Archive for the ‘Plant breeding’ Category

Grahame Jackson

Sydney NSW, Australia


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25 days ago


Scientists address global crop growing challenge
Synthetic engineering of α-carboxysomes into tobacco chloroplasts. a Schematic representation of the strategies


by University of Liverpool
A study led by University of Liverpool scientists has revealed a new way to improve crop growth, meeting a significant challenge to increase crop productivity in a changing climate with a growing population.

With global levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) rising and the population set to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, Professor Luning Liu’s team of researchers used synthetic biology and plant engineering techniques to improve photosynthesis, creating a template that can be used on a mass scale.

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants use atmospheric CO2 to create nutrients, which are crucial for growth and the global ecosystem. The newly published paper details how the team of scientists have improved Rubisco, a key enzyme present in photosynthesis that converts CO2 into energy. Usually Rubisco is inefficient and limits photosynthesis in major crops. However, many microorganisms including bacteria have evolved efficient systems, named “CO2-concentrating mechanisms,” to improve Rubisco.

Read on: https://phys.org/news/2023-04-scientists-global-crop.html

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AI Offers New Hope to Solving Wheat Disease

By Shaheer RehanMar 28 2023Reviewed by Megan Craig, M.Sc.

Fusarium head blight, commonly called scab disease, is a highly destructive wheat disease that leads to substantial yield loss and contamination of wheat grain with deoxynivalenol.

AI Offers New Hope to Solving Wheat Disease

Jessica Rutkoksi, pictured, is part of a University of Illinois team using cell phone images and AI to detect fungal toxins in wheat kernels. The goal is to quickly identify wheat lines with lower susceptibility to the fungus, making it easier to breed for disease resistance in the crop. Image Credit: University of Illinois College of ACES

Deoxynivalenol (DON) is a mycotoxin that can cause adverse health effects in humans and animals. Phenotyping for Fusarium-damaged kernels (FDKs) provides an accurate assessment of resistance to accumulation of DON; however, it is a time-consuming and subjective process.

A study published in The Plant Phenome Journal implemented sophisticated object recognition technology for filtering out DON-contaminated wheat kernels from the food supply chain and to assist scientists in developing wheat that has stronger resistance to FHB.

Fusarium Head Blight – A Significant Threat to Wheat

Fusarium head blight (FHB) is a serious disease for wheat, causing billions of dollars of losses in crops to date. FHB causes deoxynivalenol buildup in wheat grains. DON is a mycotoxin belonging to the trichothecene family of vomitoxins. FHB is of great concern since DON ingestion in people and animals from infected wheat end products has detrimental effects on health.

In humans, DON consumption may cause nausea, headaches, vomiting, and diarrhea. The adverse health consequences of DON consumption differ amongst animals, but most typically result in weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, and immunological deficiencies.

Detecting Fusarium-Damaged Kernels Using AI

FDK is a well-established visual grain damage caused by Fusarium, which is observed post-harvest. It is used as a ‘proxy’ phenotype to indirectly select for resistance to DON accumulation within the grain.

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The team developed a simple and user-friendly method to identify FDKs by training a convolutional neural network (CNN) model on images of healthy and infected wheat kernels.

The images were taken with a smartphone and uploaded to the app, which then used the trained CNN model to determine the percentage of infected kernels. The model achieved an accuracy of around 90% in detecting FDKs in wheat, which was comparable to manual FDK counting.

While alternative techniques for quantifying DON levels in wheat grain samples exist, they entail lab-intensive tests like mass spectrometry (MS) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent tests, which can be costly and time-consuming.

The CNN model used in the study was trained on numerous images of wheat kernels taken with a smartphone, half of which were healthy, and the other half were infected with Fusarium graminearum.

The model was then used to classify new images of kernels as healthy or infected. The researchers tested the model on additional images of wheat kernels, achieving a high accuracy in detecting FDKs in wheat.

Girish Chowdhary, an author of the study, remarked on the novelty of their research, “One of the unique things about this advance is that we trained our network to detect minutely damaged kernels with good enough accuracy using just a few images. We made this possible through meticulous pre-processing of data, transfer learning, and bootstrapping of labeling activities.”

Potential Applications

According to the researchers, the mobile app has the potential to make the process of phenotyping for FDKs more accessible and affordable, especially in developing countries where laboratory assays are not readily available.

It can also be used in the field to identify infected wheat kernels, enabling farmers to monitor FHB in real time and take necessary measures to minimize yield loss and mycotoxin contamination.

The app can also help researchers and industries to screen large numbers of wheat varieties for resistance to FHB and DON accumulation.

The CNN model can be fine-tuned to identify specific resistance mechanisms and to develop wheat varieties that are resistant to FHB and have low DON levels, thus contributing to global food safety and security.

Fusarium head blight remains one of the most destructive diseases in wheat, resulting in significant yield losses and the contamination of wheat grain with deoxynivalenol.

Phenotyping for Fusarium-damaged kernels is a critical component of identifying resistance to DON accumulation in wheat, but manual phenotyping can be time-consuming.

This study has developed and tested an open-access and easy-to-use method for the phenotyping of FDKs using a convolutional neural network trained on cell phone images.

The method achieved an accuracy of around 90% when tested on a separate dataset, demonstrating its potential to greatly improve the efficiency and accuracy of FDK phenotyping.

Future research in this area could focus on further refining the CNN model, as well as combining this method with other technologies to develop a more comprehensive system for monitoring crop health and identifying disease outbreaks.


Wu, J., Ackerman, A., Gaire, R., Chowdhary, G., & Rutkoski, J. (2023). A neural network for phenotyping Fusarium-damaged kernels (FDKs) in wheat and its impact on genomic selection accuracy. The Plant Phenome Journal, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/ppj2.20065


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Shaheer Rehan

Written by

Shaheer Rehan

Shaheer is a graduate of Aerospace Engineering from the Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad. He has carried out research on a wide range of subjects including Aerospace Instruments and Sensors, Computational Dynamics, Aerospace Structures and Materials, Optimization Techniques, Robotics, and Clean Energy. He has been working as a freelance consultant in Aerospace Engineering for the past year. Technical Writing has always been a strong suit of Shaheer’s. He has excelled at whatever he has attempted, from winning accolades on the international stage in match competitions to winning local writing competitions. Shaheer loves cars. From following Formula 1 and reading up on automotive journalism to racing in go-karts himself, his life revolves around cars. He is passionate about his sports and makes sure to always spare time for them. Squash, football, cricket, tennis, and racing are the hobbies he loves to spend his time in.

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Ninth International Conference on Management of the Diamondback Moth and Other Crucifer Insect Pests

Photo by Dr. Srinivasan Ramasamy

The Ninth International Conference on Management of the Diamondback Moth and other Crucifer Insect Pests will be organized by the World Vegetable Center in association with Royal University of Agriculture (RUA) in Cambodia and Taiwan Agricultural Chemicals and Toxic Substances Research Institute (TACTRI). The conference will be held during May 2-5, 2023 at Phnom Penh, Cambodia. About 100 – 150 researchers worldwide are expected to participate and present research papers. The conference is designed to provide a common forum for the researchers to share their findings in bio-ecology of insect pests, host plant resistance, biological control, pesticides and insect resistance management on crucifer crops and integrated pest management. As with previous workshops / conference, a comprehensive publication of the proceedings will be published.

