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Global network to increase wheat yield, fight hunger - CIMMYT (2012)

To meet the global demand for wheat, wheat yield needs to be increased by 60% by 2050 or 1.6% per year. While scientific evidence suggests that the yield potential could be increased by 50% or more, the research needed is beyond the current capacity of individual institutions or national research programs. Therefore, the establishment of an international Wheat Yield Network (WYN) was proposed... 

 

Increasing wheat yield is currently one of the biggest challenges to food security. However, investments in wheat research are low compared to other major crops, although wheat is currently second to rice as the main calorie source and the most important source of plant protein in human food. To achieve the goals of the proposed WYN – increasing the photosynthetic capacity of wheat, achieving high and stable harvest index and lodging resistance, and establishment of a state-of-the-art breeding platform to deliver new wheat lines from this work to the world – it is necessary not only to connect leading public and private research teams, but also to establish more research platforms in developing countries... 

 

importance of wheat for achieving food security... question whether wheat will be able to compete with other crops without increased research funding. “We need to supercharge wheat and make it competitive with maize”... 

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

[updated July 24, 2016]  

 

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.
Karen Ashby's curator insight, April 5, 4:26 AM

Conflicted about how your view on GM ties in with a career in Biotech? Look no further

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The plant engineer - Science (2016) 

The plant engineer - Science (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

As a child, Dan Voytas developed a green thumb and business savvy running his own seedling business. Now, marrying his academic research with a company, he's poised to reshape 21st century agriculture. Over the past 20 years, he has pioneered new ways of precisely editing a crop's DNA to give it new traits or delete undesirable ones. 


It's an approach that is potentially more powerful than the traditional way of making genetically modified (GM) crops, and because it leaves no foreign DNA behind, it could free these products from the stigma and regulatory burden of being labeled as GM organisms. But to get to this point, he has had to overcome recalcitrant technologies, navigate intellectual property fights, and endure commercial failures… 


Voytas’s love of plants was a constant in a childhood that took him from rural Minnesota, where his dad was a forester... to Harvard University. When he arrived... to start his freshman year, he immediately looked for the horticulture department – he planned to major in plant science – but discovered to his chagrin there was none. The best he could do was take a course in plant taxonomy. But he loved Cambridge, despite his mom’s concerns about there not being enough green grass and too many cars... 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.353.6305.1220


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
So that's the kind of ruthless people who develop GMOs and more advanced crops... 
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Naturally transgenic plants as a model for the study of the delayed environmental risks of GMO cultivation - Matveeva (2006) -  Russ J Genet Appl Res 

Naturally transgenic plants as a model for the study of the delayed environmental risks of GMO cultivation - Matveeva (2006) -  Russ J Genet Appl Res  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The development of genetic engineering raises the question of the biosafety of transgenic organisms... Concerns about the negative effects of GMO cultivation are associated with the possible leakage of transgenes through the crosspollination of closely related nontransgenic forms by transgenic pollen. 


Naturally transgenic plants are species that experienced agrobacterium-mediated transformation and retained a T-DNA-like sequence in their genomes. These species can be a model for the study of the delayed environmental risks associated with the leakage of transgenes...    


http://dx.doi.org/10.1134/S2079059716060046


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
"Natural GMOs", not an oxymoron... 
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Genetically engineered crops and pesticide use in U.S. maize and soybeans - Perry &al (2016) - Sci Advances 

Genetically engineered crops and pesticide use in U.S. maize and soybeans - Perry &al (2016) - Sci Advances  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The widespread adoption of genetically engineered (GE) crops has clearly led to changes in pesticide use, but the nature and extent of these impacts remain open questions. We study this issue with a unique, large, and representative sample of plot-level choices made by U.S. maize and soybean farmers from 1998 to 2011. On average, adopters of GE glyphosate-tolerant (GT) soybeans used 28% (0.30 kg/ha) more herbicide than nonadopters, adopters of GT maize used 1.2% (0.03 kg/ha) less herbicide than nonadopters, and adopters of GE insect-resistant (IR) maize used 11% (0.013 kg/ha) less insecticide than nonadopters. 


When pesticides are weighted by the environmental impact quotient[*], however, we find that (relative to nonadopters) GE adopters used about the same amount of soybean herbicides, 9.8% less of maize herbicides, and 10% less of maize insecticides. In addition, the results indicate that the difference in pesticide use between GE and non-GE adopters has changed significantly over time. For both soybean and maize, GT adopters used increasingly more herbicides relative to nonadopters, whereas adopters of IR maize used increasingly less insecticides. The estimated pattern of change in herbicide use over time is consistent with the emergence of glyphosate weed resistance.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1600850


* For a discussion of the EIQ see: http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2015/07/an-evaluation-of-the-environmental-impact-quotient-eiq/


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Proceedings of the FAO International Symposium on the Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition - FAO (2016) 

Proceedings of the FAO International Symposium on the Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition - FAO (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The FAO international symposium on “The role of agricultural biotechnologies in sustainable food systems and nutrition”… encompassed the crop, livestock, forestry and fishery sectors and was organized around three main themes: i) climate change; ii) sustainable food systems and nutrition; and iii) people, policies, institutions and communities. 


The proceedings provide the main highlights of the symposium which covered a broad range of biotechnologies, from low-tech approaches such as those involving use of microbial fermentation processes, biofertilizers, biopesticides and artificial insemination, to high-tech approaches such as those involving advanced DNA-based methodologies and genetically modified organisms... 


