Quarterly Update – Edition 9
- Council activity
- Key issues
- In the pipeline
- For information
AGRICULTURAL BIOSCIENCE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE 2015
ABCA sponsored the communications breakout session at the recent Agricultural Bioscience International Conference 2015 held in September at the Melbourne Convention Center. The event successfully highlighted the importance of innovation and the business of agricultural biotechnology to the future of agriculture. ABCA further utilised sponsored session speaker Jon Entine, Executive Director of the Genetic Literacy Project, to address the National Press Club and a number of other media engagements on the benefits of biotechnology (for more information see Section 4).
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.
SA GRAIN GROWERS PETITION FOR GM CROP ACCESS
Grain Producers SA has started a petition to enable producers to support lifting the moratorium on growing GM crops in South Australia. The petition highlights the need for freedom of farmer choice on variety selection and will be delivered to the Minister for Agriculture Leon Bignell. The petition can be downloaded from the GPSA website.
GPSA Chief Executive Officer Darren Arney said producers were frustrated that their farming options were being restricted by the government.
In a related story, Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell has admitted the State Government does not have solid economic data to support its decision to keep South Australia free of genetically modified crops.
Mr Bignell was asked what quantifiable economic data he had to confirm that remaining GM-free delivered an economic benefit to SA by Opposition spokesman Adrian Pederick in a parliamentary committee meeting.
“I do not think we have all the evidence in at this stage … (but) it gives us a real selling point that we are different to other states of Australia and we are different to many… around the world”, said Minister Bignell.
- pressreader.com/australia/the-advertiser/20150724/281835757395526/TextView [subscribe for free to view]
MARSH V BAXTER: MARSH LOSES APPEAL
The Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Western Australia has dismissed the appeal of an organic farmer who had sued his neighbour for compensation after finding GM canola on his property in 2010. Steve Marsh of Kojonup in Western Australia had the organic certification of most of his property temporarily revoked after GM canola seeds and swathes blew onto his farm, and he sought more than $80,000 in compensation from his neighbour Michael Baxter.
Last year the Supreme Court dismissed the case against Michael Baxter, saying that he had not acted negligently, and Justice Martin ordered Mr Marsh cover the costs of Mr Baxter, estimated at more than $800,000.
In March, Mr Marsh’s legal team had their appeal against the judgment and the costs order heard.
Speaking outside of court, Mr Baxter said it would be business as usual after being relieved once again of claims he should compensate his neighbour.
“At the end of the day this shouldn’t have even gone to court, because between farmers we should’ve just had a chat over the fence and had a couple of beers and this would’ve been sorted out,” he said.
According to media reports, Mr Marsh is now seeking special leave to appeal to the High Court, a process which could take up to six months.
EXPOSED: ANTI-GM SCIENCE FOR HIRE
Emails released following a Freedom of Information request in the USA, and posted on the website MuckRock, have revealed that one of Steve Marsh’s biggest financial backers, WA organic food entrepreneur Georg Kailis, sought to fund “scientific” research solely for use in a “strategic court room” as evidence that GM crops were unsafe, to help demand a moratorium, according to a media report published in The Land.
In communications with US agricultural research professor, Dr Charles Benbrook, Mr Kailis suggested $1.5 million had been provided to boost Mr Marsh’s legal case in the WA courts, against his neighbour Michael Baxter.
Mr Kailis has been a long-term campaigner against the use of GM foods and crops and he is credited with funding a controversial study by anti-GM campaigner Dr Judy Carman on the long-term impacts of feeding GM corn and soy to pigs.
Despite, this well planned and apparently well funded court case battle in Western Australia, the global network of anti-GM and pro-organic connections, including Australia’s Safe Food Foundation, working with Mr Kailis, were unable to find a solitary witness who was able to testify at the Marsh v Baxter court case, and give evidence, proving GMOs are unsafe.
