Quarterly Update – Edition 17

  • Council activity
  • Key issues
  • In the pipeline
  • Resources
  • For information
  • Events


Welcome to the latest update from the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA).

There have been a number of promising developments in agricultural biotechnology in the last quarter. Most notably, the South Australian Government has announced an independent review into the State’s GM moratorium. Experienced economist and agriculture policy analyst Emeritus Professor Kym Anderson AC will undertake the review, which has been strongly welcomed by key agricultural peak industry bodies.

ABCA was pleased to support a visit to Australia by Associate Professor Stuart Smyth from the University of Saskatchewan. Assoc Prof Smyth made several presentations in Canberra and Adelaide and added his experience and expertise to the GM debate locally in the lead up to the South Australian review decision. ABCA is dedicated to ensuring informed debate leads to decisions on facts about the benefits of agricultural biotechnology, and such visits are of tremendous value.

Significantly, the agricultural biotechnology sector across the globe celebrated a huge milestone recently following the announcement by a team of international scientists that they had unlocked the complete wheat genome following 13 years of effort. The project, which involved 200 scientists from 73 research institutions in 20 countries, including Australia, will allow wheat varieties better adapted to climate challenges, with higher yields, enhanced nutritional quality and improved sustainability.

I would like to draw your attention to two reports which are updated annually and track the reach and impact of GM crops grown across the world. Firstly, the latest International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) report states that the global GM crop area increased in 2017 by 4.7 million hectares to a total of 189.8 million hectares grown across 24 countries and that GM crops are imported for food, feed or processing by a further 43 countries. Secondly, UK-based PG Economics has quantified the significant positive socio-economic and environmental impacts of GM crop adoption in their latest report. It states that from 1996-2016, GM crops provided $186.1 billion in economic gains to 17 million farmers – with reductions in fuel use and reduced tillage allowing a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions; and, more flexible insecticide and herbicide options reducing the environmental impact associated with their use by 18.4 per cent on GM crop areas since 1996.

It was reported in July that the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) ruled that plants resulting from some of the latest plant breeding innovations, including targeted mutagenesis (for example gene editing) such as CRISPR, are considered GMOs. This decision determines whether these new technologies can be practically taken up by researchers, universities, breeders and farmers in the EU. In Australia, the ongoing review of the Gene Technology Regulations and the National Gene Technology Scheme will provide regulatory clarity on this matter for Australian industry and public-sector researchers.

Again, we present the diverse array of research and development underway around the globe in agricultural biotechnology in recent months. Articles range from GM tomatoes that produce high levels of ketocarotenoids for the farmed fish industry, hangover-curing probiotics and iron-rich cereals to saving the iconic American chestnut tree, GM eggplants increasing yield and requiring less inputs in Bangladesh, and the quest to save the banana from disease epidemics.

In conclusion, I would like to draw your attention to the commercial approval of a GM safflower modified for high oleic acid composition, for use in industrial oil production and animal feed, and recent approval by Australia’s Gene Technology Regulator for CSIRO’s application to undertake field trials of wheat plants that have been modified to improve their resistance to rust diseases, including stem rust, leaf rust and stripe rust.

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ABCA provides a weekly summary of biotechnology news developments for subscribers. More than 200 issues of this resource have been distributed. Contact ABCA to be added to the distribution list, or forward through any information you would like to see included.

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ABCA is on twitter at @info_ABCA.

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ABCA alerted its members to a decision made by the Court of Justice of the European Union in July.  See more information in Key Issues.

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ABCA supported a visit to Australia by Associate Professor Stuart Smyth from the University of Saskatchewan. Assoc Prof Smyth made several presentations in Canberra and Adelaide and his visit received considerable media attention, including those listed below.

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The South Australian Government announced in September that it will undertake a high-level independent review of the State’s GM Moratorium in the coming months.

Experienced economist and agriculture policy analyst Emeritus Professor Kym Anderson AC has been appointed to undertake the review.

