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The battle against viral diseases: Novel strategies for antiviral resistance in potatoes

on May 17, 2023

This article was written by Jorge Luis Alonso G., an information consultant specializing
in the potato crop.

Scientists at the Inner Mongolia Agricultural University in China recently published a review in the journal Plants describing the advancement of antiviral strategies in potatoes through the engineering of both viral and plant-derived genes.

The article below is a summary of the information presented in this scientific paper.

1. Introduction

Potatoes, as a nutritious and staple food crop, have the potential to address food insecurity in developing countries. However, a major impediment to this aptitude is the prevalence of viral diseases in potato production, which result in the destruction of seed potatoes and often cause yield losses of 20–30%. Major viruses, including Potato virus Y (PVY), Potato leafroll virus (PLRV), and Potato virus X (PVX), cause various damaging symptoms such as leaf curling, necrosis, and stunted growth.

Complicating disease prevention, these viruses enter the plant through various vectors and use plant resources to replicate. Although virus-free seed potato technology can limit disease damage, some viruses are persistent and can re-infect during the growing season.

In addition, the hetero-tetraploid nature of the plant limits conventional breeding methods in developing antiviral potato varieties. On the positive side, advances in molecular biology and plant genetic engineering have opened the door to creating virus-resistant crops. Promising strategies have emerged, such as RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated resistance, which targets the viral coat proteins of the major potato viruses.

Eventually, genetically modified (GM) potatoes, including virus-resistant varieties, are now being introduced and commercialized in certain countries. This progress represents a major step forward in the fight against potato virus diseases.

2. Engineering Virus-Derived Viral Resistance in Potato

Researchers have developed genetically engineered virus-resistant plants, including potatoes, by using the coat protein (CP) gene of viruses such as tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), PVY, PVX, and PLRV. CP has several functions, including protection of the viral nucleic acid and regulation of the host range of infection. However, CP-mediated resistance is often limited, providing protection only against the CP donor virus or related strains and only at low viral doses. Additional complications in virus transmission can arise when the plant is transformed with the CP of an insect-borne virus.

To overcome these challenges, investigators are attempting to combine different viral CPs in the same plant or to incorporate coat protein genes with satellite RNA for a broader antiviral spectrum. An alternative approach involves replicase, an RNA polymerase encoded by viral genes. This enzyme synthesizes the positive and negative strands of viral RNA during replication. Although researchers have shown that replicase-mediated resistance is stronger than CP-mediated resistance, its specificity limits its use in the field due to the rapid mutation rate of plant RNA viruses.

In addition, antisense RNAs (asRNAs), which are complementary to messenger RNA (mRNA), have also been used for viral resistance. Although some success has been achieved in acquiring antiviral infection ability and protecting plants, antisense RNA-directed resistance is generally weak due to insufficient expression, which limits its practical application. However, there are still ways to improve the expression level of antisense RNA, which keeps this avenue open for exploration.

3. Engineering Virus-Resistant Plants Using Plant Endogenous Genes in Potato

Scientists are increasingly focusing on creating virus-resistant plants by using the plant’s own genes. They have discovered antiviral genes in both wild and cultivated potato species. These can be categorized into two distinct groups: extreme resistance (ER) genes and hypersensitive resistance (HR) genes. ER genes are known to resist many viruses and thwart viral reproduction in the early stages of infection. On the other hand, HR genes resist various virus species, triggering cell necrosis after a virus infection to limit its spread.

In potatoes, the Ry genes confer ER to all PVY strains, including the Rysto, Ryadg, and Rychc genes. Breeders have incorporated these into potato breeding programs and have identified Rysto as recognizing the central 149 amino acids of the PVY coat protein domain, suggesting its potential utility in engineering virus resistance.

The Y-1 gene is unique in its action as it induces cell death without preventing the systemic spread of PVY, thus hinting at its possible use in potato breeding. The G-Ry gene, a Y-1 homolog, has been detected to enhance resistance to PVY. Meanwhile, Ny genes, such as Ny-1 and Ny-2, have demonstrated HR against PVY in many potato cultivars. The Nytbr gene exhibits hypersensitivity to PVY, showing necrosis symptoms upon infection. Interestingly, scientists have identified the HCPro cistron of PVY as influencing necrotic reactions and resistance in plants carrying certain resistance genes.

As for resistance to PVX, it is mediated by the Rx1 gene, which causes a rapid termination of viral replication. A transcription factor that interacts with Rx1 mediates antiviral immunity, thereby enabling the Rx1 gene to confer ER to PVX.

One major and two minor quantitative trait loci (QTL) for resistance to potato leaf roll virus (PLRV), a potato disease, have been identified. The major QTL has mapped to potato chromosome XI. These identified genes associated with potato virus resistance can be used for antiviral breeding and for the development of potato varieties resistant to a single virus or many viruses. However, further research is needed to use these resistance genes and to discover new ones.

4. RNAi-Mediated Viral Resistance in Potato

RNA silencing, a common gene regulation mechanism in eukaryotes, plays a central role in protecting against viruses. This mechanism involves the interaction of small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), Dicer-like (DCL) endonucleases, and AGO family proteins. Specifically, DCL4 and DCL2 are responsible for generating siRNAs that mount a defense against RNA viruses. Further amplifying this system, RNA-dependent RNA polymerases (RDRs) convert aberrant single-stranded RNA into double-stranded RNA precursors of secondary siRNAs. This strategy is particularly promising for the development of virus-resistant transgenic plants.

In the specific context of viroid infection in plants, RNA silencing plays an important role. For example, replication of potato spindle tuber viroid in tomato plants induces resistance to RNA silencing, suggesting the critical role of secondary structures in resistance to RNAi.

The process of RNAi silencing can be manipulated to change miRNA sequences, creating artificial miRNAs (amiRNAs) that can target specific sequences. This ingenious approach has been used to engineer virus-resistant plants by creating resistant plants by creating amiRNAs that can actively fight viral infections.

In nature, however, viruses often encode silencing suppressors to counteract host RNAi-based defenses. To improve viral resistance, research is focused on enhancing RNAi activity by increasing the efficiency of AGO proteins and modifying siRNAs.

Despite extensive studies on RNA silencing as a strategy in plant antiviral protection, the beneficial effect of RNA silencing in viral infection remains somewhat puzzling. In particular, the mechanism by which some components of RNA silencing systems contribute to viral infection is not well understood. A deeper understanding of this could open up new opportunities for engineering viral resistance in various crops, such as potato.

5. CRISPR/Cas9-Mediated Viral Resistance in Potato

CRISPR/Cas, a system created to provide immune protection against invading nucleic acids in bacteria, has been repurposed for efficient genome engineering and the development of antiviral immunity in plants. This was amply demonstrated by the ability of CRISPR/Cas systems to effectively control Beet Severe Curly Top Virus (BSCTV) in N. benthamiana and A. thaliana. In addition, the CRISPR/Cas9 system has been ingeniously used to mutate susceptibility genes in rice and tobacco to confer resistance to Rice Tungro Spherical Virus (RTSV) and Potato Virus Y (PVY), respectively.

Besides these applications, the CRISPR/LshCas13a system was used in potato crops to generate resistance to Potato Virus Y, further demonstrating the potential of CRISPR technology in crop protection. Taken together, these studies underscore the significant capacity of CRISPR/Cas9 to control plant RNA viruses in major crops such as potato.

6. Future Prospects and Conclusions

As the battle against genetically complex virus strains in potato varieties escalates, researchers are moving to strengthen virus resistance. They are gearing up for a multi-pronged strategy.

First and foremost, they aim to disrupt the virus-host interaction by editing the potato genome. Using the available potato genome sequences, their goal is to construct an effective shield to protect potato plants from viral invasion. In this regard, they’ve identified CRISPR editing technology as a possible powerhouse in the fight against plant virus infections, a tool that could outperform RNAi.

Second, they are embarking on a mission to discover resistance genes that are key to antiviral response. This discovery could provide a significant boost to potato breeding efforts. Once identified, these genes will be introduced into potato plants through genetic transformation.

Third, they are formulating plans to harness the power of inducible responses in naturally virus-resistant plants. Because these plant defenses have broad-spectrum capabilities, their goal is to identify viral components that activate plant immune mechanisms. This promising area of study could reveal resistance genes that control these protective mechanisms. This, in turn, would pave the way for the development of strategies to engineer the broad-spectrum components of natural defenses.

Fourth, armed with an increasing understanding of the molecular functions of viral proteins, they plan to manipulate these proteins to create cross-protection against further viral infection in potato plants.

