An in-depth overview on the global seed industry. From a rescheduled world conference in Rio to hybrid rice in the Philippines.
There’s a first time for everything. Recently, the International Seed Federation was faced with making an unprecedented decision: changing the dates of its annual World Seed Congress. Initially, the ISF World Seed Congress was scheduled to take place May 28-30, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro. However, the United Nations is holding its Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development June 4-6, 2012 in the same neighborhood, Barra, as the ISF Congress. It is a large event, with around 50,000 participants including many heads of state expected from all over the world. Moreover, the third Preparatory Committee Meeting of the UN conference will be held in Rio on the same dates as the ISF congress.
As a result, the UN Rio +20 Committee and the Brazilian authorities have asked ISF and the Brazilian Seed Association, ABRASEM, to change the dates of the World Seed Congress, as they need the hotels in Barra. Holding the Congress in May as originally planned would lead to many inconveniences, including less or no accommodation available outside room-blocks, less or no flight availability, and airport closure and roadblocks in the event that high-level politicians attended.
The ISF secretariat has been working intensively with the Brazilian National Organizing Committee and the Professional Congress Organizers to find another time period in which to reschedule the ISF World Seed Congress. Taking into account other national and international meetings, the secretariat and NOC have selected June 26-28, 2012 as the new dates. Visit worldseed2012.com for more information.
Organizers realize this may bring a certain level of inconvenience to some of the delegates. However, taking into account the implications of the UN meeting, there was no other option than to move the dates. The NOC, PCO and ISF will do the utmost to limit any inconvenience.
—Ywao Miyamoto, president of NOC, and Marcel Bruins, secretary general of ISF
The Australian Department of Agriculture and Food has bred a new lupin variety, PBA Gunyidi, which is resistant to pod shattering and higher-yielding than other varieties commonly grown in Western Australia. It is the first lupin variety to be released by Pulse Breeding Australia, a national research initiative sponsored by the Grains Research and Development Corporation and government breeding programs in Australia.
Bevan Buirchell, plant breeder and senior research officer who led the project, says the variety took 10 years to complete. “During that period the lines were tested for disease resistance, agronomic traits, herbicide resistance, quality parameters and yield,” says Buirchell. “We needed to test all these traits so that we could identify a line for release that was superior to existing varieties.”
Pod shattering occurs when mature pods split, releasing their seed—which can be disastrous for growers. “PBA Gunyidi will replace the variety, Mandelup, that if left too long after maturity shatters its pods and thus there is a substantial loss in yield,” says Buirchell. “PBA Gunyidi will allow farmers to continue to harvest their lupin crops after their cereal crops without this substantial loss of grain—a great advantage both in terms of operational activities on-farm and for protection of income.”
The reception to PBA Gunyidi has been excellent, according to Buirchell, “with many calls [from producers] to seed companies.” The variety will be available for the 2012 growing season and first released in Western Australia as well as New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Plans are also in place to test PBA Gunyidi in South Africa and possibly Chile.
A new technology for the swift insertion of specific genetic materials into seeds, called TraitUP, has been developed by Ilan Sela and Haim Rabinowitch of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The university’s technology transfer company, Yissum Research Development Company Ltd., has signed an agreement with Morflora Israel Ltd. for the development of the technology.
According to Rabinowitch, TraitUP complements plant breeding, facilitates the improvement and introduction of new traits into existing varieties, and does not alter the DNA of plants, but allows the expression of particular traits throughout the entire plant when genetic material is introduced to the seed. Yissum states that, “specific vectors serve as carriers to introduce desired genes into seeds in a fast and efficient way,” and according to Rabinowitch, the technology can be used in multiple plant species.
“We have clear indications that the technology is universal,” he says. “The spread of the vector, including its genetic load and the expression of the genetically functioning unit, are evident in 45 plant species of 12 plant families.”
Rabinowitch, Sela and Dotan Peleg, chief executive officer of Morflora, assert that the technology should be seen as an “enhancing and enabling” technology rather than a direct alternative to transgenic technologies. “TraitUP is more than just an alternative to transgenic technologies; it’s a technology which brings some entirely new capabilities to the industry,” says Peleg.
“As far as regulatory concerns, the TraitUP technology is still at the pre-regulatory phase, yet we assume it is most likely to be considered as non-GMO, since it does not modify the genome of treated plants. As such, it may well be an alternative technology with a unique regulatory status which will enable its usage in some GMO restricted markets.”
TraitUP is expected to become available in two years, with the first products released in three to four years.
The Philippine Rice Research Institute is developing improved hybrid rice varieties designed to withstand environmental stressors, according to Alex Rigor, hybrid rice breeding team lead. The new varieties will include features such as “strong culm, long and dense panicle, a high number of grains per panicle, slow senescence, moderate resistance to common rice pests and diseases such as BLB, Blast and BPH, and good grain qualities,” says Rigor. “The hybrid varieties will have significantly improved grain yield and better plant architecture over current inbred varieties. With the same input level, hybrids show at least 15 percent grain yield advantage over the best inbred.”
The Philippines is the world’s largest rice importer. According to the International Rice Research Institute, in 2008 the country imported 1.8 million tons of rice due to population growth, limited land area and problems with infrastructure. According to Rigor, the new varieties will slow the country’s reliance on imports.
“I think we are looking at attaining and sustaining our rice self-sufficiency and may even have excess in rice production in the Philippines,” says Rigor. “This means that the Philippines, one of the highest net rice importers for many years, may now even be able contribute to rice supply in the world market in the future.”
The Philippines is supportive of developments in hybrid rice technology, and more than 10 seed companies, including Bayer CropScience, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Syngenta, are involved in the production of hybrid rice in the country. To date, 44 hybrid rice varieties have been released in the Philippines, including 14 this year.