Volume 24. Number 3. 2019

Healthful Oils from GM Plant as Effective as Fish Oil

Healthful oils derived from plants are processed by the human body in exactly the same manner as when fish oils are eaten, according to a research led by the University of Southampton's Faculty of Medicine.

Omega-3 fats are mainly present in fish oil and are vital for health and development. Because of an Omega-3 source limitation, Rothamsted Research scientists developed a seed oil plant (Camelina sativa) using genetic engineering to produce an enhanced vegetable oil with a similar amount of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as fish oil.

The University of Southampton, in collaboration with Rothamsted Research, tested whether the GM camelina oil is as good as fish oil in providing fatty acids in human diet. The findings, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, show that when young and middle aged men and women consumed the same amount of EPA plus DHA in a single standard meal, either as fish oil or as the oil from the GM camelina, there was no difference in the uptake of these fatty acids from the meal or the body processing these fats. Crop Biotech Update 8 May 2019.

Read more details from the University of Southampton and Rothamsted Research.

Researchers Develop Quicker Method to Determine Crop Disease Resistance

Bacterial wilt kills crops around the world. Plant breeders and farmers want to know how resistant a cultivar is to the disease as early as possible, but this difficult. Currently they plant seeds and wait until the mature plants develop before they determine resistance. Researchers at the University of Johannesburg have developed a new approach to identify resistance in cultivars, thus saving time and minimising risk.

The researchers analysed cultivar resistance of the tomato plant at the seedling stage by using plant metabolomics and statistical modelling. Plants have genes that can encode for resistance, but they also have various mixes of antimicrobial chemicals that play a role. It is these chemicals, called secondary metabolites, that the researchers studied.

The researchers compared the chemical composition of cultivar samples to the known resistance of cultivars to bacterial wilt. By doing this they were able to determine a “metabolite fingerprint” for tomato resistance to wilt. “If a cultivar has the genetic ability to develop resistance to a threat, it will synthesise the chemicals to defend itself. In this way we can determine plant resistance much better than by just looking at them,” says Ian Dubery, director of the Centre for Plant Metabolomics Research at the University of Johannesburg. “And we can do this when the seedlings are only a few weeks old, rather than waiting months to see if mature plants are resistant.” IFTNEXT Newsletter 7 May 2019. The study was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

New Plant Breeding Technologies Designed to Help Attain Food Security

In a perspective article published in Science, an international team of researchers argues that new plant breeding technologies such as genome editing can contribute significantly to food security and sustainable development. Also in the past, plant breeding and other agricultural technologies played an important role in food security, but the resulting high intensity in the use of agrochemicals has caused serious environmental problems as well. Future technologies need to reduce the environmental footprint and make agriculture more resilient to climate stress. Predictions suggest that small farms in Africa and Asia will suffer especially from the effects of climate change. Genome editing can be used to make crop plants more resistant to pests and diseases and more tolerant to drought and heat. This can help to reduce crop losses and chemical pesticide sprays. Methods such as CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to make precise point mutations without introducing foreign genes. Due to their low costs, these methods can also be employed in previously neglected crops, such as pulses and local vegetables.

In the article, the authors show which concrete genome-edited crops could become available within the next five years. But they stress that international cooperation, public support, and efficient science-based regulation will be important to ensure that the poorest countries and the poorest farmers can also benefit. Read the article in Science. Crop Biotech Update (April 3, 2019)

Peptides From Ham Bones May Benefit Heart Health

Consumers may soon toast a cup of bone broth to their health. A team of researchers from Spain and Ireland found that dry-cured ham bones contain peptides that have potential cardio-protective benefits, suggesting that bone broth and stews made from these bones may improve cardiovascular health.

“Traditionally, drinking bone broth has been considered positive due to its high content in minerals and other nutrients,” says Leticia Mora, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology in Paterna, Spain. “Also, popular wisdom has attributed positive qualities for the gastrointestinal and immune system, in addition to the property of preventing inflammation and pain in the joints, among others.”

Cooking and digestion can break down proteins from animal bones into smaller peptides, some of which can inhibit the activity of enzymes involved in cardiovascular disease. Mora and her fellow researchers ground up the ham bones and then ran the samples through simulated cooking and human digestion conditions. They found the presence of peptides derived from collagen and hemoglobin proteins that can block the activities of disease-related enzymes. “Additional studies would be needed for the identification of the peptide sequences responsible for these bioactivities as well as in vivo studies to confirm the bioavailability and physiological effect in the organism,” says Mora. The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. IFTNEXT. 2 April 2019.

Gene-Edited High Oleic Soybean Oil Now Available in the US

Premium quality high-oleic soybean oil developed through gene editing is now available in the US market. The soybean oil known as CalynoTM was developed by experts from Calyxt, Inc. This is the first gene-edited food released for consumers in the US.

