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POLICY: GE crops and climate change (1): non-GE approaches

Dear GENET-news readers,

in the last days a lot of media reports hit the news trying to connect
the discussions on GE crops with the climate change issues. Many of
these articles imply that new GE crops have been developed to cope with
the imapcts of climate change, especially to be drought-resistant. The
following Texas A&M event and press release triggered many other media
articles which all claim that this sorghum is GE. Neither the press
release nor any other information I could find on the Texas A&M web page
support this claim. Also the many articles reporting on drought-
resistant crops developed in Italy create the impression that - apart
from the tomato - the new varieties would be GE.

A special case is Australia where on the one side a long-lasting drought
effects agriculture and on the other side a big campaign has been
started to overcome the States' GE crop moratoria. Interestingly, the
most successful Australian approaches to drought-resistant crops are non-GE
for example:
Scientists discover how wheat can stick-it-out in the salt

while the company that tried to develop GE drought-resistant wheat had
to close its operations
Grain Biotech Australia to shut down

Last but not least the Vatican came in with a climate change conference
that featured notorious activists praising the positive effects of
climate change. Cardinal Martino who once rather unsuccessfully tried to
align the Vatican with the U.S. position on GE crops organized this
climate change conference.

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Texas-sized sorghum: New solution for fuel?
SOURCE: Texas A&M University
AUTHOR: Press Release
DATE:   30.04.2007

"In addition to growing corn for biofuels, Texas can capitalize on decades
of sorghum research at the Experiment Station, Murano said. The giant
sorghum varieties being grown in experimental plots today are drought-
tolerant, can be grown across the state, and offer high yields in ethanol."

Texas-sized sorghum: New solution for fuel?

COLLEGE STATION - Big Sorghum is moving up on Big Oil in Texas. Ten-foot
tall stalks of bioenergy sorghum, planted on thousands of acres, could
march across Texas just as oil derricks once did, replacing black gold
with green gold.

Texas A&M Agriculture will host U.S. Department of Agriculture Under
Secretary Gale Buchanan and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples
on Tuesday, May 1, for a behind-the-scenes tour of some of the most
promising biomass research efforts within The Texas A&M University System.

Biofuels derived from plant cellulose - found in the tall sorghum among
other biomass alternatives - offers an energy future that is at once
sustainable, environmentally responsible, and just around the corner.

"Corn is a viable way to produce ethanol from starch," said Dr. Elsa
Murano, who serves as Vice Chancellor of Agriculture and Life Sciences
for the A&M System and also directs the Texas Agricultural Experiment
Station, where scientists are digging into a range of biofuels
alternatives. "But that's not the only option for Texas and the southern
part of the country."

In addition to growing corn for biofuels, Texas can capitalize on
decades of sorghum research at the Experiment Station, Murano said. The
giant sorghum varieties being grown in experimental plots today are
drought-tolerant, can be grown across the state, and offer high yields
in ethanol.

"Based upon our analyses, we find it's efficient to take something like
our new sorghum varieties or sugar cane that produces large volumes of
biomass, rather than producing grain and then converting grain-starch to
ethanol," Murano said.

Texas is uniquely posed to take advantage of this developing technology
as a leading agricultural state with a large forest industry, a major
biomass producer with diverse growing environments, and major
universities and agencies with energy expertise, said Bob Avant, program
manager for the A&M System's Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.

Texas is an energy-friendly state, Avant adds, producing 26 percent of
the U.S. domestic oil and 29 percent of natural gas. The state already
has an "extensive energy infrastructure in place," with 26 existing
refineries, 135,000 miles of natural gas pipeline and a large structure
of pipelines for transporting crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas.

Texas is also a huge energy user. Texans used about 12 billion gallons
of gasoline in 2004, or 533 gallons per capita. The economics aside,
there isn't enough grain production capacity in Texas to supply that
need, Avant said.

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                                 PART II
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TITLE:  Tomatoes made to drink less water
DATE:   30.04.2007

Tomatoes made to drink less water
Italians find ways of helping plants survive drought

ROME (ANSA) - As concern mounts over the impact of climate change on
agriculture, Italian scientists are finding ways to cultivate wheat in
deserts and make tomatoes grow with a quarter of the water they normally need.

By studying the genes that allow certain varieties of plants to cope
with drought, the Italian team has managed to select the hardiest
varieties and produce hybrids in which all the crucial genes are present.

