Knowledge for Development

Feature articles

Biotech crops in Africa: The final frontier

This book captures some key developments in agricultural biotechnology in Africa. Contrary to the strongly held belief that the continent is not ready to embrace new technologies, much has been accomplished in agricultural biotechnology. The document narrates notable scientific breakthroughs, political support, policy formulation, capacity building and awareness creation on agricultural biotechnology in the continent. It highlights activities in three African countries (South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt) that have commercialized biotech crops and are now experiencing socio economic benefits as well as improved environmental conservation.View PDF.


The global pipeline of new GM crops: implications of asynchronous approval for international trade

The number of commercialised genetically modified (GM) crops in the world is foreseen to multiply by four from about 30 today to over 120 in 2015. This is the forecast presented in the report. It features a list of new GM crops expected to be commercialised ('in the pipeline') in various parts of the world and analyses their possible impact on international trade. The report notes that their increasing number may cause trade disruptions due to asynchronous approval. This report presents the results of an international workshop organised by the JRC's Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) and summarises the different views expressed by the participants. The seminar brought together national regulators, industry representatives, research institutes and participants from the agri-food supply chain.View PDF.


The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety: Reducing the environmental risks of modern biotechnology

This publication helps to better understand the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and describes the purpose and function of the Protocol in a simple language in each of the six official languages of the UN.Author: Convention on Biological Diversity


Carbon monoxide improves adaptation of Arabidopsis to iron deficiency

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an endogenous gaseous molecule and regulates a variety of biological processes in animals. However, whether CO regulates nutrient stress responses in plants is largely unknown. In this paper, we described an observation that CO can regulate iron-homeostasis in iron-starved Arabidopsis. Exogenous CO at 50 lM was able to prevent the iron deficient-induced chlorosis and improve chlorophyll accumulation. Expression of AtIRT1, AtFRO2, AtFIT1 and AtFER1 was up-regulated by CO exposure in iron-deficient seedlings. CO-regulated iron homeostasis could also be found in monocot maize and green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Treatment with external CO increased iron accumulation in iron-deficient Arabidopsis and C. reinhardtii, and restored leaf greening in Maize ys1 and ys3 mutants (defective in Fe uptake). Moreover, endogenous CO level was increased in Arabidopsis under iron-deficiency. Finally, CO exposure induced NO accumulation in root tips. However, such an action could be blocked by NO scavenger cPTIO. These results indicate that CO may play an important role in improving plant adaptation to iron deficiency or cross-talking with NO under the iron deficiency.Authors: Wei Wei Kong, Li Ping Zhang, Kai Guo, Zhao Pu Liu and Zhi Min Yang. Plant Biotechnology Journal, December 9, 2009


Creating an Anthurium andraeanum (Hort) Knowledge Industry in the Caribbean: Role of Genetics Research and IT

Anthurium andraeanum (Hort) is a tropical ornamental species with enormous potential for Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago has had a long history of cultivation of anthuriums. The University of the West Indies has created a knowledge cluster focusing on anthurium, with the view to spawn spin-off companies that can provide value-added opportunities for the Caribbean. The recent innovation in developing the first bacterial-blight-resistant cultivars will form the backbone for other developmental efforts that are underway towards developing bacterial leaf spot resistance, nematode resistance, bioengineering novel colours, improving vase-life and creating an e-commerce platform for direct marketing of anthuriums. A nurturing environment and a strong University-Enterprise-Policy partnership is required to support the evolution of such knowledge clusters.


Disease-resistant transgenic crops: priorities and strategies for the Caribbean

One of the challenges confronting scientists worldwide is the development of new and sustainable ways of protecting crops from pests and diseases. Biotic stress, caused by plant pathogens, insect pests and weeds, accounts for some 30-40% of crop losses worldwide. The effects of these range from mild symptom development to major injuries and catastrophes in which large areas of planted food crops are destroyed. Annual losses from plant pathogens alone are estimated to be 12% (Cook, 2006). Controlling biotic stress and producing crops with special agronomic traits is therefore of paramount importance for reducing the threat to crop productivity, farmers’ net income, the food supply, and by extension, the economies of rural areas (Oerke, 2006).