We face enormous challenges as we work to eradicate hunger, improve nutrition and make food systems more sustainable. Climate change in particular is undermining the livelihoods and food security of the world’s poor, 80 percent of whom live in rural areas and depend on agriculture, including forestry and fisheries. 


In addressing these challenges, we need to consider all possible approaches... the application of science and technology can play a substantial role. We must work to ensure that relevant knowledge and a broad portfolio of tools and practices are available to family farmers. 


It was in this context that FAO convened the international symposium on The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition... 


The symposium highlighted the important contribution that agricultural biotechnologies can make to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It also provided numerous examples where both low- and high-tech biotechnologies are being applied to meet the needs of family farmers... 


To meet the unprecedented challenges of the twenty-first century, a combination of responses from agroecology, agricultural biotechnologies and other approaches will be needed. The symposium indicated that agricultural biotechnologies and agroecology can be used as complementary options. 


These proceedings bring together the keynote addresses, perspectives from high-level government representatives, summaries of the symposium’s presentations and discussions, and more... [to] contribute to more informed discussions at national, regional and global levels on the role of agricultural biotechnologies in meeting the myriad challenges faced in achieving sustainable agriculture and food security. 


http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/66e9a36c-19b2-407a-83c9-5b767e233417/


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India’s first transgenic food crop edges toward approval - Science (2016) 

India’s first transgenic food crop edges toward approval - Science (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

India has moved a big step closer toward embracing its first genetically modified (GM) food crop. In a safety review released yesterday, the environment ministry finds that GM mustard “does not raise any public health or safety concerns for human beings and animals”...  

“The biosafety study that has been carried out is as thorough as it can be, and now ideology should not overwhelm scientific evidence” says Deepak Pental... who developed the GM variety... “The conclusions are based on inadequate experimentation,” says Pushpa M. Bhargava... Bhargava acknowledged that he had not fully read the report...  

India in 2004 introduced GM cotton, which now comprises more than 90% of all cotton cultivated in the country... In 2010, the environment ministry put on hold the commercial planting of GM brinjal... that thwarts insect pests. The moratorium continues and is unlikely to be lifted anytime soon. [AS: But in the meantime Bt brinjal is already cultivated in Bangladesh.] 

Prospects are looking brighter for GM mustard. India is one of the world’s biggest producers of mustard, which is cultivated for its edible leaves and oil. The GM variety... produces hybrids more easily in the usually self-pollinating crop. The GM-derived hybrids produce about 25% more seeds—and thus more oil, which is pressed from the seeds—than traditional varieties... 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aah7273


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
This focus on mustard being the first GM "food" crop in India is a bit misleading -- GM cottonseed oil is already used as food in India... 
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Farming adaptations to combat climate change impact crop yields in 2050 - U Illinois (2016) 

Farming adaptations to combat climate change impact crop yields in 2050 - U Illinois (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
As the globe continues to… a future with higher temperatures, crop yields will likely decrease if farmers do not adapt to new management or technology practices. Establishing new strategies is particularly difficult for sorghum farmers in West Africa where seed varieties and fertilizer are scarce, while drought and unpredictable rainfall are prevalent. Using more heat-resistant sorghum varieties may yield the most benefits… 

“Climate change will impact both natural and agricultural ecosystems on the planet. The difference is that farmers can do things to adapt to the changing climate, and hopefully alleviate the impacts on their crops”… Guan and his colleagues conducted a research project modeling practices farmers could adopt, weighing them against climate change scenarios. “We started with a long list of adaptation options, but we finally narrowed it down to five that we believe are more feasible options for the future and for the sorghum farmers in West Africa”… 

A summary of the findings show: 
- Late sowing, or choosing a safer time to plant, did not show much benefit. 
- Increasing seed density and using more fertilizer results in higher crop yield, with or without climate change. 
- Changing the length of thermal time required for sorghum to grow results in a reduction in crop yield. 
- Collecting rainfall to use during a dry spell will only marginally benefit crop yield with or without climate change. 
- Using sorghum varieties that are more resilient to heat stress during the flowering period proves to have the most potential for greater crop yield with higher temperatures in the future. 

“If farmers don’t do anything about climate change in West Africa, there will be a severe impact – a net loss in crop yield. We have to do something. We also discovered that most of the approaches are not as effective as what we expected… People have said for a long time that some adaptation should be possible. But identifying which specific investments are most likely to help, and by how much, is still a pressing need, especially given the billions of dollars now being earmarked for adaptation”… 

Getting new heat-tolerant varieties to West African farmers could be the next challenge. The current common practice is that farmers save seed from each year’s harvest and use the same variety over and over… government funding agencies or non-governmental organizations might be tapped to establish a way to distribute heat-tolerant sorghum varieties to these developing countries… 



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Sports drinks are dumb. This one is even dumber - Mother Jones (2016) 

Sports drinks are dumb. This one is even dumber - Mother Jones (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Sports drinks are an abomination. They're packed with stuff you almost never need in beverage form, even after a vigorous workout: electrolytes. And with something you should probably avoid: sugar. But what if you could wave a magic wand and make these garishly colored beverages organic? … PepsiCo… is betting that its new G Organic products will keep thirsty consumers coming back… 


Power G will contain about the same number of calories per serving as regular Gatorade… But here's the thing. Organic cane sugar, in high concentrations, packs just as much of a blow to your liver as regular sugar does. Note that a single serving of regular Gatorade delivers 34 grams of sugar – exceeding… the World Health Organization's recommendation for adults. 


