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Wheat Genetically Engineered to Make it Nearly Gluten Free - ISAAA (2012)

Wheat Genetically Engineered to Make it Nearly Gluten Free - ISAAA (2012) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

An international team of researchers has succeeded in genetically engineering wheat seeds to prevent gluten production in subsequent plants.

 

The researchers focused their work on DEMETER (DME), the enzyme that activates the group of genes responsible for the production of gluten. Using genetic engineering techniques, they managed to suppress DME by 85.6 percent which then reduced by 76.4 percent the production of gluten in wheat seeds.

 

The team, with researchers from China, Germany and the United States, says that flour made from the altered seeds appears to be suitable for making bread, and that the next level of their work will determine if these grains can be used in foods for people suffering from celiac disease. 

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

[updated 08 September, 2014]  

 

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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‘Fukusensor:’ a genetically engineered plant for reporting DNA damage in response to gamma radiation - Peng &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal

‘Fukusensor:’ a genetically engineered plant for reporting DNA damage in response to gamma radiation - Peng &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Transgenic plants can be designed to be ‘phytosensors’ for detection of environmental contaminants and pathogens... we describe the design and testing of a radiation phytosensor in the form of green fluorescence protein (GFP)-transgenic Arabidopsis plant utilizing a DNA repair deficiency mutant background as a host. 


Mutant lines of Arabidopsis... which are hypersensitive to gamma irradiation, were used... Mutant and nonmutant genetic background transgenic plants were treated with 0, 1, 5, 10 and 100 Gy radiation doses, respectively, using a Co-60 source.


After 1 week, the GFP expression levels were drastically reduced in young leaves of mutant background plants (treated by 10 and 100 Gy), whereas there were scant visible differences in the fluorescence of the nonmutant background plants.


These early results indicate that transgenic plants could serve in a relevant sensor system to report radiation dose and the biological effects to organisms in response to radionuclide contamination.


http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12247

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Some people mistrust GMOs, some (and probably often the same) mistrust nuclear energy. What an irony to use one of these technologies to better control or protect from the other... 

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Genetic use restriction technologies: a review - Lombardo (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal

Genetic use restriction technologies: a review - Lombardo (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs), developed to secure return on investments through protection of plant varieties, are among the most controversial and opposed genetic engineering biotechnologies as they are perceived as a tool to force farmers to depend on multinational corporations' seed monopolies.

 

In this work, the currently proposed strategies are described and compared with some of the principal techniques implemented for preventing transgene flow and/or seed saving, with a simultaneous analysis of the future perspectives of GURTs taking into account potential benefits, possible impacts on farmers and local plant genetic resources, hypothetical negative environmental issues and ethical concerns related to intellectual property that have led to the ban of this technology.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12242

 

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Field trial of Xanthomonas wilt disease-resistant bananas in East Africa - Tripathi &al (2014) - Nature Biotechnology

Field trial of Xanthomonas wilt disease-resistant bananas in East Africa - Tripathi &al (2014) - Nature Biotechnology | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Banana is a major staple crop in East Africa produced mostly by smallholder subsistence farmers. More bananas are produced and consumed in East Africa than in any region of the world.Uganda is the world's second foremost grower with a total annual production of about 10.5 million tons. The average daily per capita consumption in Uganda ranges... to over 1.6 kg, one of the highest in the world... 


Banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) disease... is threatening banana production, the livelihoods of the smallholder growers in East and Central Africa, and the stability of food security in the region. The disease has caused estimated economic losses of about $2-8 billion over the past decade and substantial reductions in production have resulted in major price increases... 

 

The disease is very destructive, infecting all banana varieties... The economic impact of the disease is potentially disastrous because it destroys whole plants leading to complete yield loss... There are currently no commercial pesticides, biocontrol agents or resistant cultivars available to control BXW... 

 

Given the rapid spread and devastation of BXW across Africa, the lack of known genetic resistance in banana... and the difficulties associated with conventional breeding of this highly sterile crop, genetic transformation through the use of modern biotech tools offers an effective and viable way to develop resistant varieties... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nbt.3007

 

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Do you really understand modern farming? 10 myths of GMOs and organics - GLP (2014)

Do you really understand modern farming? 10 myths of GMOs and organics - GLP (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

In my quest to learn about genetically modified foods and our food supply, many things have surprised me. Some of them may seem apparent and obvious, but as a city-dweller, I was unaware of numerous aspects of our food. I find comfort in the fact that many individuals that I share these gems with are equally surprised, leading me to believe that you may find some items as interesting as I do.

 

1) The vast majority of fruits and vegetables are not transgenics... Every time I picked up a fruit in the supermarket that was particularly large, I thought to myself “huh… that’s got to be a GMO”. You know those grapes the size of tennis balls that squirt juice everywhere when you bite into them? Every time I ate one, I’d close my eyes and thank the mysterious GMO gods for that sweet delicious nectar. Little did I know that none of these fruits was a GMO...

 

2) Organic food production uses pesticides. I had always believed that by definition, organic food production did not use pesticides. Not only that, but some of the pesticides used are more toxic than those applied in conventional farming. The difference is that the pesticides used in organic farming are not synthetic, yet they are not necessarily better...

 

3) Many plant traits are developed using mutagenesis. And can be labeled “organic”. Mutagenesis is the use of radioactivity or chemicals to create random mutations... More than 2000 foods have been created by mutagenesis, including the durum wheat used to make fine Italian pasta... and even ruby red grapefruits... Imagine that!! The delicious, organic grapefruit from my farmers’ market was developed using radiation to randomly create mutations, and somehow that’s less scary than a GMO. Why the organic food movement isn’t fighting to label the mutant ruby reds seems hypocritical... 

 

4) There’s lot of peer reviewed research on GMOs, both publically and privately funded. I mean a LOT. Searching for the term MON810 in PubMed (a database hosted by the NIH), finds over 150 hits. That’s 150+ studies that have looked into some aspect, such as identification or safety, on a single[!] seed/trait... the most common misconception about GMOs is that there are few independent studies. In an attempt to address this misconception... 

 

5) Types of traits used to generate GMOs are selected to improve farming conditions. There aren’t many GM crops in which the trait introduced was selected because it would make me want to buy it in the grocery store... at the moment, most crops are designed to help consumers indirectly by benefitting farmers, such as Bt crops that cut down on the amount of pesticides sprayed to fight worms, or glyphosate-resistant crops, which help farmers reduce the use of toxic chemicals to fight weeds. We, the consumers, see the benefits of these traits because reduced farming costs equate to savings at the grocery store... 

 

6) The amount of misinformation and the distrust surrounding GMOs is staggering. And depressing. It ranges from the subtle, in which statements are taken out of context or the complete findings of a paper are not discussed, to outright lies... GMO critics often peddle white lies as well as downright deceptive (and dangerous) statements such as claiming that GM insulin poses a health risk... 

