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genetic literacy project

20 plus years of data show Bt insect-resistant crops to be ‘powerful,’ sustainable pest management tools

| | February 13, 2019

Genetically engineered (GE) crops producing insecticidal proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) (mainly Cry proteins) have become a major control tactic for a number of key lepidopteran and coleopteran pests, mainly in maize, cotton, and soybean.

Over the past 20+ years, extensive experience and insight have been gained through laboratory and field-based studies of the non-target effects of crops producing Cry proteins. Overall, the vast majority of studies demonstrates that the insecticidal proteins deployed today cause no unintended adverse effects to natural enemies.

Furthermore, when Bt crops replace synthetic chemical insecticides for target pest control, this creates an environment supportive of the conservation of natural enemies. As part of an overall integrated pest management (IPM) strategy, Bt crops can contribute to more effective biological control of both target and non-target pests….Bt technology represents a powerful tool for IPM.

As of late 2008, over 63 field studies had been conducted to assess the potential impacts of Bt crops on non-target arthropods….Dozens of studies have since been added, especially in the rice and soybean systems, but also with continued focus on cotton and maize….Overall, these studies have collectively concluded that non-target effects of Bt crops are minimal or negligible, especially in comparison to the negative effects of the use of insecticides for control of the Bt targeted pest

[T]he large-scale adoption of Bt crops in some parts of the world has led to area-wide suppressions of target pest populations benefiting both farmers that adopted the technology and those that did not.

Consequently, such insect-resistant GE varieties can not only help to increase yields and provide economic benefits to farmers but also improve environmental and human health. The large body of evidence supporting such outcomes should be considered when developing and introducing new insecticidal GE plants in new countries and cropping systems.

Read full, original article: Genetically engineered crops help support conservation biological control

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Click the link above to read the full, original article.


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Africa: Using drones to optimise agricultural yields and reduce costs.


CTA Blog

The Cameroonian company Agribizz, a member of the UAV4Ag community, was selected to represent Cameroon in the project ‘Transforming Africa’s Agriculture: Eyes in the Sky, Smart Techs on the Ground’ commonly called ‘Eyes in the Sky’. Its Chief Executive Officer, Jasmin Choake, shares what the team learned from participating, as well as his opinion on the role that drones will play in the transformation of African agriculture.

In the majority of African countries, as in Cameroon, agriculture employs the majority of the active population. However, it is often faced with difficulties to which drones seem an increasingly powerful solution. By facilitating an information revolution, drones encourage the emergence of ever more efficient agricultural management systems which support precision agriculture.

Following the EX.CL/Dec.986-1007 (XXXII) ruling by the Executive Council of the African Union on 26th January 2018, recognising drones as a technology to enable agricultural transformation in Africa, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) , via its community UAV4Ag, has fully understood the potential for this innovative technology. This undoubtedly led to them creating the programme Transforming Africa’s Agriculture: Eyes in the Sky, Smart Techs on the Ground, known as “Eyes in the Sky”, which has supported several established African drone operators to increase capacity and share purchase costs for drones and processing software.

Increased recognition for drones and an invaluable way to share experience

The “Eyes in the Sky” project was conducted in two phases. The first phase, held in Lusaka in Zambia, from 11th to 18th July 2018, was the most intense, as it covered more subjects and speakers. The working sessions were focused on using the Agisoft software, developing drone services, using social networks, and other business management tools. It was an invaluable experience, as it allowed each participant, whatever their background, to improve their knowledge and understanding of drones.

The second phase was held in Ghana, from 1st to 5th October 2018, in partnership with the drone manufacturing company Parrot and the Ghanaian Cape Coast University. It was a significant event as it allowed us to actually pilot Parrot drones (Bluegrass and Disco Pro-Ag). We conducted flight plans in both manual and automatic modes with assistance from our devices (telephones and tablets) linked to a skycontroller. We then collected data using the drones’ multispectral sensors. The software was used to create diagnostic maps created by processing the captured images. The second part of the final phase was the interpretation of the data in order to facilitate decision-making. Thanks to the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) we were able to measure the chlorophyll activity and the health of the vegetation on the farm where the training took place. Our various questions and concerns were addressed by the instructor, or in some cases by other participants. The discussions with other participants were extremely valuable.We also shared our experiences, information about our businesses, our points of view and also the problems we faced.

