Crop Tech Corner

By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter

ST. LOUIS (DTN) — This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.

COAXING VACCINES FROM CORN

Preventing hepatitis B might be as easy as popping an inexpensive, non-perishable wafer into your mouth someday if a California biotechnology firm is successful in its latest venture. Applied Biotechnology Institute, located in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is growing corn genetically engineered to produce a hepatitis vaccine in the germ of its kernels. Scientists grind up the germ, extract the vaccine and create an edible wafer from it. The project has drawn controversial attention after the San Francisco Chronicle published a story criticizing what it perceived as lax government regulation of experimental GE trials like Applied Biotechnology’s 5-acre test plot. According to a later article in The Tribune newspaper in San Luis Obispo, Applied Biotechnology’s founder John Howard hopes to apply for permission to conduct human clinical trials next year and estimates the company is still three to five years away from distributing the oral vaccine.

PLANTS DOUBLE UP TO DEAL WITH DAMAGE

When herbaceous (green-stemmed) plants are damaged by animal feeding, they perform an impressive genetic trick: duplicating their own DNA, which allows for rapid regrowth and a fertility boost. According to a University of Illinois news release, the link between genome duplication and a plant’s recovery from damage was confirmed when university biologists genetically enhanced an Arabidopsis plant’s genome duplication abilities. The plant rebounded impressively from lab-induced damage and quickly caught up to its undamaged counterparts. "We were able to completely mitigate the otherwise detrimental effects of damage," University of Illinois researcher Daniel Scholes noted in the press release. "There was no difference in fertility between damaged and undamaged plants." Now the scientists will focus on testing their theories on the mechanics of this rapid recovery process. You can find the study here: http://goo.gl/…, and the news release here: http://goo.gl/….

RAMPING UP RICE YIELDS

Researchers at the University of Arkansas have found a way to increase rice yields by nearly 30% by turning on a protein "switch" in the plant that spurs additional photosynthesis activity. According to a university news release, scientists have long hypothesized that increasing a plant’s photosynthetic capabilities would lead to increased yields, but only now have the Arkansas researchers proved it. The protein in question, known as the Higher Yield Rice (HYR), controls a suite of genes that controls photosynthesis. Researchers found that by keeping the protein "switched on" during periods of stress, when photosynthesis would normally shut down, the plants could remain productive even under environmental stresses like drought and high temperatures. By manipulating the HYR regulator, the researchers documented grain yield increases of 29.7%. You can see the study here: http://goo.gl/…, and the press release here: http://goo.gl/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

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