World Status

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From helping to develop a private seed industry along the “Gold Coast” of Ghana to making breakthroughs in the development of resistant wheat and barley, the seed industry is at the crux of progress in helping to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050.

Status GHANA

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture has been called upon to allow private seed producers to grow foundation seed in conformity with the country’s plant and fertilizer act. Local farmers argue that even though the laws of the country permit them to produce foundation seeds, all applications to MOFA for permits had not been granted.

The appeal was made at a workshop organized by the West Africa Seed Program. The workshop was designed to train 36 selected players in the seed value chain on how to run a businesses effectively, enabling participation in the West African Seed business.

Participants called upon the country’s research institutions to maintain the breeder culture of the various seed and to release high-yielding maize seed varieties that could help sustain the industry in the face of rapid increases in agricultural inputs.

Additionally, the participants called for an early meeting of the Seed Council to review the prices of certified seeds to be sure they conform with the current cost of production, motivating more players to invest in the seed business for the country to meet its needs.

Josh Glover-Tay, a consultant to the project, recommended seed producers move from individual businesses to form strong associations with well-established structures and policies to support the sale of their products. He shared that this is one of the steps that could help them to be effective and strong when it comes to business negotiations.

Soloman Gyan Ansah, West Africa Seed Program’s national seed specialist, said at the end of the workshop, attendees would be required to develop business plans, and the best five would be supported in expanding their businesses as a pilot project. He said that seed growers who receive support from the project would be required to conform to safety standards and all the environmental regulations in the country with regard to the production of seeds. — GhanaWeb

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Status INDIA

The Asia and Pacific Seed Association, in partnership with the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research and the Society for Promotion of Horticulture, helped host the inaugural Asian Solanaceous Roundtable (ASRT) Sept. 9-10 in Bangalore, India. With nearly 300 delegates from 12 countries, the association reported it was a success.

The roundtable provided a forum where breeding and technology issues relevant to solanaceous crops were discussed. The roundtable also addressed issues that benefit farmers and looked to strengthen public-private sector partnerships.

The theme for this roundtable was disease and insect resistance in solanaceous vegetables. Topics covered ranged from insect resistance using native genes in tomato and pepper to reducing the costs of marker-assisted selection through DNA extraction and multiple assays.

During the keynote address, Krishna Kumar, the duputy director general of horticulture for the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, reported that more than $50 billion are spent each year on insect control, but noted that these control methods also exterminate beneficial insects.

He said the mandate of future research is to specifically target only the pests of concern and exclude non-targets.

“One way to achieve this end is to understand the genetic composition and thus phenotypic capability of insects,” Kumar explained. “The i5k [insect 5,000] genome sequencing initiative is a step in this direction. With the annotated genomic data, we will be able to understand better certain relationships like vector-parasite, host-endosymbionts and certain pest features, which make insects highly invasive and adaptable to changing environments.”

More information from the ASRT is available on the Asia and Pacific Seed Association website. — Julie Deering

Status PHILIPPINES

Local government constituents from the Pangasinan province in the Philippines, including municipal agriculturists and farmers, students, media and other stakeholders, signed a declaration of support for the commercial planting of the pest-resistant Bt eggplant in the country, during the conclusion of a public dialogue on Bt eggplant held at the Pangasinan State University Campus in early September.

It states that after discussion with the scientists, experts and farmers, the stakeholders realize that Bt eggplant, which is being developed by the University of the Philippines Los Baños, “is a healthier and safer alternative solution against the relentless insect pest — the eggplant fruit and shoot borer.”

They also recognized that its multi-location field trials, which concluded in 2012, have been conducted safely and in full compliance with the prescribed government regulatory procedures, and duly approved by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry. Moreover, they acknowledged the safety of products derived from modern biotechnology that have passed a food safety assessment based on international standards.

The dialogue was organized by International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture-Biotechnology Information Center, the Municipality of Sta. Maria and Pangasinan State University-Sta. Maria Campus. — Biotechnology Information Center

Status UK

Scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have made a breakthrough that could lead to new high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties.

Almost all wheat grown is a semi-dwarf breed from a naturally occurring mutant line with an altered giberellic acid (GA) signaling pathway.

First developed during the Green Revolution of the 1960s, these varieties significantly advanced crop yields because they respond to nitrogen by increasing yield without growing too tall and lodging. The ability to increase yield per unit area has helped poorer economies to improve food security.

Another benefit of giberellic acid-defective semi-dwarf plants is that they show increased resistance to necrotrophic fungi that kill the plant and feed from the dead tissues. But there is a trade off because these plants are also more prone to diseases caused by biotrophic fungi that feed on living tissues.

Research into the genetic improvement of domesticated crops is difficult because they have large, complex genomes, and take a lot of growing space. Using model species with small genomes and a compact size is useful in trying to understand crop plants, but can lessons learned from a model be translated to a more complex species?

New research, published in the journal Molecular Plant & Microbe Interactions, suggests yes, the wild grass Brachypodium distachyon is an ideal model for studying disease resistance in wheat and barley. “We’ve been investigating another plant signaling system — the brassinosteroid (BR) signaling pathway — in barley, a close relative of wheat,” says Rachel Goddard, lead author and doctoral student in the lab of Paul Nicholson. “Like GA-defective plants, barley with a mutated BRI1 gene also seems to be a high-yielding semi-dwarf that is more resistant to necrotrophic fungi. But in this case, the plants do not have an increased susceptibility to biotrophic fungal disease.”

Goddard and her colleagues have found that B. distachyon acts as a host to many of the same fungal pathogens that infect wheat and barley. They showed that when genes in the BR-signaling pathway of B. distachyon are disrupted, the same disease-resistant traits are observed as in barley, suggesting that the mechanisms associated with this pathway are conserved between barley and its grass relative.

“The fact that the B. distachyon BR-signaling pathway responds in the same way as barley is exciting, because it demonstrates the huge potential for this wild grass as a beautiful model species for wheat and barley breeding research,” Goddard says. “B. distachyon grows quickly, has a relatively simple genome, and unlike arable crops can be grown in a standard lab growth chamber. Hopefully, by working with this model, scientists can assist plant breeders to identify new targeted genes to breed even higher-yielding crops. — John Innes Centre

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