Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything. Albert Einstein

AGRICULTURE

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Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is well situated to scale up its agricultural production in the face of a growing global population and climate change. The region’s sources of comparative advantage lie, in part, in its abundant water and land resources.

To succeed in generating the research outputs needed to accelerate agricultural growth, LAC countries need sufficient, sustainable funding for strategic agricultural research programs in alignment with national and regional priorities, combined with talented, well-trained researchers.Source: Agricultural Research in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Cross-Country Analysis of Institutions, Investment, and Capacities | ASTI

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Monsanto’s CEO is troubled by the public debate on genetically modified food.

Monsanto’s CEO is troubled by the public debate on genetically modified food. In the past, the heated rhetoric has threatened the company’s reputation, but now it could hurt the bottom line.
“The thing that drives [me] a little bit nuts, and is the frustrating piece in this, is it’s such a polarized debate and I don’t think it should be,” Hugh Grant said in an interview with CNNMoney at the company’s St Louis headquarters.
Until recently, the company focused almost exclusively on its relationship with the direct buyers of its products. For the last three years, however, Monsanto has been trying to reach a broader audience, and influence public perception about the controversial technology that allows Monsanto’s scientists to tinker with the DNA of top selling corn and soybean seeds.
Grant says Monsanto (MON) wants to do a better job of communicating with end consumers who want to know more about the source of their food and how it’s produced.

Source: Monsanto CEO frustrated over polarized GMO debate – Apr. 18, 2016

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Without bees to pollinate contributing 80% of species of flowering plants, they could not reproduce. This would alter the entire food chain.

More than one million people demanded on Friday the German giant Bayer to stop marketing agrochemical pesticides “murderers of bees” , some insects endangered and essential for global food security.

“Killing bees is not part of things truly a company that cares about the future should do,” he told AFP Anne Isakowitsch, militant Sum of Us oenegé.

Without bees, pollination contributing to 80% of species of flowering plants, they could not reproduce. And no flowers, no fruits, which would alter the whole food chain.

A situation that greatly worries Anne Isakowitsch, a Berliner who came Friday to the general meeting of shareholders of Bayer in Cologne (west) to give the group a global petition signed by 1.4 million people.

The document calls for the purpose of marketing of two substances , clothianidin and imidacloprid, the family of neonicotinoids, suspected of decimating bee colonies worldwide pesticides.

These two Bayer products are subject to a moratorium imposed by the European Union since the end of 2013 , and thiamethoxam, Swiss Syngenta, and Fipronil German BASF. In the rest of the world, these four substances, sold by brands such as Gaucho, Poncho or Cruiser, continue to be used without restrictions.

Other Causes

Neonicotinoids are usually applied on the seeds that farmers plant and infiltrating later in the nectar and pollen during flowering.

The substance would cause the loss of orientation of bees, which do not find their hive, a decline in fertility or less resistance to disease, according to the scientific literature. In addition, the journal Nature says that bees often prefer plants sprayed with these substances derived from nicotine.

Neonicotinoids would be “a key factor in the decline of bees” and other pollinators, according to an analysis of 800 studies conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). About a quarter of bumblebees and almost one in 10 honeybees are at risk of extinction, according to this organization.

But Bayer, which invoiced 2,500 million euros in 2015 with insecticides and seed protection products , including neonicotinoids and other items, rejects the accusations.

“The neonicotinoids do not involve any danger if used correctly , ” he said a spokesman for the company told AFP. Together with BASF and Syngenta, the group has challenged in the European courts the moratorium imposed by Brussels. The group points to other culprits for the suffering of bees: meteorology, viruses or even Varroa, a parasite.

“The decline of bee populations is multifactorial,” said Jose Tarazona, director of pesticides from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

This body ruled in 2012 that the four pesticides of the three companies assumed an “unacceptable” risk to bees , giving arguments to the EU for the moratorium. “Not yet have the means to quantify” the role of these products, acknowledged, however, Tarazona.

EFSA is carrying out an inventory on the issue with results expected by 2017 and could lead Brussels to extend the restrictions, keep them or decide to withdraw the moratorium.

“Of course, pesticides are not the only problem (..) But they are the only one that can intervene immediately,” defended Marco Contiero, in charge of agricultural policies in the Greenpeace oenegé.