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone said the independent review will evaluate the benefits and costs to the South Australian economy and agricultural industries of the GM moratorium.

“The former Labor Government rushed through a six-year extension to the GM moratorium prior to the election without any consultation,” said Minister Whetstone.

“There was no attempt by Labor to assess whether the moratorium was good or bad for the economy or our grains and agricultural industries.

In a media release, Shadow Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Eddie Hughes said Labor supports a decision to review South Australia’s genetically modified crop moratorium – which is in place to 2025.

Mr Hughes said policy should be guided by the best available evidence – both scientific and economic – and the Marshall Government must reinvest in public research and development, in order to help primary producers thrive.

Mr Hughes is seeking farmers’ views on GM crops because of his “recent appointment as Labor’s Shadow Minister for Primary Industries and a desire to hear direct from primary producers in addition to peak bodies such as Grain Producers SA.”

The review was strongly welcomed by key agricultural peak industry bodies including Grain Producers SA and CropLife Australia.

See also:



In a related development, the SA Government Legislative Council has established a Select Committee to inquire into and report on the moratorium of the cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in South Australia, with specific reference to:

  1. The benefits and costs of South Australia being GM-free for the state, its industries and people;
  2. The effect of the moratorium on marketing South Australian products both nationally and internationally including:

a. Costs and benefits to South Australian industries and  markets of remaining GM-free;

b. Costs and benefits to South Australian industries and markets from lifting the moratorium on cultivating GM crops in South Australia;

c. Current or potential reputational impacts, both positive and negative, on other South Australian food and wine producers, that may result from retaining or lifting the moratorium;

d. Consideration of global trends and consumer demands for GM crops/foods versus non GM-crops/foods;

3. The difference between GM and non-GM crops in relation to yield, chemical use and other agricultural and environmental factors;

4. Any long term environmental effects of growing GM crops including soil health;

5. The potential for contamination of non-GM or organic crops by GM crops, including:

a. Consideration of matters relating to the segregation of GM and non-GM crops in the paddock, in storage and during transportation;

b. The potential impacts of crop contamination on non-GM and organic farmers;

c. Consideration of GM contamination cases interstate and internationally; and

6. Any other matters that the Committee considers relevant

The establishment of this committee follows from last year’s bill presented by Greens MLC Mark Parnell to extend the moratorium on cultivating GM crops in South Australia. This bill was passed with the support of the then Labor Government and Independent the Hon John Darley, with the understanding that the matter of the moratorium needed further investigation and that Mr Darley intended to refer it to be investigated by a parliamentary committee this year with the support of the Greens. 

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After 13 years an international project is celebrating the unlocking of the complete wheat genome. The project, which involved 200 scientists from 73 research institutions in 20 countries, including Australia, will result in wheat varieties better adapted to climate challenges, with higher yields, enhanced nutritional quality and improved sustainability.

Wheat is the staple food of more than a third of the global population and it accounts for almost 20 per cent of the total calories and protein consumed by humans worldwide. Due to its complex genetic makeup, genetic improvements to wheat varieties have lagged behind crops such as rice and corn.

According to the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, to meet future demands of a projected world population of 9.6 billion by 2050, wheat productivity needs to increase by 1.6 per cent each year. Much of this increase must be achieved via crop and trait improvement to preserve limited natural resources.

The full genetic map of wheat will allow breeders to identify faster, the genes and regulatory elements underlying complex agronomic traits such as yield, grain quality, resistance to fungal diseases, and tolerance to abiotic stress – ultimately producing hardier wheat varieties.

“The wheat genome sequence lets us look inside the wheat engine,” said Rudi Appels, University of Melbourne and Murdoch University Professor, and AgriBio Research Fellow.

“What we see is beautifully put-together to allow for variation and adaptation to different environments through selection, as well as sufficient stability to maintain basic structures for survival under various climatic conditions.”

