Quarterly Update – Edition 14
- Council activity
- Key issues
- In the pipeline
- For information
Welcome to the latest Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) update. The last quarter has been a particularly busy one with a number of important agricultural and biotechnology developments nationally and internationally, including an increasing recognition about the importance of biotechnology in meeting future challenges in agriculture.
Australia’s leading agricultural scientists have released a 10-year strategic plan which aims to future-proof Australian farmers against looming shocks like climate variability and major disease outbreaks. Of relevance to agricultural biotechnology, the plan identifies the development and exploitation of genomics as a specific research area of focus and contributor to agriculture in the coming decade, with the development of novel crops and livestock.
The Queensland Government released its Agriculture Sector Adaptation Plan which specifically mentions a role for GM crops to help farmers deal with climate change in the future. And, continuing with this climate change theme, international research collaborations led by Australian researchers have announced major breakthroughs for developing resilient crops of the future. Scientists from Murdoch University in Western Australia led a team of researchers that identified a gene that plays a major role in waterlogging tolerance in barley crops; and, researchers from the Australian National University in Canberra, found a way to tap into the natural water-saving ability of plants to help them survive drought, which has implications for barley, rice and wheat breeding.
It is also important to highlight that Professor James Dale from Queensland’s University of Technology and his research team have published their world-first research which resulted in a golden-fleshed GM banana rich in pro-vitamin A. The biofortified banana project, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to improve the nutritional content of bananas in Uganda, where the fruit is the major staple food in their daily diet. Ugandan farmers will be growing pro-vitamin A rich bananas in 2021. Worldwide approximately 700,000 children die from vitamin A deficiency.
I was proud to launch an updated version of ABCA’s The Official Australian Reference Guide to Agricultural Biotechnology and GM Crops in August. This updated Guide continues ABCA’s aim to provide independent, factual, and science-based information to raise public awareness of agricultural biotechnology in Australia.
I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome Dairy Australia as new members of the Council, as we broaden our membership base and continue to pursue recognition of the current and potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology. Our aim is to ensure that all Australian farmers have the choice to readily access and adopt this technology as it becomes available.
Finally, we would like to draw your attention to the documentary ‘Food Evolution’. A screening of this informative documentary on GM crop cultivation, narrated by astrophysicist and renowned science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson, was held in Canberra earlier this month followed by a Q&A session involving a panel of eminent scientists. The event was supported by ABCA and other agricultural and biotechnology-focused organisations. ‘Food Evolution’ is available on iTunes (see Resources section for more information).
ABCA LAUNCHES UPDATED GUIDE TO AG BIOTECH AND GM CROPS
On 29 August, ABCA launched the third edition of The Official Australian Reference Guide to Agricultural Biotechnology and GM Crops at the AusBiotech AusAg & Foodtech Summit in Adelaide.
Mr Ken Matthews AO, ABCA Chairman said that although the role of agricultural biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) crops in meeting production and sustainability challenges is widely recognised by farmers, public discussion is not always based on factual and accessible information.
“This updated Guide provides independent, factual, science-based information to contribute to a more informed national discussion about agricultural biotechnologies,” said Mr Matthews.
The third edition of the Guide was developed using the latest scientifically valid data and reviewed by ABCA’s Expert Scientific Panel, which is chaired by Dr TJ Higgins from the CSIRO. The Guide covers the science, performance, safety and regulation of commercialised GM crops as well as products in the pipeline. This updated edition of the Guide highlights the evolution of plant breeding innovations, such as genome editing using CRISPR-Cas9.
“Australia’s agriculture sector is a significant exporter, employer and driver of rural and regional communities. The uptake of innovative and emerging agricultural biotechnologies allows the sector to remain competitive and innovative in the face of global challenges like a changing climate and a reduction in arable land,” said Mr Matthews.
In addition to providing factual information on agricultural biotechnology, the third edition of the Guide answers common questions about GM crops and clearly outlines the regulatory arrangements and food safety assessment requirements. The Guide also presents information on ways to enable continued coexistence between GM and non-GM farming systems and features cases studies of Australian farmers growing GM crops.
- The Guide is available online at abca.com.au
ABCA provides a weekly summary of biotechnology news developments for subscribers. Contact ABCA to be added to the distribution list.
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ABCA is on twitter at @info_ABCA.
QLD GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES AGRICULTURE CLIMATE ADAPTATION STRATEGY
The Queensland Government has released its agriculture and infrastructure climate plans. The Agriculture Sector Adaptation Plan was developed in partnership with the Queensland Farmers Federation, AgForce and Growcom.
“We know farmers stand to be the hardest hit by a changing climate so the agricultural strategy will help them protect their properties, livestock and crops from hotter temperatures and severe weather events,” said Environment Minister Steven Miles.