Massimo Iannetta, head of the programme run by the ENEA research
institute, said a large-scale experiment with some of the new 'low-
water' plants has just been completed in the Mexican desert.

"We tried growing selected varieties of cereals and vegetables and the
results were excellent. Within a few months we ought to be able to
register them and put them on the market," he said.

Although crossing plant varieties is a technique that has been used for
centuries to created 'improved' versions, advances in the study of
genetics have enabled it to take huge strides.

Stefania Grillo, of the Institute of Vegetal Genetics in Naples, noted
however that pinpointing relevant genes and combining them remained an
immensely complicated business.

"The response to climatic changes depends on a whole range of different
genes," she said, adding that researchers were concentrating on potatoes
and tomatoes for now.

In Sicily ENEA researchers are testing new varieties of tomatoes which
don't need soil to grow at all. They can be cultivated in special
cloches where they sit in a solution of water and nutrients which is
continually recycled. "You can grow a kilo of tomatoes with 15 litres of
water instead of 70 litres," Iannetta said.

Another approach to creating water-saving plant crops is through genetic
engineering. Cultivating genetically modified plants in Italy is illegal
so experiments by Milan university researchers have been confined to the

They have recently patented a way of making plants develop pores which
are much smaller than normal. This means that in droughts they lose less
water through 'transpiration'. Their genetic engineering method is now
being tested on tomatoes and rice.

Roberto Defez, of the Institute of Genetics and Biophysics, said genetic
engineering offered a promising avenue for research into drought-
resistant crops.

"But the research is slow," he warned. "Applications we see emerging now
are based on studies begun in the late 1990s".

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                                 PART III
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TITLE:  Scientists seek useful traits in wild cottons
SOURCE: Texas A&M University, USA
AUTHOR: Press Release, by Tim W. McAlavy
DATE:   02.05.2007

Scientists seek useful traits in wild cottons

LUBBOCK - If you have Mom's smile, Dad's eyes and Grandpa's laugh, you
might wonder what other traits you picked up from the genealogic fabric
of the ol' family tree.

Scientists at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and
Extension at Lubbock are studying the family tree of cotton for much the
same reason.

"Cotton genetic diversity has narrowed in recent years," said Dr. John
Gannaway, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station cotton breeder. "Many of
today's successful commercial varieties share common parents and grandparents.

"Many scientists believe today's varieties are flexible enough
genetically to handle minor changes but lack enough diversity for really
spectacular change. Aside from limiting fiber quality and yield
potential, narrow genetics makes them more susceptible to insects and

Gannaway and other scientists believe future progress in cotton breeding
can only be achieved if sufficient genetic variability remains in global
breeding stocks.

The mission of the center's Crops Genetic Research Facility is to
investigate the potential of useful traits lying undiscovered in the
gene pool or germplasm of obsolete and wild cottons contained in U.S.,
Russian and French cotton collections. These traits could help diversify
the gene pool from which breeders draw new varieties in the future.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service
facilities in College Station house one of three international
collections of cottons. Another resides in France and another in
Uzbekistan, in the former Soviet Union. Breeders worldwide are
evaluating specimens from these collections and exchanging germplasm in
their efforts to improve the cotton genome.

"These collections contain a wealth of genetic material," Gannaway said,
"especially when you compare them to today's varieties. We are screening
obsolete and wild cottons for useful traits such as insect and disease
resistance, and drought, salt and cold tolerance.

Scientists at Lubbock obtain seed from global cotton collections in
small lots, sometimes as few as 10 seeds per lot. Before their work
advances, they must turn a few seeds into more by growing plants in an
environmentally-controlled greenhouse.

Greenhouse manager and Experiment Station research assistant Leslie
Wells supervises seed stocks from planting through harvest. His skill in
making difficult cross pollinations is critical in developing new cotton
lines, Gannaway said.

"Many of the cottons we grow for more seed are photoperiodic," Gannaway
said. "They will only produce fruit and seed during the short days of
temperate winter."

As these cottons grow and mature, scientists keep a log of their
physical, or phenotypic, characteristics. Remember Mom's smile, Dad's
eyes and Grandpa's laugh?

The lint, or fiber, these cottons produce is also measured, analyzed and
recorded. The lint is hand-, saw- and roller-ginned, and then
characterized using high volume instrumentation and the advanced fiber
information analysis system.

The Lubbock scientists enter this information into a genetic database
which they share with other scientists and the public. This database
will complement the Texas A&M University System's cotton breeding
program, Gannaway said. An overview of that program is online at http:// .

