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SCIENCE & PLANTS: Recent research news on GE crop developments



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:  TOUGH, NUTRITIOUS GM POTATOES FROM SHIMLA INSTITUTE TO HIT PLATTER

SOURCE: The Financial Express, India

AUTHOR: Ashok B. Sharma

URL:    http://www.financialexpress.com/news/tough-nutritious-gm-potatoes-from-shimla-institute-to-hit-platter/398927/0

DATE:   16.12.2008

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TOUGH, NUTRITIOUS GM POTATOES FROM SHIMLA INSTITUTE TO HIT PLATTER

New Delhi: Genetically-modified (GM) potatoes are likely to be on your plates soon. The Shimla-based Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) has developed GM potato varieties with the Ama1 gene acclaimed for improved nutritional efficiency, that with RB gene for late blight resistance, and along with the Bt potato for insect resistance. The institute has also developed transgenic potatoes for reduction of cold-induced sweetening.

?All these GM potato varieties are in advanced stages and ready for limited field trials under the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM),? said CPRI director SK Pandey. India has joined Global Potato Genome Sequencing Project which was initiated in mid-2006 and coordinated by Netherland-based Waggeningen University.

Ama1, a storage albumin protein gene sourced from amaranthus hypochondriacus by the Delhi University at its south Delhi campus, has been used by CPRI to develop a GM potato variety in collaboration with Delhi-based National Institute for Plant Genome Research. CPRI has claimed that the protein content in this GM potato variety has increased by 40%.

For late blight resistance, the RB gene cloned from S bulbocastanum by the University of Wisconsin, has been used by CPRI under the collaborative Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project-II for developing promising genotypes by genetic transformation and by crossing with RB-transgenic Katahdn lines. CPRI, along with the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology had developed transgenic lines of four potato cultivars encoding the synthetic cry1 Ab gene of bacillus thuringgiensis (Bt).

According to CPRI?s SK Chakrabarti, though reduction in leaf mining was observed in GM varieties Kufri Badshah and Kufri Lauvkar, they failed to show any appreciable gain of resistance. In the meantime, cry9 Aa2 proved to be the most effective Bt toxin for the potato tuber moth (PTM). A plastid transformation vector encoding cry9 Aa2 gene was designed and transplastomic tobacco lines expressing this gene showed high levels of resistance to PTM.

Four selected transgenic lines of Kufri Chipsona-1 expressing Ni-Inhh gene have been developed by CPRI for reducing cold-induced sweetening in storage. The reduction of cold-induced sweetening has been attempted by inhibiting the activity of potato vacuolar invertase through over-expression of tobacco invertase inhibitor, Ni-Inhh, under the control of constitutive promoter, CaMV 35S.

This process was earlier attempted with the popular potato variety, Kufri Badshah, but with not much success.

Kufri Chipsona-1 has been made an industrial product for processing. This variety has been subjected to another genetic modification by RNAi-mediated post-transcriptional silencing of the vacuolar acid invertase gene (INV) through introduction of introns containing inverted repeat gene construct (iIR-INV).

CPRI has developed the GM variety, Kufri Badshah, with resistance to apical leaf curl virus. The replication-associated protein gene, ACI of the virus was used to obtain pathogen-derived resistance. GM Kufri Sutlej and Kufri Pukhraj were been developed by inserting glgC gene of Eschlricha coli for increasing starch content. To produce dwarf plants, the GA20 oxidase gene has been inserted in Kufri Surya and Kufri Himalini.

The Institute of Himalayan Bioresorce Technology under the CSIR system has developed GM Kufri Giriraj by inserting a thaumatin-like protein (TLP) gene from Camellia sinensis for developing resistance to drought. It has also inserted cytosolic Cu-Zn superoxide dismutase gene from Potentilla astrosanguinea with the promoter CaMV 35S in Kufri Sutlej for making it resistant to drought and salinity.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:  DESERT PLANT?S PROPERTIES EYED FOR CANADIAN OILSEED

SOURCE: Grainews, Canada

AUTHOR: 

URL:    http://www.grainews.ca/issues/ISArticle.asp?id=92882&PC=FBC&issue=11292008

DATE:   29.11.2008

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DESERT PLANT?S PROPERTIES EYED FOR CANADIAN OILSEED

Properties of a ?cactus-like? plant from Arizona might have a future in Canada in an oilseed crop for the industrial lubricant market.

Randall Weselake, a professor at the University of Alberta?s department of agricultural, food and nutritional science, has lined up $360,000 for a research team to experiment with seeds from the plant, called lesquerella.

Lesquerella naturally produces high levels of certain fatty acids that are ?particularly suited? to production of lubricants and other industrial oils, the university said in a release Friday.

Weselake?s team aims to transfer that particular trait into a ?canola-like? oilseed plant grown in Canada, the end goal being to produce a ?fine liquid wax with superior industrial properties.?