“This plan helps farmers make these changes now to stop them getting caught out later. This could mean infrastructure changes such as building shelter for animals to escape the heat or altering planting times for crops to avoid the hottest parts of the year.
“For long term crops there may even be options for using genetically modified plants that are better able to withstand high temperatures.
Adaptation plans addressing the impact of climate change on tourism; human health and wellbeing; small and medium business; biodiversity and ecosystems; industry and resources; and emergency services will be developed and released in the coming year.
SCIENTISTS LAUNCH PLAN TO FUTURE-PROOF AUSTRALIAN AGRICULTURE
Australia’s leading agricultural scientists have released a 10-year strategic plan which aims to future-proof Australian farmers against looming shocks like climate variability and major disease outbreaks.
Developed by the Australian Academy of Science’s National Committee for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the plan makes five key recommendations to help boost productivity and profitability of Australia’s agriculture sector while adapting to future challenges. In short, the recommendations are:
- The Australian Government establish a national agricultural research translation and commercialisation fund, to invest in promising agricultural discoveries and fast-track their commercialisation into new and improved Australian products and services in domestic and international markets.
- The academic, industry and government sectors partner to create a doctoral training and early career support centre for the agricultural sciences.
- The agricultural research community engage strongly with infrastructure planning processes at all levels to enable agricultural research to benefit from, and contribute to, shared national capabilities, including emerging data-infrastructure and maintaining the pool of skilled technicians that unlock value from national infrastructure capability.
- The Australian Government consider reviewing and updating arrangements for national coordination of agricultural research and innovation in Australia.
- All organisations in the agricultural sector do more to understand and effectively engage with the public on social acceptance of agricultural science and the enterprises it supports.
“The scientific and research community must form stronger partnerships across sectors and industries, focusing on better-integrated global data, modelling and analytical capacities, to better respond to new opportunities and prepare for major threats to agricultural production,” said Dr Jeremy Burdon, Chair of the Academy of Science’s National Committee for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Of relevance to agricultural biotechnology, the plan identifies the development and exploitation of genomics as a specific research area of focus and contributor to agriculture in the coming decade, with the development of novel crops and livestock, such as crops with altered nutritional values, offering increased value through quality and market advantage.
TWENTY YEARS OF GM CROPS – THE ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS
The use of genetically modified (GM) crops over the past 20 years has reduced agriculture’s environmental impact and stimulated economic growth across the 26 countries they are grown in according to a new report by the UK-based PG Economics.
“Over the last 20 years, where farmers have been given access to, and the choice of growing GM crops, they have consistently adopted the technology, contributing to a more sustainable food supply and a better environment where they live,” said Graham Brookes, director of PG Economics, co-author of the report.
Australian cotton and canola growers have also benefitted significantly through their access to GM varieties of canola and GM cotton, reportedly reaping more than US$1 billion in farm income benefits over the past 20 years.
“With GM cotton accounting for almost all cotton production in Australia, cotton farmers had a net farm income gain of more than US$55.8 million in 2015, and cumulatively since 1996 the gains have been US$949 million. The average Australian farmer growing GM canola in 2015 had an average net increase in gross margins of US$38 per hectare, which is a national gain of nearly US$17 million in farm income,” said Matthew Cossey, Chief Executive Officer of CropLife Australia.
Key findings of the PG Economics report include:
- Crop biotechnology has significantly reduced agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions by helping farmers adopt more sustainable practices such as reduced tillage, which decreases the burning of fossil fuels and retains more carbon in the soil. For example, in 2015 alone, without GM crops, an additional 26.7 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide would have been emitted into the atmosphere.
- From 1996 to 2015, crop biotechnology reduced the spraying of crop protection products by 619 million kilograms, a global reduction of 8.1 per cent.
- GM crops allow farmers to grow more on less land. For example, if GM crops were not available in 2015, maintaining global production levels that year would have required the planting of an additional 8.4 million hectares (ha) of soybeans, 7.4 million ha of corn, 3 million ha of cotton and 0.7 million ha of canola.
- Over 20 years, GM crops have been responsible for the additional production of 180.3 million tonnes of soybeans, 357.7 million tonnes of corn, 25.2 million tonnes of cotton lint and 10.6 million tonnes of canola.
- Crop biotechnology supports improved livelihoods, especially for poor, smallholder farmers in developing countries. By better controlling pests and weeds, GM crops help farmers increase their yields, which leads to higher incomes and better lives for themselves and their families.
- Crop biotechnology continues to be a good investment for millions of farmers. In 2015, farmers in developing countries received $5.15 for each extra dollar invested in GM crop seeds, whereas farmers in developed countries received $2.76 for each extra dollar invested in GM crop seeds. This is a net farm income benefit of US$167.7 billion since 1996.”
ATTITUDES TO GM CROPS FOCUS OF STUDY AWARD
Adelaide PhD student Kelly McKinley is a joint winner of the Australian Academy of Science’s 2018 Moran Award for History of Science Research, which aims to support access by young researchers to archives that record the history of science in Australia.
