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AAAS Board of Directors: Legally Mandating GM Food Labels Could “Mislead and Falsely Alarm Consumers - AAAS (2012)

Foods containing ingredients from genetically modified (GM) crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques, the AAAS Board of Directors has concluded. Legally mandating labels on GM foods could therefore “mislead and falsely alarm consumers”... AAAS [the world's largest general scientific society] noted that it is important to distinguish between labeling intended to protect public health—about the presence of allergens, for example—and optional labeling that aids consumer decision-making, such as “kosher” or “USDA organic,” which reflects verifiable and certifiable standards about production and handling. Several current efforts to require labeling of GM foods are not being driven by any credible scientific evidence that these foods are dangerous... Rather, GM labeling initiatives are being advanced by “the persistent perception that such foods are somehow ‘unnatural,’” as well as efforts to gain competitive advantages within the marketplace, and the false belief that GM crops are untested. In the United States, in fact, each new GM crop must be subjected to rigorous analysis and testing in order to receive regulatory approval... “GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever.” ... the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and “every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.” The European Commission (EU) recently concluded, based on more than 130 studies covering 25 years of research involving at least 500 independent research groups, that genetic modification technologies “are not per se more risky than…conventional plant breeding technologies.” Occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals can cause health problems have not stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny... “Civilization rests on people’s ability to modify plants to make them more suitable as food, feed and fiber plants and all of these modifications are genetic” ... 

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Bringing light into the discussion about GMOs? – A rather long reading list

[updated 14 April, 2015]  

 

These days I received an apparently easy request: “Do you have any recommendations for reading about the debate on GMOs? I think there is a lot of heat, but too little light in the discussion; I trust you can send me some…” To which I answered carelessly: “Sure, I will look into it, select a few references and post them…” 

 

I thought I’d have a quick look into my collection of bookmarks and references and post some of the links to satisfy the request. Obviously there would be too many individual studies and crop-specific or country-specific reports, but focusing only (i) on what was published in recent years, (ii) on sources where all this information was already aggregated (literature reviews, meta-analyses, authoritative statements, FAQs, etc.), and (iii) on academic or publicly funded sources should produce a fairly concise list, I thought. 

 

While not unmanageable, the list has become quite long. To get a rough idea of the current state of knowledge, it may be sufficient to peruse the first 1-2 (starred *) references under each heading, and to have a quick look at the abstracts and summaries of some of the others. (Given the controversy surrounding this topic I did not want to suggest just one or two sources, but show a bit the width of the scientific consensus, and to offer some titbits of related information.) ... 

 

http://ajstein.tumblr.com/post/40504136918/
 

 

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Jennifer Mach's comment, March 30, 2013 9:05 AM
I admit I haven't read this list... but for future reference, I'll definitely have a look.
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Fatal attraction: the intuitive appeal of GMO opposition - Blancke &al (2015) - Trends Plant Sci

Fatal attraction: the intuitive appeal of GMO opposition - Blancke &al (2015) - Trends Plant Sci | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
Highlights: People tend to rely on intuitive reasoning to make a judgment on GMOs. This intuitive reasoning includes folk biology, teleological and intentional intentions and disgust. Anti-GMO activists have exploited intuitions successfully to promote their cause. Intuitive judgments steer people away from sustainable solutions.

 

Public opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) remains strong. By contrast, studies demonstrate again and again that GM crops make a valuable contribution to the development of a sustainable type of agriculture. The discrepancy between public opinion and the scientific evidence requires an explanation.


We argue that intuitive expectations about the world render the human mind vulnerable to particular misrepresentations of GMOs. We explain how the involvement of particular intuitions accounts for the popularity, persistence, and typical features of GM opposition and tackle possible objections to our approach. To conclude, we discuss the implications for science education, science communication, and the environmental movement... 


Research shows that cultivation of GM crops does not pose any specific health or environmental risks, but instead can bring benefits to local farmers. The reason for the discrepancy between public opinion and scientific evidence needs clarification... 


Even though individual people may not always experience a personal advantage by purchasing and/or consuming GMOs, it will certainly help to inform the public that, for example, (i) Bt corn contains less mycotoxins and is thus healthier than conventional maize; (ii) herbicide-resistant crops require less tilling and, thus, improve the soil quality; (iii) Bt crops enhance insect biodiversity; (iv) biotech crops help reduce poverty in India, and so on... 


People who are genuinely concerned about the environment may intuitively adopt strategies that have the opposite impact on what they set out to achieve. GMOs can be a formidable tool in the realization of a sustainable form of agriculture. By leading people to choose the wrong adversaries and to urge policy makers to take counter-effective measures, negative GMO representations may indeed exert a fatal attraction. 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2015.03.011

 

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Cost of Coexistence of GM and Non-GM Products in the Food Supply Chains of Rapeseed Oil and Maize Starch in Germany - Gabriel & Menrad (2015) - Agribusiness

Cost of Coexistence of GM and Non-GM Products in the Food Supply Chains of Rapeseed Oil and Maize Starch in Germany - Gabriel & Menrad (2015) - Agribusiness | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

This paper aims to quantify with respect to national and EU regulations the costs of coexistence systems for genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food in Germany from the seed to the food level for rapeseed oil and maize starch intended for human consumption.


The applied model follows the principle of aggregating all the costs of producing, transporting, and processing food crops on the different levels of the supply chains and increasing the non-GM price premium of the final product for each level.


Results indicate that ensuring coexistence results in a price some 7.4% to 13.8% higher for non-GM food products depending on assumed segregation strategies in the two agri-food supply chains analyzed... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/agr.21415

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Non-GM food is more expensive -- de facto banning GM food hurts poorer consumers (and limits the choice of all). 