Brande Wulff from the John Innes Centre in the UK, and Karnwarpal Dhugga from Mexico’s International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre believe the lack of GM wheat varieties is putting global food security at risk. They lamented the lost opportunities for biotechnology in wheat, particularly to combat diseases, such as wheat blast, which now threatens South and Southeast Asia, the world’s largest wheat belt.

In the journal Science, they write that wheat has become an orphan among GM crops and remains a low priority for GM research despite the success of other GM crops such as corn, cotton and soy beans, as well as promising trials with rice.

In a related development, Australia’s Gene Technology Regulator has approved CSIRO’s application to undertake field trials of wheat plants that have been modified to improve their resistance to rust diseases, including stem rust, leaf rust and stripe rust. The wheat plants have been modified with up to eight introduced genes from rye or bread wheat, or from other plants closely related to wheat. The trials will assess the levels of rust resistance of the modified plants and their growth and yield properties, and the GM wheat plants cannot be used for food or feed purposes.

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The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), has released its annual update on the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2017. The report states that the global GM crop area increased in 2017 by 4.7 million hectares to a total of 189.8 million hectares grown across 24 countries and that GM crops are imported for food, feed or processing by a further 43 countries.

Importantly, 19 developing countries now cultivate GM crops, representing more than half of the global GM crop area. These countries including India, Pakistan, Brazil, Bolivia, Sudan, Mexico, Colombia, Vietnam, Honduras, and Bangladesh have increased their GM crop area with smallholder farmers seeing direct benefits from GM varieties allowing them to provide better lives for themselves and their families.

According to ISAAA, the continued expansion of GM crop adoption offers crop biofortification in the future which may help counter the nutrition-draining impact of climate change on certain crops. Recent studies show that climate change can considerably reduce the protein, zinc and iron content of staple crops, putting 1.4 billion children at risk of major iron deficiencies by 2050. Biofortification research is underway in rice, banana, potato, wheat, chickpea, pigeon pea and mustard.

The big four GM crops globally continue to be soybean, cotton, maize and canola. Seventy-seven per cent of soybean, 80 per cent of cotton, 32 per cent of maize and 30 per cent of canola were planted to GM varieties in 2017.

Of relevance to Australia which cultivates GM cotton and canola varieties across 924,000 hectares according to the report, countries with close to or more than 90 per cent adoption of GM cotton were USA, Argentina, India, Paraguay, Pakistan, China, Mexico, South Africa and Australia; and with 90 per cent or more of GM canola were USA and Canada.

GM soybean and maize in particular have been extensively exported around the world and have helped developing countries meet their requirements for feed to produce animal and fish protein according to ISAAA.

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Complementing the ISAAA report, UK-based PG Economics released GM Crops: Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts 1996-2016, which quantifies the significant positive socio-economic and environmental impacts of GM crop adoption.

From 1996-2016, PG Economics reported GM crops provided $186.1 billion in economic gains to 17 million farmers. In 2016 alone, GM crops, through reduced fuel use and reduced tillage, allowed a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions equal to the removal of more than 16 million cars from the roads.

PG Economics reports that GM crops allow farmers to use insecticides and herbicides more strategically, reducing the environmental impact associated with their use by 18.4 per cent on GM crop areas since 1996.

Economically since 1996, farm incomes have increased by $186.1 billion. In 2016, farmers in developing countries received $5.06 for each extra dollar invested in GM crop seeds and farmers in developed countries received $2.70 for each extra dollar invested in GM crop seeds.

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On July 25 the Court of Justice of the European Union (EU) ruled that plants resulting from some of the latest plant breeding innovations, including targeted mutagenesis (i.e. gene editing) such as CRISPR, are considered genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

It is important to note that the ruling is an interpretation of existing EU law. It is not a scientific assessment, nor an expression or statement of policy by the EU’s political bodies. This interpretation is at odds with decisions and interpretations made elsewhere in the world, including here in Australia, US, South America and Israel.

The EU Court of Justice decision on the regulatory status of plants resulting from some of the latest plant breeding innovations determines whether they can practically be taken up by researchers, universities, breeders and farmers in the EU.

