Archive for 2015


FDA approves GM salmon
Source: The Wall Street Journal – 19 November 2015
Federal regulators approved the production and commercial sale of a strain of salmon whose DNA has been altered to make it grow faster, marking the first U.S. approval for a genetically modified animal raised for human consumption. The go-ahead for the AquAdvantage salmon, announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, is a milestone for agricultural biotechnology, though it is far from guaranteed that the product will become widely available. Its developer must now woo retailers and consumers, some of whom are growing increasingly wary of genetically engineered food…


Source: Farm Weekly (WA) – 13 November 2015.

Legislation to repeal the Genetically Modified (GM) Crops Free Areas Act is due to be tabled in the WA parliament.

Sources close to the case said they expected the repeal Bill could be tabled this week in State parliament having passed through cabinet this week but may not be debated until next February.

The repeal Bill could also be moved as part of an omnibus repeal Bill that may be tabled next week, aimed at cutting government red tape to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

WA Food and Agriculture Minister Ken Baston declined to comment on cabinet discussions to Fairfax Agricultural Media but said the WA government was committed to repealing the Act.



26 October 2015. Source: Genetic Literacy Project.

In sub-Saharan Africa, cassava is a staple. But the roots have a disadvantage: although rich in calories, they contain only few vitamins, especially Vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 deficiency is prevalent in several African regions where cassava is the staple in people’s diet. Diseases of the cardiovascular and nervous systems are associated with vitamin B6 deficiency.

Plant scientists at ETH Zurich and the University of Geneva set out to find a way to increase vitamin B6 production in cassava.

In the journal Nature Biotechnology, the scientists present a new genetically modified cassava variety that produces several-fold higher levels of this important vitamin.

The basis for the new GM cassava was developed by Teresa Fitzpatrick at the University of Geneva. She discovered the biosynthesis of vitamin B6 in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. With the introduction of the corresponding genes into the cassava genome, the researchers produced several cassava lines that had increased vitamin B6.

Previously, the researchers had measured B6 content in several hundred different cassava varieties from Africa – none had a level as high as the genetically modified variety.

Vitamin B6 from the GM varieties is bioavailable, which means that humans can absorb it well and use it.

It is unclear when and how vitamin B6-enhanced cassava will find its way to farmers and consumers. The method for increasing vitamin B6 has not been patented because the gene construct and technology should be available freely to all interested parties.

“There are at least two obstacles: legislation for transgenic crops…and implementation of a cassava seed system to give all farmers access,” says Hervé Vanderschuren, who led the cassava research programme at ETH Zurich.


24 October 2015. Source: New York Times.

Call it the “Coalition of the Ignorant.” By the first week of October, 17 European countries — including Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland — had used new European Union rules to announce bans on the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

These prohibitions expose the worrying reality of how far Europe has gone in setting itself against modern science. True, the bans do not apply directly to scientific research, and a few countries — led by England — have declared themselves open to cultivation of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. But the chilling effect on biotech science in Europe will be dramatic: Why would anyone spend years developing genetically modified crops in the knowledge that they will most likely be outlawed by government fiat?

In effect, the Continent is shutting up shop for an entire field of human scientific and technological endeavor. …

This decision of a majority of European countries to apparently ignore their own experts may undermine any claim to the moral high ground at the coming Paris talks on climate change. The worldwide scientific consensus on the safety of genetic engineering is as solid as that which underpins human-caused global warming. Yet this inconvenient truth on GMOs — that they’re as safe as conventionally cultivated food — is ignored when ideological interests are threatened.

The scientific community is facing a new European reality…

Facing this hostile climate, the crop biotech sector in Europe is dying…

Meanwhile, hypocrisy rules: Europe imports over 30 million tons per year of corn and soy-based animal feeds, the vast majority of which are genetically modified, for its livestock industry. Imports are preferred to European crops partly because biotech traits make them cheaper. Yet these same traits — such as herbicide tolerance and insect resistance — are now widely barred from domestic use.

In essence, Europe has chosen chemistry over biology: It will not be able to reduce fungicide applications by adopting genetically modified blight-resistant potatoes; nor can it cut down on insecticide sprays, since it won’t allow genetically modified insect-resistant crops to be grown. The data is clear: One study found that GMO cultivation has led to a 40 percent reduction in insecticide spraying worldwide.

Shielded from the winds of change behind a $50 billion wall of subsidies thanks to the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, farmers in Europe can, arguably, afford to lose their competitive edge…




27 October 2015. Source: Daily Mail (Australia).

Supercharged GM tomatoes packed with industrial quantities of disease-fighting plant chemicals could soon be on the menu. Just one of the genetically engineered tomatoes grown by British scientists contains as much of the grape compound resveratrol as 50 bottles of red wine.