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GM Eucalyptus Is Approved for Commercial Use in Brazil - B3C (2015)

The Brazilian National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio) today approved the commercial use of... yield enhanced eucalyptus... Field experiments conducted since 2006 at various locations in Brazil have demonstrated an approximate 20% increase in yield compared to its equivalent conventional variety.

This is the first genetically modified (GM) eucalyptus event to be approved worldwide and represents the most significant productivity milestone for the renewable plantation forest industry since the adoption of clonal technology in the early 1990’s. This approval also represents the beginning of a new era for sustainable forest management by enabling the production of more fiber, using less resources...

The yield increase provided by the GM eucalyptus will provide economic, environmental and social benefits.... increased competitiveness for the Brazilian forestry sector... using less land to produce more fiber... greater availability of land for other purposes, such as conservation and food production.

Partners of Suzano Pulp and Paper’s outgrowers program, including small landholders... will have access to the technology... which do not involve the payment of royalties... FuturaGene’s yield-enhanced eucalyptus has been under development since 2001 and has undergone extensive biosafety assessment prior to submission for commercial approval... 

 

http://www.b3cnewswire.com/201504101194/futuragenes-eucalyptus-is-approved-for-commercial-use-in-brazil.html

 

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Rice can "borrow" immunity from other plant species - UC Davis (2015)

Like most other plants, rice is well equipped with an effective immune system that enables it to detect and fend off disease-causing microbes. But that built-in immunity can be further boosted when the rice plant receives a receptor protein from a completely different plant species, suggests a new study... 


Receptors are specialized proteins that can recognize molecular patterns associated with disease-causing microbes, including bacteria and fungi, at the beginning of an infection. These receptors are found on the surface of plant cells, where they play a key role in the plant’s early warning system... 

Rice and other grasses that sprout with a single seed leaf, contains different receptor proteins than does the dicotyledon group... like beans, which germinate with two seed leaves...

 

Receptors introduced to rice from the Arabidopsis plants via genetic engineering were able to make use of the rice plants’ built-in immune signaling mechanisms and cause the rice plants to launch a stronger defensive immune response against the invading bacteria... 

 

http://blogs.ucdavis.edu/egghead/2015/04/03/rice-can-borrow-stronger-immunity-from-other-plant-species-study-shows/

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1004809

 

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A 90-day Safety Assessment of Genetically Modified Rice Expressing Cry1Ab/1Ac Protein Using an Aquatic Animal Model - Zhu &al (2015) - J Agric Food Chem

A 90-day Safety Assessment of Genetically Modified Rice Expressing Cry1Ab/1Ac Protein Using an Aquatic Animal Model - Zhu &al (2015) - J Agric Food Chem | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In the fields of transgenic Bt rice, frogs are exposed to Bt proteins through consumption of both target and non-target insects. In the present study, we assessed the risk posed by transgenic rice expressing a Cry1Ab/1Ac fusion protein on the development of Xenopus laevis. For 90 days, froglets were fed a diet with 30% HH1 rice, 30% parental rice, or no rice as a control. Body weight and length were measured every 15 days.


After sacrificing the froglets, we performed a range of biological, clinical, and pathological assessments. No significant differences were found in body weight, body length, and in animal behavior, organ weight, liver and kidney function, and or in the microstructure of some tissues between the froglets fed on the HH1-containing diet and those fed on the MH63-containing or control diets.


This indicates that frog development was not adversely affected by dietary intake of Cry1Ab/1Ac protein.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jf5055547

 

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The future of starch bioengineering: GM microorganisms or GM plants? - Hebelstrup &al (2015) - Front Plant Sci

Plant starches regularly require extensive modification to permit subsequent applications. Such processing is usually done by the use of chemical and/or physical treatments. The use of recombinant enzymes produced by large-scale fermentation of GM microorganisms is increasingly used in starch processing and modification, sometimes as an alternative to chemical or physical treatments.

 

However, as a means to impart the modifications as early as possible in the starch production chain, similar recombinant enzymes may also be expressed in planta in the developing starch storage organ such as in roots, tubers and cereal grains to provide a GM crop as an alternative to the use of enzymes from GM microorganisms... In planta starch bioengineering is generally challenged by yield penalties and inefficient production of the desired product. However in some situations, GM crops for starch bioengineering without deleterious effects have been achieved...

 

We have compared the use of starch modifying enzymes produced by GM microrganisms with the expression of these enzymes directly in crops. In summary we find that in planta starch bioengineering by expression of starch modifying enzymes directly in crop storage organs faces a number of challenges that need to be addressed further. In particular, starch bioengineering may sometimes be associated with significant yield loss...

 

Only a few studies have been carried through to agronomic field trials. The physiological conditions in amyloplasts of crop starch organs may not be optimal for starch modifying enzymes of non-plant origin, and in several studies only very small amounts of the desired product is formed. However, the method looks promising for situations where the transgenic enzymes remain inactive during crop development, so that the above mentioned deleterious effects are avoided.

 

For example crops expressing thermophilic hydrolytic enzymes, which are activated by heat, have been shown to reduce production costs and energy and water usage of grain processing. Other methods of “post-harvest” activation of transgenic enzymes in crops could be explored. In other situations there may not be a biotechnological alternative to transgenic enzyme expression directly in developing crop organs. For example starch kinases have been used to increase starch phosphate content in cereal grains and in potatoes, whereas there are currently no reports that a similar modification can be made during post-harvest starch processing... 

 

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpls.2015.00247/abstract

 

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Is the economic benefit of Bt cotton dying away in China - Qiao & Yao (2015) - China Agricultural Economic Review

Is the economic benefit of Bt cotton dying away in China - Qiao & Yao (2015) - China Agricultural Economic Review | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The purpose of this study is trying to empirically answer whether the economic benefit of Bt cotton is dying away in China. [With] the development of the pest resistance and the outbreak of the secondary pest, it was believed that economic benefit of Bt cotton is dying away. And reduction of cotton sown area in recent years had been considered as one of the consequences.

