Archive for the ‘Biotechnology’ Category

Identifying ToBRFV and ToMV using CRISPR/Cas

CRISPR/Cas12a-based detection is a novel approach for the efficient, sequence-specific identification of viruses. In new research,  CRISPR/Cas12a is used to identify the tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV), a new and emerging tobamovirus that is causing substantial damage to the global tomato industry.

Specific CRISPR RNAs (crRNAs) were designed to detect either ToBRFV or the closely related tomato mosaic virus (ToMV). This technology enabled the differential detection of ToBRFV and ToMV.

Sensitivity assays revealed that viruses can be detected from 15–30 ng of RT-PCR product, and that specific detection could be achieved from a mix of ToMV and ToBRFV.

“In addition, we show that this method can enable the identification of ToBRFV in samples collected from commercial greenhouses. These results demonstrate a new method for species-specific detection of tobamoviruses,” the researchers explain. “A future combination of this approach with isothermal amplification could provide a platform for efficient and user-friendly ways to distinguish between closely related strains and resistance-breaking pathogens.” 

Read the complete research here.

Alon, Dan & Hak, Hagit & Bornstein, Menachem & Pines, Gur & Spiegelman, Ziv. (2021). Differential Detection of the Tobamoviruses Tomato Mosaic Virus (ToMV) and Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV) Using CRISPR-Cas12a. Plants. 10. 1256. 10.3390/plants10061256. 

Publication date: Fri 25 Jun 2021

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International collaboration receives regulatory approval of cassava brown streak disease resistant cassava in Kenya

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St. Louis, Missouri, USA
June 23, 2021

The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has received approval from the Kenyan National Biosafety Authority (NBA) for environmental release of cassava that is resistant to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). The approval paves the way for conducting national performance trials (NPTs), the final step of testing new varieties before they can be registered and released to farmers.

The disease-resistant cassava was developed under the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa Plus (VIRCA Plus) project, an international collaboration between the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) in Uganda, the Rwandan Agriculture Board (RAB), Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, MO.

In parallel with the NPTs, the VIRCA Plus team is working to multiply, deliver and steward the improved varieties to Kenyan farmers once they are registered and fully approved by regulatory authorities.

Through a decision document dated June18, 2021, the NBA Board approved the application following necessary review in accordance with the country’s Biosafety Act. The researchers used modern biotechnology to introduce a small part of two viruses that cause CBSD into the cassava plant to make it resistant. The process used augments a naturally occurring plant defense mechanism against viruses. The improved cassava was evaluated over a period of five years, in confined field trials (CFTs) in six different locations in Kenya and Uganda, and showed high and stable defense against CBSD, a disease that can result in up to 100 percent loss of usable storage roots in severe infection.

According to NBA’s Chief Executive Officer, Prof. Dorington Ogoyi, the decision was arrived at following a rigorous and thorough review, taking into account food, feed, and environmental safety assessment as well as consideration of socio-economic issues. The review process also factored public comments for 30 days, in line with the Kenyan constitution that calls for public participation.

“This is a welcome decision and a significant step to getting disease-resistant cassava into the hands of Kenyan farmers for addressing food security challenges,” said KALRO Director General Dr. Eliud Kireger. “We thank the NBA and all those who participated in the review for their diligent consideration of the application.”

More details about next steps of the project will be coming soon.

About VIRCA Plus
VIRCA Plus, a multi-institutional project working to improve resistance to viruses that cause cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and to increase levels of iron and zinc in the storage roots, the edible part of the plant. VIRCA Plus collaborates with research scientists, regulatory experts and communication specialists with the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Rwanda. For more information please visit, cassavaplus.org.

More news from:
    . Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
    . Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro)


Published: June 23, 2021

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Bt Cotton adoption in Punjab has resulted in net economic, environmental benefits: Study

Vikas VasudevaCHANDIGARH, JUNE 21, 2021 19:34 ISTUPDATED: JUNE 22, 2021 15:52 IST

Yields have stabilised after its commercialisation, says expert

Amid the perpetual debate surrounding Bt cotton’s positive and negative impacts, a recent study titled — ‘Long-term impact of Bt cotton: An empirical evidence from North India’ — has said its adoption in Punjab in the past over a decade has resulted in net economic and environmental benefits.

Also read: Comment | The flawed spin to India’s cotton story

The research was funded by the Agricultural Extension Division of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research under extramural project “Impact evaluation of integrated pest management technologies”. The study was jointly done by the Punjab Agricultural University at Ludhiana, the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology in Jammu (SKUAST) and the Noida-based Amity University, and has been recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production Elsevier.

