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Archive for the ‘Biotechnology’ Category

CRISPR is on the cusp of revolutionizing food and farming. Here is a global regulatory primer

Kyle DiamantasOlga BezzubovaPatricia Campbell | JD Supra | August 26, 2022

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Credit: Varsity
Credit: Varsity

The ability to edit eukaryotic DNA entails an almost limitless ability to alter the genetic makeup of the plants that become our food. Recently, scientific attention has been directed to applying a class of new gene-editing techniques that utilize CRISPR to food crops for the introduction of commercially desirable traits. Gene-edited crops can have a positive impact on food productivity, quality, and environmental sustainability, and CRISPR is unique in its relative simplicity, robust flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and wide scope of use.

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In general, the EU subjects agricultural products edited with CRISPR technology to the full suite of genetically modified organism (“GMO”) premarket approval, safety, and labeling requirements.

In contrast to the EU approach, the United States does not currently regulate CRISPR-edited agricultural products as GMOs. The United States regulates biotechnology and genetic modification in food through a “Coordinated Framework” between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), and Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”).

The regulation of CRISPR-edited agriculture is continuing to develop across the world, with notably different approaches and outcomes. While the European Union expressly considers CRISPR-edited agriculture to be “genetically modified” and subject to associated regulations, the United States generally does not currently consider CRISPR-edited agriculture to be “genetically modified.”

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omeCropsCotton Cotton gene-editing project aims to make plant more insect resistant

Cotton gene-editing project aims to make plant more insect resistant

Shelley E. Huguleybanner- swfp-shelley-huguley-eddie-eric-smith-jdcs770-20.jpg

Texas A&M AgriLife, USDA and Cotton Incorporated collaborate on the research project.

Farm Press Staff | Aug 24, 2022

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Scieintists in the Texas A&M Department of Entomology have received a matching grant of almost $150,000 to conduct a three-year project to research novel pest management tools for cotton production. If successful, the project, Modifying Terpene Biosynthesis in Cotton to Enhance Insect Resistance Using a Transgene-free CRISPR/CAS9 Approach, could provide positive cost-benefit results that ripple through the economy and environment.

The project goal is to silence genes in cotton that produce monoterpenes, chemicals that produce an odor pest insects home in on, said Greg Sword, Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist, Regents professor and Charles R. Parencia Endowed chair in the Department of Entomology. By removing odors that pests associate with a good place to feed and reproduce, scientists believe they can reduce infestations, which will in turn reduce pesticide use and improve profitability.

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Research to improve a plant’s ability to tolerate or resist pest insects and diseases via breeding programs is nothing new, Sword said. But editing genomes in plants and pest insects is a relatively new and rapidly advancing methodology.

swfp-shelley-huguley-sam-stanley-cotton-drip-22.jpgA gene-editing project aims to expose and exploit simple but key ecological interactions between plants and insects that could help protect the plant. This is Sam Stanley’s 2022 drip-irrigated cotton near Levelland, Texas. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)

Sequencing genomes of interest and using the gene-editing tool CRISPR have become increasingly viable ways to identify and influence plant or animal characteristics. 

However, using gene-editing technology to remove a characteristic to make plants more resistant to pests is novel, Sword said. The research could be the genesis for a giant leap in new methodologies designed to protect plants from insects and other threats. 

Sword’s gene-editing project aims to expose and exploit simple but key ecological interactions between plants and insects that could help protect the plant.

“Insects are perpetually evolving resistance to whatever we throw at them,” Sword said. “So, it’s important that our tools continue to evolve.”

The matching grant is from both the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, NIFA, and the Cotton Board, a commodity group that represents thousands of growers across Texas and the U.S. The grant totals $294,000.

Critical seed funding 

Sword is collaborating with Anjel Helms, chemical ecologist and assistant professor in the Department of Entomology; Michael Thomson, AgriLife Research geneticist in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and the Crop Genome Editing Laboratory; and graduate student Mason Clark.

This research team is working on a project that was “seeded” by Cotton Incorporated, the industry’s not-for-profit company that supports research, marketing and promotion of cotton and cotton products.

The seed money allowed the AgriLife Research team to create a graduate position for Clark and produce preliminary data that laid the foundation for the NIFA grant proposal, Sword said. In addition, the terpene research is part of larger and parallel projects that began with direct support from Cotton Incorporated.    