Finally, they see the transgenic expression of antiviral proteins of non-plant origin, including antibodies, as a promising frontier in the search for increased resistance to specific potato viruses. This approach underscores the relentless pursuit of new strategies to strengthen potatoes against viral threats.

Source: Liu, J., Yue, J., Wang, H., Xie, L., Zhao, Y., Zhao, M., & Zhou, H. (2023). Strategies for Engineering Virus Resistance in Potato. Plants, 12(9), 1736. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants12091736
Photo: Potato leafroll virus causes stunted plants. Credit Government of Western Australia

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Is the EU ready to join the global gene editing revolution?

Dr Petra Jorasch

May 2023

Science for Sustainable Agriculture


Regulatory authorities around world are moving rapidly to clarify their stance on new plant breeding technologies such as gene editing. Nearly all are determining that certain gene edited crops should be regulated in the same way as conventionally bred crops, rather than as GMOs. As the European Commission prepares to unveil its plans for the future regulation of these techniques, is the EU ready to join the global gene editing revolution, or will we remain locked in a political and regulatory time warp, asks Dr Petra Jorasch.

Major new developments in gene editing are now taking place with increasing frequency, as the world looks to harness the potential of genetic innovation to tackle urgent global challenges of food security, improved nutrition, climate change and pressure on finite natural resources of land, energy and water.

Just in the past couple of months, for example, the Canadian Government confirmed that gene edited crops without foreign genes will be regulated in the same way as conventionally bred varieties, and the UK Parliament approved new legislation in England which removes gene edited, or ‘precision bred’, plants and animals from the scope of restrictive GMO rules. In doing so, they joined a growing list of countries around the world seeking to encourage the use of these more precise breeding methods, including the United States, Japan, Australia, Argentina and Brazil.   

Over the same period, the Chinese Government approved its first gene edited food crop, a soybean high in healthy oleic acid, the Philippines approved a gene edited ‘non-browning’ banana designed to reduce food waste, and the US authorities cleared a new type of mustard greens, gene edited for reduced bitterness and improved flavour.

Here in Europe, we continue to see major research breakthroughs in these technologies, including the recent announcement that researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have used CRISPR/Cas gene editing technology to make potato plants resistant to late blight disease caused by Phytophthora infestans without inserting foreign DNA in the potato genome. It is hard to overstate the potential significance of this breakthrough, not only in safeguarding harvests from a devastating fungal infection, but also in reducing the need for pesticide sprays.       

As the pace of these exciting developments accelerates around the world, a key question set to be answered over the coming months is whether Europe will join in, or remain locked out?

The European Commission is preparing to publish its long-awaited proposal for future regulation of the products of new genomic techniques (NGT), which are currently classified as GMOs in line with a European Court ruling dating back to July 2018.

In a study following this ruling the Commission concluded that the EU’s 20-year-old GMO rules are ‘not fit for purpose’ to regulate these new breeding methods, largely because those regulations were put in place years before gene editing technologies were even dreamt of.

But will the Commission’s proposal follow other countries in determining that NGT plant products which could have occurred naturally or been produced by conventional means should be regulated in the same way as their conventionally bred counterparts? Or will it succumb to the anti-science lobby, imposing GMO-style traceability, labelling and coexistence obligations for these conventional-like NGTs, which will not only deter innovation and cement the EU’s future as a museum of agriculture, but also risk trade-related challenges as gene editing becomes one of the default delivery models for global crop genetic improvement?

Earlier this month, 20 European value chain organisations, including Euroseeds, signed a joint open letter urging the Commission to treat conventional-like NGT plants  in the same manner as their conventionally bred counterparts to avoid regulatory discrimination of similar products.

In the letter, all 20 organisations – representing EU farming, food and feed processing, plant breeding, scientific research and input supply organisations – underlined their commitment to transparency and information sharing to support customer and consumer choice.

Following the recent example of Canada, which has introduced a registry for gene edited plant varieties to ensure transparency and choice, the joint letter points out that national variety lists and the European Common Catalogue could be used to provide freedom of choice to farmers and growers, and allow value chains wishing to avoid the use of conventional-like NGT plants in their production to do so. Already today, for example, some private organic certification schemes exclude plant varieties bred using certain exempted methods of genetic modification such as cytoplast fusion. These private standards are observed, and the respective value chains co-exist, without the need for a specific regulatory framework, but through varietal information provided by the seed sector.

However, transparency does not necessarily imply a requirement for traceability (and/or labelling). Transparency stands at the beginning of value chains and, as such, does not disrupt food chain operations and product flows but provides freedom of choice for farmers and growers. A requirement for mandatory labelling of one particular breeding method would not only incur additional costs within the supply chain, but could also erroneously be perceived by some consumers as a warning statement and so discriminate unfairly against conventional-like NGT products. This in turn could prevent the potential of NGT plants to contribute to sustainable agricultural production and food security from being realised.

Where NGT plant products could equally have been produced using other conventional breeding methods (which are not subject to a mandatory labelling requirement), it would also constitute a breach of the fundamental principles of non-discrimination of like-products and factual information under General Food Law.

The joint value chain letter also highlighted the challenges of detection and identification of NGT plant products for market control and enforcement purposes. Since it is not technically possible to distinguish how the genetic change in a conventional-like NGT plant occurred (because it is conventional-like!), it is highly unlikely that laboratory tests would ever be able to detect and identify the presence of NGT-derived plant products in food or feed entering the EU market, creating enforcement issues and legal uncertainty for operators. The EU regulatory system risks losing trust if it is unenforceable and, with this, becomes vulnerable to fraud.   

Any mandatory traceability or segregation requirements (eg paper trail systems) for technically similar products would bring significant costs and logistical burdens for operators, which are not aligned with current food trade and processing operations, and as such would represent a further, unjustified barrier to the adoption of NGT plants in the EU.

Finally, in relation to the coexistence of farming systems and international trade, the joint letter points out that, today, EU regulations do not impose coexistence measures between conventional and organic farming, even though some organic farming standards already exclude plant varieties from certain non-regulated-GMO breeding methods. Similarly, the US, with which the EU has agreed equivalency schemes for organic food, does not impose specific coexistence measures between organic and conventional farmers (including for conventional-like NGT products). This has the obvious advantage for US organic growers and food producers that such food will also be accepted as organic in the EU. In sharp contrast, always imposing risk assessment and traceability plus labelling requirements (as well as coexistence measures) for conventional-like NGT plants and products would be incompatible with organic standards in third countries like the US. This would endanger well-established equivalency standards and international organic value chains.

In short, imposing traceability and labelling requirements, and coexistence measures that place specific obligations on farmers growing conventional-like NGT varieties, would have negative implications for the competitiveness of the EU agri-food value chain as well as the enforceability of regulations.

It would also be at odds with the EU’s guiding regulatory principles of practicality, proportionality and non-discrimination.  

Our policy-makers have a unique opportunity to embrace and enable the use of these more precise breeding technologies in European agriculture, and to improve prospects for delivering the sustainability objectives set out in the EU’s Green Deal.

Is the EU ready to join the global gene editing revolution, or will we remain locked in a political and regulatory time warp?

Petra Jorasch holds a PhD in plant molecular biology from the University of Hamburg. She is an internationally recognised science, communication and industry advocacy expert with more than 20 years of experience in and a deep knowledge of the relevant policy frameworks for seeds, plant science and breeding, access and use of plant genetic resources as well as relevant intellectual property protection systems. Petra worked for 13 years in the German seed sector at the interface of science and industry, managing intellectual property rights, public-private partnerships and technology transfer. From 2014-2017 she was Vice Secretary General of the German Plant Breeders’ Association (BDP) and its research branch GFPi (German Federation for Plant innovation). Petra joined Euroseeds in February 2017 as the spokesperson of the EU plant breeding sector on modern plant breeding methods and innovative technologies.

Social Media: LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/petra-jorasch-57120a56/ 

Twitter: @pjorasch

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The State of Insect Resistance to Transgenic Bt Crops

Entomology Today 1 Comment

Cultivation of transgenic crops engineered to produce insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) has grown rapidly in the past 25 years. Bt crops have had noteworthy successes, but resistance to Bt crops has evolved in numerous instances. Five cases of practical resistance to Bt proteins that are produced by transgenic crops are documented for corn earworm (Helicoverpa zea), which is the most for any pest. (Photo by John C. French Sr., Retired, Universities:Auburn, GA, Clemson and U of MO, Bugwood.org)

By John P. Roche, Ph.D.

