Archive for the ‘Biotechnology’ Category

GM eggplant helps farmers reduce pesticide use and increase profits, study finds – Alliance for Science (cornell.edu)

by Joan Conrow

Dec. 7, 2020

Journal of Agricultural Economics.

“Bt brinjal, a publicly developed GMO [genetically modified organism], conveys significant productivity and income benefits to farmers while reducing the use of pesticides damaging to human and ecological health,” the researchers concluded.

Cultivating Bt brinjal raised yields by 3,564 kilograms per hectare. Bt brinjal farmers are harvesting more eggplant and discarding fewer fruits due to damage, resulting in higher yields, the researchers found.

“Bt brinjal farmers sell more eggplant and receive a higher price for the output they sell while incurring lower input costs, resulting in a 128 percent increase in net revenues,” the paper states.

The researchers, who are based at Cornell University and the International Food Policy Research Institute in Dhaka, also found that “Bt brinjal farmers used smaller quantities of pesticides and sprayed less frequently. Bt brinjal reduced the toxicity of pesticides as much as 76 percent.” Additionally, farmers who had pre‐existing chronic conditions consistent with pesticide poisoning were less likely to report a symptom of pesticide poisoning or incur cash medical expenses to treat such symptoms while growing Bt brinjal.

Smallholder farmers grow brinjal because it is a lucrative cash crop that is popular with consumers. However, the devastating fruit and shoot borer (FSB) pest can damage up to 86 percent of their plants. In an attempt to control the pest, farmers may use pesticides from 23 to 140 times per season, though few take measures to protect themselves and the environment during application.

Bt brinjal — the first genetically modified (GM) food crop adopted for cultivation in South Asia — provides inherent resistance to the FSB.

Researchers based their study on a farm-level cluster randomized controlled trial (RCT). To their knowledge, it was the first study to use an RCT design, which is less vulnerable to concerns regarding selection bias and endogenous placement, to assess the impact of a GM crop in a South Asia setting. Their study sample comprised 1,196 households (598 treatment households and 598 control households) in 200 clusters/villages (100 treatment and 100 control villages), with an attrition rate of 1.7 percent (five treatment households and 15 controls).

“Critics of GM crops claim that GMOs convey no economic, health or environmental benefits while they also ‘pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty.’ Our results speak directly to these criticisms,” the researchers wrote. “Bt brinjal farmers marketed more output, sold at a higher price, incurred lower input costs, and, consequently, had higher net revenues (by 128 percent). Bt brinjal farmers used smaller quantities of pesticides, sprayed less frequently, and reduced the toxicity of pesticides applied by 42 to 76 percent. All these benefits were derived from an open‐pollinated crop provided by a public agency.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/nEHEt56w0PU?feature=oembed

Researchers found that although Bt brinjal farmers retained more brinjal for home consumption, both because they produced more and discarded less post‐harvest, they sold also 143.6 kg more brinjal than the control group — an impact significant at the 5 percent level. Additionally, Bt brinjal sold at prices 12.6 percent higher than non-GM varieties.

“We note that traders purchasing Bt brinjal knew that it was a GM crop, and, to the best of our knowledge, consumers knew that they were purchasing a GMO food,” the researchers wrote. “A consequence of reduced pesticide application was that Bt brinjal looked better and had no marks of infestation or holes, the skin of the brinjal was much softer, making the food easier to prepare and, according to the respondents in our qualitative fieldwork, tastier.”

To illustrate those points, the researchers included this comment from a market trader: “At the beginning, I could not sell this brinjal in this market; I forced them to take it, especially those who are known to me to come every day. I told them no problem if you do not pay money. Then, when they took the brinjal home and ate it, they told me to give them more brinjal. Since then, demand is getting higher. In fact, it was not sold for two or three days at the beginning. After that, I enticed all of them to buy this. Since then, I did not have any problems.”

Bt brinjal farmers also required less family labor — 250 days, compared to 278 days for control households — primarily because they were able to reduce the number of pesticide applications by 33.6 percent, compared to the control group. The quantity of pesticide used fell by 28.2 percent, while the toxicity of pesticides also declined by 42 percent overall. Farmers growing Bt brinjal and who had pre‐existing chronic conditions were 11.5 percentage points less likely to report a symptom of pesticide poisoning.

“We note three policy implications that follow from these results,” the researchers concluded. “They support the view that GMOs can contribute to the goal of increasing yields while reducing environmental stressors. They provide further justification for releasing Bt brinjal in countries such as India and the Philippines, where these varieties have been developed but not approved for cultivation due to public reservations about GMO foods. They point to the valuable role that public agencies can play in the dissemination of GMOs. The involvement of BARI and the Bangladesh Department of Agriculture in the development and support of Bt brinjal cultivation alleviates concerns raised by anti‐GMO activists regarding farmer sovereignty. Finally, our finding that consumers are willing to pay more for a GM crop is striking; further work understanding why would be of value.”




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Indian farmers can’t wait anymore, they are sowing seeds of GM crops one Bt brinjal at a time

The Modi govt’s nod to field trials of two brinjal varieties comes after years of delayed decisions, leaving farmers to deal with daily risks of agriculture.

