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GM crops containing fish oil nutrients could be grown in UK - Telegraph (2014)

GM crops containing fish oil nutrients could be grown in UK - Telegraph (2014) | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Field trials of the first genetically modified crops to produce high yields of omega-3 fatty acids normally found in oily fish could start in Britain in just three months.... 


The researchers hope to produce the world’s first sustainable plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, normally found in oily fish, by “cutting and pasting” genes taken from marine algae. Permission could be given within just three months for the team to start sowing the seeds at the same high-security research site in Hertfordshire where GM wheat trials have successfully taken place in the last two years. 


The government-funded project is the first step towards developing more food enriched with vital omega-3 fatty acids which are believed to protect against heart disease. The fish-oil producing crop is part of a first wave of genetically engineered plants designed to provide vital nutrients.


Initially the aim is to benefit the fish farming industry, which consumes 80 per cent of fish oil supplies. But in 10 years time, the GM-produced oil could be finding its way into food products such as margarine... 


“By the end of this decade, there's a possibility that people will be able to obtain a GM plant-based source of fish oils.” Despite past controversy surrounding field trials of GM crops, the team does not expect its work to meet strong opposition. “If you have a crop that's got the potential health benefits and sustainability and environmental benefits, and we can articulate that clearly, then I think people will see this is an OK thing to do," Prof Napier said. "It's not a controversial thing to do. The technology is not particularly controversial." ... 


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agriculture/geneticmodification/10593892/GM-crops-containing-fish-oil-nutrients-could-be-grown-in-UK-within-months.html

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Ag Biotech News
Scoops on GMOs, agricultural biotech, innovation, breeding, crop protection, and related info, incl. on science communication. (Scoops are not necessarily endorsements). CLICK on the titles to get to the full, original, and possibly hyperlinked versions! | UPDATE: Scoop.it's new business model doesn't allow more postings. Check instead: http://twitter.com/AJStein_de
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Bringing light into the discussion about GMOs? – A rather long reading list

[updated March 03, 2018]  

 

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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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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Low‐gluten, nontransgenic wheat engineered with CRISPR/Cas9 - Wiley 

Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered in genetically predisposed individuals by the ingestion of gluten proteins from wheat, barley and rye. 


The α‐gliadin gene family of wheat contains four highly stimulatory peptides, of which the 33‐mer is the main immunodominant peptide in patients with coeliac. We designed two sgRNAs to target a conserved region adjacent to the coding sequence for the 33‐mer in the α‐gliadin genes. 


Twenty‐one mutant lines were generated, all showing strong reduction in α‐gliadins. Up to 35 different genes were mutated in one of the lines of the 45 different genes identified in the wild type, while immunoreactivity was reduced by 85%. 


Transgene‐free lines were identified, and no off‐target mutations have been detected in any of the potential targets. The low‐gluten, transgene‐free wheat lines described here could be used to produce low‐gluten foodstuff and serve as source material to introgress this trait into elite wheat varieties. 


https://doi.org/10.1111/pbi.12837


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Not sure 85% reduction is enough for coeliacs - and not sure those who avoid gluten because of the food fad are the ones who'd embrace the results of modern breeding approaches - but for the former group (who actually has to eat gluten free) at least it's going in the right direction.... 
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The price of non-genetically modified (non-GM) food - Elsevier

The price of non-genetically modified (non-GM) food - Elsevier | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Added costs for non-GM ingredients and changes in demand for non-GM foods determine non-GM price premiums... US Consumers have been paying price premiums of 10-62% for the non-GM products analyzed. The cost of mandatory labeling of GM foods depends on manufacturer decisions. If food manufacturers reformulate with non-GM ingredients, costs to consumers could be substantial... 


Price premiums tend to be higher for non-GM and organic foods for which primary agricultural commodities and their derivatives have a high value share. These are often low value-added foods that are purchased by consumers with lower incomes who prepare and eat most of the meals at home... Greater attention on the distributional implications of mandatory labeling and the ensuing responses of manufacturers might be warranted... 


Perhaps the most important conclusion to be drawn from our results is that non-GM foods are more costly than GM foods, and policies that encourage food companies to shift toward non-GM ingredients are likely to increase food costs... 

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2018.02.005

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Fixing soybean’s need for nitrogen - ASA 

Fixing soybean’s need for nitrogen - ASA  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Soybean is rich in protein, which is great for the humans and animals eating it. But this high protein content comes at a cost. To make protein, soybean plants need a lot of nitrogen. The plants get some of the nitrogen they need by working with specialized bacteria in the soil. These bacteria live in root nodules. They pull nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it to a form the plants can use. 

But this process – biological nitrogen fixation – may not provide all the nitrogen soybean crops need. Farmers may have to apply nitrogen fertilizer as well. A new study... shows it’s possible to increase the number of soybean root nodules – and the bacteria that live there – to increase crop yields. This could remove the need to apply additional nitrogen fertilizers... 

Hungria, lead author of the study, and her colleagues coated soybean seeds with the bacteria (the usual method used by growers). They supplied additional bacteria by spraying it on the plants during other stages of growth. Soybean plants that received the additional spray inoculation developed more root nodules. And more nodules led to higher yields... adding bacteria to seeds increased yields by 27% and 28%. Spraying bacteria on the soy fields during growth pushed up yields even further.

