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BUSINESS & FOOD: Australian science ”heroes” to lead worldwide GE wheat development



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   GM CROPS CAN PLAY A VITAL ROLE IN HEALTH AND FOOD SECURITY

SOURCE:  The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia

AUTHOR:  Megan Clark

URL:     http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/gm-crops-can-play-a-vital-role-in-health-and-food-security-20110826-1je00.html

DATE:    26.08.2011

SUMMARY: "Australia leads the world in the understanding of the wheat genome, and Australian farmers supply 10 per cent of the global trade in wheat. Our research teams work shoulder to shoulder with the world?s best public and private partners including plant breeders, Australian farmers, food manufacturers, nutritionists, government research bodies and NGOs, both nationally and globally. Our plant scientists are unsung heroes in Australia?s history and they deserve our support. The partnership they have with our agricultural and food manufacturing community is a foundation of Australia?s competitiveness."

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GM CROPS CAN PLAY A VITAL ROLE IN HEALTH AND FOOD SECURITY

Dr Megan Clark is chief executive of CSIRO

Research to understand how the genes we inherit from our parents and how they change during our lives has proved invaluable in preventing and treating many diseases. This type of research into how plant genes work is also key to improving the health benefits of the food we eat, increase crop yields and prevent plant disease.

We recognise that the modification of genes in plants causes concern in sections of the community. However, we also know that many people will be comfortable with genetic modification in food products if they can be assured they are beneficial for human health and safe for the environment.

There is a gap between the concerns of the community and the knowledge of our scientists around genetic research. That gap requires scientists and food producers to understand community views and share their knowledge of the science in order to earn community trust. We must bridge this gap if scientific developments in plant genetics are to improve health and support global food supply.

Plants are more complex than most people realise and, in many cases, have more genes than humans. We research the genes of plants to improve human health outcomes, increase the take-up of nutrients from soil, improve yields and provide resistance to plant diseases. Our genetic modification research generally involves turning off genes, changing the timing of the expression of some genes or inserting genes from different plants.

Anyone who has planted a grafted passionfruit in the backyard can appreciate research to improve the take-up of nutrients from the soil. Grafting uses the genes of one passionfruit variety with sturdy roots and strong growth as the rootstock and the genes of another variety to produce the best fruit for the family pavlova. Our scientists are researching genes that control the root systems in wheat to improve uptake of nitrogen from the soil to reduce fertiliser use.

By studying and understanding the genes of plants, we can use this information to bring better food to market for improved health outcomes. For example, we are researching how changing the digestibility of the starch in grains such as wheat can lower the biomarkers that indicate colon cancer and improve their glycaemic index.

When it comes to our food supply, the world?s population could reach 9 billion by 2050 and the global challenge is to produce 70 per cent more food in the next 40 years. To meet that food demand we need to increase our agricultural yields and increase the efficiency of how plants take up nutrients. It means growing plants that use less water to produce the same output and improving resistance to disease and pests.

The world is not turning its back on GM technology. Plantings are rapidly increasing around the world with 1 billion hectares of GM crops planted in 29 countries by 15.4 million farmers in 2010. Indeed, most Australians with insulin dependent diabetes inject themselves daily with insulin produced using GM technology.

Across the very extensive and prolonged use worldwide, there has been no evidence of harm to human health associated with the use of GM technology. In Australia we?ve been growing and consuming GM products for at least 15 years with GM cotton and carnations grown commercially since 1996 and GM canola since 2008.

Australia has for many decades led the world in plant research and our farming community has had a partnership with science that is truly remarkable on the global stage. Australia leads the world in the understanding of the wheat genome, and Australian farmers supply 10 per cent of the global trade in wheat.

Our research teams work shoulder to shoulder with the world?s best public and private partners including plant breeders, Australian farmers, food manufacturers, nutritionists, government research bodies and NGOs, both nationally and globally.

Our plant scientists are unsung heroes in Australia?s history and they deserve our support. The partnership they have with our agricultural and food manufacturing community is a foundation of Australia?s competitiveness.

