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Researcher testing basil as cancer treatment - WKU (2013)

Researcher testing basil as cancer treatment - WKU (2013) | Ag Biotech News |

Plants that may help fight breast cancer are sprouting and taking root in a WKU biology faculty member’s laboratory... Dr. Chandra Emani... is conducting research on the pharmaceutical and therapeutic benefits of the basil plant (ocimum sp.), the herb widely known for its medicinal and culinary uses...



“Basil is a plant which has a lot of compounds called metabolites, meaning the leaves of a basic basil plant, like any other plant, make a lot of stuff.” ... Dr. Emani and his students are genetically engineering the basil to produce more eugenol, a compound in basil that “has a very great pharmaceutical value because it’s shown to control breast cancer.” ... Dr. Emani is continuing to build the proof of concept that basil could produce a useful plant-based pharmaceutical to treat breast cancer...

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

[updated January 9, 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.) ...


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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More genes are active in high-performance maize - U Bonn (2018) 

More genes are active in high-performance maize - U Bonn (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

When two maize inbred lines are crossed with each other... the hybrid offspring have a significantly higher yield than either of the two parent plants. Scientists... showed that the offspring had many more active genes than the original parents. These results may help in the cultivation of even higher-yielding maize varieties... 

Plant breeders have long known that crossbreeding of different inbred lines has a positive effect on the yield. However, the causes of this so-called “heterosis effect” are largely unclear. “For that reason we took a closer look at one specific inbred-hybrid combination... We were able to show that the hybrid offspring has many more active genes than its parents. But... we did not know... if it was a general mechanism.”

In the present study, the scientists therefore examined not just one, but six different inbred-hybrid combinations... “This confirmed the findings of our earlier work: The hybrids always contained a far larger number of active genes than their parents.” 

Maize plants contain two variants of each gene, also known as alleles. One of these alleles comes from the female, the other from the male parent. They are often not equally active, with one variant being read more frequently than the other. Some alleles may even be completely turned off.

As the propagation of inbred lines means that they are self-pollinated over many generations, the two alleles of most of their genes are identical. This can lead to certain genes not being transcribed at all. However, these genes may be active in another inbred line. If these parent lines are now crossed with each other, active genes of one parent complement inactive genes of the other parent in the offspring... 

“The complementation of SPE [Single Parent Expression] genes... could be one of the factors why hybrids perform better than their parents”... Maize has many genes that have remained virtually unchanged for millions of years. These “old” genes are so important for the plant that mutations in them can dramatically affect plant performance. 

In contrast, most SPE genes developed later in the course of evolution. They do not take on vital key functions and can therefore be active in one maize inbred line, but not in another. Many of them belong to... transcription factors... proteins that regulate the activity of other genes.

The results may facilitate the cultivation of better performing maize varieties in the medium term. “With SPE genes, we provide plant growers with genetic markers for this purpose... It may be possible to choose specific hybridization partners on the basis of these markers, which could result in particularly high-yielding hybrids.” 

These are immensely important for the long-term nutrition of the increasing world population: Experts anticipate that agricultural yields have to increase by 70 percent by 2050. Maize is already the most productive crop at present; it therefore plays a particularly important role in nutrition.

Underlying study:

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Scientists Are Engineering GMO Species to Self-Destruct After Breeding in The Wild - Sci Alert (2018) 

Scientists Are Engineering GMO Species to Self-Destruct After Breeding in The Wild - Sci Alert (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

Genetically modified organisms could potentially do a lot of good for the world, like ending the spread of diseases, or maybe one day helping us grow more food to feed the hungry... 

When you release altered species out into the wild, how can you prevent them from breeding with untweaked organisms living in their natural environment, and producing hybrid offspring that scientists can't control or regulate? ... 

"We want something that's going to be identical to the original in every way, except it's just genetically incompatible"... To achieve such a thing, the researchers pioneered something they call 'synthetic incompatibility', or SI for short... 

The team described how synthetic incompatibility acts as a "genetic barrier to sexual reproduction between otherwise compatible populations [by activating] lethal gene expression in hybrid offspring following undesired mating events".

In other words, you might not be able to stop genetically modified plants, animals, and micro-organisms from mating with their organic counterparts out there in the world, but you can at least exercise some deadly control over what happens next.

To do so, the researchers rely on the ubiquitous genetic editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 – but instead of editing target genes and replacing them with alternative genetic code, synthetic incompatibility does something quite different.

Making use of a new class of molecular tools called 'programmable transcription factors', the researchers are able to alter gene expression in any offspring produced by interbreeding between a GMO and species in the wild... 

"The genetic incompatibility results from genes already in the organism being turned on at the wrong place or time." And turning on the genes – or putting them into overdrive, as it were – can be used to devastating effect... 

"Animal applications of SI include genetic biocontrol of pest species, replacing disease vector populations with engineered non-vector organisms, preventing gene flow between genetically engineered fish or livestock and their non modified counterparts as well as the genetic biocontainment of experimental systems such as gene-drives"... 

SI could also be used to curb the encroachment of invasive fish species... which threaten commercial fishing operations... worth billions of dollars.Nematodes and plants are also on the horizon for synthetic incompatibility, and... the researchers' tool could help enable all kinds of new GMO applications.

Some [ideas] researchers in the team have discussed include engineering fish that can break down contaminants in polluted water, or helping to regulate specialised plants in agriculture...

Underlying paper:

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New process could slash energy demands of fertilizer, nitrogen-based chemicals - Princeton (2018) 

New process could slash energy demands of fertilizer, nitrogen-based chemicals - Princeton (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

Nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizer forms the backbone of the world food supply, but its manufacture requires a tremendous amount of energy... A method... could drastically cut the energy needed by using sunlight in the manufacturing process.

Manufacturers currently make fertilizer, pharmaceuticals and other industrial chemicals by pulling nitrogen from the air and combining it with hydrogen. Nitrogen gas is plentiful, making up about 78 percent of air. But atmospheric nitrogen is hard to use because it is locked into pairs of atoms, called N2, and the bond between these two atoms is the second strongest in nature. Therefore it takes a lot of energy to split up the N2 molecule and allow the nitrogen and hydrogen atoms to combine. 

Most manufacturers use the Haber-Bosch process, a century-old technique that exposes the N2 and hydrogen to an iron catalyst in a chamber heated to more than 400 degrees Celsius. The method uses so much energy... that manufacturing fertilizer and similar compounds represents about 2 percent of the world’s energy use each year.

A research team... wanted to know if it would be possible to use light to weaken the bond in the atmospheric nitrogen molecule. If so, it would allow manufacturers to radically cut the energy needed to split nitrogen for use in fertilizer and a wide array of other products.

“Harnessing the energy in sunlight to activate inert molecules such as nitrogen, and greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide for that matter, is a grand challenge for sustainable chemical production... Replacing traditional energy-intensive high temperature, high pressure chemical manufacturing with sunlight-driven, room temperature processes is another way to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.”