Scientific Sessions

  1. Diamondback moth and other crucifer pests: The global challenge in a changing climate
  2. Biology, ecology and behavior of diamondback moth and other crucifer pests: What’s new?
  3. Insect plant interactions, host plant resistance and chemical ecology of crucifer pests and their natural enemies
  4. Insecticide resistance and management in crucifer pests: the on-going challenge 
  5. Biological and non-chemical methods of management of crucifer pests (including organic agriculture) 
  6. Genetic approaches to manage crucifer pests: transgenic plants, CRISPR, RNAi, and genetic pest management
  7. Constraints and opportunities to the sustained adoption of integrated pest management (IPM) for the management of DBM and other crucifer pests
Photo by Dr. Subramanian Sevgan

Photo by Dr. Subramanian Sevgan
Photo by Dr. Subramanian Sevgan

Photo by Dr. Subramanian Sevgan



  • 6 February – 31 March 2023



  • Scientists (Outside Cambodia USD 400)
  • Scientists (From Cambodia USD 200)
  • Students (USD 200)
  • Accompanying person (USD 200)


Scientific Committee


World Vegetable Center, Taiwan


World Vegetable Center, Taiwan

Dr. Li-Hsin Huang

Taiwan Agricultural Chemicals andToxic Substances Research Institute, Taiwan


Royal University of Agriculture, Cambodia


University of Queensland, Australia


University of Queensland, Australia


Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China


International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, Kenya


University of Florida, USA


Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Spain



Flagship Program Leader for Safe and Sustainable Value Chains & Lead Entomologist

World Vegetable Center, Shanhua, Tainan 74151, Taiwan

Tel: +886-6-5837801

Fax: +886-6-5830009

E-mail: srini.ramasamy@worldveg.org 


Scientist (Entomology)

World Vegetable Center, Shanhua, Tainan 74151, Taiwan

Tel: +886-6-5837801

Fax: +886-6-5830009

E-mail: paola.sotelo@worldveg.org 


Photo by Dr. Christian Ulrichs

Cruciferous crops such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, mustard, radish, and several leafy greens are economically important vegetables vital for human health. These nutritious vegetables provide much-needed vitamins and minerals to the human diet—especially vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, folic acid, and dietary fiber. Crucifers also are capable of preventing different types of cancer.

The diamondback moth (DBM), Plutella xylostella, is the most serious crucifer pest worldwide. In addition, head caterpillar (Crocidolomia pavonana), web worm (Hellula undalis), butterflies (Pieris spp.), flea beetle (Phyllotreta spp.) and aphids (Brevicoryne brassicae, Lipaphis erysimi, Myzus persicae) also cause significant yield losses in crucifers. Farmers prefer to use chemical pesticides for controlling this pest because they have an immediate knock-down effect and are easily available when needed in local markets. Pesticides constitute a major share in the total production cost of crucifer crops, accounting for about one-third to half of the cost of production of major crucifer crops in Asia, for instance. As a result, pest resistance to insecticides is on the rise, leading farmers to spray even more pesticides. Insecticide resistance, environmental degradation, human health impacts, resource loss and economic concerns have triggered a growing interest in integrated pest management (IPM).

Previous International Workshop / Conference(s) on Management of the Diamondback Moth and other Crucifer Insect Pests

Photo by Dr. Srinivasan Ramasamy

The International Working Group on DBM and other Crucifer Insects is an informal group of researchers worldwide who are actively engaged in research and development in crucifer pest management.

This research group participates in an international workshop on the management of DBM and other crucifer insect pests that occurs every five to six years.

The first and second workshops were organized by Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC) in Taiwan in 1985 and 1990.

The third workshop was organized by the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute in Kuala Lumpur in 1996.

The fourth workshop was organized in Australia in 2001 and the fifth workshop was organized by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing in 2006.

The sixth workshop was organized by AVRDC – the World Vegetable Center in Thailand in 2011 and the seventh workshop was organized by the University Agricultural Sciences Bangalore in 2015.

The eighth International Conference on Management of the Diamondback Moth and other Crucifer Insect Pests was organized by the World Vegetable Center in Taiwan in 2019.

Additional details and proceedings of these workshops / conference can be found at https://avrdc.org/diamondback-moth-working-group/



World Vegetable Center
P.O. Box 42
Shanhua, Tainan, Taiwan 74151

Phone: +886-6-583-7801

Email: info@worldveg.org

Web: avrdc.org


E-mail | Greenhouse



The Association of International Research and Development Centers for Agriculture, a nine-member alliance focused on increasing global food security by supporting healthy, sustainable, climate-smart smallholder agriculture.

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Feeding a growing global population – new ways tech is changing the agricultural landscape

Story by BR Reporter, Reuters • Saturday


  • There is no doubt that the human population is growing at a huge rate. According to the United Nations, the global human population reached 8.0 billion in mid-November 2022 from an estimated 2.5 billion people in 1950, adding 1 billion people since 2010 and 2 billion since 1998.

Feeding this huge population is a concern for most countries and their leaders. It is within this ethos that we look at new ways to grow and distribute food.

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It is important to see how technology is being developed in the agricultural space.


As extreme weather and human activity degrade the world’s arable land, scientists and developers are looking at new and largely unproven methods to save soil for agriculture.

One company is injecting liquid clay into California desert to trap moisture and help fruit to grow, while another in Malaysia boosts soil with droppings from fly larvae.

In a Nova Scotia greenhouse, Canadian scientist Vicky Levesque is adding biochar – the burnt residue of plants and wood waste – to soil to help apples grow better.

Long-established soil preservation techniques, such as tilling less and sowing crops during off-seasons, are proving no match for more frequent droughts, floods and temperature extremes. Soil erosion is depleting dirt’s ability to produce food, and could lead to a 10% loss in global crop production by 2050, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

New “soil amendment” solutions, which improve the physical properties of soil, may complement the traditional ways — if they prove profitable and effective.

Biochar, liquid clay and fly larvae droppings are all in limited commercial production. Development of such solutions has accelerated in recent years as soil degradation worsened, said Ole Kristian Sivertsen, chief executive of liquid clay company Desert Control, which made its first commercial sale in December.

Bayer AG, the world’s biggest seed company, is among the companies looking at new ways of regenerating soil through Leaps by Bayer, its venture capital unit, said Matthias Berninger, Bayer’s head of sustainability.


Banana trees that fit in a test tube. Burgers made without a cow in sight. Fish farmed in the desert. Robots picking fruit.

Welcome to the brave new world of food, where scientists are battling a global time-bomb of climate change, water scarcity, population growth and soaring obesity rates to find new ways to feed the future.

With one in nine people already short of enough food to lead a healthy, active life, supporters pushing for a Second Green Revolution argue without major changes hunger will become one of the biggest threats to national security and human health.

To tackle this looming crisis, scientists and agricultural experts are looking to the future – and back to the past – to find innovative ways to produce food.

But they admit getting billions of farmers globally – and consumers – to change will be a battle.

Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) – a global network of scientists – said agriculture had to change to meet global goals on climate change and ending poverty and hunger.

“You need a revolution in the agriculture and food system within the next decade because without it, we’re never going to achieve any of the really important (global) goals that we’ve set,” Campbell told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A visit to a series of white, low-rise United Nations-backed laboratories 35 km (22 miles) outside Austria’s ornate capital Vienna provides a glimpse into the food of tomorrow’s world.

Here, in laboratories and greenhouses packed with genetic sequencing machines, robotic equipment and plants and insects of all sizes, scientists are using nuclear technology to stop insects reproducing and to spur disease-resistant banana trees.

Sub-Saharan Africa has for decades struggled to control bloodsucking tsetse flies that kill more than 3 million cattle and other livestock each year.

