In the news...

March 8th, 2017 /

Sorghum features in biotech news this week as in Albuquerque, New Mexico, researchers are reworking a sensing technology that monitors root function to help develop improved sorghum crops. Using a newly modified microneedle-based fluidic sensor – originally developed for national security applications such as detection of chemical agents – scientists will be able to monitor plant roots for sugars, root excretions and water pressure, all critical indicators of plant health. The hope is to gather data to improve sorghum for drought resistance and allow it to use less fertiliser and remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The microneedle technology is an improvement on current measurement methods, which are costly, invasive or don’t provide continual data. “The microneedles will help us measure sugars transported by the plant to and from the roots before soil microbes can use them, and will give us a better understanding of how plants add to soil carbon,” says Ben Duval, plant and soil expert at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, where the technology is being developed.

While in the US sorghum is mainly grown for biofuel or fodder, in sub-Saharan Africa more than 300 million people depend on the cereal as a staple food. In Kenya, scientists are tackling the problem of Vitamin A deficiency by creating a genetically modified biofortified sorghum to help improve both food and nutritional security. If the sorghum gets approved for commercial use, it will be the first biotech sorghum on the market. According to Dr. Titus Magomere, one of the scientists involved in the Africa Biofortified Sorghum project, increasing Vitamin A in test plants is only the first step. “The second step has been to increase availability of iron and zinc, and this has been done by reducing the levels of a protein that binds iron and zinc in the plants. We hope once the product is ready, a meal of sorghum, which will be available to the local farmers, will reduce nutritional deficiencies significantly,” he says.

Finally, as a footnote, the University of Queensland has applied to conduct a field trial of GM sorghum with altered grain quality traits, to take place between October 2017 and June 2020.

From the B4FA Fellows, Christopher Bendana writes that Uganda’s minister for science, technology and innovation is seeking agriculture exchange programmes between Brazil and Uganda, and that Brazilian advisors are warning Ugandan MPs to be strategic debating the Nat’l Biotech and Biosafety 2012 Bill. Lominda Afedraru also writes about the Ugandan-Brazilian exchange and reports on how livestock farmers are battling drug-resistant ticks to boost yields. Finallly, Michael Ssali weighs in on howfarm thefts are proving a hindrance to agricultural development.

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Australian OGTR receives license application for field trial of GM sorghum

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Genome Biology

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Iowa State University researchers identify genetic mechanisms that govern plant growth and drought response

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The National Academies Press

Product, not process! Explaining a basic concept in agricultural biotechnologies and food safety
Read Cube


Drought, conflict worsen food security in Africa – FAO

What is a famine?

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Opinion: World needs 1m new African Ph.D. researchers to help solve global challenges

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B&FT Online


African scientists develop biofortified sorghum plant that could tackle blindness

Kenya GMO corn trials said to face obstacle over import ban

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Beca-ILRI Hub


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News Agency of Nigeria

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Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Livestock farmers battle drug-resistant ticks to boost yields
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Lominda Afedraru

Minister Tumwesigye seeks Brazil agricultural cooperation
New Vision, by B4FA Fellow Christopher Bendana

Farm thefts – a big hindrance to agricultural development
Daily Monitor, by B4FA Fellow Michael Ssali

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Daily Monitor

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How mixed cropping turned the fortunes of a Kabale teacher
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Ugandan MPs advised to be strategic in debating the National Biotechnology and Biosafety 2012 Bill
New Vision

Uganda not meeting Malabo Declaration On Agric Funding

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Media houses in Uganda call for increased public sensitization on GMOs


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Opportunities and resources

CABI seeks consultant/team for baseline on a Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE) in Zambia, Ghana and Kenya

AWARD GAIA Call for Agricultural Technology Innovations, deadline 9 March 2017

Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa (BecA-ILRI Hub) events and workshops 2017

Call for Applications for the 2017 SWITCH Africa Green-SEED Awards, deadline 8 March 2017

Seminar on the future of agriculture in Africa, 10.00am – 3.00pm Wednesday 15 March 2017, London

Call for leading female entrepreneurs/senior managers in bioscience-based companies in Southern African states

Remodelling Plant Protection Research in Nigeria: Prospects, Challenges and Implications on National Food Security” 42nd Annual Conference of the Nigerian Society for Plant Protection, 12-16 March 2017, Makurdi, Nigeria

Sorghum farmer Dorothy Warubua in Kiatine Village, Kenya. Photo by: CropLife