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Viewpoint: How Bangladesh can use genetic engineering to improve food security

Asma Binti HafizSumon Chandra Shell | Academia | January 10, 2022

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Bt infused eggplants, 'brinjal' are a critical crop for Bangladesh. Credit: Arif Hossain
Bt infused eggplants, ‘brinjal’ are a critical crop for Bangladesh. Credit: Arif Hossain

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation. It is posted under Fair Use guidelines.

Bangladesh has declared self-sufficiency in food in 2013 with a population of 150 million and continued to maintain the status up till this date as the population has increased by another twenty million. Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

Genetic Engineering is a vital tool for Bangladesh to secure food in its true sense by meeting food needs, reducing poverty, and enhancing environmental sustainability. But, awareness and extent of knowledge and perception on genetic engineering, biotechnology, and GMOs among the people, and especially the producers, are relatively low (Nasiruddin). Here, media, agricultural universities and research institutions, NGOs, political agenda, government policies, and religious bodies have played vital roles in representing Genetic Engineering in food security.For example, bt brinjal, a GMO of Bangladesh, yields 42% higher than the local varieties and reduces 47% of the cost of applying pesticides (Ahmed et al.). But only 17% of the country’s brinjal farmers have adopted this GMO crop (The Wire)

Genetic Engineering has the potential to turn the jolty terrain of food access in Bangladesh into a plane field with sufficient, nutritious, less expensive, and equally distributed food for all the country’s people to meet their dietary needs.

This is an excerpt. Read the original post here.

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GMO cowpea is increasing farm revenues – Nigerian farmersSourceJoseph Opoku Gakpo    16 December 2021 9:24amhttps://cdn.vuukle.com/widgets/powerbar.html?version=2.10.13

Genetically Modified (GM) cowpea farmers in Nigeria say their decision to grow the variety is increasing their revenues from the farm.

The farmers say this is the result of improved productivity on their fields following reduced pest attacks, and less investment in pesticides.

Sharing his experience, 19-year-old farmer Osman Yahyah Alhassan who grows a 0.9-hectare cowpea field in the Tudun Wada Local Government Area in the Kano State said; “we got 17 bags with GM cowpea. On the same plot of land, we got only 9 to 11 bags previously.”

65-year-old farmer Dabo Umar who grows cowpea at Rurum in the Kano State has a similar experience.

He said he made additional N20,000 profits from his five acres of GM cowpea fields in 2020, compared to the money he made growing conventional seeds the year before.https://299fda17b2985165f98ce02e910d4d5e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“This cowpea, we farmed it this season, we made more money. Up to 20,000 Naira. This cowpea is better than any other cowpea. This is the best one…And many people are asking how we get this cowpea…No Maruca (pests). We are very happy about that,” Dabo – a father of 20 children and husband of two wives with 35 years of experience growing cowpea – explained.

Goma Lawal, a 54-year-old farmer with two wives and 20 children at Jaja in the Kaduna State says he has also seen his investment in pest protection reduce, following the decision to grow GMO cowpea seeds. This has left him with more resources to take care of his family.

“If you want to talk about money, we don’t spend too much money. Unlike the ordinary cowpea. The ordinary cowpea, we spend N2,000 to N3,000 on pesticides. This one, we don’t spend even up to N1,000,” he said.

Ahiaba M. Sylvanus, a 63-year-old smallholder farmer at the Malgoma-Sabongari local government area in the Kaduna State has a similar testimony.https://299fda17b2985165f98ce02e910d4d5e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

He said when he grew conventional cowpea seeds, it cost him about N20,000 every season. But now he spends less than 500 Naira on pesticides and the variety is still productive.

“I spray less than the other ones we have been handling. And its early maturing and it comes in earlier…I got great relief…You’re having enough to eat. I was able to enjoy extra money from my labor,” he said.

Jamilu Mohammed Ahmed who grows cowpea and other crops at Mando in the Kaduna State also said, “the labor and the drudgery associated with the work” has reduced following the decision to grow GMO cowpea.

“I have been farming cowpea for the last 25 years. And I have not had any good experience as such of PBR. This will serve as an added advantage to serve as another alternative as a source of protein foods to both humans and livestock,” Ahmed added.https://299fda17b2985165f98ce02e910d4d5e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

What exactly is Bt cowpea?

The Nigerian government in December 2019 approved the genetically modified cowpea variety known as Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea (PBR cowpea) or SAMPEA-20T for commercial production.

This allowed for some farmers across the country to have the opportunity to grow it unrestricted in late 2020.