“Cotton Incorporated’s support has been absolutely critical to jumpstart the project from the beginning,” he said. “From a scientific standpoint, industry support and collaboration are vital to project success, whether that’s leveraging money for research or identifying, focusing on and solving a problem, which actually helps producers.”

Industry collaborations strengthen the impact

Texas cotton production represents a $2.4 billion contribution to the state’s gross domestic product. From 2019 to 2021, Texas cotton producers averaged 6.2 million bales of cotton on 4.6 million harvested acres, generating $2.1 billion in production value. The Texas cotton industry supports more than 40,000 jobs statewide and $1.55 billion in annual labor income.

Research like Sword’s is augmented and sometimes directly funded by commodity groups representing producers and related industries.

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Projects supported by the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated run the gamut of production, including reducing plant water demands, increasing pest and disease resistance, and improving seed and fiber quality. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)

Jeffrey W. Savell, vice chancellor and dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences, said collaborative projects help research dollars make the greatest impact for producers. Texas A&M AgriLife’s relationships with commodity groups that represent producers can jumpstart groundbreaking work and help established programs maintain forward momentum.

“Cotton Incorporated is one of our long-time partners, and that collaboration has made an enormous impact on individuals, farming operations, communities and the state,” Savell said. “This project is just one example of how we can do more by engaging with the producers we serve.”

The Cotton Board’s research investment

Bill Gillon, president and CEO of the Cotton Board, said projects supported by the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated have run the gamut of production, including reducing plant water demands, increasing pest and disease resistance, and improving seed and fiber quality.

Cotton Incorporated scientists typically identify a need or a vulnerability and create and prioritize topics for potential projects. These projects are developed in coordination with agricultural research programs that will either be directly funded by the group or could be submitted to funding agencies for competitive grants. The Cotton Board reviews project proposals and approves them for submission to NIFA for competitive grant dollars.

The Cotton Board’s Cotton Research and Promotion Program has generated more than $4 million in competitive cotton research grants from NIFA over the past three years, Gillon said. When coupled with $1.35 million from the Cotton Board, the program has generated $5.4 million in agricultural research funding for projects critical to improving productivity and sustainability for upland cotton growers in the U.S.

Gillon said funding-match grants represent a collaborative investment that maximizes financial support for science, ultimately impacting growers and local economies throughout Texas and the Cotton Belt.

swfp-shelley-huguley-21-cotton-harvest-sunset-vert.jpgPublic-private strategic support for research emphasizing sustainable practices across the agricultural spectrum has far-reaching benefits, says Phillip Kaufman, head of the Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)

“We value our long-standing relationship with Texas A&M and other institutions across the Cotton Belt because the work would not be done without their expertise,” he said. “We certainly view this as a partnership and want to support their land-grant mission and help researchers maintain their capabilities, programs and labs that continue to produce results critical for cotton producers and agricultural production.” 

Industry buy-in 

Phillip Kaufman, head of the Department of Entomology, said an overarching goal for his department is addressing relevant topics or concerns, from public health to agricultural production. Whether research meets the immediate needs of producers or lays the foundation for breakthroughs in coming decades, many agricultural research projects’ relevance is guided by producer input.

Industry buy-in is critical to entomology research, he said. Topics relevant to commodities, in this case, cotton, and the public’s interest, in this case, NIFA, is a good representation of how the land-grant mission delivers for producers but can also ripple through communities, the economy and the environment.

Kaufman said public-private strategic support for research emphasizing sustainable practices across the agricultural spectrum has far-reaching benefits.

“This grant project is a good example of how cotton producers, the gins and other elements of their industry effectively tax themselves to fund campaigns and research that adds value to what they produce,” he said. “It also shows the motivation from a public dollar perspective to invest in research focused on providing pest control methods that reduce chemical use.”

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Disease-resistant GM cassava promises to be game-changer for Kenya

BY JOSEPH MAINA

AUGUST 15, 2022

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At the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) center in Mtwapa, Kenya, scientist Paul Kuria uproots two sets of cassava tubers exposed to the devastating cassava brown streak disease (CBSD).

One of the plants is a conventional cassava variety that has no immunity to the disease. The second has been genetically modified (GM) to resist the disease. Kuria punctiliously slices each of the tubers open, and the difference between the two is stark — like night and day.