Meanwhile in Southeast Asia and Australia, the fungal disease fusarium wilt threatens to wipe out bananas, a global favorite rich in micronutrients.

But the labs, set up by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), have helped Senegal almost eradicate tsetse flies in one area and created bananas that can stand up to pest threats.

“Under climate challenge … we face many challenges in agricultural production. One of the major issues is more and emerging diseases for plants and animals, and insects,” said Qu Liang, director of the joint FAO/IAEA division.


Scientists are also working on other innovations – from gene editing of crops and lab-grown meat, to sensors on drones and tractors – that could help to reboot the world’s food system and fundamentally change how food is grown, distributed and eaten.

But technology is only part of the answer, experts caution. Finding sustainable ways to overcome escalating challenges will require everything from delving into culture and tradition to rethinking subsidies and politics around food, they say.

However almost everyone agrees that change is needed.

“Our agri food system is at a critical stage. It must be re-shaped,” Shenggen Fan, director general of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Food monopolizes a huge share of scarce resources, Fan said, and numbers bear this out.

Crops take up 11 percent of the land surface, livestock grazing covers 26 percent of ice-free land, and farming accounts for about 70 percent of all water used, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Livestock generate more greenhouse gas emissions than transport, according to the FAO, accounting for about 14.5 percent of world emissions.

Faced with growing climate concerns, many people – including billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates – are pushing for a Second Green Revolution to develop crops that can be grown in droughts and resist new pests and diseases.

The first Green Revolution, which peaked in the 1960s, dramatically boosted harvests in poor parts of the world by introducing high-yielding seeds, fertilisers and irrigation which helped stave off famine in hungry parts of the world.

But the industrial farming era it spurred has failed both consumers and the environment, critics say, by leading to a food system that cripples the environment, contributes to climate change, and concentrates wealth in multi-national companies.

“We live in a changing world and we are limited in resources, in terms of land, water, fertilizer,” said Ivan Ingelbrecht, head of the plant breeding and genetics laboratory in Vienna.

“So having sustainable food production systems is very important,” he said, holding a test tube containing a miniature banana tree in his hand.


One problem, experts say, is that agricultural practices can be hard to change. Nearly 2.5 billion people are involved in small-scale farming, managing about 500 million small farms, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“Agriculture has kind of been stuck for the last 500 years,” said Andy Jarvis, research director at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

Machinery and better crop varieties have made agriculture more productive but fundamental problems remain, from reliance on heavy manual labor to difficulties managing pests and diseases, he added.

The world’s population, meanwhile, has grown both in size and bulk, with no signs of the upward trend abating.

Of the world’s 7.6 billion people – a population projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 – about 815 million people go hungry daily while 2 billion are overweight or obese, sending health costs soaring.

Among them is Yatzyri Martinez, aged six from Mexico City, who weighs 38 kg (84 pounds), loves spaghetti and fast-food snacks, and comes from a family plagued by type 2 diabetes.

Salvador Villalpando, a specialist doctor who treats her at a child obesity clinic at the Federico Gomez Children’s Hospital in Mexico, one of the world’s fattest nations, said keeping people from becoming obese is the aim.

“When you get to treat obesity, you’re one day too late,” he said.

Mexico is not alone. Adult obesity rates are increasing in all of the United Nation’s 193 member states, including in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia where the focus for decades was eradicating hunger.

Globally, about 40 percent of adults are overweight and 13 percent obese, says the World Health Organization (WHO), with the surge in obesity in the last three decades presenting a major public health epidemic in both poor and rich nations.

Growing demand for meat and dairy as countries become wealthier is also placing a heavier demand on world food systems, driving climate change as land is stripped of forests and plowed.

The volume of food transported around the world also is exacerbating global warming.

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However, calls to use more pesticides and fertilisers to get more food from the same land are based on wrong assumptions, said Emile Frison of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food).

He said there is already enough food available to feed the planet today and in 2050 – but it’s in the wrong places or wasted.

Globally, one third of all food produced – worth nearly $1 trillion a year – is binned or wasted, according to the FAO.

“It’s a matter of access, of waste, of consumption models that are unsustainable. Recommending a technology fix approach is certainly going in the wrong direction,” Frison told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


James Rogers, CEO of Apeel Sciences, a California-based start-up company, agrees the planet is producing more than enough calories to feed everyone. But he believes technology can help resolve some key issues, particularly food waste.

His company produces a plant-based coating that comes in powder form and, when applied with water, can double the shelf life of fruit and vegetables without refrigeration so farmers in remote areas can get them to market without spoilage.

The coating is being tested on mangoes in Kenya and cassava in Nigeria, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Technology is also helping meet the growing demand for meat, without more emission-producing livestock. The ideas harken back to predictions former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made in a 1931 essay.

“Fifty years hence we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium,” he wrote.

Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, companies that produce high-tech burgers that taste like the real thing but contain only plants, are winning investment from backers as diverse as Gates and Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. meat processor.

Memphis Meats, meanwhile, is growing meat from animal cells in laboratories, something advocates call ‘clean meat’ because it is better for the environment. Its backers include Virgin Group boss Richard Branson.

Such alternative meats offer “a far more efficient way” to feed demand for tasty protein while cutting environmental damage, said Bruce Friedrich, executive director of The Good Food Institute (GFI), which supports alternative meat companies and lobbies on their behalf.

“Plant-based meat and clean meat would be cheaper, more efficient, and would not have bacteria or drug residue contamination. They would be better in every conceivable way,” Friedrich told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


To grow enough food despite increasing water scarcity – agriculture today sucks up about 70 percent of global freshwater used each year – farmers are also looking to technology.

By tweaking a gene found in all plants, for instance, a team of international scientists have tricked tobacco plants into partially closing their stomata, microscopic pores in the leaf that let water evaporate.

The plants grew with a quarter less water and little impact on harvests, said Steven Long, a crop sciences professor at Britain’s Lancaster University.

Researchers hope the tweak will work as well in cowpea and soybean, main sources of protein in developing countries, and in rice, a major staple food.

Despite the benefits of such innovations, some critics fear they could widen the divide between farmers who can access such changes and those who cannot.

Farms which rely mainly on family labor produce the bulk of food in developing countries but many cannot afford the latest agricultural technologies.

Many farmers also live in countries that lack access to reliable weather information, which can make planting and harvesting crops a risky endeavor, experts say.

Agriculture’s technological revolution, in its current form, is neither inclusive nor democratic, said CIAT’s Jarvis, in part because few of the innovations are aimed at small-scale farmers.

What those farmers grow is “not a monoculture of 20 hectares of lettuce production in California or Europe but half-hectare plots of maize”, he said.

But farmers do have mobile phones, so finding ways to use them to improve farming is essential, added Jarvis, who co-founded the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture.

One company bringing technology to small farmers is Hello Tractor in Nigeria, known as “Uber for tractors”.

Founded by Jehiel Oliver, a former American investment banker, it started by selling two-wheel tractors equipped with GPS antennae – but most farmers found the prices too steep.

Hello Tractor now uses mobile phones to link those able to buy tractors with farmers who want to use tractor services.

“Most farmers can’t afford to own a tractor and most tractor owners struggle to identify customers within rural, disjointed markets,” Oliver said in an email.

A Kenya start-up, meanwhile, is banking on mobile phone technology to help small-scale farmers get much-needed credit from banks.

FarmDrive, founded by two Kenyan computer scientists – both women who grew up in farming families – aims to help farmers who need loans to use satellite images and sensors to paint a detailed picture of their potential yields and risks.