Synthetic biology and ethics: Building public trust

Synthetic biology and ethics: Building public trustJulian Kinderlerer, President, European Group on Ethics, Professor, Intellectual Property Law, University of Cape Town, South Africa, Professor, Biotechnology & Society, Delft University of Technology, NetherlandsThe science of synthetic biology has become of great interest in the last few years, with major studies being commissioned to examine the implications of this new technology. In 2009, President Barosso, President of the European Commission, requested an Opinion of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) on the ethics of synthetic biology (EGE, 2009). In this request he indicated that “the debate about the legitimacy of engineering new life forms has mainly focused on safety issues and a work on the ethical, legal and social implications that may derive from this specific use of biotechnology is still missing.” In US President Obama’s letter to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (2010), he asked for a consideration of “the potential medical, environmental, security and other benefits of this field of research as well as any potential health, security and other risks.” The issues had been highlighted in May 2010 “by the announcement that scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute had created the world’s first self-replicating synthetic genome (human-made from chemical parts) in a bacterial cell of a different species” (Gibson et al., 2010).The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC, 2010) considered the scientific and governance implications of synthetic biology and reported on ‘Realising European Potential in Synthetic Biology: Scientific Opportunities and Good Governance.’ It is therefore clear that the technologies and science involved in what is termed ‘synthetic biology’ are raising major issues, at least within international political circles. Building public confidence in the governance of synthetic biology by following ethical principles and standards is critical. But what are the issues, and why is there concern?Download the article.


Cassava Stem Multiplication Technology: a Viable Option for Industry Development?

The strategic position of cassava in the food and farming systems of millions of rural households, especially in Africa, is highlighted. Key issues in cassava agronomy, especially regarding planting materials and productivity per unit area are discussed. The development of improved varieties as well as status and constraints in the cassava seed distribution system in Nigeria are emphasised. Also, development of the technology of rapid multiplication of improved cassava varieties is discussed with special regard to reasons for and processes of the technology’s use by farmers. A case study of the adoption and competence of use among farmers in a cassava-growing location in Southern Nigeria is reported. Essentially, the opportunities and constraints associated with the technology in the agricultural innovation processes of cassava are examined and questions raised as to its suitability for up-scaling, given the challenges in obtaining substantial quantities of roots.


Biotechnology - Relevance for Caribbean Agriculture

Global promise of biotechnology The turn of the century was celebrated by the announcement of the complete genetic code of the human genome. Since then the science of genomics has continued to unravel the genetic sequence of an increasingly large number of species providing a wealth of information, and along with it, a potential for the exploitation of information buried in these sequences for commerce. This has given great impetus to biotechnology, which is today hailed as the dominant general purpose technology of the 21st century. Biotechnology therefore represents a revolution with unprecedented ramifications for mankind.


Building Africa-wide capacity in Biosciences

Biosciences provide powerful new ways of improving crop and livestock productivity while minimizing threats to environmental and human health. Problems that so far proved intractable to conventional agricultural research might well be solved in the future by two interrelated fields in the biosciences. These are genomics, which determines DNA sequences that make up the genetic blueprint of organisms, and bioinformatics, computer-based analyses of the vast amount of genetic information produced by genomics.


Innovation: applying knowledge in development

By Calestous Juma and Yee-Cheong Lee  Co-chairs of the UN Millennium Project's Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation   In this new lead article, Prof. Calestous Juma, Harvard University and Prof. Yee-Cheong Lee, UNESCO, reflect on the progress made since the UN Millennium Project's Task Force report on science, technology and innovation (ST&I) was published. In 2005, the Task Force released the report Innovation: applying knowledge in development. It outlined a number of ways in which ST&I could be used to realize the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The authors claim that the report has played a key catalytic role in raising global awareness of the importance of ST&I in development.   Prior to this, ST&I for economic development was considered to be relevant only to industrialized countries, and often discouraged in developing countries, neither was it a priority for the UN, as it was identified as 'Target 18 of Goal 8 - the very last target of the very last goal'. However, much has changed and the innovation systems approach, which included infrastructure, more advanced technical training and entrepreneurship was presented as a framework for thought and action. While the concept of ST&I for development has gained momentum, the authors are of the view that much more still needs to be done by developing countries to ensure that ST&I achieves greater impact on alleviating hunger, poverty, illiteracy and ill health, political and social upheavals. 


The case for biotechnology in Africa's agriculture

The challenge: Food production and poverty reduction remain the primary goals of efforts to advance socio-economic development in Africa and the well-being of its people. The scope for increasing food production through area expansion, the use of agro-chemicals and irrigation is limited. Intensification of production holds the key for Africa's future. The challenge is to develop technologies for intensifying agriculture for resource-poor farmers that use minimal external inputs in environments that are already bedevilled by so many biotic and abiotic stresses. Modern biotechnology has been identified as the most potent technology for rescuing Africa from the effects of food shortages, just as the 'green revolution' did for the countries of Southeast Asia in the 1970s.


Biotechnology - Dilemma & Strategic Response

Scientists have used biotechnology for centuries to enhance the production, availability and quality of food. However within recent times the selective and sophisticated manipulation of genes of living organisms also referred to as bio-engineering, has raised public interest and sometimes outcry at the potential risks to human health, the environment and small farmer holdings. The international community has responded by developing standards e.g Codex labeling standards and protocols such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to ensure that consumers and the environment are protected and ethical principles are upheld. Several initiatives have also been launched to build capacity in developing countries.