Cowpea is a high protein orphan crop consumed by an estimated 200 million people in Africa daily. It’s usually cooked and eaten with carbohydrate sources like plantain and rice.https://299fda17b2985165f98ce02e910d4d5e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer and consumer of cowpea. But the country’s annual production deficit of cowpea grains stands at more than 500,000 metric tonnes.

Varied reasons are responsible for this including destruction caused to cowpea farms by the Maruca pod borer pest.

The pest can cause 100% yield loss in farmers’ fields. Bt cowpea results from the introduction of a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) – a naturally occurring bacteria that have the capacity to control the pest – into local cowpea varieties. Nigeria is the first country in the world to commercialize Bt cowpea.

Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku who is executive director of the Institute for Agricultural Research which developed the variety says farmers and the Nigerian economy will make a lot of money following the adoption of the variety.https://299fda17b2985165f98ce02e910d4d5e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“The productivity of this new variety, it has a yield potential of 2.9 tonnes per hectare. Whilst many of the other varieties have a potential yield of 1.9 to 2 tonnes per hectare.

“If 1 million hectares are planted, we estimate that Nigeria is bound to save more than N16 billion in terms of saving from insecticides alone…And a benefit of about 20% yield advantage, farmers are going to make the economic benefit of around N46 billion annually,” he said.

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Nigeria needs biotechnology to weather climate change impacts on farming, say West African scientists

BY JOAN CONROW

NOVEMBER 24, 2021

Alliance for Science

Agricultural biotechnology will help Nigeria respond to climate change issues and support food security, asserts a new study by West African researchers.

“Evidence of climate change on agriculture in Nigeria has since been established and increased atmospheric warmness, irregular rainfall, emergent pests, [crop] diseases…and their resultant adverse effect on agricultural productivity are glaring,” the authors write in the November 2021 Handbook of Climate Change Management. “This scenario poses a serious threat to food security in Nigeria and calls for the adoption of innovative biotechnologies to create resilient crops with improved adaptation to the environmental stresses occasioned by the increasing climate change.”

While agricultural production is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, the higher mean temperatures and longer growing seasons resulting from global warming could favor farming in regions where temperatures are already low, like North America, Europe and Asia, the authors write. But production in already hot regions, like Africa, will possibly suffer greater productivity declines as higher temperatures bring longer periods of excessive heat, which in turn shorten the growing season and eventually reduce crop yields.

Additionally, research and a 2010 global weather forecast assert that climate change will reduce global agricultural production by 6 percent by the year 2080 — a figure that could reach 30 percent or more in warm regions like regions like Africa and India, write the authors, who are affiliated with Ebonyi State University in Nigeria and the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) at Cornell University. (Disclaimer: The Alliance for Science is housed at BTI.)

African farmers who have little or no access to irrigation facilities will be hardest hit, they write. “Therefore, farmers in these regions very much need innovative practices and technologies that improve agricultural production under the prevailing climate change scenarios. Current biotechnologies have provided limitless opportunities to expand crop improvement through [their] capacity to source genes for desired traits from distantly related species.”

Agricultural biotechnology has helped to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) that contribute to climate change and develop crop cultivars that can tolerate heat, cold, drought, submergence and salinity stress, as well as pests and diseases, the authors write.

However, an assessment of the effects of climate change on agriculture, the anthropogenic causes of climate change and the current biotechnologies employed for climate change mitigation and adaptation in Nigeria “exposed the country’s very low capacity to deal with climate change issues using biotechnology approaches,” the authors conclude.

“In Nigeria, only IITA [International Institute of Tropical Agriculture] has the technical capacity for crop genetic engineering approach,” they note.

Nigerian researchers have developed two biotech crops to help farmers weather these challenges: insect-resistant (Bt) cotton and cowpea. Both have been approved for commercial use. Two other genetically modified crops —Africa bio-fortified sorghum and Nitrogen-Use Efficient, Water-Use Efficient and Salt-Tolerant (NEWEST) rice — are at different stages of field and confined field trials.

“Despite the numerous organizations that should be involved in the development, adoption, promotion and regulation of agricultural biotechnology in Nigeria, a recent comprehensive review of the current status of agricultural biotechnology in Nigeria  showed that the rate of development, adoption and implementation of agricultural biotechnology in Nigeria is still at a low ebb,” the authors assert. “In particular, research and deployment of transgenic technology is still in its embryonic stage in Africa’s most populous country…The slow rate of development and deployment of biotechnology in agriculture in the nation is unequivocally due to ethical, socioeconomic,and political issues, as well as poor knowledge of the technologies.”

The authors warn that “total reliance on conventional breeding methods in developing climate-friendly and resilient crop varieties, without incorporating the more efficient, modern, advanced, precise and reliable biotechnology techniques, will in the long-run deprive the rapidly expanding population access to adequate food provision and threaten food security and economic development.”

