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Study: Most Would Accept Nanotechnology, Genetic Modification in Food for Nutrition, Safety

New research suggests that most consumers will accept nanotechnology or genetic modification technology in their food if it will enhance nutrition or improve safety.

Researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of Minnesota conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,117 U.S. consumers. It asked about their willingness to purchase genetically modified (GM) food and foods containing nanotech and qualifiers such as price, enhanced nutrition, improved taste and improved safety, and whether the food’s production had environmental benefits.

The results, published in the Journal of Agricultural Economics, showed that consumers are generally willing to pay more to avoid these technologies in their food, but that they are more accepting of it if there are health and safety benefits.

The researchers divided participants into four groups. The first were the “price-oriented,” who tend to base their decisions in grocery store aisles on the food’s cost regardless of the presence of the technologies. This group made up 23 percent of those surveyed.

The “technology averse” would buy GM or nanotech foods only if those products conveyed food safety benefits. They made up 19 percent of the participants.

“New technology rejecters” wouldn’t buy GM or nanotech foods under any circumstances and encompassed 18 percent of survey participants.

Forty percent of participants fit into the “benefit-oriented” group, which would buy GM or nanotech foods if they had enhanced nutrition or were safer.

“This tells us that GM or nanotech food products have greater potential to be viable in the marketplace if companies focus on developing products that have safety and nutrition benefits,” said Dr. Jennifer Kuzma, senior author of the paper on the research and co-director of the Genetic Engineering in Society Center at NC State. “From a policy standpoint, it also argues that GM and nanotech foods should be labeled, so that the technology rejecters can avoid them.”

Food Safety News

Nutrition, safety key to consumer acceptance of nanotech, genetic modification in foods

New research from North Carolina State University and the University of Minnesota shows that the majority of consumers will accept the presence of nanotechnology or genetic modification (GM) technology in foods — but only if the technology enhances the nutrition or improves the safety of the food.

“In general, people are willing to pay more to avoid GM or nanotech in foods, and people were more averse to GM tech than to nanotech,” says Dr. Jennifer Kuzma, senior author of a paper on the research and co-director of the Genetic Engineering in Society Center at NC State. “However, it’s not really that simple. There were some qualifiers, indicating that many people would be willing to buy GM or nanotech in foods if there were health or safety benefits.”

The researchers conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,117 U.S. consumers. Participants were asked to answer an array of questions that explored their willingness to purchase foods that contained GM tech and foods that contained nanotech. The questions also explored the price of the various foods and whether participants would buy foods that contained nanotech or GM tech if the foods had enhanced nutrition, improved taste, improved food safety, or if the production of the food had environmental benefits.

The researchers found that survey participants could be broken into four groups.

Eighteen percent of participants belonged to a group labeled the “new technology rejecters,” which would not by GM or nanotech foods under any circumstances. Nineteen percent of participants belonged to a group labeled the “technology averse,” which would buy GM or nanotech foods only if those products conveyed food safety benefits. Twenty-three percent of participants were “price oriented,” basing their shopping decisions primarily on the cost of the food — regardless of the presence of GM or nanotech. And 40 percent of participants were “benefit oriented,” meaning they would buy GM or nanotech foods if the foods had enhanced nutrition or food safety.

“This tells us that GM or nanotech food products have greater potential to be viable in the marketplace if companies focus on developing products that have safety and nutrition benefits — because a majority of consumers would be willing to buy those products,” Kuzma says.

“From a policy standpoint, it also argues that GM and nanotech foods should be labeled, so that the technology rejecters can avoid them,” Kuzma adds.

The paper, “Heterogeneous Consumer Preferences for Nanotechnology and Genetic-modification Technology in Food Products,” is published online in the Journal of Agricultural Economics. Lead author of the paper is Dr. Chengyuan Yue of the University of Minnesota. The paper was co-authored by Shuoli Zhao, a graduate student at UM. The research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Getting more out of nature: Genetic toolkit finds new maximum for crop yields

Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today announced a new way to dramatically increase crop yields by improving upon Mother Nature’s offerings. A team led by Associate Professor Zachary Lippman, in collaboration with Israeli colleagues, has discovered a set of gene variations that can boost fruit production in the tomato plant by as much as 100%.

Plant breeders will be able to combine different gene variants among the set to create an optimal plant architecture for particular varieties and growing conditions. The set of mutations will enable farmers to maximize yield in tomatoes and potentially many other flowering plants, including staple crops like soybeans.

“Traditionally, plant breeders have relied on natural variation in plant genes to increase yield, but yield gains are plateauing,” Lippman notes. “There is an immediate need to find new ways for plant breeders to produce more food.” Worldwide more than 842 million people do not receive adequate nourishment, about 1 person in 8 alive today. The cost of food is expected to increase and hunger is likely to become more widespread as the global population expands to beyond 9 billion by 2050.

Ancient humans and early plant breeders recognized that selecting plants with modified architectures could have a major impact on the amount of fruit they produce. In general scientific terms, Lippman explains, “Plant architecture results from a delicate balance between vegetative growth – shoots and leaves – and flower production. To increase crop yields, we want plants to produce as many flowers and fruits as possible, but this requires energy – energy that is produced in leaves.”

In tomatoes and all other flowering plants, the balance between vegetative growth and flowers is controlled by a pair of opposing hormones, called florigen and anti-florigen. Prior work by Lippman and Israeli colleagues showed that a mutation in florigen can shift the balance between vegetative growth and flowering, modifying plant architecture in a way that increases yield. This suggested that the balance between florigen and anti-florigen might not yet be optimal in tomato plants, despite centuries of breeding with natural variants.