The increase in root nodules after additional spray inoculation surprised Hungria and her colleagues. Previous research indicated that each nodule makes it more difficult for soybean plants to develop subsequent ones. But in this study, soybean plants were able to form new nodules when researchers provided more bacteria. “To discover that nodules aren’t regulated as strictly as previously thought is an important finding”... 

More biological nitrogen fixation, and less nitrogen through fertilizer, can also increase sustainability. First, it reduces carbon emissions. Nitrogen fertilizers are usually produced using fossil fuels. “For every pound of nitrogen fertilizer manufactured, at least 10 pounds of carbon dioxide may be released”... 

The second improvement in sustainability is on the field. Excess nitrogen fertilizers from the field can flow into bodies of water. Too much in an aquatic ecosystem can cause algal blooms. These deplete the water of oxygen and lead to “dead zones” devoid of life. Biological fixation using bacteria, however, means more of the nitrogen is used by the crop.

Less fertilizer use also has an economic impact. Nitrogen fertilizer costs can add up quickly, both for farmers and for countries. Brazil imports about 70% of the nitrogen fertilizers used in the country.

Several farms in Brazil began using the study’s strategy in October 2016 (the summer crop in Brazil). Initial results have been promising... The higher soybean yields seen in the study are sustained on these larger scales... Researching bacteria and nitrogen fixation may just be the beginning...  


https://www.agronomy.org/science-news/fixing-soybeans-need-nitrogen


http://doi.org/doi:10.2134/agronj2017.09.0540


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Bee genera, diversity and abundance in genetically modified canola fields: GM Crops & Food

Intensive agricultural practices resulting in large scale habitat loss ranks as the top contributing factors in the global bee decline. Growing... Herbicide Tolerant crops as large monocultures has resulted [in] extensive applications of herbicides leading to the degradation of natural habitats surrounding farmlands. 


Herbicide tolerance trait is beneficial for crops such as Canola that are extremely vulnerable to weed competition. While the trait in itself does not harm pollinators, growing... herbicide tolerant cultivars indirectly contributes towards pollinator declines through habitat loss. 


Canola... is highly attractive to bee pollinators and the extensive adoption of the herbicide tolerant trait has led to depletion of floral resources upon completion of crop bloom. Extensive use of herbicide in and near fields... systematically eliminates semi-natural habitats around agricultural fields which consist of non-crop flowering plants. 


Planting pollinator strips provides floral resources for bees after crop flowering. We document the bee genera in canola and the adjoining pollinator strip. The overlap in bee genera reinforces the importance of pollinator habitats in agricultural landscape.


https://doi.org/10.1080/21645698.2018.1445470

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
I'd think that any efficient weed control will have the same effect, whether genetically modified or conventionally bred herbicide-tolerant crops (which also exist), or anything else... 
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Genome engineering in ornamental plants: Current status and future prospects - Elsevier

Genome engineering in ornamental plants: Current status and future prospects - Elsevier | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Ornamental plants, like roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums, are economically important and are sold all over the world. In addition, numerous cut and garden flowers add colors to homes and gardens. 


Various strategies of plant breeding have been employed to improve traits of many ornamental plants. These approaches span from conventional techniques, such as crossbreeding and mutation breeding, to genetically modified plants. 


Recently, genome editing has become available as an efficient means for modifying traits in plant species. Genome editing technology is useful for genetic analysis and is poised to become a common breeding method for ornamental plants. 


In this review, we summarize the benefits and limitations of conventional breeding techniques and genome editing methods and discuss their future potential to accelerate the rate breeding programs in ornamental plants.


https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plaphy.2018.03.015


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The impact of biofungicides on agricultural yields and food security in Africa - IJAT (2017) 

The impact of biofungicides on agricultural yields and food security in Africa - IJAT (2017)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
Biofungicides are formulations made from naturally occurring substances that control pests (fungi) by non-toxic mechanisms in an ecological friendly manner. They are derived from animals, plants, microorganisms and include living organisms, their products or byproducts which can be used for pest management. 

The use of biofungicides for the control of pests started in the 17th century before the advent of synthetic pesticides. The preparation and application of botanicals for crop protection for increased food production were linked to the folklores and traditions of farmers. 

Biofungicides have been succinctly categorized into three major groups: Plant-Incorporated Protectants (PIP), biochemical biopesticides, and Microbial biofungicides. Bioactive compounds such as rotenone, saponin, Azadirachtin, flavonoids, Nicotine and alkaloids are found in biopesticides. These confer biological activity on them. 

Interest in biopesticides increased in the last decade particularly in view of the growing demand for organic and residue free foods. Biofungicides being target Pest (fungi) specific are environmentally benign, safer and cost effective alternatives to synthetic pesticides. Biofungicides are known to exert antifeedant, deterrent, toxicant, insecticidal andrepellant effects on agricultural pests. 

The Environmental Protection Agencies in developing countries are responsible for regulating the safety of biofungicides. Trends in the biofungicides market reveal a growing demand in the utilization of biofungicides for increased agricultural yields. This trend has led to the depletion of the reserves of pesticidal plants in the wild. Propagation amongst farmers is now encouraged to preserve the vanishing heritage. Conservation of novel plants and their development as biofungicides should be encouraged through the use of biotechnology. 


