Popular potato variety in Uganda getting a GMO makeover

Related imageVictoria is a popular local potato variety in Uganda. Farmers love it because it is high yielding. However, Victoria is also extremely susceptible to potato late blight disease. With each growing season, these farmers face a threat of 60 to 100 percent yield losses due to Late Blight. Climate related risks have worsened the situation leading to increasingly food insecure households. However, all is not lost. Researchers from the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) in Uganda, working closely with the International Potato Center (CIP), are about to complete multi-location field trials and laboratory analyses of an improved transgenic Victoria potato. These trials are part of a comprehensive risk assessment of the improved potato, to get it approved by Uganda’s National Biosafety Committee. Field trials of the improved Victoria variety have shown complete resistance to late blight disease without use of fungicides. Read more

Bayer completes $63-billion Monsanto takeover; name to disappear forever

Related imageGerman chemicals and pharmaceuticals giant Bayer said Thursday its two-year pursuit of US-based Monsanto over, as the two firms signed off a $63-billion merger deal. “Shares in the US company will no longer be traded on the New York Stock Exchange, with Bayer now the sole owner of Monsanto Company,” the German firm said in a statement. In an industry preparing for a global population surge with billions more mouths to feed, Bayer was keen to get its hands on Monsanto’s market-leading line in GM crop seeds designed to resist strong pesticides. It was also lured by Monsanto’s data analytics business Climate Corp, believing farmers will in future rely on digital monitoring of their cropsContinue reading

Blight research: GM potato, IPM can reduce environmental impact of potato production by over 95%

Researchers with Teagasc in Ireland have concluded their field study which investigated both the environmental and agronomic impact of a GM potato variety genetically engineered to resist late blight disease, caused by Phytophthora infestans. Potato late blight can rapidly destroy potato crops with growers commonly having to resort to spraying their crops with fungicides on a near weekly basis. Teagasc research indicates that combining a cisgenic blight resistant potato with advanced Integrated management systems can reduce the environmental impact of potato production by over 95%. As part of the EU funded ‘AMIGA’ project and in collaboration with Wageningen University, Teagasc looked at issues such as the efficacy of disease control and the resulting environmental impact during cultivation of a susceptible potato variety (Désirée) and two different resistant potato varieties: Sarpo Mira, developed through conventional breeding, and a resistant version of the Désirée which received a resistance gene from a wild potato through cisgenesis. Read more

GMO potato can reduce fungicide use by 90 percent, but activists not happy

Image result for GMO potato can reduce fungicide use by 90 percentResearchers in Ireland and the Netherlands have discovered that a genetically engineered potato carrying a blight resistance gene could help farmers reduce fungicide sprays by up to 90 percent. Scientists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Teagasc, the Irish agricultural research agency, conducted three years of field tests in the two countries to examine the effectiveness of potato genes aiming to confer resistance to Phytophthora infestans. In modern agriculture, late blight is kept in check via a regime of fungicide sprays, with farmers sometimes having to spray their potato crops as often as once a week during bad blight years. A blight-resistant commercial potato variety — Desiree was the variety chosen for the trials — would therefore help to reduce the environmental burden of agro-chemical sprays, as well as costs to farmers. Despite the potential for environmental benefits, anti-GMO activists have tried to stop trials in both countries. More

Argentina: Scientists develop non-browning potatoes using CRISPR gene editing

non browning potato crispr 382377Researchers of the INTA [Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria], Balcarce, have edited the genome that causes enzymatic browning in potatoes, alters the nutritional properties and quality of the tubers. “We verified that we are capable of generating, within a potato cell, a gene editing machinery that specifically targets the chosen gene and changes its genetic sequence,” explained Sergio Feingold, director of the INTA’s Agrobiotechnology Laboratory. “The technique used was gene editing.” The technology used is also known as “gene scissors” or CRISPR/Cas9. When applying this technique, the team led by Feingold focused on a polyphenol oxidase gene, whose enzyme causes browning in tubers when they are cut and exposed to air. More