The antioxidant chemical is said to combat heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, although these claims are controversial.

The molecule, resveratrol, belongs to a well known group of plant compounds found in red wine, fruit and vegetables and olive oil. These polyphenols are famed for their antioxidant properties…

Professor Cathie Martin, from, the John Innes Centre in Norwich, said: ‘Our study provides a general tool for producing valuable phenylpropanoid compounds on an industrial scale in plants, and potentially production of other products derived from aromatic amino acids.

“Our work will be of interest to different research areas including fundamental research on plants, plant/microbe engineering, medicinal plant natural products, as well as diet and health research.”


29 September 2015. Source: Genetic Literacy Project

Next-generation biotechnologies like CRISPR-Cas9, RNAi and cis-gene are being introduced with much fanfare as newer, better ways to more more precisely produce genetically engineered variants for crops, medicine, biofuels and other uses. But the opposition has already begun to mount.

Many anti-GMO activists are attempting to lump these technologies into the same bin as less precise prior genetic innovations, including transgenics, and they persist in in attempting to use the stigmatizing term “GMO” in describing them because of its power to demonize.

…public acceptance isn’t about just the science and new technology; it’s also about addressing fears, benefits and the mental connections people make with certain scientific advances. It is, in short, about marketing and persuasion.

Science, particularly the science of food, hasn’t historically done well in this area. They’ve tended to avoid the business of sales and persuasion, even though the modern concept of marketing probably got its start in agribusiness and food. But a look back at how scientists, companies making science-based products, and public interest groups have handled public perceptions of their new inventions could help find more effective ways to gain acceptance of this latest “magic bullet.”



29 September 2015. Source: Queensland Country Life

GRAIN Producers SA is launching a petition today to support lifting the moratorium on growing genetically modified (GM) crops in South Australia.

The petition – the first under the new advocacy structure in South Australia – will be launched by GPSA at its Grower Day at the Yorke Peninsula Field Days.

The cultivation of GM food crops is prohibited in SA under the Genetically Modified Crops Management (Designation of Areas) Regulations 2008, which were made under the Genetically Modified Crops Management Act 2004.

According to the State government, these regulations will remain in place until at least September 1, 2019.

In a statement, GPSA chief executive officer Darren Arney said the petition highlights producers’ need for freedom of choice on variety selection.


18 September 2015. Source ABC PM

MARK COLVIN: A meeting of hundreds of the world’s most eminent experts on grain crops has heard arguments for the likely necessity of genetically modified crops. The consensus among the scientists is that current crop yields are not enough to keep up with global population growth and climate change.

David Claughton reports.

DAVID CLAUGHTON: Global wheat production is 700 million tonnes, but researchers say that needs to reach a billion tonnes to feed the world’s population by 2050.

MAN: Things are getting warmer and drier and inevitably there are going to be new disease problems that occur.

MAN 2: In wheat if there is one degree rise in temperature you can almost expect 10 degrees production in yield.

DAVID CLAUGHTON: Sanjaya Rajaram, winner of the World Food Prize, says GM technology is needed to feed the world into the future. A wheat scientist in India and Mexico, he has bred 480 wheat varieties and is regarded as the world’s greatest wheat breeder. He told the ABC’s Country Hour, conventional hybrid breeding could increase production by 20 to 25 per cent, but that won’t be enough to leave genetic modification out of the mix.




03 September 2015. Source: The Land

WA organic farmer Steve Marsh has lost his Supreme Court appeal for compensation after genetically modified (GM) canola was found on his Kojonup property in 2010.

A decision on the appeal of the Marsh v Baxter case outcome was made today in the Supreme Court of WA Court of Appeal.

Mr Marsh lodged the appeal against a Supreme Court decision which ruled his neighbour Michael Baxter was not responsible for acting negligently in his traditional method of growing the genetically modified (GM) canola crop.

Mr Marsh was suing his neighbour for $85,000 in alleged damages after the organic certification of 70 per cent of his property was suspended in late 2010 when GM canola swathes were found in his crop.



4 May 2015. Source: National Geographic

Can This Scientist Unite Genetic Engineers and Organic Farmers?

DAVIS, California—Eighteen scientists are sitting in a lab, talking about new ways to feed the planet. These are some of the world’s foremost experts on rice. Most of them are from China. Nearly all of them are men.

But it’s an American woman—tan and fit at 54, with gray-brown hair and bright green eyes—who clearly runs the show. Her name is Pamela Ronald, and this is, after all, her laboratory.

Ronald is a plant pathologist and geneticist—a professor at the University of California, Davis whose lab has isolated genes from rice that can resist diseases and tolerate floods. When those genes are inserted into existing rice plants, they help farmers grow high-yield harvests in places where the crop is a vulnerable staple. Last year, four million subsistence farmers in seven countries fed millions of people by planting seeds that carry a gene Ronald and her collaborators isolated.