The ruling’s line of argument is based almost entirely on the breeding process (technology involved) and does not differentiate between product categories based on the outcome of these processes.

The ruling puts forward a purely process-based approach after an EU specific point in time (2001; the time of adoption of the EU GMO Directive). Organisms obtained by means of mutagenesis which have “conventionally” been used and have a long safety record will continue to be exempt. This exemption would apply to the “classical”, random mutagenesis breeding methods using chemicals or radiation.

In Australia, the review of the Gene Technology Regulations and the National Gene Technology Scheme will provide regulatory clarity on plants and animals derived from the latest breeding methods for Australian industry and public-sector researchers.

ABCA’s Statement of Principles on Regulatory Oversight of New Breeding Techniques is available on the ABCA website.

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The Gene Technology Regulator has approved the commercial release of a GM safflower developed by GO Resources Pty Ltd. The GM safflower has been modified for high oleic acid composition, for use in industrial oil production and animal feed. There is no intention to use the GM safflower in human food.

Both the risk assessment and risk management plan (RARMP) and the licence were finalised following consultation with the public, State and Territory governments, Australian Government agencies, the Minister for the Environment, the Gene Technology Technical Advisory Committee and local councils.

The finalised RARMP concluded, “this commercial release poses negligible risks to people and the environment and does not require specific risk treatment measures. However, general licence conditions have been imposed to ensure ongoing oversight of the release.”

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As noted in the previous ABCA Quarterly Update, the regulation of gene technology in Australia is undergoing three concurrent reviews by three different areas of the Health portfolio. Many ABCA members have contributed submissions to one or more of these reviews.

The Technical Review of the Gene Technology Regulations 2001 commenced in 2016 and is being undertaken by the Gene Technology Regulator. This review is ongoing and aims to provide clarity about whether organisms developed using a range of new technologies are subject to regulation as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and ensure that new technologies are regulated in a manner commensurate with the risks they pose. The Regulator is considering stakeholder comments on draft amendments to the Regulations that seek to implement the interim option that best supports the effectiveness of the legislative framework at this time.

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The Third Review of the National Gene Technology Scheme, undertaken by the Department of Health, commenced in 2017 and concluded this month with the Final Report released and endorsed by Commonwealth, state and territory governments.

The Legislative and Governance Forum on Gene Technology, comprising all Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers with responsibility for gene technology, (the Forum) met on Thursday, 11 October 2018, in Adelaide to discuss the outcomes of the Review, and they endorsed the Final Report on the Third Review of the National Gene Technology Scheme, acknowledging the in-depth and widely consultative Review that informed 33 findings, now reflected in the 27 Review recommendations.

According to the Forum Communique, Forum Ministers agreed that these recommendations will enhance and strengthen the Scheme so that it continues to be fit for purpose and is sufficiently agile to address future developments and challenges, spanning fields such as, health, medicine, agriculture, plants and animals. The Review also affords confidence that any risks posed by gene technology for people, and the environment, will continue to be identified and managed.

The intergovernmental Gene Technology Agreement requires that reviews of the National Gene Technology Scheme (the Scheme) are undertaken regularly. The first review was held in 2006, with a second ‘lighter touch’ review held in 2011.

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A review of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code commenced in February 2018 and is being undertaken by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. This review will consider the application of the Code to the food products of new breeding techniques. Specifically, the review will consider the definitions for ‘food produced using gene technology’ and ‘gene technology’. Submissions to the initial consultation paper closed in mid-April and a preliminary report summarising the views of submitters in response to the consultation paper has now been released, along with the submissions received. The review will conclude in early 2019.

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As noted in the last edition of ABCA’s Quarterly Update, written submissions have been received and public hearings have been undertaken as part of the WA Government’s Parliamentary Inquiry into compensation mechanisms for economic loss to farmers in Western Australia caused by the unintended presence at low levels of approved genetically modified material, which commenced last year.