“This ‘dollars for the findings we need’ playbook is a worrying departure from open-minded scientific investigation,” said Dr David Tribe, University of Melbourne senior lecturer in food biotechnology and microbiology, agriculture and food systems.
GM CROP ACCESS BUILDING MOMENTUM IN WA
On the heels of the Marsh v Baxter appeal decision, Western Australian Minister for Agriculture and Food Ken Baston has been given a clear message to repeal the Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act 2003 (WA) this term, with the Nationals WA voicing their support for the move in parliament in September.
The repeal of the Act was flagged 12 months ago, and WA farmers and their representative organisations have been pushing for action after the Labor Party indicated it would retain the current legislation and move to prevent the continued cultivation of GM canola in WA if it wins power in the next state election.
In a recent Letter to the Editor in the Countryman (WA), Dale Park, WA Farmers President said, “…Farmers have a vested interest in doing what is best for their farm, their land and their business. WA Farmers supports greater research into GM technology to ensure that farmers in WA are able to choose to use incoming technology to benefit their production system, if they so choose. Advances in GM technology could result in salt, frost and drought-resistant varieties which could enable farmers to feed a growing population.”
Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Deidre Willmott has also weighed into the debate, saying that the current Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act, created “uncertainty” about the future”.
In a related story, a new website, Farmer Choice, has been launched by CropLife, WAFarmers and the Pastoralists & Graziers Association (PGA) to support the State Government in removing the GM Crops Free Areas Act 2003 and it urges industry and farmers to get behind the Farmer Choice campaign. Farmer Choice is about protecting the rights of Western Australian growers to access the tools and technologies they need to produce high quality food in a safe and sustainable way.
MANY EU COUNTRIES OPT OUT OF GM CROP CULTIVATION
More than half the 28 countries in the European Union, including Germany and France, have decided to ban their farmers from growing GM crops to take advantage of rules introduced in April permitting individual member states and regions to ban cultivation of GM crops that have been judged by Europe’s regulators as posing no risk to human health or the environment.
“The opt-out is made to enable anti-technology countries to prevent their farmers from growing it,” says Beat Spath of EuropaBio, a trade association representing biotechnology companies.
“But there’s nothing in it at all for pro-technology countries.”
Another proposal to be voted on, to allow opt outs of GM fodder, remains pending, and a ban on the use of GM animal feed does not have the support of the EU parliament’s agriculture and environment committees, or indeed of key agricultural groups such as the UK’s National Farmers’ Union or the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation.
“It would be very damaging to the open market,” says Helen Ferrier, scientific and regulatory affairs adviser for the UK National Farmers’ Union.
“These products move into the EU and move round freely, as do the animals they’re fed to, so it would be very difficult for individual countries to have bans in place that stop movement of products.”
GM SALMON UPDATE
AquaBounty Technologies, the biotechnology company that has developed the fast-growing GM salmon in North America has released a statement saying that it continues to pursue approval of the GM salmon, known as AquAdvantage Salmon (AAS), through the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a New Animal Drug Application (NADA). It states that the “Board remains hopeful that the decision will be received in the near term.”
Ron Stotish, Chief Executive Officer of AquaBounty, commented:
“We remain hopeful that the FDA will approve AAS in the near term, and, while we wait for their decision, we are making significant progress with our marketing efforts and preparations in several foreign markets for field trials. AquaBounty continues to receive interest for AAS from potential customers both within and outside the US, which supports the Board’s confidence that the market potential is substantial.”
In 2012, the FDA released its preliminary Environmental Assessment for the GM salmon, with a positive “Finding of No Significant Impact”. A 120-day public comment period was then held, which ended on 26 April 2013. Since then, it is AquaBounty’s understanding that the FDA has been reviewing the comments and is in the process of finalising the Environmental Assessment. AquaBounty is hopeful that approval will occur later this year, however it has received no information on the status of the application from the FDA.
