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Technology to address pest infestation in cowpea as Ghana progresses in GMOs

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Ghana is progressing steadily with the introduction of Genetically Modified Cowpea. Known locally as beans, scientists at the Agricultural Research Institute at Nyankpala in the Savannah Region, have completed work on a technology to address the huge pest infestation of the crop.

A dossier to that effect has been gazetted by the National Biosafety Authority. The document contains a request by the Researchers to environmentally release and market the beans. Joyce Gyekye reports that scientists at the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute, SARI of the CSIR have been conducting trials for the introduction of a gene into the black-eye beans that is mostly destroyed by a pest called Maruca.

To reduce the pest infestation, farmers spray the plant about eight times before harvesting. This comes with a cost to them as well as health and environmental issues.

Realising this, Ghana, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso agreed to an introduction of a gene that stops about 80% of the destruction of the beans. The decade journey by the researchers has been completed and the dossier gazetted by the National Biosafety Authority; a body set up to regulate the safe use, handling, and transportation of GMOs in Ghana.

Dr. Jerry Nboyine is the Principal Investigator of GM Cowpea. He expressed optimism about the project. He also said there had been subsequent laboratory works by participating countries.

He clears the misconception about seed control by multinational biotech companies spread by anti-GM groups.

The Chief Executive Officer of the NBA, Eric Okoree, says the notice of dossier is for the relevant comments from the public within 60 days.

Nigeria released its GM Cowpea on the market about two years ago.

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Silencing horizontally transferred genes for the control of the whitefly Bemisia tabaci

Intracellular symbiosis impacts many aspects of insect biology, and disruption of these symbioses is a novel insect-pest-control strategy. Horizontally transferred genes (HTGs) are critical for insect-intracellular symbiont association, representing candidate molecular targets for symbiosis disruption.

However, few studies have tested this in the laboratory and under field conditions. Biotin and lysine HTGs are involved in Bemisia tabaci MEAM1 symbiosis persistence. In this study, we showed that whitefly biotin and lysine genes can be silenced by the tobacco rattle virus (TRV), a tobravirus. Then, we demonstrated that the vector 2mDNA1, an engineered begomovirus transmitted by B. tabaci, was effective for silencing B. tabaci MED HTGs in the laboratory. The 2mDNA1-silencing biotin HTGs reduced levels of biotin, as well as survival, fecundity, and population increases of whiteflies. The 2mDNA1-silencing biotin HTGs did not impact the titers of symbionts in F0 whiteflies but decreased the titers of symbiont Portiera in F2 whiteflies. The 2mDNA1-silencing lysine HTG reduced levels of lysine, titers of Portiera in both F0 and F2 whiteflies as well as the survival, fecundity, and population increases of whiteflies.

The 2mDNA1-mediated silencing of whitefly genes is horizontally transmitted among whiteflies, enhancing the effectiveness of gene silencing. We further revealed that the vector 2mDNA1 can be used to silence whitefly HTGs and inhibit whitefly performance in the greenhouse. This study demonstrates that repressing the expression of insect HTGs through a modified virus is feasible for the control of phloem-feeding insect pests.

Read the complete research at www.researchgate.net.

Wang, Tian-Yu & Luan, Jun-Bo. (2022). Silencing horizontally transferred genes for the control of the whitefly Bemisia tabaci. Journal of Pest Science. 10.1007/s10340-022-01492-6. 

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South Africa should rethink regulations on genetically modified plants

February 15, 2022 9.12am EST

Authors

  1. James R LloydAssociate Professor, Stellenbosch University
  2. Dave BergerProfessor in Molecular Plant Pathology, University of Pretoria
  3. Priyen PillaySenior Researcher, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research

Disclosure statement

James R Lloyd receives funding from the National Research Foundation, South Africa.

Dave Berger receives funding from the National Research Foundation, South Africa and The Maize Trust, South Africa.

Dr Priyen Pillay receives funding from the National Research Foundation, South Africa and the Department of Science & Innovation, South Africa.

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New technologies can bolster the production of important crops to feed billions of people. Shutterstock

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Food security is a global priority – and it is becoming more urgent in the face of climate change, which is already affecting crop productivity. One way to improve food security is to increase crop yields.