If such research pans out, it could ?substantially increase the industrial uses of plant oils and serve as a high-performance lubricant,? Weselake said in the release Friday.

The canola-like plant in this case would be Brassica carinata, which would be genetically modified using an enzyme from lesquerella, to help convert the plant oils into a liquid wax that?s more resistant to high temperatures and pressures than unmodified plant oils, the university said.

Potential applications include automobile transmission fluid, hydraulic fluids, adhesives and numerous industrial lubricants, the university added.

?The overall goal is to decrease reliance on fossil oils currently used in the global chemicals industry,? Chris Kazala, manager of the university?s BioActive Oils program and a research team member, said in the same release.

?Using plants to produce these products provides a secure, environmentally sustainable supply of these materials for industry and is, in many cases, easier to manufacture.?

The funding for the U of A project comes from Avac Ltd., the Calgary-based venture capital fund launched in 1997 by the province with added start-up money from the federal government, to expand value-added industry in Alberta with a focus on the ?agrivalue? sector.

The U of A noted this research is part of the ICON Project, a four-year worldwide collaboration involving 23 partners from 11 countries and sponsored by the European Union.

Several U.S. research projects have recently focused on bringing lesquerella itself directly into crop production, for its seed oil?s use in industrial oils and biodiesel additives.



                                  PART 3

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TITLE:  GENETICALLY MODIFIED PEANUTS COULD SAVE LIVES

SOURCE: Wired, USA

AUTHOR: Aaron Rowe

URL:    http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/11/peanuts-with-le.html

DATE:   30.11.2008

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GENETICALLY MODIFIED PEANUTS COULD SAVE LIVES

Scientists have genetically engineered peanuts to silence two of the genes responsible for the most common cause of fatal allergic reactions to food in the United States. While the research is unlikely to result in the creation of completely allergen-free peanuts, it could result in fewer outbreaks and even fewer deaths.

For years now, government scientists have been testing ordinary peanuts in the hope of finding one that cannot cause the deadly allergic reactions which kill more than 50 Americans every year. But nature may not be able to provide an answer.

Horticulture expert Peggy Ozias-Akins at the University of Georgia in Tifton is taking a different tack by using genetic engineering to grow hypoallergenic peanuts.

Most allergic reactions to peanuts are triggered by the same eleven molecules. In theory, peanuts without those substances would be far less likely to trigger allergic reactions.

?Some proteins cause more severe allergic reactions than others,? said Ozias-Akins.

Tackling the worst offenders first, her team has made and tested peanuts that do not produce two proteins that are among the most intense allergens. The research appears in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The biologists shot a customized DNA sequence into the plants with a gene gun, causing the legumes to produce hairpin-shaped RNA molecules, which halt the production of the two proteins.

Messing with the genetic code of a plant could potentially cause the seeds to develop improperly, change the taste of the crop, or render it more susceptible to fungal infections. But Ozias-Akins? team found that they grow normally and can resist a common mold without any problems.

Still, getting rid of every allergy-causing substance in peanuts would not be easy, Ozias-Akins said. ?Given the number of allergenic proteins in peanuts, I doubt that developing an allergen-free peanut is realistic.?

Although it may be impossible to make a perfectly safe peanut, clipping the right genes out could make food accidents far less common.



                                  PART 4

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TITLE:  BOOSTING CALCIUM IN CARROTS - AND OTHER VEGGIES

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture, USA

AUTHOR: Agricultural Research, by Alfredo Flores

URL:    http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/nov08/carrots1108.htm

DATE:   01.11.2008

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BOOSTING CALCIUM IN CARROTS - AND OTHER VEGGIES

Thanks to research at the USDA-ARS Children?s Nutrition Research Center (CNRC) in Houston, Texas, led by professor of pediatrics Kendal Hirschi, carrots have been modified to contain more calcium - and this research can potentially be used to add calcium to other crops.

The current U.S. recommended average intake of calcium for adults aged 19 to 50 is about 1,000 milligrams daily, and milk is one of the richest sources of calcium. Inadequate dietary calcium, however, is a global concern, particularly in parts of the world that don?t have access to dairy products or where large segments of the population are lactose intolerant or consume a vegetarian diet.

A Global Concern

Increasingly, dietary recommendations around the world emphasize the value of adequate intake of plant-based foods. But one major potential problem with shifting to a plant-based diet is that doing so could further reduce consumption of essential nutrients, such as calcium.

Insufficient intake of calcium may lead to osteoporosis, one of the world?s most prevalent nutritional disorders. It?s a condition that reduces bone mineral density and leads to fragile bones in later life. Doctors usually prescribe calcium supplements and exercise, but better calcium uptake and absorption from foods would also have a significant positive global impact on this disease.

