Latest Biotech News


02 May 2017. Source: Media Release Australian Academy of Sciences

‘Evolution-bending’ gene editing technology—do the potential benefits outweigh the risks?

The Academy has released a discussion paper on new gene-editing technologies that override natural selection.

‘Gene drive’ technology allows scientists to manipulate the DNA of small plants or animals in a way that forces or ‘drives’ inheritance of particular genetic traits and characteristics to successive generations. The technology could wipe out malaria-carrying mosquitos, cane toads or other pests and plant diseases within years, but like any new technology, has potential risks.

Before gene drives are used in Australia, and before they start being used at scale elsewhere in the world, it’s important to consider the applications that are of most benefit and the risks associated with those applications. Once gene drives are released into wild populations in other countries, they will inevitably reach Australia.

This discussion paper will stimulate Australian governments and communities to consider the issues now.


Source: ISAAA Brief 52-2016: Press Release

Biotech/GM Crops Surge to a New Peak of 185.1 Million Hectares in 2016
Global Area Rebounds from 2015 as Farmers Continue to Adopt Biotech Crops

Beijing (May 4, 2017) – Today, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) released its annual report showcasing the 110-fold increase in adoption rate of biotech crops globally in just 21 years of commercialization – growing from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 185.1 million hectares in 2016. ISAAA’s report, “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016,” continues to demonstrate the long-standing benefits of biotech crops for farmers in developing and industrialized countries, as well as consumer benefits of recently approved and commercialized varieties.

“Biotech crops have become a vital agricultural resource for farmers around the world because of the immense benefits for improved productivity and profitability, as well as conservation efforts,” said ISAAA Chair of the Board, Paul S. Teng. “With the commercial approvals and plantings of new varieties of biotech potatoes and apples, consumers will begin to enjoy direct benefits of biotechnology with produce that is not likely to spoil or be damaged, which in turn has the potential to substantially reduce food waste and consumer grocery costs.”

Examining other benefits of biotechnology, ISAAA reports that the adoption of biotech crops has reduced CO2 emissions equal to removing approximately 12 million cars from the road annually in recent years; conserved biodiversity by removing 19.4 million hectares of land from agriculture in 2015; and decreased the environmental impact with a 19% reduction in herbicide and insecticide use.1 Additionally, in developing countries, planting biotech crops has helped alleviate hunger by increasing the incomes for 18 million small farmers and their families, bringing improved financial stability to more than 65 million people.


28 March 2017. Source: Productivity Commission

This report was sent to Government on 15 November 2016 and publicly released on 28 March 2017.

The report is about regulation that affects farm businesses.

Key points:

  • Farm businesses are subject to a vast and complex array of regulations…The number and complexity of regulations affecting farm  businesses means that the cumulative burden of regulation on farmers is substantial.
  • The need for regulation is not disputed by farm businesses… Rather, Australian farmers want ‘better’ (or less burdensome) regulation.
  • Some regulations lack a sound policy justification and should be removed. Examples include restrictions on the use of land held under pastoral lease arrangements, state bans on cultivating genetically modified crops, barriers to entry for foreign shipping providers, mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods…
  • In other cases, regulation is the wrong policy tool. Regulatory changes to address community concerns about foreign investment in agriculture, for example, are costly and  likely to be ineffective. A better informed conversation about foreign investment is needed.
  • Other regulations and regulatory systems need to be reformed so they can more fully achieve their objectives…
  • Inconsistent regulatory requirements across and within jurisdictions make it difficult for farmers to understand their obligations and add to the cost of doing business…
  • Governments could also reduce the regulatory burden on farm businesses by:
    • improving their consultation and engagement practices…
    • doing more to coordinate their actions, both between agencies and between governments
    • ensuring that good regulatory impact assessment processes are used as an analytical tool to support quality regulation making, not as a legitimising tool or compliance exercise.


27 April 2017. Source: Media Release, WA Department of Agriculture and Food

The development of new and improved barley varieties is set to be accelerated, after the complete barley genome was recently mapped by an international consortium, which included Western Australian scientists.

The Western Barley Genetics Alliance, a partnership between the Department of Agriculture and Food and Murdoch University, was a major contributor to the research, assisted by funds from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

Alliance Director, Murdoch University Professor Chengdao Li, said the WA-based group was among the elite group of international scientists who mapped two of the seven barley chromosomes…

We have developed the ‘gold standard’ of genetic maps, resulting in greater precision and more detailed data, which will provide plant breeders and researchers with confidence to manipulate genes to develop the next generation of barley varieties,” he said.


Anderson: plenty of fake news in agriculture

Source: FarmOnline – 25 February 2017

Fake news is an ever-present danger for Australian agriculture that hinders access to scientifically approved Genetically Modified wheat varieties, while prompting emotive debates like the current one on energy affordability. That’s the view of new Crawford Fund Chairman and former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson in calling for less emotion and great scientific focus, in such critical policy debates…Mr Anderson is also co-patron of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia and said despite GM wheat varieties being foreshadowed for commercialisation in seven to 10 years, that time-frame was closing but progress had “stalled”, despite advanced science.


Organic industry needs to re-evaluate zero tolerance of genetically modified crops: WA Farmers group

Source: WA Country Hour (ABC) – 24 February 2017

One of Western Australia’s peak industry bodies says the organic industry in Australia needs to change its zero tolerance standard to the presence of genetically modified (GM) organisms in organic crops. Flood waters have swept through parts of WA’s grain growing region, sparking concern from some certified organic growers that contamination via flood waters may occur. WA Farmers grains section president Duncan Young said the organic industry in Australia should look to GM tolerance standards in other countries. “I think the real issue is the fact that the organic industry needs to re-evaluate their zero status for GM and probably take a leaf out of the book of other countries around the world with their organic industries,” he said.