But this is not easy. Research has shown that in the past two decades plant breeders have been unable to increase yields of staple crops at the rate at which the world’s population is growing.

New technologies are needed to achieve this rate. Over the past decade several novel technologies have been developed. These are known as New Breeding Techniques and have the potential to hugely help in growing efforts.

Genome editing is one such technique. It allows the precise editing of genomes – that is, the genetic information an organism contains. Scientists worldwide have embraced the technology. And countries that adopted New Breeding Techniques early have seen a significant increase in the development of locally relevant products. Current crops under development include ones resistant to specific diseases and insect pests, that are healthier to eat or which are tolerant of drought or heat stress.

How The Conversation is different: All our authors are experts.

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Both small, micro and medium enterprises and the public sector in these countries have been involved in developing and using genome edited crops. This should translate to improved economic growth and employment opportunities.


Read more: What is CRISPR, the gene editing technology that won the Chemistry Nobel prize?


Whatever approach a country chooses, it must be underpinned by regulation. This ensures a framework for the introduction of new products that benefit consumers and stimulate the bio-economy in a sustainable manner.

South Africa’s authorities have taken what we think is an unfortunate approach to regulating genome-edited plants. In October 2021 the government classified genome-edited plants as genetically modified crops. This is based on its interpretation of the definition of a genetically modified organism in a 25-year-old piece of legislation rather than on recent science-based risk analysis considerations.

As experts in plant biotechnology we fear that this regulatory approach will greatly inhibit the development of improved crops for South African farmers. It will place an unnecessary regulatory burden on bio-innovators. This will discourage local investment for in-house research and development, as well as projects in the public sector. Local entrepreneurs who aim to enhance local crops’ climate resilience or to develop speciality products for niche markets through genome editing will be thwarted by the need to raise disproportionate funding to fulfil current regulations.

A technological timeline

Crop plants are improved by generating genetic variation that leads to beneficial traits. Plant breeders traditionally achieved this by crossing different varieties of the same plant species. These approaches alter many genes; the result is that traditionally-bred plants contain both advantageous and deleterious traits. Removing disadvantageous traits before the crop can be commercialised is a costly, time-consuming process.

In the 1980s, transgenic genetic modification technologies were developed. These rely on pieces of DNA from one species being integrated into the genome of a crop. Such genetically modified (GM) plants are highly regulated internationally. In South Africa the legislation governing these plants came into force in 1999. The use of GM technology in South Africa – and other countries – has been highly successful.

For example, it has led to South Africa doubling maize productivity, making it a net exporter of this commodity. This contributes to food security and also generates foreign income, which reduces the country’s trade deficit.

But the regulations governing GM plants are onerous: only large agricultural biotechnology companies have the resources to commercialise them. This is done to the eliminate risk that GM plants containing new DNA are harmful for health or to the environment.

Because of this, all GM plants licensed for commercial use in South Africa come from a small number of international companies. Not a single locally developed product has been commercialised during the past three decades, despite South Africa being an early adopter of the technology. This hampers the development of novel crops and the improvement of traditional crops, especially for emerging and subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

That’s why newer tools like genome editing are so exciting. They can be used to introduce genetic variation for crop improvement in a fraction of the time it would take using conventional methods. Some forms of genome editing are transgenic in nature, while others aren’t because they don’t involve the insertion of foreign DNA into a plant.

This approach mimics the effect of traditional plant breeding, but in a highly targeted manner so that only advantageous traits are introduced. For example, genome editing is being used to produce peanuts, soybean and wheat that do not produce allergens.

It’s working well. Despite the technology only being available for a decade, some crops produced using genome editing are already on the market in some countries, including soybean and tomatoes which are healthier for human consumption.

A proposed regulatory approach

Regulatory authorities around the world have taken either a process- or a product-based approach to regulating GM crop safety. A process-based approach examines how the crop was produced; a product-based approach examines the risks and benefits of the GM crop on a case-by-case basis.

We believe that a product-based approach makes most sense. This is because a process-based approach could lead to the strange situation where two identical plants are governed by very different regulations, just because they were produced by different methods. The added regulatory burden imposed by this approach will also hamper innovation in developing new crops.

