EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 39 EXTRAS GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE UNITED NATIONS PROCLAIMS 2020 AS THE INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF PLANT HEALTH The UN Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] and the International Plant Protection Convention Secretariat [IPPC] welcome the UN General Assembly proclaiming 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health. The year is expected to increase awareness among the public and policy makers of the importance of healthy plants and the necessity to protect them in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Today, up to 40 per cent of global food crops are lost annually due to plant pests [and diseases]. Plant dis- eases alone cost the global economy around USD 220 billion annually and invasive insects around USD 70 bil- lion. "The International Year of Plant Health is a key initiative to highlight the importance of plant health to enhance food security, protect the environment and biodiver- sity, and boost economic development," IPPC Secretary Jingyuan Xia said. "Despite the increasing impact of plant pests [and dis- eases], resources are scarce to address the problem." The prevention of the spread of such organisms is very much an undertaking that requires the collaboration of all countries. This is why Finland first proposed the year. The UN called on governments, civil society, and the private sector to engage at global, regional and national levels. An International Plant Health Conference will be among thousands of plant health events to be held globally throughout 2020. Healthy plants are the foundation for all life, ecosystem functions and food security. Sustaining plant health protects the environment, forests and biodiversity, addresses the effects of climate change, and supports efforts to end hunger. The IPPC is an international treaty that entered into force in 1952 and pro- vides a framework to protect the world's plant resources from the harm caused by pests [and diseases]. It is currently composed of 183 contracting parties. UK RESEARCHERS TESTING GM WHEAT AND GENE-EDITED BRASSICA Researchers at the John Innes Centre have applied to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for consent to conduct field trials of genetically modified (GM) wheat and gene-edited Brassica (CRISPR). The two small-scale field trials are planned to take place at the John Innes Centre on the Norwich Research Park, within our existing, confined, GM trial facilities, between April and September in each year from 2019 to 2022. The wheat trial follows research at the John Innes Centre that identified a gene, TaVIT2 which encodes for an iron trans- porter in wheat. The scientists used this knowledge to develop a wheat line in which more iron is directed into the endosperm, the part of the grain from which white flour is milled. Iron deficiency or anaemia is a global health issue, but the iron content of staple crops such as wheat has been difficult to improve using conventional breeding, and as a result many wheat products for human consumption are artificially fortified with iron. Increasing the nutritional quality of crops, known as biofor- tification, is a sustainable approach to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies. The applicant for the wheat field trial is Professor Cristobal Uauy, a project leader the John Innes Centre. In the same application to Defra, John Innes Centre project leader, Professor Lars Ostergaard has requested consent to trial Brassica oleracea plants, modified using CRISPR-Cas9 gene-ed- iting technology. This technology allows researchers to prevent an existing gene from functioning, to confirm the function of a given gene. This field trial is designed to determine the role of the gene, MYB28 which regulates sulphur metabolism, in field-grown Brassica oleracea; a species that includes many common foods such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts. The production of sulphur-containing compounds in Brassica vegetables is of economic and nutritional significance due to their health-promoting potential. A VERY SMALL NUMBER OF CROPS ARE DOMINATING GLOBALLY - THAT'S BAD NEWS FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE A new University of Toronto study suggests that globally we're growing more of the same kinds of crops, and this presents major challenges for agricultural sustainability on a global scale. The study, done by an international team of researchers led by U of T assistant professor Adam Martin, used data from the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to look at which crops were grown where on large-scale industrial farm- lands from 1961 to 2014. They found that within regions crop diversity has actually increased - in North America for example, 93 different crops are now grown compared to 80 back in the 1960s. The problem, Martin says, is that on a global scale we're now seeing more of the same kinds of crops being grown on much larger scales. "What we're seeing is large monocultures of crops that are commercially valuable being grown in greater numbers around the world," says Martin, who is an ecologist in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at U of T Scarborough. "So large industrial farms are often growing one crop spe- cies, which are usually just a single genotype, across thousands of hectares of land." Soybeans, wheat, rice and corn are prime examples. These four crops alone occupy just shy of 50 per cent of the world's entire agricultural lands, while the remaining 152 crops cover the rest. It's widely assumed that the biggest change in global agri- cultural diversity took part during the so-called Columbia exchange of the 15th and 16th centuries where commercially important plant species were being transported to different parts of the world. But the authors found that in the 1980s there was a mas- sive increase in global crop diversity as different types of crops were being grown in new places on an industrial scale for the first time. By the 1990s that diversity flattened out, and what's happened since is that diversity across regions began to decline. The lack of genetic diversity within individual crops is pretty obvious, says Martin. For example, in North America, six individual genotypes comprise about 50 per cent of all maize (corn) crops. Plant diseases alone cost the global economy around $220 billion USD annually