BARUN S. MITRA 16 September, 2020 3:41 pm ISThttps://www.facebook.com/plugins/like.php?href=https://theprint.in/opinion/indian-farmers-cant-wait-anymore-they-are-sowing-seeds-of-gm-crops-one-bt-brinjal-at-a-time/502675/&layout=button_count&show_faces=false&width=105&action=like&colorscheme=light&height=21

A brinjal on plant. (Representative image)

Earlier this month, the Narendra Modi government reportedly sanctioned biosafety field trials of two new transgenic varieties of brinjal, developed by a public sector research institute. The news created quite the buzz.

Brinjal is among the most widely available and consumed vegetables in India, after potato, onion and tomato. But a brinjal crop is susceptible to pests, particularly the fruit and shoot borer (FSB), which often affects 50-80 per cent of the crop. Farmers frequently spend over half their input costs on pest control, and insecticides may have to be sprayed 30 to 70 times in a five-month crop cycle.https://b2313382ce6a14505bc21532cd71665f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Many farmers spray products derived from naturally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), as a bio-pesticide to control several destructive pests, particularly in vegetable crops. But now, advanced molecular biology tools have enabled scientists to identify certain genes in the bacterium that produce insecticidal proteins that specifically kill a certain group of insect pests, and incorporate them in the desired plant by genetic engineering. When the target insects feed on such transgenic plants, they ingest Bt protein and get killed. Thus, this technology provides a built-in control mechanism against the pests, thereby greatly reducing the need to use chemical insecticides. Bt Brinjal has been developed to achieve this objective.

Also read: GM brinjals are helping Bangladesh farmers earn more, save more, study finds

Bt Brinjal in India 

There are two basic technology platforms offering Bt Brinjal today. One, developed by Maharashtra-based company Mahyco, is built on the gene Cry1Ac, with the event EE-1. This has been commercially grown in Bangladesh since 2013. Another Bt Brinjal technology was indigenously developed by the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI), using the gene Cry1Fa1, with the Event-142.

Bt Brinjal Cry1Ac, EE-1: 2001 to 2010 

  • A preliminary greenhouse evaluation to study growth, development and efficacy of Bt Brinjal was introduced by Mahyco, in 2001.
  • Mahyco shared the technology with three public sector research organisations to deploy it in open-pollinated varieties of brinjal in 2005.
  • Two successive subcommittees evaluated the data generated by the trials, and recommended its environmental release in 2009.
  • In October 2009, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), while recommending Bt Brinjal’s environmental release, placed the final decision before the government in view of “the very important policy implication at the national level”.

Bt Brinjal Cry1Fa1, Event-142: 2001-2010 

This transgenic Bt Brinjal expressing the gene Cry1Fa1 was developed by IARI in 2001-2004.

  • The technology was transferred to Bejo Sheetal Seeds Pvt Ltd (BSSPL), Jalna in 2005, to conduct biosafety studies as per the regulatory requirement.
  • IARI filed a patent in 2006, for inventing the synthetic Cry1Fa1 gene. The patent was granted in 2010.
  • In 2009, biosafety research level, BRL-I, trials were initiated by BSSPL at three locations with two Bt Brinjal hybrids — Janak Bt and BSS 793 Bt — in Jalna, Varanasi and Guntur.
  • Limited seed production of Bt Brinjal hybrids for BRL-II trials was approved by the GEAC in 2010.

But eventually, the science of both these Bt Brinjals failed the political test. On 9 February 2010, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) announced an indefinite moratorium on Bt Brinjal following a round of ‘national consultations’. Subsequently, all field trials of the GM crops were stopped in 2013.

Also read: APMC laws had shackled farmers, Modi govt’s ordinance makes them as free as other sectors

Bangladesh picks up where India left off 

In 2009, Bangladesh began tests and trials for Bt Brinjal Cry1Ac with EE-1. It approved the first Bt Brinjal (EE-1) variety for commercial release, with 20 farmers sowing the new seeds in 2013.https://b2313382ce6a14505bc21532cd71665f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

The year 2018 marked the fifth anniversary of Bt Brinjal in Bangladesh. During its meeting in September 2018, the GEAC noted that nearly 50,000 farmers in Bangladesh were growing Bt Brinjal. Over 27,000 farmers had adopted Bt brinjal in 2017-18, not including the farmers who had saved their own seeds from the previous season.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), together with Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), carried out a randomised control trial among Bt Brinjal and non-Bt Brinjal farmers in Bangladesh in 2018. The key findings showed that net yields were 42 per cent higher for Bt Brinjal farmers. The Bt Brinjal farmers also witnessed a 31 per cent reduction in costs per kg of produce, and a 27.3 per cent increase in gross revenue per hectare.

While the quantity of pesticides used decreased by 39 per cent, the rate of FSB infestation in Bt Brinjal plants was only 1.8 per cent, in contrast to 33.9 per cent of the other.  A report published in 2020, assessed the impact based on a survey of brinjal farmers in five districts. Results indicated that Bt Brinjal provided an average of 19.6 per cent higher yield and 21.7 cent higher revenue compared to non-Bt varieties.

