In the news...

May 31st, 2017 / B4FA.org

Earlier this week, Wired magazine published a piece detailing CRISPR inventor Jennifer Doudna’s thoughts on the pros and cons of the gene-editing tool (“CRISPR creator Jennifer Doudna on the promises—and pitfalls—of easy genetic modification”). Among the dangers she lists are perfecting traits in our children and creating hybrid animals as pets – which could lead to unforeseen illnesses and premature deaths, respectively. However, Doudna is wholeheartedly in support of modifying plants to make the more resistant to disease, as well as of the use of CRISPR in cancer research.

Meanwhile, a piece in Nature details how scientists are using CRISPR gene editing to engineer more productive tomato plants (“Fixing the tomato: CRISPR edits correct plant-breeding snafu”). The researchers identified genetic mutations that, taken individually, represented improvements to tomato plants, but when combined were detrimental, and used CRISPR–Cas9 editing to stop their activity, resulting in more productive plants. Scientists are also using CRISPR to modify the citrus tristeza virus (CTV) to attack a bacterium that is destroying citrus crops in the United States [“Geneticists enlist engineered virus and CRISPR to battle citrus disease”]. “Other projects aim to edit the genome of citrus trees using CRISPR–Cas9 to make them more resistant to the pest, or engineer trees to express defence genes or short RNA molecules that prevent disease transmission,” says the article.

Meanwhile, news just broke that a study published in Nature Methods has found that the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology can introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome. A recent article published inPhysOrg states that “researchers sequenced the entire genome of mice that had undergone CRISPR gene editing in the team’s previous study and looked for all mutations, including those that only altered a single nucleotide”. While in this case CRISPR had corrected a blindness gene in mice, a co-author of the study determined that “the genomes of two independent gene therapy recipients had sustained more than 1,500 single-nucleotide mutations and more than 100 larger deletions and insertions. None of these DNA mutations were predicted by computer algorithms that are widely used by researchers to look for off-target effects”. These results demonstrate the importance of looking at whole genomes to look for unintended effects in living organisms, rather than relying on predictive algorithms.

In other biotech developments, a global team of scientists have resequenced the genome of 292 varieties of pigeonpea – an important crop for smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia – which not only traces the origins of the legume to Madhya Pradesh in central India but has resulted in the discovery of disease-resistance and other traits that will lead to improved varieties. Researchers hope that this breakthrough will lead to higher profits for smallholder farmers and make it more affordable for poorer consumers, boosting food security among millions in the developing world.

This week also saw the close of the annual African Development Bank (AfDB) meeting, which took place this year in Ahmedabad, India. The meeting focused on transforming African agriculture to create wealth – including encouraging youth, researchers and the private sector to treat African agriculture as a business. The meeting also encouraged African collaboration with Indian experts to learn from its agricultural and economic successes.

From the B4FA Fellows, we have one piece from Michael Ssali covering the continued fight against fall armyworm. Meanwhile, Lominda Afedraru sends in several pieces, writing about farmers’ optimism regarding disease-resistant cassavaempowering rural farmers with technologies for improved yields; and the benefits of growing chillies in Uganda.

We are also very pleased to announce that Ugandan B4FA Fellows Christopher Bendana, Lominda Afedraru, Henry Lutaaya, Sara Mawerere, and Michael Ssali were all recently nominated by the public and subsequently recognized with media awards given by the National Agricultural Research Organisation, the Uganda Bioscience and Biotechnology Consortium, the Uganda Biotechnology Information Centre and Science For Development in appreciation of these journalists’ contribution to the understanding of biotechnology among members of the public. Congratulations, all!