Poor diets and exercise habits prevent many people from achieving and maintaining optimal bone health in the United States and elsewhere. To help combat this, Hirschi modified carrots by giving them a gene - from the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana - that encodes a calcium transporter.

CNRC professor of pediatrics Steve Abrams was involved in the subsequent human feeding studies. CNRC plant biologists helped in modifying foods, other than carrots, to have increased calcium levels.

Hirschi notes that CNRC, which is operated by Baylor College of Medicine in cooperation with Texas Children?s Hospital and the Agricultural Research Service, provides a unique research environment. There, it?s possible for scientists to generate genetically modified plants and then conduct careful feeding studies with mice and human volunteers, all in the same building - a one-of-a-kind operation needed for this type of work.

But Can the Body Use It?

While carrots already contain some calcium, it is very minimal. That means that no one could ever eat enough regular carrots to meet the recommended level of calcium.

The goal of the research was to induce carrots to express increased levels of the gene sCAX1, which enables transport of calcium across plant cell membranes. The ultimate goal is to make not only carrots, but also other vegetables and fruits, better sources of calcium. Further, the knowledge gained from this proof-of-principle research helps scientists understand molecular factors that influence plant nutrient bioavailability.

To determine the bioavailability of the calcium in the modified carrots, 30 volunteers - 15 females and 15 males of various ethnic backgrounds and in their early to late 20s - ate single meals containing either regular or modified carrots. Both types of carrots were labeled with a stable isotope of calcium. Studies using stable isotopes are extremely safe, and this one allowed researchers to measure calcium absorption quickly.

After 1 day, urine samples were collected for measurement of calcium excretion. After 2 weeks, the volunteers returned to eat another carrot meal, switching from regular to modified, or vice versa, so comparisons could be made. The researchers found that the calcium intake of volunteers who consumed the modified carrots increased by 41 percent, compared to those who ate regular carrots. Though the percentage of calcium absorbed was slightly lower in the modified carrot, the total amount absorbed overall was significantly greater.

?We are always looking at ways to increase the nutrient content in foods,? says Hirschi, who has been working on this type of research for the past 7 years. ?This is the first time a genetically enhanced food has been tested in clinical human feeding trials for increased nutrition, and the results were positive: We found we had indeed made a healthier carrot. Obviously, this is a prototype of what we want to develop in the future, but the early work is encouraging.?

What More Calcium Can Do

These findings, published in the January 2008 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that it?s possible to improve the amount of bioavailable calcium in a staple food - such as carrots. When applied to a variety of fruits and vegetables, a strategy of increasing the calcium content of those foods that kids like to eat could lead to higher calcium consumption from plant foods alone.

In addition to the nutritional benefits, modifying plant genes to increase calcium levels could also improve plant productivity and extend product shelf life. That?s because calcium has long been used to combat many postharvest issues. For example, apples are immersed in a calcium solution to maintain their firmness during shipping and prolong their shelf life afterwards.



                                  PART 5

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TITLE:  NEW MOLECULAR-BIOLOGICAL APPROACHES TO APPLE BREEDING

SOURCE: GMO Compass, Germany

AUTHOR: 

URL:    http://www.gmo-safety.eu/en/wood/apple_rose/659.docu.html

DATE:   20.10.2008

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NEW MOLECULAR-BIOLOGICAL APPROACHES TO APPLE BREEDING

?It works just like traditional apple breeding, but it?s quicker.?

Genetic engineering is of particular interest to apple breeders because it can considerably speed up the lengthy breeding process, which can take several decades. However, consumers, especially those in Europe, do not want genetically modified apples, so research is increasingly focusing on approaches which, although using genetic engineering in the breeding process, ultimately leave the end plant GM-free. And if it is genetically modified, then preferably with apple genes. GMO Safety spoke to Henryk Flachowsky from the Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops about the main areas of research and his work at the institute in Dresden-Pillnitz.

Resistance to new pathogens or new breeds of known pathogens is one of the principle aims in fruit breeding. Work is also being carried out on improving fruit quality. Scientists from New Zealand aim to manipulate the formation of flavenoids in apples, which are thought to be beneficial to health. Canadian scientists are attempting to produce non-browning apples for industrial applications. And with the climate change debate raging, characteristics such as drought or salt tolerance are coming increasingly to the fore.

When asked about the benefits of genetic engineering, Henryk Flachowsky has no hesitation in replying: The advantage of genetic engineering is that individual traits of established varieties can be specifically targeted and modified. Conventional breeding methods do not allow this, as the DNA from both parents is recombined at every hybridisation. Since an apple has around 35,000 genes, there is a vast number of potential recombinations, making the outcome of such a crossing difficult to predict. ?On the other hand, if we transfer individual genes, we know that any change is linked to this gene transfer. This enables us to preserve the essential nature of the variety.?

