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Brief Glances

A Yearbook of Biotech - 1994-1995

The following report offers a look at the incredible variety of biotechnology-related projects that are going on around the world today. Included are items selected from "Biotech Notes" and the "NBIAP News Report," published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as articles selected from various U.S. government gopher sites. Most of the articles list contacts for additional information.

Multimedia Project for Egyptian High Schools

Professor Abolghasem Shahbazi, an engineer at North Carolina A & T State University, is spearheading a 2-year, $200,000 project to bring multimedia, computerized education to high schools in Egypt.

CD-ROMs and computer software will focus on four areas - biology, chemistry, physics, and geography. The biology-oriented modules will include such topics a microbial cell division, chemical bonds, and biotechnology.

For more information, please contact Dr. Shahbazi at:
Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Design,
NC A&T State University
Greensboro, NC 27420-1928.
Tel: (910) 334-7787.

A Genetic Tree Grows in Oregon?

Yes! Five industries have joined together with the Biofuels Feedstock Development Program of the DOE and Oregon State University to advance methods for genetically engineering trees for use in intensively managed tree plantations. The immediate focus of the Cooperative, called the TGERC (Tree Genetic Engineering Research Cooperative), will be on hybrid cottonwoods for use in pulp and paper. The industrial members are Alberta-Pacific, Boise-Cascade, James River, Potlatch, and Union Camp. The scientific emphasis during the initial five years will be on developing the two "enabling" technologies for genetic engineering: improving gene transfer systems and engineering sterility for gene containment.

Contact Dr. Steve Strauss for more information.
Fax: (503) 737-1393.
E-mail address: strauss@fsl.orst.edu

Study of Public Perceptions Proposed

Three British researchers have proposed a research project that will examine the relationship between biotechnology and the European public. It is entitled "An International Study of Policy, Media Coverage, and Public Perceptions, 1980-1996." The project is scheduled to start in mid-1995 and take 30 to 36 months to complete. Part of the study will be applied to a survey that will be conducted in 1996 throughout 16 European countries. Attitudes in the United States and Japan may be analyzed in a parallel survey.

For more details, please call Jon Miller, Director, The International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy, at (312) 549-0606; Fax: (312) 549-5199.

First Announcement - Potato Symposium

"The Fourth International Symposium on the Molecular Biology of the Potato" will take place July 17-21, 1995 in Wageningen, The Netherlands. The program includes a session on the applications of transgenic potatoes as well as genome analysis and mapping, gene regulation, development and reproduction, and disease and pest resistance.

For more details, please write to:
IAC-section OCC
P.O. Box 88, 6700 AB Wageningen
The Netherlands
Tel: 8370-90232
Fax: 08370-18552

Bottoms Up!

A Chardonnay grapevine has been genetically engineered to resist a lethal virus and is ready for field testing, according to the French company Moet and Chandon. In the past, researchers have only been successful in modifying grape rootstocks. Moet says it will be about 10 years before the grapevine reaches the commercialization stage.

French scientists worked with the Chardonnay cultivar to make it resistant to Grapevine Fanleaf Virus, which causes a malformation of the plant and a yellow discoloration. Nematodes spread the virus. Farmers used to spray the vines to kill the virus, but the chemical was found to be toxic and leaked into groundwater. Now, the only effective procedure is to uproot the plants, fumigate the soil, and wait one year before replanting. The new plants take five to seven years to produce grapes.

Moet plans to begin field testing next year following approval from the French government. It is estimated that about 10 percent of all U.S. vineyards are affected by the same virus. According to Genetic Engineering News, Moet plans to work on some kind of licensing agreement with U.S. growers.

Major European Research Project Launched

Scientists at 117 laboratories in Europe have embarked upon a research program they hope will propel plant biotechnology into the 21st century. Coordinated by leading plant scientists from most European countries in association with a consortium at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK, and the Max Planck Institute, Koln, Germany, the program is intended to help industry produce improved plants for agriculture. The program includes a major training component to help less well endowed laboratories.

The areas of research include plant and microbial biochemical genetics, with an emphasis on new options for producing environmentally friendly agriculture and horticulture.

For details, please write to
A. Beadle, Coordinating Officer
John Innes Centre
Norwich Research Park
Colney, NR4 7UJ, UK.

Gunning for Barley

Barley is big business in the United States, with sales exceeding $800 million a year, except for those years when yellow dwarf virus or several other diseases ravage a harvest and production plummets. Now, researchers believe they may have found a way to prevent losses and at the same time provide an alternative to the use of chemical sprays.

Using a high-velocity gene gun, University of California scientists Peggy G. Lemaux and Yuechun Wan have succeeded in inserting genes into barley that will potentially yield virus-resistant plants. One aspect of their method that may have led to success is the fact that they split the embryo before delivering the gene. The engineered tissues yielded more than 500 genetically engineered barley plants.

The next phase of the research involves greenhouse testing by collaborators Steven Wyatt at Washington State University and Richard Lister at Purdue University, followed by outdoor field tests in California, Illinois, and Idaho. The researchers will be watching the engineered barley to see if it resists the yellow dwarf virus outdoors under natural growing conditions.

Both Lemaux and Wan work out of the USDA/ARS Plant Gene Expression Center in Albany, California.
To learn more about the project, please call (510) 642-1589.

Nabbing Poachers With DNA

The BC Institute of Technology in British Columbia, Canada, reports success using DNA fingerprinting to match meat organs and other parts of poached animals to dead carcasses left behind. The test is similar to the one used to identify criminals and confirm paternity. The test could help reduce poaching of valuable wild animals. Reported by the Vancouver Sun, January 26, 1994.