As ever, please send questions, comments and story links to karen@b4fa.org 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

CRISPR gene editing can cause hundreds of unintended mutations
PhysOrg

CRISPR creator Jennifer Doudna on the promises—and pitfalls—of easy genetic modification
Wired

Fixing the tomato: CRISPR edits correct plant-breeding snafu
Nature

Geneticists enlist engineered virus and CRISPR to battle citrus disease
Nature

Video: How are CRISPR crops regulated differently than GMOs?
Genetic Literacy Project

Breakthrough pigeonpea genome re-sequencing will lead to superior varieties and make the pulse more affordable
ICRISAT

Flower power: Decoded sunflower genome could unlock increased oil, stress tolerance
Genetic Literacy Project

Rice plant engineered with a ‘tunable’ immune system could fight multiple diseases at once
Science Mag

India: ‘Will promote GM crops if green ministry approves’ says Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh
Economic Times

Petition calls for Indian government to approve GM mustard
ISAAA

GM mustard in India: on the cusp of cultivation
Telengana Today

GM Mustard: With new minister in charge, India’s environment ministry indicating decision may be in the affirmative
Financial Express

FAO worries about impact of disasters on food security
Ghana Business News

Embrace of Golden Rice globally remains frustratingly slow
American Council on Science and Health

FAO strategic programme to reduce rural poverty shares progress towards achieving SDG 1 and 2
GFAR

FAO worries about impact of disasters on food security
Ghana Business News

Q&A: Boosting bioenergy in Africa and Latin America
SciDevNet

Crop biodiversity: The key to ending hunger
Al Jazeera

Why you should care about biodiversity
Earlham Institute

Pests and pathogens could cost agriculture billions: report
Reuters

Will pink pineapples turn the tide on GM?
Huffington Post

Philippines leads Southeast Asia in GM corn production
ISAAA

Study analyzes 17 years of modern biotech news reporting in the Philippines
ISAAA

ISAAA 2016 Report launched in Indonesia
ISAAA

Canadian Parliament votes against mandatory labeling of GM foods
ISAAA

Global seed industry urged to innovate to address global challenges
ISAAA

Food Evolution documentary looks at science, money, and fake news around GMOs
PLO

The modern face of breeding programs: gender fatigued no more
CGIAR

Pan-Africa

Africa seeks agricultural transformation with India’s help
Business Standard

Former President Mahama says Africa needs its educated youth to participate in the agricultural sector
My Joy Online

AFDB annual meeting ends with call for inclusive growth
Africa News

Quality agricultural education essential to increase productivity in Africa
BizCommunity

Report from first East Africa Evidence to Action Conference, discussing uptake of research by policy makers
Feed the Future

Subsistence farming is still the norm in Africa, but agriculture is the 
key to changing its economic fortunes
Alberta Farmer

AfDB combines energy, agriculture explosion to kick off industrialisation
AllAfrica

AfDB to make Africa’s food imports history
CTA

Entrepreneurship in Africa hasn’t translated to investment in high-growth sectors like agriculture or construction
Huffington Post

Ghana’s former president encourages African youth to change their views on farming
GhanaWeb

Pros and cons of commercial farming models in Africa
SABC

AfDB agri-business funding lays strong foundation for transforming African agriculture
AfDB

Ethiopia

Cultivating rice in arid areas, its prospects
AllAfrica

Gambia

First set of agricultural radio journalists graduates
AllAfrica

Kenya

Scientists to release biotech maize, cotton varieties in Kenya
News Ghana

Nigeria

Wheat farmers harvest 9,000 tons in Gombe
AllAfrica

Pest forcing Gombe tomato farmers out of business
AllAfrica

Cassava, sorghum bread initiative to save Nigeria $3.5 billion annually
AllAfrica

FAO does not force GMO technology on countries
AllAfrica

Nigerian govt needs to invest in agriculture infrastructure
Tribune Online

Sudan

Sudan’s agribusiness indicators on the – World Bank
Africa Business Communities

Uganda

Fighting fall armyworm in Africa
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

Farmers optimistic on disease resistant cassava varieties
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Empowering rural farmers with technologies for improved yields
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Hot deals to improve chili production
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Grow rice, bananas together to fight climate change
Daily Monitor

Dairy farmers advised on climate smart farming
AllAfrica

Opportunities and resources

Genome editing: Public survey and call for evidence; deadline June 30