Land use change and forestry (LUCF) and the energy sector accounted for up to 70 percent of Nigeria’s GHG emissions in 2014. Agriculture contributes about 13 percent, largely from livestock production and rice cultivation.  In Nigeria, farmers use huge quantities of synthetic (nitrogen) fertilizers annually to boost crop yields, especially rice, which leads to high emission of N2O from this sector, the authors write.

Nigeria’s agricultural sector produces far more GHG emissions than in developed nations due to its use of traditional agricultural practices and overdependence on farming, the authors note.

Climate change has already been triggering drought and flooding scenarios that adversely affected crop production in various parts of Nigeria, the authors write. Reduced rainfall occurred in some northern states in 2010 and reduced millet, sorghum and cowpea production by about 10 percent. Other northern states that do not normally have heavy rainfall have experienced flooding that reduced rice production by as much as 50 percent.

Temperature and rainfall fluctuations are also associated with increases in plant diseases and insect pest pressure that further suppress production and make farming increasingly difficult. “Climate change-induced crop yield losses are forcing existing and potential farmers in Nigeria to abandon farming for nonfarming ventures,” the authors warn.

“As the effects of climate change on agricultural productivity in any region do not depend only on the changing climatic conditions, but even more on the region’s adaptive response capacity, Nigeria is at a high risk of the damaging effects of climate change if effective adaptive and mitigation technologies and strategies remain acutely lacking,” the authors caution.

“However, with the emerging biotechnology landscape in Nigeria, harnessing innovative biotech approaches for effective response to climate change is pivotal, but would require concerted efforts and engagement of all stakeholders including policy makers, scientists, and farmers.”

Image: A drought-ravaged field in Nigeria. Photo: Shutterstock: Paul shuang

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Nigeria urges Africa to follow its lead on GM cowpea

BY JOSEPH OPOKU GAKPO

DECEMBER 1, 2021

Nigeria is urging the rest of Africa to follow its lead and approve genetically modified cowpea to help ensure food and nutrition security on the continent.

The Nigerian scientists and government officials who developed and approved the world’s first genetically modified (GM) cowpea say their successful commercial release of the variety should give other African countries the confidence to do the same. The improved variety reduces pesticide use and increases yields by providing resistance to the destructive pod borer pest.

“It is getting too late,” said Prof. Mohammed Ishiyaku, executive director of Nigeria’s Institute for Agricultural Research and principal investigator on the GM cowpea project. “It is high time for Ghana and other countries to hasten the processes to ensure these seeds get into the hands of farmers for them to be able to unlock the benefits in this new variety. It is highly beneficial not only in terms of productivity, but it reduces the use of harmful insecticides in our environment.”

Cowpea is a high-protein staple food crop consumed by an estimated 200 million people in Africa daily. Though Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of cowpea, commonly known as beans, it has been unable to produce enough to meet its own needs. Nigerian officials anticipate that GM cowpea will fill that gap because it resists the pest that has been suppressing yields.

Processes to approve various GM cowpea varieties, also known as pod borer-resistant (PBR) and Bt cowpea, have been in the pipeline in Nigeria, Ghana and Burkina Faso for about a decade now. Administrative bottlenecks, legal actions by anti-GMO groups and cumbersome regulatory processes have slowed down the approval, as is common with dozens of other GM crop varieties under development across the African continent.

The Nigerian government approved the variety in December 2019 and farmers welcomed its introduction, quickly exhausting the available seed supply. Farmers are reporting reduced pest destruction of their fields, increased yield and higher profits. Ishiyaku urged other African governments to greenlight commercial release of the variety, saying farmers all over the continent deserve the opportunity to use the crop to enhance food and nutritional security.

“They should quickly hasten to complete this process… I have the firm belief that this material has a lot of economic potential that can benefit the other countries as well,” he told the Alliance for Science in an interview.

Nigeria has also approved GM maize and GM cotton varieties, which are climate-resilient and pest-resistant, respectively. Dr. Rose Gidado, deputy director of the state-run National Biotechnology Development Authority (NABDA), said other African countries should view Nigeria as an example they can follow in advancing GM crops.

“With the evidence they have, they should use Nigeria a model. Look at us as a model, as an example, how we made it to where we are today,” Gidado urged.

Rufus Egbeba, chief executive officer of the National Biosafety Management Authority, Nigeria’s GM regulatory agency, urged governments and scientists working on GM crops in Africa to resist the intimidation exerted by anti-GMO groups.

“In Africa, and in particular the West African subregion, there is lots of intimidation on the part of the anti-GM groups. But I think once you have the knowledge and the courage, you can take your decision, and particularly when you have scientific evidence to make your decision,” Egbeba told Alliance for Science in an interview.