The researchers were interested in taking advantage of the unique behavior of light when it interacts with metallic nanostructures smaller than a single wavelength of light. Among other effects, the phenomenon, called surface plasmon resonance, can concentrate light and enhance electric fields... The researchers believed it would be possible to use plasmon resonances to boost a catalyst’s power to split apart nitrogen molecules. “It is a different method of delivering energy to break the bond... Instead of using heat, we are using light.”

The researchers describe how they used computer simulations to model light’s behavior in tiny structures made from gold and molybdenum. Gold... can be shaped to produce surface plasmon resonances... molybdenum... can split nitrogen molecules. “The plasmonic metal acts like a lightning rod... It concentrates a large amount of the light energy in a very small area.” The concentrated light energy effectively boosts the molybdenum’s ability to pull apart the two nitrogen atoms... 

The researchers’ calculations indicate that the plasmon-resonance technique should be able to reduce substantially the energy needed to crack the atmospheric nitrogen molecules.... it should be possible to dissociate the nitrogen molecule at room temperature and at lower pressures than required by the Haber-Bosch process... 

As a next step, Carter said she would like to extend the plasmon resonance technique to other strong chemical bonds. One candidate is the carbon-hydrogen bond in methane. Manufacturers use natural gas to supply the hydrogen in fertilizer as well as other important industrial chemicals. So finding a low-energy method to break that bond could also be a boon to manufacturing.

Underlying study:

Jonathan Lapleau's curator insight, January 18, 7:33 AM
A great news for everyone and a new step toward a more sustainable agriculture !
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Microelements and Their Role in Human Health - Springer (2018) 

Microelements and Their Role in Human Health - Springer (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

Microelements viz. zinc (Zn), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo), boron (B), chlorine (Cl) and nickel (Ni) have been recognized as essential and silicon (Si), sodium (Na), cobalt (Co), and strontium (Sr) as beneficial or quasi-essential for plants. In addition to these plant essential microelements, human beings and animals require chromium (Cr), iodine (I) and selenium (Se). 

Microelements are used in relatively small amounts and constitute less than 0.1% of dry plant tissue. Some of the microelements may be toxic when consumed at high amounts. Soil is the main source of microelements for plants, except in situations of large atmospheric deposition or from flooding by contaminated waters. The microelements in soils undergo several transformations and their availability to plants depends on the chemical form and distribution between soil’s solid and liquid phases, which is influenced by soil conditions, particularly pH, texture and soil aeration status. 

Microelements perform a variety of functions in plants. Besides being component of enzymes, certain microelements are involved in activation of enzymes and play a role in oxidation-reduction reactions of plant metabolism. Micronutrient deficiencies in plants not only limit agricultural production but also affect human nutrition as plant food is the main source of dietary intake. 

Microelements in humans play several physiological functions including synthesis of enzymes, hormones and other substances, helping to regulate growth, development and functioning of the immune and the reproductive systems. Deficiencies of microelements in soil and plants can be corrected by applying chemical fertilizers either alone or in combination with organic manures. 

Micronutrient level in humans can be optimized through dietary diversification, mineral supplementation, food fortification, or increasing their concentrations and/or bioavailability in food products. Correction of deficiencies and optimization of micronutrient levels in humans depends on several factors including current dietary intake, food habits and the nutrient content of the food items consumed, metabolic pathway of a nutrient, current body stocks, age, gender, and body weight. 

In this chapter, we discuss sources of microelements, their transformations in soil, functions in plants and humans, effects of their deficient and excessive uptake on plants and humans, and the approaches to optimize their levels in plants and humans.

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[PDF] Glyphosate: New epidemiological study finds no connection between cases of cancer and use of plant protection products containing glyphosate - BfR (2017)

Epidemiological studies are a central element of public discussion in the debate surrounding the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate. 

A publication... examined whether there is a possible connection between the use of glyphosatecontaining plant protection products and cases of cancer among people who work in agriculture using a significantly broader data base. To do so, the researchers evaluated as yet unpublished data... the observation period of which had been extended by eleven years. Through the extended follow-up... they come to the conclusion that no significant connections could be established between applications of plant protection products containing glyphosate and the occurrence of cancer among the examined population group. This applies to cancers in general, as well as to special cancer types... 

The BfR has made an initial assessment of the new study... The study was not taken into consideration by the IARC or in the concluded European health assessment of glyphosate presented in the course of the application for its re-approval as an active substance in plant protection products... 

The study results are relevant for an epidemiological appraisal of the cancer risk posed by the use of plant protection products containing glyphosate in people who use pesticides/plant protection products professionally. The study can be regarded as reliable due to: 

- The high case numbers (n = 54,251 evaluated study participants, 5,779 cases of cancer among glyphosate users) 
- The recruitment of the study participants from a group of persons who use pesticides/plant protection products, which was regarded as meaningful 
- The adjustment for confounding factors (including the use of other pesticides/plant protection products) 
- The advantages of a prospective epidemiological study design with collection of data on exposure when including the participants in the study (enrolment) 
- The length of the observation period (enrolment 1993-1997, follow-up 2012-2013) 

Restrictions result from limiting the study to participants from two federal states, asking about exposure via questionnaires and from the imputation of missing exposure data, which could lead to a distortion of the effects estimation. 

The information on exposure relates to the period of time from the enrolment of the participants in the study to the year 2005 at the latest. They key statement of the study is that no significant association could be established between the use of glyphosate and the occurrence of cancers... 

The evidence for a carcinogenic effect of glyphosate under the given application conditions is therefore further weakened. The estimation of the BfR and responsible authorities of the European Union that... glyphosate should not be classified as carcinogenic, is given additional support by the new epidemiological study.

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Current Perspectives on Biotechnological Cannabinoid Production in Plants - Planta Medica (2018) 

Current Perspectives on Biotechnological Cannabinoid Production in Plants - Planta Medica (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

The plant Cannabis sativa contains a number of psychoactive chemical compounds, the cannabinoids, which possess a significant pharmaceutical potential. Recently, the usage of Cannabis for medicinal purposes was legalized in many countries. Thus, the study on the influence of different cannabinoids in combination with other Cannabis-derived compounds with respect to the treatment of various diseases becomes increasingly important. 

Besides the production of distinct cannabinoids in a heterologous host, like tobacco or yeast, transgenic Cannabis plants would be a suitable alternative to modify and therefore optimize the cannabinoid profile. 

This perspective highlights the current efforts on Cannabis cell culture systems, in vitro propagation, and transformation of the plant and reveals the resulting opportunities concerning biotechnological production of cannabinoids. Furthermore, alternative platform organisms for the heterologous production of cannabinoids, like tobacco, are considered and evaluated...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Tangible consumer benefits is what makes people embrace GMOs (and other "new" technologies)...
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FSANZ Releases Approval Report for Food Derived from Provitamin A Rice Line GR2E - ISAAA (2018) 

FSANZ Releases Approval Report for Food Derived from Provitamin A Rice Line GR2E - ISAAA (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

Food derived from Provitamin A rice line GR2E can be sold in Australia and New Zealand. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) released the approval report... for food derived from rice line GR2E, genetically modified (GM) to produce provitamin A carotenoids, especially beta-carotene, in the grain... 