In a study published in Nature Genetics, Lippman’s team identifies an array of new gene mutations that allow, for the first time, a way to fine-tune the balance of florigen to anti-florigen. This maximizes fruit production without compromising the energy from leaves needed to support those fruits. “We mixed and matched all of the mutations,” explains Lippman. “And we were able to produce plants with a broad range of architectures. Together, our collection of mutations forms a powerful toolkit for breeders to pinpoint a new optimum in flowering and architecture that can achieve previously unattainable yield gains.”

The breakthrough benefit of the toolkit, says Lippman, is that it allows farmers to customize genetic variations for particular varieties and growing conditions. “For example, we found that different combinations boost yields for cherry tomatoes and other fresh-market tomatoes compared to tomatoes that are processed for sauce, ketchup, and other canned products. We’ve tested this in multiple genetic backgrounds, in multiple years, and in multiple environments – and the toolkit always provides a new maximum yield.”

These results are likely to be broadly applicable to other flowering crops, Lippman says. Mutations that affect florigen and anti-florigen are already known to play a role in controlling plant architecture for the oil crops rapeseed and sunflower, and can be applied in those. But the team is anxious to move on to critical food crops, specifically soybeans, which share many growth similarities with tomato.

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Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Genetic history of tomatoes revealed by new sequencing

This week, an international team of researchers, led by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, is publishing in the journal Nature Genetics a brief genomic history of tomato breeding, based on sequencing of 360 varieties of the tomato plant.

The C.M. Rick Tomato Genetics Resource Center here at UC Davis played an important role in this study by providing seed of both cultivated tomato varieties and related wild species.

This study, which builds on the first tomato genome sequence completed just two years ago, shows in great detail how the processes of early domestication and modern breeding influenced the genetic makeup of cultivated tomatoes. (UC Davis researchers also led an effort to sequence the genome of a wild relative of the cultivated tomato.)

Analysis of the genome sequences of these 360 varieties and wild strains shows which regions of the genome were under selection during domestication and breeding. The study identified two independent sets of genes responsible for making the fruit of modern commercial tomatoes 100 times larger than their wild ancestors.

An important finding is that specific regions of the tomato genome were unintentionally depleted in genetic variation: for example, in DNA around genes conferring larger fruit size or genes for resistance to diseases afflicting tomato plants.

These stretches of genetic uniformity illustrate the need to increase overall genetic diversity in modern varieties and highlight the important role that the Rick Tomato Genetics Resource Center and similar collections play in housing much of the genetic variability that will be critical for future breeding and research on tomato.

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The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Davis. The original article was written by Roger Chetelat. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Using genetic screening to improve Korean white wheat

Visiting scientist Dae Wook Kim hopes to develop a line of Korean wheat that does not sprout when exposed to wet harvest conditions, thanks to genetic screening techniques he learned at South Dakota State University.

He is working with molecular biologist Jai Rohila of the biology and microbiology department through a two-year project sponsored by the National Institute of Crop Science in Suwaon, South Korea. It is part of his country’s effort to increase wheat production.

Korean farmers raise white winter wheat, planting in October and harvesting in June; however, the country’s rainy season begins in June, explained Kim. If the rains hit before the crop has been harvested, the grain begins to sprout in the head.

Korean white winter wheat is particularly susceptible to preharvest sprouting, according to Kim. Preharvest sprouting reduces the quality of the grain and the yield, added Rohila.

Last summer, SDSU spring wheat breeder Karl Glover provided Kim with 40 lines of South Dakota wheat — half tolerant and half susceptible to preharvest sprouting. Kim compared these lines to determine which genes and proteins account for tolerance.

When Kim returned in July for his second three-month stay, he brought seeds from two Korean lines — Sukang, which has more sprouting tolerance, and Baegjoong, which is susceptible.

Looking at both lines, he identified 33 proteins that are differentially expressed in the tolerant cultivar. Kim will quantify the gene expression levels from Glover’s newest lines that are resistant to preharvest sprouting and compare those results with the list of differentially expressed proteins from the Korean cultivars.

If the same proteins are differentially expressed in Glover’s varieties, Kim will validate the genes he identified as important to tolerance in his Korean varieties.

“If it is related to tolerance, the same gene should be in other tolerant varieties.” Kim added. “At that level, we know the gene is expressed in the same way.”

His work at SDSU will decrease the time it takes to improve preharvest sprouting tolerance in Korean white wheat.

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Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Genetic study tackles mystery of slow plant domestications

TGF-FruitImage“The Modern View of Domestication,” a special feature of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published April 29, raises a number of startling questions about a transition in our deep history that most of us take for granted. At the end of the last Ice Age, people in many spots around the globe shifted from hunting animals and gathering fruits and tubers to cultivating livestock and plants.

It seems so straightforward and yet the more scientists learn, the more complex the story becomes. Recently, geneticists and archeologists working on domestication compared notes and up popped a question of timing. Did domesticating a plant typically take a few hundred or many thousands of years?

Genetic studies often indicate that domestication traits have a fairly simple genetic basis, which should facilitate their rapid evolution under selection. On the other hand, recent archeological studies of crop domestication have suggested a relatively slow spread and fixation of domestication traits.

