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SCIENCE & PLANTS: Researchers reach a breakthrough for increasing protein levels in GE cassava



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   RESEARCHERS REACH A BREAKTHROUGH FOR PROTEIN LEVELS IN KEY STAPLE CROP

SOURCE:  The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, USA

AUTHOR:  Press Release

URL:     http://www.danforthcenter.org/wordpress/?page_id=395&pid=3561&banner=news_and_media/images/banner-news_and_media.jpg&side=sidebars/sidebar-news_and_media.php&nav=news

DATE:    27.01.2011

SUMMARY: "Researchers working at The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center?s International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology, have made an another advancement in their efforts to improve the root crop cassava which is a major source of calories to 700 million people worldwide, primarily living in the developing world. [...] The results prove a concept towards the potential transformation of cassava from a starchy staple, devoid of storage protein, to one capable of supplying inexpensive, plant-based proteins for food, feed and industrial applications."

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RESEARCHERS REACH A BREAKTHROUGH FOR PROTEIN LEVELS IN KEY STAPLE CROP

Results could prove beneficial to millions suffering from malnutrition

ST. LOUIS, MO January 27, 2011? Researchers working at The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center?s International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology (ITLAB), have made an another advancement in their efforts to improve the root crop cassava which is a major source of calories to 700 million people worldwide, primarily living in the developing world. A study conducted Dr. Claude Fauquet, Principal Investigator and Director of ITLAB, established a method to provide more dietary protein in cassava. The results of this research are published in the recent article, ?Transgenic biofortification of the starch staple cassava (Manihot esculenta) generates a novel sink for protein,? in the PloS One journal.

Cassava has many properties that make it an important food source across much of Africa and Asia, it also has many limitations. For example, cassava has poor nutritional content because it is lacking protein among other micronutrients.

Although calorie dense, the starchy, tuberous roots of cassava provide the lowest sources of dietary protein among the major staple food crops. The starchy roots total protein content ranges from 0.7 to 2.5% dry weight compared with 7 to 14% in cereals such as wheat, rice and corn. Insufficient protein intake often leads to protein energy malnutrition (PEM), which is estimated to affect one in four children in Africa. Cassava has the lowest protein to energy ratio (P:E) of any staple food, making resource-poor populations that rely on cassava as their major source of calories at high risk of PEM which can lead to permanent physical and mental disabilities and related pathological disorders.

?The ILTAB lab strives to improve cassava productivity and quality through genetic transformation to help less developed countries and we are a step closer to that reality,? said Dr. Claude Fauquet, principal investigator and director of ITLAB at The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. ?This study will contribute to efforts to end the very real and scary reality that a child dies every six seconds from malnutrition.?

The cassava used in the study was genetically modified to express zeolin, a nutritionally balanced storage protein resulting in total protein levels of 12.5% dry weight within the tissue, a fourfold increase as compared to the non-transgenic controls. This breakthrough demonstrates that it is possible to increase the PE ratio for cassava to be close that of cereals, and that it is possible to improve essential amino acid composition to directly benefit children. Initially Fauquet and his team had concern that the modified cassava would have a disrupted physiology and altered phenotype of the transgenic plants. Greenhouse and field studies revealed this not to be the case, with similar levels of protein accumulation recorded across more than three years of testing in three different locations.

A two-year-old child consuming 50% of his/her dietary energy as wild type cassava would receive about 3 g dietary protein, equivalent to 20% of their daily protein requirement. The same child consuming the same amount of modified cassava accumulating storage protein at levels achieved in the study would obtain approximately 16 g of dietary protein, or more than 100% of their daily requirement. This illustrates that genetic modification of cassava has the potential to deliver enhanced nutrition to at-risk populations.

The results prove a concept towards the potential transformation of cassava from a starchy staple, devoid of storage protein, to one capable of supplying inexpensive, plant-based proteins for food, feed and industrial applications.

About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research at the Danforth Center will feed the hungry and improve human health, preserve and renew the environment, and enhance the St. Louis region and Missouri as a world center for plant science. The Center?s work is funded through competitive grants and contract revenue from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard Buffett Foundation.

About ILTAB

ILTAB has developed significant expertise in cassava genetic transformation to produce commercial products that are resistant to cassava viruses and have more nutritious roots. The technology is now capable of producing high quality transgenic cassava plants in a variety of farmer-preferred cultivars, with the possibility of stacking many genes expressing several important agronomic or nutritional traits.

ILTAB was established in 1991 with a mission to develop the techniques and products of tropical plant biotechnology and to transfer knowledge and resources to developing countries. By doing so, it will help these countries improve their agricultural production in a sustainable manner, providing useful research tools and training young scientists from these countries. Three major crops were initially chosen as a core for the research activities: rice, cassava and tomato, but ILTAB is now concentrating only on cassava with the goal to deliver products in Africa. Research projects have also been initiated on yam, sweet potato, cotton, sugarcane, and a number of other tropical and sub-tropical crop species, contributing to the wide range of experience within ILTAB.