Our approach would mean that any plant with extra DNA inserted into the genome would be governed as a GM plant. Plants with no extra DNA added and that are indistinguishable from conventionally bred organisms should be regulated like a conventionally produced crop.

This is the most rational way to regulate these different types of organisms, as it adheres to the principles of science-based risk analysis and good governance.

Many countries, among them ArgentinaChinaJapanthe USAustraliaBrazil and Nigeria, have taken this approach.

Science-based risk analysis should return to the heart of regulation: concrete risk thresholds should define regulatory triggers.

T

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Are Scientists Being Fooled by Bacteria? New Machine Learning Algorithm Reveals the Truth About DNA

TOPICS:CancerDNAGeneticsMachine LearningMount Sinai Health SystemMount Sinai HospitalMount Sinai School Of MedicinePopular

By THE MOUNT SINAI HOSPITAL / MOUNT SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE FEBRUARY 3, 2022

DNA Genetics

Previous studies of a genetic on/off switch may have been confounded by contamination, but Mount Sinai scientists have created a new tool for accurately determining whether it plays a role in human disease.

For decades, a small group of cutting-edge medical researchers have been studying a biochemical, DNA tagging system, which switches genes on or off. Many have studied it in bacteria and now some have seen signs of it in, plants, flies, and even human brain tumors. However, according to a new study by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, there may be a hitch: much of the evidence of its presence in higher organisms may be due to bacterial contamination, which was difficult to spot using current experimental methods.

To address this, the scientists created a tailor-made gene sequencing method that relies on a new machine learning algorithm to accurately measure the source and levels of tagged DNA. This helped them distinguish bacterial DNA from that of human and other non-bacterial cells. While the results published in Science supported the idea that this system may occur naturally in non-bacterial cells, the levels were much lower than some previous studies reported and were easily skewed by bacterial contamination or current experimental methods. Experiments on human brain cancer cells produced similar results.

“Pushing the boundaries of medical research can be challenging. Sometimes the ideas are so novel that we have to rethink the experimental methods we use to test them out,” said Gang Fang, PhD, Associate Professor of Genetics and Genomic Sciences at Icahn Mount Sinai. “In this study, we developed a new method for effectively measuring this DNA mark in a wide variety of species and cell types. We hope this will help scientists uncover the many roles these processes may play in evolution and human disease.”

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai developed an advanced method for determining whether cells may use an obscure DNA tagging system for turning genes on or off. Credit: Courtesy of Do lab, Mount Sinai, N.Y., N.Y.

The study focused on DNA adenine methylation, a biochemical reaction which attaches a chemical, called a methyl group, to an adenine, one of the four building block molecules used to construct lengthy DNA strands and encode genes. This can “epigenetically” activate or silence genes without actually altering DNA sequences. For instance, it is known that adenine methylation plays a critical role in how some bacteria defend themselves against viruses.

For decades, scientists thought that adenine methylation strictly happened in bacteria whereas human and other non-bacterial cells relied on the methylation of a different building block—cytosine—to regulate genes. Then, starting around 2015, this view changed. Scientists spotted high levels of adenine methylation in plant, fly, mouse, and human cells, suggesting a wider role for the reaction throughout evolution.

However, the scientists who performed these initial experiments faced difficult trade-offs. Some used techniques that can precisely measure adenine methylation levels from any cell type but do not have the capacity to identify which cell each piece of DNA came from, while others relied on methods that can spot methylation in different cell types but may overestimate reaction levels.

In this study, Dr. Fang’s team developed a method called 6mASCOPE which overcomes these trade-offs. In it, DNA is extracted from a sample of tissue or cells and chopped up into short strands by proteins called enzymes. The strands are placed into microscopic wells and treated with enzymes that make new copies of each strand. An advanced sequencing machine then measures in real time the rate at which each nucleotide building block is added to a new strand. Methylated adenines slightly delay this process. The results are then fed into a machine learning algorithm which the researchers trained to estimate methylation levels from the sequencing data.

“The DNA sequences allowed us to identify which cells—human or bacterial—methylation occurred in while the machine learning model quantified the levels of methylation in each species separately,” said Dr. Fang,

Initial experiments on simple, single-cell organisms, such as green algae, suggested that the 6mASCOPE method was effective in that it could detect differences between two organisms that both had high levels of adenine methylation.