In December, FarmDrive teamed up with Safaricom, Kenya’s biggest telecoms company that set up the revolutionary mobile money platform M-Pesa.

Now Safaricom’s DigiFarm mobile platform offers small farmers everything from discount vouchers for fertilizer to help getting small loans or training, all in one place.

Using the new platform, FarmDrive reached 10,000 farmers in four months, compared to just 5,000 farmers in two years when the company was working alone, co-founder Rita Kimani said.

“It’s showing the possibility of partnerships … and that’s really how we are going to solve the challenges the farmers face. One tool or one organization is not going to solve everything,” she said.


Others are coming up with more unusual solutions.

The Sahrawi refugee camps in western Algeria, near the border with Mauritania, Western Sahara and Morocco, seems an unusual spot to try hydroponic farming – growing plants in water rather than soil.

Land around the camps is arid, isolated and prone to sandstorms and extreme swings in temperature – and the 173,000 Sahrawis from Western Sahara, stuck in the camps for the past four decades, are nomads who prefer meat and milk.

But the pastoralists are now using bare-bones hydroponics units of metal and plastic to grow barley as animal feed.

The plants – the only green thing visible for miles – are ready in seven days and grown with a tenth of the water needed for traditional crops.

“As refugees, we are poor people and can’t afford expensive things like fertilisers and hybrid seeds,” said Taleb Brahim, one of the brains behind the project.

Nearly 2,000 km (1,240 miles) east, in Ouargla in southern Algeria, date and palm farmers are similarly turning to an unusual strategy – rearing fish in the Sahara.

The switch is part of the North African nation’s push to increase fish output as catches from the Mediterranean fall.

The project aims to help farmers earn cash by selling fish and boost their harvests by using nutrient-rich water from fish ponds on crops.

At the Coopedota cooperative in Costa Rica, meanwhile, sustainable techniques such as reducing chemical sprays, planting more shade trees, and cutting energy and water consumption have brought an added benefit for farmers.

Beyond cutting costs and improving efficiency, they now sell the world’s first officially certified carbon neutral coffee for which farmers hope customers will pay a premium.

“We can put our coffee in the international market and if the market is at $120, we might get $180 or $200,” said grower Fernando Solis Arguedas, a third generation coffee farmer.


In developing countries, about 40 percent of food grown is spoiled or lost after harvest. Then another 40 percent of what gets to retailers or consumers in developed countries is wasted, according to the FAO.

Cutting that waste is crucial to reducing climate change and growing demands on limited water and land, experts say. And now chefs are moving to the forefront of the effort.

In the seaside town of Brighton, Silo, Britain’s first zero-waste restaurant, turns leftover whey from making cheese into sauce, bread crust into miso soup, and inedible parts such as egg shells and bones into compost.

Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura of Italy opened a new restaurant in central London last year, the Refettorio Felix, that doesn’t welcome wealthy diners but caters for the poor with meals cooked from supermarket scraps.

In Leeds, in northern England, Adam Smith’s The Real Junk Food Project started out as a single cafe in 2013, taking food destined for landfills to local schools to support low-income families and teach pupils about food waste.

It has since ballooned into a network of more than 120 eateries and stores, including Britain’s first pay-what-you-like food waste supermarket, offering anything from zucchini to breakfast cereals.

Smith says he hopes one day the network will go out of business, as food waste is reduced from field to plate.

“Ideally the measure of success … would be that we would no longer be here,” he said.

Richard Horsey, co-author of “Ugly Food: Overlooked and Undercooked”, thinks part of achieving that is persuading people to diversify what they cook and include things they might bin.

He lists octopus, pigs’ trotters and wild rabbit as some of the ingredients often overlooked in Anglo-Saxon food cultures.

“I really do think that if you can make a change to what people are putting on the table every evening, that’s where the numbers are, that’s where the impact is,” he said.

A more diverse diet is also a resilient one, expert say.

Historically, farmers cultivated at least 7,000 plants to eat but today 60 percent of global calories come from just three plants – wheat, rice and maize.

Helping Asia – known for its insatiable appetite for rice – eat more millet, a forgotten rural diet staple that is rich in protein and can grow in salty soil – could help keep harvests sufficient as climate change takes hold, experts say.

Buyers in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong are already eating less rice, while India is pushing millet as a way to reduce a stubbornly high rate of malnutrition.


Technological advances hold promise to make food systems work better. But experts warn there are no quick wins when it comes to reshaping something as fundamental as food and agriculture.

“Technologies are just a tiny part in the whole puzzle,” said Tom Anyonge, lead technical specialist for IFAD.

Policies, institutions and food systems also need shifts if technology is to achieve its potential, he said.

He pointed to M-Pesa, which lets mobile phone users transfer or borrow money, pay bills and save via texts. Launched by Kenya’s Safaricom in 2007, it now has nearly 28 million users in a nation of 45 million and has been expanded or mimicked across Africa.

Its success is due not just to the pioneering technology but to efforts behind the scenes to make it work, Anyonge said.

Those include improving mobile coverage, opening up Kenya’s telecoms sector, and enacting laws allowing partnerships between mobile companies and banks.

“It would have stayed as a good idea” if not for that help, he said. “You need to touch on so many other things beyond technology.”

IFPRI’s director-general Fan agrees.

Innovations are key to rebooting the food system – but they should not be limited to just technological ones, he said.

“Innovation in policies, innovations in institutions, innovations in even new thinking, open-mindedness, will be important,” he said.


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Texas A&M AgriLife debuts automated precision phenotyping greenhouse

Featuring remote sensing and data-capturing capabilities, Texas A&M AgriLife Research has launched “the future of agricultural research” with its multi-million dollar Automated Precision Phenotyping Greenhouse on the Texas A&M University campus in Bryan-College Station.

The greenhouse is part of the Texas A&M AgriLife Plant Growth and Phenotyping Facility, which also includes the Borlaug Center for Southern Crop Improvement.

“The Automated Precision Phenotyping Greenhouse will serve our research enterprise in addressing new challenges and expectations of the food system,” said Cliff Lamb, AgriLife Research director, during a formal grand opening. “Our growing population will require a higher quality food system that prevents diet-related chronic disease, and whose smaller environmental footprint uses less water and fewer inputs – these are great challenges. The greenhouse will position us as a world leader in precision agriculture.”

(Left) Cliff Lamb, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research director; Jeffrey W. Savell, Ph.D., vice chancellor and dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences; John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System; and Seth Murray, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research corn breeder and Eugene Butler Endowed Chair in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Michael Miller) 

With Texas enduring ongoing drought conditions, the research facility will allow scientists to explore breakthrough plant crop genomic discoveries to offset one of the nation’s most harsh growing environments.

In conjunction with advanced genomics and big data collection, the greenhouse technology can identify specific chemical compounds and accelerate crop plant improvements through breeding and genetics, maximizing productivity and stress tolerance.

Research initiative funding
Located at 3950 Finfeather Road in The Texas A&M Plant Growth and Phenotyping Facility, the greenhouse is funded by the Chancellor’s Research Initiative Award and matched by the Governor’s University Research Initiative Award. Additional robotic equipment is funded by a Research Development Fund Award. The facility had a construction budget estimated at $3.5 million.