A safety assessment and nutrition risk assessment of GM rice line GR2E are included as supporting documents to the report. No potential public health and safety concerns have been identified... Food derived from line GR2E is considered to be as safe for human consumption as food derived from conventional rice cultivars.


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Speech to the Oxford Farming Conference 2018 – Mark Lynas (2018) 

Speech to the Oxford Farming Conference 2018 – Mark Lynas (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

Five years ago, almost to this very day, I stood before you and offered an apology for my earlier anti-GMO activism. Today I want to do something different... I want to offer an olive branch, to map out the contours of a potential peace treaty... 

I’ve devoted myself pretty much full time to the GMO issue. I’ve been to numerous countries in Africa and Asia and met farmers, scientists, activists and others on both sides of this very contentious debate... I think the time for trench warfare has... passed... Most people on opposing sides of this debate have too much in common to allow ourselves to be polarised into perpetually warring tribes... 

Pretty much everyone agrees that the current farming system is not sustainable and that we urgently need to improve it... Everyone also seems to agree that the situation is not black and white, that there are no silver bullet solutions and that we need to be more open-minded in looking at all the options.

I’ve visited numerous plant breeding labs in the last 5 years and spoken to a lot of plant scientists. I have yet to meet a single one, including those using the various techniques of genetic engineering, who claim that GMOs are going to feed the world or magically solve all our agricultural problems.

There is also a high degree of consensus that we need to address climate change, both in terms of its impact on food production and farming’s significant role in causing it. I also see a lot of agreement that we need to address dietary and nutritional failings – both in terms undernutrition in many developing countries and the consumption of too many calories in the industrialised world... 

Although the area of arable land required to support a person has declined by half since the 1960s, we have not reached peak farmland as some predicted back in 2013. More land is still being brought into production each year, causing deforestation, soil erosion and biodiversity loss.

World fertiliser production has also increased relentlessly, contributing to runoff pollution and eutrophication of both freshwater and marine ecosystems. Agriculture, forestry and land use combined are responsible for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. These include the vast majority of nitrous oxide and methane emissions.

So let’s be clear – no-one is saying that everything is hunky dory with world farming. But over the last five years I’ve become increasingly convinced that genetic engineering can at least help mitigate these problems. It is very clear, for instance, that insect-resistant crops have helped reduce applications of insecticide. Indeed this is precisely why farmers have been so keen to adopt them.

Although they have yet to be proven at scale, nitrogen-efficient crops, from oilseed rape to rice, could help reduce fertiliser applications. Perhaps one day we’ll even see staple non-leguminous crops that fix their own nitrogen... It is also clear that the adoption of herbicide-tolerant crops has helped shift farming away from more toxic herbicides and facilitated no-till and conservation agriculture.

But as a contribution to global sustainability these improvements have been marginal, trivial even. Genetic modification has not yet reduced fertiliser use, contributed significantly to higher yields, or done anything to address world hunger. Part of this is because genetic engineering has been blocked precisely where it could do the most good, in developing countries. I’ve sadly seen this at first hand too... 

As I’ve seen in the field, this failure has not been due to any inherent limitations in the science, but has come about precisely because of the success of groups like Greenpeace in campaigning against it. n my view you can’t campaign both against problems and against solutions and expect to be taken seriously. This has got to change.

But if Greenpeace has got a lot wrong, so have the GMO promoters. I’ve spent some time researching the deeper history of this issue and I’ve become convinced that the launch of genetic engineering was badly mishandled... 

So while we can blame the anti-GMO activists of today for repeating untruths and damaging science, we should also ask those who botched the launch of genetic engineering to shoulder their share of the blame.

What we surely need to do now is try to make sure we don’t get permanently trapped in a debate that was framed over 20 years ago. Things have changed, and we need to change too. So what might a peace treaty look like? ... Here’s my seven-point plan.

Number one. The activists need to face up to the fact that the GMO safety debate is over. There is a worldwide scientific consensus that genetic engineering is no more risky than any other way of breeding crops, just as there is a worldwide scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by humans. So stop with the fearmongering... This ideologically selective acceptance of the science undermines everything else the green movement says and does. 

In return the scientific community needs to be much more careful in not over-hyping the potential of this technology. It is a small part of a small part of a solution to an enormous global problem... 

Number two. Activists must stop agitating for bans and prohibitions. It is surely wrong to constrain scientific innovation in the absence of any demonstrated risk after twenty years of safe use. Bans are undemocratic because they remove choice completely... You don’t have to force everyone else to conform to your beliefs with bans and moratoria. Accordingly Europe’s anti-GMO stance is a global embarrassment and needs to be seen for what it is – a shameful political concession to misinformation and public hysteria... 

In return for this concession, the agricultural community must embrace full traceability. Choice is removed by bans but it is also removed if people can’t tell what they are buying or eating. In other words, people must be able to freely choose... whether they consume genetically engineered foods or not. This means you need labelling and traceability throughout the production chain even if this costs more for everyone... 

Number three. Let’s drop the Monsanto mania. There’s even a name for this – Monsanto Derangement Syndrome. People, it’s just another company, which has done good things and bad things... Nor is Monsanto as much of a global colossus as many seem to fondly imagine. In turnover it’s about the same as the US chain Whole Foods... 

However, in return let’s get serious about getting crop protection chemicals out of farming. This is clearly what the public wants, as the success of the organic movement demonstrates. I’m not worried about pesticide residues and human health – the science shows that’s trivial. What I’m worried about is ecological effects and biodiversity loss, particularly the reduction in the number of insects... 

This is the same chemical treadmill that Greenpeace and others like the Soil Association have long warned about. Like antibiotics, these technologies are too valuable to be capriciously wasted on a quick buck. One of the reasons I changed my mind about GMOs was because I could see how they could help move world agriculture from the age of chemistry to the age of biology. However I don’t see much sign that this is happening... 

This is an industry in dire need of disruption. Instead, we’re seeing consolidation, a wave of mega-mergers that is only going to make all these problems worse.

Fourth... Let’s agree to support public sector, non-corporate uses of genetic engineering where appropriate, and not conflate every GMO with Monsanto. Perhaps we can all agree that we need to see more public sector investment in genetic engineering, and less use of patents and commercial protections... 

Fifth, let’s all support all varieties of farming where they clearly aim towards greater sustainability. So let’s drop the snide attacks on organic and agro-ecological approaches generally... On the other hand, organic proponents need to also respect other approaches. I haven’t seen any genetic engineers going out in the night to uproot organic maize plants. The organic industry also needs to become science-based rather than focused on the false categories of natural vs unnatural. Organic can tolerate innovation, as we saw in the recent decision to allow hydroponics to be classed as organic, but what innovations it accepts seems to be arbitrary... 