“Since the commercialisation of Bt cotton, there has been reduction in insecticide use by volume and applications, decline in environmental and human health impact associated with insecticide use, more so with the reduction in the use of highly hazardous and riskiest insecticides, and reduction in the expenses associated with insecticide use. Also, cotton yields in the past 13 years have been stable, the only exception being 2015. Yet over the past 13 years, pesticide use has gradually increased in Bt hybrids and reduced in non-Bt varieties, primarily driven by the use of fungicide, which was not applied in cotton in 2003 and 2004.

“Akin to the discovery of synthetic pesticides in the 1940s, which was proclaimed as ‘silver bullet technology’ by entomologists, the complete reliance on Bt cotton without incorporating it into the integrated pest management (IPM) system led to outbreak of whitefly in northern India and pink bollworm in western India in 2015; thus, resistance to Bt cotton is yet to become a significant problem. Compatibility of Bt with IPM is not a given when we have weaker institutional setting with ad hoc IPM system and the contrarian view that Bt cotton has been a failure in India, in this case Punjab, lacks empirical evidence,” professor Rajinder Peshin of SKUAST told The Hindu.

Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton has been commercially grown in India for the past 19 years. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved the release of Bt cotton for commercial cultivation in 2002 in western and southern parts of the country. In Punjab, Bt cotton was released for cultivation in 2005. Before the release, it was adopted by 72% farmers on 22% of the cotton area. However, a lot of questions have been raised recently on its impact.

“To find out the long-term socio-economic and environmental impacts of Bt cotton cultivation on cleaner production, we revisited cotton growers surveyed in 2003 and 2004 again in 2016-17. Before-after, with-without, and difference-in-differences [with and without sample attrition] within farm comparisons were analysed to find the impact of Bt cotton over time. Our results show that sucking insect pests have replaced bollworms as the key pests.

Decline in insecticide applications

“There has been a steep decline in insecticide applications to control bollworms, the target pest of Bt cotton, by 97%; however, this has been offset by an increase in the insecticide application by 154% to control sucking pests. Moreover, the increase in pesticide use was driven by the use of fungicides, which were not applied in cotton earlier, and increased use of herbicides.

“Our results show overall positive impact of Bt cotton on volume of insecticide active ingredients (a.i.) applied, insecticide applications, use of highly hazardous and riskiest insecticides, and resultant environmental impact of the field use of insecticides on cotton. Yields have stabilised after the commercialisation of Bt cotton,” said Mr. Peshin.

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Brazil regulation seen allowing more U.S. GMO crop imports

By Reuters Staff


SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil’s government published a new regulation on Thursday to align rules for genetically modified (GMO) crops with global standards, a move the agriculture lobby says will make it easier to import more GMO soy and corn from the United States.

Under the new rules, published by Brazilian biosecurity regulator CTNBio in the official government gazette, crops with different genetic modifications can be transported in the same ship, provided each modification is already approved, industry group CropLife said.

“This new regulation makes it possible to import grains from outside Mercosur, creating an alternative for protein producers in Brazil,” the Brazilian Animal Protein Association (ABPA) said.

It sees the United States, the world’s biggest corn exporter and a large soy exporter, as Brazil’s most likely grains provider outside the Mercosur.

Prices of corn and soy, used to feed swine and poultry, rose more than 100% and 60%, respectively, over the last year.

Reporting by Roberto Samora; Editing by Richard Chang

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Book review: Jennifer Thompson’s ‘GM Crops and the Global Divide’ addresses Europe’s neo-colonialist attempt to intimidate Africa into rejecting crop biotechnology

Henry MillerKathleen Hefferon | April 22, 2021

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Credit: CSIRO Publishing
Credit: CSIRO Publishing

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

Jennifer Thomson’s excellent new book, “GM Crops and the Global Divide” (CSIRO Publishing, 2020), is a highly informed, lucid, and gracious narrative. Able to maintain equanimity in the face of one of the most polemical debates of our time, Thomson, Emeritus Professor of Microbiology at the University of Cape Town, provides a succinct yet detailed overview of the history of genetically modified crops, guiding the reader through the history of molecular genetic engineering, from its beginnings in the 1970s, and concluding with the birth of genome editing.