It is these partnerships that have led to consistent productivity gains in the past. It is only through such partnerships that we will continue to innovate and make the advances in productivity needed to address global food security challenges and sustain quality human life.

GM technology is just one of several technologies we employ in our research programs that are designed to deliver on this future. CSIRO will continue to conduct research on the genes of plants and investigate GM solutions, given the vital contribution this technology can make to Australia and humanity.



                                  PART 2

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

TITLE:   GM WHEAT RESEARCH IN FULL FLOW

SOURCE:  Farmers Weekly, UK

AUTHOR:  Mike Abram

URL:     http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2011/08/31/128688/GM-wheat-research-in-full-flow.htm

DATE:    31.08.2011

SUMMARY: "It was 2004 when Monsanto decided to plug on Roundup Ready wheat, with media reports at the time citing a lack of consumer acceptance as a key reason. A number of important export destinations for North American wheat were not keen on buying GM wheat, while even growers, through North American wheat associations, were lobbying against its introduction, fearing there would be no market for their grain. But in 2009 that all changed, with a joint announcement from nine Canadian, American and Australian wheat organisations that they would work towards the synchronised commercialisation of biotech traits in wheat crops, opening the door for both commercial organisations and research institutes to start developing GM wheat."

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GM WHEAT RESEARCH IN FULL FLOW

After several years of being the forgotten crop in the global development of genetically modified crops, wheat is suddenly smack bang in the middle of most biotech programmes.

It was 2004 when Monsanto decided to plug on Roundup Ready wheat, with media reports at the time citing a lack of consumer acceptance as a key reason. A number of important export destinations for North American wheat were not keen on buying GM wheat, while even growers, through North American wheat associations, were lobbying against its introduction, fearing there would be no market for their grain.

But in 2009 that all changed, with a joint announcement from nine Canadian, American and Australian wheat organisations that they would work towards the synchronised commercialisation of biotech traits in wheat crops, opening the door for both commercial organisations and research institutes to start developing GM wheat.

That change of heart was prompted by an acknowledgement that a lack of investment in wheat research had left development behind that of competing commodity crops.

In America, in particular, wheat production has come under pressure as advancements in maize and soya, partly through biotechnology have helped those crops achieve higher productivity gains than in wheat.

The increased profits generated by those crops have understandably caused growers to switch away from wheat and into other crops where they have alternatives. And with drought tolerance in maize moving towards commercialisation in the USA, there is an increasing prospect of a continued decline in wheat production.

Those issues, and that the longer wheat continued down a non-GM path, the more likely the gap between wheat yield growth and other commodity crop growth would increase, led to the joint statement from the wheat growers associations and a flurry of activity in both commercial and research worlds.

Monsanto, for example, reacted by acquiring Montana-based breeding company WestBred in 2009 to add wheat to its seed and traits business, and later formed a strategic alliance with BASF. Similarly, Bayer CropScience has recently announced an alliance with seed breeder RAGT, and formed research agreements with institutes, such as CSIRO in Australia and Evogene in Israel.

Unlike the first incarnation of GM wheat, which was all about herbicide tolerance, the traits of interest in most of these programmes are second generation technologies, such as drought resistance and helping to improve nitrogen use efficiency.

The latter is already being investigated in field trials in Australia as part of the CSIRO Food Futures National Research Flagship programme with the aim of reducing the amount of nitrogen applied to the crop without compromising yield, says Bruce Lee, director of food futures programme at CSIRO.

Another line being trialled has significantly increased yield in laboratory tests.

But the most controversial lines being researched by CSIRO are ones where there is an effort to produce grains with in-built health attributes.

For example, one line has had a single gene switched off leading to a different composition of starch in the grain. Starch is an important nutrient for humans and digested in the small intestine, with the resulting glucose absorbed and used for energy.

But a component of the starch escapes digestion and enters the colon, where it broken down by the resident bacteria releasing short chain fatty acids. These are a source of energy for the large bowel wall and are important in bowel health.

