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New $25 million grant will improve cassava breeding - Cornell Chronicle (2012)

New $25 million grant will improve cassava breeding - Cornell Chronicle (2012) | Ag Biotech News |

To improve the productivity of cassava -- a rough and ready root crop that has long been the foundation of food security in Africa -- and plant breeding in sub-Saharan Africa, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom have awarded Cornell $25.2 million to host a five-year research project... 


"Partners on the Next Generation Cassava Breeding project will use a state-of-the-art plant breeding approach, known as genomic selection, to improve cassava productivity for the 21st century." ...  "This project will ensure that cassava genetic research is on a par with other top food crops such as wheat, rice, maize and potato." 


Africa's small farmers produce more than half of the world's cassava, about 86 million tons from over 10 million hectares. The tough woody plant is predicted to be one of the few crops that will benefit from climate change. It requires few inputs and can withstand drought, marginal soils and long-term underground storage. Cassava is a cash crop as well as a subsistence crop, and the storage roots of this perennial shrub are processed, consumed freshly boiled or raw and eaten by people as well as animals as a low-cost source of carbohydrates. No other continent depends on cassava to feed as many people as does Africa, where 500 million people consume it daily... 


In addition to using the latest genomic information from cassava sequencing to improve productivity and yield, project partners will incorporate cassava germplasm diversity from South America into African breeding programs, train the next generation of plant breeders and improve infrastructure at African institutions. They will also hold awareness-building workshops for farmers, scholars, researchers and policy makers.

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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.) ...


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, 2016 4:26 AM

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

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Genetically modified foods: consumer awareness, opinions and attitudes in selected EU countries - Popek & Halagarda (2017) - Int J Cons Stud

Genetically modified foods: consumer awareness, opinions and attitudes in selected EU countries - Popek & Halagarda (2017) - Int J Cons Stud | Ag Biotech News |

The aim of this study was to investigate consumer opinions regarding genetically modified (GM) foods. The research also aimed at verifying the differences in the attitudes of respondents from two, relatively culturally diverse research sites.

To obtain empirical data a face-to-face survey was conducted in 2015. It covered a total of 976 randomly selected individuals. The study was carried out in the capital of the United Kingdom - London and the Polish capital - Warsaw. The results of the study show that almost half of the respondents were familiar with the GMO concept... 

An almost equal number of respondents showed the intention of purchasing GM food products (35%), an intention to act otherwise (33%) or they were undecided (33%). No statically significant differences between the answers of respondents from the UK and Poland were found... 

The outcomes show that almost half of the respondents were familiar with the concept of GMO... The main fears concerned unpredictable consequences of DNA modification, production of species-specific toxins and food allergenicity. 

As many as 68% of the people surveyed were in favor of the obligatory labeling of GM foods... A considerable 28% of the subjects surveyed showed negative attitudes towards GM foods, whereas only 20% positive...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
33% said they would not buy GM food, i.e. 67% might buy it. (And it's everybody's best guess how many of those who now *said* they would not buy GM food, would actually buy it if it was on the market and e.g. had a lower price or brought some other benefits...) 

28% showed negative attitudes, i.e. 72% were indifferent or positive about GM food. (The other way around, many people show positive attitudes e.g. about free-range eggs, but this does not translate into actual purchasing decisions...) 

68% wanted GM foods to be labelled, i.e. 32% didn't care. 

48% said they'd be familiar with the term GMO, i.e. 52% didn't know what GM food is. 

Also see my review the "Acceptance of 'GM' food in Europe: What people say and do"

P.S.: An interesting statement by the authors: "These results reflect women’s more emotional attitude towards food and nutrition." Given that this statement is not supported by any reference that could confirm that women do indeed have a more emotional attitude towards food and nutrition, the authors must consider this as a self-evident truth. Well... (Not sure they have come across some of the - male - anti-GMO crackpots...)
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GM foods: why presenting "just the facts" won't work - Univ Adelaide (2017) 

When it comes to controversial science issues, scientists need to rethink their approach to engaging the public... The results of focus groups... show that if scientists continue to present "just the facts", most people won't engage or modify their thinking – even if those people are highly educated. The results have implications for public engagement across other controversial science issues, such as nuclear energy, climate change, vaccination and water fluoridation, the authors say.

"We were interested in previous surveys that showed women consistently were more opposed to GM foods than men, and so we set out to better understand the reasons why... GM foods are an important issue for the community, and with women still playing greater roles in the provision of home care and food preparation, we need to better understand how women are thinking and what their values are in relation to these issues"...  

"All of the women with science backgrounds used evidence to support their stance, but the way they did so came as a surprise to us... Women who had backgrounds in plant science said the lack of evidence of harm meant that GM food was safe to eat. But the women in health sciences said it was a lack of evidence of safety that made them cautious about consuming GM food. These perceptions are based on two very different concepts of risk, despite both groups being highly educated in science.

"For women without science backgrounds, GM food presented 'unknown' risks, and hence was to be avoided. There was a range of other issues apart from the science that arose in our study, a major one being a general lack of trust of science"... 

"It's important for scientists to realise that science has economic, social, and cultural impacts, and if people are presented with 'just the facts', the discussion leaves out critical topics and values... People – including people highly educated in science – come to these issues with their own ideas, experiences, and values, and they are not necessarily going to endorse particular scientific theories or applications based simply on facts being provided to them"... 

"Importantly, our work points to shared food values between those who eat and those who do and would not eat GM foods. Shared values are an important foundation for science communication, and we hope that our work can contribute to the development of better engagement strategies for both scientists and the public."

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Diet Culture Exists to Fight Off the Fear of Death - Atlantic (2017) 

Diet Culture Exists to Fight Off the Fear of Death - Atlantic (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Knowing a thing means you don’t need to believe in it. Whatever can be known, or proven by logic or evidence, doesn’t need to be taken on faith. Certain details of nutrition and the physiology of eating are known and knowable: the fact that humans require certain nutrients... But there are bigger questions that don’t have definitive answers, like what is the best diet for all people? For me? 

Nutrition is a young science that lies at the intersection of several complex disciplines – chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, psychology – and though we are far from having figured it all out, we still have to eat to survive. When there are no guarantees or easy answers, every act of eating is something like a leap of faith... 