Using drones to optimise agricultural yields and reduce costs.

The “Eyes in the Sky” project has been extremely important in the development of Agribizz by allowing us to strengthen our portfolio of partners who are able to provide us with expertise. For drone services, we can now more easily conduct projects inspecting plantations, calculating surface areas and carrying out consultancy cartography work for the planning and development of farms.

Drones are extremely important for the modernisation of African agriculture, as they bring greater efficiency, precision and reliability at a much lower cost. Drones allow us to optimise agricultural yields as they significantly reduce costs linked to production. In general, farmers use fertilisers and crop protection products across their entire farm, although only certain specific areas really require the treatment. Drones allow us to identify the precise areas where intervention is required, therefore reducing the costs linked to agricultural inputs and labour. Spraying drones perfectly complement this process, as they are then able to apply the products with even greater precision.

IAPPS | February 12, 2019 at 12:51 am | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: https://wp.me/pWoIf-45i



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Transgenic Research

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 151–164 | Cite as

Transgenic potato lines expressing hairpin RNAi construct of molting-associated EcR gene exhibit enhanced resistance against Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata, Say)

  • Tahira Hussain
  • Emre Aksoy
  • Mehmet Emin Çalışkan
  • Allah BakhshEmail author
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural Genetic Engineering, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and TechnologiesNigde Omer Halisdemir UniversityNigdeTurkey
Original Paper


Most of the commercialized insect resistant transgenic crops express cry gene(s) isolated from Bacillus thuringiensis; however, intensive cultivation of Bt crops over almost two decades has been questioned regarding its sustainability and durability in pest management. The present study focused on silencing of highly specific molting-associated Ecdysone receptor (EcR) gene of Colorado potato beetle (CPB) using RNA interference (RNAi) approach. The partial cDNA of EcR gene of CPB was amplified using specific primers in sense and anti-sense orientations, and cloned in pRNAi-GG vector flanked by an intronic sequence (pdk). Leaf and internodal explants of Agria and Lady Olympia potato cultivars were infected with Agrobacterium strain LBA4404 harboring constructs under the control of CaMV 35S promoter. Standard molecular analysis of primary transformants showed proper integration of T-DNA in plant genome. The transgenic plants of both cultivars were evaluated for their efficacy against first, second and third instar CPB larvae. The leaf biotoxicity assays revealed 15–80% of CPB mortality. A significantly lower fold-change (0.87–4.14×) in larval weight was observed in insects fed on transgenic plants compared to the ones fed on control plants (1.87–6.53×). Furthermore, CPB larvae fed on transgenic plants exhibited reduced EcR transcripts, indicating the functionality of dsRNA EcR in silencing EcR gene expression. This study is an excellent example of the integration of an alternative, effective and reliable method to cope with potato insect pests that incur significant losses to potato production in the world.


Ecdysone receptor Transgenic technology Insect resistance Molting 



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Eastern Monarchs Flourish While Western Numbers Plunge

In the last year, the butterfly’s eastern group has more than doubled its hibernation area while the other population waned. Plus, researchers are moving trees to save monarch habitat.

Feb 8, 2019
Carolyn Wilke

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In the past year, the eastern population of monarch butterflies that overwinters in Mexico boosted the area it occupies during hibernation by 144 percent, as revealed by an annual survey performed by the World Wildlife Fund-Mexico and partner organizations.

The survey measures the area monarchs occupy because of the difficulty in counting individual butterflies. This year monarchs took up almost 15 acres of forest, up from about six acres last year, making it the largest increase in 12 years, according to a statement.

Favorable weather contributed to the population’s uptick with warm temperatures that helped migrations, according The San Francisco Chronicle. “This was a Cinderella year,” Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona, tells the Chronicle.

Populations fluctuate from year to year and experts caution that these good numbers may not repeat in years to come. The butterflies are also still threatened by habitat loss, climate change, and use of pesticides and herbicides, according to The Associated Press.

The western population of monarchs that overwinters along the Pacific Coast has fared much worse. An annual count by the Xerces Society, a nonprofit conservation organization, found a record low number of roughly 28,000 butterflies in 2018—an 86 percent drop from the previous year, according to a statement. The numbers now represent a staggering 99.4% decline from the estimated 4.5 million that overwintered in areas of California and Baja, Mexico in the 1980s.