 

Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson said it best... “If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling non-perennial seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing—and will continue to do—to nature so that it best serves our survival... 

 

I was surprised at how many people distrust GMOs because of their belief that Monsanto is an ‘evil’ company. That’s not a good reason for distrusting a technology with broad applications. It’s like saying that you don’t trust computers because of Microsoft. But conventional and even organic food growers buy Monsanto seeds too, and Monsanto doesn’t have a monopoly on GM technology... 

 

7) Transgenic seeds are not sterile. I was certain that transgenic seeds could not be replanted, even if a farmer wanted to. I was dead wrong... the seed is not sterile or unviable...

 

8) Peer review often may not mean very much. Papers should be evaluated based on their quality...


9) The world’s most reputable scientific organizations have evaluated the data on the safety of GMOs. That’s right, there’s a scientific consensus on the topic of GMO safety... right now it’s very strong and consistent: GMOs are safe...

 

http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/09/04/do-you-really-understand-modern-farming-urbanite-examines-10-myths-of-gmos-and-organics/

 

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Risks and opportunities for the EU agri-food sector in a possible EU-US trade agreement - Bureau &al (2014) - Europarl [pdf]

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is under negotiation. This report provides a detailed overview of EU-US agricultural trade. It analyses current barriers to trade, paying special attention to nontariff measures. This information is then used in a computable general equilibrium model of international trade to assess the potential impact of the TTIP on agri-food exports, imports and value added. This study also includes a general discussion on the opportunities and risks of a TTIP for the EU agricultural sector... 

 

There are several areas in which the regulations impose different costs for producers, and where the playing field might be uneven in the case of a TTIP agreement. GMOs. 


EU farmers fear a situation where they would not have the right to use biotechnology but US products entering the EU market freely would (as is currently the case for goods such as soybeans). In most sectors, GMOs result in lower production costs, through easier control of weeds, labour savings, and in some cases higher yields. The rapid adoption of GMOs in the soybean and corn sectors, where producers have been allowed to use them, suggests that, in any case, there  is a genuine cost advantage for producers.

 

In the TTIP negotiations, easing both approval and trade in GMOs is an important demand made by US farms and businesses. They are backed by US authorities, which complain about the slow and limited approval of genetically modified crops for sale and cultivation in the EU. The US government would also like to see a greater tolerance threshold for traces of genetically modified material in food and feed. It also considers that compulsory labelling of GMOs unfairly discriminates against these products... 

 

US authorities [and scientific bodies the world over] say that genetically modified products have been proven safe by scientific studies and are being excluded based on irrational fears. Finding a common ground on biotechnology issues is likely to be difficult in bilateral discussions.


Disagreements between both sides of the Atlantic refer to genuine differences in citizens’ concerns. As Bureau and Marette (2000[sic!]) have explained, differences in the perception of risks are rooted in fundamental differences in both cultural and institutional frameworks. As a result, consumers see biotechnology (but also nanotechnology) as a major potential hazard in Europe. In contrast, bacterial contamination [which actually kills people] is the number one focus of US consumer organisations...


US authorities tend to see EU biotechnology regulations as a simple non-tariff barrier. The claim of European observers that they are trying to help their own farmers by keeping out American products ignores the fact that regulations stem from consumer and environmentalist pressure. Many Europeans consider that the risk assessments habitually carried out by the US or the European Food Safety Agency are incomplete, if not irrelevant, since they focus on short-term health effects and ignore, for example, risks such as the rise of pesticide-resistant ‘superweeds’ [no they don't].

 

Those Member States that have invested heavily in organic agriculture also fear that their investments might be endangered by possible genetic contamination [which it won't if reasonable thresholds are set, and which doesn't happen in the US where both the cultivation of GM crops and organic agriculture increase]. 

 

Recent development suggests that there is some ground for convergence. While the US has always rejected GMO labelling, including in trade agreements... the US soybean industry has recently appeared more open to such labelling provided that the EU changes its rules from labelling food that contains GMOs to labelling food that does not contain GMOs... 

 

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2014/514007/AGRI_IPOL_STU%282014%29514007_EN.pdf

 

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Safety aspects of genetically modified crops with abiotic stress tolerance - Liang &al (2014) - Trends Food Sci Tech

Safety aspects of genetically modified crops with abiotic stress tolerance - Liang &al (2014) - Trends Food Sci Tech | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Abiotic stress, such as drought, salinity, and temperature extremes, significantly reduce crop yields. Hence, development of abiotic stress-tolerant crops by modern biotechnology may contribute to global food security.

 

Prior to introducing genetically modified crops with abiotic stress tolerance to the market, a food and environmental safety assessment is generally required. Although worldwide harmonised comparative approach is currently provided, risk assessors still face challenges to assess genetically modified crops with abiotic stress-tolerance.

 

Here, we discuss current developments of abiotic stress tolerance as well as issues concerning food and environmental safety assessment of these crops, including current approaches, challenges and future directions...

 

Contrary to similar conventionallybred crops, GM plant varieties, including abiotic stress-tolerant plant varieties, require in most countries an extensive food and environmental safety assessment, prior to market approval. 

 

For the food safety assessment,all aspects of abiotic stress-tolerant GM plant varieties seem to be generally covered by current worldwide harmonized scientific safety assessment approaches. It may, however, be necessary to grow the new GM abiotic stress-tolerant plant both under the conventional environmental conditions, together with the conventional counterpart, as well as under the stressed (dry, saline) environmental conditions for this new crop variety to assess for potential effects that may only show under the abiotic stress conditions. 

 

This specific approach should also be applied for the environmental safety assessment... More specifically, to what extent these transgenes may impart increased fitness under actual field conditions and thus change the population ecology of wild relatives... uncertainty with predicting introgression from crops to wild relatives. Thus, there is a need to develop globally harmonized protocols on how to best assess these effects of abiotic stress-tolerant GM crop varieties... 

 

As abiotic stress-tolerant crop varieties developed by conventional breeding methods are actively being introduced as well, knowledge on these could be used for comparisons. We recommend that international scientific platforms take the lead in the development of harmonized protocols and procedures, at the short term, to ascertain that abiotic stress-tolerant GM crops can be introduced on the basis of an  adequate safety assessment... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2014.08.005

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"abiotic stress-tolerant crop varieties developed by conventional breeding methods are actively being introduced as well" 

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Product Differentiation Choices and Biotechnology Adoption: The U.S. Corn Seed Market - Zhang (2014) - Univ Wisconsin

The advances in agricultural biotechnology have brought opportunities and challenges to the agricultural input industries including the seed sector over the last few decades. The U.S. seed market has experienced major structural adjustments during this period. Since 1996 the rapid adoption of biotechnology in U.S. agriculture has been associated with mergers and acquisitions, leading to a more concentrated seed/biotech industry. It raises questions about the possible exercise of market power in the U.S. biotech seed industry.