The GM lines will increase the amount of this resistant starch in the grain by boosting the amylose content from 25% to 70%, explains Dr Lee. ?We hope that diets which contain this high amylose wheat may help to reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer.?

Most Australians, according to CSIRO, only consume 10-20% of the recommended daily intake of resistant starch, which could contribute to the high rates of diet related diseases, such as diabetes and colorectal cancer in the country.

Colorectal cancer kills 4,400 Australians every year, while Type 2 diabetes affects 8% of the population.

Another line will investigate whether grains with altered carbohydrate profile are digested more slowly in the small intestine, and therefore whether the conversion of starch to glucose is reduced. That could reduce the glycaemic response during digestion meaning less insulin is needed to control blood glucose levels.

One of the aims of the trials is produce enough grain to conduct animal and potentially human feeding trials eventually to confirm the health benefits of these grains.

Feeding trials would follow a strict and established protocol involving rats initially to determine the effects of the grains on indicators of bowel health or blood glucose levels. If successful, studies would move on to pigs, which are closer to humans in gut physiology and consume similar quantities of food.

It is that possibility that prompted Greenpeace to destroy around 0.5ha of GM wheat trials in July, using many familiar arguments in its justification, including calling into question its safety.

That action suggests that while research institutes and the breeding companies are keen for GM technology to be introduced into wheat, there is a still a way to go to for consumers to be won over.

UK GM wheat field trial

The first small scale field trial of GM wheat in the UK could take place if DEFRA approves Rothamsted Research?s application to test whether its GM wheat plant are resistant to aphid attack.

The institute has used a gene gun to insert a gene from peppermint plants that makes a substance called E-beta-farnesene (EBF), an aphid alarm pheromone that occurs naturally in over 300 varieties of plants.

?In the lab we have demonstrated the GM wheat plants repel aphids and attract parasitoids and predators that naturally control the number of aphids in the environment,? explains Toby Bruce, a principal investigator in Rothamsted?s chemical ecology group.

?The trial will investigate whether the GM plants work outside in the field as well as they do in the lab.?

In addition, to the main gene being tested, a second one that will boost the production of the aphid alarm pheromone will be tested in combination with the peppermint gene, he adds.

Summer aphids rather than those that cause barley yellow dwarf virus infections in the autumn are the target. ?We aim to find out whether aphid infestations are lower in the summer on the transformed plants than untransformed wheat. If the trait works as intended, the GM wheat would substantially reduce the need for aphicide treatments.?



                                  PART 3

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

TITLE:   GM WHEAT COULD COMMAND PREMIUM

SOURCE:  Farmers Weekly, UK

AUTHOR:  Mike Abram

URL:     http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2011/08/31/128691/GM-wheat-could-command-premium.htm

DATE:    31.08.2011

SUMMARY: "GM wheat with inbuilt health attributes could command a premium for its growers, an Australian scientist developing the concept suggests. In an interview with Crops magazine, Bruce Lee, director of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation?s Food Futures Flagship programme, outlined the Australian national science agency was investigating traits that could increase yields, boost nitrogen use efficiency or produce grains with health benefits."

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GM WHEAT COULD COMMAND PREMIUM

GM wheat with inbuilt health attributes could command a premium for its growers, an Australian scientist developing the concept suggests.

In an interview with Crops magazine, Bruce Lee, director of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation?s Food Futures Flagship programme, outlined the Australian national science agency was investigating traits that could increase yields, boost nitrogen use efficiency or produce grains with health benefits.

In particular, he was researching grains that could provide consumers with foods that impacted positively on lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease, bowel cancer and Type II diabetes.

?The traits raise the amylose content of the starch in wheat from 25 to 70%. This fraction is associated with resistant starch, which is digested in the large bowel, and can have a positive impact on overall bowel health. We hope that diets containing high amylose wheat may reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer.?

Those types of GM wheat were already being tested in field trials in Australia, although the programme had been set back by the destruction of 0.5ha of trials in July by Greenpeace.

?This work could provide the farmer with a value-added proposition, as many of these traits could command a premium,? he said. ?This is particularly important for Australia, which relies on export grain. But these traits could will find application in all wheat growing areas, including the UK.?

