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The economic power of the Golden Rice opposition - Wesseler & Zilberman (2014) - Env Develop Econ

The economic power of the Golden Rice opposition - Wesseler & Zilberman (2014) - Env Develop Econ | Ag Biotech News |

Vitamin A enriched rice (Golden Rice) is a cost-efficient solution that can substantially reduce health costs. Despite Golden Rice being available since early 2000, this rice has not been introduced in any country. Governments must perceive additional costs that overcompensate the benefits of the technology to explain the delay in approval.


We develop a real option model including irreversibility and uncertainty about perceived costs and arrival of new information to explain a delay in approval. The model has been applied to the case of India. Results show the annual perceived costs have to be at least US$199 million per year... to explain the delay in approval of the technology. This is an indicator of the economic power of the opposition towards Golden Rice resulting in about 1.4 million life years lost over the past decade in India... 


Nutritional and economic ex ante assessment studies of a GRS [Golden Rice strategy] have shown that Golden Rice can reduce VAD-related mortalities and diseases at less cost than alternative strategies discussed in the literature. Previous studies for India have shown that about 204,000 life years can be saved annually. 


Golden Rice was expected to be introduced in 2002. Golden Rice has not yet been approved in any country, including India. According to our calculations, the delay over the last 10 years has caused losses of at least 1,424,680 life years for India, ignoring indirect health costs of VAD. The differences in net present value from a 10-year delay are about US$707 million... 


The size of the perceived costs is substantially larger, 85 times, than the cost of implementing the GRS. Having a better understanding of the political economy behind the perceived costs and how to reduce them seems to be economically much more important than additional investigations into the costs of social marketing and maintenance breeding.

The results further show that it pays for those opposing the GRS to raise concerns about the technology the sooner a decision by regulators is expected. The leverage factor of the perceived costs increases the closer the point of decision making is. This explains why the opposition to the GRS has substantial power and indicates that it will be difficult for those supporting the technology to change the view on perceived costs. In this context it is not so important to provide factual evidence, but to raise uncertainty... 


One question that remains to be answered within this debate is: what are the incentives of the opposition to the GRS in India? This has not yet been well investigated empirically... A small industry has developed around the opposition to transgenic crops that survives mainly on donations and has to keep the debate about the risks of the technology alive. This strategy seems to be a successful strategy albeit, as the case of Golden Rice shows, at the cost of the lives of several thousand children.

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

[updated May 1, 2017]  


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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How to Talk to a Science Denier without Arguing - Sci American (2017) 

How to Talk to a Science Denier without Arguing - Sci American (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

It’s the holiday season, which means plenty of opportunities for uncomfortable interactions with friends and family who are science deniers, from people who believe the moon landing was faked to those who believe vaccines cause autism or who think that humans did not cause significant global climate change. How can you deal with such science deniers effectively?

My close friend invited me to her house for Thanksgiving, where I sat across the table from her cousin Sam. Learning about my research on promoting truthfulness in our society, he proceeded to denounce what he called the “climate change hoax” as a vast attack by liberals on businesses. He told me how his dad lost his job at a factory that moved to Mexico, placing blame on government regulations – including pollution control – that made it too expensive for the plant to operate in the Columbus, Ohio, where Sam lives. By the end of our conversation over that meal, he accepted the validity of the science on climate change. 

Sam is one of many people who updated their beliefs during conversations with me... One of the strategies... can be summarized under the acronym EGRIP (Emotions, Goals, Rapport, Information, Positive Reinforcement), which provides clear guidelines on how to deal with Sam and other people who deny the facts, in science and other life areas.

Our typical response is to respond by presenting the facts and arguing about the quality of the evidence. However, studies suggest that doing so is generally not effective... If someone denies clear facts, you can safely assume that it’s their emotions that are leading them away from reality... We need to deploy the skill of empathy... to determine what emotional blocks might cause them to stick their heads into the sand of reality. 

In Sam’s case, it was relatively easy to figure out the emotions at play through active listening: anxiety about job security, compounded by his dad’s experience. I confirmed my suspicions by using curiosity to question Sam – who was in his junior year in college – about whether he was concerned that government protections would inhibit his ability to find a job, and he answered “you’re damn right I’m worried about that.” You will have to figure out based on the context of each individual situation the relevant emotions at play. 

Next, establish shared goals for both of you, crucial for effective knowledge sharing. With Sam, I talked about how we both want people to secure jobs in the current uncertain economic environment, and he strongly agreed. I also said how we both want him and his friends and family... to stay healthy, and he agreed as well. 

Third, build rapport. Using the empathetic listening... echo their emotions and show you understand how they feel. In the case of Sam... I also told him I was worried about his health and the health of other students, due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by pollution.

Fourth, move on to sharing information. Here is where you can give the facts that you held back in the beginning. Since Sam’s concerns had to do with economic issues, I focused on the money rather than the science. I talked to him about how... the government sometimes makes unwise policies that result in harmful outcomes. Next, I pointed out to him how the number of clean energy jobs in Ohio is growing, and much quicker than overall job growth... Then, I highlighted how since manufacturing jobs... aren’t coming back, he could secure a good financial future for himself in the green energy field after college.

Likewise, he would also help protect his health and the health of his friends and family... As a bonus, he wouldn’t have to deny scientific studies. After all, as I told him, the scientists are simply finding data, and it’s government officials and business leaders who decide what to do with it. The key here is to show your conversation partner, without arousing a defensive or aggressive response, how their current truth denialism will lead to them undermining in the long term the shared goals we established earlier...

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The contribution of glyphosate to agriculture and potential impact of restrictions on use at the global level - GM Crops (2017) 

This study assesses the potential economic and environmental impacts that would arise if restrictions on glyphosate use resulted in the world no longer planting genetically modified herbicide tolerant (GM HT) crops... 

An annual loss of global farm income... of $7 billion and lower levels of global soybean, corn and canola production equal to 19 million tonnes, 3 million tonnes and 1.4 million tonnes respectively... 

A net increase in the use of herbicides of 8 million kg of herbicide active ingredient (+1.7%), and a larger net negative environmental impact, as measured by the environmental impact quotient indicator of 12%... 

Additional carbon emissions arising from increased fuel usage and decreased soil carbon sequestration, equal to the equivalent of adding 12 million cars to the roads... 

World prices of all grains, oilseeds and sugar are expected to rise, especially soybeans (+5%) and rapeseed (+2%)... global welfare falling by $7,400 million per year. 

Land use changes... with... [400,000 ha...] new land brought into cropping... including 167,000 of deforestation... induce the generation of an additional 234,000 million kg of carbon dioxide emissions.