Ms McKinley will use the award towards her PhD project: ‘A history of activism and public attitudes in Australia towards genetic modification (GM) science in agriculture and food production’.
Ms McKinley hopes the exploration of how the Australian public has engaged with GM over time, using archival materials at the National Library, will help inform strategies for civic engagement, science communication and government policy around the issue.
The project is part of a larger Australian Research Council grant.
2017 REVIEW OF THE NATIONAL GENE TECHNOLOGY SCHEME
The Legislative and Governance Forum on Gene Technology (the Forum), responsible for overseeing and governing the operation of Australia’s gene technology scheme, called for submissions to the third review of Australia’s Gene Technology regulations in July.
The Forum is established by an intergovernmental Gene Technology Agreement (GTA) and includes Ministers from the Commonwealth and all States and Territories across a range of portfolios including health, agriculture and primary industries.
The review covers the Gene Technology Act 2000 and the Gene Technology Regulations 2001 and corresponding state and territory laws to provide a nationally consistent system to regulate development and use of gene technology in Australia.
This first stage of the consultation process is to better understand the ideas, key issues and views of stakeholders, and submissions were to address the Terms of Reference below:
- current developments and techniques, as well as extensions and advancements in gene technology to ensure the Scheme can accommodate continued technological development.
- existing and potential mechanisms to facilitate an agile and effective Scheme, which will ensure continued protection of health and safety of people and the environment.
- the appropriate legislative arrangements to meet the needs of the Scheme, now and into the future, including the Gene Technology Agreement.
- funding arrangements to ensure sustainable funding levels and mechanisms are aligned with the level and depth of activity to support the Scheme.
Submissions close 29 September 2017. This review is independent of the Gene Technology Regulator (the Regulator) and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), and is separate to the Review of the Gene Technology Regulations 2001 (GT Regulations) currently being undertaken by the Regulator (as covered below).
TECHNICAL REVIEW OF AUSTRALIAN GENE TECHNOLOGY REGULATIONS 2001
As noted in previous Quarterly Updates, a review of Australia’s Gene Technology Regulations is currently underway, with submissions made by the December 2016 closing date available online.
According to the OGTR website, “The Regulator is now considering the issues raised in submissions and will decide which option supports the effectiveness of the legislative framework. The Regulator is also considering scientific understanding, potential risks, the regulatory burden implications for stakeholders, whether regulatory burden would be commensurate with risks, and the policy intent of the GT Act.”
If amendments to the Regulations are recommended, the Regulator will publicly consult on any amendments before they are finalised.
As part of this review process, the Regulator has also released:
- General advice on the regulatory coverage of new technologies which states that the Regulator can only provide advice on a case-by-case basis and on the understanding of the technology as presented and the legislation in its current form.
- Guidance for Institutional Biosafety Committees and researchers on the regulatory requirements for organisms containing engineered gene drives, as the OGTR learned during this review process, that some stakeholders are not aware that organisms genetically modified to contain gene drives are GMOs.
THE OFFICIAL AUSTRALIAN REFERENCE GUIDE TO AG BIOTECH AND GM CROPS
As noted above, ABCA launched the third edition of this resource. It provides independent, factual, science-based information to contribute to a more informed national discussion about agricultural biotechnologies.
The third edition of the Guide was reviewed by ABCA’s Expert Scientific Panel, which is chaired by Dr TJ Higgins from the CSIRO, and it covers the science, performance, safety and regulation of commercialised GM crops as well as products in the pipeline, coexistence between GM and non-GM farming systems, and cases studies of Australian farmers growing GM crops.
THE AUSTRALIAN BELIEFS AND ATTITUDES TOWARDS SCIENCE SURVEY
The Australian National Centre for Public Awareness of Science at the Australian National University released results of a survey of more than a 1200 people’s beliefs and attitudes towards science in August.
According to the report’s summary, the survey results provides many reasons to feel encouraged about the Australian public’s beliefs about, and attitudes towards, science, with the majority of people positively inclined towards science.
Some highlights include:
- Ninety per cent of Australians feel science has made life easier overall.
- Around 80 per cent of Australians say the benefits of science have been greater than harmful effects, but despite this nearly half of them feel that science has changed our way of life too fast.
- Australians are noticeably happier about eating GM foods than foods grown with pesticides, which is interesting given how common the use of pesticides is in comparison to the relatively low presence of GMOs on Australian supermarket shelves.
- Around half of Australians are opposed to using animals in scientific research.
- The top three professions that most Australians rate as contributing a lot to the wellbeing of society are scientists (80.9 per cent), followed very closely by doctors (80.5 per cent) and then farmers (78.5 per cent).
- A number of findings suggest that men are a little more likely to approve of controversial scientific interventions in our lives (such as bioengineering to create artificial organs for transplants), and also to consider it safe to eat GM foods or food grown with pesticides.