All animals must feed on other life to sustain themselves, whether in the form of breastmilk, plants, or the corpses of other animals. The act of incorporation, of taking a once-living thing into your own body, is necessary for all animals’ existence. It is also disturbing and unsavory to think about, since it draws a direct connection between eating and death... 

The act of ingestion is embroidered with so much cultural meaning that, for most people, its roots in spare, brutal survival are entirely hidden. Even for people in extreme poverty, for whom survival is a more immediate concern, the cultural meanings of food remain critical... Who wants to think about staving off death each time they tuck into a bowl of cereal? Forgetting about death is the entire point of food culture.

When it comes to food... the desire for more life – not just delaying death today, but clearing the bar of mortality entirely – grew into an obsession with transforming the self into a perfected object that might achieve a sort of immorality. Diet culture... are cultural structures we have built to attempt to transcend our animality.

By creating and following diets, humans not only eat to stay alive, but they fit themselves into a cultural edifice that is larger, and more permanent, than their bodies. It is a sort of immortality ritual, and rituals must be performed socially. Clean eating rarely, if ever, occurs in secret... 

As humans, we are possibly the most promiscuous omnivores ever to wander the earth. We dine on animals, insects, plants, marine life, and occasionally non-food: dirt, clay... We seek variety and novelty, and at the same time, we carry an innate fear of food... the anxiety that arises from our desire to try new foods (neophilia) paired with our inherited fear of unknown foods (neophobia) that could turn out to be toxic...

Humans do not have a single, definitive rulebook to direct our eating, despite the many attempts nutrition scientists, dietitians, chefs, and celebrities have made to write one. Each of us has to negotiate the desire for food and fear of the unknown... Almost all children go through a phase of pickiness with eating. It seems to be an evolved survival mechanism that prevents us... from eating something toxic... 

Our omnivorousness gives us an exhilarating and terrifying amount of freedom. As social creatures, we seek safety from that freedom in our culture, and in a certain amount of conformity. We prefer to follow leaders we’ve invested with authority to blaze a path to safety.

The heroes of contemporary diet culture are wellness gurus who claim to have cured themselves of fatness, disease, and meaninglessness through the unimpeachable purity of cold-pressed vegetable juice. Many traditional heroes earn their status by confronting and defeating death... Wellness gurus are the glamorously clean eaters whose triumph over sad, dirty animality is evidenced by... photographs of green smoothies in wholesome Mason jars, and by their own bodies, beautifully rendered. 

There are no such heroes to be found in a peer-reviewed paper with a large, anonymous sample, and small effect sizes, written in impenetrable statistician-ese, and hedged with disclosures about limitations. But the image of a person you can relate to on a human level, smiling out at you from the screen, standing in a before-and-after, shoulder-to-shoulder with their former, lesser, processed-food-eating self, is something else altogether. Their creation myth and redemption... is undeniably compelling.

There are twin motives underlying human behavior... the urge for heroism and the desire for atonement. At a fundamental level, people may feel a twinge of guilty for having a body, taking up space, and having appetites that devour the living things around us. They may crave expiation of this guilt, and culture provides not only the means to achieve plentiful material comfort, but also ways to sacrifice part of that comfort to achieve redemption. It is not enough for wellness gurus to simply amass the riches of health, beauty, and status – they must also deny themselves sugar, grains, and flesh. They must pay.

Only those with status and resources to spare can afford the most impressive gestures of renunciation. Look at all they have! The steel-and-granite kitchen! The Le Creuset collection! The Vitamix! The otherworldly glow! They could afford to eat cake, should the bread run out, but they quit sugar. They’re only eating twigs and moss now. What more glamorous way to triumph over dirt and animality and death? ... 

This is how the omnivore’s paradox breeds diet culture: Overwhelmed by choice, by the dim threat of mortality that lurks beneath any wrong choice, people crave rules from outside themselves, and successful heroes to guide them to safety. People willingly, happily, hand over their freedom in exchange for the bondage of a diet that forbids their most cherished foods, that forces them to rely on the unfamiliar, unpalatable, or inaccessible, all for the promise of relief from choice and the attendant responsibility. 

If you are free to choose, you can be blamed for anything that happens to you: weight gain, illness, aging... But diet culture is constantly shifting. Today’s token foods of health may seem tainted or passé tomorrow, and within diet culture, there are contradictory ideologies... There is no certain path to purity and blamelessness through food. The only common thread between competing dietary ideologies is the belief that by adhering to them, one can escape the human condition, and become a purer, less animal, kind of being. 

This is why arguments about diet get so vicious, so quickly. You are not merely disputing facts, you are pitting your wild gamble to avoid death against someone else’s. You are poking at their life raft. But if their diet proves to be the One True Diet, yours must not be. If they are right, you are wrong. This is why diet culture seems so religious. People adhere to a dietary faith in the hope they will be saved. That if they’re good enough, pure enough in their eating, they can keep illness and mortality at bay. And the pursuit of life everlasting always requires a leap of faith...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
"This is why arguments about diet get so vicious, so quickly. You are not merely disputing facts, you are pitting your wild gamble to avoid death against someone else’s. You are poking at their life raft. But if their diet proves to be the One True Diet, yours must not be. If they are right, you are wrong. This is why diet culture seems so religious. People adhere to a dietary faith in the hope they will be saved. That if they’re good enough, pure enough in their eating, they can keep illness and mortality at bay. And the pursuit of life everlasting always requires a leap of faith..."
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Stanford researchers measure African farm yields using high-resolution satellites - Stanford U (2017) 

Stanford researchers measure African farm yields using high-resolution satellites - Stanford U (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

By using high-res images taken by the latest generation of compact satellites... scientists have developed a new capability for estimating crop yields from space. The approach... could help estimate agricultural productivity and test intervention strategies in poor regions of the world where data are currently extremely scarce. 

“Improving agricultural productivity is going to be one of the main ways to reduce hunger and improve livelihoods in poor parts of the world... But to improve agricultural productivity, we first have to measure it, and unfortunately this isn’t done on most farms around the world.”

Earth-observing satellites have been around for over three decades, but most of the imagery they capture has not been of high enough resolution to visualize the very small agricultural fields typical in developing countries. Recently, however, satellites have shrunk in both size and cost while simultaneously improving in resolution...   