 

This study empirically estimates the impact of Bt cotton adoption on cotton sown area. This paper uses regression techniques based on provincial level data... This study shows that the adoption of Bt cotton has positive impact on cotton sown area. On the other hand, the increasing labor cost and decreasing cotton price might be the real reasons behind the decrease of cotton sown area... 

 

http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/CAER-01-2013-0008

 

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New research finds consumers willing to spend more for biotech potato products - Iowa State U (2015)

New research finds consumers willing to spend more for biotech potato products - Iowa State U (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

New research found consumers were willing to spend more for genetically modified potato products with reduced levels of a chemical compound linked to cancer... The findings underscore the importance of efforts to educate consumers on the use of biotechnology in the production of healthful food... 

Acrylamide is a chemical compound that studies have linked to the formation of cancer in animals, and the FDA has encouraged Americans to cut back on foods that contain the substance. It accumulates naturally in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures, such as roasted nuts and coffee beans or the crusts of bread. Potato products like french fries and potato chips make up the biggest source...

Potato growers have tried conventional plant breeding techniques to cut down on the formation of acrylamide, but biotechnology and genetic modification have yielded more promising results...

To gauge consumer attitudes toward experimental genetically modified potato products... the results of the research showed a willingness among consumers to pay more for genetically modified potato products that reduce the formation of acrylamide than for conventional potatoes. That provides evidence that consumers are willing to pay more for enhanced food safety, even when it’s delivered through biotech methods... 

 

For instance, participants were willing to pay $1.78 more for a five-pound bag of potatoes after they received information from a scientific perspective on hazards associated with acrylamide exposure and a potato industry perspective on dramatically reducing acrylamide in potato products using biotechnology... “There was a really strong effect from the industry and scientific perspectives... Another interesting finding was that social and demographic concerns didn’t seem to matter”... 

http://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2015/03/10/biotechpotatoes

 

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Sammie Bryant's curator insight, March 22, 9:54 PM

this article relates to our agriculture unit. this article is different because while most of the kids in my class are opposed to genetically modified foods, this shows that there are some people willing to pay more because it IS genetically modified. this shows that maybe, with the advancement of the green revolution, we can make genetically modified foods have benefits: in this case, a potato may reduce the risk of cancer.

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Pesticides Not the Sole Culprit in Honey Bee Colony Declines - U Maryland (2015)

Pesticides Not the Sole Culprit in Honey Bee Colony Declines - U Maryland (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Field-based study shows honey bee colonies are not harmed by realistic levels of exposure to the world’s most common insecticide. 

Colony declines are a major threat to the world’s honey bees, as well as the many wild plants and crops the bees pollinate. Among the lineup of possible culprits – including parasites, disease, climate stress and malnutrition – many have pointed the finger squarely at insecticides as a prime suspect. However, a new study... shows that the world’s most common insecticide does not significantly harm honey bee colonies at real-world dosage levels.

 

The study... looked at the effects of the insecticide imidacloprid on honey bee colonies over a three-year period. To see significant negative effects, including a sharp decrease in winter survival rates, the researchers had to expose the colonies to at least four times as much insecticide encountered under normal circumstances. At 20 times the normal exposure levels, the colonies experienced more severe consequences. 

The study does not totally absolve imidacloprid of a causative role in honey bee colony declines. Rather, the results indicate that insecticides are but one of many factors causing trouble for the world’s honey bee populations. “Everyone is pointing the finger at these insecticides. If you pull up a search on the Internet, that’s practically all anyone is talking about... This paper says no, it’s not the sole cause. It contributes, but there is a bigger picture.”

Imidacloprid is one of a broad class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, so named because they are chemically derived from nicotine. In tobacco and other related plants, nicotine acts as a deterrent by poisoning would-be herbivores. While nicotine itself was once used as an insecticide, it has fallen out of favor because it is highly toxic to humans and breaks down rapidly in sunlight. Neonicotinoids have been engineered specifically to address these shortcomings.

“Imidacloprid is the most widely used insecticide in the world. It’s not restricted because it is very safe – an order of magnitude safer than organophosphates,” Dively said, drawing a comparison with a class of chemicals known to be highly toxic to nearly all living things.

For the study, Dively and his colleagues fed pollen dosed with imidacloprid to honey bee colonies. The team purposely constructed a worst-case scenario, even at lower exposure levels. For example, they fed the colonies tainted food for up to 12 continuous weeks. This is a much longer exposure than bee colonies would experience in real-world scenarios, because most crops do not bloom for such an extended period of time...

A synergistic combination of many factors is most likely to blame for colony declines. Climate stress could be taking a toll, and malnutrition could be a factor as well. The latter is a particular concern for industrial bee colonies that are rented to large-scale agricultural operations. These bees spend much of their time eating pollen from one or two crops, which throws their diet out of balance...

At the highest dosage levels (20 times the realistic dosage) colonies became more susceptible to Varroa mites, parasites that target honey bee colonies. A mite infestation can cause a whole variety of problems, including viral infections and an increased need for other pesticides to control the mites. “It’s a multifactorial issue, with lots of stress factors”... 

 

http://cmns.umd.edu/news-events/features/2877

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0118748

 

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Greater-than-additive management effects key in reducing corn yield gaps - U Illinois (2015)

Greater-than-additive management effects key in reducing corn yield gaps - U Illinois (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

While many recent studies have documented that agricultural producers must significantly increase yields in order to meet the food, feed, and fuel demands of a growing population, few have given practical solutions on how to do this... 


A recent study ... provides the first estimate of the corn yield gap for the U.S. Corn Belt. In order to quantify the corn yield gap, which they define as the difference between a farmer’s actual yield and the potential yield for that field, researchers studied combinations of five different management factors in corn-following-soybean trials to determine their effect on yield, both individually and cumulatively.

