respectful of ethical concerns about biotechnology, but at the same time we need to give voice to the beneficiaries, and I think of those kids in Africa.

“When people are talking grandly about ethical concerns about biotechnology I worry about starving kids in Africa.

“We need to focus research more on benefits to consumers, to the environment, to society and we need to find some champions.”


Source: The Telegraph (UK), 30 October 2014

The widespread cultivation of genetically modified crops is the only way to feed the world and governments must stop blocking trials, a consortium of Europe’s most well-renowned plant scientists have claimed.

In an open letter to the European Parliament ahead of a debate on GM next week, more than 20 of the most eminent botanists and ecologists in the world warn that it is time to put fears of genetic modification aside and begin widespread field trials. They call for a ‘fundamental revision of GM regulation’ which, they claim, is based not on science, but on politics.

Signatory Professor Jonathan Jones, of the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, says British scientists are creating world-changing crops, but they are being blocked by Europe. The authors call for Europe to allow individual countries to opt out of growing crops. It would mean that countries like Britain could begin commercial production while those who oppose the idea, like France, would not be forced to follow suit.

The proposals will go before the European Parliament next week.


Source: ABC Rural, 29 October 2014.

A South Australian farming group has moved its field day over the border into Victoria, so producers can legally trial genetically modified (GM) crop varieties.

A moratorium on GM crops in South Australia has some grain producers concerned they are being left behind in tackling weeds and improving yields.

Mackillop Farm Management Group last year held its annual field day at a trial site at Frances.

This year it was moved a few kilometres east, still in the border town of Frances, where GM canola could legally be trialled.

Research and operations manager Felicity Turner says most SA farmers are focussed on weed prevention, but long-term concerns surround great opportunities opening up to GM farmers.

“It’s not just the herbicide technologies. It’s a lot of other disease resistances and pod-shattering and things like that,” she said.

“Unfortunately [seed companies’ breeding programs] are only heading in that direction with regards to [GM] Roundup Ready.

“As a state, potentially we’re going to be left behind with regards to other options not just with regard to herbicide technologies.”

National canola manager of Pacific Seeds, Justin Kudnig, told the group: “If we don’t go down this path, nature’s going to beat us”.

“The bottom line to us is dollars per acre and we can see a greater return per acre if we can get this technology.”

“You need to stay ahead of pests, you need to stay ahead of diseases, you need to stay ahead of all the negatives that are out there in the environment,” he said…



Source: WLRN Miami, South Florida. 29 October 2014

Two storage rooms at the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District’s Marathon building are being converted into a temporary laboratory to raise genetically modified mosquitoes.

If the FDA approves, the Keys could become the first in the U.S. to release the mosquitos, which are intended to reduce the population of aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry diseases including dengue fever, malaria and chikungunya.

The British company Oxitec is building the lab and would handle the raising and releasing of the mosquitos, pending approval from the FDA and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. The current plan is for a test release of genetically engineered male mosquitoes sometime next spring in the Key Haven neighborhood on a small peninsula about five miles from Key West. The idea is the male mosquitos would pass along a lethal gene, making offspring nonviable.

The Keys haven’t had a reported case of dengue since 2010. But Stephen Smith, chairman of the elected board that oversees mosquito control in the Keys, said the release might be necessary as a preventive measure against dengue and chikungunya, which recently appeared on the South Florida mainland.

“I’m not preaching doom and gloom. I just want us to be ready,” Smith said. “It’s been successfully tested in the Caribbean. It’s been tested in Brazil. It’s been tested in the Cayman Islands with great results. It’s a tool that we can keep in our arsenal and maybe we won’t have to use at all.”

The Keys Mosquito Control District is planning public meetings with representatives from Oxitec and the FDA in November for Key Haven residents and in December for Key West. The district is distributing a flyer with information for Key Haven residents this week.


29 September 2014. The University of Adelaide. Media release.

Changing the developmental path of grain in cereal crops to better influence yield, quality and end-use is the aim of University of Adelaide research scientist Dr Matthew Tucker.

Dr Tucker, who was recently awarded a prestigious Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship, will be taking advantage of plant cells’ ability to change identity as the plant develops, to determine how to tailor cereal grains that are healthier to eat or have other desirable attributes.

“Unlike animals, most plant cells essentially can become any cell type,” says Dr Tucker, who is based in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine. “But how and why plant cells change identity during grain development hasn’t been determined.

“I’m trying to identify the pathways that drive cells to become different. We’ll be looking to identify natural variants in these pathways that can be used to purposely change cell types in the developing cereal grain.”

One potential outcome could be increased antioxidant levels in wholegrain or wholemeal flour. Antioxidants are important because they contribute to health benefits associated with consuming wholegrain products, such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and obesity.

