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March 8th, 2017 / B4FA.org

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.

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

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SandiaLabs, EurekAlert

Australian OGTR receives license application for field trial of GM sorghum
ISAAA

Online tool explores countries’ climate action plans
SciDevNet

Famine in Africa and the Middle East – a preventable tragedy
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Knocking out consumer concerns and regulator’s rules: efficient use of CRISPR/Cas ribonucleoprote
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As global food demand rises, climate change is hitting our staple crops
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Growing reliance on foreign crops threatens diversity
African Farming

Precision agriculture: How big data can make farms more sustainable
Genetic Literacy Project

Virus-resistant potato genetically engineered with RNAi developed but not near commercialization
Genetic Literacy Project

Why the world loves to hate GM crops despite overwhelming scientific evidence in its favour
Swarajya

Rice plants could be genetically tweaked to tame arsenic found in soil, reducing risk for humans
Genetic Literacy

GMO vs. organic: Can they work together?
Growler

AfDB takes Agricultural Transformation discourse to India, cradle of Green Revolution
Biz Agriculture

Perplexing case of consumer confusion about GE foods in a ‘fake news’ world
Genetic Literacy Project

The body does not absorb genetic material from our food
DTU National Food Institute

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

Gene editing could boost vegetable supplies
ISAAA

US EPA approves three varieties of GE potatoes
ISAAA

US beef exports to China, GMO approval key: ambassador nominee
Reuters

Nobel winner: Attack on experts ‘undermines science’
BBC

Young scientist award goes to hidden hunger fighter
ISAAA

East African hunter-gatherer research suggests the human microbiome is ecological disaster zone
ConversationUK

Report: Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change (2016)
The National Academies Press

Product, not process! Explaining a basic concept in agricultural biotechnologies and food safety
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Pan-Africa

Drought, conflict worsen food security in Africa – FAO
AllAfrica

What is a famine?
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Project to introduce drought-resistant maize continues in Africa
Crop Protection News

Food shortage worsens in East Africa amid prolonged drought
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Opinion: World needs 1m new African Ph.D. researchers to help solve global challenges
AFKInsider

Managing trade-offs between growing food and conserving forests in sub-Saharan Africa
IIED

AfDB takes agricultural transformation discourse to India, cradle of Green Revolution
AllAfrica

‘NEWEST’ rice will lead to food sufficiency in Africa
LeadershipNGA

A launchpad to research impact in Africa
BecA-ILRI Hub

How to make ICT work for agriculture in Africa
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Fall armyworm threatens livelihoods in Africa
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3 key ingredients to achieve food security in Africa
Thomson Reuters

Ethiopia

Sustainable development beyond food security issue
AllAfrica

Ghana

Rice production gets boost …as investors set up milling plant in the northern sector
B&FT Online

Kenya

African scientists develop biofortified sorghum plant that could tackle blindness
Devex

Kenya GMO corn trials said to face obstacle over import ban
Bloomberg

Agriculture insurance premiums likely to drop
AllAfrica

Mango farmers find market in Kenya’s Chinese community
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The BecA-ILRI Hub alumni run DNA barcoding training for Kenya plant health regulatory body
Beca-ILRI Hub

Mozambique

Mozambique plants first GM maize field trial
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Niger

The locust invasions devastating Niger
SciDevNet

Nigeria

Saudi group to set up agric city in Kwara
AllAfrica

NEPAD: Need to focus on agriculture projects
News Agency of Nigeria

Cashing in on cassava
Spore

South Africa

Operation Phakisa to transform agriculture with a focus on land reform & rural development
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Somalia

President Farmajo declares drought national disaster
AllAfrica

Tanzania

Dar scientists out to curb aflatoxin spread soon
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78% of people affected by food shortages
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Uganda

Ugandan MPs advised to be strategic debating Nat’l Biotech and Biosafety 2012 Bill
New Vision, by B4FA Fellow Christopher Bendana

Lessons for Ugandan farmers to learn from Brazilian system
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

Boosting farm yields with affordable irrigation practices
Daily Monitor

Preserving vegetables for drought season
Daily Monitor

How mixed cropping turned the fortunes of a Kabale teacher
Daily Monitor

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
AllAfrica

Agriculture Ministry reaffirms commitment to African Union Agenda
New Vision

Media houses in Uganda call for increased public sensitization on GMOs
ISAAA

Zimbabwe

A bumper maize harvest is upon us, let’s prepare
AllAfrica

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