The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

Biotechnology, Health and Business in Canada, the United States and Worldwide

Tag Archives: Genetically Engineered food

Canadian Flax Growers Plan a Roundup Resistant Strain That May Also Resist EU’s GM Resistance In New $5.5m Collaboration with Cibus Global

Canada, the world’s largest flax producer, is looking to maintain its dominance. Growers want the economic advantages of a roundup-resistant variety without jeopardizing sales into the European Union. The E.U. accounts for 60% of Canadian flax exports, but genetically-modified crops face continued resistance in many E.U. countries.

The solution may be generated by a collaboration announced yesterday between the Flax Council of Canada and San Diego company Cibus Global.

According to an article in Xconomy San Diego today, the Flax Council is “investing about $5.5 million” to develop a new strain of Flax using Cibus’ Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS).

Cibus’ technology is a targeted mutagenesis approach that “harnesses the natural DNA repair system in plant cells.” According to the Flax Council’s press release, the technology is exempted under the E.U. Directive on GMOs and is classified as “non-transgenic” by the USDA.  Of course, regulatory compliance in the E.U. does not guarantee political or commercial success.

Two interesting take-aways from a commercialization perspective:

  1. $4 million of the $5.5 million paying for the Flax Council’s half of the project comes from the Canadian Government’s Developing Innovative Agri-Products program (DIAP).  It is unusual for federally-funded development programs to flow so readily to projects executed outside the country. 
  2. Revenues from developed products would be split between the Flax Council and Cibus.

The project aims to bear fruit generate a commercial seed product by 2015.

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Friday Science Review: February 19, 2010

Hunks and pigs highlight this week’s research wrap-up…

HUNKs Stop Cancer Metastasis: Researchers screening tumour cells found that expression of the enzyme HUNK (Hormonally Up-regulated Neu-associated Kinase) is significantly lower in cancers.  When they reconstituted HUNK into metastatic cancer cells, it decreased their metastastic potential when tested in mouse cancer models.  Its actions block the association of PP2A and cofilin-1 and prevent the formation of actin filaments, which are key skeletal proteins involved in the cell migration process.  Dr. Tak Mak led the research team at the Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research and published the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Malaria Research Gets Genomic Help: A genome-wide study on the parasite Plasmodium falciparum should help researchers in the hunt for new drugs against malaria.  The genome of 189 malaria samples from around the world were decoded and analyzed to try to identify key genes that are responsible for the parasite’s propensity to evolve and become resistant to currently available drug treatments.  These data are invaluable for the design of future therapeutic approaches.  An international team was co-led by Dr. Philip Awadalla at the Université de Montréal and reports their work in the current issue of Nature Genetics.

Genetic Clues to Diabetes: Using a genome-wide association approach, 13 SNPs concentrated in 4 genetic regions were identified to be strongly correlated with glycemic control in type 1 diabetes.  For example, SORCS1 is strongly associated with hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) and BNC2 is correlated with eye and kidney complications.  This study is a first for suggesting that there may be a genetic contribution to the individual’s ability to control blood glucose levels.  The Hospital for Sick Children’s Dr. Andrew Paterson led the study, which appears in the journal Diabetes.

Porky Pig to the Rescue: Scientists revealed a significant advantage to transplanting porcine pancreatic islet cells as a therapeutic for diabetes.  In contrast to using human islet cells, porcine derived cells do not result in the formation of islet amyloids, which allows them to continue functioning properly for the long term.  They attribute this porcine advantage to differences in the sequences of islet amyloid polypeptide (IAPP).  Dr. Bruce Verchere’s team at the University of British Columbia describes their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In (un)related news, Guelph University’s genetically engineered pigs or “Enviropigs” were given the OK by Environment Canada as being non-toxic to the environment.  Now they await Health Canada’s nod before they appear in your local supermarket.

Stem Cells Don’t Mind DNA Damage: Canadian scientists have discovered that stem cells intentionally damage their own DNA in order to regulate development… continue reading the rest of the story here at the Stem Cell Network Blog.

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GM Crops Report Aimed at a Straw Man Creates Kerfuffle*

Yesterday, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report on genetically-engineered crops called “Failure to Yeild”  that did yeild a fair amount of press coverage.

However, the report’s focus on yeild is a bit of a … straw man … as UCS itself acknowledges in its FAQ:

“GE crops have provided other benefits important to U.S. farmers.  Bt corn provides protection against insect pests, and the GE traits are often available in varieties producing higher yields as a result of traditional breeding. GE soybeans provide increased convenience and save time.”

ScienceInsider, likewise, notes that

“[the UCS] results won’t surprise most farmers. They plant crops that have been genetically modified to tolerate doses of the herbicide glyphosate (widely known as Roundup) mainly because that trait makes it easier and sometimes cheaper to control weeds, not because it increases yields.  The UCS study is instead aimed at the general public, in an effort to counter claims by the biotechnology industry that genetic engineering offers the best solution to global food shortages.”

In the end, the report’s actual take-home message is unrelated to the any of the novel data:

“[I]t makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of [non-GE] proven technologies…

[R]ecent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa.”

It’s hard to disagree with a call to apply all available tools to increase crop yeilds in the developing world.

A second story yesterday, which probably got a boost from the UCS report timing, was that Germany announced a ban on Monsanto’s GM corn, which the country had previously licensed.  This move has actually been anticipated since February, when the EU Committee of Experts failed to overturn bans in France and Greece, and is of a piece with other issues in the EU around GM crops.

* Kerfuffle: disturbance, disruption, commotion, flutter, hurly burly, to-do, hoo-ha, hoo-hah, kerfuffle (a disorderly outburst or tumult).

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