A veteran in the field, she discusses the science and economics of GM crops from the viewpoint of many of the usual-suspect countries, including the United States, Brazil, India, and China, as well as an assortment of African nations. Thomson also manages to cover fairly and clearly many controversial topics such as Seralini’s infamous fraudulent rat study, the continuing glyphosate sagaconundrums regarding food labelling, the myth of GM-caused farmer suicides in India, and misinformation in general, in a way that is informative but not inflammatory.

What distinguishes “GM Crops and the Global Divide” from other books on the topic is Thomson’s South African perspective, which is both refreshing and unique. Thomson has been a direct participant in the history of African biotechnology from its inception. In her chapter, ‘Countries that got it right, and why,’ she explains how genetically engineered crops came so easily to South Africa: From as early as 1978, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) created the South African Committee for Genetic Experimentation (SAGENE) which followed guidelines that were earlier promulgated by the United States’ National Institutes of Health.

As such, the Council required that universities implement adequate laboratory safety standards before research funding would be awarded to academic faculty, and offered training programs to provide academics with the expertise necessary. Eventually, these efforts paid off: By 1990, an assortment of biotech companies began to apply for approval to conduct field trials and the subsequent field testing of a variety of GM crops, ranging from maize and cotton to eucalyptus and apple. SAGENE drew up procedures, and by the time the South African government had obliged with the development of a GMO Act in 1999, the task of regulating biotech crops was already routine. It was straightforward, then, for South Africa to mobilize a strategy that could bring innovations such as GM crops forward to commercialization.

Jennifer Thompson. Credit: Alison Bert/AAAS

We need to interject here some relevant commentary about what, in this context, constitutes “getting it right.” Everything is relative, and the recombinant DNA guidelines from the U.S. National Institutes of Health alluded to above were far from “right.”  Because they were excessively, unnecessarily risk-averse, the guidance they provided was misguided. Those technique-based guidelines, which were focused on the use of a single technique–recombinant DNA modification–instead of on the actual risks of experiments, have slowed plant genetic engineering research and development ever since.

By assuming (incorrectly) from the beginning that recombinant DNA-modified organisms—which have come to be commonly known as “genetically modified organisms” or GMOs—were a high-risk category that needed to have sui generis regulation, the NIH guidelines created excessive or even redundant oversight for many products that were already sufficiently regulated if they posed unreasonable risk.

Worst of all, they reinforced the misconception that recombinant, or “genetically modified,” organisms are a meaningful “category.” Although the NIH gradually pared back the scope and stringency of its guidelines, stultifying, process-based, technique-focused approaches to regulation of this pseudo-category (defined in different ways, using various terms) have remained intact there and at other U.S. federal agencies, as well as in numerous foreign countries. Many countries have even banned the cultivation of genetically engineered plants entirely. Such excessive government regulation perpetuates the misapprehension on the part of many non-experts that products or activities that are stringently regulated must, ipso facto, be high-risk.

Even when genetically engineered crop plants move successfully through regulatory review, R&D is far slower and more expensive than necessary. In certain countries, such as the U.S., Canada, and South Africa, at least products do progress, albeit slowly. In conjunction with the movement of products through South Africa’s R&D pipeline was the creation of AfricaBio, a not-for-profit organization that promotes the safe, ethical and responsible use of the products of biotechnology. AfricaBio acts as a science communicator to smallholder and commercial farmers of South Africa regarding the use and management of GM crops.

Dr. Nompumelelo Obokoh of Africa Bio asks policy makers to give farmers the choice of growing GM crops. Credit: Daniel Otunge

As a result of entities such as SAGENE and AfricaBio, the South African public is currently far more positively disposed than Europeans toward GM crop safety, possibly because they have already been eating GM maize for over 20 years, without any harmful effects.

The story of South Africa and GM crops continues in Thomson’s next chapter, ‘To label or not to label–that is the question.’  The contradictions of labelling GM foods takes an interesting twist when considering that 80-90% of South Africa’s maize is GM, and it doesn’t make sense to make consumers pay for labeling costs, which could raise the price of maize by around 10%.