 

By using an intensified management system that included increased plant population, transgenic (Bt trait) insect resistance, strobilurin-containing fungicide, balanced crop nutrition (phosphorus-sulfur-zinc), and supplemental side-dressed nitrogen, the researchers saw a yield increase of 28 percent more corn grain compared to that of a standard management system. This study indicates that corn yields in Illinois can be increased by about 28 percent using commercially available technologies and hybrids.

 

More important, the study concluded that no single factor or technology accounted for this increase in yields; rather, it was the result of a consistently observed greater-than-additive effect of factors acting together that produced the highest yields. All factors, except for plant population, were necessary for maximizing yield and reducing the yield gap... 

 

While the yield contribution of each factor was greatest when applied as part of the full complement of advanced-level inputs... the two management factors that were consistently the most influential for increasing yields were the Bt-trait and the strobilurin-containing fungicide. 


When the Bt-traited hybrid was omitted from the high tech system, they saw an 8.7 percent yield decrease and a yield increase of 4.5 percent when the Bt trait was added to the traditional system. “Farmers know that the hybrid trait is critical,” Gentry said. “They pay more for the seed, but this study shows that they are compensated in terms of their yields. And, environmentally, we’re applying less insecticides”... 

 

“The value of the added yield would not compensate for the cost of the extra inputs, especially when corn prices are low. This study was a first step towards a greater understanding of how we can increase yields in the U.S. Corn Belt to meet increasing demand for corn... 


This principle that there is a ‘synergistic’ or greater-than-additive yield response under more intensively managed systems is new knowledge. Corn yields with today’s hybrids do have the potential to increase with the application of protection chemicals and by making crop nutrients more plant-available”...


The researchers hypothesize that corn yields can be further increased in a sustainable way, even beyond the results demonstrated in this study, with continued crop breeding efforts, advancements in fertilizer formulations and placement technology, and possibly, with the development of effective plant growth promoters... 

 

http://research.aces.illinois.edu/content/greater-additive-management-effects-key-reducing-corn-yield-gaps

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.2134/agronj14.0355

 

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Environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996-2013: impacts on pesticide use and carbon emissions - Brookes & Barfoot (2015) - GM Crops Food

Environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) crop use 1996-2013: impacts on pesticide use and carbon emissions - Brookes & Barfoot (2015) - GM Crops Food | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

This paper updates previous assessments of how crop biotechnology has changed the environmental impact of global agriculture. It focuses on the environmental impacts associated with changes in pesticide use and greenhouse gas emissions arising from the use of GM crops since their first widespread commercial use in the mid 1990s.

 

The adoption of GM insect resistant and herbicide tolerant technology has reduced pesticide spraying by 553 million kg (-8.6%) and, as a result, decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on these crops (as measured by... the Environmental Impact Quotient) by19.1%. The technology has also facilitated important cuts in fuel use and tillage changes, resulting in a significant reduction in the release of greenhouse gas emissions from the GM cropping area. In 2013, this was equivalent to removing 12.4 million cars from the roads.

 

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21645698.2015.1025193

 

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Miles Gibson's curator insight, March 18, 12:54 AM

Unit 5 agriculture

This article explains how genetically modified foods have benefited the planet by releasing less green house gases and creating less co2 emission through the less use of pesticides. This is showing the overall benefits of pesticide removal and transition to the gmos.

This article relates to unit 5 because it shows how the agribusinesses and genetically modified foods have had major benefits in society. This shows the common wealth of an evermore expanding business that is now irreversible and so therefore should be expanded since there is no return.

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Global Income and Production Impacts of Using GM Crop Technology 1996-2013 - Brookes & Barfoot (2015) - GM Crops & Food

Global Income and Production Impacts of Using GM Crop Technology 1996-2013 - Brookes & Barfoot (2015) - GM Crops & Food | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

This paper provides an economic assessment of the value of using genetically modified (GM) crop technology in agriculture at the farm level. It follows and updates earlier annual studies which examined economic impacts on yields, key costs of production, direct farm income and effects, and impacts on the production base of the four main crops of soybeans, corn, cotton and canola.

 

The commercialisation of GM crops has continued to occur at a rapid rate since the mid 1990s, with important changes in both the overall level of adoption and impact occurring in 2013. This annual updated analysis shows that there continues to be very significant net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $20.5 billion in 2013 and $133.4 billion for the eighteen year period (in nominal terms).

 

These economic gains have been divided roughly 50% each to farmers in developed and developing countries. About 70% of the gains have derived from yield and production gains with the remaining 30% coming from cost savings. The technology have also made important contributions to increasing global production levels of the four main crops, having added 138 million tonnes and 273 million tonnes respectively, to the global production of soybeans and maize since the introduction of the technology in the mid 1990s. 

 

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21645698.2015.1022310

 

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Genomic breeding for food, environment and livelihoods - Rivers &al (2015) - Food Sec

Genomic breeding for food, environment and livelihoods - Rivers &al (2015) - Food Sec | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Land use management is a central challenge for the 21st century with unprecedented and competing demands to produce food, feed/fodder, fibre, fuel, and essential ecosystem services which sustain life. Global change requires rapid adaptation in current and emerging crops as well as in the foundation species of natural ecosystems.


Revolutions in genomics and high throughput experimentation are transforming breeding so that adaptive traits in new environments can be predicted and selected more directly from germplasm collections of crops and wild species. This genomic breeding is now feasible in almost any species and has promise to help meet the need to feed and nourish over 9 billion people by 2050.


Genomic techniques can accelerate our response to food security challenges of yield, quality and resilience and also address environmental security challenges. To achieve its potential there will need to be widespread and ongoing investments in the human capital to promote genomic breeding... 

 

Advanced plant science and genomics have revolutionised breeding and crop improvement, and will continue to do so. Innovation in collecting genotypes, phenotypes, and intermediate characteristics, is allowing new crop varieties to be selected faster and more accurately than ever before.


