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2-Plants: Radiation breeding and GE praised to fight hunger and poverty

                                  PART I
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TITLE:  'Investment in bio-tech crucial to overcome food scarcity'
SOURCE: Daily Times, Pakistan
DATE:   29 Mar 2005

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'Investment in bio-tech crucial to overcome food scarcity'
PAEC evolving technologies for salinity-hit areas

ISLAMABAD: Investment in biotechnology was essential to overcome food and
water scarcity which had emerged as a pressing problem for the developing
world, said special advisor to the prime minister on strategic
programmes, Dr Ishfaq Ahmad, on Monday while inaugurating an
international conference on 'Biotechnology for Salinity and Drought
Tolerance in Plants' organised by the National Commission on
Biotechnology in collaboration with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission
(PAEC) and the United States National Science Foundation.

With the current rate of population growth, biotechnology had the
potential to find a solution for these concerns. Conventional approaches
to cure salinity like drainage and reductions in the water table were
expensive and time consuming. Biotechnology and nuclear techniques could
offer indigenous solutions for evolving crops growing on these lands and
have met with substantial success in the past.

Biotechnology has the unlimited ability to incorporate desired traits
into crops species and it plays an important role in improving water
quality and facing unfavourable climate conditions. PAEC chairman Parvez
Butt said apart from its national development contributions in basic
research, nuclear power, industrial support services and development of
minerals, the PAEC was playing a role in the field of biotechnology and
agriculture-related services.

The chairman said PAEC had evolved more than 47 high yield crop varieties
by harnessing nuclear techniques which had earned more than Rs 6 billion
in additional annual income for farmers.

He said the PAEC was using nuclear expertise to run 13 cancer hospitals
in the country which benefit more than 350,000 patients annually. Five
more cancer hospitals are being constructed at Gujranwala, Nawabshah,
Gilgit, Bannu and Muzaffarabad, he added. Through the combined use of
biotechnology and nuclear knowledge, the PAEC has evolved technologies to
utilise salinity-hit lands by growing salt-tolerant crops and trees in
all provinces, said the PAEC chairman.

He said the PAEC was providing this technology to nine IAEA member
states, including Jordan, Sudan, Myanmar, Egypt, Iran and the United Arab
Emirates. Science and Technology Secretary Khawaja Zaheer Ahmed spoke on
behalf of the minister. Dr Robert Gaxiola, a representative of the United
States National Science Foundation (USNSF), said: "We are here for a long
term collaboration with Pakistan and other countries of the region, as it
is the responsibility of the international scientific community to share
knowledge of higher agricultural and food productivity to benefit the
common man."

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Agriculture Biotechnology:
        The answer to food shortages in Northeast India
SOURCE: Kangla Onoline, India, by Chong Singsit
DATE:   Mar 2005

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  About the author:
  Dr. Chong Singsit
  Research Scientist
  Biotech Company, USA

Agriculture Biotechnology: The answer to food shortages in Northeast India


The world economy has seen significant growth in the last decade through
increases in productivity, product quality, and export base
diversification. These advances were mainly driven by the growth of
traditional agricultural and industrial sectors. The application of
agriculture biotechnology offers the opportunity to alleviate marginal
and subsistence farmers to get out of their dependency on government
assistance and to increase production. The introduction of new crop
varieties with insect and herbicide resistant genes is quickly changing
the landscape of agriculture in the US and many countries. Major pests
can be eliminated with little or no spray of pesticides, as well as nasty
weeds killed with the spray of herbicide in genetically engineered crop
varieties. Genetically engineered crop varieties are environmental
friendly with reduced chemical use as an added benefit.

Given the need to feed more people on the same land area while using less
water and nutrients, the application of biotechnology to improve crop
plants is fast becoming the only viable option for the teeming millions.
Let me give a direct quote from Dr. Norman Borlaug, Noble Peace laureate,
"the world need to double food production by 2050 if hunger were to be
banished from the world and the ongoing 'gene revolution' can definitely
play a part in this. You cannot build peace on empty stomachs. Only 8 per
cent of countries with lower levels of hunger are mired in conflict". I
might add, insurgency, the dominant menace of the region is eating up the
resources and turning many vibrant and intelligent youths into dangerous
thugs because there is not enough opportunities to go around. Many
insurgency groups have sprang up as a result of hunger and a lack of
opportunity rather than a genuine desire to leave the society in better
shape than the one they currently inherit.

What is GMO?

The acronym GMO stands for "genetically modified organism," and refers to
any plant or animal species that has had a gene or genes from a different
species transferred into its genetic material via accepted genetic
engineering techniques. The process of introducing genes into a new
species and getting them to function is known as transformation.
Genetically modified organisms have a foreign gene inserted into them
that creates one or more new traits for that organism. The genetic
engineering employs an array of methodology such as gene discovery,
transformation, molecular characterization of the insert, and gene
expression study. In a real sense, "genetically modified" is not a new
phenomenon, but has been practiced by plant breeders for years through
breeding and selection with the objective of producing more productive,
more resistant offspring, or in producing better or different quality of
product than the existing variety. The process to produce new varieties
following conventional breeding methodology takes approximately 6-7 years
compared to 2-4 years via genetic engineering. A single gene with a known
function can be moved from one organism to another without transferring
additional unrelated genes, as happens in the process in conventional
breeding method. Above all, what marks GMO out from the products of
conventional breeding was that the new techniques help us to cross
taxonomic lines (across unrelated species), which means I can put a B.t.
gene from a soil bacteria over to cotton.

How safe are GMO crops?