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Interesting view that biopesticides are non-toxic (how do the work then?), produce residue-free food, and are more environmentally benign and safe than synthetic pesticides... But the more interesting point is that the production of biopesticides has lead to a depletion of wild plants, which now need to be protected and conserved. (How does that square with the assertion that biopesticides are environmentally benign?) Also interesting is the suggestion to use biotechnology to develop biofungicides, which presumably would then still mean these pesticides are "bio" and natural, as opposed to synthetic?! 
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Tasty superfood from plant cell cultures - VTT (2018) 

Tasty superfood from plant cell cultures - VTT (2018)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A new and promising method of producing healthy and tasty plant-based food through plant cell culture (PCC) technology rather than field cultivation. The development work was elevated to a whole new level by a study on the nutritional properties of PCCs grown from cloudberry, lingonberry and stoneberry. Their nutritional value was proven to be much higher than anticipated, in addition to having a nice sensory profile.


In recent years, VTT has developed plant cell culture technologies with the aim of creating a completely new and groundbreaking method of producing vegetable foodstuffs and ingredients... "This is not only a completely new opportunity for the food industry but to society as a whole. There is not enough arable land to meet the growing global population's food demands; new solutions are desperately needed. Cell cultures have serious potential for meeting this need"... 


Cell culture production of meat has been a popular topic in public discussion. In the future, however, PCCs can be used to produce food that has higher nutritional value in a considerably faster and easier way and at lower costs. The objective of VTT's study was to examine the nutritional and sensory properties of dried and fresh cells grown from cloudberry, lingonberry and stoneberry by using PCC technology.

The PCC samples had a pleasant, fresh and mild flavour, which resembled that of corresponding fresh fruits. The berry-like flavour was more intense in the dried samples, which were also melting appealingly in mouth. The visual appearance of cell cultures also resembled that of the corresponding fresh fruits.

The plant cells were proven to be nutritionally valuable - in most respects even more so than fruits. The PCC samples had high protein content of 14-19%, and in vitro analysis showed good protein digestibility. The contents of essential amino acids important to muscle, bone and tissue health were higher than those reported for soy, which is considered an excellent source of amino acids. The dietary fibre of the samples varied between 21 and 37%, which is clearly more than in breakfast cereals, for example. Energy content was also higher than anticipated. The PCC samples were also found to be rich sources of unsaturated fatty acids. A previous study of VTT has shown that cell cultures have high contents of polyphenols that are known for their health-promoting effects... 

"Biomass produced with plant cell culture technology should be considered as completely new food material, which is why their characteristics should not necessarily be compared with corresponding fresh fruits. Their excellent nutritional properties are a sign of great future potential of plant cell cultures in creating new types of superfoods. The variations produced by using different plants offer limitless possibilities"... the market entry of PCCs requires regulatory approval as a novel food...


https://www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=184531&CultureCode=en


Underlying: http://doi.org/10.1007/s00425-017-2686-8

http://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2018.02.045


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Effects of long-term feeding with genetically modified Bt rice on the growth and reproductive performance in highly inbred Wuzhishan pigs - Food Control (2018) 

Effects of long-term feeding with genetically modified Bt rice on the growth and reproductive performance in highly inbred Wuzhishan pigs - Food Control (2018)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it
This study aimed to evaluate the safety of GM rice containing Cry1Ab protein (1.64mg/kg) as the main ingredient in the diet after 360 days of feeding in the highly inbred Wuzhishan pigs (WZSP). A total of 28 pigs aged 3 months were divided into two groups and fed with either non-GM (MH86 group, female n=7, male n=7) or GM rice (Bt group, female n=7, male n=7). The total dosage of Cry1Ab protein for female and male pigs was 0.972 and 0.963 mg/kg body weight by the end of final weighing date (D 75), respectively. 

The results showed that there were no differences in the average daily gain, average daily food intake, body weight, feed conversion ratio, oestrus cycle duration, oestrus period, litter size, serum steroids, or the birth and weaning weight of offspring between Bt and MH86 groups. 

All pigs (n=28) were sacrificed to collect tissues and blood samples for the analysis of relative organ weights, blood physiological and biochemical parameters and histopathological examinations. No significant differences existed in the tested indicators except that total protein was significantly higher in the MH86 compared to the Bt group (P < 0.05). In addition, the total bilirubin in the MH86 group was higher than the Bt group for females (P < 0.05), but no difference existed in males (P > 0.05). No pathologic abnormal changes were found from histopathological examinations of the main tissues. 

On the basis of these results, feeding with Bt rice for 360 days did not affect the growth, reproductive performance, hematology, or organ morphology in WZSP. 


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The impact of agricultural extension services in the context of a heavily subsidized input system: The case of Malawi - World Dev (2018) 

The impact of agricultural extension services in the context of a heavily subsidized input system: The case of Malawi - World Dev (2018)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

This paper examines the interplay between Malawi’s input subsidy and access to extension services, and the impact of both on farm productivity and food security using Malawi’s Integrated Household Panel Survey. A correlated random effects (CRE) device is used, and consistency and robustness of results are checked using various other estimation models. 


The receipt of fertilizer and seed subsidies is shown to have an inconsistent impact on farm productivity and food security; at the same time, access to agricultural advice is consistently insignificant in explaining these. Further analysis, however, shows a statistically significant and strong association with farm productivity and food security when access to extension services is unpacked to include indicators of usefulness and farmers’ satisfaction. 