“You must apply courage and knowledge based on scientific parameters before you take such decisions and do not be afraid, because the world is already being ruled by science and technology and Africa is not an exception,” he continued. “Africa must use safe technologies to ensure that the African economy is diversified, is opened up for job creation, innovations and to give economic prosperity to our people.”

Egbeba dismissed concerns that GM technology is a foreign imposition on the continent, arguing the application of technological innovation knows no boundaries. “If anybody is telling you it’s foreign, such a person is just trying to mislead you,” he said. “We have the African science as well. Science is global, it’s not something you say is foreign.”

There is already a lot of intra-regional trade that goes on within the West Africa subregion that would make it difficult for neighboring African countries to restrict the importation of GM cowpea varieties once they become common on the Nigerian market. Hundreds of trucks filled with cowpea, rice, maize and other grains leave Nigeria’s Dawanau International Grains Market on a daily basis, headed to numerous African nations. It’s the largest grains market in West Africa, attracting traders from Ghana, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Burkina Faso, Libya and other countries.

“We are receiving the various traders from the neighboring countries, especially West African countries,” Sani Mohammed, chairman of the traders’ association  Nigeria’s Kano State, told the Alliance for Science during a visit to the market. “We have so many varieties, type of grains, which are taken from Dawanau to abroad and our neighboring countries.”

Egbeba said efforts are underway to develop a harmonized biosafety framework for the subregion so that approval of a GM crop in one country will allow for adoption of the variety in other countries.

“In the West African subregion, we are trying to have the West African biosafety common regulation,” he explained. “Those countries that may not have enough competence should be able to adopt what other countries have done, so that there is a portability concept. So that they can move on, because Africa is connected and the issues of environment, it belongs to the commons.”

Dr. Issoufou Kollo Abdourhamane, West Africa Coordinator of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, said progress is being made on getting GM cowpea approved in both Ghana and Burkina Faso.

Scientists are currently working to secure environmental release permits for the crop in Ghana before moving on to the national variety performance trials that are needed before the National Seed Variety Release Committee will release the seeds to farmers, he explained.

“So there are two steps… Our dossier has been ready. It is with the National Biosafety Authority of Ghana. So, we are waiting for the time when we will get the environmental release permits. In Burkina, before the end of this year we may apply for environmental release too,” he added.


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Scientists seize ‘once in a decade’ opportunity to advocate for genetically engineered trees

BY JOAN CONROW

NOVEMBER 30, 2021

Nearly 700 scientists from across the globe have signed a petition urging the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to allow genetically engineered trees in the forests and products that it certifies.

The action came in response to the FSC’s request for consultations, which will be accepted through Friday, Dec. 3. Though the FSC currently prohibits the use of genetically modified (GM) trees in its certified forests, it does allow field testing and some of its member companies are investing in biotechnology research. With the consultation request, it is now considering what role it should play in setting the conditions and safeguards for the commercial use of GM trees and whether it should engage in a trial project for the use of GM trees in forests that the FSC does not certify.

“We have a once in a decade opportunity to influence decision makers at FSC and less than a decade to develop strategies to save our forests in many parts of the world,” wrote Prof. Alexander Myburg, director of the Forest Molecular Genetics Program at the University of Pretoria, in a letter to his colleagues.

The petition urges the FSC “to allow responsible research and associated use of gene edited or genetically engineered trees by FSC certified companies.” It notes that extensive safeguards are already in place, biosafety regulations are strong in much of the world and allowing GM research on non-certified lands would support scientific research and development.

“There have been decades of research that show GE technology is safe and can provide useful traits in trees,” the petition states. “Our natural and planted forests face unprecedented decline as a result of rapid climate change, extreme weather events and pest and pathogen challenges. GE is a major technology that is being used in numerous crops and trees to produce plants that can better resist the stresses associated with these challenges. A precautionary approach demands that the responsible development of such solutions is facilitated by FSC, not impeded.”

The petition goes on to express “hope that the FSC will rise above the political and ideological noise that is so prominent in this area and put science, and this advice from public sector scientists, at the top of its considerations with respect to policies for GE trees.”

Some anti-GMO groups, including the Global Justice Ecology Project, are soliciting comments in opposition to GM tree field-testing, falsely claiming that “GM trees can never be sustainable” and trials would inevitably open the door to wider use of GM trees.

Scientists, on the other hand, contend that introducing traits like faster growth, insect resistance and defense against deadly fungi would help improve the resilience and sustainability of forests, especially as they face increased threats from climate change, fires and insect pest infestations.

