Archive for the ‘Biotechnology’ Category



Researchers Discover Off-Switch to CRISPR-Cas9 Gene Editing System

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco have found a way to switch off the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system using newly identified anti-CRISPR proteins that are produced by bacterial viruses. The newly discovered anti-CRISPR proteins could enable more precise control in CRISPR applications, but also provide a fail-safe to quickly block any potentially harmful uses of the technology.

To find an anti-CRISPR protein that would work against the CRISPR-Cas9 system used in most labs which depends on a protein called SpyCas9 as its targeted DNA clippers, the researchers thought that they should be able to identify bacteria with inactivated CRISPR systems. This can be conducted by looking for evidence of so-called “self-targeting” – bacterial strains where some virus had successfully gotten through the Cas9 blockade and inserted its genes into the bacterial genome.

The research team examined nearly 300 strains of Listeria, and found that 3 percent of strains exhibited “self-targeting.” Further investigation isolated four distinct anti-CRISPR proteins that proved capable of blocking the activity of the Listeria Cas9 protein, which is very similar to SpyCas9.

Further research showed that two of the four anti-CRISPR proteins, called AcrIIA2 and AcrIIA4 by the researchers, worked to inhibit the ability of the commonly used SpyCas9 to target specific genes in other bacteria, as well as in engineered human cells. Together, the results suggest that AcrIIA proteins are potent inhibitors of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system as it has been adopted in labs around the world.

For more details, read the news release from UC San Francisco.

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Australian researchers say they have developed a sustainable way to protect crops from pests and diseases, by spraying them with a special clay.

The discovery could also help the rural sector in the fight against pesticide resistance in certain crops.

The spray is known as ‘BioClay’ and was developed by the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) and the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).

“It will produce huge benefits for agriculture in the next several decades, and the applications will expand into a much wider field of primary agricultural production,” Professor Xu from AIBN said.

Agricultural biotechnologist and research leader, Neena Mitter, said the clay spray contained molecules that helped protect crops from invading pathogens.

“BioClay is a beautiful combination of biology and nanotechnology,” she said.

“Once it is applied, the plant thinks it is being attacked by a disease or pest insect and responds by protecting itself from the targeted pest or disease.

“It is a [pest] control measure, which is environmentally sustainable, ecologically safe, stable, and easy to be adopted by farmers to protect their crop from diseases.”

In the trials the researchers were able to protect a crop of tobacco from invading diseases for up to 20 days using the BioClay spray.

The team also trialled the spray on cowpeas and capsicums, and think it could also work for cotton and a range of other crops.

Chemical companies and researchers around the world, including Monsanto, are in a race to develop and commercialise similar technology.

However, the QAAFI and AIBN team is the first to produce long-lasting results, and to have the findings published.

Professor Mitter said she hoped to have a commercial product on the shelves in three to five years.

“There is a lot of work going on in using gene silencing in a spray, but I think we are fairly progressed in our own BioClay product,” she said.

How it works

The clay contains molecules of double-stranded ribonucleic acid (RNA), a sibling of DNA, which can switch off gene expression and prevent plants from being susceptible to a virus.

The clay helps the molecules stick to the plant, and then peels off over time.

This means once a virus comes into contact with the RNA on the plant, the plant will kill the pathogen.

Using RNA as a defence against disease is not a new concept, and researchers have applied it to crops before.

However, the new aspect is Professor Mitter’s invention of the spray on clay to help bind the RNA molecules to the plant.

RNA is traditionally used to silence genes in the genetic modification process.

However, Professor Mitter said her BioClay process did not genetically modify plants, because the process involved collecting RNA from a virus and turning it against itself, rather than changing the genome of a plant.

“We are using that RNA to silence a gene in the pathogen and that RNA has nothing to do with the plant, and has no similarity to the crop,” she said.

“We are not modifying the genome of the plant, we are not doing genetic modification; we are just spraying it with RNA.”

The researchers hope BioClay can be used as an alternative to traditional chemicals, to prevent crops from building up pesticide resistance.