The new study... set out to test whether the images from this new wave of satellites are good enough to reliably estimate crop yields... The scientists compared two different methods for estimating agricultural productivity yields using satellite imagery. The first approach involved “ground truthing,” or conducting ground surveys to check the accuracy of yield estimates calculated using the satellite data... 

“We get a lot of great data, but it’s incredibly time consuming and fairly expensive, meaning we can only survey at most a thousand or so farmers during one campaign... If you want to scale up our operation, you don’t want to have to recollect ground survey data everywhere in the world.”

For this reason, the team also tested an alternative “uncalibrated” approach that did not depend on ground survey data to make predictions. Instead, it uses a computer model of how crops grow, along with information on local weather conditions, to help interpret the satellite imagery and predict yields.

“Just combining the imagery with computer-based crop models allows us to make surprisingly accurate predictions, based on the imagery alone, of actual productivity on the field... Our aspiration is to make accurate seasonal predictions of agricultural productivity for every corner of sub-Saharan Africa... This approach... could allow a huge leap in in our ability to understand and improve agricultural productivity in poor parts of the world.”

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Rothamsted Research is granted permission by Defra to carry out field trial with GM wheat plants - Rothamsted (2017) 

Rothamsted Research is granted permission by Defra to carry out field trial with GM wheat plants - Rothamsted (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Rothamsted Research... submitted an application... for permission to carry out GM field trials on the Rothamsted Farm between 2017 and 2019. The risk assessment was reviewed by the independent Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), and a 48-day public consultation was carried out... ACRE is satisfied that all scientific issues raised by the public with respect to this application have been addressed... Scientists... developed wheat plants that can carry out photosynthesis more efficiently i.e. convert light energy into plant biomass more efficiently. This trait has the potential to result in higher yielding plants. The purpose of the proposed trial is to evaluate the performance of the engineered plants in the field. 

Ensuring food security is a major challenge given the projected need to increase world food production by... 70% by 2050. Wheat is one of the major grain crops worldwide and provides approximately one-fifth of the total calories consumed globally. However, wheat yields have reached a plateau in recent years and predictions are that yield gains will not reach the level required to feed the 9 billion population... Traditional breeding and agronomic approaches have maximised light capture and allocation to the grain. A promising but as yet-unexploited route to increase wheat yields is to improve the efficiency by which energy in the form of light is converted to wheat biomass... 

“The efficiency of the process of photosynthesis integrated over the season is the major determinant of crop yield. However, to date photosynthesis has not been used to select for high yielding crops in conventional breeding programmes and represents an unexploited opportunity. But there is now evidence that improving the efficiency of photosynthesis by genetic modification is one of the promising approaches to achieve higher wheat yield potential... In this project we have genetically modified wheat plants to increase the efficiency of the conversion of energy from sunlight into biomass. We have shown that these plants carry out photosynthesis more efficiently in glasshouse conditions”... 

During the field trial, we will measure the photosynthetic efficiency of the plants in the field and we will determine total aboveground plant biomass and grain yield on an area basis at full maturity. We will also measure the number of wheat ears on an area basis and the grain number and weight per ear. From these data we will estimate the harvest index, which is the proportion of biomass allocated to the grain”...  

“This trial will be a significant step forward as we will be able to assess in ‘real environmental conditions’ the potential of these plants to produce more using the same resources and land area as their non-GM counterparts. These field trials are the only way to assess the viability of a solution that can bring economic benefits to farmers, returns to the UK tax payer from the long-term investment in this research, benefits to the UK economy as a whole and the environment in general”...

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The FDA Wants to Regulate Gene-Editing That Makes Cows Less Horny - Atlantic (2017) 

The FDA Wants to Regulate Gene-Editing That Makes Cows Less Horny - Atlantic (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Dairy cows grow horns. But dairy cows in the U.S. rarely have horns because they are seared, cut, or chemically burned off in a process that is as painful as it sounds. When Scott Fahrenkrug... learned about dehorning, he decided to apply his genetics expertise to creating a hornless dairy cow. And he left academia job to co-found a company, Recombinetics.

Fahrenkrug and his team ended up using a relatively new gene-editing technique called TALENs. They took a hornless gene from a breed of beef cattle and inserted it into a breed of dairy cattle. The resulting cattle are hornless, good at producing milk, and still genetically 100 percent cattle. In the past, breeders could have crossed dairy cattle and hornless beef cattle to get hornless dairy cattle after many generations. Gene editing is much, much faster, but the end results are genetically almost the same. Does this kind of gene-editing still need to be regulated?

The answer is yes... the FDA made clear that it could regulate any “portion of an animal’s genome that has been intentionally altered” as an animal drug. Recombinetics, as far as the FDA is concerned, has essentially been making animal drugs with its hornless cows...

In the early days of genetic engineering in the 1980s, the Reagan administration decided not to pass a new law regulating the technology. Rather, it divvied up regulatory authority among existing agencies under existing laws: The USDA would oversee genetically modified crops under plant pest rules, the EPA crops engineered to contain insecticides under pesticide rules, the FDA genetically modified animals under animal drug rules. The whole thing is called the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology...  

This patchwork is massively confusing, but it’s worked okay. New gene-editing technologies, however, have created problems for these old laws. In the past, genetic modification has involved recombinant DNA, which means taking DNA from one species, like bacteria, putting it into a second, like cotton. Recombinant DNA clearly involves adding something new and man-made into an organism. But TALENs... and CRISPR... allow scientists to make precise edits and deletions to the genome.

The different agencies are now making... different decisions... When the comes to plants, the USDA has decided a mushroom with a gene deleted using CRISPR does not fall under its regulatory authority because it contains no new foreign DNA from plant pests. Now, the FDA, has announced it is seeking comment on whether crops that have been edited via techniques like CRISPR pose additional risks compared to traditional breeding. In other words, where the USDA has stepped out, the FDA could now step in...  

Fahrenkrug... fears the regulation could stifle his relatively small company. “It will kill the industry. It will restrict the industry to only the most wealthy companies”...