My penultimate point is that we need to be more respectful in terms of what we call each other. So the deal is I won’t call you anti-science if you don’t call me a Monsanto shill. Let’s respect where each person is coming from and understand that views are sincerely held and mostly for the best reasons.

By the way I don’t extend this peace offering to the extremes, the cancer quacks, snake oil salesmen and anti-vaxxers who are proliferating on the internet, many of whom also fund or promote anti-GMO causes, or those who spread myths about gay genes in Africa... And that means ignoring the extremists, the conspiracists and the just plain crazy... 

I remember seeing Dr Denis Gonsalves, the inventor of the genetically engineered virus resistant papaya now being grown extensively by family farmers in Hawaii, saying: “If you are telling me that you think it is wrong to move a gene between species, that is your belief and I respect that. If you are telling me that it is dangerous, that is a question that can be resolved by science.”

So my final proposal here is that we have a debate about different uses of genetic engineering on an ethical level instead of trying to couch it in pseudo-scientific terms. This might also enable us to properly recognise tradeoffs.

To go back to the Hawaii example, if you don’t think it is ethically right to put a gene from papaya ringspot virus into a papaya, then you need to understand that you will be eating a lot of virus-contaminated papayas in future, or that farmers may no longer be able to grow them at all as the disease proliferates.

You may likewise think it is wrong for scientists to take genes for synthesising omega 3 fatty acids from marine algae and put them into oil-producing brassica vegetables. If that is your belief, like Dr Gonsalves, I respect that. But you do need to suggest where else we can get omega 3s from, if we are not to strip the oceans bare due to overfishing... 

So let’s stop fighting, and let’s start uniting. To borrow words from Jo Cox, we have far more in common than that which divides us.

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Gene-edited soybeans and other foods avoid GMO regulations – and perhaps the whole frankenfood debate - Tech Rev (2017) 

Gene-edited soybeans and other foods avoid GMO regulations – and perhaps the whole frankenfood debate - Tech Rev (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

CRISPR and Talen are giving plant scientists a fast and cheap new way to create genetically modified foods. Decades of fretting over the safety and virtue of genetically modified organisms have led to a perverse outcome. Plant scientists in academia and startup companies have largely shied away from creating new GM crop varieties because it takes, on average, more than a hundred million dollars and over a decade to get such a plant approved by regulators in the United States, and also because the idea of GMO food has elicited public outrage. As a result, a few large agricultural and chemical producers like ­Monsanto... dominate the GM industry, making a killing off herbicide- and insect-resistant corn and soybeans.

The outcome has been just what GMO critics most dreaded: many farmers depend on a few large companies, whose researchers focus on traits designed to improve profits rather than produce healthier foods for consumers. For noncorporate researchers, meanwhile, genetic engineering of plants has been expensive and risky. That stunts progress in plant breeding just as climate change and population growth are putting growing pressure on agriculture. 

That’s why the work described... by our senior biomedicine editor, Antonio Regalado, is so important. Regalado explains how a leading plant geneticist is using gene editing to create a healthier soybean that farmers in South Dakota and elsewhere are beginning to plant and harvest. New gene-editing tools, either CRISPR or the slightly older TALEN, don’t insert a foreign gene into the plant to create a new trait but, rather, tweak the plant’s existing DNA. The engineered crops thus sidestep the lengthy regulatory process and could avoid the stigmas surrounding GMOs entirely.

Gene editing is cheap, powerful, and precise. Most important, it puts many more plant scientists back in the game of creating new varieties of crops, dreaming up blight-resistant potatoes, tastier tomatoes, drought-tolerant rice, and higher-fiber wheat. Until now, there has been little progress in commercializing such agricultural innovations, which are likely to represent far smaller and less lucrative markets than herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans. 

Getting gene editing into the hands of a far larger group of scientists could return us to the original vision for genetic engineering as an invaluable tool for growing healthier and cheaper foods, helping to feed the world’s growing population. Or will it? That depends on public perception. Will gene editing be viewed as a state-of-the-art tool for improving crops...? One can only hope... and that plant science can fully enter the modern age of genomics...

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Trump just said “biotechnology” for the first time in 353 days as president - Tech Rev (2018) 

Trump just said “biotechnology” for the first time in 353 days as president - Tech Rev (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

Biotechnology is a $350 billion-a-year industry for the U.S., but until now, President Donald J. Trump has never mentioned it... Biologists are understandably anxious about what he thinks.

What he’s said now: “We are streamlining regulations that have blocked cutting-edge biotechnology, setting free our farmers to innovate, thrive, and to grow,” Trump told a meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation... (He added, “Oh, are you happy you voted for me. You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege.”)

He’s pro-GMO? Sounds like it. KFC-loving Trump may have been referring to how, in November, his administration scrapped USDA rules that would have regulated plants created through gene-editing tools like CRISPR...

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Even a broken clock is right twice a day... Technologies can't choose their supporters nor their detractors. And anyway, the question is perhaps rather whether too much regulation or too little acceptance is the problem with GMOs. 
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Avoiding GMOs isn’t just anti-science. It’s immoral - WaPo (2017) 

Avoiding GMOs isn’t just anti-science. It’s immoral - WaPo (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |
Of the several claims of "anti-science"... none can be more flagrantly clear than the campaign against... the use of molecular techniques to create genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Here, there are... no disruption of an ecosystem nor any adverse human health or even digestive problems, after 5 billion acres have been cultivated cumulatively and trillions of meals consumed. And yet a concerted, deep-pockets campaign... persuaded a high percentage of Americans and Europeans to avoid GMO products, and to pay premium prices for "non-GMO" or "organic" foods that may in some cases be less safe and less nutritious. 

Thank goodness the toothpaste makers of the past weren't cowed so easily; the tubes would have said "No fluoride inside!" and we'd all have many more cavities. 

This is the kind of foolishness that rich societies can afford to indulge. But when they attempt to inflict their superstitions on the poor and hungry peoples of the planet, the cost shifts from affordable to dangerous and the debate from scientific to moral... No challenge is grander than feeding the 9 billion or more people with whom we will share the Earth in a few decades. 

Of course, those people weren't supposed to exist. Just a few decades back... hundreds of millions were going to die and... there was nothing anyone could do about it... Instead of mass starvation and depopulation, the intervening years saw the most explosive improvements in living standards, food security, poverty reduction and life expectancy in human history... It was the likes of the plant pathologist Norman Borlaug and wheat breeder Orville Vogel, whose Green Revolution, powered by modern plant science, saved the most lives and set the stage for the next grand challenge. 

Today, their scientific successors are giving birth to a new set of miracles in plant production... that cannot only feed the world's growing billions but do so in far more sustainable, environmentally friendly ways. And though the new technologies are awe-inspiring, they are just refinements of cruder techniques that have been used for centuries. 