Teagasc: GM potato trial cuts blight fungicide use by up to 90%

A sprayer sprays a fungicide on a potato cropA genetically modified potato variety designed to resist the devastating disease blight, enabled fungicide use to be cut by 80-90% in trials, without compromising efficacy or yield. Research company Teagasc has concluded that combining GM technology with an integrated approach to disease control can dramatically cut the overall environmental impact of potato growing. Irish researchers spent the past three years comparing one susceptible variety (Desiree) with two different resistant potato varieties. These are Sarpo Mira, developed through conventional breeding, and a version of Desiree, which received a resistance gene from a wild potato. This work is part of the EU funded “AMIGA” project and was carried out in collaboration with Wageningen University in the Netherlands. More

CropLife Canada: Consumer confidence towards biotech improving, but fear of pesticides still out there

Image result for biotechnology canadaConsumer confidence in government regulations around biotechnology is improving, according to CropLife Canada polling in the country. “We’re finding the attitudes of Canadians about biotechnology is really getting better,” says Dennis Prouse, vice president, government affairs, CropLife Canada. “Our actual research finds that Canadian attitudes have taken a good jump forward, and I think that’s largely due to the unblemished safety record biotech has.” The same question surrounding “pesticides” and “pest control products,” however, saw different results. “[Pest control products haven’t] shown the big jump that biotech has — obviously, the fear of chemicals is out there…it’s going to be a tougher hill to climb.” says Prouse. Prouse says the measurement of media showing negative stories on these subjects has dropped though. More

Bayer-Monsanto merger ‘could reshape agriculture’

Seed and chemical giants Bayer and Monsanto said Wednesday that they will merge to become one of the world’s biggest agriculture giants, a $66 billion mega-deal that could reshape the future of farming and enhance their influence over the planet’s food supply. Bayer said it will spearhead the largest all-cash buyout in history in hopes of taking over St. Louis-based Monsanto, the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds. The merger marks one of the most prominent signs yet of the broadening acceptance of genetically modified foods. The deal would also further strengthen the companies’ grips on vital seeds, pesticides and farm technologies, a concerning turn that critics said could raise prices, reduce choice and stifle innovations needed to feed a growing world. More

Researchers from the US, Indonesia and Bangladesh creating GMO potato to fight late blight

Image result for potato late blightResearchers from the U.S., Indonesia and Bangladesh is creating a genetically-engineered potato to fight the late blight. The disease remains an issue for farmers worldwide, especially in Bangladesh, where many struggle with hunger. “Late blight is the number one constraint for potato production, and Bangladesh has a perfect environment for this disease,” said Jim Bradeen, co-director of the University’s Stakman-Borlaug Center and a scientific advisor for the project. The United States Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future partnership, led by Michigan State University, is a collaboration between the University of Minnesota and the University of Idaho, along with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute and the J.R. Simplot Company. The researchers are working to implement durable disease resistance in potatoes using three disease-resistant genes, Bradeen said. Since the pathogen that causes late blight disease can evolve and become resistant to the genes designed to protect the crop, researchers hope using three genes will be an adequate defense. They hope to introduce the potato in Bangladesh in the next six months to a year. More

This nutritive ‘golden potato’ is the latest GMO superfood

Image result for yellow flesh potatoSufferers of malnutrition in the global south could soon find help from an unlikely source: a humble potato, genetically tweaked to provide substantial doses of vitamins A and E, both crucial nutrients for health. Dubbed the “golden potato,” boosted levels of provitamin A carotenoids are converted into vitamin A by digestive enzymes when eaten. The potato was genetically engineered in Italy using a technique called biofortification. It was created in a lab in Italy and studied at Ohio State University, is the most recent staple crop to be genetically transformed into a colorful superfood, joining such creations as antioxidant-rich purple rice and beta-carotene-enhanced golden rice. Continue reading

Canadian breeders developed Colorado potato beetle resistant varieties – after 30 years of trials