Households that reported receipt of “very useful” agricultural advice had greater productivity and greater food security compared to those that reported receipt of advice that they considered not useful and those that did not receive any advice at all. This result implies the need to ensure the provision of relevant and useful agricultural advice to increase the likelihood of achieving agricultural development outcomes. 


https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2017.12.004


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Agricultural Sustainability Project Reached 20.9 Million Smallholder Farmers Across China - U Penn (2018) 

Agricultural Sustainability Project Reached 20.9 Million Smallholder Farmers Across China - U Penn (2018)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Smallholder farmers who cultivate perhaps only a few hectares of land dominate the agricultural landscape in places like China, India, and sub-Saharan Africa. Increasing their efficiency while reducing their environmental impact are critical steps to ensuring a sustainable food source for the world’s growing population.

Yet sharing best practices with smallholder farmers, who often have limited resources to invest in their livelihoods and who number in the hundreds of millions in China alone, is a daunting prospect.

In a report... Zhengxia Dou, professor of agricultural systems... teamed with colleagues... in sharing the successful implementation of a long-term, broad-scale intervention that both improved yields and reduced fertilizer application across China. The effort, enacted over 10 years, engaged nearly 21 million farmers and increased yield on average more than 10 percent and lowered fertilizer use between 15 and 18 percent. Overall, the actions netted an increase in grain output with a decrease in fertilizer input and savings totaling $12.2 billion.

“The extent of the improvement in terms of yield increase and fertilizer decrease was great,” says Dou. “But it was not a surprise as similar results had been attained before. It was the scale of it all, approaching it with an all-out effort and multi-tiered partnerships among scientists, extension agents, agribusinesses, and farmers, achieving a snowball effect. That, to me, is the most impressive takeaway.”

The project began with the recognition that prevailing agricultural practices of China’s vast numbers of smallholder farmers do not meet requirements for sustainable productivity. Globally, food production must increase by 60 to 110 percent over 2005 levels by 2050 in order to meet demand. At the same time, the impact of climate change and environmental degradation makes farming more difficult. To determine the best ways of meeting sustainable productivity demand, researchers in the current study conducted more than 13,000 field trials testing what they call an integrated soil-crop system management program, or ISSM, a model that helps determine which crop variety, planting date and density, fertilizer use, and other strategies will work best in a given climate and soil type. The tests were done with maize, rice, and wheat.

After determining that the model could help guide agricultural efforts across China’s major farming zones and achieve yield improvements and fertilizer reductions, the researchers organized a massive campaign to work with farmers across China. The campaign engaged more than 1,000 scientists and graduate students, 65,000 agricultural extension agents, and 130,000 agribusiness personnel to reach 20.9 million smallholder farmers in 452 counties in China.

“The collaborating scientists trained local technicians, and the technicians worked with the farmers closely to develop their management practices based on what made sense in the region,” Dou says.

Agribusiness was a key partner in the effort, helping design fertilizer products that matched the needs of the farmers.

“This was a massive, nation-wide, multi-layered collaboration,” Dou says.

To gain a deeper understanding of the current performance of Chinese farmers, the researchers conducted a survey of 8.6 million farmers from 1,944 counties across the nation. They found room for improvement, as most had yields at least 10 percent, and some as much as 50 percent, lower than the ISSM would predict.

Dou believes the experiences and lessons gained through this nation-wide project can be applicable elsewhere, particularly in Asia. India, for example, is another country where yields are relatively low and fertilizer use high. In sub-Saharan Africa, both yield and fertilizer input is low, yet the lessons “in how to work with smallholder farmers, how to earn their trust and engage them,” Dou says, would still hold true. 


https://news.upenn.edu/news/agricultural-sustainability-project-reached-209-million-smallholder-farmers-across-china


Underlying study: http://doi.org/10.1038/nature25785


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Do consumers care how a genetically engineered food was created or who created it? 

Do consumers care how a genetically engineered food was created or who created it?  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

This paper explores heterogeneity in consumer preferences for foods and policies that relate to different innovative plant breeding technologies. As a starting point in our analysis, we report results from almost four years of monthly surveys with U.S. consumers, which show slight food safety concern for genetically engineered food with no discernable trend of increased or decreased concern over time. 


We find small differences in consumer preferences for policies related to different plant breeding methods, with the strongest support for the notion that bioengineered crops should be regulated based on health and environmental outcomes rather than the process used to create new crops. 


Other survey results reveal support or opposition for genetically engineered food depends on consumers’ perceptions of who created the technology. We also find that food safety concerns related to genetically engineered food are related to perceptions about the distribution of benefits from the technology across the food supply chain. 


https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2018.02.007


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Limits to the Biofortification of Leafy Brassicas with Zinc - Ag (2018) 

Limits to the Biofortification of Leafy Brassicas with Zinc - Ag (2018)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Many humans lack sufficient zinc (Zn) in their diet for their wellbeing and increasing Zn concentrations in edible produce (biofortification) can mitigate this. Recent efforts have focused on biofortifying staple crops. However, greater Zn concentrations can be achieved in leafy vegetables than in fruits, seeds, or tubers. Brassicas, such as cabbage and broccoli, are widely consumed and might provide an additional means to increase dietary Zn intake. 