Given the... "settled" nature of the science, one would expect a united effort to spread these life-saving, planet-sparing technologies as fast as possible to the poorer nations who will need them so urgently. Instead, we hear demands that developing countries forgo the products that offer them the best hope of joining the well-fed, affluent world. In the words of a gullible former Zambian president, "We would rather starve than get something toxic." Marie Antoinette couldn't have said it better. 

It's not that the legitimate scientific community doesn't understand the seriousness of the problem or the distortions of the naysayers. But too many keep what they know to themselves or, when they engage, observe the [modern boxing] rules in what is essentially a street brawl. 

One can understand their reticence, facing an aggressive, often self-interested anti-GMO lobby that is indifferent to the facts and quick with ad hominem attacks. If you're an academic, you can tell yourself that, sooner or later, the science will prevail. If you're from the world of commerce, you justify your silence (or complicity) by saying that you aren't in business to argue with customers. If you're a regulatory bureaucrat, you worry that you will be drawn and quartered for any mistake, whereas no one is ever held accountable for the miracle that never makes it to the marketplace. 

It's time to move the argument to a new plane. For the rich and well-fed to deny Africans, Asians or South Americans the benefits of modern technology is not merely anti-scientific. It's cruel, it's heartless, it's inhumane – and it ought to be confronted on moral grounds that ordinary citizens... can understand. 

Travel to Africa with any of Purdue University's three recent World Food Prize winners, and you won't find the conversation dominated by anti-GMO protesters. There, where more than half of the coming population increase will occur, consumers and farmers alike are eager to share in the life-saving and life-enhancing advances that modern science alone can bring. Efforts to persuade them otherwise, or simply block their access to the next round of breakthroughs, are worse than anti-scientific. They're immoral. 

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Legal, Regulatory and Labelling Status of Biotech Crops - Adv Bot Res (2018) 

Legal, Regulatory and Labelling Status of Biotech Crops - Adv Bot Res (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |
Biotech crops provide food, feed, fuel and fibre and increasingly contribute towards global food security, alleviation of poverty, addressing malnutrition and mitigation of environmental impact caused by agricultural practices and production of pharmaceutical proteins. They are also climate resilient to tolerate harsher weather conditions. As of 2016, 18 million farmers grow biotech crops on 185 million ha of land in 26 countries. 

In spite of their enormous contribution to mankind, biotech crops continue to face regulatory scrutiny. These crops are heavily regulated around the world and in recent years, there have been calls from various parties to label food ingredients derived from biotech crops. A number of countries have national laws on labelling, while discussion is ongoing on low-level presence and adventitious presence of GMOs. There are also talks on harmonizing regulations to ease trade and enforcement activities. 

This chapter will discuss the global status of biotech crops, labelling regimes and the need for, challenges to and consequences of biotech crops. It is noteworthy that biotech crops have now accumulated a flawless record of human and environmental safety since their first release in 1996. 

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Why CRISPR-Edited Food May Be in Supermarkets Sooner Than You Think - Gizmodo (2018) 

Why CRISPR-Edited Food May Be in Supermarkets Sooner Than You Think - Gizmodo (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the green light to a version of the plant Camelina sativa, an important oilseed crop that had been genetically engineered using CRISPR to produce enhanced omega-3 oil. What was interesting about this approval was that the USDA did not ask that the inventors of the plant endure the usual regulatory hoops required to sell biotech crops. The next month, a drought-tolerant soybean variety developed with CRISPR also got a quick pass...  

That’s because while those crops were certainly gene-edited, they were not genetically “modified”... While scientists used CRISPR to snip and tweak the plant’s DNA, they did not add any foreign DNA to it. This... means those CRISPR-edited plants fall outside of regulatory purview... making it significantly faster and cheaper to bring new biotech plants to market – shaving years and tens of millions of dollars off production.

“It eliminates that huge barrier to entry for agbiotech companies”... had the company been forced to endure the usual USDA regulator process... it would have taken at least six years and $30 million to $50 million to test and collect the data required to bring the crop to market. Instead... “We did this in two years and [the USDA’s decision] took two months, and I assure you we didn’t spend $30 million on it”...  

Since the 1990s, the USDA has regulated which genetically modified crops can head to market, not because of fears of harm to human health but because of fear that crops with foreign DNA could accidentally cause environmental damage...  

Camelina oil is used as a biofuel and a substitute for fish oil in aquaculture. So scientists wanted to spur the plant to produce more oil. To do so, they used the CRISPR-Cas9 system to create breaks in both strands of the plants DNA. They didn’t insert any new genes, but when the plant’s own repair mechanisms kick in to rejoin the DNA, it automatically inactivates an undisclosed gene the boosts oil production...  

Last year, the agency explained the approach, writing that it “regulates the products of biotechnology and not specific biotech techniques,” so “products of so-called ‘new genome-editing techniques’ would be regulated... only if they pose plant pest or noxious weed risk”... 

None of the CRISPR plants have made it to market yet. But it seems likely CRISPR produce isn’t so far off from our supermarket shelves.

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Root discovery may lead to crops that need less fertilizer - Penn State (2018)

Root discovery may lead to crops that need less fertilizer - Penn State (2018) | Ag Biotech News |

Bean plants that suppress secondary root growth in favor of boosting primary root growth forage greater soil volume to acquire phosphorus... implications for plant breeders and improving crop productivity in nutrient-poor soils.

The increase in the length of the root is referred to as primary growth, while secondary growth is the increase in thickness or girth of the root. Because root growth confers a metabolic cost to the plant, bean plants growing in phosphorus-depleted soils that send out longer, thinner roots have an advantage in exploring a greater volume of soil and acquiring more phosphorus... 

"That's important because most soils throughout the world are phosphorus deficient, and root traits that improve phosphorus acquisition not only can help to improve the efficiency of fertilizer uptake... but also benefit farmers in developing countries who do not have access to phosphate fertilizers."

Researchers used the common bean... because it is one of the most fundamental crops contributing to food security, with greater volume for direct human consumption than any other grain legume. It is especially important throughout the developing world... where people don't have wide access to animal protein. In those regions, beans are a primary source of protein and nutrition.

Despite the significance of this crop, yields throughout much of the world are constrained by soils that are acidic and extremely depleted in phosphate, one of the main nutrients that plants need to grow. "If we can identify root traits that improve foraging efficiency, we can develop new cultivars that have greater ability to take up phosphorus, and have improved yields in these environments"... 

Researchers used computer-modeling techniques and grew recombinant, inbred lines of common bean to understand how plants allocate resources to primary and secondary root growth under phosphorus stress. Plants were grown in both greenhouse conditions... and in select fields... 

Differences in bean plant growth observed by researchers were striking. In the phosphorus stress treatment, the genotypes with greater reduction of their secondary root growth had increased root length, took up more phosphorus, and had larger shoots than genotypes with greater secondary root growth.

"All of the genotypes we looked at suppressed their secondary root growth under phosphorus stress, but some showed this response much more strongly than others... And those that suppressed their secondary growth the most, performed better under phosphorus stress because they were able to take the resources they would be putting into secondary growth and increasing root length to forage for more phosphorus"... 