The conventional tuber looks emaciated and is punctured with brownish, unsavory spots dotting the entire circumference of its flesh. The GM tuber, on the other hand, is the picture of good health. Its skin is flawless and firm, and its flesh has an impeccable, white lustre.

CBSD is considered one of the world’s most dangerous plant diseases due to its significant impact on food and economic security. Cassava varieties that are resistant to the disease could considerably improve the crop’s ability to feed Africa while generating income for smallholder farmers.

In severe cases, the disease can lead to 100 percent yield loss. As noted by KALRO and its partners, cassava resistant to CBSD is in high demand by farmers where the crop is grown.

Meeting that demand has been an elusive target for plant breeders. But through modern biotechnology, a collaborative effort known as the VIRCA project has developed CBSD-resistant cassava line 4046. It has the potential to prevent 90 percent of crop damage, thus improving the yield and marketability of cassava roots.

“We used genetic engineering and produced an improved cassava,” Professor Douglas Miano, the lead scientist in the project, told journalists and farmers who toured the KALRO grounds in Mtwapa in early August.

“It’s the first GM cassava in the world, and Kenya is leading in this production,” Miano said.

The VIRCA (Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa) project was conceived in 2005 with the aim of solving the viral diseases that suppress cassava yields and reduce farmer incomes in East Africa. It brings together KALRO, the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre (DDPSC) in the United States.

“We have two main diseases affecting cassava production — CBSD and cassava mosaic disease,” Miano explained. “Cassava mosaic disease affects the leaves of the crop. The net effect is a reduction in the amount of cassava that is produced. CBSD, on the other hand, destroys the roots and affects the tuber.”

Scientists Paul Kuria displays GM disease-resistant cassava (left) vs cassava infected with CBSD. Photo: Joseph Maina

Dr. Catherine Taracha, a Kenyan who is on the project’s leadership team, said that plant viruses create a huge challenge for farmers.

“Cassava productivity is significantly hampered by viral diseases, and so we sought to develop a cassava line that would resist the viruses and thereby improve farmers’ livelihoods by boosting productivity and earnings from the crop,” Taracha said.

Because the line is yet to be approved for commercial release, the work is being carried out in regulated confined field trial conditions. If and when Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority approves line 4046 for the market, the new CBSD-resistant varieties would undergo normal government variety assessment and registration by regulators before being distributed to farmers.

The scientists further assure that CBSD-resistant cassava varieties are no different than their conventional equivalents — aside from their ability to resist CBSD.

“Due to the ability to resist CBSD, these varieties will be more productive with better quantity and quality of root yields,” Miano said.. “This will translate to greater demand and more profits for farmers.”

In addition, CBSD-resistant cassava line 4046 will produce disease-free planting material and thereby contribute to long-term sustainability of the cassava crop.

There will be no technology fee associated with line 4046, scientists say, implying that cassava stakes and cuttings will cost about the same as other highly valued cassava varieties.

Cuttings from CBSD-resistant cassava can be replanted in the same way farmers replant conventional cassava. They can also be grown with other crops because cultivation practices are the same as for conventional varieties.

The developers have further assured that CBSD-resistant cassava line is safe for the environment and biodiversity.

“We have developed the GM cassava up to the point where we have conducted all the safety studies and demonstrated that it is safe as food, feed and to the environment,” Miano said.

The general public and key stakeholders have been involved in the project, and it is anticipated that farmers and communities will be involved in selecting the best CBSD-resistant cassava varieties for their needs.

Cassava roots and leaves are the nutritionally valuable parts of the plant. The tuber is rich in gluten-free carbohydrates while the leaves provide vitamins A and C, minerals and protein. In addition to its nourishing properties, stakeholders have also identified cassava’s potential to spur Kenya’s industrial growth.

“Cassava is an important food crop, but we can also use it to industrialize in Kenya,” Miano asserted. “However, we have not yet been able to achieve this as a country.”

Miano identified starch as a potential cassava product that the country can leverage to advance its industrial growth. It is also projected that the improved cassava can protect farmers from devastating losses of this important food crop and contribute to the creation of thousands of jobs along the value chain due to the crop’s use as animal feed.

The scientists note that modern biotechnology is by far the best option to incorporate CBSD resistance in cassava cultivars carrying farmer-preferred characteristics. Similar approaches have been used to confer resistance to plant viruses and have been authorized by regulatory bodies around the world, including virus-resistant pawpaw, squash and beans.