Thomson goes on to describe ‘The West versus Africa’ in the next chapter. The sad story of detrimental impacts of foreign influence on Africa is not new.  Thomson notes that the only African countries that are commercializing GM crops besides South Africa are Sudan, Nigeria, and Eswatini (Swaziland).  She states: “Much of Africa’s agricultural produce is destined for Europe,” and reminds us, “Therefore, Europe could influence organizations to adapt EU-style restrictions on GM crops and the EU has been waging war on GMO foods for decades.”Related article:  Viewpoint: Believing that we’ll have a COVID-19 vaccine anytime soon is naive

At the same time, Europe’s stringent import standards keep food products produced by smallholder African farmers out of their supply chain, instead favoring products from larger commercial farms.  She points out that Europe tries to protect its farmers from competition with their American counterparts (who farm GM crops prolifically), even to the point of preventing African nations from accepting food aid from the United States, as it might be “contaminated with GM.” Yet, paradoxically, the EU itself is heavily dependent on imported GM crops for animal feed. This is cynical neo-colonialism at its worst. Europe’s wholly unwarranted, decades-old, lose-lose campaign against genetic engineering was brought to mind by this lede in a Wall Street Journal article about the EU’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution:

It’s hard to think of a recent fiasco that can match the European Union’s Covid vaccine rollout. Protectionism, mercantilism, bureaucratic ineptitude, lack of political accountability, crippling safety-ism—it’s all here. The Keystone Kops in Brussels and European capitals would be funny if the consequences weren’t so serious.

The EU’s adamant rejection of GM crops is another, ongoing policy fiasco.

Another issue on which Thomson provides clarity is the claim that if African farmers have access to GM crops provided by multinational corporations, they will cultivate them in preference to and replace their indigenous crops, leading to control of the African seed sector by foreign corporate interests. The fear that African farmers will become reliant on corporate seeds is one of the arguments for “agroecology,” a vaguely defined concept that amounts to reliance on primitive, low-yielding agricultural techniques.

Thomson describes how as a child, science communicator Margaret Karembu (Director for the Director of ISAAA-AfriCenter (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications – Africa region) recalls how her family struggled to put food on the table. “She now realizes that her family was practicing subsistence farming, which European greens call agro-ecology family farming, in which families hardly produce enough food to last until the next harvest.” This results in African farmers being locked into a perpetual cycle of food insecurity and poverty.Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine?

Farmers should be free to choose whichever seeds and other farming methods are best suited to their circumstances. In any case, fear of new crop varieties is unwarranted.  Crops with new, improved traits were provided to African farmers long before GM crops were available, and many of the so-called local varieties are themselves the result of previous scientific research and development performed in their own countries. In Uganda, for example, more than half of the new maize varieties are the products of Ugandan research, not of foreign multinationals. In addition to this, the fear of permitting African farmers to use modern technologies is generally a moot one, as they cannot afford tractors, irrigation systems or fertilizers.

One thing they are far more likely to afford, however, is seed for better-performing GM crops – as illustrated by the fact that more farmers in developing countries plant GM seeds than in industrialized countries. Since 1995, when GM crops were first commercially grown, more than 70 countries have adopted them, either by planting or importing them. In 2019, more than 17 million farmers, 95% of whom come from developing countries, planted 190.4 million hectares of GM crops. These numbers could, and should, be much higher, but shortfalls in the adoption of useful technology are causing a major impact on agricultural productivity and preventing the widespread cultivation of potentially life-saving, income-boosting crops.

Thomson offers many examples of dysfunctional government approaches to GM crops, such as in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, no doubt egged on by anti-GMO sentiment. The culprits include the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health, the anti-GMO entity Inf’GMO of France in the case of Tanzania, or in Uganda, the President of the country himself.

In summary, in “GM Crops and the Global Divide,” Professor Jennifer Thomson capably traces the historical significance and current impacts of European influences on colonial governance, aid, trade, and educational involvement on African leaders and their people. It’s a revealing and sobering read.Editor’s note: Find “GM Crops and the Global Divide” for sale here.

Kathleen Hefferon, Ph.D., teaches microbiology at Cornell University. Find Kathleen on Twitter @KHefferon

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Is genetically modified corn the answer to fall armyworm? 

ABC Rural / By Megan HughesPosted 3ddays ago

A close up of a caterpillar on a stalk of corn. It's clear the grub has done a lot of damage
Fall armyworm has been detected across the country from North Queensland to Western Australia and even Tasmania.(Supplied: DPIRD)


  • It’s a tiny caterpillar that’s difficult to detect, but for more than a year it’s been having a massive impact on crops in Australia, especially corn. 

Key points:

  • Fall armyworm is causing damage to corn crops around Australia 
  • Farmers are asking whether genetically modified corn could help
  • The Maize Association says it will need whole-of-industry support before GM corn can be introduced  

Fall armyworm (FAW) has infiltrated six states and territories and is so hard to control farmers are whispering about a method that’s been off the table for almost two decades — genetically modified (GM) corn.