If the organic product is similar in caloric levels… it will offer a similar jolt… In short, organic sports drinks are an abomination, too.


http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/08/sports-drinks-are-abomination-even-when-theyre-organic


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
It's exceedingly rare that I link an article by Philpott and/or Mother Jones, but I fully agree that organic -- and especially its unfounded health halo -- is overrated. So credit where credit is due... 
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The potential of using biotechnology to improve cassava: a review - Chavarriaga-Aguirre &al (2016) - In Vitro Cell Dev Biol Plant

The potential of using biotechnology to improve cassava: a review - Chavarriaga-Aguirre &al (2016) -  In Vitro Cell Dev Biol Plant | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Cassava as the fourth largest source of calories in the world requires that contributions of biotechnology to improving this crop… be periodically reviewed. Plant biotechnology offers a wide range of opportunities that can help cassava become a better crop for a constantly changing world… 


We analyze… knowledge to help cassava fight bacterial diseases and look at… resistance to viruses and whiteflies… The review also covers… nutritional improvement and mass production of healthy plants by tissue culture and synthetic seeds. Finally… the challenges associated to climate change for further improving the crop are discussed. 


During the last 30 years, great advances have been made in cassava using biotechnology, but they need to scale out of the proof of concept to the fields of cassava growers. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11627-016-9776-3


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On Mandatory Labeling, With Special Reference to Genetically Modified Foods - Sunstein (2016) - SSRN

On Mandatory Labeling, With Special Reference to Genetically Modified Foods - Sunstein (2016) - SSRN | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

As a result of movements for labeling food with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) Congress enacted a mandatory labeling requirement in 2016. These movements, and the legislation, raise recurring questions about mandatory product labels: whether there is a market failure, neoclassical or behavioral, that justifies them, and whether the benefits of such labels justify the costs. The first goal of this essay is to identify and to evaluate the four competing approaches that agencies now use to assess the benefits of mandatory labeling in general… 


People favor labeling GM food on the ground that it poses serious risks to human health and the environment, but… the prevailing scientific judgment is that it does no such thing. In the face of that judgment, some people respond that even in the absence of evidence of harm, people have “a right to know” about the contents of what they are eating. But there is a serious problem with this response: the benefits of such labels would appear to be lower than the costs… To the extent that they would be willing to pay for them, the reason is likely to be erroneous beliefs, which are not a sufficient justification for mandatory labels. Moreover, GMO labels might well lead people to think that the relevant foods are harmful and thus affirmatively mislead them. 


Some people think that the key issue involves the need to take precautions in the face of scientific uncertainty… The force of this response depends on the science: If there is a small or uncertain risk of serious harm, precautions may indeed be justified. If the risk is essentially zero, as many scientists have concluded, then precautions are difficult to justify. The discussion, though focused on GM foods, has implications for disclosure policies in general, which often raise difficult questions about hard-to-quantify benefits, the proper use of cost-benefit balancing, and the appropriate role of precautionary thinking. 


http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2824461


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Commercial Crop Yields Reveal Strengths and Weaknesses for Organic Agriculture in the United States - Kniss &al (2016) - PLoS ONE

Commercial Crop Yields Reveal Strengths and Weaknesses for Organic Agriculture in the United States - Kniss &al (2016) - PLoS ONE | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Land area devoted to organic agriculture has increased steadily over the last 20 years in the United States, and elsewhere around the world. A primary criticism of organic agriculture is lower yield compared to non-organic systems. 


Previous analyses documenting the yield deficiency in organic production have relied mostly on data generated under experimental conditions, but these studies do not necessarily reflect the full range of innovation or practical limitations that are part of commercial agriculture. 


The analysis we present here offers a new perspective, based on organic yield data collected from over 10,000 organic farmers... We used publicly available data... to estimate yield differences between organic and conventional production methods for the 2014 production year. 


Similar to previous work, organic crop yields in our analysis were lower than conventional crop yields for most crops. Averaged across all crops, organic yield averaged 80% of conventional yield. 


However, several crops had no significant difference in yields... and organic yields surpassed conventional yields for some hay crops. The organic to conventional yield ratio varied widely among crops, and in some cases, among locations within a crop… 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0161673


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
“Examination of commonalities and differences between organic and conventional production practices in states with the best and worst yield ratios could be informative.” 
>> True, but while conventional farmers can adopt any practice they find advantageous (and thus at least in principle produce as efficiently and sustainable as possible), organic farmers are constrained by what is permitted under the (arbitrary) rules of organic agriculture, i.e. they will necessarily always be dragging behind…
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A Chat With: U.S. nutritionist Julie Miller Jones speaks out about GE crops - CIMMYT (2016) 

A Chat With: U.S. nutritionist Julie Miller Jones speaks out about GE crops - CIMMYT (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Leading nutritionist Julie Miller Jones aims to bust myths about biotechnology by educating the general population on the benefits she believes genetically engineered (GE) crops can play in ending extreme hunger and malnutrition. A shift away from the perception that GE crops are unsafe to the environment and human health is needed if they are to live up to their potential to increase food production and improve nutrition to meet the needs of growing global population… 


Hunger and malnutrition are barriers to sustainable development, because they lead to lowered productivity, diminished health, limit the ability to improve livelihoods… There are nearly 800 million people who suffer from hunger worldwide, the majority in developing countries… A recent report released by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences… said there is no substantiated evidence that foods from GE crops are less safe than foods from non-GE crops… The general public must be educated about how biotechnology can safely improve food crops and contribute to nourishing a global population projected to grow… by 2050 to more than 9.7 billion. 