Located at 3950 Finfeather Road in The Texas A&M Plant Growth and Phenotyping Facility, the greenhouse is funded by the Chancellor’s Research Initiative Award and matched by the Governor’s University Research Initiative Award. Additional robotic equipment is funded by a Research Development Fund Award. The facility had a construction budget estimated at $3.5 million. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Michael Miller) 

The facility features two greenhouses with robotic gantry systems, one 2,400 square feet, and the other 600 square feet. Their gantry systems transmit the entire length of each greenhouse. On the gantry systems are rolling trucks with long-reaching robotic arms to perform various research activities, such as monitoring plant health and movement. A sensor head includes a multispectral camera and a Raman spectrometer.

The greenhouse facility also includes three additional 600-square-foot research greenhouses without robotic systems. All five greenhouses feature advanced LED lighting systems and eaves that are 19 feet high. Lab and field researchers can also access a 1,500-square-foot headhouse equipped with autoclaves and potting tables, as well as a laser room and common-use laboratory.

‘Milestone for Texas A&M AgriLife’
“This is an important milestone for Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife, and The Texas A&M University System as we continue to innovate and meet new challenges in providing solutions for Texas agriculture and abroad,” said Jeffrey W. Savell, Ph.D., vice chancellor and dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The facility provides Texas A&M faculty with a unique infrastructure for automated precision phenotyping, significantly accelerating crop improvement progress and allowing iterative cycles of optimization and calibration.

It will also be a platform for interdisciplinary research where physicists, biochemists, and engineers will work alongside field scientists in soil, plants, microbes, insects, and other interrelated disciplines,” Lamb said.

The new technology will help advance urban and traditional field-based row agriculture, he noted.

“Researchers can replicate environments that occur naturally in the field. Technology will allow traits to be measured autonomously with extreme precision using robots and sensors.”

Lamb said the facility will also help recruit graduate students.

“These future scientists will learn the latest skills and technologies needed to characterize plant and stressor interactions and work for hand in hand with producers and consumers,” he said. “The greenhouse facility will aid faculty in attracting top graduate school candidates and additional federal and industry funding in these areas.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit: NAE

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

This is an excerpt. Read the original post here

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How plant breeding innovations are helping feed a hungry world

Mikaela Waldbauer | Sustainable Agricultural Innovation & Food (SAIFood) | April 29, 2022

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Rice can survive submerged, but not for long. Plant breeding technology is getting the crop ready for climate change floods. Credit: Sasin Tipchai
Rice can survive submerged, but not for long. Plant breeding technology is getting the crop ready for climate change floods. Credit: Sasin Tipchai

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.

As of 2019, nearly 26% of the globe’s population “experienced hunger or did not have regular” access to safe and nutritious food (FAO, 2020). With increasing global populations and a changing climate, this number is estimated to surpass 840 million by 2030 (UN, n.d.).

Plant breeding technologies have impacted global food security in positive ways. One of the major ways genetically modified (GM) crops can influence global food security is by adapting plants to the changing climate. Plant breeding can be utilized to develop crop plant varieties with a higher tolerance to environmental stresses such as heat, drought, and flooded conditions.

For example, a rice variety developed by plant breeders in Bangladesh has been shown to survive flooded conditions for as long as two weeks, and common beans have been used to develop both heat and cold resistant varieties capable of being grown in both the Durango region of Mexico and the high altitudes of Columbia and Peru (Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building [GIPD], n.d.).

The climate is changing at a faster rate than crop plants can adapt, and few solutions to this issue exist. One key solution is the improvement of crop plant varieties through new plant breeding innovations. The evidence is clear that GM crop varieties are superior in performance under harsh conditions (GIPD, n.d.). However, these solutions are not utilized to their fullest extent due to intense scrutiny and rejection.

Importance of nutritious diets

With an increase in the global population, food insecurity is predicted to rise. To compensate for population growth, food production must increase at a faster rate than it currently is today. Research shows plant breeding can address this concern. According to a 22-year study on the economic impact of GM crops, global production has increased substantially because of yield increased from GM crops (Brookes & Barfoot, 2020). Urbanization is reducing the area of arable land available for food production. Without the use of additional land to grow more food, an increase in yields on the land currently cultivated will be solely relied on to increase production. GM crops are one tool that can be used in improving production levels of food, when compared to conventional crops, by increasing yields.

Considering smallholder farmers make up 50% of the world’s undernourished (Qaim & Kouser, 2013), increasing the profit of smallholder farmers should have a net decrease in food insecurity in developing countries. Smallholder profits have also increased with the adoption of GM crops. Studies have found that GM crop varieties have improved yields substantially when compared to conventional crops. Most notably, the highest improvements in crop yield have been observed in developing countries, where food insecurity is the highest (Brookes & Barfoot, 2014). Since the study began in 1996, there has been a $225 billion increase in farmer income, as of 2018. A reduction in pesticide cost and improvement in yields is responsible for increased profit, primarily through insect-resistant varieties such as the newly commercialized Bt cowpea in Nigeria. An increase in farmer profit through GM crop cultivation is clear, especially in low-income countries. Yet, the very regions that could benefit most from these crops are the ones that reject them. More widespread commercialization of GM crop varieties has the impact to increase farmer profit, specifically smallholder profit, which makes up a generous portion of the world’s undernourished.

Micronutrient deficiency affects over 50% of the global population (Nestel et al., 2006). Large consumption of staple food products in developing countries such as rice, wheat, and corn with little variety can lead to nutritional deficiencies including deficiencies in vitamin A, iron, zinc, among others. Recently, a GM rice crop biofortified with beta-carotene (a vitamin A precursor) was approved for cultivation in the Philippines, called Golden Rice. Golden Rice has the potential to diminish the prevalence of micronutrient-related malnutrition, vitamin A deficiency. Golden Rice can combat vitamin A deficiency in high rice-consuming regions by allowing the consumption of beta-carotene without changing the taste or agronomic qualities of the rice while remaining at a comparable cost to conventional rice (IRRI, n.d.). Evidence does depict the capabilities of biofortification in a deficient diet.

Looking forward

Of the opposing views brought forth by ant-GMO advocates, most are refutable. Sifting through the scientific literature, is it suggested that while GM crops may offer a net positive impact on the state of global food security, they are not a panacea to the enormous problem of global food insecurity. Rather, GM crops can be viewed as one vital tool assisting in the mitigation of global food insecurity.

Mikaela Waldbauer is an Agronomy student at University of Saskatchewan interested in food security and plant breeding. Follow Mikaela on Twitter @Mikaela_Marion

A version of this article was posted at Saifood and is used here with permission. You can check out Saifood on Twitter @SAIFood_blog

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BCPC’s GM/Biotech Crops Report – April 2022

5th April 2022

  • GM/Biotech Crops Monthly Reports (BELOW) form part of BCPC’s free three-tier Biotech Crops Info service.
  • This service also includes a weekly round-up of news from around the globe – see BCPC Newslink GM Crops section.
  • Plus – Free access database on over 300 GM/biotech products covering 23 crops in the global market visit BCPC’s GM/Biotech Crops Manual – Register here for free access.
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GM/Biotech Crops Monthly Report April 2022

Lettuce in space

Astronauts that spend a long time in space can suffer from a loss of bone density due to the reduced gravity but now a team at the University of California have developed a genetically-modified lettuce that produces a drug that can offset this loss and that can be grown in space to provide the astronauts with fresh green leaves to eat. Pic: Mel Edwards. Full Story.

Antibiotics on crops

While Europe bans neonicotinoids to ensure no harmful effects to bees, America is spraying apple and pear orchards with streptomycin to control the bacterial disease fire blight. A study has shown that bees exposed to the streptomycin are less active and collect less pollen than those that are not exposed to the antibiotic.
Full Story.