All Australian farmer representative groups oppose the establishment of such a scheme as an unnecessary cost on grain farmers who choose to grow a federally approved crop.

The Legislative Council’s Environment and Public Affairs Committee has not yet set a reporting date.

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More food, cleaner food – gene technology and plants, an article reviewed by Dr TJ Higgins, Honorary Research Fellow, Division of Plant Industry, CSIRO provides information about the potential of gene technology to improve agricultural yields and reduce the application of pesticides.

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A report by PG Economics is encouraging the UK to diverge from some aspects of EU regulation of crop biotechnology and new breeding techniques (NBTs) post Brexit or miss an opportunity for the UK to take advantage of available economic and wider societal benefits.

“Brexit provides the UK with the opportunity to re-instate sound science at the heart of regulation of important crop improvement techniques based on plant genetics,” said report author agricultural economist Graham Brookes.

“A sound-science-based regulatory system that moves away from the current mal-administered and inconsistent EU regulatory system would provide a first- class safety assessment system consistent with regulatory systems in the majority of countries around the world and provide scope for delivering both important economic benefits to the UK economy and wider societal benefits through better quality products and/or an enhanced environment,” he concluded.

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Gene editing is touted as a new technique with the potential to change the foods we eat every day, boost flavour, disease resistance, and yields, and even tackle allergens like gluten according to the National Geographic.

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As noted above in Key issues.

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As noted above in Key issues.

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Native to Central and South America, the groundcherry belongs to a group known as “orphan crops”, which are widely grown on a small scale but are seldom seen on supermarket shelves because they are difficult to grow commercially.

The unique flavour of these fruit combined with their drought resistance has made them perfect candidates for improvement. After sequencing the genetic code of this plant, the US scientists identified the genes controlling unwanted features and used the gene editing tool CRISPR to change them.

When they grow naturally, groundcherries cover a wide area and only produce small fruits less than a gram in weight. Using their experience working with tomato plants, the scientists were able to manipulate the plants to make them more compact, while also producing more flowers and larger fruit.

The results of this work were published in the journal Nature Plants.

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Most Americans think it’s OK to alter or insert genes in animals and insects – provided it’s done in the interest of human health, according to a poll released in August from the Pew Research Center. The majority of respondents support engineering animals for the benefit of human health. For instance, 70 percent approve of preventing the spread of disease by reducing mosquitoes’ fertility, and 57 percent are on board with engineering animals to be organ donors for humans. But people are not as comfortable with genetically manipulating animals for cosmetic or convenience reasons.

The results, based on a survey of 2,537 US adults from April 23 to May 6, reveal the mixed feelings people have about this emerging biotechnology. The Pew Research Center describes itself as a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world through public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis, and other data-driven social science research.

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Wild fish species such as salmon or trout have pink or red flesh because of their diets. Often, farmed fish lacks this colouring, so fish farmers add dyes derived from petroleum. Researchers from the Royal Holloway, University of London have developed GM tomatoes that produce high levels of ketocarotenoids or high value pigments used in food and feed. These tomatoes offer an environmentally friendly alternative feed to achieve the pinkish colouring in farmed fish.

The scientists found that the fish absorbed roughly twice as many ketocarotenoids from the tomato feed as they did from an equivalent amount of petrochemical-derived dye. This research featured in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

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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.

Reference Commodity Applicant Modification Details
A1154 Cotton Monsanto Australia Insect resistance Approved June 2018.
A1156 Safflower GO Resources Pty Ltd High levels of high oleic acid in the seed. Public submissions sought June 2018.

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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.

Reference Commodity Developer Modification Status
DIR 164 Canola Monsanto Australia Limited Herbicide tolerance Field trial licence sought. Public comment on the RARMP closed on 22 October.
DIR 163 Canola Nuseed Pty Ltd Altered oil content (omega-3) and herbicide tolerance Field trial licence issued in September.
DIR 162 Wheat CSIRO Rust resistant wheat Field trial licence issued in July.
DIR 158 Safflower Go Resources Pty Ltd High oleic acid composition Commercial release licence issued on 28 June.