GE technologies enable the insertion from one species to another of genetic material (DNA) responsible, for example, for the production of vitamin precursors, such as pro-vitamin A carotenoids. Specific genes… can help address vitamin A shortages… Conventional breeding does not have this ability to insert desirable genes from one species to another, and GE technologies can therefore enhance the contribution of plant breeding in addressing significant public health problems… 


Miller Jones is outspoken about the negative consequences of gluten-free diets and has written several research papers that dispel myths generated by claims that the protein found in wheat is unhealthy. She is a certified nutrition specialist who is also a distinguished scholar and professor emeritus of nutrition… Interested in all aspects of nutrition science, she is actively involved in educating consumers against myths about nutrition and food safety… 


Jones… shared some insights on the future of agriculture… I’m interested in nutrition and feeding the world, I taught students about the Green Revolution… in the world food supply section of my class… What hasn’t been communicated effectively, so that the average person can understand and not fear the technology, is the risk of not using GE and other agricultural advancements. It’s ironic to me that those claiming to be interested in the environment often reject technologies that enable the use of fewer inputs and scarce resources… 


As a nutritionist and communicator, I want to work with breeders to ensure that nutrients are one of the aspects that are included in breeding programs. Further, I want to work with others to develop effective strategies to explain advancements in agriculture and plant breeding to reduce consumers’ fears and ease their acceptance and adoption. 


http://www.cimmyt.org/a-chat-with-u-s-nutritionist-julie-miller-jones-speaks-out-about-ge-crops/


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Pesticides used to help bees may actually harm them - Virginia Tech (2016) 

Pesticides used to help bees may actually harm them - Virginia Tech (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Pesticides beekeepers are using to improve honeybee health may actually be harming the bees by damaging the bacteria communities in their guts… The discovery… is a concern because alterations can affect the gut’s ability to metabolize sugars and peptides, processes that are vital for honeybee health. 


Beekeepers typically apply pesticides to hives to rid them of harmful parasites such as Varroa mites. “Although helpful for ridding hives of parasites and pathogens, the chemicals in beekeeper-applied pesticides can be harmful to the bees… pesticides could specifically impact the microbes that are crucial to honey bee nutrition and health”.. 


 In Virginia, the approximate rate of hive loss is more than 30 percent per year, and continued losses are expected to drive up the cost for important crops that bees make possible, such as apples, melon and squash. 


https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2016/08/080816-fralin-honeybees.html


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Transgenic farm animals: the status of research and prospects - Zinovieva &al (2016) - Russ J Genet Appl Res

Transgenic farm animals: the status of research and prospects - Zinovieva &al (2016) - Russ J Genet Appl Res | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The production of transgenic animals is of great interest... This... is a review of methods for the production of transgenic farm animals and their advantages and disadvantages. 


The advances in... genetic engineering of domestic animals are discussed, including the creation of animals with altered metabolism for higher quality and productivity, animals genetically resistant to infectious diseases, producers of biologically active recombinant proteins, donors of organs for human transplantation (xenotransplantation), and animal models.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1134/S2079059716060101


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The next green movement: Plant biology for the environment and sustainability - Jez &al (2016) - Sci 

The next green movement: Plant biology for the environment and sustainability - Jez &al (2016) - Sci  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

From domestication and breeding to the genetic engineering of crops, plants provide food, fuel, fibers, and feedstocks for our civilization. New research and discoveries aim to reduce the inputs needed to grow crops and to develop plants for environmental and sustainability applications. Faced with population growth and changing climate, the next wave of innovation in plant biology integrates technologies and approaches that span from molecular to ecosystem scales. Recent efforts to engineer plants for better nitrogen and phosphorus use, enhanced carbon fixation, and environmental remediation and to understand plant-microbiome interactions showcase exciting future directions for translational plant biology. These advances promise new strategies for the reduction of inputs to limit environmental impacts and improve agricultural sustainability… 


During the past century, agriculture moved beyond the knowledge of local farmers to become a global endeavor. Investments in fundamental plant biology and agriculture revolutionized food production, but larger problems loom ahead. To meet the challenges of this century, plant biologists are working on many fronts… to make sustainability a reality. In this next green movement, new technologies and multidisciplinary approaches are enabling the translation of fundamental plant biology knowledge toward the reduction of inputs and ecological footprints. Aside from technical hurdles, agro-economics, the evolutionary constraints of plants, and the public perception of plant biotechnology remain issues. 


Basic science opens many routes toward a sustainable future; however, crops are commodities with a narrow profit margin, which can temper the implementation of new varieties and practices. Breakthroughs must be useful, make economic sense, and be adaptable to multiple regions and agro-ecosystems worldwide. More frequently, the combination of classic breeding and genetic engineering supported by new technologies provides greater options. Natural variation remains essential for plant improvement, but biotechnology can target complicated traits not amenable to traditional breeding… 


This also highlights the potential limits of plant genetics. Modern crops evolved under “normal” conditions, and the diversity needed for breeding new traits to meet changing climate is not always available. Moreover, efforts to improve particular traits often ignore combinations of stresses, diseases, and altered inputs. Additional work needs to consider multiple simultaneous challenges to plant growth and can be aided by the integration of large data sets and modeling studies. There is also substantial progress toward a mechanistic understanding of the plant microbiome and how bacteria and fungi work with plants for nutrient mobilization… Recent discoveries on the relationships between plants and fungi in nitrogen and phosphorus may lead to enhancing plant-microbe interactions to minimize inputs and environmental impacts. 


