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Biotechnology is a powerful tool of science to feed the future – Dar

02/02/2022 | 03:39am EST

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Author: DA Communications Group | 2 February 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Publicnow 2022

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Transforming tomatoes with molecular biotechnology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publication date: Wed 26 Jan 2022

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

Joseph Maina | Farmers Review Africa | January 28, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is an excerpt. Read the original post here. 

The GLP Needs Your Help

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

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

BBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What exactly is Bt cowpea?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BY JOAN CONROW

NOVEMBER 24, 2021

Alliance for Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nigeria urges Africa to follow its lead on GM cowpea

BY JOSEPH OPOKU GAKPO

DECEMBER 1, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

BY JOAN CONROW

NOVEMBER 30, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tar spot gains attention of USDA-ARS

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

Tom J Bechman | Nov 18, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit: GreenBiz
Credit: GreenBiz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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