Insect pests damaging crops is a huge problem worldwide, threatening food security and causing significant economic loss. One avenue to address this is to genetically engineer crops to produce proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that kill pests but are safe for most nontarget organisms. Although Bt-modified crops have been useful for controlling pests in numerous instances, some pests evolve resistance to Bt insecticide proteins. Therefore, scientists must evaluate the efficacy of Bt modified crops and find ways to delay evolution of insecticide resistance.

Sustained susceptibility to Bt cotton was essential for eradicating the pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella) from the United States and Mexico, which it had invaded more than a century ago.As part of a multi-tactic program, pink bollworm caterpillars were mass reared (as shown here) and 11 billion sterile moths were released by airplanes to overwhelm its populations in the field. By contrast, this pest evolved resistance to dual-toxin Bt cotton in India, where it was used extensively with scarce non-Bt host plant refuges and limited integration of other tactics. (Photo by Alexander Yelich, University of Arizona)

In a review published in January in the Journal of Economic Entomology, Bruce Tabashnik, Ph.D., and Yves Carrière, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona and Jeffrey Fabrick, Ph.D., of the USDA Agricultural Research Service analyze both of these needs by examining patterns of Bt resistance in agricultural pests around the globe. The review is part of a special collection on field-evolved resistance to Bt crops.

The acreage of Bt-modified crops has grown rapidly in the past 20 years, with over a 100-fold increase between 1996 and 2019. The USDA estimates that, in the U.S. from 2009 to 2020, Bt crops accounted for more than 75 percent of the area planted with corn and cotton and that, from 2016 to 2020, 81 percent of corn and 87 percent of cotton planted in the U.S. was engineered to produce Bt proteins.

Bt crops have helped to suppress pests while also decreasing the need for conventional insecticides and augmenting the effectiveness of biological control species. “Two stunning successes of Bt crops against invasive pests in the United States,” Tabashnik says, “are suppression of the European corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) to its lowest levels in more than 75 years by Bt corn and eradication of the pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella) using Bt cotton together with sterile moth releases and other tactics.” An example of a success against a native pest is the control of the tobacco budworm moth Chloridea virescens using Bt cotton in the U.S. and Mexico.

In their review, Tabashnik, Carrière, and Fabrick examined 73 sets of data on monitoring resistance to Bt crops, including information about responses to 10 Bt toxins in 22 species of moth and two species of beetle. They differentiated resistance found in these studies into the following three categories:

  1. practical resistance, in which more than half of the individuals in a population are resistant and the field efficacy of the Bt crop has decreased;
  2. early warning of resistance, in which resistance has evolved but fewer than half of individuals are resistant and efficacy of the Bt crop has not decreased;
  3. no decrease in susceptibility, in which there is no statistically significant decrease observed in susceptibility.

In the 73 data sets examined, they found 26 cases of practical resistance. The average time from first planting of a particular Bt crop to the appearance of practical resistance was 6.6 years. Over half of the cases of practical resistance were in three species—the moths Helicoverpa zea and Spodoptera frugiperda and the beetle Diabrotica virgifera virgifera. Geographically, half of the instances of practical resistance were in the U.S. This makes sense, as the U.S. has planted Bt crops widely and extensively monitored resistance.

Tabashnik and colleagues found 17 instances of early warning of resistance. The mean time of detection of early warning of resistance was 8.6 years after exposure to Bt crops.

Thirty instances of no significant resistance were found after two to 24 years of exposure, with an average duration since exposure to Bt crops of 12.2 years.

The many instances of practical resistance lead to the question of how resistance can be delayed or prevented. One important way to reduce resistance is by creating refuges consisting of non-Bt-modified plants that serve as hosts for pest insects that are not resistant. Refuges were first envisioned to reduce evolution of resistance to insecticide sprays, but they have been crucial for slowing evolution of resistance to Bt insecticides. Because the refuge plants don’t produce Bt proteins, they allow survival of susceptible insects that can mate with any resistant insects that emerge from Bt crops.

Another factor that can hinder the evolution of resistance is increasing the concentration of Bt proteins enough to kill insects that are heterozygous for resistance, i.e., they carry only one allele that confers resistance. This “high-dose” strategy makes the resistance functionally recessive and less likely to spread quickly.

A man in a white lab coat looks at the camera while holding a white petri dish with both hands at chest level. The background is an industrial lab setting lit in a dim reddish light.

A man wearing glasses and a striped shirt looks at the camera and holds up his right hand, on the index finger of which is perched a small moth.

A man in a white lab coat holds a tray of covered containers in the open doorway of a large temperature-control unit with white shelves.

Tabashnik says, “Theory and empirical evidence indicate that recessive inheritance of pest resistance to Bt crops and abundant refuges of non-Bt host plants can help to sustain the efficacy of Bt crops. When inheritance of resistance is not recessive, the abundance of refuges relative to Bt crops can be increased to effectively delay evolution of resistance.”

Strategies being explored to heighten the efficacy of Bt crops include targeting each pest with two or more Bt proteins and using Bt proteins together with RNA interference (RNAi) insecticides. In the close of their review, Tabashnik and colleagues emphasize that rather than relying on any one control tactic—such as transgenic crops—sustainable pest suppression combines diverse integrated pest management tools.

Read More

Global Patterns of Insect Resistance to Transgenic Bt Crops: The First 25 Years

Special Collection: Global Perspectives on Field-Evolved Resistance to Transgenic Bt Crops

Journal of Economic Entomology

John P. Roche, Ph.D., is an author, biologist, and science writer with a Ph.D. in the biological sciences and a dedication to making rigorous science clear and accessible. He writes books and articles, and provides writing for universities, scientific societies, and publishers. Professional experience includes serving as a scientist and scientific writer at Indiana University, Boston College, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and as editor-in-chief of science periodicals at Indiana University and Boston College.

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Published: March 27, 2023

Technology Network

| Original story from the INRAE Grass strip and trees at the edge of a wheat field.

Grass strip and hedge at the edge of a field. Credit: INRAE – Christophe MAITRE.

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Harnessing research to speed up the agroecological transition aligns with the objectives of the European Green Deal and addresses the strong demand from public authorities, stakeholders and society at both the national and European levels. For more than two years, over 144 experts investigated possible ways to eliminate pesticides from agriculture on a European scale for the “European Pesticide-Free Agriculture in 2050” foresight study. The three scenarios that were explored to promote changes in the agricultural and food system were presented during a symposium to discuss the findings. Some 1,4200 participants of 64 different nationalities attended the conference on Tuesday 21 March in Paris, where remarks were heard from various French and European stakeholders in the fields of agriculture, regulation and policymaking, environment, and food. This groundbreaking attempt to weave together a larger narrative was bolstered by measured impacts on European food sovereignty and the environment for each scenario. Possible pathways forward are given for each scenario for the European and regional transition of the entire food system based on participatory workshops conducted in four regions in Italy, Romania, Finland and France.

While the negative impacts of chemical pesticides on the environment and human health are well documented, European policies are struggling to make progress towards the target of cutting chemical pesticide use by 50% [1] by 2030. This observation spurred 144 experts, scientists and stakeholders to work together for two years to produce a foresight study that sought to change the model and design agricultural and food systems without any chemical pesticides by 2050.

Chemical pesticides are essential in today’s conventional agricultural systems. Drastically reducing their use to the point of completely eliminating them from agriculture is a thorny issue for which there is no simple solution. This foresight study goes further in terms of the ultimate goal and time frame by asking whether effective crop protection in pesticide-free agriculture is feasible in Europe by 2050 and how to transition to this type of agriculture. Under what conditions would such a transformation be possible? What would the impacts be on production, land use, the trade balance and greenhouse gas emissions? This foresight study, conducted as part of the “Growing and protecting crops differently” Priority Research Programme (PPR) and in conjunction with the “Towards a Chemical Pesticide-Free Agriculture” European Research Alliance,[2] aims to shed light on all these issues and to suggest pathways forward. It offers three scenarios of pesticide-free agriculture for Europe in 2050, each with a transition pathway and examples of these scenarios and pathways in four European regions, along with a quantitative evaluation of their impacts in Europe:

  • Scenario 1: “Global market”: global and European food value chains based on digital technologies and plant immunity for a pesticide-free food market.
  • Scenario 2: “Healthy microbiomes”: European value chains based on plant holobiont, soil and food microbiomes for a healthy diet.
  • Scenario 3: “Embedded landscapes”: complex and diversified landscapes and regional food value chains for a one-health food system.