The method also appeared to be effective at quantifying adenine methylation in complex organisms. For example, previous studies had suggested that high levels of methylation may play a role in the early growth of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and of the flowering weed Arabidopsis thaliana. In this study, the researchers found that these high levels of methylation were mostly the result of contaminating bacterial DNA. In reality, the fly and the plant DNA from these experiments only had trace amounts of methylation.

Likewise, experiments on human cells suggested that methylation occurs at very low levels in both healthy and disease conditions. Immune cell DNA obtained from patient blood samples had only trace amounts of methylation.

Similar results were also seen with DNA isolated from glioblastoma brain tumor samples. This result was different than a previous study, which reported much higher levels of adenine methylation in tumor cells. However, as the authors note, more research may be needed to determine how much of this discrepancy may be due to differences in tumor subtypes as well as other potential sources of methylation.

Finally, the researchers found that plasmid DNA, a tool that scientists use regularly to manipulate genes, may be contaminated with high levels of methylation that originated from bacteria, suggesting this DNA could be a source of contamination in future experiments.

“Our results show that the manner in which adenine methylation is measured can have profound effects on the result of an experiment. We do not mean to exclude the possibility that some human tissues or disease subtypes may have highly abundant DNA adenine methylation, but we do hope 6mASCOPE will help scientists fully investigate this issue by excluding the bias from bacterial contamination,” said Dr. Gang. “To help with this we have made the 6mASCOPE analysis software and a detailed operating manual widely available to other researchers.”

Reference: “Critical assessment of DNA adenine methylation in eukaryotes using quantitative deconvolution” by Yimeng Kong, Lei Cao, Gintaras Deikus, Yu Fan, Edward A. Mead, Weiyi Lai, Yizhou Zhang, Raymund Yong, Robert Sebra, Hailin Wang, Xue-Song Zhang and Gang Fang, 3 February 2022, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.abe7489

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (GM139655, HG011095, AG071291); the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology; the Irma T. Hirschl/Monique Weill-Caulier Trust; the Nash Family Foundation; and the Department of Scientific Computing at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Methods validation using Mass Spectrometry was supported by the collaborators at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDPB2004) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (22021003).

We recommend

  1. Most “Pathogenic” Genetic Variants Have a Low Risk of Actually Causing DiseaseMike ONeill, SciTechDaily, 2022
  2. Tangles in DNA Strands Can Help Predict Evolution of MutationsMike ONeill, SciTechDaily, 2021
  3. MIT Researchers Devised a Way To Program Memories Into Bacterial Cells by Rewriting Their DNAMike ONeill, SciTechDaily, 2021
  4. Mount Sinai Scientists: Potentially Serious Side Effect Seen in Patient After ImmunotherapyMike ONeill, SciTechDaily, 2021
  5. New Approach to Gene Therapy: Prime Editing System Inserts Entire Genes in Human CellsMike ONeill, SciTechDaily, 2021
  1. When genome editing goes off-targetHannah R. Kempton et al., Science, 2019
  2. Bacterial DNA MutationsShelby Watford et al., StatPearls, 2020
  3. Autism Sequencing Study Uncovers New Disease-Associated Genes, Functional Cluesstaff reporter, GenomeWeb, 2020
  4. The adenine methylation debateKonstantinos Boulias et al., Science, 2022
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Biotechnology is a powerful tool of science to feed the future – Dar

02/02/2022 | 03:39am EST

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Author: DA Communications Group | 2 February 2022

This was highlighted by Agriculture Secretary William Dar in his opening remarks during the Healthier Rice Project Team and Advisory Committee (HRAC) Meeting held on February 2, 2022.

“The stance of the Department of Agriculture (DA) is clear: biotechnology is a pillar of our ‘OneDA approach’ to ensuring agricultural productivity, sustainability, economic growth, and nutritional security,” Dar said.

The secretary added that the biosafety approval of Golden Rice for commercial propagation firmly cements the Philippines ‘ leadership in agriculture biotechnology in the ASEAN region.

According to the agri chief, the Department welcomes its role as they pioneer the deployment and commercialization of the first rice variety of genetically modified (GM) for nutritional improvement.