An elixir of youth

Some people try blood transfusions from young people to recapture that youthful zest for life and now a study has produced some evidence supporting that hope. Young mice blood contains packets of chemicals (extracellular vesicles) budded off from dividing cells that, when injected in to old mice, restores grip strength, stamina and motor coordination. Sadly the effect wears off after a couple of months but another injection can restore it.
Full story

BT maize resistant to stem borer attack

An evaluation of BT maize in Uganda has confirmed a reduction of leaf damage and stem attack that has led to yield increases of 30 – 80%.
Full Story.

Salt-tolerant cotton

A relative of Arabidopsis has yielded a trait that can be used to confer salt tolerance to cotton which could allow the crop to be grown on more land but could also boost yields in areas where it is already grown.
Full Story

Herbicide-tolerant tomatoes

Scientists in Korea have used gene editing to alter three enzymes in tomatoes. The benefits of changes to PDS and EPSPS enzymes are unclear but the changes to the ALS enzyme can confer tolerance of ALS herbicides similar to the naturally-occurring tolerance recently introduced in sugar beet.
Full Story

Potato genome decoded

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute and the Ludwig Maximillian University have decoded the entire genome of potatoes and this knowledge is to be used to develop improved varieties for future cropping. The following link takes you to the German text which can be translated by computer.
Full Story

Gene expression imbalance boosts wheat yields

Researchers at Kansas University have found that varying the expression of various genes in wheat can affect the grain size and final yields. This knowledge can possibly be used to optimise yields of new varieties.
Full Story

Control of Fall Army Worm

Pilot studies in Brazil have shown that release of Oxitec’s ‘Friendly’ male army worms can reduce the populations of army worms due to the males carrying a male only trait and that this reduction will help to protect the Bt maize that is grown there from resistance developing in the wild population. It is very target specific and has no effect on other species such as bees.
Full Story

USDA approved gene-edited cattle

The USDA has decided that gene-edited beef cattle that have shorter hair than unedited cattle pose no safety concerns and can be marketed without waiting for a specific approval:
Full Story

Europe approves transgenic maize with stacked traits

The EFSA finds no safety concerns in GM maize with stacked traits for insect resistance and tolerance of glyphosate and glufosinate. This permits the import of these crops but it still does not allow them to be grown in Europe.
Full Story

Stripe rust resistance in wheat

An international team has identified the specific gene that confers resistance to stripe rust in the African bread wheat variety ‘Kariega’ and now this trait can be transferred to other varieties.
Full Story

Gene-silencing for weed control

Colorado University has developed a spray that contains antisense oligonucleotides that penetrate the leaves of the weed Palmer amaranth and silence essential genes in the weed. Palmer amaranth has developed resistance to a number of herbicides but this spray is specific to this weed and has no effect on the crop or non-target organisms.
Full Story

Nutritional Impact of regenerative farming

The University of Washington has compared crops grown on land under regenerative farming management with crops grown on adjacent conventionally farmed land and has shown that the regenerative farming crops have higher levels of vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals. They don’t give any comparison of the yields achieved though and perhaps the higher levels of vitamins etc are simply due to them being distributed through lower yielding crops.
Full Story

Transgenic sugarcane

Sugarcane with overexpressed sucrose-phosphate synthase has been trialled in Indonesia has shown increased tiller number, height and yield than conventional varieties without affecting bacterial diversity or gene horizontal flow in the soil.
Full Story

Potato virus Y resistance

Researchers in Iran have used gene-silencing techniques to develop potatoes that exhibit resistance to potato Y virus.
Full Story

GM barley trials in the UK

Fertiliser prices have gone through the roof and NIAB in conjunction with Cambridge University at the Crop Science Centre are to trial gene modified and gene edited lines of barley to see if they can improve the nitrogen and phosphorus uptake of the plants and make them less reliant on applied fertilisers. If successful on barley, it could be rolled out to other crops.
Full Story

Palm oil replacement

Palm oil is widely used in many products but the proliferation of palm plantations is responsible for a lot of habitat loss throughout the world. Now a team at Nanyang technological University in Singapore have developed a technique for producing the oil from common microalgae.
Full Story

Corn borer resistant maize

Zhejiang University in China has developed a genetically modified maize that has insect resistant traits and a 5 year study has shown it can give up to 96% reduction in corn borer damage and a 6 – 10% yield increase over conventional varieties.
Full Story


The latest approvals of biotech crops to report this month:

• GMB151 – soybean tolerant of isoxaflutole herbicide approved for food use in Canada and for environmental use in America


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Scientists identify genes key to microbial colonization of plant roots


Identification of an enzyme that microbes deploy in the presence of plants leads to discovery of candidate genes involved in root colonization.


Scientists Identify Genes Key to Microbial Colonization of Plant Roots

The Science

Some microbes can form thin films called biofilms. These biofilms give them an advantage over other microbes by protecting them from stresses such as a lack of nutrients or the presence of harmful substances in the environment. Researchers often focus on the biofilms that pathogens use to resist antibiotics. However, some biofilms can be helpful to plants and other host organisms. In previous work, researchers found that Pantoea sp. YR343, a bacterium that promotes plant growth, forms robust biofilms along the root surface of Populus, the genus which includes willow and cottonwood trees. Scientists know relatively little about the mechanisms behind the formation of biofilms on plant roots, particularly at the genetic level. However, research has found that enzymes called diguanylate cyclases are key to biofilm formation. This new research has identified a diguanylate cyclase, DGC2884, that is expressed specifically in the presence of plants when bacteria colonize roots and form biofilms.

The Impact

Diguanylate cyclases are found in many species of bacteria. These enzymes control multiple behaviors, including how bacteria form biofilms, cause disease, and move. This research shows that a particular diguanylate cyclase, DGC2884, operates specifically during biofilm formation and when bacteria are near a plant. This research also identified genes that could be involved in root colonization, suggesting that root colonization may be controlled at the genetic level. This will help microbiologists and other researchers better understand how bacteria colonize root surfaces and how gene expression may play a part. The results may also help scientists study similar behaviors in microbes important to medicine and agriculture.


This study used promoter-reporter constructs to identify a diguanylate cyclase, DGC2884, that is expressed in the presence of a plant. The researchers characterized this enzyme further and determined that when overexpressed, it affected exopolysaccharide production, biofilm formation, motility, and pellicle formation. They also demonstrated that the N-terminal transmembrane domain, as well as a functional GGDEF active site, are required for the activity of DGC2884. Based on phenotypes associated with overexpression of DGC2884 in Pantoea sp. YR343, the scientists performed transposon mutagenesis to identify genes that no longer exhibited the unique phenotypes observed when DGC2884 was overexpressed. They identified 58 different genes with this screen and selected a subset of transposon mutants for further characterization. Interestingly, mutations affecting Type VI secretion, as well as a nucleoside-diphosphate kinase and ABC transporter, exhibited increases in colonization, while mutations affecting exopolysaccharide production resulted in decreases in colonization when compared to the wild type control. Further, they found that some mutants exhibited differences primarily in the patterns of root colonization, more than the amount of colonization, suggesting that certain patterns of root colonization may be modulated on a genetic level.


This research was supported by the Department of Energy Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research Genomic Science Program as part of the Plant Microbe Interfaces Scientific Focus Area.






Experimental study


Not applicable


Identification of a diguanylate cyclase expressed in the presence of plants and its application for discovering candidate gene products involved in plant colonization by Pantoea sp. YR343



Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases

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Lentil breeding advances set to continue

North Queensland Register

Gregor Heard

Gregor Heard@grheard20 Oct 2021, 3 p.m.Grains

Agriculture Victoria lentil breeder Arun Shunmugam with a promising line of yet to be commercially released lentils in a trial at the pulse trial site at Propodollah, near Nhill, last week.