For each scenario, pesticide-free cropping systems make use of crop diversification, biocontrol development, the choice of suitable crops and varieties, digital technology and agricultural equipment, and monitoring systems to anticipate the arrival of pests.

Differentiated impacts measured for each scenario

One of the key aspects of this foresight study is that it quantified the impacts of each scenario on agricultural production, land use, greenhouse gas emissions and trade, based on the results of simulations of a biomass equilibrium model at the European and global scales.

With regard to European agricultural production, calorie production varies from −5% to +12% depending on the scenario, with a balance to be struck between reducing the consumption of animal products and maintaining grasslands. In terms of the trade balance, the overall impact of scenarios 2 (Healthy microbiomes) and 3 (Embedded landscapes) gives Europe room for manoeuvre to secure its food sovereignty and export its products. The three scenarios reduce greenhouse gas emissions by −8% (scenario 1), −20% (scenario 2) and even up to −37% (scenario 3). All three pathways lead to an increase in the carbon stock in soils and biomass, which will contribute to carbon neutrality by 2050 for the agricultural and agri-food sector in scenarios 2 and 3.

The keys to success: coherent European public policies, the involvement of all value-chain players and risk sharing among stakeholders

Effective crop protection without chemical pesticides relies on several levers that must be activated in tandem: crop diversification over time and across space, the development of biocontrol products and biological inputs, appropriate varietal selection, farm equipment and digital tools, and tools for monitoring pest dynamics and the environment. Biological regulation mechanisms at the soil, field and landscape levels should be favoured, as well as preventive measures gainst pests.

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Specific case studies in Italy, Romania, Finland and France helped establish transition pathways that showed that the entire food system must be considered in this redesign and involve all players across the chain, from producers to consumers who must change their diets and authorities responsible for public and regulatory policies. Transitioning to chemical pesticide-free agriculture will require a coherent mix of European public policies to reduce pesticide use articulated with other policies such as food policies, support the transition through a redesign of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and economic instruments that can be leveraged, and create pesticide-free markets through trade agreements. Finally, the transition will need the various stakeholders to share the risk of transforming their cropping systems and the agricultural and agri-food supply.

The scenarios explored in the foresight study should help decision-makers and the scientific community to identify new research avenues to build a future chemical pesticide-free European agricultural and agri-food system by 2050.

Reference: Mora O, Berne J-A, Drouet J-L, Le Mouel C, Mernier C. European Pesticide-Free Agriculture in 2050. https://www.calameo.com/read/006800896f25276a7e498?authid=u7GuXsBiCGyN

This article has been republished from the following materials. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.

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Friday, 03 March 2023 06:32:12


Grahame Jackson posted a new submission ‘A new and accurate qPCR protocol to detect plant pathogenic bacteria of the genus ‘Candidatus Liberibacter’ in plants and insects’


A new and accurate qPCR protocol to detect plant pathogenic bacteria of the genus ‘Candidatus Liberibacter’ in plants and insects

Nature (Open Access)

Scientific Reports volume 13, Article number: 3338 (2023)


Four pathogenic bacterial species of the genus ‘Candidatus Liberibacter’, transmitted by psyllid vectors, have been associated with serious diseases affecting economically important crops of Rutaceae, Apiaceae and Solanaceae families. The most severe disease of citrus plants, huanglongbing (HLB), is associated with ‘Ca. Liberibacter asiaticus’ (CaLas), ‘Ca. Liberibacter americanus’ (CaLam) and ‘Ca. Liberibacter africanus’ (CaLaf), while ‘Ca. Liberibacter solanacearum’ (CaLsol) is associated with zebra chip disease in potatoes and vegetative disorders in apiaceous plants. Since these bacteria remain non-culturable and their symptoms are non-specific, their detection and identification are done by molecular methods, mainly based on PCR protocols. In this study, a new quantitative real-time PCR protocol based on TaqMan probe, which can also be performed in a conventional PCR version, has been developed to detect the four known phytopathogenic species of the genus Liberibacter. The new protocol has been validated according to European Plant Protection Organization (EPPO) guidelines and is able to detect CaLas, CaLam, CaLaf and CaLsol in both plants and vectors, not only using purified DNA but also using crude extracts of potato and citrus or psyllids. A comparative analysis with other previously described qPCR protocols revealed that this new one developed in this study is more specific and equally or more sensitive. Thus, other genus-specific qPCR protocols have important drawbacks regarding the lack of specificity, while with the new protocol there was no cross-reactions in 250 samples from 24 different plant and insect species from eight different geographical origins. Therefore, it can be used as a rapid and time-saving screening test, as it allows simultaneous detection of all plant pathogenic species of ‘Ca. Liberibacter’ in a one-step assay.

Read on: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-30345-0

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The profitability of planting transgenic eggplants

Published February 3, 2023, 5:00 PM

by Manila Bulletin Agriculture

Eggplants are among the vegetables being sold in the market (Henrylito D. Tacio)

By Henrylito D. Tacio

The eggplant is used in various cuisines around the world. It can be sliced, battered, and deep-fried, and then served with various sauces.  It can also be stuffed with meat, rice, or other fillings and then baked. In the Philippines, eggplant is one of the main ingredients of pinakbet, torta, sinigang, ensalada, and kare-kare.   

The popularity of eggplant is the reason why it is the number one vegetable in the country – in terms of area planted (20,000 hectares) and volume of production (179,000 metric tons).  Most of the top producing regions are located in Luzon like Ilocos, Central Luzon, Cagayan Valley, CALABARZON (composed of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) and Bicol.

Resource-poor farmers in many provinces grow eggplant and depend on it for their livelihood. One of them is Edgar C. Talasan, a vegetable farmer from barangay Imalutao in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon. At one time, he planted 2,500 eggplants in his farm. In just one crop cycle, he got a gross income of P84,000. 

From the income of his farm, he was able to raise his family well. In fact, he sent his daughter through college by selling the vegetables harvested from his farm. “I was happy and content in my little kingdom,” he said.

But what makes him sad is the fact that eggplant production in the country suffers a severe yield loss from insect pests, diseases and extreme environmental conditions. In a technology forum he attended in Pangasinan, he realized that eggplant growers sprayed their crops with chemicals once a day to protect the eggplants from infestation. 

Destructive eggplant pest

The most destructive insect pest that attacks the crop is called the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB). Scientifically, it is called Leucinodes orbonalis, a moth species prevalent in Asia and Africa. The moths’ larvae feed on eggplant shoots and fruits until maturity. 

How EFSB destroys an eggplant. Picture taken from a lecture (Henrylito D. Tacio)

“The EFSB can cause as much as 50-75 percent loss of fruits,” said former Science Secretary Emil Q. Javier. “The worm of the insect bore tunnels in the fruit, rendering them unfit for consumption.”

Unfortunately, there is no known genetic resistance to EFSB in cultivated and wild eggplants.  “The insects are concealed in the shoots and fruits and are difficult to reach,” Dr. Javier explained. 

To reduce the population of EFSB, some farmers practice integrated pest management, which include: regular crop rotation, or intercropping eggplant with other vegetables; removal and burying of infested and damaged shoots and fruits; and using nylon net barriers to protect plants from the insects. 

Other farmers employ the following: using light or pheromone traps; growing eggplants in a screen house before transplanting in their farms; and conservation of beneficial arthropods (spiders, parasitoids, and predators). 

Using pesticides 

But there are farmers who spray their eggplants almost every other day with insecticides to protect the crops. 

In his 15 years of vegetable farming, Talasan said that in every eggplant cropping cycle, he sprayed at least twice a week. For every 1,000 eggplant hills, he used 0.5 kilogram of Lannate, two bottles (250 mL) of Prevathon, two bottles (250 mL) of Alika, one liter of Karate, one kilogram of Daconil, and 0.5 liter of Selecron. 

The current method of spraying chemicals to eggplants in order to control EFSB is unacceptable, according to Dr. Emiliana Bernardo, an entomologist or a scientist who studies insects. 

The practice is also unhealthy to consumers, farmers, and the environment, said Dr. Bernardo, who is also a member of the Institutional Biosafety Committee of the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

She said studies conducted in major eggplant producing provinces found that almost all farmers use chemical insecticides and that some even dip the unharvested eggplant fruits in a mix of chemicals just to ensure that harvests are marketable. 

“The very basic question is, which is safer, the present practice or the alternative, the Bt eggplant which is rigorously evaluated by experts?” she asked. “Is bathing the unharvested eggplant fruits in chemicals, which would end up in people’s dinner tables, safe?” 

