Archive for September, 2014


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.