But her innovations aren’t limited to science. She’s also trying to mend the perceived schism between genetic engineering and organic farming. To do so, she’s promoting a form of sustainable agriculture that draws on both practices. Only by combining elements of each, she contends, will we have a chance of feeding the world’s swelling population (expected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050) while also protecting the planet’s natural resources and countenancing the effects of climate change.

Last year, four million subsistence farmers in seven countries fed millions of people by planting seeds that carry a gene Pamela Ronald and her collaborators isolated.

It seems like a radical idea: There may be no more polarizing ideological debate today than the one over transgenic crops. Though there’s no meaningful scientific definition of “genetic modification” (GM)—virtually all the food we eat has been genetically improved in some manner—most critiques center on moving genes from one organism to another in a lab. For years many people around the world have been diametrically, often bitterly, opposed to this type of genetic engineering. (At least when it comes to crops. For whatever reason, few people seem to have a problem with insulin or other lifesaving GM medicines.)

But as Ronald sees it, plant geneticists and organic farmers aren’t enemies. In fact, they can be bedfellows: Her husband, Raoul Adamchak, is an organic farmer and co-author, with Ronald, of Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food. Praised by Bill Gates and Michael Pollan, their book argues for an integrated theory of agriculture in which “organic farming and genetic engineering each will play an increasingly important role,” rather than being unnecessarily pitted against each other.

“All this arguing about what’s genetically modified is a big distraction from the really important goals,” says Ronald. “We need to produce safe and nutritious food that consumers can afford and farmers can make a profit from. And we need agricultural practices that enhance soil fertility and crop biodiversity, use land and water efficiently, reduce use of toxic compounds, reduce erosion, and sequester carbon. I think most everyone agrees on those general principles.”…



4 May 2015. Source: National Geographic

With one gene, molecular geneticist Steve Kemp may someday be able to boost the success of small farms across a huge swath of central Africa.

The gene is from a baboon, and it’s important because it produces a protein that kills a diabolical protozoan called Trypanosoma brucei. Trypanosoma brucei causes a deadly wasting disease–trypanomiasis–in both cattle and humans. Now stick with me, here’s where it gets interesting: That protozoan, called a trypanosome, is the reason one-third of the African continent–an area the size of the United States–is almost completely prevented from keeping livestock. That’s because the tse-tse fly, the trypanosome’s preferred method of transportation, lives there. Where flies can infect cattle, cattle usually can’t survive.

The implications of animal-free farming in the developing world are enormous. For starters, there’s malnutrition. A quarter of the 800 million malnourished people on our planet live in sub-Saharan Africa, and lack of protein is a significant contributing factor.

But the larger problem is labor. Kemp, who’s been working on the disease since the 1980’s, says “Western people don’t understand the role of livestock in developing world agriculture. You talk about cows dying or not, and they think of steak and milk. But livestock are fundamental. If someone’s main business is growing maize, but he’s got a bullock that can pull a plow in the field and pull a cart to market, that’s huge. It’s about oiling the wheels of an agricultural system, and you need livestock.” In that cattle-free zone, 90 percent of the land is still worked by hand.

Trypanosomiasis doesn’t just kill livestock. It gets people, too. The human version is called sleeping sickness. The trypanosomes infect the central nervous system and cause confusion, behavior changes, and the sleep disruption that gives the disease its name. Untreated, it’s generally fatal. Livestock are sometimes the source for human infection.

The problem is pressing, and it caught Kemp’s attention when it became apparent that at least one kind of African cattle–the N’Dama breed, native to west Africa–had some natural tolerance of trypanosomes. Kemp, who’s originally from the UK and works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, set out to investigate the source of that tolerance, in the hopes of breeding it into other kinds of African cattle.

He ran into two problems. The first was that cattle’s tolerance turned out to be complex. “There are at least ten genes involved,” says Kemp. The more genes involved, the harder it is to breed the trait into an animal. The second was that, because the cattle still played host to the trypanosome, even tolerant animals would be a disease reservoir, threatening humans and other animals.

While Kemp was studying trypanosomiasis in cattle, Jayne Raper, Professor of Biological Sciences at City University of New York’s Hunter College, was studying its absence in baboons. Along with a few other primates, baboons have complete resistance to the disease, and Raper was studying the source of that resistance, looking for clues to fight the human version of trypanosomiasis, which infected 20,000 people in 2012, according to World Health Organization estimates. Raper discovered that a component of baboon cholesterol, a protein with the charismatic name ApoL1, kills the trypanosome by punching holes in its cell walls. (Humans produce a similar protein, which kills some trypanosomes but not T. brucei.)