USA TO REVISIT CROP BIOTECHNOLOGY REGULATIONS
The US Government has asked the three agencies involved in the regulation of GM crops to improve and modernise their regulatory approach to boost public confidence in a system that critics call a failure.
In the US, GM crops are regulated through the government’s “coordinated framework” that involves the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In a statement the White House said “the complexity of the array of regulations and guidance documents developed by the three Federal agencies … can make it difficult for the public to understand how the safety of biotechnology products is evaluated, and navigating the regulatory process for these products can be unduly challenging, especially for small companies.”
The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), whose members include GMO crop developers, said it welcomed a path toward more efficient and transparent approvals of new products.
“We look forward to reviewing the proposal in more detail and working with the administration on this moving forward,” Matt O’Mara, BIO vice president, said in a statement.
WILL CONSUMERS STOP AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGY?
The latest Farm Policy Journal (Spring 2015, Vol. 12, No. 3) is dedicated to the topic of consumer attitudes to agricultural technologies. Australian Farm Institute Director Mick Keogh introduces the topic with:
“Why technology that is absolutely uncontroversial in some uses suddenly becomes the subject of consumer protests and government bans when used in food production is the topic that is addressed by the papers included in this edition of the Farm Policy Journal. Perhaps equally important is the need for the agriculture sector to find ways to ensure that farmers’ access to technology is not unnecessarily restricted, especially in the event that robust science supports the safety of the technology for use in the production of food for human consumption.”
- Building trust when science and consumers collide
- The implications of societal risk management on agricultural productivity
- Food, genetic engineering and public opinion: do popular concerns matter?
- Biotechnology applications for consumers in developing areas and consumer acceptance
- Review of Asian consumer attitudes towards GM food and implications for agricultural technology development in Australia
- Public attitudes relevant to livestock animal welfare policy
Further information, and articles available for purchase at:
JON ENTINE AT THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB
During a recent visit to Australia to participate in ABIC 2015, Jon Entine, Executive Director of the Genetic Literacy Project addressed the National Press Club and he said while GM technology was ‘not a silver bullet’, it was one of the tools the world needed if it was going to double food production by 2050.
Mr Entine said Australia could be a leader in food biotechnology if politicians were willing to ‘make some real hard choices’. He said that Australian scientists were instrumental in developing the technology behind a non-browning GM apple but Australia wouldn’t see commercial benefits of the work because the technology had been moved offshore.
COMMUNITY ATTITUDES TO GENE TECHNOLOGY
A national survey of 1160 people commissioned by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) investigating consumer attitudes surrounding gene technology found that there has been a drop in both awareness and support of gene technologies since 2012. However, there were still more people in support of GMOs generally than were opposed. Support remains much greater for medical applications and industrial uses.
Other key findings included:
- Most respondents (69 per cent) felt that biotechnology would improve our way of life in the future, while 46 per cent felt that GMOs would improve our way of life in the future.
- Most support or rejection of GM food and crops is conditional, and is likely to move based on regulation or scientific evidence of safety. Only 15 per cent of the population are so against GM foods that they would never change their stance.
- Of relevance to animal biotechnology, support of the belief that GMOs and cloning of animals would improve our way of life in the future dropped slightly from 50 to 46 per cent and support for cloning of animals dropped from 39 to 31 per cent.
The report authors noted, “GM is a low-level of general background noise issue for many people, indicating that they pick up the general thread of topics, without knowing particulars. This is in line with the broader community trend relating to information overload and a narrowing of attention to only those things that are deemed personally relevant, or have sufficient profile in the media that they follow.”
In concluding, the authors note that the trends in awareness and support for gene technology tracks with wider public attitudinal changes, that is, current general trends in Australia are slightly more pessimistic about the future. Also, a decline in media coverage and thereby the public profile of the technology correlates to consistent growth in 2015 of ‘don’t know’ and ‘not sure’ responses.
