Global Seed Watch



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University of Illinois research geneticist Ram Singh has managed to cross a popular soybean variety with a related wild perennial plant, producing the first fertile soybean plants that are resistant to soybean rust, soybean cyst nematode and other pathogens.

Singh works in the Soybean/Maize Germplasm, Pathology and Genetics Research unit in the department of crop sciences at the University of Illinois. The unit is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research program. Singh’s collaborator, Randall Nelson, research lead of the ARS soybean/maize research unit, plants seeds from Singh’s most promising experiments, grows the plants and distributes their seeds to other scientists, who screen them for desirable traits and conduct their own breeding experiments.

This research has been published in the journal Theoretical and Applied Genetics. To date, the effort has yielded plants that are resistant to soybean rust, soybean cyst nematode or Phytophthora root rot. Soybean breeders now have access to dozens of new soybean lineages, each with some of the traits of the wild Australian plants, and the research continues.

– Source: University of Illinois


While in Poland for the International Seed Federation’s 2015 World Seed Congress, Pablo Civetta, chair of the National Organising Committee for the Uruguayan seed association, announced that the 2016 congress will be held in Punta del Este, Uruguay, from 15 to 18 May 2016..

The theme of the 2016 World Seed Congress will be “The Natural Way Forward in Business & Life.” Civetta explained that the geography of Uruguay makes it well-suited to agriculture. Known for its agribusiness, about 90 per cent of the land is used for the production of grains, beef, milk, wool, wood and citrus. As such, agriculture represents more than 8 per cent of Uruguay’s gross domestic product and 75 per cent of its total exports.

In addition to the International Seed Federation, the 2016 congress will be co-hosted by the Uruguayan Seed Chamber (Camara Uruguaya de Semillas or CUS) and the Uruguayan Breeder’s Association (Asociación Civil Uruguaya para la Protección de los Obtentores Vegetales or URUPOV).

– Source: Seed World


A team of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences led by Lin Hongxuan have successfully isolated and cloned heat tolerance genes from African rice strains, which could be used to develop rice varieties that can resist the effects of global warming.

According to Lin, temperatures over 35 degrees Celsius decreased the productivity of rice plants. Heat stress destroys rice proteins, causing the plants to wither. Under heat stress, the heat tolerance gene from African rice variety is activated, and gets rid of the toxic proteins that may cause death to the rice plant.

The researchers have tested Asian rice varieties with the transplanted gene in field conditions. The results showed that the gene’s dominant traits enabled the transformed plants to withstand heat stress. Furthermore, Lin said that the cloned gene may also be used to develop heat tolerant varieties of wheat and cruciferous vegetables such as Chinese cabbage.

– Source: Forum on China-Africa Cooperation


Policy breakthroughs on transgenic research in Mozambique and Tanzania have led to approval of confined field trials (CFTs) and a more research-friendly regulatory framework.

Mozambique’s CFTs will be at the Instituto de Investigação Agrária de Moçambique (IIAM; Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique) research station at Chokwe, about 125 miles north of the country’s capital, Maputo.

Next door in Tanzania, a stringent policy that was prohibitive in terms of the onerous liability it placed on researchers has been revised. What all this means is that the two countries, which have been somewhat lagging behind on account of policy constraints, can now more substantively engage in the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project and be more in step with other WEMA partners.

Inacio Mapossé, IIAM’s director general, says that Mozambique’s Ministry of Agriculture had been renamed to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. This, he emphasized, was not just an exercise in words, but also underscored the importance of projects such as WEMA. In his words, “In Mozambique, you cannot talk about food security without talking about maize.” Statistics show that 95 per cent of Mozambique’s smallholders grow maize, and that maize covers 40 per cent of the land devoted to annual crops.

Despite the recent breakthroughs, more remains to be done. In Kenya, the 2012 ban on importation of genetically modified organisms is still in force. And while there has been remarkable progress in Tanzania and the policy is less stringent on transgenic research, there is still more ground to be covered. Uganda is yet to pass the Biosafety Bill.

The menace posed by the maize lethal necrosis (MLN) disease is a high priority, given its threat to Africa’s food security. MLN diagnostics and management call for concerted action by all players in the maize value chain, with regulatory frameworks playing a key role. CIMMYT has an open call for MLN screening for the cropping season, which started at the end of May.

Led by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, the WEMA project is now in its second phase, which will end in 2017.