- More than 70 per cent of people feel at least ‘fairly well informed’ about science.
WATERLOGGING TOLERANT BARLEY GENE DISCOVERY
Researchers have announced the discovery of an important gene that contributes to greater waterlogging tolerance in barley, a major breakthrough with significant potential for the future of Australia’s barley breeding programs.
The Western Barley Genetics Alliance, a partnership between Murdoch University and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, was a major contributor to the research, assisted by funds from the Grains Research and Development Corporation.
The Alliance worked in conjunction with the University of Tasmania, Zhejiang University and Yangzhou University to screen barley germplasm from around the world to identify lines that were more tolerant to waterlogging.
In wet seasons, barley is vulnerable to waterlogging, and can experience both quality and quantity penalties, with yield losses of 20 to 50 per cent.
Alliance Director, Murdoch University Professor Chengdao Li, said the development of new waterlogging tolerant varieties would enable barley growers to boost their productivity and profitability.
Professor Li said the research results clearly indicated the superior performance of the lines with the new waterlogging tolerant gene.
“The varieties with the waterlogging tolerance gene in our trials achieved yields ranging from 101 to 154 per cent of the benchmark, demonstrating their ability to perform under waterlogging conditions,” Professor Li said.
The team then used molecular marker-assisted technology to identify four genes that control tolerance to waterlogging, including one major gene, and this gene was then incorporated into five barley varieties to compare their performance to the benchmark variety Hindmarsh.
The new lines were tested last year under natural waterlogged conditions in a restricted field trial at Katanning, Western Australia, and more trials will be undertaken across the State this year, with new commercial varieties expected in five to 10 years if results continue to be positive.
RESEARCHERS HELP PLANTS TO NATURALLY PRESERVE WATER
A collaborative international research project led by the Australian National University (ANU) has found a way to tap into the natural water-saving ability of plants to help them survive drought.
The researchers mapped the chemical signals plants use to close the pores on their leaves to reduce water loss in dry conditions. They found that the chloroplasts in the cells surrounding the pores on leaves, called stomata, are able to sense drought and activate a chemical signal that closes the stomata to conserve water. In experiments, the researchers were able to enhance the chloroplast signal in barley and Arabidopsis, a small native plant, resulting in plants that survived 50 per cent longer in drought conditions.
The scientific team, led by Dr Wannarat Pornsiriwong, Dr Gonzalo Estavillo, Dr Kai Chan and Dr Barry Pogson from the ANU Research School of Biology believe the research will benefit major crops such as barley, rice and wheat, which are crucial to world food supplies.
“This basic scientific research has the potential to be able to improve farming productivity not just in Australia, but potentially in other countries that suffer from drought stress,” Dr Pogson said.
“Boosting the chloroplast signal, by breeding, genetic or agronomic strategies, could be the key to help plants preserve water and boost drought tolerance,” said Dr Kai Chan who described the discovery as a major breakthrough for farmers.
The research has been published in eLIFE.
SCIENTISTS CRACK GENETIC CODES OF TWO CATERPILLAR MEGAPESTS
An Australian-led international research team has unravelled the genetic map of two closely related caterpillar pests, commonly known as the Cotton Bollworm and the Corn Earworm, in a breakthrough that could save farmers around the world more than $6 billion annually.
The level of genetic detail now available to researchers will make it easier to find the pests’ weak spots, how they mutate and even breed plants they will not want to eat.
The genetic information also allows researchers to see how the genetics of the pests have changed over time, as they mutate and evolve to combat the different insecticide and cropping regimes implemented to control them around the world.
The research was undertaken by the CSIRO in conjunction with the University of Melbourne, the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), the Max Plank Institute of Chemical Ecology in Germany and the United States Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS).
TWENTY YEARS ON, THE GM DEBATE CONTINUES
The 20-year anniversary of the release of the first commercial genetically modified (GM) crops in Australia in 1996 provides an opportunity to review the progress of GM crops, the extent to which they have or have not delivered on their promise, and likely future developments in genetic modification. Papers included in this edition of the Journal (Vol 14, No 2. Winter Quarter 2017) are:
- The GMO Advocacy Effort – A Farmer’s Perspective
- Gene Technology – Public Perception, Community Values and the Public Relations Machine
- Has Agriculture Taken the Community on the Journey?
- The Future of Crop Improvement with Genome Editing Technology
- Reframing GM Communication: From Deficit to Discussion and Engagement
- Biotechnology for Changing Practice
- Why are Genetic Modification and Organic Incompatible?
BIOFORTIFIED GM BANANAS GAIN MOMENTUM
Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology have published their world-first research which resulted in a golden-fleshed GM banana rich in pro-vitamin A.