Bangladesh recognises that Bt Brinjal needs to be made available in more varieties suitable for different agro-climatic areas in the country, and in varieties that appeal to local tastes.

Also read: Halt Bt brinjal trials, it is against the national interest, RSS affiliate writes to Modi

Political merry-go-round on GM crops 

Prime Minister Modi’s 2014 claim that there was a possibility of genetic engineering in ancient India raised expectations among many farmers on the prospects of genetically modified (GM) crops. But here is a glance at what really happened to the GM crops.

  • In July 2014, the GEAC recommended experimentation and field trials of a number of GM crops, including brinjal, chickpea, cotton, rice, and mustard.
  • In November 2014, BSSPL sought an NOC from five states for BRL-II field trials of Bt Brinjal, but made no headway.
  • In a written reply during Rajya Sabha’s 2014 winter session, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said, “There is no scientific evidence to prove that GM crops would harm soil, human health and environment… GM crops have beneficial traits… that may help in food security.”
  • By the end of 2016, some companies withdrew their applications for GM crops, which were at different stages of development. By 2018, some other companies had sought permission to defer their trials due to policy uncertainties.
  • In September 2018, the GEAC met to discuss Mahyco’s request to revive large scale field trials of Bt Brinjal. The GEAC sought relevant data on post-commercial release of Bt Brinjal from Bangladesh.
  • In April 2019, reports of unauthorised Bt Brinjal cultivation in Haryana surfaced. Samples tested by government agencies suggested evidence of genetic modification, but did not specify the particular gene involved.
  • Led by the Shetkari Sanghatana, a voluntary farmers network in Maharashtra, farmers and friends came together to contribute Rs 50,000 to compensate Jeevan Saini, a marginal farmer, whose half-acre plot of land allegedly growing Bt Brinjal was uprooted in May 2019.
  • In June 2019, the Shetkari Sanghatana launched a Kisan Satyagraha to demand access to latest technologies, by publicly sowing the unapproved herbicide-tolerant Bt cotton, offering dual protection against herbicides and bollworms, in Maharashtra and Haryana. The protesting farmers promised to sow Bt Brinjal as part of farmers’ “field trial” since the government had stopped all trials.
Jeevan Saini, the farmer from Fatehabad district, Haryana, who was felicitated by groups of farmers from Haryana and Maharashtra | Source: GS Mann, a farmer in Hisar

Also read: Why farmers are still having to protest for their right to sow GM seeds, even in a pandemic

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? 

The second decade of the 21st century, 2011 to 2020, has turned out to be the lost decade for India, as far as agriculture biotechnology is concerned. The GEAC has held only 35 meetings in 10 years, and even recommended trials were not held. This contrasts sharply with the previous decade, when the GEAC held almost 81 meetings, and over a dozen GM crops were in various stages of development.

In May 2020, the GEAC, once again granted permission to BSSPL to conduct BRL-II confined field trials with two transgenic Bt Brinjal hybrids (Event-42), in at least two of the eight designated states, provided the state governments issue NOCs. This is a repeat of the recommendations for confined field trials issued in 2010, and again in 2014, both of which had failed to make any difference on the ground. In September, BSSPL said that it hopes to begin the field trials in April 2021.

This chronology of Bt Brinjal’s development in India suggests that policymakers have merely used the regulatory mechanism to avoid taking a clear decision, focussing on hypothetical risks rather than real ones. The endless demand for trials and tests only suggests that in the name of science, there is an attempt to choke the progress of science and stop its adoption for practical use.

This is a complete reversal of the fundamental legal philosophy of modern civilisation, which holds that one is innocent unless proven guilty. The yardstick now being used for GM crops is that these crops are inherently dangerous, and therefore presumed guilty, unless it can be shown that they are not. But a negative can never be proven.

As any toxicologist knows, it is the dosage that makes a poison.

Increasingly, it is the farmers, who bear the daily risks of agriculture, who are now speaking up in support of technologies that could reduce their risks and improve their wellbeing. It is the farmers who are defying the legal diktat. By taking the risk of sowing unapproved GM crops without any assurance of quality, they are engaging in the largest field trial ever possible. These brave farmers are demonstrating their capacity to take on the risk society is imposing on them by denying them access to new technologies, including GM crops.

Indian farmers are the true representatives of Aatmanirbhar Bharat, and their produce is the original ‘Make in India’, long before these slogans were coined.

The author is an independent policy analyst and the former founder-director of Liberty Institute. He has an interest in agriculture reforms and is working with farmers’ networks on the ground. Views are personal.

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Matt Hayes:

‘Researchers help inform cassava breeding worldwide’

“Scientists in Cornell’s NextGen Cassava project have uncovered new details regarding cassava’s genetic architecture that may help breeders more easily pinpoint traits for one of Africa’s most vital crops.

Their findings are reported in a study published July 31 in Plant Molecular Biology.

The scientists analyzed large breeding populations measured extensively over successive years and stages of selection in multi-environment field trials in Nigeria. The genome-wide association analysis explored genomic regions most responsible for desirable traits in cassava, a food crop that provides the main source of calories for 500 million people across the globe.