– Source: International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center


A fundamental question pursued by plant scientists worldwide for the past decade has been answered by a researcher team led by the University of Sydney in Australia. “Our findings have major implications for our understanding of how plants adapt to the environment,” says Rodrigo Reis from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment at the University of Sydney and lead author of the findings published in Nature Plants. “What’s more, they indicate that similar processes occur in humans, so the findings should be embraced by medical researchers and agricultural scientists alike. Our research provides crucial insights into how we might improve the environmental adaptation of plants, including the yields of crop species,” he says. “It also has the potential to advance gene therapies that are being researched to address aging and diseases, including cancer.”

Although different cells and organs have exactly the same set of genes, the ability of any organism to turn certain genes on or off within each cell is central to the functioning of the organism. It defines the identity of cells, tissues and organs, and controls responses to the environment. An important way in which this process is regulated is by tiny RNA molecules, called ‘microRNAs.’ Specific microRNAs control specific genes or sets of genes.

The researchers discovered that the microRNA mechanism that controls whether a particular cell destroys or simply represses the mRNA molecules in plants relies on ‘switcher’ genes. Now that the researchers have found the switchers, it will be possible to manipulate them. Regulating the switcher mechanism should allow them to boost the capacity for environmental adaptation without interfering with development. According to the researchers, this has clear applications for plants affected by climate change.

– Source: University of Sydney


Rachid Lahlali from Canadian Light Source, together with a research team from the CLS, National Research Council Canada, University of Saskatchewan, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada used the synchrotron to image both healthy and infected wheat spikes and florets to understand the development and progression of the fusarium head blight disease. FHB is a huge global problem, caused by a fungus that attacks the head of the wheat plant, causing the kernels to shrivel up and produce toxins. The disease affects wheat and barley crops in Canada, China, parts of southern Africa, Eastern Europe, South America, and the United States.

“What we were trying to do using the synchrotron is to understand how the fungus infects the plant and see what changes are happening. What we found are biochemical markers at the point of where the infection begins,” says Lahlali. The research team used novel techniques developed at the CLS to image living wheat plants. According to Lahlali, they saw the differences in the wheat infected by the fungus and experiments showed that the structures could be lost or altered, and traits can be changed for the plants to become FHB resistant.

– Source: Canadian Light Source


An international consortium of public and private partners plans to sequence the genome of wild emmer, an ancestor of modern wheat, according to a report from
SciDev.Net. Scientists from the group say that the nutrient-rich wheat could yield ideas to address global hunger by making modern wheat varieties healthier and hardier.

Wild emmer is the progenitor of today’s durum and bread wheat varieties. It was one of the first crops to be domesticated during the dawn of agriculture, around 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. “Wild emmer wheat can be naturally crossed with domesticated wheat, hence it is a potential source for wheat improvement,” says Assaf Distelfeld, a wheat geneticist at Tel Aviv University, Israel, and lead researcher in the project. Sequencing wild emmer wheat could assist efforts to improve the quality and yields of modern varieties, he says.

For example, wild emmer grain is rich in micronutrients such as iron and zinc. Transferring this trait to bread wheat could reduce malnutrition among people whose diet is based on this staple crop, the scientists say. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, wheat provides roughly one-fifth of the calories eaten around the world.

“In addition, we hope to identify genes that enable wheat to grow better in tough environments, thus improving our food security,” Distelfeld says. The completed genome could increase opportunities for breeding programs in the developing world to address hunger, which is one of the UN’s proposed sustainable development goals.

– Source: SciDev.Net


The Convention People’s Party (CPP) and some concerned organisations went on a peaceful march to press home their demand against Monsanto and the GMO Plant Breeders Bill in Ghana.

The protest march on May 23 was to demand the withdrawal of the Plant Breeders Bill from Parliament. The groups argued that the passage of the bill into law will negatively impact on the growth of agriculture in Ghana.

A leading member of the CPP, professor Agyemang Badu Akosa bemoaned the use of technology to endanger the safety of crops and consequently, human lives. He explained that “this kind of technology might end up doing great disservice to us. You have to buy seeds every year, in addition to the seeds, you have to buy pesticides from the same company. And these pesticides will blight everything else except that seed. Is that the kind of agriculture that we want?” he asked.

The general secretary of the CPP, Ivor Greenstreet, noted that the party will continue to push for the withdrawal of the Plant Breeders Bill from Parliament. “We have been fighting for the independence of this nation and now we are fighting for the sovereignty of our seeds and our foods and also to allow the farmers to use the right seeds to feed our citizens,” he said.

For his part, the communications director of the Food Sovereignty Ghana, Kweku Andoh Baffour repeated the group’s pledge to fight against the passage of the Plant Breeders Bill. He however, denied that the protest was contemptuous to an ongoing case in court where they are seeking an order to prevent government or any state institution to create and promote the usage of genetically modified seeds.

– Source: Ghana Broadcasting Corporation


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