With genomic techniques researchers can help address food security challenges of yield, quality, resilience, and other environmental and social needs. Investing in the human capital to perform genomic breeding is needed to improve food security, environments and livelihoods.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12571-015-0431-3

 

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UK funders demand strong statistics for animal studies - Nature (2015)

UK funders demand strong statistics for animal studies - Nature (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Replace, refine, reduce: the 3 Rs of ethical animal research are widely accepted around the world. But now the message from UK funding agencies is that some experiments use too few animals, a problem that leads to wastage and low-quality results... 

The research councils responsible for channelling government funding to scientists... announced changes to their guidelines for animal experiments. Funding applicants must now show that their work will provide statistically robust results – not just explain how it is justified and set out the ethical implications – or risk having their grant application rejected.

The move aims to improve the quality of medical research, and will help to address widespread concerns that animals – mostly mice and rats – are being squandered in tiny studies that lack statistical power. “If the study is underpowered your results are not going to be reliable... These animals are going to be wasted”... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/520271a

 

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The Food and Environmental Safety of Bt Crops - Koch &al (2015) - Plant Biotechnol

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) microbial pesticides have a 50-year history of safe use in agriculture. Cry proteins are among the active insecticidal ingredients in these pesticides, and genes coding for Cry proteins have been introduced into agricultural crops using modern biotechnology...

 

Environmental studies are performed and include invertebrates, mammals and avian species... In addition to the [non-target organism] assessment, the environmental assessment includes a comparative assessment between the Bt crop and the appropriate conventional control that is genetically similar but lacks the introduced trait to address unintended effects.

 

Specific phenotypic, agronomic, and ecological characteristics are measured in the Bt crop and the conventional control to evaluate whether the introduction of the insect resistance has resulted in any changes that might cause ecological harm in terms of altered weed characteristics, susceptibility to pests, or adverse environmental impact.

 

Additionally, environmental interaction data are collected in field experiments for Bt crop to evaluate potential adverse effects. Further to the agronomic and phenotypic evaluation, potential movement of transgenes from a genetically modified crop plants into wild relatives is assessed for a new pest resistance gene in a new crop.

 

This review summarizes the evidence for safety of crops containing Cry proteins for humans, livestock, and other non-target organisms... 

 

Cry Bt proteins, whether in microbial pesticide products or expressed in Bt crops, have been used and consumed safely for decades. The levels of Cry Bt protein in GM crops are very low and are often reduced further by food processing. In addition, extensive testing of Bt proteins... has not revealed any harm to non-target insects and other non-target species, including humans. This environmental safety profile for Bt crops largely reflects the high level of taxonomic specificity that has been achieved with Bt crops currently approved for cultivation.


Use of Bt crops provides benefits beyond insect control, such as significantly reducing small-molecule insecticide use for target pests controlled by Bt proteins, reducing applicator exposure to small-molecule insecticides, reducing greenhouse gases emissions by minimizing field spraying with self-propelled sprayers or other motorized equipment, and by potentially reducing fumonisin levels in maize grain.

 

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpls.2015.00283/abstract

 

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Carotenoid-enriched transgenic corn delivers bioavailable carotenoids to poultry and protects them against coccidiosis - Nogareda &al (2015) - Plant Biotechnol

Carotenoid-enriched transgenic corn delivers bioavailable carotenoids to poultry and protects them against coccidiosis - Nogareda &al (2015) - Plant Biotechnol | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Carotenoids are health-promoting organic molecules that act as antioxidants and essential nutrients. We show that chickens raised on a diet enriched with an engineered corn variety containing very high levels of four key carotenoids... are healthy and accumulate more bioavailable carotenoids in peripheral tissues, muscle, skin and fat, and more retinol in the liver, than birds fed on standard corn diets (including commercial corn supplemented with colour additives).

 

Birds were challenged with the protozoan parasite Eimeria tenella and those on the high-carotenoid diet grew normally, suffered only mild disease symptoms (diarrhoea, footpad dermatitis and digital ulcers) and had lower faecal oocyst counts than birds on the control diet.

 

Our results demonstrate that carotenoid-rich corn maintains poultry health and increases the nutritional value of poultry products without the use of feed additives.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12369

 

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The impact of secondary pests on Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops - Catarino &al (2015) - Plant Biotechnol J

The impact of secondary pests on Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops - Catarino &al (2015) - Plant Biotechnol J | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The intensification of agriculture and the development of synthetic insecticides enabled worldwide grain production to more than double in the last third of the 20th century. However, the heavy dependence and, in some cases, overuse of insecticides has been responsible for negative environmental and ecological impacts across the globe... The use of recombinant DNA technology to develop genetically engineered insect-resistant crops could mitigate many of the negative side effects of insecticides.


One such genetic alteration enables crops to express toxic crystalline (Cry) proteins from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Despite the widespread adoption of Bt crops, there are still... unanswered questions concerning longer term agro-ecosystem interactions. For instance, insect species that are not susceptible to the expressed toxin can develop into secondary pests... Here, we review the main causes surrounding secondary pest dynamics in Bt crops and the impact of such outbreaks... 


Overall, commercialized Bt crops have performed well against their target pests. Additionally, due to the high specificity and efficiency of Bt Cry toxins, it is generally accepted that any eventual detrimental impact on nontarget organisms (NTO) is lower than that caused by broad-spectrum insecticides. The reduced use of insecticides may then allow for a higher diversity and density of beneficial arthropods. Also, in theory, the reduced reliance on insecticides enabled by Bt crops can lead to a reduction in farm operations with associated economic, environmental and social benefits... 


