Some work to advance their education and make scientific breakthroughs, while others in Africa and the United Kingdom try to breakdown barriers associated with genetically-modified crops.

 

STATUS Africa

More African stakeholders are calling for increased adoption of genetically-modified crops to benefit farmers. During the recent launch of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) 2014 report on commercialized biotech crops, stakeholders in Burkina Faso and Kenya including policy makers, farmers and academia said that Africa’s farmers should be able to enjoy the benefits of the technology.

In Burkina Faso, the new Minister for Science and Technology, Jean-Noel Podareiterated the commitment by the country to use biotechnology, which has already given considerable benefits to area farmers.

“A recent study by the Institut de l’Environment et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA), the country’s agricultural research institute, showed that Bt cotton farmers gained about 31 per cent yield increase,” Poda says.

He says thanks to Bt cotton, Burkina Faso is the No. 1 country in cotton production in West Africa with 700,000 tonnes produced per year.

In Kenya, Robert Pukose, deputy chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Health, called for the lifting of the ban on GM food imports in Kenya, saying that fears related to their safety are unfounded. “If for anything, food derived from GM crops are healthier because scientists have tested them for adverse effects to human’s well-being.”

Pukose’s speech was much appreciated by farmers who asked that they benefit from the products research, especially Bt cotton. “Other farmers are benefitting all over the world, what is preventing us from enjoying the same? If it is the ban on GM food imports, the government should lift it,” said Mugo Magondu, a farmer from Embu County in Eastern Kenya.

For more information, contact Margaret Karembu, ISAAA AfriCenter director and chair of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology Kenya Programming Committee at mkarembu@isaaa.org.


STATUS SPAIN

Continuing to address the needs of the plant breeding community, the University of California, Davis, Plant Breeding Academy completed the first Advanced Module in Almeria, Spain, during the first week of March. The Advanced Module was available only to Plant Breeding Academy graduates.

Bruce Walsh from the University of Arizona, Tucson, joined the instructors to help deliver this module. The Advanced Module was designed to build the necessary background toward buliding a better understanding and practical application of best linear unbiased predictors (BLUPs) and genomic selection, with lecture and discussion on a number of topics, including multivariate selection, linear and mixed models, BLUPs, genomic selection and advanced experimental designs.

The class was complemented with visits to breeding stations and interactions with breeders of Monsanto Agricultura España and Rijk Zwaan Ibérica.

Employers appreciate the opportunity to provide their valued employees advanced training without disrupting their full-time employment. Participants attend six sessions lasting six days each during a two-year time period. The instructors are internationally recognized experts in plant breeding and seed technology.

The Plant Breeding Academy is a premium professional certificate program offered in the United States, Europe and Africa. To date, 171 industry and public breeders have attended the academy, making it one of the most significant courses of its kind, according to the university.

Applications are being accepted for European Plant Breeding Academy Class 4, beginning October 2015. For more information about the European Plant Breeding Academy, visit http://pba.ucdavis.edu.


STATUS United Kingdom

The UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee released a report saying that the current European Union regulations that prevent the adoption of genetically-modified crops in the UK are not fit for purpose and should be changed to a trait-based system for regulating biotech crops.

“Opposition to genetically modified crops in many European countries is based on values and politics, not science,” says Andrew Miller, committee chair. “The scientific evidence is clear that crops developed using genetic modification pose no more risk to humans, animals or the environment than equivalent crops developed using more ‘conventional’ techniques.”

The report highlights three flaws in the EU regulation on GM crops. The first being that existing regulations are based on the assumption that GM crops pose more risk than crops developed through other techniques. This process-based approach fails to recognize that the risk posed by a crop has little to do with how it is made and mostly to do with the characteristics it displays and how it is used in the field.

Second, the current system highlights the potential risks of GM products and fails to balance these with possible benefits to the farmers, consumers and the environment. Finally, current regulations prevent EU states from making their own decisions about whether to adopt GM crop products. This forces member states that are fundamentally opposed to genetic modification to dispute the science, exaggerate the uncertainty and misrepresent the precautionary principle in an attempt to prevent EU-wide authorization.

In conclusion, the committee reports that a precautionary principle state in EU law is fit only for instances where scientific evidence is insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain. It is clear from evidence given to the committee that these conditions are not met simply because a crop has been produced through genetic modification.

Continued application of the precautionary principle in relation to all GM crops is no longer appropriate and acts as a barrier to progress.


STATUS United States

A Study conducted by Pennsylvania State University suggests a novel strategy to enhance genome editing to increase efficiency of making genetic improvements in a wide range of organisms. The results could help boost applications such as developing better crops and treating genetic diseases in humans, according to the researchers.

The new strategy is aimed at improving an increasingly popular technique that grew from the recent discovery of a bacterial immune system known as CRISPR-Cas9.

Yinong Yang, a Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences professor of plant pathology and corresponding author of the study, explains that CRISPR regions of the bacterial genome contain strands of repeating DNA, separated by “spacers” that match the DNA sequences of  viruses that have attacked the bacterium or its ancestors.

This system allows a bacterium to “remember” and defend against the attacker if attacked again by the same virus. The bacterium generates a strand of CRISPR RNA containing a specific spacer sequence that, coupled with a DNA-cutting enzyme known as CRISPR-associated protein nuclease (Cas9), targets the invader and destroys it by slicing its DNA.”

Scientists have discovered that this system can be harnessed as a powerful tool to target and edit almost any DNA sequence in a genome. The CRISPR-Cas technology has broad applications in basic biological research, medicine and agriculture. It is seen as the most important breakthrough in biotechnology so far this century.”

By creating synthetic CRISPR RNA called guide RNA (gRNA) that matches a specific DNA sequence in an organism, scientists can deliver the Cas9 enzyme precisely to the target gene that they want to disable or modify. The process holds promise for precision breeding of crops with desirable traits, such as disease resistance or drought tolerance, and for gene therapy to correct genetic defects that cause human diseases, such as sickle-cell anemia and cystic fibrosis.

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