In this special issue of PNAS, Washington University in St. Louis biologist Ken Olsen, PhD, and colleagues ask whether complex genetic interactions might have slowed the rate at which early farmers were able to shape plant characteristics, thus reconciling the genetic and archeological findings.

Olsen, associate professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences, together with colleagues from Oklahoma State University and the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, conclude that these interactions are not a key factor in domesticated plants. The process of domestication, Olsen said, favored gene variants (alleles) that are relatively insensitive to background effects and highly responsive to selection.

But finding these alleles in the first place must have difficult, Olsen said. Only a subset of the genes in the wild population would have reliably produced a favored trait regardless of the crop variety into which they were bred and regardless of where that crop was grown. So the early stages of domestication might have been beset by setbacks and incomprehensible failures that might help explain the lag in the archeological record.

“What we are learning suggests there’s a whole lot of diversity out there in wild relatives of crop plants or even in landraces, varieties of plants and animals that are highly adapted to local conditions,” Olsen said, “that wasn’t tapped during the domestication process.”

“These plant populations could provide the diversity for continued breeding that is going to be very important as the world faces climatic change,” he said. “This is why it is important we understand the early stages of domestication.”

Two possible speed bumps

Many crops are distinguished from their wild ancestors with a suite of traits called the domestication syndrome. This includes seeds that remain attached to the plant for harvesting (a trait called nonshattering), reduced branching and robust growth of the central stem and bigger fruits, seeds or tubers.

Over the past 20 years, researchers have begun to identify the genes that control some of the most important domestication traits, no easy task in the days before rapid sequencing, because they had to start with plant traits and work back to unknown genes.

This work showed that many domestication traits were under the control of single genes. For example the gene teosinte branched1 (tb1) converts highly branched teosinte plants into single stalks of corn.

But the seeming importance of single genes could have been an artifact of the method used to identify domestication genes, which required the researcher to pick “candidate” genes and, perhaps, prematurely narrow the search, overlooking indirect genetic effects.

“Little is known about the underlying genetics of domestication,” Olsen said. “We decided to look at genetic mechanisms for modifying plant phenotypes that hadn’t been explored before, in part because not much data is available.”

The new work examines the possibility that two indirect effects — the influence of the genetic background on the expression of a gene (called epistasis) and the effects of the environment on the expression of genes — might have slowed the selection of plants with the desired traits.

Epistasis and environmental effects in domestication genes

By selecting animals for coat color, animal breeders may have stabilized certain epistatic and environmental interactions in companion animals (see photos at right). But when the plant scientists looked at comparable genetic mechanisms in domesticated plants, they found the reverse to be true. Farmers seem to have selected for plant variants that were insensitive to epistatic and environmental interactions.

Shattering in domesticated foxtail millet provides an example of insensitivity to epistasis. Branching in maize illustrates insensitivity to environmental effects.

Shattering in foxtail millet and its wild ancestor, green millet, is controlled by two stretches of DNA containing or linked to genes that underlie this trait, a major one called QTL 1 and a minor one called QTL2. In this as in other epistatic interactions, the effect of an allele at one location depends on the state of the allele at the other location. But when wild and domesticated plants are crossed, these “genetic background effects” are not symmetric.

Shattering in plants with a wild green-millet allele at the QTLI location depends on the allele at the QTL2 location. In contrast, shattering in plants with the foxtail-millet allele at QTL1 is unaffected by the allele at the QTL2 location.

In the limited number of examples at their disposal, the scientists found it to be generally true that that domesticated alleles were less sensitive to genetic background than wild alleles. The domestication genes, in other words, tended to be ones that would produce the same result even if they were introduced into a different crop variety.

Teosinte provides a good example of the sensitivity of gene expression to the environment. Teosinte is strongly affected by crowding. When a teosinte plant with a wild tb1 gene is repeatedly backcrossed with maize, it produces highly branched plants in uncrowded growing conditions but plants with smaller lateral branches when it is crowded.

Again, however, the effect is not symmetric. The domesticated trait is less sensitive to the environment than the wild trait; plants with the domesticated tb1 gene allele are unbranched whether or not they are crowded.

Unlike companion-animal breeders, early farmers seem to have selected domestication-gene alleles that are insensitive to genetic background and to the environment. This process would have been slow, unrewarding and difficult to understand, because the effects of gene variants on the plant weren’t stable. But once sensitive alleles had been replaced with robust ones, breeders would have been able to exert strong selection pressure on plant traits, shaping them much more easily than before, and the pace of domestication would have picked up.

No wonder the archeological record indicates there were false starts, failed efforts and long delays.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Increasing longevity of seeds with genetic engineering

A study developed by researchers of the Institute for Plant Molecular and Cell Biology (IBMCP), a joint center of the Universitat Politècnica de València and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), in collaboration with the Unit for Plant Genomics Research of Evry, France (URGV, in French) has discovered a new way of improving the longevity of plant seeds using genetic engineering. Plant Physiology magazine has published the research results.

The key is the overexpression of the ATHB25 gene. This gene encodes a protein that regulates gene expression, producing a new mutant that gives the seed new properties. Researchers have proven that this mutant has more gibberellin -the hormone that promotes plant growth-, which means the seed coat is reinforced as well. “The seed coat is responsible for preventing oxygen from entering the seed; the increase in gibberellin strengthens it and this leads to a more durable and longer lasting seed,” explains Eduardo Bueso, researcher at the IBMCP (UPV-CSIC).

This mechanism is new, as tolerance to stresses such as aging has always been associated with another hormone, abscisic acid, which regulates defenses based on proteins and small protective molecules, instead of producing the growth of structures like gibberellin does.

