The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

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

Tag Archives: Genetically Modified 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: Screening Edition

Early Screening for Breast Cancer Risk:

Pink RibbonA group of Canadian researchers showed that using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging, not the Ministry of Research and Innovation) to estimate breast tissue density may provide information on breast cancer risk comparable to measuring density by mammography.  Because MRI does not use radiation, earlier screening by MRI would avoid the culumative radiation exposure problems of mammography, although the effect, if any, on clinical outcomes remains unknown.  The authors’ interpretation:

Per cent breast water [(density)] was greatest during the ages when women are most susceptible to breast carcinogens, and was associated with weight, height, and mother’s breast-tissue characteristics, and with serum concentrations of growth hormone: a breast mitogen that also mediates postnatal somatic growth. Mammographic density in middle age might partly be the result of genetic factors that affect growth and development in early life.

The study appears in the advanced online publication section of The Lancet Oncology.

Screening for Plant Genes:

ArabidopsisAfter many years of searching, Arabidopsis receptors for abscisic acid (ABA) were identified.  ABA helps plants survive drought and other stresses; and as it turns out, there are 13 receptors for it, with the redundancy foiling previous screening techniques.  This week, a novel screen developed in a collaboration among scientists at UC Riverside, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, University of Toronto, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia in Spain and other institutions in the U.S. and Spain identified one of the family members and used that one to find its relatives.  The PYR/PYL proteins are a family of START receptors that the authors place “at the apex of a negative regulatory pathway that controls ABA signaling by inhibiting PP2Cs.”  Their work was published this week in Science’s advance publication, Science Express. 

Put this together with the reports in Nature this week showing targeted insertions in the plant genome, and you have  a powerful set of tools to start engineering drought and stress resistant crops.  The targeted plant vectors use a zinc-finger nuclease, designed from a public database created by Daniel Voytas at University of Minnesota, J. Keith Joung at Mass Gen and their colleagues.

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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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