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Leaders from Australia’s science and innovation sector met in Canberra in September to discuss an ambitious vision for Australia’s rural research and innovation system over the coming decade. Participants included CropLife Australia, CSIRO and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

Participants agreed on a list of priorities including:

  • The critical nexus between food and agriculture with nutrition, health and sustainability
  • Building a culture of trust and cooperation within and between agricultural research and innovations companies, research organisations and the community
  • Increasing and enhancing the scope and value of Australia’s participation in global value chains
  • Sustained, long-term investment in agricultural and related infrastructure to enable current and emerging technologies
  • Better support for commercialisation of research into new products and services, including improved arrangements for management of IP and enhanced incentives for investors
  • Sensible reform and coordination of Australia’s regulatory environment for both existing and emerging agricultural products and technologies

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The Australian Oilseeds Federation and the Grain Industry Association of WA co-hosted AusCanola 2018, the 20th Australian Research Assembly on Brassicas in September.

Some of the media coverage from the event relevant to agricultural biotechnology focused on the importance of genetic research for boosts in canola yields; the need for agriculture to continue to promote the science behind GM crops; the development of plant-based omega-3 canola; and how farmers from different parts of WA grow GM and non-GM canola in their farming mix.

“I think the advances in genomics, the ability to be able to unwrap the canola or the disease genome and understand it at that very granular DNA level and then use the emerging technology to work with those is really a big thing,” said Nick Goddard, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Oilseeds Federation.

“There’s obviously regulatory issues that we need to address around that but I think that provides a lot of bright lights for the industry.

“I’d like to think that we will see continued development in disease management which will impact yield, drought and stress tolerance which impacts yield and then genetics improving the yield generally,” he concluded.

According to the Farm Weekly, GIWA chief executive officer Larissa Taylor said while the scientific community, supply chain and growers had all embraced developments in gene technology, there was still a major disconnect with urban consumers.

“Social licence is still an issue around gene technology,” Ms Taylor said.

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A US-based start-up probiotic business called ZBiotics claims to have developed a GM probiotic to help prevent hangovers. Using gene technology, the scientists built a probiotic which breaks down the toxin acetaldehyde which is responsible for hangovers after a drinking session.

A crowdfunding campaign is now underway to raise money for the project.

CSIRO nutrition scientist Malcolm Riley said he liked the idea of the science behind ZBiotics and could not see any reason why the CSIRO would not run trials on it, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

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Stretchy, non-creasing and even waterproof cotton which still feels like a natural fibre is the aim of a group of CSIRO scientists. This project recently featured at AgCatalyst, a showcase of CSIRO’s technologies across the agriculture and food sectors.

“We’re looking into the structure of cotton cell walls and harnessing the latest tools in synthetic biology to develop the next generation cotton fibre,” CSIRO scientist Dr Madeline Mitchell said.

“Cotton often gets a bad rap environmentally but it is a natural, renewable fibre unlike synthetics which are made with petrochemicals,” Dr Mitchell said.

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Iron deficiency affects more than two billion people globally, and this number is set to rise with the impact of climate change. Biotechnology is providing one solution by delivering iron biofortified rice and wheat where conventional breeding has failed, and this biofortification of crops can increase the iron intake of populations, at no additional cost to growers, in some of the world’s poorest countries. This was the focus of Associate Professor Alexander Johnson, School of BioSciences, The University of Melbourne at the Crawford Fund Annual Conference in August.

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In an opinion piece, Queensland Farmers’ Federation president Stuart Armitage said plant biotechnology continues to have significant benefits for farmers, communities, consumers, economies, and the environment. He said GM crops have made a significant contribution to global food supply and security as farmers must sustainably intensify production. The increased productivity of GM crops worldwide has produced an additional 213 million tonnes of soybeans, 405mt of maize, 27.5mt of cotton lint and 11.6mt of canola, which would not have been achieved if conventional technology had been used.