“If you use a chemical, pathogens are clever and can adapt, but with BioClay we use RNA from the pathogen to kill the pathogen itself.” Professor Mitter said.

“So we are strongly placed in terms of addressing the issue of pesticide resistance.”

Can farmers afford it?

Finding a cost-effective way of applying RNA pesticides to plants has been difficult until now.

A criticism of using RNA to protect crops in the past has been that the technology was too expensive, but Professor Mitter said it was becoming cheaper and farmers would be able to afford it.

“The aim is to make it affordable because the clay part is cheap to manufacture,” she said.

“The production of RNA could be expensive but companies around the globe are working on mass producing RNA at a very cheap scale.

“I’m hoping this product will be commercially viable.”

Topics: pest-managementruralpestsenvironmentcrop-harvestingagricultural-cropsvegetablesfruit,brisbane-4000


Grahame Jackson
24 Alt street
Queens Park
NSW 2022

Phone: +612 9387 8030
Mobile: +61 412 994 206
Skype: gvhjackson


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Eldana saccharina stem borer

Eldana saccharina

By Josh Lancette

When using Bt crops, a constant concern is preventing insect pests from becoming resistant. According to a paper published in the Journal of Economic Entomology that contains new analysis of previous studies, a common tactic to prevent resistance in Africa might not be working as hoped.

Bt crops are plants that have been genetically modified to express a protein produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. This protein is toxic to some insects, so when an insect feeds on the plant, it ingests the protein and dies. These crops are useful because they can provide an alternative to pesticides, which benefits the environment, other beneficial insects, humans that would otherwise come in contact with pesticides, and operators of farms who don’t have the means for large-scale pesticide applications. Furthermore, Bt crops typically are considered safe for consumption by humans and other non-target animals.

Josh Lancette

Josh Lancette

However, while Bt crops have benefits, one risk is that insect populations can grow resistant to them if effective management strategies are not used.

A strategy to prevent insects from becoming resistant to Bt crops is to plant a “refuge” non-Bt crop around the main Bt crop. The idea is that the refuge crop produces non-resistant insects, which then mate with any resistant insects in the main crop, producing mostly non-resistant offspring. So, the non-resistant insects on the main crop die, and the resistant insects that don’t die produce mostly non-resistant offspring that will die.

In parts of Africa dominated by small crops and farms rather than large industrial agricultural operations, wild plants are commonly used as refuge crops. However, the evidence suggests they aren’t working in regards to lepidopteran stem borer pests of corn.

“Recent studies from East and Southern Africa have … started questioning the contribution that wild host plants could make as reservoirs for stem borer pest infestation,” writes Dr. Johnnie Van den Berg, the author of the paper and a professor at North-West University in South Africa. “While these plants may have the characteristics of refuge crops … the fact that they do not produce sufficient numbers of high-quality moths make them unsuitable as refuge crops. This poor suitability of wild grasses as a refuge for lepidopteran stem borers became evident from field studies conducted throughout Africa over the last decade.”

Van den Berg argues that wild plants have been used, even though they don’t work, because of faulty information given to farmers.

“The use of unstructured refugia and wild host plants as refuges is not approved as an IRM [insect resistance management] strategy of African stem borers, but it is often suggested as a possible solution,” writes Van den Berg. “This continuous erroneous reporting on the importance of wild hosts over the years created the perception that stem borers were present in high numbers in wild host plants, that these plants were abundant, and that they could serve as refugia for stem borers and be part of an IRM strategy for Bt maize.”

Moving forward, Van den Berg thinks that new strategies for managing insect resistance need to be developed.

“Current IRM strategies and reliance on wild host plants as refuge in most of the developing world is not appropriate to small farming systems,” writes Van den Berg. “Previous experience has shown that compliance to requirements of structured refuge approaches will be low, necessitating novel approaches to address this problem. It is therefore necessary to have a new look at integrated pest management strategies that may serve to reduce selection pressure for resistance evolution.”

While IRM strategies need to work from a biological perspective, they also need to work from a sociological perspective, as not all strategies can or would be used by farmers.