Comments will be accepted on the FSC site up until midnight Central Europe Time on Dec. 3. Scientists can also add their names to the petition.

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Tar spot gains attention of USDA-ARS

Tom J. Bechmancorn leaf with signs of tar spotEARLY STAGES: Agronomists say growers need to learn to identify tar spot at this stage. This specimen was growing in Bayer’s fungicide demonstration plots at the Farm Progress Show.Hi-Tech Farming: The newest corn disease in the U.S. is targeted by researchers.

Tom J Bechman | Nov 18, 2021

Tar spot was first detected in the U.S. in 2015, but it now has the undivided attention of a USDA Agricultural Research Service research team based in West Lafayette, Ind. Growers fight this corn disease with fungicides. However, Steve Goodwin, an ARS plant pathologist, says plants that have resistance to tar spot are preferable.

While participating universities conduct research on timing of fungicides and other control measures, Goodwin and his team are concentrating on four fronts:

1. Screening current material. The team is screening existing commercial varieties and germplasm lines for resistance or susceptibility to tar spot. The goal is to help growers adjust management practices as soon as possible depending upon which hybrids they grow.

2. Developing molecular markers. These tools will identify Qrtsc8, the gene that confers tar spot resistance. Investigators are also exploring why some plants that lack this gene are still resistant, since an unknown gene or genes could be involved.

3. Determining biocontrol potential. A microbiome of organisms was found on tar spot-resistant plants, but not on susceptible plants. Researchers want to know how these organisms, plant growth stage and the environment are interconnected in the progression of tar spot.

4. Understanding how tar spot works. Scientists also want to learn how the tar spot fungus uses several proteins to short-circuit defenses of susceptible plants. Identification of these proteins could lead to better detection of different strains of the fungus and its severity in the field.

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Opinion: African farmers can benefit from co-existence of agroecology and biotechnology

Pacifique Nshimiyimana | Cornell Alliance for Science | November 17, 2021

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Credit: GreenBiz
Credit: GreenBiz

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation. It is posted under Fair Use guidelines.Can agroecology coexist with modern agricultural technologies? What is the reason for the fight against genetically modified (GM) cowpea or Golden Rice when the world’s most pressing food systems challenge is nutritional and food insecurity?

As the global community marked this year’s World Food Day on Oct. 16, where do African countries stand in respect to food and nutrition security? Is Europe’s antagonism toward certain food production systems and embrace of various ideologies going to expand to Africa too?

As the numbers of communities experiencing food insecurity rise, why are we still supporting divisions in the food system when we need to unite in the critical mission of stopping hunger and extreme poverty among our African population?Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

In my country of Rwanda, the level of malnutrition and hunger leading to stunting among children under the age of five is still alarming, and it’s a scenario that is repeated in many African nations and other developing world countries. Due to the food production challenge, in Sub-Saharan Africa alone 34 percent of children under age 5 are stunted, leading to future generations of people who are mentally and physically impaired and more prone to disease.

In an effort to avoid replicating the mistakes of Western countries, where agroecologists often take hostile and antagonistic stances towards modern biotechnology and the green revolution, African countries are urged to separate themselves from such division for the sake of ending extreme hunger and poverty and meeting the United Nation’s 2030 goal of zero hunger.

African policymakers and world food system leaders are also urged to implement measures that will help African farmers benefit from both agroecology and modern biotechnology. The situation of food production in Africa is so fragile that African smallholder farmers and their communities can’t afford any more divisions in their food systems due to the agroecology movement’s antagonism towards modern biotechnology.

The COVID-19 pandemic and various farming-related plant diseases and insect challenges, like the locust swarms in East Africa, threaten the livelihood of millions. Resilient biotechnology crops that offer protection, like Nigeria’s insect-resistant and drought-tolerant TELA maize and insect-resistant GM cowpea, solve problems and economically empower farmers and rural communities. They should not be subjected to the western style of agroecology hatred towards biotechnology.

“The climate crisis demands that we innovate and give farmers in every country diverse tool kits. Agroecology and biotechnology can co-exist and be mutually supportive,” stated Matt Murray, acting assistant secretary for Economic and Business Affairs in the United States Department of State Department, while speaking at the 2021 World Food Prize.https://www.youtube.com/embed/e8h4F467vgs

Achieving coexistence between agroecology and modern biotechnology in African farming communities will be the turning point in promoting food security on the continent. It will also economically rejuvenate Africa’s large and small producers, who will finally enjoy the freedom of choice over what they produce and how they protect and manage their farming investments.

At a time when an increasing number of African countries are making wise decisions about adopting biotech crops that offer their farmers greater resilience in managing the effects of climate change, it is important to highlight their importance to the livelihoods of small producers.