The survey finds quite unsurprisingly that technology deniers are more likely to be opposed to GM foods and technology supporters are more likely to be in favour. While activist groups continue to ramp up their campaigns of fear, mistrust and scaremongering of new technologies, it is unsurprising that the community continues to show concerns.
There is still greater support for GM foods than there is opposition and it is a priority of industry and government to encourage informed debate on agricultural biotechnology through the provision of credible, balanced, science-based information.
- ogtr.gov.au/internet/ogtr/publishing.nsf/Content/327437B632158967CA257D70008360B1/$File/Community attitudes to gene technology Final Repor 2015.pdf
GM TREES: RED TAPE MAKES USE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE
It is virtually impossible to use GM trees to combat catastrophic forest threats globally because of red tape according to policy analysts in a paper published in Science.
In their analysis, Steven Strauss, professor of forest biotechnology at Oregon State University and coauthors Adam Costanza, of the Institute of Forest Biosciences in Cary, North Carolina, and Armand Séguin of Natural Resources Canada in Quebec, argue that new regulatory approaches should be implemented globally that focus on the product, not the process – and consider need, urgency and genetic similarity of modifications to those used in breeding.
In the United States, the time is ripe to consider regulatory changes, the authors say, because the federal government recently initiated an update of the overarching Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology, which governs use of genetic engineering.
THE AGE OF GM ANIMALS HAS ARRIVED
According to an article in Business Insider, the age of GM animals has arrived thanks to a suite of powerful new tools that have given researchers the ability to edit genes with far more accuracy than ever before.
One of the key tools being used to advance animal biotechnology is the CRISPR-Cas9 system. We’ve had gene-editing technology for decades, but now “we’re basically able to have a molecular scalpel for genomes,” says Jennifer Doudna, a biologist involved in discovering the CRISPR-Cas9 system at the University of California at Berkeley.
“All the technologies in the past were sort of like sledgehammers.”
“Currently, we can only manipulate traits that are controlled by one or several well-known genes. In time, if we can learn to understand traits that are controlled by dozens or hundreds of genes, we could change just about anything.”
Examples of animal biotechnology cited in the article include:
- GloFish – Genetically modified glowing fish went on sale in pet shops throughout the USA in 2003.They were originally made by transplanting a jellyfish gene for fluorescence into a fish’s genetic code, and were developed as part of a scientific initiative to make fish that could glow to warn people of dangerous pollutants in the water.
- Hornless dairy cattle – Some cattle breeds are naturally hornless. For decades dairy cows have had their horns cut or burned off to prevent injuries to the herd. Now a Minnesota company, Recombinetics, has used genetic manipulation to develop a hornless dairy cow potentially ending a painful process. Although hornless dairy cows could now be developed through traditional breeding, it would take vastly longer and almost certainly, some of the traits that make dairy cows the best milk producers in the world, would be lost.
- Pigs as human organ donors – Harvard geneticist George Church and his team are working on making GM pigs that could be suitable organ donors for humans.
- Goats with vaccines in milk – researchers at Texas A&M have developed GM goats that produce a potential malaria vaccine in their milk.
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.
|A draft food regulatory measure has been prepared for public comment by 28 October 2015.|
|A1112||Corn||Syngenta (Reference: MZHG0JG)||Herbicide tolerances
|A draft food regulatory measure has been prepared for public comment by 06 November 2015.|
For further information:
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 134||Carnations||Flower Developments Pty Ltd||Colour modification||Licence issued to import and sell cut flowers.|
|DIR 136||Cotton||CSIRO||Enhanced fibre quality.||Field trial licence issued.|
|DIR 139||Canola||Pioneer Hi-Bred Australia Pty Ltd||Herbicide tolerance||Commercial release sought.|
For further information:
GM WHEAT NEEDED, FOOD SHORTAGES COMING
Visiting Australia recently, Dr Sanjaya Rajaram, the winner of the World Food Prize 2014, said GM technology is needed to feed the world into the future. A wheat scientist in India and Mexico and former head of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Dr Rajaram has bred 480 new wheat varieties so far. He said global wheat production has to increase from 700 million metric tonnes, to one billion tonnes to feed the world’s population by 2050, and conventional or hybrid breeding will not be enough.