British scientists create GM chickens that can lay eggs from different breeds

Source: The Mirror (UK). 18 February 2017

British scientists have genetically modified chickens so they can lay eggs from different breeds. The aim is to preserve rare chicken breeds that may be resistant to global infections like bird flu in the future or have highly desirable features such as excellent meat quality. Edinburgh University experts revealed the breakthrough at the world’s biggest science conference in Boston. They used gene editing technology to knock out part of a gene called DDX4 in chickens which is vital for bird fertility. The surrogate chickens are the first gene-edited birds to be produced in Europe, and this is the first time in the world that chickens have been genetically modified to preserve rare breeds.


29 January 2017. Source: Knowridge Science Report

Oil from genetically modified (GM) oil seed crops could replace fish oil as a primary source of the beneficial Omega 3 fatty acid EPA – according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA). Researchers studied the effect in mice of consuming feed enriched with oil from glasshouse-grown genetically engineered Camelina sativa, developed at the agricultural science centre Rothamsted Research. The goal of the research was to discover whether mammals (using mice as a model) can absorb and accumulate EPA from this novel source of omega-3s…


30 January 2017. Source: Genetic Literacy Project
Grapes that make wines are some of the most genetically modified organisms in the world. It’s just that this modification hasn’t happened using modern gene-editing.

But now, a number of studies are underway to introduce new traits in wine grapes through GMO techniques…

  • At Rutgers University in New Jersey, researchers led by Rong Di Di’s plant genetics lab isolated three genes in grapes that appear to allow powdery mildew spores to attach and attack wine grapes, particularly chardonnay.
  • Last summer, Isak Pretorius, Vice Chancellor of Macquarie University in Australia and a specialist in plant and wine biotechnology, wrote a review of the yeast that sparks wine fermentation, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The yeast was the first organism to function with a completely synthetic chromosome.
  • A genetic engineering effort showed techniques that could increase levels of resveratrol, a compound in red wine at last tentatively linked to certain health effects, and also to reduce or even eliminate the hangover effects from drinking wine.


o1 February 2017. Source: BBC News.

The planting of a new experimental crop of genetically modified (GM) wheat will take place this spring after the UK government gave the final go ahead.
The GM wheat has been engineered to use sunlight more efficiently and has boosted greenhouse yields by up to 40%.

Researchers in Hertfordshire now want to see if they can replicate these gains in the field…
This latest effort aims to see if the spectacular gains in productivity of 20-40% in GM wheat grown in the greenhouse can be reproduced in the open air.
Last Autumn, the scientists at Rothamsted Research submitted an application to the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) seeking permission to carry out small field trials at a secure site near Harpenden between 2017 and 2019.
After an independent risk assessment and a public consultation, that permission has now been granted.


21 October 2016. Source: ABC News

Western Australia’s Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Repeal Bill 2015 passed through State Parliament last night.

Up until now WA has been classified as a GM crops free area zone, with two exemptions, one for GM cotton in the Ord River irrigation area and the other for GM canola.

Agriculture and Food Minister Mark Lewis said the passing of the Bill gave certainty to WA farmers and investors, reduced red tape, and provided access to new opportunities and tools for grain growers to be innovative.

The minister said the passing of the Bill allowed WA growers to access new GM crops approved by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

Evan Reynolds farms at Binnu on the edge of WA’s northern agricultural region and he believed the passing of the Bill opened up opportunities.

“To expand into other crops, to modify genes in other crops, it’s not just the GM canola, it’s going to give great opportunities for a lot more crops, which will create more choices for farmers,” he said…


13 October 2016. Source: Farm Weekly (WA)

The long-awaited Genetically Modified (GM) Crops Free Areas Repeal Bill 2015 is expected to pass through State Parliament this week, which would end months of uncertainty for WA canolagrowers wanting to grow GM canola next year.

This is one of the last opportunities for the bill to pass, with only four more sittings before the end of the year.

Once passed, the decision to grow GM crops in WA will revert to the national Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), which is responsible for administering permits to grow GM crops in Australia.


Source: Capital Press – 26 September 2016

Summerland, B.C. — A third non-browning, genetically modified apple has been approved by the USDA. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of USDA has granted deregulated status to the Arctic Fuji developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits of Summerland, B.C. The Fuji joins the Arctic Golden and Arctic Granny Smith varieties as deregulated and deemed as safe and nutritious as conventional apples by APHIS.


Source:  The Medical Republic – 29 September 2016

Global agricultural giant Monsanto has signed a licensing deal with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to use CRISPR-Cas genome-editing technology to help develop new seeds and crop improvements. CRISPR is a technology used to edit DNA by snipping specific parts of the genetic code so as to modify the characteristics of an organism. For Monsanto, this means being able to integrate specific genes into a plant’s seeds as well as enhancing beneficial, or removing undesirable, plant characteristics so that plant breeders can deliver better hybrids and varieties more efficiently.



Source: Stock Journal (SA) – 29 September 2016

The state government claims its GM-free status, combined with overseas demand for non-GM foods and crops, could provide a huge economic benefit for SA. A University of Adelaide study, commissioned by the government, found there was growing demand in four export markets – particularly the United States and China – for ‘naturally healthy’ foods with non-GM ingredients.

Grain Producers SA, who want SA croppers to be given the choice on GM afforded to other mainland growers, said the report had not identified any price premiums being achieved for SA graingrowers to show the benefit of remaining GM-free. They said there were a number of agronomic benefits associated with growing GMs that SA croppers were missing out on.