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GMOs: a scapegoat of the American food system - Medium (2017) 

GMOs: a scapegoat of the American food system - Medium (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

We recently published an article on this platform highlighting that we avoid the Non-GMO Project’s label because it does not tell consumers any information regarding the item’s healthfulness, its impact on the environment, or the pesticides used to grow crops. Many of the comments we received expressed that although GMOs may indeed be safe, there are socio-economic factors surrounding these crops which give consumers pause. Today, we write to address these concerns and highlight that such socio-economic factors are not unique to GMOs. 

Non-GMO does not mean that it was produced with crops that were free of patents: 

The development of any crop can take years, leading companies to patent these new varieties to protect their investments. However, this is done regardless of the method used to modify the crop... Even seeds used in organic food production can be patented and can be developed by large agricultural companies. In contrast, some GMOs are no longer patented... 

GMO Is Not Synonymous With Monsanto... 

The public largely perceives GMO as synonymous with Monsanto and the evils the agricultural company symbolizes. While business practices of massive corporations can and should be questioned and criticized when unethical, conflating “GMOs” with Monsanto creates a regulatory quagmire that... discourages smaller entities from developing and commercializing GE products. At the same time, Monsanto develops many crops that are non-GMO and even seeds approved for use under the USDA’s organic label. Consequently, shunning GMOs does not result in boycotting Monsanto’s products... 

GMOs and Monocultures: 

GMOs are blamed for an increase in monoculture and a decline in seed diversity... a gross oversimplification of the issues and often a misunderstanding of what “monoculture” even means. This has been discussed in detail... On a system-wide level, currently adopted GMOs have led to reduced monoculture and protected biodiversity by protecting 13 million hectares of land from conversion to agriculture... Another area of concern is that biotechnology could lead to a reduction of genetic diversity within the crops themselves. However, this is not a problem specific to GMOs, as farmers plant a homogenous batch of seeds no matter what kind of seed they buy. Farmers choose from a very wide variety of seeds, GMO or non-GMO, to fit the needs of their particular farms... 

Other Myths and Falsehoods... 

We are providing links to articles and documents disproving these myths:
- Farmers have not been sued for inadvertent cross contamination.
- There is no evidence that organic food is healthier, nor is it free of pesticides.
- GMO seeds are not sterile.
- GMOs are not associated with the suicide of farmers in India.

The concerns that many readers have regarding the strength of multi-billion dollar agricultural conglomerates, the undue power of these companies in our political and regulatory system... are concerns that we share. Again, these are not factors unique to discussions on GMOs or even exclusive to agriculture... As tempting as it may be to simplify these complex political and economic problems to a GMO debate in search of silver-bullet fixes, by reducing our scope we are prevented from finding genuine solutions to these issues.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
... not just a scapegoat of the American food system... 
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Toxicologic evaluation of chronic feeding of glyphosate-resistant transgenic soybean GTS40-3-2 meal to rats - Emirates J Food Ag (2017) 

Transgenic soybean GTS40-3-2 meal and its non-transgenic counterpart parent A5403 were fed to first- and second-generation Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats (Rattus norvegicus) for 195 days. The soybean meal made up 20% of the total weight of the feed. Body weight, food consumption, hematology, blood biochemistry, and pathological observations were monitored weekly. 

The results showed that rats of each group experienced good growth and development, and although results of some organ weight ratios and serum biochemistry between the groups were significantly different (P<0.05), they were of no biological significance because the variations were within the normal range. 

These results indicate that glyphosate-resistant transgenic soybean GTS40-3-2 meal is as safe as its non-transgenic parent soybean A5403 in a long-term SD rat feeding study. The study provides experimental evidence for the safe usage of transgenic soybean GTS40-3-2.

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Genes found in drought-resistant plants could accelerate evolution of water-use efficient crops - ORNL (2017) 

Genes found in drought-resistant plants could accelerate evolution of water-use efficient crops - ORNL (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Scientists... identified a common set of genes that enable different drought-resistant plants to survive in semi-arid conditions, which could play a significant role in bioengineering and creating energy crops that are tolerant to water deficits.

Plants thrive in drylands by keeping their stomata, or pores, shut during the day to conserve water and open at night to collect carbon dioxide. This form of photosynthesis, known as crassulacean acid metabolism or CAM, has evolved over millions of years, building water-saving characteristics in plants... 

“CAM is a proven mechanism for increasing water-use efficiency in plants... As we reveal the building blocks that make up CAM photosynthesis, we will be able to bioengineer the metabolic processes of water-heavy crops such as rice, wheat, soybeans and poplar to accelerate their adaptation to water-limited environments.”

Scientists are studying a variety of drought-resistant plants to unlock the mystery of CAM photosynthesis... “It is widely accepted that some unrelated plants exhibit similar characteristics under similar environmental conditions, a process known as convergent evolution”... 

They identified 60 genes that exhibited convergent evolution in CAM species, including convergent daytime and nighttime gene expression changes in 54 genes, as well as protein sequence convergence in six genes... “These convergent changes in gene expression and protein sequences could be introduced into plants that rely on traditional photosynthesis, accelerating their evolution to become more water-use efficient”... 

Crop production is the world’s largest consumer of freshwater. Availability of clean water resources is shrinking because of urbanization, human population growth and changes in climate, which presents a challenge to optimal growing environments.

To address this concern, engineering CAM photosynthesis into food and energy crops could reduce agricultural water use and boost crops’ resilience when the water supply is less than desirable.

“Studying the genome of water-efficient plants may also provide insights into a plant’s ability to use slightly saline water and maintain growth under higher temperature and lower clean water availability... If we can identify the mechanisms for water-use efficiency, we could move this trait into agronomic plants, supply non-potable water as irrigation to those plants and save the clean water for drinking.”

Underlying study:

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A non-linear examination of the ‘doubts’ regarding genetically modified crop yields - Montana SU (2017) 

A non-linear examination of the ‘doubts’ regarding genetically modified crop yields - Montana SU (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Over 90% of U.S. corn, cotton, and soybeans are planted with genetically-modified (GM) seed varieties... Several authors have claimed that yield trends have not differed between the United States and the EU even though the latter has banned GM technologies. 

We... investigate yield differences for corn, wheat, and soybeans between the United States and the EU... U.S. corn yields have increased between 18 and 23 bushels per acre relative to EU yields since the introduction of GM technologies. 

The EU continues to increase wheat yields relative to the United States. U.S. soybean yields have continued their linear trend, while EU soybean yields have flattened over the past two decades. GM technologies have had substantial impacts on U.S. corn and soybean yields.



Alexander J. Stein's insight:
In the US GM maize and GM soybeans are grown, but in the EU only one GM maize variety and no GM soybeans are grown. And the result? Yields of maize and soybeans increase faster in the US than in the EU... 