The study has been made on the experimental model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, a species that presents great advantages for molecular biology research. Researchers of the IBMCP traced half a million seeds, related to one hundred thousand lines of Arabidopsis mutated by T-DNA insertion, using the natural system of Agrobacterium tumefaciens. “Finally, we analyzed four mutants in the study and we proved the impact on the seed longevity when the overexpression of the ATHB25 gene is introduced,” states Ramón Serrano, researcher at the IBMCP.

Researchers compared the longevity of genetically modified Arabidopsis seeds and seeds which were not modified. In order to do this, they preserved them for thirty months under specific conditions of room temperature and humidity. After thirty months, only 20% of the control plants germinated again, whereas almost the all of the modified plants (90%) began the germination process again.

Researchers of the IBMCP are now trying to improve the longevity of different species that are of agronomical interest, such as tomatoes or wheat.

Biodiversity and benefits for farmers

This discovery is particularly significant for the conservation of biodiversity, preserving seed species and, especially, for farmers.

“In the past, a lot of different plant species were cultivated, but many of them are dissapearing because high performance crops have now become a priority. Seed banks were created in order to guarantee the conservation of species, but they require a periodical regeneration of the seeds. With this mutant the regeneration periods could be extended,” explains Eduardo Bueso.

With regard to farmers, Serrano explains that “the increase of the lifespan of seeds would mean a reduction in their purchase price.”

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Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Genetic diversity key to survival of honey bee colonies

June 17, 2013 — When it comes to honey bees, more mates is better. A new study from North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that genetic diversity is key to survival in honey bee colonies — a colony is less likely to survive if its queen has had a limited number of mates.

“We wanted to determine whether a colony’s genetic diversity has an impact on its survival, and what that impact may be,” says Dr. David Tarpy, an associate professor of entomology at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper describing the study. “We knew genetic diversity affected survival under controlled conditions, but wanted to see if it held true in the real world. And, if so, how much diversity is needed to significantly improve a colony’s odds of surviving.”

Tarpy took genetic samples from 80 commercial colonies of honey bees (Apis mellifera) in the eastern United States to assess each colony’s genetic diversity, which reflects the number of males a colony’s queen has mated with. The more mates a queen has had, the higher the genetic diversity in the colony. The researchers then tracked the health of the colonies on an almost monthly basis over the course of 10 months — which is a full working “season” for commercial bee colonies.

The researchers found that colonies where the queen had mated at least seven times were 2.86 times more likely to survive the 10-month working season. Specifically, 48 percent of colonies with queens who had mated at least seven times were still alive at the end of the season. Only 17 percent of the less genetically diverse colonies survived. “48 percent survival is still an alarmingly low survival rate, but it’s far better than 17 percent,” Tarpy says.

“This study confirms that genetic diversity is enormously important in honey bee populations,” Tarpy says. “And it also offers some guidance to beekeepers about breeding strategies that will help their colonies survive.”

The paper, “Genetic diversity affects colony survivorship in commercial honey bee colonies,” was published online this month in the journal Naturwissenschaften. Co-authors of the study are Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp of the University of Maryland and Dr. Jeffery Pettis of USDA. The work was supported by the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the National Honey Board.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Wheat: Genetic discovery to keep crops disease-free

According to John Curtin Distinguished Professor Richard Oliver, Director of the Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens (ACNFP) at Curtin, farmers can lose more than 0.35 tonnes per hectare in wheat yields to Yellow Spot, even after applying fungicide.

For an average-sized farm of 4000 hectares, this could mean an almost $ 500,000 loss to disease per year — or about $ 212 million worth of damage to the wider Australian agricultural industry.

Funded by the Grains Research & Development Corporation, Professor Oliver and his team, in conjunction with independent research provider Kalyx Australia, have demonstrated that by taking away disease-sensitivity genes from the wheat germplasm, pathogens find it difficult to latch onto wheat and cause damage.

“Our finding will help breeders produce crops in which disease losses are 60 to 80 per cent lower, and would be a real win for farmers — they will often be able to avoid using foliar fungicides,” Professor Oliver said.

“Before now, breeding for resistance to Yellow (Tan) Spot and Septoria Nodorum Blotch was very time-consuming — no molecular markers were in use. The key has been to supply breeders with specific proteins (we call them effectors) that the fungi use to cause disease.

“For the first time, our technology allows for a steady and sustained improvement in disease resistance without affecting the farmer’s pocket.

“Furthermore, breeders are able to devote more time and resources to breeding for yield, as well as for rust and frost resistance.”

Using large wheat variety trials provided by Kalyx Australia, the team looked at yield loss of different cultivars (plants chosen for breeding because of desirable characteristics) when subjected to natural disease and stress pressures in the WA wheatbelt.

They compared cultivars with disease-sensitivity genes to cultivars that lacked these particular genes, and were able to show that the cultivars lacking the gene showed no yield loss and in some instances increased yields in the presence of disease.

From this, the team were able to conclude if a sensitivity gene was eliminated, there would be minimal associated risks and it would be a safe and straightforward strategy for improving disease resistance.

Professor Oliver said this research had never been done before as direct mapping for disease resistance had not led to useful molecular markers.

“Previously geneticists would infect plants that were progeny of crosses between relatively resistant and relatively susceptible parents before doing the QTL (quantitative disease-resistance gene) mapping. But as disease resistance is multifactorial due to the several effector reactions, the QTL mapping was always a bit fuzzy and was therefore never passed on,” Professor Oliver said.