Last, the public perception of plant biotechnology necessitates the continued education of people about the potential, and the limitations, of both breeding and genetic engineering. The coming decades will be an exciting time for plant biologists with an eye for how to use plants for environmental and sustainability applications. A single look at teosinte and maize and one sees how adaptable plants can be for meeting our needs. What remains to be seen is whether we can harness our understanding of plants to innovate fast enough to meet the challenges poised by 9 billion people in 2050. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aag1698


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
"Aside from technical hurdles, agro-economics, the evolutionary constraints of plants, and the public perception of plant biotechnology remain issues." >> Science can do a lot, but it can't ignore social science if it wants its technologies to be accepted and used... 
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GM crops: lessons from medicine - Science (2016) 

GM crops: lessons from medicine - Science (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Currently, a new crop variety is handled under EU regulations dependent on the process used to generate it. A conventionally bred crop primarily has to show that the variety is uniform, distinct, and stable, whereas a GM crop has to undergo an additional evidence-based risk assessment. With the advent of new technologies, such as genome editing with the CRISPR-Cas system, the boundaries between GM and non-GM techniques will become increasingly blurred, and in many cases there will be no way to tell whether a variety was arrived at by conventional breeding and/or use of new methods. 


In Canada, a trait-based regulatory system is used in which the actual trait, such as drought or disease resistance, rather than the method… is the basis for regulation. Such a trait-based system is analogous to the regulation of new agents in medicine, which takes into account the context in which the product will be applied. For example, therapeutic antibodies… are not regulated simply on the basis that they are antibodies – rather, they are assessed in terms of the proteins they target, the benefit to patients, and the risks of adverse events. The focus is on a benefit-to-risk ratio that is reassessed… as evidence accumulates. With new medicines for life-threatening diseases, there will usually be a greater acceptance of risk in the absence of existing effective treatments – that is, the consequences of doing nothing are taken into account… 


The contextual notion used in regulating new medicines may also be helpful in debates around the assessment of new varieties of crops or other engineered products. It is important to consider their benefit-to-risk ratio in the context of the likely harm of making no intervention to combat the problem that the new product is aimed at solving, such as fungus resistance. Context might also change with time. For example, the risk posed by doing nothing in terms of the threat of swine fever, and therefore the acceptability of approving disease-resistant pig strains, might be very different if there were a low incidence of the disease and the existence of a vaccine to prevent it, versus a situation in which there was a high incidence of a virulent strain causing the disease and no vaccine. 


Of course, in many cases, the evidence provided will not be complete because proving absence of adverse effects is subject to “real-life” data collection, as is the case in the postapproval surveillance process of new medicines. Indeed, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. However, such a contextual framework will at least facilitate a more constructive debate that is more consistent with other forms of regulation in Europe and elsewhere and which should aid the translation of new research into application. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaj1764


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A breakthrough in genetic modification of grains - EurekAlert (2016) 

Although the commercialization of transgenic, or "genetically modified", plants has stirred widespread controversy, much research remains focused on improving techniques to create such plants… Transgenic technology allows breeders to add genes for desirable traits to valuable breeding materials. However, transgenic plants are also widely used in basic scientific research. The ability to add a single gene to a plant allows researchers to explore what that gene does… 


It has been remarkably difficult to develop efficient methods for… genetic modification of grain crops. The preferred methods generally involve infecting tissue with Agrobacterium – a bacterium that naturally transfers DNA… - and then stimulating that tissue to regenerate into whole plants. However, Agrobacterium infects only a narrow range of grain cultivars, and many cultivars are recalcitrant to regeneration… A breakthrough in transformation technology… greatly expands the range of cultivars and species that can be transformed. 


A team of researchers… added so-called morphogenic genes – known… to promote the production of embryonic tissue – to the other genes being transformed… When they did so, transformation rates increased for a large number of maize cultivars… The technique also worked in sorghum, rice and sugarcane. This work extends the range of species, cultivars and tissues that can be used for efficient transformation and is a beautiful example of what can be accomplished by combining basic research, technical expertise, and knowledge of practical problems facing mainstream applications. 


http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-09/asop-abi091216.php


Underlying article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1105/tpc.16.00124


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A clear contrast of sustainable and unsustainable farming practices – in 20 seconds! - Grist (2016) 

A clear contrast of sustainable and unsustainable farming practices – in 20 seconds! - Grist (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Of course, there are scores of variables when it comes to sustainable farming, but… huge difference between no-till and conventional farming… A no-till field… isn’t ever plowed. Instead of tilling, or turning over the soil to kill weeds, farmers plant directly into the thatch of grasses and usually use an application of herbicide to knock down weeds. 