(The study is wrong in saying that GM technologies would be "banned" in the EU -- in the health sector GM technologies are used, and also in the agricultural sector GM technologies are used in the form of huge amounts of GM soybeans that are imported for use as feed, and GM technologies are also used in the form of one GM maize variety that is authorised for cultivation and is grown mostly in Spain.) 
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GM banana shows promise against deadly fungus strain - Science (2017) 

GM banana shows promise against deadly fungus strain - Science (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

A field trial in Australia has shown that genetically modified banana trees can resist the deadly fungus that causes Panama disease, which has devastated banana crops in Asia, Africa, and Australia and is a major threat for banana growers in the Americas. 

The Cavendish variety, which makes up more than 40% of harvests worldwide, is highly susceptible to Fusarium wilt tropical race 4. For the 3-year trial, bananas were given a resistance gene from either a wild relative or a nematode. Some lines had 100% resistance. 

Transgenic plants might reach some farmers in as few as 5 years, but it's unclear whether consumers will bite. A second field trial, including new lines, is underway. The work may also encourage plant breeders using traditional techniques to protect varieties with the resistance gene.

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Report highlights opportunities and risks associated with synthetic biology and bioengineering - eLife (2017)

Report highlights opportunities and risks associated with synthetic biology and bioengineering - eLife (2017) | Ag Biotech News |

The field of bioengineering offers great promise for tackling the major challenges that face our society... Rapid developments in the field of synthetic biology and its associated tools and methods, including more widely available gene editing techniques, have substantially increased our capabilities for bioengineering – the application of principles and techniques from engineering to biological systems, often with the goal of addressing 'real-world' problems... 

“The growth of the bio-based economy offers the promise of addressing global environmental and societal challenges, but as our paper shows, it can also present new kinds of challenges and risks. The sector needs to proceed with caution to ensure we can reap the benefits safely and securely.” The report is intended as a summary and launching point for policy makers across a range of sectors to further explore those issues that may be relevant to them.

Among the issues highlighted by the report as being most relevant over the next five years are:

- Artificial photosynthesis and carbon capture for producing biofuels: If technical hurdles can be overcome, such developments might contribute to the future adoption of carbon capture systems, and provide sustainable sources of commodity chemicals and fuel.  

- Enhanced photosynthesis for agricultural productivity: Synthetic biology may hold the key to increasing yields on currently farmed land – and hence helping address food security – by enhancing photosynthesis and reducing pre-harvest losses, as well as reducing post-harvest and post-consumer waste.

- Synthetic gene drives: Gene drives promote the inheritance of preferred genetic traits throughout a species, for example to prevent malaria-transmitting mosquitoes from breeding. However, this technology raises questions about whether it may alter ecosystems, potentially even creating niches where a new disease-carrying species or new disease organism may take hold... 

- Shifting ownership models in biotechnology: The rise of off-patent, generic tools and the lowering of technical barriers for engineering biology has the potential to help those in low-resource settings, benefit from developing a sustainable bioeconomy based on local needs and priorities, particularly where new advances are made open for others to build on... 

“One theme that emerged repeatedly was that of inequality of access to the technology and its benefits. The rise of open source, off-patent tools could enable widespread sharing of knowledge within the biological engineering field and increase access to benefits for those in developing countries”... 

“The challenges embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals will require all manner of ideas and innovations to deliver significant outcomes. In agriculture, we are on the cusp of new paradigms for how and what we grow, and where. Demonstrating the fairness and usefulness of such approaches is crucial to ensure public acceptance and also to delivering impact in a meaningful way”... 

“We must ensure public trust and acceptance. People may be willing to accept some of the benefits, such as the shift in ownership away from big business and towards more open science, and the ability to address problems that disproportionately affect the developing world, such as food security and disease. But proceeding without... societal consensus... could damage the field for many years to come.”

Underlying paper:

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Gene Editing and Genome Engineering with CRISPR-Cas9 - Molec Front J (2017) 

Gene Editing and Genome Engineering with CRISPR-Cas9 - Molec Front J (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

The RNA-programmable CRISPR-Cas9 technology allows precise and effcient engineering or correction of mutations, modulation of gene expression and marking of DNA in a wide variety of cell types and organisms in the three domains of life. Because of its versatility and ease of design, this powerful technology has been rapidly and universally adopted for genome editing applications in life science research. It is also recognized for its promising and potentially transformative applications in biotechnology, medicine and agriculture.


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Genetically Engineered Food Crops to Abiotic Stress Tolerance - Genetically Engineered Foods (2017) 

The increase in global population is a threat to the food supply. In addition, the decline in agricultural investment has also decreased the global food supply. Competition for land means that there is a need to increase agricultural productivity; however, the growth and yield of plants are greatly influenced by environmental stresses once crops are sessile. Furthermore, global climate changes can also compromise food security, thus increased tolerance to these stresses is important. It is estimated that less than 10% of the soils used in agriculture are free from environmental stresses. 

In the last 30 years new methodologies have been developed to allow the production of genetically modified crops with improved tolerance to abiotic stresses. These modified crops are not only able to survive stress, but they also show good yields under stress conditions...This chapter aims to present recent studies regarding genetically engineered crops to abiotic stress resistance, specifically highlighting the main food sources.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
"The increase in global population is a threat to the food supply." >> Who or what is important here? Does the food supply need to be protected from the "population", or does the global population need to be protected from food insecurity? 
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A Plea for the Renewal of the ISBR - Trends Biotechnol (2017) 

A Plea for the Renewal of the ISBR - Trends Biotechnol (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

The recent meeting of the International Society for Biosafety Research (ISBR) focused on so-called genetically modified organisms. For decades, in most regulatory frameworks, recombinant DNA-modified organisms have been the wrong focus of unbalanced agri-food regulations. The ISBR should instead adopt a scientifically defensible and truly risk-based perspective, abandoning a misleading pseudo-category... 

ISBR aims to encourage research which supports the safe and effective use of biotechnology in agriculture and food production and assists the development of the relevant policy and regulation’... 

Any reasonable person should agree with this goal, with ‘agricultural biotechnology’ defined appropriately, that is, a broad and comprehensive approach, encompassing the whole ‘green’ biotech arena, older and newer techniques and methods, and centering on a scientifically defensible and risk-based consideration of the safety and environmental issues of each new product (crops, animals, microorganisms, and their by-products). 

Such an approach should focus on the phenotypic traits of an organism, irrespective of the processes that breeders have used to obtain it. However, the ISBR’s main mission statement appears to conflict with the organization’s actual practice, in that all the ISBR documents make reference to ‘genetically modified organisms (GMOs)’, as though they were the only group of agri-food products derived from ‘agricultural biotechnology’. 

That misconception feeds the popular myth that GMOs are in some way a meaningful category, ignoring, for example, the 3000+ crop varieties obtained via physical/chemical mutagenesis as well as untold numbers of plants obtained via wide crosses with embryo rescue, which are ‘transgenic’ in fact, if not in name. 