“Our research looks directly at the loci that recognise the pathogens, which can be readily identified using a process we developed earlier, thereby bypassing the need for QTL mapping.”

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Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Horse gaits controlled by genetic mutation spread by humans

From the Faroe Pony to the Spanish Mustang, fewer animals have played such a central role in human history as the horse. New research in Animal Genetics reveals that a horse’s gait, an attribute central to its importance to humans, is influenced by a genetic mutation, spread by humans across the world.

The team, led by Dr. Leif Andersson from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, explored the distribution of a mutation in the DMRT3 gene which affects the gait of horses, known as the ‘gait keeper.’

“All over the world, horses have been used for everyday transportation, in military settings, cattle herding and agricultural power, pulling carriages and carts, pleasure riding or racing,” said Dr. Andersson. “Over the centuries, horse populations and breeds have been shaped by humans based on the different purposes for which the animals were used.”

The DMRT3 gene is central to the utility of horses to humans, as it controls a range of gaits as well as pace. From racing to pleasure riding, many species have been bred to encourage smoothness of gait.

“For example, the Paso Fino is a breed from Latin America in which the frequency of the ‘gait keeper’ mutation is nearly 100%. It is claimed that the Paso Fino gait is so smooth that you can have a glass of wine in your hand without letting it spill,” said Dr. Andersson.

The team analyzed 4,396 horses from 141 breeds around the world and found that the ‘gait keeper’ mutation is spread across Eurasia from Japan in the East, to the British Isles in West, on Iceland, in both South and North America, and also in breeds from South Africa.

“Humans have spread this mutation across the world primarily because horses carrying this mutation are able to provide a very smooth ride, in some breeds referred to as a running walk,” said Dr. Andersson. “During such ambling gaits the horse has at least one foot on the ground that means that the vertical movement of the rider is minimal.”

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Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

GE Salmon, Apples Keep Genetic Labeling On Legislative Menu in Olympia

Usually the Washington Legislature will steer clear – at least for a while – of a topic voters have settled in a recent initiative. That unwritten rule might ordinarily keep bills for labeling genetically modified food off the table for a while since voters narrowly nixed that idea in deciding against Initiative 522.

House Bill (HB) 2143, calling for labeling genetically engineered salmon, may be an exception to that rule. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling on an application for a fast-growing GMO salmon is expected later this year.

State Rep. Cary Condotta (R-East Wenatchee), a sponsor of HB 2143, says that since Washington state already requires labeling salmon as either “farmed” or “fresh,” it only makes sense to also label “transgenic” fish. The bill also prohibits raising GMO fish with fins in state waters.

The state’s aquaculture and biotech industries oppose HB 2143. In testimony this past Friday in Olympia, industry representatives charged that the bill was introduced to stigmatize genetic technology and generate fear.

They also said that the bill is unnecessary and claimed state law already prohibits transgenic fish in aquaculture. And they reminded a committee hearing on Friday that state voters have already spoken in their 51-49 percent rejection of I-522 last November.

Proponents said the state has to protect Washington’s native salmon population, and they claimed those fish stocks would be threatened by FDA approval of the first GMO animal approved for human consumption. FDA is reviewing comments on the issue and has not promised a delivery date for a decision. The application under consideration is from Aqua Bounty Technologies.

Testing is also now under way in Washington state and New York, both apple-growing regions, of two varieties of the non-browning Arctic Apple. The Arctic Apple is being developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, Inc., of British Columbia.

The Yakima-based Northwest Horticultural Council, representing the region’s fruit industry, wants USDA to reject the GMO apple to avoid marketing confusion for traditional and organic apples. The council says it has no concerns over food safety.

Another bill in Olympia could apply to the Arctic Apple. A USDA decision on the Arctic Apple could come this year.

Food Safety News

First comprehensive test to detect genetic modification in food

Jan. 15, 2014 — As the abundance of genetically modified (GM) foods continues to grow, so does the demand for monitoring and labeling them. The genes of GM plants used for food are tweaked to make them more healthful or pest-resistant, but some consumers are wary of such changes. To help inform shoppers and enforce regulations, scientists are reporting in ACS’ journal Analytical Chemistry the first comprehensive method to detect genetic modifications in one convenient, accurate test.

Li-Tao Yang, Sheng-Ce Tao and colleagues note that by the end of 2012, farmers were growing GM crops on more than 420 million acres of land across 28 countries. That’s 100 times more than when commercialization began in 1996. But doubts persist about the potential effects on the environment and human health of these biotech crops, created by changing the plants’ genes to make them more healthful or more able to resist pests. In response, policymakers, particularly in Europe, have instituted regulations to monitor GM products. Although researchers have come up with many ways to detect genetic modification in crops, no single test existed to do a comprehensive scan, which is where Yang and Tao come in.

They developed a test they call “MACRO,” which stands for: multiplex amplification on a chip with readout on an oligo microarray. It combines two well-known genetic methods to flag about 97 percent of the known commercialized modifications, almost twice as many as other tests. It also can be easily expanded to include future genetically modified crops.