Maize Association of Australia chairman Stephen Wilson said questions were being raised about whether GM corn could manage the armyworm incursion.

“Anecdotally, I am hearing from the field farmers saying we need GM to help us control the insect,” he said. 

“It’s a major discussion point for the industry as a whole because for the last three decades we, as an industry, as the Maize Association, have been working uniformly to say we do not need GM in Australia.” 

Lessons from the US 

Since arriving in Australia in February 2020, fall armyworm has been detected in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and, most recently, in Tasmania. 

Fall armyworm is native to the United States, where it has devastated multiple agricultural crops, but growers there have different tools to fight it. 

Fall armyworm on corn plants
Fall armyworm outbreaks are contained by insecticide use and GM crops in the United States.(Supplied: Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries)

North Carolina State University professor and extension specialist Dr Dominic Reisig said in their industry, corn was genetically modified to produce insecticidal proteins that naturally occurred in a bacteria found in soil. It is known as BT corn.

Dr Reisig said while it was not specifically designed to treat FAW it had had an impact. 

“It was first commercially planted in 1996 but that particular crop that was planted did not control fall armyworm,” he said.

“So it wasn’t until different BT toxins were introduced that we really started to see fall armyworm control. 

“But because it’s a sporadic outbreak pest throughout the US it wasn’t like a huge, earth-shattering moment when we were able to control fall armyworm.” 

Are GMO crops the silver bullet? 

According to Dr Reisig, treating FAW across ag industries was a multi-pronged approach with insecticides and a GM crop. 

He said in corn the pest could infest a crop in different stages of its development. 

“Once it gets into the whirl it’s very difficult to control,” he said. 

“But the good thing is when it attacks in those (earlier) stages it’s not that damaging to yield — so the corn looks really bad but it usually pops out of it and it’s not a problem. 

“If fall armyworm attacks later in the season when maize has an ear, then it’s a problem. 

“Once it’s inside that ear you can’t control it and then it’s a really damaging pest in terms of yield and it’s really difficult to control with insecticides so BT (corn) is the way to go.”

He said insecticides were able to control the pest in other crops like soya beans or vegetables because the plants were structured differently.

Weighing up the losses 

Australia only grows three GM crops — cotton, safflower and canola. 

A sea of yellow flowers under a blue sky as the canola crop is in full bloom.
Canola is one of thee genetically modified crops in Australia.(Supplied: Riverine Plains Inc)

Corn has remained GM-free and, as a consequence, the industry has been able to access different markets including Japan and Korea. 

“End users such as snack food and cornflake breakfast cereal manufacturers have told us the whole time they do not want GM in their raw materials,” Mr Wilson said. 

“It would impact on both the export market and also on all the domestic markets — everything from dairy cows utilising the maize as grain or silage right through to beef cattle and right through to human consumption. 

“It’s a major, major, major impact that would need to be agreed to by all sectors of the industry.” 

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A person opens a corn's covering to check if it's ripe.
Australia has been able to access multiple international markets as the corn grown here is GM free.(Pexels: Frank Meriño)

He said any trial would be complicated.

“You have all the regulatory issues of actually bringing germplasm into the country, you have the quarantine issues of having the facilities that could handle the GM product, then you’ve got the issues of field testing,” he said. 

“It would be a long, drawn-out process and we’d have to consider the impact on the industry as a whole because it’s very hard, if not impossible, to have part-GM, part-non-GM. 

“It’s a very expensive process and it makes the non-GM corn being in the minority a very expensive product that people have to pay a premium for.” 

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment said genetically modified maize seeds may only be imported into Australia under an import permit issued by the department, but that no applications had been made. 

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New technology enables rapid sequencing of entire genomes of plant pathogens



Next-generation sequencing technology has made it easier than ever for quick diagnosis of plant diseases. “It’s really exciting to see how sequencing technologies have evolved and how this new technology facilitates sequencing of entire genomes in such a short amount of time,” said Yazmín Rivera, a plant pathologist with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Plant Protection and Quarantine program, who recently published a research paper on the efficacy of Oxford Nanopore Technologies protocols.

“We wanted to provide an unbiased assessment of the technology and protocols available for long read sequencing,” Rivera explained. Along with other plant pathologists, Rivera used the company’s protocols to prepare RNA and DNA libraries from virus-infected plant material and from a plant pathogenic bacterium, respectively. After one hour of data sequencing, scientists had enough data to assemble small genomes.