This study focuses on the development and effects of secondary pests on Bt crops... It is evident from the literature that, due to lower insecticide applications, secondary pests that are not susceptible to the expressed toxin are becoming an increasing concern in some agro-ecosystems where Bt crops are grown... These may not be serious enough to undermine the use of the technology, but do require further exploration so that practical and economically viable advice can be given to farmers and so that regulators are aware of potential issues and risks during a crop's approval phase.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12363

 

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Study of some economically important under-utilized crops for cultivation on wastelands and biotechnology approaches for propagation and gene cloning - Kumar & Agrawal (2015) - IJRBS

With an ever increasing population, there is a very rapid depletion of natural resources. Degradation of land, which is a non-renewable resource, often occurs under conditions of rapid growth of human population. Consequently, land available for primary production of biomass is getting more scarce.

 

Therefore, it has become very necessary to explore some plant resources which can be cultivated on wastelands and tackle the problem of land degradation. Focus should be on some under-utilized but potential industrial crops like Jojoba, Jatropha, Colocynth, Guayule, Paradise tree, which are lesser known species in terms of trade and research but highly economically useful and also well adapted to stress conditions.

 

These crops being desert shrub and semi-xerophytic in nature, require less water and can tolerate saline as well as alkaline soils. Such crops are very useful for sustainable development of wastelands as these can be cultivated at large-scale on degraded lands. In these economically important crops, biotechnological approaches can be very useful for their mass propagation and cloning of genes coding for economic important traits.

 

http://www.ijrbs.in/vol_detail.php?id=19

 

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Mobilizing the Planet’s Genetic Diversity with Synthetic Biology - WIRED (2015)

Mobilizing the Planet’s Genetic Diversity with Synthetic Biology - WIRED (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

1,4-Butanediol isn't exactly the flashiest product on the market... the thick, colorless liquid is one of those “industrial chemicals” that makes the eyes glaze over. But the diminutive molecule is worth... an estimated global market cap of $2 billion. Ultimately, 1,4-butanediol, also known as BDO, facilitates the production of a range of plastics, polyurethanes, and elastic fibers, making everything from skateboards to Spandex possible.

In a story that is increasingly pervasive in the field of molecular synthesis, BDO’s chemical production protocol – typically involving toxic reactants like formaldehyde – is being challenged by a biological approach. Several years ago, Genomatica secured a patent for “a non-naturally occurring microbial organism” that contains five exogenous genes “expressed in sufficient amounts to produce 1,4-BDO”... 

An important step for an evolving field, a step that was made possible through gene synthesis technologies. To design their BDO production pathway, Genomatica researchers looked for enzymes that could accomplish each reaction and placed them together into a stable host microorganism. With control over the sequences being used, the whole process took just a few years.

This rapid march to market was not the norm... in the late 1990s, DuPont engineered a microbe to produce a similar chemical, 1,3-propanediol. But it took more than a decade... “because they worked a lot more with natural sequences, strain optimization, and much more trial and error.” With a design perspective enabled by gene synthesis, however, Genomatica “was much faster in the process from idea to commercially viable product” ...

A wide range of the planet’s genetic diversity is newly accessible in the service of biomolecule synthesis. In the past, only genes from well-understood, culturable organisms could be manipulated, and even then the process was cumbersome. But as DNA sequencing and synthesis technologies have advanced, “a lot of the sequences people use... come from difficult-to-cultivate organisms or from metagenomic sequences” ... 

This unparalleled freedom has created a new sense of biological possibility. “Modifying a physical template by PCR or mutagenesis only allows you to make a limited number of changes... but de novo writing of biological information has completely opened up how far you can think, and how far you can go.” 

 

http://www.wired.com/2015/03/mobilizing-planets-genetic-diversity-synthetic-biology/

 

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Do the new EU GMO rules comply with its WTO obligations? - ILO (2015)

Do the new EU GMO rules comply with its WTO obligations? - ILO (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

On March 2 2015 the Council of the European Union... adopted new rules with respect to the approval of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that allow member states to ban or restrict the cultivation of GMOs in their territory, even if such cultivation has been approved at EU level. 

The European Union expects that most prohibitions or restrictions under the new rules will be implemented at EU level. However, member states will have the flexibility to adopt national cultivation restrictions on the basis of environmental or agricultural policy objectives or other compelling grounds (eg, town and country planning, land use, socio-economic [e]ffects, coexistence and public policy). Whether the new rules comply with relevant obligations of the European Union and its member states under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) remains an open question.

Before a GMO can be cultivated in the European Union it must undergo an approval process taking into account the direct, indirect, immediate and delayed effects on human health and the environment, in line with rules established in 2001. In addition to this risk assessment, the GMO must also comply with EU requirements on the marketing of seed and plant propagating material.

Under the old rules, a member state could ban or restrict the use of a GMO in its territory if it had evidence that the crop created a risk to human health or the environment. The opposition of certain member states meant that the EU-wide approval process has proved particularly difficult and few GMOs have ever been approved.

In this respect, it is worth recalling that the European Union's approval process for GMOs and certain related member state 'safeguard measures' preventing the marketing and import of GMOs and GMO-containing products were successfully challenged before the WTO by Argentina, Canada and the United States in 2006... the member state 'safeguard measures' violated the SPS Agreement because they were not based on a risk assessment. Since the GMO crops in question had already been approved at EU level – which included individual risk assessments... – the subsequent member state prohibitions could not be justified on the basis of the crops' alleged risks. 


Under the new rules, a member state has the flexibility to restrict or ban GMO cultivation in its territory without affecting the risk assessment for EU-wide authorisations: by seeking to amend the geographical scope of the authorisation during the EU level approval procedure; or after the GMO has been approved at EU level, by seeking to restrict it...


Under the relevant WTO rules, in particular the SPS Agreement, the European Union and its member states have committed to certain obligations in respect of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, which... can be imposed only if they are: necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health; based on scientific principles; and not maintained without sufficient scientific evidence. These measures must also be based on an appropriate assessment of the alleged risks... They cannot be more trade-restrictive than necessary to achieve the appropriate level of protection.