Zinc concentrations in brassicas are limited primarily by Zn phytotoxicity. To assess the limits of Zn biofortification of brassicas, the Zn concentration in a peat:sand medium was manipulated to examine the relationship between shoot Zn concentration and shoot dry weight (DW) and thereby determine the critical shoot Zn concentrations, defined as the shoot Zn concentration at which yield is reduced below 90%. The critical shoot Zn concentration was regarded as the commercial limit to Zn biofortification...


A linear relationship between Zn fertiliser application and shoot Zn concentration was observed at low application rates... If 5% of the dietary Zn intake of a population is currently delivered through brassicas, then the biofortification of brassicas from 0.057 to > 0.100 mg Zn g−1 DW through the application of Zn fertilisers could increase dietary Zn intake substantially. 


https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture8030032


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Rethink public engagement for gene editing - Nature 

Rethink public engagement for gene editing - Nature  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Over the past three years, thousands of articles have been published about editing genes and genomes. Apart from a public dialogue run by the Royal Society... there’s been little attempt to engage the public on the implications of the technology in a way that could alter the decisions of scientists and policymakers. Indeed, concern about the lack of effective public engagement has motivated several workshops... 

If the history of public engagement surrounding other recent scientific innovations is a guide, efforts to explain the science behind gene editing will intensify, such as through news stories, at science festivals, in public lectures and in museums. And there will be a rash of small, disconnected workshops involving members of the public that are designed to inform specific policy decisions... 


The model I propose will require significant investment of time and money (in the region of US$700,000 to $1.5 million per year). Yet, as many experiences with genetically modified crops have illustrated, simply trying to convince people that the science is safe, and that they should accept the applications that emerge, can be much more costly. 


http://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-03269-3


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Craft beer may get cheaper thanks to GM yeast with hoppy flavour - New Scientist 

Craft beer may get cheaper thanks to GM yeast with hoppy flavour - New Scientist  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A genetically engineered yeast makes beer taste of hops – without any actual hops. The yeast could help make brewing beer cheaper and more sustainable.

Hops are the flowers of the hop plant...They give floral and bitter flavours to beer, but their high cost contributes to the price tag of craft beers. What’s more, growing hops uses lots of water and energy... 


https://www.newscientist.com/article/2164307-craft-beer-may-get-cheaper-thanks-to-gm-yeast-with-hoppy-flavour/


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
So, finally, there is a biotech application that poses a real threat to public health - if beer gets cheaper, people will drink more, and then the alcohol-related burden of disease will increase... 
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Consumer risk perception of vitamin A deficiency and acceptance of biofortified rice in the Morogoro region of Tanzania - AfJARE

Vitamin A deficiency is still a challenge in many African countries, including Tanzania. Survey data were gathered in Tanzania to determine consumers’ risk perceptions of vitamin A deficiency (VAD) and severe visual impairment. 

A contingent valuation method was used and a choice experiment was conducted to measure willingness to pay (WTP) for biofortified rice, both with and without introducing genetic modification as the mechanism behind increased vitamin A content... 

Most at-risk groups, such as females and those with lower incomes, tend to underestimate the risk of VAD or do not fully understand the relationship between VAD and severe visual impairment... Respondents strongly preferred and were willing to pay for rice with added nutritional value. 

 
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Provitamin A Biofortified Rice Event GR2E (Golden Rice) - Canada

In 2017, Health Canada received a submission to allow the sale of a variety of rice, called Provitamin A Biofortified Rice Event GR2E (Golden Rice). This genetically modified rice variety has higher levels of provitamin A and is intended to be sold in countries where diets are typically low in vitamin A. GR2E rice will be grown commercially in major rice-producing regions, primarily in Asia. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has indicated that this product is not intended to be sold in Canada at this time.

In order to determine whether this rice variety could be sold in Canada as food, the scientists at Health Canada conducted a scientific assessment that ensured that GR2E rice is safe for consumption, that the increased provitamin A levels posed no risk to Canadian consumers, and that it still had all its nutritional value. Our scientists also needed to assess how GR2E was developed and whether it can be toxic or cause allergic reactions. The ability of the GR2E rice in helping vitamin A deficiency in affected populations was not evaluated.

Scientists with expertise in molecular biology, microbiology, toxicology, chemistry and nutrition conducted a thorough analysis of the data and the protocols provided by the applicant to ensure the validity of the results.

Following this assessment, it was determined that the changes made in this rice variety did not pose a greater risk to human health than rice varieties currently available on the Canadian market. In addition, Health Canada also concluded that GR2E would have no impact on allergies, and that there were no differences in the nutritional value of GR2E compared to other traditional rice varieties available for consumption except for increased levels of provitamin A.

Health Canada's assessment of GR2E was conducted according to the Guidelines for Safety Assessment of Novel Foods. The approach taken by Health Canada in the safety assessment of GM foods is based upon scientific principles developed through expert international consultation over the last 20 years with agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)...


https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/genetically-modified-foods-other-novel-foods/approved-products/golden-rice-gr2e.html


Technical Summary: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/genetically-modified-foods-other-novel-foods/approved-products/novel-food-information-golden-rice-gr2e.html

 

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Genome editing using CRISPR/Cas9–targeted mutagenesis: An opportunity for yield improvements of crop plants grown under environmental stresses - Elsevier

Genome editing using CRISPR/Cas9–targeted mutagenesis: An opportunity for yield improvements of crop plants grown under environmental stresses - Elsevier | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Developing more crops able to sustainably produce high yields when grown under biotic/abiotic stresses is an important goal, if crop production and food security are to be guaranteed in the face of ever-increasing human population and unpredictable global climatic conditions. However, conventional crop improvement, through random mutagenesis or genetic recombination, is time-consuming and cannot keep pace with increasing food demands. 