 

Will an integrated biotech seed company differ from an independent one in choosing the line of seed products? How do U.S. farmers evaluate different types of corn seeds? And how are the welfare gains from technological improvement distributed among market participants? This dissertation tried to answer these questions by investigating the product line choices of seed companies under imperfect competition and farmers' adoption of conventional and genetically modified (GM) seeds in the U.S. corn seed market during 2000-2007...

 

I examine seed firms' product choices by considering concentration in the upstream biotech market, geographical competition, firm and market characteristics, and technological advancement... market competition has discrepant impacts on the product choices of biotech firms and independent companies. Firms' willingness to carry more varieties also differs by their market shares... farmers' preferences are shifted away from conventional and single traited seeds to newly-introduced multiple traited ones... 

 

I investigate the welfare distribution of biotechnology advances among market participants and the welfare changes when biotech firms specialize in GM seeds and independent firms specialize in conventional seeds. I find that the benefits of biotechnology advances are received mostly by medium-to-large farms and a few biotech companies. Biotech firms also benefit from market segmentation.

 

http://gradworks.umi.com/36/24/3624984.html

 

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How to prevent organic food fraud - ACS (2014)

How to prevent organic food fraud - ACS (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A growing number of consumers are willing to pay a premium for fruits, vegetables and other foods labelled “organic”, but whether they’re getting what the label claims is another matter. Now scientists studying conventional and organic tomatoes are devising a new way to make sure farms are labelling their produce appropriately. Their report... could help prevent organic food fraud. 

 

Researchers... note that the demand for organic food is growing at a rapid clip. Its global market value nearly tripled between 2002 and 2011, when it reached $62.8 billion. But because organic food can fetch prices often twice as high as conventionally produced food, the risk for fraudulent labelling has grown just as fast. However, figuring out whether a fruit or vegetable was grown under organic conditions is fraught with complications. Currently, the most reliable authentication technique analyzes the stable isotope composition of nitrogen, but it is not fool-proof. Monika Hohmann and her colleagues decided to take a stab at developing a new method. 

They looked to a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which has been used to authenticate foods, including honey and olive oil. They analyzed tomatoes grown in greenhouses and outdoors, with conventional or organic fertilizers. Their data showed a trend toward differentiation of organic and conventional produce. The researchers conclude that the test is a good starting point for the authentication of organically produced tomatoes, and its further refinement could help root out fraudulently labelled foods... 

 

http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2014/acs-presspac-august-27-2014/how-to-prevent-organic-food-fraud.html

 

 

This study describes the approach of 1H NMR profiling for the authentication of organically produced tomatoes... The results of principal component analysis showed a significant trend for the separation between organically and conventionally produced tomatoes... Linear discriminant analysis demonstrated good discrimination between the growing regimens... Further validation studies, however, also disclosed unexpected differences between individual producers, which interfere with the aim of predicting the cultivation method...

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/jf502113r

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Perhaps it's a bit ironic that expensive high-tech is used to try protecting the multi-billion dollar market of an industry that lives off its low-tech image. (According to Wikipedia "NMR spectrometers are relatively expensive; universities usually have them, but they are less common in private companies.") Obviously any lesser technologies (let alone people) fail to notice these tiniest of differences within differences between conventional and organic crops... Question is, though, if such expensive university equipment and public researchers' time couldn't be put to better use. 

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Water ‘Thermostat’ Could Help Engineer Drought-Resistant Crops - Duke Univ (2014)

Water ‘Thermostat’ Could Help Engineer Drought-Resistant Crops - Duke Univ (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Researchers have identified a gene that could help scientists engineer drought-resistant crops. The gene, called OSCA1, encodes a protein in the cell membrane of plants that senses changes in water availability and adjusts the plant’s water conservation machinery accordingly. “It’s similar to a thermostat,” said Zhen-Ming Pei... The findings... could make it easier to feed the world’s growing population in the face of climate change.


Drought is the major cause of crop losses worldwide. A dry spell at a crucial stage of the growing season can cut some crop yields in half. Water shortages are expected to become more frequent and severe if climate change makes rainfall patterns increasingly unreliable and farmland in some regions continues to dry up. Coupled with a world population that is expected to increase by two billion to three billion by 2050, researchers worldwide are looking for ways to produce more food with less water.

Some researchers hope that genetic engineering – in addition to improved farming practices and traditional plant breeding – will add to the arsenal of techniques to help crops withstand summer’s swelter. But engineering plants to withstand drought has proven difficult to do, largely because plants use so many strategies to deal with dehydration and hundreds of genes are involved. The problem is confounded by the fact that drought is often accompanied by heat waves and other stresses that require different coping strategies on the part of the plant... 

The findings could lead to new ways to help plants thrive when water is scarce. The team’s next step is to manipulate the activity of the OSCA1 gene and related genes and see how those plants respond to drought –- information that could lead to crops that respond more quickly and efficiently to dehydration. “Plants that enter drought-fighting mode quickly and then switch back to normal growth mode quickly when drought stress is gone should be able to allocate energy more efficiently toward growth” ... 

 

http://today.duke.edu/2014/08/droughttolerance

 

Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13593

 

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Turning yeast into sustainable fish food - Future Food (2014)

Turning yeast into sustainable fish food - Future Food (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Nichols was in charge of DuPont’s business development. It was 2006, and the company had created an innovation around bio-based omega-3 fatty acids... genetically modified yeast could substitute for fish oils and preserve the omega-3 fatty acids. But Nichols knew it was a breakthrough in another area as well. “In the blink of an eye, I realized that we could solve a big problem with salmon aquaculture,” says Nichols, who now directs Verlasso, a joint venture between DuPont and AquaChile... 


Fish oil produced from wild-caught fish supplies critical nutrients that farmed salmon need to grow, but these wild-caught fish are harvested unsustainably. By 2006, salmon aquaculture was consuming some 80 percent of the world’s fish oil and still growing at a rate of 8 to 10 percent per year. Oily fish like anchovies, menhaden and mackerel provide the main source of fish oils, and their harvests are threatened as their populations deplete.

 

“We are looking at a future where there would be no more fish oil to be had... I thought, if we are able to provide the omega-3 to the salmon using... yeast that is rich in omega-3s, and use far fewer wild-caught feeder fish for the diet, it would do a lot of good for the oceans while sustainably supplying farmed salmon with omega-3s.”

 

Verlasso’s method of salmon aquaculture reduces reliance on wild-caught fish by 75 percent. Four pounds of wild-caught feeder fish are typically needed to produce the fish oil to make one pound of salmon. Verlasso, on the other hand, relies on just one pound of wild-caught fish to produce one pound of salmon. “We have lowered the fish in/fish out ratio. One in and one out,” says Nichols.

