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SCIENCE & RISK ASSESSMENT: Research team monitors Bt resistance development in South Africa



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   PEST-RESISTANT MAIZE MONITORED FOR RISKS

SOURCE:  Business Day, South Africa

AUTHOR:  Hopewell Redebe

URL:     http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=133014

DATE:    01.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Ms Chetty says some key scientific research outcomes from this project include toxin levels which varied between plant tissues and plant-to-plant toxin transfer and influences. [...] The researchers also monitored the gene flow from Bt maize to non-Bt maize through cross-pollination, which often resulted in the production of low levels of Bt toxins, another potential contributor to development of resistance. Resistance to the toxin has previously been detected in the Northern Cape, and another Bt-resistant population was recently recorded in North West."

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PEST-RESISTANT MAIZE MONITORED FOR RISKS

Joint SA-Norway research is blueprint for genetically modified crops, writes Hopewell Radebe

THE job of opponents of genetically modified products has just become more difficult.

Scientists have developed a new generation of insect-resistant maize and have promised that the achievement comes with a ?framework for environmental monitoring? to ensure there is no unintended effect on the land and other plant species, according to the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

Previously, pesticides were used to control pests on maize, but widespread usage had an adverse effect on the environment and human health.

The joint research project ? involving the Department of Environmental Affairs and Norway?s Directorate of Nature Management, and co-ordinated by the institute ? has led to the development of genetically modified maize with a transgene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which produces a toxin to manage a specific maize pest.

The report on the outcomes of the five-year SA-Norway environmental biosafety co-operation project was released last week.

Lukeshni Chetty, deputy director of the genetically modified organism unit at the institute, says that while the framework for genetically modified maize is relevant to the monitoring of insect-resistant maize, it also represents a blueprint for research and monitoring of other genetically modified crops in SA.

?This will go a long way towards strengthening and supporting the regulatory framework governing genetically modified organisms in the country, and will contribute to the responsible and sustainable use of this technology in meeting national imperatives,? she says.

The report argues that globally all genetically modified products undergo stringent risk assessments prior to commercialisation, ?however, there exists the possibility of unintended risks occurring?. These can only be identified and investigated after commercial release. The project sought to identify these post-release risks.

The investigated risks included the effect on target and non-target organisms ? the effect on the pests and other organisms in the maize cultivation ecosystem ? and the effect on soil organism biodiversity, as well as the gene flow and its subsequent contribution to the development of insect resistance.

Ms Chetty says some key scientific research outcomes from this project include toxin levels which varied between plant tissues and plant-to-plant toxin transfer and influences. This variability in toxin production could contribute to resistance development, as insects may be exposed to sublethal dosages and thus become immune to the product.

The researchers also monitored the gene flow from Bt maize (maize with the toxin) to non-Bt maize (maize without the toxin) through cross-pollination, which often resulted in the production of low levels of Bt toxins, another potential contributor to development of resistance.

Resistance to the toxin has previously been detected in the Northern Cape, and another Bt-resistant population was recently recorded in North West. This suggests that such resistance has the potential to spread to other provinces.

SA is the largest producer of genetically modified food in Africa and the eighth-largest in the world after the US, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China and Paraguay. Burkina Faso and Egypt occupy second and third place in Africa. At least 25 countries already plant genetically modified organisms.

In 2009, almost half (46%) of the global area planted with genetically modified organisms was in developing countries. It is expected that by 2015, this will increase as more developing countries take their cue from industrialised nations and adopt genetically modified crops.

The project partners include the Centre for Biosafety in Norway, North-West University, the University of Fort Hare and the University of the Free State.

The project?s results will allow researchers to provide proper estimates of yield, production costs and pest management, all of which affect the maize market and the cost of maize and maize products.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   SANBI STUDY RAISES ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS WITH GMOS

SOURCE:  African Center for Biosafety, South Africa

AUTHOR:  Press Release

URL:     http://www.biosafetyafrica.net/index.html/index.php/20110131343/SANBI-STUDY-RAISES-ENVIRONMENTAL-CONCERNS-WITH-GMOS/menu-id-100026.html

DATE:    31.01.2011

SUMMARY: "The South African National Biodiversity Institute, tasked by law, with monitoring the impacts of GMOs on the environment, has released its first report [...] The study found that populations of insect pests have already developed resistance to the Bt maize in the North West Province. This has been exacerbated by gene flow between GM and non-GM maize varieties. The study also found that current refugia were hopelessly insufficient to manage resistance in areas where this has already developed."

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SANBI STUDY RAISES ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS WITH GMOS

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), tasked by law, with monitoring the impacts of GMOs on the environment, has released its first report on 28th January 2011. The report co-produced by SANBI with premier biosafety unit, Genok in Norway and a number of South African universities record the findings of a three- year study on the impacts of Monsanto?s GM maize, MON 810, on the South African environment. MON 810 is used extensively by maize producing commercial farmers in South Africa.

The study found that populations of insect pests have already developed resistance to the Bt maize in the North West Province (one of South Africa?s most important maize growing areas). This has been exacerbated by gene flow between GM and non-GM maize varieties. The study also found that current refugia were hopelessly insufficient to manage resistance in areas where this has already developed.

At the molecular level, the study found that the size and expression of certain proteins differed between GM and non-GM maize plants analyzed. Further, Monsanto?s Bt gene was found to differ significantly in size to that occurring naturally. These, and other findings of the project, do not support the concept of ?substantial equivalence? put forward by proponents of GM technology, claiming that there is no essential difference between a GM and a non-GM organism.