Bt eggplant

 Are there other ways of controlling EFSB?  Scientists who tried various methods came up with Bt eggplant, a genetically modified (GM) crop. Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis

Bt eggplant (Biotech Infocenter of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture

 “Bt talong was developed by genetically engineering a gene from the bacteria so that the genetically modified eggplants now produce a protein that defends it against insect attacks,” explained Dr. Michael Purugganan, a Filipino plant geneticist who is the Dean of Science at the New York University.

“When ingested by the larvae of the target insect, the Bt protein is activated in the gut’s alkaline condition and punctures the mid-gut leaving the insect unable to eat. The insect dies within a few days,” noted a briefing paper circulated by the Laguna-based International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). 

Conventional eggplant vs Bt eggplant. (Biotech Infocenter of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture)

Bt is present in the Philippine soil and has been in use for years without any harmful effects. As it comes from the earth itself, Bt is very natural, according to Dr. Bernardo. In 1901, Bt was discovered to have an insecticidal property. By the 1950s, it became a well-known biological insecticide. 

Bt is easily cultured by fermentation,” the ISAAA briefing paper said. “Thus, over the last 40 years, Bt has been used as an insecticide by farmers worldwide. Organic farming has benefited from Bt insecticide, as it is one of the very few pesticides permitted by organic standards. The insecticide is applied either as a spray or as ground applications. It comes in both granules and liquefied form.”

The first Bt eggplant was developed by the Indian Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited (Mahyco).  The Institute of Plant Breeding at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB) has developed the Bt eggplant in the country, in partnership with Mahyco and Cornell University and with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 

The ISAAA says that before Bt eggplant is approved for commercial use, scientists and regulators ensure that it passes through many tests and safety assessments.  In the Philippines, the biosafety of Bt crops is evaluated by a pool of technical scientists in five stages: contained research in laboratories and screen houses; small limited confined field trials; multi-location field trials; food, feed and processing; and commercial propagation. 

Approved for propagation 

In July 2021, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) – a line agency of the Department of Agriculture – approved Bt eggplant for direct use as food, feed and for processing (FFP).  In issuing Biosafety Permit No. 21-078FFP, it is found “to be safe as conventional eggplant” and “can substitute for its traditional counterpart.” 

A year later, on October 18, 2022, the government approved Bt eggplant as the third genetically engineered crop for commercial propagation, following Bt corn and golden rice (now known as Malusog rice).  

Bt eggplant’s approved followed regulatory procedures as detailed in the revised Joint Department Circular, which showed proof of the country’s commitment to science and improvements in biotechnology. 

Vegetable farmers need not to worry when it comes to planting eggplant.  “There are no differences in the production practices (fertilizer application, weeding, irrigation) used in growing of Bt eggplant compared to conventional eggplant except in insecticide application against the borer,” said Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, study leader of the Bt eggplant project from UPLB. 

Dr. Lourdes D. Taylo, the study leader of the Bt eggplant project from University of the Philippines at Los Banos Henrylito D. Tacio)

Economic and health benefits

A recent study showed that Bt eggplant could bring health cost savings of P9.33 million yearly from its nearly pesticide-free use. Researcher Sergio R. Francisco has estimated savings in a survey of long exposure to pesticide spraying against the highly-infested EFSB in his study, “Health and Environmental Impacts of Bt Eggplant.” 

The study was based on the perception of 100 eggplant farmers from Batangas, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, and Quezon who sprayed their eggplant. These farmers have a long experience in farming – from 9.96 to 18.04 years. 

Another study showed that a Bt eggplant farmer gets P50,330.00 net income for every P100,000.00 gross sales. In comparison, a net income of P16,880.00 is all a farmer gets who plant conventional varieties. 

In a press statement, it was disclosed that the benefit to human health from health cost savings in growing Bt eggplant is equivalent to P2.49 million yearly as risk from illnesses is avoided. For farm animals, the projected benefit per year is at P2.12 million. 

For beneficial insects, the environmental benefit is valued at P2.45 million yearly and for bird species, P2.27 million – as these are saved from death, thereby contributing to biodiversity enhancement.  

Are Bt crops like Bt eggplant safe to eat? The GM Science Review Panel of the United Kingdom has this to say: “For human health, to date there is no evidence currently commercialized GM crop varieties or foods made from them, are toxic, allergenic or nutritionally deleterious.  On balance, we conclude that the risks to human health are very low for GM crops currently on the market.” 

The Geneva-based World Health Organization also assured: “The potential direct health effects of GM foods are generally comparable to the known risks associated with conventional foods, and include, for example, the potential for allergenicity and toxicity of components present, and the nutritional quality and microbiological safety of the food.”

Eggplant salad. One of the most popular ways of preparing eggplant for table. (Henrylito D. Tacio)

Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
Additional photos by SEARCA


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Feeding a growing global population – new ways tech is changing the agricultural landscape

Story by BR Reporter, Reuters • Saturday


  • There is no doubt that the human population is growing at a huge rate. According to the United Nations, the global human population reached 8.0 billion in mid-November 2022 from an estimated 2.5 billion people in 1950, adding 1 billion people since 2010 and 2 billion since 1998.

Feeding this huge population is a concern for most countries and their leaders. It is within this ethos that we look at new ways to grow and distribute food.

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It is important to see how technology is being developed in the agricultural space.


As extreme weather and human activity degrade the world’s arable land, scientists and developers are looking at new and largely unproven methods to save soil for agriculture.

One company is injecting liquid clay into California desert to trap moisture and help fruit to grow, while another in Malaysia boosts soil with droppings from fly larvae.

In a Nova Scotia greenhouse, Canadian scientist Vicky Levesque is adding biochar – the burnt residue of plants and wood waste – to soil to help apples grow better.

Long-established soil preservation techniques, such as tilling less and sowing crops during off-seasons, are proving no match for more frequent droughts, floods and temperature extremes. Soil erosion is depleting dirt’s ability to produce food, and could lead to a 10% loss in global crop production by 2050, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

New “soil amendment” solutions, which improve the physical properties of soil, may complement the traditional ways — if they prove profitable and effective.

Biochar, liquid clay and fly larvae droppings are all in limited commercial production. Development of such solutions has accelerated in recent years as soil degradation worsened, said Ole Kristian Sivertsen, chief executive of liquid clay company Desert Control, which made its first commercial sale in December.

Bayer AG, the world’s biggest seed company, is among the companies looking at new ways of regenerating soil through Leaps by Bayer, its venture capital unit, said Matthias Berninger, Bayer’s head of sustainability.


Banana trees that fit in a test tube. Burgers made without a cow in sight. Fish farmed in the desert. Robots picking fruit.

Welcome to the brave new world of food, where scientists are battling a global time-bomb of climate change, water scarcity, population growth and soaring obesity rates to find new ways to feed the future.

With one in nine people already short of enough food to lead a healthy, active life, supporters pushing for a Second Green Revolution argue without major changes hunger will become one of the biggest threats to national security and human health.

To tackle this looming crisis, scientists and agricultural experts are looking to the future – and back to the past – to find innovative ways to produce food.

But they admit getting billions of farmers globally – and consumers – to change will be a battle.

Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) – a global network of scientists – said agriculture had to change to meet global goals on climate change and ending poverty and hunger.

“You need a revolution in the agriculture and food system within the next decade because without it, we’re never going to achieve any of the really important (global) goals that we’ve set,” Campbell told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A visit to a series of white, low-rise United Nations-backed laboratories 35 km (22 miles) outside Austria’s ornate capital Vienna provides a glimpse into the food of tomorrow’s world.

Here, in laboratories and greenhouses packed with genetic sequencing machines, robotic equipment and plants and insects of all sizes, scientists are using nuclear technology to stop insects reproducing and to spur disease-resistant banana trees.

Sub-Saharan Africa has for decades struggled to control bloodsucking tsetse flies that kill more than 3 million cattle and other livestock each year.

Meanwhile in Southeast Asia and Australia, the fungal disease fusarium wilt threatens to wipe out bananas, a global favorite rich in micronutrients.

But the labs, set up by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), have helped Senegal almost eradicate tsetse flies in one area and created bananas that can stand up to pest threats.

“Under climate challenge … we face many challenges in agricultural production. One of the major issues is more and emerging diseases for plants and animals, and insects,” said Qu Liang, director of the joint FAO/IAEA division.


Scientists are also working on other innovations – from gene editing of crops and lab-grown meat, to sensors on drones and tractors – that could help to reboot the world’s food system and fundamentally change how food is grown, distributed and eaten.