 

Verlasso has also identified ways to get down to about three-quarters of a pound of wild-caught fish used per one pound of fish produced, and Nichols believes the company will be able to achieve that over time. Although the joint venture’s current focus is on raising Atlantic salmon, the feed could certainly be useful for other salmon species...

 

“Everyone recognizes we can’t continue to harvest forage fish to feed oil to salmon... Some people ask, How do we use these [forage] fish with most efficiency? The proper question is, How do we use them not at all? They need to be food sources themselves” ... 

 

However, Nichols says providing omega-3s to the fish through the yeast is more expensive than using fish oil. “The company formulates the fish diets based on optimal performance rather than least cost, and a number of the ingredients in our feed are more expensive than those used in traditional salmon aquaculture”... The fish grow in the southern Pacific Ocean off of Chile, reaching harvest size in about two years in pens with fewer than four salmon per ton of water, or about 50 percent more room per fish than the industry standard.


While fish farming is Nichols’ business, he says he often thinks of the pressing problems with world agriculture and how enough food will be produced to feed the expanding global population in decades to come. “We’ve got to find ways to do more with less. How do we develop agriculture practices that operate in harmony with the environment and allow us greater intensity? ... I heard a great quote from former NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco: ‘It’s OK to use the oceans, and not OK to use them up’” ... 


“We are not going in the right direction,” says Nichols. “I hope it is axiomatic to say that it is indefensible to harvest a fishery above its sustainable level. A thornier question is how we should respond to roughly half of the world’s fisheries being harvested at the upper limits of sustainability. Operating at the very edge leaves little or no room to accommodate things unforeseen.... There seems to be precious little international enthusiasm to talk about how to reduce pressure on fisheries, but it is surely needed.”

 

If people are going to continue to eat fish, says Nichols, they must be farmed and they must be raised sustainably. “All agricultural production, whether on land or in water, has environmental effects. The key consideration is that we manage those effects so that our practices today do not impinge on our ability to practice in the future”... 

 

http://futurefood2050.com/turning-yeast-into-sustainable-fish-food/

 

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Earth can sustain more terrestrial plant growth than previously thought - EBI (2014)

Earth can sustain more terrestrial plant growth than previously thought - EBI (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A new analysis suggests the planet can produce much more land-plant biomass – the total material in leaves, stems, roots, fruits, grains and other terrestrial plant parts – than previously thought.The study... recalculates the theoretical limit of terrestrial plant productivity, and finds that it is much higher than many current estimates allow.


“When you try to estimate something over the whole planet, you have to make some simplifying assumptions,” said... professor Evan DeLucia... “And most previous research assumes that the maximum productivity you could get out of a landscape is what the natural ecosystem would have produced. But it turns out that in nature very few plants have evolved to maximize their growth rates” ... 

Estimates derived from satellite images of vegetation and modeling suggest that about 54 gigatons of carbon is converted into terrestrial plant biomass each year... “This value has remained stable for the past several decades, leading to the conclusion that it represents a planetary boundary – an upper limit on global biomass production”...

But these assumptions don’t take into consideration human efforts to boost plant productivity through genetic manipulation, plant breeding and land management, DeLucia said. Such efforts have already yielded some extremely productive plants. 

For example, in Illinois a hybrid grass, Miscanthus x giganteus, without fertilizer or irrigation produced 10 to 16 tons of above-ground biomass per acre, more than double the productivity of native prairie vegetation or corn. And genetically modified no-till corn is more than five times as productive – in terms of total biomass generated per acre – as restored prairie in Wisconsin.

Some non-native species also outcompete native species; this is what makes many of them invasive... In Iceland, for example, an introduced species, the nootka lupine, produces four times as much biomass as the native boreal dwarf birch species it displaces. And in India bamboo plantations produce about 40 percent more biomass than dry, deciduous tropical forests.

Some of these plants would not be desirable additions to native or managed ecosystems... but they represent the untapped potential productivity of plants in general. “We’re saying this is what’s possible” ...


The team used a model of light-use efficiency and the theoretical maximum efficiency with which plant canopies convert solar radiation to biomass to estimate the theoretical limit of net primary production (NPP) on a global scale. This newly calculated limit was “roughly two orders of magnitude higher than the productivity of most current managed or natural ecosystems” ...

“We’re not saying that this is even approachable, but the theory tells us that what is possible on the planet is much, much higher than what current estimates are” ... Taking into account global water limitations reduced this theoretical limit by more than 20 percent in all parts of the terrestrial landscape except the tropics... “But even that... is many times higher than we see in our current agricultural systems.”

DeLucia cautions that scientists and agronomists have a long way to go to boost plant productivity beyond current limits, and the new analysis does not suggest that shortages of food or other plant-based resources will cease to be a problem.

“I don’t want to be the guy that says science is going to save the planet and we shouldn't worry about the environmental consequences of agriculture, we shouldn’t worry about runaway population growth... All I'm saying is that we’re underestimating the productive capacity of plants in managed ecosystems.” 

 

http://www.energybiosciencesinstitute.org/news/study-earth-can-sustain-more-terrestrial-plant-growth-previously-thought

 

Original paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es502348e

 

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New resource shows half of GMO research is independent - GENERA (2014)

New resource shows half of GMO research is independent - GENERA (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Those who follow the issue of genetically engineered crops have heard claims that there is little independent research on their safety for consumption or the environment. A new public database of research tells a different story. The resource is the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA)... The results show that independent peer-reviewed research on GMOs is common, conducted worldwide, and makes up half of the total of all research on risks associated with genetic engineering.

 

GENERA is a searchable database of peer-reviewed scientific studies on the relative risks of genetically engineered crops. The database includes important details at-a-glance to help people find and learn about the science of GMOs. GENERA has now entered its beta-testing phase with the first 400 out of over 1,200 studies that have been curated... 

 

Dr. Karl Haro von Mogel... said that people are looking for independent information about GMOs. “People are looking for sources that they can trust that can help them find unbiased information about genetic engineering, but in a politically-charged debate, unbiased sources are difficult to find. We’ve been recognized for our independent expertise on this subject, so it was only natural that we should take a project like this on” ... 

 

Out of the first 400 randomly-selected studies available in the GENERA beta test, half of them are funded entirely by government agencies and independent nonprofit organizations. Before the project began, rough estimates placed them at just a third of the research. And the government-funded research is worldwide in scope – concentrated in Europe and Asia, followed by North America and Australia. These findings should turn the heads of people who thought it was skewed to private, U.S.-based laboratories... 

 

“Systematic reviews have concluded that genetically engineered crops are safe to eat, and when you look at the results collected in GENERA, it agrees with that conclusion” ... 