He added that DA will be needing capacity assistance and funding resources to move their basic knowledge’s from institutions such as International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to strategic research partners.

This year, the DA-Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) will map out programs for the massive production of Golden Rice seeds and production of Golden Rice in its pioneer provinces. Initially, DA-PhilRice will bring Golden Rice to the vitamin A-deficient provinces.

“On the policy front, the National Seed Industry Council (NSIC) has adopted a unified policy for the varietal registration of all genetically modified crops, which paves the way for a streamlined deployment timeline for Golden Rice,” Dar said.

DA as a member of the National Nutrition Council will pursue the inclusion of Golden Rice as one of the recommended interventions in the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition, which currently includes the study of biofortification in its revised research agenda.

“On the research and development front, we have poured extensive resources into the new facilities of the Crop Biotechnology Center in DA-PhilRice, where the Golden Rice Program office and other ongoing biotech crop research activities will be housed,” Dar said.

The secretary was among the first to taste the Golden Rice when it was launched in September 2021.

“I am convinced that Filipino farmers and consumers can be persuaded to make it a part of their livelihoods and regular diets and that its success will inspire a generation of Filipino youth to explore careers in the agricultural sciences,” he said.

Keen on involving the young Filipinos in various fields of food production, Dar explained that the Department continues to pursue programs to entice youth into venturing careers in agriculture, specifically in biotechnology.

“The achievements made by the Philippines exemplified by the biosafety approvals for Golden Rice as well as Bt eggplant hopefully will inspire more young Filipinos to pursue this field because we need more biotechnologists, scientists to help us drive the agriculture and fisheries sector towards modernization and industrialization,” Dar said stressing that he is looking forward for further collaboration with the healthier rice project team and advisory committee.

“The bigger challenge for us is to allay fears, share the science, and build capacity through knowledge dissemination and extension work. For this, the Golden Rice Program can rely on our vast network of agricultural officers and extension workers at the regional, provincial, down to the municipal level to help our target communities accept, access, and adopt Golden Rice,” he said.

Apart from the commercialization of Golden Rice, the agri chief also urged the committee to participate in addressing other problems affecting nutrition security such as the development of low glycemic rice and enhancing the capacity of rice farmers in the food systems approach.

The HRAC is created by IRRI and is composed of representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and various experts from the areas of plant secondary metabolism, GM crop development, regulatory affairs, human nutrition, marketing, and product development. ### (Kristel Merle, DA-AFID)

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Department of Agriculture of the Republic of the Philippines published this content on 02 February 2022 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 02 February 2022 08:38:03 UTC.

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Transforming tomatoes with molecular biotechnology

James Duduit, a Horticultural Science doctoral student, utilizes molecular biotechnology to transform tomatoes and improve the crop’s resistance to bacterial wilt and other common pathogens. Molecular biotechnology has many crop applications and is seen as a critical area of research because it increases the speed at which new varieties are developed.

Originally from Anderson, South Carolina, James Duduit studied Biology at Anderson University, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude, before attending NC State for his master of horticultural science degree. It was Wusheng Liu’s expertise in molecular biotechnology and translational genomics that convinced Duduit to stay and advance his doctoral degree.

James Duduit’s research efforts were recently awarded by U.S. Department of Education Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Program with a fellowship at NC State.

What brought you to NC State?
NC State seemed to have the broadest opportunities available for what I was interested in. The personnel with their diversity of expertise and experiences here has proven invaluable to my growth as an academic and scientist.

What are you doing now in research? What’s next?
My main focus right now is in trying to find a broadly applicable solution for the broad damage caused by bacterial wilt, especially in tomatoes. Using molecular biotechnology approaches, we hope that this economically devastating pathogen can be better mitigated. Another project that we are working on is related to a unique transformational technology for tomato and sweetpotato in order to increase the breeding speed with which new varieties can be developed. Our lab prioritizes biotechnological approaches to a broad diversity of horticulturally-relevant plants to overcome current challenges in pathogen/disease resistance, crop yield, transformation efficiency, and many other imposing but rewarding tasks.