Greenpeace expects the EU ban to the whole of neonicotinoids and their uses without exception , as is currently the case, and urges the industry to invest in non – chemical alternatives.

In addition, the consumer pressure is beginning to show. In Germany, Aldi supermarkets just commit not to sell more food with neonicotinoids.

Source: 1.4 million signatures against Bayer pesticides | ELESPECTADOR.COM

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For Release: April 6, 2016
As part of the Endangered Species Act consultation process with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), EPA has released for public comment the first-ever draft biological evaluations analyzing the nation-wide effects of chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion on endangered and threatened species and designated critical habitat. Partial evaluations, without the effects determinations, were released in December 2015.
The EPA is soliciting specific feedback regarding how to refine the assessments. Accompanying the biological evaluations is a document titled “Instructions for Commenting on the Draft Biological Evaluations for Chlorpyrifos, Diazinon, and Malathion.” This document outlines the components of the biological evaluations, the types of feedback sought and where to submit comments. We encourage commenters to group their comments to help facilitate review because of the anticipated volume of public input. You can find these instructions in the “Supporting Documents” section of each docket.
Following public comment on the draft biological evaluations, EPA will finalize the assessments. For those species and designated critical habitats where registered uses of the pesticides are “likely to adversely affect” species and/or habitat, USFWS and NMFS will use the analyses and data from the biological evaluations in their final Biological Opinions for each of the three chemicals. The Biological Opinions will also have a public comment period before they become final. At any time during this consultation process with USFWS and NMFS, EPA can determine if a pesticide’s registration, label, or use instructions should be altered to ensure use of a pesticide is consistent with the requirements of FIFRA and the ESA. EPA will work with stakeholders to implement these changes through label-based restrictions on use or through geographically-specific Endangered Species Protection Bulletins. More information is available at www.epa.gov/endangered-species/assessing-pesticides-under-endangered-species-act.

Contact Us to ask a question, provide feedback, or report a problem.Source: EPA Releases Draft Biological Evaluations of Three Chemicals’ Impacts on Endangered Species | Pesticides | US EPA

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Legume laboratory discusses efforts to express and localize algal Carbon Concentration Mechanisms (CCM) in Arabadopsis and Tobacco

Legume laboratory discusses a recent effort to introduce an algal carbon concentration mechanism into higher plants for improved photosynthetic efficiency.

Source: Fast-Tracked Photosynthesis

We have previously written on the topic of increasing the efficiency of photosynthesis as a possible method of increasing crop growth and yield. By swapping out the predominant C3 photosynthesis system with the superior C4 system, it was estimated that rice and wheat yields could increase by 50%.

The Long Now Foundation recently published online a talk titled “Radical Ag: C4 and beyond” in which Jane Langdale of the Langdale Lab discusses the 60 odd plant species that have naturally evolved C4 photosynthesis and the efforts to use this knowledge to get C4 photosynthesis into rice.

A different method of supercharging photosynthesis?

And a recent paper in the Plant Biotechnology Journal (which is open access – yay!) investigated the possibility of using a carbon-concentrating mechanism (CCM) commonly found in a number of photosynthetic organisms like cyanobacteria and green algae.

Whilst C3 photosynthesis relies on CO2 passively diffusing to the chloroplasts, resulting in the enzyme which assimilates the carbon into the plant (RuBisCO) not being saturated with CO2, the microbial CCM increases the concentration of CO2 to RuBisCO and thereby increases photosynthetic efficiency.

In algae, the CCM consists of transporters of inorganic carbon at the plasma membrane, chloroplast envelope and carbonic anhydrases. These all work together to deliver the elevated concentration of CO2 to the RuBisCo enzyme.

In this paper, the researchers took a number of steps to check the plausibility of inserting this CCM into tobacco plants:

After choosing 10 critical components of the CCM, these components were tagged with fluorescent markers to determine where they were located within Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.
With the usual location of these proteins confirmed, the proteins were expressed in tobacco leaves to determine whether the same components were located in the same cellular locations.
Focusing on two inorganic carbon transporters within this selection of 10 components, the researchers showed that they both function as such when expressed in the outer membrane of a model single-celled organism (Xenopus oocytes) and when transformed into Arabidopsis thaliana.
Finally, they tested the growth of the Arabidopsis plants against wild-type plants of the same species.