“Diagnosticians will welcome an objective review of this technology,” Rivera said. Rivera and her colleagues published their findings in Plant Health Progress, presenting a side-by-side comparison of the protocols that will allow the reader to identify which library preparation kit is best suited for their needs.

The ability to quickly obtain the entire genome of an organism has great implications for the plant pathology field. “Having more information readily available facilitates identification of emerging pathogens and of pathogens that are difficult to identify,” explains Rivera. For more information, read “Comparison of Nanopore Sequencing Protocols and Real-Time Analysis for Phytopathogen Diagnostics“? published in the March issue of Plant Health Progress.


Disclaimer: Mention of trade names or commercial products in this publication is solely to provide specific information and does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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

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Dhaka Tribune

Breeders developing doubly resistant brinjal varieties

Reaz Ahmad

  •  Published at 08:22 pm April 6th, 2021

Bt brinjalBt brinjal, a genetically modified eggplant variety, was developed to fight fruit and shoot borer (FSB) that used to cause colossal crop loss Reaz Ahmad/Dhaka Tribune

Fruit and shoot borer-resistant Bt brinjal reaches out to 65,000 farmers in 7 years, work underway to achieve bacterial wilt resistance  

Starting with only 20 farmers in 2014, the technology of Bt brinjal – a crop developed to drastically lower hazardous pesticide application – reached to 65,000 eggplant growers this year, making it the fastest expanding biotech product in Bangladesh.

Bt brinjal, a genetically modified eggplant variety, was developed to fight fruit and shoot borer (FSB) that used to cause colossal crop loss in Bangladesh’s brinjal fields but not anymore.

Now, riding on the huge success of Bangladesh’s fastest expanding biotech crop, breeders areworking on developing two new eggplant varieties capable to withstand FSB and bacterial wilt.

Together with FSB, the bacterial wilt causes substantial crop loss in brinjal, second most consumed vegetable in Bangladesh after potato.

Dr Yousuf Akhond, a chief scientific officer of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (Bari) who heads the institution’s biotechnology division, told Dhaka Tribune recently that by working on two previously released brinjal varieties – Bari Begun-10 and Bari Begun-11 – they are now developing varieties, expected to withstand bacterial wilt.

Once success comes Bari’s way, brinjal breeders hope farmers in Bangladesh would get varieties of eggplants, which would effectively withstand both FSB and bacterial wilt.

Till date, Bangladesh is only country in South Asia to release GM food crop while some of its neighbours i.e., India, Pakistan have long been cultivating Bt cotton, a cash crop.   

Bt brinjal controls the FSB without the need for pesticide sprays to control it, thereby cutting farmers’ investment cost on brinjal and also resolving the worry over pesticide-induced health hazards. A few sprays are still needed to control insects like thrips, aphids and other minor insects that are not susceptible to the Bt protein produced by the plant.

However, bacterial wilt disease which lingers in many of the soils in Bangladesh, is not controllable by any sprays. Bacterial wilt is best controlled by using plants that are resistant to the disease.

Dr Md Jahangir Hossain, who coordinates biotech brinjal and late blight-resistant potato project in Bangladesh, told this correspondent that in 2020-21 crop year as many as 65,000 farmers in Bangladesh are growing Bt brinjal in 12,500 acres of land.

Fast adoption of Bt brinjal, he said, helped farmers reap double benefits of cost cutting and much less application of chemical pesticides.

Each year Bangladeshi farmers grow over half a million tons of brinjal from over 50,000 hectares of land. But scientists hope further adoption of Bt brinjal and future release of bacterial blight-resistant varieties would help farmers grow more brinjals from less land.   

Earlier, five years after introducing country’s first genetically modified crop – Bt brinjal – government undertook an impact assessment study in 2018. It stated that the farmers got benefitted financially by cultivating Bt brinjal and they are now less prone to health hazards caused by pesticide sprays. 

Under the Ministry of Agriculture’s behest, the study on 1200 farmers was designed and carried out by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). 

The study outcome found that the farmers who cultivated the Bt brinjal gained by 55 percent higher income comparing to their peers growing the non-Bt brinjal. 

The genetically modified Bt brinjal has been developed by inserting a crystal protein gene (Cry1Ac) from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into the genome of various brinjal cultivars thereby, protecting the crop from infestation of Fruit and Shoot Borer (FSB), the deadliest pest for brinjal.

There is an array of other biotech crop products now under release and development pipeline in Bangladesh which include, among others, Vitamin-A enriched Golden Rice, bacterial blight resistant potato, leaf curl resistant tomato, and Bt cotton.  