How are you transforming challenges into opportunities?
Research is always a problem-solving process with unlimited challenges, but opportunities always naturally arise from these situations. I hope to critically think about each option and roadblock when performing experiments so that I can learn and make innovative and informative decisions throughout all of my actions. In addition, open communication with members of my lab and in the department allows a diversity of perspectives to be heard for more robust strategies to be employed.

What impact do you hope to have with your research?
My goal is to continue pushing the edge of our understanding in plant molecular biotechnology so that more enabling tools and choices can be developed for the betterment of growers and consumers. I hope that my work with tomato and sweetpotatoes can speed up cultivar development times to ultimately lead to cheaper and better products for consumers. And with my work in tomatoes, that the dangerous bacterial wilt disease can be better mitigated so that growers around the world can be benefited.

For more information:
North Carolina State University
www.ncsu.edu 

Publication date: Wed 26 Jan 2022

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‘Eating is believing’: How Nigerian consumers are taking to new GMO cowpeas

Joseph Maina | Farmers Review Africa | January 28, 2022

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Akara, a kind of bean fritter made from cowpea. Credit: Ronke Edoho/9jafoodie
Akara, a kind of bean fritter made from cowpea. Credit: Ronke Edoho/9jafoodie

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.

“I’ve tasted the akara GMO,” [All Farmers Association of Nigeria Chairman Otunba Oke Babafemi] exclaimed at the inaugural Eating is Believing event held recently in Ikeja, Lagos State, Nigeria. “It is nice, sweet and so delicious!”

The “Eating is Believing” campaign is an initiative of Nigeria’s National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the Foreign Agricultural Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The initiative seeks to increase consumption and boost the demand of GM cowpea.

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So delighted was Babafemi after tasting the akara made with GMO cowpea that he now wants to serve this meal to Nigerian farmers at all their future conventions, ensuring that as many palates as possible partake in the savor. As an African proverb says, one who eats alone cannot discuss the taste of the food with others.

“Whatever the time we are having a meeting, we should always prepare that cowpea akara, at least for everybody to enjoy it,” he said, while exuding confidence that there will be greater acceptance and adoption of the cowpea among the country’s farmers.

The crop is already finding great acceptance among farmers, with demand for the seeds quickly outstripping supply.

This is an excerpt. Read the original post here. 

The GLP Needs Your Help

It is easier than ever for advocacy groups to spread disinformation on pressing science issues, such as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. No, vaccines are not harmful. Yes, the use of biotechnology, GMOs or gene editing to develop antigens for treatments including vaccines are 

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The tomatoes at the forefront of a food revolution Share using EmailShare on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Linkedin(Image credit: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

BBC

More than 180 million tons of tomatoes are produced globally each year, but the crop is sensitive to changes in the climate (Credit: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

By Marta Zaraska8th December 2021As global temperatures increase and extreme weather events become more common, can gene editing help to tweak our food plants so they can cope with the changes?A

At first glance, it looked like any other plant that can be found growing in the corners of offices or on the windowsills of university laboratories. But this particular tomato plant, grown in 2018 at the University of Minnesota, was different. The bushy tangle of elongated leaves and small red fruits were characteristic of a wild species of tomato plant native to Peru and Ecuador called Solanum pimpinellifolium, also known as the red currant tomato. A closer inspection, however, made the plant’s uniqueness more apparent.

This particular plant was more compact, with fewer branches but more fruits than the wild tomato. Its fruits were also a little darker than was usual, a sign of increased lycopene – an antioxidant linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart disease. It had, in fact, been designed that way.

The plant was created by geneticist Tomas Cermak and his colleagues with the use of Crispr gene editing, a Nobel Prize-winning technology which works like a “cut and paste” tool for genetic material. The technique is now revolutionising agriculture and helping create crops for the future.ADVERTISEMENT

Cermak himself is on a mission to find a perfect tomato, one that would be easy to cultivate, nutritious and tasty, yet more adaptable to a changing climate. “The ideal plant would be resistant to all forms of stress — heat, cold, salt and drought, as well as to pests,” he says.