It is clear that GMOs do not offer any long- term benefits to farmers, the environment and society.

The ACB reiterates its calls that GMOs should be banned as they pose unacceptable risks to human health, the environment and society.

SANBI?s report can be found a www.sanbi.org



                                  PART 3

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   RESULTS OF SA?S GROUND-BREAKING GMO RESEARCH RELEASED

SOURCE:  South African National Biodiversity Institute, South Africa (SANBI)

AUTHOR:  Press Release

URL:     http://www.sanbi.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1051:results-of-sas-ground-breaking-gmo-research-released&catid=66:research-news&Itemid=138

DATE:    26.01.2011

SUMMARY: "The project has resulted in the development of a framework for environmental monitoring of insect resistant maize. It represents the first ever project of its kind in South Africa, and has brought to the fore a number of interesting findings regarding the deployment of Genetically Modified Organisms into the South African environment. While the framework for GM maize is of direct relevance to the monitoring of insect resistant maize, it also represents a blueprint for research and monitoring for other GM crops in South Africa."

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RESULTS OF SA?S GROUND-BREAKING GMO RESEARCH RELEASED

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) hosted an event on 26 January 2011 to launch the publication: Monitoring the environmental impacts of GM Maize in South Africa, that documents the outcomes of the five year South Africa-Norway Environmental Biosafety Cooperation Project (EBCP).

South Africa-Norway Environmental Biosafety Cooperation Project (EBCP)

The EBCP was initiated by the Department of Environmental Affairs, and coordinated by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), and Directorate of Nature Management (DN) in Norway. Project partners included the Centre for Biosafety (GenØk) in Norway and the North-West University, University of Fort Hare and University of the Free State.

Milie cob

The project has resulted in the development of a framework for environmental monitoring of insect resistant maize. It represents the first ever project of its kind in South Africa, and has brought to the fore a number of interesting findings regarding the deployment of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into the South African environment.

While the framework for GM maize is of direct relevance to the monitoring of insect resistant maize, it also represents a blueprint for research and monitoring for other GM crops in South Africa. This will go a long way towards strengthening and supporting the regulatory framework governing GMOs in the country, and will contribute to the responsible and sustainable use of this technology in meeting national imperatives.

Pest control on maize

Damage to maize plant caused by caterpiller

Previously, pest control on maize was managed with wide scale pesticide usage, however pesticides were found to have adverse effects on the environment and human well being. The development of modern biotechnology provided an alternative, and led to the development of a genetically modified maize with a transgene from Bacillus thuringiensis that produces a toxin to manage a specific maize pest.

Risk of GM products

Globally all GM products undergo stringent risk assessments prior to commercialisation, however there exists the possibility of unintended risks occurring. These can only be identified and investigated post-commercial release. The EBCP sought to identify these post-release risks. The various aspects under investigation ranged from impact on target and non-target organisms, impact on soil organism biodiversity, as well as the impact of gene flow and its subsequent contribution to the development of insect resistance.

Key scientific research outcomes from this project

Some the key scientific research outcomes from this project, which are detailed in, Monitoring the environmental impacts of GM Maize in South Africa, include:

* Toxin levels varied between plant tissues as well as from plant to plant. This variability in toxin production could contribute to resistance development ? as insects may be exposed to sub-lethal dosages, developing an immunity

* Gene flow from Bt maize (Maize with the toxin) to non-Bt maize (Maize without the toxin) through cross-pollination, results in the production of low levels of Bt toxin - another potential contributor to resistance development

* Resistance to the toxin had previously only been detected in the Northern Cape. This EBCP found the presence of another Bt-resistant population in the North West area, suggesting a further spread of resistance into other provinces

* Current refugia requirements, i.e. planting a specific percentage of non-Bt maize with Bt maize will no longer suffice to manage resistance in areas where resistance has already developed.

* The genetic background of the maize variety used and the growing environment are important considerations in terms of study design. As varying environmental conditions have a definite impact on the plant.

Management of GM maize requires more research

The results clearly show that management strategies for GM Maize will need further investigation, and given that most of South Africa?s commercial maize farmers grow Bt Maize, this has potentially wide socio-economic implications, which would be of interest to a variety of stakeholders, including: consumers, industry, agriculture, as well as the scientific community.

Implication of EBCP results

The implications of the results include yield, production costs, and pest management, all of which affect the maize market and impact on the costs of maize and maize products to the ?man on the street?.

Contribution of EBCP to human capacity development

While one of the great successes of the EBCP has been the development of a monitoring framework, there are other achievements which include an extensive contribution to human capacity development in biosafety and an increase in biosafety knowledge, through the successful training of 11 post-graduate students. It is expected that these students will continue to pursue biosafety related research and remain in, and contribute to, the development of the sector in the future.

The EBCP also contributed to the training of 65 local and regional researchers and experts from across the Southern African region, through the hosting of a Southern African Biosafety Course. This gathering also fostered national and international collaboration and research links, and has led to the development of a network between institutions within South Africa and abroad.

EBCP findings to guide regulators and policy makers

After a stringent peer review process, the findings of the scientific component in the EBCP may be used to further guide regulators and policy makers. This research will also compliment other GMO initiatives across the country, enabling South Africa to develop a robust regulatory framework.