The two populations are genetically similar and the eastern butterflies’ surge may benefit their western brethren. “It’s possible that some of those monarchs could migrate into the western population,” Curry tells The Chronicle.

In other monarch news, researchers in Mexico are working to bolster the eastern population against habitat loss due to a changing climate by moving hundreds of oyamel fir trees up higher on a mountain in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Scientific American reports. The butterflies overwinter in the trees.

The researchers conducting the project estimate that rising temperatures will cut suitable habitat for the trees by about 70 percent between 2025 and 2035. The team calculated that it could move fir seedlings up the mountainside by roughly 350 meters to reach temperatures that would be more ideal under the changing climate. The researchers have shifted over 750 seedlings higher up on the mountain, according to Scientific American.

A journal article on the work is currently undergoing peer review. While there’s some controversy over assisted migration to save species from climate change as opponents argue that introduced species can threaten those already in an area, some scientists are onboard. “This is an example of a good experiment,” Sally Aitken, a forest ecologist at the University of British, tells Scientific American.

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Nebraska Farmer Update

European Corn Borer closeup Keith Weller, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org
TARGETING CONTROL: A startup will advance the use of RNA interference technology in new ways, beyond biotech crops. That could enhance the control of pests like this European corn borer.

Advance pest control technology

A startup aims to commercialize a targeted-approach crop protection product. The key is RNA interference.

Willie Vogt | Feb 11, 2019

The science of RNA interference is proven. Already, crop protection giant Bayer has labeled the approach for control of crop pests in corn and cotton. But is there a way to advance this approach beyond transgenic crops? The folks at private equity firm TechAccel say yes.

The Kansas City, Kan.-based firm is focused on investing exclusively in plant and animal agriculture, animal health and animal nutrition startups. Supported by a group of wealthy investors, the focus is on startups and ideas that have a relationship to agriculture. The latest effort is creation of RNAissance Ag LLC, a new company that will hold the exclusive license to RNA interference technology in partnership with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. The Danforth Center is a research facility that focuses on what it calls the “nexus of food, energy and the environment to improve the productivity and sustainability of agriculture.”

Targeted approach
RNA interference is a very specific way to “mess up” a key biological process in a pest. The specificity is so high that other insects can consume the same “toxin” with no ill effects. Fabbri notes, however, that the cost of RNA has been as high as $10,000 per gram in the past. “It was cost-prohibitive to use as a kind of over-the-top spray,” he says. “But that’s changing.”

GreenLight has developed a process that can produce targeted RNA for as little as $1 per gram. It’s still in the startup stage but shows the potential. Having a source of this target RNA is one factor; the other is identifying the right target for that “bullet.”

“RNA interference is designed to interfere with an enzyme or process in the insect,” Fabbri says. “If you can get it into the insect and engage with the insect, you can have good interference.”

Where RNAaissance has potential, Fabbri says, is that the Danforth technology is working with a “different set of theories and design principles” that have not been targeted in the past. “There is a specific set of other targets, multiple targets, that are really novel … and look like they’re really effective,” he explains.

Versatile product
New targets and the right interfering RNA (at a lower price) could lead to a spray that farmers could use to put the tech to work. An active ingredient with this mode of action would perhaps work with other products applied at the same time to beat back troublesome bugs. There’s a lot of work ahead to put this technology in the field, including the regulatory journey.

Fabbri noted that RNAissance technology could be used in transgenic crops, too, with novel targeted approaches. Note that while the cost of producing RNA in the lab has been high, in transgenic crops the RNA is produced as the plant grows. The cost picture is different. And TechAccel is talking with major seed companies about this technology as well.

To use RNAi tech as a crop protection product requires knowing how it’s working. “We can get dead bugs, but you want to do it in a way that’s potent enough for it to kill the bug,” Fabbri says. “We have to know if we’re getting dead bugs because of the RNAi and not just drowning the bug in product.”

Fabbri doesn’t talk about the timing of bringing this tech to market, but RNAissance and GreenLight are two examples of crop science that will offer farmers more options in the future as these tools come to market. You can learn more about TechAccel at techaccel.net.

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Why do we need to keep breeding new crop varieties?