If the European Union's new rules qualify as an SPS measure, they must comply with all of the above WTO obligations. It is questionable whether the non-scientific public policy grounds relating to "town and country planning, land use, socio-economic impacts, coexistence and public policy" are permissible under the WTO rules for justifying a measure taken to prevent the spreading of disease and to protect human, animal or plant life or health. The specific language of the SPS Agreement and the well-established jurisprudence in respect of the need for a scientific justification of SPS measures seems to suggest otherwise.

Although the new GMO rules seek to disconnect the EU-wide approval process from individual member state consent – thereby limiting the risk of delays for implementation in at least some member states – they seem to have replaced one problematic situation with another. In situations where a GMO crop is authorised at EU level, after having passed an individual risk assessment, a member state would nevertheless be allowed to restrict or prohibit cultivation in its territory for reasons unrelated to the protection of human, animal or plant life or health. Allowing member states to ban GMOs from their territory for reasons other than health protection, without scientific evidence or a proper risk assessment, or even in direct contradiction of the risk assessment conducted at EU level demonstrating an absence of risk, appears to be problematic under relevant WTO law.

 

http://www.internationallawoffice.com/newsletters/detail.aspx?g=706428c7-8daa-4654-a92b-b05468391abc

 

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Can GMOs Save Chocolate? – National Geographic (2015)

Can GMOs Save Chocolate? – National Geographic (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

GMOs may be able to save chocolate. The bigger question is whether we want them to. Chocolate... is in trouble. The average American eats about 12 pounds of chocolate a year... But all that indulgence may be coming to an end. A chocolate shortage, to the tune of one million metric tons, is predicted to hit within the next five years, the result of climate change, disease, and the demands of rapidly growing populations of chocolate lovers in China and India.


The Nature Conservation Research Center based in Ghana – the world’s second-largest producer of chocolate after the Ivory Coast – predicts glumly that within the next 20 years, chocolate will be as rare and as expensive as caviar.

Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree, borne in football-sized pods that sprout directly out of the trunk. Dubbed... “food of the gods,” cacao is just what one might expect from an ancient, double-dealing deity: a delicious and addictive treat paired with a plant that is tricky, if not downright impossible, to grow. Cacao, believed to have originated in the steamy Amazon rainforest, is reluctant to adapt to conditions other than those of home: it now only grows in a belt 20 degrees north or south of the Equator...

Along with its geographical limitations, cacao is stunningly susceptible to disease – notably to witches’ broom, a fungus that wiped out the cacao trees of Ecuador in the 1920s, and devastated the chocolate plantations of Brazil... in a ten-year period... Worldwide today, cacao farmers lose an annual $750 million to disease.

Cacao trees are also painfully slow growers. It can take up to five years for a tree to produce fruit, and as long as ten before it becomes clear that the tree has desirable traits such as disease resistance or ultra-flavorful seeds... The conventional breeding process, given cacao’s tortoise-like growth rate, won’t be easy.

Conventional cacao breeding is also unpredictable. Take, for example, CCN-51... this is the cacao variety now generally acknowledged to be the world’s best bet to stave off chocolate disaster... is sturdy, disease-resistant, and prolific, producing four to ten times the yield of run-of-the-mill cacao trees. The bad news, however, is that its seeds taste lousy... Critics compare it to rusty nails, vinegar, wood shavings, and “acidic dirt.”

Despite the drawbacks, however, some large chocolate manufacturers have come around to CNN-51. About 95 percent of chocolate is made from “bulk beans,” generally inferior stuff which is heavily processed and beefed up with sugar and added flavors, such as vanilla. For such purposes, CNN-51 is just fine; and the belief is that most consumers won’t notice a difference.

For artisanal chocolate makers, however, who depend on delectable flavor beans for their high-end products, it’s a different story. “Artisan chocolate... is like a good bottle of wine,” carefully blended by master chocolatiers to contain just the right bouquet of flavor notes... These people aren’t likely to adopt a bean, no matter how prolific, that smacks of acidic dirt.

It may be time to turn to genetic engineering. The genome of the cacao plant has been sequenced as of 2011... From among chocolate’s approximately 30,000 genes (that is, about 10,000 more than us), scientists have identified gene sequences that govern disease resistance and direct the production of helpful metabolites and flavor components... 


Some researchers point out that creating an ideal GMO chocolate isn’t going to be easy. Chocolate is a mind-bogglingly complex food, containing some 600 different flavor components. (Even red wine boasts a mere 200.) Cobbling together the right mix of flavors – along with disease-resistance, a rapid growth rate, and high productivity – may prove to be an heroic task. Still, given increasing world demand and the cacao tree’s environmentally dicey future, it may be our best chance to save chocolate as we all know and love it. 

 

http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/18/can-gmos-save-chocolate/

 

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Zohair Ahmed's curator insight, March 22, 3:54 PM

Chocolate has been enjoyed by many Americans and Europeans, but as more and more chocolate lovers are born (China and India) the delicacy becomes more sparce. Chocolate is in trouble, the cacao trees which produces the cocoa needed for chocolate is a very hard plant to grow, and has many diseases attacking it. The trees are extremely hard to grow, and also bear fruit in 5 years, sometimes even 10! The cocoa conventional cacao tree breading is also unpredictable, and has been criticized as lousy or a nasty taste. This makes many people turn to GMO's as a solution. GMO'S would help make then resistant to the diseases and insects, but there is an overwhelming opposition to the solution of GMO'S. GMO's are a major topic of Unit 5.

Norman Warthmann's curator insight, March 22, 8:52 PM

maybe a chocolate shortage is a good thing ?! however, probably the best bet is to grow the plants outside the native range of the pathogen.