Climate change spells trouble for many crops, and tomatoes are no exception. Tomatoes don’t like heat, growing best between 18C (64F) and 25C (77F). Cross either side of that threshold and things start going downhill: pollen doesn’t form properly, the flowers don’t form into berries in the way they should. Once the mercury goes over 35C (95F), yields begin to collapse. A 2020 study showed that by mid-21st Century up to 66% of land in California historically used for growing tomatoes may no longer have temperatures appropriate for the crop. Other modelling studies suggest that by 2050 large swaths of land in Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa, India and Indonesia will also no longer have optimal climate for cultivation of tomatoes.

Story continues belowSolanum pimpinellifolium is a wild tomato found in Peru and Ecuador which bears fruit the size of currants (Credit: Alamy)

Solanum pimpinellifolium is a wild tomato found in Peru and Ecuador which bears fruit the size of currants (Credit: Alamy)

Of course, as average temperatures rise, other, previously too chilly regions, may become tomato-friendly. Yet observations in Italy show that weather extremes are something to consider, too. The 2019 growing season in northern Italy was marred by hail, strong winds, unusually high rainfall, and both exceptional frost and exceptional heat. The result was stressed tomato plants and poor harvests.

And there is more. Water scarcity, which forces farmers to use lower quality irrigation water, often containing salt, leads to increases in soil salinity – something commercial tomato cultivars don’t like. Higher ozone levels, meanwhile, make tomatoes more susceptible to diseases such as bacterial leaf spot.

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That’s all troubling, especially considering that tomatoes are currently the largest horticultural crop in the world – humanity produces 182 million tons of the fruit every year, equivalent to the weight of almost 32 Great Pyramids of Giza. What’s more, our appetites for tomatoes are growing fast – over the last 15 years global production of tomatoes rose by more than 30%.

Besides being humanity’s favourite fruit, tomatoes also happen to be a model crop: they are fast to grow, easy to breed and relatively simple to manipulate on a genetic level. “There is more funding available for research than there is for other plant species to develop resources like genome sequences, genetic engineering, and gene editing for tomato,” says Joyce Van Eck, plant geneticist at the Boyce Thompson Institute in New York. Taken together, this makes tomatoes perfect for study of novel gene editing technologies such as Crispr, which could bring us many climate-adaptive crops in the near future.

Once the climate-smart genes such as these are identified, they can be targeted using Crispr to delete certain unwanted genes, to tune others or insert new ones

Crispr is a molecular toolbox scientists have repurposed from bacteria – when bacteria are attacked by viruses, they capture and cut the viral DNA to prevent the aggressor from being able to replicate and so fight it off. In use in plants since 2013, Crispr now allows researchers to modify genome with extreme precision and accuracy to obtain traits they desire. You can insert genes, delete them, and create targeted mutations. In non-human animals Crispr is being used for the study of human disease models, for improving livestock, and could even potentially be used to resurrecting extinct species. In plants, it can help create better, tastier, more nutritious and more resistant crops.

The first step is finding the right genes to target. “We need to identify the genes responsible or involved in being able to withstand abiotic and biotic stress because otherwise we cannot alter, modify or knock them out by using gene editing,” says Richard Visser, plant geneticist at Wageningen University, the Netherlands.

Domesticating crops, tomatoes included, has led to a huge loss of genetic diversity. Modern commercial cultivars may be fast to grow and easy to harvest, but genetically speaking they are plain vanilla. Just four highly homogenised crops – soybeans, rice, wheat and corn – dominate global agriculture, accounting for more than half of all the world’s agricultural land.

In contrast, their wild cousins – as well as so-called landraces (traditional varieties adapted to specific locations) – are a treasure box of genetic diversity. This is why scientists now search this genetic pool to identify traits that can be reintroduced into commercial plants – a process much helped by fast-dropping costs of DNA-sequencing technologies.As climate change alters rainfall patterns, new varieties of drought resistant crops will be needed in areas that struggle with water shortages (Credit: Janos Chiala/Getty Images)

As climate change alters rainfall patterns, new varieties of drought resistant crops will be needed in areas that struggle with water shortages (Credit: Janos Chiala/Getty Images)

One 2021 study looked at the genome of Solanum sitiens – a wild tomato species which grows in the extremely harsh environment of the Atacama Desert in Chile, and can be found at altitudes as high as 3,300m (10,826ft). The study identified several genes related to drought-resistance in Solanum sitiens, including one aptly named YUCCA7 (yucca are draught-resistant shrubs and trees popular as houseplants).