First the Tomato, Now the Banana

DNA Plant Technology Corp. (DNAP) of Cinnaminson, New Jersey, has announced that it entered into an agreement with ZENECA Group PLCof Great Britain to develop genetically engineered slower ripening bananas. Like Calgene's Flavr Savr tomato, the gene that produces the hormone responsible for ripening will be suppressed to allow the fruit to be left on the plant longer, improving flavor and nutritional value. Delayed ripening will also allow the shipping of varieties other than the dominant but fairly bland Cavendish, such as a variety that tastes of vanilla and a red banana that is crisper and starchier.

DNAP will contribute its patented gene suppression technology to the joint venture, while ZENECA will contribute its research into ethylene, the plant hormone that controls ripening. Each company will develop and market its own banana varieties. The new bananas could be commercially available in 3 to 5 years.

Insect-Resistant Rice

Scientists at Plantech Research Institute of Yokohama, Japan, have taken a first step in the development of insect-resistant rice by introducing a truncated delta-endotoxin gene cryIA (b) of Bacillus thuringiensis into a japonica rice.

The transgenic rice plants efficiently expressed the Bt gene, and when R2 generation plants were exposed to two major rice insect pests, striped stemborer and leaffolder, bioassays revealed that the plants expressing the Bt gene protein are more resistant to the pests than untransformed plants.

(Rice Biotechnology Quarterly, April 1994)

Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology

At the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology (CARB) in Rockville, MD, jointly established by NIST, the University of Maryland, and Montgomery County, MD, researchers study protein structure/function relationships. They are focusing on the measurement of protein structure by X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, as well as the manipulation of structure by molecular biological techniques, including site-directed mutagenesis. Protein modeling, molecular dynamics, and computational chemistry are used to understand protein structure and to predict the effects of specific structural modifications on the properties of proteins and enzymes. A variety of physical chemistry methods are used to measure and analyze structural changes, activities, and thermodynamic behavior of proteins under investigation. CARB maintains state-of-the-art facilities for protein crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, molecular biology, and physical biochemistry. Its computer facilities include a variety of computational and high-resolution graphics workstations as well as access to the NIST Cyber 205 supercomputer.

Contact: Roberto J. Poljak, E-mail: poljak@iris10.carb.nist.gov
Gary L. Gilliland, E-mail: gary@ibm3.carb.nist.gov

Biological Diversity of the Guianas Program

The Smithsonian Institution's Biological Diversity of the Guianas (BDG) program is still going strong in 1995. It was created in 1983 to study and document the flora and fauna of the Guianas (i.e., Guyana, Surinam, and French Guiana). Activities include collecting and identifying specimens to be housed at the Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity, on the campus of the University of Guyana, Georgetown, Guyana, with duplicates being deposited at other institutions; training students and staff of the university; and producing checklists, flora treatments, inventories, and vegetation maps.

Recent publications include the "Checklist of the Plants of the Guianas" (in cooperation with the ORSTOM Herbarium, Cayenne, French Guiana). A checklist of the plants and animals of Kaieteur Falls National Park in Guyana is in preparation.

For more information about the BDG program, please contact:
V. A. Funk, Director
Biological Diversity of the Guianas Program
Department of Botany, MRC 166
National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C. 20560
E-mail: mnhbo003@sivm.si.edu

Bulgaria's Biodiversity

The Biodiversity Support Program, a USAID-funded consortium of World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and World Resources Institute, has just published "Conserving Biological Diversity in Bulgaria: The National Biological Diversity Conservation Strategy." The book summarizes current scientific information about the threats facing Bulgaria's biodiversity at the genetic, species, and community levels, and provides the basis for integrated conservation planning and project development. Copies can be ordered free of charge from Biodiversity Support

Program, c/o World Wildlife Fund
1250 24th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20037
Tel.: (202) 861-8337
Fax: (202) 861-8324

Deep Sea Biotechnology

The International Marine Biodiversity Development Corporation (IMBDC) is working with the public and private sector, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and international organizations to start a ten-year program to collect, maintain, reproduce, show, and distribute biological specimens from the deep ocean using a 124-metre research vessel and two manned submersibles capable of diving 6,000 metres. We also plan to collect geological samples and ecological data, compiling GIS maps and machine-accessible data bases about this unique environment.

We are in the process of compiling a data base of expertise in this area that we can call on once the program gets underway. If you or your group has an interest in this subject and would like to participate, could you kindly send us a profile and highlight your specific areas of expertise and interest. If you want more information about the program, we would be pleased to send it to you by e-mail.

Adelard A. "Ed" Cayer, President
International Marine Biodiversity Development Corporation (IMBDC)
5 Lyngby Avenue
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia B3A 3T5 Canada
Fax: (902) 461-0799
Tel: (902) 465-2743 or 1 (800) 565-8773.
Email: ecayer@fox.nstn.ns.ca

In General. . . .

If your students are interested in biotechnology throughout the world, you may wish to subscribe to "Biotechnology and Development Monitor." The Monitor is produced in cooperation with the African Center for Technology Studies, the Research and Information System for the non-aligned and other developing countries (India), and the Instituto Interamericano de Cooperacion para la Agricultura (Costa Rica). Its focus is on applications of biotechnology in developing countries and economic and social issues. It includes editorials, articles on policies, problems, research, new technology developments, and book reviews. The editor is:

Professor Gerd Junne
Dept. of International Relations and Public International Law
University of Amsterdam
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 237
1012 DL Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It is a free, quarterly publication.

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