The reduction of pesticide use that has accompanied the adoption of GM cotton in Kenya and GM cowpea in Nigeria, where the recent approval of TELA maize will also cut insecticide use, helps small farmers with limited means lower their production costs. But even importantly, it reduces the harmful impacts of excessive pesticides on both the environment and the lives of peasant farmers who typically apply these products without any personal protection equipment to guard their health.

This is but one area where agroecology and biotechnology have shared goals. We must now focus on other common goals and values to support, rather than divide, Africa’s farmers.

Pacifique Nshimiyimana is a social entrepreneur and founder of “Real Green Gold Ltd.” He has a graduate degree in Biotechnology from the University of Rwanda.

A version of this article was originally posted at the Cornell Alliance for Science and has been reposted here with permission. The Cornell Alliance for Science can be found on Twitter @ScienceAlly 

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A sequence change in a single protein allowed a tomato virus to become a global crop pandemic

by American Phytopathological Society

A sequence change in a single protein allowed a tomato virus to become a global crop pandemic
Tomato plants (cv. Moneymaker) (upper panel) and leaves (lower panel) homozygous to the tm-2 or Tm-22 allele infected with ToMV and ToMVMP-ToBRFV. Credit: Hagit Hak and Ziv Spiegelman

In the last years, a new viral tomato disease has emerged, threatening tomato production worldwide. This is caused by the Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV), a member of a devastating group of plant viruses called tobamoviruses. ToBRFV overcomes all known tobamovirus resistance in tomato, including the one conferred by Tm-22, a resistance gene responsible for the stable resistance to these viruses for more than 60 years. In a study recently published in the Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions (MPMI), journal, Dr. Ziv Spiegelman and Dr. Hagit Hak explored the molecular mechanism by which this emerging virus was able to successfully break this resistance and become a devastating global crop pandemic.https://b0ba37931016a71b6686b665e7a556a4.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“Tm-22 encodes a plant immune receptor protein, which recognizes a viral-encoded protein named movement protein, triggering an immune response against a wide range of tobamoviruses. ToBRFV is the first virus that was able to overcome the durable Tm-22 resistance gene,” said Spiegelman. “We found that the ToBRFV movement protein harbored sequence changes that allow it to evade Tm-22. We confirmed this by introducing this new sequence to another virus (the tomato mosaic virus) that normally cannot infect plants harboring Tm-22, which resulted in a virulent virus.”

Furthermore, they came up with an interesting observation from an evolutionary point of view. “Viral movement proteins allow the virus to spread from cell to cell and infect the entire plant. We found that the elements that enabled the movement protein to avoid Tm-22 recognition likely resulted in reduced viral movement. This suggests that the virus pays a penalty for evading host resistance, which is a reduced cell-to-cell transport. This finding may explain the high durability of Tm-22 resistance, which had remained unbroken for over half a century,” stated Spiegelman.


Explore furtherHow cells defend against influenza A virus


More information: Hagit Hak et al, The Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus Movement Protein Overcomes Tm-22 Resistance in Tomato While Attenuating Viral Transport, Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions (2021). DOI: 10.1094/MPMI-01-21-0023-RJournal information:Molecular Plant-Microbe InteractionsProvided by American Phytopathological Society

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Roundup: Kenya says genetically modified cassava set for launch

Comment(s)PrintE-mailXinhua, October 29, 2021Adjust font size: 

NAIROBI, Oct. 28 (Xinhua) — Kenya and several African countries will soon launch a genetically modified (GM) cassava variety that is resistant to brown streak disease after more than ten years of research, officials have said.

Eliud Kireger, Director General, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) said research on improved cassava variety has recorded breakthroughs as the crop is now one step closer to commercialization.

Kireger said the VIRCA Plus project has already successfully developed cassava with robust and durable resistance to the brown streak disease.

“This cassava has been validated over multiple cropping cycles in several locations in the agro-ecological zones in Kenya,” Kireger told journalists during a field visit in the coastal city of Mombasa.

He said that the project recorded a milestone when the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) in June granted approval for environmental release of the disease-resistant cassava, signalling that the developed cassava can now transition to National Performance Trials (NPTs).

Kireger noted that local and international biosafety standards were strictly observed during the development of the improved biotech cassava.

“In arriving at the decision to approve the cassava for environmental release, NBA conducted a rigorous and thorough review, taking into account food, feed, and environmental safety assessment as well as consideration of socio-economic issues,” said Kireger.

Douglas Miano, lead project scientist for VIRCA Plus in Kenya said the GM cassava that is set for release globally has performed better over the period that trials have been undertaken.