This decade-long research project has involved laboratory tests and field trials in north Queensland and it has been backed by close to $10 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The biofortified banana project aims to improve the nutritional content of bananas in Uganda, where the fruit is the major staple food in their daily diet. Ugandan farmers will be growing pro-vitamin A rich bananas in 2021. Worldwide approximately 700,000 children die from vitamin A deficiency.
“What we’ve done is take a gene from a banana that originated in Papua New Guinea and is naturally very high in pro-vitamin A but has small bunches, and inserted it into a Cavendish banana,” said project leader, Distinguished Professor James Dale.
“Achieving these scientific results along with their publication, is a major milestone in our quest to deliver a more nutritional diet to some of the poorest subsistence communities in Africa.
Professor Dale said another really pleasing aspect of the project was the fact that young Ugandan students, who came to QUT to undertake their studies, had now completed their PhDs and were overseeing the research and field trials in Uganda.
The research has been published in the prestigious Plant Biotechnology Journal.
FOOD AND AGRIBUSINESS: A ROADMAP FOR UNLOCKING VALUE-ADDING GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES FOR AUSTRALIA
A CSIRO report highlighting the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship in driving new economic growth in the food and agribusiness industry was launched in Sydney in July.
New technologies could see us eating algae-based sources of protein, developing allergenic-free nuts and tolerable varieties of lactose and gluten, and reducing environmental impact through edible packaging said Craig Laundy, Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science in launching the document.
HUMAN HEALTH AND FARMING BENEFIT BY DISRUPTING INSECTS’ SMELL SENSE
An international team of scientists say disrupting the ability of insects to smell the scent of food and potential mates may offer a way to protect humans from deadly diseases such as malaria and agricultural crops from pests.
Lead researcher Faisal Younus from The Australian National University (ANU) and CSIRO said insects’ sense of smell played a critical role in the transmission of disease to hundreds of millions of people and the damage to food crops worth billions of dollars each year. He said the research improved understanding of how insects process odours to find food and suitable mates.
“The findings could help us to design better insecticides and find more efficient ways to reduce insect populations so they spread less disease and destroy fewer crops,” said Mr Younus.
“The research will allow us to better understand fruit fly species like Drosophila suzukii, a major invasive agricultural pest that Australian government officials label as a serious biosecurity threat or ‘megashock’ if it ever enters Australia. These fruit flies have the potential to cause millions of dollars of damage in the fruit industry.”
Mr Younus said the research provided a highly promising molecular target to disrupt insects’ ability to sniff out potential mates, consequently reducing their populations so they spread less disease and destroy fewer crops.
ANU and CSIRO conducted this research with scientists at Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) and Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in France.
The research is published in Scientific Reports.
GM CROPS: GLOBAL SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS 1996-2015
The use of genetically modified (GM) crops over the past 20 years has reduced agriculture’s environmental impact and stimulated economic growth across the 26 countries they are grown in according to a new report by the UK-based PG Economics (see Key issues).
FOOD EVOLUTION DOCUMENTARY
From Academy Award®-nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy and narrated by esteemed science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson, Food Evolution is set amidst a strongly polarised debate marked by fear, distrust and confusion: the controversy surrounding GMOs and food. Traveling from Hawaiian papaya groves, to banana farms in Uganda to the cornfields of Iowa, Food Evolution wrestles with the emotions and the evidence driving one of the most heated arguments of our time. This film was funded by the Institute of Food Technologists, a non-profit organisation of food scientists from around the world.
A screening of this documentary followed by a Q&A discussion was recently held in Canberra organised by GMOonly and supported by a number of organisations including ABCA, NFF, CSIRO, ATSE and The Crawford Fund.
FISH OIL PRODUCTION FROM GM PLANTS – POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS
Recent positive research results continue to support the idea that the commercial cultivation of GM camelina as a land-based source of omega-3 fish oils is a viable alternative to the traditional supplies of fish oils, which face increasing pressure to meet global health needs.
The recent collaborative research results from UK-based Rothamsted Research and the University of North Texas scientists showed three things: the GM plant results from the greenhouse trials can be successfully replicated in the field; they have matched the seeds’ biosynthetic products more closely to those of their marine counterparts; and they have identified the potential for even greater oil storage in the seeds.
CLIMATE CHANGE CAUSING PROTEIN DRAIN IN KEY STAPLE CROPS: STUDY
Researchers at Harvard University have published a study in Environmental Health Perspectives, which found that if CO2 levels continue to rise as projected, the populations of 18 countries may lose more than five per cent of their dietary protein by 2050 due to a decline in the nutritional value of rice, wheat, and other staple crops.
The researchers estimate that roughly an additional 150 million people may be placed at risk of protein deficiency because of elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Globally, 76% of the population derives most of their daily protein from plants.
The research found that under elevated CO2 concentrations, the protein contents of rice, wheat, barley, and potatoes decreased by 7.6 per cent, 7.8 per cent, 14.1 per cent, and 6.4 per cent, respectively.