Calyxt scientists turned off two genes involved in fatty-acid synthesis. Unlike traditional GMOs, this particular soybean had genes turned off instead of having another organism's gene inserted to it. This resulted to the Calyno oil being 80% higher in oleic acid, 20% less in saturated fatty acids, has 0 grams trans fat per serving, has three times the fry-life and has a longer shelf-life compared to the current soybean oil being sold in the market. Although the same process can be achieved through conventional crossbreeding, gene editing allows scientists to produce the crop with the desired trait more precisely and in less time.

The successful introduction of the new soybean oil into the U.S. food industry may signify that food manufacturers and consumers are now welcoming scientific innovation, particularly gene-editing, to have access to healthier foods. Crop Biotech Update. 27 March 2019. See the press release for more details.

The Pervasivenes of Microplastics

About 8 million metric tons of waste plastic enters the oceans every year. Over time, these bottles and bags break down into particles that are micrometers or even nanometers in size. Researchers are accumulating evidence showing that these particles are being consumed not only by birds and fish but by humans, too. With the public spotlight on plastic waste, regulators and industry are now funding studies to determine the risks that microplastics pose to the food chain and, ultimately, human health. But analyzing microplastics is highly complex. Analytical chemists are developing novel techniques and study protocols to fill the many data gaps. Provided by Nick Stark, 25 March 2019. Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

UC Berkeley Physicist Reports a New High Precision Method for Genetic Engineering and Gene Editing

Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley reported a new technique that uses carbon nanotubes to genetically engineer any plant, including gene editing with CRISPR-Cas9, in a simple and speedy method similar to sewing with a needle and thread. The results are published in Nature Nanotechnology. Crop Biotech Update. 20 March 2019.

GM Approval Updates

Nigeria approved cowpea event AAT 709A (IR) for cultivation.

Brazil approved sugarcane event CTC91087-6 (IR) for commercialization.

Argentina approved soybean events HB4 x GTS 40-3-2 (HT + ST) and FG72 (HT) for food and cultivation.

Argentina approved maize events DAS40278 (HT), DAS40278 x NK603 (HT), MON87427 (HT), and MON87411 (HT + IR) for food and cultivation.

South Korea approved maize event MON89034 x TC1507 x NK603 x MIR162 x DAS40278 (HT + IR) for food use.

Canada approved cotton events MON88702 (IR) and GHB811 (HT) for food use.

Visit GM Approval Database for more updates.

Salt is Bad For You: but How it Affects Your Body is Still Frontier Science

South Africa led the world in taking steps to reduce excessive salt intake. Its efforts seem to be having an effect. But Alta Schutte and Michél Strauss explain why campaigns should be adjusted to fit in with new scientific findings, some of which are challenging long-held beliefs about how salt affects the body. The CONVERSATION. 12 March 2019

Study Shows Surprising Environmental Impact of Organic Farming

Growing organic crops takes a bigger toll on the environment than growing crops conventionally, according to a study published recently in the journal Nature. The impact stems from the fact that more land is typically required for organic growing—something that really shouldn’t be all that surprising, according to the researchers. Read more... IFTNext Newsletter, 13 March 2019

Cloning Rice Plants may Enable Better Crop Production

University of California, Davis, plant scientists have developed a cloning technology for rice plants that has potential far-reaching ramifications for rice growers. It could be particularly valuable for poor farmers because it would allow them to grow crops that are higher yielding, disease resistant, and/or climate tolerant while saving their seeds for future use, thus reducing costs while improving crop quality. For decades, many crops have been grown from hybrid seeds created by crossing two varieties to yield seeds with superior qualities, but the seeds of hybrid crops don’t produce plants with the same desirable qualities, which means that farmers need to buy new seeds each year. In this project, the researchers used genetic engineering to clone rice plants capable of producing high-quality seeds. UC Davis professor Venkatesan Sundaresan, who developed the process says, about two years ago, the researchers realised “that we were just a few steps away from engineering plants that could produce seeds without fertilisation, so progeny would be clones of the parent. We knew that this type of reproduction, called ‘synthetic apomixis,’ had been a long-sought goal, sometimes called the ‘holy grail,’ of agricultural biotech.” In nature, there are about 400 species of wild plants that are capable of producing seeds via apomixis, but that has not been the case for commercial crop species. The plant scientists used genome editing, which allowed them “to successfully engineer rice plants that essentially cloned themselves through their seeds,” Sundaresan says. “It is a very desirable goal that could change agriculture.” IFTNEXT Newsletter March 5, 2019.

Microbial Transglutaminase: A New Potential Player in Celiac Disease

Microbial transglutaminase is heavily used in the food processing industries to improve food qualities. Being a protein's glue, by cross-linking it creates neoepitope complexes that are immunogenic and potentially pathogenic in celiac disease. Despite low sequence identity, it imitates functionally its family member, the endogenous tissue transglutaminase, which is the autoantigen of celiac disease. The present comprehensive review highlights the enzyme characteristics, endogenous and exogenous intestinal sources, its cross-talks with gluten and gliadin, its immunogenicity and potential pathogenicity and risks for the gluten induced conditions. If substantiated, it might represent a new environmental inducer of celiac disease. The present findings might affect nutritional product labeling, processed food additive policies and consumer health education. 10 December 2018.

