Volume 18. Number 4. 2013

Three biotechnology scientists awarded 2013 World Food Prize

Three distinguished biotechnology researchers-Marc Van Montagu of Belgium, Mary-Dell Chilton and Robert T. Fraley of the United States-were named the winners of the 2013 World Food Prize during a June 19 ceremony at the U.S. State Dept., where Secretary of State John Kerry delivered the keynote address. John Ruan III, Chairman of the World Food Prize, also participated in the ceremony.

"These three scientists are being recognized for their independent, individual breakthrough achievements in founding, developing, and applying modern agricultural biotechnology," said Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize. "Their research is making it possible for farmers to grow crops with improved yields, resistance to insects and disease, and the ability to tolerate extreme variations in climate."

In a written statement, M.S. Swaminathan, the renowned Indian scientist and Chairman of the World Food Prize Laureate Selection Committee, said the award is especially fitting this year. Building upon the scientific discovery of the double helix structure of DNA in the 1950s, Van Montagu, Chilton, and Fraley each conducted groundbreaking molecular research on how a plant bacterium could be adapted as a tool to insert genes from another organism into plant cells, which could produce new genetic lines with highly favorable traits.

The revolutionary biotechnology discoveries of these three individuals-each working in separate facilities on two continents-unlocked the key to plant cell transformation using recombinant DNA. Their work led to the development of a host of genetically enhanced crops, which, by 2012, were grown on more than 170 million hectares around the globe by 17.3 million farmers, over 90% of whom were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries.

From their work in the laboratory to applying biotechnology innovations in farmers' fields, the combined achievements of the 2013 World Food Prize Laureates have contributed significantly to increasing the quantity and availability of food. IFT Weekly 19 June 2013.

Peppers may protect against Parkinson's disease

A study published in the Annals of Neurology shows that eating foods from the Solanaceae family, which contain naturally-occurring nicotine, may be able reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease. Foods in the Solanaceae family include peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes.

The researchers recruited 490 newly-diagnosed Parkinson's patients, and 644 unrelated individuals with no neurological disorders for the control group. The researchers examined whether Parkinson's disease was associated with self-reported typical frequency of consumption of peppers, tomatoes, tomato juice, and potatoes during adulthood, while adjusting for consumption of other vegetables, age, sex, race/ethnicity, tobacco use, and caffeine.

The researchers found that consuming foods in the Solanaceae family did lower the risk for Parkinson's disease, with peppers displaying the strongest association. However, the consumption of all other vegetables did not have any association with Parkinson's disease. In fact, Solanaceae vegetable eaters lowered their risk by 19% on average. And eating two to four peppers a week lowered the risk by about 30%. In addition, the potentially protective effect of edible Solanaceae largely occurred in men and women who had never used tobacco or who had smoked cigarettes for less than 10 years.

The researchers concluded that "confirmation and extension of these findings are needed to strengthen causal inferences that could suggest possible dietary or pharmaceutical interventions for Parkinson's disease prevention." IFT The Weekly 5 June 2013

Nielsen, S. S., Franklin, G. M., Longstreth, W. T., Swanson, P. D. and Checkoway, H. (2013), Nicotine from edible Solanaceae and risk of Parkinson disease. Ann Neurol.. doi: 10.1002/ana.23884

U.S. Senate Rejects GM Food Labeling Measure

The Senate of the United States has rejected an amendment to the 2013 U.S. Farm Bill that would allow states to require genetically modified (GM) foods to be labeled as such on their packaging. The senate vote with the amendment began on Thursday which ultimately failed, 71-27. Senators from states that produce an abundance of GM crops opposed the amendment in fear that the labels would scare off consumers and raise the cost of packaging. Crop Biotech Update May 29, 2013.

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Scientists Develop CMV Resistant Potato Lines through Gene Silencing

Scientists Valentine Otang Ntui from Chiba University and colleagues reported the successful development of genetically engineered potato lines with absolute resistance to certain strains of cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) through gene silencing.

The team used two constructs in the study both containing a fragment of a gene coding for a defective CMV enzyme. The constructs were used to produce GE potato lines out of cultivar 'Danshaku', which is susceptible to CMV. The resulting lines exhibited 100 percent resistance to CMV-O and CMV-Y strains. No significant differences in the resistance levels of the lines derived from the two different constructs. Further analysis confirmed that the resistance exhibited by the GE plants were acquired through RNA silencing. Crop Biotech Update 20 June 2013.

Read more details about the study at

Orange Maize Improves Yields and Nutrition for Families in Zambia

A Feed the Future-supported program implemented by HarvestPlus has been demonstrating the benefits of orange maize ever since three new varieties that provide higher levels of vitamin A were released in 2012 by the Zambian Agricultural Research Institute. The promising varieties were bred in Mexico at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) under the HarvestPlus program and then extensively tested in Zambia. In addition to providing more vitamin A than white maize, the new varieties are also high-yielding, disease resistant, and drought tolerant, thereby reducing farmers' vulnerability to threats like reduced rainfall. Vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to loss of vision, impaired immune function, and other ailments, is a public health threat in Zambia that affects more than 50 percent of children under five years of age. While vitamin A is available from a variety of foods, such as fruit, green leafy vegetables, and animal products, these are often too expensive or simply unavailable in Zambia's rural areas.

According to Emerson Banji, one of the more than 1,000 "lead" farmers who are testing the new varieties of orange maize this season, the variety has surpassed expectations. "What I have now proved is that it can give someone a better harvest…and I will continue growing this kind of maize because it can even help me and my family have a better life. I would prefer to grow orange maize than white maize." He says. Crop Biotech Update May 29, 2013.