GM PIGS FOR HUMAN ORGAN TRANSPLANTS
According to an article published in the journal Science, research looking at the use of the organs from GM pigs for human patients is continuing to show promising results, with the latest developments showing that the use of gene editing has allowed scientists to remove potentially harmful retroviruses found in pig DNA.
IMPORTANT DISEASE-RESISTANT CORN GENE IDENTIFIED
In a paper published in Nature Genetics in July, North Carolina State University researchers reported that they have found a specific gene in corn that appears to confer partial resistance to two and possible three plant diseases – Southern leaf blight and gray leaf spot, and possibly to Northern leaf blight – a trio of diseases that cripple corn plants worldwide.
“Finding out more about the mechanisms behind complex traits like disease resistance has the potential to help plant breeders build the best traits into tomorrow’s corn plants,” said paper corresponding author Peter Balint-Kurti, a research plant pathologist and geneticist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS), based at NC State University.
GM RICE PLANTS COULD FIGHT MULTIPLE DISEASES AT ONCE
Nature has published a new study that looks at a new variety of rice that fights multiple pathogens with no effect on the yield of the crop. The researchers tested the superiority of engineered rice over regular rice by inoculating crop leaves with the bacterial pathogens that cause rice blight and leaf streak, as well as the fungus responsible for blast disease. Whereas the infections spread on the leaves of wild rice plants, the engineered plants confined the invaders to a small area.
WILD WHEAT GENOME BREAKTHROUGH TO BOOST PRODUCTION
A global team of researchers have published the first-ever Wild Emmer wheat genome sequence in Science magazine. Wild Emmer wheat is the original form of nearly all the domesticated wheat in the world, including durum (pasta) and bread wheat.
The study was led by Dr Assaf Distelfeld of Tel Aviv University’s School of Plant Sciences and Food Security and Institute for Cereal Crops Improvement, in collaboration with several dozen scientists from institutions around the world and an Israel-based company – NRGene, which developed the bioinformatics technology that accelerated the research.
“This new resource allowed us to identify a number of other genes controlling main traits that were selected by early humans during wheat domestication and that served as foundation for developing modern wheat cultivars,” said Dr Eduard Akhunov of Kansas State University.
“These genes provide an invaluable resource for empowering future breeding efforts. Wild Emmer is known as a source of novel variation that can help to improve the nutritional quality of grain as well as tolerance to diseases and water-limiting conditions.”
GM FOOD APPROVAL APPLICATIONS – UPDATE
The table below provides a summary of applications made to amend the Food Standards Code by approving the listed GM commodities as safe for use in Australia and New Zealand.
|A1138||Rice||International Rice Research Institute||Increased levels of provitamin A (Golden Rice).||Public submissions closed 14 September.|
|SPS International Inc||Late blight protection, low acrylamide potential, reduced browning (black spot) and lower reducing sugars.||Public comment period closed 07 July.|
|Herbicide tolerance||Public comment period closed 28 June.|
|A1143||Canola||Nuseed||Omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid production.||Public comment period pending.|
|A1147||Cotton||Bayer CropScience||Herbicide tolerance||New application. Comment period pending.|
OGTR LICENCE UPDATES
This table provides a summary of licence applications and approvals granted by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) in relation to agricultural biotechnology in the last quarter.
|DIR 152||Wheat and barley||University of Adelaide||Abiotic stress tolerance and yield improvement.
|Field trial licence issued on 17 July.|
|DIR 153||Sorghum||University of Queensland||Modified grain quality traits (increased seed protein content and seed digestibility, increased seed size or number of seeds).||Field trial licence issued on 25 July.|
|DIR 154||Vaccine for chickens||Bioproperties Pty Ltd||GM vaccine to protect chickens against infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT), which causes significant economic losses in the poultry industry worldwide.||Field trial licence issued on 01 August.|
|DIR 155||Canola||Nuseed Pty Ltd||Modified for omega-3 oil content (DHA canola)||Commercial release sought. Public comment period is scheduled to begin in October.|
|DIR 157||Cotton||Syngenta Australia||Insect resistance||Commercial release sought. Public comment period is scheduled to begin in December.|
– GM PETUNIAS
In June, Australia’s Gene Technology Regulator advised the public that unauthorised GM petunias have entered the Australian and international markets. At least twenty varieties of GM petunia have been imported into Australia. The petunias have been modified to produce a pigment found naturally in other flowering plants.
Although the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) has found that these GM petunias do not pose a risk, they have not been approved for commercial release in Australia and therefore must not be marketed.
The Regulator has issued licences to allow people to dispose of any GM petunias they may have in their possession and has provided advice to importers and suppliers that the existing stocks of GM petunias should be destroyed.