 

http://genera.biofortified.org/wp/genera-announces-beta-test-launch

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

The statements in the article draw on "only" the first 400 out of over 1,200 studies, but still... It indicates how widespread (funding-wise and geographically) research into the safety of GMOs has been over the last decades. 

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Compositional differences between near-isogenic GM and conventional maize hybrids are associated with backcrossing practices in conventional breeding - Venkatesh &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Jo...

Compositional differences between near-isogenic GM and conventional maize hybrids are associated with backcrossing practices in conventional breeding - Venkatesh &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Jo... | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Here, we show that differences between genetically modified (GM) and non-GM comparators cannot be attributed unequivocally to the GM trait, but arise because of minor genomic differences in near-isogenic lines. Specifically, this study contrasted the effect of three GM traits (drought tolerance, MON 87460; herbicide resistance, NK603; insect protection, MON 89034) on maize grain composition relative to the effects of residual genetic variation from backcrossing... 

 

The F1 hybrids of all lines were grown concurrently at three replicated field sites in the United States during the 2012 growing season, and harvested grain was subjected to compositional analysis. Proximates (protein, starch and oil), amino acids, fatty acids, tocopherols and minerals were measured. The number of statistically significant differences (α = 0.05), as well as magnitudes of difference, in mean levels of these components between corresponding GM variants was essentially identical to that between GM and non-GM controls... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12248

 

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On Risk and Regulation: Bt Crops in India - Herring (2014) - GM Crops & Food

On Risk and Regulation: Bt Crops in India - Herring (2014) - GM Crops & Food | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetic engineering in agriculture raises contentious politics unknown in other applications of molecular technology. Controversy originated and persists for inter-related reasons; these are not primarily, as frequently assumed, differences over scientific findings, but rather about the relationship of science to ‘risk.’

 

First, there are inevitably differences in how to interpret ‘risk’ in situations in which there are no established findings of specific hazard; ‘Knightian uncertainty’ defines this condition. Science claims no method of resolution in such cases of uncertainty.

 

Second, science has no claim about risk preferences in a normative sense. In genetic engineering, Knightian uncertainty is pervasive; declaring uncertainty to constitute ‘risk’ enables a precautionary politics in which no conceivable evidence from science can confirm absence of risk. This is the logic of the precautionary state.

 

The logic of the developmental state is quite different: uncertainty is treated as an inevitable component of change, and therefore a logic of acceptable uncertainty, parallel to acceptable risk of the sort deployed in cost-benefit analysis in other spheres of behavior, dominates policy.

 

India's official position on agricultural biotechnology has been promotional, as expected from a developmental state, but regulation of Bt crops has rested in a section of the state operating more on precautionary than developmental logic. As a result, notwithstanding the developmental success of Bt cotton, Bt brinjal [eggplant, aubergine] encountered a moratorium on deployment despite approval by the regulatory scientific body designated to assess biosafety.

 

https://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/article/950543/

 

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Enhancing C3 photosynthesis: an outlook on feasible interventions for crop improvement - Singh &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal

Enhancing C3 photosynthesis: an outlook on feasible interventions for crop improvement - Singh &al (2014) - Plant Biotechnology Journal | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Despite the declarations and collective measures taken to eradicate hunger at World Food Summits, food security remains one of the biggest issues that we are faced with. The current scenario could worsen due to the alarming increase in world population, further compounded by adverse climatic conditions, such as increase in atmospheric temperature, unforeseen droughts and decreasing soil moisture, which will decrease crop yield even further. Furthermore, the projected increase in yields of C3 crops as a result of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations is much less than anticipated.


Thus, there is an urgent need to increase crop productivity beyond existing yield potentials to address the challenge of food security. One of the domains of plant biology that promises hope in overcoming this problem is study of C3 photosynthesis. In this review, we have examined the potential bottlenecks of C3 photosynthesis and the strategies undertaken to overcome them... 


In addition, other areas which promise scope for improvement of C3 photosynthesis, such as mining natural genetic variations, mathematical modelling for identifying new targets, installing efficient carbon fixation and carbon concentrating mechanisms have been touched upon. Briefly, this review intends to shed light on the recent advances in enhancing C3 photosynthesis for crop improvement.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12246

 

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Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations - Van Eenennaam & Young (2014) - J Anim Sci

Globally, food-producing animals consume 70 to 90% of genetically engineered (GE) crop biomass. This review briefly summarizes the scientific literature on performance and health of animals consuming feed containing GE ingredients and composition of products derived from them. It also discusses the field experience of feeding GE feed sources to commercial livestock populations and summarizes the suppliers of GE and non-GE animal feed in global trade.


Numerous experimental studies have consistently revealed that the performance and health of GE-fed animals are comparable with those fed isogenic non-GE crop lines. United States animal agriculture produces over 9 billion food-producing animals annually, and more than 95% of these animals consume feed containing GE ingredients. Data on livestock productivity and health were collated from publicly available sources from 1983, before the introduction of GE crops in 1996, and subsequently through 2011, a period with high levels of predominately GE animal feed.


These field data sets representing over 100 billion animals following the introduction of GE crops did not reveal unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity. No study has revealed any differences in the nutritional profile of animal products derived from GE-fed animals. Because DNA and protein are normal components of the diet that are digested, there are no detectable or reliably quantifiable traces of GE components in milk, meat, and eggs following consumption of GE feed...


Countries that are cultivating GE corn and soy are the major livestock feed exporters. Asynchronous regulatory approvals (i.e., cultivation approvals of GE varieties in exporting countries occurring before food and feed approvals in importing countries) have resulted in trade disruptions. This is likely to be increasingly problematic in the future as there are a large number of “second generation” GE crops with altered output traits for improved livestock feed... There is a pressing need for international harmonization of both regulatory frameworks for GE crops and governance of advanced breeding techniques...

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.2527/jas.2014-8124

 

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Sir Paul Nurse criticises those who distort scientific evidence - Guardian (2014)

Sir Paul Nurse criticises those who distort scientific evidence - Guardian (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Senior scientist urges peers to challenge influential figures who misuse science to support preconceived beliefs. 

 

Britain's most senior scientist has launched a fierce attack on influential figures who distort scientific evidence to support their own political, religious or ideological agendas. The president of the Royal Society , Sir Paul Nurse, said scientists must challenge serial offenders from all spheres of life who continually misused science to support their preconceived beliefs... 

 

Nurse urged researchers to call offenders out in the media and challenge them in the strongest way possible. "When they are serial offenders they should be crushed and buried." 

 

The Nobel prize winner... said: "Today we have those who like to mix science up with ideology and politics, where opinion, rhetoric and tradition hold more sway than adherence to evidence and adherence to logical argument." Offenders, he said, ranged from politicians and religious figures to industrial leaders, NGOs and charities.

