Singapore Plant Mol Bio Meeting Report

C. S. Prakash Prakash at Acd.Tusk.Edu
Fri Oct 31 16:24:42 EST 1997


Reprinted from November ISB News Report (Http://www.nbiap.vt.edu)

PLANT BIOLOGISTS CONVERGE IN SINGAPORE

Forest fires raging over thousands of acres in neighboring Indonesia
cast a dense smog over Singapore. But the bad air did not dampen the
enthusiasm of nearly two thousand plant molecular biologists from 79
countries who gathered in this island-nation to attend the 5th
International Congress of Plant Molecular Biology, September 21-27,
1997.

In her opening address, Adrienne Clarke (Australia), president of the
International Society for Plant Molecular Biology, said that plant
molecular biology is expected to be increasingly important in
agricultural research to feed the expanding world population. She
announced that the Society is developing literature addressing issues
on the regulation of genetically modified food products and will
initiate an outreach program for developing countries.

The Singapore conference hosted plenary lectures from 16 invited
scientists who spoke on various issues such as plant development,
genomics and disease resistance. Thirty-two concurrent sessions
featured 350 papers on a wide spectrum of topics including biotic and
abiotic stress, gene silencing, flowering, growth regulators, cell
cycle, genome research, product development for agriculture, forestry
products, crop transformation and tropical crop biotechnology.

Special workshops were held on gene transfer technology, biocomputing,
Agrobacterium, and gene nomenclature. Nearly 1100 posters were also
presented. As more than half the participants were from Asia, rice
figured in many presentations. Many of these scientists had also
attended a conference sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation on rice
biotechnology held the previous week in neighboring Malaysia.

According to Chris Somerville (USA) who described international efforts
of the Arabidopsis genome project, plant biology is in the midst of a
paradigm shift towards a more interactive approach to research similar
to those undertaken in physics. He predicted that plant genome
scientists would increasingly employ DNA chips in their research, and
functional analysis of the genome through such approaches as gene
knockout will be employed.

Caroline Dean (UK) announced the cloning of a gene for early flowering
from Arabidopsis, while Barbara Baker (USA) illustrated how induced
mutations in a tobacco mosaic virus resistance gene are contributing to
our understanding of disease resistance in plants. Using the
transposable elements identified by the late Barbara McClintock,
Venkatesan Sundaresan (Singapore) has developed a novel gene trapping
system for locating new genes in plants.

To meet the challenges of increasing food production and food security
in developing countries, all available tools must be employed and plant
molecular biology research will have a larger stake in future
agricultural research, according to Ingo Potrykus (Switzerland). His
research is focused on developing improved varieties of rice and
cassava with resistance to diseases and pests, and with enhanced food
quality attributes. Swapan Datta (Philippines) shared some impressive
results from transgenic rice that show resistance to diseases and with
increased tolerance to submergence.

Farmers growing transgenic plants in the US are highly positive and
receptive to this new technology, announced Dilip Shah (USA) of
Monsanto Company. Herbicide-tolerant soybean was grown on 9 million
acres in the US during 1997, accounting for 25% of the soybean acreage,
while Bt cotton and Bt corn were grown on 2 million and 3 million
acres, respectively. Shah reported that insect-resistant Bt cotton
showed only 2% damage while the unsprayed regular cotton crop had 25%
insect damage. Even with pesticide sprays, the nonengineered cotton
showed 12% damage. Farmers reaped a $33 advantage per acre with the Bt
cotton, according to Shah. Monsanto is now testing many novel
insecticidal genes including cholesterol oxidase which appears
promising against the cotton boll weevil.

Hundreds of posters described various creative approaches to develop
new agricultural products and processes. A few with esoteric
applications that caught my attention included the engineering of
plants to produce drugs against helminth infection, canola producing
recombinant fish growth hormone, developing a rice variety rich in
iron, engineering antibody genes to mediate resistance to plant
pathogens, use of an ethanol-sensitive promoter to control plants gene
expression through alcohol sprays, and plants engineered to reduce air
pollution.

Caroline Dean (UK) has been elected the next president of this Society
which will host its next congress in the year 2000 at Quebec City,
Canada.

C. S. Prakash
Center for Plant Biotechnology Research
Tuskegee University
prakash at acd.tusk.edu



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C. S. Prakash, Ph. D.                      Prakash at acd.tusk.edu
Center for Plant Biotechnology Research    Ph: (334) 727 8023
College of Agricultural, Env and Nat Sci.  Fax:(334) 727 8067
Tuskegee University                        http://agriculture.tusk.edu/
Tuskegee, AL 36088, USA
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