“When we look at the whole grain, we can see it contains a lot of different cell types. It’s the outer layers we’re particularly interested in – they contain more of the dietary fibre, antioxidants and minerals that make whole grains so much healthier for us than just refined flour, which is mainly starch,” says Dr Tucker.

“What we do know is that there is great variation in the outer layers between different cereal crops. We are investigating wheats from all over the world, some of which are old varieties only grown in certain regions and used for specialised breads, pastas, beers and baked goods. There are many wonderful varieties and they vary in their ability to contribute healthy antioxidants such as carotenoids, phenolic acids and flavonoids to our human diet.

“There is a lot of potential to bring this healthy compound-making ability to the cereals our farmers are growing. In this way we can develop a sustainable way of growing healthier foods.”

Dr Tucker will use advanced molecular methods to investigate which genes are expressed in the outer layers and how the signals operate that drive some cells to accumulate starch and others to make antioxidants.

“We want to find the switch to be able to turn starch-accumulating cells into antioxidant accumulating cells. This will give us key information that can be used to naturally increase antioxidant levels in our staple cereal products and target prevention of chronic diseases that are becoming more prevalent in Australian society,” he says.


1 October 2014. Source: and

A scientific review article titled “Prevalence and Impacts of Genetically Engineered Feedstuffs on Livestock Population” shows the impact of GM crops as a feed component for animals. This review study is led by Alison Van Eennaam and Amy Young, animal scientists from the University of California, Davis. The article summarises the influence of GM crops used as a feed component in the performance and health of animals consuming it from its first introduction in year 1996 up to 2013. Their study also involved examining the livestock feeding studies over 30 years and encompasses about 100 billion animals.

Their findings show that GM feeds did not affect the health and productivity of livestock animals. The products of animals fed with GM feeds showed the same nutritional component as the products of animals fed with non-GM feeds.



10 September 2014. Source:


The Grains Research and Development Corporation has started rolling out its plan for developing frost-tolerant genetics in Australian wheat and barley.

It’s starting with international seed banks to screen for frost resistance.

GRDC Southern Panel member Neil Fettell says it could take up to ten years before growers get their hands on better varieties.

“Worldwide, there are hundreds of thousands of wheat lines and the problem is to find ones that might be better,” he said.

“So what we’re doing is focussing on doing a climate analysis in the world to decide where there would be varieties that might help us.

“Then we’re going to get seed of lines or land races from those places, bring them into Australia and test them.”

The GRDC is spending $3 million annually over the next five years towards genetic and management solutions to frost.



A consortium of scientists announced Thursday in Science that they’ve sequenced the coffee genome for the first time. By determining all of the genes that make up robusta coffee, a plant variety that accounts for about one-third of the world’s consumption, they’ve opened the door to better breeding practices and even genetic engineering.

The researchers were most surprised by the genes used to produce caffeine. There are several theories as to why a plant would want to give its leaves and berries an energy buzz: It might be meant as a deterrent against leaf-eating bugs, to make surrounding soil less hospitable to rival seedlings, or to turn potential pollinators into happy caffeine addicts. Whatever the drive, plants such as tea, coffee and chocolate developed enzymes to make the addicting (and sometimes toxic) compound.

But when researchers compared the coffee genome to that of chocolate, they found that the enzymes used to make caffeine in the two plants aren’t closely related enough to share a common ancestor. In other words, coffee and chocolate found their way to caffeination independently of each other. So while the reasons for evolving caffeine production are still hard to pinpoint, we know it was a valuable enough trait to inspire multiple adaptations. Scientists don’t have a genome for tea yet, so we can’t be sure whether it developed caffeine on its own, as well.

Some members of the group are continuing on to sequence arabica coffee, which produces the world’s fancier varieties of coffee bean. Since arabica is a hybrid of robusta and another variety of coffee plant, it has a duplicated genome. With twice as much genetic information to sift through, Victor Albert, the lead author and a professor of biological sciences at the University at Buffalo, said, this becomes “a much more complicated affair.”

Albert and his colleagues have high hopes for the useful application of the sequencing. “When we compared the coffee to several other species, we saw a huge enrichment in disease-resistant genes,” he said. “Those can now be rapidly explored in more detail, and could be of use in both coffee breeding and in the molecular modification of coffee.”

The obvious route, he said, would be to make coffee crops more resilient to climate change and increased pest problems. But his team’s work on coffee’s caffeine-producing enzymes could also help take the buzz out of your brew. “This might make it possible to knock off caffeine production in a variety of coffee plant,” Albert said, “So to make decaff coffee, you wouldn’t have to go through the process of extracting the caffeine. You could just grow coffee beans that don’t make it at all.”