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Mark Lynas, a former radical environmentalist with Greenpeace, turned GM advocate, toured Australia in July promoting his latest book which details his monumental shift from anti-GM activist to one of the world’s most recognisable GM crop proponents.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra, Mr Lynas said he couldn’t defend the scientific consensus on climate change without doing the same on GM crops. He believes farmers can get help from GM crops to counter the impacts of the changing climate, including higher temperatures, droughts, and erratic rainfall.

Mr Lynas’ visit received significant media coverage throughout Australia.

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Ghana is now ready to introduce genetically modified organisms (GMOs) food onto the market, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), Dr Amaning Okoree, has announced. Two main GMO crops — Nitrogen Use Efficient, Water Use Efficient and Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) rice and Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) cowpea — are currently being researched into and cultivated under confinement by the CSIR in Ghana.

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A series of articles emanating from New Zealand are calling for a change to the country’s anti-GM stance.

Dr Tony Conner, from NZ AgResearch, says there is an urgent need for a public discussion about genetic modification. As a food-producing nation, the cost of delay could prove disastrous to New Zealand’s small economy as other nations race ahead.

A professor of plant biology, Andrew Allan, writes that ignorance of the facts of genetic modification poses an economic risk to New Zealand. Without the ability to use gene-editing, New Zealand will be prevented from growing better food that is better for the environment, and industries will fall behind their trading partners and competitors.

Professor Barry Scott, co-chair of the Royal Society expert panel on genetic modification (GM), says there’s a lot of “scaremongery” about GM and many haven’t changed their opinions since the early 2000s. He said GM has huge potential to cure illnesses such as bone marrow cancer, as well as conservation of the environment. GM could even be used to remove allergens from food, making it safer for people with intolerances.

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New Scientist survey of public attitudes to science has found that the UK public is well-informed and positive about science and technology, but its hopes and fears are largely being ignored by politicians.

The 2018 New Scientist Asks the Public survey found that 53 per cent of people support genetic engineering. This was driven mostly by its potential to cure or eradicate disease – seen as a positive by 80 per cent of the people who support the tech. Almost half of them also say they are optimistic about using it to improve human capabilities such as intelligence.

GM crops enjoy more support than opposition, with 31 per cent of people saying that this environmental issue is one they worry least about, and only 16 per cent rating it as one of their biggest environmental worries. Popular reasons to support GM crops are that they could help feed the world and save the environment.

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Prepared sashimi products are where consumers are most likely to find GM salmon in Canada, the CEO of AquaBounty Technologies, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company that produces the fish, has told investors.

According to AquaBounty, approximately nine tonnes of GM salmon was sold last year.​

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Andrew Newhouse, a biologist at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and his colleagues hope to use GM chestnuts to restore a tree to its former home. In the coming weeks, they plan to formally ask US regulators for approval to breed their trees with nonengineered relatives and plant them in forests.

American chestnuts, towering 30 meters or more, once dominated forests throughout the Appalachian Mountains. But in the early 1900s, a fungal infection appeared and then spread rapidly. The so-called chestnut blight—an accidental import from Asia—releases a toxin that girdles trees and kills everything above the infection site, though still-living roots sometimes send up new shoots. By mid-century, large American chestnuts had all but disappeared.

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Farmers are continuing to adopt Bt eggplant in Bangladesh, resulting in reduced pesticide use and higher incomes, according to a new paper authored by scientists involved in developing and releasing the GM crop.

According to Anthony Shelton, Cornell Professor of Entomology, this year 27,012 Bangladeshi farmers benefited from the pest-resistant Bt eggplant varieties. The latest figures show a substantial increase from the 6,512 farmers who had adopted Bt brinjal during the 2016-17 season. Bt brinjal was first released experimentally to just 20 farmers in 2013-14, 108 farmers in 2014-15 and 250 farmers in 2015-16. According to the paper, pest-resistant Bt brinjal has enabled small-scale family farmers to make big reductions in their use of pesticides and dramatically increase their income from selling the vegetables in local markets.