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OP-ED: The next step for Bt brinjal

Vijay Paranjape , Maricelis Acevedo

Chaka Tribune

  •  Published at 01:45 am April 2nd, 2021


Making Bt eggplant technology sustainable and durable in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is in its seventh year of growing genetically modified eggplant (Bt brinjal). Starting with 20 farmers in the 2014-15 season, we have now over 60,000 farmers adopting the technology in the 2020-21 season. These are farmers who have obtained seeds from the formal sources. 

The number of farmers growing Bt eggplant is likely to be larger, as some farmers use seeds saved from the previous season. The farmers have benefited from the technology by getting higher yields and savings due to the reduced use of insecticides to control the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB), which can cause yield losses of 86% or more. 

Reduced use of insecticides has also provided health benefits to the farmers, consumers, and the environment. 

Bangladesh now should take strategic steps to sustain this growth and make the technology durable. As with any new technology, stewardship is of vital importance, and this is true for Bt eggplant. While stewardship begins with quality seed, other practices, including an insect resistance management (IRM) program, are equally vital for the long-term sustainability of Bt eggplant technology in Bangladesh. 

The four Bt eggplant varieties currently available to farmers cover a limited eggplant growing area and there are still large numbers of eggplant-growing farmers who do not have access to the technology. Additionally, not all of the released Bt eggplant varieties are tolerant to bacterial wilt which requires additional care to be taken by the farmer in the field. Hence, there is a need to introduce the Bt technology into higher yielding, agronomically superior, wilt tolerant, and widely adapted varieties to achieve broader adoption of Bt eggplant in Bangladesh. The availability of such varieties will further increase the demand and adoption of Bt eggplant and provide benefits to a larger number of farmers.

Farmer training and awareness on stewardship and field compliance is important for sustainable production of this valuable product in Bangladesh and needs to be continued. Development of resistance (a natural process) by EFSB to the current Bt eggplant varieties can pose a challenge in the future if not addressed now. One way to delay the development of resistance in the insect population is planting a “refuge” of non-Bt eggplant surrounding the Bt eggplant field. 

Studies have shown that EFSB will colonize these non-Bt plants and delay the development of resistance to Bt plants. Thus, it is important that proper field stewardship practices are followed and monitored to delay resistance. Presently, less than 10% of the eggplant growing area is under Bt eggplant cultivation, and there is considerable refuge available in the form of traditional, non-Bt eggplant fields. 

However, as adoption increases it will become increasingly important that farmers plant their own refuges. There is also a need to explore the potential use of new management practices such as “refuge in the bag” (ie a specific mix of Bt and non-Bt seeds in the same packet) technology to ensure farmer refuge compliance. An important component of IRM also includes development and utilization of baseline studies of susceptibility to Bt protein (Cry1Ac) and monitoring for any changes that might indicate emerging resistance in the insect population. 

A coordinated effort

Bt eggplant technology in Bangladesh is managed by the public sector — where the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) is responsible for development of the technology and maintaining breeder seeds, the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) is responsible for large scale foundation seed production for distribution to farmers, and BARI and the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) carry out the extension and outreach activities.  

A coordinated effort (pre-season, in-season and post-season) is required between these three independent public agencies to enable high quality seeds to get to farmers. Such coordination between different agencies can be quite challenging. Encouraging the private sector to become involved in the development, production, and stewardship of GM products could be a solution to this issue.  

The private sector in Bangladesh could become a significant partner in the long-term development of Bt eggplant in Bangladesh and future GM crop innovations. The private sector is playing an increasingly important role in the Bangladesh Seed Industry, particularly in vegetable production. Good quality vegetable hybrids, and improved varieties developed by the private sector have helped farmers improve their yields, and the economics of vegetable cultivation. 

The private sector is considered to be efficient at developing and scaling quality seed. Once the Bt eggplant technology is made available to the private sector for commercial multiplication, the private sector may readily move forward to develop their own Bt varieties, including hybrids.

Strengthening the GM product-enabling environment will play a major role in sustaining not only the Bt technology but can also create a path for other GM crops that are already in the pipeline.  A science-based and predictable regulatory system is needed that can review applications in an efficient and faster pace. The adoption of an event-based registration in Bangladesh will further enable regulators to approve varieties suited for a particular region in a timely manner. 

Numerous studies have shown that the event-based approval process does not compromise efficacy or safety of the product. Effective communication strategies to enhance stewardship, scientific outreach, education, and policy advocacy will also help to safeguard Bt technology and its usefulness in Bangladesh.