6 September 2014. Source:

Britain’s first trial of GM crops enriched with nutrients to improve health has been successfully harvested.

Following a groundbreaking field trial, the first camelina (false flax) crop genetically modified to produce seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids was harvested at Rothamsted Research on Friday (5 September).

The trial, sown in May, is the first field trial in the UK to test plants in which the genetic structure has been altered to produce health-boosting properties. For the experiment, genes taken from algae were inserted into the plants to make marine oils.

“It’s a landmark step,” an emotional Prof Napier told Farmers Weekly. “It’s the first UK trial of a GM crop with a natural benefit trait in it.

“This is the culmination of at least a decade’s worth of fundamental research. We know that the engineered crop will produce the omega-3s in the glasshouse.

“We wanted to see whether the crop would grow well in the real world – in the field…

He added: “We will do the biochemical analysis of the seed oil to confirm the presence of the fish oils. So far, everything looks promising.”

Next year, Prof Napier plans to double the size of the field trial and sow the crop earlier with a higher seed rate to see if it can produce even more omega-3 oils.

If the trials are successful, plant oils will be fed to farmed fish, rather than feeding on algae, and the oil content of the fish will also be analysed.

Plant oil extracted from the seeds could also be used as an omega-3 supplement in yoghurts or spreads.

The GM crop could eventually be grown commercially in the UK, although that is “at least a decade away”, say researchers.

The field experiment is seeking to provide a healthy, alternative and sustainable terrestrial source of omega-3 oil, which is known to lower the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancers, and arthritis.

The results of the trial will be published after a peer review in an Open Access scientific journal later this year.


Q&A: GMO cultivation in the EU

2 September 2014. Source:

The EU has one of the toughest genetically modified food regulations in the world and the cultivation of GM crops is only allowed following a thorough risk assessment. Yet, as member states are calling for more possibilities to restrict GMO cultivation on their territories, the European Commission has proposed some amendments to the current EU rules. The Parliament and the Council are currently looking at these proposals. Read on to learn more.

Is it allowed to grow genetically modified crops in the EU?

Yes, but only once they have been authorised at EU level, following a strict risk assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). After authorisation, individual EU countries can only ban the GM product on their territory by using the so-called safeguard clause. They have to justify this decision, showing that the GMO may cause harm to people or the environment.

Are any GMOs already cultivated in the EU and did any member state ban it?

Currently, only one GM crop – insect-resistant maize MON 810 from Monsanto – is grown in the EU. However, some countries – Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg and Poland – adopted safeguard clauses to prohibit its cultivation on their territories.

Why does the EU want to change the current system for authorising GM products?

Some member states asked for more freedom and flexibility to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory. In response, the Commission proposed amendments to the current rules and they are currently being discussed by the Parliament and the Council.

When will the new rules take effect?

In 2011 MEPs voted in favour of the proposals albeit with several amendments. The Council reached a political agreement on 12 June 2014, which will allow the Parliament and the Council to continue talks in order  to reach agreement on a common text. The proposal is foreseen for final adoption in 2015.



INDOMITABLE Kojonup farmer Michael Baxter has been crowned winner of the WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association’s (PGA) Achievement Award for 2014.

Mr Baxter received the prestigious prize at the PGA’s annual convention dinner at the Crown Perth Casino tonight before about 150 guests.

The award recognises the humble Kojonup farmer’s continuing legal battle against his neighbour Steve Marsh over genetically modified (GM) canola use and property rights.

In the decision handed down in late May, Justice Ken Martin comprehensively rejected Mr Marsh’s claim for $85,000 compensation and permanent injunction to stop his neighbour growing or swathing GM canola.

In June, Mr Marsh and his wife Sue announced they would appeal the decision, with the grounds for the appeal lodged on July 25.

The PGA grains committee backed Mr Baxter’s campaign from the outset, in line with its support for individual farmers being able to access profitable technologies.

In his presentation speech, PGA president Tony Seabrook described Mr Baxter as a strong supporter of new cropping technology. He said the Kojonup farmer “remains instrumental in championing the rights of farmers to grow legal and safe crops”.

“Nowhere was this more evident than during the recent Supreme Court of Western Australia case where an organic farmer in Kojonup tried to stop his neighbour from growing GM canola,” he said.

“Our winner played a pivotal role in this court case because he was the defendant. His unyielding determination to not back down to the bullying tactics and relentless persecution from anti-GM groups placed a heavy toll on his professional and personal life.

“Thanks to his efforts, growers in Western Australia are not restricted in the choice of what they grow and how they grow it.

“This attitude and sheer doggedness in the face of adversity, exemplifies the very foundations of what this Association stands for.”