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According to a news article, JR Simplot Co, the company that developed GM non-browning and late-blight resistant potato varieties, has acquired gene editing licensing rights that could help farmers produce more crops and make them stay fresh for longer. JR Simplot Co. announced the agreement with the developers of the gene editing technology: DowDuPont Inc. and the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Simplot is the first agricultural company to receive such a license.

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The European Commission authorised five GM crops to be used for food and feed, including four types of maize and a variety of sugar beet in August. Two of the authorisations are for new maize varieties, while three of the licences are renewals of two maize and one sugarbeet authorisation.

European Food Safety Authority authorisations are valid for 10 years, are subject to labelling and traceability rules, and do not cover the use of these specific varieties of crops for cultivation.

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According to an article in The Guardian, Panama disease, also known as fusarium wilt, is on the march, wiping out banana plantations that provide a staple food for hundreds of millions of people and a livelihood for hundreds of thousands more. It outlines the scientists around the world working to provide a solution to the problem, including biotechnologist Professor James Dale, from the Queensland University of Technology.

Professor Dale has been running GM banana field trials in Australia, with GM Cavendish banana plant lines showing very promising results against Panama disease. In one trial, after three years, one of the seven GM banana plant lines remained disease-free, while in three others 20 per cent or fewer plants were infected. Resistance levels varied because the genetic modification technique used meant the inserted gene could end up in different places in the plant genomes, potentially varying their effects.

“To get one line showing immunity and three with very little disease from just seven we took to the field was really exciting,” says Dale.

A larger, five-year field trial began in September. If the trial goes to plan, Dale hopes he will be in a position to offer commercial TR4-resistant GM Cavendish banana plants to be made available to farmers by 2023.

Dale has also showed it is possible to use the gene editing tool called CRSIPR-Cas9 to develop a gene-edited Cavendish variety with more active RGA2 genes that is resistant to TR4. Dale estimates it will take seven years to develop and test one to the point it is ready for use.

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Researchers at Oregon State University looking at 3,300 GM poplar trees over seven growing seasons have demonstrated that genetic engineering can prevent new seedlings from establishing to the results published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.

The so-called “containment traits” that researchers engineered in the study are important because of societal concerns over gene flow — the spread of genetically engineered or exotic and invasive trees or their reproductive cells beyond the boundaries of plantations.

“There’s still more to know and more research to be done, but this looks really good,” said corresponding author Steve Strauss, distinguished professor of forest biotechnology at OSU, “It’s very exciting.”

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New Zealand researchers running overseas trials of GM ryegrass say their field work has taken an important step forward. In initial trials in New Zealand, the GM grass grew up to 50 per cent faster than conventional ryegrass, stored more energy for better animal growth, was more resistant to drought, and produced up to 23 per cent less methane from livestock. However, limits on GM experimentation in New Zealand meant the AgResearch team behind the High Metabolisable Energy (HME) ryegrass had to go offshore to the United States to carry out further testing.

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Researchers from the University of Essex and the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), are working on an international research project exploring how to boost food production. The goal of Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) is to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis – the process plants use to convert energy from the sun into the food we eat. Their latest results have shown that it is possible to dramatically boost crop yield, by enabling the plant to get rid of its toxins more quickly.

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Location: Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Southbank QLD

Date: 31 October – 02 November 2018

Details: The annual AusBiotech conference has brought together Australian and international biotech leaders and stakeholders for more than three decades, creating a forum to reflect on the sector’s achievements and exchange ideas to further advance the sector’s standing both nationally and globally. The event has an agriculture and agtech stream, on 31 October, which will cover new innovations in gene technologies and nanotech and current and future application in agriculture; the challenge of agtech and science innovation to harness the output of the big data revolution; and, the recent achievements and future prospects in the development and deregulation of GM foods for improved human health.

Contact: http://ausbiotechnc.org

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.