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Posts Tagged: biotechnology

GMO fight in southern Oregon sharpens GMO debate in California

UC researchers are decoding the genetic clues that help public and private breeders worldwide develop wheat varieties that resist disease.
A ballot measure approved by voters in a single southern Oregon county to ban genetically modified crops is expected to have far-reaching impacts on agriculture, reported Mateusez Perkowski in Capital Press. The new law is expected to spur lawsuits against growers of conventional crops, court cases that will be closely watched by scientists trying to solve farm problems with genetic modification.

"We could do millions of things with transgenics, but we have our hands tied," a story in The Scientist quoted Jorge Dubcovsky, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.

Dubcovsky commented in The Scientist article about his work in using biotechnology to instill resistance to a devastating plant disease, stripe rust, in wheat.

“Wheat is a very important cereal,” says Ravi Singh of Irrigated Bread Wheat Improvement and Rust Research in Mexico. “Twenty percent of [humans'] calories and about the same [percent of] protein are coming from wheat.”

Genetic engineering is a way to breed long-lasting stem rust–resistant wheat varieties and boost wheat yields around the world. But genetically modified foods are being kept off the market by public opposition and regulatory expenses.

The Scientist article, written by Kerry Grens, said a few groups are forging ahead, including Dubcovsky and other researchers who are cloning stripe rust-resistance genes from wheat and other taxa and identify their functions. For more on Dubcovsky's work, see UC researchers improve wheat nutrition and yield.

Posted on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 11:51 AM
Tags: biotechnology (11), GMO (17), Jorge Dubcovsky (2), wheat (5)

Genetically engineered food animals meet resistance

Size comparison of an AquAdvantage Salmon (background) vs. a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling (foreground) of the same age.
Scientists have been breeding genetically modified animals for decades, and assert they are perfectly safe, but to date none has been admitted into the U.S. food supply, reported Jef Akst on The Scientist.

The article reviewed the case of Enviropig, which was modified to produce lower levels of phosphorus in its manure, an environmental benefit because phosphorus can leach into groundwater beneath pig farms. The transgene also eliminates the cost of adding phosphorus to the animals' feed. Anti-GMO activists voiced loud opposition.

"They really targeted it and made it a bad thing," said Alison Van Eenennaam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis.

James Murray, professor in the UCD Animal Science Department, has used genetic modification to develop goats whose milk contains an antibacterial protein found in human breast milk that could help treat childhood diarrhea.

“Who would have thought when we started [manipulating animal genomes] in the early 1980s that at this point we would have no animals approved?" Murry said. “It's been over 30 years. I made my first transgenic sheep in 1985. We were all making [GM] mice before that, with an eye toward agriculture.”

Akst used the case of the AquAdvantage salmon as an object lesson about resistance to GMO animals. AquAdvantage salmon contain a gene from an eel-like ocean pout. It grows twice as fast on 25 percent less food compared to wild salmon. Despite safeguards its makers have in place to keep the GM fish away from their wild cousins - farming them in inland tanks, raising only sterile female fish - the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been holding off on approval for years.

“Fifteen or 20 years in, $70 million down the drain, and no decision,” Murray said. “Who wants to invest in the next transgenic animal product?”

Posted on Monday, June 2, 2014 at 1:36 PM

Science provides facts for Hawaii GMO debate

Symptoms of papaya ringspot virus. The disease is controlled in a GMO variety called Rainbow papaya. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The New York Times reported on a heated debate on the Big Island of Hawaii late last year about a proposed law that would ban the production of genetically modified organisms by farmers in that part of the island state.

The story describes a lone councilman's effort to get science-based information in face of vocal opposition to GMOs among advocacy groups. The lack of input from farmers and scientists on policy issues that affect food and farming has rankled many agircultural scientists, including Pamela Ronald, professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis. She compared some advocacy groups' resolute objections to GMOs to people who don't believe the world climate is changing despite the scientific proof.

“Just as many on the political right discount the broad scientific consensus that human activities contribute to global warming, many progressive advocacy groups disregard, reject or ignore the decades of scientific studies demonstrating the safety and wide-reaching benefits” of genetically engineered crops, Ronald said.

Hawaii has a unique status in the GMO debate. It's the only American state where farmers grow genetically modified fruit. After an outbreak of papaya ringspot virus in the mid-1990s, scientists used biotechnology to insert a gene from the virus itself into the papaya that gave it immunity and saved the crop.

The article outlines research showing that many of the claims made by GMO opponents do not stand up to scrutiny. Experts conceded that the research doesn't prove genetically engineered food could never cause harm, but the risks of such crops could be reliably tested, and they had so far proved safe.

“With scientists, we never say anything is 100 percent certain one way or another,” USDA-ARS research molecular biologist Jon Suzuki said. “We weigh conclusions on accumulated knowledge or evidence — but often this is not satisfactory for some.”  

The GMO ban was approved by Hawaii's County Council by a 6 to 3 vote and on Dec. 5 signed by the Big Island's mayor.

Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:25 AM
Tags: biotechnology (11), GMO (17), Pamela Ronald (7)

UC researchers try to make biofuel in tobacco plants

Peggy Lemaux
UC researchers are testing tobacco's potential to be genetically modified in order to produce biofuel, reported Louis Sahagun in the Los Angeles Times' ScienceNow blog.

“The beauty of our proposal is that carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere as a byproduct of combustion of these bio-fuels would be captured again by tobacco plants and, through the natural process of photosynthesis, be converted back into fuel," said Anastasios Melis, professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley.

Peggy G. Lemaux, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, Melis and Krishna Niyogi, Agricultural Experiment Station faculty in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley, are lead researchers in the project.

For more information and a video growing biofuel in tobacco leaves, see the UC Green Blog.

Additional coverage:

Lemaux and Eduardo Blumwald, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, were interviewed about biotechnology for a program that will air on the Bay Area’s KQED Channel 9 at 7:30 p.m. May 8. Lemaux and Blumwald will also participate in a "Google Hangout" at 11 a.m. May 8.

Posted on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 8:36 AM

UC looks into a 'healthier' way to use tobacco

Converting tobacco into cigarettes is a dwindling industry, so scientists are looking for an alternative use for the product grown by tobacco farmers, said an article in the New York Times Green Blog.

Peggy Lemaux, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley, shared the idea at the annual meeting of Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, an agency founded to nurture interesting energy ideas that may or may not work.

Some bacteria and algae turn sunlight into oils that can be burned in a car engine or used as raw material at a refinery in place of crude oil. A research consortium that includes the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, UC Berkeley and the University of Kentucky has taken genes from those types of bacteria and algae and inserted them into tobacco plants. In the first year of work, the efforts produced a crop and organic solvents were used to extract the oils out of the leaves.

For an overview, see the video below:

Posted on Monday, March 4, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Tags: biofuel (12), biotechnology (11), Peggy Lemaux (7)

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