The scientists found more than 40 quantitative trait loci associated with a total of 14 traits, responsible for characteristics such as disease responses, nutritional quality and yield. The traits were classified broadly into four categories – biotic stress, quality, plant agronomy and agro-morphology.

“Our findings provide critical new entries into the catalogue of major loci available to cassava breeders,” said Ismail Rabbi, a molecular geneticist and plant breeder at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and a member of the NextGen project. “These markers should greatly improve cassava research and provide another powerful tool for the breeders’ toolbox.”

“Cassava is an incredibly useful food and industrial crop today and will be more so in the future as climate change reshapes agriculture everywhere, but first we must better understand its complex genome,” said Chiedozie Egesi, NextGen program director and co-author on the study.

Based in the Department of Global Development, the NextGen Cassava Breeding project supports scientists from many disciplines with advanced technologies and methods. The project works to empower smallholder cassava farmers in sub-Saharan Africa by developing, releasing and distributing improved cassava varieties.

Plant diseases and pests like cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava green mite are major constraints to cassava production in Africa, India and across Asia, including Vietnam and Thailand. Infections of CMD can lead to yield losses of 82%, or more than 30 million tons each year.

“A complete understanding of cassava’s genetic architecture is the critical step needed to accelerating genetic improvement and bring lasting benefits to farmers and consumers who depend on this crop for food and income throughout the world,” said Egesi, who’s also a visiting scientist in the Department of Global Development and an adjunct professor of plant breeding and genetics in the School of Integrative Plant Science, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

While the findings revealed novel genomic regions, it also revealed additional markers associated with previously measured traits.

Data from the study was made freely available through several commercial genotyping service vendors. The scientists plan further studies using germplasm from other regions, including East Africa and Latin America, which they say should bolster the catalogue of major effect loci available for molecular breeding.

Study co-authors include Cornell adjunct professor Jean-Luc Jannink and researchers from IITA and the National Root Crops Research Institute in Nigeria. Researchers from the Boyce Thompson Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service also contributed.

NextGen Cassava is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and by UK Aid, a British government initiative.

Matt Hayes is associate director for communications for Global Development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.”

By Matt Hayes for Cornell University

Publication date: Thu 27 Aug 2020

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science daily

Gene-editing protocol for whitefly pest opens door to control

April 23, 2020
Penn State
Whiteflies are among the most important agricultural pests in the world, yet they have been difficult to genetically manipulate and control, in part, because of their small size. An international team of researchers has overcome this roadblock by developing a CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing protocol that could lead to novel control methods for this devastating pest.

Whiteflies are among the most important agricultural pests in the world, yet they have been difficult to genetically manipulate and control, in part, because of their small size. An international team of researchers has overcome this roadblock by developing a CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing protocol that could lead to novel control methods for this devastating pest.

According to Jason Rasgon, professor of entomology and disease epidemiology, Penn State, whiteflies (Bemisia tabaci) feed on many types of crop plants, damaging them directly through feeding and indirectly by promoting the growth of fungi and by spreading viral diseases.

“We found a way to genetically modify these insects, and our technique paves the way not only for basic biological studies of this insect, but also for the development of potential genetic control strategies,” he said.

The team’s results appeared on April 21 in The CRISPR Journal.

The CRISPR/Cas9 system comprises a Cas9 enzyme, which acts as a pair of ‘molecular scissors’ that cuts DNA at a specific location on the genome so bits of DNA can be added or removed, and a guide RNA, that directs the Cas9 to the right part of the genome.

“Gene editing by CRISPR/Cas9 is usually performed by injecting the gene-editing complex into insect embryos, but the exceedingly small size of whitefly embryos and the high mortality of injected eggs makes this technically challenging,” said Rasgon. “ReMOT Control (Receptor-Mediated Ovary Transduction of Cargo), a specific type of CRISPR/Cas9 technique developed in my lab, circumvents the need to inject embryos. Instead, you inject the gene-editing complex which is fused to a small ovary-targeting molecule called BtKV, into adult females and the BtKV guides the complex into the ovaries.”

To explore the use of ReMOT Control in whiteflies, the team targeted the “white” gene, which is involved in eye color. When this gene is functioning normally, whiteflies have brown eyes, but when it is non-functional due to mutations, the insects is supposed to have white eyes. The team found that ReMOT Control generated mutations that resulted in juvenile insects with white eyes that turned red as they developed into adults.

“Tangentially, we learned a bit about eye color development,” said Rasgon. “We expected the eyes to remain white and were surprised when they turned red. Importantly, however, we found that the mutations we generated using ReMOT Control were passed on to offspring, which means that a change can be made that is inherited to future generations.”

Rasgon said the team hopes its proof-of-principle study will allow scientists to investigate the same strategy using genes that affect the ability for the insects to transmit viral pathogens of crop plants to help control the insects and protect crops.

“This technique can be used for any application where you want to delete any gene in whiteflies, for basic biology studies or for the development of potential genetic control strategies,” he said.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Penn State. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Chan C. Heu, Francine M. McCullough, Junbo Luan, Jason L. Rasgon. CRISPR-Cas9-Based Genome Editing in the Silverleaf Whitefly (Bemisia tabaci). The CRISPR Journal, 2020; 3 (2): 89 DOI: 10.1089/crispr.2019.0067

Cite This Page:

Penn State. “Gene-editing protocol for whitefly pest opens door to control.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 April 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200423130410.htm>.