 

"We have to be aware of, and beware, organisations that masquerade as lobbying groups, which we see a lot in climate change. We have to be aware of politicians that cherry pick scientific views, even ministers who listen to scientists when it's about GM crops and then ignore them when it's about climate change" ... 

 

Nurse's call to arms goes against the stance of some scientists who refuse to debate people who have certain world views... while other scientists are reluctant to become embroiled in debates... because they are so exhausting and time consuming.

 

Nurse said: "It can be terribly time consuming. There is a constant regression to little points that constantly require rebuttal, so it can be very stressful. But once the debate is in the media or on the airwaves or TV we have to be engaged."

 

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/sep/04/sir-paul-nurse-criticises-figures-distort-scientific-evidence

 

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Q&A: GMO cultivation in the EU - Europarl (2014)

Q&A: GMO cultivation in the EU - Europarl (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

The EU has one of the toughest genetically modified food regulations in the world and the cultivation of GM crops is only allowed following a thorough risk assessment...  


Is it allowed to grow genetically modified crops in the EU?

 

Yes, but only once they have been authorised at EU level, following a strict risk assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). After authorisation, individual EU countries can only ban [the cultivation of] the GM product on their territory by using the so-called safeguard clause. They have to justify this decision, showing that the GMO may cause harm to... the environment... 

 

Why does the EU want to change the current system for authorising GM products?

 

Some member states asked for more freedom and flexibility to restrict or prohibit the cultivation of [safe and EU-approved] GMOs on their territory [based on political reasons]...

 

When will the new rules take effect?

 

In 2011 MEPs voted in favour of the proposals albeit with several amendments. The Council reached a political agreement on 12 June 2014, which will allow the Parliament and the Council to continue talks in order  to reach agreement on a common text. The proposal is foreseen for final adoption in 2015.

 

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/content/20140902STO57801/html/QA-GMO-cultivation-in-the-EU

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

What's perhaps not really clear from the info provided is that this only concerns the *cultivation* of GM crops, not their use, i.e. EU-approved crops can still be traded and used for food, feed, fibre or fuel... That is, a country can ban a crop that's not cultivated by their farmers anyway, or whose GM trait is of no use in the particular agro-ecological context of that country, and yet the country can still benefit from (the same and other) GM crops by importing them... 

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Recommendations from a Meeting on Health Implications of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) - Amofah (2014) - Ghana Med J

The Ghana Public Health Association organized a scientific seminar to examine the introduction of genetically modified organisms into public use and the health consequences. The seminar was driven by current public debate on the subject. The seminar identified some of the advantages of GMOs and also the health concerns.

 

lt is clear that there is the need to enhance local capacity to research the introduction and use of GMOs; to put in place appropriate regulatory mechanisms including particularly the labeling of GMO products and post-marketing surveillance for possible negative health consequences in the long term. Furthermore the appropriate state agency should put in place advocacy strategies to keep the public informed about GMOs...

 

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

"Notwithstanding the advantages and major potential public health benefits, a number of concerns and potential negative health impact were identified: (1) Current efforts are focused primarily on a few crop/trait combinations that have high commercial value and occupy large international markets, hence are primarily profit driven. (2) Public Institutions are resource limited and lack infrastructure and capacity to compete; there is poor access to advanced technology and weak regulatory capacity in country. (3) Potential for unpredictable, unintended mutations in the organism with consequential medico-legal events..." 

 

>> Companies that are operating in a market economy obviously seek to make profits. How can that in itself be an argument against the whole class of products that their products belong to? Also pharmaceutical companies are profit driven (and most do not do research into rare diseases and orphan drugs for poor developing countries' markets). This does not invalidate the usefulness of pharmaceuticals. It's simple: Where the market fails government intervention is necessary -- and there ARE publicly or philanthropically funded R&D projects on GM crops... And if there is less public R&D than would be ideal, is that a reason to be concerned about products that "only" cater to the demand that can be expressed on markets? Or rather about the research and regulatory context that inhibits public R&D? 

 

As to the risk of "unintended mutations", that's what happens in -- conventional -- mutation breeding... 

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Farmers’ Interest in Growing GM Crops in the UK, in the Context of a Range of On-farm Coexistence Issues - Jones & Tranter (2014)

Although no GM crops currently are licensed for commercial production in the UK, as opposition to GM crops by consumers softens, this could change quickly. Although past studies have examined attitudes of UK farmers toward GM technologies in general, there has been little work on the impact of possible coexistence measures on their attitudes toward GM crop production. This could be because the UK Government has not engaged in any public dialogue on the coexistence measures that might be applied on farms.

 

Based on a farm survey, this article examines farmers’ attitudes toward GM technologies and planting intentions for three crops (maize, oilseed rape, and sugar beet) based on a GM availability scenario. The article then nuances this analysis with a review of farmer perceptions of the level of constraint associated with a suite of notional farm-level coexistence measures and issues, based on current European Commission guidelines and practice in other EU Member States... 

 

When those surveyed were asked whether they might consider growing GM oilseed rape/maize/sugar beet if it was licensed by the Government for the 2015 planting year, around half those currently growing maize said they would consider it, as did 62% of those growing oilseed rape and 63% of those growing sugar beet... 

 

The potential adopters... had [statistically] significantly fewer years in farming, tended to be younger, had a higher annual farm income, larger farms, more staff numbers, and were more likely to be a member of a Farmers’ Union or Certification Body and to have a university degree than those who said they would not grow GM crops. This finding is consistent with past studies of adoption of other innovations... 

 

Those survey farmers who did not envision adopting GM crops had several reasons for this decision, including that they were worried about whether the GM crop would be ‘difficult to sell,’ that it would be ‘associated with complicated management,’ and that the ‘seed would be too expensive and difficult to buy’ ... 

 

If... stated areas were ‘raised’ to the national level, up to 247,000 ha of GM oilseed rape (38% of all plantings in 2010) might be grown, plus 83,000 ha of GM maize (57% of plantings in 2010) and 45,000 ha of GM sugar beet (38% of plantings in 2010).

 

The possible coexistence measure that was seen as least burdensome to the potential adopters was keeping records of seed purchases and product sales for five years. The most burdensome measure was seen as planning crop sowing in such a way that would not coincide with a neighbor’s planting... Summed together, the costs of the five coexistence measures would increase national production costs for the three crops by £44M...

 

Few studies have investigated farmers’ attitudes towards adoption of GM crops. However, those that have investigated this topic have found that net income gains were important and that non-pecuniary benefits such as flexibility in crop management were also felt important by farmers... 

 

Two recent high-level reports have concluded that the expansion of GM crop growing in Europe would be beneficial to all concerned across the food chain (European Academies Science Advisory Council, 2013). The UK Council for Science and Technology (2014) agreed with this, especially for the UK’s particular position.