Dr Rajaram warned that the world community needed to prepare for food shortages.
Dr Rajaram said the US is now allowing trials of GM wheat and he thinks the rest of the world will have to follow that. According to the 2014 wheat export data, Australia ranks fourth in the world with 11.2 per cent of the global wheat exports behind the USA (16.3 per cent), Canada (15.1 per cent), and France (11.4 per cent).
AUSTRALIAN TECHNOLOGY BENEFITTING COMPETITORS
Commercial approvals to sell a non-browning apple have been granted in both Canada and North America, but in Australia, where the gene silencing technique behind this fruit was discovered, new biotechnology developments have stagnated after a very promising start.
The technology has been available to the Australian stone and pome fruit industries, and the potato industry, for around a decade, but there have been no takers.
An article in Australia Life Scientist, features Dr Jim Peacock, a pioneering GM crop researcher and former chief scientist of Australia, who is very critical of the role of entrepreneurs, the media and politicians in Australia when it comes to new products developed involving genetics.
“Our ability to commercialise new products is pathetic. As far as I know, no Australian government — federal or state — has made a serious attempt to look at the increasingly wealthy Asian countries and ask them what they want in their food.
Peacock is disappointed with the “undue attention” that the media and politicians have paid to the anti-GM movement in Australia. “They don’t argue from a factual base, but in emotive, frightening terms,” he said.
“But equally sad, I believe, has been the lack of considered viewpoints from our politicians — for the most part, they make no attempt to understand the full potential and facts about GM plants. But they do react to all the anti-GM noise because they are concerned about votes.”
ORGANIC AND GM PRODUCTION COMPATIBLE SAYS PROFESSOR
Professor Ian Godwin from the University of Queensland’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences has said in a media release that while eating organically grown food might make you feel good inside, organic agriculture is not necessarily sustainable and, contrary to popular belief, often relies on chemical sprays.
Professor Godwin said that GMOs are perfectly compatible with organic agriculture, and can actually improve production and food safety.
“Genetically modified products fit in perfectly with organics,” Professor Godwin said.
“GMOs allow the creation of disease-and pest-resistant plants which require less fertiliser for the same yield and product quality.”
He said GMO food required less space to grow, which meant much higher yields per hectare.
Professor Godwin said there were misconceptions about organic production as well as about GMO foods.
“People think organic crops don’t get sprayed, but in commercial farming that’s not possible.
“You can’t use fungicides in organic production, so people use various different combination of chemicals, but mostly copper.”
COEXISTENCE IS POSSIBLE WITH CAREFUL PLANNING
Speaking at a recent Future Farming Forum held in Adelaide and co-sponsored by ABCA, Chris Preston, Associate Professor, School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, at the University of Adelaide talked about the science behind coexistence, including bee movement and pollen flow from GM canola; and he said that GM and non-GM crops can successfully co-exist with good management.
SENATORS SUPPORT GM CROPS
Senators have backed a motion supporting genetically modified (GM) crops which coincided with the recent Crawford Fund annual conference held in Canberra. The conference theme of meeting future global food and nutrition demand sustainably saw Crawford Fund board member and ABCA patron John Anderson expressing concerns about “irrational” and “indefensibly selfish debates” that ignored science and “stymying” the progress of technologies like GM.
SENATOR BLASTS GREENPEACE AND PETA
NSW Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm has launched a blistering attack at animal rights activists and opponents of genetically modified (GM) crops. Mr Leyonhjelm described People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as “the enemy of the meat and livestock industries” and he repeated calls for Greenpeace to be stripped of its charitable status in Australia for destroying tax-payer funded GM crop research in 2011.