– GM WHEAT FACT SHEET
The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator has developed a fact sheet on GM wheat field trials. The information covers the regulatory regime in Australia and a summary of the past and present GM wheat research in Australia. GM wheat is not available commercially in Australia and there are eight current field trial licences covering varieties modified for a range of abiotic stresses, disease resistance, improved grain quality and altered grain composition.
THE LATEST GM CANOLA USAGE FIGURES
According to media reports Monsanto estimates Australian producers have planted the biggest ever GM canola crop of 486,447 ha, up 8.6 per cent on last year, with estimates predicting GM canola will make up 21 per cent of the national crop.
This year Monsanto predicts growers in the biggest canola growing state, Western Australia, have planted, 363,091 hectares, up five per cent on last year, and GM is tipped to make up 34 per cent of its canola crop.
There was a 22 per cent increase in Victoria’s GM canola planting from last season to 56,000ha, however Roundup Ready varieties make up 14 per cent of the entire crop, while in NSW biotech varieties makes up 11 per cent of the canola crop.
BIOTECHNOLOGY FOR MICE CONTROL
A US$65 million research project studying emerging gene technologies was announced in July, and CSIRO researchers have stated that these new technologies, also known as gene editing technologies, could be used to control mice populations by making female mice sterile, and could be used to eradicate pests such as cane toads.
“We are looking at (mice) being the first mammal to test the technology, and whether it will drive the gene manipulation through the population as quickly as we think, and whether we can reverse it,” said Dr Simon Humphrys, Centre for Invasive Species Solutions spokesman.
“It has the potential to target species specifically and drive populations to eradication, particularly in species which breed quickly.”
CSIRO health and biosecurity postdoctoral fellow Caitlin Cooper said researchers were looking at mice control with that technology because they were a damaging pest, but also because mice had been used extensively for lab testing and “are extremely well understood in terms of their reproduction and genetics”.
COTTON PRODUCTION RISING IN SOUTHERN NSW
The number of cotton growers in the NSW Riverina will soar by 57, or 30 per cent, this season as the fibre continues to rise in popularity in the southern region according to an article published in The Weekly Times in August.
Cotton Australia chief executive Adam Kay said he was “excited with the potential for the southern cotton industry”.
GRAIN RESEARCH HUB FUNDED IN WA
A $5 million research hub designed to boost crop productivity and reduce disease impact will be built across Murdoch University and Curtin University in Western Australia. The hub will be used to examine and develop crop pathology, plant physiology and genetic improvement. It will include up to 18 new glasshouses and 2.8 hectares of irrigated and netted field plots at Murdoch and a glasshouse containment facility at Curtin. The project received a $3 million GRDC (R&D) Infrastructure Grant from the Federal Government and a $2 million contribution from the State Government, Murdoch and Curtin.
GM CANOLA FOUND AND DESTROYED IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Biosecurity South Australia confirmed that a small number of GM plants had been detected, and destroyed from a farm in the State which has a ban on the commercial cultivation of Federally-approved GM crops.
Will Zacharin, Biosecurity South Australia Executive Director said it was not uncommon for small amounts of GM seeds to get caught up in batches of seed sent to farmers in South Australia.
“We do see these year on year, and we do assist those people who may have problems,” he said.
SA GM BAN ALL ABOUT POLITICS
This opinion piece written by Heather Baldock, who along with her husband, grows wheat, barley, canola, peas and lupins in South Australia argues that the State’s ban has nothing to do with health or science because GM crops are nutritious to eat and good for the environment, but is all about politics and the strange fear that biotechnology will corrupt the state of South Australia’s “green” image. What nonsense, she says.
GM CROPS AND THE DAIRY INDUSTRY
Articles in The Weekly Times in July focused on the dairy industry’s stance on GM crops, pointing out the mixed messages being sent by an industry which opposes the release of Australian-developed high-energy ryegrass, but accepts the widespread use of GM canola and soybean meal in milking cow feed rations.
The articles state that, there’s more than half a million tonnes of canola meal going into stockfeed and it’s nearly all mixed (GM and non-GM), and that in 2015-16 the Australian dairy industry used 3.06 million tonnes of stockfeed, which contained 10-20 per cent canola or soybean meal as its main source of protein.
High-energy ryegrass has been under development since 2003 and over the last seven years, the now defunct, Dairy Futures CRC spent $3 million of dairy farmers’ levies to conclude in its final report last year that high-energy ryegrass was “the largest generator of value from all current innovations that are under development. The CRC’s field trials reportedly showed GM ryegrass produced an extra megajoule of metabolisable energy per kilogram of dry matter and could boost dairy farm productivity by $450-$750 a hectare.
AG MINISTER PLEADS CASE FOR GM CROP AT UNITED NATIONS
According to media reports, Australia’s Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce gave a passionate keynote address to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, urging the adoption of genetic modification (GM) “now” to help resolve the demanding global food task equation. He also called for freer trade in farm products, to resolve the globe’s future food crisis.