He said that the project that has been conducted with Uganda scientists, and lately Rwanda and Mozambique is a public investment project and will be available to farmers without conditions.

Miano said that cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) causes yield loss of up to 70 percent, amounting to 7.5 billion shillings (about 67 million U.S. dollars) annually in eastern and southern African regions.

He revealed that the project that is aimed at enhancing the livelihood of smallholder farmers will contribute to the economy of the countries.

Miano revealed that they have presented 8 lines of cassava varieties for approval by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).

Paul Kuria, a senior scientist at KALRO said that in 2008-2014, they did product concept, gene discovery, transformation, greenhouse evolution and proof of concept.

He added that in 2013-2015 they did field evaluation, event selection, variety development, biosafety assessment, dossier review and appeal for general release.

Kuria said that more than 95 percent of roots of conventional cassava are lost to CBSD while in improved variety loss is less than 2 percent.

“Extensive studies in greenhouse and field trials have conclusively proved protection of cassava against CBSD,” said Kuria.

He revealed that from stakeholder engagement farmers seem to prefer the variety since it resists Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD), has no special farming practices needed and can be further developed by breeders.

According to Kuria, KALRO in collaboration with Menonite Economic Development Association (MEDA), a private partner, are currently engaged in making arrangements for large scale seed multiplication and distribution to farmers.

Marstella Bahati, chairlady of Pwani Ufanisi Farmers Cooperative hailed scientists for coming up with the solution to diseases affecting cassava.

“At long last farmers from cassava growing regions can start thinking of having an income generating activity,” Bahati said.

Margaret Karembu, director, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA AfriCenter) said the research results will ensure timely and efficient access to clean planting materials by smallholder farmers.

Karembu urged scientists to educate populations on the importance of innovations that they conduct in laboratories to avoid suspicions.

Juma Mohamed, head of root and tuber crops in the Ministry of Agriculture said that as a climate smart crop, cassava can survive better during drought periods.

Mohamed said that with the new cassava variety many farmers from 13 counties where it is a valued crop may drop growing maize and other crops in its favour.

He noted that besides using cassava as human food and animal feed, it can also be used in making paper bags, sanitizers and flour.

Mohamed said that once it is finally available for commercial cultivation, all other players in the cassava value chain will benefit from disease-resistant varieties through improved farm productivity.

Cassava is rich in carbohydrates, calcium, vitamins B and C, and essential minerals and is cultivated in around 40 African countries. EnditemFollow China.org.cn on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
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ARS News Service A field of corn
ARS and collaborating scientists have begun a multi-faceted fight against an emerging disease of corn called tar spot. ARS, Collaborating Scientists Tackling “Tar Spot” Threat to U.S. Corn For media inquiries contact: Jan Suszkiw, (202) 734-1176
October 25, 2021 Helping farmers turn the tide on an emerging disease of corn called tar spot is the focus of a multi-organization team of scientists, including from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in West Lafayette, Indiana. Caused by the fungus Phyllachora maydis, tar spot appears as black, roughly circular discolorations on the leaves, husks and stalks of corn plants. A tan halo sometimes surrounds the spore-filled spots, creating what’s known as a fish-eye lesion. Outbreaks of the disease, which was first detected in northern Indiana and Illinois in 2015, can reduce grain yields by 20 to 60 bushels an acre. Tar spot is now also found in corn-growing areas of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and southwestern Ontario, Canada. Although fungicides offer the hardest-hitting counterpunch, resistance to tar spot disease in corn is far more preferable, according to Steve Goodwin, a plant pathologist with the ARS Crop Production and Pest Control Research unit in West Lafayette, IN. There, in collaboration with fellow ARS scientists Raksha Singh, Matthew Helm and Charles Crane, Goodwin is working to manage tar spot on several research fronts: Screening existing commercial corn varieties and germplasm lines for their resistance or susceptibility to tar spot so that growers can adjust their disease management practices accordingly. Developing tools known as molecular markers to quickly and efficiently identify a gene known to confer tar spot resistance in corn, namely Qrtsc8. Identifying corn plants that lack the gene but are still resistant to the disease are also of interest, since an entirely new gene or genes unknown to science could be at play. Potentially, such sources of resistance could also prove useful in shoring up the crop’s defenses even further. Determining the biocontrol potential of a community of microorganisms known as the microbiome that was observed on tar-spot-resistant but not susceptible corn plants. “The main goal is to understand how environmental factors, plant growth stage and the associated corn microbiome affect tar spot disease progression and how all these factors are interconnected,” said Raksha.   Identification of several proteins the tar spot fungus uses to “short circuit” the defenses of susceptible plants—and how, in turn, these proteins could be exploited for better detection of different strains of the fungus and their severity in fields, noted Helm.     On other fronts, university collaborators are conducting research to optimize the timing of fungicide sprays and evaluating rotations of corn with non-host crops to reduce the disease’s severity and prevent the fungus from surviving the winter on debris from prior corn harvests. Researchers are also pouring through existing literature on the biology of the tar spot fungus and building on what’s known about it with genomic sequencing—a kind of decoding of its DNA playbook for causing disease in corn. One hope is that this will yield clues to new ways of controlling the fungus and preempting costly outbreaks like the one from 2018 to 2020, which claimed an estimated 241 million bushels of U.S. corn. The effort is being carried out under the auspices of the National Plant Disease Recovery System (NPDRS). Arising from a 2004 Homeland Security Presidential Directive, the NPDRS spotlights emerging plant disease threats and identifies what tools, infrastructure, communication networks and other resources will be necessary to protect U.S crops or recover from outbreaks that have already occurred. Besides ARS, other partner organizations are Purdue University, Michigan State University, Iowa State University, The Ohio State University, University of Missouri, University of Florida and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico, where tar spot was first identified in 1904. The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 of economic impact. Interested in reading more about ARS research? Visit our news archive U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
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Chilean scientist plans to clean up mining with ‘metal eating’ bacteria