Senator Leyonhjelm accused Greenpeace of being Luddites for “openly denying” the benefits of Golden Rice for at least 15 years “with complete disregard for the science and in full knowledge of the impact of vitamin A deficiency”.
“The consequences have been catastrophic,” he said.
He was also critical of the Governments in South Australia and Tasmania, “the two worst performing economies in Australia” for their bans on GM crop.
GENE EDITED PRODUCTS WITHIN FIVE YEARS: DUPONT
According to an article in MIT Technology Review, agricultural biotechnology are investing heavily in CRISPR gene editing, saying they’ll be selling seeds engineered with the technology by the end of this decade.
DuPont has entered an agreement with Caribou Sciences, a spin-off of the laboratory of Jennifer Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley, who carried out key work on CRISPR-Cas9, and they are already growing corn and wheat plants edited with CRISPR in greenhouses and field trials will start soon.
“We are talking about bringing products to market in five to 10 years,” says Neal Gutterson, vice president for agricultural biotechnology at Pioneer Hi-Bred, part of DuPont’s $11 billion per year crop chemicals and biotech seed business.
ALLERGY-FREE PEANUTS HAMPERED BY UNCLEAR COMMERCIAL PATH
Research is underway in the USA to create a hypoallergenic peanut using the new gene-editing technology called CRISPR to identify and deleting the genes that encode the major allergens in peanuts. Although the research is going very well, Chloe Gui and her colleagues at Aranex Biotech, are having trouble finding investors to commercialise the product because of the uncertainty surrounding gene edited and GM products globally.
BIRD FLU RESISTANT CHICKENS: PROMISING RESULTS
Scientists at Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, say they have genetically modified chickens in a bid to control bird flu and that early experiments show promise for fighting off the disease that has devastated the US poultry and egg industries. The research works in two ways – by blocking initial infections in egg-laying chickens and preventing birds from transmitting the virus if they become infected.
Their research, which has been backed by the UK government and top chicken companies, could potentially prevent repeats of this year’s wipeout: 48 million chickens and turkeys killed because of the disease since December in the United States alone.
Commercial release approvals for the chickens have not yet been sought anywhere globally, but researchers are encouraged by the promising results to-date and will continue to develop the science.
CLONED, GM COW GIVES BIRTH IN CHINA
Researchers at the Beijing University of Agriculture have announced that one of their first cloned GM cows named Niu Niu has given birth to a healthy calf.
Niu Niu was born in 2012, and has an extra gene inserted to increase the fat level in her muscle. China currently relies on expensive imports for marbled meat, and Niu Niu is part of the push for China to develop its own capacity in the production of marbled beef.
The birth of the calf demonstrates the positive reproductive capacity of the GM cow, and tests indicate the new calf has inherited its mother’s fat-increasing gene.
USDA APPROVES A SECOND GM POTATO
A second-generation GM potato resistant to Late Blight, the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine, is closer to commercial release in the USA after receiving deregulation approval from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Like its predecessor, the original Innate™ potato, this potato has reduced bruising and a greater reduction in a chemical produced at high temperatures that some studies have shown can cause cancer. The second-generation potato also includes an additional trait the company says will allow potatoes to be stored at colder temperatures longer to reduce food waste. The new traits in the GM potatoes were the result of adapting genes from wild and cultivated potatoes.
The GM potatoes will now need to be registered by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) before they can be promoted and distributed to growers.
GM WHEAT FACES COMMERCIALISATION HURDLE
A team of Spanish scientists from the Institute of Sustainable Agriculture of Cordoba belonging to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), a Government agency, has developed a GM wheat variety free of gluten by using gene silencing to delete the genes that produce a set of proteins called gliadins, which cause an inflammatory reaction in the small intestine of those who suffer from celiac disease.
Published research data shows that the reduced gliadin bread would allow celiac patients to eat three or four slices of bread daily without any problems. A clinical trial for human consumption with a group of 40-90 celiac patients will take place at the end of this year.