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Molecular characterization of genetically-modified crops: Challenges and strategies - Li &al (2017) - Biotechnol Adv

Molecular characterization of genetically-modified crops: Challenges and strategies - Li &al (2017) - Biotechnol Adv | Ag Biotech News |

Molecular characterization lays a foundation for safety assessment and subsequent monitoring of genetically modified (GM) crops. Due to the target-specific nature, conventional polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based methods cannot comprehensively detect unintended gene insertions, let alone unknown GM events. 

As more and more new developed GM crops including new plant breeding technology (NPBT) generated crops are in the pipeline for commercialization, alternative -omics approaches, paticularly next generation sequencing, have been developed for molecular characterization of authorized or unauthorized GM (UGM) crops. 

This review summarizes first those methods, addresses their challenges, and discusses possible strategies for molecular characterization of engineered crops generated by NPBT, highlighting needs for a global information-sharing database and cost-effective, accurate and comprehensive molecular characterization approaches.

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Biofortification in Millets: A Sustainable Approach for Nutritional Security - Vinoth & Ravindhran (2017) - Front Plan Sci

Biofortification in Millets: A Sustainable Approach for Nutritional Security - Vinoth & Ravindhran (2017) - Front Plan Sci | Ag Biotech News |

Nutritional insecurity is a major threat to the world’s population that is highly dependent on cereals-based diet, deficient in micronutrients. 

Next to cereals, millets are the primary sources of energy in the semi-arid tropics and drought-prone regions of Asia and Africa. Millets are nutritionally superior as their grains contain high amount of proteins, essential amino acids, minerals, and vitamins. 

Biofortification of staple crops is proved to be an economically feasible approach to combat micronutrient malnutrition. HarvestPlus group realized the importance of millet biofortification and released conventionally bred high iron pearl millet in India to tackle iron deficiency... 

Biofortification in millets is still limited by the presence of antinutrients like phytic acid, polyphenols, and tannins. RNA interference and genome editing tools needs to be employed to reduce these antinutrients. In this review paper, we discuss the strategies to accelerate biofortification in millets by summarizing the opportunities and challenges to increase the bioavailability of macro and micronutrients.

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Does Bt rice pose risks to non‐target arthropods?― Results of a meta‐analysis in China - Dang &al (2017) - Plant Biotechnol J

Does Bt rice pose risks to non‐target arthropods?― Results of a meta‐analysis in China - Dang &al (2017) - Plant Biotechnol J | Ag Biotech News |

Transgenic Bt rice expressing the insecticidal proteins derived from Bacillus thuringiensis Berliner (Bt) have been developed since 1989. Their ecological risks toward non-target organisms have been investigated, however, these studies were conducted individually, yielding uncertainty regarding potential agroecological risks associated with large-scale deployment of Bt rice lines. 

Here, we developed a meta-analysis of existing literature to synthesize current knowledge of the impacts of Bt rice on functional arthropod guilds, including herbivores, predators, parasitoids and detritivores in laboratory and field studies. Laboratory results indicate Bt rice did not influence survival rate and developmental duration of herbivores, although exposure to Bt rice led to reduced egg laying, which correctly predicted their reduced abundance in Bt rice agroecosystems. 

Similarly, consuming prey exposed to Bt protein did not influence survival, development or fecundity of predators, indicating constant abundances of predators in Bt rice fields. Compared to control agroecosystems, parasitoid populations decreased slightly in Bt rice cropping systems, while detritivores increased. 

We draw two inferences. One, laboratory studies of Bt rice showing effects on ecological functional groups are mainly either consistent with or more conservative than results of field studies; and two, Bt rice will pose negligible risks to the non-target functional guilds in future large-scale Bt rice agroecosystems in China.

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Genetic Engineering as a Tool for Modification of Seed Storage Proteins and Improvement of Nutritional Value of Cereal Grain - El’konin &al (2016) - Ag Biol

Genetic Engineering as a Tool for Modification of Seed Storage Proteins and Improvement of Nutritional Value of Cereal Grain - El’konin &al (2016) - Ag Biol | Ag Biotech News |

In recent years, genetic engineering has become an effective tool for the genetic improvement of cultivated plants including changes in the composition grain storage proteins of cereal crops that are the main source of nutrition for humans. 

The review describes the approaches used in these studies: the introduction of genetic constructs (i) providing the synthesis of proteins that are absent in recipient cultivars; (ii) inducing RNA-silencing of genes encoding proteins with low nutritional value, (iii) regulating the pool of amino acids in the endosperm. The studies are referred, which reported on the introduction of additional genes... into the genomes of different lines and cultivars of wheat. 

In these studies, the transgenic lines with increased dough strength and elasticity were obtained... The examples of marker-free transgenic wheat lines... as well as... other cereals (rye, corn, sorghum) are given. 

The possibilities of using the RNAi technology to obtain new information about the mechanisms of development of protein bodies, vitreous endosperm formation, and the role of different classes of prolamins and glutenins in the technological properties of flour and dough are discussed... 

Examples of the creation of transgenic maize with improved nutritional value via RNA-silencing of prolamin genes, transgenic sorghum with improved protein digestibility, transgenic wheat with... a low toxicity to humans with celiac disease... are given... 

The prospects of using genetic engineering methods to create varieties with improved nutritional value are associated with the use of marker-free technologies, increasing accuracy of insertion of genetic constructs, using the methods of genome editing by artificially engineered nucleases.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Interesting here is the source, a Russian journal. 
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Do farmers with less education realize higher yield gains from GM maize in developing countries? Evidence from the Philippines - Jones &al (2017) - SAEA

For genetically-modified (GM) maize with genes for insecticidal Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin expression and glyphosate tolerance, there is ample developing world evidence demonstrating general increases in farmer average yields. However, little work carefully examines farmer profiles to explain mechanisms for heterogeneity in yield effects. 

In this article, we view Bt and stacked traits as simplifying input components, removing much complexity in farmer pest control needs. With panel data from the Philippines, we test whether these traits serve as substitutes or complements to human capital. We thus examine an oft-discussed but previously unexplored facet of Bt technology impacts. 

Results indicate GM traits are substitutes with proxies for human capital and pest control knowledge. For every year decrease in formal education and maize farming experience, farmers realize significantly higher yield gains from planting GM maize. This evidence provides additional insights about ‘pro-poor’ claims of many GM proponents, given small-scale, poor farmers tend to have lower levels of education... 