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The Heartland Institute

Genetically Engineered Moths Could Eliminate Crop Pests

April 23, 2020

But farmers might soon be getting a new weapon to combat them: Genetically engineered versions of the moths that mate with wild pests and cause half their offspring to die.


Diamondback moths can wipe out entire fields of crops and ruin farmers. They’re also the pests most resistant to insecticides and crops genetically modified to kill them. Farmers, however, might soon be getting a new weapon to combat them: genetically engineered versions of the moths that mate with wild pests and cause half their offspring to die—but that will happen only if federal regulators significantly speed up their approval process.

The biotechnology company Oxitec developed the modified diamondback moths, which survive well on actual farms. Once modified males mate with females in the wild, where their “lethality” gene is passed along, the gene prevents the female offspring from developing, so they die as larvae.

Meanwhile, the male offspring survive with half inheriting the “lethality” gene. The population shrinks further when those males grow up and mate with other wild females, causing the next generation of female offspring to die as well.

Resistant to Pesticides

The diamondback moth is the number one insect in the world for resistance to pesticides, says Alton Sparks, professor of entomology at The University of Georgia.

“Everything that has been tried to control diamondback moths, they have developed a resistance to,” said Sparks. “We have populations in south Georgia that we are unable to control with insecticides.”

Sparks says the pests are very particular about what they feed on: vegetables that thrive in cold or cool weather, such as broccoli, cabbage, canola, cauliflower, collards, and kale, resulting in billions of dollars in lost crops each year.

“They chew holes in the leaves while they’re a caterpillar,” Sparks said . “You can lose an entire field because they make the crops unmarketable.”


It will take a while for the technology to truly cut down diamondback moth populations, says Sparks.

“You can’t put the modified moths out there and then spray pesticides, because you might interfere with modified moths being released,” said Sparks. “There will be a learning curve, but it’s something we can establish as the population limits itself, and we will have to work with the population for a while before it overcomes the wild population and causes it to crash.”

The Oxitec technology is species-specific, so it will not impact non-target species, says Sparks.

“If it works the way we hope it will, then it replaces fairly heavy pesticide use,” Sparks said. “There may be some concerns because it involves genetic modification of the insect, but it is not something that’s going to end up contaminating or damaging the food supply or the environment, and the modification doesn’t affect other species.

“If this species becomes extinct, it would make crop production much easier and reduce chemical use,” said Sparks. “The diamondback moth is a worldwide pest. I’ve been studying it for the past 32 years, and it’s unfortunate this technology is years away from being commercially available,” because of the long delays awaiting approval by federal regulators.

‘An Unalloyed Good’

If the GMO diamondback moth works as designed, it would be a pure good for agriculture, the environment, and society, says Gregory Conko, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“If successful, modified diamondback moths would represent an unalloyed good: a boon to farmers, food production, and the environment,” said Conko. “It is always good when farmers have another tool to help them fight pests, because globally it’s estimated they lose between 20 and 40 percent of their crop potential to pests.

“The number is closer to the lower end of the range in industrialized countries like the United States, but a technology like this can easily be used in other parts of the world, and no matter where you are, less crop loss to pests means more food, lower prices paid by consumers, and fewer resources needed to produce a given amount of food,” Conko said.

“In addition, although chemical spray insecticides can be used safely—meaning, with little risk to humans—and though they can be used in a way to minimize the impact on nature, a crop protection technology like this, narrowly targeted to impact only the pest species, is especially welcome because it will have very low risk of effects on non-target organisms, allowing farmers to control diamondback moths with essentially zero unintended side effects,” Conko said.

Regulations Likely to Slow Introduction

The biggest remaining hurdles to commercial introduction of the GMO moth are regulatory, says Conko.

“Theoretically, we could be relatively close to commercialization, because the genetically engineered moths have been studied over multiple generations in the closed environment of a greenhouse, with very promising results, and a recent field study [published in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology] showed positive results as well,” Conko said. “Naturally, you’d like to study the impacts in the field over a couple of additional years to make sure the technology works and lasts over the long run, and to ensure there are no unintended side effects, meaning under normal circumstances, the GMO diamondback moth could be ready for commercial release in three to four years, tops.

“The biggest hurdles to commercialization are not likely to be related to the technology working safely, but due to regulations, because even after extensive safety testing, federal regulators will likely take several additional years before making a decision as to whether the technology can be released commercially,” Conko warns. “As a result it would not be unrealistic to think it could take over a decade before the Oxitec’s modified moth reaches the marketplace.”

Kenneth Artz (kennethcharlesartz@gmx.com) writes from Dallas, Texas.

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Delta f perss

A bollworm chows down on a cotton plant University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture/Aaron Cato
A bollworm chows down on a cotton plant in this photo taken July 22, 2017.

Bollworms could be ‘budget buster’ for some Arkansas cotton growers

Worries over growing bollworm populations are amplified by possible resistance to dual gene technology.