Despite the promising results, the contradictory legislation of the European Union (EU) is creating commercial difficulties for bringing the GM wheat to market – whilst the EU has only approved two GM crops, it has authorised the importation of 77 GM foods and crops. According to the article, US Company Dow AgroSciences has shown the most interest to-date.
CROP SPRAYS THAT MIMIC GENETIC MODIFICATION
A new technology which mimics the effects of genetic modification without changing the DNA has been developed in the form of crop sprays by researchers at the University of Cambridge. The reverse genetics technology is being developed to give plants more nutrients, arm their natural defences against diseases and to create high-precision pesticides that kill only a single species of insect. An example of the technology is an eco-friendly insecticide that targets the Colorado potato beetle being trialled at the Cornell University in the USA.
GM RICE AND METHANE REDUCTION
Researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences have developed GM rice which contains a barley gene, so that it releases far less methane than its conventional counterpart. Rice is a major source of methane because of microbes that live in the wetlands where most of the world’s rice is grown.
Research results indicate that methane producing microbes living in the roots of these plants actually went down by at least 50 per cent.
In commenting on the study, Christer Jansson, the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Director said, “By controlling where the transcription factor is produced, we can then dictate where in a plant the carbon – and resulting sugars – accumulate.”
GM PIGS FOR HUMAN ORGANS
Researchers from the US company United Therapeutics have been producing GM pigs to harvest for human transplants. In order to combat rejection of the transplanted organs, researchers have started adding more human genes (up to eight) to their modified pigs. The organs are first trialed in baboons. To date, researchers have kept a baboon alive with a transplanted pig kidney for four months and another baboon has been kept alive with a pig heart for two and a half years. While these results are impressive, the pig organs are nowhere near ready for human subjects. The cost of xenotransplantation currently stands at $100,000.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND GM LIVESTOCK
James West, an associate professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, a specialist in human lung disease and genetic engineering, and Warren Gill, Professor and department chair of the Middle Tennessee State University agriculture department have teamed up to create livestock more suitable to increasingly hotter climates.
The breeds that dominate the U.S. cattle markets, Angus and Herefords, belong to a subspecies of cattle known as Bos taurus. They’re productive breeds, effective at converting feed to muscle mass and exhibit vigorous growth from birth onwards, but they’re not well-adapted to living in hot, humid conditions.
In tropical areas, cattle belonging to the subspecies Bos indicus are more widely used. These breeds are more heat-tolerant than their Bos taurus counterparts, but they take longer to reach puberty and yield less meat, milk, and offspring than a Bos taurus.
Heat tolerance in cattle is an incredibly complicated matter. Scientists and farmers have an idea of traits that can contribute to heat tolerance — metabolic rates, ability to shed their coats, hair color — but there is no silver bullet. Several independent studies, however, have managed to link heat tolerance, at least in part, to the color of a cow’s hair.
“At this point, we are focusing on hair color, skin color, and hair length, knowing perfectly well that there are many factors involved in climate adaptability,” Gill said. “We will take those into consideration as time goes on, but you gotta crawl before you run.”
Warren Gill and James West believe that through gene editing they can create an Angus with a white, slick coat and a protective black hide that would allow ranchers in tropical areas to raise productive Angus cattle in warmer climates.
“That ought to increase the point at which Angus begin to feel heat stress from 75 degrees [Farenheit] to 90 degrees,” said West.
“What we’re doing here is not something you couldn’t do with breeding, but it would be a 40 or 50 year breeding project,” West said. In contrast, gene editing could create a slick, white-haired champion Angus in a single generation.
GENE EDITING AND PORK PRODUCTION
Two examples of research involving pigs and biotechnology have been in the spotlight recently. Firstly, Nature reported that researchers in South Korea and China have created pigs with much higher muscle mass than conventional pigs by editing a single gene. In unpublished results, scientists used gene-editing technology to introduce a mutation in the myostatin gene in pig fetal cells that causes muscle cells to multiply. Selective breeding can have the same effect, and has been done in other animals such as cows and sheep, but it can take decades. If regulators agree, the muscular pigs could be one of the first genetically engineered animals permitted for human consumption.