Targeted genome editing (GE) technologies, especially... CRISPR/Cas9... have great potential to aid in the breeding of crops that are able to produce high yields... due to their high efficiency, accuracy and low risk of off-target effects, compared with conventional random mutagenesis methods. The use of CRISPR/Cas9 system has grown very rapidly in recent years with numerous examples of targeted mutagenesis in crop plants... 


The potential of the GE approach for crop improvement has been clearly demonstrated. However, the regulation and social acceptance of GE crops still remain a challenge. In this review, we evaluate the recent applications of the CRISPR/Cas9-mediated GE, as a means to produce crop plants with greater resilience to the stressors they encounter when grown under increasing stressful environmental conditions. 


https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plaphy.2018.03.012

 

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Using "GE" as acronym for "genome editing" is perhaps a bit unfortunate, given that "GE" is also used to abbreviate "genetic engineering"... 
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Alienation from the Objectives of the Patent System: How to Remedy the Situation of Biotechnology Patent - Springer (2018) 

Alienation from the Objectives of the Patent System: How to Remedy the Situation of Biotechnology Patent - Springer (2018)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Some fundamental biotechnologies hold unprecedented potential to eradicate many incurable diseases. However, in absence of regulations, the power of patent makes the future use of some important biotechnology in few institution’s hands. The excessive patents restrict researcher access to the fundamental technologies. It generates concerns and complaints of deteriorating the public health and social welfare. Furthermore, intellectual curiosities, funding, respect among colleagues etc., rather than patents, are the real motivations driving a major ground-breaking discoveries in biotechnology. These phenomena reveal that some biotechnology patents are alienated from the purpose of patent system. Therefore, it is necessary to take some approaches to stop over-patenting these fundamental biotechnology inventions. This article proposes a model regulatory framework for controlling biotechnology patent alienating from the purpose of patent system.


https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-018-0043-3


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Balancing the incentives to innovate with society's interest in making crucial technologies widely accessible to maximise welfare is tricky... 
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Genome Editing for Global Food Security - Trends Biotechnol (2017) 

Genome Editing for Global Food Security - Trends Biotechnol (2017)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Global food security is increasingly challenging in light of population increase, the impact of climate change on crop production, and limited land available for agricultural expansion. Here we outline how genome editing provides excellent and timely methods to optimize crop plants, and argue the urgency for societal acceptance and support. 


A growing world population and dietary shifts associated with economic developmenti have resulted in increasing and changing demands for food. In addition to political and economic responses to these challenges, new agricultural technologies are required to minimize threats including climate change, and to fulfill increasing demands, for example, by improving sustainable development despite unfavorable conditions (i.e., soil degeneration, drought, flooding, and temperature extremes)... 


Genome editing is one of the most promising solutions for food security issues, especially in developing countries where local crop plant varieties are the mainstay... Global food security is an enormous challenge with multifaceted social and economic implications; it therefore requires enormous coordinated efforts within this century. 


While large-scale and complex agricultural production chains contribute extensively to satisfying the food supply in highly developed countries, these facilities are not equally available to less-developed nations. It is thus clear that precise crop optimization with regard to yield, nutrition balance, and plant fitness using genome editing would be a necessary strategy to address current and potential agricultural challenges, thereby securing the food supply: investment costs for farmers can be kept low while globally diverse threats can be addressed in parallel. 


Rapid developments in genome editing technologies will decrease the costs and time required to produce optimized crops in the future, and the broad adoption of genome editing technologies for crop optimization requires government support in setting up an updated regulatory framework, which should be guided by reasonable discussion with the public... 


While ethical standards and food security challenges tend to be regionally specific, the regulatory framework and legislation for gene-edited crops should follow scientific oversight, in addition to potential risk assessments and the needs of consumers and farmers on a global scale.


https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tibtech.2017.08.004



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Forty Years of Data Quantifies Benefits of Bt Corn Adoption Across a Wide Variety of Crops for the First Time - U Maryland (2018) 

Researchers have pulled together forty years of data to quantify the effects of Bt corn, a highly marketed and successful genetically modified corn variety, in a novel and large-scale study. Other studies have demonstrated the benefits of Bt corn adoption on pest management for pests like the corn borer in corn itself for years, but this is the first study to look at the effects on other offsite crops in North America. By gaining control of the corn borer population, this study shows significant decreases in recommended spraying regimens, pest populations, and overall crop damage not just for corn, but for peppers, green beans, and other important crops to North American agriculture. These benefits have never before been documented and showcase Bt corn as a powerful tool to combat pesticide resistance and advance the agricultural industry.

Bt corn was first introduced and adopted in the United States in 1996 and is a genetically modified organism or GMO that makes up over 90% of our current corn population. In this study, Dr. Galen Dively... and Dr. Dilip Venugopal... use data from 1976 - 2016 to look at trends twenty years before and twenty years after adoption of Bt corn. “Safety of Bt corn and other GMOs has been tested and proven extensively, but this study is about effectiveness of Bt corn as a pest management strategy, particularly for offsite crops or different crops in different areas than the Bt corn itself,” explains Venugopal.