by Paula Bustamante

Chilean biotechnologist Nadac Reales shows a nail and screw inside a jar with metal-eater bacteria in her laboratory at a mining
Chilean biotechnologist Nadac Reales shows a nail and screw inside a jar with metal-eater bacteria in her laboratory at a mining site in Antofagasta.

Starving microorganisms capable of surviving in extreme conditions have already managed to “eat” a nail in just three days.https://657b1957b149dbc8db581f6b3e637f97.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

In Chile, a scientist is testing “metal-eating” bacteria she hopes could help clean up the country’s highly-polluting mining industry.

In her laboratory in Antofagasta, an industrial town 1,100-kilometers north of Santiago, 33-year-old biotechnologist Nadac Reales has been carrying out tests with extremophiles—organisms that live in extreme environments.

Reales came up with her idea while still at university as she was conducting tests at a mining plant using microorganisms to improve the extraction of copper.

“I realized there were various needs in the mining industry, for example what happened with the metallic waste,” she told AFP.

Some metals can be recycled in smelting plants but others, such as HGV truck hoppers that can hold 50 tons of rock, cannot and are often discarded in Chile’s Atacama desert, home to the majority of the country’s mining industry.

Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper, which accounts for up to 15 percent of the country’s GDP, resulting in a lot of mining waste that pollutes the environment.

In her research, Reales, who now runs her own company Rudanac Biotec, concentrated on iron-oxidizing bacteria called Leptospirillum.

She extracted the bacteria from the Tatio geysers located 4,200 meters above sea level, some 350 kilometers from Antofagasta.

The bacteria “live in an acidic environment that is practically unaffected by relatively high concentrations of most metals,” she said.

“At first the bacteria took two months to disintegrate a nail.”

But when starved, they had to adapt and find a way of feeding themselves.

After two years of trials, the result was a marked increase in the speed at which the bacteria “ate,” devouring a nail in just three days.

Chilean scientist Nadac Robles hopes her 'metal eating' bacteria will make green mining "totally feasible"
Chilean scientist Nadac Robles hopes her ‘metal eating’ bacteria will make green mining “totally feasible”

Surprising benefit

Reales says “chemical and microbiological tests” have proved the bacteria are not harmful to humans or the environment.

“We’ve always seen a lot of potential in this project that has already passed an important test in the laboratory,” said Drina Vejar, a microbiologist who is part of a four-person team working with Reales.

“It’s really necessary at this time when we have to plan for a more sustainable development, especially in all these cities with so many polluting industries.”

Mining companies have shown interest in the research but while Rudanac Biotec previously benefitted from a state fund for start-ups, the company needs investment to move on to its next stage of trials.

Reales says she needs money to see if her method will “eat a medium sized beam or a hopper.”

When the disintegration process is complete, what remains is a reddish liquid residue, a solution known as a lixiviant that itself possesses a surprising quality.

“After biodisintegration the product generated (the liquid) can improve the recovery of copper in a process called hydrometallurgy,” said Reales.

Essentially, the liquid residue can be used to extract copper from rock in a more sustainable manner than the current use of chemicals in leaching.

Reales says it means green mining is “totally feasible.”

That is of great interest to mining companies that could use it to improve their large scale extraction of copper or other minerals, while also reducing their pollution, something they are required to do by law.

Reales recently submitted a request for an international patent for her technology, but more importantly she hopes it will help reduce metal waste blotting the landscape in the mining regions of her country.


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