Under Gannaway's guidance as lead researcher, Experiment Station
research associate Jimmy Mabry and others conduct the greenhouse
screening to make the database a reality.

Mabry grows cotton plants in PVC tubes, measuring the characteristics of
their roots, shoots and leaves and comparing them to a group of control
cottons. The data from these comparisons could help scientists discover
which physical traits help impart drought resistance and make more
accurate trait selections in the future.

Natalia Castillo, Experiment Station research assistant, screens cotton
grown hydroponically . without soil . for salt tolerance. Seedlings are
incrementally subjected to different concentrations of salt, which can
reach 30,000 parts per million.

If cotton breeders can impart more salt tolerance to commercial
varieties, farmers on the Texas High Plains could one day irrigate their
crop from the Santa Rosa Aquifer . which lies underneath the heavily-
tapped Ogallala Aquifer, Gannaway said.

"The Santa Rosa Aquifer is estimated to be 100 times larger than the
Ogallala Aquifer, but it has a much higher concentration of dissolved
salts," Gannaway said. "Salt tolerance could open up the Santa Rosa as
an irrigation source."

Other Lubbock scientists are examining natural insect and disease
resistance in obsolete and wild cottons. This resistance could lead to
more "environmentally friendly" varieties that do not require harsh
insecticides and fungicides to thrive in adverse conditions. Fiber from
"greener" varieties may be more desirable with environmentally-savvy
consumers, and help farmers reduce production costs without sacrificing
yield or lint quality, Gannaway said.

Mark Arnold, Experiment Station research associate, and Monica Sheehan,
Experiment Station research assistant, are screening cottons grown at
Lubbock for thrips and Lygus bug resistance.

"Thrips are a serious cotton pest," Arnold said. "Thrips are very small.
They can cause severe crop damage resulting in yield loss by feeding on
the emerging leaves of cotton seedlings. Those leaves nurture the plant
while it is establishing roots and gaining strength."

Treated seed and insecticides applied in the furrow at planting help
farmers combat thrips, but these methods are expensive and often only
provide a three-week window of protection against this hungry pest,
Arnold said.

Arnold raises thrips on wheat, a favorite host plant, and forces them to
move to neighboring cotton plants by killing the wheat with herbicide.

"This produces massive thrips pressure on the cotton plants, and results
in a lot of damage to those first four true seedling leaves," he said.
"We measure the leaf damage, identify cottons that show thrips
resistance and subject those to further tests."

Sheehan raises Lygus bugs, a secondary pest of cotton, and confines
their feeding to certain parts of cotton plants using bug cages. The
amount of damage they inflict on cotton fruit and their ability to lay
eggs for another generation are good indicators of Lygus resistance,
said Sheehan, who hopes to intensify her experiment in 2007.

Raina King, a Texas Tech University graduate student, is working to
develop 'cleaner' cottons that shed the small leaves (bracts) at the
base of each boll a few days after flower blooms open.

Determining whether this trait is dominant, co-dominant or recessive and
finding its DNA location could help breeders develop upland cottons that
require less lint cleaning . producing cleaner fiber with less ginning
costs, Gannaway said.

Scientists at the Crops Genetic Research Facility at Lubbock have been
conducting their cotton research since 2004. The facility was completed
and came on-line in 2003.

"We have developed several reliable methods for screening obsolete and
wild cottons for several positive, heritable traits," Gannaway said.
"The data from these experiments should give molecular breeders more
tools to work with as they look for ways to diversify, improve and
expand our cotton gene pool. That will benefit global breeding stocks
and lead to varieties that are more flexible and productive."

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                                 PART IV
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TITLE:  Research under way to develop drought-tolerant pastures
AUTHOR: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia
DATE:   07.05.2007

Research under way to develop drought-tolerant pastures

Researchers are hoping to develop more nutritious pasture for the
livestock sector that is also drought tolerant and better able to fight
off disease. A multi-million dollar project by the Molecular Plant
Breeding Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) is mapping the DNA of
ryegrass and white clover, to allow researchers to track naturally
occurring traits like good root growth. CRC spokesman doctor Kevin Smith
says both the dairy and beef industries have invested in the project.
"What we'd be hoping to see in a year like we've just had is that
pastures would have maintained productive growth for a longer period as
the water was running out, but particularly that the material which was
there for animals to eat was of a higher quality for longer as the
pastures were drying off," he said. "The quality of the pasture is one
of the key drivers of the amount of animal production you get per hectare."

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