Sarah Cato | Jul 23, 2018

“The bollworm pressure is decidedly higher than what we’ve seen in the last couple years,” said Gus Lorenz, Extension entomologist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “We’re seeing an extremely high number of eggs and moths in cotton fields. We’re kicking up hundreds and hundreds of moths in fields.”

The flights have been merciless this growing season, without much of a break.

“Flights have continued since June and haven’t let up,” Lorenz said. “We call these rolling populations, they just keep coming.”

Although only certain areas of Arkansas are currently affected, that could change.

“Some parts of the state aren’t having this problem,” Lorenz said. “We’re seeing this in the south and central part of Arkansas and along the Louisiana line. But we’re seeing indications that it will roll up to north central and possibly northeast Arkansas.”

Lorenz’s biggest concern with this year’s bollworm pressure is the resistance to dual gene cotton recent data has shown.

“Our concern is where we documented last year is the developing resistance to dual gene cotton,” Lorenz said. “We’re seeing more eggs and larvae developing in dual gene cotton, and it’s got us on edge.”

Dual gene technology refers to cotton varieties that have two Bt genes, which are used to protect against multiple insect pests, including bollworm.

Lorenz is alerting growers that not controlling these tremendous bollworm populations in cotton will be detrimental to the success of their crop.

When Bt genes are failing to control bollworm populations, an egg threshold of 25 percent is generally used, meaning producers should treat when 25 percent of plants have eggs in terminals or bloom tags. However, some Arkansas cotton fields are seeing numbers well beyond that.

“We’re not just seeing 25 percent or 40 percent, we’re talking about multiple eggs per plant,” he said. “Growers are going to see resulting damage and how they manage this is going to make a difference.

Control options

As far as management practices go, many Arkansas cotton producers have already taken control measures, but they’re getting hit again.

“There are a lot of concerned growers that made an application seven to 10 days ago of a diamide, like Prevathon or Besiege, to get the bollworms under control, but now there’s a new flight,” Lorenz said.

Although there is a growing concern for the damage these pests can cause, Lorenz warns against going overboard with treatment applications.

“We’re advising growers to give it two weeks before making a second application of a diamide,” he said. “Usually residual control will last at least two weeks, maybe more. Those products are extremely expensive and I can’t see making a second application this soon. That could be a budget buster.”

There are more control options that will allow cotton producers to avoid making a second diamide application too soon.

“In the meantime, use a pyrethroid plus acephate and try to knock down those high numbers in those areas,” Lorenz said. “These applications can knock down those moth populations.”

Arkansas cotton producers are at risk with these current bollworm numbers, and Lorenz is warning everyone to scout their fields.

“Be diligent because this is a very critical time for cotton and soybeans,” Lorenz said. “Scout and scout hard. In the immediate future we will continue to see the development of bollworm populations.”

Management options can be found at: https://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/mp144/mp144.pdf

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Delta f perss


Adam-Famoso-01-DFP-BRobb Brad Robb
Dr. Adam Famoso, talks to rice growers about the latest breeding efforts from the scientists and researchers at the LSU AgCenter in Rayne, La., during its recent rice field day.

New LSU rice breeding strategies include genetic markers

Dr. Adam Famoso provides insight into what growers are learning about Provisia Rice System during its first year of commercial availability.

Brad Robb | Jul 23, 2018

The LSU AgCenter has a long history of rice breeding success. At its recent field day at the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station in Rayne, La., area rice farmers heard the latest performance data on the Clearfield Rice Production System, the Provisia Rice System, and what growers can expect from both systems and their impact on the future U.S. rice production.

One presentation was given by Dr. Adam Famoso, who joined the staff of the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station in May 2015. Famoso is not only developing breeding strategies for the station, he is also carrying the breeding program into the next generation of breeding technology, including the use of genetic markers.

He has begun incorporating DNA marker-based selection by genotyping the rice varieties of the future through DNA analysis prior to the standard field testing. “We are working to build upon the strong breeding foundation in place at the LSU AgCenter by integrating molecular tools to accelerate the release of the best varietal lines for our growers,” says Famoso.

Breeding Traits

Famoso provided some insight into what growers are learning about Provisia Rice System — the first herbicide-tolerant system released since the Clearfield Production System was released 15 years ago — during its first year of commercial availability.

“It always takes a few steps in the breeding process to increase the performance of the new herbicide-resistant varieties when the technology is being incorporated from unadapted material, as we work to get them to the point where our adapted varieties are today,” says Famoso.

“We have to look for specific traits in thousands of lines and select for things such as maturity, height, and grain quality to increase a variety’s commercial value to a producer. That’s what had to be done with PVL01.”

Despite being a little lower yielding than the varieties released under the Clearfield designation, PVL01 is exhibiting some excellent qualities like low chalk and a nice long grain.

“Similar to the Clearfield varieties when they were first released, we expected a little yield drag,” adds Famoso. “After 10 years of breeding though, the Clearfield varieties are the highest-yielding on the market today.”

Another Provisia

Famoso and the rest of the scientists have been analyzing data from another Provisia line, PVL108. It has improved characteristics over PVL01 like better milling and yield.

“In addition to having very low chalk, PVL108 has shown a 10 percent yield advantage over PVL01 in three years of statewide testing,” says Famoso. “That is pretty significant.”