The biotechnology research and community (R&D) community is well aware that the traditional methods (e.g., chemical and irradiation mutagenesis and wide crosses with embryo rescue) have been excluded from regulation for purely political reasons. Furthermore, it is well known that even – one might argue, especially – the most traditional techniques can result in unsafe outputs:... 

We hope that in future more weight will be given by ISBR to the reality that genetic modification is a long-standing, seamless continuum of methods and technologies and that risk analysis and regulation must take that into account, and we hope that they and others will abandon the unscientific notion of ‘GMOs’ as a category.

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Glyphosate Use and Cancer Incidence in the Agricultural Health Study - JNCI (2017) 

Glyphosate Use and Cancer Incidence in the Agricultural Health Study - JNCI (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide worldwide, with both residential and agricultural uses. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” noting strong mechanistic evidence and positive associations for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in some epidemiologic studies. 

A previous evaluation in the Agricultural Health Study (AHS) with follow-up through 2001 found no statistically significant associations with glyphosate use and cancer at any site. 

The AHS is a prospective cohort of licensed pesticide applicators from North Carolina and Iowa. Here, we updated the previous evaluation of glyphosate with cancer incidence from registry linkages through 2012 (North Carolina)/2013 (Iowa). Lifetime days and intensity-weighted lifetime days of glyphosate use were based on self-reported information... 

Among 54 251 applicators, 44 932 (82.8%) used glyphosate, including 5779 incident cancer cases (79.3% of all cases). In unlagged analyses, glyphosate was not statistically significantly associated with cancer at any site... 

In this large, prospective cohort study, no association was apparent between glyphosate and any solid tumors or lymphoid malignancies overall, including NHL and its subtypes. There was some evidence... that requires confirmation.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
"among applicators in the highest exposure quartile, there was an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia compared with never users, though this association was not statistically significant" >> If it's not significant, it should be counted as random noise, not as "some evidence", shouldn't it? 
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Reversing the tide of progress: Burkina Faso's cotton story - Cornell (2017) 

Reversing the tide of progress: Burkina Faso's cotton story - Cornell (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Seidu Konatey is a man who... spends at least 10 hours every day working in his 38 acres of cotton fields... in... Burkina Faso... There is nothing about cotton farming he hasn’t seen before. Cotton production is a lot of work as it takes about 24 weeks from planting to maturity. But nothing troubles Seidu more than the bollworm pests that attack and destroy cotton. The larvae of the bollworm have the capacity to cause up to 90 percent yield loss on cotton fields... In West Africa, 25 to 35 percent of all cotton is lost to these pests.

Spraying pesticides has long been the main means of dealing with them. Half of all pesticides imported into Africa are used on cotton, a situation that poses an extraordinary threat to the health of humans and the environment... In the mid-1990s farmers used at least one to two liters of pesticide per hectare to spray cotton fields, at least six times a season.... of potentially hazardous chemicals... 

“We were cropping conventionally until it got to the point when we were spraying up to six to 15 times a season... A lot of the chemicals were inefficient in dealing with the pests. We got lots of fields being destroyed. Most farmers couldn’t pay back their loans. We kept changing the chemicals but still the infestation was massive.”

So stakeholders began looking for alternatives to deal with the pests. Government was desperate as the nation was spending up to US$60 million annually on imported pesticides. In the early 2000s, the US agricultural firm Monsanto began tests to introduce genetically engineered cotton seeds with the potential to combat the bollworm pests in Burkina Faso.

Known as Bt cotton, the seeds contain genes from a bacteria that makes it naturally resistant to the bollworm pests. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a commonly occurring soil bacteria that produces protein that is toxic to certain pests, including the bollworm, but does not harm humans nor animals. It has been used to successfully combat pests in many GE crops across the globe, as well as in organic agriculture. After five years of trials, the Bt cultivar was made available to Burkina Faso farmers in 2008.

“From 15 times spraying a year, they promised us that with Bt cotton, we will spray only two times... We were surprised. We tried it and realized that was true. We were all very happy,”. 

Bt cotton became hugely popular and by 2014, more than 70 percent of all cultivated cotton in Burkina Faso was genetically modified. It helped cut down on the use of pesticides by up to 70 percent, resulting in significant economic savings for farmers and less stress on the environment. With the capacity of the new variety to deal with the pests, cotton yield increased by about 22 percent on the average on Burkina Faso farms. The amount of additional profit gained by farmers averaged about 51 percent in savings on labor for spraying and investments in chemicals... 

But there were problems with the new variety. Burkina Faso produces cotton that is of premium quality because of the long length of the fiber it produces. Cotton companies expressed concern that the length of fiber from the new variety was shorter and less trendy, and they were having difficulty getting premium prices for the product on the international market... 

Varying reasons have been given for the problem. The GM cotton was produced by crossing already engineered Bt American varieties of cotton with local varieties in Burkina Faso... 

“They did not have an ongoing breeding program to improve the variety,” explains Jonathan Jenkinson, the Asia Africa Breeding Lead at Monsanto. “So what was happening was, the trait was there and it was providing all the necessary benefits, but the varieties that were being released were not new and improved ones every year... We made the trait available to the Burkinabe research institution. The local owner of the germplasm should have been undertaking an annual improvement program.”   

Monsanto and Burkina Faso researchers agree that the problem can be resolved scientifically... “More backcrossing can be done. Or the trait can be introduced into a local variety with an even longer fiber length to correct this.” But those options were not fully explored and now the decision has been taken to withdraw the novel varieties.

Farmers like Seidu are not happy, saying, they would have made a different choice if they had the power. “Farmers liked the GMO but did not have a choice than to give it up because the company (SOFITEX) gives you seeds, chemicals and fertilizers as loans. So, if they decide to withdraw it, the farmers don’t have a choice,” he says. The Burkina Faso government has majority shares in SOFITEX, the nation’s main cotton company, which controls everything in the sector from production to processing to marketing.

Seidu is also worried about the return of the days of increased pesticide use... “I have invested 100,000 CFA to buy extra chemicals. I have sprayed 10 times but no yield. Meanwhile, I need to pay back 2 million CFA as loans. I will struggle to pay back”... 

Soro Mahmoud, a father of seven is one of those farmers who is convinced they have been given a raw deal by the cotton trading company. He has a six-hectare cotton farm... he would usually get 12 tonnes of cotton. But this year he is expecting only 3 tonnes because of the high pest pressure. He is also worried for his health now that they spray their fields more frequently.

“The conventional, you spray six times. And then by the time you finish, you have a lot of problems with your chest... The pesticides are poisonous. I have been experiencing intoxication. After spraying, I have skin irritation, then high fever, then cold and breathing problems”... 

At a time when other countries are making a lot of progress with the cultivation of Bt cotton, Burkina Faso appears to be on a reverse gear. In South Africa today, almost 100 percent of the cotton produced is Bt, while in Australian, the figure is 97 percent. In the USA, it’s 80 percent, and 42 percent in Brazil.