STATE FALLING BEHIND BECAUSE OF GM MORATORIUM SAYS SA PRODUCERS
A series of articles published in the Stock Journal in June stated that the South Australia’s producers are falling behind because of the moratorium in place that prohibits the growing of GM crops until September 2019.
“The government continues to pull funding out of research centres, such as the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the Waite, yet they’re world leaders in this technology,” said Mallala cropper John Lush.
Grain Producers SA chairman Wade Dabinett said successful co-existence interstate meant SA farmers were falling behind on potential production gains and research investment.
“It’s a shame when GM is approved at a federal level, enabling Australian farmers to be on an equal footing with global competitors, that it is being withheld in certain states,” said Pulse Australia chief executive officer Nick Goddard.
Genetically-modified crop technology should not be considered the silver bullet in weed control, but growers should still have access to every tool for best management, according to University of Adelaide School of Agriculture, Food and Wine Associate Professor Chris Preston.
Further information: Stock Journal (SA) – 29 June 2017
- Aust falling behind in production increases
- Market uncertainty keeps GM on notice
- No ‘silver bullet’ for total weed control
BEING A VEGAN COMPATIBLE WITH EATING GM FOOD
Written by Diana Peña, a self-described “yoga-loving, bicycle-riding, palm oil-avoiding. environmentalist, ingredient list-reading vegan”, explores the reasons she, unlike many vegans, is in favor of biotechnology, particularly GMOs, in agriculture, and why she thinks that all vegans should be.
FIRST GM SALMON SOLD IN CANADA
After 25 years of research and development and numerous commercialisation and regulatory hurdles, US-based AquaBounty Technologies announced in August that the first GM salmon, or more specifically some 4.5 tonnes of GM salmon, has been sold to customers in Canada.
The salmon has been modified to grow faster than its conventional counterpart, reaching market size in roughly half the time.
“AquaBounty sold its first commercial batch at market price: US$5.30 per pound ($11.70 per kilogram)”, said Ron Stotish, AquaBounty Chief Executive.
NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN GM FLOWER RESEARCH
Traditionally white baby’s breath flowers, have been genetically modified to exhibit colours ranging from pink and purple to dark red and even green. Kenya’s Biosafety Authority is reviewing an application by Israeli company Imaginature to produce the GM baby’s breath flowers, also known as Gypsophilia.
In a related development, Japanese researchers have created a genuinely blue chrysanthemum by adding two genes to the normally pink or reddish flower. The first gene is from the Canterbury bell flower, and the second gene is from the blue-flowering butterfly pea.
DUTCH AND FRENCH GOVERNMENTS CONSIDER GM MOSQUITO USE
According to reports the French and Dutch Governments are considering the use of GM mosquitoes to fight dengue, chikungunya and zika in their Caribbean territories.
A report published by the Dutch Government’s National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) concluded that the release of the mosquitoes would not pose any risks to human health and the environment, and France’s High Council for Biotechnology (HCB) has also backed their use, with caution.
Developed by Oxitec, the GM mosquitoes are males that carry a self-limiting gene, making their offspring die. According to the article, trials carried out in Brazil, the USA, Panama and India have demonstrated this approach can eliminate over 90 per cent of mosquitoes.
GM MOTH TRIAL APPROVED BY USDA
A GM moth field trial proposed for upstate New York has been approved by the US Department of Agriculture. The diamondback moths, which destroy horticulture crops including cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, have an added gene that causes them to eventually die off.
THE GM PAPAYA STORY
This article outlines the history of the development of the first GM fruit to achieve commercial release – a virus resistant papaya. In the early 1990s, Hawaii’s $11 million papaya industry was devastated by an incurable virus called Papaya Ring Spot Virus (PRSV). In 1992, Dennis Gonsalves, a plant pathologist at Cornell University set about stopping the virus using genetic modification.
Location: Adelaide Convention Centre
Date: 25-27 October 2017
Details: AusBiotech’s annual conference will once again bring together Australian and international biotech leaders and stakeholders to address issues critical to the industry. Global biotech trends, breakthroughs, challenges and success stories will feature prominently on the program. Panel discussions and key themes will cover regulation and reimbursement, research translational strategies, new markets, business development and capital access, emerging technologies, clinical trials and commercialisation.
Location: Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
Date: 20-22 November 2017
Details: TropAg2017, the world’s leading international tropical agriculture conference, is hosted by the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) at the University of Queensland (UQ), and the conference theme is ‘High impact science to nourish the world’. The program focuses on scientific advances in agriculture, animal, horticulture, crop and food research, and will again feature a number of world-leading keynote speakers.
Disclaimer: The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia Limited (ABCA) gives no warranty and makes no representation that the information contained in these sections is suitable for any purpose or is free from error. ABCA accepts no responsibility for any person acting or relying upon the information contained in these sections, and disclaims all liability.