Food Security and AgBiotech News
Headlines for May 28, 2015
» FOOD SECURITY: Global Project Aims to Address 'Uncomfortable' Questions about Sustainable Agriculture
» Quest for a Superbee
» China Clones Heat-tolerant Gene from African Rice Strain
FOOD SECURITY: Global Project Aims to Address 'Uncomfortable' Questions about Sustainable Agriculture
Source: ClimateWire (28 May 2015)
Author: Niina Heikkinen
The Global Food Ethics Project is working to reframe the way stakeholders think about and address global food security. While still in its initial stages, the project recently published a report outlining its focus areas for future study. The team of experts at Johns Hopkins University, United States, which is heading up the project, plans to gather data on topics like the fair treatment of farmers and farmworkers, the appropriateness of agricultural subsidies, and the distribution of technology and natural resources to low-income countries. The research could provide stakeholders with advice on how to address ethical concerns in their food aid programs. And, added William Easterling, the dean of earth and mineral sciences at Pennsylvania State University, also in the U.S., who was involved in the project’s working group, the research is intended to address uncomfortable questions that often get swept under the rug. "So often, when it comes down to it, when our political leaders are forced with making political decisions, it often boils down to straight economics," he said. "If you were to turn that around and ask, 'Well, what if the casualties of not making that investment is an increasing divide between those who don't have adequate food and those that do?' does that make a difference in how we make these decisions?" Another goal of the research, said project director Yashar Saghai, is to determine how much food the planet will need to feed its growing population. "Basically, all discussions on food security are premised on the idea either that we don't need to increase food production at all, [or] others say we need to increase production by 60 to 100 percent," he said. "We believe there are very serious problems with the quality of the data and the ethical assumptions that are rolled into the data." more
Quest for a Superbee
Source: National Geographic (May 2015)
Author: Charles C. Mann
This article highlights efforts to save the honeybee, particularly attempts to make a “Superbee” that is able to withstand the onslaught of pests, pathogens, habitat loss and toxic chemicals that are decimating bee populations worldwide. Some scientists have turned toward genetic modification and other tools of big science, while others tout the opposite approach of letting bees evolve on their own. “Unfortunately, none of these approaches has yet produced a sufficiently mite-resistant and productive bee. And by ‘sufficiently’ I mean a bee that’s a game changer,” says Keith Delaplane, the director of the University of Georgia’s honeybee program. Today, most beekeepers use chemicals to deal with mites, but most dislike putting toxins into hives – and many mites are already resistant to commercial miticides. Beeologics, an arm of Monsanto, is working on a nontoxic treatment that uses RNA interference (RNAi), which, when fed to a bee via sugar water, would kill the mite. But, says Marla Spivak, a bee researcher at the University of Minnesota, the problem with RNAi is that it is still a single-purpose tool, and, “If you target one specific area, the organism will always make an end run around it.” Staving off a beepocalypse, she argues, will ultimately require a “healthier, stronger” honeybee that can fight mites and disease on its own, without human assistance. Martin Beye, a geneticist at Heinrich Heine University, Germany, insists that developing such a honeybee will require molecular biology. Beye is still years away from developing a better bee, and notes that releasing genetically modified bees is bound to be controversial. “This is new ground,” Beye says. “People will want to be careful.” Still, others, like Phil Chandler, the author of “the Barefoot Beekeeper,” say the real problem is industrial agriculture. And, he adds, the only way we’ll get better bees is from bees themselves. more
China Clones Heat-tolerant Gene from African Rice Strain
Source: Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (21 May 2015)
Author: n/a
Scientists in China are reporting that they have succeeded in isolating and cloning heat-tolerant genes from African rice strains. The development could result in rice varieties able to withstand climate change. Heat stress can strain rice proteins and cause the plant to wither, reducing production. Lin Hongxuan, with the Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said his team found that a gene isolated from the African rice strain automatically activates when heat strikes, and removes toxic proteins that could lead to the plant’s death. Lin added that his team has conducted field studies growing Asian rice strains with the transplanted gene. The gene’s dominant traits enable the plant to withstand high temperatures. The cloned gene, said Lin, could be transplanted to develop new varieties or rice, wheat, and cruciferous vegetables, such as Chinese cabbage. more
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