“This is the first paper published in North America showing offsite benefits to other host plants for a pest like the corn borer, which is a significant pest for many other crops like green beans and peppers,” says Dively. “We are seeing really more than 90% suppression of the corn borer population in our area for any crop, which is incredible.”

Using numbers from pest traps to estimate the population and examine the recommended spraying regimens for pests like the corn borer, Dively and Venugopal observed significant reductions in the population, with much less spraying occurring over time. “There would be no recommendation to spray for the corn borer given the current population, and this paper can trace that back to Bt corn adoption,” explains Dively. “What’s more, by looking at the actual pest infestations and damage on actual crops over forty years of data, we took it a step farther to see the benefits on all sorts of crops and the declines in the actual pest population. We are able to see the results in theory and in practice on actual crops and in the real pest population over a long stretch of time.”

“The next steps would to be quantify the millions and millions of dollars in economic benefits we see here in a very concrete way to show money and time saved on spraying and pest management, crop damage reduction, as well as consideration of the environmental benefits. The important thing here, however, is to think of Bt corn as one of many tools in an integrated pest management tool box. The benefits are undeniable, but must always be weighed against many other options to use a broad range of tools and maximize benefit while minimizing any potential risks,” explains Venugopal.

Dively concludes, “This study ultimately shows the importance of evaluating GMO crops beyond the field that is being planted. These products and the new advances coming down the pike have the potential to suppress major pest populations just like Bt corn has. This is just the beginning, and we need to be quantifying these effects. I am excited by these results and encouraged for future work.”


https://agnr.umd.edu/news/forty-years-data-quantifies-benefits-bt-corn-adoption-across-wide-variety-crops-first-time


Underlying study: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1720692115


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Crop Breeding Using CRISPR/Cas9 - Elsevier (2018) 

Genome editing can be achieved by inducing site-directed genome modification using artificial nucleases. The CRISPR/Cas9 system employs an RNA-guided nuclease that specifically recognizes and digests the target DNA of interest and has been utilized widely in genome editing in various organisms, including crops. Attempts have been made to optimize and improve CRISPR/Cas9 technology specifically for crop genome editing. Furthermore, new methods for introducing CRISPR/Cas9 tools into the cells of crop plants are also now being developed. CRISPR/Cas9 technology not only is a basic research tool but also has become one of the most useful molecular breeding tools currently available, and superior traits in various crop species have now been established. In this chapter, we describe the current status and perspectives of crop molecular breeding using CRISPR/Cas9.


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The main determinants of iodine in cows’ milk in Switzerland are farm type, season and teat dipping - BJN (2018) 

Milk and dairy products are important iodine sources and contribute about 30-40 % of total iodine in the Swiss diet. Information about variation in milk iodine concentration (MIC) in Switzerland is limited. 


We examined MIC and its potential determinants in milk from organic and conventional farms. We collected bulk milk samples at 3-month intervals over 1 year from thirty-two farms... We sampled all feed components including tap water, collected information on farm characteristics, feeding and teat disinfection practices by questionnaire and estimated the cows’ winter and summer iodine intake. Iodine in milk and feed components was measured using inductively coupled plasma MS. 


The overall median MIC was 87 (range 5-371) µg/l. In multivariate analysis, predictors of MIC were as follows: (1) farm type: median MIC from organic and conventional farms was 55 and 93 µg/l; (2) season: 53, 97 and 101 µg/l in September, December and March; and (3) teat dipping: 97 µg/l with v. 56 µg/l without. 


In conclusion, MIC varied widely between farms because of diverse farming practices that result in large differences in dairy cow exposure to iodine via ingestion or skin application. Standardisation of MIC is potentially achievable by controlling these iodine exposures... 


For milk to be a stable iodine source all year round, dietary iodine could be added at a set level to one feed component whose intake is regular and controllable, such as the mineral supplement, and by limiting the use of iodine-containing teat disinfectants... 


Significant predictors of MIC were farm type (conventional farms higher than organic farms, β = -0·64), season (September lower than December/March, β = -0·68/-0·60) and disinfection with iodine-containing disinfectants (β= 0·68)... 


Several studies have reported an effect of farm type on MIC, with consistently lower MIC in organic compared with conventional milk. A recent study on Swiss Ultra-High-Temperature milk collected in two large-scale dairy producers found a 56% higher median concentration in conventional compared with organic milk (111 v. 71μg/l). 


In our study, the median MIC from conventional farms was about 69% higher than that from organic farms, but this difference was not significant. Unlike in the multivariate MEM, this difference was not significant in the univariate analysis, most likely owing to the large variation of MIC at the farm level, which probably is reduced when milk from numerous producers is mixed in large-scale dairy industries. 


The lower median MIC in organic farming is likely explained by the lower upper limits for dietary iodine content for feeding of dairy cows (0·6 mg/kg DM diet as compared with 5 mg/kg diet (88% DM/kg) in conventional farming).


http://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114517003798


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Scientists engineer crops to conserve water, resist drought

Scientists engineer crops to conserve water, resist drought | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Agriculture already monopolizes 90 percent of global freshwater—yet production still needs to dramatically increase to feed and fuel this century’s growing population... Scientists have improved how a crop uses water by 25 percent without compromising yield by altering the expression of one gene that is found in all plants... 