Interview with Bruce Lee

What traits are you currently investigating for use in GM wheat crops?

We are investigating a range of traits that have to do with food security, sustainability and health.

In terms of food security we are working on traits that influence yield. We have in our research and development pipeline a trait that is significantly increasing yield and we are currently trialling this in the field. The research is being carried out by the Food Futures Flagship of CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) with co-funding from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

In terms of sustainability we are working on nitrogen use efficiency (NUE). This trait is aimed at allowing the plant to take up nitrogen more efficiently, thereby reducing the amount of nitrogen applied to the crop without compromising yield. This work is being carried out by CSIRO, Arcadia (US biotech company) and the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG).

We have a major effort in producing grains with inbuilt health attributes. The aims here are several, including:

1. To provide farmers with an identity preserved value proposition

2. To provide consumers with foods that can impact positively on many of the world?s lifestyle diseases (such as Type II diabetes, heart and bowel disease)

The traits here are high-amylose wheat (HAW), where we have raised the amylose content of the starch found in wheat from around 25% to up to 70%. This HAW fraction of starch is associated with resistant starch (RS). RS is the fraction of starch which is digested slowly in the body. It is not digested in the stomach or small intestine, but in the large bowel, where it can have a positive impact on overall bowel health. We hope that diets which contain HAW may help to reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer. This work is being carried out by Arista (which has shareholdings from CSIRO, Limagrain [France] and GRDC).

We are also looking at raising the overall level of other grain components such as the beta-glucans. Beta -lucan is associated with lowering cholesterol.

Why are these important for Australian agriculture?

The traits are important for Australian agriculture as they assist our farmers in being able to produce more from the available acres, particularly important if current population trends continue and we have to produce more from available acres to feed the growing global population.

It is important that as we grow yield we also look at sustainability, hence the traits on sustainability. Nutrition also plays an important part. To feed the world, sustenance must go hand in hand with food also being nutritious, hence the work on health attributes.

This work on health attributes provide the farmer with a value-added proposition, as many of the grain health traits being developed here at CSIRO will command a premium. This is particularly important for Australia, which relies heavily on grain export (commodity grain). We need differentiators to remain ahead of competitors in the global market.

Will they have a wider benefit for global agriculture and particularly UK growers (assuming consumer acceptance, etc)?

Absolutely. These traits will find application in wheat-growing areas around the world. The UK is included in our projections for market introduction of all of the traits mentioned above. Obviously we will have to backcross them into locally-adapted varieties. Our research efforts at CSIRO are here not only to benefit Australia and Australians, but we play a significant role globally in contributing to food security, sustainability and the health of mankind.

Greenpeace recently destroyed one of your trials. How badly has that set the research back?

This is currently an ongoing investigation so we cannot provide detailed comment. Suffice to say that the trial was compromised and we will have to repeat it. In essence we have lost a year of data from the trial site, which will have to be repeated and may result in a delay of these products reaching the market.

The Greenpeace action shows there is still a battle to be won for public acceptance. Do you think it can be won in Australia, and if so, how, and why?

hile there is still an element of opposition here in Australia, equally, our research shows that there is a committed base of supportive consumers who are being denied the choice of accessing GM products.

We regularly monitor and undertake consumer acceptance studies of the technologies we are introducing, including GM. Our studies indicate that there is only a small percentage that are absolutely opposed to the introduction of GM. There are a number of people that are still sitting on the fence.

We believe key to the technology is having traits that have a direct benefit to consumers, and this is why we have placed so much emphasis on grains with inbuilt health attributes. Once the consumer sees a benefit in the technology, whether it is associated with sustainability or health, then we see far more support.

Finally, when do you think Australian growers could have access to GM wheat (and do they want it)?

We think the earliest Australian farmers will have access to GM wheat is 2019. This will depend very much on how quickly the regulatory process can be undertaken. Since wheat is exported we will have to obtain approval for the product, not only here in Australia, but also in major export markets. and this is a lengthy and expensive process.