They are far from the only genes that could be used to give the humble tomato a boost. In 2020 Chinese and American scientists performed a genome-wide association study of 369 tomato cultivars, breeding lines and landraces, and pinpointed a gene called SlHAK20 as crucial for salt tolerance.

Once the climate-smart genes such as these are identified, they can be targeted using Crispr to delete certain unwanted genes, to tune others or insert new ones. This has recently been done with salt tolerance, resistance to various tomato pathogens, and even to create dwarf plants which could withstand strong winds (another side effect of climate change). However, scientists such as Cermak go even further and start at the roots – they are using Crispr to domesticate wild plant species from scratch, “de novo” in science speak. Not only can they achieve in a single generation what previously took thousands of years, but also with a much greater precision.

De novo domestication of Solanum pimpinellifolium was how Cermak and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota arrived at their 2018 plant. They targeted five genes in the wild species to obtain a tomato that would be still resistant to various stresses, yet more adapted to modern commercial farming – more compact for easier mechanical harvesting, for example. The new plant also had larger fruits than the wild original.

“The size and weight was about double,” Cermak says. Yet this still wasn’t the ideal tomato he strives to obtain – for that more work needs to be done. “By adding additional genes, we could make the fruit even bigger and more abundant, increase the amount of sugar to improve taste, and the concentration of antioxidants, vitamin C and other nutrients,” he says. And, of course, resistance to various forms of stress, from heat and pests to draught and salinity.Some scientists believe that Crispr's ability to accurately edit the traits of plants could usher in a new green revolution (Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Some scientists believe that Crispr’s ability to accurately edit the traits of plants could usher in a new green revolution (Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

De novo domestication could also make orphan crops more attractive. These are plants that are grown on a limited scale, but have a great potential to help food security. Groundcherry, a wild cousin of tomatoes which produces subtly sweet berries, is one such crop that has been recently domesticated with Crispr technology. In the near future, de novo domestication could bring crops as cowpea, sorghum and teff — all cereals native to Africa – to a far wider audience around the world. Crispr is also now being used to improve various other plants, from bananas and grapes to rice and cucumbers.

Some scientists believe that Crispr gene-editing marks the beginning of the second green revolution to help feed the fast-growing human population. Yet although the technology does hold a great promise for crop improvement, it’s “not a miracle potion”, Visser says. There are still technical hurdles to address.

“Efficiency of editing can be a problem in some crop species,” Van Eck says. As opposed to diploid plants like tomato (which have paired chromosomes), those that have more than two paired sets of chromosomes (known as polyploid, like wheat), are much harder to work on. “You basically have more copies of a gene in polyploids that need to be affected by Crispr than in a diploid,” Van Eck adds.Scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of the Crispr-Cas9 genetic scissors (Credit: Reuters/Eloy Alonso/Alamy)

Scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of the Crispr-Cas9 genetic scissors (Credit: Reuters/Eloy Alonso/Alamy)

Regulation and social acceptance are also an issue. Crispr modified plants can be “transgene-free” – meaning that unlike traditional genetically modified (GM) crops, those created by Crispr technology do not contain DNA from a different species (ie transgenic) – that’s because the technology either involves simply deleting genes, or may involve inserting genes from a different varieties of the same species (as is being done with tomatoes).

Yet, the few existing studies on acceptance of Crispr-edited food products show a mixed picture. In a cross-country survey conducted in USA, Canada, Belgium, France and Australia, people perceived Crispr-edited and GM food similarly. However, in a 2020 Canadian study, consumers were more willing to accept Crispr-edited foods.

And then, there is the law. Although in 2016 Crispr-edited mushrooms fell into a legal loophole in the US and escaped regulation, Europe’s highest court decided in 2018 that gene-edited crops should be subject to the same stringent regulations that govern conventional GM organisms.

For Cermak’s climate-smart “ideal tomato”, such legal hurdles paired with consumer hesitance, could prove a major obstacle.

* This article was updated on 7 January 2022 to change Joyce Van Eck’s affiliation from Cornell University to the Boyce Thompson Institute, where she is primarily based.

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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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