The positives

The location of the 10 components were confirmed within the bacteria and 8 of these were located in the same cellular position when expressed in tobacco leaves. 1 protein was mistargeted whilst the researchers struggled to clearly identify the location of another.

Delving further into this issue, the researchers looked for a way to direct one of the proteins specifically to the chloroplast stroma using a specific transporter found in an online plant membrane protein database. Using this transporter and the tagged protein, they were able to demonstrate the ability to re-target a protein from a single celled organism to a specific part of the cell of a higher plant.

Taking two specific proteins for further study, the proteins were expressed in Arabidopsis plants and the location was confirmed as being the same as in the tobacco plants.

The negatives

Actually, the report specifically states that it wasn’t expected that Arabidopsis plants transformed with the two CCM components would have an altered rate of photosynthesis given the complexity of this machinery and the number of components missing. However, they tested and compared growth rates under normal and reduced CO2 concentrations, finding no difference between the transformed and wild-types. They also measured CO2 assimilation rates, again finding no difference.

Conclusion

The paper gives a great insight into complexity involved in demonstrating the plausibility of transforming plants for greater growth rates and, potentially, greater yield from food crops.

The ability to express and redirect proteins is impressive, but also impressive is the catalogue of plant proteins that is continually being built and which can be freely accessed and used for research.

Increasing CO2 sequestration rates is a focal point for many researchers in the quest to grow more food on the agricultural resources we have. Swapping out or supercharging the C3 photosynthesis present in most crops is one method with seeming potential and the detail of the work performed so far gives an exciting insight into the possibility of it coming to fruition.

Source: From The Community: Fast-tracked Photosynthesis | PLOS Synthetic Biology Community

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Scientists race to determine origin of Bangladesh outbreak, which they warn could spread farther afield

Fields are ablaze in Bangladesh, as farmers struggle to contain Asia’s first outbreak of a fungal disease that periodically devastates crops in South America. Plant pathologists warn that wheat blast could spread to other parts of south and southeast Asia, and are hurrying to trace its origins.
“It’s important to know what the strain is,” says Sophien Kamoun, a biologist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, UK, who has created a website, Open Wheat Blast (go.nature.com/bkczwf), to encourage researchers to share data.
Efforts are also under way to find wheat genes that confer resistance to the disease.Source: Devastating Wheat Fungus Appears in Asia for First Time – Scientific American

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Why are some fruits and veggies born ugly? Fighting off fungus, heat and pests can leave blemishes. Some researchers think these battle scars may boost the antioxidant content in produce.

Source: Beneath An Ugly Outside, Marred Fruit May Pack More Nutrition : The Salt : NPR

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Honey bee colonies in the United States are in decline, due in part to the ill effects of voracious mites, fungal gut parasites and a wide variety of debilitating viruses. Researchers from the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Source: First multi-year study of honey bee parasites and disease reveals troubling trends | Science Codex

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Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria have provided pest-fighting toxins for over 50 years.

Source: Bacterium still a major source of crop pesticide | Science News

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Nearly three-fourths of the 6,953 produce samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2014 contained pesticide residues – a surprising finding in the face of soaring consumer demand for food without synthetic chemicals.

This year’s update of EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ reports that USDA tests found a total 146 different pesticides on thousands of fruit and vegetable samples examined in 2014. The pesticides persisted on fruits and vegetables tested by USDA – even when they were washed and, in some cases, peeled.

The USDA findings indicate that the conventional fruit and produce industries are ignoring a striking market trend: American consumers are voting with their pocketbooks for produce with less pesticide. Yet EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ recognizes that many people who want to reduce their exposure to pesticides cannot find or afford an all-organic diet. It helps them identify conventionally grown fruits and vegetables that tend to test low for pesticide residues. When they want foods whose conventional versions test high for pesticides, they can make an effort to locate organic versions

Source: Summary | EWG’s 2016 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

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Phys.org)—As scientists look for alternative energy sources, fuel cells that operate in a basic environment have garnered much attention. Typically fuel cells require an expensive catalyst, such as platinum. Hydroxide exchange fuel cells involve the movement of hydroxide ions (OH-) across a polymer membrane. The alkaline environment is conducive to the oxidation and reduction reactions without the need for expensive metals. However, these reactions are quite slow requiring a better catalyst.

Source: Hydrogen oxidation and evolution reactions in fuel cells slow down because of hydrogen binding

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