We began with the basic hypothesis that the simplifying intrinsic insecticidal properties of GM Bt traits may disproportionately benefit low resource, low educated farmers who are likely to struggle with the complexities of traditional pest management. Using tested proxies from the literature for pest knowledge, our analysis from a panel data set of Filipino maize farmers indicates that GM maize provides a greater yield boost for farmers with both lower formal education and practical maize farming experience. 

Neither pest training from extension staff nor plot size have a statistically significant effect. The effect of a reduction in formal schooling is over 3 times larger (per schooling year) than the effect of a year less maize farming experience. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first econometric evidence to support a link between GM Bt maize yield gains and human capital in developing countries. 

This evidence suggests that GM Bt maize may have particular promise in increasing yields in regions with lower human capital and pest knowledge. Developing countries with struggling rural education sectors, especially those in equatorial regions with severe pest pressure, may particularly benefit. 

As more countries throughout Asia and Africa consider the legalization and 16 promotion of GM varieties, this evidence could provide an important dimension to consider in policy debates. This analysis has only compared hybrid non-GM varieties to their GM counterparts. If GM maize is only deployed via hybrid varieties, there may be competing effects of increasing complexity through hybrid varieties and decreasing complexity with GM traits...

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The Socio-economic Impacts of GM Cotton in Burkina Faso: Does Farm Structure Affect How Benefits are Distributed? - Vitale &al (2016) - AgBioForum

The Socio-economic Impacts of GM Cotton in Burkina Faso: Does Farm Structure Affect How Benefits are Distributed? - Vitale &al (2016) - AgBioForum | Ag Biotech News |

This article documents the impact of GM cotton in Burkina Faso on input use and productivity. 

Six years of farm survey data found that GM cotton used two-thirds less insecticide and produced higher yields than conventional cotton while reducing farm labor allocated to spraying... farm size, insecticide sprays, number of bullocks, and type of cotton significantly explained cotton yield. 

Farm size was not found to be a deterrent to GM cotton adoption: farms of all sizes benefitted significantly from growing GM cotton. On a relative basis, farms of all sizes benefitted equivalently, though larger farms were found to be more productive and generated larger absolute benefits from GM cotton... household labor is higher valued and more efficiently utilized on GM cotton farms...

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Maize study finds genes that help crops adapt to change - Cornell Univ (2017) 

Maize study finds genes that help crops adapt to change - Cornell Univ (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Over many thousands of years, farmers have bred maize varieties so the crops are optimally adapted to local environments. A new study... analyzed close to 4,500 maize varieties – called landraces – bred and grown by farmers from 35 countries in the Americas to identify more than 1,000 genes driving large-scale adaptation to the environment.

“The study provided a powerful catalog of the genes necessary for corn to adapt to different latitudes and elevations across the world... It takes a thousand genes to attune a plant for a particular latitude and the elevation where it is grown. That’s what we are mapping here”...  

The researchers also identified genes associated with flowering time – the period between planting and the emergence of flowers, which is a measure of the rate of development. Flowering time is a basic mechanism through which plants integrate environmental information to balance when to make seeds instead of more leaves... 

“With global climate change over the next century, we can directly use this information to figure out what genes are important” to greatly speed up breeding efforts of maize... “We’re tapping the wisdom of farmers over the last 10,000 years to make the next century’s corn.”

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High-efficiency breeding of early-maturing rice cultivars via CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing - Li &al (2017) - J Genetics Genomics

High-efficiency breeding of early-maturing rice cultivars via CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing - Li &al (2017) - J Genetics Genomics | Ag Biotech News |
Rice is a staple food for more than half of the human population. It has been estimated that by 2030, 40% more rice will need to be produced in order to meet the growing demand. One of the strategies to improve rice productivity is to enlarge rice growth areas, such as... the northernmost region of China. 

However, the northward cultivation is accompanied with daylength extension and temperature decrease, which are unfavorable for rice, a tropical short-day plant, to complete flowering and seed setting. Thus, the need for early-maturing rice cultivars with extremely low photoperiod sensitivity is urgent. 

Rice heading date, one of the most important agronomic traits that determine rice distribution and production, is controlled by both genetic and environmental factors. Genetically, the heading date of rice varieties is determined by a combination of diverse natural variation alleles of a series of genes and qualitative trait loci involved in the rice photoperiodic flowering pathway... 

Three heading date genes were edited... which led to the extremely early flowering for some lines. For practical applications, it will be more valuable to edit only one of the three target genes so that the heading date of varieties is adjusted moderately... 

In summary, based on CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing, we developed a high-efficiency breeding approach for the manipulation of rice heading date, which is time and labor saving compared to traditional breeding. In future, other flowering time-related genes can also be used as targets to fine-tune the flowering time of rice varieties.

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Armyworm pests invade southern Africa ‘like one of the 10 plagues of the Bible’ - Washington Post (2017) 

Armyworm pests invade southern Africa ‘like one of the 10 plagues of the Bible’ - Washington Post (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Southern Africa has been struck by a pestilence so severe farmers have likened it to plagues of biblical proportions. Hungry caterpillars called fall armyworms are on the move across the continent from Zambia southward. In early February, South Africa’s agricultural department issued a report, noting that for the first time that this unfamiliar pest had been spotted in the country... 

“Little is known on how this particular pest entered Southern Africa... Since this pest is very new in Africa, very little is known on its long term effects. ” It was positively identified as the fall armyworm a few days later... “It’s widespread and seems to be spreading rapidly. It can lay up to 2,000 eggs and its life cycle is very quick.”

Armyworms – which will grow into moths and are not, technically speaking, worms – are so named for their ability to destroy massive amounts of crops, in the manner of troops trampling over a countryside... African armyworms eat in hordes as dense as 1,000 caterpillars per square meter... stripping maize plants bare... An estimate... put Zambia’s possible losses of maize, an important grain staple, as high as 40 percent... 

The Food and Agriculture Organization has set an upcoming emergency meeting to discuss plans to combat the pests. The Zambian government acquired insecticides and has begun stockpiling seeds to help farmers replenish consumed crops... Meanwhile, South Africa planned to import pheromone traps to catch and identify the extent of the pests’ spread.