 Agriculture Victoria lentil breeder Arun Shunmugam with a promising line of yet to be commercially released lentils in a trial at the pulse trial site at Propodollah, near Nhill, last week.Aa

IN A YEAR with many contenders for most lucrative crop lentils are making a solid charge.

Values are in excess of $1000 a tonne, primarily in light of a lack of product from the world’s largest exporter of the legume, Canada, and an easing of tariffs from the world’s largest importer, India.https://7d116f708d3262b63c59ece0b6732cc5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

RELATED: New field peas

It has farmers in the lentil belt through Victoria and South Australia excited about this year’s harvest, with a kind season in regions such as the Wimmera meaning many crops are displaying outstanding yield potential.

Given the buzz around the crop at present it is no wonder lentils were one of the major talking points at last week’s Southern Pulse Field Day near Nhill in Victoria’s Wimmera.

Agriculture Victoria pulse breeders Jason Brand and Arun Shunmugam said there were a number of promising new developments in the lentil breeding pipeline.

In particular two cultivars yet to be commercialised are performing well in trials, with Dr Brand saying there was huge yield potential in the two lines.

Dr Shunmugam said other focuses of breeders included looking to incorporate more frost resistant genetic material along with further advances in herbicide resistant and tolerant varieties.

The crowd at the Nhill field day said Clearfield / imi-tolerant lines such as Hallmark and Hurricane were popular as they gave flexibility within the rotation and reduced the plant-back risk when planted following another Clearfield line.

Dr Brand said frost and waterlogging tolerance remained two key objectives.

He said there was a complex interaction which meant plants just metres apart could fare vastly differently.

“You can see even in the trials here that some plants look like they’ve incurred frost damage and just a couple of metres away with slightly different soil type and slightly higher up they are unaffected.

“Some form of tolerance to both these stresses would be a great win for the industry,” Dr Brand said.

He said the breeding sector wanted feedback from growers about what herbicide tolerance traits were wanted.

“It is a complex one as we have to manage market expectations and maximum residue limits in with what is going to work well agronomically, but we’re really keen to hear what growers would be interested in seeing in future varieties,” he said.

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The story behind the 100% public GM bean reaching Brazilian plates

Daniel Norero | August 31, 2021

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Common bean. Credit: Portal Voz da Comunidade
Common bean. Credit: Portal Voz da Comunidade

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.In some Brazilian supermarkets, it is already possible to buy a new genetically modified (GM) common bean, which bears the corresponding GM labeling as required by local regulations. Nothing about this event would be news, considering that Brazil is the second global power in the production of GM crops after the United States and has seen its stores full of products with GM labels. However, this new bean isn’t another of many GM corn and soybeans typically created by North American companies, but rather a 100% locally developed crop by scientists from a state-owned company in the Amazonian giant.

The journey for this new biotech bean to reach Brazilian markets was long and not free of obstacles. It began in the search for a solution to the troublesome Bean Golden Mosaic Virus (BGMV) that can wipe out more than half of a farmer’s bean plants. This pathogen is transmitted by the whitefly, and causes losses estimated at 300,000 tons per year, enough to feed 15 million people.

“BGMV is a serious problem in tomatoes, soybeans and other plants, but in beans it’s also transmitted by whiteflies in a persistent way. When the insect already acquires the virus, it begins to transmit it throughout its life,” says Francisco Aragão, senior researcher at the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) and co-creator of the new Brazilian GM bean. “That is why it is difficult to develop a resistance strategy and it’s also known that if you have only one whitefly per plant, you can already have 100% infection.”

Dr. Francisco Aragao (right) and Dr. Josias Faria (left), “fathers” of the Brazilian GM bean. Photo taken in January 2020 in a GM bean field in the city of Río Verde, Goias state. Credit: Francisco Aragao.

Before the new GM bean, the only BGMV control methods were cultural management, biological control, and the use of pesticides to control the virus host -the whitefly- with little results. “The average application [of pesticides] in a season is 10 times, but there are producers who apply 20 times or more. Even with those apps it is still possible to lose everything on some occasions. And if there is soy nearby, it will be very difficult to control the whitefly population in your beans,” says Aragao.

“The prices of insecticides are very expensive and for small farmers it’s difficult to have to use it so many times. In Brazil we have a very large area -about 1.2 million acres- where it’s not recommended to plant beans due to the great loss probability”.Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.SIGN UP

Not just for COVID: RNA also protects crops

Since the 1960s, EMBRAPA researchers have searched for bean cultivars with natural resistance to BGMV throughout the Americas, but results were unsatisfactory. Once only cultivars with only partial resistance and not adapted to Brazilian conditions were identified, EMBRAPA decided to invest in modern biotechnology and GMOs.

“This started in the 90’s when we began to try, on the one hand, to transform beans, which is still one of the most difficult plants to be genetically transformed, and on the other, to study the virus and develop strategies to obtain resistant plants,” Aragao relates. Together with his colleague, Josias Faria, they tried some biotechnological strategies such as antisense RNA -expression of the complementary RNA strand of a gene- and lethal transdominance -expression of a mutated protein that is essential for virus replication-, unfortunately without results or only partial resistance.

“With RNA interference technology, we started in the early 2000s,” Aragao says about RNAi, a natural defense mechanism in plants that “silences genes” but that wasn’t yet fully understood then. Despite this, in the 90’s there had already been success with the Hawaiian papaya, where genetic modification through interfering RNA would save the island’s farmers from the papaya ringspot virus.

How does it work? You’ve probably read or seen a lot in the headlines of the last year about RNA vaccines for COVID-19. In this case, the modifying mechanism with interfering RNA isn’t very different, and it literally works as a “vaccine” for crops. Scientists inserted a DNA fragment of the virus into the nuclear genome of the plant, with the aim of making it produce small double-stranded RNA molecules -known as small interfering RNA or siRNA- that silence the viral rep gene, a key gene for the virus’s replication cycle. As a consequence, the virus is unable to express this gene, its viral replication is interrupted and plants become resistant to the virus. In simple terms, you get a plant “vaccinated” against BGMV.

So in the future, not only will we protect ourselves from pandemics with RNA vaccines, our food can also be protected from deadly viruses with this technology.

It should be noted that this “gene silencing” method is a plant natural mechanism. A normal bean plant that is infected will generate siRNAs later, but not in conditions or levels to deal with the pathogen. With genetic engineering, scientists anticipate and adapt this natural system so that it is triggered the moment the virus enters the plant and it defends itself effectively.

“Something we observe is that flies acquire the virus from plants, but the virus doesn’t replicate in the fly, but in plants… and so the flies acquire more and more viruses,” adds Aragao. “We also observe that when viruliferous flies are put on modified plants, the viral load decreases in the fly, since it releases the virus and has no place to absorb more.”

“It’s interesting and we observe that the same happens for neighboring -not modified- plants”, Aragao indicates, about a potential protector effect that modified beans would have on neighboring conventional crops. “We hope that farmers who produce conventional beans alongside GM bean farmers will also benefit.”

Comparison between an elite line of GM bean resistant to BGMV (right) with healthy leaves and pods, and its conventional counterpart (left) with marked roughness and chlorosis, as well as deformed pods caused by BGMV. Credit: Souza, 2018

From the laboratory to the field

In 2004 the Aragao and Farias team developed the first bean plant immune to BGMV with the siRNA strategy. From 24 modified lines in total, two were immune, and line “5.1” was finally selected–so named since it derives from experiment number 5. “Then we began to do the greenhouse trials, after field trials, the biosafety analyzes and we generated all the data needed to answer all the questions from the National Technical Commission for Biosafety (CTNBio)”, says Aragao.