Breeders... are releasing several new varieties of bean with improved root traits for phosphorus acquisition to farmers in Mozambique and Zambia... "Working with our breeding partners, varieties of common bean can be developed that have reduced secondary root growth and therefore better yield in poor soils, which will be a huge benefit for small-holder farmers, who rely on beans for food and income."

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In sweet corn, workhorses win - U Illinois (2018) 

In sweet corn, workhorses win - U Illinois (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

When deciding which sweet corn hybrids to plant, vegetable processors need to consider whether they want their contract growers using a workhorse or a racehorse. Is it better to choose a hybrid with exceptional yields under ideal growing conditions (i.e., the racehorse) or one that performs consistently well across ideal and less-than-ideal conditions (i.e., the workhorse)? New research... suggests the workhorse is the winner in processing sweet corn... 

“The ideal cultivar would have exceptional yield regardless of the weather, and across a large area, but it’s unknown if such cultivars are commercially available”... a number of crops have been studied for yield stability, a cultivar’s ability to produce consistent yields across inconsistent environments. The work has resulted in several recommendations about where to grow specific cultivars for the best results.

“Stability analysis is valuable, particularly given the increased weather variability we’re facing. However, previous studies always stopped with recommendations. No one appears to have quantified if such recommendations are followed. Our work is about how yield stability of individual hybrids actually relates to hybrid adoption in sweet corn”... the study is the first to link a cultivar’s yield stability with adoption... 

Williams obtained data from an anonymous vegetable processing company, representing more than a decade of sweet corn hybrid assessment trials... He... incorporated environmental data to calculate yield stability for 12 of the most commonly planted hybrids grown for processing.

Performance of each hybrid was related to all other hybrids across a wide range of growing conditions. This enabled Williams to assign each hybrid to categories of high, average, and low stability and high, average, and low yield. He found 10 hybrids were average for both stability and yield. A few hybrids had above-average yield or above-average stability, but none had both, suggesting the ”ideal” sweet corn hybrid does not yet exist.

Williams then analyzed another dataset representing nearly 15,000 processing sweet corn fields over a period of 20 years. He was able to calculate the acreage planted in each of the 12 hybrids from the hybrid assessment trial. Those 12 hybrids accounted for most of the acreage planted to sweet corn over the 20-year period for the processor.

Most hybrids accounted for 1 to 4 percent of the planted acreage. However, he found a single hybrid was planted on disproportionately more acres: 31.2 percent, to be exact. That hybrid was the only one exhibiting above-average stability across variable growing conditions.

In processing sweet corn, vegetable processors – not growers – choose the hybrid for each field. Processors need hybrids that lend themselves to machine harvest, ears that hold up to processing, and kernels that maintain quality as a finished product... vegetable processors also consider the capacity of their processing facilities.

“When sweet corn is ripe, it must be harvested. Moreover, unlike grain corn which can be stored prior to use, sweet corn must be processed and preserved immediately after harvest... processors want to have their plants running at capacity throughout the... harvest window. A plant running significantly above or below that capacity is costly... A racehorse hybrid is problematic because it’s difficult to predict its performance when the weather deviates from ideal growing conditions, which is common in the Midwest.”

Evidence that vegetable processors prioritize stability could inform future sweet corn breeding programs, and, according to Williams, it could provide a sense of security for growers. “Growers are more likely tasked with growing a workhorse over a racehorse. That decision buffers them, as well as the processor, from less-than-ideal growing conditions”...

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Less chewing the cud, more greening the fuel - Rothamsted (2018) 

Less chewing the cud, more greening the fuel - Rothamsted (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

Making grasses more digestible promises improved feed for ruminants and better biomass for biofuel production, with economic and environmental benefits for both.

Plant biomass contains considerable calorific value but most of it makes up robust cell walls, an unappetising evolutionary advantage that helped grasses to survive foragers and prosper for more than 60 million years.

The trouble is that this robustness still makes them less digestible in the rumen of cows and sheep and difficult to process in bioenergy refineries for ethanol fuel. But now a multinational team of researchers... pinpointed a gene involved in the stiffening of cell walls whose suppression increased the release of sugars by up to 60%...  

The impact is potentially global as every country uses grass crops to feed animals and several biofuel plants around the world use this feedstock... In Brazil alone, the potential markets for this technology were valued last year at $400M for biofuels... 

Billions of tonnes of biomass from grass crops are produced every year... and a key trait is its digestibility, which determines how economic it is to produce biofuels and how nutritious it is for animals. Increased cell wall stiffening, or feruloylation, reduces digestibility.

“We identified grass-specific genes as candidates for controlling cell wall feruloylation 10 years ago, but it has proved very difficult to demonstrate this role although many labs have tried... We now provide the first strong evidence for one of these genes.” In the team’s genetically modified plants, a transgene suppresses the endogenous gene responsible for feruloylation to around 20% of its normal activity. In this way, the biomass produced is less feruloylated than it would otherwise be in an unmodified plant.

“The suppression has no obvious effect on the plant’s biomass production or on the appearance of the transgenic plants with lower feruloylation... Scientifically, we now want to find out how the gene mediates feruloylation. In that way, we can see if we can make the process even more efficient.”

The findings are undoubtedly a boon in Brazil, where a burgeoning bioenergy industry produces ethanol from the non-food leftovers of other grass crops, such as maize stover and sugarcane residues, and from sugar cane grown as a dedicated energy crop. Increased efficiency of bioethanol production will help it to replace fossil fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Economically and environmentally, our livestock industry will benefit from more efficient foraging and our biofuels industry will benefit from biomass that needs fewer artificial enzymes to break it down during the hydrolysis process”...

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Robotic weeders: to a farm near you? - Agronomy (2018) 

Robotic weeders: to a farm near you? - Agronomy (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

The future of weeding is here, and it comes in the form of a robot. The growing popularity of robotic weeders for specialty crops has grown partly out of necessity... Specialty crops are vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and onions. They are not mass-produced like corn, soybeans, and wheat.

The need for robotic weeders stems from two issues. One is a lack of herbicides available for use in specialty crops. Another is the fact that hand-weeding has become more and more expensive. Without pesticides, growers have had to hire people to hand-weed vast fields. Hand-weeding is slow and increasingly expensive: it can cost $150-$300 per acre. That motivates some growers to look to robotic weeders.

“I’ve been working with robotic weeders for about 10 years now, and the technology is really just starting to come into commercial use... It’s really an economic incentive to consider them”...  

The weeders utilize tiny blades that pop in and out to uproot weeds without damaging crops... although the technology isn’t perfect, it’s getting better and better. 

The weeders are programmed to recognize a pattern and can tell the difference between a plant and the soil. However, they currently have trouble telling the difference between a weed and a crop.

That said... companies are training the machines to tell a lettuce plant from a weed... “The problem with the machines right now is that they are version 1.0, and there’s tremendous room for improvement... The inability to be able to tell the difference between a weed and a crop requires the grower to be very exact when using them. The rows have to be a little straighter, cleaner, and more consistent because the machines aren’t that sophisticated yet. The robots don’t like surprises.”