Drought-Tolerant Corn Constitutes 22% of U.S. Corn Acres

A new report issued by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA ERS) examines the development, adoption, and management of drought-tolerant corn in the United States. Drought tolerance in corn is a characteristic that has been the subject of research for decades but has only recently been commercialized. Drought-tolerant (DT) corn produced using conventional breeding methods was commercially introduced in 2011. Hybrids genetically engineered (GE) for drought tolerance were introduced in 2012 but were not broadly available until 2013. The researchers found that more than one-fifth of U.S. corn acreage was planted with DT corn in 2016. In 2012, DT corn accounted for only 2% of U.S. planted corn acreage, but by 2016 this share had grown to 22%. At least 80% of DT corn acres were planted in 2016 with seed conventionally bred for drought tolerance, while just under 20% were planted with seed genetically engineered for drought tolerance. At the national level, 3% of all U.S. corn acres in 2016 were planted with seed that had been genetically engineered for drought tolerance. IFT. The Weekly: February 20, 2019

New Chocolate has Its Own Pro-GMO Label to Promote GMO Farming

Newly-released brand Ethos Chocolate has a line-up of irresistible chocolates that proudly bears a pro-GMO label. The brand boasts of its new label and aims to promote GMO farming as a sustainable solution to save the cacao tree, which scientists predict will be extinct as early as 2030 due to climate change and plant disease. Ethos Chocolate is produced by SPAGnVOLA, a single-estate artisanal chocolatiers and family-run cacao farm in the Dominican Republic. They feature four kinds of chocolates, each one representing a fruit associated with a GMO success story. These are: (1) The Optimist, representing the cacao tree and the international initiative to save it through GMO farming; (2) The Survivor, representing the Rainbow Papaya that saved Hawaii's papaya industry in the late 90s; (3) The Trendsetter, representing the Arctic Apple© whose breakthrough technology allowed apples to stay appetizing even when sliced or bruised; and (4) The Hero, representing the orange which, like the cacao, is endangered by plant disease. But through research, a new variety is being developed to save the Florida staple fruit through GMO farming. Crop Biotech Update. 13 February, 2019. Read more about these enticing chocolates in A Fresh Look and Well and Good.

GMOs Not the Cause of 'Monarch' Butterfly Decline, Study

'Monarch' butterflies and their principal host plant, the milkweed, have been declining in abundance even before GM crops were planted. This was the result of an extensive study conducted by Jack Boyle, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow of Environmental Science and Policy at College of William & Mary. Boyle and team's study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS). The researchers gathered the digital records from museums and herbaria throughout the North America and analysed the relative abundance of both monarchs and milkweeds for over a century (1900-2016). They found that both monarchs and milkweeds were highly abundant in the early 20th century and the recent declines allegedly attributed to herbicide tolerant crops were actually part of a declining trend observed to begin at around 1950. The paper concluded that herbicide resistant crops are clearly not the only culprit, and likely not even the primary culprit. Not only did monarch and milkweed declines begin decades before GM crops were introduced, but other variables, particularly a decline in the number of farms, predict common milkweed trends more strongly over the period studied. Crop Biotech Update. 13 February, 2019. Read more from and the research article in PNAS.

Fermented Dairy Products Found to Promote Heart Health

When it comes to bolstering cardiovascular health, dairy products aren’t necessarily the first food group that comes to mind, but a new study by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland has shown that consuming fermented dairy products may be protective against heart disease. Read more... IFTNEXT Newsletter 6/2/2019

EAT-Lancet Report Recommends Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems

Transformation to healthy diets from sustainable food systems by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%, declares a report from the EAT-Lancet Commission. The IFT Weekly 24 January 2019

Scientists Create Protective Gel for Probiotics

Prebiotics (fermentable fibres) and probiotics (beneficial microbes) are key to establishing a healthy gut microbiome. While most dietary prebiotics can successfully traverse the digestive system, most dietary probiotics cannot survive digestion. Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences have developed a gel to help probiotics reach their destination: the colon. Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when ingested, populate the colon with good microbes that benefit the host. However, very few, if any, probiotics can survive the journey through the gastrointestinal tract: It is a harsh environment consisting of digestive enzymes, bile salts, and hydrochloric acid that destroys both pathogenic and beneficial microorganisms. Researchers had tried encapsulating probiotics in alginate, a polysaccharide found in brown algae, to protect the beneficial microbes during digestion, but they found that alginate also breaks down easily in the stomach. Hao Zhang and his research collaborators recently tried adding cellulose to the alginate capsule to augment its stability. Upon placing the cellulose-alginate encapsulated probiotics into a simulated stomach acid–like environment, Zhang and his colleagues found that the cellulose-alginate mixture held onto the probiotics. They also determined that the mixture properly released the bacteria in a simulated intestine environment. As a next step, the scientists plan to test this probiotic encapsulation system in animals. IFT Newsletter. 29 January 2019. The research study was published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.

Snippets - contributions are welcome. Edited and produced by Dr. B Cole. - / Fax +27 (0)86 625 2869 with the help of the Northern Branch Committee.