Image: Scientist Paul Kuria displays cassava infected with cassava brown streak disease (left) and a GM variety that resists the devastating disease. Photo: Joseph Maina


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Study: How GMOs and crop gene editing can increase genetic diversity and help contain climate change

Helen CurrySarah Garland | PLOS Biology | August 3, 2022

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Credit: kwest via Shutterstock
Credit: kwest via Shutterstock

As climate change increasingly threatens agricultural production, expanding genetic diversity in crops is an important strategy for climate resilience in many agricultural contexts. In this Essay, we explore the potential of crop biotechnology to contribute to this diversification, especially in industrialized systems, by using historical perspectives to frame the current dialogue surrounding recent innovations in gene editing. We unearth comments about the possibility of enhancing crop diversity made by ambitious scientists in the early days of recombinant DNA and follow the implementation of this technology, which has not generated the diversification some anticipated.

We then turn to recent claims about the promise of gene editing tools with respect to this same goal. We encourage researchers and other stakeholders to engage in activities beyond the laboratory if they hope to see what is technologically possible translated into practice at this critical point in agricultural transformation.

A new hope: Gene editing for crop diversity

Leading plant scientists today praise innovative gene editing techniques as game-changing methods destined to fulfill aspirations for expanding crop genetic diversity through biotechnology. This fanfare sounds familiar, as scientists throughout the history of crop breeding have heralded various innovations in similar ways, most recently with the expectation that recombinant DNA would create paradigm-shifting possibilities. What, if anything, is different about the potential of gene editing technologies with respect to genetic diversity?

Gene editing …  offers opportunities to radically rethink the breeding process in ways that enhance genetic diversity by “restarting” crop domestication. Crop domestication relies upon a combination of spontaneously occurring genetic mutations and artificial selection by humans. In wild rice, for example, grains shatter in order to widely disperse the seed. During rice domestication, a mutation arose that caused non-shattering grains, a trait beneficial for early agricultural societies and therefore selected for cultivation. Rice wild relatives today carry beneficial traits like adaptation to diverse growth environments but their grains still shatter.

…Using biotechnology to expand crop genetic diversity will also require that researchers understand the many junctures in crop variety development and dissemination, especially those linked to seed commercialization, that work against such expansion. Addressing these obstacles will involve addressing issues as varied as farmer seed choice, seed certification processes, and international intellectual property regimes. It will require engaging with and developing further interdisciplinary and participatory research efforts to map infrastructural obstacles and to indicate actions that different stakeholders can take to facilitate genetic diversification.

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THIS GENETICALLY MODIFIED RICE COULD TRANSFORM THE GLOBAL FOOD SUPPLY

Copying one key gene could help feed hundreds of millions of people worldwide facing nutritional deficiencies.

JOANNA THOMPSON

8.3.2022 2:30 PM

GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS are a hot-button issue. Many people are hesitant to eat plants or animals that have been enhanced with foreign genes, citing health and environmental concerns, the perceived “ick” factor, and occasionally conspiratorial thinking.

But GMO foods have the potential to feed the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who are undernourished. Given the benefits of tinkering with our meals’ genomes, a new study published in Science could offer a helpful compromise: a way to improve the yields of a crucial crop without adding genes from different organisms.

“Rice is one of the most important crops because it is a staple food for almost half of the world’s population,” Wenbin Zhou, a geneticist at the National Key Research and Development Program of China and co-author of the study, tells Inverse.

By duplicating one key gene, a team of researchers in China has successfully engineered a strain of agricultural rice that yields up to 40 percent more grain per plot compared to controls. If widely adopted, this breakthrough technique has the potential to feed magnitudes more people with fewer resources — but only if consumers and regulatory bodies are willing to give the transgenic dish a chance.

HERE’S THE BACKGROUND — Unfortunately, our beloved rice is a particularly resource-intensive crop. It requires lots of land and water to grow, and rice yields could decline about 40 percent by 2100 due to intensifying climate change. That’s why it’s quickly becoming necessary to increase yields of rice, along with other staple crops that are at risk.

Despite its growing utility, chowing down on genetically modified rice doesn’t appeal to everyone. In fact, it has sparked heated debate for decades. For example, you may have heard of golden rice, one of the first commercial GMO crops. It was developed in the 1990s to help supplement vitamin A intake in areas of the world where dietary sources of the nutrient are rare. The scientists behind golden rice inserted a gene found in daffodils, along with a gene from a type of soil bacterium, into the genome of a common domestic rice variety.