ChocoFinder's curator insight, March 31, 8:31 AM

#chocolate #chocolateshortage #GMOs

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Vietnam approves commercial crops of GMO corn to cut imports - Thanhnien News (2015)

Vietnam approves commercial crops of GMO corn to cut imports - Thanhnien News (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Vietnamese farmers nationwide are now able to plant three varieties of genetically-modified (GM) corn... according to a new government's rule announced Wednesday. The three varieties... will be supplied to corn farms nationwide with each variety being distributed to specific regions, said the decision from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. NK66 BT in particular will be supplied to regions with European corn borers, NK66 GT for places with strong weeds and the other for farms susceptible to both the borers and weeds... 


“GM corn will be used for animal feed only and thus, it does not require special labeling,” he said. Earlier, the agriculture ministry has approved result of tests for impacts to the environment and biodiversity of NK66 corn. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has also issued certificate for bio-safety for the three GM corn varieties. Last August, the agriculture ministry approved the imports of four corn varieties engineered for food and animal feed processing... 


Those developments and the latest bio-safety certificate for the three GM corn varieties... were in line with a 2006 ambitious plan to develop biotech crops as part of a “major program for the development and application of biotechnology in agriculture and rural development.”
The plan aimed to cultivate Vietnam's first GM crops by 2015 and have 30-50 percent of the country’s farmland covered with genetically modified organisms by 2020. 


An increasing number of Vietnamese officials and scientists have touted the need to grow GM corn to reduce Vietnam’s dependence on imports. Vietnam currently imports 1.5 million tons of corn for feeding animals every year from Brazil, Argentina, and the US, including GM varieties... 

 

http://www.thanhniennews.com/business/vietnam-approves-commercial-crops-of-gmo-corn-to-cut-imports-40016.html

 

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Genetically Manipulating Plants Can Reduce their Water Needs - Wiley (2015)

Genetically Manipulating Plants Can Reduce their Water Needs - Wiley (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Improving the efficiency by which crops use water is a critical priority for regions facing increased drought or diminished groundwater resources. Now researchers have found that this can be achieved by genetically altering plants’ stomata, the tiny openings on the leaf surface through which carbon dioxide is absorbed and water evaporates. “We now have genetic tools to pre-adapt crops to future, drier climates. The goal here is to maintain or improve productivity with less water”... 

 

http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/PressRelease/pressReleaseId-116925.html

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/nph.13347

 

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Genetically modified people - Economist (2015)

Genetically modified people - Economist (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Opponents of genetically modified crops often complain that moving genes between species is unnatural. Leaving aside the fact that the whole of agriculture is unnatural, this is still an odd worry. It has been known for a while that some genes move from one species to another... in a process called horizontal gene transfer... Only recently, though, has it become clear just how widespread such natural transgenics is. What was once regarded as a peculiarity of lesser organisms has now been found to be true in human beings, too... 

Results... suggest human beings have at least 145 genes picked up from other species by their forebears. Admittedly, that is less than 1% of the 20,000 or so humans have in total. But it might surprise many people that they are even to a small degree part bacterium, part fungus and part alga... 


On average, worms had 173 horizontally transferred genes, flies had 40 and primates had 109. Humans thus had more than the primate mean. Many of the matches are to genes of unknown purpose – for it is still the case, more than a decade after the end of the human genome project, that the jobs of many genes remain obscure. But some human transgenes are surprisingly familiar... 


Altogether, the researchers found two imported genes for amino-acid metabolism, 13 for fat metabolism and 15 which are involved in the post-manufacture modification of large molecules. They also identified five immigrants that generate antioxidants and seven that are part of the immune system.

This is quite a catalogue. If anything similar were inserted by genetic engineers into corn or cattle, there would no doubt be an outcry. In humans, however, they are doing a good job... Nevertheless there was once a moment for all of them when they were just as alien as a bacterial insecticide is in a maize plant or a herbicide-resistance gene is in a soyabean. 

 

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21646197-human-beings-ancestors-have-routinely-stolen-genes-other-species-genetically

 

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Scotts' GM grass grows free from regulation - Nature Biotechnol (2015)

Scotts' GM grass grows free from regulation - Nature Biotechnol (2015) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Scotts Miracle-Gro is developing a turf grass that has been genetically modified (GM) to grow shorter, thicker and darker green than its conventional counterparts. The enhanced grass... is yet another novel plant to fall outside the purview of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)...


Scotts says the grass... will require less mowing and fewer nutrient inputs and is also glyphosate tolerant. The genetic material that conferred these traits in the new grass comes from various undisclosed plants and is integrated using established biolistics technology. In this technique, a gene gun bombards cells with heavy metal particles coated with plasmid DNA fired at high speed. Because this transformation technique requires no genetic material from bacteria, viruses or other organisms considered plant pests, the resulting enhanced plants are not subject to oversight by the USDA... 


A concern that some researchers and growers have raised about Scotts' tall fescue is that it can cross with non-GM grass species, potentially causing market disruptions for other growers, particularly those who export to countries where GM plants are not permitted. And unlike for grasses that are subject to USDA's oversight, Scotts doesn't have to publicly disclose whether or not it is conducting field trials or the genes it is using to confer the traits – something that must be done for regulated GM plants before commercialization. Without knowing what the transgenic material is, “we don't even know how to test for it,” says Carol Mallory-Smith, a weed scientist... 


The company... says it will insert into the trait construct of its GM grasses a genetic marker and can provide sequence information to interested parties, such as non-GM grass producers, weed scientists and governments, who want to identify the GM cultivars... 


The grass set a precedent... various developers have inquired about at least 20 different biotech plants. In all but three of those cases, the agency has agreed that the plants do not require oversight... For example, the USDA has said it has no authority to oversee a GM loblolly pine with increased wood density made by... Arborgen, and a GM soybean engineered for altered flavonoid profiles made by the University of Georgia...


http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nbt0315-223


Alexander J. Stein's insight:

So, for regulatory reasons, for developers it's better to use "established biolistics technology"... 

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