 A Colorado potato beetle feeds on potato leaves. (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada photo) It’s taken almost 30 years, but Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists have finally won a monumental battle against the Colorado potato beetle (CPB). Dr. Benoit Bizimungu and Agnes Murphy, potato breeding research scientists at the Fredericton Research and Development Centre, recently developed two selections that are resistant to the major insect pest. Both varieties are available for industry to use in other trials as part of an accelerated potato variety release program. The new resistant varieties were developed as a team effort. Research scientist Dr. Helen Tai is part of the team. While she played an important role in the process, Tai said, “I stand on the shoulder of giants.” Tai stressed that traditional methods were used in all the breeding programs. “There are no GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in the potato breeding program at AAFC,” Tai says. She said the new varieties can be used in conjunction with integrated pest management. More

To go GMO or no: Study examines question of genetic engineering and risk in varietal selection of potatoes

Image result for gmo potatoIn a scientific study published this month in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, a research team at Montana State University examines the farm management decision of whether to adopt a new, genetically engineered potato variety, in particular three GMO Innate varieties developed by Simplot and approved for commercial use by the USDA in March 2017. The researchers note that the new varieties have potential human health benefits over other potato varieties, resist browning and bruising, and also resist late blight. If these new potato varieties are adopted, they would represent one of the first GE crops primarily consumed in a low-processed form in the United States. Currently, most GE crops such as alfalfa, corn, soybeans, and sugar beets are either highly processed into final consumer products or fed to livestock. In their paper, the scientists describe the potato industry with a particular reference to seed potatoes and discusses issues surrounding GE potato varieties. The case is built around a leading seed potato operation in Montana, Kimm Brothers Farming. More

GMO potato can help Bangladeshi farmers cut pesticide use

Bangladesh is the world’s seventh-largest producer of potatoes. Most of the crop is grown by small-holder farmers. To help small-holder farmers, the Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership based at Michigan State University in the US, is using the tools of biotechnology to develop a genetically engineered potato resistant to late blight disease. The Partnership will develop and bring to market a three-R gene late blight resistant potato to smallholder farmers in Bangladesh and Indonesia. By growing a disease-resistant variety, farmers will be able to reduce their use of fungicides and improve their yields, which means more money in their pockets at harvest time. Small-holder farmers anticipate better harvests with LBD-resistant potatoes. Agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury recently reaffirmed the government’s support for genetically engineered (GMO) crop technologies to ensure sufficient food for the people of Bangladesh. More

Simplot partners with Spanish biotech company to enhance nutritional properties of potatoes

Image result for J.R. Simplot Company para el descubrimiento de genes para la mejora de la patataIden Biotechnology – a Spanish biotechnology company – and J.R. Simplot Company, a potato processor and developer and marketer of Innate® GMO potatoes, recently entered into an agreement to explore the potential for nutritional enrichment of the potato. As part of the agreement, Iden will identify promising genes for potential use in Simplot’s proprietary Innate® biotechnology platform. Iden has established other industrial collaborations for gene trait discovery and development in row crops like wheat and corn. More. News release in Spanish

UK: GM potato trial showing positive signs of blight resistance at Sainsbury Laboratory

The Sainsbury Laboratory is trialling a genetically-modified potato designed to be resistant to blight. Pictured are Prof Jonathan Jones (front) with his team, Dr Marina Pais (centre) and Dr Kamil Witek (back). Picture: The Sainsbury Laboratory.A genetically-modified (GM) potato designed to resist late blight has worked “brilliantly” during the first year of field trials, according to Norwich scientists. The field trial conducted by The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) on the Norwich Research Park involves incorporating three blight-resistant genes from a wild potato relative into the popular commercial variety Maris Piper. After the first year of the field trial, scientists observed a marked improvement in late blight resistance, with a stark difference in health between the resistant and non-resistant plants. Prof Jonathan Jones, who is leading the project, said the initial results offered hope that there could be a way of controlling late blight without the need for chemical fungicide sprays. More