When farmers leave fields bare… soil washes away and local waters are polluted. Ground cover protects the soil and dramatically reduces erosion. People often think sustainable farming means no chemicals, but sometimes judicious use of chemistry allows for more environmentally friendly options – like keeping the ground covered. 


http://grist.org/briefly/is-it-us-or-is-it-getting-hotter-in-here/


Video: https://twitter.com/Tfarmandranch/status/773696448575582209/video/1



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Future drought will offset benefits of higher CO2 on soybean yields - Illinois (2016) 

Future drought will offset benefits of higher CO2 on soybean yields - Illinois (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
An eight-year study of soybeans grown outdoors in a carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere like that expected by 2050 has yielded a new and worrisome finding: Higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations will boost plant growth under ideal growing conditions, but drought – expected to worsen as the climate warms and rainfall patterns change – will outweigh those benefits and cause yield losses much sooner than anticipated. The new discovery… contradicts a widely accepted hypothesis… “If you read… the scientific literature on the subject for the last 30 years, the concluding statement is nearly always that elevated carbon dioxide will ameliorate drought stress in crops”… 

Numerous laboratory and field studies have supported this assessment: In many scenarios, elevated carbon dioxide acts as a fertilizer, boosting plant growth. Plants exposed to high CO2 also reduce the size of the pores in their leaves, lessening the exchange of gases with the atmosphere. This helps plants use less water from the soil. Predictions about the influence of higher carbon dioxide levels on soybean yields are accurate as long as conditions are wet… But, in the drought conditions that will become more prevalent… the fertilizing effect of higher CO2 is negated by drier soils, leading to lower yields. 

Such findings strongly suggested that elevated CO2 would help plants better withstand drought… “This was consistent with what we saw with our own experiments the first four years, the relatively wet years… But when the growing seasons were hot and dry, that pattern broke down”… Under hot and dry conditions at elevated CO2, the plants in the… experiments used more, not less, water than those grown under current atmospheric conditions… 

“What we think is happening is that early in the growing season, when the plant has enough water, it’s able to photosynthesize more as a result of the higher CO2 levels. It’s got more sugars to play with, it grows more, it creates all this extra leaf area… But when it gets dry, the plant has overextended itself, so later in the season it’s now using more water.” Two other plant responses also contribute to the problem… “At elevated CO2, there are changes in certain hormones the plant uses to signal between the roots and shoots… The plant becomes more sensitive to that signal at elevated CO2, and that causes photosynthesis to decline more in response to drought than it would do at ambient CO2 levels.” 

Elevated CO2 and drought together also influence soybean’s ability to fix nitrogen through nodules formed on its roots. These nodules harbor bacteria that help the plant capture and convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plants can metabolize. Under elevated CO2 and drought, the number of beneficial nodules on the soybean roots increases… “But what we find is that they put all these extra nodules on in relatively shallow soil layers. And the nodules don’t work well when they’re in dry soil.” 

The new findings, from soybeans grown in one of the most productive regions of the planet, suggest climate-related declines in soybean yields will occur sooner than previously thought… “All of the model predictions up to this point were assuming that in 2050, elevated CO2 was going to give us a 15 percent increase in yield over what we had at the beginning of this century… And what we’re seeing is that as it gets hotter and drier, that number diminishes to zero. No gain.” 



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Crop Domestication Is a Balancing Act... - Smithsonian (2016) 

Crop Domestication Is a Balancing Act... - Smithsonian (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

... some ants are still trying to get it right. 


Skinny lines of ants snake through the rainforest carrying leaves and flowers above their heads – fertilizer for industrial-scale, underground fungus farms. Soon after the dinosaur extinctions 60 million years ago, the ancestors of leaf-cutter ants swapped a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for this bucolic existence… Living relatives of the earliest fungus-farming ants still have not domesticated their crop, a challenge also faced by early human farmers. 


Modern leaf-cutter ants cannot live without their fungus, and the fungus cannot live without the ants… young queens carry a bit from the nests where they were born when they fly out to establish a new nest. The fungus, in turn, does not waste energy-producing spores to reproduce itself. “For this sort of tight mutual relationship to develop, the interests of the ants and the fungi have to be completely aligned”… 


Just as human farmers harvest their vegetables before they go to seed, ants want their fungus to minimize the amount of energy it puts into creating inedible mushrooms full of spores. It is best for the ants if the fungus grows more of the fungal hyphae that… serve as food for the ants and their larvae… 


An ancestor of the leaf cutters that has not yet domesticated its fungal crop… adjust the protein and carbohydrate concentration of the mulch they provide to minimize the amount of mushrooms that their non-domesticated fungal cultivars produce… carefully provisioned doses of protein can prevent the fungi from making mushrooms. However, this strategy… requires that the total output of their fungus gardens remain low… 


“It took 30 million years of natural selection until the higher attine ants fully domesticated one of their fungal symbiont lineages… In contrast, it took human farmers relatively little time to domesticate fruit crops and to select for seedless grapes, bananas and oranges.” 


http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/crop-domestication-balancing-act


Underlying article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1606128113



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So long, suckers: Would it be safe to wipe out mosquitoes? - New Scientist (2016) 

So long, suckers: Would it be safe to wipe out mosquitoes? - New Scientist (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A race is on to do something about the Zika virus. A possible vaccine is years away, so that means doing something about its vector, the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Genetic engineering techniques mean it is possible to conceive of obliterating this insect entirely. But would there be an ecological downside to exterminating a creature whose only purpose seems to be to bother us? 


As with many predictions involving complex natural systems, a definitive answer is impossible. Some ecologists worry about small changes having big unforeseen effects… But in reality, ecosystems seem to be… resilient… And nobody has come up with a key ecological job done by mosquitoes that other insects couldn’t do just as well. 