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Journal Reference:

  1. Ning Shao, Shimeng Jiang, Miao Zhang, Jing Wang, Shujuan Guo, Hewei Jiang, CHengxi Liu, Xing Ling, Dabing Zhang, Litao Yang, Shengce Tao. MACRO: A Combined Microchip-PCR and Microarray System for High-throughput Monitoring of Genetically Modified Organisms. Analytical Chemistry, 2013; : 131222110642000 DOI: 10.1021/ac403630a

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Genetic testing to produce more offspring

Jan. 9, 2014 — The Fleckvieh is a breed of cattle that originated in the Alpine region. A robust animal, it is now found on every continent, with an estimated worldwide population of around 40 million.

In Germany, there are approximately 1 million Fleckvieh dairy cows: “Their genomes can be traced back to a small number of key ancestors,” explains Prof. Ruedi Fries, Chair of Animal Breeding at TUM. “With artificial insemination, male breeding animals can produce more than one hundred thousand offspring.”

Infertility caused by a single gene

This practice is fraught with risk, however: If the genetic make-up of any animal contains an unidentified defect, this characteristic will be passed on to future generations. TUM researchers have now discovered that a mutation in the TMEM95 gene on cattle chromosome 19 makes bulls effectively infertile, with a success rate for insemination of less than 2 percent.

“Otherwise, the animals are perfectly healthy and normal,” points out Dr. Hubert Pausch, lead author of the study. “The characteristic only manifests itself if bulls inherit the mutation from both the male and female side, i.e. they are homozygous for the defective gene. It is only in this case that the animals should be excluded from breeding.” Routine genetic testing for all breeding bulls has been underway since August 2012.

Findings of interest for human medicine

As part of their study, the researchers compared the genome of 40 subfertile animals with 8,000 breeding bulls with normal fertility levels. They discovered that the genetic defect can be traced back to one Fleckvieh animal born in 1966.

The TMEM95 gene encodes a protein on the surface of the sperm heads. The protein probably mediates the binding process between the sperm and egg cells. If it is missing, fertilization will not occur.

“Our findings indicate that genetic defects in TMEM95 could also cause infertility in men,” elaborates Pausch. During their investigation of the sperm of infertile breeding bulls, the TUM scientists collaborated with Prof. Sabine Kölle and Dr. Matthias Trottmann from Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University. Trottmann helps couples with infertility problems.

Genetic analysis for healthier animals

Scientists have been systematically studying the cattle genome since 2009. Unlike in humans, a small number of loci explain a large proportion of characteristics. “This allows the genetic profile of breeding bulls to be mapped in detail — and individual weaknesses can be taken into account for breeding,” says Pausch.

Fries adds: “Genetic analysis highlights the undesirable characteristics and also the diseases that animals pass on. With this knowledge we can not only improve yield and quality but also improve animal health by identifying pathogenic gene variants and ensuring that they are not passed on to future animals.” One example is a genetic defect which causes a blood clotting malfunction in the homozygous state.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Genetic discovery points to bigger yields in tomato, other flowering food plants

Dec. 27, 2013 — Every gardener knows the look of a ripe tomato. That bright red color, that warm earthy smell, and the sweet juicy flavor are hard to resist. But commercial tomato plants have a very different look from the backyard garden variety, which can grow endlessly under the right conditions to become tall and lanky. Tomatoes that will be canned for sauces and juice are harvested from plants that stop growing earlier than classic tomato varieties, and are therefore more like bushes. While the architecture of these compact bushy plants allows mechanical harvesters to reap the crop, the early end of growth means that each plant produces fewer fruits than their home garden cousins.

But what if commercial tomato growers could coax plants into producing more fruit without sacrificing that unique and necessary bushy plant shape? Today, CSHL researchers announced that they have determined a way to accomplish this. Their research has revealed one genetic mechanism for hybrid vigor, a property of plant breeding that has been exploited to boost yield since the early 20th century. Teasing out the hidden subtleties of a type of hybrid vigor involving just one gene has provided the scientists with means to tweak the length of time that bushy tomato varieties can produce flowers. In these plants, longer flowering time substantially raises fruit yield.

First identified at CSHL by George Shull in 1908, hybrid vigor — or heterosis, as biologists call it — involves interbreeding genetically distinct plants to generate offspring more robust than either inbred parent. It has been used for decades to improve agricultural productivity, but scientists have long debated how and why it works.

In his previous work, CSHL Associate Professor Zach Lippman and Israeli colleagues identified a rare example of hybrid vigor involving a genetic defect in the gene that makes florigen, a hormone that controls the process of flowering and flower production. The mutation dramatically increases tomato yields in bush tomatoes, and Lippman and his team, led by postdoctoral researcher Ke Jiang, set out to understand the mechanism behind this remarkable result.

They found that bushy plants with a mutation in one of the two copies of the florigen gene, producing half as much florigen as plants without the mutation do, postpone the moment when they stop producing flowers. This, in turn, leads to many more fruits overall. “This is because,” Lippman explains, “bushy tomato varieties are highly sensitive to the amount, or dosage, of the florigen hormone, which alters plant architecture — that is, how many flowers can form before growth ends. These discoveries lead to an exciting prediction: that it may be possible to tweak florigen levels to increase yields even further.”

Lippman’s team also studied florigen mutants in another plant, the crucifer weed known as Arabidopsis that is a cousin of crops like broccoli and cauliflower. Although they did not see the same increase in yield, they did observe similar changes in plant architecture because of florigen dosage sensitivities. These results suggest that it may be possible to manipulate florigen in a wide variety of flowering species to increase yields.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Controlling parasitic worms with genetic selection

Dec. 19, 2013 — Helminths are gastrointestinal parasitic worms that have become a major concern and source of economic loss for sheep producers around the world. A new article published today in the Canadian Journal of Animal Science reviews current research into a promising alternative to control the disease.