But Burkina Faso now grows zero Bt cotton, and the farmers are not happy. The days of reduced pesticide use on Burkina Faso’s cotton farms are gone; the higher income for farmers is no more; and the clean, healthy environment in and around cotton fields has become polluted, threatening the lives of many...

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Zinc nutrition in wheat-based cropping systems - Plant Soil (2017) 

Zinc nutrition in wheat-based cropping systems - Plant Soil (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Zinc (Zn) deficiency is one of the most important micronutrient disorders affecting human health. Wheat is the staple food for 35% of the world’s population and is inherently low in Zn, which increases the incidence of Zn deficiency in humans. 

Major wheat-based cropping systems viz. rice-wheat, cotton-wheat and maize-wheat are prone to Zn deficiency due to the high Zn demand of these crops. 

This review highlights the role of Zn in plant biology and its effect on wheat-based cropping systems. Agronomic, breeding and molecular approaches to improve Zn nutrition and biofortification of wheat grain are discussed. 

Zinc is most often applied to crops through soil and foliar methods. The application of Zn through seed treatments has improved grain yield and grain Zn status in wheat. 

In cropping systems where legumes are cultivated in rotation with wheat, microorganisms can improve the available Zn pool in soil for the wheat crop. Breeding and molecular approaches have been used to develop wheat genotypes with high grain Zn density. 

Options for improving grain yield and grain Zn concentration in wheat include screening wheat genotypes for higher root Zn uptake and grain translocation efficiency, the inclusion of these Zn-efficient genotypes in breeding programs, and Zn fertilization through soil, foliar and seed treatments.

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Food and Feed Safety of Genetically Engineered Food Crops - Toxicol Sci (2017) 

Food and Feed Safety of Genetically Engineered Food Crops - Toxicol Sci (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

The first genetically engineered (GE) food crop (tomato) was introduced in 1995, followed by the successful development and commercial release of maize, soybeans, cotton, canola, potatoes, papaya, alfalfa, squash, and sugar beets with specific new genetic traits. 

Even though the safety of every new GE crop has been evaluated by various regulatory authorities throughout the world prior to its commercial release, the ongoing public debate about the safety of food and feed derived from GE plants has not abated. Such debates often overshadow an important fact that all crops used as human food or animal feed include varieties that have been developed through conventional breeding... or through intentional but random mutagenesis. 

Developing food crops through such breeding practices result in large-scale genomic changes in the resulting crops, and these genomic changes do not undergo molecular characterization. In contrast, new GE crops are developed using well-characterized DNA fragments and the resulting crops are tested and evaluated with much greater scrutiny. 

This document reviews the safety data and information of GE crops and foods obtained from them.


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When good intentions bang heads with unintended consequences - Newsweek (2017) 

When good intentions bang heads with unintended consequences - Newsweek (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Academics who study risk have a name for those situations in which you end up singed: “Regrettable substitutions,” which are said to occur when individuals, companies or governments substitute processes, procedures or ingredients that prove to be inferior or actually harmful, compared to what existed before.

One example that concerns public health authorities is the consumption of raw... milk, instead of the common pasteurized variety... “Unpasteurized milk, consumed by only 3.2 percent of the population, and cheese, consumed by only 1.6 percent of the population, caused 96 percent of illnesses caused by contaminated dairy products”... 

An academic study... found that the experimental subjects “may be guided less by what people know and more by the order in which they learn it. Notably, it appears that people evaluate a situation in which scientific evidence is tempered by controversy similarly to... no scientific evidence at all.” That makes the public susceptible to the blandishments of activists or other special interests who foment “controversy” even when there isn’t a legitimate one... 

A prototypic regrettable substitution was the European Union’s activists-instigated 2013 ban on some uses of certain state-of-the-art neonicotinoid insecticides, supposedly to protect bee populations. (The ban was misguided from the start because of persuasive evidence that “neonics” do not, in fact, exert significant effects on bees.)

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre... completed an analysis of the effects of the ban. Its conclusions are devastating: (1) the use of restricted active substances plummets; (2) farmers replace them with other substances; (3) there are fewer seed but more soil and foliar treatments (which create wider exposures to human and other animals, including bees); (4) alternative seed treatments are less effective; (5) pest-management becomes more cost- and time-intensive; and (6) pest stresses on agriculture increase, with no benefit to beneficial insects... 

The UK government has provided financial incentives to encourage a shift of vehicles to diesel engines because laboratory tests suggested it would cut harmful emissions and combat climate change. However, in real-world driving conditions, it turned out that diesel cars emit on average five times as much emissions of nitrogen oxides as in the tests... The rest of the EU also encouraged the switch to diesel, the result of which was air quality in some major cities... that at times is as bad as Beijing... 

Another European example is the harm to the German economy done by phasing out nuclear power as a reaction to the Fukushima meltdown.... reduced the ability of the country to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and raised energy costs... 

The shutdown of two nuclear power plants in the U.S. ... caused a shift in electricity generation to coal-fired power plants, substantially increasing air pollution... In counties that experienced the greatest increases in air pollution levels... average birth weights (which are thought to be a valid predictor of health later in life) decreased by about 5 percent. 

To end up with fewer regrets, we should all be wary of swapping the devil we know for the devil we don't... Let science... show the way.


DAIPO Emmanuel's curator insight, December 2, 7:44 PM
L'humanité depuis quelque années mène une lutte pour améliorer l'environnement, la nature, lutte contre les pollutions de toutes sortes, mais ces luttes sont-elles menées correctement ? Ne s'égare t-on pas de notre réel objectif ? Ne cherchons nous pas des boucs émissaires ? telles sont les questions que cet article se pose et tente d'y répondre. Voyons quelques exemples. 
Une organisation de la santé a estimé que le lait non pasteurisé et consommé entrainait la prolifération de bactéries qui ont causer plus de 720 malades et 22 hospitalisations par année entre 2009 et 2014.... Chiffres affolants , mais si l'on regarde de plus près l'on peut se demander comment est-il possible que le lait non pasteurisé consommé par 3,2% de la population et le fromage consommé par 1,6% de la population est pu causé 96% des maladies provoqué par les produits laitiers. 
Récemment en Grande Bretagne le gouvernement a décidé que les voitures devraient passer au Diesel, dans un prétexte de lutte contre la pollution, hélas en condition réel , il s'avère que les voitures diesel produise 5 fois plus de rejets toxiques pour l'air. 
Pour résumer l'article montre que l'ingérence des politiques , des activistes etc... fait souvent plus de dégâts que de bien. 
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Rise of ampicillin resistance began years before human use - likely triggered by overuse of penicillins in agriculture in the 1950s - Lancet Inf Dis (2017) 

Rise of ampicillin resistance began years before human use - likely triggered by overuse of penicillins in agriculture in the 1950s - Lancet Inf Dis (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Low doses of penicillin routinely fed to livestock in the 1950s in North America and Europe may have encouraged antibiotic-resistant bacteria to evolve and spread. Bacteria that can pass on genes resistant to ampicillin, one of the most commonly used antibiotics today, emerged several years before the widespread use of this antibiotic in humans, according to new research... 