A 2022 protest against genetically modified foods, which also have the potential to feed millions wo...
Genetically modified crops produced by massive corporations like Monsanto have sparked protests around the world, like this May 2022 demonstration in La Paz, Bolivia.picture alliance/picture alliance/Getty Images

Many anti-GMO groups (and members of the general public) couldn’t stomach the idea of eating what they considered “Frankenfood.” Concerns ranged from the entirely reasonable, such as unforeseen environmental impacts and corporate sketchiness, to the outlandish, like government mind control.

The issue came to a boil in the mid-2010s when environmental group Greenpeace accused scientists conducting safety studies on the rice of using children as “guinea pigs.” In the wake of the scandal, the scientists involved were promptly fired by the Chinese government. Golden rice finally received FDA approval in 2018, but remains unapproved in many countries facing major food insecurity and vitamin A deficiency, including Bangladesh and India.

But breeding new types of rice isn’t very helpful, since it has only been shown to improve yield by about 1 percent each year. So in order to keep pace with climate change and global population growth, scientists like Zhou are turning to genetic engineering.

WHAT’S NEW — To create their new strain of super-rice, Zhou’s team first examined a pool of 118 rice genes associated with growth in the plants. “We mainly focused on the genes that [are] induced by or respond to both nitrogen and light simultaneously,” Zhou says.

The researchers pinpointed 13 genes that activated when the plants were grown in nitrogen-depleted soil and five that were associated with increased nitrogen uptake. Then they inserted an extra copy of one of these key nitrogen-boosting genes, known as OsDREB1C, into the plant’s genome. Finally, they sprouted these rice plants alongside unmodified rice and rice with the OsDREB1C gene suppressed.

A field of rice, a staple crop worldwide that is often genetically modified to increase yields.
Unlike golden rice and other more traditional genetically modified crops, this new variety does not incorporate genes from other organisms.ViewStock/View Stock/Getty Images

As it turned out, the plants with the additional copy of OsDREB1C produced grains that were both bigger in size and more abundant compared with their unmodified and knock-out counterparts. “We were surprised and excited about that,” says Zhou. What’s more, the rice plants had significantly more chloroplasts, allowing them to convert more sunlight into sugar during photosynthesis. However, when it comes to transgenic foods, it isn’t enough to simply engineer a heartier or healthier crop; you also have to convince people to eat it.

WHAT’S NEXT — The authors of the new study hope that their transgenic rice won’t cause quite such a commotion. For one thing, unlike golden rice, “what we introduced is the original gene from the rice’s own genome,” says Zhou. Instead of borrowing a gene from another organism, the researchers simply sent one of the plant’s growth-promoting genes into overdrive by duplicating it — this happens all the time in nature.

Plus, the new rice was engineered from a rice variety that is already commonly grown outside the lab, bred with flavor and texture in mind. This recent research effectively acts as a proof-of-concept, demonstrating that the specific gene edit works outside of laboratory rice strains. And the scientists suspect that same modification could have similar yield-boosting effects in other staple crops, including wheat, which forms the basis of about a third of the world’s diet.

I

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GENERAL NEWS

Biotech will mitigate food insecurity – OFAB

Published 4 days ago

on July 4, 2022

By NNN 

 Open Forum on Agricultural bio technology Nigeria OFAB an International Organisation has urged Nigerians to embrace bio technology to mitigate issues around climate change and ensure food security in the country Dr Rose Gidado Country Director OFAB Nigeria said this at the sideline of the science hangout organised by the Alliance for Science Nigeria ASN on Monday hellip

Open Forum on Agricultural bio-technology, Nigeria (OFAB), an International Organisation, has urged Nigerians to embrace bio-technology to mitigate issues around climate change and ensure food security in the country.

Dr Rose Gidado, Country Director, OFAB Nigeria, said this at the sideline of the science hangout, organised by the Alliance for Science Nigeria (ASN) on Monday in Abuja.

She said the meeting was to discuss “the status of genetically modified food” and how best to deploy bio-technology to ensure food security in Nigeria.

Gidado explained that conventional Agriculture might be failing due to a lot of reasons related to climate change, including incessant high rise in temperature, gully erosion and desert encroachment.

“Also, we have other environmental reasons why conventional agriculture is failing; the oil spillage, insecurities on our farms and a lot more.