Pesticides have shown to be effective against armyworms in the past... But it was not yet known if the current caterpillar outbreak had developed a resistance to the usual chemicals that kill them. What’s more, as moths, armyworms are known to fly great distances... “Only time will tell... what the full impact of this armyworm invasion will have.”

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
While this is too late now, putting biosafety regulations in place (as South Africa has them) and approving genetically engineered Bt crops could be one element in future strategies to fight such pests... 
8B DeborahC's curator insight, February 16, 9:52 AM
In early February, worms called fall army worms that are fairly new came in and were first, spotted in the Limpopo province. Nothing much is known about this worm and it only could have been identified after a few days. People talks about how it came to the land as if it was one of the 10 plagues in the bible. This worm is also a huge pest because it grows rapidly in size because it lays many eggs and the life cycle is also very quick. The eggs can be laid up to 2,000 eggs. These army worms will soon turn into a moth but researchers are concluding that these worms are originally from America and that the worms are a combination of two worms. The fall and the African army worm. They're in a huge amount and they also eat a lot. This causes them to eat the crops but also eat the reproductive parts of the crops, this damages the corn crops hugely. The government, such as, the Zambia is providing seeds for the people to harvest and other governments are trying to import certain traps to catch and learn more about of these worms. In the past, army worms, were weak to pesticides but we are not sure if it will be useful now, for they might have built up an immunity to the pesticides. Then again the army worms can fly great distances and spread quickly as moths and we can never know what will happen to these army worms. 

I was really surprised when I first saw this news' title. I'm a Christian and in the bible it said that the grasshoppers were the one to eat the crops but I'm thinking that God is using these army worms to reprimand the sins of people. Even if it might be a punishment to the people, it would be horrible to also starve the  innocent and hard working people. We can try using different ways such as, talking one army worm and see how it acts and its patterns so that we can try to at least predict how it would move later on. Or we might find a different way soon. Mainly, what I think, is that if we don't solve this problem soon, the people in South Africa can face huge problem and it will affect them horribly and other lands so I hope that they can find the solution soon. 
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Combined zinc and nitrogen fertilization in different bread wheat genotypes grown under Mediterranean conditions - Gomez &al (2017) - Cereal Res Comm

Combined zinc and nitrogen fertilization in different bread wheat genotypes grown under Mediterranean conditions - Gomez &al (2017) - Cereal Res Comm | Ag Biotech News |

The combined application of nitrogen (N) and zinc (Zn) appears to be a promising agronomic strategy for the biofortification with Zn. To evaluate such efficiency, a field experiment was conducted... under Zn-deficient soil. 

Four advanced breeding lines and two commercial varieties of bread wheat were fertilized with five treatments: i) control, ii) two foliar Zn applications, iii) one foliar Zn+N application, iv) soil and two foliar Zn applications, and v) soil and one foliar Zn+N application. 

Grain Zn content varied greatly across treatments... Grain Zn concentrations higher than the target level of 38 mg Zn kg-1 were obtained only when two foliar Zn applications were applied, alone or in combination with soil Zn applications, and grain Zn bioavailability also was more adequate (phytate:Zn ratios similar to 15). 

Soil Zn application resulted in grain yield increases between 7-10%, which virtually offset the extra application cost. The combined soil and two foliar treatment could be a good option for biofortifying bread wheat under Zn-deficient soils.

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Plant breeding: past, present and future - Bradshaw (2017) - Euphytica

Plant breeding: past, present and future - Bradshaw (2017) - Euphytica | Ag Biotech News |

Plant breeders can help farmers increase food production by breeding new cultivars better adapted to their chosen farming systems... In situ and ex situ conservation, and evaluation and use of plant genetic resources is vital for future plant breeding. 

The development of scientific breeding from the beginning of the twentieth century was based on understanding the mechanism of inheritance and the mating systems of crop plants. The types of genetically uniform, high yielding cultivars that have been bred from genetically heterogeneous landraces were determined by the mode of reproduction and mating system of the cultivated plant species... 

When genetically heterogeneous crops are desired, mixtures of cultivars and synthetic cultivars can be produced. Future progress in crop improvement will come from three complementary approaches: use of hybridization and selection in further conventional breeding, base broadening and introgression; mutation breeding, cisgenesis and gene editing; and genetically modified crops. 

Breeders will benefit from increased genetic knowledge and combine it with technological advances to aid the discovery of desirable genes and to make breeding faster, more efficient and more effective at achieving desired goals. Breeders will still need to apply appropriate breeding methods to the right germplasm for the right objectives... There does need to be a sense of urgency and an appreciation of the scale of breeding required.

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Toward the Genetic Improvement of Drought Tolerance in Crops - Nakashima & Suenaga (2017) - JARQ

Toward the Genetic Improvement of Drought Tolerance in Crops -  Nakashima & Suenaga (2017) - JARQ | Ag Biotech News |

Crop damage due to environmental stresses, including drought, high salinity, and high temperature, occurs worldwide. Therefore, genetically modifying plants to increase their environmental stress tolerance is an important global issue. In this paper, we discuss recent developments in basic and applied research aimed at genetically improving crop environmental stress tolerance. 

First, we review the progress made in understanding the environmental stress-tolerance mechanisms in plants, using Arabidopsis or rice as models. Then, we discuss our international collaboration to genetically modify crops such as rice, wheat, sugarcane and soybean that entails greenhouse- or field-based drought-tolerance tests. Finally, we assess the future prospects for developing stress-tolerant varieties... 

Recent molecular studies have revealed some important genes... for stress tolerance... the overexpression of such genes can enhance the stress tolerance in... plants... Transgenic plants containing such genes could improve the grain yields of such crop plants as rice and soybean under drought conditions. We hope that these results will contribute to the development of commercial transgenic varieties. 

In order to address global food and environmental problems, a multinational framework with more interdisciplinary cooperation is needed. Furthermore, the future commercialization of GM crops requires appropriate project management, encompassing science, technology and intellectual property, and GM regulation. We hope that the crops... may contribute to stabilizing agricultural production and providing a sufficient worldwide food supply in the future.