“To be accepted by farmers, IRM strategies must be compatible with the existing cropping systems and normal farming practices,” Van den Berg writes. “If other crops are planted as refugia, these must be economically viable, socially acceptable and easy to implement by those making the management decisions at the farm level.”

Read more: “Insect Resistance Management in Bt Maize: Wild Host Plants of Stem Borers Do Not Serve as Refuges in Africa,” Journal of Economic Entomology

Josh Lancette is manager of publications at the Entomological Society of America.

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GMOs: Farmer survey

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, National Corn Growers Association GMO Farmer Survey – Executive Summary of Findings

In 2016, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) conducted its annual Perception Benchmark Study[1] to measure consumer opinions about agriculture, including attitudes toward environmental sustainability, GMOs and technology. Approximately half of Consumer Food Connectors[2] surveyed attributed increased yields and increased efficiency with the use of advanced technology on farms and ranches. Yet, while technology on the farm is perceived positively, only 11 percent of this group found GMOs favorable.

The findings of the USFRA Perception Study indicate a lack of understanding among consumers about the beneficial link between GMO technology and sustainability. According to a 2015 study[3] from Purdue University’s Dept. of Agricultural Economics, “GMO seeds (mainly cotton, corn, soybeans and rapeseed) significantly improve yields compared with non-GMO seeds.”

The Study’s authors estimated the use of GMO seeds has resulted in savings of at least 11 million ha of cropland, which converts to “150 million metric tons of GHG emissions averted due to yield contributions of GMO crops.” The final conclusion by the Study’s authors was that a loss of GMO technology would result in “significant land use change and GHG emissions, important commodity price increases, food price increases, and economic welfare losses.”

Farmer Attitudes and GMOs
In addition to securing an understanding of consumer attitudes towards GMOs, in 2016, USFRA and National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) also surveyed farmers[4] on the same topic.

Farmers were asked to weigh in on a range of topics regarding the impact of GM technology on the environment, pesticide use, and yields, among others. Overall findings conclude that farmers believe biotechnology helps raise crops more efficiently, and that the environment and sustainability practices will suffer if GMO technology utilization is reduced in crop production in the future.  Also, a majority of farmers foresee increased environmental impacts—including an increase in water usage and application of pesticides—if GMO seeds were not to be available to them as a choice in crop production.

Key topics and findings include:

  • Environmental Impact: Nearly all farmers indicated soil health (95%) and precise use of pesticides (94%) as key factors in protecting the environment.
    • Of those that consider environmental impacts to be the greatest concern should GMO seeds were not to be available to them as a choice in crop production, three-in-four farmers (78%) foresee increased environmental impacts, including but not limited to the use of more water and the application of more pesticides. Moreover, when asked about farmers’ ability to lessen their environmental footprint, GMO seeds ranked top of the list (98%).
  • Pesticide Use/Crop Inputs: When asked about the reason for using biotechnology when raising crops, the majority of farmers indicated GMO seeds allow them to minimize pesticide/herbicide usage (87%).
  • Sustainability: Three quarters (78%) of farmers also expressed being able to engage in advanced farming practices, such as conservation tillage.
    • Another two-thirds (64%) of farmers also believe GMO seeds allow for efficient management of resources, specifically, fuel, time and less wear-and-tear on their equipment.
  • GMO Absence Claims: The majority (94%) of farmers agree that marketing absence claims can be misleading to consumers when food companies promote GMO deselection as being healthier and better for the environment.
  • Yields: Many farmers tend to believe GMO seeds produce a higher yield (69%). This finding may also have an impact on why many farmers believe GMO seeds work best for their particular farm and region in enhancing productivity (65%).

[1] Nationwide online panel survey commissioned by USFRA. Survey was fielded August 29-September 29, 2016 and has a margin of error of +/-3% for General Consumers and +/-4% for Consumer Food Connectors at a 95% confidence level. Survey was fielded by Research Now among 525 General Consumers and 475 Consumer Food Connectors.