By taking the right strategic steps, Bangladesh can make the Bt eggplant technology sustainable and durable. Such success will pave the way for other GM products in Bangladesh and will contribute to boost food security, enhance economic growth, and improve environmental quality.

Vijay Paranjape is Associate Director, Bt Eggplant Project, Bangladesh, Sathguru Management Consultants, India. Maricelis Acevedo, Director, Feed the Future South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership, Cornell University. This article was originally published by the Cornell Alliance for Science.

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Thanks to gene editing, another biotech-driven farming revolution might be ‘just around the corner’

Nature | March 26, 2021

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Credit: Research Square
Credit: Research Square

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

The basic principle of crop breeding is to first discover and then select for variants with desired traits. While selection is relatively easy, discovery is more challenging. Conventional breeding for domestication and crop improvement have unquestionably revolutionized agriculture and our society. 

But to further explore the potential of agriculture to feed an ever-growing population, larger crop diversity needs to be unlocked. The gene editing and RNA viral transfection technologies developed over recent years allow precise engineering of desirable variants with unprecedentedly high efficiency and resolution, greatly expanding the range of variations available and reducing our reliance on naturally existing mutations.

CRISPR–Cas breeding is more efficient than mutation breeding because mutagenesis is targeted to genes known to control desirable traits. Moreover, transgene-free plants can be easily obtained by transiently expressing CRISPR proteins or by segregating out constitutively expressed CRISPR. Gene-edited crops could thus avoid regulations against the cultivation of GMOs. 

Crop breeding need no longer rely on naturally occurring mutations, but instead artificially generated variations can be the raw material for further breeding. A much broader spectrum of phenotype space is ready for exploration, allowing development of optimal phenotypes adapted to heterogeneous environments on Earth, or even space. A new biotechnology-driven revolution in agriculture could be just around the corner.

Read the original postRelated article:  ‘Using Nature’s Shuttle’: Judith M. Heimann’s fascinating new book about how scientists learned to create genetically modified crops

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Steve Reinholt of Starr Ranch Growers:

“Impact from India’s new non-GMO requirement has been minimal”

A new requirement imposed by the Indian government on imported produce items has been causing challenges for apple exporters in Washington. “A sizeable list of produce items now requires a non-GMO certificate, and apples are one of the items on the list,” says Steve Reinholt, Export Sales Manager at Starr Ranch Growers.

Shipments to India continue, impact is minimal
While the new requirement is bringing a new hurdle for exporters, it’s not preventing them from continuing their shipments. Reinholt explains: “It is not a simple process and will require additional processes and documentation prior to shipping. The issue was larger than any one company because the requirement from India was to have all shipments certified non-GMO by an official body – and here in the US we didn’t have anyone who did that sort of certification. Fortunately, the USDA and the WSDA have both stepped up and developed paperwork that will meet India’s requirements, as long as the grower and packer can produce the correct verification.”
Fortunately, the new requirement came during a smaller than usual season, which means that the overall impact has been minimal, says Reinholt. “Additionally, the red delicious variety has historically been the preferred apple in India and the production of reds has dropped off significantly over the past few years. Therefore, the overall impact has been mitigated to a degree. However, when we have the next large crop, we will need all markets open and available to us to profitably market our products. So, ideally, we will be able to get this requirement removed for future seasons,” he says.
Reinholt explains that the requirement of a non-GMO certificate for apples is not logical in the first place: “All apples grown and packed for fresh consumption in the Pacific Northwest are non-GMO, and the variety of apples that India buys don’t even have a GMO variant. I believe this new requirement is a classic case of a bureaucracy throwing up barriers to free trade.”
Tariffs continue to be biggest barrier for exporters
Despite this new requirement and the challenges that have resulted from it, the biggest barrier for US apple exporters continues to be the high tariffs in India. “In the past, India has been a big market for Starr Ranch, as well as for the rest of the apple industry. That changed a couple of years ago when a retaliatory duty of 20% was put on many products, including apples, from the US. Overall volume has dropped off drastically, and the effects of the retaliatory tariffs have a far greater impact on our ability to sell our apples profitably in India than this new non-GMO requirement. Still, India does remain an important trading partner,” Reinholt concludes.
For more information:
Steve Reinholt
Starr Ranch Growers
Tel: +1 (509) 663 2191
Email: sreinholt@oneonta.com 

Publication date: Mon 22 Mar 2021
Author: Annika Durinck
© FreshPlaza.com

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