Aragao and Faria’s team demonstrated that this new GM bean was safe for human consumption, nutritionally equivalent, and had no effects on the environment different than conventional beans. For example, off-target or epigenetic effects were ruled out, and it’s important to note that the inserted transgene doesn’t generate any new proteins, but only small RNAs, which are very unstable molecules and are degraded during food processing.

The collected information was presented to the CTNBio regulators in 2010, approving its commercial release in 2011, a historic milestone as it was developed entirely by a public entity and was the first GM bean in the world. However, why has it taken about a decade to hit the market since that approval?

“We still didn’t have commercial cultivars, and it hasn’t been possible to develop them before because -here in Brazil- all field trials require authorization and also, each field must be in a certified area,” says Aragao about the Brazilian regulatory system. “And for the data generation rules of a new variety, it must be considered that Brazil has five areas for the bean, and we must carry out trials in at least three zones, of each one of the areas, for two years.”

Due to the cumbersomeness of the certification system, EMBRAPA preferred to wait for the commercial release of line 5.1 and only then to breed it with local varieties and endow them with virus resistance. “After commercial approval, you can sow wherever you want and it’s very difficult to have approval for all areas and zones before commercial approval,” adds Aragao.Related article:  15 years after debuting GMO crops, Colombia’s switch has benefited farmers and environment

After more than 31 field trials analyzing agronomic performance, the first GM cultivars of a Pinto -or Carioca- variety suitable for commercial use had already been obtained in 2015. The average yield of the modified cultivar was almost 20% higher than conventional varieties, and in areas with a high incidence of the virus, the profitability of GM beans was 78% higher.

GM bean field in the city of Río Verde, Goias state, in January 2020. Credit: Francisco Aragao

A fascinating piece of information that should be highlighted is the absolute immunity the modified plants have demonstrated since event 5.1 was obtained. “The losses from BGMV are zero. Every year, since we started experimental planting and until the commercial one, we never observe a single plant with the virus, the plants are totally immune,” says Aragao. A strong contrast with the high level of losses in conventional beans that ranges from 40% to 100% of the plants, and the remaining grain is usually deformed or not suitable for sale.

“With this bean, the idea is to have a reduction in pesticide applications. Instead of doing 10 or even 25 applications, the idea is to only do 3 applications (for other pests). What we did was create something more sustainable and safer for consumers”.

Consumer perception and exports

The rules and regulations were not the only problem to be overcome. Since 2015 it had been time to evaluate the best strategy to bring the new GM Pinto bean, a variety that is planted on more than three million hectares and represents 70% of the beans consumed in the country, to Brazilian tables.

“We started to see how to launch it, because beans are not like soybeans, corn or cotton for us. First, it’s a plant that is there on our plate and is consumed every day. Second, it is much more than a staple food, it has a cultural value,” emphasizes Aragao. Since 2015 they had discussed how to conduct the commercial launch, which did not take place until  the second half of 2020, after the seeds multiplication for the first sale.

What has been the attitude of farmers and consumers? In the case of farmers, apparently a success. “The sale of seed has been 100%. The seed producers didn’t sell more because they didn’t have any more,” says Aragao with a laugh. Regarding consumers, it’s still too early to evaluate it, but considering that supermarkets have been selling many products with GMO labeling for years -because GM corn or soybeans derivatives- Aragao hopes that there will be no rejections with the new bean. “If you go to the street and do a survey asking people if they would eat GMOs, probably 40-60% will say no, but in the supermarket they buy it without any problem,” he emphasizes.

Pinto bean package with the new GM variety. It bears the GM label in a yellow triangle with a letter T inside, and below the text: “Product elaborated from GM beans”. Credit: ChileBio

The fact that the Pinto bean produced in Brazil is destined for exclusive local consumption -unlike other varieties- facilitated its commercial release. “We also have modified black beans [from event 5.1], but for now we decided not to launch to the market, since Brazil exports black beans. For example, we have feijoada that is exported canned, and we don’t want to have problems in other countries,” says Aragao.

Genetic editing and new developments

Aragao and his team continue to work on improvements for this Brazilian bean and are already integrating new gene editing technologies to give it greater drought tolerance, decrease phytates (anti-nutritional components), and bestow resistance to other important bean viruses, such as carlavirus.

He also mentions an interesting work carried out with a GMO approach in collaboration with the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey from México in 2016, managing to increase the level of folate (vitamins B9) 150 times, an essential nutrient in fetal development and whose deficiency in pregnant women generates babies with severe congenital problems.

Dr. Francisco Aragao with other GM crops developed under his leadership: A folate-biofortified lettuce (left) and a ricin-free castor bean (right). Credit: ISTOÉ/Embrapa

Other side projects that Aragao and his team are working on include GM lettuce and castor beans. “In lettuce we are working towards virus resistance and an increase in the folate level. We are running field trials and it’s practically ready, but we don’t have all the biosafety data yet. We want to achieve resistance to two very important viruses in lettuce -all over the world – and stack it together with the increase in folate in the same line.”

In castor bean, they seek to eliminate ricin, a highly toxic compound from seeds that makes its use in animal feed unfeasible. “Castor oil plant is a very interesting plant for semi-arid areas, it has a tremendous tolerance to drought and saline soils. The idea is to use a plant like this to obtain not only oil, but also a source of protein for animals,” says Aragao. “The cake that remains after oil extraction is used as fertilizer, but using it as protein for animals would be a much more noble and sustainable purpose.”

Local efforts and science denialism

Until now there has been no opposition from activists and NGOs against the commercial release of the new GM bean. “The anti-GMO groups here in Brazil are fighting against Argentine HB4 wheat, so at least they have forgotten about the bean,” says Aragao. The HB4 wheat he mentions is the first in the world to be approved for commercial release in the neighboring country, but it was conditional on import approval by Brazil, the largest buyer of Argentine wheat.

“Some of the anti-GMO (activists) now claim to be in favor of science for the COVID vaccine. Here we see an example of science denialism. They are deniers depending on the technology, and they don’t consider that some of the modern vaccines are GMOs. To claim that GMOs aren’t safe is simply science denialism. All the scientific data shows that they are safe,” remarks Aragao.

Another important point is that EMBRAPA’s GM bean dismantles the classic narrative against GMOs on the grounds of alleged monopolies or that it’s an exclusive technology of large companies and rich countries. “GM beans are important to show that this technology is not only for big farmers, since we have many small bean farmers in Brazil. Why only for soy, corn and cotton? Why only for large farmers?” asks Aragao.

“It is a technology that can be used for small farmers and to address local problems and crops. Large companies aren’t going to invest in sweet potatoes, cassava, beans or peanuts. They prefer to invest in crops of large areas that are grown in different countries. That is why developing countries have to make an investment in their own problems, and why not, with technologies like this one,” he concludes.

In Brazil, there is hope that this biotechnological solution, fruit of ingenuity and effort of the public sector of Brazil, will be an example to be followed by other Latin American, African and Asian countries. This GM bean approval is a preferrable alternative to walking the European path that has been hindering this technology for more than two decades. Following the Brazilian path shows how to develop local solutions to local problems.

Daniel Norero is a science communications consultant and fellow at the Cornell Alliance for Science. He studied biochemistry at the Catholic University of Chile. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNorero

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

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