But technology is only part of the answer, experts caution. Finding sustainable ways to overcome escalating challenges will require everything from delving into culture and tradition to rethinking subsidies and politics around food, they say.

However almost everyone agrees that change is needed.

“Our agri food system is at a critical stage. It must be re-shaped,” Shenggen Fan, director general of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Food monopolizes a huge share of scarce resources, Fan said, and numbers bear this out.

Crops take up 11 percent of the land surface, livestock grazing covers 26 percent of ice-free land, and farming accounts for about 70 percent of all water used, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Livestock generate more greenhouse gas emissions than transport, according to the FAO, accounting for about 14.5 percent of world emissions.

Faced with growing climate concerns, many people – including billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates – are pushing for a Second Green Revolution to develop crops that can be grown in droughts and resist new pests and diseases.

The first Green Revolution, which peaked in the 1960s, dramatically boosted harvests in poor parts of the world by introducing high-yielding seeds, fertilisers and irrigation which helped stave off famine in hungry parts of the world.

But the industrial farming era it spurred has failed both consumers and the environment, critics say, by leading to a food system that cripples the environment, contributes to climate change, and concentrates wealth in multi-national companies.

“We live in a changing world and we are limited in resources, in terms of land, water, fertilizer,” said Ivan Ingelbrecht, head of the plant breeding and genetics laboratory in Vienna.

“So having sustainable food production systems is very important,” he said, holding a test tube containing a miniature banana tree in his hand.


One problem, experts say, is that agricultural practices can be hard to change. Nearly 2.5 billion people are involved in small-scale farming, managing about 500 million small farms, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“Agriculture has kind of been stuck for the last 500 years,” said Andy Jarvis, research director at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

Machinery and better crop varieties have made agriculture more productive but fundamental problems remain, from reliance on heavy manual labor to difficulties managing pests and diseases, he added.

The world’s population, meanwhile, has grown both in size and bulk, with no signs of the upward trend abating.

Of the world’s 7.6 billion people – a population projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 – about 815 million people go hungry daily while 2 billion are overweight or obese, sending health costs soaring.

Among them is Yatzyri Martinez, aged six from Mexico City, who weighs 38 kg (84 pounds), loves spaghetti and fast-food snacks, and comes from a family plagued by type 2 diabetes.

Salvador Villalpando, a specialist doctor who treats her at a child obesity clinic at the Federico Gomez Children’s Hospital in Mexico, one of the world’s fattest nations, said keeping people from becoming obese is the aim.

“When you get to treat obesity, you’re one day too late,” he said.

Mexico is not alone. Adult obesity rates are increasing in all of the United Nation’s 193 member states, including in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia where the focus for decades was eradicating hunger.

Globally, about 40 percent of adults are overweight and 13 percent obese, says the World Health Organization (WHO), with the surge in obesity in the last three decades presenting a major public health epidemic in both poor and rich nations.

Growing demand for meat and dairy as countries become wealthier is also placing a heavier demand on world food systems, driving climate change as land is stripped of forests and plowed.

The volume of food transported around the world also is exacerbating global warming.

Related video: Important for U.S. to build up ‘technology ecosystems’ in like-minded nations, says think tank (CNBC)

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However, calls to use more pesticides and fertilisers to get more food from the same land are based on wrong assumptions, said Emile Frison of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food).

He said there is already enough food available to feed the planet today and in 2050 – but it’s in the wrong places or wasted.

Globally, one third of all food produced – worth nearly $1 trillion a year – is binned or wasted, according to the FAO.

“It’s a matter of access, of waste, of consumption models that are unsustainable. Recommending a technology fix approach is certainly going in the wrong direction,” Frison told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


James Rogers, CEO of Apeel Sciences, a California-based start-up company, agrees the planet is producing more than enough calories to feed everyone. But he believes technology can help resolve some key issues, particularly food waste.

His company produces a plant-based coating that comes in powder form and, when applied with water, can double the shelf life of fruit and vegetables without refrigeration so farmers in remote areas can get them to market without spoilage.

The coating is being tested on mangoes in Kenya and cassava in Nigeria, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Technology is also helping meet the growing demand for meat, without more emission-producing livestock. The ideas harken back to predictions former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made in a 1931 essay.

“Fifty years hence we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium,” he wrote.

Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, companies that produce high-tech burgers that taste like the real thing but contain only plants, are winning investment from backers as diverse as Gates and Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. meat processor.

Memphis Meats, meanwhile, is growing meat from animal cells in laboratories, something advocates call ‘clean meat’ because it is better for the environment. Its backers include Virgin Group boss Richard Branson.

Such alternative meats offer “a far more efficient way” to feed demand for tasty protein while cutting environmental damage, said Bruce Friedrich, executive director of The Good Food Institute (GFI), which supports alternative meat companies and lobbies on their behalf.

“Plant-based meat and clean meat would be cheaper, more efficient, and would not have bacteria or drug residue contamination. They would be better in every conceivable way,” Friedrich told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


To grow enough food despite increasing water scarcity – agriculture today sucks up about 70 percent of global freshwater used each year – farmers are also looking to technology.

By tweaking a gene found in all plants, for instance, a team of international scientists have tricked tobacco plants into partially closing their stomata, microscopic pores in the leaf that let water evaporate.

The plants grew with a quarter less water and little impact on harvests, said Steven Long, a crop sciences professor at Britain’s Lancaster University.

Researchers hope the tweak will work as well in cowpea and soybean, main sources of protein in developing countries, and in rice, a major staple food.

Despite the benefits of such innovations, some critics fear they could widen the divide between farmers who can access such changes and those who cannot.

Farms which rely mainly on family labor produce the bulk of food in developing countries but many cannot afford the latest agricultural technologies.

Many farmers also live in countries that lack access to reliable weather information, which can make planting and harvesting crops a risky endeavor, experts say.

Agriculture’s technological revolution, in its current form, is neither inclusive nor democratic, said CIAT’s Jarvis, in part because few of the innovations are aimed at small-scale farmers.

What those farmers grow is “not a monoculture of 20 hectares of lettuce production in California or Europe but half-hectare plots of maize”, he said.

But farmers do have mobile phones, so finding ways to use them to improve farming is essential, added Jarvis, who co-founded the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture.

One company bringing technology to small farmers is Hello Tractor in Nigeria, known as “Uber for tractors”.

Founded by Jehiel Oliver, a former American investment banker, it started by selling two-wheel tractors equipped with GPS antennae – but most farmers found the prices too steep.

Hello Tractor now uses mobile phones to link those able to buy tractors with farmers who want to use tractor services.

“Most farmers can’t afford to own a tractor and most tractor owners struggle to identify customers within rural, disjointed markets,” Oliver said in an email.

A Kenya start-up, meanwhile, is banking on mobile phone technology to help small-scale farmers get much-needed credit from banks.

FarmDrive, founded by two Kenyan computer scientists – both women who grew up in farming families – aims to help farmers who need loans to use satellite images and sensors to paint a detailed picture of their potential yields and risks.

In December, FarmDrive teamed up with Safaricom, Kenya’s biggest telecoms company that set up the revolutionary mobile money platform M-Pesa.

Now Safaricom’s DigiFarm mobile platform offers small farmers everything from discount vouchers for fertilizer to help getting small loans or training, all in one place.

Using the new platform, FarmDrive reached 10,000 farmers in four months, compared to just 5,000 farmers in two years when the company was working alone, co-founder Rita Kimani said.

“It’s showing the possibility of partnerships … and that’s really how we are going to solve the challenges the farmers face. One tool or one organization is not going to solve everything,” she said.


Others are coming up with more unusual solutions.

The Sahrawi refugee camps in western Algeria, near the border with Mauritania, Western Sahara and Morocco, seems an unusual spot to try hydroponic farming – growing plants in water rather than soil.

Land around the camps is arid, isolated and prone to sandstorms and extreme swings in temperature – and the 173,000 Sahrawis from Western Sahara, stuck in the camps for the past four decades, are nomads who prefer meat and milk.

But the pastoralists are now using bare-bones hydroponics units of metal and plastic to grow barley as animal feed.

The plants – the only green thing visible for miles – are ready in seven days and grown with a tenth of the water needed for traditional crops.

“As refugees, we are poor people and can’t afford expensive things like fertilisers and hybrid seeds,” said Taleb Brahim, one of the brains behind the project.

Nearly 2,000 km (1,240 miles) east, in Ouargla in southern Algeria, date and palm farmers are similarly turning to an unusual strategy – rearing fish in the Sahara.

The switch is part of the North African nation’s push to increase fish output as catches from the Mediterranean fall.