Global warming and changes in the amount – and location – of water, are key factors in the need to continue crop breeding programs. In addition, there are many diseases that affect crop yield and quality. We need to continue breeding new disease resistant crop varieties to ensure a healthy, adequate food supply. Below are examples of breeding programs at Oregon State University to portray why breeding new varieties is important.


Barley is one of the world’s oldest crops – a truly ancient grain. Today, most barley in the world is used for animal feed, and in some areas barley is a staple food crop. In the US, most barley is used for malting and brewing.

Puffy slices of bread with serving clips on a bread board.

Barley breeders are working to make barley more robust in the face of climate change. We also work to make it a more profitable crop for farmers, and more available to consumers. Breeders are working on a few innovative approaches. The first involves selecting for varieties that can be planted in the fall, survive the winter, and be ready for harvest early the next summer. At the same time, we are breeding varieties that will make best use of available precipitation, as we face increasing times of drought.

Most barley grown today is “covered” when it is ready for harvest. A protective hull adheres tightly to the seed, and this hull needs to be removed before the barley can be consumed. However, we have successfully bred “naked” barleys, and continue to look for more naked varieties. Naked barley can be used without further processing after harvest. This qualifies naked barleys as a whole grain.

Beer is an important beverage for many cultures, and barley will continue to be the base of beer. There is tremendous potential for barley to enter the food stream. It can also serve as a locally-available, premium, animal feed grain.


Winter wheat is one of the major staple crops of the world. It is the primary cereal crop in Oregon.

A clear-walled tent on a wheat research plot with sunbeams showing through clouds

Wheat is adaptive across environments and can be used for multiple end-products. The reason behind this is that wheat’s genetic code is “allohexaploid.” That means it can have up to six copies of specific genes for every trait! So, if a disease or climate conditions stress the plants in one of their gene sets, another gene set can take over, and help that year’s crop succeed.

Current challenges to the wheat are similar to other crops – increasing variation in temperature and moisture availability. These climate changes also expand the regions where diseases and insect pests of wheat are found. The challenge to breeders is to anticipate these climate-induced changes, which is a bit like predicting this year’s flu strains, or the stock market!

By making better predictions, we can develop cultivars that are disease resistant, insect resistant and tolerant to drought and temperature while still being high yielding. To improve breeding efficiency, we are looking to molecular markers. We have a lot of data collected on wheat’s genetic code, which is shared in various databases. That helps us be creative and look at ways to cross-breed different varieties. The new higher-yielding varieties will carry the desired traits for disease resistance, temperature tolerance and end-use quality.


Unlike barley and wheat, potatoes store their nutrition in underground tubers. You might think of potatoes as only the source of chips, fries and other starchy snack foods. In reality, potatoes are the third most important food crop in the world. Potatoes (as a vegetable) are consumed by more than a billion people worldwide and can grow from sea level to 4700 m above sea level. That is a very flexible growing range! Potatoes are grown in over 150 countries. They are a significant dietary source of potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium. They also provide the micronutrients iron and zinc, fiber, vitamins C, B6 and B1, folate and essential amino acids.

Hand holding red potato with some soil on it; purple and white flowers of growing potatoes in background.

Potatoes, like other major food crops, face a range of abiotic and biotic stresses. Potatoes are a high input crop and need lots of fertilizer and pesticides for a productive crop. Further, potatoes are vulnerable for being regarded as an icon of “junk food” with changing consumer dietary preferences.

Potato breeders are trying to develop improved varieties with pest and disease resistance with improved nutrient use efficiency. Further, breeders are developing specialty potatoes with increased phytonutrient content. Breeders are using molecular and genomic information to improve breeding efficiency. They are also looking at reinventing potato as a diploid crop. This may help us use genetic resources and minimize losses due to tuber-borne diseases.

Potatoes are an important food crop for food security. They carry calories for energy, and many essential nutrients. They are a powerful delivery system for nutrition. Potatoes are one of the highest yielding crops per hectare of arable land. For all these reasons, and their delicious taste, the cultivated potato has the potential to address issues of food security.

Answered by Patrick Hayes, Bob Zemetra, and Sagar Sathuvalli, Oregon State University

To watch a video about barley breeding, or to read more, visit https://www.crops.org/about-crop-science/at-work/patrick-hayes.