As Kemp describes it, the two scientists had an a ha moment at a meeting at ILRI in 2006. Raper was working on isolating the baboon gene in the hopes of created trypanosome-resistant transgenic mice to prove her concept. Kemp explained the problem with cattle and, well, a ha! By 2008, Raper had her mice, and Kemp now estimates that they’re about a year away from having a transgenic cow grazing the ILRI pastures…



Farmer and consumer cost of delaying approval of single GM trait estimated at $19 billion

4 May, 2015. Source:

A new white paper shows that a three-year postponement in global approval of biotech-enhanced soybean traits any time in the next 10 years would cost farmers and consumers a total of nearly $19 billion, compared with typical approval timelines.

This new research was released during a recent International Soybean Growers Alliance (ISGA) mission. Farmer-leaders from the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay met with Chinese governmental officials and influencers to discuss the economic implications of these delays for global producers and consumers of soy.

Farmers in large soy-exporting countries that quickly adopt new technology — the U.S., Brazil and Argentina — and consumers in large importing countries —China and the nations in the European Union — have the most to lose from delayed approvals, according to the white paper.

As an example of important biotech approvals that farmers might need in the near future, the study examined herbicide-tolerance traits and analyzed the effects of approval delays through 2025.

Regulatory delays have real costs for society. For example, when new biotech herbicide-tolerant varieties are not approved in a timely manner, farmers continue to incur increased weed-control costs, potential yield losses and reductions in acreage. Some farmers may see greatly increased production costs or be forced out of farming entirely. At the same time, higher prices and reduced supplies strain consumers.


4 May 2015. Source:

Triple Null: New Genetically Modified Soybean A Big Benefit For Food Allergies

A new soybean with significantly reduced levels of three key proteins responsible for both its allergenic and anti-nutritional effects has been created. Soybean is a major ingredient in many infant formulas, processed foods and livestock feed used for agriculture. 

Conventional soybeans contain several allergenic and anti-nutritional proteins that affect soybean use as food and animal feed and in the U.S. alone, nearly 15 million people and 1 in 13 children suffer from food allergy…

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Eliot Herman and colleagues targeted P34 as the soybean’s key allergen, and genetically engineered it out of the crop. Although the new soybean may have been less likely to cause allergic reactions, testing was impeded by government restrictions.

To circumvent the issue, Herman, now a professor in the University of Arizona School of Plant Sciences, and colleagues set out to create a similar soybean using conventional breeding methods that do not fall under the legal definition of a GMO…

After nearly a decade of crossbreeding each variety to the soybean reference genome called Williams 82, the team has produced a soybean that lacks most of the P34 and trypsin inhibitor protein, and completely lacks soybean agglutinin. Beyond these characteristics, the soybean is nearly identical to Williams 82. They’ve dubbed the new variety “Triple Null.”

Because it is not a GMO, it can be grown organically, like is done with mutagenesis-derived plants and other legacy genetically modified foods, or transgenic methods could add other producer or consumer traits.

First up will be tests to evaluate the efficacy of the low-allergen soybean in swine.


Growers say canola production down in South Australia due to GM moratorium

20 April 2015. Source: SA Country Hour (ABC Radio)

Grain producers in South Australia are warning canola production will keep declining in the state if they are unable to plant genetically modified varieties.

CEO of Grain Producers South Australia, Darren Arney, said low prices and high production costs led to a huge reduction in the amount of canola being planted in the state this year.

He said South Australian growers were competing with Canada and the other Australian states who could grow GM varieties.

Until they were able to use those varieties, he said, it would be an uphill battle to grow the crop.

“We need a lift in the price now if Canada’s growing a lot more canola year on year it’s going to be hard to see that price come up,” Mr Arney said.

“Until we have access to the same technology that other producers in Australia have, then I guess we’ll see less canola and more cereal.

“(It means) less risk and, over time, potentially less production or less productivity from the state while we wait for the technology to come through.”


Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce calls on South Australia to drop GM moratorium

17 April 2015. Source: SA Country Hour (ABC Radio)

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has urged South Australia to reconsider its moratorium on genetically-modified crops.

Mr Joyce, speaking a dinner for agri-business leaders in Adelaide, said it was time South Australia became a ‘yes’ state.

He said South Australia needed to approve genetically modified crops and nuclear power production.

Mr Joyce said Adelaide was at risk of being overtaken by Darwin as the major city in central Australia.

“It’s a tale of two cities and it’s not Paris and London but it is Adelaide and Darwin and one city keeps saying yes, yes, yes and growing and planning for growth,” he said

“Unless we get the same vitality in Adelaide, Darwin will overtake them as the main city of central Australia, with a choice between Darwin and Adelaide… the business will go north and the prosperity will be closely in tow with it.