PVL108 is maturing a week earlier than PVL01 — a trait which Louisiana rice producers prefer, especially now that hurricane season has begun. “The earlier we can get a rice variety to mature, the less risk our growers will have to assume toward the end of the year,” says Famoso.

Although longer-maturing varieties typically yield more, in the balance of all things, farmers in the line of fire from hurricanes know earlier is better.

While PVL108 has some yield and earliness advantages, it is 2 inches taller than PVL01. Shorter plant height is preferred to reduce the risk of lodging. PVL108 also has a shorter grain than PVL01.

“One positive aspect of PVL01 is its long grain, although PVL108 is classified as a long grain variety, its grain length is slightly shorter than PVL01,” explains Famoso.

Seed increase

In the interests of time, efforts are under way to begin the necessary seed increase and purification for PVL108. “We started with a seed increase in Puerto Rico over the winter. We brought back 50 pounds of seed and planted it on 5 acres at 10 pounds an acre here at the research station,” explains Famoso.

“If we decide to move forward with this variety, we should have a good bit of seed available for seed production next year, and in producers’ fields for the 2020 growing season.”

Famoso knows the disease resistance in PVL108 is not as active as it is in CL153, but there are some materials currently in early-stage testing that are showing not only an improvement in yield, but also a much-improved resistance to blast.

“It’s our intention to release a new variety every two to three years that will chip away at some of the limitations we are seeing in these current Provisia varieties,” adds Famoso. “I’d like to see them perform up to the levels of the Clearfield varieties as quickly as possible.”

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Gene editing


Public Release: 

Gene editing just got easier

Baylor College of Medicine

IMAGE: Dr. David Marciano on the left, and Dr. Olivier Lichtarge. view more 

Credit: Baylor College of Medicine

An international team of researchers has made CRISPR technology more accessible and standardized by simplifying its complex implementation. The simpler, faster CRISPR, which is presented in the journal Nature Communications, offers a broad platform for off-the shelf genome engineering that may lower the barrier of entry for this powerful technology.

“CRISPR technologies can be programmed to target specific sequences of genetic code and to edit DNA at precise locations, thus allowing research scientists to permanently modify genes in living cells and model organisms to explore gene function in the laboratory, including genes associated with human disease,” said co-first author Dr. David Marciano, instructor in the Olivier Lichtarge laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine.

“These technologies permit a ribonucleoprotein complex to cleave DNA at a specific sequence that base-pairs with a guide RNA in the complex. Modularity of the nucleic acid/protein complex allows researchers to specify the guide RNA sequence to target nearly any sequence. This greatly improves researchers’ ability to edit DNA,” said co-first author Dr. Toon Swings, postdoctoral scientist in the Jan Michiels laboratory at VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology.

However, this approach presents some challenges, such as constraints on the sequences that can be targeted, the possibility of off-target effects and the requirement of a unique guide RNA for each target gene. Marciano, Swings and their colleagues established an international collaboration that led to a simple solution that circumvents all these issues.

“Toon and I had a set of projects in which we had to construct many mutations and guide RNAs for different genes in the bacterium E. coli. We realized we wouldn’t need a new guide RNA for each gene if we just targeted a universal sequence found in gene knockout collections. The sequence we targeted is found in many genetic collections of medically important bacteria and is even in some fruit fly collections,” Marciano said.

The researchers used a library of E. coli clones called the Keio collection. Each clone in this collection has had one gene replaced by a kanamycin resistance gene. The collection was made available in 2006 through an international collaboration between Keio University of Japan and Purdue University in the United States.

“We ended up repurposing this valuable resource by targeting the two FRT sites flanking the collection’s kanamycin cassette. This works out nicely because it gives you two cuts, which is harder to escape,” Swings said.

Their approach avoids some technical aspects of CRISPR and makes it available as an off-the-shelf ingredient for genetic engineering. It removes the need to design and clone a guide RNA and simplifies the strategy for constructing a rescue template. Also, the Keio collection can be found in laboratories across the globe and individual clones are available for a nominal fee from centralized genetic stock centers.

The new work also presents the broad utility of the approach by showing it is possible to target genes that are essential to life, to make a large collection of organisms with different mutations in a single chromosomal gene and to append new sequences onto a gene, all in the gene’s natural context. The method should complement existing techniques for genetic engineering of E. coli.

“Many model organisms, besides E. coli, have collections of gene replacements or insertions that could be targeted by a single guide RNA in a similar manner,” Swings said. “We hope our work provides a broad platform for a variety of genetic engineering approaches.”

“This is a nice example of the power of bacterial genetics. This is where CRISPR was first discovered, and now again, a different bacterial technology may make it even more useful,” said corresponding author Dr. Olivier Lichtarge, Cullen Chair of Molecular and Human Genetics, and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and of pharmacology Baylor College of Medicine. Lichtarge also is a member of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor.

“The developed platform based on CRISPR technology will be valuable to many researchers in microbiology allowing them to perform rapid single nucleotide editing of their genes of interest or to generate chromosomal mutant collections, one of the first steps in understanding gene function,” said corresponding author Dr. Jan Michiels, group leader at VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology and professor of biochemistry and molecular microbiology at the University of Leuven.