A further key advantage of genetic engineering, according to Henryk Flachowsky, is the fact that it can considerably shorten the breeding process. It takes at least 20 to 25 years to develop a new apple variety by conventional means. When dealing with new problems in fruit growing, breeders have to resort to wild species if the genes for the desired characteristics cannot be found in the gene pool of common varieties, and this can take forty or even seventy years.

?Take fire blight, for example. Only a few varieties have a certain degree of resistance to it, but these are not grown commercially,? Henryk Flachowsky explains. Resistance genes are normally found only in wild species, but these tend to have very small fruit. If you cross them with established apple varieties, it takes six to seven back-crosses to obtain a new apple variety with good fruit quality. Furthermore, to produce effective resistance it makes sense to combine different resistance genes to make it more difficult for pathogens to overcome the resistance.

Genetic engineering using genes from apples

In principle it is possible to transfer genes from other organisms into apple plants using genetic engineering techniques. Researchers at Wageningen University have recorded some initial success with apple-scab-resistant Golden Delicious and Elstar apples, by inserting a gene from barley into them. But researchers are increasingly turning to resistance genes from apples themselves as a means of creating resistance to pathogens.

According to Henryk Flachowsky, initial attempts have reached the stage where individual genes from apple variety A have been successfully transferred to apple variety B, so that the new variety contains only natural apple DNA , as with conventional breeding. However, at present it is not entirely possible to determine the site of integration , although preliminary experiments are taking place to replace genes in a specific position with a more effective gene. Many apple varieties that are susceptible to disease do actually carry resistance genes, often in the same position in the genome as the resistant varieties. However, the DNA sequence of these genes often changes slightly as they evolve, rendering them unable to resist certain pathogens.

Scientists at various international research institutes, including Wageningen University in Holland and the ETH Zurich, are working on the production of disease-resistant apple varieties using genes from wild apples. These ?cisgenic? approaches are also being pursued in Pillnitz, where the development of new varieties is playing only a minor part at this stage. Henryk Flachowsky is keen to point out that the initial focus is on basic research and on testing procedures, which is also true for the majority of the research projects. Researchers first have to understand the function of individual genes, then identify metabolic pathways and finally find and isolate suitable genes, such as those for disease resistance. The first apple genome , from a Golden Delicious, has now been mapped and publication is expected this year, bringing the researchers a step closer to their goal. This sequence data will provide more accurate information about the location and environment of individu
 al genes.

Bringing apple plants to flower more quickly

It takes six to ten years for an apple tree to flower for the first time. This means that researchers have to wait for at least six years before they are able to assess the fruits of seedlings following hybridisation. The same period of time must also elapse before the next stage of the breeding process can be carried out. In Pillnitz scientists have now succeeded in developing plants which flower in the first year after sowing by transferring a birch gene. These early-flowering apple plants are then used in a conventional breeding programme. ?The thinking behind this,? explains Henryk Flachowsky, ?is that if these transgenic plants are used for hybridisation, fifty percent of the offspring will be transgenic, in other words they will flower early. If a resistance gene is inserted as well, fifty percent of the offspring will carry this resistance gene and a quarter of the offspring will carry both. A seedling is selected from this quarter for back crossing. This process is re
 peated in several stages until the fruit quality of the seedlings reaches a certain level. At the end of the breeding process seedlings are selected that are resistant and have good fruit quality, but are no longer transgenic. It works just like traditional breeding, but it?s quicker.?

To further accelerate the breeding process, work is being conducted on molecular markers, i.e. apple seedlings will undergo molecular analysis for certain genes at an early stage, rather than waiting to assess the appearance of the mature plants.

Transgenic rootstock, GM-free fruit

Researchers at the institute in Pillnitz are investigating another method of stimulating apple trees to flower earlier. Henryk Flachowsky has to go into some detail to explain this approach: In recent years scientists have obtained a greater understanding about which genes initiate flowering in the model plant Arabidopsis. The ?flowering locus T? (FT) gene is thought to play a crucial role. ?It was previously thought that hormones controlled this process, but we now know that it is a protein. The FT protein is formed in the leaves and is probably carried up towards the shoot tips via the plant?s nutrient pathways, where it causes the vegetative meristem to change into a generative meristem.?

Apples have matching (homologous) genes which are very similar to what is thought to be the ?flowering gene? in Arabidopsis ? the FT gene. The scientists in Pillnitz want to discover whether stimulating the rootstock to produce an excess of natural apple FT protein will result in the protein being transported to a grafted non-transgenic plant. Could this method be used to produce an apple seedling that flowers after just one year but is not itself transgenic? If it works, the fruit would contain no transgenes, only the natural apple protein, if anything.

Various international research institutes, such as the ETH Zurich, as well as scientists from New Zealand, the USA and Italy are interested in these very promising approaches from Pillnitz.


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