“Bio-technology has been adopted in Nigeria, a seed launch was held last year in Kano and farmers are testifying to greater yields and one of the economic benefits is 20 per cent yields increase per hectare.

“With the use of this technology, we are saving Nigeria N16 billion, which is normally used to import cowpeas; these crops undergo rigorous testing, making them safer for consumption compared to organic crops,” she added.

According to her, what makes genetic modification unique is its flexibility to adopt desired genes from donor plants and input into a crop aimed at improving given best desired results and helping also with resistance in certain crops.

Also, Prof. Hamzat Lawal, , Follow The Money, said that although GM- crops were facing issues around conspiracy theories, there were data and evidences to show that the technologies were straightforward science.

“Six million people in Nigeria go to bed hungry on a daily basis; the issue of food insecurity is at a critical stage globally.

“That’s why the bio-technology innovation is here to stay; it is an intervention that will save us from food shortage in the country.

“Until now, there were debates around climate change too; people will naturally reject what they don’t know because there is no trust yet which is only expected.

“The best we can do is to educate the public and carry out more sensitisation on this technology that will change a lot of things and ensure we eat safer food,” he added.

NewsSourceCredit: NAN

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7 provinces to produce ‘golden’ rice

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By Franz R. Sumangil

May 27, 2022

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THE Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) has chosen Maguindanao province as one of the seven areas in the country and the first in Southern Mindanao to sow “Golden Rice.”

The agency made the announcement during a meeting with rice stakeholders in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in Cotabato City last Wednesday.

Dr. Ronan Zagado, program leader of Golden Rice, said Maguindanao will be one of the seven provinces in the country chosen to produce Golden Rice this year.

Zagado said they have chosen Maguindanao because it has one of the highest cases of stunting among infants and children ages five years and below.

He also said that once there is enough supply of Golden Rice, Maguindanao will be the first province to reap its health benefits.

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Zagado added that two hectares of land will be dedicated to the production of Golden Rice in the province with the help of BARMM’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Reform.

Golden Rice is one of the newest kinds of rice produced through modern biotechnology wherein its nutritional benefits are enhanced.

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Ronan Zagado Mindanao Department of Agriculture Philippine Rice Research Institute Cotabato city Ministry of Agriculture

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What role can genetics play in ‘designing’ more sustainable crops, livestock and trees?

Rodolphe Barrangou | National Academy of Engineering | July 1, 2022

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Plants, animals and microbes can be improved with gene editing. Credit: Carys-ink
Plants, animals and microbes can be improved with gene editing. Credit: Carys-ink

The ability to engineer genomes and tinker with DNA sequences with unprecedented ease, speed, and scale is inspiring breeders of all biological entities. Genome engineers have deployed CRISPR tools in species from viruses and bacteria to plants and trees (whose genome can be 10 times larger than the human genome), including species used in food and agriculture (Zhu et al. 2020).

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Starting small, bacteria used in food fermentations have had their genomes enhanced to optimize their functional attributes linked to the flavor and texture of fermented dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. The fact that CRISPR-Cas systems provide adaptive immunity against viruses in dairy bacteria led to the commercial launch, more than a decade ago, of bacterial starter cultures with enhanced phage immunity in industrial settings. Most fermented dairy products are now manufactured using CRISPR-enhanced starter cultures. Since then, a variety of bacteria, yeast, and fungi (figure 2) involved in the manufacturing of bioproducts has also been CRISPR enhanced to yield commercial products such as enzymes, detergents, and dietary supplements.

Moving along the farm-to-fork spectrum, most commercial crops—from corn, soy, wheat, and rice to fruits and vegetables—have had their genomes altered (figure 2). Genome engineering is used to increase yield (e.g., meristem size, grain weight) and improve quality (e.g., starch and gluten content), pest resistance (e.g., to bacteria, fungi, viruses), and environmental resilience (e.g., to drought, heat, frost). For instance, nonbrowning mushrooms with extended shelf life can be generated, and tomatoes with increased amounts of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) to enhance brain health have been commercialized. In addition, efforts are underway to enhance nutritional value.