In the UK, scientists at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute are working to develop pigs resistant to African swine fever, which is threatening pork production in Eastern Europe. By precisely “editing” a single letter of the pigs’ genetic code to more closely resemble that of a warthog, researchers hope to confer the warthog’s natural resistance to the fever to domestic pigs.
“We’re not trying to make huge pigs, we’re trying to make healthier ones,” said Bruce Whitelaw, head of the research team at the Institute.
“I’d be staggered if anyone said, ‘No, I don’t want my animal to be healthier.’ ”
GM MOTH RESEARCH TRIAL
Researchers have genetically modified the diamondback moth in order to curb the damage it wreaks feeding on cabbage, broccoli and other crucifers globally causing an estimated $5bn in damage per year.
The GM moths have been developed by the British company Oxitec, based in Oxford. The male moths with a “self-limiting” gene produce female offspring that do not survive to reproduce, and when released into the wild to mate with wild-type females, the GM male moths should over time cause populations of the pest to crash.
Recently published results from greenhouse trials undertaken at the UK’s Rothamsted Research in 2013 show that the technique works very well in confined conditions, and populations were brought under control within 10 weeks of starting GM moth releases.
Field trials will next take place under netting at Cornell University in New York this summer, as part of a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved program. Small-scale outside releases are expected in the future.
GM YEAST PRODUCING PAINKILLERS
Researchers from California’s Stanford University have genetically modified yeast cells to enable them to produce painkillers normally sourced from opium poppies. The research is a step towards biological manufacturing which could see the time to make the drugs slashed from a year to several days.
GM BACTERIA SIGNALS WATER POLLUTION
Entrepreneurs in Canada have developed a simple, inexpensive and quick way to monitor water quality using genetically engineered bacteria capable of sensing a variety of water-borne contaminants and in response, emitting an electric signal that indicates the level of contaminant.
8TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ADVANCES IN ARACHIS THROUGH GENOMICS AND BIOTECHNOLOGY
Date: 04 – 07 November 2015
Details: Since 2006, the international peanut genomics research community has worked through Peanut Genome Initiative (PGI) to integrate genomic and biotechnological approaches into the process for developing effective environmentally benign solutions that help reduce economic risks of peanut production. The program will include genomic presentations of diploid species and the cultivated species, use of molecular technologies for crop improvement, advances in sequencing and genomic science.
SA BIOBRIEFING – THE FUTURE OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA’S BIOTECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY
Location: KPMG – 151 Pirie Street Adelaide
Date: 17 November 2015
Details: Supported by KPMG and featuring a keynote presentation from Dr Leanna Read, South Australian Chief Scientist, and a high level panel discussion moderated by Dr Rob Morrison, this is a must attend event on the South Australian biotechnology calendar.
TROPICAL AGRICULTURE CONFERENCE 2015 (TROPAG2015)
Location: Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
Date: 16 – 18 November 2015
Details: This inaugural International Conference on Research in Agriculture and Food for the Tropics is being developed to meet the need for a high level, multi-disciplinary, international scientific conference that focuses on advances, and controversies, in tropical agriculture research. The goal of the conference is to bring together many of the leading scientific voices and facilitate cross-border collaboration, new project development and technology transfer – with a focus on the delivery of a diverse range of tropical and subtropical agricultural scientific advances for the food, plant and animal industries. The conference is designed to focus on research advances within the agriculture industries located in the subtropics and tropics including livestock (beef, dairy, pork, poultry) grain and pulse crops, sugarcane and horticultural crops. The event is being organised by the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), which is headed by Professor Robert Henry. QAAFI was officially launched in October 2010 and is now internationally recognised as a leading agriculture and food research institute providing excellence in research and development.
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