In addition, the world is full of examples of local mosquito eradications that have not brought ecological meltdown. Where there has been damage to other species, it tends to be a by-product of the method used – draining marshes or spraying insecticides – rather than the loss of the insects themselves. 


Mosquitoes are undoubtedly a plague… bringing yellow fever, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus and now Zika. So, if there is no strong ecological case for keeping them, why not try to exterminate them? 


Right now the leading plan for tackling Zika in Brazil is to flood populations of Aedes with males engineered to contain a lethal gene that kills their offspring, causing the population to crash. The technology has been used in the north-east of the country since 2011 in an attempt to control another disease Aedes carries, Dengue fever. 


Similar methods of eradication have tackled various other insects. Notably the Sterile Insect Technique, which swamps populations with sterile males, and has been used in the Americas to fight the Mediterranean fruit fly and the screw worm… 


Releasing male tsetse flies irradiated to make them sterile had eradicated the insect from the island of Zanzibar, and with them… debilitating sleeping sickness… It worked but it wasn’t easy; it took $5 million and 8 million sterile males… Fears of a wider effect on biodiversity proved unfounded. 


Well before this, in the late 1950s, the world may have come close to eradicating malaria by targeting its host, the Anopheles mosquito, by spraying the insecticide DDT wherever it lived, before concerns about wider toxicity to wildlife saw its use curbed. The mosquitoes and the disease returned. 


Nobody should under-estimate the difficulty of fighting one of the world’s most successful insects. But it is worth remembering that once, despite concerns about nature’s fragility, we nearly did for them.  


https://www.newscientist.com/article/2076401-so-long-suckers-would-it-be-safe-to-wipe-out-mosquitoes/


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EPA report concludes glyphosate an unlikely carcinogen - EPA (2016) 

EPA report concludes glyphosate an unlikely carcinogen - EPA (2016)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
A new report on glyphosate, commissioned by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), says the broad-spectrum herbicide is unlikely to be carcinogenic and should not be classified as a mutagen or carcinogen… It takes into account studies reviewed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as well as those assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the FAO/WHO Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR)… 

“The majority of human studies did not show an association between exposure to glyphosate and cancer. Although a small number of studies with a limited number of participants found a weak association between glyphosate exposure and increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), others did not”. The studies that found no association between glyphosate exposure and NHL included the largest and most reliable, which included over 50,000 participants… “Based on the inconsistency in the results of the studies on glyphosate exposure and NHL, and the lack of any association in the largest, most robust study, it was concluded that there is no convincing evidence of an association between glyphosate exposure and the development of cancer in humans.” 

The EPA, which approves and regulates glyphosate for use in New Zealand, commissioned the report amid ongoing public unease about its impact on people and the environment… “The review confirms the EPA’s long-held findings, that at the present time glyphosate – with controls – is safe to use. “As with any chemical, glyphosate remains subject to our approval process which considers any likely impacts on human health and the environment. We ensure risks are managed by setting controls which cover how, when and where it should be used, and by whom.” 

“Glyphosate has been approved for use in New Zealand since 1976. It is one of around 30 chemicals currently listed on the… Reassessment Programme. This means we continue to keep a watching brief on its status, and monitor international scientific findings or developments. If any new information comes to hand that makes us think further action is necessary, we can consider a formal review of its use”.  


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China’s honey bee losses are low compared with West - AlphaGalileo (2016) 

Since concern about widespread honey bee colony losses began ten years ago, there have been surveys carried out to assess winter losses in North America and many European countries. So far the picture in China, the largest beekeeping country in the world, has been unclear. Now for the first time, information about winter losses from a large-scale survey carried out from 2010-13 has been published… 

Colony losses were generally low (on average 10.1%), compared to published results from Europe and the USA… Reasons for the lower losses… may be due to a high genetic diversity in their honey bees, regular replacement of queen bees by the beekeepers, and because the average size of beekeeping operation is small, meaning that beekeepers can pay close attention to their hives, in particular to the way they control the parasitic varroa mite… 



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Ecosystem impacts of pesticide reductions through Bt cotton adoption - Veettil &al (2016) - AJARE

Ecosystem impacts of pesticide reductions through Bt cotton adoption - Veettil &al (2016) - AJARE | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
Ecosystem impacts of transgenic Bt cotton technology resulting from reduced chemical pesticide use… Negative environmental and health effects of pesticide use are quantified with the environmental impact quotient (EIQ), with and without Bt technology… treating the environmental risk of pesticide toxicity as an undesirable output in the production process. Negative externalities are significantly lower in Bt than in conventional cotton. The reduction in EIQ through Bt technology adoption has increased from 39 per cent during 2002-04 to 68 per cent during 2006-08… High-quality Bt seeds are associated with higher environmental efficiency than lower-quality seeds… 

We have provided empirical evidence on the effects of Bt cotton on pesticide-induced environmental and health risks in India… Cotton farmers who adopted Bt technology moved towards more eco-friendly pesticides. Bt adoption has decreased the use of chemical pesticides in general, particularly of those pesticides that are highly hazardous for the environment and human health. Thus, Bt technology contributes to a greener production process. At the same time, yields with Bt cotton are consistently higher than those with conventional varieties… 

A higher level of environmental efficiency is achieved with Bt technology. Levels of environmental efficiency are positively correlated with Bt seed quality. This points at the importance of transparent and competitive seed markets to foster sustainable agricultural growth. While the market for Bt seeds in India was not competitive and heavily restricted in the early years of technology diffusion, the situation has improved over time, although direct government interventions in the seed market are still commonplace… 

Even though Bt adoption has resulted in significant efficiency gains, the overall environmental-economic production still shows ample scope for further improvement. We found a mean technology gap of 13 per cent. Varying Bt seed quality can explain some of this gap, but several other factors are likely to play a role as well. This requires further investigation. In any case, transgenic seeds should be considered as one element of a broader agricultural development strategy, not as a universal remedy that can substitute for other important elements such as improved agronomy, education, markets or agricultural policy.