To watch a video about potato breeding, or to read more, visit https://www.crops.org/about-crop-science/at-work/shelley-jansky.

About us: This blog is sponsored and written by members of the American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science Society of America. Our members are researchers and trained, certified, professionals in the areas of growing our world’s food supply while protecting our environment. We work at universities, government research facilities, and private businesses across the United States and the world.


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There’s a new goal post for agriculture: it’s nutrition

By Shenggen Fan, Sivan Yosef, and Rajul Pandya-Lorch

Agriculture is the single most important innovation in human history. Over the course of thousands of years, it has staved off hunger, allowed populations to leave their hunter-gatherer lives behind, and freed up time for other pursuits (like inventing writing and the wheel!) that have propelled societies forward. As recently as the 1970s the Green Revolution – a global push to improve and produce more wheat and rice – brought India back from the brink of mass famine. The Green Revolution improved the lives of one billion people around the world. This number is all the more impressive when considering that the world population was four billion at the time.

A global push to produce more rice brought India back from the brink of famine in the 1970s.

But for all its achievements, our current food and agriculture system is falling woefully short. In 2017, 821 million people were undernourished. About 151 million young children (under the age of five) were too short for their age. One third of women were anemic. And the global obesity epidemic shows no signs of stopping.

Malnutrition does not just affect health. Children who are undernourished when they are young end up starting school later, don’t complete as many grade levels, and also earn less as adults. Worse yet, these statistics translate into misery for people who do not even exist yet: poorly-nourished women give birth to poorly-nourished children, perpetuating a downward cycle.

Children who are undernourished complete fewer school grades

Why does agriculture not consider nutrition? After all, it seems obvious that good food is needed for good health. However, for millennia, the main responsibility of agriculture was to address food shortages so that people did not starve. In the midst of such emergencies, food quantity seemed more critical than food and diet quality and this was the approach that scholars and development practitioners adopted for years.

In the 2010s the development community, building upon efforts by CGIAR, HarvestPlus, and others, began to engage in critical mass on a different type of thinking: what if the enormous potential of agriculture to improve nutrition could be unleashed, in all possible ways? Agriculture, after all, does not just produce crops. It employs a huge segment of the poor population (almost 70 percent of people in poor countries), generating incomes that they can spend on healthy food, or doctor visits, or education. When women participate in agriculture, it can increase their power over income, land and livestock, and it also gives them a say on how food is distributed within their homes. Agricultural policies also affect consumers’ choices. For example, when a government provides subsidies for producing rice, that policy makes rice cheaper and incentivises shoppers in a supermarket to buy it instead of, for example, fruits and vegetables.

During the past decade, researchers, policymakers, and people working on the ground in poor countries have seized on this momentum to make significant advances in the small but mighty field of agriculture-nutrition. The results have been impressive. Some highlights include:

  • China’s National Nutrition Plan now aims to produce nutritious and safe agricultural products. The country is also rolling out demonstration sites for researching nutritious staple foods like sorghum and millet. Many other countries have also been linking the two sectors together, including Peru, Rwanda, Uganda, and Vietnam.
  • Biofortification, which increases the density of vitamins and minerals in a crop, is well on its way to reaching one billion people by the year 2030. Biofortification is ranked as one of the highest value-for-money investments for economic development.
  • Many organizations, such as Action Contre la Faim and Welthungerhilfe, have also started integrating agriculture-nutrition links into their operational strategies, a big step in the right direction.

sdg2In what may be the most visible recognition of the marriage between agriculture and nutrition, Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” essentially combines agriculture and nutrition into one goal.

It is an exciting time to be a student or professional in the agriculture-nutrition field. Every day, researchers are producing more evidence on the agriculture-nutrition nexus. Leaders are calling on professionals to step out of arbitrary silos and work together. Capacity is being built up within people and institutions to carry out this work. These efforts will exponentially improve the design and implementation of programs and policies, helping to reshape the agricultural and food system, and achieve better nutrition for the world’s most vulnerable people.

9781786399311_bookShenggen Fan, Sivan Yosef, and Rajul Pandya-Lorch are editors of Agriculture for Improved Nutrition: Seizing the Momentum, published by CABI and IFPRI in January 2019. This title will also be available as an Open Access eBook.

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