The robotic weeders currently on the market cost between $120,000 and $175,000. For some California growers, it is a better long-term option than expensive hand-weeding. Others think it’s a lot of money for a new technology, and are waiting for it to get better and cheaper... 

Robotic weeders are the future of weeding in specialty crops. Because of higher labor costs and more incentives to grow organically with fewer pesticides, European growers have been using robotic weeders for some time.

“What makes the robotic weeders better than herbicides is that this electronic-based technology is very flexible and can be updated easily... We all update our phones and computers constantly, which is a sign of a robust and flexible technology.”

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No Interactions of Stacked Bt Maize with the Non-Target Aphid Rhopalosiphum padi and the Spider Mite Tetranychus urticae - Front Plant Sci (2018) 

No Interactions of Stacked Bt Maize with the Non-Target Aphid Rhopalosiphum padi and the Spider Mite Tetranychus urticae - Front Plant Sci (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

In the agroecosystem, genetically engineered plants producing insecticidal Cry proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) interact with non-target herbivores and other elements of the food web. Stacked Bt crops expose herbivores to multiple Cry proteins simultaneously. In this study, the direct interactions between... Bt maize producing six different Cry proteins and two herbivores with different feeding modes were investigated. 

Feeding on leaves of Bt maize had no effects on development time, fecundity, or longevity of the aphid Rhopalosiphum padi, and no effects on the egg hatching time, development time, sex ratio, fecundity, and survival of the spider mite Tetranychus urticae. 

The results thus confirm the lack of effects on those species reported previously for some of the individual Cry proteins. In the Bt maize leaves, herbivore infestation did not result in a consistent change of Cry protein concentrations... 

Overall, the study provides evidence that the Cry proteins in stacked Bt maize do not interact with two common non-target herbivores.


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Commission authorises six genetically modified products for food/feed uses - European Commission (2017)

Today the Commission authorised six Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), all for food/feed uses... Soybean... Oilseed rape... Maize... 

The GMOs approved today have all gone through a comprehensive authorisation procedure, including a favourable scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority. The authorisation decisions do not cover cultivation. 

These GMOs had received "no opinion" votes from the Member States... and the Commission therefore had to adopt the... decisions. The authorisations are valid for 10 years, and... these GMOs will be subject to the EU's strict labelling and traceability rules.


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There is no ban on GM food and feed in the EU and most GMOs can be imported into the EU; it's just the cultivation in the EU itself that's limited – which means their production is simply exported... 
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Innovation leads South Asia’s new Green Revolution - CIMMYT (2018) 

Innovation leads South Asia’s new Green Revolution - CIMMYT (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

Fifty years ago, economists and population experts predicted millions were about to die from famine. India and other Asian countries were expected... to be especially hard hit in the 1970s and 1980s, given the region’s high population growth rates.

South Asia braced for mass starvation as hunger and malnutrition spread... but it never happened. Instead, rice and wheat yields more than doubled in Asia from the 1960s to 1990s, grain prices fell, people consumed nearly a third more calories and the poverty rate was cut in half – despite the population growing 60 percent.

Improved rice and wheat varieties combined with the expanded use of fertilizers, irrigation and supportive public policies for agriculture led to this dramatic growth in food production and human development that would become known as the Green Revolution. 

Today, South Asia faces new, but equally daunting challenges... the United Nations predicts the world’s population will grow by more than two billion people, 30 percent of which will be in South and Southeast Asia. 

These regions are also where the effects of climate change... are most dire. Wheat, maize and rice yields in South Asia could decrease by as much as 30 percent over this century unless farmers adopt innovations to mitigate rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns... 

“South Asian agriculture needs to be transformed as it was during the Green Revolution... Holistic management and more efficient use of resources to protect soil, water and air quality is necessary to improve both agricultural and human health.”

Public policies across the region currently subsidize agrochemicals, irrigation and unsustainable tilling, making it an uphill battle for many who promote sustainable intensification – a set of practices that adapt farming systems to climate change and sustainably manage land, soil, nutrient and water resources... 

Conservation agriculture – a sustainable management paradigm based on the principles of minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and the use of crop rotation to simultaneously maintain and boost yields, increase profits and protect the environment – could be greatly expanded to benefit farmers across the region... 

Precision land levelers, machines equipped with laser-guided drag buckets to level fields so water flows evenly into soil – rather than running off or collecting in uneven land... significantly boosted conservation agriculture’s impact. “When these technologies are combined with improved seed... the benefits for farmers are even greater”...

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Sustainable Agriculture – Enhancing Environmental Benefits, Food Nutritional Quality and Building Crop Resilience to Abiotic and Biotic Stresses - Agriculture (2018) 

Sustainable Agriculture – Enhancing Environmental Benefits, Food Nutritional Quality and Building Crop Resilience to Abiotic and Biotic Stresses - Agriculture (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

Feeding nutrition-dense food to future world populations presents agriculture with enormous challenges as... crop production must... double. Crop production cannot be increased to meet this challenge simply by increasing land acreage or using past agricultural intensification methods... Future production of nutrition-dense food will require next-generation crop production systems with decreased reliance on synthetic fertilizer and pesticide. 

Here, we present three case studies detailing the development of cover crops and plant-beneficial microbes for sustainable, next-generation small grain, tomato, and oilseed rape production systems. Cover crops imparted weed and pathogen control and decreased soil erosion and loss of soil nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon, while plant-beneficial microbes provided disease control and phosphorus fertility. 

However, yield in these next-generation crop production systems at best approximated that associated with current production systems... to substantially increase agricultural productivity, new crop germplasm needs to be developed with enhanced nutritional content and enhanced tolerance to abiotic and biotic stress. This will require using all available technologies, including intensified genetic engineering tools, in the next-generation cropping systems.


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Why the European Union needs a national GMO opt-in mechanism - Nature Biotechnol (2018)

The European Union Appeal Committee on Genetically Modified Food and Feed and Environmental Risk voted on draft regulations for approving the placement of three genetically modified (GM) maize events on the market for cultivation in the EU. The Appeal Committee once again did not reach a qualified majority for either approval or rejection... This case was the first of its kind since the amendment of the EU legislation on GM crop cultivation (the so-called 'opt-out Directive') came into force... The opt-out Directive allows EU member states to restrict or prohibit cultivation of GM crops in their territory based on “compelling grounds such as those related to: (a) environmental policy objectives; (b) town and country planning; (c) land use; (d) socioeconomic impacts; (e) avoidance of GMO presence in other products; (f) agricultural policy objectives; and (g) public policy”. This possibility was introduced to acknowledge that decisions on the cultivation of GM crops raise complicated issues other than safety, which are best dealt with at a national level and also to improve the process for authorizing GM crops in the EU. And yet, the votes... demonstrate that the opt-out Directive has not improved the process as intended... 

