London (19.03.17) – There’s movement out there on potatoes. bananas, maize, cotton and elsewhere.

One news item concerns bananas: Uganda is undertaking three multi-location field trials of a GM-banana engineered to resist bacterial Xanthomonas wilt (BXW). The gene that conferred resistance is from sweet pepper (1).

Several reports have appeared with regard to vegetables:

In the United States three more types (Russet Burbank, Ranger Russet and Atlantic) of GM-potatoes are now approved for sale this year, all engineered to resist the late blight fungus Phytophthora infestans, the organism which caused such havoc in the Irish and Scottish potato famines of the 1840s. Simplot, the producing company, said that these latest varieties will have less bruising and fewer black spots, enhanced cold-storage capacity and a lower amount of a potentially carcinogenic chemical that is created when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures (2). The company is working towards generating strains of potatoes resistant to further strains of late blight.

In Australia, too, GM-potatoes have been licensed for trial. These will assess the agronomic characteristics and Potato virus X disease response of the plants under field conditions (3).

Other companies are using gene editing to generate new and valuable properties in potatoes Thus, Calyxt, a subsidiary of Cellectis, is developing new strain of wheat, one showing greater resistance to fungal infections with another lower in carbohydrates and higher in dietary fibres. DuPont Pioneer’s focus is a new variety of waxy corn, a source of starch for adhesives, while workers at Penn State University have made mushrooms that do not turn brown as rapidly as do the wild variety (4).

Turning to broccoli, we learn of work to remove the dependence of the crop on the season, potentially doubling the yield (5). Professor Dame Caroline Dean, Dr Judith Irwin and their colleagues, all at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, are working on a new line of fast-growing sprouting broccoli that goes from seed to harvest in 8-10 weeks. It has the potential to deliver two full crops a season in-field or it can be grown all year round in protected conditions. That could help with continuity of supply as growers would no longer be reliant on seasonal weather conditions. Broccoli plants need a cold spell before they can flower. Dr. Irwin’s team are using their understanding of how plants regulate the flowering process to remove the requirement for a period of cold temperature and bring this new broccoli line to harvest faster. This means growers could turn around two field-based crops in one season or, if the broccoli is grown in protected conditions, 4-5 crops in a year."

In terms of crops in production, Cuba could start planting transgenic corn and soybeans on more land in spring of 2017. , Mario Estrada, director of the Center for Agricultural Research Of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) said that they are currently working on obtaining new transgenic maize lines which, on a small experimental plot scale, show potential yields of 9 tonnes/ha, close to the levels reached by the world’s leading countries in this production,. Cuba also experimented “with a transgenic soy resistant to herbicides which, in trials by the company Cubasoy, showed a yield of up to 2.8 tons/ ha, much higher than the usual ones reached there” (6).

Using CRISPR-Cpf1 technology, a team in South Korea has edited two genes which contribute to the fat content of soybean oil. Two of the FAD2 genes in soybeans, part of the pathway that converts oleic acid into the polyunsaturated linoleic acid, were cut. By mutating FAD2 genes, the percentage of oleic acid in soybean seeds was increased, resulting in healthier soybean oil (7).

Finally, it is interesting to note that Monsanto is launching Bollgard 3, a third-generation biotech cotton that includes a new gene to provide better control of army worms and improve protection against other pest species (8). The adding of the extra protein, Vip3A, provides a third action in addition to the Cry1Ac and Cry2AbBt proteins found in Bollgard II, which was introduced in 2006.

Sources:

1. Patricia Nanteza (06.03.17). GM BXW-resistant bananas start their journey to the farmer. Cornell Alliance for Science (http://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/gm-bxw-resistant-bananas-start-their-journey-farmer)

2. Keith Ridler 13.03.17). U.S. approves 3 more types of Simplot GMO potatoes for sale this year. Idaho Statesman (http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/business/article137891178.html)

3. Australian OGTR approves field trial of GM potato. Crop Biotech Update (22.02.17) (http://www.isaaa.org/kc/cropbiotechupdate/article/default.asp?ID=15197)

4. Kenneth Chang (09.01.17). These foods aren’t genetically modified but they are ‘edited’. New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/science/genetically-edited-foods-crispr.html?WT.mc_id=SmartBriefs-Newsletter&WT.mc_ev=click&ad-keywords=smartbriefsnl&_r=0)

5. Scientists remove reliance on seasonality in new broccoli line, potentially doubling yield. Scienmag (21.02.17) (https://scienmag.com/scientists-remove-reliance-on-seasonality-in-new-broccoli-line-potentially-doubling-yield/)

6. Cuba comenzará cultivos transgénicos de maíz y soya en 2017. El Espectador (17.12.16) (http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/elmundo/cuba-comenzara-cultivos-transgenicos-de-maiz-y-soya-201-articulo-670922)

7. Letizia Diamante (16.02.17). Modifying fat content in soybean oil with the molecular scissors cpf1. Institute for Basic Science: Research News (http://www.ibs.re.kr/cop/bbs/BBSMSTR_000000000738/selectBoardArticle.do?nttId=14247)

8. Monsanto rolling out next generation genetically modified cotton product. Crop Protection News (05.01.17) (http://cropprotectionnews.com/stories/511068666-monsanto-rolling-out-next-generation-genetically-modified-cotton-product)

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