 

http://www.agbioforum.org/v17n1/v17n1a02-tranter.htm

 

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What You Need To Know About Genetically Modified Organisms - I Fucking Love Science (2014)

What You Need To Know About Genetically Modified Organisms - I Fucking Love Science (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Genetically modified crops are a topic of intense debate that have sparked a lot of controversy over the years, fuelled largely through a lack of understanding and vast amounts of misinformation. Do we need GM crops? Are they dangerous? This article is going to give a brief overview of this huge topic and also discuss some of the myths and facts of GMOs.

 

What Are GMOs?

Humans have been modifying the genomes of plants and animals for our benefit for thousands of years using a process known as artificial selection, or selective breeding. This involves selecting organisms with desirable traits and breeding them so that certain characteristics are perpetuated. This could be a teacup dog, a cow with improved milk production or a fruit without seeds. However, this is limited to naturally occurring variations, which is where genetic engineering has found a place.

 

Genetic engineering allows us to introduce genes into an organism from a totally unrelated species which is commonly carried out on crops, agricultural animals and bacteria. These genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are designed for many reasons, including: pesticide and disease resistance, drought/frost resistance, increased yields, enhanced nutritional content... When most people consider GMOs they think of agriculture, but the medical implications are wide ranging... 

 

Why Do We Need GMOs?

While it is true that a major problem with feeding an over burgeoning global population relates to the distribution of the food that we do produce, if population growth does not slow down then we are going to need to find new ways to meet food demands.... 

 

There are several ways that this could be achieved. We could destroy valuable rainforests to make way for agricultural land... We could stop eating as much meat, given that the crop calories we feed to animals could meet the calorie needs of 4 billion people... Or we could create GM crops.

 

Many things threaten food security, such as crop or animal diseases, pests and climate change. Weather is becoming more unpredictable and extreme weather is becoming commonplace which is taking its toll on farmers worldwide. The idea behind many GMOs is to address these problems.

 

Examples of GM Crops

An excellent example is golden rice. Around 250 million children are vitamin A-deficient in the world, which kills and blinds millions each year. While supplement distribution programs exist, they’re expensive and difficult to sustain. The solution? Golden rice.

 

Researchers added two genes to white rice... which synthesize a precursor of vitamin A called beta-carotene. This pigment makes various foods orange and hence makes the rice appear golden... One bowl of golden rice meets 60% of a child’s daily vitamin A needs... it’s a viable solution to a real world problem. It was also developed by foundation-funded academic researchers and a nonprofit organization, not a big private corporation.

 

You may also be surprised to find out that around 85% of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Soy is also heavily genetically modified; one particular soybean was engineered to produce high levels of oleic acid because it is thought that this may lower LDL cholesterol, or “bad cholesterol.”

... 

 

There are many controversies surrounding this topic. Some are complete myths, while others raise valid issues.

 

Labeling... 

Some have suggested that labeling would be like putting a skull and crossbones on packaging... Mandatory label laws have come into place in certain countries, but they have not resulted in the anticipated reaction. Instead, they have led to an increased pressure for retailers to stop stocking GM products which has reduced consumer choice and at times raised prices.


It should be stressed that despite decades of testing, there is no evidence that genetically modified foods are intrinsically more dangerous or worse for you than unmodified food. This fear-mongering then, can come across as anti-science. Transparency is a hallmark of good science, but when the public does not fully understand the topic it can fuel fear... 


"GMO" is a fairly meaningless term when applied alone. Genetic modification is just a technique, it is not inherently dangerous. As with all techniques, it's how it's used that matters. Labeling food as "GMO" wouldn't tell you how it was modified, just that it was. A food label with "GMO" written on it really doesn't tell you anything more than "there's science in this food".

 

Risks To Health

While the genes inserted into organisms occur naturally in other species, there are concerns that altering the natural genome... may change the organism’s metabolism or growth rate. There are also concerns that GM foods may expose new allergens to humans or transfer antibiotic-resistant genes to the bacteria naturally found in our gut.

 

A lot of fear was sparked about the safety of GM foods after a scientist named Gilles-Eric Séralini published a study... However, numerous problems with the study came to light which led to its retraction from the journal. First off, Séralini is an outspoken anti-GMO activist. At the time of initial publication he had conflicting interests... For the experiments, Séralini used Sprague-Dawley rats that are prone to developing spontaneous tumors... There is a high probability that the results were due to chance. Furthermore, there have been mounds of better designed studies that have found no health issues... 

 

Terminator Seeds

Research on genetic use restriction techniques (GURT), or more commonly “terminator seeds”... aims to produce sterile seeds/offspring so that if modified plants escape, they cannot propagate in the environment. The idea that companies use these to force farmers into continually buying seeds is a myth. This technology would be useful in the development of “bioreactor” plants, for example those used in the production of pharmaceutical products such as antibodies or drugs to stop unintended gene release.


People don’t realize that sterile plants are already widely used - take a look at seedless bananas or grapes, but have they enslaved farmers? ... 

 

Separating Corporation from Technology

Everyone has heard of Monsanto, and this company is frequently cited as a reason to oppose GMOs. While Monsanto’s business practices may be ethically questionable, Monsanto are not the only company involved in GMO research. Many non-profit organizations and academic institutions are involved in this field. The technology is necessary and disagreeing with Monsanto and having anti-corporation values should not muddy your views on GMOs. If you have a problem with Monsanto, have a problem with Monsanto. Don't extend that to every application of GMOs.

 

GM Crops Result In Superweeds

... it has been argued that these GM crops encourage the evolution of herbicide resistance through liberal use, the fact is: it happens whether we use GM crops or not... Herbicide resistant crops do have their merits, though, and have caused a significant reduction in herbicide usage and an improvement on environmental impact.

 

Unintended Spread Of Genes

There has been concern that genes used in the development of GM crops may unintentionally spread to other organisms... studies have found that the risks are negligible and that transfer rates are exceedingly low... recommendations have been made to avoid using antibiotic resistance genes in creating GMOs.

 

Outcrossing

A final concern with GM crops is that genes may spread from these plants into conventional crops or related species found in nearby areas... This could have ecological consequences, such as an increase in fitness or a decrease in genetic diversity. These risks are recognized and measures have been adopted to minimize them... 

 

Genetic modification is simply a tool. Like all tools, the application is what matters. All new technologies require review and testing, but fears should be based on science and evidence, not a lack of understanding when it comes to new science.


http://www.iflscience.com/environment/myths-and-controversies-gmos-0

 

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Measuring the extent of GMO asynchronous approval using regularity dissimilarity indices: The case of maize and soybean - de Faria & Wieck (2014) - EAAE

The purpose of this paper is to assess the extent of asynchronicity in the authorisations of new genetically modified organism (GMO) events between importing and exporting countries. Based on the literature, we systemise the GMO regulatory framework and use dissimilarity and stringency indices to assess the regulatory differences.