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Credit: NAE

Livestock breeders have joined the fray, with genome engineering of main farm species such as swine (leaner bacon), poultry (CRISPR chicken), and cattle (for both meat and dairy). Swine have also been edited with a viral receptor knockout to prevent porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome; the approach is being evaluated for regulatory approval (Burkard et al. 2017). Breeding applications include hornless cows (for more humane treatment), resistance to infectious disease (tuberculosis in cattle), and removal of viral sequences in the genome of elite commercial livestock,[1] notably swine. The CRISPR zoo also encompasses genetically diverse species—fish (tiger-puffer and red sea bream), cats (efforts are underway to develop hypoallergenic variants), and even butterflies (wing pattern)—illustrating the ability to deploy this technology broadly.

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Viewpoint: ‘Win-win for food security’ — Why Uganda needs both biotechnology and agroecology to feed itself as climate change roils farming

Henry Lutaaya | Sunrise | June 30, 2022

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Credit: Wendy Stone/Corbis via Getty Images
Credit: Wendy Stone/Corbis via Getty Images

Over the past decade or so, many ordinary farmers especially in developing countries including Uganda, have been thrown into a polarizing debate about what steps to take to achieve food security in a hotter and more populous world.

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On the one hand, is a group that has advocated for the adoption of modern agricultural technologies such biotechnology that involves use of biology to solve environmental stresses such as pests, or develop useful products such as vitamin-rich bananas.

On the other hand, another group that has come to be known as the agroecology movement, comprising mostly the civil society and movements of smallholder farmers, has gained momentum in recent years by opposing industrial farming as characterized by consistent use of improved seed, mechanization, and use of chemical fertilizer. Instead, they have advocated for use of saved seed, organic fertilizer, diversity in food and decentralized marketing.

There is increasing realization that intensification and use of modern tools such as biotechnology and agro-ecology are not conflicting targets. Indeed, both approaches can reinforce each other in a mutually supportive way to achieve food and nutrition security.

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How is Rwanda faring in agricultural bio-technology?

Michel NkurunzizaBy 

Michel NkurunzizaPublished : June 28, 2022 | Updated : June 29, 2022

Agricultural experts are making a case for adopting agricultural biotechnology as crop production remains insufficient for both local consumption and exportation yet Rwanda’s economy relies on agriculture.

Plant or agricultural biotechnology bio-technology can be defined as the use of tissue culture and genetic engineering techniques to produce genetically modified plants that exhibit new or improved desirable characteristics.

Bio-technology has helped to make both insect pest control and weed management safer and easier while safeguarding crops against devastating diseases.

According to the recent publication “Plant biotechnology: A key tool to improve crop production in Rwanda” published in African Journal of Biotechnology by  Leonce Dusengemungu, Clement Igiraneza and Sonia Uwimbabazi, intensive and appealing discussions about agriculture economic importance, production of improved crops and the use of all necessary resources to ameliorate agricultural production need more attention.

Agricultural experts are making a case for adopting agricultural biotechnology as crop production remains insufficient for both local consumption and exportation yet Rwanda’s economy relies on agriculture. Photo: Sam Ngendahimana.

The study aimed at gathering the information on Rwanda’s agriculture based on different research reports and Rwandan’s government established policies to identify constraints to agricultural production faced by farmers and applicability of plant biotechnology.

“Rwanda as any other Sub-Saharan African countries are in need of free-disease plantlets for highly cultivated crops and to achieve this, plant biotechnology holds the key to high agricultural productivity.

Use of plant biotechnology has to be highly considered as a means to solve some agri-related problems since its benefits can speed up the economy and stimulate the research processes,” they said.

According to the researchers, Rwanda’s farming suffers shortage of quality planting materials due to few production companies or organizations of good quality seeds.

“It is desirable for farmers to use quality seeds that are of high value that can benefit them. That is why more proper seed storage units, tissue culture production units and other possible alternative methods to increase the number of quality planting materials are needed,” they said.

The trio said that the use of biotechnology tools to protect seed distributed among farmers, biological control agents and testing varieties of seed identity and purity before their distribution are primary tools that can benefit African farmers.

“In this context, it is recommended for developing African countries to start thinking about pursuing gene transfer to breed-disease and introduction of pest resistant varieties in order to meet the future food’s needs,” they recommended.

The modern agriculture biotechnology, they said, is needed as the conventional agricultural research does not keep an equal distribution between the high demand of food and the supply chain.

Despite the difficulties in sharing information between scientists across the country, they said, the information gathered about the current status of plant biotechnology in Rwanda from some researchers in Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) have reported the use of tissue culture: in vitro cultivation of cash crops like banana, coffee, potato, sweet potato, pineapple, passion fruit, Tamarillo also known as a tree tomato.