“Crop yields have steadily improved over the past 60 years, but the amount of water required to produce one ton of grain remains unchanged—which led most to assume that this factor could not change. Proving that our theory works in practice should open the door to much more research and development to achieve this all-important goal for the future.”

The international team increased the levels of a photosynthetic protein (PsbS) to conserve water by tricking plants into partially closing their stomata, the microscopic pores in the leaf that allow water to escape. Stomata are the gatekeepers to plants: When open, carbon dioxide enters the plant to fuel photosynthesis, but water is allowed to escape through the process of transpiration.

“These plants had more water than they needed, but that won’t always be the case... When water is limited, these modified plants will grow faster and yield more—they will pay less of a penalty than their non-modified counterparts.”

The team improved the plant’s water-use-efficiency—the ratio of carbon dioxide entering the plant to water escaping—by 25 percent without significantly sacrificing photosynthesis or yield in real-world field trials. The carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere has increased by 25 percent in just the past 70 years, allowing the plant to amass enough carbon dioxide without fully opening its stomata. “Evolution has not kept pace with this rapid change, so scientists have given it a helping hand”... 

Four factors can trigger stomata to open and close: humidity, carbon dioxide levels in the plant, the quality of light, and the quantity of light. This study is the first report of hacking stomatal responses to the quantity of light.

PsbS is a key part of a signaling pathway in the plant that relays information about the quantity of light. By increasing PsbS, the signal says there is not enough light energy for the plant to photosynthesize, which triggers the stomata to close since carbon dioxide is not needed to fuel photosynthesis.

This research complements previous work... which showed that increasing PsbS and two other proteins can improve photosynthesis and increase productivity by as much as 20 percent. Now the team plans to combine the gains from these two studies to improve production and water-use by balancing the expression of these three proteins.

For this study, the team tested their hypothesis using tobacco, a model crop that is easier to modify and faster to test than other crops. Now they will apply their discoveries to improve the water-use-efficiency of food crops and test their efficacy in water-limited conditions.

“Making crop plants more water-use efficient is arguably the greatest challenge for current and future plant scientists... Our results show that increased PsbS expression allows crop plants to be more conservative with water use, which we think will help to better distribute available water resources over the duration of the growing season and keep the crop more productive during dry spells.”


https://www.igb.illinois.edu/article/scientists-engineer-crops-conserve-water-resist-drought


http://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-03231-x


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Brazil sugar mills start genetically-modified cane plantation - Reuters (2018) 

Brazil sugar mills start genetically-modified cane plantation - Reuters (2018)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

Brazilian sugar mills looking to grow the world’s first variety of genetically modified (GM) sugarcane have planted an initial area of 400 hectares...  

Developed by Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira (CTC) with Bt genes that make it resistant to the cane borer, around 100 mills are working with the GM cane... The cane borer is a widespread insect that costs Brazilian mills around $1.5 billion per year in losses and insecticide expense.

Development of new sugarcane varieties is seen by experts as key to improving agricultural yields, reducing production costs, and increasing profit margins in an industry struggling with low global sugar prices... 


https://www.reuters.com/article/brazil-sugarcane-ctc/brazil-sugar-mills-start-genetically-modified-cane-plantation-idUSL8N1QK5VD


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The secret to tripling the number of grains in sorghum and perhaps other staple crops - CSHL (2018) 

The secret to tripling the number of grains in sorghum and perhaps other staple crops - CSHL (2018)  | Ag Biotech News | Scoop.it

A simple genetic modification can triple the grain number of sorghum, a drought-tolerant plant that is an important source of food, animal feed, and biofuel in many parts of the world. In new research... scientists... figured out how that genetic change boosts the plant’s yield: by lowering the level of a key hormone, generating more flowers and more seeds. Their discovery points toward a strategy for significantly increasing the yield of other grain crops.

Their study was focused on high-yield strains of sorghum that were generated several years ago... An unknown genetic mutation introduced by chemical mutagenesis—a method used for many decades by breeders and researchers to induce genetic variations in plants—resulted in an increase in the number of grains, i.e., seeds contained within fruits, that each plant produced.

Like many cereal crops, sorghum’s grains are produced in clusters of flowers that develop from an elaborately branched structure at the top of the plant called a panicle. Each panicle can produce hundreds of flowers. There are two types of flowers, and usually only one of these, known as the sessile spikelet (SS), is fertile. The other flower type, called pedicellate spikelets (PS), do not make seeds. In the modified plants... both sessile and pedicellate spikelets produced seeds, tripling each plant’s grain number... 

They found that the key mutations affected a gene that regulates hormone production. Plants carrying the mutation produce abnormally low levels of a development-regulating hormone called jasmonic acid, particularly during flower development.

Through subsequent experiments, the team learned that jasmonic acid prevents pedicellate spikelets from producing seeds. “So when the plant hormone is low, we get seeds set on every single one of the flowers. But when the plant hormone is high, we have a reduced number of fertile flowers, ending up in a reduced number of seeds”... 

 
Now that the team has uncovered the biological changes that triple sorghum’s grain production, they hope to apply the same strategy to increase grain production in related plants that are vital in the global food supply, such as rice, corn, and wheat. The knowledge will help guide crop improvement through traditional breeding practices as well as approaches that take advantage of genome editing technologies... 


https://www.cshl.edu/secret-tripling-number-grains-sorghum-perhaps-staple-crops/


http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-03238-4


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