The opt-out Directive has been in development since 2009, when 11 member states sent a joint letter urging the European Commission to develop a proposal assigning discretionary powers to member states in deciding national GM cultivation decisions. Some stakeholders considered that this change in the regulatory infrastructure could eventually result in breaking the regulatory gridlock that persists in the EU for authorizing GM crops. However... the prediction of Smart et al. that most countries would not change their voting behavior has largely proven true as the voting... demonstrate. We therefore suggest that the EC develop a new Directive that will allow individual member states to authorize cultivating a GM crop in their territories after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)... concluded that the GM crop in question is as safe as the organism from which it is derived. This proposal would keep a collective risk assessment procedure led by EFSA, which has the benefit of accessing broad scientific knowledge and expertise, capitalizing on greater financial and human resources for specialization and in-depth studies, as well as facilitating the collection of multiple sources and viewpoints... 

 A so-called 'opt-in Directive' would overcome many of the problematic issues with the current regulatory system. First, it would better conform to the subsidiarity principle, as it allows for either adoption or non-adoption of GM crop cultivation in acknowledgment of country-specific arguments that may under certain circumstances favor GM crop cultivation. Second, it would facilitate a proper weighing of risks and benefits in particular contexts (e.g., a certain GM trait developed to meet the needs of farmers in a particular EU region). Third, it would offer the potential of consistency, providing a more predictable marketing situation for seed companies, as well as reducing unnecessary regulatory delays. Fourth, it would no longer force the EC to make decisions that may go against the will of several member states. Finally, the proposed opt-in mecha

nism would take the political edge out of the procedure. Unlike in the opt-out scenario, countries with a politically significant opposition to GM crops do not need to take a vote in favor (with all its fallout risk in the media) before they can exercise their discretion to opt out, but can simply refrain from opting in.

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Hidden threat to health - Rothamsted (2018) 

Hidden threat to health - Rothamsted (2018)  | Ag Biotech News |

One of the most ambitious programmes to provide lasting improvements in nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa begins today when a diverse multinational team of experts from agriculture to ethics start looking for ways to end dietary deficiencies in essential micronutrients.

Rothamsted Research is contributing soil and crop expertise to the programme, known as GeoNutrition, which has received a grant of £4.4 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to cover 43 months’ work in Ethiopia and Malawi, principally.

“We will be able to gain a better understanding of the multiple factors that influence the transfer of nutrients from soil to crops to diets,” says Steve McGrath, a specialist... at Rothamsted.

The programme is focusing on deficiencies in selenium and zinc, which impair growth, inhibit cognitive development and suppress the immune system. It aims to map cropland, test the efficacy of micronutrient-enriched fertilisers, assess public health policies and strengthen training networks.

“We will allow appropriate interventions to be taken that respond to the specific local conditions that underlie micronutrient deficiencies”... Food basket analyses and blood plasma measurements in the UK indicate dietary deficiencies in selenium... “Any interventions that work for other areas can also be considered for the UK.” 

“Micronutrient-containing fertilisers are routinely used in Finland to improve the nutritional quality of food crops,” says Martin Broadley, Professor of Plant Nutrition in the School of Biosciences at Nottingham. “Our team is exploring if biofortification can be effective for improving human health at a national scale in Ethiopia and Malawi including creating new, geographically-informed baselines.”

“GeoNutrition takes a geographical approach to nutrition,” says Edward Joy, an LSHTM expert in nutrition and sustainability. “This exciting approach lets us look at the movement of micronutrients through agriculture and food systems, and how a variety of physical and social factors end up influencing the nutritional status of people.”

“Zinc and selenium deficiencies are endemic in many communities in Ethiopia and Malawi, affecting more than half the population,” says Dawd Gashu, an expert in... Addis Ababa... “Thanks to this project, we can now work with volunteers from Ethiopian and Malawian villages to test how nutrient-enriched crops can improve the diets and health of our children and future generations.”

“Soils in southern and eastern Africa are many thousands of years older than most soils in Europe and North America. They are highly-weathered and can lack sufficient micronutrients to keep our crops, livestock and people healthy,” says Patson Nalivata, an expert... in Malawi.

“We can improve our soils by incorporating organic matter and by applying balanced fertilizers to include micronutrients such as zinc... Whilst such solutions are conceptually simple, the ‘trade-offs’ in terms of investment priorities for farmers can be complex. Experts in agriculture and nutrition need to work together to best advise policy makers, extension services, and farmers”...

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Semantic Network Analysis Reveals Opposing Online Representations of the Search Term “GMO” - Global Challenges (2017)

Semantic Network Analysis Reveals Opposing Online Representations of the Search Term “GMO” - Global Challenges (2017) | Ag Biotech News |

Making sound food and agriculture decisions is important for global society and the environment. Experts tend to view crop genetic engineering, a technology that can improve yields and minimize impacts on the environment, more favorably than the public. Because there is a causal relationship between public opinion and public policy, it is important to understand how opinions about genetically engineered (GE) crops are influenced. 

The public increasingly seeks science information on the Internet. Here, semantic network analysis is performed to characterize the presentation of the term “GMO,” a proxy for food developed from GE crops, on the web. Texts from three sources are analyzed: U.S. federal websites, top pages from a Google search, and online news titles.... The framing and sentiment of “GMO” varies across these sources... Differences in the portrayal of GE food by each source might affect public opinion. A current understanding of the types of information individuals may encounter online can provide insight into public opinion toward GE food. In turn, this knowledge can guide teaching and communication efforts by the scientific community to promote informed decision-making about agricultural biotechnologies... 

Media discourse can influence public opinion on a range of socioscientific issues. Here, we show that three online sources provide information that is framed differently for the same topic, “GMO,” a proxy for GE food... Our findings indicate that some Internet sources, such as online news, are likely to perpetuate negative stereotypes or attitudes about genetically engineered foods. The precise effect of these varied portrayals of GE food on public opinion remains to be determined. Framing of agricultural biotechnology in mass media changes over time. Therefore, periodic reviews of GE food-related information online, such as that described here, can help expert communities understand how contemporary opinions about GE food are influenced. This information can assist efforts by the scientific community to promote the prudent use of agricultural biotechnologies...

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Plant Domestication, the Brave Old World of Genetic Modification - Adv Bot Res (2017) 

Plant Domestication, the Brave Old World of Genetic Modification - Adv Bot Res (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |
The genetic improvement of crop plants via the newer techniques of biotechnology to produce “genetically modified” crops is a significant driver of progress in agriculture. However, progress has not been unimpeded: various controversies swirl around the benefits, uniqueness, supposed risks and other aspects of “GMOs”... a meaningless “category”... 

It is important to understand the pedigree of genetic modification, which had its inception in the domestication of plants... We briefly introduce the crucial determinants of the “domestication syndrome”... that is, loss of seed shattering and reduced seed dormancy... and how it evolved through the ages into contemporary “genetic modification”... The application of genetic engineering to crops... brought a wave of improved domestication traits... Some of these novel traits are advantageous to the crop and not just to humans... 

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