The majority of scientists have consensus that there is nothing
inherently risky about genetically engineered crops. Splicing genes from
one organism into another has been used for years. One example is the
production of an enzyme required in processing cheese. No one calls that
dangerous. Recently introduced genetically engineered rice (golden rice)
that could potentially eliminate vitamin A deficiencies has been met with
widespread acceptance.

Before a variety with a new trait is approved for cultivation, it has to
go through rigorous government agency approval process. For example, in
the US, three agencies: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United
States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) must approve the new gene(s) before the traits are released.
The process is very involved and takes up to 2 years for final approval.
The agencies ask the following questions: is it safe to consume (FDA); is
it safe to grow (USDA); and is it safe for the environment (EPA).

The benefits of GMO

The best way to demonstrate the benefits of GMO is through examples. 1)
The virus that causes severe ring spot in papaya. The disease reduces
papaya production and kills the trees in Asia, in parts of Latin America,
and in Africa. 2) Leaf curls disease on white potatoes. 3) The leaf
yellowing in sweet potatoes throughout east and central Africa. 4) The
stunting and yellowing in rice throughout central Asia. Each of these
examples is caused by different strains of virus. Each of these important
diseases can be controlled through biotechnologies that increase the
resistance of the plants to the viruses. The production of cotton in
India, Pakistan, Egypt and other countries where the boll worm, boll
weevil and other insect pests have in the past reduced yields, have with
the application of biotechnology turned around and increased.

The common insect resistant trait gene used in the market place today is
called B.t. gene. When smallholder farmers in China and South Africa grew
native cotton varieties that contained the B.t. gene for insect
resistance as a result of biotechnology, the farmers realized between
$150 and $200 per hectare in increased profits. It is estimated that more
than a million farmers (combined) in these two countries have benefited
from insect resistant varieties of cotton. The increased profit came
because of the reduced application of insecticides to control the pests
and increased lint production.

Perhaps the most striking examples of how biotechnology can improve human
nutrition are found in the many varieties of rice and canola that have
been improved by biotechnology. Biotechnology has been used in rice and
canola to increase the amounts of beta-carotene, the precursor of Vitamin
A, which is in short supply in diets in many parts of the world. The hope
is that consumption of foods rich in beta-carotene will alleviate the
chronic Vitamin A deficiencies in the diets of many of the poor in Asia
and Africa. Other research is underway to increase the levels of other
vitamins, to improve the amount of proteins in crops like potatoes and
cassava. Researchers are also developing foods that can deliver certain
types of therapeutic substances, such as vaccines, which stimulate the
body's immune system against certain endemic diseases.

Biotechnology center in NE India

The NE region is rich in diversity-both culturally and agriculturally.
With agriculture being the predominant industry of the region, any
positive changes focused on here is welcome news for 70% of the
population. Since land holding is limited, any increase in agriculture
product must come from either changing the cultural practices or
integration of agricultural biotechnology. The later is attractive and
promising for the future since there is a limit to what cultural
practices will add to the overall production. For example, the Green
Revolution in the early 1960s with the introduction of dwarf varieties of
wheat and rice depended on cultural practices to make the changes, but
production leveled off after agricultural inputs where enacted.

Establishing a biotechnology center is imperative if the region is to
improve the agriculture to meet the future food demands of the region.
Crop improvement through genetic engineering must be a priority if the
region wants to stay competitive and to best utilize natural resources. A
number of states have already established their own biotechnology center
as is in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The region already has a number of
universities that can provide the technical know-how and skills needed in
the hundreds of competent faculty and scientists they employ.
Additionally, there are several Indian Council of Agricultural Research
centers in the region, which may have already thought through the process
of establishing a biotechnology center. For a biotechnology center to
stay competitive, the center must reflect the following criteria: 1) as a
government (central and regional) sponsor with a non-political entity, 2)
governed by a board of directors (scientist should make up a majority of
the board), 3) registered as a non-profit organization, 4) development
process driven by product delivery rather than consumption driven, 5)
seek its own funding through government and foundation, both national and
international, 6) competitive funding scheme should ensure the
integration of biotechnology with classical breeding and other associated
technical disciplines, 7) located close in proximity to a major airport,
8) close to a major university or college, 9) have the goal of becoming a
self-supporting entity, 10) have the objective of addressing regional
issues, 11) employee selection criteria strictly merit, and 12) the seven
sister states each contribute and play a role.

What are the economic impacts and the market outlook for the region with GMO?

The economic impact on the region is enormous-from food import dependency
to a player in India and the world food market. The total area under GM
crops globally has risen by 20 per cent in the last year alone. In India,
where GM use was allowed only three years ago, about 1.34 million
hectares have come under B.t. cotton. A cotton farmer in India can
increase his bottom line even though he pays higher seed premium in order
to grow genetically engineered cotton. The market outlook for GM products
in India is excellent since food shortage and poverty are still alive in

In conclusion, I believe biotechnology can bring unprecedented economic
impact in the region, which in turn will change the attitude of the
people. I believe if a product and market driven economy takes a hold in
the region, the young people will trade their guns for the newfound
economic power they so desperately seek to achieve. Rather than stealing
at gunpoint, they will work hard exploiting the new economic reality
within their reach.

One final note, but economic freedom is only one of three freedoms I
mention in an earlier article, "True Freedom." One cannot be truly free
if he is not free spiritually. Spiritual freedom includes freedom from
corruption, murder, envy, and all kinds of evil. Poverty and hunger in
India can be eliminated, but the greater challenge is to eradicate the
spiritual poverty that is beneath the surface of each person's apparent


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