In the news...

March 22nd, 2017 / B4FA.org

This week, maize takes center stage in headlines. First, a story in Newsweek (“A genetically modified corn could stop a deadly fungal poison – if we let it”) recaps last week’s news that scientists at the University of Arizona have developed a strain of genetically modified corn that may prevent the production of the toxin, whilst laying out its ill effects on the body (including liver cancer, hepatitis, jaundice and cirrhosis) – and adding that public skepticism surrounding GMOs poses a significant hurdle. A story in SciDevNet reports that an international team of scientists has identified 100 genes that influence adaptation in nearly 4,500 native maize varieties in Mexico, as well as in nearly all Latin American and Caribbean countries. With this information, which is already available to researchers by request, breeders will be able to obtain and develop varieties appropriate for local conditions. The next step will be to identify genes related to environmental conditions associated with climate change, such as drought and extreme heat.

An Information Systems for Biotechnology report outlines how “second generation maize hybridization technology could improve food security and agricultural sustainability”, Genetic Literacy Report discusses a variety of GM maize that makes ethanol more energy efficient, and SciDevNet reports on how in Southern Africa, maize breeders benefit from using drones, which gather data used for crop development and help cut hours of labour and costs as drones can collect data from 1,000 plots in minutes. In Kenya, says The Star, Makueni farmers are abandoning maize for drought-resistant crops such as millet and sorghum, and finally, the Daily Monitor reports on a new panic in Luweero, Uganda, as farmers fight an influx of strange pesticide-resistant caterpillars in their maize gardens.

Meanwhile, in the European Union, the glyphosate controversy has taken a turn as the European Chemicals Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment recently determined that the available scientific evidence indicates that the herbicide should not be classified as a carcinogen. “This conclusion was based both on the human evidence and the weight of the evidence of all the animal studies reviewed,” says Tim Bowmer, the chairman of the European Chemicals Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment. Based on this decision, the European Union will likely decide to approve glyphosate use for the next 15 years. Whatever the outcome, says an article in Genetic Literacy Project, controversy is likely to continue, though the agency’s word is meant to be final.

Finally, from the B4FA Fellows, we hear from Michael Ssali, who writes about the African countries poised to grow GMO crops.

As ever, please send questions, comments and story links to [email protected] and visit B4FA.org for further reading and useful resources. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with daily news and join the conversation.

Global

A genetically modified corn could stop a deadly fungal poison—if we let it
Newsweek

Creole maize reveals adaptation secrets
SciDevNet

Second generation maize hybridization technology could improve food security and agricultural sustainability
ISB News Report

‘Industrial’ corn: GM variety makes ethanol more energy efficient
Genetic Literacy Project

Maize breeders benefit from using drones
SciDevNet

Scientists investigate effects of GE maize on anthropod food webs
ISAAA

Glyphosate not classified as a carcinogen by ECHA
ECHA

Glyphosate found ‘not carcinogenic’: Key European safety agency joins consensus view on herbicide’s safety
Genetic Literacy Project

Glyphosate: Dangerous chemical or anti-GMO bogeyman?
Genetic Literacy Project

How improved valves let grasses “breathe,” cope with climate change
Carnegie Science

Green fears: Why are pro-science liberals less embracing of GMO safety than conservatives? Genetic Literacy Project

Monsanto resists mandatory labelling
SciDevNet

How a UN platform to stop biodiversity loss could up its game
The Conversation, Africa

Drought-tolerant wheat on the way in Canada
Agriculture

Momentum grows to tackle $1 trillion worth of food wasted each year
Devex

Don’t fight engineering and innovation. Instead, learn to grow food.
NewCo Shift

By the numbers: The business case for reducing food loss and waste
World Resources Institute

CRISPR, microbes and more are joining the war against crop killers
Nature

Hans Rosling, population prophet: Five final thoughts
BBC

The business case for soil
Nature

Online genetic database helps breeders make healthier cattle
Genetic Literacy Project

Farmers in developing countries can’t adopt GE crops till consumers in rich countries change their minds
Financial Express

Phosphorus is vital for life on Earth – and we’re running low
The Conversation, UK

US joins the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
ISAAA

Surface ozone pollution damages rice production in China
PhysOrg

Indian universities develop Bt cotton varieties with reusable seeds
ISAAA

Researcher uses infrared light to explore how fungal associations help plants thrive
PhysOrg

Milkweed losses may not fully explain monarch butterfly declines
PhysOrg

CRISPR/Cas9-based gene knockout in watermelon
ISAAA

Agricultural Academy of Japan proposes conduct of confined field trial of GM crops
ISAAA

Pan-Africa

African businesses must help provide solutions to the world’s food challenges
African Business Review

Africa food security challenges driving technological innovation
BizCommunity

Call for action to cushion East African farmers against climate change
AllAfrica

Why are millions starving in East Africa?
AllAfrica

Can Africa feed itself?
AllAfrica

Micro-organisms will help African farmers: Soil microbes to the rescue
PhysOrg

Soil microbes help African farmers: Micro-organisms provide crop protection and boost productivity
Science Times

Unlocking the power of African soil microbes
Scientific American

Ghana’s food storage facility in danger
AllAfrica

Kenya

Report: Remote sensing for analyzing smallholder farm yields in Kenya
Science

Makueni farmers abandon maize for drought-resistant crops
The Star

Bett seeks to allay fears State is stifling GMO research
Daily Nation

Nigeria

Olam Nigeria rice farm: Enhancing domestic food security
This Day Live

South Africa

Global agriculture innovators vie for top honours at Future Agro Challenge awards
Engineering News

Tanzania

Tanzania’s biosafety regulations force researchers to burn harvest from GMO corn field trial despite food shortages
Genetic Literacy Project

Uganda

African countries poised to grow GMO crops
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

A shocking encounter with fall army worms
Sunrise

Luweero farmers in panic as strange caterpillars ravage maize gardens
Daily Monitor

Crops you harvest in less than six months
Daily Monitor

Zimbabwe

Good harvest still possible
AllAfrica

Opportunities and resources

1st LEAP-Agri Call Webinar: How to submit a proposal to the LEAP-Agri Call 2017. Mar 23 from 11:30am – 2:30pm GMT

Call for workshop participants on sustainable agriculture, University of Bonn. Scholarships are available: Deadline to apply: 15 April

Mary Mathuri, a farmer from Makueini county, who has been growing drought-resistant crops. Photo: Agatha Ngotho