According to the paper, the sheep industry has become dependent on drugs to control these parasites. Over time these drugs are less effective as helminths become resistant to the drugs. Therefore, there is pressure on the industry to find alternate strategies. One such strategy is genetic selection. Certain breeds of sheep are more immune to helminths than the conventional breeds used in Canada, and a breeding program that aims to pass on this resistance trait could help to control the disease and ultimately limit production losses attributed to helminth infection.

A key advantage to applying genetic selection rather than chemicals to get rid of the worms is that it is permanent and it could help reduce the potential risk of chemical residues in products made for human consumption. This is key for the public as well as the sheep industry.

“With today’s developments in genomic selection, breeding sheep for helminth resistance can be achieved efficiently, without adversely affecting other economically important traits,” explained Niel Karrow, lead author of the paper, a researcher at the Centre for Genetic Improvement of Livestock at the University of Guelph.

“We believe that breeding for helminth resistance, when combined with good biosecurity and pasture management practises, will greatly help to control against production losses due to gastrointestinal parasites.”

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The above story is based on materials provided by Canadian Science Publishing (NRC Research Press).

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Journal Reference:

  1. Niel A. Karrow, Katherine Goliboski, Nancy Stonos, Flavio Schenkel, Andrew Peregrine. Review: Genetics of helminth resistance in sheep. Canadian Journal of Animal Science, 2013; : 1 DOI: 10.4141/CJAS2013-036

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ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Genetic study pushes back timeline for first significant human population expansion

Sep. 24, 2013 — About 10,000 years ago, the Neolithic age ushered in one of the most dramatic periods of human cultural and technological transition, where independently, different world populations developed the domestication of plants and animals. The hunter-gatherers gave rise to herders and farmers. Changes to a more sedentary lifestyle and larger settlements are widely thought to have contributed to a worldwide human population explosion, from an estimated 4-6 million people to 60-70 million by 4,000 B.C.

Now, researchers Aiméa, et al., have challenged this assumption using a large set of populations from diverse geographical regions (20 different genomic regions and mitochondrial DNA of individuals from 66 African and Eurasian populations), and compared their genetic results with archaeological findings. The dispersal and expansion of Neolithic culture from the Middle East has recently been associated with the distribution of human genetic markers.

They conclude that the first significant expansion of human populations appears to be much older than the emergence of farming and herding, dating back to the Paleolithic (60,000-80,000 years ago) rather than Neolithic age. Therefore, hunter-gatherer populations were able to thrive with cultural and social advances that allowed for the expansion. The authors also speculate that this Paleolithic human population expansion may be linked to the emergence of newer, more advanced hunting technologies or a rapid environmental change to dryer climates.

Finally, they also suggest that strong Paleolithic expansions may have favored the emergence of sedentary farming in some populations during the Neolithic. Indeed, the authors also demonstrate that the populations who adopted a sedentary farming lifestyle during the Neolithic had previously experienced the strongest Paleolithic expansions. Conversely, contemporary nomadic herder populations in Eurasia experienced moderate Paleolithic expansions, and no expansions were detected for nomadic hunter-gatherers in Africa. “Human populations could have started to increase in Paleolithic times, and strong Paleolithic expansions in some populations may have ultimately favored their shift toward agriculture during the Neolithic,” said Aiméa.

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The above story is based on materials provided by Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press), via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Genetic study pushes back timeline for first significant human population expansion

Sep. 24, 2013 — About 10,000 years ago, the Neolithic age ushered in one of the most dramatic periods of human cultural and technological transition, where independently, different world populations developed the domestication of plants and animals. The hunter-gatherers gave rise to herders and farmers. Changes to a more sedentary lifestyle and larger settlements are widely thought to have contributed to a worldwide human population explosion, from an estimated 4-6 million people to 60-70 million by 4,000 B.C.

Now, researchers Aiméa, et al., have challenged this assumption using a large set of populations from diverse geographical regions (20 different genomic regions and mitochondrial DNA of individuals from 66 African and Eurasian populations), and compared their genetic results with archaeological findings. The dispersal and expansion of Neolithic culture from the Middle East has recently been associated with the distribution of human genetic markers.

They conclude that the first significant expansion of human populations appears to be much older than the emergence of farming and herding, dating back to the Paleolithic (60,000-80,000 years ago) rather than Neolithic age. Therefore, hunter-gatherer populations were able to thrive with cultural and social advances that allowed for the expansion. The authors also speculate that this Paleolithic human population expansion may be linked to the emergence of newer, more advanced hunting technologies or a rapid environmental change to dryer climates.

Finally, they also suggest that strong Paleolithic expansions may have favored the emergence of sedentary farming in some populations during the Neolithic. Indeed, the authors also demonstrate that the populations who adopted a sedentary farming lifestyle during the Neolithic had previously experienced the strongest Paleolithic expansions. Conversely, contemporary nomadic herder populations in Eurasia experienced moderate Paleolithic expansions, and no expansions were detected for nomadic hunter-gatherers in Africa. “Human populations could have started to increase in Paleolithic times, and strong Paleolithic expansions in some populations may have ultimately favored their shift toward agriculture during the Neolithic,” said Aiméa.