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Positive views regarding GM crops from Japan... 
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A 90-day toxicity study of GmTMT transgenic maize in Sprague-Dawley rats - Fang &al (2017) - Reg Toxicol Pharmacol

A 90-day toxicity study of GmTMT transgenic maize in Sprague-Dawley rats - Fang &al (2017) - Reg Toxicol Pharmacol | Ag Biotech News |

GmTMT transgenic maize is a genetically modified maize plant that overexpresses the γ-tocopherol methyltransferase (γ-TMT) from Glycine max (Gm). The γ-TMT gene was introduced into maize line Zhen58 to encode the GmTMT2a protein which can convert γ-tocopherol into α-tocopherol. Overexpression of GmTMT2a significantly increased the α-tocopherol content in transgenic maize. 

The present study was designed to investigate any potential effects of GmTMT maize grain in a 90-day subchronic rodent feeding study. Maize grains from GmTMT or Zhen58 were incorporated into rodent diets at low (12.5%), medium (25%) or high (50%) concentrations and administered to Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 10/sex/group) for 90 days. The negative control group of rats (n = 10/sex/group) were fed with common maize diets. 

Results from body weights, feed consumption, clinical chemistry, hematology, absolute and relative organ weights indicated no treatment-related side effects of GmTMT maize grain on rats in comparison with rats consuming diets containing Zhen58 maize grain. In addition, no treatment-related changes were found in necropsy and histopathology examinations. Altogether, our data indicates that GmTMT transgenic maize is as safe and nutritious as its conventional non-transgenic maize.

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Why Organic Farming Should Embrace Co-Existence with Cisgenic Late Blight-Resistant Potato - Gheysen & Custers (2017) - Sustainability 

Why Organic Farming Should Embrace Co-Existence with Cisgenic Late Blight-Resistant Potato - Gheysen & Custers (2017) - Sustainability  | Ag Biotech News |

The EU regulation on organic farming does not allow the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)... Mutagenesis using irradiation or chemicals is genetic modification, but the organisms obtained through these techniques are not subject to the provisions of the GMO directive. Such mutants can therefore be used in organic agriculture. 

Derived from its basic principles, organic farming can only use natural substances to control disease and crops should be resilient, which, in the case of disease resistance, means that durable (horizontal) resistance is preferred to vertical (single gene) resistance. 

Cisgenesis can achieve... durable resistance by introducing multiple resistance genes in one step... that can also be introduced by breeding. In case cisgenic plants are not subject to the provisions of the GMO legislation, they can... be legally used in organic agriculture. In case they are not exempted from the GMO regulation... why obstruct a cisgenic potato crop that can hardly be distinguished from a potato crop that is the result of conventional breeding? 

Among the reasons why organic agriculture does not allow the use of GMOs it is mentioned that genetic engineering is unpredictable, it causes genome disruption and it is unnatural. However... we now know that breeding is more unpredictable and causes more genome disruption than genetic engineering. 

Recent field trials have shown the efficacy of cisgenic late blight-resistant potatoes carrying multiple resistance genes. Large-scale growing of such durably resistant potatoes would not only be environmentally beneficial by it would strongly reducing the need for fungicide sprays in conventional potato cultivation and it would also reduce the disease pressure in organic potato cultivation.

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Crop achilles' heel costs farmers 10 percent of potential yield - Univ Illinois (2017) 

Crop achilles' heel costs farmers 10 percent of potential yield - Univ Illinois (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Scientists assumed leaves at the top of a plant would be the best at turning higher levels of light into carbohydrates – through the process of photosynthesis – while the lower shaded leaves would be better at processing the low light levels that penetrate the plant's canopy of leaves. Turns out that in two of our most productive crops, these shaded leaves are less efficient than the top leaves, limiting yield. These findings... could help scientists further boost the yields of corn and Miscanthus, as well as other C4 crops... 

"The wild ancestors of C4 crops are thought to have grown as individuals in open habitats where the number of leaves that they produced would have been limited by water and nitrogen and most leaves would be exposed to full sunlight... Today we grow these crops in ever denser stands, and provide them with nitrogen and water so that they can produce many more layers of leaves. But as a result, the proportion of leaves that are shaded has increased, and the production of grain will depend more and more on the contribution of this increasing proportion of shaded leaves. So how do... C4 crops do when they are on a meager fuel ration in the shade?"

Not well... when top and bottom leaves are placed in the same low light, the lower canopy leaves showed lower rates of photosynthesis. Shaded corn leaves are 15 percent less efficient than top leaves – and worse, lower leaves are 30 percent less efficient than the top leaves of Miscanthus, a perennial bioenergy crop... Considering the crop as a whole, this loss of efficiency in lower leaves may costs farmers about 10 percent of potential yield – a cost that will increase as planting density increases. This... likely applies to other C4 relatives, such as sugarcane and sorghum.

"What's interesting is that we saw this loss in efficiency in the lower canopy was not due to the leaf senescing and dying off... The leaves were still perfectly healthy when we were looking at them; they were even darker. In the article, we show through experiments that this was not caused by age... It will be important to find out why this loss in efficiency occurs and if there's any way that we can fix it... gaining a 10 percent increase in production would be very significant"...

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Genetic fix can make mass-produced tomatoes taste great again - New Scientist (2017) 

Genetic fix can make mass-produced tomatoes taste great again - New Scientist (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Mass-produced tomatoes are infamous for their bland, disappointing flavour. It’s even worse if you refrigerate them. But there’s hope on the horizon: geneticists have learned what went wrong, and how to make commercial tomatoes taste almost as good as their home-grown counterparts. Best of all, the same approach can be used to improve the flavour of many other fruits and vegetables.

Harry Klee of the University of Florida, Gainesville, and his colleagues asked volunteers to rate the flavour of 398 different tomato cultivars, including commercial varieties, heirloom tomatoes and wild strains. Using a gas chromatograph to measure the chemical constituents of each cultivar, they identified the specific odour molecules, known as volatiles, that contribute to desirable tomato flavour.

The group then searched through the entire tomato genome to find the gene variants, or alleles, that determine whether each variety produces high or low amounts of these molecules. Every modern variety contained gene variants that produce fewer of the many important flavour molecules, the team found. “You can go through the list and say oh, look, here’s a gene that affects the volatiles – and oh, look, the modern varieties have the less superior allele”... 

The superior alleles were probably lost accidentally as breeders focused on improving yield... Because each individual allele makes only a subtle difference to flavour, the loss of one or two at a time would pass unnoticed – but over time, the accumulating losses add up to a big decrease in flavour.