Other contributors to this work include Benu Atri, Rachel E. Bosserman, Chen Wang, Marlies Leysen, Camille Bonte, Thomas Schalck, Ian Furey, Bram Van den Bergh, Natalie Verstraeten, Peter J. Christie and Christophe Herman. The authors are affiliated with one or more of the following institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, VIB, University of Leuven and McGovern Medical School, Houston.

Financial support was provided by KU Leuven Research Council (PF/10/010, PDM/17/130, C1/17 3E170455), FWO (G047112N, G055517N, G0B2515N) and the VIB. Support also was provided by the National Institutes of Health (R01GM48746, R01GM088653, NIH-GM079656 and NIH-GM066099) and the National Science Foundation (NSF DBI-1356569).

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

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Study Says GM Potato Can Help Cut Pesticide Use by Up to 90%

Section: News from Around the World

A new study conducted by a team of scientists from Wageningen University & Research and Teagasc, the Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority reveals that a potato variety genetically engineered to resist potato blight can help reduce the use of chemical fungicides by up to 90 percent. The approach uses two tools: a genetically modified (GM) potato along with a new pest management strategy.

Potato blight, caused by the water mold Phytophthora infestans, causes significant losses to potato farmers worldwide. Farmers resort to spraying their crops with fungicides on a weekly basis to control the disease.

The international team of scientists developed the IPM2.0 approach which involves growing blight-resistant potato crops and monitoring an active pathogen population and a “do not spray unless” fungicide use strategy. This strategy means farmers will not apply fungicides unless a potato variety is at risk by a pathogen. The team tested their strategy over several years in potato-growing countries Ireland and the Netherlands using three potato varieties: a susceptible variety called Désirée, resistant variety Sarpo Mira, and a resistant version of the Désirée which received a resistance gene from a wild relative through cisgenesis.

The susceptible potato variety and the two resistant ones were cultivated comparing common practice, with fungicides applied on a weekly basis, and the IPM2.0 method. The IPM2.0 strategy on the susceptible variety Désirée, resulted in an average reduction of 15% on the fungicide input. Both resistant varieties, however, remained healthy with an average 80 to 90% reduction of the fungicide input.

For more details, read the Wageningen University & Research News.

Argentine Scientists Develop Non-Browning Potatoes Using CRISPR

Section: New Breeding Technologies

Researchers from the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA) Balcarce in Argentina were able to modify the gene that causes browning in potatoes.

According to Sergio Feingold, director of INTA’s Agrobiotechnology Laboratory, using CRISPR-Cas9 they were able to generate a gene editing machinery within a potato cell that specifically targets the chosen gene and changes its genetic sequence. They focused on the polyphenol oxidase gene, which causes browning in potatoes when they are cut and exposed to air.

“This achievement is the basis of new breeding techniques that allow us to do the same thing that was done for years through conventional breeding, but more quickly and accurately,” Feingold said.

Read the original post (in Spanish) at the INTA website.

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From PestNet

Previously Unknown Rice Blast Resistance Isolated

By Sharon Durham
May 23, 2018

A never-before-described gene that gives rice resistance to a disease that has been costing about $66 billion a year in global damage has been isolated by a team of scientists led by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant pathologist Yulin Jia.

Rice blast, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae, results in annual yield losses large enough to have fed 60 billion people each year, according to the team’s paper just published in the journal Nature Communications.

In the United States’ mid-south rice-growing region, the cost of mitigating rice blast infection with fungicide applications can reach almost $20 per acre; plus, the fungus may still cause significant yield loss depending on the susceptibility of each rice variety and the degree of infection at the time of fungicide application, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service.

Amazingly, Ptr, the disease resistance gene Jia and his team found, has a structure that has not been seen in plants before. It has been previously deployed unknowingly in blast-resistant rice cultivars because it has been tightly linked to another disease resistance gene, Pi-ta, which has a genetic structure that is well-described in scientific literature.

Ptr has essentially been living in the shadow of Pi-ta.. “Our research was able to separate the two genes and demonstrate that Ptr is independently responsible for its own broad-spectrum blast resistance without Pi-ta,” says Jia. “This will provide a new strategy for developing blast-resistant rice cultivars.” The full genomic sequence of the Ptr gene was put into GenBank for use by public researchers worldwide.

Jia, along with his colleagues Haijun Zhao, Melissa H. Jia and Jeremy D. Edwards, is with the ARS Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Other contributors include Xueyan Wang and Yeshi Wamishe at the University of Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center (Stuttgart, Arkansas); Bastian Minkenberg, Matthew Wheatly and Yinong Yang at the Pennsylvania State University (University Park, Pennsylvania); Jiangbo Fan and Guo-Liang Wang at the Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio); Adam Famoso at Louisiana State University (Rayne, Louisiana); and Barbara Valent at Kansas State University (Manhattan, Kansas).

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 $20 of economic impact.

This is one of the news reports that ARS Office of Communications distributes to subscribers on weekdays.
Send feedback and questions to the ARS News Service at NewsService@ars.usda.gov.



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