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Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press), via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Genetic study pushes back timeline for first significant human population expansion

Sep. 24, 2013 — About 10,000 years ago, the Neolithic age ushered in one of the most dramatic periods of human cultural and technological transition, where independently, different world populations developed the domestication of plants and animals. The hunter-gatherers gave rise to herders and farmers. Changes to a more sedentary lifestyle and larger settlements are widely thought to have contributed to a worldwide human population explosion, from an estimated 4-6 million people to 60-70 million by 4,000 B.C.

Now, researchers Aiméa, et al., have challenged this assumption using a large set of populations from diverse geographical regions (20 different genomic regions and mitochondrial DNA of individuals from 66 African and Eurasian populations), and compared their genetic results with archaeological findings. The dispersal and expansion of Neolithic culture from the Middle East has recently been associated with the distribution of human genetic markers.

They conclude that the first significant expansion of human populations appears to be much older than the emergence of farming and herding, dating back to the Paleolithic (60,000-80,000 years ago) rather than Neolithic age. Therefore, hunter-gatherer populations were able to thrive with cultural and social advances that allowed for the expansion. The authors also speculate that this Paleolithic human population expansion may be linked to the emergence of newer, more advanced hunting technologies or a rapid environmental change to dryer climates.

Finally, they also suggest that strong Paleolithic expansions may have favored the emergence of sedentary farming in some populations during the Neolithic. Indeed, the authors also demonstrate that the populations who adopted a sedentary farming lifestyle during the Neolithic had previously experienced the strongest Paleolithic expansions. Conversely, contemporary nomadic herder populations in Eurasia experienced moderate Paleolithic expansions, and no expansions were detected for nomadic hunter-gatherers in Africa. “Human populations could have started to increase in Paleolithic times, and strong Paleolithic expansions in some populations may have ultimately favored their shift toward agriculture during the Neolithic,” said Aiméa.

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Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press), via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Genetic study pushes back timeline for first significant human population expansion

Sep. 24, 2013 — About 10,000 years ago, the Neolithic age ushered in one of the most dramatic periods of human cultural and technological transition, where independently, different world populations developed the domestication of plants and animals. The hunter-gatherers gave rise to herders and farmers. Changes to a more sedentary lifestyle and larger settlements are widely thought to have contributed to a worldwide human population explosion, from an estimated 4-6 million people to 60-70 million by 4,000 B.C.

Now, researchers Aiméa, et al., have challenged this assumption using a large set of populations from diverse geographical regions (20 different genomic regions and mitochondrial DNA of individuals from 66 African and Eurasian populations), and compared their genetic results with archaeological findings. The dispersal and expansion of Neolithic culture from the Middle East has recently been associated with the distribution of human genetic markers.

They conclude that the first significant expansion of human populations appears to be much older than the emergence of farming and herding, dating back to the Paleolithic (60,000-80,000 years ago) rather than Neolithic age. Therefore, hunter-gatherer populations were able to thrive with cultural and social advances that allowed for the expansion. The authors also speculate that this Paleolithic human population expansion may be linked to the emergence of newer, more advanced hunting technologies or a rapid environmental change to dryer climates.

Finally, they also suggest that strong Paleolithic expansions may have favored the emergence of sedentary farming in some populations during the Neolithic. Indeed, the authors also demonstrate that the populations who adopted a sedentary farming lifestyle during the Neolithic had previously experienced the strongest Paleolithic expansions. Conversely, contemporary nomadic herder populations in Eurasia experienced moderate Paleolithic expansions, and no expansions were detected for nomadic hunter-gatherers in Africa. “Human populations could have started to increase in Paleolithic times, and strong Paleolithic expansions in some populations may have ultimately favored their shift toward agriculture during the Neolithic,” said Aiméa.

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Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press), via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News

Genetic study pushes back timeline for first significant human population expansion

Sep. 24, 2013 — About 10,000 years ago, the Neolithic age ushered in one of the most dramatic periods of human cultural and technological transition, where independently, different world populations developed the domestication of plants and animals. The hunter-gatherers gave rise to herders and farmers. Changes to a more sedentary lifestyle and larger settlements are widely thought to have contributed to a worldwide human population explosion, from an estimated 4-6 million people to 60-70 million by 4,000 B.C.

Now, researchers Aiméa, et al., have challenged this assumption using a large set of populations from diverse geographical regions (20 different genomic regions and mitochondrial DNA of individuals from 66 African and Eurasian populations), and compared their genetic results with archaeological findings. The dispersal and expansion of Neolithic culture from the Middle East has recently been associated with the distribution of human genetic markers.

They conclude that the first significant expansion of human populations appears to be much older than the emergence of farming and herding, dating back to the Paleolithic (60,000-80,000 years ago) rather than Neolithic age. Therefore, hunter-gatherer populations were able to thrive with cultural and social advances that allowed for the expansion. The authors also speculate that this Paleolithic human population expansion may be linked to the emergence of newer, more advanced hunting technologies or a rapid environmental change to dryer climates.

Finally, they also suggest that strong Paleolithic expansions may have favored the emergence of sedentary farming in some populations during the Neolithic. Indeed, the authors also demonstrate that the populations who adopted a sedentary farming lifestyle during the Neolithic had previously experienced the strongest Paleolithic expansions. Conversely, contemporary nomadic herder populations in Eurasia experienced moderate Paleolithic expansions, and no expansions were detected for nomadic hunter-gatherers in Africa. “Human populations could have started to increase in Paleolithic times, and strong Paleolithic expansions in some populations may have ultimately favored their shift toward agriculture during the Neolithic,” said Aiméa.

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Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press), via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

ScienceDaily: Agriculture and Food News