 

The results show an increase in the asynchronous approval across the majority of country pairs. However, focusing only on commercialised events and considering only regulatory differences in which the importers are more stringent than the exporters, the asynchronous approval is considerably lower, and the result indicates that the major trade leaders have synchronised their approval status for GMOs over time... 

 

Despite the observed synchronicity... As there is a diversified GMO events portfolio currently in the “waiting line” and there is no guarantee that the synchronicity between the leading countries will persist in the near future, it is likely that problems of asynchronous approval will become more urgent.

 

http://purl.umn.edu/182796

 

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Brazil considers transgenic trees - Nature (2014)

Brazil considers transgenic trees - Nature (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Viewed from above, Brazil’s orderly eucalyptus plantations offer a stark contrast to the hurly-burly of surrounding native forests. The trees, lined up like regiments of soldiers on 3.5 million hectares around the country, have been bred over decades to grow quickly.

 

On 4 September, a public hearing will consider bringing an even more vigorous recruit into the ranks: genetically engineered eucalyptus that produces around 20% more wood than conventional trees and is ready for harvest in five and a half years instead of seven. Brazilian regulators are evaluating the trees for commercial release; a decision could come as early as the end of this year.

 

Researchers, businesses and activists are watching closely. Eucalyptus... is grown on about 20 million hectares throughout the tropics and subtropics, and approval of the genetically engineered trees in Brazil could encourage their adoption elsewhere... So far, no genetically modified tree from a major commercial species has been deployed on a large scale... 


The trees were developed by FuturaGene, a biotechnology firm in Rehovot, Israel, that was spun out of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1993. The company found that certain proteins accelerate plant growth by facilitating cell-wall expansion. FuturaGene inserted into eucalyptus a gene that encodes one such protein from thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), a common laboratory plant. In 2010, the firm was bought by Suzano Pulp and Paper of São Paulo, Brazil, one of the world’s largest producers of eucalyptus pulp.

 

FuturaGene’s chief executive Stanley Hirsch is quick to point out the environmental benefits of his company’s creation. The tree’s speedy growth boosts absorption of carbon dioxide from the air by about 12%, he says, aiding in the fight to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The genetically modified trees may also require less land to produce the same amount of wood, reducing the conversion of natural forest into plantations.

 

Hirsch says that the company has tried to avoid public-relations mistakes made by agricultural biotechnology companies in the past: rather than shun activists, he has invited them to tour the company’s field-trial sites. “Some of them were so surprised,” he says. “They said, ‘Wow, these look just like normal trees’” ... 

 

Genetically engineered trees do pose some biosafety issues that do not apply to agricultural crops such as maize (corn) or soya... trees tend to disperse pollen further than crops nearer the ground do, raising concerns about gene flow to native relatives. But eucalyptus has no native relatives in Brazil and is not particularly invasive in most areas of the country... 

 

FuturaGene says that it identified no major environmental problems in eight years of field trials that collected data on everything from gene flow to leaf-litter decomposition to the composition of honey made by bees that visit the trees. Myburg, who does not work with FuturaGene but is familiar with the company’s safety data, says that he found the firm’s studies to be well designed and thorough.

 

While FuturaGene tests the waters in Brazil, a US company awaits a regulatory decision regarding its genetically engineered, freeze-tolerant eucalyptus. In 2008, ArborGen of Ridgeville, South Carolina, petitioned the US Department of Agriculture to allow commercialization of the trees in the southeastern United States. Delays of this length are not uncommon in the US regulatory system, says ArborGen’s director of regulatory affairs Leslie Pearson... 

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/512357a

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

One of the first commercial GM plants (papaya) has been a tree, and also in China GM poplars are grown since years already... 
http://www.gmo-safety.eu/science/woody-plants/1283.genetically-modified-trees.html

http://www.gmo-safety.eu/basic-info/311.abundance-poplars.html
 

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Iron nutrition, biomass production, and plant product quality - Briat &al (2014) - Trends Plant Sci

Iron nutrition, biomass production, and plant product quality - Briat &al (2014) - Trends Plant Sci | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

One of the grand challenges in modern agriculture is increasing biomass production, while improving plant product quality, in a sustainable way. Of the minerals, iron (Fe) plays a major role in this process because it is essential both for plant productivity and for the quality of their products.


Fe homeostasis is an important determinant of photosynthetic efficiency in algae and higher plants, and we review here the impact of Fe limitation or excess on the structure and function of the photosynthetic apparatus. We also discuss the agronomic, plant breeding, and transgenic approaches that are used to remediate Fe deficiency of plants on calcareous soils, and suggest ways to increase the Fe content and bioavailability of the edible parts of crops to improve human diet... 

 

It is well known that Fe uptake through plant rootsresults from complex interactions between plant and soil within the rhizosphere, and does not solely depend on plant genotype. Solid phase modulation of Fe solubility in soils, the chemical speciation of Fe in solution, the importance of redox in the solubilization of Fe, and the role of synthetic and natural chelates in transport processes that occur near roots, are all soil-dependent factors that determine Fe bioavailability. Improvements to Fe nutrition of plants and Fe biofortification are therefore highly dependent on the physicochemical properties of soils, and not only on the plant genotype improvements that can be obtained through breeding or genetic transformation... 


Insights obtained over the past 20 years on Fe homeostasis in plants could lay the foundation for translational research in the field (i) to remediate Fe deficiency of plants on calcareous soils to increase crop productivity, and (ii) to increase the Fe content and bioavailability of the edible parts of crops to improve the diet and to combat human Fe deficiency anemia. Multidisciplinary programs promoting collaborations between molecular plant physiologists, soil scientists, agronomists, breeders, and animal and human nutritionists will be necessary to increase the chances of success in these applications.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2014.07.005

 

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Improvement of the oil quality of the main oil crops - Baldini &al (2014) - CAB Reviews

The growing demand for vegetable oils will increase even more in the near future because of their fundamental role in human and animal nutrition, increasing interest in their non-food applications as biofuel, lubricants, biopolymers, paints, etc. and the rising price of fossil fuels. The development of alternative vegetable oil feedstocks with modified functionality and at the same time maintaining the nutritional quality has therefore become a priority. In particular, modification of the fatty acid composition of vegetable oils specifically suitable for nutrition and/or industrial and other non-food applications has been one of the major challenges of the last few years.


This review provides a focus on the improvement in oil quality of the main oil crops cultivated in temperate zones, specifically soybean, rapeseed and sunflower, achieved by conventional breeding based on natural or induced genetic variability and by biotechnological approaches, especially adopting transgenic technology for the identification, isolation and transfer of genes and silencing of genes coding for key enzymes involved in the synthesis of fatty acids.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1079/PAVSNNR20149021

 

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