Molecular analysis of historical samples of Salmonella... suggests that the ampicillin resistance gene (blaTEM-1) emerged in humans in the 1950s, several years before the antibiotic was released onto the pharmaceutical market. The findings also indicate that a possible cause was the common practice of adding low doses of penicillin to animal feed in the 1950s and 60s.

The study comes just weeks after WHO called for the end to routine antibiotic use to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy farm animals... "Antibiotic residues in farming environments such as soil, waste water, and manure may have a much greater impact on the spread of resistance than previously thought"...  

Antibiotic resistance kills around 25,000 people a year in Europe, and this is predicted to rise to over 10 million people worldwide by 2050. Many bacteria that cause serious infections in humans like Salmonella, have already developed resistance to common antibiotics.

Ampicillin, the first broad-spectrum penicillin for the treatment of infections due to Enterobacteria, was released on the market in the UK in 1961. Shortly after, the first outbreaks of disease in humans caused by ampicillin-resistant strains of the common zoonotic bacterium, Salmonella enterica var Typhimurium (S. Typhimurium), were identified in the UK.

This short timeline prompted the researchers to investigate the emergence of ampicillin resistance. In this study, they tested 288 historical samples of S. Typhimurium collected from humans, animals, and food and feed in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America between 1911 and 1969. Samples were tested for antibiotic susceptibility and were analysed by whole genome sequencing, in order to identify the mechanisms of resistance to ampicillin.

The researchers found various ampicillin-resistance genes in 11 isolates from human samples... on plasmids in three isolates taken from humans in France and Tunisia in 1959 and 1960... The vectors of ampicillin resistance differed from those in the strains responsible for the first outbreaks in the UK in the 1960s... "This indicates that the early emergence of ampicillin resistance was due to multiple independent acquisitions of these resistant genes by different bacterial populations"...  

"The genetic diversity of these ampicillin-resistant isolates, their resistance mechanisms, and their geographic distribution, indicate that ampicillin resistance had already spread in this prominent zoonotic bacterium in the late 1950s, several years before ampicillin became commercially available."  

A report from the UK Central Public Health Laboratory in 1965 raised the idea that low doses of the narrow-spectrum antibiotic penicillin G (also known as benzylpenicillin), routinely added to animal feed, may have contributed to the emergence of ampicillin resistance in humans in the UK.  

In further analyses, the authors confirm that ampicillin resistance genes can be successfully transferred between wild type S. Typhimurium strains after exposure to relatively low levels of penicillin G, similar to those found in the litter of chickens fed with antibiotics in the USA in the 1970s... 

"The non-clinical use of penicillins like benzylpenicillin may have encouraged the evolution of resistance genes in the late 1950s. There is an urgent need to re-evaluate the use of antibiotics in animals and for a 'one health' approach to tackling resistance, recognising that bacteria know no borders. This must include close international monitoring and surveillance of resistance in both human and animal health"...  

"Antibiotic growth promoters have been gradually banned in Europe since 1996, without adverse effects on animal production, but resulting in a decrease in antibiotic resistance in pigs and poultry. Extensive use of antibiotics, however, continues in low-income and middle-income countries and in booming economies, particularly in intense farming such as that of fish and shellfish"... 

"Tran-Dien and colleagues clearly show the existence of ampicillin resistance before the drug's commercial introduction... The health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment... Mmultidisciplinary and inter-sectorial collaborative efforts are needed to counter the spread of antibiotic resistance."

Underlying study:

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AU and FAO speak loud and clear: biotechnologies can be decisive in bridging the food deficit gap in Africa - FAO (2017) 

The African Union Commission [AUC] and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urged African governments to proactively employ science, technologies and innovations – especially biotechnologies – to address food insecurity and malnutrition challenges facing the continent.

A wide range of stakeholders in food security and nutrition, including government representatives and non-state actors, underlined the fact that, despite some progress, African governments need to exert more effort to put viable legislation and investments in place to promote agricultural biotechnologies as parts of the toolbox for achieving sustainable food systems and nutrition... 

AUC Commissioner for... Rural Economy and Agriculture... noted that at this time when population growth and climate change worsen the prospects for combatting food insecurity and malnutrition, the application of science, technology and innovation in the agricultural sector is no longer an option but an imperative for Africa.

“African governments should create a favourable policy environment and invest more resources in order for the region to benefit from the safe applications of proven biotechnologies so as to lift vulnerable communities out of extreme food insecurity”... 

FAO Assistant Director-General for... Agriculture and Consumer Protection... remarked, “It is imperative for Africa to make biotechnologies, knowledge and innovation available, accessible and applicable to small farmers to help them maximize their agricultural productivity while keeping the environment healthy and sustainable. FAO, AUC and partners must find the means to remove the barriers that prevent their accessibility and uptake by family farmers”...  

The Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, noted that 80% of Ethiopians depend on subsistence agriculture to provide food for their families and for incomes. An agriculture-led strategy for economic growth is one of the best ways to provide food for this huge population. “Ethiopia is building a capacity to extensively use biotechnologies to enhance the productions of crops and animals to support the country’s efforts towards food self-sufficiency”...  

Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security of Mauritius... not only are the direct effects powerful due to the huge number of Africans employed in agriculture, but the indirect effects of improved agricultural output and efficiency can also have a multiplier effect on the economy. “Increased productivities can lower food prices, thereby allowing Africans to divert spending onto other products”...  

The aim... was to explore the application of biotechnologies for the benefit of smallholders in developing sustainable food systems and improving nutrition in the context of climate change... This meeting looked at the application of biotechnologies in family farmers production systems, across the crop, livestock, forestry and fishery sectors and covered a wide range of biotechnologies, from low- to high-tech.

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Glyphosate renewal approved - Rothamsted (2017) 

Glyphosate renewal approved - Rothamsted (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

The European Commission’s Appeal Committee, a group of representatives of EU Member States, voted... for the renewal of the approval of glyphosate for five years... Glyphosate is one of a diminishing group of herbicides still able to have some impact on the rampant spread of the suffocating weed... 

"The negative impacts of pesticides on the environment mean that reducing their use should continue to be a policy and research aim. However, the level of food production and affordability of food we have become accustomed to cannot be currently maintained without chemical crop protection products. While every effort should be taken to reduce the risk of pesticides to human health and the environment, therefore, these risks need to be balanced against the benefits they bring in terms of food security. 