The project aims to help farmers earn cash by selling fish and boost their harvests by using nutrient-rich water from fish ponds on crops.

At the Coopedota cooperative in Costa Rica, meanwhile, sustainable techniques such as reducing chemical sprays, planting more shade trees, and cutting energy and water consumption have brought an added benefit for farmers.

Beyond cutting costs and improving efficiency, they now sell the world’s first officially certified carbon neutral coffee for which farmers hope customers will pay a premium.

“We can put our coffee in the international market and if the market is at $120, we might get $180 or $200,” said grower Fernando Solis Arguedas, a third generation coffee farmer.


In developing countries, about 40 percent of food grown is spoiled or lost after harvest. Then another 40 percent of what gets to retailers or consumers in developed countries is wasted, according to the FAO.

Cutting that waste is crucial to reducing climate change and growing demands on limited water and land, experts say. And now chefs are moving to the forefront of the effort.

In the seaside town of Brighton, Silo, Britain’s first zero-waste restaurant, turns leftover whey from making cheese into sauce, bread crust into miso soup, and inedible parts such as egg shells and bones into compost.

Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura of Italy opened a new restaurant in central London last year, the Refettorio Felix, that doesn’t welcome wealthy diners but caters for the poor with meals cooked from supermarket scraps.

In Leeds, in northern England, Adam Smith’s The Real Junk Food Project started out as a single cafe in 2013, taking food destined for landfills to local schools to support low-income families and teach pupils about food waste.

It has since ballooned into a network of more than 120 eateries and stores, including Britain’s first pay-what-you-like food waste supermarket, offering anything from zucchini to breakfast cereals.

Smith says he hopes one day the network will go out of business, as food waste is reduced from field to plate.

“Ideally the measure of success … would be that we would no longer be here,” he said.

Richard Horsey, co-author of “Ugly Food: Overlooked and Undercooked”, thinks part of achieving that is persuading people to diversify what they cook and include things they might bin.

He lists octopus, pigs’ trotters and wild rabbit as some of the ingredients often overlooked in Anglo-Saxon food cultures.

“I really do think that if you can make a change to what people are putting on the table every evening, that’s where the numbers are, that’s where the impact is,” he said.

A more diverse diet is also a resilient one, expert say.

Historically, farmers cultivated at least 7,000 plants to eat but today 60 percent of global calories come from just three plants – wheat, rice and maize.

Helping Asia – known for its insatiable appetite for rice – eat more millet, a forgotten rural diet staple that is rich in protein and can grow in salty soil – could help keep harvests sufficient as climate change takes hold, experts say.

Buyers in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong are already eating less rice, while India is pushing millet as a way to reduce a stubbornly high rate of malnutrition.


Technological advances hold promise to make food systems work better. But experts warn there are no quick wins when it comes to reshaping something as fundamental as food and agriculture.

“Technologies are just a tiny part in the whole puzzle,” said Tom Anyonge, lead technical specialist for IFAD.

Policies, institutions and food systems also need shifts if technology is to achieve its potential, he said.

He pointed to M-Pesa, which lets mobile phone users transfer or borrow money, pay bills and save via texts. Launched by Kenya’s Safaricom in 2007, it now has nearly 28 million users in a nation of 45 million and has been expanded or mimicked across Africa.

Its success is due not just to the pioneering technology but to efforts behind the scenes to make it work, Anyonge said.

Those include improving mobile coverage, opening up Kenya’s telecoms sector, and enacting laws allowing partnerships between mobile companies and banks.

“It would have stayed as a good idea” if not for that help, he said. “You need to touch on so many other things beyond technology.”

IFPRI’s director-general Fan agrees.

Innovations are key to rebooting the food system – but they should not be limited to just technological ones, he said.

“Innovation in policies, innovations in institutions, innovations in even new thinking, open-mindedness, will be important,” he said.


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GM/Biotech Crops Report – August 2022

1st August 2022

  • GM/Biotech Crops Monthly Reports (BELOW) form part of BCPC’s free three-tier Biotech Crops Info service.
  • This service also includes a weekly round-up of news from around the globe – see BCPC Newslink GM Crops section.
  • Plus – Free access database on over 300 GM/biotech products covering 23 crops in the global market visit BCPC’s GM/Biotech Crops Manual – Register here for free access.
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GM/Biotech Crops Monthly Report August 2022

More accurate gene editing

CRISPR-Cas9 editing can cause off target edits and cuts both strands of the DNA helix at once. Now a system related to CRISPR but cutting only one strand of the DNA promises new options and greater accuracy in the edits.
Full Story.

Boost to rice yields

Over-expression of a single gene in rice seems to shorten the time taken for the plant to mature, improve nitrogen efficiency and boost yields by up to 40%.
Full Story.

Improved efficiency in food production

Photosynthesis is not the only way to produce food. Capturing the sun’s energy via photo-voltaic cells and using this energy to power an electrolyser that converts water and CO2 into acetate which can be utilised by mushrooms, yeasts and algae can be more efficient than growing crops. It sounds like an ideal food production system for space stations but here on earth there may be more resistance to this production method.
Full Story

Pod-borer resistance in chickpea

Gram pod borers account for a yield loss of 40-50% in chickpeas grown in India but a successful gene modification is achieving significant reductions in larval feeding damage.
Full Story

Australia starts to evaluate GM sorghum

Queensland University has been granted a licence to conduct field evaluations of GM sorghum over the next 3 years but the crop will not (yet?) be used for human or animal feed.
Full Story

Photosynthesis in overdrive

The University of Wisconsin have identified one of the brakes on photosynthesis and switched it off. The modified Arabidopsis plants produce greater quantities of aromatic compounds and, in doing so, absorb greater quantities of CO2.
Full story

Optimising wheat production

A study by Rothamsted has indicated that, if the genetics of wheat crops were optimised for the regions that the crop was grown in, growers could double their yields. However, a recent ‘Countryfile’ programme on the BBC reported a similar yield benefit achieved by a Ukrainian farmer who swapped his Russian-made combine harvester for a John Deere! Perhaps more widespread access to optimised harvest machinery could also improve harvested yields.
Full Story

This is rocket-science

By engineering the genome of soil bacteria, scientists have caused them to produce polycyclopropanated fatty acids that are sufficiently energy dense to be used as biofuels for road, shipping, aviation and rocket fuel. Let’s hope they can scale up production soon.
Full Story

Cassava Mosaic disease resistance

Cassava is a root crop that can grow in dry conditions without applied fertiliser and is a staple of many in India and Africa. Mosaic disease causes significant yield losses and the natural resistance of some landraces is easily lost during propagation. Now the gene involved has been identified, progress can be made on a more durable resistance:
Full Story

Improved immunity

Many plant pathogens switch off the plant’s immune response before they attack and now a team of scientists from Germany, France and Switzerland have decoded the signals that the pathogen uses to achieve this. They have also developed chemicals that re-activate the plant’s immune system in the lab and now they need to evaluate it in the field.
Full Story

Chitin for leaf blight control in rice

Chitin can be used as an insecticide due to the physical damage that it can cause to insect cuticles but now Chinese scientists have bio-engineered chitosan-iron nanocomposites that seem to have efficacy against bacterial leaf blight in rice.
Full Story

Wheat stripe rust resistance

The Sainsbury Laboratory has identified the genes that stop wheat rust infecting barley and now that the genes involved are known, it will allow this resistance to be transferred to other varieties:
Full Story

Phosphate biosensor

Many plants rely on soil fungi to scavenge for their phosphorus and reward the fungi with carbon compounds when they deliver the phosphates. Now a team at Texas University has developed a biosensor that allows them to monitor this trade and by optimising he process, they hope to make phosphate use by plants more efficient.
Full Story

Asian soybean rust resistance

Corteva and the 2blades Foundation based at the Sainsbury Laboratory have developed a durable rust resistance for soybeans, important because the yield losses caused by the disease can range 10 – 80%.
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Reduced pre-harvest sprouting in rice

Scientists at the Nanjing Agricultural University have used CRISPR-Cas0 to knock out various versions of the CsABA8ox gene to increase seed dormancy in rice. This makes pre-harvest sprouting less likely but they do not say if it affects the germination of a seed crop.
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The latest approvals of biotech crops to report this month:

• HB4 wheat with improved drought tolerance approved for food and feed use in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Columbia, New Zealand, Nigeria and the USA.