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Biofortified β-carotene rice improves vitamin A intake and reduces the prevalence of inadequacy among women and young children in a simulated analysis in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines ...

Vitamin A deficiency continues to be a major public health problem affecting developing countries where people eat mostly rice as a staple food. In Asia, rice provides up to 80% of the total daily energy intake. 


We used existing data sets from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines, where dietary intakes have been quantified at the individual level to 1) determine the rice and vitamin A intake in nonpregnant, nonlactating women of reproductive age and in nonbreastfed children 1-3 y old and 2) simulate the amount of change that could be achieved in the prevalence of inadequate intake of vitamin A if rice biofortified with β-carotene were consumed instead of the rice consumed at present. 


We considered a range of 4-20 parts per million (ppm) of β-carotene content and 10-70% substitution levels for the biofortified rice… the substitution of biofortified rice for white rice in the optimistic scenario (20 ppm and 70% substitution) decreased the prevalence of vitamin A inadequacy from baseline 78% in women and 71% in children in Bangladesh. In Indonesia and the Philippines, the prevalence of inadequacy fell by 55-60% in women and dropped by nearly 30% in children from baseline. 


The results of the simulation analysis were striking in that even low substitution levels and modest increases in the β-carotene of rice produced a meaningful decrease in the prevalence of inadequate intake of vitamin A. Increasing the substitution levels had a greater impact than increasing the β-carotene content by >12 ppm… 


In β-carotene rice, commonly known as golden rice because of its yellow hue, 2 genes naturally involved in carotene biosynthesis were inserted into the rice genome by using transgenics. This insertion restarts the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway that is normally inactive, leading to the production of β-carotene in the grain. The current amount of β-carotene in biofortified b-carotene rice is 35 parts per million (ppm), with an estimated bioconversion rate of 3.8:1 from β-carotene to vitamin A… 


Biofortified β-carotene rice can substantially increase vitamin A intake and consequently reduce the prevalence of inadequacy of this vitamin. Increasing vitamin A intake through biofortified rice at 8-12 ppm of β-carotene, in combination with programs that increase adoption of biofortified rice in a population, can be an effective method at reducing population prevalence of inadequate vitamin A intakes... However... increasing the β-carotene beyond 12 ppm has little added benefit; rather, public health programs will have the most impact by increasing the substitution of white rice by biofortified β-carotene rice. 


http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2016/08/10/ajcn.115.129270.abstract


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Genetically Modified Crops and Agricultural Development - AJAE (2016) 

After nearly two decades of cultivation, genetically modified (GM) crops remain mired in controversy. Protagonists of GM crops maintain that their benefits far outweigh the risks and costs associated with such crops. The opponents remain underwhelmed… That new technologies should face public scrutiny and skepticism about their usefulness is not unusual, especially in the face of uncertainty about their value to consumers and society. When the underlying technology is complex, as is the case with genetic modification, assessing its merits can be doubly difficult. This is particularly true in the initial stages of deployment when there is considerable resistance to their acceptance, primarily due to a lack of sufficient knowledge. With time, as evidence builds to support a particular innovation, the resistance to its adoption would wane and eventually diminish. 

Debates around GM crops, however, have not followed this trajectory, notwithstanding the large body of evidence that often vouches for the considerable benefits and overall safety of genetic modification. If anything, the robustness of evidence has only tended to increase the polarization between those arguing for the adoption and those favoring the rejection, often on rhetorical grounds. In ‘Genetically Modified Crops and Agricultural Development’, Matin Qaim weighs in on the debate and offers a thoughtful and balanced defense of GM crops. As one of the early and most prolific researchers examining the costs and benefits of agricultural biotechnology, his perspective is informed by years of collecting evidence on the economics of GM crops across the developing world. From Bt cotton in lndia to Roundup Ready soybeans in Brazil. Qaim and his collaborators have carried out numerous farm surveys and analyzed the data to estimate farm, environmental, and health impacts of GM crops… The evidence could not be clearer – GM crops have increased welfare and hold great promise if further commercialization is permitted… 

Qaim places GM crops in the context of the goals of agricultural development… Agricultural development should strive to achieve three simultaneous goals-namely, provide food for a growing population, improve the livelihoods of those who farm, and finally do this in ways that are ecologically and environmentally sustainable. Few would argue with these broad objectives, but differences arise on matters of emphasis and nuances. Specifically, the central question whether modern agriculture can be both highly productive and sustainable remains… The high input intensive agriculture such as that during the Green Revolution led to a number of environmental problems. Avoiding the sins of the past will require crops and agricultural practices that are equally, if not more, productive, but do so with lower amounts of chemical inputs. Qaim forcefully argues that a more enhanced role for plant breeding and the adoption of GM crops can help achieve this… 



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