[2] Consumer Food Connectors are defined as men and women between the ages of 21-65 who do not personally work or have immediate family who work on farm. They are very involved in or make all household decisions and purchases related to food. They do not have a strong pre-bias against conventional (non-organic) farming.

[3] Taheripour, Furzad; Mahaffey, Harry, and Tyner, Wallace E. Evaluation of Economic, Land Use, and Land Use Emission Impacts of Substituting Non-GMO Crops for GMO in the U.S., 2015, Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University.

[4] Online survey conducted October 11-26, 2016, among a sample of 282 farmers, 18 years of age and older, living in the U.S. The margin of error for this study is +/-5.84 % at a 95% confidence level. Of the 282 farmers polled, 92% have been using GMO seeds for 10 or more years, and grow a variety of crops, including corn, soybeans, alfalfa and cotton.

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New GMO could protect wheat and barley against deadly blight



Fusarium head blight (FHB), caused by Fusarium graminearum, is a devastating disease of wheat and barley that leads to reduced yield and mycotoxin contamination of grain, making it unfit for human consumption. FHB is a global problem, with outbreaks in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and South America. In the United States alone, total direct and secondary economic losses from 1993 to 2001 owing to FHB were estimated at $7.67 billion1. Fhb1 is the most consistently reported quantitative trait locus (QTL) for FHB resistance breeding. Here we report the map-based cloning of Fhb1 from a Chinese wheat cultivar Sumai 3. By mutation analysis, gene silencing and transgenic overexpression, we show that a pore-forming toxin-like (PFT) gene at Fhb1 confers FHB resistance. PFT is predicted to encode a chimeric lectin with two agglutinin domains and an ETX/MTX2 toxin domain. Our discovery identifies a new type of durable plant resistance gene conferring quantitative disease resistance to plants against Fusarium species.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: Wheat Fhb1 encodes a chimeric lectin with agglutinin domains and a pore-forming toxin-like domain conferring resistance to Fusarium head blight

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From PestNet

The first genetically modified (GM) maize research trials have been planted on October 5, 2016 in Tanzania’s Dodoma region, a semi-arid area in the central part of the country. The confined field trial aims to demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of a drought tolerant GM maize hybrid developed by the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project. Dr. Alois Kullaya, country coordinator for the WEMA project in Tanzania, said that researchers are happy that they are now able to carry out confined field trials, “and produce tangible results for people to see, as well as illustrate how biotech maize will benefit the farmers.” He however stated that the GM maize would take at least three years to establish its value.

Tanzania’s progress comes a year after the country revised a strict liability clause in the Environment Management Biosafety Regulations. The restrictive clause stated that scientists, donors, and partners funding research would be held accountable in the event of any damage that might occur during or after research on GM crops. Such developments in Tanzania, therefore provides hope for the technology’s prospects across the continent. This is fundamental because Africa has been ravaged by frequent drought over the years, leading to severe crop shortages and hunger for over 300 million Africans who depend on maize as their main food source.

Under a royalty-free licensing agreement, seed companies in Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda are already growing and selling DroughtTEGO™, a drought tolerant maize hybrid developed by WEMA to suit local conditions.

For more details, read the article at the Cornell Alliance for Science website or contact Dr. Alois Kullaya at akkullaya@yahoo.co.uk.

Grahame Jackson
24 Alt street
Queens Park
NSW 2022


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Researchers Discover Non-Bt Protein for Corn Rootworm Control

DuPont Pioneer researchers discovered a protein from a non-Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium source that shows insecticidal control of western corn rootworm (WCR) in North America and Europe.

The researchers said that the insecticidal protein, designated IPD072Aa, was isolated from Pseudomonas chlororaphis. Transgenic corn plants expressing IPD072Aa showed protection from WCR insect injury under field conditions. The researchers said the protein could be a critical component for managing corn rootworm in future corn seed product offerings, and suggests that bacteria other than Bt are alternative sources of insecticidal proteins for insect control trait development.

For more details, read the news at DuPont Pioneer website.

This article is part of the Crop Biotech Update, a weekly summary of world developments in agri-biotech for developing countries, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA)

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