“Several private companies have also initiated in vitro production of crops including bananas. The effort made still does not provide enough for the high demand of plantlets from the farmers. Disseminating resistant varieties produced using plant breeding technology is highly recommended since most of the varieties that are brought from abroad sometimes fail to adapt,” the trio suggested.

They suggest more research is needed to identify and use suitable domestic breeding techniques for popular varieties in the country, and this should be widespread to other crops since the only crops receiving research attention are common beans, bananas, cassava and sweet potatoes.

Plant biotechnology status in Rwanda

Rwanda’s plant biotechnology is mostly dominated by tissue culture of medicinal plants and micro-propagation of disease-free food crops mainly bananas, potato, sweet potato and cassava.

“To ensure food security, appropriate measures to increase the capacity of plant biotechnology should be a priority,” they said.

Tissue culture practiced in Rwanda is one of the techniques that is believed can solve agriculture production problems because it has so many advantages, one of them being the high multiplication of plantlets in a short time and space.

The plants produced with tissue culture techniques are also known to be free of viruses and other diseases; thus, are all with high survival rate in the field.

In Rwanda, University of Rwanda (UR), Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), INES-Ruhengeri, FAIM.CO are all among the few organizations that have undertaken the biotechnology programme, and it has been a few years now, but the impact of that program on Rwandan people’s livelihood is still debatable.

“Further, it is mainly because the research that is conducted does not initiate the production of affordable products that can reduce the need of costly agrochemicals and deleterious effects of diseases and weeds thus promoting agricultural productivity,” they said.

Considering the potential benefit that plant biotechnology holds, it should be considered in the framework of the agricultural sector at large perceiving scientific, technical, regulatory, socio-economic and political evolution, they recommended.

It will be very wise to allocate necessary funds for experimentation and research of applicability of modern biotechnology programs: tissue culture, genetic engineering, use of GM crops, use of plant molecular markers especially in developing countries since the demand to apply that technology will always be high, and the future of agriculture will definitely depend on modern plant biotechnology, the study further says.

Janvier Karangwa, the Marketing and Communication Specialist at Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board told Doing Business that , “  in Rwanda, biotechnology is used in breeding, rapid cleaning plant material multiplication via tissue culture technology, diseases diagnosis and surveillance management.”

Will GMOs be adopted in Rwanda?

The reason why farmers in most developed countries have adopted the use of GM crops is because they have seen a very positive income.

According to researchers adopting GM crops will come with a lot of tangible benefits cutting down the number of herbicides, fungicides and other chemicals to control pests.

However, Juliet Kabera, the Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) recently said that the institution is closely working with Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) to ensure that any biotechnology that is used is safe.

“We are the authority to handle biotechnology after Rwanda ratified Cartagena protocol to ensure bio-safety,” she said.

She said that Rwanda has designed a bio-safety strategy to ensure Rwandans are conscious.

“In the strategy we now have a draft of law on biosafety which is going to be discussed in the cabinet and later on in the parliament. We are establishing laboratories and raising awareness to be able to know what we are doing on the market especially when it comes to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs),” she said.

According to RAB, to fight Potato late blight disease, a new variety of Irish potatoes, produced through biotechnology, which will not require using agro-chemicals could soon be imported and tried in Rwanda.

According to researchers, in order to revolutionise the plant biotechnology industry in Rwanda and Africa as a whole, initiatives to build strong long-term policies to promote this technology starting by training individuals and increasing the scientific capacities and infrastructures that specialise in plant biotechnology should be recommended.

“Rwandan government should reinforce its current agricultural policies: documenting the available plant breeds by increasing the number of community gene bank and installing proper research units in the whole country, renovating and improving the current plant breeding techniques and training the new generation of plant breeders, limiting the use of agrochemicals to protect the environment,” they suggest.

Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) was recently launched in Rwanda with the aim of promoting biotechnology.

OFAB, a project of African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to officials, the experiences and practices in the field of biotechnology will be shared in the countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Nigeria.

OFAB is a partnership platform in Africa that contributes to creation of an enabling environment for biotechnology research, development, and deployment for the benefit of smallholder farmers in Africa.

It aims to contribute to informing policy decision making processes on matters of agricultural biotechnology through the provision of factual, well researched and scientific information.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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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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