Claude Fauquet, a native of France, obtained his academic degrees from the University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France. Prior to co-founding ILTAB at The Scripps Research Institute with Dr. Roger Beachy in 1991, Dr. Fauquet worked for 19 years as a plant virologist for IRD, including 14 years stationed at a French research center in Ivory Coast, West Africa. Dr. Fauquet is also a member of the Graduate Faculty at University of Missouri-St. Louis, Adjunct Professor with University of Missouri-Columbia, and Co-Chair of the Global Cassava Partnership, which he founded in 2002.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   IRENE MUCHIRI FOLLOWED CASSAVA FROM KENYA TO THE DANFORTH CENTER

SOURCE:  St. Louis American Newspaper, USA

AUTHOR:  Chris King

URL:     http://www.stlamerican.com/news/local_news/article_2fbfa6e6-34c2-11e0-939c-001cc4c002e0.html

DATE:    10.02.2011

SUMMARY: "Muchiri is studying and working in the lab at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, a world leader in research in plant biology. She is working on the BioCassava Plus project as part of $12.1 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. [...] Muchiri said, ?Since we in Kenya are users of the product, they decided it was necessary for us, as owners of the crop, to learn how to genetically modify it to introduce nutrients and introduce genes that confer resistance to the crop, so we can go back and teach our fellow scientists back home.?"

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IRENE MUCHIRI FOLLOWED CASSAVA FROM KENYA TO THE DANFORTH CENTER

Irene Muchiri is a Senior Research Scientist at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya. She works in the Department of Biotechnology?s Tissue Culture and Transformation Laboratory. Irene graduated with a Master of Science Degree in Biotechnology from Kenyatta University, Nairobi, in 2004. Her master?s thesis work was in Plant Biotechnology, focusing on genetic modification of Sweetpotato for viral resistance. From November 2004 to March 2006 Irene attended a hands-on training program in Dr. Fauquet?s lab, ILTAB, at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri under the supervision of Dr. Nigel Taylor.

Like many children, Irene Njagi Muchiri wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. But, like many children with this dream, her grades did not make the cut for medical school.

?I cried a lot,? she described her disappointment. ?I worried my sister sick.?

Her older sister Winfred Njatia introduced the disappointed student to a mentor, who suggested an alternate field of study: lab technician.

?I took it and loved that work,? Muchiri said.

Her course of study at Kenya Polytechnic University College, which she compared to a community college, was her first step toward the prestigious appointment she holds today.

Muchiri is studying and working in the lab at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, a world leader in research in plant biology. She is working on the BioCassava Plus project as part of $12.1 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The project uses biogenetic technology to make cassava, a staple crop in parts of Africa and South America, more nutritious and resistant to viruses and drought.

Muchiri said, ?Since we in Kenya are users of the product, they decided it was necessary for us, as owners of the crop, to learn how to genetically modify it to introduce nutrients and introduce genes that confer resistance to the crop, so we can go back and teach our fellow scientists back home.?

Interestingly, though Muchiri grew up on a farm, her family did not grow cassava. She grew up in the the village of Gakanja, in Kenya?s mountainous central region. The staple starch there is not cassava, but rather potatoes and corn. They also kept cattle for milk.

As a child, Muchiri would plant, manure and harvest crops, cut them into pieces to eat, then package the rest for sale. She would carry the cash crops on foot to the stop on the motor road where her mother caught a truck to the nearest city, Nyeri.

?We planted crops for us to eat and also to sell in the market, so we could be able to get school fees,? Muchiri said.

Though her mother, Gladys Njatia, and her father, Isaac Njatia, were peasant farmers, they highly prized education for their nine children. More specifically, they believed in the importance of science education.

?When I was a little girl back home, our parents somehow felt science was the answer,? Muchiri said.

?They were peasant farmers, but they wanted us to get jobs in the future and they seemed to think science was the most important thing.?

?I met cassava?

She credits her parents and ultimately her creator with guiding her to laboratory science, but it was her husband, Nelson Muchiri, who first introduced her to the plant that has become her research subject.

?I met cassava for the first time when I got married in the eastern part of Kenya where they eat cassava,? she said.

Her husband played another role in her development as a scientist. She was working in HIV research when she followed her husband?s career move to Nairobi, Kenya?s capital city. There she found an opportunity to research plants with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.

?It was not very different, though this time I was working with plants instead of people,? she said. ?Now, here I am.?

She is here alone, which is very strange for someone raised in a large African family.

?The first time I came, I literally cried a number of times. I was so lonely. I had never been alone in my life before,? she said.

Her husband, who came to the U.S. separately before she did, works in Delaware as a state social worker.

?As foreigners, getting jobs is not the easiest thing, so it is not easy for him to leave his work and come live with me,? she said. ?We see each other maybe once a month. It?s hard.?

Harder still, their three children ? Dennis, Emma and Ian ? are back home in Kenya with her sister, Leah Njatia.

?To us, that is normal. We are community-based,? she said.

?When I am needed to make noise, she calls me with the kid on the phone and I make a bit of noise. If I am needed to say congratulations, she gives me a chance to do that.?

Muchiri plans to return home to join them, and to transfer all of her new knowledge to scientists in Kenya, at the end of 2012.

As of now, both of her parents are still alive, still living on the farm. She last visited them in December 2009. Speaking in their local language of Kikuyu, she explained her biogenetic work.

?I explained what I do ? in brief, of course. I told them I am improving crops, doing science, doing something I love,? Muchiri said.

?Of course, they were very proud, very excited. They seemed to think their advice for me to study science was not very bad.?