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SCIENCE & POLICY: Biotechnology lobby group calls for GM crops to improve Australian food security after cyclone losses



                                  PART 1


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

TITLE:   GM BANANAS PUSH STEMS FROM CYCLONE LOSSES

SOURCE:  Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia (ABC)

AUTHOR:  

URL:     http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/16/3139980.htm

DATE:    16.02.2011

SUMMARY: "A group supporting genetically-modified food says the loss of much of Queensland?s banana crop in Cyclone Yasi points to an example of how GM foods could improve food security in Australia. The Producers Forum [...] member Jeff Bidstrup says [...] ?Whether it?s bananas, wheat, sorghum or canola - all those things are around the corner where we?re able to actually modify the characteristics of the plants so we can grow them under different climates.?"

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GM BANANAS PUSH STEMS FROM CYCLONE LOSSES

A group supporting genetically-modified (GM) food says the loss of much of Queensland?s banana crop in Cyclone Yasi points to an example of how GM foods could improve food security in Australia.

The Producers Forum will meet in Adelaide later this week to discuss issues including an introduction of GM canola to South Australia.

Group member Jeff Bidstrup says GM technology could change crops such as bananas to let them be grown across a wider region.

?It shows the depth of the value of the technology so things like that are quite possible,? he said.

?Whether it?s bananas, wheat, sorghum or canola - all those things are around the corner where we?re able to actually modify the characteristics of the plants so we can grow them under different climates.?

But a director of the group Gene Ethics, Bob Phelps, says the GM argument cannot be justified.

?All of the promises about more productive (sic), a longer shelf life, adapted to global climate change, really this is a technology that can?t deliver on its promises but makes our food supply less safe,? he said.

?Gene manipulation technology can?t deliver on its empty promises despite 25 years of research and tens of billions of dollars in research and development.?

Canola is Australia?s only commercial GM food crop and South Australia is the last canola-growing mainland state which bans it.



                                  PART 2

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

TITLE:   GENETICALLY MODIFIED PLANTS HOLD THE KEY TO SAVING THE BANANA INDUSTRY

SOURCE:  Queensland University of Technology, Australia

AUTHOR:  Press Release

URL:     http://www.news.qut.edu.au/cgi-bin/WebObjects/News.woa/wa/goNewsPage?newsEventID=34788

DATE:    08.02.2011

SUMMARY: "?From Australia?s perspective the biggest concern is that the disease will find its way from the Northern Territory to North Queensland and if that occurs it would severely impact the nation?s Cavendish banana industry.? Professor Dale, who leads a team of a dozen researchers, has been awarded $750,000 from the Australian Research Council to plant four acres of genetically modified bananas in diseased soil in the Northern Territory. ?We are planning to take the plants up in April and get them acclimatised to the Darwin weather. We?ll be looking at the first planting around June and we?d be hoping to be able to gauge their resistance as early as the first half of next year,? he said."

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GENETICALLY MODIFIED PLANTS HOLD THE KEY TO SAVING THE BANANA INDUSTRY

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) scientists have genetically modified a trial crop of banana plants to survive a soil-borne fungus which has wiped out plantations in the Northern Territory and is threatening crops across the globe.

Professor James Dale, director of the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities based at QUT, said the destruction of crops in Queensland by Tropical Cyclone Yasi proved just how important it was to have a back up available.

Professor Dale said if genetically modified plants could overcome the disease, known as Tropical Race Four, it would act as an insurance policy to supply resistant plants in the event that the disease moved into the banana production areas in north Queensland.

He said Tropical Race Four attacked Australia?s favourite banana plant, the Cavendish, inside and out.

?It is caused by a fungus in the soil called Fusarium and causes the leaves to wilt and rots the inside of the plant,? Professor Dale said.

?The disease has swept through much of Asia and is also found in the Northern Territory.

?From Australia?s perspective the biggest concern is that the disease will find its way from the Northern Territory to North Queensland and if that occurs it would severely impact the nation?s Cavendish banana industry.?