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NOVEMBER 16, 2022

Functions of transcription factors in maize resistance to insects and jasmonate signaling revealed

by Zhang Nannan, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Maize (Zea mays) is an important food, feed, and bioenergy crop that plays a pivotal strategic role in food security, while insect pests seriously affect the yield and quality of maize. Benzoxazinoids (BXDs) and volatile terpenes are insect-resistant defensive compounds in maize. BXDs are toxic to insects and they directly inhibit insect growth and development, and volatile terpenes attract the natural enemies of herbivorous insects.

Previous studies have shown that jasmonic acid (JA) treatment can promote the accumulation of BXDs and volatile terpenes in maize, but the underlying molecular mechanisms were unknown.

A research team led by Prof. Wu Jianqiang at the Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KIB/CAS) has elucidated the functions of maize MYC2s in JA-mediated insect defense response by means of genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and bioinformatics.

According to the researchers, compared with the wild-type maize plants, the maize mutants, in which MYC2s were knocked out, were highly susceptible to the insects Mythimna separata and Spodoptera frugiperda.

The maize MYC2s mutants also showed a feminized tassel phenotype. Thus, MYC2s regulate maize insect resistance and sex determination of tassels. The researchers further demonstrated that maize MYC2s positively regulate the biosynthesis of BXDs and volatile terpenes, and the RNA-Seq and CUT&Tag-Seq analyses also revealed the regulatory landscape of maize MYC2s.

Moreover, they identified seven transcription factors that are physically targeted by MYC2s and they are likely involved in regulating the biosynthesis of BXDs.

This study provides important new insight into the molecular mechanisms of insect resistance and JA signaling in maize.

This work was published in the Journal of Integrative Plant Biology entitled “ZmMYC2s play important roles in maize responses to simulated herbivory and jasmonate.”

More information: Canrong Ma et al, ZmMYC2s play important roles in maize responses to simulated herbivory and jasmonate, Journal of Integrative Plant Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1111/jipb.13404

Provided by Chinese Academy of Sciences 

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Africa’s Readiness for GMOs Amid Food Security Concerns


International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)/Flickr

The far bowl on the right contains Golden Rice, an example of biofortification using genetic engineering. The golden color of the grains comes from the increased amounts of beta-carotene.


The Exchange AfricaANALYSISBy James Ndwaru

With the realities of food security and a burgeoning population, there is an urgent need for a more realistic approach to the discussion on the adoption of GMOs in Africa.

  • Moving forward, Africa faces a significant food security dilemma.
  • Food production in Africa is expanding at a slower pace than population growth.
  • GMOs provide a means for Africa to obtain higher agricultural yields and shorter harvest times, ensuring greater food security.

Food security in Africa

Moving forward, Africa faces a significant food security dilemma. The United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) believes that 20 per cent of Africa’s 1.2 billion people face starvation. COVID-19 interruptions and the Russia-Ukraine crisis have exacerbated this situation.

Insecurity, violence, poverty, climate change, and population expansion represent significant factors in the continent’s food security concerns. Albeit substantial progress in the battle against malnutrition and food insecurity in Africa, the pace is too sluggish to reach the six primary nutrition objectives set by the World Health Assembly and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

READ MORE: GMOs ban lifting: the future of Kenya’s indigenous seeds

Food production and population growth

It is worth noting that food production in Africa is expanding at a slower pace than population growth. Except for Africa, per capita food production has increased in every other area of the globe during the 1970s. Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is growing at a pace of roughly 3 per cent per year, which could easily treble the number of people in a single generation.

According to the UN, Nigeria’s population will exceed that of the United States by 2050, with Africa’s population expanding by 1.3 billion. This rapid population expansion challenges the continent’s already precarious food supply networks.

More significantly, Africa’s population is mainly composed of a younger generation. Two-fifths of Africans are between the ages of 0-14 years, with one-fifth between the ages of 15-24. Adequate food and nutrition play an essential role in the overall development of such a population.

More worrying is Africa’s exponential population growth rate, exhibiting the burden on agricultural farmlands, requiring technologies such as genetic engineering and biotechnology that can provide higher agricultural yields on limited agricultural lands, coupled with significant reductions in pesticide use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and lower exposure to climate variations.

Biotechnological studies on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) offer various options for solving the continent’s hunger, malnutrition, and food security challenges.

However, the adoption and acceptance of GMOs in Africa have been surprisingly delayed, perhaps owing to differing perspectives on their advantages and safety issues. With the realities of food insecurity and Africa’s burgeoning population, there is an urgent need for a more realistic approach to this discussion.

A case for GMOs in Africa

The GMO market (i.e., the commercial value of GM goods and services, including GM seed sales, GM commodity imports, etc.) in Africa was predicted to be worth $615.4 million in 2018, with a projected 5% increase to $871 million by 2025.

GMOs, with the correct strategy and framework, might help Africa tackle food insecurity, malnutrition, and hunger. Food spoilage and loss caused by pests and pathogenic microbes pose a significant threat to food security and safety in Africa.

Food loss decreases revenue by at least 15 per cent in developing economies. Pest infestation on crops before harvest decreases the value of the harvests and the volume and market quality of such items.

Biotechnology advancements

Biotechnological advancements produce food crops more resistant to harm from several common food crop diseases and spoiling agents, lowering the need for costly and sometimes non-environmentally friendly chemical insecticides and pesticides.

Drought, heavy rainfall, and other environmental conditions substantially impact African agricultural production. Biotechnology provides a path for developing environmentally robust and climate-resistant crops that will help to safeguard Africa’s food basket.

Experts have extensively researched developing GM crops with faster maturity periods and higher quality. As a result, GMOs provide a means for Africa to obtain higher agricultural yields and shorter harvest times, ensuring greater food security.

Safety concerns are the main focus of the GMO debate and the primary reason for many African governments’ reluctance to embrace and deploy GMOs. Many African governments have stalled the adoption of biotech agriculture technologies due to perceived hazards that are sometimes unwarranted. Nonetheless, extensive evaluations and safety checks conducted under national and international biosafety frameworks ensure biotechnology safety.

There is no proof that GMO crops cause illness or death in people or animals anywhere in the world. GMOs represent the safest foods ever produced because experts thoroughly test them before making them accessible to the public. Improper food handling may result in sickness. Thus food safety requirements should always be observed.

GMOs in Africa

Globally, GMOs contribute to food security by increasing crop yield, quality and shelf-life. The commercialization and adoption of GMOs in many developed countries raised hope of improving food security and livelihood. Africa, a developing continent facing malnutrition, food crises and inadequate food production technologies, has been slow to accept GMOs.

GMOs have great potential for achieving the zero-hunger agenda. However, the hesitancy to accept GMOs in Africa emanates from unfavourable policies shaped by public opinion. Impeding factors hampering the adoption of GM technology necessitate biosecurity regulations on GMOs to monitor crop biosafety and environmental and health concerns.

With the current food security crisis in the continent, a proper debate on the place of GMOs is long overdue. Kenya has kickstarted the discussion by lifting a GMO ban for over ten years. However, inefficient communication, the lack of scientific evidence for health-related issues, and the dividends of modern biotechnology have resulted in protests and public concerns over GMOs.Close

Deliberations on GMOs

An unbiased deliberation must get underway on the adoption and roll-out of GMOs in Africa. Efforts to improve the adoption of GMOs in Africa should include the provision of adequate monitoring and surveillance system, science-based policies, political will and robust public education on and awareness of GM technology.

Farmers in Africa are anticipated to embrace biotech crops as biotechnology knowledge grows, possibly benefiting their families and the continent. Of course, adopting GMOs in Africa is about more than just information and awareness.

Time is running out for Africa to guarantee food security for its population. As the saying goes, it is not very reasonable to keep doing the same things and expect different results.

Africa needs crops that can withstand pests and disease, withstand drought, flourish without excessive pesticides and fertilizers, and produce healthy food. Africa needs crops to enable smallholder farmers to prosper. GMOs provide a powerful instrument for Africa to address these demands when other choices fail over time.

READ MORE: Kenya becomes the fifth country to allow GMOs. Will it last?

Read the original article on The Exchange.

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Philippines second country to approve genetically modified eggplant

The Philippines becomes the second country after Bangladesh to approve the commercial cultivation of genetically modified eggplant. 

The Bt eggplant, first developed in India, contains a natural protein from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), making it resistant to the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB), the most devastating insect pest for this crop.

The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquitic and Natural Resources and Development, stated that the Bt protein is safe for humans and animals because it is highly specific to the shoot borer larvae. 

Although developed in India, the Bt eggplant is banned in that country.

Soruce: www.fareasternagriculture.com

Publication date: Thu 10 Nov 2022

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