"In the context of this difficult balancing act... the renewal of the approval of glyphosate is to be cautiously welcomed and is the right decision. In terms of direct toxicity on non-target organisms, it is relatively benign, and it is an important mainstay of weed control. Some weed species that have evolved resistance to other herbicides would become extremely difficult to control without glyphosate and it is particularly useful in cropping systems that minimise soil disturbance which itself brings environmental benefits.  That said, the scrutiny of glyphosate emphasises the importance of finding ways to control weeds that are less reliant on chemical control"... 

"The current debate about the registration and use of pesticides for the protection of crop yields in the European Union emphasises the need for continued efforts to find alternatives to pesticides. Uncontrolled, insect pests, weeds and plant pathogens can have devastating impacts on food production and food security, lowering yields by up to 30%. Current levels of food production cannot be maintained without the use of chemical crop protection products. 

"The EU decision to renew the approval for glyphosate use should be welcomed. Compared to alternatives, glyphosate has a benign environmental profile. A large number of rigorous and independent studies have failed to corroborate the report of the UN International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate is 'probably carcinogenic'. Glyphosate is a critical component of strategies to manage weed species that have evolved resistance to most other available herbicides... and glyphosate is a key component of cropping systems that attempt to limit soil cultivation. These systems deliver a number of environmental and soil health benefits. 

"Notwithstanding all this, over-reliance on glyphosate in the UK increases the risk that resistance will evolve, as it has in other parts of the world. The continued scrutiny of pesticide use in the EU, and the inevitable evolution of resistance that arises from over-reliance, make it ever more important to focus on weed control strategies that limit pesticide use."

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Turkeys Are Twice as Big as They Were in 1960 - Atlantic (2017)

Turkeys Are Twice as Big as They Were in 1960 - Atlantic (2017) | Ag Biotech News |

For decades, animal breeders have been transforming the genomes of turkeys to make them grow larger. Since 1960, the weight of turkeys has gone up about a quarter of a pound each year. The average weight of a turkey has gone from 15 pounds in 1960 to 31 pounds in 2017. 

And most of that change has been genetic. In one study of a representative strain of turkeys, poultry researchers fed the same diet to turkeys from 2003 and to a control group of turkeys that were representative of that strain’s genetic pool from 1966. On average, the 2003 females grew to 33 pounds. Their 1966 cousins only got to 16 pounds.

The 2003 turkeys also grew much faster, reaching the same saleable weight twice as fast as their 1966 cousins. Even when they are raised under identical conditions, these are different animals with different genomes... This is what just 60 years of scientific turkey breeding has wrought.

“Farmers grow for what the consumer wants – and that includes meatier turkeys... The live weights of turkeys, due to that consumer desire, has continued to grow, and the amount of feed to raise each pound of turkey continues to be less.”

Less feed reduces farmers’ costs, and it has environmental benefits, too, as less corn and soybeans are required to meet the nation’s turkey demand. And that demand has gone up a lot. In 1950, America’s per-capita turkey consumption was just 5.5 pounds. Nowadays, that number is over 16 pounds... 

Turkeys are no different from other livestock. Chickens have undergone a very similar process. Cows used to produce 5,000 pounds of milk. Now they produce more than 20,000 pounds. Selective-breeding programs combined with the development of quantitative genetics have combined to create systems for morphing our livestock to better fit the market.

For all these breeding programs, the key technology has been artificial insemination. A given male with the kinds of traits that breeders are looking for can be mated to many, many, many females...While these programs are analogous to humans’ original domestication of these animals, it is different enough in degree to become different in type. This is market-driven hyperdomestication.

And there are trade-offs. While turkeys’ overall mortality rates do not seem to be higher than earlier generations, they... suffer some new kinds of health problems. Their bodies can struggle to hold up their weight, leading to leg problems. And sometimes breeding exclusively for size can have a negative effect on animals’ fitness and fertility... Poultry scientists now say “fitness traits must be measured and incorporated into selection objectives”... 

At some point, the growth of these birds will hit a market or a genetic limit, but it’s an open question which one they will reach first.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
"breeding exclusively for size can have a negative effect on animals’ fitness and fertility" >> which is also bad for the farmers, but otherwise there's little in the text about animal welfare... 
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High yield, protein with soybean gene - ASA (2017) 

High yield, protein with soybean gene - ASA (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

When soybean seed is crushed and the oil extracted, what’s left is called soybean meal. You’ll want to save this leftover. Globally, close to 98% of soybean meal produced is used in animal feed... “the most important and preferred source of high-quality vegetable protein for animal feed.” 

But soybean growers face a challenge. It has proved difficult to develop soybean varieties with both high protein levels and high yields. These two characteristics are negatively correlated: when soybean yields are high, protein levels tend to decrease, and vice-versa.

Brian Diers and colleagues addressed this problem... Their initial results suggest it might be possible to breed soybeans with higher protein concentration without significantly decreasing yields. “Growers are typically paid based on the weight of soybeans they deliver to buyers... Therefore, growers decide which varieties of soybean to grow based primarily on yields.”

If high-protein varieties of soybean have relatively low yields, they may not be chosen by growers... the researchers tested a gene that increases protein by breeding it into two different varieties of soybean. The results were promising. Plants of both varieties with the high protein gene had increased protein concentration and did not show a significant decrease in yields... 

They developed experimental lines with and without the high protein gene by breeding the gene into two varieties of soybean and testing the lines for both protein concentration and yield.

“We found that this gene on chromosome 15 consistently increased protein concentration”... The gene increased protein concentration between 8 to 14 grams per kilogram of soybean. “This gene could be a good choice for breeders to use when they want soybeans with higher protein concentration.”

The researchers did see a decrease in seed oil concentration resulting from the gene. However, they did not observe a significant reduction in yield... “We did observe a negative yield trend, but it was not statistically significant”... 

The gene was tested by breeding it into two varieties. That’s important because “genes need to be evaluated across different varieties... Sometimes genes only work in some varieties and not others.” It’s important for breeders to have this information to avoid surprises.

High-protein, high-yield varieties of soybean would be attractive for growers and end-users. The protein in soybean meal is considered high-quality because it is composed of a fairly well-balanced set of amino acids. “Soybean meal complements corn well in animal feed”...

Underlying paper:

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Correctly Used Neonics Do Not Adversely Affect Honeybee Colonies, New Research Finds - U Guelph (2017) 

Correctly Used Neonics Do Not Adversely Affect Honeybee Colonies, New Research Finds - U Guelph (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

The three most widely used neonicotinoid pesticides for flowering crops pose no risk to honeybee colonies when used correctly as seed treatments, according to new studies...  

Amid mounting controversy over use of neonicotinoids (neonics) and declining bee populations, a new analysis... of previously unpublished studies and reports commissioned by agri-chemical companies... as well as published papers from the scientific literature shows no significant ill effects on honeybee colonies from three common insecticides made by the companies...  