The superior alleles are still there in heirloom varieties, so breeders should be able to reintroduce them to the commercial varieties you might pick up in a supermarket. Klee is now in the process of doing exactly that in his laboratory, and expects to have results within a year or so. The good news is that this shouldn’t reduce crop yield much, because the volatile chemicals are present at such tiny concentrations... 

Klee has used the same approach to identify the molecules and genes responsible for flavour in strawberries and blueberries, and he expects that the technique will work in other crops, too... the same path to breeding tastier rocket, also known as arugula.

But tastier varieties won’t amount to much unless growers — who care more about yield and disease resistance — can be persuaded to plant them. That will only happen if enough consumers insist on more flavourful food... Most fruits and vegetables aren’t identified by variety in the supermarket. Until they are – as has now started to happen for a few crops including some tomatoes, apples and potatoes – consumers have no way to demand better flavour.

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Challenges in conducting transgenic R&D in developing countries: the Philippine experience - Tecson (2016) - ISHS

The Philippines is the first Asian country to establish a biosafety regulatory system in 1990 and to commercialize a genetically modified (GM) food crop (Bt corn) in 2003. After ten years, GM corn is planted to more than 800,000 ha. However, the success that GM corn enjoys in the country has not yet been transferred to the home-grown GM or transgenic crops. Presently, four GM crops: Bt cotton, Bt eggplant, Golden Rice and long shelf-life papaya are being field tested... 

Among the challenges confronting the conduct of R&D and commercialization of these transgenic crops are as follows: (a) access to technology and/or lack of know-how; (b) funding constraints; (c) strict regulation; and (d) acceptance and activism. We have addressed these challenges in various ways. 

Lack of technology and know-how is addressed by technology acquisition as well as extensive training of personnel. Funds for projects come from government agencies and international funding agencies. Modern biotech products are regulated... and regulation is widely perceived by researchers as strict and very slow. However, it is also the strict and science-based regulation, which has allowed the commercialization of Bt corn. 

Lastly, similar to the experience in other countries, strong and persistent anti-biotech groups exist in The Philippines. To address this, continuous dissemination of science-based information is undertaken by both public and private agencies for better understanding and appreciation of modern biotechnology by the general public and all concerned sectors.

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Nanoparticle fertilizer could contribute to new ‘green revolution’ - American Chemical Society (2017) 

Nanoparticle fertilizer could contribute to new ‘green revolution’ - American Chemical Society (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

The “Green Revolution” of the ’60s and ’70s has been credited with helping to feed billions around the world, with fertilizers being one of the key drivers spurring the agricultural boom. But in developing countries, the cost of fertilizer remains relatively high and can limit food production. Now researchers report... a simple way to make a benign, more efficient fertilizer that could contribute to a second food revolution.

Farmers often use urea, a rich source of nitrogen, as fertilizer. Its flaw, however, is that it breaks down quickly in wet soil and forms ammonia. The ammonia is washed away, creating a major environmental issue as it leads to eutrophication of water ways and ultimately enters the atmosphere as nitrogen dioxide, the main greenhouse gas associated with agriculture. This fast decomposition also limits the amount of nitrogen that can get absorbed by crop roots and requires farmers to apply more fertilizer to boost production. However, in low-income regions where populations continue to grow and the food supply is unstable, the cost of fertilizer can hinder additional applications and cripple crop yields... 

To slow the breakdown of urea and make one application of fertilizer last longer... researchers developed a simple and scalable method for coating hydroxyapatite (HA) nanoparticles with urea molecules. HA is a mineral found in human and animal tissues and is considered to be environmentally friendly. In water, the hybridization of the HA nanoparticles and urea slowly released nitrogen, 12 times slower than urea by itself. Initial field tests on rice farms showed that the HA-urea nanohybrid lowered the need for fertilizer by one-half. The researchers say their development could help contribute to a new green revolution to help feed the world’s continuously growing population and also improve the environmental sustainability of agriculture.

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Danforth Center Expands Major Research Program to Benefit Farmers in the Developing World - Danforth Center (2017) 

Danforth Center Expands Major Research Program to Benefit Farmers in the Developing World - Danforth Center (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, one of the world’s largest independent plant science institutes, today announced a three-year $6.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand and accelerate the development and deployment of advanced sorghum phenotyping and breeding technologies in support of improved varieties for smallholder farmers. 

“The Gates Foundation recognizes that most smallholder farmers rely on small plots of land for food and income. This grant will help increase the productivity of a crop that can, in a sustainable and effective way, reduce hunger and poverty and make communities economically stronger and more stable over the long term”... 

The funding... aims to optimize breeding strategies for improving the yield and stress tolerance of sorghum, a leading bioenergy feedstock crop in the United States, but also a critical source of nutrition for millions of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Sorghum Genomics Toolbox... is employing cutting-edge technologies to sequence and analyze grain sorghum genomes, capture tens of millions of phenotypic observations over the course of a growing season, and accelerate breeding efforts by connecting phenotypes to genotypes in the field.

“Initially we launched the... project to gain a greater understanding of the phenotypic and genomic variation of bioenergy sorghum, and to lay the foundation for genomics-enabled breeding strategies for... bioenergy feedstock production, but the same strategies are directly extendable to food security crops... I’m grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for recognizing the need to extend the application of advanced genomics and phenomics technologies to food crops that will benefit millions of people living in the developing world.”

Sorghum is a member of the grass family and is grown worldwide. It is of interest, not only because it is a staple crop in Sub-Saharan Africa, but because grain sorghum yields have been flat or declining due to the lack of sufficient investment in the development of new improved varieties. Sorghum is very resilient to drought and heat stress. 

Natural genetic diversity in sorghum makes it a promising system for identifying stress-resistance mechanisms in grasses that may have been lost during the domestication of related cereal crops. It is among the most efficient crops in conversion of solar energy and use of water, making it an ideal crop to target for improvement to meet the predicted doubling of global food demand by 2050.

“The National Sorghum Producers is excited to see the additional investment into sorghum research and breeding, which will help farmers around the world as they continue to deal with the challenges of advancing sorghum genetics to address climate variability and the need for increased food sustainability”...

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