Professor Dale, who leads a team of a dozen researchers, has been awarded $750,000 from the Australian Research Council to plant four acres of genetically modified bananas in diseased soil in the Northern Territory.

?We are planning to take the plants up in April and get them acclimatised to the Darwin weather. We?ll be looking at the first planting around June and we?d be hoping to be able to gauge their resistance as early as the first half of next year,? he said.

Professor Dale said for banana farmers the disease was devastating.

?The disease is known to harm only banana plants and can survive in the soil for decades. The worst thing is it can?t be controlled with chemicals.?

He said as part of the genetic modification, a gene capable of starving the fungus to death had been inserted into the plant.

?For years it has been thought that the fungus injected toxins into the plant, killing cells and gorging on the waste,? he said.

?But we believe that these toxins don?t actually kill. Instead they switch on a certain mechanism in the plant and the plant actually kills itself.?

Professor Dale said the mechanism was known as ?programmed cell death?.

?Our thinking is that we can insert a gene that inhibits this process, starves the fungus and tells the plant to not kill itself.?

Professor Dale said there was a great fear that Tropical Race Four disease would reach Latin America, making the disease a global threat.

?This project has significance on an international scale,? he said.

?If we can prove genetically modified bananas can be resistant to this disease, we can make a huge contribution to the future of banana production worldwide.?



                                  PART 3

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

TITLE:   BANANA SUPPLY SHOULD DIVERSIFY: SCIENTIST

SOURCE:  The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia

AUTHOR:  Australian Associated Press, Australia, by Larine Statham

URL:     http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/banana-supply-should-diversify-scientist-20110208-1al6n.html

DATE:    08.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Scientists have developed an ?insurance policy? that could protect Australia?s future banana supplies. A genetically modified crop of banana plants could be the key to farmers beating a soil-borne fungus, which wiped out plantations in the Northern Territory and continues to threaten crops across the globe."

----- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/information-services.html -----


BANANA SUPPLY SHOULD DIVERSIFY: SCIENTIST

Scientists have developed an ?insurance policy? that could protect Australia?s future banana supplies.

A genetically modified crop of banana plants could be the key to farmers beating a soil-borne fungus, which wiped out plantations in the Northern Territory and continues to threaten crops across the globe.

Queensland University of Technology Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities director James Dale said the levelling of banana plantations in north Queensland by cyclone Yasi earlier this month showed how important it was for Australia to have multiple banana supplies.

?The idea of having diversified production areas is clearly important,? he told AAP.

?By developing an alternate stream in the Northern Territory, that would give a direct insurance policy by allowing them to supply the other states when we have disasters in north Queensland like (cyclones) Larry and Yasi.?

According to the Australian Banana Growers? Council, about 75 per cent of the nation?s banana supply has been affected by wild weather in Queensland.

Professor Dale said the NT was an ideal place to grow bananas, despite there only being one commercial plantation left in the Top End.

The industry reached its peak in the NT about 15 years ago, before it was destroyed by a disease known as Tropical Race Four, which survives in the soil for decades and can?t be controlled with chemicals.

?It is caused by a fungus in the soil called Fusarium and causes the leaves to wilt and rots the inside of the plant.

?Four acres of genetically modified bananas will be planted in diseased soil in the Northern Territory later this year,? Professor Dale said, adding that earlier trials had been promising.

He said that as part of the genetic modification, a gene capable of starving the fungus to death had been inserted into the plant.

A team of more than a dozen scientists will gauge the plants? resistance to the fungus early next year.

?If we can prove genetically modified bananas can be resistant to this disease, we can make a huge contribution to the future of banana production worldwide,? he said.

Last week Woolworths Ltd more than doubled the shelf price of the fruit to almost six dollars a kilo.

The shelf price of bananas before Yasi was about $2.75 per kilo, up from $1.98 per kilo before major flooding affected Queensland in January.

Supermarket giant Coles vowed not to source imported bananas, resulting in banana prices being tipped to reach the low teens.