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Wild Relatives of Crops Discovered in the U.S.

Researchers have discovered nearly 4,600 wild relatives of crop plants in the United States, including close relatives of globally important food crops such as sunflower, bean, sweet potato, and strawberry. These findings, which were published in the journal Crop Science may help plant breeders who have increasingly relied in recent years on wild kins of domesticated crops as new sources of disease resistance, drought tolerance, and other traits.

Over the past four years, a team led by Colin Khoury of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, and Stephanie Greene of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service has been collecting as much information on U.S. crop wild relatives as it can. This includes the species' names, which crop plants they have been used to improve (if any), how closely related they are to their respective crops, and whether any of the genetic resources found in crop wild relatives are already conserved in gene banks. Crop Biotech Update. May 15, 2013.

Report: There may be no benefit in sharp sodium cuts

Recent studies that examine links between sodium consumption and health outcomes support recommendations to lower sodium intake from the very high levels some Americans consume now, but evidence from these studies does not support reduction in sodium intake to below 2,300 mg per day, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

The recent studies suggest that dietary sodium intake may affect heart disease risk through pathways in addition to blood pressure. "These studies make clear that looking at sodium's effects on blood pressure is not enough to determine dietary sodium's ultimate impact on health," said Strom. "Changes in diet are more complex than simply changing a single mineral. More research is needed to understand these pathways." IFT Weekly 15 May, 2013.

Ozone device for food packaging

A university spinout in the UK has developed a sterilisation device that uses plasma to create ozone inside sealed packaging. The company, Anacail, has been set-up by researchers from the University of Glasgow with £750,000 of seed funding from investors. The device is held against the side of the packaging briefly and an electrical field induces formation of ozone from oxygen molecules. The ozone persists long enough to kill microbes inside the packaging, but not so long as to present a danger to any buyers - the excess ozone reverts to oxygen within a few hours. Ozone is highly oxidising, and its ability to kill microbes well known. It is used as a sterilising agent in industrial settings. But it is unstable and toxic, making it difficult to handle. Anacail is planning to test the device on product lines at several UK food processing plants in the next 12 months. Chemistry World. Business. 12 Feb. 2013.

Congratulations to recent PhD graduates from Stellenbosch Uni.

Dec 2012: PhD (Food Sc)
Dr Amanda Brand Thesis. Critical evaluation of the accuracy of the enumeration methodology of coliform and E.coli in water from rivers used for irrigation of fresh produce.

Dr Debora van der Merwe Thesis. Exposure to polyphenol-enriched rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and honeybush (Cyclopiaspp.): implications of metabolism for the oxidative status on rat liver.

March 2013: PhD (Food Sc)
Dr Anreza van der Merwe Thesis. Quantification of genotypic variation and consumer segmentation related to fruit quality attributes in apple (Malus x domestica Borkh.)

Dr Paul Williams Thesis. Near infrared (NIR) hyperspectral imaging and X-ray computed tomography combined with statistical and multivariate data analysis to study Fusarium infection in maize.

Dr Oluwafemi Caleb Thesis. Modified atmosphere packaging of pomegranate arils.

BASF drops GM potato projects

BASF has announced that it is no longer seeking EU marketing approval for its controversial genetically modified (GM) potatoes. The company already has approval for one type of GM potato. In 2010, the European commission granted approval for Amflora potatoes, which are used for industrial production of starch, a biopolymer of two monomers: amylose and amylopectin. The latter is the important monomer for industrial purposes. Potatoes typically produce starch that is 20% amylose and 80% amylopectin, but - thanks to genetic modification - Amflora potatoes produce only amylopectin. BASF had been planning more approvals. But it says that continued investment in Fortuna, Amadea, and Modena potatoes cannot be justified because of 'uncertainty in the regulatory environment and threats of field destructions'.RSC 17 Feb. 2013.

Mediterranean diet may aide in preserving memory

A study published in Neurology shows that eating foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids and avoiding saturated fats, meat, and dairy foods may be linked to preserving memory and thinking abilities. However, the same association was not found in people with diabetes.

"Diet is an important modifiable activity that could help in preserving cognitive functioning in late life," said Georgios Tsivgoulis, with the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Athens, Greece. "However, it is only one of several important lifestyle activities that might play a role in late-life mental functioning. Exercise, avoiding obesity, not smoking cigarettes, and taking medications for conditions like diabetes and hypertension are also important." IFT The Weekly: May 1, 2013

Early Maturing Maize Lines Hold Drought Tolerance that could Save African Farmers

Researchers have identified maize parental lines and hybrids with high levels of drought tolerance among the early and the extra-early maturing maize genotypes developed and conserved in the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) . This successful identification has led to the availability and the possibility of sustainable development of more resilient maize varieties with dual characteristics of escaping and tolerating drought in the near future.

Delivering a presentation on the topic Genetic Analysis and Molecular Characterization of Early Maturing Maize Inbred Lines for Drought Tolerance as part of the IITA Western Africa Hub monthly seminar series, Muhyideen Oyekunle said that 48 percent of the early maturing lines under study from IITA were drought tolerant with tolerance indices ranging from 0.17 (low) to 15.31 (high).

The study involved screening of over 150 early maturing maize inbred lines and hybrids for drought tolerance over a period of two years across six agroecological zones of Nigeria.

Crop Biotech Update April 24, 2013.

Snippets - contributions are welcome. Edited and produced by Dr. B Cole. - / Fx 011 660 6444 with the help of the Northern Branch Committee.