Keith Solomon... and... Gladys Stephenson... analyzed 170 unpublished studies that Syngenta and Bayer had submitted to regulatory agencies. They also included 64 papers from the open, peer-reviewed literature on the topic.

Acknowledging that these three pesticides can kill individual honeybees and may also pose a threat to other pollinators, Solomon said: “At least for honeybees, these products are not a major concern. Use of these neonics under good agricultural practices does not present a risk to honeybees at the level of the colony”...  

They conducted weight of evidence assessments, an approach developed specifically for these studies that is intended to gauge the quality of reported data and to compare relevance of results from different studies... 

The study involved three pesticides – clothianidin and imidacloprid made by Bayer, and thiamethoxam made by Syngenta – that are used in seed treatments for various field crops... The original papers varied in quality and scientific rigour, but their results generally showed no adverse effects of pesticides on honeybee hives.

“Many studies look at effects of insecticides on individual bees. What regulations try to protect is the colony – the reproductive unit”... The U of G researchers stressed the importance of “good agricultural practices,” including ensuring that seeds are coated and planted properly to avoid air-borne contamination of bees during field seeding.

Their results don’t necessarily apply to other insects that also serve as crop pollinators and that have shown population declines. For those pollinators... “there are too few studies at the colony or field level to allow a weight of evidence analysis”...   

Bees and other pollinators are affected by potentially harmful factors, including long-distance movement of colonies for crop pollination as well as mites and viruses, weather, insufficient food and varying beekeeping practices.

Underlying study:


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Gene Discovery May Halt Worldwide Wheat Epidemic - UC Davis (2017) 

Gene Discovery May Halt Worldwide Wheat Epidemic - UC Davis (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

Researchers have identified a gene that enables resistance to a new devastating strain of stem rust, a fungal disease that is hampering wheat production throughout Africa and Asia and threatening food security worldwide. The discovery... will help breeders more quickly develop varieties that can fend off the deadly pathogens and halt a worldwide wheat epidemic... 

Wheat and stem rust have been in an evolutionary arms race for more than 10,000 years. In the 1950s, a major epidemic of the disease spread through North America and destroyed up to 40 percent of the wheat crop, the world’s second most important grain next to rice.

Since then, scientists have developed rust-resistant varieties to boost wheat’s immunity to stem rust. But the pathogens are making a comeback. A new strain of the stem rust – called Ug99 after it was discovered in Uganda in 1999 – is spreading throughout the region. About 90 percent of the wheat varieties grown worldwide are susceptible to Ug99.

“Ug99 has expanded to most of the wheat-growing regions in Africa and has crossed the Red Sea to Yemen and Iran... Ug99 is now at the door of the Punjab region – the bread basket of Asia – and identification and deployment of effective resistance genes are critical to mitigate this threat”...  

To develop better varieties, breeders cross plants with desired traits and select the best offspring over multiple generations. Once stem-rust resistant genes have been identified, breeders can use molecular markers (specific regions of DNA) to select for the genes at the seed or seedling stage. This accelerates the crop-improvement process.

These molecular markers allow breeders to pyramid multiple stem-rust-resistant genes in the same plant to extend the durability of resistance.

“Wheat provides a substantial amount of calories and proteins consumed by humans... We hope that a better understanding of the wheat-rust pathosystem will speed the development of new strategies to control this devastating pathogen.”

Underlying study:

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Risk perception of genome editing: reservations and a great demand for information - BfR (2017) 

For decades now, humans have been altering the genetic information of plants and animals in order to produce new varieties or strains. Some more recent molecular biological methods known under the generic term "genome editing" enable targeted intervention into the genetic material. The CRISPR/Cas9 method, which could be used in agriculture and medicine, for example, promises to be particularly successful. 

The attitudes of people in Germany towards these newer methods have hardly been examined scientifically up to now. As it is of fundamental importance for appropriate risk communication to have knowledge of the attitudes and level of awareness of the general public, the BfR conducted focus group interviews... 

Modifications to genetic information are a part of life. In conventional plant cultivation and animal breeding, humans use methods to increase the natural mutation rate so that they can select new varieties or strains with useful properties from among the mutants. Certain newer molecular biological methods which have become known under the generic term genome editing do not differ in this regard from conventional cultivation and breeding. 

One decisive difference is though, that with the genome editing method, very specific modifications can be introduced to the genome of the target organism. The CRISPR/Cas9 method, with the help of which the genome can be specifically modified, promises to be particularly successful... It opens up a variety of new application options. Its use in agriculture is being discussed, for example, in the development of disease-resistant plant varieties, as well as in medicine. Lawmakers have not yet decided how genome editing is to be classified from a legal point of view.

The BfR is dealing with the subject of genome editing from a scientific point of view. It is also preparing recommendations and measures for risk communication, but knowledge of consumers’ attitudes towards the subject is essential here. Moderated group discussions, so-called focus group interviews, permit an insight into the concrete points of view, attitudes and potential concerns of the general public.

Against this backdrop, the BfR formed and interviewed focus groups with a total of 39 participants of both genders. The interviews gave an insight into what consumers currently know about genome editing and which factors dominate their risk-benefit deliberations. It was also determined how the participants classify genome editing in relation to conventional genetic engineering and what their needs for information and regulation are.

The essential results are that... the interview participants see genome editing methods as a form of genetic engineering and they have similar reservations about them for this reason. In the food sector... the use of genome editing is rejected by the majority... This looks a bit different in the medical sector, where use is acceptable for many because a necessity and therapeutic benefits are apparent... Younger people were more positive and open to the new methods than older people.

It also became clear that the participants know little about the methods of genome editing. At the same time though, they would like to see public clarification of the methods in order to open up an informed public discourse. It is essential for future risk communication strategies that this consumer demand for information be met.

Alexander J. Stein's insight:
The old story, if there's no tangible benefit for the consumers they reject a technology (agriculture), but if they see a clear benefit they embrace that same technology (medicine). So I'm not sure whether informing about the technology and the underlying science will do much; it might be more helpful to explain consumers the benefits of applying the technology in agriculture (land-use, climate change, water savings, pesticide reductions, nutrition profile, etc.) 
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Use of CRISPR systems in plant genome editing: toward new opportunities in agriculture - ETLS (2017) 

Use of CRISPR systems in plant genome editing: toward new opportunities in agriculture - ETLS (2017)  | Ag Biotech News |

CRISPR-Cas9 is an adaptive immune system found in prokaryotes. In 2012, scientists found a way to use it as a genome editing tool. In 2013, its application in plants was successfully achieved. This breakthrough has opened up many new opportunities for researchers, including the opportunity to gain a better understanding of plant biological systems more quickly. 

The present study reviews agricultural applications related to the use of CRISPR systems in plants from 52 peer-reviewed articles published since 2014. Based on this literature review, the main use of CRISPR systems is to achieve improved yield performance, biofortification, biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, with rice (Oryza sativa) being the most studied crop.


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